Tuesday, April 21, 2009

WoW vs Guitar Hero

Melf_Himself over at Word of Shadow brought up comparisons between WoW and Mario 3, although I must admit from the title of the post (Faux gameplay - losing control), I thought it was going to be a debate on stunlocking and CC. Melf basically boils game time down to things you do (gameplay), and things you don't do (graphics, setting, etc). A reference to the Racoon Suit of Mario 3 popped up: In good games, the same feature of the game features both aspects. For example, in Super Mario Bros 3 I can obtain the Raccoon Suit. The Raccoon Suit is powerful. It lets me fly for short bursts, slows my descent when I fall, and lets me hit enemies that I couldn't kill by jumping on. The Raccoon Suit is also awesome. It gives me little ears, my tail waggles, it makes cute sound effects. I'm also not used to flying around in a game and defying gravity and ninja-hitting people with my tail, so I am left with a distinct cool impression resulting from the unusual gameplay.

It then goes on to relate this to terms of WoW and PVE encounters. And yet, as I read this piece, I couldn't help but think a better comparison might be to that of Guitar Hero.

Guitar Hero, when picked up for the first time, is an incredibly 'fun' experience. It's so different than something like Mario or WoW, that it's immediately appealing. Playing something like Smoke on the Water on 'easy' is a perfect intro lesson to how your 'class' works, and what each button does, and how you're expected to 'beat this encounter'. In addition to that, it's a huge amount of honest to god fun, and there's no denying that simple fact. If you've made it this far in life without having played a Guitar Hero game, I'm not sure what you're trying to prove to everyone.

Anyway, at that point you're still in easy mode, and using only three buttons. It seems a bit rudimentary, so you go to medium. It's still the same song, and you're still using the same guitar, but now your pinky makes an appearance from time to time. You've leveled up, and learned a new button to push. Instead of just spamming Sinister Strike five times, and then Eviscerating, you're learned to throw a Rupture on the boss. Your DPS is improving, grasshopper. Soon you will be fierce warrior.

Now, at this point, the game is still fun for me. I've challenged myself to use all four fingers, but I'm still playing an enjoyable game. I can enjoy the 'fight' for what it is, and can still sing along with the song as I play. Most of my strumming is done on the downstroke, and the note patterns aren't horribly punishing. There are a few times when I need to hit two buttons at once, and a few other times where I jump back and forth between a few different two note combos.

I challenge myself a bit further, and take on Thunderkiss 65 by White Zombie, it's a song I love even outside of the game. I never really got too into Deep Purple in my day, and would even go so far as to say that there are no tracks on Guitar Hero by anyone I play in my car radio (Redman? Dre Dog? I get the feeling "Cocaine Raps" isn't on the radar at Activision).

Anyway, sidetracked.

Thunderkiss 65 has a pretty distinct starting riff (first ten seconds of that youtube link above) that just felt like it was being ridiculously dumbed down on easy mode, and even 'not done justice' on medium, so I challenged myself to play it on hard. While the feeling of that intro is nailed much better on hard, the rest of the song has a few points where it's kind of a bit much for me. I realized I had stopped singing the song, and stopped swaying as I played. I was instead hunched over, tensed up, and focusing a little too intently on the screen. As I'd drop my combo multiplier I'd curse under my breath and I realized something important: I wasn't really having fun anymore. The game had become a test, and instead of running and jumping and flying, I was dragging some cross on my back, uphill, to the finish line.

Expert mode? lol, fuck that. Taking GH to the min/max extreme of Through the Fire and Flames on expert would offer zero enjoyment for myself. About as 'hardcore' as I get is the previously mentioned Thunderkiss 65 on hard. I can do it, but it's frustrating. I can bang it out almost perfectly on medium, though, and while doing it on medium it feels good.

