Today, a friend and I had a brief interchange about the mod system in Warframe, where he remarked that he now had more control over what modifications he could make to his equipment. I’ve made clear before my opinions on the matter, but I do acknowledge that many people play games for control because the game of life produces slow, uncertain rewards for each action we take. Indeed, in a game like Cosmic Break, where your performance is highly dependent on how lucky you are with gambling, dissatisfaction is taken for granted.
On the other hand, from a storytelling perspective, to give the “reader” complete control of the story, you would have to give him a diary and not tell a story at all. I’ve played games for a long enough time that I generally play games for new experiences rather than for the satisfaction of clearing objectives. In Cosmic Break, with every new thing I get from the lottery, I spend hours piecing together robots that don’t even work just to see how they don’t work. I’m drawn to the feeling of discovering something that works, not the feeling of satisfaction I get from using it, and that is why I hold the opinions that I do.
Don’t get me wrong; Cosmic Break is incredibly dissatisfying not only because you have no control over how well you do, but also because you have no control over how you earn control over how well you do. To some degree, randomization of items dropped from enemies has always annoyed me for this reason. It’s bad in normal MMORPGs, but Cosmic Break just takes it to an absurd extreme. (Borderlands, on the other hand, has a field day with it because the stats on the items themselves are randomized, not your chances.)
Back on topic, I don’t think there is a perfect degree of control a player can be given. When a game depends on the player’s skill or luck, it is more random, and it is likely to both frustrate and amaze the player memorably. When a game depends on leveling up and calculating your endgame stats, the player is given more control and a clear reward for their efforts. Trying to find a universal standard is like trying to compare Borderlands to Sim City with disasters disabled. It all depends on what kind of game you want to make and how you want to enjoy it.
As a side note, this is the reason a friend of my friend and a diehard PSO fan dislikes PSO2. He couldn’t get used to how the bosses had random AI algorithms and how the game was no longer heavily dependent on planning and patterns. (In fact, he was such a control freak that he wouldn’t even let me heal him.)
As another side note, I suspect that Destiny has a loot system similar to Borderlands given that Bungie appears to be emphasizing adventure and atmosphere. Random generation of events is fun, too.