TLDR: Always going untwinked means that you will always have a new, challenging, and unique experience every time, in a way that also maximizes your dopamine hit production. Twinking or trading items to your characters will actually reduce the total happiness you get from those characters, since giving items to them will mean that the next time the game drops an item that could have been a dopamine hit, will be pushed a lot further into the future, which will ultimately make you less happy.
Introduction / Context
Over the past 19 years of me playing Diablo II, modding it (Cactus, Singling, Alpaca, and Succulent), Time Traveling, and playing Diablo 1, has revealed a lot about the essence of the game, and also what *at least for me* continues to keep the longevity and the "fun-ness" of the game. At the time of writing, I'm 31, started when I was around 12, and I would say that I would definitely be considered more of a "grognard" type of player nowadays. Even when I play Pokemon [GB/GBC/GBA] versions, it's only the first three generations that I like (Blue/Red/Yellow), (Gold/Silver/Crystal), (Sapphire/Ruby/Emerald). I like simple, minimalistic games, that require time, hard work, dedication, and most importantly, patience, to play. It's a bit harder to do that nowadays given that society is trying to make us hyper sensitive to stuff, and also make us not be able to focus on a single task at a time, but rather are all trying to compete for our attention, by carefully designing their content for short, rapid bursts of enjoyment, while trying to keep us mindlessly hooked into their online servers, ads, and other MTX shenanigans. It takes time, awareness, and discipline, to notice what society is trying to do to us and our brains, and carefully try not to necessarily distance ourselves from others, but more about distancing ourselves from their psychological manipulation.
Since I started playing Diablo II in 2003, during the first ladder season of 1.10, and stopped playing online a bit after 1.11 came out, I picked up a lot of multiplayer specific habits that became the staples of how I defined and experienced Diablo II for decades. Even when I switched to Single Player exclusively in 2013, and began Time Traveling, there were a lot of things that I still wanted to continue doing and thought that I needed in order for me to be happy. Twinking, Self Rushing, Self Power Leveling (over LAN) are some of these things to name a few. At the same time, a spark was started which led me to start questioning a lot of things over the next 10 years.
I've played Classic and LOD in many versions and continue to play both modes in multiple versions. Unlike a lot of time travelers, I don't time travel to bring the best items from the past forward, I time travel to enjoy the patch as it was at that point in time and try to experience all the possibilities of the game within that specific patch. Everything from item possibilities, exploiting gameplay bugs, mechanics, and limitations, are included. Overall, my rule of thumb is that if it shipped, then it's fair game. There are some minor exceptions like using development and debugging commands (-seed / -act5 are some flags that I don't recommend you to use since it can mess with RNG from what I've read, but also because you aren't really playing the game fairly).
To set the context, I won't be going into the differences between different game versions or game modes (Classic / LOD), but will be discussing this in a general perspective. Although we should also keep in mind that I've been playing a lot of Diablo II 1.05b (Pre LOD), and I really enjoyed Diablo 1's Single Player and actually believe that it is better and more addicting in a way than Diablo II. Due to this, Diablo II 1.05b (Pre LOD) is the closest to me to Diablo 1's Tone, Philosophy, and Design. Which makes sense given that it literally was the game made after Diablo 1, and before the Expansion. Another thing to note is that the Blizzard North developers did run out of time for making Diablo II, and a bunch of the missing pieces came out in LOD (Act 5 being one of them). Even with this time limitation, Diablo II ended up coming out very well and it is still highly playable and enjoyable today, even without the quality of life improvements. If you liked Diablo 1, you'll most likely really like Diablo II 1.05b as well. 1.07 - 1.09 made some drastic changes to the main balance of the game, but it still resembles the original structure for the most part. The 1.10 patch was a fundamental shift in the game and is very different than the previous versions. Most things here should still be mostly applicable. We are only focusing on Diablo 1 & 2. Diablo 3 and 4 have gone in a completely different direction by different groups of people, and I only follow and support the original, Blizzard North (Condor) versions of the game.
