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Category Archives: World of Warcraft

Rearview Mirror

everlook.jpg

Greetings from Everlook, ca. 2007, when getting there meant something and not just to the Timbermaw…

Apparently blogging or at least the MMO blogging community is dead.  Or something.  Well, I’ve never taken directions very well, so here I am.

Ardwulf’s “What Was Lost” post caught my attention.

As Wilhelm has been blogging, our formerly-WoW, currently Rift instance group has been on a bit of a roll (or a lack of one) for the last 6 months.  As adults with various combinations of jobs, spouses, aging parents, growing children, and real life in general, having all the stars align to put all five of us online on a Saturday night at the appointed hour to partake in group content has been a rare occurrence.  This year, our score has been 2 for 24 (weekends), if I score it correctly.

And even when the gang isn’t all there, no one is spending a great deal of time in Rift.  Was not always the case.  When we were in Azeroth oh so many years ago, there always seemed to be something to do, something to explore.

Ardwulf seems to have reached the same conclusion we reached a while ago for what seems like many of the same reasons.  Lots of things in Azeroth have changed.  Many things lost, but what were those things that made it so compelling in those halcyon vanilla days?

Its a bit difficult to define what it was, but as some of the comments in his post point out, certain changes changed or radically impacted many aspects of the game in a negative way (IMHO).  So by looking at the negative impacts you can infer a bit of what the secret sauce was in the vanilla days.

Worldliness

For me, it comes down to a loss of “worldliness”.  That doesn’t mean a sandbox per se, but that the game world was a place with a sense of dimension, danger and the unknown.

Quest-centricity

Quest content was a way to experience the game but not the entire game.  That was initially a great strength of the vanilla game, providing a non-exclusive guided path through the world. Of course, we often stepped off those paths, encountered others and generally explored.  There were quest lines that lead no where.  There were side stories that were interesting in and of themselves that were utterly “optional”.

Increasing quest-centricity to the exclusion of all else migrated what was a game world in which there were many storylines to a story in which your character was largely a passive and captive participant.  By the time Cataclysm rolled around and I was budgeted with three quests at a time and I had to complete the entire zone to unlock the next zone, I was done.

Lost with that was any desire for replayability with alts.  Why trod the exact same path again and again?  I may have wanted to do so in some instances, but to be denied any choice in the matter just sucked the life out of the game.

Dungeon Finder/World Wrecker

The dungeon finder was certainly the world shatterer.  The world became a game lobby of course, we started to see that when PvP became instanced and you could queue and be whisked away.  Both travel and story were trivialized and in large part the world-based story line was mostly divorced from what was the instance based climax of those story lines.

Phasing

Another world shattering “innovation” was phasing.  The world around the character was representative of the experiential path that character had taken rather than vice versa.  Players on different steps of a quest may be in the same location as each other but in another “phase” and completely unable to see each other, play or assist each other.  Player-centricity versus world-centricity, Player wins again.

Repetitive content

Because of Blizzard’s formerly vaunted quality control to not release an expansion before its time, daily quests and associated grinds were added to bridge the gap.  An utterly immersion breaking and transparent attempt to pander to the ADD crowd.

And why create more content when you could just repurpose existing content?  Heroic dungeons were added.  What was the story or setting-based set up for these again? Oh yeah, none.

Death of Travel

Flying mounts and the demise of travel.  Worldliness is defined by the perceived size of the world.  Whether that is by some peculiar scaled physical metric (feet, miles, meters, km) or by the amount of time that it took to cross a particular zone, etc. each of those experiences created a sense of space and dimension and with that investment of time into travel, a sense of rarity, danger and a heightened risk of loss was created.

EQ did this is spades.  I remember being utterly terrified doing the run from Ak’Anon to Qeynos as a low level character in 2000.  It was terrifying and wonderful.

Risking the time invested and fighting to make progress to discover that next flight path was a great part of exploration.  As annoying as it could be on those AFK flights across Kalimdor after taking the boat from Menethil after taking the bird from Ironforge, and then running across Tanaris to get to Un’Goro, you had a very real sense that the world was a very big and very dangerous place.

