23 July 2011

Rant: "Skill Rotations"

I know that the roleplaying audience skews a little older than the MMO audience, so bear with me while I explain everything to the other side. K?

Let me give you a brief history of where this topic came from: I was looking at my Steam page at the games I'd bought over the past couple of years when I landed on Spiral Knights. Clicked on the news thing (1 million registered users, hey not bad), and then read the article and the read the comments. Got through a dozen or so neutral or negative comments (mostly complaining about the time limit in the form of "energy", which I totally agree with), until I get to one comment that said something I really like.

He said, in short, that the reason he thinks a lot of people don't like Spiral Knights is because it can't be reduced to a spreadsheet, and that it's all about player skill. In most games you just need the correct gear and you win, but not in SK. Which is true, both ways.

One dissenting comment said, in essence, that's not true: it's about skill rotations. Skill rotations. Let me explain by way of picture. By my (admittedly and proudly dated) knowledge of World of Warcraft, I'm here to tell you that this is the skill rotation of an average tank (defensive warrior-type who "grabs" the attention of the enemies by some wierd-ass formula).

To some millions of players, this is all it takes to make a compelling game. This is what skill is, is recognizing the right values on a spreadsheet, to know what skills to cast and in what order while standing two feet from a dragon and pounding it on the snout. This is what "roleplaying games" means to some millions of people.

And, most annoyingly, this is what some people call "skill" in a game. This is not skill. "Rotating" abilities by managing cooldowns is not skill. It isn't difficult. It's why World of Warcraft has so fucking many players. Protip: It's because it's not hard. You're rewarded with shiny loot and new spells and bigger enemies and glowing level-up shinies and more badass things to ride for, essentially, knowing when to press 1 and when to press 2, and pressing 3 when 1 is unavailable due to cooldown and 4 when 2 is on cooldown.


What kind of bizarro world do I live in, where people honestly think that this is a difficult game? You don't think I know? I've played a lot of MMOs, and it's the reason that I flat-out refuse to play any MMO that has more than two of the following:
a) automatic "tab targetting" (where you hit tab to select the nearest enemy, so that you can hit 1 and run over to him and hit him with something)
b) a focus on PvE (grinding fetch quests until you're mighty)
c) standard fantasy races or classes (please do something new)

That, of course, is totally outside the point, but I don't think it's too much to ask, really.

And I think it's pretty obvious how this applies to roleplaying games, which tend to be pretty good about it (it being the resolution systems, that is). There has been no successful roleplaying game in which the resolution system is uninteresting and cumbersome. There has been no successful roleplaying game in which success can be guaranteed by superior gear and levels to the point where most challenges can be rendered moot (until recently, anyways.)

I guess all I'm saying is keep this post in mind when somebody claims to be "inspired" by MMOs, and feel free to shudder a little or throw up in your mouth. Most modern MMOs are fetishistic rehashes of concepts that have been bastardized, cannibalized, and misunderstood by computer games in a bizarre feedback loop (that I might get to talking about later). There's no reason to bring them into computer games.

Sorry about the post, I've been drinking beer again.


  1. Precisely why the only MMO I've ever been interested in is EVE Online.