Monday’s Expert: why does Warcraft continue to succeed? Monday, Aug 24 2009 

Warcraft: one MMO to rule them all.

Strangely familiar logo?

Strangely familiar logo?

The general buzz about the next WoW expansion got me thinking. Why are so many of us still playing this game?

There is no debate about whether or not WoW is the most successful MMO in the market. Whether you believe it’s in decline, or the subscription numbers are fuzzy or you’re a Blizzard acolyte, there is no escaping the fact that Warcraft is the MMO to benchmark all others against. Personally I’m not too fused by those debates. The central question is “Is it a good game?”

The short answer is “Hell yes”.

On nearly every level it excels. While some other games may do an aspect of game play well – WAR’s PvP is terrific when there is sufficient players around – WoW offers everything from raiding, PvP, crafting and PvE. What it does it does very well. But what is it that attracts and keeps players in the world of WoW?

Something for everybody
Without doubt WoW offers the broadest experience to the broadest possible player base. You can level you character all the way to level cap (presently 80) without even speaking to another player. You can play for ten minutes of seven hours depending on the time you have, and still get something done. At the other end of the spectrum WoW offers a rich, challenging and fun endgame experience with heroic dungeons and raids. If you’re mercantile at heart you can speculate on the Auction House. Not only does WoW appeal to broad range of play styles, it also cuts across demographics and age groups.

WoW has transcended nerd culture – predominately white males aged 13-35 – to include players of all ages, backgrounds and sex. At least 30% of it’s player base is female. That in itself is testament to it’s accessibility and it’s broad appeal.

The famous Blizzard  polish
Ah yes, the famous “Blizzard polish”. Content or games are released “when they are ready”. Having worked in IT and seen project after project fail because artificial dead lines demand it, it’s refreshing to see a companies central ethos revolve around the quality of the finished product. Is it any wonder why people are still playing Star Craft, Warcraft III or even Diablo II years after there release?

Most games that are more than a few years old are played for nostalgia. People are still playing Blizzard games for fun. Think Defence of Towers or South Korea’s Star Craft obsession. WoW is over four years old and still the MMO to beat.

Guided starting experience
I still remember when I first logged into WoW, creating a character and entering the world. You could describe it as easy, but that implies the game is overly simplistic.  Actually, what WoW does is introduce you to the MMO world gently. WoW aint no EVE. The starter zone and the first few levels are designed to introduce you to your class, basic abilities and the games quest mechanics.

By level ten you know the basics of WoW. The Death Knight starting experience brought that to a whole new level: it combined both story telling with a prefect introduction to playing the new class. 

The world changes at the right pace
People often complain that the world is too static. And yet Azeroth has changed: the Burning Crusade gave us Outlands and two new races; the Zombie Invasion mixed things up while the Lich King gave us the zones of Northrend and the Death Knight class. Since then we’ve had Call of the Crusade, the construction and completion of the Argent Coliseum and several new dungeons and raid instances. Either through patches or expansions  the world does change. The new phasing technology being used by Blizzard now changes parts of the world for individual players.

The world if WoW is less than five years old and we have seen quite a bit of change as far the addition of content goes. The new expansion promises even further change. Some may claim that things don’t change fast enough, but in retrospect players have experienced a fair degree of change that keeps them engaged with the game. Actually the pace of change is about right, considering they have 11 million plus players to contend with. While those at the elite level may want change to be more rapid, for the vast majority of player the pace of change is about right.

Too much change would isolate or drive players away.

The game is suffused with a sense of humour and fun
WoW is like Toy Story in it’s use of humour. Adults get the sly pop-cultural references while kids like the quest lines involving poop.

Humour is often overlooked as one of the key strengths of Wow. But it’s the visual humour, pop-cultural references and slap stick nature of some of the quests make WoW fun to play. Haris Pilton, the diminutive, blonde Blood Elf  in Shattrath perfectly encapsulates this approach. 

