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Posts Tagged ‘altitis’

One curious component of my alt puzzle is the naming game.  I like to find names that are totally unique, with bonuses if they have meaning like “Sendoku“, a portmanteau of Sendo (death/crisis in battle) and Doku (poison) that I used for a Death Knight.  It was unique at the time, but has since been adopted by a pair of Trolls.  Still, for a while, it was mine and mine alone, at least as far as the WoW Armory reported.  (I wish there were such a tool for other MMOs, if only a repository of names, so I could see what has been used without firing up the client and getting a lot of “this is taken” messages.)

I’m not a heavy role player, but I like to at least have my handle in-game be something unique and interesting.  Bonus points if there’s a literary or artistic allusion or race/class connection.  Portmanteaus are especially fun, as a lot of high fantasy already dabbles in that arena with names like “Darkshore” and “Mindblight”.  Smoosh two words together and you might just come up with something good, especially if there is overlap like there is in “Sendoku”, with the “do” as part of both words.  It might be silly like “Toothchipper” or descriptive like “Shellspike”, but it’s still likely to be better than “Pwnzyu”.  “Khopeshi” hints at Egyptian warfare, and “Gruntle” just has a great feel to it, as if the character is never disgruntled.

Tools like this online translation dictionary can be helpful in deriving meaning from words used in names.  I worked backward for Sendoku that way; I dropped “death” and “disease” then “poison” into the Japanese/English translator, and looked for words that could interweave.  I lean to Japanese because I’ve loved Origami and other Japanese art for a long time, but you could almost certainly get some great stuff out of other languages.  Of course, I want to avoid  naming violations and offensive names, too, so scanning ahead can be nice there as well, as well as understanding the random-looking string of characters that actually mean something.  Accidentally including a curse word or crude term from another language can be troublesome.  (To be fair, that wasn’t Larisa’s guildie’s only problem, but it was a trigger for trouble.)

“Ouroborough” has literary allusions in Ouroboros and “borough”, with a curious mixed meaning of a town eating itself.  Death Knight, Shadow Priest or Warlock?  “Eurydiced” is part Eurydice, part “diced”… Greek tragedies could get pretty bleak and messy.  Rogue, maybe?  “Portlying” suggests a fat, sedate sort of character (or maybe a fat untrustworthy one) … Dwarven Protection Paladin, maybe (or Dwarven Rogue)?  Flicktwist and Knicktwist would make a great pair of Gnomes… a Mage and Rogue, maybe?  Bilgork and Bolgork sound like a pair of Orcish Warriors to me.  Gurubashed fits nicely with a stoner Troll Shaman.  Malinvest might be a fantastic Goblin name.

I was surprised to see three “Ashriver” characters… I thought that one would be unique.  It’s an intriguing portmanteau of “ash” and “river” with a curious effect of also having “shriver” in it.  It’s almost begging for some sort of fantasy treatment in a larger story, a bleak river, always filled with ash, that a local village throws its dead into as they clean up after a local volcanic disaster, perhaps.  “Charwater” is unique.  So is “Orcrunt” oddly enough.  “Dystope” is unique, and so is “Pointybit” (though we’re apparently not supposed to use phrases, for better or worse).

Not all of these will fit for roleplayers, to be sure, and some border on silly, but I’ll take them any day over “Cowzrool” or “Urmom”.

My current favorite though?

Aichiichisan

It’s a mouthful, but it’s effectively A113, and I can’t help but smile at that.  That it seems almost like a Japanese familiar diminutive nickname makes me smile.

So… is it just me that does this, prowling the Armory for unique and interesting names?  Do names mean anything, or are they just utility handles like “Il” for a Gnome Rogue to hide in the bushes with?  They are one of the few things in these games that we have a high degree of control over.  How do we exercise that control and why?

It’s noted in some fiction (and historical tradition) that naming something gives you power over it, or knowing the True name of something gives you power.  It seems to me that names can be powerful things… and I want to get them right and have some fun with them.

*I wrote this almost a month ago, and since then Larisa, Rohan and Faeldray wrote about naming too.  I’m sure there are other good articles out there as well.  I know Mama Druid had several, but sadly, her blog was deleted.  Names are important to a lot of people, rightly so, I think.  It’s your “best foot forward” as it were in the digital space.*

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I want to see the Cataclysm.

