Grizzly Gaming

Friday, July 13, 2012

Need to Know Basis - Grinding

(For some reason, when I copy/pasted this from a Word doc, the formatting got all screwy and added double spaces all over the place. I tried to fix them all, but probably didn't. It looks slapdash but I just finished typing/posting this 2,400 word beast and I'm done with it. That is all.)

I’ve done these columns before – Need to Know Basis – and had covered a few different video game terms per column. This time I’m only going over one term – grinding. As usual, if you’re not familiar with the term in context of gaming you probably don’t understand what it is but don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Grinding exists in nearly ever genre of gaming, in both the most hardcore and casual games you can find. Grinding can be defined as simply as an, often tedious, process in a game repeated continually to attain a certain end. Whether that end is a new item, experience points, money or just the fun of the grind itself, grinding comes in many different forms and can reward players in many different ways.
This was the second Google Image when I searched "video game grinding." Seems appropriate.

 I got the idea for this column while playing “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” recently. I was running around in Whiterun and realized I had been in the town for what seemed like hours (over a day in game-time) when the idea for this column came to me. I realized that someone unfamiliar with the concept of grinding might be very confused as to why I had spent so much time in the same town, running back and forth between various vendors and shops, creating items only to sell them off. To those unfamiliar with the concept of grinding, it probably looked like I was just wasting my time – why would someone spend time gathering material to make something only to get rid of said items? But as always (well, usually), there is a method to my madness.

After a horrible realization came to my attention (read about it in the next paragraph, marked by parenthesis, if you’d like) I decided to jump back into my original character – a bulky, brawler by the name of Ulf. At this point in Ulf’s campaign, I was well on my way to power-leveling my Smithing skill to 100, as well as putting some serious work into my Enchanting skill. When the idea for this column came to me, I was in the process of compiling ingredients to make iron daggers, creating the daggers, running to the other side of town (through a loading screen) to enchant the daggers with a low-level spell then selling the daggers (enchanted and non) for more ingredients to make more daggers. The reason I was doing this was not necessarily because it was fun to run back and forth, between various shops, item creation screens and loading screens (it’s not) but because I wanted to quickly level up certain skills – namely Smithing and Enchanting –  so that eventually I will be able to craft the highest level armors available, as well as being able to imbue them with even stronger enchantments.

(Somehow, and I’m figuring this happened a long time ago and I just never noticed, I saved over/straight up deleted a large chunk of Ulf’s life. Like a good 30-40 hours of it. Maybe even more. I hadn’t played Ulf in a long time and I thought I’d fire him back up and slay a few beasts when I realized that I only had one save slot for Ulf and he was not the badass I remembered. Rather than being a level 53 one-man-wrecking-crew decked out in all enchanted Daedra armor and a Dragon Priest mask, the only remnant of Ulf I had left was a level 32 shadow of his former greatness [I mean, he still wore pieces of iron and steel armor, for Christ’s sake]. Once I was able to stop shaking and sobbing uncontrollably enough to fully comprehend what I had done, I resolved to return Ulf to his former glory and set out to do just that.)
To some, I was barely playing the game. Rather than exploring or embarking on one of “Skyrim’s” epic quests, I was running all over a fictional town to perform menial tasks – like I was the personal assistant to some eccentric, wealthy Skyrim inhabitant. And while I’ll admit that this form of grinding isn’t necessarily the most fun, it serves a purpose. To reach level 100 in Smithing using any method other than making hundreds upon hundreds of iron daggers would take an amount of time so long I can’t even fathom. You see, your Smithing skill only increases when you’ve created or enhanced weapons and armor, and you get the same amount of XP (per level, per weapon/armor) whether you’re making iron daggers or dragon armor. As iron daggers are, resource-wise, the cheapest item to smith, you can easily make tons of them and earn XP for each. By putting in a bit of (tedious) work using the iron dagger grind, you can easily reach 100 in a matter of hours. It’s a few hours of utterly boring tedium but at the end of it you’ll be able to craft some of the strongest items in the game.

