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Posts Tagged ‘warcraft’

I mentioned World of Warcraft in passing a little while ago.  I jumped back in a little while ago after picking up the Warlords of Draenor for $7.50 around Christmas time in a sale.  I figured I’d try it out a bit and see what the fuss was about.

I paid $15 for a month, then a good friend sent me in-game gold that allowed me to purchase four more months of time via the WoW Token system.  I built up a level 100 character (a new Death Knight Worgen because I wanted to get the procession boost from the insta-90 boost that came with Warlords), built a Garrison, played around a bit… then got stuck in the endless grind that is “endgame”.

Dungeons and more dungeons, reputation grinds with everyone and their ponies.  I gave it more of a shot than I usually would because I thought I’d take a shot at “earning” the ability to fly in Draenor.  I did pick up a few new flying mounts, poking around in old raids, after all.

…yeah, it’s a dumb, very dumb, exceptionally long grind.  Gating flight behind completing the main story questlines is annoying, but acceptable to a degree.  Gating it behind a ton of grind, easily months’ worth of full-time work, that’s not cool.

Anyway, I built up a Garrison that allowed me to earn enough gold to extend my playtime another few months.  I picked up Harrison Jones as a follower and was poking around in the world, again and again, using the magnificent Aviana’s Feather to pretend I could fly.

And then, somehow, the game broke.  I literally can’t get into the game to play, always getting stuck at this screen.

WoWGarrisonStuck.png

It’s been like that for about 6 weeks.  Thankfully, I’m still on “Token Time”, which somehow lessens the sting a little, but man… I detest the subscription model.  This is time that the game isn’t working, but I’m still “paying” for it.

I might try a full reinstall, but with my internet connection, that means another week or so.

This isn’t a Big Deal.  It’s just annoying.  And a big reason why I’m playing nonsubscription games and tabletop games instead of zooming around Draenor on a flying dragon.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  I’d pay decent money for a standalone, offline single player version of WoW.  It might actually work, and I’d get to have fun with it.  In the meantime, No Man’s Sky might just take over the Explorer’s itch.  Once I get a few other things done, anyway.

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I’ve written about finishing World of Warcraft before, and I’ve written about business models more than a few times.

Alternative Chat has a good blog post up ruminating a bit on the potential that Blizzard has to take the existing World of Warcraft and blow it up, starting over with all the bits they want and jettisoning the cruft of the last decade.  They did a version of this with the Cataclysm expansion, which I’ve also written about a few times.

So, I just wanted to put my finger in the stream again and post pretty much the same thing I noted in a comment over at Alt’s place, and something I’ve written here before…

If Blizzard really wants to shake things up and leave the old WoW behind for a brave new world, they should branch the game.  Cut everything that’s presently in the game off from the dev teams (save for bug fixing), package it up as a “buy to play” subscriptionless game in the vein of Guild Wars, and bravely stride off into WoW 2.0 as their premiere flagship subscription game.

It’ll never happen, just like Vanilla servers won’t happen and Pre-Cataclysm servers won’t happen, but hey, I can dream.

Edited to add:  This amuses me.  As Jay over at The Rampant Coyote points out, “Buy Once and Play” is making a minor comeback.  As if it’s something radical.  This industry is weird.  Even Forbes just can’t resist the satire.

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So… Blizzard’s World of Warcraft is back in Draenor.  I liked the first visit, with the weirdly shattered, floating-in-space landscape, but hey, if they could Cataclysm the geewhillikers out of Azeroth (a pox on them for flooding Thousand Spires!), they can go fix Draenor with some superglue and spackle.

I have something of a love/disgruntled relationship with World of Warcraft.  There are elements of it that I don’t care for, but it’s a lovely world and I love flying around in it.  I did finally get a character to the level cap in Pandaria, and do a little shuffling around in the endgame dungeons and Timeless Isle.  Since I hit level 90, I can fly around Pandaria, too, and that meant I spent a few days’ worth of game time just flying around, taking screenshots.  I still have fun with the game, warts and all.  That last binge used up my last game credit from the now-defunct WoW Visa, though, which is unfortunate.

Lately I’ve been wondering if I can’t kill two birds with one stone, though.  Y’see, I’ve been supremely busy of late trying to find a job after circumstance effectively “retired” me from the game industry.  I’ve worked as a Technical Artist in games for almost a decade, but with a crummy economy and young, enthusiastic grads always ready to be fed to the beast, I was over the hill anyway, and fell out of the industry due to a company downsizing.

So it goes.

Anyway, wouldn’t it be grand to have a fairy godpatron step up and offer me a full time job, being a tourist and photographer in the revised Draenor?  Take screenshots, write guides, opine about… everything.  I know, I know, that’s the dream of millions of devoted Blizzard devotees, and I’m just as likely to point out problems as I am to praise the finer points.  Who would pay for that?

I’m sure I’ll play around in Draenor once the expansion goes on sale and I can free up some time and justify the cost.  (The cost isn’t just the $15, it’s the time spent since I have to get what I want to done before the timer runs out.)  I’ll take some screenshots, mess around in a few dungeons, have some fun.

In the meantime, it’s good to see people having fun in the game.  It’s not a perfect game, but it’s hanging in there, and though I don’t have a hand in its creation, it is nice to see a game appreciated by its patrons.  Sometimes the simple joy of playing is lost in the periodic waves of griping, and the early days of a WoW expansion tend to hit higher points of optimism in the expansion life cycle waveform.

So… have fun, everyone!  I’ll be along later.