And in those very big, very dangerous and remote places are often wonderful things.

Difficulty

Finally, getting through the world was not a gimme as it is now.  The world was a dangerous place and you needed to be thoughtful about where you went, the path you took to get there and how to engage mobs.  You could die, and often did.  Sometimes in very bad places which was a good thing.

Those dire circumstances created opportunities for both good and bad behavior.  One could assist someone in need or ninja their miniboss.  At least there was the opportunity for emergent interaction.

With the world no longer being a “place” and the challenge dumbed down and generally meaningless, players not can’t get through if fast enough.

Final Thoughts

Alright, enough rambling down the rough road of nostalgia.  For all that it does right, poor Rift doesn’t quite have that same sense of place that old Azeroth did, but its certainly much closer than post-Cataclysm WoW.  But frankly there really isn’t anything out there now or on the horizon that looks promising.

I truly enjoyed my time on the EQ timelocked progression server, Fippy Darkpaw, at least before SOE went down.  I even enjoy the F2P version as well and a big reason for that is the sense of place that old Norrath has accompanied by its dangers and rewards.

I see Syp has a post up about emulators keeping the flame alive and I briefly ducked into the Emerald Dream vanilla WoW private server.  As its a bit dubious, I couldn’t get completely comfortable with the whole private server thing, but if Blizzard offered one, I would pay them for it.

Until then, I guess I’m waiting for the next world to be borne.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Everquest, Rift, World of Warcraft

 

Electoral Nostalgia Redux

Put all beverages down and move them away from your monitor.

Enjoy (in its entirety, or most relevantly, from 6:20 onward for the setup, or jump to the money shot at 7:22).

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2012 in World of Warcraft

 

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Time is Money

Tobold asks the question when will WoW go free to play and how that might be implemented. Blizzard has certainly learned the lesson all good gym owners know– the neglected subscription is the ticket to success. Who among us hasn’t joined a gym or health club with a monthly fee and ahem how shall we say… neglected to make full use of it?

I have no idea what the average is, but it must be a significant percentage of members continue to pay but, even with the best of intentions, stop going to the gym regularly or at all. Call it guilt, call it taking a wee break, call it preserving your access should you want to play, it’s still recurring income.

Blizz may get there, but I don’t think they’ve lost enough people to justify going F2P yet.

For other games that, in Tobold’s words, don’t justify a subscription when compared to many players’ level of interest or commitment, F2P is just the ticket. DDO, LotRO and now STO are three that have come back on my radar specifically because they went free to play. Being able to match my spend with my level of enthusiasm and or time commitment is a boon to me.

Even with a traditional sub though, in theory I could maximize my return on the sub by consuming as much content as my time budget would permit. If I were only interested in the leveling game in SWTOR, and played obsessively since launch, I might have consumed all the storylines for all the classes/factions by now. I could see SWTOR going free to play at some point following the path others have taken– pay for fluff, utility items, progress enhances and or access to content areas/modules for progression.

Eve however remains the anomaly. One can legally buy characters, and effectively in game currency as well, but one cannot buy progression. Eve progression is skill based and skill training is time based. The only way to continue to progress is to continue to subscribe.

So why doesn’t Eve just sell time?

If I really want to spend the next year working through a skill training plan (not an unheard of amount of time) why not let me buy the time now, apply it to those skills I want to train and be done with it? If I’m going to spend $180 to learn to fly a Titan, why spend it over twelve months?

One of Eve’s major barriers for new comers is never being able to catch up skillpoint wise to friends who have played much longer. Granted that progression can go in any number of directions, but to switch from a hardcore miner industrialist to a 0.0 capital ship pilot would take a very long time.

Seems like a natural progression for Eve. Eliminate subscriptions, sell a time equivalent for skill training, or just skill points out right to be applied to skills of a players choice, make that freely tradeable like PLEX and you would have the most flexible model in the universe. Players could truly exchange time for money in whatever proportion they wish.

Earn isk by playing, purchase training and it’s truly free to play. Buy isk or training and your time budget is preserved. Of course the one element that likely prevents this from upsetting the games balance is that to survive in Eve, you still need to learn how to be a good pilot. Something that you just can’t buy.

