Thursday, October 12, 2006

Curiosity Killed the Curve

(Boring game review.)

So, I tried a MMORPG called Ryzom. It sounded interesting to me - it was pitched kind of loosely and confusingly, but I liked what I saw of the setting and the price (free), so I downloaded the gig and a half... unzipped it... ran the installer... installed the 6.5 gig game... who has 10 gigs free? I did, as it turns out.

I've got them free again, but that's getting ahead of myself.

Now, look, I always hate MMORPGs. They're like the bastard children of D&D's retarded second cousin and a Hostess cupcake. But occasionally, when it's free, I stick my fingers back into the water to see if it's changed from "tepid".

The setting is interesting. It's kind of a cross between Beyond Good and Evil and Phantasy Star. And, for a few hours, the game was interesting, too.

Most MMORPGs I can't even play for two hours. The lack of... well, ANYTHING... is palpable. This game wasn't quite that bad. The initial levels are very quick and diverse, and you aren't locked into a particular progression. You can be a crafter, forager, warrior, mage - all with one character. Although, obviously, you'll get stronger, faster, if you concentrate.

Ryzom held my interest for a full EIGHT HOURS - spread out over about a week. The initial bursts of discovery are actually very interesting. Everything is built out of pieces. When you craft something, its ZOUNDS! of stats are determined by what ingredients you toss into the craft-pot. There are hundreds of ingredients, each with different ZOUNDS! stats, allowing you to craft weapons, armor, and so forth exactly to your liking.

Similarly, spells and feats are done by choosing a type, which powers it should have, and what drawbacks it should have to pay for those powers. Even things like prospecting and digging shit out of the ground had this level of customizability.

So, naturally, I'm thinking "hell yeah. This is worth playing."

Except... it's not.

Okay, if you're the sort that likes MMORPGs, I highly recommend at least trying Ryzom. It's free. But if you, like me, hate MMORPGs, this one does not break tradition. It merely gives you a bigger first bite.

After tempting you with a glimpse of its potential, the game immediately hits a brick wall. After about level 20 in a skill (which is roughly equivalent to 6-8th level in most games), the game reverts to treadmill. This is exactly when you're just starting to really get into the customization.

What's really irritating is that the monsters you initially encounter are doable - they're good fights, not too hard, not too easy. But then they JUMP in difficulty. Not a little: a lot. As in, you can't even defeat one of them. They probably want you to party up. I'm sure it would be easier if you did. I hate parties, and the setting feels like it should be done solo.

Whereas before you had to craft five or six things to get a few more points of craft-skill to buy blueprints with, now you have to craft fifteen or twenty... then thirty or forty. Bleah.

"Standard MMORPG tactics, Craig!" you say. Yeah... but here's the real kicker.

All that potential it had? Doesn't actually exist.

The customization ends at a certain depth. You can't customize what things look like, you can't do any kind of complex work, all you can do is muck around with stats. That's just not enough.

Actually, that's not even interesting. It just feels interesting at first.

So... what's with the title?

Intellectual curiosity is one of the strongest forces that drives a player. If you give a player a chance to stretch his neural legs, he'll be happy to oblige... for hours and hours, month after month.

The problem comes when you tease the geek. The game told me I could, then it told me that not only was it impossible, but that I would have to work my ass off doing boring shit to plumb its limited depths any further.

You can't use a treadmill system if you want to appeal to intellectual curiosity. An hour without a new creation or a new discovery is risky. Five hours is idiocy.

Curiosity kills the curve. Or, perhaps more commonly, the curve kills the curious.


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