Or maybe it’s an MMO. Either way, who knew? (Probably a lot of people, but not me)
I mention jRPGs because right now, I am in the thick of “leveling up” my weapons and all I could think of was Disgaea. In Disgaea, items are actually places you can “enter” and by progressing through the levels of the item, you actually make it stronger. You can also increase its attributes by taking out certain monsters (both specialists and bosses). In Modern Warfare 2, every weapon has a set number of challenges that systematically increase the “power” of your weapon. You can unlock things like sights, camouflage, and stronger ammo. It’s addictive, just like Disgaea was.
The beautiful thing about MW2‘s system is that, as far as I can tell, the improvements are small enough that they don’t knock the balance of the game out of whack. While I may have unlocked the thermal scope, heart monitor and grenade attachment, I am limited to using two (after unlocking another perk) attachments. It works perfectly. And even if I do happen to fully upgrade/unlock my current weapon of choice (A SCAR-H) I will probably move on to another weapon to continue the process.
Therein lies the hook. Raph Koster definitely had it right in his book, A Theory of Fun for Game Design. I know it’s is more complex than this but it it turns out that our brains are wired to enjoy doing repetitive things that we perceive as being fun. The designers at Infinity Ward have honed this to a razor’s edge. It’s like they looked inside my brain and tailored Modern Warfare 2 to pretty much inject fun directly into my brain.
I am a simple man who has simple (gaming) needs. I was actually going to discuss these things in conjunction with Torchlight and Borderlands, but this is just as good a time to talk about it as ever. I only need a few things in my games. I need to see little numbers popping up off the bad guys (multicolored numbers, if you are really trying), I need lots of things to unlock and I’ll take some leveling up (the more the better). Take all those simple things and throw in a robust statistic tracking system and I am in heaven. I haven’t played a ton of jRPGs, but I have played a ton of MMORPGs. Both of those game scratch that numeric itch.
So while it has its flaws, Modern Warfare 2 is almost the perfect game for me. It has these simple things I like, in spades. To recap: I need: Stats (check), Little Numbers (not quite what I want, but I’ll let it slide), constant progression (Leveling up (check)), and Unlocking (that’s a gigantic CHECK).
So I think I have a new favorite FPS on the 360. Halo 3 has been unseated and I’m not sure it (or Halo: Reach) can regain the throne. I don’t know how much I really believe this, even as I’m typing it, but if Halo: Reach doesn’t incorporate some these mechanics, I don’t know how much it will grip me.