It was recently my pleasure to be a part of Answer the Call, a weekly Twitch show hosted by Twerk17. The topic was the importance of the female avatar. I won’t rehash the conversation here. A link is included in the show notes. What I would like to discuss are two topics that are offshoots from that conversation. My brand of roleplay and what I’ve dubbed the games fiddly bits.
Roleplay vs. Immersed
I do not consider myself a roleplayer. I’ve never belonged to a roleplaying group in an MMO. I don’t speak in a particular vernacular or voice. I don’t chat to match the game or my character. My playstyle is what I consider immersion based which is why the avatar matters to me.
When I’m playing the game, I’m not doing anything else but that. I don’t listen to other music. I don’t have the television on in the background. I’m not having side conversations in real life. I’m present, and in the moment with my character. I’m living out her life within the context of that game’s universe. When I’m questing, farming or crafting, I’m carrying out the tasks necessary for that character to survive in that world, and making the decisions I would if it were me.
The more an MMO creates a rounded gameplay loop and existence, the more immersed I become. I will always choose to engage in crafting and the economy to earn a living, as we must in real life. Doing so contributes greatly to my feeling of being a citizen of that world.
I’ve never had as much fun as a character in a world, as I did in EQ2, with its vast crafting and player housing system. Or Archeage with land ownership, player housing and running my farms. I adored how those two games, in particular, allowed me to take production mechanics and turn them into full-blown professions. EQ2 especially, where I went on to form my own clientele and had long waiting list for my character’s services.
I play MMOs to be part of fantastical worlds and have improbable adventures. I don’t have to be on the hero’s journey. In fact, I’m more enamored by how the everyday person survives than the fabled knight. As such, I consider my gaming style as immersed vs. roleplay. It’s a chief reason why anything that forces me out of the moment is odious and a mechanic I’m going to complain about. That doesn’t mean that I revel in tedium. I’m more than willing to suspend disbelief to improve the overall gameplay experience.
I applaud and enjoy Star Citizen’s fidelity. However, as I’ve voiced before, I am concerned about the fiddly bits. And I’d like to take moment to clarify what I mean by that.
As someone who enjoys being fully immersed in games, I have absolutely no problem letting go of the plausible to support a better gaming experience. It will always be quality over sheer quantity. Suspended disbelief over nonvalue add realism. With that in mind, I have a growing concern that SC contains fiddly bits that to me, don’t add any particular value to the gaming experience while increasing the complexity of mechanics. And every layer of complexity increases the possible points of failure aka bugs.
My biggie is the end-to-end animations — getting out of bed, in and out of the pilot’s seating, up and down the stairs or ladders, remain problematic. These are core actions we all execute frequently to play the game and yet, to my recollection, we haven’t had a single patch where these have worked flawlessly for all. Three seemingly simple tasks remain an issue.
It surprises me that delivery missions are still so hit-and-miss. Packages not there. Pickup or dropoff mechanic not being recognized. NPC’s telling you to take your shit because they have no idea why you’re there with a package. Complexity is fine when it works. Other times simple is wonderful too. Tessa while rudimentary delivered more reliable missions than any I’ve tried since.
NPCs who need to “recognize” your presence before their programmed routine will run. If they don’t, well you’re simply shit out of luck. The player has to real way to start the interaction on their own. I get not wanting the common metaphor of having question marks over NPC heads. No problem. But why not allow us to simply select them like we do the Admin NPCs? If you don’t have the reputation needed to interact, they can tell that and perhaps what to do to quality getting work from them.
I don’t mind waiting for trains but something about waking on fake elevators tilts me HARD. I don’t even care that they’re fake. I don’t play to be the armchair architect. I’m not combing the layout of the zone to see the if elevator path is plausible because I couldn’t care less. They’re merely a tool moving me from point A to point B. Having to stand around waiting for them really sets my teeth on edge.
I’ve retrieved and carted items in many many games. While seeing yourself lean over to pick up a box is cool, I wouldn’t have thought less of the game if items popped up into my hand like everywhere else. Likewise, I’ve never paid any attention to how my feet were placed on staggered terrain. You might “Ooo” and “Ahhh” the first couple of times but after that, it will bleed into the background of not being special at all.
Taken in isolation, none of these seem odious. It’s the accumulated effect that gives me pause. When you’ve hit a bug trying to get out of bed, your ship has killed you a couple of times trying to get it out of a hangar after sending your sorry ass back to the habicube so you can start from square fucking one, you take the time to travel to a mission objective or NPC only to have that fail too… Brutal. And then I consider that all the fancy wizardry, for me at least, doesn’t add anything to the experience even when it works, I ask myself why all the fiddly bits?
I’d be fine if I spawned in the game standing. If entering my ship was a simple walk or climbing up action like other MMOs. If clicking an item popped it into my hands without the E2E animation. If starting the dialog with the NPC required I clicked on them. I simply don’t need this much “make it real” in a game.
Let’s be honest, they’re not going to do this for everything or the game won’t release in my lifetime. Are we going to strip out of our garments one by one, and put on new ones a piece at a time? I’m doubting it. Given that they’re going to pick and choose when it’s fiddly real vs. let’s get on with it, I can’t buy into the “fiddly fidelity for immersion”.
Remember the helmet-on animation of old? That was cool the first few times and after that, a bit of a time waster trying to start AC. It eventually went buhbye. They’ve discussed several times that they’re going provide a way for players to speed up the animations and break out of them. Basically, bypass as much of it as they can now allow. Look around you while playing and watching streams. The % of players running vs. walking is a fair indication of those who want to get on with playing the game – experiencing the content vs. reveling in the glory of fiddly.
I wish they’d decided to save the heavy interaction for where it counts, such as interacting with the ships and the planned professions. These are actions that can add a modicum of skill to the task. LIke mining, I 100% applaud even the tier one release of the features. I never planned on mining but was so impressed and had such fun, that I immediately pledged for the Prospector. If there was a ship in between that and the Orion, I’d own that tool. However, for all the rest, it feels like unnecessary faffing about that I can most definitely do without.