Friday, May 15

Quad Core Hardcore

The other day, Phè said something which I should quote, about more than one form of hardcoreness, some of which she can relate to and some of which she can't at all.
Since you mentioned it one or twice i want to start with saying something about Hardcore vs Casual. I think there are two separate hardcore vs casual definitions. One is the MUD world hardcore where you need to know/remember stuff and where NPCs don't have yellow exclamation points above their head. I am pretty hardcore in that sense of the term.

But the way I think of hardcore is the kind that spends hours planning a raid, that demands all team members to have gear X and teamspeak, and that demands they spent 4 nights a week behind their PC. In that sense I am the ultimate casual.

The first hardcore vs casual divide is dieing out. 85% of MMO players have grown up with the exclamation point. And our entire culture evolves in consuming more and more. So it doesn't make sense to cater for that type of hardcore in any game, eventhough I would like it.

The second kind of hardcore is still very valid. This is the one that will bring players together. If the game doesn't cater for this the game will fail. I think AOC proves that. Although the majority of players might be casual/solo players, these hardcore players are the ones that make or break a game, I think.
This got me thinking about how many kinds of hardcore there really are. Probably a lot.
To many people it's kind of a positive term, a title, sometimes even an elitist one. It separates the men from the boys so to speak. A phrase likely uttered by a 14-18 year old self-styled hardcore player no doubt. People like to dub themselves hardcore, because it sounds tough I guess. Maybe a lot of MMO players need that little bit of self-esteem?
The result is that the term 'hardcore' when applied to playstyles or gameplay styles is about as vague as when it's applied to music. As I learned to my dismay when I agreed to some 'hardcore' music and was "treated" to some horrible house variant rather than rather loud guitar/distortion sounds. There was a common denominator in the loudness though.
The common denominator amongst MMO harcore seems to be that hardly any hardcore player fully qualifies according to his or her own definition.

Let's look at some different Gaming Cores.
Let's start with the one that Phè ascribes to herself.
There's the Hardcore of Old Skool, more MUD like gameplay and players vs the Cookiecutter quality of Second Generation MMO pollish. (is it pollish or polish?) Let's call this Old Skool Hardcore in order to differentiate from the others.

Old Skool Hardcore:
The Old Skool hardcore player will typically react unfavourably to anything that's handed to them on a silver platter. Where silver platter may be something only they percieve as such. Take the often alluded to yellow exclamation mark over people's heads. The Old Skool player prefers to run around an area accosting each and every NPC in sight until one of them tries to get rid of them by sending them off to gather something dumb like 20 left-side front-paws of the local wolves, which were about to hit the die-back phase of their symbiotic relation with the local rabbits anyway.
I'm making fun of Old Skoolers now, but I actually sympathize with them a lot. Sometimes even count myself more on their side than on the average current day MMO player's side. The thing is, the short period between MUD's and Second/Next Gen MMO's with pollish and floating exclamation marks was as much a product of bad or no design as of intent. To stay with the exlamation marks, in MUD's you'd step into a room, type in inspect (or more likely you'd have scripted your client to do so at every entry of a new* room, no-one today spends as much time on taking away the drudge work as those Old Skool players did) and you'd read in the description that "an empoverished looking elderly gentleman seeks your attention" after which you'd either ignore him completely, toss him a coin for karma, or talk to him and get a quest or more likely some information leading to an undiscovered dungeon or some such. BTW, most Quests in MUD's came from bulletin boards in market squares and such though. Big columns with Wanted posters and the like. You never had to search for them really.

The obvious text-to-3D graphics translation for this type of phenomenon, an NPC trying to get your attention, would be to animate the NPC and have him hail you like a newspaper vendor or charity-contribution hawker when you come within a certain radius. Makes sense right? To me too, but not to the designers of the Old Skool MMO's. For some reason, either because they liked it that way or because it was too much work to do the obvious, they introduced the static NPC's who'd stand around aimlessly staring into the distance until you talked to them, at which point they'd prompt you to go upset the carefully balanced symbiotic relationship between predator and prey in the vicinity.
Of course Second Generation MMO's introduced the Exclamation Mark as a clutch on that bad design rather than implement the more sensible animated NPC's who'd hail you when you get near them. By now the exclamation mark is so ingrained that even those 2.5 gen MMO's that have some NPC's react to you feel obligated to do so.

