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November 7th, 2008, 05:26
This is a vital issue, as games embrace a larger and loftier scope. I didn't play Oblivion, but the monster scaling thing was prevalent in Morowind too, adn it didn't take too long for it to prove annoying. I think it's just a balance issue. We don't mind a challenge, but when the fixed plotty kind of encounters are way easier than the random ones outside, it's just a huge letdown.

You know, Master of Magic had that same problem, although not because of scaling. The hardest fights in the world would be from a particularly well-defended magic node. Relative to those 8 dragons or whatnot, the capital cities of the enemy would be complete pushovers.

Scaling sucks on other levels too, so I think we can safely say it's a bad idea. But what's the alternative? Well, what works in MMOs might be a model. WoW has twelve zillion areas, and none of them are of the slightest interst to you once you've leveled past them. It's just not fun or productive to go around killing level 20 zombies six at a time when you're level 40. Of course, WoW's game world is completely ginormous, and also MMOs have different goals than CRPGs. Maybe.

You know, maybe part of the problem is that the power curves we see in all these games are so completely unrealistic that it's very hard to shoehorn a coherent gameworld into a system where the variances in killpower are so ridiculously huge. Kung Fu movies and videogames aside, we know intuitively that a kid with a cheap 9mm can still kill any human dead with one shot. Blam. And perhps, that has kept our world organized a certain way.

A videogame world, where the orcs who were threatening to overwhelm your tribe three days ago are approximately one one-thousandth as strong as the generic caravan guard standing around the new area you just wondered into… the truth is it doesn't make much sense. I mean, that's fine, but it presents game balancers with some hard choices.

Anywho, I don't know the answer, but my vote is for the MMO model, flawed as it may be. Actually, I think that same model applies to JRPGs as well, so as usual the Japanese have it all figured out. We just have to accept that our starting village is populated by tiny, ant-like weaklings, the middle areas are populated by regular people, and the final areas are the domain of gods, monsters, and killer robots. It's a little silly, but there's no realistic alternative.
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