Other examples include Achievement titles such as “Mama said knock you out”: this Naxx achievement references rapper LL Cool J’s song of the same title. Come on, that’s cool.  Frequently I’ll chuckle at the references sprinkled throughout the game. Blizzards games often contain a fair degree of humour. Warcraft II – the strategy game – players will no doubt remember clicking on peons and peasants over and over in order to hear them complain.

Easy to play, harder to master
The game allows even the most casual player to level up a character. You can be the infamous Huntard or Death Noob but enjoy yourself none-the-less. But if you want to raid or compete seriously in PvP then you really have to know your class and abilities.

My recent raiding experience clearly demonstrated this point to me. I’ve moved from a casual to raiding play style. And yet, to be an effective raider I had to understand the game on a whole new level. It actually took time, effort and hard work to improve my performance in raids.

It’s a big, big, big world
WoW lives up the title of “massively multiplayer”. The game world is enormous, spanning three continents and the world of Outlands. Zones vary from lush tropical jungles, to scorching desert, forested woodland and storm ravaged mountains. You enter WoW and you feel like you’ve entered an entirely new universe.

What about WoW’s shortcomings?

“Oi, you! Shameless Blizzard fan boi! What about the parts that blow!” I hear you say?

Just to balance this post, in case it may be thought I’m simply a rabid Blizzard “fan boi”, I do have some criticisms of the game.

PvP is meaningless
Battleground victories or defeats mean nothing, while the “battles” themselves are sprawling zerg fights between under geared noobs and overpowered twinks. Chat in most BG’s is abusive and harsh. You really have to toughen up when you enter a WoW battleground. Be prepared to be abused by players on your own team or be frustrated by the total incompetence of your team mates.

Crafting is simplistic
The crafting “game” offers no challenge. Simply collect X amount of materials. The only challenge stems from either farming materials in the world or having enough gold to purchase them off the Auction House.

Performance is not necessarily skills based
In PvP there is little chance a level 75 player, no matter how skilled, is going to defeat you average level 80 player in PvP. The same is true of PvE endgame content. While it is possible to raid Naxxramas in underpowered gear, it’s highly advisable that you gear up, get the right enchants and carefully select your talents.

If you don’t perform the other members of your raid team will let you know. Most likely they won’t even accept you into the raid. WoW is not a skills based game: success is more dependent applying cookie-cutter talents specs perfectly matched to the right gear.

That is not to say there are not skilled players out there: indeed there are some incredible raiders and PvP players out there. However it is impossible to perform at the highest levels without the right set of epic gear, gems and chants.

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Cataclysmic Monday, Aug 24 2009 

Arooooo! Roooo! (thats wolf for "New WoW Race")

Arooooo! Roooo! (thats wolf for "New WoW Race")

So, the web and the blogs are awash with news about the WoW expansion.

My reaction?

Worgens baby! Worgens!

Apart from the chance to play a “werewolf “, what impresses me most about the upcoming expansion is how it deepens and broadens the existing game. This isn’t another ten levels with unattainable endgame content (10/25 raids or PvP arenas).

It revamps of the old world (i.e. content from Vanilla WoW, pre-expansions), allowing the developers to go back and rework zones and quests using the technology and lessions they’ve learn’t over the past five years.

Players who have left WoW are bound to return. Existing players have more to do. New players will have have more options. Casual players who reach level cap, and who don’t raid/PVP, will have something to do.

The cynic may say it simply recycles existing content. In my mind it brings the old world back to life. There’s a reason to be in the old world, it’s not simply a place to level your character through as quickly as possible.

More importantly it changes the world. Old zones will be revamped, goblins go from being a neutral faction to allying with the Horde, the Worgen is unleashed…

Change is coming to WoW. Can that be a bad thing? Nah.

What else caught me eye?

Guilds will have levels! Guild levels will become the new way to judge your success as a player. Being part of a high level raiding guild will have more meaning, as it get to show off your uber-leetness to all and sundry. WAR had this, and it gave your guild tangible rewards. Sure, Blizzard is adopting the innovations of it’s competitors. So what? If it makes WoW a better game,  then it can only benefit the player.

