Massively Overthinking: Does reused content in MMOs bother you?

    
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One of the big complaints I saw on the Guild Wars 2 subreddit right before Secrets of the Obscure launched was the grump that ArenaNet was somehow scraping the bottom of the barrel by reusing and reskinning existing game graphics and assets for the new zones. I was genuinely surprised by that complaint; it seems smart to me, as well as conducive to consistent world-building. But upon reflection, I suppose I can see the concern; it’s not so much about what’s there as about what’s not there – and what that means for the game.

Let’s talk about reskinned and repurposed assets in MMOs in this week’s Massively Overthinking – doesn’t have to just be about GW2. Does it bother you? Are there clever ways to do it? Does it make you worry for the game? Or is this all just a bunch of nothing?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I’ll be honest: I’m rarely a visuals guy. You could reskin a level 1 armor set and change the color while adding a short on-use super-jump affect and I’ll be in love. It’s all about content for me. Heck, when I started playing Orna, most of the assets are/were free-use ones other games also used, so it’s not a big deal to me if the team reskins, recolors, or reuses old assets, as long as they result in something that feels fresh.

Andy McAdams: I’m with most of the others: I generally don’t care about reused assets. I say “generally” because if those heinous grapes from FFXIV started showing up in a bunch of other places unironically, I would be annoyed. But if the blue hairy beast is now the green hairy beast, and the green hairy beast is functionally different (more life, different skills, etc.), then hell yeah, that’s working smarter, not harder. That’s not to say I don’t like net-new assets. But I’m not mad about reused assets instead of net-new assets. I’m not mad if not everything is bespoke because there’s so much a developer can do with tweaking existing assets that make it different enough. I think calling developers lazy for reusing assets just demonstrates how little folks understand about what it actually takes to add in net-new and the actual cost of all of that that entails.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I do understand that people look at reskinned/reused assets as the studio being out of money or time to develop fresh new stuff. I would submit that if we got nothing but that for a year, I’d be worried about the studio’s budget and effort. The narrative and world teams can do a helluva lot with a little, but players need fresh new eyecandy too.

But honestly, SOTO seems like a good mix of both new and old to me, so I’m not super worried. In fact, I really like the mish-mash of existing environments imported as isles in the new zone. I mean, I liked all those places the first time, and I like seeing them come back in new ways. I’m not mad about it at all, and it makes perfect sense with the storyline. Like, this is just not the right thing to be complaining about with SOTO at all.

It’s particularly funny to me because I remember ArenaNet at the center of “reskin” controversies in Guild Wars 1 too; quite a bit of armor and environmental stuff in the original Eye of the North expansion was roundly criticized for being a rehash of the rest of the game. (I was told later that the decision for that was more about technical limitations than budget or time, though whether that’s true, I don’t know.) For my part, I didn’t mind the rehash of the zones back then either; what I minded was the reskinned armor and weapons, as the cosmetic bits of the game were my jam. As long as GW2 doesn’t go down that path, I think it’ll be fine.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): Absolutely reuse assets, especially this far down GW2’s life cycle. Our long-in-the-tooth games could and should use old stuff that was just used once or twice. Bonus points if they can provide a lore friendly reason to do so!

I recently played through Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core Reunion, and it reused a ton of assets constantly. It reused maps for their 100+ missions that made for a majority of the moment to moment bite-sized gameplay/grinding this fame had to offer. Why can’t studios do that for MMOs? Final Fantasy XIV has a ton of assets that were used only once for an instanced area during the main story quest (that dreamscape-lookin’ place from the Shadowbringer era being a standout).

Here’s a suggestion: reuse instanced areas for repeatable content. Think how Diablo III uses setpieces to make nephalem rifts. A little remixing goes a long way.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’m absolutely unbothered by reskinned or reused assets in MMORPG development. Or any game development, for that matter. It’s about as stupid a hang-up as folks who get mad at in-game puddles not being correctly reflective, and those who have lives that are upended by reskins need to trade their existence with me so I can know such comfort.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): I rolled my eyes so hard at this. Skywatch is a fun zone that clearly had a lot of work put into it. I don’t understand why so many gamers seem to think the only way a game can be fun is if every inch of it is bespoke, hand-crafted from scratch for that particular release, then thrown away and never used again. That just doesn’t make sense. Many of the Kryptis enemies reuse animation rigs from older mobs, but if they didn’t, fighting them wouldn’t be any more or less fun. If the expansion were 100% reused assets, I could understand being concerned that ANet had fired its entire team of artists or something, but that simply is not the case; overall, this is a really beautiful expansion with a style that is just as distinctive as each of the three previous ones.

I share concerns that this expansion cycle is being rushed and underfunded, especially given that we are being charged nearly the same for half the content, but the fact that one of the two zones reuses some assets is not proof positive that the game is falling apart. It makes perfect sense given the story the devs are telling, and if you actually get in there and fly around, I think you will find the zone well designed and interesting to navigate. Reused assets or no, I see no evidence that ANet is “scraping the bottom of the barrel” creatively. And even if it were done as a cost savings measure, I would much rather get more content with fewer original assets than have the expansion be even shorter than it already is.

There are plenty of valid reasons to criticize games and their development practices, but reusing assets where it makes perfect sense is not one of them.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I absolutely don’t mind as long as — and here’s my condition — that the reused assets are handled creatively and not lazily. Cutting and pasting rooms or zones got us the boring procedurally generated missions of Anarchy Online or the original landscape of Final Fantasy XIV. That’s just filler done with minimal effort. But if you put some effort behind reusing those assets, I say go for it. It’s economical and can result in more content being delivered at a faster pace. In fact, I wish more MMOs would reuse and repurpose regions that they already have in the game instead of treating them like one-shot disposable K-cups.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I have not been following the GW2 Reddit or much recently, but I can appreciate the apprehension. It always sucks when you are looking forward to seeing new creatures and locations but it turns out to be a lame dye job. It took the devs over at ANet years to remember that offhand focus skins can be literally anything instead of just a semicircle with a hand-hold through it.

I haven’t personally experienced this expansion to confirm how much is the equivalent of a dye job vs. how much is interesting, but from everything I’ve heard, the reuse of zones and skins here is an interesting retelling of previous work. I mean, that sounds rather cool really. So long as it makes sense from a story sense, I think I’m good with it. Now, if we see another rehash with very little new visuals, then we can throw a stink.

Tyler Edwards (blog): Not only am I generally unbothered by asset reuse, I sometimes wish games did it more often. Reusing familiar creatures and environments helps to create the sense of a cohesive world. I do think it’s theoretically possible for recycling assets to go too far, but I can think of few examples of that actually happening, and 99% of the time when I see people in an uproar over it, they’re making mountains out of molehills at best.

I’m currently rolling my eyes at the griping some are doing over New World’s expansion zone being a revamp of an older territory (that wasn’t being used for much of anything). It’s been rebuilt from the ground up, and it’s packed with new art assets, new quests, and new mob types. It’s a new zone in every way that could possibly matter, but because it occupies the same part of the map as an old zone, people are saying we’re not getting any new territory with this expansion. It’s silly.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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