Yes, it’s WoW, not my favorite game, and I still detest the sub model… but I want to see what an old game world does to revitalize itself, especially since I called for a revitalization of the “old world” way back before it was announced.  I want to see whether it works out or not, especially since CAT has the potential to splinter the playerbase in new and interesting ways.  TBC and Wrath split people off into the expansions, but CAT is touching nearly everything, so I’m curious to see what it winds up doing.

Note that I’m not saying “I want to jump on the WoW bandwagon” so much as “I want to understand CAT’s ramifications and take a look around at the shiny new world”.  Because, well… those guys really do make pretty worlds.

At any rate, I find myself approaching that exploration in a way eerily similar to the way I approached BattleTech ages ago.  Y’see, back then, I read up on ‘Mech specs and all sorts of tech, then built myself the perfect ‘Mech that would allow me to tinker with as much of the game as possible.  Yes, it was a Mad Cat.  Imagine that.  I also dabbled a bit with Lance design (five-unit battle squad) so I could play around with different combat roles and see what the different weight classes had to offer in a group setting.  (Mad Cat, Firemoth, Vulture and Raven looking for Kodiak, PST…)  It was my ideal BattleTech party, an A-Team of hardened mercenaries, geared to handle any mission.  Of course, this was all on paper, since I didn’t have anyone to play with.  I was just digging into the game mechanics and exploring possibilities in my mind.  And, y’know… I liked it.

So now I find myself in a curious position of trying the same thing with WoW characters.  I’m pontificating the best race/class matrix to see as much of the game as I can.  I already have the Tauren Druid covered with Padgi (my only highish level character at 52), but who to pick for the Priest?  Who should be the Shaman?  Do I care about role-playing potential or my traditional counterculture trend of choosing the underrepresented combos?  (Dwarven Rogue?  Whee!)  How many cool sounding unique names can I come up with?  How can I see as many starting areas as possible, and tinker with as many class mechanics as possible in the one month I’ve allotted myself to play?  (And yes, it would be awesome if I could run with a self-driven posse like I can in GW, just me and my Heroes, er, Alts, under script control, prowling the world with me, myself and I.)  How can I distribute professions to make my little team as self-sufficient as possible?  How will I ever survive without Heirloom gear?  (Gasp!)

Of course it’s dorky to plan ahead that way, but when I’m not free to just go tinker in the game (thanks to the subscription model… *spit*), I tinker with possibilities beforehand so I can hit the ground running.  I’m even considering that WoWPro leveling addon (tut, tut) to maximize my ability to go places, since darn near everything is level-gated to one degree or another.  (Now, if I could have a flying mount at level 1, that would solve a LOT of problems.)

And then I stop and wonder… wait, whut?  Why?

Why should I overplot my potential experience and potentially even follow a glowing yellow arrow once I actually am playing?  I love to go off the rails, and I believe that offers the best game experience.  Sure, I’m plotting all this to facilitate exploring, but it’s like a vacation that is planned to the minute.  There’s no room for spontaneity, for discovery off the beaten track.  I always hated those sort of vacations as a kid.  If I wanted a schedule, I’d go back to school, thanks.

Answering myself, I came up with the following:  “Self, you’re plotting and planning, exploring the potential because that’s all you can do at present.  Your’e deriving fun from one of the only exploration avenues open to you without actually playing the game. You’re also trying to maximize the value you’ll get out of the limited time you know you’ll have.”

That Self, he’s a pretty hard-headed guy, but even he saw the wisdom in that supposition.  He admitted to spending more time exploring the WoW wiki than actually playing the game over the last five years.  He admitted to spending time trying to help BBB plan his latest Raid event and doing promo art for it, even though he’s not likely to actually be in-game for the thing (again, sub model *spit*… let me pony up $2 or something for the single day event and I’d do it, and maybe sneak in a bit of Gnome and Troll events).  He admitted to spending more time than is probably warranted thinking about WoW’s game design and how to make it better.

And then he reminded me that:  “If the flibberdygibbit thing didn’t have a blubberblinkin’ subscription, I’d already be playing and experimenting in-game, and this would all be academic.”