Dead Mines is back baby! Looks like DM is going to be dusted off and spruced up as a Heroic Dungeon. I like! One of the best instances is going to have life breathed back into. Expect trade chat to be filled with the following:

“LFG H DM”

/awesome.

New artwork – both the concept art and walk throughs – we’ve seen is up the usual WoW standards: brillliant. Gilneas looks like an amazing zone already.

We need content, not another hero class

Not much QQ for me so far… though there has been some talk about how another hero class was not added.

Personally, I’m pleased another hero class didn’t go into the game. Why? Who was not frustrated with the endless round of nerfs/buffs/talent point resets made for the sake of class balance.

No doubt the addition of a new class created a lot of work for the developers. Adding races that utilise existing classes is simpler to implement.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a DK and enjoy playing them. But I’d rather have more zones, content and instances. Seriously, who want’s to run another character through 85 levels of the same content?

Roll on Cataclysm!

The attraction of entering an online world is immersion. Cataclysm look’s set to give old, existing and new players lots more to enjoy. So, let’s hope Blizz meets it’s 2010 launch date.

Karazhan: best instance ever? Friday, Aug 21 2009 

V5s5t5ng the s5ghts
Kara. Still worth visiting today if only for the sights

Could Karazhan be the best WoW instance ever?

The world of WoW is big. Despite the fact that I’ve been playing WoW for almost four years there is a very large proportion of Azeroth and Outlands that I’ve never seen. Despite rolling several alts and levelling one character all the way to level cap I’ve experienced only a small proportion of the game. But it’s not just zones I’ve missed missed out visiting. I’d pretty much missed out on seeing the end game instances of both Vanilla and BC WoW.

Last night I took a tiny step in correct that with a run through the fabled Karazhan. Yes, we went in with a mixture of 70’s and overpowered 80’s. It was a nostalgia run for some and a bit of tourism for me.

Kara was *the* raid to do in Burning Crusade. It’s where many started their raiding experience if they hadn’t done so in Vanilla WoW. It’s the one that first piqued my interest in raiding as a concept. But I never got round to running it. Time and an addiction to far too many alts meant I never got there.

But thanks to some good friends of mine I was run through it last night. My impressions?

Gosh it’s a beautiful instance.

The art work is superb. You really get the feeling of fighting your way through a partly demolished and ruined tower. The boss fights are interesting, varied and would have been challenging. I’d heard all about the Maiden, Big Bad Wolf etc. from podcasts, guild mates and the WoW blogosphere. But seeing them was as different experience.

Karazhan has character, the kind that Dead Mines has. I know there are many instances in WoW, each with their own unique charms, but there are some real standouts. Kara would have to be one of them.

Of course it was an easy run for us last night- just over an hour. Apparently in the “good old days” in order to clear Kara raid groups would schedule at least 3-4 hours over three nights.

Listening in on experienced raiders reminisce about Kara runs of old in Vent was also fascinating:

“Oh I loved this part!’

“This fight used to be so hard!”

You could tell how many memories this place holds, how fun and challenging it was. My super-pally-healer friend talked us through all the highs and lows of old Kara runs. How they wiped on every part of the instance (including the trash mobs), how they’d *never* taken this boss down. BoE and BoP gear was dropping left-right and centre, with members of our raid team exclaiming “Oh I always wanted that!”.

I regret never raiding Kara back in the day. At least last nights run gave me a glimpse of just how fun it would must have been.  I can see why experienced raiders have a special place in their hearts for Kara.

My hope is in the next expansion or future patches they remake Kara as they did Naxxramas. It wouldn’t be the same, but it would give me and others real incentive to go back and visit what may be one of the best WoW instances ever made. 

Given how much content has been missed by players over the years, reimaging old Vanilla WoW content is a good strategy. The assets have already been built and they could be retuned for the new level cap with reimaged fights, loot drops and revamped story lines.

