A tale of two Paladins Part Four: starter zones Tuesday, Oct 20 2009 

Welcome! Now, go kill things.

Welcome! Now, go kill things.

The Warcraft (WoW) and Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) starter zones throw you into two very different games. While they may share many standard features of MMOs, right way you can see a difference:  WoW and DDO are built on different principles, and the starter zones in each clearly demonstrate this.

Starter zones: making an impression

Starter zones can make or break the game as far as players are concerned. It’s in these areas that we decide whether or not to invest the next couple of months, if not years, of our life with a particular game. So developers need to strike a balance – making it accessible, but also interesting. So how do the starter zones compare?

Let’s have a look.

WoW: solo friendly

My Blood Elf (BE) Paladin starts her journey on Sunstrider Isle, a tiny island North of the Eastern Kingdoms. The art work is very good, I’ve always enjoyed the aesthetics of BE architecture, armour and weapons. It combines a distinctive blend of Medieval Japan and Vikings with a vivid palate of reds, golds and greens. The Isle itself is “shrouded” with a mystical glow.

The starter zone acts as a very gentle introduction to WoW that will teach you the very basics of the game: collect your quests from a NPC with the famous yellow !, kill requisite number of rats, hand in for XP. Oh, and level. Level as fast as you can.

Some of the exciting tasks the quest masters will give you include:

  • Killing feral cats
  • Killing feral floating eel thingies
  • Killing feral trees that look like Druid tree forms

Fortunately the Isle is a well designed and small quest hub, so you can power your way through these quests within an hour. You should zoom past your fith level and collect a few additional spells by the time you’ve completed the quests on Sunstrider Isle.

However the experience is kinda forgettable – nothing really stands out as a fun or unique experience. It’s pretty, and BE’s are the best looking avatars in the game, but really the idea is to put you on the levelling path.  To me, the levelling process is like going on auto pilot – enjoyable, meditative but not particularly challenging.

After the Isle, you’ll move into Eversong Woods and reach the BE Capital of Silvermoon City. The quality of the quests do pick up, and the artwork is simply gorgeous. It’s here you’ll also have a chance to pick up your professions.

The most important thing you will learn is just how easy it is to solo the game. The message is clear: take your avatar all the way to level 80 by questing. Grouping really is an option and for those who like the social aspects of MMOs, or want to see the content. But really, a solid month of playing WoW will allow you to easily level form level 1-80 without breaking a sweat. WoW really is built for the casual player. You can jump in for ten minutes or spend all day grinding quests. Go as fast, or as slow as you want.

Still overall, it’s a good introduction to WoW. If you enjoy yourself here, it’s very likely you’ll love the rest of the game.

Overall ratings

  • Artwork: 4/5
  • Quality of quests: 3/5
  • Enjoyment: 3/5

DDO: instanced group experience

DDO dumps you on the shorelines of Eberron. You stand dressed in rags, confused and somewhat dazed. Wreckage litters the beach, and a small halfing waves you over for a chat. Soon he escorts you to a small camp where you meet one of the Warforged, a humanoid robot thing.

One thing you’ll notice is how much text there is to read. DDO is a very literate experience. Like a true RPG game, you can select different questions to aks the NPC. Reading all the text options gives you the back story. For WoW players this will seem very slow and annoying. “You mean I have to read the text! Just tell me which 10 foozles to kill/collect!”.

From there you’re directed to your first instanced dungeon experience. The starter dungeon teams you up with other NPCs who conduct you through a of walk through of the dungeon. The purpose it to get you acquainted with grouping mechanics and the nature of dungeons in the game. Overall, it’s a fun and satisfying experience. It’s not challenging, as it is effectively a tutorial.

One of DDOs interesting features is the Dungeon Master voice over. As you enter a dungeon, and proceed throughout you will hear a voice tell you “You notice a lever…” or “There is a strange shuffling noise ahead of you…” This is a classic nod to DM’s of yesteryear and adds to the overall atmosphere of the game.

During this first dungeon you’ll learn about combat, healing stones (waypoints where you regain health), basic group mechanics and traps, locks and puzzles. All in all a terrific introduction to the what DDO is about.

Following this you’ll enter Stormreach, the local town and quest hub. I started just after the F2P launch, so the place was packed with hundreds of players. From there you can gather some quests and jump straight into even more dungeons.

Right at the start you can select the level of difficulty of dungeons: from simple to expert. The simple “setting” is ideal for those attempting to solo. Expert content is great for those in groups. My advice: find a group, and the rewards will be better and the experience will be a lot more fun. DDO shines as a group experience. You can also run the same dungeon again, and again.

The quality of DDO’s dungeons, even in the very early stages is very high. Indeed, some of WoW’s later end game dungeons cannot compare with the variety and ingenuity of an average dungeon in DDO. You’ll be asked to solve puzzles, disarm traps and find secret doors. Because the combat mechanics are very different, each time you run a dungeon the experience will be very different.

There is a profound difference between DDO and WoW. DDO is a much slower experience – it’s less about levelling, and more about exploring dungeons.

However, I missed the feeling of being in open world with forests, skies, rivers and mountains in the background. Because most of the action takes place in instanced dungeons, DDO can feel a bit more claustrophobic than WoW. Like it’s pen and paper parent, DDO is all about dungeon crawling with less emphasis on the wider world. In WoW, you feel your travelling across a large and varied world.

