Sunday, February 27, 2011

Episode 48: "The Zen of Grind"

UPDATE: As of 9/13/11 this video is at THIS LINK

32 comments:

Drunken Lemur said...

Congratulations, Bob, on posting a link to the same blog. Also First, cause I never get a chance to say that.

Arturo said...

Hadoken?!
NICE!!!

I only grind when it's necessary. Sure, it's nice to play around, but sometimes I feel that it kinda breaks the flow of the game. Sometimes you just wanna see what's next and just keep on going.

Scott Glasgow said...

Just want to say, I'm long been a fan of the 'JRPG' sub-genre. And it mostly has to do with it for a long time being the best place to find good stories and characters, but the grinding for the sake of grinding never got me, which is probably why I've never been able to make it through a Dragon Quest game. Final Fantasy started doing a smart thing with their leveling that caught me up. SP. Micromanaging experience points into learnable abilities. That and the materia juggling that went on in FFVII, really worked for me. I don't mind grinding, when I have something else I'm doing besides grinding.
Right now, I'm loving the crap out of Lost Odyssey for the X360, why? because almost every item you get has an ability attached to it that you can learn. So while you're leveling up, you're getting other things to play with in the process. It may simply be a disjointed way of simply giving you abilities as you level up, but it really works for me. Because that 'zen' you speak of with grinding, to me, is being bored stupid, and being unstimulated. Sometimes, I'll even bring a book with me and read with one hand while grinding, I just can't grind alone... it's a failure of game design.

holyjunkie said...

Looks like the Over-thinker is also an Over-actor.

Nah, I don't think that joke worked. In all seriousness, I'm actually digging this plot despite the cheese.

spork said...

Nice ep! I'm really looking forward to where this is going.

One question: Was that map-based war game 'World in Flames'?

Ezenwa said...

This was a pretty good episode. My first experience with level grinding actually came with my first RPG: Super Mario RPG. I was stuck on the Sunken Ship. I just couldn't figure this out. I loved the game but I couldn't go far. It didn't help that I kept running from battles either. I asked a friend what to do as it really got me down. He said to just grind levels. Once I started, everything became clear. Since then, I've enjoyed every RPG I played. That said, I have nothing against it, but I also like to move forward in the game. So, if it's just a big grindfest, color me bored.

But, that's not why I didn't get into World of Warcraft. I didn't get into that because it seemed very complicated in the beginning even after using the guide. Plus, my friends were way ahead of me and didn't want to help.

jones_11_is said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NovaCascade said...

Having just started replaying it, I like how Borderlands handles its grinding. As you level up, enemies that are weaker than you give less and less experience, eventually giving nothing at all if you are too high a level. It essentially forces you to move on and explore new areas if you want to continue to level.

Will said...

This was the perfect blend of original overthinker style with the new cinematic style. And I think you've hit your stride with the new cinematic stuff. Very well done!

Are you a fan of Marble Hornets? More mystery/horror/real time story video series but all the extra video and audio distortion used when you're filming yourself reminded me of Marble Hornets.

Twinmill said...

You know what's ironic? While watching that episode, I had WoW running in the background, logged into a warrior I was levelgrinding via instances so I could eventually level with a friend and/or have an endgame warrior to play should I find I like that class.

Still, while I agree with about everything said here, grinding CAN be a bad thing if it doesn't click well with the player. If the combat -or other method of progression- isn't engaging, multi-dimensional, or even just well done, grinding can start to feel like the one thing the term got its name from: a grind.

AirRivals is a perfect example. You have to kill 2500 enemies to level from 65 to 66, and it can be some of the easiest, most mindless kills out there, and while for some people, that's okay, it didn't sit well with me.

Aion was the polar opposite. It seemed like, in Aion, that grinding was trying too hard to be... hard. It led to a survival-horror feeling with some classes, and you didn't have many ways of getting out of tight situations if, say, you pulled an add. You had a few, not many.