The moral of the story: what MMOs reveal about ourselves Tuesday, Aug 18 2009 

What is it that you have learnt about yourself and others while gaming?
  • Do you consider yourself a team player or a leader?
  • Are you excited by the challenge of leading a 25 man raid or does such pressure terrify you?
  • Have you ever been kicked from a guild for “disruptive behaviour”?
  • Is your friends list brimming with contacts you regularly chat with?
  • Perhaps you prefer to solo content, only talking to other players if absolutely necessary?
  • Do you like to attack the “noobs” asking “dumb” questions in the general/trade chat questions?

What do these behaviors  say about you and the individuals who present them? After several years of online gaming  I’ve developed a “pet theory” – our interactions online tells us a great deal about ourselves and human nature. In fact, we expose ourselves far more than we do in the real world. Virtual worlds make explicit our actions, choices and foibles.

Virtual worlds allow us to roam deep space, stride through the corridors of a dungeon or take flight upon the wings of a dragon. And yet our in-game avatars say more about us as individuals than we choose to belive.

The dangers of the online world: won’t someone think of the children!

There’s the old joke that on the internet no-one knows your a dog. It implies the internet is a dangerous, shady place full of people masking their true identities while, poised to unleash their evil plans unsuspecting intewebz noobs. Critics claim this technology threatens to dehumanise the individual while destroying those conventions that help society function.

Egads! What horrors wait beneath the false masks peeps wear on the interwebz!

Egads! What horrors wait beneath the false masks peeps wear on the interwebz!

In this dystopian nightmare the internet is a place of child porn, money scams, terrorists plotting the fall of civilisation and recipes for nuclear weapons. Even worse, people are never who they say they are. That person claiming to be a sixteen year old school girl is really a 200 kilogram, forty-three year old man. Moral panic is alive and well in debates about the nature and value of online worlds.

Suffice to say I don’t subscribe to those views.

Actually I believe the very opposite is true: individuals are more willing express themselves online than they do in face-to-face conversations.

Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs (such as this humble effort) or overflowing with people expressing their opinions and exposing their innermost thoughts. This technology is creating more connections, allowing indivisduals to express themselves in ways like never before.

The same is true of MMOs.

When we enter Azeroth or Middle Earth we never leave ourselves. The true self will always come forth. Being online means you can drop some of the artifice you need to maintain in the workplace, at home and among friends and peers.

My WoW raid team spends two nights a week together in two or three hour blocks. Doing this week after week gives you insight into individuals. How they play, what they say in Vent or ingame chat… it all adds up and gives you a much fuller picture of the individual than meeting them a couple times a week over coffee.

Fantasy Island Syndrome: or why you can’t escape yourself.

Errr, I didn't order that...

Errr, that's not what I ordered...

MMORPGs are often compared to all you can eat buffet’s: a bit of everything thrown in to match the various “tastes” of a broad based player base. PvE, PvP, crafting, quests, instanced dungeons and end game content. But that analogy rests upon game mechanics.

Actually, to me MMORPGs are more akin to that old 1970’s TV classic, Fantasy Island.

If you remember the series – and yes I’m old enough to have watched it as a child – it had a very simple premise. The island was a place where individuals could have their fantasies brought to live – for a price. It was overseen by the mysterious Mr. Roake and Tattoo (Ze plane! Ze plane!).

The series struck a cord with the general public, and has since  entered the halls of pop-culture history.

Why?

Because we understand how fantasy worlds release us from the constraints of the everyday, but paradoxically allowing us to expose ourselves in ways we can’t in real life (RL). Freed from the normal encumbrance of the everyday, the individual can live and act as they desire. The mask comes off.

Each story followed a simular story arc: despite the individual paying a small fortune to enter a world perfectly crafted to meet their personal whims, satisfaction was only temporary. Soon enough the issues that had plagued them came to the surface.

Call it “Fantasy Island Syndrome” (FIS).