At that point, sensing something of a mildly hostile stalemate, my real life alt stepped in to remind us all that there are other games to play that don’t have subs (holding Wizard 101 up as a fine example, quietly shuffling that game’s alts to the side), and other things that really should be done before any sort of gaming in the first place.  Everyone grumbled a bit, but ultimately agreed.

And so, my alt puzzle settled… for now… I’m painting illustrations for a children’s book my mother wrote.  I’m as yet undecided whether it’s a good thing I’m using the computer to paint since it keeps the thing busy and therefore not-gaming, or whether it’s a bad thing to be using the computer since games are only an Alt-Tab away, and Recettear is on my thumb drive…

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I occasionally cater to a substrain of Altitis that I’m calling Altitis Contentis.  It’s a mutation of the standard Altitis disease, distinct for its underlying drive to explore content in a game.  That desire to explore, both game content and game mechanics, drives creation of alts, especially in MMO games with classes, races, and/or story branching points that necessitate more than one character to see everything.

It’s a fairly common malady among those who find themselves in professional positions in the game industry, considering that it’s occasionally difficult to approach games without reflexively analyzing them.  It’s a bit like being a scientist or special effects guy watching movies; it’s hard to step back and turn the brain off when you’re professionally supposed to be able to do these things, and advance the state of the art or risk falling behind.  I speak from experience there, too.  Writers have similar troubles reading others’ work, especially if they have the proofreading gene.  Generic Fantasy Novel #435 just doesn’t read as well when you can see rigid and unimaginative slavish adherence to the Five Act Drama construction, and see little more than stereotypical characters.

My latest bout with AC was a brief research trip into World of Warcraft, as I alluded to a bit ago.  I fired up the trial again, and wandered around a bit as a fresh Night Elf Druid, then a good friend showed me the Draenei starting zone as a Draenei Shaman, then I took a whirlwind tour of some of the Death Knight introduction areas.  That’s where I employed my super special character name:  Sendoku.  It’s a portmanteau of the Japanese words for “death” (or “crisis in battle”), “sendo“, and “poison”, “doku“.  It’s completely unique, or so the Armory would have me believe.  Perhaps it’s common on the Asian servers, but I was happy enough finding something thematic and interesting for an Unholy specced Death Knight.

Names matter.

Anyway, the first time I played WoW, it was back in early 2006, when you needed a friend code to try the game.  A good friend at work noted my interest in the game, and let me have a shot at it.  I fired up a Tauren Shaman, and took several dozen screenshots.  I liked what I saw, but with a tight monetary and time budget, I knew I’d not be buying in.  Still, it was fun to play, and Thunder Bluff is still my favorite capital city in any of the MMOs that I’ve played.

I’ve played a few times since, and done a bit of research since.  I discovered that the Tauren homelands are among the most spread out in the game (so what seemed like a very slow game to me the first time around actually was pretty slow), and that Shamans are pretty underrepresented and somewhat underpowered.  (I still like them, though.)  I learned that the Skinning/Leatherworking pairing that I used was a pretty good one for Shamans, though I picked it as much for flavor as for function.  I learned that I’d rather play a Druid, to make the most of my time, since it could play in any of the four standard roles (tank, healer, ranged DPS, melee DPS).  I learned what those roles are, and how the Threat system works.  I learned that the game that I was playing was even then outdated, and that “the real game” is raiding.

I’ve also played other MMOs, notably Puzzle Pirates, Guild Wars and Wizard 101.  Brief dalliances with the trial or beta versions of a smattering of other games punctuated my research.  Puzzle Pirates is an obvious outlier in the mainstream MMO world, and Guild Wars is often denigrated as being something less than a true MMO.  Since we’re playing these things to preen and seek approval of our peers, of course we shouldn’t be playing anything less than a true MMO.  In fact, if you’re not playing Darkfall, you should just sell your computer and go cry to sleep on your Carebear pillow.

Through it all, I’ve looked to WoW as one barometer.  It’s not the epitome of what I’d consider good design, but it’s certainly successful enough to merit attention, and big enough to warp the industry and spawn a mess of “me too” MMOs.  I’d be remiss in my research to ignore it.

This latest trip into the wilds showed me a few things that I’ve not experienced before.  Some of this is probably old hat to you veterans out there, so forgive me if you don’t see anything new or insightful.  It was a good trip for me, at least.

