Saturday, March 18, 2017

Metapocalypse Now: a long time coming HvZ Rant.

Starting posts is always hard, but let's drop the clutch on this motherfucker. Okay, you probably know Rob Lehr, the Thunderdome documentary dude. Maybe you have seen his rambling semi-coherent video, maybe not, but it is a good catalyst for this post.

For the sake of nonrepetition, here is my response to this video being linked on /r/humansvszombies:
Full disclosure, I watched this and almost lost it. I was seeing red and if I posted anything in this thread it would have done damage to relations in the community and my reputation, so I bugged out. Now that I have cooled down and can think straight, some of these points need to be seriously addressed, and still with a requisite bit of fire.
  • Survivalist and serious players are NOT necessarily having no fun. People play any particular way primarily because they find it enjoyable. Fun is subjective, and you, Rob Lehr, do NOT tell ME how to have MY fun. Do we have that straight?
  • Do NOT bring up judging people over tactical gear ever again.
  • Survivalist and serious players are NOT necessarily the source of salty taggees and general HvZ negativity. Poor sportsmanship, dishonorable plays, immaturity surrounding getting tagged, and the erroneous perception of zombie status as "losing" are greater problems. To attribute them all to veterans, serious players, or survivalism (in a survival game mind you) is misguided. All manner of players, human and zombie, old and new, have sportsmanship issues and contribute to anger, negativity and disputes in HvZ games. It is the duty of all players of all ideologies to remain honorable and positive. The problem and the solution starts from the very first second of a newbie's first game and continues to the last final mission they play.
This personally hits me really hard because I have played for 7 years alongside /u/CC-4868 and the rest of us here from the Legion, so I am not some upstart who has not been there and back and seen the light. I have watched once legendary games (UF) burn to the ground before my eyes because of elements of this very attitude taking root, and then regrow very actively from the ashes when those elements were torn down and a competitive meta restarted complete with heavily geared humans. I feel a significant fraction of the HvZ community is destructively misinformed about veterans, serious players, min maxxing, survivalism, operators/superzeds, whatever you happen to call it. 
These players and their meta are unique and important for a number of reasons. They are highly devoted to the game by nature. They give high-resolution feedback on whether the game works and is fun, because they are greatly invested in the integrity of it. They are highly persistent. They are more likely to break the trend of quitting on graduation (campus games) or losing interest after a few years, and reduce the problem of experienced players being lost leaving games without leadership. The competitive meta itself lends depth and variety to a game and offers the primary route for player progress in the game, which is critical to retaining interest and players. 
Scapegoating them for all the game's ills, seeking to discourage them and create playstyle metas that exclude them is ridiculous and is not going to solve any problems at all. It may just make the still-unaddressed honor problems worse while reducing the depth and appeal of the game. 
All this said, I agree on the core message of having fun, remaining positive and not being a dick. I also agree that HvZ is a deeply flawed game whose persistent-status, asymmetrical nature makes it very prone to this exact issue of players becoming very angry and salty and not having fun no matter what wise things anyone says about the matter. It is understandable that the stress level is considerable when one event (especially at the beginning) can change the entire format of the game permanently for that player. It takes an exceedingly mature and honorable player to handle HvZ acceptably, let alone ideally how we wish players would act. Perhaps the popularity and default status of the game HvZ should be reevaluated. Large scenario events in the nerf hobby are nearly 100% HvZ, and I am not sure why other than status-quo since HvZ was the first large scenario game in the hobby. I would like to see HvZ supplanted in these events to some extent by symmetrical gametypes with respawn mechanics, which give the best of all worlds; easing the pressure and reason to be salty by eliminating "playing for keeps" without creating an issue of playstyle favoritism nor a shallow game which does not reward competitive effort. 
Those points have not changed, consider that canon in this post.

For more source material, check out Herbert West's (DZ contributor, /r/humansvszombies mod and contributor, Draugr Project member) video:

There is an awful lot to talk about and like Rob and HW I am not going to lose it trying to organize my thoughts.

Back to 2011 or so in HvZ. I talk about this era a lot, often with reverence. The glory days, the golden age. My best war stories, my best quality human run if not my favorite game of all time, come from then. That was when games worked and the community worked. Rob is right, something has been lost and HvZ has globally lost the spark that drove its boom years. The game has become an apathetic mess commonly riddled with objective problems like poor sportsmanship and overcomplexity and sometimes is just a drag. But WHAT IS the spark? What actually made games fun?

