Continuing the theme of rolling updates, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about ME2’s economy, of which there are two types: minerals and credits. Minerals are what you gather from the harvesting of a planet’s resources. Credits are what you earn as you complete missions. Minerals are used for upgrades and research. Credits are also used for upgrades and research (and a few other odds-and-ends) — but via shops.
Most RPGs have a pretty simple resource curve. There are few things to buy at first, and you’re able to save some money even after buying those items. Then there’s a long stretch where even though the money comes in much more rapidly, there are far more items to buy and the costs for objects soar; as a result, you must pick-and-choose. Near the end of the game, thanks to hours of adventuring and, usually, establishing and fully upgrading a stronghold, you’ve bought everything and the money is still pouring in. Obviously by that point the economy has collapsed.
I have not been playing long enough to know if ME2 follows the curve to the end, but I can say the first two parts have held true to form. I was buying everything and saving money for a while, but now I’m penniless, despite every store giving me a discount, and unable to buy enough to satiate my hoarding tendencies. I’m trying to make mental notes of all the shops where I’ve had to leave stuff behind so that I can return when I’ve stashed up some more credits.
Even though I’m poor, credits are fairly easy to earn and come as a by-product of playing the game. I have no complaints here. Minerals, on the other hand — well, scanning sucks. Not in a “broken” way, but in the “boring” way. There, I said it. And having said it, I’ll be honest and admit that, yes, boredom be damned, I’ve scanned many planets into oblivion. Even though I find the scanning system tedious and dull, I’ve definitely put some time in on it and I will continue to painstakingly do so in order to earn more upgrades. One of my four bars (iridium, I think) just cleared 100,000 units. From memory, I think palladium is just about to 100,000 units, platinum is in the 50,000 or 60,000 range, and element zero is lagging behind — maybe around the 20,000 or 30,000 range.
At this point, if you were to ask, I’m not sure what I’d say in response to a “how could it be better” type question. Maybe I’d suggest finding ways to minimize the time spent on the activity. Make the scanning circle five-times larger. Make less active nodes on a surface; drop it from 25 to, say, three. Make the scanner move at the same speed whether or not you’re scanning. Let me get in and out of a resource planet/moon in thirty seconds. But slowly moving a little radar circle up-and-down, back-and-forth across the entire surface of a moon/planet, hoping for a spike so that I can launch yet another probe and mine a few hundred or a few thousand minerals, content that has little to do with the core pillars of ME2, is not my idea of fun. I know many people enjoy it for its Battleship-esque game play. I am not one of those.
I recently posted a link to an interview with Patrick Plourde, the lead designer for Assassin’s Creed 2. In it, he said that the big difference in their philosophy between AC1 and AC2 was to center their activities around their game’s mechanics. AC is about parkour and fighting, so all the activities you engage in are parkour and/or fighting related. ME2 is about shooting and talking. That means I expect a significantly large percentage of my time to be spent shooting stuff or talking to stuff. And while there are some happy exceptions in ME2 (i.e. the two hacking mini-games are neither shooting nor talking but they are brief), I’m sinking an awful lot of time into moving a little circle in order to progress my research and upgrades. I’d say that’s a direct contradiction to the gaming wisdom that Plourde espouses.
So don’t do it, you’re telling me. It’s not a requirement for the game, you say. It’s a time waster with some in-game rewards, like hacking, and not required. But the thing is, I want to play the game. I want those rewards. I want to upgrade my ship and weapons and so on. This isn’t the same thing as playing Pazaak in SW: KotOR — where you have a time waster that earns you credits. There are many ways to earn credits. But the only way to get minerals in ME2 is to distract myself from the game for long periods of time by scanning surfaces. And I don’t think that was a good idea.