That's probably why I like WoW. It does give me a sense of direction. I haven't really contemplated long term goals, and after I start raiding, I will probably have to grind for gear all over again, but the grinding itself isn't half bad. The instances, at least the Cataclysm ones, as a tank, are fun, and otherwise, the mechanics of the game make grinding feel more like progression than grinding. Maybe that just says something about my personality alone, of maybe that says something more, I don't know.

I do know that this was a great episode, and I, regardless of whether or not I've already said this, agree with just about everything said.

Some people look at grinding as lazy design, but most modern designers know how to use it to create an engaging experience in the game that doesn't feel hacked together.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

Level grinding has always struck me as just a way developers can make a game longer with-out actually adding any more content or substance to a game. I mean, if gamers want to use it that's fine, but the game requiring grinding seems a bit like cheating on the developers part.

That's a large part (but, certainly not the largest part) of why Chrono Cross is one of my favorite JRPGs. It still had all the fun of traditional JRPGs, but you only actually leveled up at bosses so the benefits to grinding were actually pretty nill. You always knew you were the right strength for the part of the game you were at.

BTW, that tower's pretty awesome. There's a similar one near where I live (Castle Craig). Which one's that?

Clayton said...

RPG mechanics can be a neat way to make a player feels like they're legitimately getting stronger and let them pick how they want to play. However, I find grinding for the sake of grinding to be boring. What a level system should do is make sure you're not just barreling through and instead you're taking your time and exploring properly which is what RPGs SHOULD be about; exploring the vistas and setting, interacting with people, and trying to find all the hidden goodies that make beating Sephiroth that much easier. Some of the best example I've seen of sidequesting were in Chrono Trigger and its sequel Chrono Cross and FFVI that filled in plot holes and gave closure to some of the dangling plot threads. One of the failings of the FF franchise for the past decade (as opposed to after Sakaguchi left which left the series to a bunch of incompetents that can't write plot, dialogue, or believable characters worth a damn) has been these sidequests where you do them just for bragging rights. Sure, it was kinda cool when you beat tough mofos like the Emerald and Ruby Weapons, but now it's just stupid and pointless and hollow. If you're going to do a sidequest, make sure there's a goal besides a meaningless badge.

Another good example for experience points is ones where how well you do rewards you better. For instance, I got done playing Bulletstorm (awesome BTW Bob, mostly due to its absurdity and outrageous Skillshot system) which actually gives you more points the more creative you get and thus helps you play through the game better. Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden also did this: rewards correlating to how well you're doing. That's a system I'd like to see in more RPGs

Christopher said...

I thought I didn't like grinding up until I played Final Fantasy Dissidia, where you have to grind at least 4 uncorrelated systems at once. I really enjoyed it and that made me admit that I loved the simple act of grinding.

Nick said...

I like how you actually used the storyline element to illustrate your point, rather than just providing decoration to the rant.

Orin said...

Arg, what is that ending music from? I know I've heard it before and it's driving me crazy.

Eric said...

I have to disagree with your proposition that it's level grinding that separates RPGs from other games. Note that if we're talking JRPGs, for the most part I agree that grinding is a much more integral part of their design, but I'd say JRPGs are more like adventure games with turn-based combat than actual RPGs. Of course, there are exceptions, but then, there always are.

Stats in role-playing games primarily serve to create an avatar within a game world separate from the player, who has the capability to be completed different from the player in terms of ability. The distinction between player skill and character skill is extremely important to RPGs, and what makes RPGs so enjoyable and replayable: you're able to adopt different approaches to problem-solving depending upon your character's ability, not your own. Obviously there's always going to be some level of ability that's carried in by the player, but the player still has to work with the limitations of the character.

Most RPGs allow for multiple ways to solve problems, often rewarding player creativity within the skill system. In something like Fallout, for instance, there may be four or five different ways to solve a particular quest, and that isn't counting the smaller challenges along the way. A good RPG is one that uses its skill system to the fullest, allowing players to feel like their choices in building their character have paid off. If a game doesn't have proper balance, of course, then you get overpowered and underpowered abilities.