 

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Bridging the gap

This started as a comment to Wilhelm’s post but the tale grew in the telling…

Regarding SoE’s discussion point about selling max level characters…

As someone who doesn’t raid, I suppose I don’t really care.  In my mind, its a bit like hiring someone to carry you to the top of Mt. Everest so you can take a snapshot and put it on your wall.

But still, SoE’s proposed solution raises a more interesting question which many folks have been discussing of late– how do you reconcile vertical progression with a raiding end game and permit a game to grow and thrive?  How do you bridge the gaps for new and old players and between new and old content?  Or between current content and the “end game”?

What experience seems to show is that shoehorning both games into one does a disservice to both.

An ideal solution in my mind would be something along the following lines:

  • Raiding is a separate game along the Guildwars PvP model with limited world interaction
  • Leveling unlocks the ability to roll a new character at any level up to the highest level attained
  • With the purchase of each expansion, players may roll a character at the base level of that expansion
  • Experience curves wouldn’t be compressed, previous content remains intact

Raiders would get what they want and avoid the exercise of leveling through trivial content unrelated to raiding skills.

Levelers new and old could come into a game at any point in the game they desired and be with the pack but still have the opportunity to play previous content as it was intended.

Levelers could choose to level 1 to cap or leapfrog along experiencing a new chapter of content as they saw fit much like choosing which film or book of a series to read.

Completionists can play cover to cover and replayability is preserved.

Whether “expansion” characters would be permitted to visit the old world is something I haven’t fully considered.  Locking them out of the old world isn’t very immersive, but probably strengthens the lowbie economy.  Forced down-mentoring maybe to avoid the usual problems?

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in Everquest 2, World of Warcraft

 

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The Gathering Gloom

Running around EQ2X this weekend and enjoying working on some tradeskills.  Crafting in EQ2 is one of the things EQ2 does a bit better (note I said a bit better because its far from ideal) than many MMOs.  There is a bit if a minigame to it, so perfect success is not guaranteed though there is little chance of real failure, the products are genuinely useful, there is quite a diversity of recipes across a broad range of professions, it doesn’t require the generation of many many useless/valueless items to make progress and its an entirely separate progression mechanism from the rest of the game.

Of course, all crafting requires inputs.  That means gathering.  Ugh.

No MMO seems to have done this part well.  So what has the last decade brought us on the gathering front?

Consider the Miner.

Random spawning, mailbox-sized chunks of “ore” that are curiously unevenly distributed in zones the difficulty of which correlates to their relative value.  How immersive.

I just looked over, and there it was...

How do we find this resource?  Mining radar of course.  Sort of Yukon Cornelius meets Aquaman.  And how is this oh so valuable ore actually gathered?  Take out your trusty pocket pick, give the ore pinata a few whacks and voila.  Paydirt.

Not exactly the picture of mining that I had in mind.  Why did they bother with Moria or Thorin’s Halls when the dwarves could have just skipped through the fields tapping rocks as they went?

Sure some games try to jazz up the immersion by actually having the nodes spawn in or near hills.  Others just don’t bother.  How the farmers in Kingsfell manage to plow their fields with all that rich iron popping up in their fields is beyond me.

I guess the Kings fell because they tripped over giant mining nodes...

Eve got it partially right.  Mining in Eve is a full-blown progression game in its own right and encourages group play.  Yes, its a bit boring with the waiting factor, but to me that is a question of how much, not whether it takes time.

Mining in Eve requires the development of various skills that increase proficiency (speed, mining yield, refining efficiency, etc.) as well as collaborative supporting activities (hauling, group management, even defense).

So why hasn’t any fantasy MMO bothered with truly fleshing out the gathering professions properly?  I for one would love to have to go prospecting for ore deposits and constructing a mining operation out in the wilds, alone or with others.  Then figure out how to haul it all back to town all the while defending your operation from marauding mobs.

A noob miner would have little but his pick, pan, a trusty pack mule and a bit of luck.  A journeyman could construct a proper mine that would yield more, a guild could construct and man a large mine, etc.  Like scouting asteroid belts in Eve, prospecting for a good site with lots of the desired ore (to justify construction of a mine, etc.) would be half the battle.  Imagine if prospecting was a bit like WoW’s archaeology?

