Setting Expectations

Some concepts are inherently synergistic, proving to be of value in one arena, and then you come to find out that they are equally prized elsewhere.

Take Your Places!

Rohan recently visited an ever-popular debate surrounding class roles, and brought up some wonderful insight adding to the reasons why it all makes sense. I’d recommend the read, highlighting the section on how simplicity at the root level breeds layering, complexity and sophistication.

In the comments section, Syl mentions how the biggest issue of the trinity is that by the same virtue that it creates cooperation, it does also prevent it – due to its inflexibility. Not wishing to dime her out, but this got me to thinking.

I’d never considered the cause:effect relationship between the firm class system, and why I believed the system gave the most flexibility. She’s right, the system is inflexible with rigid roles, but the outcome is that encounters can be extremely flexible in their design. This beauty is detailed through examples in Rohan’s post. I have always known this, but I’ve never made the link between the two. It really boils down to a very famous anonymous quote:

“In order to be radical in one’s art, one needs to be conservative in one’s life.”

In the same way, game designers who wish to make wonderful and engaging systems require a solid (read: inflexible) foundation from which to draw. A painter needs 3 distinct, primary colors from which to mix all others. The flaw here comes from the convenience of the player, wishing to approach a game without having to ‘buy in’. Why can’t I have the flexibility to perform all roles? Well, there’s another famous anonymous quote for that:

“Trash in, trash out.”

Without a system with clearly defined roles, you can’t expect to somehow find solace amidst the noise. Fluke occurrences exist, but these do not a great game make.

A Lofty Goal

This got me thinking about the reason behind why I enjoy gating through the attunement concept. While there are pros and cons to the social implications of a ‘rite of passage’, the necessity of having to prove oneself carries implications.

Done properly, gated entrances prepare the gamer for what’s ahead. I’m not talking about ‘move to location x, collect y of item z’ then you get a golden ticket. I’m talking about needing to pass x test through y difficulties in order to gain access to z. No one has any business stepping onto a motorcycle track if they haven’t demonstrated basic riding capabilities, right?

Not to mention, there’s a lot to be said for vested interest. Working just be able to enjoy oneself adds meaning to the enjoyment. Hey, there’s a quote for that:

“Easy come, easy go.”

So, the Point Exactly?

These are both systems that aren’t historically explicitly stated, but yet establish a standard with the gamer. In no uncertain terms is there not an expectation set.

  • 3 roles, sprinkle a bit of each in your group. By doing so, you will have the tools to pass this test.
  • This is the entrance to the dragon’s lair. If you can’t pass that test, you won’t be able to pass this one.

This is the stuff human communication is made of: contracts are all about mutually understood expectations, an engineer designs a product with an expectation that materials will perform a given way… and game designers use them as well. The two listed in this post have a strong following of disapproving voices, but it can only be because of a misunderstanding of the value and purpose that these systems represent.

The frustration can stem from whether or not the designers deliver on those expectations. But setting them is what’s paramount.

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About Ahtchu

Jock. Nerd. Holistic. Game theoretician. Can recite the alphabet backwards.
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6 Responses to Setting Expectations

  1. Syl says:

    I see what you’re saying here; but where I commented on the cooperative aspect of the trinity, you write about how it affects encounter design. I agree with you insofar that the inflexible trinity is great to design/script different encounters, hence my also my frequent referral to a ‘crutch’. removing threat mechanics and roles automatically means that we’re dealing with more chaos and that chaos will have to be ordered in different ways; control, flexible roles (there are still roles), more communication (‘jobs’ aren’t clear from the beginning). nothing is to say that such encounters cannot work though, that they can’t be fun or challenging. that’s a matter of how the game is designed and how difficulty is balanced. I think some players lack imagination when it comes to believing in non-trinity based combat….. we will see what GW2 does here and whether it accomplishes the switch. if not, then I am still not going to accept that as an overall indicator across the board, only as a failure of GW2. 🙂

    As for the “layering, complexity and sophistication” – that sounds great and yet at the end of the day, on a fix role level it means you’re doing the same thing over and over and over. I’ve raided in WoW as much as anyone and 95% of all encounters came down to learning positions by heart and staring at HP. not very layered and sophisticated. what is complex encounter design to me if I never see the whole of it, but always the same 30%? maybe it’s a matter of perception, but these days I value variety in my own actions and a wider perspective – even a wilder enemy AI.

    and a painter can paint by mixing everything himself – or he buys a set of 200 ready-made shades, hehe….both will end up with a picture. funny enough GW2 just changed its dye system from the first approach (GW1) to the latter. 😉

    p.s. I loved attunements.