The real reason stats exist in RPGs isn't because of some appeal to tradition, but rather because the level of interaction the player has with the world is far more complex than in most games. Shooters typically have one mode of interaction: shooting at things. Action games have punching, kicking, etc. It's only in RPGs that the game offers up fundamentally different modes of interaction, like picking a lock, killing the guard, pickpocketing the key, blowing up the door, sneaking by, etc. You could try having this sort of interaction with the world without stats, but it'd be extremely hard to keep track of one's own abilities. The stats are necessary for the whole system to work, and RPGs which try to merge player and character skill too much usually run into issues with it.

Along with stats come choices and consequences, one of the defining traits of a "real" RPG in my eyes. Choice and consequence can be expressed both mechanically (i.e. can't specialise at spellcraft with a low intelligence score), and it can also be expressed in terms of dialogue and action, such as in choosing one outcome over another. Baldur's Gate makes choosing party members a big deal: if their alignment conflicts with your choices in solving quests, or even other party members, they might leave you, or even go rogues. The sequel takes this a step farther, by changing your interactions with certain NPCs depending on your character class, and even offering up entirely new and different quests based upon your choices in building your character. Other titles like Planescape: Torment, Fallout and Bloodlines do similar things, all to excellent effect.

Anyway, yeah, just wanted to clarify that RPGs really aren't about level grinding, and that leveling doesn't so much define an RPG as it does express its game mechanics. "What makes an RPG" is a hard question to answer, and I don't think stat points and levels are enough to define a genre, especially since these things exist in so many other types of games. Hell, under that logic, Call of Duty should be an RPG. It's things like providing multiple solutions to problems, division of character and player skill, and choice and consequence that seem unique to RPGs to me, so that's what I define them by.

Anubis Soundwave said...

Try Arc Rise Fantasia, a JRPG on the Wii. The entire battle system is engaging and challenging.

(YMMV on the English-language acting, though--although there is an option to turn it off.)

Get this game.

Alloflifedecays said...

Am I detecting a light Marble Hornets influence there Bob?

Smashmatt202 said...

O-kay, after hearing your Armchair Thinkers interview, I'm going to be a little nicer here. At least I'll try to be nicer, knowing that you thought of this BEFORE it became a tired fad. Let's begin...

Interesting, you seem to be doing it the old-fashioned way, credits at the beginning of the "movie" instead of at the end.

"Champion of Justice" my ass-OH, sorry, but that like is SO cliched, not to mention you actually admitted to be "obnoxiously intelligent, very bitter", and having a "deep-abiding loathing for everyone and everything when the mood strikes me". Yeah, some champion of justice.

New skills and abilities? What was your skill/ability that you gained in the last video? Speaking of the last video, how did you happen to have that Zapper with you, and why didn't you just use it when the Antithinker first showed up?

Last week? It's been more than a week since your last video. Yeah, I know this is nitpicking, but at the same time, that's just what bugs me about the video. Not to mention, when you do lampshade hanging like you did with the monster-voice guy, it's not funny. I'm sorry, it just isn't funny, at all. Nothing personal, but yeah, just thought I'd throw that out there.

Wait, there are Slimes in Wario's Woods? Since when? If you wanted an enemy to grind, why not use an enemy from the Mario RPGs instead? Eh, whatever.

And how do you know what the AntiThinker's HP is? Where are you getting all this information?!

I guess I'm one of the few people that genuinely enjoy level-grinding. Like he said, there are rewards to it, and at the same time, the rewards come with everything I need to make it through the rest of the game. I'm one of those guys who doesn't use items out of fear that I'll need them later, and when enemies drop enough items and money, I'll be flying high with that stuff...

Holy shit, RPGs go back THAT far back?! H.G. Wells? What's he got to do with this?! ...I guess I'll see.

