Monday, June 30, 2008

WTB King’s Sword of Haste

If you live in a cave, you might not have heard that Blizzard announced Diablo 3 this weekend at the WWI in Paris. The blogosphere talks a lot about innovation and how new games are just repackage old games. There is maybe no better example of this than the Diablo franchise. As Richard Bartle would put it, I already played Diablo and it was called Gauntlet.

That’s Diablo. It’s hack-n-slash in the Gauntlet style. It truly is an evolution on that original arcade game with a fixed top-angled view and powerful character archetypes (red warrior, etc) that blast through scores of mobs. If I recall, later versions of the arcade game even had random dungeon mazes just like the original Diablo. As I killed stuff, I got to collect items and gold coins that I could spend on potions or upgrades. So by the Bartle standard, the original Diablo suffered from stagnation and lack of innovation because it was simply the Gauntlet game all over again.

I’m not going to rehash the whole Bartle debate on this blog, but the idea that Gauntlet = Diablo is ludicrous and an excellent way to illustrate what I am talking about when I say that EVOLUTION IS IT’S OWN FORM OF INNOVATION. There is simply nothing wrong with taking something fun and making it BETTER. This is exactly what WoW did to the EQ formula and what I hope that WAR will do for WoW. As I wrote on Heartless_’s blog:

I’m all for innovation and I will rant about MMO stagnation as much as anyone, but saying that two games in the same genre are the same is asinine. A genre becomes popular because people like what it offers them. The fact that games in a genre share common features is what makes it a genre in the first place. Radical change or revolution creates new genres that may or may not be well received. So yes, in the sense that WAR and WoW are in the same genre – [Bartle] is right. However, that doesn’t mean that evolution or innovation is not taking place within that genre. As you point out, people who LIKE WoW will continue to find WAR very appealing and innovative.

I have mixed feelings about Diablo. I have fond memories of the earlier Diablo games, particularly the first game which was the first game I ever beta tested. It’s a great game and a most importantly a F-U-N game. Sadly, it’s never been a particularly lasting game for me. Once I had beaten the game a couple of times with a fully leveled character, I quickly became bored with it despite the random nature of the dungeons. If you measure success by the length of time you played the game, then Diablo was Blizzard’s least successful game for me. However, if measured by the fun quotient while still enthralled with it, it might have been the best of the bunch (including WoW).

My most evil online moment is also Diablo related and like the game, I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it’s something I am not particularly proud of and is actually the exact type of behavior I think needs to be prevented in online games. But then on the other hand, boy I sure had fun while I was doing it.

Old Diablo players might recall that there was a 3rd-party program that read memory values for your character and allowed you to back them up to your hard drive. It was not Blizzard sanctioned but was quickly a popular way to keep a “backup” of your character. When you died in Diablo, half your gold and all the items on your inventory were scattered all over the ground. Other players could pick up your gear and if you failed to get it before you got disconnected or crashed, then you might lose it forever. It wasn’t uncommon for people to die in a place where they couldn’t get equipment and then come beg people in Battle.Net chat for help.

I distinctly remember an episode (pre-backup) when I responded to one of these requests and went to help someone recover their gear from Level 9. My character was fully leveled and equipped, so I just dropped in the back door figuring to clear the way for him with no problem. Instead, I was immediately beset by every mob in the entire level. You see, in the original Diablo, if you kited all the mobs to the entrance and zoned out – they stayed there. What I didn’t know when I dropped in was that the people before me had pulled the whole level to the entrance and about 5 or 6 people had died trying to help.

This wouldn’t have been a huge deal except that the guy I was helping zoned in right behind me. Since Diablo had collision detection, I couldn’t run through him to zone back out and was trapped between him and the mobs. I put up a good fight but died and all my gear scattered everywhere. To make matters worse, since so many people had died in that spot before me – none of my gear dropped near to where I had died. About 40 minutes later, I had cleared enough of the area to start recovering my stuff. BUT, I never did find everything and one (or two) of the lowbies stole some of my very best items and at least half my gold.

So needless to say, when the opportunity to “backup” my character became available I jumped all over it. Now, on the surface of it, I never really felt that the backup was ever all that bad a thing to do. I saw it as more of a fix for a design problem. Of course, being a technical minded problem solver, I saw right away the potential for abusing it to create duplicate items and gold (or dupes). At first, I guess I thought of it as a bit of payback for my earlier experience. Until I figured out that I could copy OTHER character slots of people in-game with me. I could not only dupe their stuff but CLONE them.

Okay, so I knew that was bad. I knew it and still did it anyway. I could say that it was the slippery slope of duping and then boredom, but mostly I was just an immature jerk in my early twenties. Now keep in mind that this was all well before duping or cloning was widespread. Most people, even those with the program, hadn’t yet figured out how to do it. The whole “town kill” thing hadn’t even started yet. All these things eventually ruined Diablo and I have no misconceptions about my participation. It’s one reason why I am such an advocate against things like botting, gold selling and other cheats.

One thing to keep in mind is that cloning wasn’t about stealing gear – it was about griefing. By that point, my “honest” play had already netted me all the things I wanted and the duping had just been to twink low-level alts with manuals of strength and such that allowed a level 1 to use plate. The thing about cloning was that when you cloned someone and returned to Battle.Net, you had their name in chat!

It was the mischief that this provoked that I still find disturbingly humorous. Imagine this scenario, I clone someone. Then using that clone, I create another clone of someone I found annoying. I’m now two clones removed from my character and exit back to chat. I look for a third person to clone then get in a game and “show” them that I cloned them. They now think that guy #2 (the annoying one) is a clone and start spamming chat to that effect. I start mimicking them a bit so that people know he was cloned and then go clone someone else. Rinse, repeat until there are six or seven people all blaming each other for cloning them in chat.

As I said, this was my most evil online moment and I feel terribly guilty for taking such perverse joy in ruining the game experience of others. There really is no excuse and all I can say is that my more mature self wouldn’t do something so adolescent. A few weeks later when Townkilling, Duping and Cloning was all the craze, I realized how badly we ruined the game and deeply regret that I participated. There is no point or moral here, just my observation that if people can – people will and therefore game companies need to be very stern with finding and more importantly punishing those that do.

I’ll be honest here too, I still take joy in giving others a bad day. Hell, the name of this blog is Confession of a Serial GANKER, so I haven’t exactly tried to hide that fact. Still – it’s one thing to grief someone within the rules of the game, it’s another thing to grief them with hacks. After all, smart game designers can put some limits on the amount of punishment one player can inflict on another. Unacceptable consequences (like perma-death) are simply never designed into the game.

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