Still, I’m impressed with my first foray into DDO.

Overall ratings

  • Artwork: 4/5
  • Quality of quests: 3/5
  • Enjoyment: 4/5

The point of difference: accessibility versus “challenge”

If I had to summarize the difference between the two is WoW’s accessibility versus DDO’s more traditional RPG focus. DDO is about building your character to compliment its group role. WoW allows you to create an avatar that can easily solo the entire game.

You can take your WoW Paladin into instanced dungeons or group to complete some of the quests, but that’s not really necessary. In DDO, you must group to get the best out of the game. The combat mechanics, emphasis on puzzle solving and grouping make DDO more challenging.

But DDO has a steeper learning curve than WoW, and it’s hard to beat Blizzards knack for making things accessible.

Other articles in series

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A Tale of Two Paladins Part Three: Combat Mechanics Tuesday, Sep 22 2009 

Combat: a significant difference

Before moving on to quests and exploring the worlds of DDO and WoW it’s worth examining their respective combat systems. If there is a real point of difference, it’s DDO Active Combat System (ACS) versus WoW tab-target auto-attack for paladins.

Active Combat System: DDO’s tactical approach to battles

Swing, miss! And there's the D20 dice!!!!

Swing, miss! And there's the D&D dice!

It’s with combat that we see a real difference between WoW and DDO.

DDO utilises what it calls the “Active Combat System”. Combat happens in real time, and is dependent on your ability to actually aim your sword at the enemy MOB. Indeed, DDO combat reminds me of the same mechanics as a first-person-shooter: there is a small red circle indicating where you attacks are aimed.

In order to swing you weapon you have to click the left mouse-butto and be in range of them.  Combat involves a lot of clicking: you will miss a lot. Enemies can block your attack and will frequently move out of the range of your sword blows. Often you end up chasing them to deliver a final, killing blow.

As a nice touch, the famous twenty sided dice (the D20) can be seen rolling in the bottom right of the screen indicating your “hit roll”. Pen and paper of old players rejoice!

Combat in DDO is fluid and dynamic, as MOBs dance and jump away from your sword. Situational awareness is crucial: when fighting more than one MOB you often need to decide on taking down the monster wailing on you or running over to take out that pesky caster throwing damage your way. You also need to be careful taking on multiple MOBs when soloing.

I rather enjoyed the choatic, free-flowing feel of the combat. It’s like being an old 1930’s Errol Flynn film where you chase the enemies around a room wildly flinging your weapon at them.

It’s also a lot of fun.

  • Advantages: tactical combat that is interesting and skills based, therefore more of a challenge.
  • Disadvantages: it can take some getting used too, especially if you are used to conventional MMO combat systems.
  • Rating: 4/5

Warcraft’s Tab-Target approach: familiar MMO territory

Die magic eel!

Die magic eel!

We’re in safe and familiar territory with the WoW combat system: target your MOB by either clicking on them or hitting the Tab key; pull them with a spell or get within aggro range; let auto-attack do the work and cycle through your abilities in the Action Bar; watch your health so you don’t die; rinse and repeat. Abilities will be subject to cool downs: manage these as best you can.

MOBs in WoW are suicidally stupid. I mean, really, really stupid.  They will run up to you and stand there until they die. Occasionally humanoid MOBs may try and run away. Unlike DDO’s MOBs who jump around and try to avoid being killed, MOBs in Warcraft have a death wish.

Knowing what your abilities do is obviously helpful, so take the time to learn these. As you level you will get more offensive spells (Judgements etc.) and buffs that will enhance your defence or attack capabilities.

Situational awareness plays a small part in combat, at least in the early parts of the game. For a plate-wearing melee class it’s enough to simply walk up to a few MOBs, throw a Judgement of Light spell on them and whack, whack, whack.

The combat animations and sound effects are themselves interesting: and they have to be. You don’t actually need to pay much attention to the combat on the screen, unlike DDO when a MOB can dance out of range of your sword.

WoW combat is about managing your cool downs and your health.

  • Advantages: it’s simple, it works and anyone can master the WoW combat system.
  • Disadvantages: no real disadvantages to WoW’s combat system, except that it lacks any excitement. This is especially the case at the lower levels, where the lack of offensive spells and abilities for the Paladins mean you’re almost completely reliant on auto-attack.
  • Rating: 3/5

Things fall into place Friday, Sep 18 2009 

Last Thursday’s Naxx run was perhaps the groups best.The infamous Four Hoursemen went down, one shotted actually. The week prior we repeatedly wiped in them. This week, things fell into place. We went from this:

OK, let's try that again...

OK, let's try that again...

To this kind of run:

... now that's better!

... now that's better!

Two quarters cleared in the run, not a single wipe. All the bosses one shotted. I also managed to collect my first piece of The Hero’s Redemption set. Yep, my very first piece of tiered gear! A personal milestone: a few months into raiding and it’s starting to really jell. After nearly eight weeks of learning how to group, swapping individual team members in and out we finally hit our grove. And damn it felt good!

