Posts Tagged ‘World of Warcraft’

Talking Smack

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
Talking Smack

I’ve never been much good at playing “pet” classes. My very first character in World of Warcraft was the pet-centric warlock. The only reason I chose that particular class was because I had been told that warlocks receive a unique mount for free. In hindsight, I have no idea why this was so compelling to me. Maybe I thought the game would require my character to spend time as a barn hand, shoveling horse manure. Considering how many quests Blizzard has since created that involve poop and outhouses, I may have been more prescient than I realized. Sadly, my warlock was abandoned by level 45 in favor of the more hands-on rogue.

For whatever reason, controlling a “pet” in a game feels unseemly to me. If I need to beat up on a bad guy I want to do it myself, not stand back in relative safety and demand that a magic hedgehog do the fighting for me. It feels unheroic to me. It feels… detached.

With this in mind I was a bit apprehensive when I first learned that all classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic would be assigned a “companion” character. “Oh great.” I thought. “An NPC that I have to dress and babysit. Just what I always didn’t want.” Not only is there a sense of detachment from combat when a pet is involved, I’m also frequently annoyed by the compounding of minutia. I have enough trouble doing the constant comparing/contrasting of stat bonuses and skill abilities that’s required in almost any RPG. For me, doing it for two characters becomes less a game and more of an exercise in Excel spreadsheet acrobatics – with the added threat of strabismus. I realize that number crunching is an integral part of online games that many players enjoy. I just don’t happen to be one of them.

Thankfully, SW:tOR’s companions are fairly undemanding, easy to manage, and probably wouldn’t be strictly classified as “pets”, as their combat abilities are completely independent of those of your character. Make sure to keep their gear current, set them to “attack” mode, and let the game’s AI do the rest. In the game’s many dialogue scenes they even have their own responses and actions based upon what conversation choices you make. Overall, companions add an interesting and fun dynamic without being burdensome – if only you could get them to SHUT UP!

My only experience has been with the Smuggler companion, Corso Riggs. Perhaps the other classes have less verbose buddies. After almost every kill, Corso feels the need to articulate his feelings about the enemy. These taunts and boasts are amusing the first 100+ times. They eventually became boring, annoying and monotonous.

Which leads me to my overall perception of SW:tOR. Here’s a game that has truckloads of back-story, history and mythology to draw from that yet somehow still ends up feeling dated, boring and monotonous. As I kill yet another generic mob, who is inexplicably standing around waiting for his (and it’s almost always a “he”) inevitable death – only to reappear 5 minutes later. As Corso yells his canned response for the bazillionth time. As I wander through beautifully designed yet sadly empty and player-less world environments. I can’t help but think to myself, “This is not the MMO I’m looking for.”

The Tao of WoW

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
Aerobic exercise if overrated.

A few months ago a gaming community kerfuffle occurred when someone Photoshopped a picture of Bioware writer Jennifer Hepler with text from an interview she had given 5 years ago, in which she stated that she wished games had a fast-forward button to allow players, such as herself, to skip combat entirely in favor of dialogue, story, or other gameplay elements. An internet firestorm ensued, as gamers raged in righteous indignation. Skip combat? How dare she suggest something so blasphemous! “Burn the witch!” they declared! If you’re curious (or feeling masochistic) you can read more about this controversy here.

Once upon a time, a fellow employee at a game studio where I worked arrogantly declared that I must have less gaming experience than him because of the questions I was asking regarding skill stats. Never mind the fact that I was at least 10 years older than him and had been playing video games before he was born. My lack of knowledge regarding this particular aspect of gaming made it obvious to him that I was an inexperienced n00b. The implication seems to be that if you’re not interested in combat, you’re not really a gamer.

But challenging yourself by playing a game in a way that wasn’t intended, by subverting the rules in new and interesting ways, is the very essence of a “gamer mentality”, and is something that has intrigued me since I was old enough to play “Operation” with my toes. (I don’t recommend it.) So when I read about Everbloom’s zero kills achievement in World of Warcraft, I had to try it for myself.