MMOs are just that: Fantasy Islands. We enter them wanting them to be freed of everyday constraints, but more often than not find we can’t escape ourselves. In fact the very opposite happens: we are more likely to be confronted with truths about ourselves.

Four things MMOs have taught me

Watching players implode in raids, guild drama and friendships come to life and die in online worlds, I’ve long since come to the conclusion that the true self is much more display in game worlds than in real life. Fantasy Island Syndrome is alive and well.

So what has FIS taught me? There is very little difference between how both myself, and others, act both online and in RL. At a pinch I can list at least four things I’ve learn’t;

  • The true self will always show itself – In RL we try to put on a good front, especially with people and groups they’ve just been introduced too. Same with the online world. Joining a guild is like starting a new job. People have to learn how to navigate it’s culture, find out who the “power players” are and work out who they could potentially be friends and/or ally with. They’re conscious of the impression they will make in guild chat, Vent and on the guilds discussion forums . But as time passes, and they become more comfortable with individuals and the group you start to drop your guard and reveal more aspects of their true self.
  • I’m a Fox – No, I’m not a small red animal of the canine family. I’m a fox in the sense of the metaphor the philosopher Isaiah Berlin conceived: that of the Hedgehog and the Fox . Broadly speaking, Berlin classed the artists and thinkers into two categories: those who purported to know one very big thing (the Hedgehog) and those that knew many little things (the foxes). I know players who understand WoW, all the classes and the underlying mechanics of the game with such depth that I can never hope to match their knowledge. Ever. I prefer to play a multitude of games, classes and explore as much as I can. I like to know a little bit of everything about not only the game I’m playing, but other MMOs. This is true in RL where I pursue multiple interests.
  • The nature of friendship – some friendships are the product of convenience, others more lasting and genuine. The former are more common and transitory, the other rare and often long lasting. Friendships at both work and in-game can trail off once the thing you have in common no longer exists. Stop playing WoW with some people, and there is nothing else to talk about. Stop working at an organisation, and the friendship does not survive the lack of mutual interests. But occasionally, at work or in the metaverse you make genuine, lasting friendships based on respect and understanding.
  • Community creates meaning – there is the “bowling alone” theory still popular in some circles which states the the pace of technological change and the pressure of capitalist societies are atomising individuals, sundering the traditional links people have had to their broader communities (i.e. neighbours, church and community groups). This leaves the individual lonely, depressed and prone to unhappiness. Again I’d challenge that assertion, as for many individuals the guilds, collectives and even their “Facebook” friends are the new forms of community. Previously communities where one of convenience – that is to say geography dictated which church, volunteer organisation or club you joined. Schools and families shaped are choices. Today we choose the community we wish to belong too. Geography no longer determines your community. From my experience, I’ve been in my WoW guild for four years. I view it as a community. It has it’s own culture, personalties and even values. My guild is representative of a phenomena happing in MMOs around the world. What draws people together first and foremost is their love or interest in online gaming. From their communities evolve. Friends are made and lost, people fall in and out of love. Goals are set. New members are welcomed and embraced, others leave. Most importantly people draw meaning from being a member of their community. Knowing they make a difference to a group – even if it’s your regular raid team – give people a sense belonging.

I game , therefore I am ;P

Monday’s Expert: alternative combat systems in Atlantica Sunday, Aug 16 2009 

Alternative combat models: do they exist?

Do you find combat in MMOs boring and repetitive? As players we are so used to the genre’s conventions we don’t even notice them.

Spells or attack abilities are mapped to certain keys. Call it the 1,2,3 spam.

Combat in most MMOs is based around your avatar selecting a single mob and buring them down with a combination of attacks – either melee or ranged. Developers understand this and will throw spell effects into the mix to enhance the experience.