The group agreed to lock out the raid: next week we’re aiming to take on the final bosses of Naxxramas.

A Tale of Two Paladins Part Two: the User Interface Friday, Sep 18 2009 

DDO v WoW continued!

It’s impossible to underestimate the critical impact a games user interface (UI) can have on the players experience. A good UI facilitates and enhances the players experience. A poorly designed UI may ruin the game, compromising the players ability to interact with the game world. More than likely a bad UI will only frustrate the player… the end result being nerd rage and nasty forum flame wars. No one want’s either.

So having created my two Paladins – Angelarmor (WoW) and Augusteen (DDO) – I’m ready to enter their respective game worlds. My goal, to evaluate the following:

  • How the user interfaces of WoW and DDO  rate against each other
  • How the user interfaces impact the gaming experience

With these questions in mind, let us continue the Tale of the Two Paladins! Apologies if this post appears long – actually the word count is not that bad, it’s simply broken up into lots of small paragraphs.

What the UI should allow you to do?

The user interface should facilitate two things:

  • Allows the player to interact with the world
  • Reports back to the player events taking place in the world

Sounds obvious right? But how well the UI performs these two functions is crucial and can vary in different games. Most MMO interfaces posses the same standard features, and for good reason. So just how good is the systems developed by Turbine (DDO) and Blizzard (WoW)? Let’s see, but first a little about the evaluation methodology.

My really scientific method of evaluation

"Zis is how vee rate ze games ya?"

"Zis is how vee rate ze games ya?"

I could make this really simple and say the UI  “is great” or “it sucks!”, or even “meh.” But that won’t tell you anything: I assume your interested in a little more analysis. Instead I’ll borrow the evaluation methodology outlined in Jakob Nielson’s “Usability Engineering”. It’s a handy, quick way to assess the usability of any system based on some basic principles. Nielson’s methodology is widely recognised in amongst software engineers and designers, so I’ll borrow and tweak it ever so slightly in  make it relevant to MMO gaming. Now, I could make up my own system, but that’s too much hard work.

Anyhoo, I’ll base my evaluation on the following criteria:

  • Visibility and system status – tells the player what is happening in real time.
  • Match between system and real world – Put it this way, imagine if the language of the UI was in Queya.
  • User control and freedom – allows the users to modify and reverse any mistakes(i.e. modify or change the UI layout).
  • Error prevention – good design prevents the user from making in game mistakes (i.e. constantly using the wrong abilities in combat).
  • Recognition rather than recall – The system must allow the gamer to easily recognise objects, actions or options visible.
  • Flexibility and efficiency of use – the system can appeals to both the novice and experienced player.
  • Aesthetic and minimalist design – good design conveys information to the player as it is needed.
  • Help and Documentation – provides tips, guides or hints when playing or interacting with the world.

Note that I didn’t use “intuitive” as a specific criteria. The assumption is that if a UI rates highly in all the above criteria it is then, by default, intuitive.

Note: the same scoring system is used as in Part One (1-5)

Warcraft

Let’s begin with WoW’s famous, and now much imitated, interface.

I've seen this before...

 

Visibility and system status

WoW players are probably so used to the UI that they don’t even notice how well it presents data to them. Reading your health and mana bar is easy. Buffs, and their duration can be easily assessed by glancing at the same avatar portrait. Simply glance your portrait in the top left corner. You can easily track how much XP you have, and how far you need to go to “ding” the next level. Indeed, the player can quickly scan the entire UI and get a status on health, damage being dealt, damage taken, buffs, XP gained and their location by checking the mini-map

  • Score: 5/5

Match between system and real world

The language used to describe the UI features is simple, plain and in my mind makes sense. Let’s take one example: reviewing the talent tree. Opening the panel for your avatars talent tree is easy – click icon or hit the N key. The three tabs for the Paladin group the different classes of spell nicely (Holy, Retribution and Protection). Running your mouse of the various icons in the talent tree clearly indicates what the abilities are.

  • Score: 5/5

User control and freedom 

Even without add-ons, you can modify your UI set up somewhat: options are made accessible via the general menu. You can add or subtract the number of action bars, adjust their resolution and do a few other things. Not a wide selection, but you can easily change and modify it to your liking. Placing icons into the action bars is simply a case of clicking and dragging them from talent tree.

  • Score: 3/5

Error prevention

WoW alerts you to “errors” by displaying text in the centre of the screen. Some examples: trying to use a spell that has not finished it’s cool down (Spell is not ready); trying to hit a MOB when facing the wrong way (You are facing the wrong way). Simple, direct messages that alert you to mistakes you are making.

  • Score: 3/5

Recognition rather than recall

WoW does this exceptionally well. Players glancing the UI will easily recognise the mini-map, avatar portrait, icons for abilities in action bars and menu options.

  • Score: 5/5

Flexibility and efficiency of use

This is the great strength of WoW. It’s UI is easily accessible and understandable to both new players and experienced players. A newbie logging on for the very first time can easily assess the components of the UI and start to modify it.

  • Score: 5/5

Aesthetic and minimalist design

Again, WoW’s other great strength: the design and layout of the UI is simple and elegant. It does not crowd the screen, therefore does not ruin the players immersion in the game world. While some may complain it is a little primative, compared to many other interfaces, it’s pretty very easy to use.