Since joining the Peace Corp guild I have re-rolled my conscientious-objecting rogue three times. Who knew it was so hard to not kill something? The goal is to reach level 85 with zero creature kills and zero total kills. At the beginning levels, this is far more difficult than you might imagine. My first rogue was decommissioned when a helpful(?) worgen decided to kill a mob that I had temporarily stunned in self-defense. Once tagged, the kill is attributed to you, regardless of who does the actual killing. My second rogue was put out to pasture when I accidentally clicked on a critter to do a /love command and instead beat the poor creature to death with my fists from 6′ away! Who knew my arms were that long?

I realize that playing World of Warcraft in this manner is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It requires a degree of patience, skill and desire for exploration that many may find frustrating and/or boring. (You will spend a great deal of time getting more than your daily requirement of aerobic exercise and will become intimately familiar with the local cemetery.) But I think it serves as an example of how various forms of gameplay are equally valid. Wanting to skip combat doesn’t make you any less of a gamer. It just makes you a different kind of gamer.

Good Grief

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Like many fans of World of Warcraft, back in 2006 after the Burning Crusades expansion had been released, I created a Draenei character to experience the new content designed for this race. At the time I had been playing WoW for only a couple of months, so I was still relatively new to the game.

As I adventured my way through the Draenei starter area, I came to a small village called Azure Watch, which was home to several quest-giving NPCs. When playing any MMO I prefer to complete as many quests as possible en masse, as this saves on the tedium of running back and forth; kill the 10 boars, collect the 6 wildflowers, find the murlock with the umbrella, kill 10 more boars, give the pipe wrench to the owlkin, then return to the village for my rewards.

During one of my return trips in which I had at least a half a dozen quests to turn in, I was met by an entire village of dead NPCs – and one Orc Warrior with a lot of blood on his blade. Helplessly I stood there and watched as he killed every NPC in the village, then waited until they respawned just to kill them again. Unaware that killing quest-givers is permissible in the game, I spent several minutes being completely, utterly confused.

And what does a new player do when she is confused and needs help? Contact customer support, of course!

To Blizzard’s credit, my support ticket was answered very quickly. Certain that the orc player was somehow cheating by killing the NPCs, thus preventing me from completing my quests, I was more than a little surprised by the customer service representative’s response:

I’m sorry, but GMs are not allowed to interfere with this type of player behavior.

This type of player behavior? He’s killing every NPC in sight! I can’t complete any of my quests.

It’s Blizzard policy that players have to police each other in these situations.

But I’m level 5! I can’t do anything!

We recommend that you ask for help from your guild, or solicit for help in the general chat channel.

You can’t stop them?

Sorry. It’s against game policy. Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Realizing that the situation was hopeless, I thanked the GM and logged out of the game. At the time, I wasn’t a member of a guild, and being so late at night I doubted than anyone would respond to my pleas for help in chat.

This entire episode led me to wonder just why Blizzard allows this type of player griefing. Do they think this encourages community interaction and cooperation? Is this somehow an adjunct to the PvP portion of the game? And are they completely unaware of how off-putting and alienating this is to new players?

I have since asked members of my guild (Pig & Whistle Society) their thoughts on this issue. Although many agreed with me that it’s a form of player griefing that shouldn’t be allowed, one member stated that he approved of the killing. In his words, it would “break immersion” if there were NPCs that were immortal.

I guess having players stand around for 10 minutes waiting for the NPCs to respawn is not immersion-breaking? Why not just have the NPCs kill each other off?

By their twin brothers.

Who wear pink dresses.

(Yes, I know it’s absurd. That’s the point.)

Still Fixing What Isn’t Broken

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Whew! I’m back after an extended and unexpected blogging hiatus. The New Year and a New Job really kicked my ass.

