Chatting to a colleague today about Google PAC-MAN, I started raving about the good ol' days of arcades and dropping 20¢ pieces. The machine which ate most of my teenage cash money was R-Type, which was pretty much perfection in a side scrolling shooter. It was the natural endpoint that started (for me) with Asteroids & Galaga, upgraded to Scrambler & Defender, was temporarily blinded by Dragon’s Lair, briefly poured money into Gauntlet, memorised the gear throws and corners in Daytona, before becoming obsessed by R-Type1.

One thing I realised was that back in the day, your 20¢ was sacrosanct. You had no choice but to make that coin last as long as you possibly could. And with something like R-Type, that meant continuously working your way through bullet hell to a particular boss before dying/wiping over and over and over again as you learnt the boss strategy/rotation. It was punishing. So punishing that if you didn’t reach some bosses with all your ship mods complete you pretty much had to start over despite having made it to the boss chamber.

There were no Internets, no strategy guides, no faqs, no videos. It was just you, a pile of coins, and a queue for the machine.

Which made me wonder why the same thing kind of head-beating determination to learn a boss from scratch is largely absent from MMOs. I pretty much point blank refuse to approach a new boss without first having read up on it and watched the videos. And yet it is no harder than facing an R-Type boss unseen. In fact it’s easier, because you don’t have to work all the way through the prologues (aka trash) and other bosses each time to reach your current nemesis, and you don’t only have 3 lives to do it. Plus it doesn’t cost you 20¢ a try :-)

The biggest difference of course is that you are playing an MMO with 4 or 9 (or, lord have mercy, 24) other players. That’s the reason you don’t want to (or can’t afford to) spend time wiping whilst just watching or reacting to what is going on. Trying to co-ordinate that many people is challenge enough, without introducing the added element of learning on the fly. It’s more about implementing and executing than discovering. And maybe the other 9 love faqs. Or are good at execution. Or like following. Maybe they are impatient. Maybe they don’t want to spend hours getting frustrated. Maybe you’re afraid to look like a nub. 

Or maybe the other 9 didn’t play R-Type.

  1. that chronology of machines is probably impossible, but that’s the way it feels now. ↩︎