A friend of mine got me thinking about game design, particularly in closing off options that bypass gameplay Vs just making them undesirable.
The situation in question is flying in World of Warcraft. In every expansion that has been released(except Cataclysm), flying is a max level only affair. It is simply locked in the new areas until you hit max level and pay some sort of fee. The developers have stated this is because flight bypasses core game mechanics such as questing, monster locations, and ground combat. I’m wanting to explore the design choices if instead Blizzard allowed flying, but at some risk or cost right off the bat.
I hate to be pessimistic, but players rarely will take the fun route over the fast route in WoW. There is a culture of perceived peer pressure to get to max level and power up as fast as possible so you won’t “hold your raid back.” In this case, no matter how brutal flying’s drawback was, if it made that ride to “totally decked out” faster, players would still fly and then resent the game for whatever cost is associated with flying.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at Reforging. The concept behind it was “I like going fast so I’ll drop crit for haste!” Which sounded really cool! Very quickly, much like Best in Slot, Enchants, and Gems, Reforging just became another hurdle to overcome in the race to the “finish.” Players cheered as loud as the announcement of the feature as the announcement of its removal from the game. Players were doing complex math(until AskMrRobot and addons did it for you), spending countless gold and time min/maxing.
But I’m just talking about general game design, right? Obviously, Blizzard works on a different level with thousands of websites dedicated to their works. Players crawl through the game’s code to give tools to “average players” to min/max. It can be seen in other games like Pokemon(with easier to understand Effort Values after years of competitive grinding), or Magic the Gathering(with NetDecks and card analysis). If I’m just making casual board or card games, these things won’t apply, right? Well, a game can be casual and still have social pressures to “make the right choice.” Friends don’t let friends play Jigglypuff in Smash Bros, or non-flying Hill Giants in Small World.
So if I’m making a board game where you choose one of four classes. If one of the classes is ignoring a major gameplay element and winning a high % of the time, and the classes mechanic cannot be changed numerically(they walk through walls, we’ll say), I can either make the cost higher(he takes damage when moving through the walls) or remove him(or his ability to walk through walls). Obviously, as a designer, I hate to completely trash ideas. But if he takes extra damage, it has to be harsh(thus being a huge risk, but still gaining a huge advantage). Having risky choices is fun! But if that player is never punished for the risk, it can quickly become “houserules” that the character is over powered. If the player is punished too often, then they class is not played and new players are warned off of the class.
Is it possible to balance an overpowered ability that bypasses core game mechanics? Yes. Is it work the time and effort?
I’ll just say I don’t blame Blizzard from blocking flight early on in the expansions so players cannot bypass the core mechanics of ground-combat, questing and agroo-range.