Lastly, this is just my current life experience with the game. My views are always evolving, and I sometimes still play some twinked characters in isolated stashes (away from my untwinked characters), and continue to do other types of experiments. I wanted to share these views with others but you are of course free to adapt them to your needs, or at the very least, hopefully it is an enjoyable read and serve as points of reflection for your own personal journey. It's all personal preference at the end of the day. With that said, let's begin.
In this post, we'll be diving into the following categories:
1. Dopamine Feedback Loop
2. Randomness vs Determinism
3. Unique Character Development
4. Muling / Stashes (Personal & Shared) / Hoarding
Dopamine Feedback Loop
For whatever reason, it seems humans like being addicted to stuff. Whether it's games, substances, habits, hobbies, etc. Is "addicted" too strong of a word or have negative connotations? Yea, but I suppose "addicted" to something could be a good thing as well as long as it's not to the detriment of the individual's physical and mental health and as long as it's not causing harm to others. If we harness and focus this "addiction", we can produce a lot of positive and happy things. In this particular case, Diablo 1 & 2, and its slot machine system. Since the game is pretty much fully random, from the map generation to the item generation, and these two characteristics are outside of human influence, we end up with a system, that if followed properly, will provide the player with maximum dopamine satisfaction. The beautiful thing about this is that since this is a game made back in the mid 90s to early 2000s, the majority of games were still designed in an era where they were attempted to be developed in a way that would be completed by launch day, since usually games didn't receive further patches or online updates. They also didn't require an internet connection or additional micro transactions, where companies focus and design their games to maximize their own profits, at the expense of the user's enjoyment and user rights. This ultimately means that whether or not you like to gamble, or maybe you like the idea of gambling but don't actually want to spend your real life, hard earned, currency, it provides an unlimited and low cost (one time fee) alternative to get that same type of feeling. Personally I don't gamble at all since I don't like the idea of having a system that is stacked against me while also designed to take my real life money. The time everyone has in their life is limited, and we are trading time for money at work. Which means I also don't want to just waste my money by giving it to someone else in that fashion. However, Diablo provides a one time fee, low cost alternative to gambling. Back in the day, you would pay a one time fee for the box price of the product (let's say $40 USD), and you have a very enjoyable, highly optimized and polished, slot machine right in the comfort of your own home. Gaming in general provides enjoyment, but Diablo's unapologetic randomization system for maps and items, is what really makes you get your money's worth.
With that said, we all know that the reason humans get addicted to stuff, and like it (lol), is due to good ol' Dopamine. We are interested in Dopamine as both a neurotransmitter and a hormone. But to keep it simple, we like Dopamine in general since it is basically the main chemical for our reward system. When it comes to Diablo, the randomness of when an item will drop, and more importantly, when an item with the stats that you are looking for drop, is what's important. Since the game is random, this part of the equation is hidden from you. All you know is that you are playing the game, your character has a certain set of attributes and skills, and you are either slowly progressing through the game, or have some obstacles in front of you that you are trying to tackle with your current resources. Gold is scarce (early on), and items are scarce. You still need to overcome the obstacles in front of you however. The struggle it takes for you to overcome the obstacle, and the time it takes for you to complete it, will motivate or demotivate you to do something, and to change your decisions, to try and compensate for your character's limitations. While this is all happening, the slot machine is running. When the slot machine does decide to drop something you could use (in any way possible that will benefit your character), even the smallest stat increase will be cherished, and thus make your brain release dopamine. If RNGesus decides to come in clutch (maybe some dual leech rings in prelod, or a Zod in 1.07 - 1.10+), your dopamine levels will go to the moon. The fact that these items weren't freely given to you, weren't traded, weren't twinked by you, and wasn't crafted by you or anyone else (no determinism), means that the thirst you had has now been quenched, at least temporarily. This also means that that the dopamine counter in your brain has now been reset as well, which is calculated as the time taken between your last drop and your current drop (in addition to any other conditions in the game that bring you happiness). The journey until your next dopamine hit has now begun, and it's time for you to continue toward your characters' next goals and tasks. Of course, there are many other aspects of Diablo that we like, but the itemization and the randomness within is the key, and with that, patience is the answer. It will take time, but it will be worth it.