I don't agree on the matter of novelty. There has been a considerable argument for novelty's role here - "it's fun for a few years and then it becomes routine and loses its edge". There is value in this observation and that is explaining the flawed reasoning (based on speculation and not research) behind the misguided and damaging changes that have become common in the modern era, but make no mistake, I think novelty as explanation of the Core HvZ Fire is flat out silly. The game appealed to hardwired bits of logic and skill in us all. The draw was the opportunity to experience war, dodge death, fight for survival; but not for real. The draw was in taking the game way too seriously and way too far and having fun with it. The apocalypse was moved up to right now and you could make your own fate. It was something to escape from going insane with the mundanity and insignificance of life in modern societies. Missions were a huge adrenaline rush. Overarching everything and tying it all together, the games of that era may have been a bit cheesy at times, but they weren't silly. They took themselves seriously and built such crazy levels of tension. That was why the game was such a rush. You were survivors, last remnants of humanity. Those things out there were zombies, and yes, they would instantly murder you and tear you to pieces. When you became a zombie, you became death, and you could scare people shitless. It had gravity. You were usually dealing with missions and plot points involving the race against time to develop a cure for the disease, or destroy the horde, or get extracted by what was left of the military, or avoid being screwed over by some merciless corporate interest, often a Weyland Yutani or RDA or Umbrella type critter (ours at UF was called Revenant Corporation or "RevCorps") in a plot line that spanned multiple outbreaks in a manner that was always oh so contrived and tongue in cheek but still somehow worked and got everyone together for an epic fight that was so deeply satisfying. Those were the days of thousand player games lest we forget that.

It was satisfying not just because it was capable of being very intense if a player wanted to take it to that level, but because it was intense and honest. The game was pure HvZ, not crapped up with a litany of specials and perks and NPC monster things and odd mechanics that add complexity and ultimately contribute very little to the allure of the game or the enjoyment of playing it. The original mechanics were a perfect engine. It was a pure playerspace, exceedingly simple, easy to understand, and exceedingly open to skill and creativity, thus having nearly arbitrary depth created by other players that was not forced or synthetic like that achieved by administratively imposing unrealistic videogame-like tradeoffs and inequities on players or complicating mechanics. The rules laid down a wonderful Darwinian reality.

We need to go back and host the apocalypse again.

I don't dig the connection between trying to make shit sillier and more trollish and less "serious", and making the game better, or players have more fun, or less honor problems. That does not follow. In fact it is the converse if you ask me. Games that try so hard to not provide the serious player a rabbit hole to follow (voluntarily) just end up shallower and downright worse. Trying to force this silly attitude on people who don't want it or just won't play their A-game under it promotes apathy and leaves this aura of malaise and I-don't-careness over everything. Players who get all into the whole trollish-memey-sort of mentality are unreliable ones anyway. USF I am giving YOU the hairy eyeball right now, you are my nonexample. The game doesn't need it any worse. The game doesn't need you, Trolling Tony. You think you are helping solve some problem, but you are just the epitome of why this whole generation of players is damn fucking wrong about how to do HvZ and are yourselves the architects of everything you despise about it.

I don't want to hear any more bullshit about specials either. Fuck specials with a spike, they are directly responsible as a key instrument in the decline. Herbert West, I'm sorry, and I respect all the wisdom you have about properly designing specials to be a constructive part of a game and I know you think I overreact, but I still fundamentally disagree with rules-driven perks existing in the game of HvZ at all. While correctly designed specials or perks may generate the most depth possible for their complexity, they still HAVE complexity by virtue of existence, and the depth they add is still forced and excepting rare cases, mostly feels arbitrary, which both me and HW's posts have established by now is a bad thing and makes players angry and not enjoy playing! Specials are fighting a losing battle against the depth created organically by the efforts of players to succeed within permanently fixed rules and mechanics, because player actions create zero change in the rules and mechanics, and have a complexity of zero from a rules/mechanics standpoint. We need to force-denormalize specials by any means necessary. "What are the perks like for THIS game?" No, fuck you assuming there are perks. There are no perks. This is actually a round of HUMANS VERSUS ZOMBIES, I don't know if you have ever played that before...

Florida Polytechnic. One game had honor problems. Players were pissed on both sides. People not calling hits all over the place, cheating, medic abuse. The mods took the specials out of play. From there, the game was vanilla, and it was a night and day turnaround in game quality, fun level, and player attitude. It is repeated all over the place, a game with high-complexity noncanonical mechanics and features goes south, and no one once suspects the changes as the cause. Oh, we know all the cheating is happening with a perk, and a lot of players are raising this one mission being arbitrary, but it can't be the perks' fault. It can't be that invincible NPC that slaughtered a squad at that mission. It has to be something else. Why can't people just listen to the goddamn evidence for once when this happens? The denialism about this subject borders on flat-earth and I am not sure why. Why are we so stuck on specials?

If we must think in terms of perks perhaps this will make it clearer for you. I build all the "perks" I could ever need or want. Others are born with their perks, or create their perks through training physically and mentally, or brainstorm their perks over a desk covered in formation sketches and field manuals. None of us need your fake strengths or fake weaknesses. We have real ones already.