I had always been fond of FreeRealms. Even though the game’s combat was never particularly complex, it was varied enough to keep it entertaining. Your character would obtain a new combat skill every 5 levels. Upon reaching level 20, you’d have 5 abilities from which to choose, each serving the usual melee, AOE or ranged functions. When I wanted a break from WoW (or whatever the current MMO de jour may be), I’d log into FreeRealms for a few minutes of easy fun.

Sadly, SOE must have been cribbing notes from Mythic, because they took the whole fixing-what-wasn’t-broken concept to a whole new level of… brokenness.

Now the combat in FreeRealms consists of 3 buttons that you mash repeatedly as you attack wave after wave of monsters. It’s boring. It’s repetitive. And unless they were shooting for the Under-the-Age-of-Five demographic, I can’t begin to fathom SOE’s reasoning for this change. Hell, most 10 year olds have better video game combat skills than I do!

And FreeRealms is not alone in this recent ‘dumbing-down’ trend. In World of Warcraft I recently created an Orc Shaman named Urgulanilla (I pride myself in naming all of my characters after real people, even if they lived over a 1,000 years ago). I wanted to experience the Barrens area of the game before it gets revamped in the upcoming expansion. I was dismayed to discover that the aggro of the mobs in the starter area has been reduced to nothing, causing the first five levels of the game to be so simple that my character could sleep-walk through it. Booooooring.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not an MMO fangrrl that stomps her feet and whines the moment a combat skill is nerfed, or a game mechanic is simplified. I prefer that the starter area of any game be relatively easy, so I can learn the interface and explore my surroundings before being dumped into the deep end of the combat pool. But when you simplify the game so much that I can play it with with one hand while solving a Rubik’s Cube with the other, you’ve just sucked all the fun right out of it for me.

I really hope that the folks at FreeRealms rethink the changes they’ve made to the combat. I miss my Swiffer Mop-wielding Medic.

The Shortest Distance

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

If you’ve ever lived in Chicago as I have, you know that the mass transportation in that city can be a bit…challenging. There’s the CTA “L” line, or elevated train, which gets you around downtown Chicago. There’s the Metra train, which goes out to the suburbs. And I think there’s another CTA rail line that takes you to the airports. I have to confess that during the 7 years that I lived in the area, I never did quite get the whole system figured out. The point is that sometimes getting where you need to go can be expensive, confusing and tedious.

So why do game designers feel the need to make transportation in their virtual worlds expensive, confusing and tedious? Don’t we get enough of that in real life?

My first dedicated MMO experience was Dark Age of Camelot. Perhaps things have changed since I last played the game over 5 years ago, but back then getting around in Albion, Hibernia or Midgard was a giant PITA! Yes, there were teleporters in the major hub areas, and your character could eventually purchase a mount. But the majority of the game was spent taking the public transportation, which consisted of watching your character riding a horse. For a very…long….time. Some of the longer horse routes make the flight times in World of Warcraft look like a jog around the block. It was tedious, boring and unnecessary. How much fun can you really derive from looking at the back of a horse’s butt for 20 minutes?

Speaking of horse’s butts, let’s talk about the transportation options in World of Warcraft. Here’s a quiz for you: You’re a level 60 human warrior standing in the middle of Gadgetzan. You own conventional and flying mounts, but you’ve recently used your hearthstone, so you can’t teleport to your bind point for another 30 minutes. You need to get to Zangarmarsh on the Outland continent. Quick! How do you get there? And how long will it take you?

The recently released children’s MMO, Free Realms takes a refreshing approach to game travel: Open your map, click on where you want to go, and *poof* you’re there. Want to meet up with friends in the game? Click on their name, select “teleport” and you’re instantly standing next to them. It couldn’t be easier, and it makes the game a lot more enjoyable. You can still be pedestrian and explore the world on foot to your heart’s content. But you’re not forced to do so.

Which makes me wonder, why don’t all MMOs make transportation this easy? Sony realized when they were creating Free Realms that they needed to make “getting to the fun” as simple as possible, or kids would quickly lose interest. But developers seem to think that we adults ENJOY tedium, or at least they believe that we’re willing to tolerate it. Sure, it’s fun to explore. But at what point does ‘exploration’ become an imposed potty break?

