Friday, December 4, 2009

Why the People on Your Side are Always Ripping You Off.

Recently, one of my friends was trying out my newest game (which is awesome). He called me out on something that has annoyed him in such games since the beginning of time ...

The following is a perennial complaint that I have had with these kinds of games since the beginning of time; Here I am, going around killing monsters, rescuing people and finding desperately needed stuff. I keep running into fellow government employees, who need my services, who will not teach me important skills unless I massively overpay them. Their excuse? "I have expenses". F*** that. At the very least you need a better story, or a sub-plot dealing with the massive corruption within the system. Just saying.

(I have added *'s to swear words to maintain my blog's family qualities. Show it to your kids!)

Now, this was a friend, not a beta tester. If it was one of my friendly, volunteer beta testers who was bitching me out, I would have come up with a very calm, polite, non-profane response. Since this was a friend, I felt no such limitations. I thought the answer was simultaneously amusing and enlightening enough to be included here.

This is awesome! Of all the things that are completely unrealistic in the system (Like that you can't climb a ten foot wall, or that you can use MAGIC), you get angry at the one thing that basically corresponds to how things work in the Actual World.

For example, suppose you work in some government agency. Say the Department of the Interior. And you need to mail out a thousand letters for some reason or another. So you put them all in a big box and you take them to the post office and are, like, "Please mail these." And the guy behind the counter will say, "You have to buy stamps." And you'll say, "But we both work for the government! It's all the same money! So help me out!" And he'll be, like, "You have a budget. And we have a budget. You can't use our resources without sharing your resources. So f*** you! Pay me!"

Or, more to the point, look back at your military history. When our big, fat, rich country goes to war, in the chaos of the thing it's inevitable that some soldiers get too much of one thing and others don't get near enough. Thus, bartering occurs. (To see a lot of this, I highly recommend Generation Kill by Evan Wright.) Say you're a marine and your night vision goggles ain't working because you never got batteries. And you see someone from the next battalion over carrying a crate of the batteries. And you're, like, "Hey! I need batteries! Give me a few of yours!" And he's, like, "Cool! Our machines guns don't work because we don't have enough grease. Give me a can of grease." And you're, like, "But we're both fighting together! On the same side! Semper fi! Ooo-Rah!" And he'll be, like, "Yeah. Ooo-Rah. F*** you! Pay me!"

Or you're a guy in a fantasy world, and you see some archer training her troops, and you're, like, "I see you're all busy and stuff, and you don't know me from a hole in the ground, and you have work you need to be doing and defenses that need shoring up and maybe you want to sleep sometimes, but you should drop everything now in order to give Bow and Arrow Lessons 101 to my sorry ass. OK?" I'm sure you can see where this is going.

"F*** you! Pay me!"

I hope that this brings some clarity to this perplexing issue.

Also, game balance, need to give you something to do with money, blah, blah, blah. This is my main justification, and I'm sticking with it.

32 comments:

  1. That is pretty funny. I do find the high prices thoroughly annoying, but it's not unrealistic.

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  2. I'd expect most people in an fantasy world trying to leverage wealthy adventurers wherever they can. That's probably how they justify those outrageously expensive weapons in their stores - out-of-towner's tax.

    It'd be nice if one in a while they cut you a realistic deal. Like "Sure, I'll give you the first level for free, but the rest will cost you".

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  3. 5 words:
    - E
    - P
    - I
    - C
    - !

    Your games actually do a LOT to make that system make sense!! *Ack, another merc lookin' fer a handout!* When I was a kid playing the legendary descendant of Erdrick in Dragon Warrior 1, I was all like "Look folks! I'm the only one that can save thine wretched kingdom and thine pitiful lives AND THOU-EST ALL KNOWETH IT!! *I* am the hero of legend!! Now, why art thou charging me for Magic Armor?!!" LOL!!

    I grew up shortly thereafter... ;)

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  4. The problem is, this isn't how the real world works. If you ask me to rescue your cat out of a tree, renting me the ladder to climb that tree seems more than a bit goofy.