One, patch day is… frustrating.  The time I had allotted to play the game was almost halfway consumed by patching the thing.  Oh, the Trial version of the game worked beautifully, what with the “streaming in the background” bit, but to play the big, official game required a complete patch before even firing it up.  I’m glad that games like Free Realms and Wizard 101 have adopted the “download in the background while you actually play the game” mentality.  I can see where WoW vets might not mind taking two days to patch the game, since they are already hooked and invested, but it’s a bit annoying in a market that is increasingly nimble.

The bloated 15.1 GB footprint that the game takes might have something to do with that.  I’m definitely leery of SWTOR, touting the notion of being “fully voiced”.  That’s a LOT of data.  Sure, “hard drives are cheap” for some, but that’s still a considerable chunk of data, and running on a less than optimal internet connection is painful, even if the game itself can be tweaked to functionality at playtime.  Guild Wars (with all expansions) weighs in at 4.32 GB, and still manages to look impressive, even better than WoW in places.  I’m not really calling foul on this one, since WoW does pack a lot of content… but that’s still a huge chunk of my hard drive.  Perhaps it’s one more piece of the puzzle that is the monopolization of the gamer’s resources; time, money and hard drive (and maybe even bandwidth, if you’re capped).

Two, the newer zones are plotted better.  The Draenei staring area is especially good with this, as most of the important quest landmarks have these huge purple/pink crystals that stand out from the rest of the deeper blue terrain.  The quest hub is up on a hill with the wreckage of a spaceship, fitted with plenty more of those eye-grabbing crystals.  Kaplan might whine about the “Christmas Tree” quest hub, but when I’m getting my legs in a new 3D space, I like having clear landmarks and one central place to use as my base of operations.  I can still wander around and sniff the mutant roses, but if I want to get back in the business of progressing the storyline, it’s very clear where to go.  (Guild Wars is the clear winner in this category, with clear indicators on the map of where you’re headed, but at least WoW is getting better.)

The Death Knight starting area is a nice open zone, with the Eeeevil Death Camp clearly up on the hill, and the people to terrorize conveniently in the valley below.  It’s simple and subtle; high ground is friendly, low ground is where the fighting takes place.  You’re given a mystical tour of the local town via the “floating eye” quest, which familiarizes you with the buildings you will be tasked with raiding in the near future, all from the relatively safe perch of a disembodied eye.  It’s very forgiving, and very clear.

Oh, and as a bonus, dying just calls over a Valkyrie-like wraith that resurrects you where you stand, full of health and ready to roll.  That’s a friendly noob experience.  (That’s somewhat wasted on a prestige class, rather than real noobs, but I digress.)  You may be Death’s right hand man, but you’re not living the school of hard knocks.  No, that’s for those poor saps leveling baby Taurens.

Three, it’s easier to get around.  I incidentally noticed that the Hearthstone cooldown has been chopped from an hour to half an hour.  This is significant to my time-constrained play, and I’m greatly in favor of other speedenhancing efforts that Blizzard has rolled out (or will roll out).  I don’t like forced time sinks, and travel is one of them.  (Again, Guild Wars wins out there, but at least WoW is making baby steps in that direction.)  As always, those who want to take their time can still walk, but if you just want to get somewhere and get on with the business of playing, it’s easier than ever.

Yes, that may seem a little odd to hear from one such as I, a confirmed Explorer, but again, it’s about options.  Sometimes I really do want to just walk around, but when I want to just press on and get things done, I can.  I appreciate that. 

*edited to add:  And in a game that throttles Exploration by fairly strict level requirements, like WoW, sometimes I must Achieve in order to Explore, so it’s nice to get it out of the way as quickly as I can if I’m so inclined.  It’s trivially easy to take more time on something; dragging your feet is a national pasttime.  Being forced to take the long way around is more than annoying when there are better options.*

Four, critters in the wild now have more information in their “rollover” info box.  As long as I can remember, you could put your mouse cursor over a critter and get some rudimentary information about it, but now, if you highlight a critter that happens to be a part of a quest you have active, you get a handy tooltip telling you which quests it is relevant to.  Very nice.