Where Do Baby NPCs Come From?

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Half-orcs are a well-known adversary in Lord of the Rings Online. They can be found in camps throughout the Lone-Lands, lying in tents, relaxing near campfires, or patrolling abandoned ruins. They are a continual menace to the human residents of the area and your character will spend a lot of time killing half-orcs.

Killing MALE half-orcs.

Because, you see, female half-orcs don’t exist. Ever. At least, they don’t exist in the online world that Turbine has created. Which leads me to wonder just HOW the half-orcs got there in the first place. Asexual reproduction, perhaps? Admittedly, I’m not intimately familiar with Tolkien lore. Maybe there is an explanation somewhere for why no female half-orcs can be found. But I suspect that it has more to do with developer oversight than with adherence to Middle Earth’s rules on orc family dynamics.

Gil in World of Warcraft

Gil in World of Warcraft

Over the years I’ve noticed a distinct lack of family or children represented in many online games. Most often NPCs stand around patiently waiting to dole out quests to passing players, with no mention of family, spouse or even a girlfriend. Sure, you get the occasional ‘hook-up’ quest, where one NPC wants the player’s help in getting the romantic attentions of another NPC. Or you get the ‘rescue my son/daughter’ quests. But the daughter/son in question is always inevitably an adult, never a child.

Another Turbine game, Dungeons & Dragons Online even has the sounds of children playing as part of the ambient background noise for the Marketplace area of Stormreach. I always found this to be particularly unsettling because there’s not a child to be found in the game – anywhere. I asked a former Turbine employee about this. Not only had he never noticed the lack of children in either game, but he could give no explanation for their absence. He guessed that it was a matter of economics; Turbine didn’t want to spend the resources on having the art department create child character models.

There are only two MMOs I’ve played that depict children – World of Warcraft and Dark Age of Camelot. Granted, the children in WoW look a little odd with gigantic feet. But nevertheless, they are honest-to-goodness children and can be found in several places throughout the game world. DAoC’s attempt at creating children consisted of shrinking the adult character models down to midget size, which looked a little creepy. But I give them points for trying.

Although I am not a parent myself, I’ve always found the lack of children in an online world to be off-putting and a bit immersion-breaking. After all, any population, be it human or otherwise, is going to have a hard time sustaining itself if it can’t reproduce. How can all of these adult NPC quest-givers exist if there are no families? Why are children – be they orc or otherwise – omitted from online worlds? Simple oversight? Budget constraints? Or something else entirely?

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or, at least, that’s what the mysterious collective known as ‘they’ often say. If what ‘they’ say is true, then the MMO industry is absolutely overflowing with approbation.

Alganon is a new MMO fresh off the presses that takes its WoW-cloning very seriously. From the moment you enter the character creation screen, your sense of promnesia is so palatable that the game might as well be a sheep named Dolly. The art style. The combat. The emotes. Algonon doesn’t even try to pretend that it’s anything other than a World of Warcraft knock-off.

Of course, trying to be just like WoW is certainly nothing new. Korean MMOs have made an industry out of it (i.e. Runes of Magic). But Alganon isn’t an Asian import; it was created by Arizona-based developer Quest Online. And what makes Alganon unique in its, uh, sameness, is the fact that it’s a remarkably well done clone. I have to admit that in the short time I played Alganon during beta, its familiarity was almost comforting. Sure, it was a bland comfort, like a bowl of oatmeal. But I’ve certainly played much worse.

Which left me wondering, why? If you’ve got the talent, skill and budget that Quest Online obviously has to make a superb WoW copy, why not use those resources to create something wholly new and original? Was it a shrewd business decision? Do they think that players aren’t ready to accept a radically different MMO? Is the MMO market so competitive that it’s too risky to veer too far from the accepted standard?

What are your thoughts on this phenomenon? Will we ever find our way out of Azeroth?