Are any of our WoW encounters REALLY that different from a Guitar Hero song? Our defined rotations. The bridges of phase shifts, the chorus of running back and forth during Heigan. There are certain things we do over and over in any given encounter, and is my disc priest's 'trick' of throwing a Power Word: Shield, then burning a Penance (which, since it's channeled, doesn't consume the Borrowed Time buff), followed by a properly Borrowed Time hasted Greater Heal any different than nailing that certain distinctive Red-Yellow-Green-Yellow-Green of Smoke on the Water? To me it feels like a jumping roundhouse - crouching medium kick - fireball combo I'd pull off with Ken in SF4. I do that combo time and again in Street Fighter, but it feels good breaking it out. I'll mix it up from time to time and throw a Shoryuken on the end, or a
Tatsumaki Senpuu-Kyaku. Instead of Greater Heal, I'll chuck a
hasted Flash Heal or Prayer of Healing on the end. It isn't rote, but it's a groove you can get into.

I want to be challenged by WoW, but at the same time, I had no issues with Naxx being 'too fucking easy'. I could just enjoy a nice run on medium and focus on other things. I could hum along with the song being played, and take a look around. I didn't need to curse under my breath when I realized I haven't had Prayer of Mending popping around for the past 5 minutes like I should have. Who cares, it's Naxx, let's just relax and enjoy it.

Since my last article, I've spent some time in Ulduar. I've managed to join a splinter guild that was a bunch of guys splitting off one of the main guilds on Cho'gall, and joined a Uld10 pug and took a ginvite in the middle of the run (note to GMs in the audience, THAT'S how you recruit. Not spamming trade, and not demanding applications). We spent two solid days wiping in Ulduar, and I had a great time. It was a different kind of fun than Naxx, but it doesn't make either playstyle superior.

I was never in Sunwell when it was hard. I've cleared it as an 80 just to see the place, but from what I hear, it was Through the Fire and Flames. So far Ulduar is looking like Thunderkiss on Hard. I'll be able to pull it off, and as time goes on, it will become easier. Am I alone in just wanting some stuff that's fun to execute, instead of being ridiculously technical and intricate?


Cap'n John said...

Being a Wii owner I don't have Smoke on the Water. What I do have is Cliffs of Dover, and Hier Kommt Alex, which are awesomely fun songs that I play on Medium, because Hard is Not Fun and Expert is Freaking Insane, and I'm playing GH to have Fun, damn it!

Jan said...

Intricate and technical is fun. Twin Emperors and C'thun were the most intricate encounters I did, and mastering all those little details until I had perfect execution was the most fun I've ever had raiding.

Your parallel with Guitar Hero falls apart when you factor in other players' impact on your game experience. Twin Emps were insanely fun for me, however, wiping for the 10th time in a row because of someone else messing up is not. Understandably no one can have a perfect run every single time especially during learning period, and multiplying that by forty players means a lot of wipes. Yet in spite of that, it feels annoying to feel dragged down by other people, so I quit raiding.

On the other hand, Guitar Hero (or rather, Rock Band, you bloody heathen! :3) is a solo experience. Whenever I fail out of a song, I know it's because I have some practicing to do, and I can't lay the blame on others. (Except Visions, that song is just horrendous in every way.) Knowing I'm the only one responsible for my success makes it so much more exhilarating when I do overcome a hurdle. Like actual music, you just keep playing at your current level and eventually you want a challenge and move to the next one.

Besides, playing on Expert isn't mutually exclusive with headbanging and getting a wee bit too much into fake plastic rock. :D

Zaxis said...

Ixo, long time reader, first time commenter. I have to agree and yet, at the saem time, I also kind of agree with Jan. Sometimes all I really want is to challenge myself to play the hardest song in Rock Band that I have, on expert, and see if I can survive it. Mind you, that's not something I do all the time.
Most of the time, I play through every song on hard. That's my comfort zone with Guitar Hero/Rock Band. However, when it comes to raiding, I think the big difference, like Jan hinted at, is that when raiding, the other people can determine what "difficulty" you would be playing the game at. If someone pulls the boss early, it taxes the tank and healers. If the tank doesn't have their hit capped, they have the chance to lose threat, making DPS's lives harder. It'd be like if in RB/GH, someone could come along, pick up a second guitar, and crank up your difficulty to expert.
Really not sure where I was going with this. I had a point, and then lost it. Oh well. Keep up the good work.

Hatch said...

I choose not to learn how to play Guitar Hero on hard because adding the 5th orange button just completely screws up my ability to enjoy it. I felt exactly the same as you did: loved guitar hero when I was jamming along, lost interest when it became a "test". I want very different things from Guitar Hero and WoW.

