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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.