Do Cheap Tactics Ruin Online Multiplayer?

Kotaku’s Mike Fahey has made a post addressing the age old issue of people using cheap tactics and how it frustrates gamers who are victimized by them.

I never try to speak ill of my fellow players, but when someone uses a cheap tactic to come out on top I feel like I’ve been robbed of my fun time. Being repeatedly hit by grenade launchers in any Call of Duty can really make you feel like all the skill in the room just left the lobby. Same thing in Red Dead Redemption when – whoops – who needs another weapon when the high powered pistol can be spammed? And let’s not forget the cheap hunting skills of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood when using a hidden gun, getting only 100 points for a kill instead of, say, 400 if you went up close for a stealthy kill.

Do Cheap Tactics Ruin Online Multiplayer?

To begin to address this issue I must first define the meaning of cheap when it comes to gaming. Cheap tactics are those which require relatively low amounts of skill to execute, but are highly effective. Often they take the form of simple actions repeated over and over that are extremely difficult to defeat.

My favorite example of a so-called cheap tactic that ruins games is snaking in Mario Kart DS. By shaking the DS back and forth very rapidly a player can get blue sparks far more often than was every intended by the game designers. It’s very easy to do, but it might hurt the hands/fingers of the player doing it. If one player uses the technique, then all other players must use it to maintain any chance of winning.

Why do cheap tactics ruin the fun in a game? Think of a fighting game like Street Fighter 2. The fun of Street Fighter 2 is the complex attack and defense. There are so many moves and characters to choose from, and so many different options. That is what gives fighting games such extensive replay value.

Now imagine if in Street Fighter 2, Ryu’s Hadoken were unblockable and unavoidable. Suddenly every single player would always play Ryu and do nothing but throw fireballs. Winning and losing would simply depend on who could throw the fireballs faster. All other strategies are guaranteed losing strategies. A game that was so huge and complex is actually dead simple. At first glance, the game appeared as complex as Go, but in reality is simpler than tic-tac-toe.

My main problem with the Mike’s posting is that he seems to think that the correct solution is for players to not use these cheap tactics. I strongly disagree. If you are playing a competitive game, you play to win by any means necessary without cheating.

You play to win the game. The solution to tic-tac-toe is well known, as illustrated so well by xkcd. If you play tic-tac-toe, and you don’t follow that winning strategy, then you either don’t know it, or you aren’t playing to win. If you know the solution to tic-tac-toe, why are you playing it in the first place? Playing a solved game is pointless. The point of playing a game to win is because you are trying to solve it. Once it’s solved, game over.

When a game has a cheap tactic, then that game is solved or broken. Do not blame a player for being cheap. You can’t blame someone for playing to win. Blame the game for being shitty. Also, if someone is being cheap, and you are not, you should ask yourself “why aren’t I playing to win?” On the same token, players who have solved a game should ask themselves “why am I playing this game that I’ve solved?”

Don’t blame the player, blame the game. The only time you blame the player, is if they are not playing to win.

How Fast Should We Play Games?

Lisa Foiles has written a piece for Kotaku suggesting that games should be played slowly. That gamers should experience most or all of what a game has to offer, and burning through a game as quickly as possible is somehow not as good.

It also took me three years to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy – not because I lack the mental competence to read quickly, but because I refused to miss any details and frequently paused to imagine myself in the middle of the action. Tolkien gave me a masterpiece. I wanted to make it last.

I do the same with many video games, spending weeks, even months playing through story and character-driven titles. Hey, I paid good money for these games and the developers spent a lot of time creating these worlds for my enjoyment. I want to get the full experience.

How Fast Should We Play Games?

Obviously, this is a case of different strokes for different folks. If someone likes to play games slowly, then that’s their prerogative. However, I would suggest that almost everybody, except children, should be playing single player games very quickly.

Wait, why not children? Children have nothing better to do. Even if they go to school, they have tons more free time than adults, and no responsibilities. They also have no money. Most children are lucky to have few, if any, video games at all. Pokemon is popular because kids actually have the time to catch them all, as they well should.

Why not multiplayer games? Multi-player games, at least good ones, are basically sports. Unlike a single player game which is a sea of authored content to be unlocked and enjoyed, multi-player games are about competition with other people, not enjoying the scenery. You can play Counter-Strike over and over again with no end, just like you can play Baseball over and over again.

For you adults, why is it good to rush through a single player game as quickly as you can? Why is taking your time and enjoying the scenery not such a good idea?

First of all, the scenery in most games is shit. Take Borderlands for example. The plot missions have all the interesting stuff going on with interesting environments and bad guys. The side missions are boring as all hell. Kill ten skags. Ok, kill these different colored skags. Yeah, they’re all in the same boring desert area where everything is brown. What’s the point? You’re just wasting your time. Just forget your compulsive need to get 100% completion, and only do the good parts of the game.

Someone recently told me a story about how they played Half-Life 2 for the first time,and they found the part with the boat to be interminably boring. I totally understood where they were coming from. The first time I played HL2, I stopped to smell the roses. When I was in that boat I moved very slowly. I killed every bad guy, and tried to find every stash of loot. I did the same then during the driving part. I stopped at every house looking for ammo and health.

Later, when I replayed HL2, I learned my lesson. I didn’t stop. I just put the pedal to the metal, and hauled ass through the vehicle sections as quickly as possible. There is no doubt in my mind that that is how the designers intended for those sections to be played. I mean, you’re trying to save your friends and the world, you better be gunning it! Not only that, but as soon as you start to go fast, the whole area turns into an insanely awesome action movie chase with explosions and jumps galore. If you’ve already played HL2, I suggest loading up the boat section and flooring it to see what I’m talking about. Faster is better.

