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BioWare says: Don't innovate, just give me more Elves PLZ!

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BioWare says: Don't innovate, just give me more Elves PLZ!

Editorial - posted by DarkUnderlord on Sun 17 September 2006, 08:31:48

Tags: BioWare

There's an interesting article up on GameSpot about BioWare lead combat designer Damion Schubert. It focuses mainly on MMO's but it's all about innovation (or the lack there-of) in games and it explains why combat has such prevalence in games today. I call it The Lazy Game Developer's Guide to Making Games:
Schubert says the key is to innovate smartly, choosing a handful of specific areas to key in on. He singled out a pair of points World of Warcraft lead designer Rob Pardo made in his Austin Game Conference keynote address. Specifically, Schubert praised the game's polish, saying it was "the first game in our genre that didn't release in an absolutely shameful state as far as connectivity, replayability, et cetera."

Step 1: Games should work. The innovashun! The wonder! Why, who would have thought gamers want games that *actually work* out of the box? The mind boggles!

He also emphasized that it flew in the face of industry convention by letting people reach the highest levels even if they chose to play through it entirely on their own.

"WOW comes along and says, 'Hey you know what? The problem with MMOs is sometimes your friends aren't [online] and everyone else is an idiot,'" Schubert noted.

Step 2: If it's an MMO, remove any and all aspects of the MM part. That's innovation for you right there folks.

It's difficult enough making sure that each set of unique class abilities aren't overly powerful when combined and mixed. With World of Warcraft's handful of classes, Schubert said it would be relatively easy to add another class and balance it against the existing character types. Schubert said if a developer were to add a new skill to a system without class limits, the problem would not be easily solved.

"You basically have to compare a billion possible combinations to a billion other possible combinations," Schubert said. "Classes help keep that under control."

Step 3: Keep your gamers in a neatly confined box. It makes all that hard thinking work easier.

As a game mechanic, experience points reward devotion over skill, Schubert said. That's particularly fitting for MMO games, as the current subscription-based business model requires devotion to make money. And as he said, the problem with skill is that "not a lot of players have it."

Step 4: Make your game really, really easy by removing any and all challenge what-so-ever (Well, I guess that explains Oblivion then).

"The thing about fantasy games is that people know what they are almost universally," Schubert said.

He pointed to two Sid Meier games, Alpha Centauri and Civilization IV, as being a pair of similar games with wildly different settings. He asked the audience how many people played the sci-fi Alpha Centauri for 15 minutes and then longed to be playing a historical Civilization game instead.

"It's pretty much the same game mechanic, but we know what the wheel is," Schubert said. "We understand what the railroad is. We get that intuitively, whereas Alpha Centauri was trying to teach us all these terms in this fiction that they created."

Step 5: Save yourself lots of work by just sticking to Elves. Yes, just because someone decided to make an Elf game all those years ago, we're stuck with them now. It's familiar! It's what you want! Why bother creating your own game universe? That stuff's hard!

Both the film Stargate and its TV adaptation, which are already being turned into an MMO game, feature an archeologist main character who can't do anything in combat and gets captured a lot. Schubert said one of the developers on the game confided to him that one of the team's biggest challenges was to deliver a Stargate experience that feels like Stargate without that character.

Step 6: When dealing with a non-combat game, just turn it into a complete combat game. One wonders how The Sims managed to get through production without becoming "Household Argument Simulator". Oh wait, that's maybe because they had real innovashun?

Step 7: Don't confide in anyone at BioWare unless you want your great innovashun leaked to GameSpot.

"I'm not saying don't innovate," Schubert emphasized. "I'm really not... but I really want you guys to be sure that you're not over-innovating, that you're not going out of bounds. Be sure that your innovations are things that players want."

Step 8: Don't "over-innovate" and make sure to stay "within the bounds" of what-every-other-game-has-done-before-you. You wouldn't want to "over-innovate" like Alpha Centauri, Myst or The Sims (the highest selling PC game of all time) did, would you now?

Thanks Dmitron!

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