Of course, one aspect that is key to the viability of Eve’s mining progression is the economy.  Even the lowliest of the low minerals (Tritanium) which comes from the most abundant asteroid in the game (Veldspar) is used in nearly everything constructed in the game.

Copper doesn’t cease being useful just because I can wear or wield iron or steel or mithril items.

The same paradigm can be applied to any of the other gathering professions as well:  hunting/trapping for hides and leather; farming for food and fiber (thank you LotRO, sort of); lumber mills (with depleting forests) for wood.

Did no one at Blizzard remember the resource gathering part of Warcraft when they designed WoW?

Was an entire civilization built solely on the basis of logs of weathered driftwood that washed up on a beach or random yew branches that the wind knocked down?  Did no one think to swing one of those enormous battle axes at an actual tree from time to time?

Even fishing never progresses beyond a string on a stick… No fish traps? No one invented the throw net let alone a fishing boat?

A beautiful thing, yes. But how about a net?

Of course, a key component to making a system like this work is dangerous transport.  Without some risk, there would be little excitement to the process and less value in the product.  Lets add some transportation for the poor gatherers.  Start with a big backpack, claw your way up to a donkey, add a cart, maybe an ox team and wagon…

And of course, a nice big slow transport full of valuable goods invites bandits…

Seriously, I’d do this all day.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on April 24, 2011 in Eve Online, Everquest 2, LotRO, World of Warcraft

 

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The Fun Quotient

Tobold’s post quite nicely explained why our little group is looking outside of WoW for group fun.  Frankly, there is nothing in the world that is particularly fun for a group to do.  Even if the mobs weren’t trivial, XP is diluted in a group (versus bolstered in other games) and if you want to enjoy the actual quest content, you can’t increase your level of challenge by playing in red zones since you can’t get the quests!

Several of the commenters somewhat snarkily chided that somehow that viewpoint is tainted if one of your reasons for saying WoW no longer lets people play together is “lower efficiency.”  What is lost in the discussion is what efficiency really means.

On its face, most people assume that “efficiency” means simply the shortest path (time-wise) to the level cap.  Personally, I think that’s too narrow.  In my mind, that’s only looking at one narrow aspect of the entire picture.

A better measure is the amount of reward you receive from participating in group activity– whether that is gold, xp, loot or unquantifiable fun– in a given play session.  The unstated denominator in all of these things is time.  The fun quotient.

When you add time or proportionately reduce your numerator, the fun quotient decreases and the overall entertainment experience is diminished.  Its in that sense that it becomes “inefficient.”  Its suboptimal entertainment measured against the potential you know is there.  Its worse in a game where alt-itis is rampant since its likely that you may have experienced the content more than one time on different characters.

Its gets more complicated when you start adding in the impact of “group generated” rewards– the fun stuff that people bring to the mix extrinsic to the game itself– conversation, jokes, humorous mistakes and yes, the sense of a shared experience that is unique to that group. Even if its a well known encounter or challenge, your group attempt(s), successful or otherwise, are still unique.  These group benefits (and detriments) can add to and substract from the numerator in the fun quotient.

How we perceive the value of rewards is measured against what we had to invest to get them– time, mostly.  Even the other things we “invest” in them are still just proxies for time (even consumable items from a cash shop, the cash is still a proxy for RL time).  In our MMOs the progression element (whether level, gear or otherwise) is almost universally the main reason we play.

We ding therefore we are.  Anything that slows down the ding (in the broadest sense) without adding something else to the mix (recognizing that is entirely subjective) frankly makes the process less fun than it could be alone and hence less efficient from a “fun” perspective.  A lower fun quotient than soloing.

WoW grouping for open world content suffers from all of these ills.  XP is diluted, so time to ding is extended.  The challenge of fights is completely trivialized since there really is no open world group content.  Collection quests in a group multiply the time it takes to complete them.  Finally, mobs may be killed so quickly that a group experiences increased downtime waiting for them to respawn and all of these aspects feedback on themselves as well further exacerbating the problem.