  • Score: 4/5

Help and Documentation

Not bad, not brilliant either. The helpful “Tips” function when switched on is useful for brand new players, as it display messages in context (i.e. when you accept a quest for the first time it explains the basic mechanics).

  • Score: 3/5

Summary and average score

I will admit to being a fan of the WoW user interface. It’s simple, elegant and accessible. New and casual players will find the standard UI sufficient to meet their needs. Serious raiders may need to seriously modify their UI through add-ons such as Grid, Omen, Pally Power etc. However, for most players it will easily meet their needs and allow them to navigate the WoW universe with ease.

  • Average score: 4/5

Dungeons & Dragons Online

On the surface there’s not much difference? Right.

Hmmm, where to start...

Hmmm, where to start...

Well, unfortunatley the UI gets less friendly and intuitive the more you delve into it…

Things can get ugly real fast...

Things can get ugly real fast...

Visibility and system status

The best feature of DDO is the combined voice over acting and general messages displayed to the user when entering a new dungeon: “You enter the chamber looking for the key…”. One could argue that voice is not strictly a feature of the UI, but it helps gameplay and adds atmosphere.

  • Score: 3/5

Match between system and real world

I find the text of DDO UI uses a lot more language and descriptions derived from pen and paper D&D. As I have not played much D&D I found this a little confusing. Experienced D&D players no doubt feel at home, however for players new to the universe it’s a bit overwhelming.

  • Score: 2/5

User control and freedom 

To be honest I have not played around with modifying the UI too much: I’m still trying to come to grips with some it’s basics. That in itself is a good indication that it does not give the player much flexibility.

  • Score: 2/5

Error prevention

When trying to use abilities not ready, or attempting actions such as opening a door when a lack a specific key DDO did a reasonable job of warning me. No issues there, and compatible to WoW in this regards.

  • Score: 3/5

Recognition rather than recall

I’m sorry, but this this is DDO falls down. Yes, I can scan the UI and see the mini-map and other features. However opening additional panes and options and things become very ugly, with multiple panes crowding and overlapping each other. The text describing the the attributes of abilities or items is somewhat hard to read. It becomes a case of visual overload, and often my eye wanders across the screen, distracted or looking for information that will help me.

  • Score: 2/5

Flexibility and efficiency of use

I’ve played a lot of games, but damn the UI is challenging. For the novice MMO gamer, I’d think the would be overwhelming and may put them off playing the game further.

  • Score: 2/5

Aesthetic and minimalist design

The UI takes up far too much of the screen. I found it obtrusive, and thus had oftened ruined my immersion in the game. Action bars are somewhat hard to view, and the icons themselves not necessarily indicative of the abilities they represent. At the same time other parts of the UI – i.e. the chat box – are oversized and take up too much screen real estate. The text is small, cramped and hard to read. This is a fail Turbine…

  • Score: 1/5

Help and Documentation

The “Tips” are useful, and display within context. The map function is OK. However I simply can’t get past the other issues with the UI…

  • Score: 3/5

Summary

To be honest, this is the biggest turn off for me. I’ve palyed DDO a bit, and enjoy the game. Oh, and I lurv the character creation process. However, I suspect the UI would be a struggle for a number of players. I appreciate how difficult it would be to rebuild the games UI, but seriously an overhual would do much to increase the games accessibility.

  • Average Score: 2.1

So the winner is?

At least as far as user interface goes, WoW wins hands down. Yes, I’m open to claims of bias, but when playing a new MMO I need to feel I can easily navigate and interact with the world. In my opinion, the deficiencies of DDO’s UI may impact negatively on game play experience.

With some effort I’ve become much more used to DDO’s UI.

Going F2p with DDO was a brave move by the developers, and they should be applauded, But problems with the UI may act as a barrior for new players. After all the developers are trying to catch casual players, a segment of the market that has limited time and patience to learn overly complex systems.

However, this does not mean DDO is down and out: not by a long shot! It is possible to overlook the issues of the UI and enjoy the game.

Next up, the start zone experience and quests.

A Tale of Two Paladins Part One: DDO vs WoW Monday, Sep 14 2009 

DDO v WoW: bring it!

Will it be worth my time?

Will it be worth my time?

Being the perpetual MMO tourist I am I decided to check out Dungeon & Dragons Online (DDO) which recently went free to play (F2P). DDO is of course based on the “dungeons and dragons” intellectual property, using the same rule system, character classes, monsters and settings as the table-top version of the game.

As an MMO it wasn’t as successful as it could have been. Rather than shut it down or let it die a slow death, the developers Turbine have “rebooted” DDO as a F2P game (with micro-transactions of course).

So rather than “Here is a game review blah, blah, blah” I decided to compare and contrast playing the Paladin class in both DDO and World of Warcraft (WoW).

Why?

Well, the Paladin class is an iconic symbol of both table-top and online fantasy gaming: the veritable knight in shining armour of the genre. Paladins, in case it may have escaped the readers attention are my class of choice.

I’m curious to see if DDO  can offer a gaming experience comparable to the industries leading MMO. Is being “free” enough of a carrot to keep players going? Is the game worth playing? WoW is a useful benchmark, so let us begin.