Overall, this is why twinking, trading, and to some extent, even crafting (elements that introduce determinism into a game all about randomness), is counter productive and actually cut back the dopamine being generated in your brain. The previously mentioned elements may only generate a short term dopamine boost, but it will quickly subside and the next dopamine hit will take a lot longer since nothing can easily satisfy your urges anymore.
Randomness vs Determinism
Diablo 1 and Diablo 2 are games that run pretty much entirely on the RNG (Random Number Generator). The game is designed in a traditional rogue-like fashion where the player is dungeon crawling and building their way up from nothing to something, while attempting not to die. By now, most of us might already know that Diablo was originally designed to be Hardcore Only, and only through a democratic vote at the Blizzard North office, that design decision was changed. However, everything else in the game remained intact and with that philosophy. I've played Hardcore before back during 1.10 and the TPPK/NTPK days, and I still remember Clan IN on US East, but I'm primarily a Softcore player, since my main goal is to enjoy the game and get rich and powerful, it's not necessarily to not die. With Time Traveling added to the mix, I have an almost infinite amount of possible goals to do just on Softcore alone.. and of course, not enough time to do them all.
The game is designed in a way where the player will suffer (not a Dark Souls suffering though), this is more of a poverty based suffering where resources are scarce. Players must make do with what they have, look at every character stat, skill, item affixes, and the environment, in order to progress. In versions before 1.10, and versions before LOD (1.07), resource management is a huge part, since mana potions cannot be purchased, and the balance of the game is very different. There is no crafting in the original version of the game, and this massively changes the dynamic. Crafting is a mechanic that is used to introduce a certain level of determinism into the game, by allowing the player to collect specific crafting materials, and try to randomly generate crafted items that contain a mixture of predetermined, guaranteed, affixes, with a possibility of a few additional random properties, thus it's a combination of a rare item mixed with some guaranteed properties. If limited and done in a controlled way, this could be a good system to have. However, having no crafting at all and having everything rely on RNG is not actually a bad thing. Sure, it may take a long time before you get something good, but the game has always been designed with that in mind. To reiterate, the game is designed to be rogue-like, start the game with nothing, and slowly build your way up. Overcoming life's obstacles even when you are at your darkest hour, and continuing forward to a better day. Patience is the key. Diablo II is not a fast paced game, LOD+ versions definitely allowed the game to be faster, but compared to modern ARPGs, it is a lot slower. Luckily, we have been able to preserve the original game. The randomness of it all, and the player not having control over items (agency) IMO is a feature, not a bug. Having predictability in this type of game makes the game boring, and cuts into the dopamine feedback loop mentioned before. If your crafted item is better than most of the items that could be randomly generated, what is there left? If you can craft and make items with guaranteed affixes (which most likely will be good affixes), means that it will take even longer for a regular randomly generated item to be an upgrade for you, which further cuts into the dopamine feedback loop. Keeping it in the random department and outside of user control means that with hard work, time, and patience, you will eventually be rewarded (maybe) in a big way.