This is to illustrate how a lot of Old Skool elements can be 'hardcore' either by design, or by mistake. For designers it's hard to keep the former while taking out the latter. Especially as no two Old Skool Hardcore fans will agree on what is what really. A nice point in case the UI mod debate concerning Vanguard that Phè and I occasionally get back to. While I fully agree that the mod's inclusion of details on every harvestable node, Quest giving NPC et al is diminishing the game, I don't see it that much different from having to consult web-pages to even find the NPC giving a quest in Anarchy Online which requires you to correctly inerpret faulty naming-schemes in-game. Where does the "hardcore acceptable" conveniences of out-game information end and casual cookie cutter comfort begin? It's different from person to person.

The result is that only the extremes can argue their side with any kind of veracity. Which tends to help polarize the debate. Fanatic extremists tend not to be the best of ambassadors. Despite that, if the debate is purely Old Skool vs Next Gen, the debate tends to be palatable. I'll forego more examples here as that'll make this sound even more like I'm trying to win an argument with Phè, which I'm not. We have long since decided to agree to disagree on that issue and this isn't about who's right. There's probably even a few area's where I'm secretly more Old Skool than Phè.
But it's the dichotomy between 'Old Skool Hardcore by design' and 'hardcore due to lack of design' that keeps me from identifying myself with this form of Hardcore as the latter is to me like a sore tooth asking to be picked at.

Time Based Hardcore:
Then there's the 6-hours-a-night Hardcore vs 30 minutes in which to get insta-grativication Casualness. Let's call this Time Based hardcore. This is a frequent form of the perpetual Hardcore vs Casual debate. The Hardcore players who spend 6 hours per night minimum in the game complaining how everything is being dumbed down so as the people who have jobs and lifes but still would like to play online a bit can actually enjoy their 30 minutes and 'achieve' something.
This debate always annoys me because inefitably one side will paint the other in the most extreme light in order to ridicule them. As a result I don't think I've seen a single productive discussion about this, ever. The 30 minute Casual player probably doesn't even exist. The 6 Hour one however does. Sadly enough. When I'm completely honest I'll have to admit I am that player sometimes. As a result of my weird schedule I often have the time and nothing else to do either. I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as a casual player playing hardcore hours. But when I dub myself casual, this is more in opposition of another kind of Hardcore, which I'll get to next.
Time-based hardcoreness is silly to me. Espacially when this type of Hardcore Player feels himself somehow superior. Most MMO's (Age of Conan excluded) have enough variety of content to serve both the Time-based hardcore player and the casual one. Most progression game content is made to fit chunks of 30, 45, 60 and 90 minutes. With some 2 to 3 hour grouped content as well.

The one interesting debate that can spring from this is RMT in MMO's not set up for it.
As I've said before, that's mostly an argument between those who have time and those who have money. If the latter can pay the former for the fruits of their time, there really isn't a need for a fight. Of course, current Next Generation MMO's aren't up to this yet. Maybe Bartle's idea to get the different types of players back into cooperative mode rather than segregations does have its merits.

Achievement Hardcore:
But lets go to the next form of Harcore, the one I alluded to being in opposition to.
That's the Hardcore of having the best gear, having slain the biggest baddy in the raidiest raid hardcore of the achievers. Let's call this Achievement Hardcore.
According to the simplified Bartle's Test I rate ESAK, with 11% for Acheivement, probably because some questions have only Achievement or Killer point awarding answers.
When a game says "easy to learn, hard to master", I should take that as a sign I'll not be playing it that long. I'm an Explorer and as I pointed out in my Cycles of Gameplay article, that applies to the learning curve to. In this sense I'm a fan of the old skool games as they tend to have a longer and steeper learning curve.
Achievement Hardcore is something I don't share, but I do 'get' to some extend.
As it's satisfying to excel at a sport, whether individual or team-based, physical or cerebral, so can it be satisfying to excel at a game. Most likely Raiding. Though I can't abide the repetiviness of that treadmill. At least when an Hardcore Achiever is saying he's better than Casuals players, he may have a point. In addition, they inspire the rest of us, spur us on. Achiever Hardcore Players are the ones who have all the cool armor that it takes effort (or money) to achieve. In that form they can be a positive force in MMO's. They play a part by holding out the carrot to the other softer cored players on the progression treadmill.

Explorer Hardcore:
Finally there's what I'll dub Explorer Hardcore, of the been there done that, opened up 100% of the map before it got you a title variety. Those who take pride in having visited every nook and cranny of the game-world. Who have seen all the rare spawns spawn and drops drop. To be honest this player type tends to thrown in with either or both of the previous definitions.
But in my admittedly biased opinion these are the most benign hardcore players, filling the Wiki's and Walkthroughs and (Starter) Guides on fansites across the Interwebz, which are then used by Hardcore and Casual players alike to reduce the risk factor and optimise their effort/reward in their gaming.

