Choose My Adventure: Starting fresh in Project Gorgon
I’m really glad to be heading into Project Gorgon for the first CMA of the year. Not just because it’s a title which I have absolutely no experience with, although that helps. No, it’s also because Project Gorgon is another installment in the ongoing and non-absolute answer to the longest-running question in MMO history. Now that we have this neverending game with all of these moving pieces to play with, what are we actually here to do?
That sounds like a straightforward question, but I think it’s important to consider the reality that this has always existed and always been an issue. No matter how much you might enjoy an MMO, ultimately, you need a goal of some kind, and thus most of them have made a point of offering one. It’s important to note that “goal” is not a synonym here for “endpoint,” as most MMOs feature a goal of some sort but not a point when you are supposed to actually be entirely done forever.
Most of the time, the answer to the question of the game’s goals are either to defeat everyone (in which case games provide more balance and refinement to ways that you can defeat people and offer more nuanced systems for doing so) or to be continually facing greater challenges (in which case games provide more challenges and more goalposts to reach in steady increments). Both of these are perfectly good goals, and both of them work well as a way to motivate yourself onward.
Neither of these appear to be the end goal of Project Gorgon. For that matter, even the game itself doesn’t seem to be sure of exactly what its end goal is meant to be, beyond a vague header of offering new experiences. Not new challenges, exactly; just new things to try out.
This is, partly, a result of the game’s design history and partly just a result of the game having a pretty tiny budget and a need to make do with what it has. This is a little indie game in the truest sense of the word, but rather than trying to buy itself out of the little indie game slot, Project Gorgon is far happier to lean on the fact that it has weird cobbled-together resources to build a weird cobbled-together world. It’s like the backstories you came up with as a kid to justify why you had seven different styles of toys in the same play session for some reason.
Look, if you didn’t have an elaborate continuity explaining why Transformers, My Little Pony, He-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Barbie dolls were all coexisting in the same space, we’re just never going to understand one another. It’s not like it made less sense than the official fiction.
Part of it is also just a matter of design philosophy. The game seems to embrace the overarching notion that there’s no such thing as an idea that’s too silly to be seriously considered. This is a game that literally has a Death skill. It’s a skill that allows you to improve your character by dying a bunch. It is a game wherein you can elaborately level up your ability to brew the perfect beer. There’s a whole system about maintaining your body heat. I seem to remember that you could both get transformed into a cow and remain a cow forever.
Again, this is a little indie game. It’s never going to have a clean and collected endgame system, it’s never going to have a firm and refined combat system. What it can put forth as a claim to fame is having a whole lot of systems you’ve never seen before. Stuff like music-making bards almost seems normal in the light of how far out of its lane it will go.
Of course, this does come with certain drawbacks. For example, the game is not exactly a graphical darling, because… well, cobbled together from several assets from elsewhere tied together by weird presentation and ideas. It still needs an improved user interface. It has a whole lot of systems that do not make a huge amount of sense without doing some investigation.
But I admire its approach. It’s not trying to out-play games that are larger and have already done things, and it’s not trying to promise the most in-depth crafting system possible or the most elaborate PvP conflicts or whatever. It’s an example of how indie games are best served by trying to do one specific thing really well instead of trying to do everything; it’s just that the one thing it tries to do is cast a wide net.
None of that means that it’s actually fun to play. I don’t know if it’s fun to play. That’s the whole point of this feature, and I might find myself saying that it’s a lot of fun as a very different experience… or I might find myself feeling like it’s kind of an unenjoyable slog. Or something in the middle. Let’s find out!
The nature of the game, of course, means that there’s not the same sort of “what class to start with” anxiety. You start with a lot of skills, you can unlock lots of skills, you find out which is which partly just through experience. So I think the real question here can’t be just about which race I want to start with; that’s an option, sure, but it isn’t an option that makes nearly as much of an impact as whether or not I get turned into a cow forever.
Thus, we’re starting off with questions that are more philosophical in nature rather than starting character options. My character is going to start in the world and I’m going to have the option to try all sorts of different things. So, should I focus on having a few fairly refined choices, or should I take the opportunity to grab literally as many skills as I can in as wide a field as I possibly can?
I’d like to stress that this is not a question of which option is best at optimizing my character. That doesn’t matter. This is about what is most interesting to experience.
CMA: Should I take a wide or narrow approach to skills?
- Take as many skills as you can. (37%, 76 Votes)
- Maintain a narrow focus. (17%, 36 Votes)
- Learn what you come across, but don't seek extras. (46%, 95 Votes)
Total Voters: 207
On a related note, part of what makes Project Gorgon so unusual is that it has a different attitude toward making permanent and sometimes dangerous changes to your character. The TVTropes page on Unwinnable By Design, for example, has a whole rundown of the ways in which games can go from being merciful to nasty, and that’s relevant to this particular discussion. Most MMOs fall into the polite category in terms of making character changes, so before you make a permanent choice you have ample warning that you are making a decision that will have long-term ramifications.
Project Gorgon will still warn you, but it’s far more willing to let you make changes to your character that are significant and unchangeable. If most MMOs are run by reasonable GMs, Project Gorgon is a bit more Gygaxian in its attitude. It is willing to remind you that drinking unlabeled potions can turn you into a frog, and if you turn into a frog, your lesson is “you should not have drank that unlabeled potion, now you are a frog” rather than “you will be a frog for a minute or so.”
This gives me two options for how to approach the game. Option one is to be very careful accordingly. Option two is to treat this as an entitlement rather than a burden, and thus to drink every unlabeled potion, push every dangerous button, and taunt people who know the Spell of Bovinification by shouting, “What are you going to do, make me a cow?”
And, naturally, there is a middle path wherein I am willing to take risks but avoid taking stupid ones. You know what I mean. So which path should I embrace?
CMA: How adventurous should I be?
- Press every dangerous-looking button. (47%, 97 Votes)
- Do not push any dangerous-looking buttons. (3%, 6 Votes)
- Adopt a reasonable stance toward dangerous-looking buttons. (50%, 103 Votes)
Total Voters: 206
Polls, as always, are open until Friday at 6 p.m. EST. Feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; tune in next week when I will see how many weird things happen in the opening area of the game. (Probably notably fewer than I may have been led to believe.)