GGG Design Philosophy – Points and Counterpoints

It’s a fairly common complaint, amongst both hardcore and softwcore players, that Path of Exile has no combat log that can be used to analyse the cause of a death after it happens. A point raised often in this thread is that “GGG doesn’t want to include a combat log, it would give players too much information.” The problems raised with players having too much information are:

  • The game would become too min-maxed, with players calculating how much survivability they need and getting exactly that much.
  • The presentation of the additional information might be overwhelming.
  • The game is supposed to be mysterious and difficult to understand.

I doubt the significance of these problems.

On the question of min-maxing, there are three realities to address. The first and most obvious is that most powerful hits from major bosses already have known approximate values. The idea that any information is actually being concealed here is laughable: the information is simply made less easily accessible. Second, the game simply doesn’t allow for such straightforward calculations. Between base damage variance, critical hits, overlapping AoEs, using defensive curses, being cursed, map modifiers, the various effects that can buff an enemy unexpectedly, and party-play buffs to enemies, as well as non-standard formulae for calculating the effect of armour and evasion, there are more than enough ways that players would be punished for trying to have only barely enough survivability. And third, the game is already a hugely complicated mess of mathematical min-maxing. That’s why people like it.

As to the question of presentation, I present that it is just that and no more. There’s little demand for ‘floating number’ style information – a combat log accessible after death would be quite sufficient. This might lead to a demand for always-accessible logs, which might in turn lead to third-party programs displaying numbers over the game (this sounds like it would be interacting with the game in memory, which I believe would violate the ToS and almost certainly be detectable). But even so, so what? If people want to debase the game, fine. They’re not gaining any unfair advantage by doing so (if anything, they’re disadvantaging themselves by obscuring the screen).

Lastly, there’s the philosophical point. We can break it into two parts:

  • Should a game have mysterious elements – information kept deliberately hidden from the player?
  • If so, is the manner in which a character dies an appropriate place for this?

On the former, I think a good case can be made either way. On the plus side, it can make a game more involving, letting players decide how deep down the rabbit hole they want to proceed. ARGs are the pinnacle of this: the entire game is the hiding of the information. Puzzle games somewhat less so, all the way down to straightforward board games like Chess or Go where the rules are laid out in their entirety from the very beginning. On the other hand, it is also fairly pointless. Consider the hiding of card rarities in early Magic history. This accomplished basically nothing except making the game harder to understand and creating booster packs where the rare card was a basic Mountain.

So maybe PoE should conceal certain information from the player. My contention is that this is not the right place to do it. Compare vendor recipes. These are pieces of information that are very well-suited to being concealed. A recipe, once discovered or learned, is permanently a part of the player’s ability to play the game. Not knowing a recipe may make a player less effective, but it does so “invisibly” – without the player being aware of what they don’t know until they learn it. And it’s predictable, both in the sense that a recipe can be shared easily across multiple players and experiments can be done to find hidden recipes. It’s practically the ideal example of a game developer hiding information from the player community in order to create fun experiences.

Now consider a character death in a hardcore league for comparison. Learning how much damage an attack deals is inexact and doesn’t permanently increase your skill – intuition won’t transfer well between characters with different survival strategies. For the same reason, the information transfers poorly. But most importantly, it’s really up-front and obvious when you don’t know why your character died. And it’s really frustrating. Learning that you could have been turning in your items differently for better rewards is a “kick yourself” moment. Learning that sometimes you’ll just die and the best way to avoid it is to just not do anything in the game because you can’t determine what is and isn’t dangerous might not cause immediate uninstallation, but it erodes a player’s desire to keep playing. After all, it’s not like there’s any practical difference between a game you play but don’t do anything in, and one you don’t play at all.

Overall, I don’t think there’s any good reason to not include combat logs on death in Path of Exile. The stated reasons either seem oblivious to the actual state of the game and the world – failing to account for the increased availability of information since the dawn of the ARPG genre – or philosophically tenuous, generically aimed at creating fun moments of discovery that simply don’t happen in the specific context in question.

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GGG Design Philosophy – Points and Counterpoints

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