    In MMOs, it's even sillier. "I need you to go on an epic quest with 11 of your friends. You'll fight off waves of demons, wade through rivers of filth, until you meet the boss demon you must slay to free the free peoples of the lands. Once you complete this, I will reward you with this epic weapon named Matademonios, a blade so keen it slices through metal. A holy blade that causes the denizens of the netherworld to recoil in terror, and their flesh to sizzle when struck. Although I've already given out several hundred of these weapons, it is still a marvel to behold! Please, brave warrior, save us!"

    "You know, that blade would be really nice when fighting all those demons. All I got is this rusty toothpick."

    "F*** off, leech. I'll wait for someone else to do it."

    The reality is that its a game and you're forced to play by the game's rules. You gotta cough up for that nifty upgrade. Doesn't detract from the fact that someone requiring payment from a hero trying to save existence itself is pretty lame.

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  5. Av6 is a truly epic and awesome game, Jeff. I was just able to play it through once before my logic board fried. (Stupid mac) Anyway, you rock. Keep on Rockin'.

    p.s. after getting through the first quarter of the game, I found I always had 30,000 coins.

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  6. The problem is, this isn't how the real world works. If you ask me to rescue your cat out of a tree, renting me the ladder to climb that tree seems more than a bit goofy.

    So you expect someone to just give you a shiny new ladder to keep? Good luck with that. Psychotic adventurers aren't the only people who need to make a living.

    "You know, that blade would be really nice when fighting all those demons. All I got is this rusty toothpick."

    Now that's another issue entirely.

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  7. Still, it felt somewhat odd in Mass Effect when your own quartermaster, a subordinate officer, on the ship of which you were captain, charged you money to get weapons from what must have been your own equipment locker.

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  8. So you expect someone to just give you a shiny new ladder to keep?

    I didn't say give, I said rent.

    But, speaking of giving: do they need the ladder afterwards? Are they going to ask me to keep climbing trees to save their kittens? Were they offering a reward to someone who rescues the kitten?

    Most times someone handing out a sword for a quest isn't the type that would use it. Otherwise they'd probably be out using it to prevent the utter destruction of known reality. ;)

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  9. It depends on if it's fun or not.

    If my quest is boring, I might as well be filling out paper work.

    I actually respect the way you use money in your games. There is a finite amount of cash and you are expected to make a hard choice about what to spend it on. It might be cool if you put in a late game treasure trove so we could rule the sandbox, but that's what the level editors for.

    Same thing for armor, unless you want to pour on a ton of strength, you're expected to make a choice between two or more pieces of equipment, though it's not always fun, so people pour a bunch into strength anyway.

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  10. It is the way the world works to an extent, it just depends on the situation.

    A merchant is probably not going to give you a free sword to go out and fight evil with, even though your fighting evil is in her best interests. Her business won't do well if evil overruns the town, but her business won't do well if she hands over free swords to every bravo who comes by either.

    However, if you're inside the shop and zombies are pounding on the door and the merchant is not a super combat-merchant, her handing you a free sword and saying "DO SOMETHING!" is far more reasonable than her counting the change.

    It would be nice if games judged the "Oh Shit" quotient and adjusted merchant behavior accordingly. :)

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  11. Actually, government agencies, elected officials, and non-for-profits do get to mail things for free. Which goes to show that sometimes people on the same side do work together.

    But in Avernum, where adventuring is part of the economy, it completely makes sense.

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  12. I get it. I really do. But your friend has a point. There's a disconnect between what I can do as a player in the game world and how the game world is trying to mirror the real world. If that makes sense.

    For example, why am I, the uber-powerful world-saving guy with the GREAT BIG GUN, not able to simply kill the trader and *take* what I need? He always seems to have everything on hand anyway. In times of war, needs must, you know.

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  13. That is an excellent point, and I somehow hadn't thought about it that way before.

    But I still think there's something to what Cameron said above: if I'm massively more powerful than the NPC, I should be allowed to intimidate them into giving me their stuff.