The Death Grip of Warcraft’s Death Knight – i.e. pulling a target to the player from a distance with a cool purple beam – is a great example. It’s basically a taunt with some gee-wiz effects. The wide range of melee attacks a Death Knight weilds are variations on the same theme: hitting one object really hard with another. The rune system mixes it up a little as well. Instead of hitting 1,2,3 with a Death Knight you hit 1,2,3,4,5,6… in otherwords, more spells with shorter cool downs.

However there are some interesting examples of alternative combat models out there. One of them can be found in Atlantica Online.

Atlantica Online: turn based strategy

Atlantica Online (AO) is  a free-to-play (F2P), real-money-transaciton (RMT) MMO developed by Ndoors. Yes, it’s an Asian F2P RMT MMO. But it’s not that bad – in fact it’s pretty solid.

Doing it Anime style

Doing it Anime style

F2P and RMT games have moved from being the industries red-headed-step-child to being cited as the future of MMOs. The reivews are becoming far more positive these days, so being the metaverse tourist I am I’d thought I’d check some of them out.

I downloaded the client for Atalantica, registered, created a few characters and started playing. I was up and running within half an hour. I can see why this is such a growing segment of the market. Games like AO are free and very easy to get into.

RMT seems to be for vanity items, extra bag slots and consumables. The content itself – dungeons, zones, PvE and PvP content – is all freely accessible.

Atlantica Online: steampunk, alternative history setting.

If your haunted by images of Hello Kitty! then don’t panic, AO isn’t that bad.

But it clearly has an “Asian” aesthetic. The male avatars are rather androgynous and the female ones doe-eyed, busty and have short school girl skirts. Combat animations look and feel like Street Fighter. The graphics themselves are pretty solid, though the UI is a little clunky.

What I do enjoy about the game is the steam punk aesthetics: 19th Century alternative history meets robots, swords and sorcery. It makes a bit of a change from generic fantasy land. Virtual versions of Asian countires and cities are well represented – obviously. You can also visit cities such as Rome and New York. It’s history on drugs: unicorns and steamboats.

Something to really appreciate: there are no elves. Yes! That’s at least one MMO sterotype not in the game.

/fist pump

It should also be noted there is only one faction: human. Classes are based around the typle of weapon you weild: so you can be a Sword, Axe, Cannon, Bow and – wait for it – guitar. Yes, you can weild a deadly guitar. Awesome.

\m/

Rock on dude!

Hire your mercenaries and go to war!

What differs significantly is the combat and your ability to hire mercenaries. Yep, you can create your own personal army. For those of us who enjoy both MMOs and strategy games this is a nice blend.

Combat itself  is instanced and turn based. As you travel the world of Atlantica  you will encounter the usual variety of sprites, wildlife, monsters and demon-hell-spawn to kill. However AO differs from most MMOs in two key ways:

  • Mobs don’t seem to aggro. That’s right, I can walk right up to any mob and it won’t attack. As the player, you select when combat begins.
  • Single mobs will morph into a small army of the same creature in instanced combat.You don’t see your mercenaries until you enter combat either.
Arumy of Dear: prepare to die!

Army of Deer: prepare to die!

For me, this is what makes AO intriguing.

Combat is turn based, which may sound boring and static, but is actually far more challenging and interesting than simply walking up to a mob and spamming 1,2,3.

You select a target and set your troops to attack, cycling through each of their attack abilities during your phase of combat. Some spells attack multiple targets and act as a kind of AoE. Others stun, while others deal additional damage. Attack Points are needed to launch attacks, so sometimes one of your soldiers has to sit out a turn.

Enemy mobs have their own turns and their own deal special attacks. You can interupt these, as special abilities take more than one turn to be launched.

Die! Die! Die!

Die! Die! Die!

The combat animations are cinematic, the camera swooping and moving in accordance to the type of attack.

It’s a bit of a challenge to learn at first, but with practice you get used to cycling through your mercenaries and utilising their different attack styles to good effect. Some of your “mercs” are tanks, while others deal melee and ranged DPS.