Moderators need to remember that players are combatants, not customers. Players want specials that are arbitrary and circumvent the game reality itself because players are under competitive pressure. Of course zombies want 10 unannounced sock-only monsters and 5 spitters and 30 riot shields and 15 more with stun time reduced to 2 minutes. Of course humans want a smartbomb that stuns all zombies everywhere for 5 hours and the ability to declare any acre of land (including the objective) a safezone for the whole mission. Of course players will support invincible NPC things existing if they are aligned with their faction, because players given the chance, will attempt to break (circumvent) the game to win - it is only natural. That's why players should not be given the chance. Moderators cannot simply listen to complaints with disregard for the war going on between these groups of players. This holds outside of mechanics - blaster safety is a common one, zombies are more likely to make false complaints against effective equipment hoping to manipulate moderators into banning it.

Like I said, the original game was good enough to run those 1000+ player events at UF, Purdue and more back then, which modern games with the same audience struggle to reach a fifth of. The audiences at campuses rotate regularly and are always filled with new people who have never played the game or heard of it, so "player burnout" is just illogical as a decline rationale to begin with. What did we do then that we DON'T do now, and vice versa?

You know, what puts this all in perspective is that the nerf hobby has grown immensely as a whole, but HvZ as a game has not. It has at absolute best remained unchanged in scale for the last 7 years, i.e. eons in hobbytime. This is in spite of the equipment used to play it becoming more popular and far, far more socially acceptable than how it was perceived by outsiders in 2010. We need to go BACK. What we DID years ago, worked. What we DO does NOT work. Once HvZ gets back on the rails, THEN we can think about how to improve or add further draw to the game. Now, though, it's a train wreck, and our game designers are going around repainting the wreckage in their madness. Stepping over twisted metal and corpses and fire to tack on superficialities. This needs to end or HvZ is going to go out with a whimper. It's all one toxic soup with all these ingredients from above. Anti-veteran-player sentiment that crumbles the foundation. Playstyle favoritism. Saltiness and honor issues. Complexity ad nauseam. Apathy. Disregard of HvZ history. Non-Darwinian metas driven by arbitrary administrative smiting.

I do want to see HvZ return to glory. At the same time, an old problem in the hobby has been that HvZ itself is overused and even at best, fundamentally flawed in ways that will always reflect at least some of the same issues it faces now. It will always strain player honor to the limit and be highly stressful to play as a human. It will always have the issue of misconstruing being a zombie as "Losing" the game rather than beginning a different mission with a different faction. It may be experimental territory for nerf organizers, but there is a major lack of large-scale, mission/objective/plot driven PvP symmetrical games that needs addressing. The community doesn't need another HvZ event, we have enough HvZ in terms of number of games and what HvZ today lacks is quality. While I am not in any way justifying the logic behind detrimental HvZ alterations, perhaps if HvZ were not so oversaturated, it would have more apparent novelty and there wouldn't be as much demand to change random things for the hell of it.


  1. Part of the cancer of modern society is the expectation that people will respect your opinion and act in a way that is comfortable to you. If you do not run the event or the website, it's your responsibility to handle it properly, remove yourself from the conversation if need be, or report to somebody who can take action if the person is contributing to a toxic environment.

    It isn't logical to tell people how you want to be interacted with. If they want to tell you how to have fun or that tactical gear is an issue, discuss it properly or handle it through the process mentioned above.

    1. Your comment is quite ambiguous. Clearly it refers to the bit from the beginning of my reddit excerpt, but it appears to have reasonable interpretations as a criticism, an agreement, or an addition.

      If any of that is directed at me, consider that it applies equally to the other side. Regardless, the reason for any of us posting is to express viewpoints on these issues in the context of the HvZ meta, not to deal with any particular in-game problems; let alone "tell people how I want to be interacted with". You are mistaken; I care nothing of what any player thinks about my approach to the game. Independence is a key virtue. I am proud to spite any detractor.

      However, completely distinct is the possibility of a game being run (administrated) unfairly toward some playstyle. Opinions on how specifically to play/not play do not belong in rulebooks. This is one type of systemic toxicity which is attacked in my posts and is a valid subject to address.

      The issue of cultural viewpoints becoming criticism or glorification of certain playstyles to the point of a large scale negative impact on how the masses play and the resulting game quality is also a form of systemic toxicity, is also whacked in my posts, and is also a valid subject to address.

  2. How have you come to view events such as ZedTown?

    1. In practice, I am on another continent, so I don't know. In theory, I detest the way Zedtown is run. Its safety rules are pro-corporate, anti-hobbyist trash; and it is nothing but a sellout commercialization of effectively the same game, appeal and playerbase of HvZ and its high demand in that area. So... To hell with em.