I tend to skip other grindy games completely now that I play WoW. I used to play tons of Tony Hawk and pick up any game ever released where you could "level up". Now, I only play other games for specific experiences I can't get in WoW. Guitar Hero is one of them, so is Mario, or RPGs with very strong story or exploration (Fallout 3).

Glad you found a good fitting guild and checked out Ulduar, Ixo. BTW, we just picked up a priest that we had previously pugged with and brought him in vent to chat a few times, then voted on and invited him last night. No app. :)

HP said...

Right now guilds are having to spend alot of time to progress through Ulduar but I doubt that is something my guild can do as we are only going to 3 raid days but are still working with 2 so we aren't even doing old content for upgrades. In the end, it's more fun and less stressful this way since I don't have to raid every single day until Ulduar is cleared and on farm. There is a greater sense of accomplishment though after we down a boss in Ulduar.

Tragedyx said...

I like guitar hero, but it doesn't offer any music I listen to at all. As a solution, my g/f got me GH3 for computer and I found a site that taught me how to create custom tracks. It takes some time, but in the end it's worth it. I have a music library of a hundred songs or so, either created by myself or other people, and every song is one I know.

Playing songs you don't really like on medium/hard is kind of boring. But trying to master a song you love on hard/expert is a totally different experience and actually worth the 2-3 hours you'll spend on it.

Tesh said...

I just can't stand any of RB or GH's music selection. I think the gameplay itself is fun enough, though. *shrug*

That aside, I'm all for placing fun on a higher pedestal than technical perfection. I'm not opposed to giving the hardcore their toys, too, but I don't like gating content behind insane skill checks or DIAS (Do It Again, Stupid, via Shamus at Twenty Sided) gameplay.

World of Goo actually does this nicely; you can play the game and get through most levels with a modicum of ability, but the OCD challenges are nasty hard; perfect for the perfectionist.

Rich said...

Jan said: On the other hand, Guitar Hero (or rather, Rock Band, you bloody heathen! :3) is a solo experience.

rock band isn't a solo experience!

Guitar hero can be played 'co-op' (and is a lot of fun that way). Yeah I guess at the end it's supposed to be 'who played better? player one wins!' but for me it's always just nice to switch off on various parts of the song with a friend.

rock band I haven't played, but thought it was supposed to be the equivalent of a 5 man? If everyone wants heroic Halls of Lightning, and you want Wailing Caverns, I could see where the frustration could creep in, and you'd be essentially dragging everyone else down with you.

I didn't really take the other players into consideration, I was speaking for myself personally when talking about 'preferring medium'.

Then again, I feel like I'm a pretty good player (in WoW), so my medium may be someone else's expert.

But some of my favorite raiding experiences were horrific pugs in kara where four of my uber geared friends and I all just dragged 5 other hapless pugs along behind us in a whirlwind of intentionally bad pulls while we joked on vent. We'd be simultaneously trying to wipe the group, as well as miraculously survive these crazy pulls, and would be pulling the next group already with half the pull still up.

horrifically sloppy play, but fun.

Melf_Himself said...

The difference is that in Guitar Hero, you can select the difficulty, which dictates how much 'skill' you will have to apply to succeed.

And if I have mad guitar skills, I can up the difficulty and also have fun.

In the areas of WoW in which you can alter the 'difficulty', it doesn't actually help if you're more skilled. You just need better gear and more players.

If difficulty was altered so that your skill actually mattered, everybody could play according to the level of challenge that they feel comfortable with, and *even more* people would play WoW.


Pierre said...

Only in WoW do you end up making multiple-page-long careful analysis, and compare/contrast essays about wow and some other activity.

I've made a detailed analysis of the PvP aspect of WoW and the Marxist struggle against anarchism in 19th century London... And my essay then delves deeper into the introspective world of Hemingway, and how his writing essentially serves as the inspiration for the dungeon network in Zangarmarsh.

Rich said...

and only on blogs do you get losers who post angry rants about how you shouldn't write what you're writing, and yet... they still come by every day because really, what other choice do they have when their lives are just one gloomy day after another filled with endless bitching and furtive masturbation?

Chris F said...

@Pierre: I hope you post that analysis. I read a GC comment that that was the exact inspiration.

