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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Never Prospering

Surprisingly, it's not always about just being a dick. "It's frustrating," says Duncan Ariey, whose cheating ways date back to 16-bit Game Genie hacks. "To lose consistently to people who got better than you by playing six to eight hours a day while you're at school or work—some people cheat just to even the playing field." Latecomers are especially disadvantaged, says Ariey: "Nobody wants to turn on their new game and be killed 50 times in a row by people who have had the game longer. I know many people who cheat not to boost their win column, but to keep it from being ruined in their first few days of having a game."
-- Sons Of The Glitch

What's annoying is that the guy kinda has a point, but not one really worthy of downloading some elfbot and keybinding the spacebar to "Headshot Nearby Target". But it is an interesting design flaw of many modern online games. Since the grand ole Days of Doom, multiplayer games have become increasingly competitive and even giving rise to professional gamers. One of the problems with online games is that it can only be as enjoyable as the weakest player. Heck, there's a whole class of griefers who just jump on servers, team kill repeatedly until people leave the server and then hit the next one. Even without cheating though, the gameplay experience can be altered just by newbie players. And how do you think the newbie feels?

I remember getting Unreal Tournament for the Dreamcast. I instantly jumped online to see how the modem handled it and was surprised at how smooth the play was. Course, back then I worked with guys who would LAN up a good game of UT several times a week. So everywhere I went, I more or less destroyed the competition. Which was really fun for about ten minutes, but then I had kinda cleared out all the small games I had joined and realized I was being a dick.

So what's the solution? Well, better game matching software definately seems to be in order, a la Live, so that players are better tied to players of their own weight. It also seems like we could use some more games with less competitive rules. This would have to get away from the twitchplay-instantdeath style which is fairly popular so that gamers feel like they are playing a game, not just respawning.

I did address some of this in my first Unreal mod, Bounty War. In Bounty War, players are worth a specific amount based on the number of kills they've had. So better players are worth more points to kill. So while a newbie might get a veteran player only once, it would allow them to catch up some with a single frag. This is similar to the classic headhunter style of games, where players are worth the amount of a certain token they can collect before depositing the tokens. The original Aliens Versus Predator also acknowledged this somewhat, by rating scores based on the size of a team. So three Predators against one Alien, the Predators are worth more per kill.

I've never heard a good excuse for cheating and I probably never will. That's not to say that games can't take a good hard look at making a playing field wide enough for a range of gamers and not just the l33t. Microsoft is aiming for more casual players with the 360. Nintendo aims for more pick-up and go style games with the Revolution. Game design will need to compensate for both.


Winkyboy said...

Sounds like another call for some strategy and/or turn-based elements, to allow for some thinking in the game!! :)

And, the ORIGINAL AvP was so amazing to play, especially in multiplayer -- too bad it was so difficult to set up. I think playing as the Alien, WITH the fish-eye lens, was one of my favorite gaming moments.

Brinstar said...

The ultra competitiveness and potential disparities in skill levels between myself and other players kind of dissuades me from playing online games. It really does take a lot of enjoyment out of a game if all you do is lose. Like that guy said, I just can't compete with people who have the time to spend 6 hours a day perfecting their skills. I'm lucky to have a solid hour of gaming per weeknight to play, much less improve. So, yeah, I'd welcome better ways to match players with others of similar skill levels.

As for cheating. Yup, I do it, but only when I'm really stuck. I feel bad using a walkthrough or strategy guide, but sometimes I just can't figure something out. And I have been known to cheat at Baldur's Gate II, but I will try and resist from now on, because it does make me feel guilty. :-P

I've never had a Game Genie or anything like that, nor would I cheat on an online game. I know it doesn't make me less of a cheater, but maybe not as bad of a cheater? LOL.

Josh said...

Oh yeah, I can't put offline cheating into the same vein. Offline ... offline I've cheated a lot. But hey, it's your personal experience ... so there's no harm no foul really. I think offline cheating is a perfectly valid way of getting around design decisions the user grinds against or just doesn't like.

And yeah, winkyboy - I loved playing the Alien too. Freaking out a pair of online players by jumping out of darkness, decapitating his friend and then running along a wall to escape? Priceless.