Did I miss a type of hardcore? Or maybe there's one you identify with and I misrepresented you? Please let me know.

*new room: a room which you haven't previously visited and/or which has an altered state (i.e. an NPC now has a flag to give you a quest)


  1. One very predominate player in any MMO is the kind of player that believes xp is everything. Anything that slows down his quest for more xp is stupid. This could either be other players that actually like to read a quest, or look at their surroundings. But it is also applies to game mechanics. This player is the opposite of old-skool hardcore. Everything needs to be dumbed down for optimal xp. Having to run 5 minutes to the next xp treasure is a waste of time. He has a real life, you know! He doesn't have 6 hours a day to waste like some other losers.

    I am not sure in which category they fall, or whether they are even any kind of hardcore. But there are way too many of them, and they are probably the main reason I don't team up as much as I used to. I like to take my time to get sucked into the story/life of the game. If I am rushed through some cave I feel like the only thing I do is button smashing. Since I do want to experience the quests I got handed to me I often chose to do it alone (or with Lani) because that way I am actually playing a game in stead of being an extension of my keyboard. Is this Wendy vs Dorothy?

  2. The Explorer hardcore player is indeed very hardcore but he doesn't really have a hardcore vs casual conflict. It is just great players like this are there and nobody objects. So therefore I don't think he counts.

    Should there be something a killer hardcore vs casual classification? I actually think this falls under achievement hardcore. The ultimate killer is the ultimate achiever. Especially in his own eyes. Hmm, Bartle got it right again. There is no need for the fourth girl.

  3. I recognize the playertype you point out there. Not sure if it's a hardcore type though. To me it seems to be something else entirely. Someone who's as far removed from the type of player who knows what the R stands for in RPG and in stead is all about the stats maximization. While some of his arguments like not wanting to run more than 5 minutes for a quest might seem to pout him on one or the other side of one of those silly Hardcore vs Casual debates I think it's different. This type of player can be found in the Achiever Hardcore camp and if he has no job in the Time Based Hardcore camp. I do think it's a playertype more predominant in next gen MMO's, hence the opposite of Old Skool?

    The type of play can also occur automatically, insiduously even. In fact, I've seen you do it in CoX on occasion when you were running down an overly familiar path so to speak. THough not nearly as much so as some of the XP farmers there.

    There's aslo another type that gets close to these. The (usually) achiever who wants to rush through the progression content to 'beat' the level game as soon as possible as 'the real game' starts at end game level.

    Just more arguments why the whole Hardcore vs Casual thing is so murky. Stuff gets thrown under the umbrella of those two terms that doesn't rightly belong there. Or maybe it does and the terms themselves don't have their supposed meaning.

  4. I think a defining element to the Explorer Hardcore player is that he has no conflict with another group. He/she is all but alone in not wanting to enforce his/her gaming style upon others.
    Most Hardcore people want the game to cater to their particular playstyle and screw the Casuals or the people who adher to a different Hardcore style. Same with Casuals who generally want to get all the shiny rewards in the game, even the once that are there to reward more hadcore type play.

    I purposely left out PVP hardcoreness as that would turn this into a Bartle's archetypes defined as different forms of Hardcore. I could have done a one-liner then since if you pick any of his archetype and make them extreme to the point of charicature you can ofcourse slap the hardcore sobriquet on it, or anything for that matter.

    Hardcore is a self-imposed measure of time and effort put into gaming, how seriously you take it and yourself / your ability at it. When put to extreems it becomes destructive, when applied in moderation it can be benign.

    Oh, I recalled a nice phrase that sums up the issue I often have with Old SKool stuff as well as some newer things: You should be fighting the adversaries in the game, not the interface or the mechanics. Those should "not be there".

  5. I also didn't touch on competitiveness (though I did think about it. Please note that I've actually been trying to cut down on the rambling.
    It's also a characteristic that might or might not be part of the thing.

    If competitiveness is at all part of being Hardcore, then I'm a Casual Carebear :-)

  6. How about the hardcore individualist?

    The kind that runs around with a level 1 dagger of rat killing, because it looks cool and doesn't care what anyone else thinks. lol

    I try really hard to be hardcore at not being hardcore. Um, yeah... That's it...

  7. That does remind me about the naked orc.
    A WOW player who's trying to play the game "naked". I.e. without using any armor or other kit. I think he had a club though.

  8. Or the mastermind in COV that tries to make it all the way without summoning his pets.

  9. Yea* Wait! Mastermind is a Pet Class?