Runewords are probably one of the worst culprits. To be clear though, I think the Pre 1.10, Original Expansion (1.07 - 1.09) versions of Socketables (Improved Gems, Jewels, Runes, and Runewords) had the best balance of what I think is more acceptable. In Diablo II Pre LOD (1.00 - 1.06b), Gems are the only socket type and are almost completely useless. They can only be used in base equipment with open sockets, however, rares and other types of gear don't have sockets, and there is no add socket to an item with an SOJ recipe. This means that gems play a very narrow role in supporting your character with additional damage at low levels, and other supporting roles like more life/mana. However, you will eventually find a rare item that has +life and +res which will render the gemmed version useless. The Expansion improved Gems, and introduced Jewels, Runes, and Runewords. 1.07 had a different and incomplete set of Runewords, 1.08 (Online Only, but available in Single Player through Singling) contained the original set of Runewords that we know today with a minor exception for the Leaf runeword, which had one slightly different affix, and the Runewords were released for Single Player officially in 1.09. However, the initial set of Runewords were not too powerful, and other Unique and Rare items in the expansion version of the game would 9/10 times replace a Runeword. They definitely were not BIS for any slot. Given that the Runewords weren't powerful and not something to strive for, you are still left with a powerful set of Jewels and Runes, and you also have the addition of a randomly generated item spawning with a socketable affix. You also have the add socket recipe. This means that you can still maintain the full randomization of the core item system, and allow people to have a little bit of agency when it comes to modifying those items, but being able to decide which randomly acquired socketable item, they want to use for those randomly found items. I believe this is the best mixture. Allowing the game to continue to randomly generate everything, and allowing the player to "tweak around the edges" by providing a vast amount of Jewels and Runes for added customization. I suppose a late dream of mine is having a 1.09b Barbarian dual wielding two grandfathers with each grandfather having a Ber in it for the additional CB. The point is, if BotD existed in 1.09b, it would instantly replace it and every other weapon in the game. Where's the fun in that? Although to be a bit more serious, given that the drop rates for Runes were a lot lower in 1.10 and 1.07 - 1.09, means that if you are playing on Single Player, Runewords of that type of power would definitely be end game material, and it would take a long time for a Single Player character that isn't getting fed items, to be able to easily acquire all the Runes that they would need to make those types of game breaking items, so I suppose it is well deserved. However, given that probably a huge portion of people are playing online, and also that 1.13 increased the rune drop rates a lot, means that it is much easier for people to find these runes, and make these items. If the online player base are the ones dictating design decisions based on online conditions, the single player experience will obviously be impacted. I mean, it's no surprise that 1.10 was heavily designed and optimized for Multiplayer. Diablo 1 was designed as a Single Player game (with multiplayer in mind), Diablo 2 was designed more for a Multiplayer audience but is still highly enjoyable in Single Player and keeps Single Player in mind, but the 1.10 expansion really shifted everything towards Multiplayer. Although this does go into another thing which is I do like the old school RPGs where it was an inverse difficulty curve, I like the game to be harder when I start and have nothing, and as I overcome challenges and obstacles, I start wrecking everything until I'm basically a god lol. My reward is not just all of the awesome items I've acquired, but the fact that I can destroy everything at the end game and continue farming items and optimizing my character is reward and proof enough of my hard, long journey. No additional scaling necessary. Think Pokemon [Gen 1-3], Megaman Battle Network [1-6] / Star Force [1-3], and Dragon Warrior [1-3]. This is how I view 1.10 in relation to the earlier patches.
Unique Character Development
Whenever you decide to start a fresh character, if you play the character and only use the items that the character themselves has found (no twinking and trading), this means that this character will truly have an unique experience. Not only just in terms of you trying to figure out how to overcome obstacles that arise with your limited resources, but it also means that every new resource that is discovered could be a direct upgrade for your character. Which will trigger your dopamine hit immediately and more frequently (compared to if you had a twinked/traded item). The nice thing about this progression is that it automatically ends up yielding a character that is completely unique. Everything from your build, to item combinations, to the lived experience of that character are one of a kind. The character will be more memorable, and it will be more personal to you. It won't just become another template soulless character.
