Diablo III vs Torchlight

I have to admit, I have not played Diablo III 1.04  It just hasn’t interested me since realizing there are some fundamental breaches of verisimilitude.  Torchlight 2 is available for pre-order on Steam and to my surprise it came with a free copy of Torchlight.  Oh, good!  I had lost my copy a while ago, and needed to buy it again.

Wow, what a different feel between the two games!  The pacing is very different between Torchlight and Diablo III.  There are three paces that jump out immediately.  The pace the character moves across the terrain, the pace of attacking and the pace of the weapons drop.  Or looked at another way the pace of movement and the pace of reward.

In Torchlight you run much much slower.  It feels like it takes much longer to move anywhere.  Attacking feels like it takes forever.  It is a big deal if your attack misses, because the monster is on you before you can attack again.  The pace of enemy movement feels very similar between Torchlight and D3, btw.  When you uncover terrain slowly, exploring feels more important.  Going back over old terrain (which you do very little of) is tangibly painful.

Countering the slow pace of movement, pace of rewards such as rare, unique, and set items is much much faster.  These items have relatively low level requirements.  You can use them when you find them or after a level up or two.  They aren’t immensely powerful, but they are powerful enough they retain effectiveness over many levels.  Which is great considering there is no auction house to buy items with.

The slower movement pace of Torchlight is not as detrimental as you might first think.  Gaining levels and powers, particularly speed boosts, and attack speed increases, feels like real benefits.  It really means something when your character goes from Slowest Attack Speed to Slow Attack Speed.  This feels like more of an improvement over time.

Erik Asmussen made a game which dives into the way the pleasure center of the human mind lights up when you get a reward playing a game.  As a psychology student turned game designer he has a great insight into the reward structure of games.  Which he mentions in a funny and informative Boston Indies presentation.  You can feel the effects of rewards on the pleasure center of the brain in Erik’s ‘reductio ad absurdum’ game Shape Shatter.

Torchlight is paced much better then Diablo III and is a more entertaining game because of it.  Slow movement and attack speeds provide tangible rewards over time.  Fast weapon drops and great loot hits the pleasure centers of the brain in the short term.

Torchlight 2 could do very well in sales later this month.  It should be a great game, and the wait is getting exciting.  Assuming they keep a similar pacing structure as the previous game, players should flock to Torchlight 2 as a break from some of Diablo III’s fundamental issues.  Hopefully Runic hasn’t fallen into the Diablo III trap and sped things up as part of an ‘arms race’ attempt to keep gamers with short attention spans interested.  I think Torchlight 2 might end up being the better game assuming they get the pacing right.

Verisimilitude in Diablo III

Last night The New England Institute of Art held it’s SIGGRAPH event.  After the event the presenters visitors and students (of age) went for a beer nearby.  While there we talked about Diablo III as quite a few people around the table are playing (when not designing their own games).  The topic of Verisimilitude in Diablo 3’s Auction house came up, and in retrospect I think the problems with D3 can really be summed up nicely as ‘violations of verisimilitude’.  Let me explain why…

So what is Verisimilitude and why is it important?

For our purposes verisimilitude is ‘The quality of seeming to be true.’

It is the opposite of jumping the shark.  We toss ‘realism’ right out the window when we want to include spells, magic, dragons, etc.  So we need a description of the quality of fitting in.  The wholeness of the game we’re creating.  The television show True Blood, for example, has quite a bit of verisimilitude.  Right until the bit about the fae, after that things kinda get funky.  But it makes a great before/after point which helps elaborate on the point.  World of Warcraft is a great game example as everything seems to fit, even though the setting is ‘cartoony’.  But Diablo 3 is starting to break Sanctuary’s fourth wall.

The Auction House:

In Diablo 3 players don’t access the auction house from the game world.  The auction house is not happening in the game world.  Sanctuary does not seem to have auctions of any kind.  Instead auctions are taking place outside of the game world.   Additionally at least 1/2 of the auctions take place on the RMAH (Normal and Hardcore).  RMAH auctions are denominated in U.S. dollars completely shattering the feeling that you’re even interacting with the game world.

World of Warcraft on the other hand has an auction house ‘in the game’.  And by ‘in the game’ I mean it’s a building, that your character can walk to.  Inside that building you talk to a person who auctions you goods, much like any other dialog screen with the rest of the worlds inhabitants.  This feels like it fits.

This may seem subtle and nit picky, but I think it’s a really important point about creating believable game worlds.  Creating a game experience which does not violate it’s own rules seems like a really basic key to building something players will enjoy.  Am I alone in this?  Or do other people feel this is an essential point to game design?

There is plenty of sympathy for Blizzard Entertainment as they had to include an auction house in Diablo III, and had to include the RMAH.  There was simply no way to avoid including those functions.  The black market which would have developed, had Blizzard not included those features, would have lead to sophisticated account hacking would have made D2 and WOW gold hackers to shame.  Not including those features would have been irresponsible.  But they implemented an out of game fix in response to an out of game issue.  They could have done better.

The Items:
The game drops unlimited random items as a ‘game mechanic’ to keep the player happy.  However it doesn’t seem to fit the game world.  There is no explanation, nor connection between the game Lore and the endless tide of blue and yellow items dropped by the game.  Within the context of the world of Sanctuary, how were those items created?  Where did they come from?  Why didn’t the monster attacking me use those items?  Why cant I give them to the guards and make an army?

Player base:
New Tristram is a pretty small place.  Not many surviving guards, not many surviving towns folk.  Yet millions of players have passed through millions of replications of that town.  Much of D3’s architecture is build on MMO technology, yet we’re all essentially playing a single player game.  This also causes some subconscious cognitive dissonance.  At least I think about this every time I enter a new difficulty level… Maybe it’s just me.  The auction house was made to serve an entire geographic region, usually one demarcated by a single currency.  So it’s a game we manly play either alone or with small groups of friends, but we each have access to millions of auctions.

Granted this is not a point about verisimilitude so much as a point about a subconscious incongruity which many players pick up on some level.  It was also the main point made at SIGGRAPH.  WoW has many smaller economies, which might make it seem to players as though they have less access to an infinite supply of goods.  Small, more regional markets might make for a more positive feeling.  It would also make more opportunities for arbitrage…  But that’s nether here nor there.

Auctions in a Closed Economy
Pointing out the flaws of a system is pointless unless we take something away.  This is only a worthwhile exercise if we can learn something from it.  So what would these systems look like in a game world sticking to verisimilitude?  I feel like this post has gone on long enough.  So I’m going to save corrections for a future post.  Provide some insight if you want.