You can hire and fire them at will with the Mercenary NPC. They also level, and you can upgrade armour and weapons. In fact, it reminds me of Diablo II, where you could hire mercenaries and equip them. If you felt comfortable with that mechanic, then managing AO’s mercenary units shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

I’d also note the transition between instanced combat and normal game mode is smooth.

For me its the combat mechanics that make AO interesting: your choices in combat are important. Do you concentrate all your fire on one mob, or stun one and DPS the others? When the mob starts to wind up their special attacks you must focus fire on them. Choices become much more critical – and involve more skill.

Tactics matter

Combat in AO is far more tactical, and requires a more thinking than your average player-vs-mob fight. Combat also takes longer, usually a few minutes to burn down an army of sprites, dears or demon things (unlike WoW where you can count the fights in seconds). It should be noted that different mobs have different abilities. Therefore fights will vary.

Indeed, every fight is like a mini-boss fight.

Verdict: interesting variation on a theme

I’ve only explored the first few zones of AO, but enought to say it’s an interesting concept.

I’ll play around with it for a few more weeks, though I don’t imagine my time in AO will be prolonged. Not because it’s a bad game – it’s actually surprising good for F2P – but because I’ve barely enough time for one MMO, let alone the three I’m dabbling with.

Final verdict?

Check it out, if only for the interesting combat mechanics.

Postcards: a river runs through it Friday, Aug 14 2009 

Dear Comrades of the Ebon Blade

Between bouts of slaying my enemies I decided to take up an activity to help try and relax. Fishing:

I grant Area of Effect spells would be more efficient...

I grant Area of Effect spells would be more efficient...

A very ineffecient means to collect food I must say. Death Grip and Area of Effect spells do the job in less time and kill far more of the aquactic animals. But stripping down to ones shorts and getting some sun, yes sun comrades, is strangely relaxing. I’m now a nice shade of dark blue as oppossed to my usual deathly pale blue. I’m sure it would hard to recognise me now!

Yours,

Augustblade Esq. etc.

The Heroes(ines) Journey: regions of wonder Thursday, Aug 13 2009 

“A hero ventures forth from the world of the common day into a region of supernatural wonder….” Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces


The final frontier: enter from your home PC

The final frontier: ony a few clicks away

We turn on our computers, trusting our internet connections are functioning. We double click on the icon for Warcraft, WAR, Aion, EQ or EVE and we are transported into another universe. Our bodies are still “there” in the real world. But intellectually and emotionally we’ve entered another region.

We leave the everyday and enter regions of wonder.

What seems like an everyday event to the average MMO gamer would be unimaginable to Homer, Dante or any of the other great story tellers of the past. With nothing more than words they could conjure up Troy, the many levels of Hell or the pits of Moria.

Dante: medievil "game designer"

Dante: medieval "game designer"

Today game developers can create entire continents, worlds and even universes. However the foundation of these virtual worlds is not the source code.

Its stories, myths and archetypes stretching back millennia.

Over the next few posts I’ll be exploring what it means to enter these lands, and more importantly the fundamental influences on the virtual worlds we inhabit.

Next in the series: the key myths that shape today’s meta-verse.

Monday’s expert: what is there to like about WAR? Sunday, Aug 9 2009 

Despite it’s flaws, WAR is still a pretty solid MMO (end game being one of the most serious issues needing to be resolved). My previous post discussing the failings of WAR may have left the impression the game is a total failure. I wouldn’t say it is: there is still much to commend about WAR. It’s innovative features are impressive, and will no doubt find their way into many future MMOs.

If I had to sum up my opinion it would be this: WAR tried to be too innovative. It wanted to be both PvE and PvP king. The developers should have concentrated their efforts in making it either the best theme park MMO or the best PvP MMO.

I suspect commentators will look back and see WAR for what it is: a good MMO that just fell short of true greatness.

Very close in fact.

Top notch art work

However I still continue to play WAR. I’ll list my reasons for in further posts, however one of the reaons I still enjoy WAR is the art work:

Very, very cool.

Very, very cool.

