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Posts Tagged ‘explorer’

Winging It

I’ve noted before that I love flying in World of Warcraft.  So much so that threats to flight bother me more than the bugaboo of the week, the apparently shark-allied Pandaran pandas.

Just to make my quirky heavy Explorer position a bit clearer, it’s instructive to look at how I’ve spent my time since acquiring Cold Weather Flight, which allowed my Tauren Druid to fly pretty much anywhere in the overworld.

95% of my play time since then has been in the air.

I take a lot of screenshots.  Let’s call it an occupational hazard, working on art in the game industry as I do.  I like to see what’s out there.  I think I have about 8,000 screenshots of WoW over about 1 year of play total (spread out over almost 5 years).

Then again, I also take a lot of photos in the real world.  My children call them “daddy dork” photos, where I take shots purely for texture or lighting reference.  I’ve taken about 400 real world photos this month (I love digital cameras), and half of them have been “daddy dork” photos.  Someday I’ll collect them all and offer them on CD or something like Mayang does.

I’ve not played much since I ran out of game time in March (F2P/Starter Thumpin experiment aside, of course), but recently, Blizzard offered me 14 free days to come look around.  They really wanted me to look at the new Firelands content.

So naturally, I tried to get the best screenshots of Gilneas that I could.

Y’see, I ran into this excellent “Gilneas Time Capsule” article a while back, and I wanted to get some shots of the place with a character who can fly.  Worgen can get the best shots of Duskhaven (since it is destroyed as you progress through the area, and Horde characters never see it intact), but not from the air.  I love to get aerial shots to really get a sense of the scope of the cities and world features of the game.  There are also some things and views that you’ll just never get from the ground.

I’m taking advantage of some quirks of the phasing system in WoW.  There’s this dramatic story of the Forsaken invasion of Gilneas that drives low level Forsaken and Worgen questing, but it’s told in phases with the world changing here and there as you progress.  If you ignore the Forsaken Front quests, and just fly into the city itself, the city is completely empty (and so is pretty much anything past the Greymane Wall).  It’s pretty much a ghost town, so you can get great shots of the terrain and town.  Oddly enough, you can even fly into Greymane Manor and take some high angle shots of the interior.

So I’ve been exploring Gilneas.  I’m still deciding where else I want to get shots of while I still have access.  There’s a world out there, I want to see it.

…and yes, I’d totally do the same thing in real life if I could fly (OK, and if I had the time).  I’d take a camera and fill up a few memory cards every few days.

Anyway, here are some of my Gilneas shots, and a couple of real world photos, just for fun.  This is a great time of year for tree photos.

Gilneas Greymane Mansion

Gilneas City

Gilneas Sub

Gilneas Sub Interior

Greymane Mansion Interior

Gilneas Meeting Tree

Fall Colors

Tree Variety

Leaf Spectrum

Provo Canyon

Multigrain on the Cob

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Since the Shattering, the Lollipop Guild has been busy.  They have apparently meandered all over Azeroth building a Yellow Brick Road, a Golden Path Theme Park for Idiots, turning World of Warcraft into a game only brain dead vegetables can love.

Or, so some might have me believe.

OK, OK, that’s a bit of hyperbole.  There are reasonable concerns about pacing in the game, especially dungeon XP gain rate as Klepsacovic noted, which Blizzard fixed.  Pete of Dragonchasers also notes that a player control for turning XP gain off might be nice.  I agree, though I’d also like the ability to remove XP, so I could iteratively reduce my level and keep pushing myself as I solo dungeons.  Well, that, or have nice, tight difficulty control sliders, or even difficulty settings like DDO has for dungeons.  (I can sort of fudge this by removing gear and taking skills of my action bar, though, so it’s not a thought I expect to be taken seriously.)

I broke down and bought TBC and Wrath while Blizzard had them on sale for $5 and $10, respectively (having purchased the original game for $5 last year).  I used a gift card I got a while ago and fired up another month in the game to look around.  I played the possibly overscripted Troll starting areas and found them to be a nice slice of mechanics that show up later in the game as well as a nice bit of Troll species storytelling.  The Gnome staring zone is pretty good, and I love that they are fighting for their home instead of waiting for players to run the Gnomeregan instance.  The Tauren starting zone is great, imparting a sense of impending twilight for the species.  Even the Dwarf starting experience is fun and fresh, though I’ve played the old version many times.

One commonality is the NPCs milling about, caught in perpetual warfare.  Yeah, they never get very far in actually defeating their foes, but at least something is going on in that vast plain by the Tauren starting village.  I wrote about the Death Knight starting areas a while back, and it seems to me that Blizzard has learned that having NPCs doing things in the world helps give it a sense of life.  In the DK areas, battles are going on in the background as you do your quests.  All new areas I’ve played to date have either battles or NPCs training for battle.  Questgivers and trainers move around a bit sometimes and interact with other NPCs.  The game feels more alive and bustling than ever before, and it does that without a player in sight.  That’s a Good Thing.

