Thursday, August 14, 2014

Optimization vs Fun

The other day I began working on a new character in Marvel Heroes.  I immediately went to the forums and looked for a build for that character.  Looking through the first few pages, I didn't find anything current for that hero; a recent patch had changed some powers around and builds hadn't been updated to take it into account yet.  I was annoyed; how would I know where to spend my points leveling up?  Then I stopped and thought.

Why was it so important for me to find a build to copy?  The powers are well described, and I can actually try them myself and see what feels good to me.  If I end up gimping my character I can always respec.  I used to play games without turning to guides.  Back before the internet was a thing, that was the default.  You couldn't just go to gamefaqs or a game's forums to get help, you either plugged away and solved it yourself, bought a hint guide (if there was one) or called a long distance hint line.

It's human nature to want to do things correctly, and to look for the optimal solution.  But sometimes I wonder if we're sacrificing our own fun to do it.  Noone plays tic-tac-toe for fun because the game has been solved.  The optimal solution is known, so there's no challenge and no choice.  Any game without a random element is subject to that; presumably chess will one day be solved in the same way when we have sufficient computing power.

I wonder if that's part of why adventure games died out.  How much fun is an adventure game if you can look up the puzzles anytime you're stuck?  It's so easy to do now, there's nothing preventing it but your own self-control.  I recall how proud I was when I finally finished Planetfall, oh so many years ago.  One puzzle in particular had me stuck for hours, trying to figure out what to do next.  Would finally succeeding have meant anything if I had looked up an answer somewhere instead of figuring it out on my own?

In the end, I abandoned my search for a build and assigned points on my own.  Maybe it's not optimal, but so far I'm having fun with the character.  And really, shouldn't it be about the fun?


  1. I was just hanging around in a GW2 zone the other day and someone asked an in-game question of mapchat. The immediately reply back was "go wiki it" with a side helping of incredulousness of why someone wouldn't just watch a video to find out the answer.

    I remember when in my MUD days, the best kept secrets were passed on from worthy player to player, not just pasted onto a third party website. Feel so old. :/

    The culture has changed.

    Anyhow, I figure those who define the meta have to start somewhere and experiment and test and measure, in between their calculations and theorycrafting.

    Is it better to slavishly follow what is understood to be optimal and never deviate, or learn how to figure out what is optimal or not to begin with? I favor the latter, makes one less helpless and stuck waiting for others when patch changes come along.

  2. But I think there's another fact of life here as well. I've certainly played games where I had what I thought was a decent build that seemed to be working well for me, but because I missed a crucial stat or interaction between them, I wasn't actually playing the game the way the developer intended. As the difficulty of the game gradually increases, I begin to run into more and more trouble until I finally get frustrated and play something else.

    Then my friend says to me, "What, you didn't know that 'acumen' was a 'savagery' multiplier? How did you make it to level 24 with zero acumen?" Suddenly, my character feels much more powerful and the game experience is completely changed.

    This happens regularly with Hit in WoW, until they are finally taking the thing away. Playing a Ret Paladin has been to walk through a graveyard of inscrutable mechanics.

    Yet I agree that there's a difference between using resources to research your character and simply copying a cookie cutter build.