Little Wars... I'm going to keep this in mind next time I talk about RPGs with someone!

R.I.P. Gary Gygax. Never heard of that Dave Arneson fellow. I see on Wikipedia he died almost a year after Gary did. Wow...

BTW, EarthBound is the best RPG ever... In my opinion.

World of Warcraft is incredibly popular, but if all it is is just level grinding just to... grind some more? I'd... probably be hooked and be even more attached to my computer than I am now. *shame*

Smashmatt202 said...

Actually, with you talking about grinding and RPG mechanics, I'm surprised you haven't mentioned the "Skinner's box". Extra Credits talked about it a few months back, and it's pretty much why Farmville and other FaceBook games are so addicting. Oh wait, maybe you were GOING to mention it in this video, lets see...

Damn, you actually managed to kill an enemy AFTER it flees? Wish I could do that with some Pokemon games.

Another thing: you swear too much. I don't mind, but at the same time, it makes you seem pretty immature and takes away the integrity of what you're saying. ...And where'd you get those sunglasses? Geez, you have Internet access, a Zapper, and now sunglasses? Just WHERE are you getting these things?

I know I said I'd try to get into your "storyline" more or at least be nicer about it, but there's just so little explanation about everything that's going on, it constantly bugs me!

That's you're level-up screen? I hope it doesn't take that long every time you level-up...

Okay, NOW what is this?! Like, what's all this "last entry" stuff? What were you just talking to a few minutes ago? Was this all being recorded and you were on you're last battery? So now you have a CAMERA too? And you were able to record ALL of these past two episodes, even though you were apparently all by yourself? I mean, Jiminy Cricket, this is just so badly written! Please, I beg you, next time you do a storyline, think things through more thoroughly! I hate it when I watch a video and I'm confused about what's going on, ESPECIALLY if the video (or movie) is trying to make sense of things, or at least try and take itself seriously. Since you're the Game Overthinker, and I've been a fan of yours for quite some time, I take everything you say seriously, so this... This is like a slap in the face! It's like you're purposefully throwing logic out the window when you used to be all about logic! It's just... I...

I'm sorry, I really want to try and accept it for what it is, but I'm just too annoyed by these things...

Okay, ignoring that run-in of really confusing "Game Overthinker log" stuff, the tower is... really neat! A nice touch, glad you were able to find one to use for this storyline.

I seem to recall you calling out the new Star Trek movie for using "fate and destiny" as excuses for all the coincidences in the plot. Now here you're using it. The irony is baffling. Then again, this whole storyline is ironic in its own way, or kind of an oxymoron, the Game Overthinker starting in a cliched, uncreative, underthought storyline. Well, whatever, I am DEFINITELY curious about what the tower is about, though.

OMG, it's the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde theme! Or that theme from Rygar. They're both really similar. Nice touch, either way.

Subtle said...

I'm not a big fan of grinding, and get annoyed when it interferes with my having fun (Pokemon is a big offender, it's so freaking boring to just keep fighting one pokemon after another, and that's just for one pokemon, they don't all gain experience like in some other rpgs). I like RPGs that integrate gaining experience within things I can do that will get me stuff. Sidequests are great when I gain experience while doing them and get rewarded with something worthwhile, in a great game I'll actually do all the sidequests, in a not so great game I won't do any except what gets me the best armor or weapons or lots of money. The reason I don't like grinding though is because it's generally the most annoying thing when you encounter an enemy: the screen changes: the screen loads: you fight: however many turns it takes to show you two swapping animated blows: repeat until winner: gain a small fraction of the exp you will need to go on: repeat until your eyeballs bleed. The Mario and Luigi games do it right though, even at lower levels being able to dodge and counterattack makes enemies less threatening and adds less reason to waste my time being at a level I need to be. Even then I'm usually at a decent level just by going through the game and playing.