    This is particularly true in (for example) the Amana village in Avernum 5, after I saved their lives and then they backstabbed me. I got two conversation options: either "I forgive you, let's still be friends" or "I'm going to kill you all now". Where is "Give me all your money and I'll let you live"?

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  14. Still, it felt somewhat odd in Mass Effect when your own quartermaster, a subordinate officer, on the ship of which you were captain, charged you money to get weapons from what must have been your own equipment locker.

    Actually, it wasn't. If you talk to him, he'll explain how he has to buy it all himself, and is basically just another merchant. It is strange that at no time does anyone provide you with anything but transportation, though.

    There's a disconnect between what I can do as a player in the game world and how the game world is trying to mirror the real world. If that makes sense.

    For example, why am I, the uber-powerful world-saving guy with the GREAT BIG GUN, not able to simply kill the trader and *take* what I need?


    Maybe you should think about why you (hopefully) don't do that in the real world?

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  15. However, if you're inside the shop and zombies are pounding on the door and the merchant is not a super combat-merchant, her handing you a free sword and saying "DO SOMETHING!" is far more reasonable than her counting the change.
    That has GOT to be put into a game!! That is just too awesome!

    It would be nice if games judged the "Oh Shit" quotient and adjusted merchant behavior accordingly. :)
    Best. Post. Ever. (!)

    ----
    As far as threatening or killing merchants for loot, that can only be balanced out right if it's a game that tracks alignment or morality. Otherwise, it creates a strong incentive to go through the game basically evil with no repercussions. If it was that easy, to *not* do that would put you at a real disadvantage, thereby forcing you to do evil stuff. I like being the good-guy and not being punished for it.

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  16. Non-profits get to mail things for free? My boss would love to talk to you. NOBODY mails things for free.

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  17. There are other ways to make merchant-killing balanced without a forced alignment system. And they're even fairly realistic!

    If there are consumable items that the player badly needs, make the supply dependent on not killing the merchant--who's going to restock the ownerless store?

    This works for money as well; if the primary method of obtaining currency is through merchants and merchants ultimately have unlimited supplies of it, but there are plenty of non material transactions to make (e.g. training), then letting the player kill merchants and take their stuff to avoid spending money on it can be made almost zero sum. The money saved by killing the merchant is measured against the money lost by not having a money well to dip in to.

    Then of course there are NPC reactions to the player, ranging from being less inclined to help a murdering PC to law enforcement being sent after the player.

    But the main problem with just making it so that you can kill and loot whoever you want is that it's not really worth the time to implement in most games. Most people aren't going to miss the feature and it would add substantial chunks of additional design, implementation, and testing time. So there's no way I can fault Jeff for not having that feature in his games. It's not like Avernum and Geneforge are lacking in opportunities to steal stuff and kill people.

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  18. There's a part in Left 4 Dead 2 (a game which doesn't charge you for weapons, but the Director AI controls where and when you get items according to how well you are doing) where you encounter a gun shop salesman who lets you have whatever you want from his store as long as you do a short fetch quest for him.

    The catch is that the circumstances of the questlet mean that you darn well need to grab everything you can first, because you will be mobbed by zombies. If you survive, you still get some nice upgrades and can replenish your ammo afterwards.

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  19. Another few examples I thought of:

    In some games in the Ultima series (most notably Ultima VII and Ultima Underworld II) items are flagged for ownership. The AI was fairly advanced at the time in that you could potentially steal every single item in the world that isn't magically locked away, but you needed a way of avoiding/dealing with the owner. Also, in U7 stealing from innocents can cost you the loyalty of your companions, so you had to be careful.

    In Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, there's a merchant that you can steal from his store. However, if you do so and re-enter the store later he'll zap you with a magic beam and your name will permanently change to THIEF for the rest of the game. It's worth it for speed runs, but otherwise is a fair disincentive.

    I haven't tried this myself yet, but I hear that you can steal from merchants in Spelunky and they'll get mad at you and chase you to the end of the level. KILL a merchant and they'll all be mad at you for the rest of the game, even setting traps and such.