The grinding I note above about “Skyrim” can be seen as a sort of “experience point (XP) grind.” XP grinding is also closely related to another form of grinding that is more my speed – the “loot grind.” The “Diablo” series was one of the first that turned me on to this concept and ever since first playing “Diablo” I’ve found myself getting hooked on games that offer a consistent challenge with some sort of unique item as the reward. In “Diablo,” you explore caverns beneath an old church, finding newer and more disturbing demons as you descend, ultimately hoping to slay the evil in the deepest reaches – the eponymous Diablo. As you slaughter monsters and demons, you’ll collect newer and better weapons and armor, bestowing new abilities and strength as you level up your character. For me, playing “Diablo” wasn’t as much about stopping the Lord of Darkness from destroying the world as it was about finding a new area with new monsters to kill that could maybe, hopefully drop a sweet new weapon or armor piece.

In terms of “Diablo,” the grinding aspect comes not from a process within the game that the player chooses to perform over and over – but is basically the game itself. There isn’t much to “Diablo” beyond exploring, killing monsters, leveling up and collecting loot. Sure you take on quests to advance the story, but each ultimately is an excuse to explore a new area, kill monsters and collect loot.

 My reaction to battling the master of evil - "Meh."
My reaction to finding a rare sword - "Oh hell yeah!"

(I thought, at this point, I ought to point out that with the various forms that grinding comes in, you’ll also notice that sometimes a grind can be basis for the entire game, like in the case of “Diablo,” while other types of grinding, like the XP/iron dagger grind from “Skyrim,” is more of a tactic that doesn’t necessarily ever need to be employed. Grinding comes in many different forms and whether or not to grind, in some cases, is really all up to the player’s personal taste.)

In recent times, the game “Borderlands” has sated my addict-like need for loot grinding. I absolutely destroyed “Borderlands” putting a considerable amount of work in with each of the four different characters and tearing through each piece of DLC released for the game (even the infuriatingly difficult “Mad Moxxi Underdome Riot”). “Borderlands” combined incredibly refined and smooth gunplay with interesting and colorful visuals, not to mention new pieces of loot to be found almost everywhere. “Borderlands” managed to take the loot grinding formula of “Diablo” and combine it with the first-person shooter genre so perfectly that when asked what “Borderlands” was like, I used to tell people “it’s basically ‘Diablo’ with guns.” But “Borderlands” improved on the “Diablo” formula by being a loot grind with fun gameplay, rather than just click-click-clicking your way through environments and enemies as you did in “Diablo 1 and 2.” (In ‘Diablo,’ your only means of interacting with the environment was clicking on stuff with the mouse. Want to break that barrel, open that chest or pick up that potion? Click on it. Want to talk to that guy? Click on him. Want to kill that enemy? Kill on it a bunch of times until it dies. It was simple, didn’t require a whole lot of strategy but, because all the loot to be found, incredibly addicting.)

Cracking open loot chests was the reason I played "Borderlands."

But by far the most popular genre to make use of the XP/loot grind is MMORPGs – Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. Games like “World of Warcraft” and “Everquest” immediately come to mind when the term is used though there are almost too many MMOs to keep track of anymore (many which are free-to-play so that they can reel in players’ money with microtransactions). In MMOs, players have a gigantic open world to explore, inhabited with enemies and monsters as well as countless other living players. In the game world, players can not only embark on quests to earn XP and loot but can also take on jobs to grind for XP or money but also join guilds and factions to earn even more XP by tackling more difficult quests in large groups.  Character development, inventory management and the thrill of taking on sweeping quests is the real draw of most MMOs but underneath it all is grinding, in one form or another.

Grinding is known by many other different names, such as farming or treadmilling, but to me, the term “grind” has the exact connotations that come along with the act – an act, or series of acts, that you need to keep working at to complete. Sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s tedious but it’s always to achieve some sort of end. I’ve honestly never heard the term treadmilling before – probably because it’s stupid. And farming I’ve always thought of as a specific type of grinding, that being performing simple actions over and over to reap some easy cash. You generally hear about farming in MMOs (“gold farming” usually) but this type of grind is possible in many types of games. (At one point, I had even found out a good way to farm gold in “Resident Evil 5” by restarting a level over and over to pick up cash and items laid out at the beginning of a stage.)