@Melf: Good hotness of an idea there. Kind of what they are doing now, anyway, with hard modes/rewards, right? Difference being I suppose that the sense of satisfaction comes from completing the 'song' at a manageable difficulty level - not the rewards you get from doing so (which is why it wouldn't work as is in WoW. People want the same rewards for their own difficulty levels).

Great anolagy Izzy for the WoW single player experience and I think it does boil over (into Jan's comments) to GH: World Tour, or Rock Band. I can be rocking out on my guitar and my stupid drummer friend can ruin the song for us.

GH:WT fixes this by allowing difficulty to be set per instrument. I can play on hard level for the guitar (which is where I like to play) and the drummer can play on easy (which is his skill level).

Try throwing that in WoW. Tanking, DPS, and Healing difficulties. Everyone can play together. No guild trials for raid teams, etc. Interesting to think about.

Kind of the way they seem to have been going, pre-Uld anyway.

Pierre said...

why making wow easy-mode is bad :)

Real self-esteem — for all of us — comes from overcoming an obstacle-laden challenge, he believes, with hard work. Lavishing praise, he contends, is counterproductive and, if anything, makes kids needy and voracious for that other self-esteem-movement buzzword: validation.


Melf_Himself said...

@ Chris F:

The dependence of power on the massive gear-grind time sink is something that should probably be removed to support the kind of gameplay that I'm talking about. So no, we won't see it in WoW any time soon.

I don't think future developers are going to be able to rely on the 'carrot on a stick' model - this is the reason that WoW clones fail. They've got their fill of gear grinding in WoW, what other games should do is provide them with interesting gameplay.

Tal said...

One of the things you didn't touch on in your post is that in GH you pay for specific content, whereas in WoW you pay a monthly subscription. That means that while the goal in GH is to make you buy more songs (since they're fun), the goal in WoW is to keep you paying for a long time.
In addition, the cost of creating new GH tracks is much (much much) lower than designing a new raid instance. If designing a new raid was cheaper and wasn't something that took as long as it does, then Blizzard could have given you a new "fun" raid every month, but as it is they have to keep you busy for the next 6 months with Ulduar. How many times can you play "Smoke on the Water" on medium before you get sick of it?

Chris F said...

@Tal: Good point on the cost to make a song vs content. The sad truth is it doesn't really cost Blizzard much at all to run their game. Heck, with their box sales (+expansions) they don't even need to charge a sub fee and would still be hugely profitable.

At an Investor Analyst call in September 2008, Blizzard revealed that their TOTAL costs to maintain WoW since 2004 (4 years) was a paltry 200 million.

200 Million total, over four years, for staff, hardware support, customer support (their largest department), etc. that is just upkeep costs (not original costs of development) but still, the thought that your $15 a month is used up on the game costs, or development, is a terrible misconception.

Just for fun, since 2004, if we only include 11.5 million subscribers (current) that obviously bought all 3 boxes (at $50 a pop): That is revenues of 1.725 Billion. Take off 200 Million for maintenance, take off $50 million per box in dev costs, and you are still well over 1.3 billion in profits - before you account for the sub fee. That's right, that is withOUT the sub fee.

Now, they probably have sold far more than the 11.5 million boxes (per expansion) that they currently have, because you can't believe they have a 100% sub retention.

The reason why content takes so long is they have a small staff. Ghostcrawler (or Tigole, can't remember) recently admitted they only have 5 quest designers on staff.

It's brilliant and good on blizzard. I am not picking on them for the gouge because it is a great business model for them. I just want people to realize that pennies on their $15.00 a month actually go towards maintenance and development costs. It's pure cash money for them, baby!

The sub fee, like the cake, is a lie. =)

Rich said...

but not every 11.5 million users bought the box at 50 bucks, a fact that gets glossed over constantly.

in china they pay like 5 cents for every three hours of game time, and I'm not even sure if they buy the box up front.

Not saying it isn't a huge cash cow, just that many people attach that 11.5 million to the wrong 'other numbers'.

Chris F said...

true Ix - but NA/EUR numbers have been steady at close to 50% since launch - and they pay more than 50 in Europe/aus.

Also I didn't bother to count the people who bought the box(es) and don't sub anymore. So it's still safe to call a cash cow :)