I’ll be exploring both games from the newbie (i.e. new gamers) experience: from character creation, working the UI, questing and combat. I’ll be looking at DDO with fresh eyes and trying to do so with WoW.

Ranking the game experience

I’ll be using a simple ranking system 1-5 to score different elements of the games:

  1. Very bad
  2. Bad
  3. Average
  4. Good
  5. Freakin’ brilliant

So with that, let’s begin with one of the most important stages in an MMO: creating your character.

Say hello to my little friends…

For this exercise I rolled Paladins in both games. In WoW I created Angelarmor a Blood Elf female Paladin. In DDO  I rolled a toon called Augusteen Angelarmor, a Human male Paladin

Creating a character: choosing your online self

I love this part of starting an MMO, as character creation can be fun. It’s one of the most exciting. For veteran MMO players the next step is as natural as breathing: choosing your class, sex and the look of your avatar. However the experience in each MMO is unique.

Step one: choosing a server and faction

Warcraft 

Gosh this is familiar. I must have at least a dozen times… Any way let’s look at it from the perspective of a new player. Here they start with two choices: the type of server and their faction. These two choices alone will greatly impact their game play experience. The experience on a dedicated PvP will be radically different than that of a PvE one. The choice of faction – Horde or Alliance – will have also have an enormous impact. This choice will dictate the type of zones they will level through, the quests they will perform and the type of players they will encounter.

Dungeons & Dragons Online

There are only six servers at this point in time, so the choices are limited. The major difference between DDO and WoW at this point? DDO has no factions. Unlike WoW or WAR, DDO lacks factions locked in perpetual conflict. Your enemies will always be AI controlled MOBs.

Note: DDO does offer PvP, but limited.

Overall, not much to distingush the two games here: log in and select a server. Faction selection only applies to WoW, and why players shuold choice Horde or Alliance is a complete mystery. In the end I think choices are often made purely on aesthetics. Do you like the bad arse Horde or the pretty Alliance?

Ratings:

  • WoW – 3/5
  • DDO 3/5

Step two: class selection and character customisation

Warcraft

WoW makes it easy on the player here: click on the various portraits to get a review your class options.  Some generic text is displayed on the right which gives you a feel for how the class will play. Again, it really comes down to what your prefer. If you like bashing things, chose a Warrior. If you like throwing firebolts, chose a mage. I like Paladins, so I selected Paladin. Well duh.

I’ve played Alliance, and not much Horde so I decided to go select this faction so that my experience will be “fresher”. Thus I made a pretty little Blood Elf Paladin called Angelarmor. Ta da!

Faction, class, sex and some basic avatar features

Class, Path and sex...

Awwwwwwwh, isn’t she cute!

Selecting facial features, hair styles etc. is very simple. But as most WoW players know, your options are limited. The character customisation options don’t give you much to play with, so WoW avatars of the same race/class all look a bit the same.

Dungeons & Dragons Online 

DDO does offer something very different. Indeed, the whole process is like creating a D&D pen and paper character. You can, if you chose, build your character completely from scatch. I have to say I was impressed.

I could also chose three different “paths”. These are somewhat analogous like WoW’s talent trees, each path giving a different emphasis to the play/fighting style of your character. In selecting one,  a different emphasis on will be placed on charisma strength, intelligence etc.

Players can select an offensive specification, one that is allows you to support a group with buffs/protective spells and a third path that offered a mix of the two. DDO also notes how effective your class and path selection is for solo play.

Again, I’m impressed. I like that I can shape my gameplay experience right at the start, rather than waiting to accumulate talent points as I level. One of the great challenges for WoW players is learning how to effectively place their talent points. There are plenty of online guides out there, but these are created by third parties. DDO gives you this option right at the start.

If you want to be a bad arse fighting Paladin weilding a two handed weapon, then select this option when you create you character.

Customising the look of your avatar in DDO is brilliant: you have a wide range of facial features, hair styles and colour palattes to work with. Unlike WoW, you can create a truly individual avatar. Indeed, the character customisation tools were a lot of fun! As an added bonus, when you name your character you can also have a surname.

Create a unique avatar...

Create a truly unique avatar...

Overall comparison?

  • WoW – 3/5
  • DDO 5/5

Creating a character in WoW offers an average experience. Not bad, but not that exciting either. However it is simple, no fuss and gets you playing in minutes. Making things accessible is what WoW does well.

DDO’s character customisation is very sophisticated, allowing you to both design the look of your avatar and select it’s key attributes. In this way DDO it is exactly like pen and paper D&D. However this very varitey may be daunting to really casual players. If this is your first exposure to the world of MMOs then DDOs options may be a little confusing.

Conlcusion

Well, so far I’m impressed with DDO. Creating and customising the look of your character is a lot of fun, while the tools allow you to create a much more individual avatar than WoW.

However, one can’t underestimate just how easy and accessible WoW’s character customisation process is. For complete MMO virgins, WoW makes it easy.

Next installment: the UI and opening quests

Paladin, heal thyself! Wednesday, Sep 2 2009 

Finally I’ve gotten around to dual speccing my WoW paladin. My off spec? Holy. That’s right I’m stepping into the healing game.

Have glow stick thing, not afraid to use it.