A Google Image search result for "gold farming." Not exactly what it means, but funnier 
than having to explain what a room full of Chinese people playing 'World of Warcraft' 
has do to with gold farming, which was, like, a majority of the search results.

But grinding isn’t only found in the types of games typically reserved for “hardcore” gamers. Elements of grinding can be found in all sorts of different types of games. “FarmVille,” for example, is a free-to-play browser-based game offered through Facebook where the objective is simply to farm. Players have a plot of land they can work by growing different types of plants to sell for the means to plant more things on their farm – and that’s it. There’s no story, no plot, no characters (and therefore no character development) and there’s definitely no ending – the game itself is nothing more than grinding. I’ve never played it myself and it seems to be waning in popularity, but I only say that because it’s been a long time since I’ve been bombarded with requests from people to help with their farm. Though I’ve never played it, I’m familiar enough with it to know that running a successful farm takes true dedication to the game. To maximize use of the land as well as profits, players need to constantly be turning over their crops and making the best use of their resources. It’s a type of dedication I’ve honestly never seen outside hardcore roleplaying and MMO games – certainly a testament to how captivating the grind can be.

As “FarmVille” is a game that is generally regarded as one for the casual market, we see that nearly any class of gamer can be entertained by grinding. “The Sims” franchise, like “FarmVille,” is another of the “open-ended grinds” – a term I coined just now. Though the series has grown and evolved, the basic principle, to my knowledge, remains the same – create a virtual person or family and live their virtual life. And living this virtual life is, virtually, the same as living your real life – you’ll need a job (that you better show up to and on time if you want to keep it), you need to pay bills, keep up your house as well as keep up personal relationships in addition to other mundane things like eating, sleeping, bathing and going to the bathroom. It’s about as much fun as it sounds but the series has been massively successful, with the first title being released back in 2000 and spawning two sequels with numerous add-on titles as well such as “The Sims: Medieval” and “The Sims: Carnival.” 

This took someone hours and hours of their life to create. 
Though, I don't know why you'd need a hot air balloon on a farm.

Though I never was much for “Sim-City,” I have to admit that original “The Sims” captured my attention for some time. Though it was essentially just a recreation of most people’s daily lives, for some reason the ability to micromanage a person or a family’s life was incredibly addictive. And not just their lives, but the world around them as well. For instance, you could buy new appliances, furniture or other toys like a pool or big screen TV to try and win over the neighbors. Granted, you could do all that stuff if you had the money. And trust me, once you invest even a meager amount of time into the life of just one Sim, you wanted to do everything you could for them – get them a better job, a better place to live, bigger and better amenities. And it’s only after you get robbed and realize that your Sim needs a better job to afford a burglar alarm or a new kitchen cause the stove caught on fire, that you realize it’s 4 a.m. in the real world and your actual kitchen could’ve caught on fire and you would’ve had no idea.

A lavishly decorated house in "The Sims." 
Also, it took way too much effort to find a relatively normal looking screenshot of this game..

As you can see, grinding comes in many different forms and elements of grinding can be found in almost every genre. Games, like the ones mentioned above, are prime examples of the term but even point-based arcade games or racing games can be considered grinds or at least, be played in a grinding style (playing stages over and over again to earn a higher score or a faster time, for example).

Therefore, grinding isn’t just a practice used only by certain, determined gamers in niche genres nor is it just a way for game designers to extend the playtime of their games. Grinding, in a sense, for many gamers, is the game. Not just to reach a certain end or attain unique items, some play simply for the fun of the grind – the structured, ordered sequence of actions that will ultimately lead to a payoff in some sense. Whether it’s for a badass new gun in “Borderlands,” a high-level piece of armor in “WoW,” or to sell your crops to make space for newer crops in “FarmVille,” grinding will always be a part of gaming – even if you didn’t know what to call it before.


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An avid gamer and long-time pro wrestling fan, stay tuned to Grizzly Gaming and the Delco Elbow Drop for game reviews and pro wrestling news.

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