Muling / Stashes (Personal & Shared) / Hoarding
With all of the above said, I think you can now understand the negative effects that twinking and trading have on your playing experience and your dopamine hits. However, muling itself isn't bad. It makes sense that through your character's development, you'll find some beautiful, memorable items, that you'll want to hold onto, in order to either just remember that item, and thus keep it as a trophy, or maybe you have some plans for that character for some plans in the future. The point is that the character has found that item through their natural progression, there was no artificial injection of items given to that character, and thus the dopamine hit occurred naturally, and I guess, on schedule. As long as there is no sharing of items between characters, the dopamine hit should continue appropriately and everything will still feel like it has a purpose and it's in its place. This eliminates the need for a shared stash since we aren't planning on sharing items between characters. If that's the case, the shared stash would only be useful to move items between your main character and its set of mules (acting as extra storage for that one character). Each main character would have their own independent set of mules, and Cactus can be used to isolate and automate this. Of course, this is only necessary because of the small and limited storage space that is on an individual character. If we were to use Alpaca (which I no longer recommend, and recommend you to continue using Cactus' Templating & Labeling system instead), each character would have their own set of infinite and personal stash pages, eliminating the need to communicate with external characters for any purpose.
Another benefit of this approach is that we don't need to hoard as many items, which means we spend less time doing household chores to constantly organize and maintain our growing collection of wares, and spend more time actually playing the game. Since characters aren't sharing items, this means that not every item will be useful. If you were to find a Grandfather on a Sorceress, sure, you'll get a dopamine hit for simply finding that beautiful sword, which will most likely instantly become a trophy piece for your mules, but you'll also be sad because you can't twink it to a new barbarian. However, if you did make a new Barbarian and were to find it on that Barbarian, the experience would be amazing. I would argue that that experience is better than just giving The Grandfather to your Barbarian from the Sorceress. It's just not the same. If I gave it to my Barbarian, it would mean that every single weapon in the game would basically not generate much Dopamine cause I already know I have a guaranteed grandfather waiting on this character, that the character also didn't find themselves. The Grandfather is obviously an exception. Most items don't fall within this category, which also means you probably won't care to keep it, since it's just taking up space, if your character is never really gonna use it. This focuses your energy, time, and resources to only keep items you actually have a need for, or truly want to keep in that character's trophy collection.
With that said, May RNGesus bless you on your journey, Nephalem.
The case for always going untwinked
A place to talk about Diablo II as developed by Blizzard North.
3 posts • Page 1 of 1
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Re: The case for always going untwinked
I sincerely agree with most of the points in this essay, but I must say each player plays the game on its own terms and this is much more apparent in the single player. For instance I find having more opportunities beneficial even if that means someone else would use them all and get bored fast. I like setting my own rules within all the possibilities offered by the game, only using part of the ruleset provided. This way when you have a game purposely made easier for the general audience you can always make it harder with just having a spark of an idea, but when its hardcore then you are left out to play someone else fantasy and molding it for your own pleasure usually require the will, means and hard work that end up eating all of the time you had to play, you get stuck in the fantasy with no way out.
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Re: The case for always going untwinked
Yup definitely, that's why I wrote this:
But overall, this is coming at it from more of a game analysis, psychological perspective for maximizing dopamine production, analyzing the original design of Diablo 1 & 2, and how design decisions can impact this calculus. People are free to choose how to lower that dopamine production or increase it, as you said, either by limiting their own ruleset based on what the game provides, or expanding their own ruleset by using everything the game provides. For some people they may need to mod the game to further increase the dopamine production, I suppose we can say. However, it's interesting what changes one can make and have on their own experience by tweaking their own perspective on a topic. This type of strategy applies to everything in life and is most likely used in psychology as well.Lastly, this is just my current life experience with the game. My views are always evolving, and I sometimes still play some twinked characters in isolated stashes (away from my untwinked characters), and continue to do other types of experiments. I wanted to share these views with others but you are of course free to adapt them to your needs, or at the very least, hopefully it is an enjoyable read and serve as points of reflection for your own personal journey. It's all personal preference at the end of the day. With that said, let's begin.
3 posts • Page 1 of 1