Have glow stick thing, not afraid to use it.

It’s been sometime since I focussed on healing, as I levelled Retribution (melee DPS) and left the healing to others. But watching the nice healing gear drop in Naxxramas and musing over a second spec I thought “Why not? Healadin it is”

Plus, the game is always short of healers and it broadens my game experience. I’m pretty comfortable in understanding the DPS role know: kill things and try not to die along the way.

Tanks and healers are the essential party members. DPS has far less responsibilities in a raid or instance. Now that I’ve got a fair chunk of raid and dungeon experience under my belt I’m more comfortable extending myself and trying the healing role. Watching other healers has inspired me as well.

My plan is start healing some Trial of the Champion normal instances… baby steps. Should be fun spamming Holy Light and Flash of Light over and over. 😉

Damages Sunday, Aug 2 2009 

Becoming that guy…

My goal in WoW at present is pretty simple: cause as much damage as possible.

My main, Augustine the Paladin, is retribution spec. Which means in a raid or instance I need to bring as much damage to the table as I can. So for two weeks I’ve conducted a extensive reseach program. What gems improve my stats, what gear do I need to track down, what elixers boast my hit power and overall DPS…

Dear God! How much pain can I inflict on a AI controlled computer mob? I wan’t to crush their virtual bones to make virtual bread!

Will all my hardcore, nerd research pay off?

Will all my hardcore, nerd research pay off?

Yep. I’m one of those guys fretting over their numbers. That’s me folks, a WoW cliche.

/faceplam.

WoW boot camp

I never really gave much thought to the underlying mechanics of any MMO. I focussed on levelling , which really is a fairly easy route. I was best described as a virtual tourist. Off to see the sights and have a chat. I created multiple alts just to see the other starter zones.

The so called “end game” never really called to me.

“Oh yeah, you all go run a dungeon for four hours instand of one right?”

A raid is more akin to a chess match, but with 10 or 25 people trying to play on the one team. What you bring to the group can make a difference. After a few runs you know who is working hard, learning and doing their homework and who isn’t.

Sure, there are those who will claim the WoW end game is “easy”. That really, noobs like me should be coast through this. Well, yes and know. I’ve had to understand the game on a whole new level. WoW makes it easy to solo to level cap. But once you get there, your looking for things to do that are interesting. There’s PvP, raiding or collecting vanity pets.

I went raiding, because I’ve never done it.

I’m a noob, and I’m enjoying the experience of being one.

So called l33t raiders forget that my experience is more typical of your average MMO player. With only a few hours to spare each week (yes, per week not every day!), casual players are focussed on short term goals. Finishing a few quests, or upgrading that weapon from a green to a blue.

The thought of dedicating you whole week to raiding the same dungeon? Really? Come one guys, you must be joking right?

First all you need the time.Secondly you need to actually know what your doing.

For that dear readers, you need to work your virtual butt off.

And that is where the fun has been these past few weeks. Reading about the boss fights and game lore. Knowing more about my class and what I can do if I apply myself. Reading the debates about this spec, or that spell rotation.

All hearty nerd-fun.

WoW + Obsessive Compulsive Behaviour = Fun

If my raid group was playing indoor cricket, and we never trained and played week-after-week only to lose every time, we”d all get frustrated and give up. WoW end game is a bit like that. You need to “train” to raid. Run your five mans at heroic level and get some decent gear to get in there.

The last four weeks has been about me getting ready to raid. Having never experienced end game, I’m enjoying the learning experience. The more I look at the underlying mechanics of the game, the more fascinated I’ve become.

It’s not the levelling that matters anymore. It’s what I do in that two hours in Naxx that matters most.

So, yeah, I’ve become that guy. But only for a little while.

I promise.

Fear and trembling: getting ready for Naxx raiding Tuesday, Jul 21 2009 

OK, I’m well behind the experience curve as far as WoW raiding goes.

I’ll be making the transition from casual player to hardcore, leet, uber-paladin when I step into Naxxramas this week.

Reading the boss strategies, getting my potions and consumables from the Auction House. Got me Vent head set good and ready.

Raiding was always the thing every one else did. Now I’m going to experience the fabled end game.

Here I go…!!!!!!

Ready, set... Naxx!

Ready, set... Naxx!

Meet the August crew Sunday, Jul 5 2009 

Time to meet my on-line personas; the paladins, warrior priests and death knights that I choose to play (and why).

Augustine: WoW Paladin

 

Fighting the good fight, by doing daily quests...

Fighting the good fight, by doing daily quests...

 

“The paladin is a “Warrior of the Holy Light”. They uphold all that is good and true in the world and revile all that is evil and sinister — especially undead and the Burning Legion. They offer succor to the beleaguered and smite their enemies with holy fervor. They are particularly potent against undead, as these creatures threaten the goodly races and the Holy Light burns them terribly. The presence of any evil is reprehensible to the paladin, but he focuses his efforts on destroying undead and demons…”

Source: WoWWiki

Augustine was not my first WoW toon,  but after several months play became my main. Initially I started playing a warrior, as I thought that would be the easiest class to master. The mage, priest and warlock classes didn’t attract me. The paladin was a class I knew nothing about, nor could I understand how they could differ from warriors: both wore plate, both “looked” ostensibly the same. However after several months of getting my warrior up to level 38 I became frustrated: I’d never really run any instances until then and found it hard to get into groups. This was pre-Burning Crusade, back in Vanilla/Classic WoW days and I found soloing tedious as a warrior. Especially the lack of healing ability. I could handle 3-4 individual mobs easily, but anymore than that or fights against elite mobs normally resulted in (in game) death. Again, and again I’d die and face the long walk back from the Spirit Healer to resurrect.

