I try to be a responsible adult most times and get a reasonable amount of sleep most nights, getting a reasonable 7-8 hours. Last night though I ended staying up till midnight and I have no idea how it happened.
I’ve said before how much I enjoy playing Card hunter, it has an interesting aesthetic and gameplay that sucks me in but I didn’t realise just how much. I noticed the clock around 9 then the next moment my hubby is telling me it’s midnight and we should probably go to bed. I haven’t lost track of time this badly in a long time and that’s how you can tell an amazing game. The thing is it’s not the quest for loot that keeps me going forward, I was actually just grinding out levels last night; it isn’t the aesthetic or story either. It is that Card Hunter just gets the pacing perfect.
The gameplay has a rhythm to it with how quickly you take turns, the movement and attack phases, and just the length of the modules and individual battles. Some of it varies a little in its intensity but on a whole the game flows beautifully into a point where you are just transfixed to the screen, to an unmistakable beat … and then, before you know it you’re trapped in the rhythm of play.
I think this sort of feeling is exactly why I become so enthralled in these online worlds of ours. Single player games are usually wrapped up in creating the ebb and flow throughout the story, peaks and valleys of excitement. MMO’s are a little different then that and while there will be components of this sort of pacing during storytelling moments or certain events the whole game usually has a particular measured pacing.
I remember questing and dungeons in rift had a pacing with how long monsters took to kill, how long quests and rifts took, and how quickly you progressed. Firefall, a game I’m thoroughly enjoying right now has a certain flow to gameplay with jumping in between events; even the events themselves are consistent between themselves. Thumping, one of my weirdly favourite activities has a distinct relaxed pacing to it where you can tell when the waves will come and how much they will be, you relax in the consistency of the event. Questing through the world of Tyria in GW2 even had a particular style of pacing to it between events and hearts that was thoroughly enjoyable… something I miss in many ways.
I think this also kind of explains the popularity of Final Fantasy 14 in a way. It is described as traditional questing but what it really is is an older, slower, measures and more methodical pacing of the game and combat. Playing that game just felt so familiar and you fall into that rhythm of questing, collecting, and killing enough for it to be a trance of sorts, it’s enjoyable in a way to fall into this as outside thoughts fade, distraction become forgotten and you become more immersed in the world
Looking towards Keen’s recent post about the gameplay of fates in FF:14 you can sense an irritation in the disconnect between regular play and just how frenetic that sort of experience is. You have a game with a relaxed pace and then your having to rely on these activities that feel disconnected from the rest of the game. Even looking towards WoW and its recent Timeless Isle update there is actually a bit of discontent between the rest of the game and this new, loot raining from the sky environment.
What I have noticed in my gameplay is that consistency of this is key; it’s great to have a bit of variance once in a while but if you break that pacing the whole experience seems to fall apart in a way. Looking at GW2, the original experience of the game was enthralling but now with these updates it has adopted a new, much more faster paced style of play. Constant movement, large groups, quick killing, and overwhelmed in rewards. This, and the players who adopt this new gameplay style then become in conflict with other players who share a diametrically opposed pacing and playstyle. Neither is a right way I guess (although I have my obvious interests), it’s more an issue of breaking a defined style of play.
It seems at times like that invisible drum beating away becomes the heart of the experience, it’s what you feel deep inside when playing … how you can just tell the minute you enter a world that it is perfect to you. We fall in love with this rhythm, it guides our play and breaking this can form a great conflict inside. You become the drum beat that’s out of time. or the tune just out of key. It’s not right and because of that it just becomes unplayable until either the pacing normalises or until you right yourself within the new equilibrium.
Impact of Updates
The biggest danger but also the saving grace behind these mmo’s are the updates that frequently change the world and mechanics in minuscule or enormous ways. Content updates have elicited a rather large amount of debate in recent times, many things are contested from the style of content, the story elements, the focus of changes, and even just the improvement of functioning. The one thing I think that has always gained a response from me whether it’s a sigh, a cheer, a long-winded rant, or the breath that follows into a highly relaxed state is the style of pacing that gets brought in with them.
I love new things in my updates; new areas, skills, customisation options and activities but what I don’t like is when that pacing I have become so familiar and fond of gets changed, altered or torn apart. I have had holiday events where the entirety of the game is slowed down to perpetuate an activity, or games where it has been speed so far up that I would need to partake in amphetamines to alter my course. Now that is not to say I don’t like a little diversity in my updates that are removed from the whole that have their own beat, these are a wonderful distraction and help to keep the experience feeling fresh but after those I always want to come back to the familiar, to the hearth and familiar beat that constantly calls to me.
It seems even the frequency of these updates can be of concern at times. The way the mmo industry is progressing lately is towards faster and faster content patches, it is a way of beating the competition, of appearing to be of greater worth, and of gaining more media attention and for the most part it does kind of work. But is it a good thing? Gaming SF recently had a post regarding the rhythm of updates and their effect on his play, most recent is his experience with rift and a feeling of exhaustion that comes from keeping up with these events. I think I could reference a dozen posts about GW2 and its onslaught of updates.
It is the pace of these updates that dictates the pacing of the game in many ways… it determines how much and how frequently you are supposed to play, how much you have to learn, and just how much it takes you away from the core of the game. In the great scheme of things I think it will always come down to the content of the updates rather than the actual timing of them. WoW has been going on for what feels like an eternity now and it certainly isn’t very quick with updates. It is on a large decline but from what I’ve read around the internet the pace of the updates is not the breaking point for people, it’s a multitude of other factors with maybe frequency being a part of it at times but not the defining feature.
In the march towards progress the game they are trying to improve gets forgotten. I have no idea what the optimal style is or even if there is one that can that can apply to all mmo’s out there.. I wouldn’t think so. It is really up to the game about how quickly the updates should be but I don’t think in this age, most developers are accounting for it.