At some point, the additional time to gain meaningful progression or the diminution of the challenge in gameplay simply becomes much less fun per session in a group.  Lower efficiency in the broadest sense, means less fun.  Azeroth in a group just isn’t that much any more.

At this point in WoW’s evolution, I often wonder why it isn’t a local client or individually instanced world with a global chat server and matchmaking lobby much more like Guildwars or DDO.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on April 23, 2011 in World of Warcraft

 

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Interesting choices

A theme has been circulating around the blogosphere of late, several posts for which its too late and I’m too lazy to link back to (apologies), that have been commenting on aspects of gameplay that can be loosely categorized as requiring (or at least permitting) the player to make “interesting choices”.  I’ve been somewhat busy and remiss in commenting on them, but ultimately think they are on to something…

In some games like Rift with its multivariate soul system, that means that players get to make interesting choices about character development and differentiation.  Likewise those choices in theory permit a player to choose how to configure one’s character for a given play scenario– instanced dungeon, rifting, solo pve, solo pvp, etc.

Gordon at We Fly Spitfires and Wil at The Ancient Gaming Noob both touched on a few aspects of class design that highlighted another aspect of player choice or the (merits of the) limits thereof.  Likewise, Keen had a few good thoughts on old EQ which resonated.

My own recent experiences on the progression server in EQ which were initially borne of nostalgia and perhaps a bit of a masochistic streak have been validated well beyond the mere “lets go see how bad it was and we can blog about it” angle.

I’m having a good time on Fippy Darkpaw.  Its not easy.  There is no definitive path.  Death is my copilot.  Travel can take both time and luck…  My druid may know two dozen spells, some of dubious value, but can only equip eight at a time.  Choices.  I can’t cast them all, only the ones I’ve memorized.  A load out.

Once out of the pure noob zone, our progression has been fueled by a desire to “see the world”.  There is no definitive path.  We’ve zigged and zagged across Antonica and now to Faydwer to serve a our own goal or to build our own story.  Not a narrative that came out of a team meeting and was preordained by the only progression mechanic permitted but rather one of our own making.

There’s an interesting tension in reading about the seemingly extreme flexibility of Rift’s design paradigm and the rather rigid structure of old EQ, however both are based on creative player choice.  I wonder what problem they are truly trying to solve.

In the case of Rift, players have what appear to be myriad choices and are thus capable of adapting their characters to emergent gameplay situations.  In old EQ, its more like chess.  Or even Rock, Paper, Scissors.  Each piece(class) has certain attributes and to be effective, a player has to learn, analyze and make creative choices to be effective.  In essence, rigidity creates unique opportunity for making interesting choices and emergent gameplay.  Players are forced to solve problems with the tools they are given.  This is a good thing.

Encounters aren’t so finely tuned that there is, in essence, only one solution of player classes and actions that permits success, but rather, the opposite– multivariate solutions permit success and thus create a dynamic choice environment for players.  Iteration and innovation in situational tactics permit success on many levels.

That sounds like a bit of a high falutin’ way to describe that I tend to enjoy games that emphasize creative problem solving (given a relatively limited set of resources) more than those that restrict the “solution set” and rely merely on execution– Dance Dance Revolution writ large.  One successful strategy, one optimum group composition, etc.

More problematic, IMHO, is the fact that mainstream games like WoW have trivialized the leveling game completely removing any meaningful player choice.  Likewise, raiding (I’m not a raider) and for that matter current instanced dungeon content, only requires execution rather than tactics and strategy.  Regardless of your class choice, the optimal solution requires X effective dps, Y effective hp of the tank, and Y effective mana of the healer.

I’m probably in the minority, but I’m certainly more interested in the journey rather than the destination.  Currently, I’m enjoying the journey involved in a twelve year old game over everything offered in the current crop of MMOs.  It will be interesting to see whether the convergent trend to in essence no free will or player choice trump more open systems in the next few major releases.

I suspect I’ll be playing GW2 more than SW:TOR.

 

 
3 Comments

Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Everquest, Rift, World of Warcraft

 
 
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