Many moons ago, some friends and I all agreed to pool our money and buy network cards for our PCs. Coaxial token ring cards to do an ad-hoc IPX network. All for the purpose of playing DOOM. We would actually load up our computers in the trunks of our cars and drive over to one person’s house, throw together our network, and spend all night playing, laughing and eating pizza.
It was during these gaming sessions that I was introduced to a little game called Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. We all bought copies and our game nights shifted from DOOM to splitting time between DOOM and Warcraft. It was great, and like the FPS game, the two factions of Warcraft were pretty much equal in design, all that mattered was random luck and a little player skill. When to hold back, when to charge. Warcraft II continued that trend, mostly, and we played the heck out of it.
Then came Starcraft. But it was different than the other games in that the sides were not equal. Supposedly there was balance, but since the units were different, they developed different strategies, and often times defending against an enemy’s attack strategy meant playing to your weaknesses while they played to their strengths. In online play, you either agreed that no one played the Zerg, or everyone played the Zerg because they were strong when the other races were weak. The Zergling rush was very effective and while at the beginning it was considered a cheap tactic, it eventually became a part of standard play with people devising rush strategies for the other two sides. And rush tactics began to invade Warcraft II and Total Annihilation, would become a part of Warcraft III and every RTS game around.
I hated rushing. I liked to settle in and build out units so that we could have later, larger tactical wars that ranged all over. Its not that I couldn’t rush, I could, but I just didn’t like it. It ended the game too quick and utilized so little of the game. Among friends we would set timers and say “No fighting for the first ten minutes.” or something like that, but online, it was nothing but rushing.
Real Time Strategy games were not the only place I ran into this sort of thing. Over in the First Person Shooter world, circle strafing had taken over. Running a circle around a person at high speed (sometimes while jumping, moving in impossible ways), all the while with them unable to reliably target you. Thankfully this was less prevalent in Team Fortress, which I has started playing exclusively. Death Match and regular CTF were closed to me, like with rushing in the RTS games, I could circle strafe, I just thought it was stupid.
When EverQuest came out, I looked forward to the idea of settling back and playing a table top RPG in a 3D world. I’d actually enjoyed UO, even PvP in UO, and this looked to be like a step up. But EQ attracted the FPS crowd, and flaws in (or a simple lack of) game design allowed circle strafe jumping to take over the PvP side of the game. Again, I could do it, I just thought it was lame. Honestly, have you ever tried holding a sword, running around a target in a circle, jumping repeatedly AND successfully hitting that target? Its nearly impossible to hit, and even if you hit that is going to be very little power in that swing. Even now in World of Warcraft, the Battlegrounds are ruled in melee range by circle strafe jumping morons.
One of my more recent addictions (which I recently realized I’ve been playing for over a year) is Conquer Club. Its basically RISK online, but with a couple dozen or so maps, some with very different rules. Playing random pickup games, I run about a 33% win ratio. I’m happy with that. However, I’m a little envious of some of the people there who have regular teammates and work together to develop strategies. So, last week I hooked up with a guy I’d recently won a game with and we decided to play 6 games together as a team. We created the games on Thursday, and in less than 2 days, we’ve already lost 2 of them. In both games we lost to the same strategy. I spent some time looking around and have found, like rushing and circle strafing, this tactic has become prevalent in the team game world on Conquer Club. I don’t like it. I don’t want to play games this way. It makes the games short, and usually ignores any rules of the map… to me, its cheap. Sure, I could do it too, the strategy isn’t that hard, but I don’t want to. Luckily, the strategy only works in team games, so all I need to do is avoid games against prearranged teams.
Overall, all these strategies boil down to one thing that I don’t like… the best defense for them is to use them yourself. Using any of these tactics dumbs down the game and removes nuance. Both teams are now fighting exactly the same way and the only factors remaining are “luck of the dice” and who can execute the strategy faster. I can respect when someone executes a thoughtful attack and forces me to change my plans to react, but I just find it distasteful when the strategy they use is a trump card: I either lose, or I play the game exactly like them.
Can this be fixed? Should this be fixed?
I don’t know… but I do know that slowly it is driving me away from real time multi player games and more toward single player and turn based games with clearly defined rules of game play. You can find me on Xbox Live playing Catan, Carcassonne, Uno and others.