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Economy & Realism

Posted in Design Opinion with tags , , , , , , , on March 13, 2010 by yalision

Maybe I’m not cool to bring this up when all around us Infinity Ward is suing Activision in a full blown soap-opera apocalypse, or maybe I’m even less cool to ignore Sony’s swing at the Wii’s captive audience by officially announcing the “Move”, but one thing is ever present in my mind as I reboot an old favorite onto my computer’s hard drive. I’m talking about old news, the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Why? Because one thing always bothered me against the nerd-cave inspired perfection as it is, this being in-game economy. Then I realized that this is a problem still everywhere today. This leaves me with one important question to developers: WHY?

I always wondered some years ago why it was that a bag full of fine steel weapons might sell for only a few gold pieces, or why it was that we were allowed to salvage so much useless baggage with an unrealistic weight restriction only to make a small profit from the inconvenience of lugging it around at all? Where the hell is the excitement in finding a breast plate made of gold, when there are twenty of them in your packpack to sell to buy yourself lunch in these virtual worlds? Of course that last statement was just a relative example, but at the end of the day the problem remains true. The worth of items in-game devalues player experiences and adventures.

Who finds it fun to ransack a million corpses when none of them hold anything unique or of value? Still today players are happy to arbitrarily look through slain foes and engross themselves in the tedium of collecting solely to unload, rather than making unique and interesting discoveries. Aside from the fact that I wonder where the hell most player characters stash loot on their bodies with no backpacks, unrealistic weight restriction take away from diplomatic decisions on carrying loot and always makes development lazier on the part of game designers.

What would I prefer to see? Well here is one example. Say I kill ten bandits, and they all have leather on them and a few rusty iron weapons. Why would I bother lugging around those weapons in a giant burlap sack rather than take the one diamond ring held by one of the bandits worth just as or almost as much to go back to town and sell? However, this is not so in most adventure games, the worst culprit recently to be Dragon Age: Origins, which I also happen to adore despite this pet peeve and quandry. How am I carrying 20 longswords, 5 helmets, and 100 health potions? Do we carry a bottomless bag? Perhaps we took advice from Link on our equipment storage problems? Because I wish I was talented enough to carry a mega-ton hammer, hookshot, bow and arrows, 4 bottles, bombs, a sword, shield, various armors, and other assortment of goods without at the very least a backpack or beast of burden as a writing convenience.

In my opinion I see some developers trying to address economy in their games, such as Lionhead (even if they failed). The best solution I’ve seen is a grid system of equipment similar to Diablo’s user interface. There is no proposed weight limit, but you can only carry so many things based off their size. There are still no backpacks in every game I’ve played, but the grid system still does not address the worth of items. A diamond ring in a world where a player discovers no diamond mines at all, should hold significant value and should be a rare find. Rare finds should excite players, and be as incentive to explore, rather than bringing home a donkey covered in burlap bags full of diamonds to sell for subjectively what would be a couple of gold pieces in the long run of the player experience, which is somehow supposed to compensate for inflated in-game housing.. and furniture.. somehow.

This is not to say that I enjoy ranting, but it’s nice to vent some steam as I wish the diamonds I found in a game such as Oblivion were worth the time it took to earn them. I feel this way in many other games as well. The economy doesn’t have to be a chore, but neither should it be a filler for content space developers didn’t know what else to do with.

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