I may have mentioned in prior posts that I did something a wee bit silly and signed up for a year’s subscription to World Of Warcraft. The reason(s) I did this are as nebulous as they are silly, but they are also fairly inconsequential. The pertinent effect of subscribing on a yearly basis to World Of Warcraft in this case was that I ended up getting to download and install Diablo III for free.
In order to understand the gravity of what I am saying here, I think it might be best to tell you a few things about me and my history. I grew up in a fairly similar pattern to videogames themselves. When I was an infant, Atari were riding high on the novelty factor of the business in which they were for all intents and purposes the only major player. When I was a preschooler, a litany of bad decisions and marketing fukk-ups were seeing Atari haemorrhage money like a film production does today. And just before I became what they refer to as a schoolboy, the market for videogames suffered such a catastrophic crash that the entire seat of the industry crossed an ocean, where it has mostly remained since. I have seen games go from the simple to the sleep-ruiningly complex, and scatter into everything in between. I have seen the market evolve from children bitching about how sucky and chunky games in the home are compared to coin-ops to coin-ops more or less entirely falling by the wayside. I have even seen televisions change shape, resolution, picture standards, you name it. And this is not an attempt to boast, or do something I utterly despise any attempt to assert superiority through seniority. I made a “before Odin and man” type promise to myself that I would not do this when I was only just staring adulthood in the face from across the room. Although we make promises of various natures all of the time, this is one of a kind that I intend to keep for as long as I live. And if there is one person in the world I like to start to resemble as I get older even less than my male parental unit, it is Ray Meagher, who, even in the little I have seen of him outside of what I refer to as Please Go Away, just generally makes me sneer at him and ask how he can look at himself.
But just as the film and television industries have suffered a serious drain in creativity as a result of deregulation, videogames have suffered a very serious absence of creativity as a result of two things. One is the near to total lack of any regulation at all in the software market, the other is the gradually increasing presence of the worst kind of regulation. Although the videogame industry is still not as badly afflicted with this problem as the film industry, years of an arbitrary, inconsistent, and adult-punishing classification system are making the industry more focused on children and turning everyone into children.
But anyway, a few weeks ago, I downloaded, installed, and began playing Diablo III. As I have written elsewhere, I have played both Diablo and Diablo II. I have also written that the difference between Diablo II and Diablo III is mainly a matter of cosmetics. Simply put, I was apprehensive when it was announced that Diablo III was finally going to be released at some point, and I am not surprised to be writing that my predictions concerning how it would turn out to be much ado about nothing once more have been exceeded. But anyway, the main reason that I am writing this particular document is not because I particularly want to jump on Diablo III‘s head yet again, but rather because I was inspired to after watching a rather funny video at Zero Punctuation about the game. Zero Punctuation‘s review is fairly spot on about such aspects as how one ends up collecting enough pairs of pants to clothe every individual in China, mulching them into material to try to make more useful things with, wasting the resulting materials on making things that have been randomly assigned less than useful attributes, and on and on. But Zero Punctuation does not touch upon the biggest problem that makes Diablo III seem like an attempt to make a twenty-first century equivalent of the E.T. videogame.
Now, like all games of its kind, Diablo III revolves around making the player’s on-screen proxy kill various things in order to accomplish various goals. The main source of variation lies in the kinds of character that the player chooses to play as, and which options the player chooses in pursuit of the various goals of the game. The plot is your standard piece of kindergarten shit in which one side is played for a bunch of fools by a conspirator. The player’s character has the task of going from place to place, killing different enemies, rescuing different non-player characters (hereafter referred to by the standard acronym of NPCs), and collecting different items.
Central to any videogame, regardless of its plot, style, or even level of sophistication, is the basic mechanics by which the player attempts to prosecute the assigned goals. And this is the problem that Zero Punctuation failed to shed any real light on in their review. Prior to Diablo III, most people were finding their RPG fix in World Of Warcraft, a game with a highly customisable interface that one could alter as they saw fit in order to increase their enjoyment of the game. The problem with Diablo III, essentially, is not only does the game not allow the player to alter the interface in any appreciable fashion, said interface makes it very clear to the player very quickly that Blizzard hates them. And when I say hate, I do not mean a curebies versus anyone who dares to contradict them type of hate. No, I mean something on the level of plague versus living things type of hate.