    In the Ultima 7 there's a conspiracy-style threat to the world that few people know about so they're completely justified in charging you. In Link's Awakening the merchant has a monopoly because he owns the only general store. Merchants in Spelunky are clearly there for the sole purpose of selling stuff to adventurers, and why would they risk traveling through a dangerous cave without demanding compensation for their wares?

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  20. Still, it felt somewhat odd in Mass Effect when your own quartermaster, a subordinate officer, on the ship of which you were captain, charged you money to get weapons from what must have been your own equipment locker.

    A more realistic way ME could have tackled that issue would have been to have you recquisition weapons and equipment through your supply officer who would then sit on the order for several weeks because he doesn't do his job. Then, after you finally yell at him at least three days in a row, he will place the order (paid for using your unit's funds), which will then take an additional month to ship. At this point, you will realize that you need much more powerful equipment. And the headache starts all over.

    Yes, that is the way the military works in real life.

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  21. Great post, btw, Jeff. Loved your response.

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  22. I totally agree with the conclusion, i.e. that if you need it for game balance, then you just do it.

    But your friend is still right: in the real world it is common practice for many corporations or agencies to pay to send some of their employees to attend to a conference where they learn things.

    It is also very common for them to give you the instruments you need to do your work (though usually you either have to give them back after work, or sometimes you are able to buy them with a strong discount).

    Sure, it is also common the opposite, i.e. to expect the employee to already know how to do what he has to do, or to already have the instruments.
    So you can do just the fuck you want of course, but don't be surprised if your friend finds that awkward.

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  23. This is completely like real life, your friend has no reason to complain. The only thing I can think is that when playing a video game people expect things to not be like real life.

    Or maybe, this shows that players would prefer recieving the quest's reward before completing the quest. Or at least a partial reward, like an advance. Advances happen in real life (rarely..), so maybe that would be a good gameplay mechanic to toy around with. Or just don't fix what isn't broken?

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  24. @Lo'oris: Re: employee training and supplies - While true that companies often pay for employee training and cover all needed supplies to work, this is not generally true with freelancers, contractors, and consultants. When you hire a mason to build some flower-beds, yes, you pay for the bricks and mortar, but the mason brings his own tools. When a company hires a freelancer to build a website, they do not generally provide authoring software or photoshop or even a computer.

    As a general rule, freelancers supply their own tools while they are often provided with supplies (mortar, bricks, text for articles, logins for servers, etc.).

    The ladder example above is a poor game-design choice, IMO, but charging for training and consumables is a good one.

    I think the key point, however, is that of all the "unrealistic" things to complain about, picking the single(main?) "realistic" mechanic in the game is a little silly.

    I bet if it were made more "unrealistic", it wouldn't even phase the friend. Implement some sort of "good will" stat, and as you do things in and around and for a town/group, you earn goodwill, which you can then use like calling in a favor from an old friend. If you don't have enough goodwill, of course, gold always greases the wheels.

    Good article, thanks!

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  27. "...gun shop salesman who lets you have whatever you want from his store as long as you do a short fetch quest for him."

    The point of that mission isn't that he lets you keep his guns — you already have the guns by the time you talk to him — but that he'll blow up the barrier blocking your progress, which is fundamentally more useful/important than the guns. But, in truth, it's just a weak excuse for an otherwise awesome set-piece battle. (See also: the plot of every action game/movie ever made.)

    As for a player being pissed at not being given free junk, it's the intoxication of being declared the Chosen One, who everyone expects to save their sorry asses and then no one helps — which is, in point of fact, somewhat realistic.

    Players have skewed expectations based on how they/we think their/our character(s) should be treated, often without actually knowing why they/we expect things to behave a certain way. When asked to explain, they/we come up with whatever random bullcrap happens to be floating atop the mush that is their/our brains. It isn't enough that the game is fun and doesn't crash; as a developer, you know this better than anyone.

    Also, people in general love to bitch.

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