Lastly, I don’t know about other people, but I don’t have much free time. The vast majority of my time is spend at work, sleeping, and socializing. What little time is left is further reduced by cleaning, running errands, cooking, eating, and generally taking care of life. Oh, and then I spent time on productive side projects like a podcast an such. There’s really not much time for video games in there.

If I were to play a game that took 40 hours to beat, that would eat up all of my video gaming time for months. You might say that’s a really good deal. Sure, if you’re short on cash, then having one game that is fun for a very long time with lots of replay value is good for you. Civilization 5 is coming, that’s the perfect game for you.

The thing is, I have money. I have so many unbeaten, or even unplayed, video games on my plate I can’t even remember them all. That doesn’t even include the insane number of free or cheap indie games that are available on the PC, or old classic games I’ve bought on Steam, or multiplayer games I still need to practice more often. I’ve still got unbeaten and unplayed Wii games, and I can’t even remember the last time I turned on my Wii.

Someone in my situation, and I suspect many gamers are, probably shouldn’t devote all their time to one really long game. If there is a long game you want to play, just burn through to the end as quickly as you can. You’ll experience the best parts of the game and skip by the parts that are not as good or necessary. The benefit is that you’ll be able to play a lot more games.

Yeah, I guess there’s something to be said for slowly reading Tolkien over the course of three years. But seriously, If I don’t want to miss anything, I can re-read it. It’s not going anywhere. I could probably read any Tolkien book in a week. At that rate, I could re-read the entire trilogy probably over 30 times in three years. I think re-reading it 30 times will allow me to remember and experience every detail a lot more than reading it once over the course of three years.

But of course, I wouldn’t re-read the same books 30 times. I would read different books. If someone asks what books you have read, and you’ve only read three in the past three years, that’s pretty sad. If you want to be well read, you need to read many books. Variety is the spice of life.

What’s better, experiencing every single insignificant detail and side quest of some incredibly long JRPG, or experiencing the best parts of maybe twenty games you could have beaten in that same amount of time?

Life is short. There are zillions of video games at this point, not to even count movies, books, comics, shows, plays, and other entertainment media. You only have so much time to enjoy any of them. Make sure when you invest your time into something, that it’s a good one. If it’s not good, just stop. Your time is more important. If it has good and bad parts, just skip the bad parts. Think about what your time is worth to you before you accept that fetch quest.

Nintendo “Not Satisfied” With its Online Efforts

According to Kotaku, Nintendo is not satisfied with their current offline offerings. They realize that Microsoft, and even Sony, are destroying them in terms of online play. Nintendo effectively has none.

“And I can say that we are not currently satisfied with the online efforts that we have made so far, and we are working at ways to improve those. On the other hand, I do not think that online functionality is something that we should be devoting resources to for every single product.”

Nintendo “Not Satisfied” With it Online Efforts

Wait, what’s this extra bit about not doing it on every single project? On the XBox every single game has some sort of XBox live functionality. They might not all have the full-blown online play like Super Street Fighter IV or Halo, but they’ll at least let you compare high scores with friends. The Kotaku editor also questions how Nintendo can possibly have limited resources.

So Nintendo is not satisfied with its online efforts, but does not think online functionality is something it should be devoting resources to for every single product? Can’t we have both? Isn’t Nintendo one of the most successful companies in not only Japan, but the world? Limited resources? Bwah?!

It is absolutely true that Nintendo’s online offerings suck ass. If they want them to stop sucking, they have to do two things. First, they have to give up on the friend code system. I know they are trying to protect all the children playing Pokemon from pervs, but it’s time to give up. It’s not a fight they can win. If they don’t open up the system, they might as well not have it at all. If they do open it up, the amazing online games will make them more than enough money to outweigh the bad press about child predators. A Pokemon MMO is probably the only thing that can threaten World of Warcraft and Farmville.

That being said, the Kotaku editor clearly doesn’t understand Nintendo very well. He’s surprised that Nintendo is claiming to have limited resources. Of course Nintendo has limited resources. The three limited resources they have are talent, time, and money. They have big talents, but they don’t have them in huge quantity. That’s why the quantity of games they put out is so low, and releases are infrequent. By limiting budgets for their titles, they insure the high profit margins continue.

Think about it. A blockbuster game like Modern Warfare sells millions of copies, and makes hundreds of millions of dollars. However, it also costs many millions of dollars to produce. Meanwhile a game like New Super Mario Bros. Wii or Pokemon costs far less to produce, and also sells millions of copies. If Nintendo didn’t act like their resources were limited, and included every feature possible on every game, their production costs would shoot through the roof, and their profit margins would go down in the basement.

And be honest here. How much do you think adding online play to New Super Mario Bros. Wii would cost in terms of production? It would take a lot of time to code around problems like lag, so that the quality of the online play was up to Nintendo standards. Those programmers could have been working on some other game instead. How many extra sales would adding online play have gotten them? They calculated that it wouldn’t be worth it, and they’re probably right.

Yes, Nintendo’s online play sucks, and that hurts gamers. Yet, like everything else Nintendo does, it’s all about the money. They are laughing all the way to the bank every single time. You know you’re still going to buy that new Zelda game, Metroid: Other M, and they know it as well. They’re going to do the bare minimum necessary to make sure it happens, and move on. If online play isn’t part of that bare minimum, you’re not going to get it.