Worth noting is that the original Diablo was one of the first games designed to run solely under a Windows ’95 environment. This allowed a level of graphical sophistication that was well in advance of anything in existence at that point, but it also presented some serious limitations in terms of gameplay and control. Everything, from movement to combat, was controlled through the click of a mouse button. Functions could be assigned to one mouse button or the other. Some functions, such as opening the map or getting a list of quest objectives, were performed with the keyboard, but in order to move or attack, one had to click with the mouse. This becomes a big problem in Diablo III. All too often, when the player is trying to attack an enemy, the player’s character will instead go walking toward where the enemy was at the time the command to attack was issued. And it gets even worse when the player finds themselves with masses of enemies crowded around the character, and wants to quickly move to a better position in order to mount a more effective attack. Very frequently, when the player is desperately clicking on a position in one part of the screen, the character will either stand there doing nothing, or continue to attack from this less than ideal original position. When one adds to this that the mouse pointer has a very bad habit of suddenly becoming difficult to see the exact position of, it is not any wonder at all that a frequent utterance in private chats on the game revolves around how each player will scream things like “move!” at their computer.
As annoying and childish as certain aspects of the World Of Warcraft game can be, the fact that it is almost entirely designed around a multiplayer approach is partly a blessing. Although Human beings are wont to do stupid things that make life difficult for other players, there also exists the possibility of reasoning with them and getting them to modify their behaviour so that it does not cause the group serious problems in terms of prosecuting the game’s missions. When playing in single-player mode on Diablo III, one often travels in the company of at least one artificially intelligent character. The thing is, when I say “artificially intelligent”, I mean the way I usually refer to what videogames call artificial intelligence: artificial inelegance. Any stupid, frustrating, and potentially game-ending thing you do not want your artificial intelligence companion to do, count on them to do it. If your companion, or follower to use the game’s parlance, uses ranged attacks, you can count on them to attack an enemy as soon as you see it, with no regard for your desire to get into a better position to attack it from. If your follower uses melee attacks, you can count on them to run after the first enemy it sees, often alerting multiple additional enemies (aggroing them, to use World Of Warcraft parlance) in the bargain. Now, each follower also has certain abilities and benefits that it is difficult, or at least more difficult, to fight the enemy with. So simply telling the follower to fukk off back to base and stop getting in your way is not an option. But as the game has not yet been modified by Blizzard to include an option to order them to stop making your character’s life more difficult than it needs to be, such as a “hold position” command, it makes the game a lot less fun than I expect Blizzard were intending it to be.
Actually, I still believe that Blizzard really do hate their customers, at least to some degree. And in evidence, I offer the fact that since Diablo III has been launched, at least one aspect thereof has been offline or not working since. The present example is commodity auctions in the auction house. The auction house, much like its namesake in World Of Warcraft, is where items collected within the game can be bought or sold for in-game money. As with World Of Warcraft, a facility exists to construct new items, albeit crudely, for use by one of the player’s characters. This facility of item construction revolves around the use of materials accumulated in the game to construct new items. Problem is, for at least a week as of the time I am actually writing this, auctions of commodities such as building materials and gems have been suspended. For what reason, I can only guess, but also as of this time, I literally have enough of the essence material used at the blacksmith to craft new armour and weapons that I could craft a new suit of armour and a weapon for every character that ten people have, and still have a substantial amount of material left over. It is getting to a point where the storage space my characters share is straining, necessitating me either not storing more valuable things such as picked-up pieces of armour that might sell at auction, or destroying such pieces in order to make more of these materials. Selling these items to a vendor is also an option, but that is a last-resort option. The fact remains that Blizzard has turned off an outlet for a pipe where the pressure continues to build, and appears to simply be watching whilst affected individuals strain under the increasing pressure.
You might think that I simply hate the game Diablo III and wish it would fail in a spectacular fashion like some other videogames I will not mention here. I do not love the game, that much is true, but I also believe that with a few changes in design, it could be a better one. One reason I prefer it over World Of Warcraft a great deal is the aesthetics. As I have hinted elsewhere, I grew up and continue to live in a world where people try to kiddify me and the entertainment I absorb. I am designed by nature to gravitate toward the like of the 1989 Batman film, whilst people want my world to be the 1963 television series. To me, World Of Warcraft is the 1963 television series whilst Diablo III more resembles the 1989 film. That makes a difference to my enjoyment of the game. Being able to quickly and easily arrange cooperative games with individuals from around the world is also a big plus. Sure, playing games with people in a face to face environment was occasionally a highlight when I was a child, but if there is one thing I have learned from the Internet, it is that I have to go a long way out of my home world in order to find people that I consider sufficiently stimulating for conversation. But therein lies the rub: without the aesthetic and the this-time inclusion of chat mechanics that allow conversations with persons in America or Mexico (to name two actual examples from recently), I would probably have taken one look at Diablo III and gotten right back out again.
As I said, with a few changes in deisgn, Diablo III could be a much better game. First of all, ditch the mouse-centric controls. Either allow the user to move in some fashion using the keyboard, or modify the game to make it less critical that they move ¡RIGHT NOW! in situations where the present control system prevents that. Second, make the AI assistants less retarded. Third, allow greater customisation. That means allowing third-party modifications a la World Of Warcraft, albeit in a much more limited fashion.
And for Odin’s sake, stop giving the spambots free run of the general chat.