Some might call this silly, and from a purist standpoint, it probably is.  Still, I like it because it makes the game more fun to play (since I know that I’m going in the right direction), and really, you could handwave it aside and say that your avatar should know these things, and that the tooltips are just your avatar’s subsconscious telling you what’s going on.

Anyway, there’s a common theme to all of this.  The game interaction is easier, faster, kinder.  It’s often argued that this means the game is being “dumbed down”, and there’s something to that… but it’s likely just sour grapes.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s not dumber, it’s smarter.  The interface gets in the way of playing sometimes (just ask any raider who uses addons to even play the raiding game), and these streamlining efforts from Blizzard, all the way from the tooltips to the clean layouts of the zones, are about making it possible to play the game, rather than flail about fighting the interface or get your bearings in a 3D space.

Peripheral vision, sound, smell and other subtle “world space” cues that we don’t get from the standard “mouse and a monitor” interface often mean that we need other “senses” to get around in the worlds we play in.  That’s where the “ESP” of the tooltips and map “tracking” tools come in.  That’s where sparklies on plants come in.  That’s why people use addons, or harmless hacks to pull the camera back farther than the default UI will let you.  It’s all about giving you the information you need to play the thing, rather than fighting the UI to get that information, or Alt-Tabbing out to Thottbot or the like.

Bottom line, I’ve found that playing WoW is easier than ever, and that Blizzard is at least making token efforts to reduce the rightfully-hated grind.  There’s still not a lot of gameplay that goes beyond the basic DNA of the DIKU roots, but it just feels easier to actually get in and start playing what is there these days.  The clearer physical layout of the newer zones aids comprehension and spatial orientation, and there’s less time futzing around hoping that you’re in the right place.  There’s less wasted time, and I appreciate that, as a time-conscious consumer.

I’ll stress this, though, for those who want to walk uphill to the questgiver twenty miles barefoot in the snow:   You can always make things harder on yourself and go ahead and wait until level 40 for your mount, only use your Hearthstone every hour, or ignore your tooltips and map if you really want the “classic purist” WoW.  There’s always that option*edited to add:  (Or, as Larisa notes over here, turn off your addons.  Now that’s scary to some people, even to those who whine about how easy the game has become.)* Now, however, there are more options for those of us with shorter playing sessions (one big plus of the Hearthstone) and less time to waste.

WoW still isn’t a perfect game, but at this point, I’m happy seeing it making at least some small strides in the direction of playability.  I’m still not paying a sub to play it, but I do think that the game is better than it was, and that changes in the docket at the moment are good changes.  As a player, I appreciate the changes, and though they aren’t enough to suck me in, I look at them as a designer and as a player and nod in appreciation.

*I’ll be exploring the Death Knight a bit more later, as I’ve got some comments that I want to make about them.  For now, this is already overlong, so please be patient and come back if you care about what I might have to say about those nasty tricksy kniggets.*

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Raph Koster has responded to the recent Wikipedia whirlwind by taking a moment to write up a history and definition of the DIKU MUD.  This is a valuable resource that I have bookmarked and will probably be referring to again in the future.  Modern MMOs have much to thank DIKU MUDs for, for better or worse.  They are apparently the root of the class structure and level/loot treadmill, among other things.

If you’ve been reading my other articles, you might know that I’m actually not all that impressed with that lineage.  One of the “diseases” that the DIKU genetic strain is susceptible to is altitis.  Technically, it’s a mild form of imaginative metagaming schizophrenia, often seen in RPG players as well.  It is harmless in most cases, but a notorious time sink.

One potential “cure” for altitis in MMO design is Alternate Progression.  Research on this is still in the early stages, and the market is glacially slow in acceptance.  Still, with a modest grant of 50 million dollars (pocket change for the TARP, and the aging MMO genre certainly qualifies for monetary relief), I’m sure I could come up with some effective treatments.  (This, of course, is assuming that players want such solutions.  There’s nothing really wrong with altitis, but I see it as a symptom of one school of game design.) (more…)

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Tired of grinding through the early WoW game? Combine the Refer-a-Friend XP boost with these items,

Exquisite Sunderseer Mantle

Exceptional Stormshroud Shoulders

and you can ignore the WoW Old World quicker than ever before!

(more…)

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