One of my Destruction alts in that factions starter zone. Great atmosphere, great visuals. These guys are evil. And it sure as hell looks like it. The whole feel of WAR is that of a world in conflict:

Can you say "atmospheric"?

Can you say "atmospheric"?

Here’s Augusteena patrolling Troll Country. Bodies litter the ground everywhere, war camps are stuffed with men and supplies as if about to head off to battle. Mythic’s artists certainly nailed the look of Warhammer. The world looks as one think it should.

One of the reasons I toyed with cancelling WoW was it’s cartoonish, pastel themed art work. I understand it’s graphics engine is over four years old, and there is only so far you can push the graphics. Still, WoW’s art direction is brilliant.

But WAR’s art has the grittiness that WoW lacks, which is befetting a MMO that once claimed “War is everywhere”.

Pavlov’s Elves: why we’re creatures of habit Sunday, Aug 9 2009 

Yesterday – post WoW Patch 3.2 – I was  in Stormwind (well to be accurate, my bank alt was), doing my usual run between the auction house (AH) , bank and mailbox. What fascinated me was the behaviour of my fellow WoW addicts:

New mailbox? Really? I like the *old* one better

New mailbox? Really? I like the *old* one better

A second mailbox has been added just outside the bank, a good idea by the developers. However the old mailbox (left) continued to recieve all the “foot traffic”. You can see me standing in the middle of the screenshot, watching the various elves, humans, dwarfs etc. running form AH, to bank to mail box.

99.9% simply ignored the new mailbox (on the right).

Note the usual jumble of avatars and blue text signalling their names and guilds. I stood and watched for a good five minutes while only three or four people tried the new mailbox.

I didn’t notice the new straight away – at least on my first run between the AH and bank. But I did see players making repeated runs right past it.

Was the old mail box simply more familiar? Did most people ignore the new one, or not even see it?

You can trip over the mail boxes in Dalaran. Old World cities in WoW were notorious for the dearth of mailboxes. Patch 3.2, issue solved. But I suspect it will take time for the player base to change well ingrained patterns of behaviour.

And so it would seem: we are creatures of habit.

The day after: when your MMO patches Saturday, Aug 8 2009 

No matter which MMO who play, WAR, WoW, EQ, Conan… you will have no doubt expereienced the joy of post-patch day. Often changes our made to the world or the class you play. Sometines for better, sometimes for worse. WoW Patch 3.2 has just dropped introducing a wide range of changes to the game. Some good, some bad and some “meh”.

Well, it's looks good!

Well, it's looks good!

All in all, I think the changes are welcome. I for one, like change. I really do.

However, it did make me think about the “what to expect” after your MMO has been patched;

  • Broken mods – You forget just how much you depend on the mods (add on programs) to enhance your game experience. Most “break” and don’t function, leaving you to struggle with the games original UI and functionality. And it normally aint’ pretty…
  • Class nerf – My spell/ability has changed! It changed! You may have even read the patch notes, and knew it was coming. Take for example my paladins Holy Wrath ability; casting time is now 1.5 seconds. 1.5 seconds! No matter the game, some players will feel a sense of outrage. “OMGZ I teh quite game!” Post-patch the QQ (crying, moaning, complaining) kicks into high gear)
  • The world changes – MMOs promise a dynamic, chaning world. But when it changes, many people can’t handle it. For people who play MMOs every day, having their routine changed (aka spoiled) is stressfull.
  • I can’t raid/endgame – Broken mods, changed mob skills, retuned instances and dungeons… all of sudden what you’ve been doing on auto is different.
  • This game is not what is used to be – Somehow the current state of the game just does not compare to when it first launched (see the debate of WoW’s endgame experience and how its “easier” for those cry baby, carebare casuals)

Sometimes a developer can really drive a stake into the game (the infamous “New Experience” Star Wars Galaxies, or some of the issues that seem to be arising form WAR’s “Land of the Dead”  live expansion).

But more often than not, change is good. Roll with it is what I say!

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