When there are players, yes, a game will feel more populated, but at the same time, players rarely feel like part of the world.  They run and jump around like caffeinated squirrels (do players ever walk?), loiter around like heroes without a cause, dress like fashion accidents, and run through each other.  And those are the tolerable ones; some are flat out annoying, spamming chat channels, dueling, monkeying around with train sets, dancing naked on mailboxes or any of a number of other random nutty non-Azerothian behavior.  In a lot of ways, player characters kill the much-vaunted “immersion” that can be produced by a cohesive presentation that we see in strongly themed and behaviorally consistent NPCs.

The starting questlines are indeed streamlined and polished to a fine golden sheen.  You’re almost never left wondering what to do, as NPCs go out of their way to advertise their inability to do simple things on their own, requiring errand boys and assassins at alarming rates.  (Though, since death is almost always only temporary in Azeroth, maybe assassination isn’t so much a nasty profession as a hobby.)  The rails in the game are indeed more finely crafted and more prominent than ever before.

And yet… there is nothing keeping players on the rails but their own habit and Pavlovian training.  I can take a new Troll and wander over to the starting Orc area to begin my journey.  I can just go grind away and kill crabs and boars, totally ignoring any quests.  I can try to swim around to Tanaris and see the new Thousand Needles water park.  As a Dwarf or Gnome, I can hike to Ironforge and catch the tram to Stormwind and hop on a ship to Northrend to look around, all at level 1 (though I might level up thanks to exploration XP… might have to try that this weekend, just for fun, and see how many levels I can accrue just by walking around to places I’m not supposed to see).  I can’t tackle enemies far beyond my abilities, so going some places will be very difficult if not impossible, but I’m otherwise free to go in nearly any direction I feel like.

A few nights ago, I took my level 16 Dwarf Hunter to Bloodmyst Isle to train a blue moth.  My daughter wanted to see one in-game, so off I went.  Not having been there before, I had to do a bit of exploring and Petopia/Wowpedia diving, but I eventually acquired a blue moth and took some screenshots of the area.  It wasn’t really a difficult journey, but it was pretty far from the Ironforged rails I was on previously.

A few levels later, the now-19 Hunter went from Ironforge to Wailing Caverns via Stormwind, Teldrassil, Darkshore, Ashenvale and the Northern Barrens (yes, the Westfall>Stranglethorn Vale>Booty Bay>Ratchet>Northern Barrens route might have been faster, but it was an experiment, and I feared STV more than Ashenvale).  Darkshore has been significantly mauled in the Shattering, and it’s a blast to just wander around in.  Ashenvale is tricky, with Horde and Alliance butting heads and dangerous wildlife to a sub-20 character.  Though as always, Hunters can take down foes a few levels higher, it’s still not safe territory.  A level 24 wolf wasn’t much trouble… but a pack of them would be death.  I had to pick fights, dodge aggro bubbles and avoid Horde patrols.

I still couldn’t make it through the Horde gates at the Barrens border, though, even with Alliance footsoldiers running interference.  The Spirit Healer in the Barrens took pity on me and pulled me through, but after accepting the resurrection penalty, the Barrens were still dangerous, especially with Horde players roaming about.  Three Hordies killed me once 40 meters or so off the road on the way to the Caverns, so I carefully skulked in the shadows and along mountain edges after that.  They probably thought I was going to assault the Crossroads, but since Alliance and Horde can only communicate in cutscenes, I couldn’t tell them my intentions were peaceful.

Getting to the instance portal was also an exercise in careful pulling.  I could handle two foes at once in the cave, but three would have been death.  Getting past the nasty pond dinosaur trap midcave was tricky, too.  Luckily, my bear was OK with playing bait, and we both got through.  We even managed to kill one of the raptors in the instance itself, a level 19 Elite, but I chickened out of trying two at a time, since it was a close fight.  (Maybe I just stink, and two would have been easy for a real player, but 1 elite dinosaur was my limit.  Well, 1.5, probably, but I figured 2 was too much, and since dinos don’t come in halves, I stopped at 1.)

Tangentially, I find it interesting that often, those who complain about wanting challenge can’t be bothered to go find it, but want it brought to them on a golden platter and forced on everyone else.  They then complain about lazy players and “easy mode” as if those nefarious casuals (spit) were the only ones with a sense of entitlement.  It’s especially funny to see the complainers using heirloom gear and whining about going too fast.

