Playstyles With Personality

How many times have you sat down to write something clever or insightful and just, you know, ranted?

I've just spent 5 hours putting cheese on shelves at a supermarket. My daily quota for internal ranting has well and truly been met.

I thought maybe I'd ask you something for a change, god knows this blog has heard enough about what I think.

If you can, try and picture your favourite "playstyle" from anything you've played in the past (I know, there's a lot to choose from, bare with me).

Maybe it's that build in World of Warcraft you beat your head against a wall trying to farm for.

Is it that champion from League of Legends you know inside-out and back-to-front?

It could even be as simple as a weapon or a skill. Maybe you just fucking adore the sniper rifle in all of its glorious iterations.

Think as big or as small as you'd like.

Now, I don't know you. I don't know what types of games you play. Don't know what you do for a living. But despite that, I can guaran-fucking-tee the answer to my question wasn't "Mercenary".

I'll put money on the fact that it wasn't "Technology".

I'd also wager that generic, incremental stat increases don't exactly butter your bread (although I am admittedly a sucker for crit chance).

Whatever you thought of, whatever you chose, it's a small part of your personality. It speaks to you in a way that feels different from other things you've played.

It stands out.

So why do I keep seeing so many skill-trees with the blandest,  most generic bullshit I've ever seen?

Brawler. Hunter. Survivor.

It just feels weird to me. For a medium that connects so tangibly with its audience, it makes no god damned sense to see such a white-washed view of what the "average player" wants

The "average player" really doesn't even exist. It's made-up, a thing we use to make some informed guesses about what average people want.  Aiming for Average players is a financial consideration. It's not about designing things in the most interesting way.

This is really important for videogames as a whole. I think as the curators of a young, growing medium, the onus is on us to make something that's different than what's come before. To take what's already been explored and add a piece of ourselves.

That's why it's starting to bother me so much to see AAA companies (that are obviously brimming with creative talent) churn out an endless series of beige "talent systems" that are inspired neither by creativity nor personality.

I think games should have systems that encourage growth, progression and experimentation. They shouldn't just aim for the path of least resistance.

I adore Path of Exiles' dauntingly beautiful Skill Tree.

I relish the opportunity to try (and fail) to craft the perfect deck in Slay the Spire.

I embrace being beaten down at every opportunity because I forgot to upgrade my armour (again) in Darkest Dungeon.

And I think there are some central elements to why these are the things that speak to me.

 And why "Mercenary" doesn't.

  • They all provide interesting and dynamic moments of frustration that are based on the decisions that I make.

  • They speak to the intrinsic value that's associated with learning and mastering new mechanics, rules and techniques.

And this is the most important for me by far:

  • They have a clear mechanical personality. They aren't trying to please everyone, they're trying to be themselves and have as much fun doing that as they possibly can.

We should be designing new systems that are based on these elements. I don't think we should just tell the player that something is going to make you a "Hunter" or a "Brawler", we've moved past that (plus they're shit titles). We have to show them.

We should be making things with a mechanical identity, exploring weird new ideas that haven't been given life yet.

We need to start making systems that are based around a real, tangible personality, not just a throwaway theme (this is obviously not indicative of the entire games industry).

I'll leave you with a line that sums up my next major work:

"The Hook is the hook."

Make of that what you will, it's gonna be weird.

I'll be talking about it more in the weeks to come in my blogs as well as on my personal Twitter.