/sigh
 
I’d also mention I was pretty casual in my play style then. I was playing a lot of other PC games at that point; Doom 3, the Total War series and a few others. I’d been in out of a few guilds, but never really found a home in any of them. Guild chat was a feature of the UI I ignored. I kept hearing about “instances” and not really knowing what they where. In the end I decided I really wasn’t enjoying the class I was playing and decided to switch.
 
“This is supposed to be an MMO…” I thought to myself “…why don’t I try the more social aspects of the game?”
 
Augustine actually begun his life as a Priest. I thought that would be class most in demand, and it was. WoW continues to suffer from a chronic shortage of healers, and I thought it was a niche I could slot into. I tried to think of an historical “priest” or theologian I could name by toon after. I considered a few, and and settled on Augustine (the fourth century theologian). And thus my fate was sealed. The problem was I enjoyed playing a squishy class even less than the warrior. I levelled the priest to about level 10 and thought “Meh, that’s it. I’m going to try one more class before I quit.”
 
Surprisingly, I didn’t choice the beginners (aka “Noobs”) favourite class/race combination of “Night Elf Hunter”.
 
So I decided to research all the classes. The more I looked at the Paladin class, the more I liked it. As a utility class, you could don armour like the warrior and throw out healing spells like a priest “Ah ha!” Paladins could do both, obviously not as well as the more specialised classes but at least I could solo, and slot myself into groups more effectively by offering to heal.
 
The idea of a “holy warrior” or “knight in shining armour” really appealed to me as well. Hence, Augustine the Priest was deleted and reborn Augustine the Paladin.
 
The rest, as they say, is history.

 

Augusteena: Warhammer Warrior Priest
 

Have book, will travel

Have book, will travel

It’s with a lot of sadness that I play Warhammer these days. What is a good game, that could have been a great game, seems to have a mature or gently declining player base. The early levels of the game are deserted. The “realm versus realm” combat that attracted me to the game – that is to say groups of players fighting it out over strategic points – is pretty much deserted except for those still playing at level cap and in the “end game”.

What’s left is your fairly average PvE experience for those leveling their characters. Indeed, I’ve been advised again and again by players in game to simply “grind to level cap” where “every one is”.

I played throughout late 2008 and early 2009, stepping away from WoW to try something new. Initially I was excited; the new classes looked interesting. The art work that was more gritty than WoW’s pastel coloured cartoon aesthetic, while the chance to play more involved PvP held promise.
 
At first I loved it and thought it would be my “new game”. I played both a Witch Hunter (human) and Shadow Warrior (elf). Both where lightly armoured DPS (damage per second) classes that relied on skill and speed rather than defence. I got them both to level 20, but stopped.
 
I went back to WoW.
 
When I started playing on my Oceanic server it was humming – lots of groups, PvP action aplenty while numerous guilds were active in recruiting. Now.. nothing but the crickets and tumble weeds in the lower levels. Poor, poor Mythic (the developers). So much effort went into this MMO, only to have it misfire.
 
Balance issues (class and server population), server stability and lack lustre PvE lead to my waning interest in WAR. The player base itself has vanished – the initial 800,000 registered players collapsed to 300,000 and continues to shrink. The fanbase got rabid, and turned on the game and developers. For an MMO dependent on players fighting each other as it’s primary selling point, this is not good.
 
Eventually I stopped playing in early 2009. I’d put the game away, but recently I went back to simply experience the content and play a class I love: the Warrior Priest (WP). WPs are the near equivelent of Paladins in WoW. A plate wearing class that can specialise in healing or damage.
 
The WP is fun, and allows easy soloing. I like the underlying mechanics and hitting things with either a little or big hammer is lots of fun. /grin
 
I’ll continue to play her all the way to level cap, but as a “metaverse tourist”. As far as MMOs go, I’m an explorer and socialiser: I like seeing new content and grouping/chatting to other players. I’ll take her to level 40 (the present level cap) and see how we go from there.
 
Oh yes, the dreaded WoW Tourist. Don’t like it? Too bad. I’m paying for my subs, not you.
 
So, expect lots of “Postcards” from Augusteena as she tours this virtual world. 😉
 

Angels & Armor: welcome Friday, Jul 3 2009 

The better angels of our nature

Why this compulsion to save others, to be the hero or heroine?

Maybe it’s because our culture extols the virtues of the knight in shining armour, the altruism of guardian angels and the kindness of strangers. So it is not surprising that these archetypes manifest themselves throughout popular culture. In books, fiction, television and other media the knights tale is a common one.

Within video games, and Massive Multi-Player games (MMOs) in particular, you just don’t get to hear about the knights. You get to be one of them in a virtual world (or to borrow from Neil Stephenson, the metaverse). In these worlds you can don the armour of a knight, ride a charger into battle and fight dragons, trolls and all kinds of wicked men and women.