Most definitely, WoW’s public face is more “gamey” than ever before, but there’s still a world out there to explore, and it’s better than ever, especially for newbies.  It’s beautiful, with the Blizzard artists taking the Old World and stepping up the visuals to great new heights.  It’s still not as worldlike as I’d prefer, not by a long shot, but Azeroth isn’t all about hand-holding and going through the motions unless you let it be.

Boredom is a sign of low curiosity, a personal failure to engage mentally.  It’s not the world failing to entertain you, it’s you failing to investigate some of the many wonders that exist and initiate experimentation with what tools you have.  The same applies to challenge and exploration.

We’re not in Kansas any more, so take that road less traveled, or even go make your own.  There’s plenty of challenging and interesting content off the beaten track if you go looking for it.

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EDITED TO ADD:

MMO Gamer Chick has an interesting article up with some real noob experiences.  Insightful stuff.

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Pretty purple epic loot does nothing for me.

This is part of why:  Obsidian Hatchling

Note two key nuggets of information:

One, the Rarity is “Very rare”, kindly noted in pretty purple text.

Two, the cost and supply: “50gold (unlimited supply)”

To be completely fair, it is possible that something with unlimited supply could be very rare, if not many people are actually buying it.  That said, since gold is also itself unlimited (OK, throttled by time and per-character carrying capacity, but practically unlimited), there isn’t much of a limit to how many of these critters can be in the world.  I must admit, I’d love to see an Obsidian Hatchling swarm crash a server somewhere.  Yes, you can only have one per player active at a time, but the mental image of these little guys Zerging through a capital city just makes me chuckle.

Calling them “Very rare” is a bit disingenuous, and is likely more of an arbitrary selling point, rather than any reflection of accurate valuation or representation.  Perhaps it could be cynically noted that savvy customers already know this, but I can’t help but feel that something has been lost in the callous marketing.

“Rarity” in WoW is a better measure of the time investment than actual rarity.

It’s ultimately not a big deal, and I’m certainly nitpicking the nomenclature (something I’m no stranger to, considering my stringent objection to “black holes” in the most recent Star Trek movie), but it’s one measure of how sales and presentation are rather… flexible… in their interpretation of reality.  (It’s also why you need to do your homework when shopping or listening to those who are selling, and why Big Brotherish information peddlers are less than informative.)  The game goes out of its way to make everyone feel Super, which ultimately, undermines the point of being Super.  (Cue Syndrome evil laugh.)

True rarity just wouldn’t sit well with the current crop of MMO designs, for better or worse.  That’s not  “bad design”, just unappealing for some, and underwhelming for those looking for a little more meaning in their entertainment.  (Not everyone, to be sure.)  It falls into the same taboo realm as basing advancement on player skill, and really would be a niche design tenet.

To be fair, I’m not terribly concerned with true rarity, either.  If I’ve achieved something in the game, it’s a goal I’ve set for *myself*, and I don’t particularly care if it’s something that has been done before by someone else.  I don’t care for the pride and preening aspects of these things, either.  As a wise man once said:

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” (Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 109-10.)  *Cited here: “Beware of Pride”*

At any rate, this is why I have a hard time getting worked up about gear in modern MMOs, or about “Achievements” that anyone with enough time (and OCD) can do.  It’s all about time and perception, and I have neither the time nor the delusion that these “epic rares” are all that epic (in anything but the grind to get them) or all that rare, and with the “Im speshul, yur not” and “true uniqueness” aspects removed, all these things are is indicators of how much time I’ve spent.  I choose to spend my time elsewhere.  (Yes, some things are vaguely skill based, inasmuch as they require raiding skill or social (asocial?) skills to manipulate a guild to do your bidding, but by and large, time is the biggest factor by far.)

By extension, it’s also why I can’t get worked up about playing these MMO things all that much in the first place, at least not long-term.  It’s fun to see your numbers go up and watch merely mortal mobs melt under your maleficent ministrations, but when it comes to feeling special as part of the game world, well… we’re all just heroes in our own minds.  Some of us play that role better than others (maybe because we have to to enjoy ourselves in a world of clones), but in the end, what do we have to show for it?

Are you really a rarity, a sparkling snowflake in a world of me-too caped heroes?  (Sadly, my Death Knight is no longer the only Sendoku.)

Somehow, I can’t make myself any more interested in being a level 80 Druid (or whatever) any more than I want to be an 80 year old Cube Jockey dual specced into Paperwork and Maintenance.  The journey itself has its share of great moments, certainly, but the destination is rather underwhelming, including the epics you have to show for it.  Perhaps a whirlwind spin through the Cataclysm will be fun, but like any good vacation spot, it’s not somewhere I’d really want to call home, or build a self image around.

tl;dr version, I’m still an Explorer, not an Achiever.  This applies to gear and loot as well as Achievements.

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