I haven't commented on the Anti-Thinker Saga yet, but I like it, it's a nice change of pace, but I'm really appreciative that you've gotten back to Overthinking, instead of just Anti-Thinking.

toosoo said...

I have to disagree with the wow being grinding for grinding sake, while there is tons of grinding the only grinding you have to do is on your character the other grinds are optional. There is rewards for the grinding too: better gear, new spells, new weapons, cool animals to ride, and stuff of that nature. There usually an story to each zone and and half of wow is for the socail exsperiance its basically for lack of a better term like the facebook of videogames.

Smashmatt202 said...

No offense, toosoo, but "better gear, new spells, new weapons, cool animals to ride, and stuff of that nature" sounds like what the Overthinker saide, "grinding just to earn different ways of grinding".

Jay said...

God all this talk about level grinding and jrpgs is making me so much mroe excited for Pokemon Black!!!

Clayton said...

actually I did get into a grinding situation. I am currently playing the PSP remake of Tactics Ogre, a classic S-RPG by the incredibly talented Yasumi Matsuno (the would-be heir to the FF franchise had Square not screwed him over during FFXII's dev time). I'm on the final chapter of the game and was undergoing a sidequest. In this I could get a character named Cressida who could only be recruited if she survived a battle prior to recruiting her, but there's also a stat you HAVE to have at a certain level in order to get her. My level wasn't sufficient so I had to grind for it. It took me TWO DAYS.

Ecosword said...

Well, a lot has been said already but I wanted to share this. My first contact with RPGs was the original Final Fantasy on the NES and it continues to be my favorite Final Fantasy which is awesome because you can play it on smart phones which is awesome.

My beef isn't for actual level grinding but turn based combat. I liked it when I was a kid and there was no other kinds of RPGs yet, it was the best but as technology progressed we got more actioned based RPGs that instead of a group, you were only one character but there was no turned based combat. JRPGs really have kept the mechanic around and that is why I am a bit turned off by them.

My tastes kept with action based RPGs mostly because my involvement with MMORPGs like UO and Lineage but even in them, there is a difference between the amounts you have to grind in Western MMOs vs. Eastern MMOs but my taste for turn based combat was completely ruined by MMOs and now I only have a few exceptions where I like turned based combat. The Fallout games and a couple of FFs so basically any RPG before the revolution of the Action based RPG.

So now, my favored RPGs are still Fallout (I love Fallout 3 and New Vegas, despite the bugs), Mass Effect, Fable, Dragon Age and I still bugger around with MMOs from time to time. So isn't the grind that gets me but the turn based combat which many JRPGs seem to still be mired in. Plus the tone and stories of JRPGs usually don't appeal to me.

Arkynomicon said...

The thing about grinding is that I can gladly do it in small doses but if all the game amounts to is grinding I will lose interest. Like in MMO's where grinding for the sake of getting higher level so I can do some high level mission/dungeon it gets really dull.

MMO's like Guild Wars is doing it in a way I like. It pretty much cuts out the level-grinding and encourages you to learn to play the game in a more efficient way (or just go to a wiki and grab a build if you are lazy). You don't have to work your ass off to get the best weapons and armours in the game because those items are just for vanity in Guild Wars.

But yeah, when a game starts feeling like monotone work it doesn't feel worth playing.

Sean Aaron said...

Great episode. What impressed me initially is still here: the research and context. Tying it into your narrative was even better!

Bill said...

It's not a JRPG, but Echo Bazaar has something of a grind, but it spreads it across a variety of kinda of actions with different rewards. If JRPGs want to evolve, they should focus on including different kinds of conflicts within their 'battle' systems. 'Dogs in the Vineyard' maybe minus the Mormonism would be a good template, I think.

imsmart said...

I don't know if you were emulating Marble Hornets or not, but that's a good cliffhanger.

Atomic Skull said...

Ending music is from the NES version of Rygar.

Now if only someone could tell me where the music at 9:43 is from. I've heard it before but I can't place it and it's driving me nuts.

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