    • Ahtchu says:

      You’re right, you commented on a different aspect of the HT topic. Your comment got me to thinking, and I’m citing the source of that thought. That’s all 😛
      I do not *not* believe in non-trinity based combat, but my assertions through the series on this blog would indicate that non-trinity usage will always be inferior to trinity usage, provided equal implementation of the systems.
      When I reference WoW, I do so most often in the vanilla context. I would agree that 95% of [current] encounters are nothing but 100% positioning and 2 button spam. However, in classic, having played a druid through 4HM, the ‘staring at HP’ stopped circa MC. It remained an integral part of the ‘role’ I assumed, but
      The painter who buys a set of 200 colors has merely skipped the step of combining the core 3 😉 But the core 3 are present in every single one of the 200. Just like the HT 😉

      • Doone says:

        You use the painter as an example and then go on to contradict yourself 🙂

        The trinity as we are used to it is embodied in 3 player class roles. You continue to argue this cannot be re-envisioned any other way, yet there’s the painter. Despite the fact that single player games have been dealing without tanks/healers since the days of Contra, you’re hanging on to this as though it hasn’t been disproven 🙂 Games do not need to force players into rigid roles of tank/healer/dps in order to have a harmonious gameplay system.

        It would be like saying black and white aren’t part of the palette because the 3 primary colors are all that matters. Yet you’re not going to get 200 shades without the black and white. In other words, there’s far more to this than you tend to speak on. It’s true we can’t speak on things we don’t understand, myself included. I do, however, understand that the trinity is not the totality of what is possible in designing game encounters. There’s too much proof to the contrary. Describing the bilateral relationship between shooting a gun and bullet contact isn’t proof that tanking and healing is necessary. It’s just a citation of the obvious. If you shoot a gun the projectile will be absorbed by *something* at *some point*. This is not itself proof of a mandate for trinity and is, in fact, only a way of saying that things have always been that way, therefore they must continue to be that way.

        It’s an impossible statement to prove.

      • Ahtchu says:

        I fail to see how the painter example incurs contradiction. In fact, it reinforces.

        You are arguing the case for single player games amidst others. It’s important to highlight therefor the context of the HT. It can only exist in a 3+ person, multiplayer environment where combat is the main minigame of choice. That being said, inside of these grounds, the series I first wrote examines, step by step, the reasons why the HT is the epitome of the multiplayer combat minigame.
        I begin by asserting that the *roles* of tanking, damage, healing are present as the lowest common denominators for combat. This applies for single-player as well as multi. When the group focus grows beyond one, the need for specialization arises, and the series goes on healthy tangents giving examples. The final touch is therefor people who become thoroughbreds in order to achieve the maximized group potential. The examples, also, are outlined in the series.

        Now, can we all build and play a game that has no dedicated healing specialist? Sure. *But the role of healing will still be present*. Because the game designer disallowed specialization in this area, however, *the combat minigame’s maximal potential is not achieved*. This topic comes full circle in that the lowest common denominators to combat are drawing fire (tank), firing (damage) and reinforcements (healing)- therefor the need to allow specialization in these areas is a requirement if you want the maximum flexibility and efficiency that the combat minigame allows.

  2. Doone says:

    I hope you’re not still arguing that games ought to keep the holy trinity. Besides the points about complexity being emergent, you seem to be saying that designers must keep the trinity in order to make game expectations clear. Let me know if I’m off.

    • Ahtchu says:

      My stance on the holy trinity will likely never change 😉 Here, however, I’m indicating an additional value moreso about class-based/role-based systems compared to a freeform play-everything-as-you-like approach.

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