For various reasons videogames are dominated by the “High Fantasy” genre. Tolkien reigns supreme here, with dashes of Sir Walter Scott, Arthurian legends and medieval romances.

Even in games such as the World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online and Everquest there is an echo – however faint – of the courtly romances of thirteenth century France. In game worlds, even a plumber called Mario gets to save a princess.

Central to all these virtual worlds is the concept of the quest.

St.George takes on an elite mob, hopes Blue drops

St.George takes on an elite mob, hopes Blue drops

A hero is given a task, they are faced by a challenge (a monster, a riddle, a gatekeeper to secrets) and they triumph.

A simple three act story, which MMO players re-enact again, and again every time they accept a quest from their friendly NPC and turn it in for gold, gear or “experience points”. As players we do this instinctively, without pause or reflection.

“Here is a quest, I will accept”.

And off we go to slay another virtual dragon and rescue another virtual kitten in a tree.

Virtual worlds: the good, the bad and… those who get it

MMOs can be described as a hobby.

The are fun, seductive and satisfying. The social aspects to them, of belonging to a community, and talking to like-minded people are hugely attractive. But they can be addictive and are easily dismissed by those who do not play them. As a form of entertainment they are still very much on the margins of popular culture. The stereotype of the MMO player is still very much of the overweight shut-in squatting over a computer in some rank basement.

And yet our world, the world of MMO players is far richer, complex and interesting than most people give credit. Call it a “sub-culture”. We are a “community”. Rather than watching localised version of “American Idol” or the usual swill of reality TV, we chose to spend our leisure time with our friends, family and guild mates in a virtual world.

The organisation that goes into planning a 25 man raid is intense. Your performance in these raids is judged, and judged harshly. The management of a guild can take many hours outside of the game. Like most guilds, my WoW guild has a website. The work that goes into maintaining this is not insignificant.

Raid time

Raid time

Relationships start in these worlds. Friends are made, and lost. As players, our experiences in Azeroth and the many other parts of the metaverse are just as rich as those of the real world. What we experience with friends online is “real”. When we lose someone from a guild, we can feel grief. When we meet someone in RL for the first time, after spending years talking to them in Vent or in guild chat, it’s a reunion as meanigful and real as welcoming home a friend who has been overseas for several years.

Friends of mine from the MMO world say we are the ones “who get it”.

This is what this Blog is about. Exploring the world of MMO players, and why we play.

What’s in a name: the meaning behind this blog’s title

Lincoln called our capacity to forgive and accept others the “the better angels of our nature”; the knight is synonymous with the suit of plated armour. Hence the name of this Blog. Yes, it’s a Blog about online games. But it’s not about min/max strategies, boss fights, content patches or dungeon runs.

There are plenty of blogs out there that do this, and will do them better then I will ever manage. I’d define myself as typical of the millions of “casual” MMO players out there who run PvE quests and do the occasional dungeon (instance if you like).

The attraction, the reason I still play MMOs, is the social aspects. Belonging to a community is a natural human desire. As to is our desire to give something of ourselves to others. In this Blog I will explore the roles we adopt in game, and what they may say about us in the “real world” (RL).

Healers, tanks, casters and damage dealers – why do you do what you do? Why that class? And what am I doing in these worlds, and why?

My nature: a priest in armour

The name of this Blog is also partly inspired by the types of avatars I play in MMO worlds. In WoW I play a Paladin (Retribution Spec), a holy warrior that deals damage. In Warhammer I play a Warrior Priest. Both wear armour, and both throw out damage and healing spells. I enjoy getting into a fight, sword or hammer swinging, fighting AI controlled mobs (1) or other players in PvP (2).

Even more so, there is nothing more satisfying than pausing between the swings of my weapon, throwing out a healing spell to a comrade in trouble, and then get back into the fight. The tension between the fight in hand, and helping others compels me to play the classes I do.

Others prefer to heal. Others prefer to stand back as casters, and coolly deliver damage from a distance. Some prefer the role of tank, the one who takes the most damage during a “boss fight”. Being in the front line, the tank directs the group to which targets, in what order and gives the command to attack.

My intiution is that our choices in game say something about us as individuals. The name of my WoW paladin is Augustine, named after the great fourth century theologian. I was profoundly moved by both his two most famous works, the Confessions and City of God.

Even though I describe myself as an atheist, there are aspects of Augustine’s writing I take to heart. His Confessions is ultimately a journey to know himself and the truth. His writings explore the same themes one finds in those other canons of the Western tradition I deeply admire and love; the central protagonists undertakes a journey, struggles and finds redemption of sorts. Whether it be through journeying to hell and back, the struggle to better understand oneself and your place in the world forms a narrative that predates the written word.

It is the narrative that appeals to my “priestly nature”; it is the part of me that has a deep reverence for those who seek answers. Struggle, and illumination.

I’m a Paladin/Warrior Priest because I see myself and both questioning and willing to fight.

(1) Mob – short for “mobiles”. In games monsters, non-player characters and other AI controlled units are referred to as mobs.

(2) PvP – Player vs. Player, game play that allows player to fight others in virtual worlds.