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So… PAX is ruffling feathers with their “diversity” panel.  Seems like comments around the web range from outraged to offended to offensive to dismissive.  Coincidentally, a few days earlier, I made a comment on diversity in literature over at tor.com (#7) that pretty much covers what I think about diversity and how I’m fond of MLK’s dream, and ran into a person (comment #8) who espouses a position that I find… baffling.  I suppose that their position is where Affirmative Action comes from, though, and I’ve always thought that to be deeply flawed.

It seems that a lot of it comes down to what I think of as tribalism.  You know, the human reflex to want to associate with those who are like you, or who are perceived as like you, and shun those that are not.  That “other” guy isn’t part of the tribe, so he isn’t to be trusted.  It filters into everything, from politics to gaming.  World of Warcraft is one easy example to point to, with their strict divide between factions, even to the point of enforcing it on otherwise genial Pandaran characters.  It’s an easy thing to leverage in game design (and psychology); whip up some fury against the Other, and the emotional argument can stay ahead of logic and evidence.

For the Horde!  Go, go, Alliance!  …or whatever.  (And ultimate victory goes to the cabal pulling the strings or jockeying for money or power, never the people doing the fighting.)

The whole core of “diversity” as a concept enhances the subconscious categorization of tribes, since everyone gets tagged and filed away in neat little categories.  It fosters continued contention as factions jockey for position and prominence.  It has always seemed to me to be Sisyphian, or perhaps Schroedingerish, where the “cure” perpetuates and even creates the problem.

When it comes to games, though, there’s an extra wrinkle.  Some people play games and imagine themselves in the game, and want their game avatars to represent them.  They want to connect with the characters on a personal identity level.  This isn’t how I play games or read books, but it’s an understandable approach.

In fiction, this is less of an issue since books aren’t assumed to have a high level of interactability.  Games, though, bank on giving players some level of autonomy, so it makes sense that players would also want their identity to be a part of that.  I don’t care about it as a player, but it’s something game designers should keep in mind because some players do care.

For a point of reference, two of my favorite books in my teens were The Blue Sword and Sabriel, despite being neither a necromancer nor a kelar-gifted horseback warrior.  I loved the heroines of those stories for what they did, and their gender and other “diversity” flags didn’t matter.  (In fact, to this day, it sticks out to me that there’s a bit in Sabriel where the lead character thinks a bit about her period.  It just seemed shoehorned in to show she missed her mother and to bracket her age… and that she’s a she.)  Rather, they were fascinating characters with interesting choices in intriguing scenarios, and I learned about life seeing them grow, even though I didn’t really identify myself with either of them.  I didn’t need to.  To quote Dumbledore, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

In games, we are given the ability to make choices.  I think this is crucial to the whole point of making a game in the first place.  It seems to me that choices are the best vector to really look at diversity.  I do love a Final Fantasy and its plucky band of teenagers and token minority characters out to save the world via weird leveling up schemes and oddball weapons, but it’s trite storytelling sometimes.

So… it’s not something that really bugs me, this push for diversity, except that I think it embraces the wrong priority.  I think that a greater diversity of motivations, choices, conundrums and consequences are the far more important direction for creators to address.  With luck, as the medium matures, this will happen naturally… though given the PAX kerfluffle and that quota-based mindset evinced in the tor.com article, I’m not sure that it will happen significantly quickly or profoundly.

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Blizzard sent me their occasional “come back and play pleeeeeeease, so you’ll get hooked and buy more subscription time” email recently, and I decided to take them up on it.  Of course, they pitched it as “come take part in the Siege of Orgrimmar“, but since that’s a raider thing, I chose to interpret their email a little bit.

…and really, I know that this sort of “play for a few days for freeee” email is meant to lure back in players who have been out of the game for a while, but it seems to me that isn’t limited to end-game raiders.  Especially since it seems like you have to be out of the game for four or more months for them to even extend the offer, and by then… are you really on the cutting edge of raid content any more?

Anyway, I did break down a while back and buy a Collector’s Edition of Mists of Pandaria.  (It was something like $35 or so, which netted me the art book, soundtrack and DVD that I really wanted.  The other extras were icing on the cake.  Oh, and the game expansion was nice.  I’ll make a Dwarf Monk at some point.)  You see, WoW and I, we have a tenuous relationship.  It’s a game I could easily spend a lot of time in, mostly just looking around at the nicely realized world and art.

And yet… what time I do spend in it is torn between “ooh, that is a good screenshot opportunity” and “man, this game design needs work”, with a fair bit of mindless questing and dungeoneering in the murky middle.  The combat isn’t terribly engaging most of the time, but sometimes, that’s exactly what I want.  Sometimes I want involved, tactically awesome combat, sometimes I just want to zone out for a bit before I go to sleep.  It’s a bit like watching a Stargate SG-1 episode I’ve seen before; I can just sort of turn off my brain and enjoy the ride as I coast to a stop at the end of the day.  WoW is a game that I just “graze” in, really, and that’s OK.  I’m happy to just putter around here and there during those times when I’m in the mood, and I love that my Druid has flight form and the cat form’s stealth so I can poke around in places where I’m not generally supposed to go.

This is also why the subscription model is such an awful fit for me.  I don’t binge on the game, or commit to it.  I just play it a little bit, and the value calculations of a subscription make that an expensive bit of gaming.  For the $15/month I might pay to play, I’d get in maybe 15-20 hours, tops, and even getting that much in would mean not playing any other games or working on Kickstarter (Go, Go, Tinker Deck!) or other art projects.  I just don’t do that sort of single-game thing any more.  For that same $15, I can buy three Humble Bundles or the like and get hundreds of hours of gaming over the next year or so.

What stood out to me last night, though, wasn’t the value proposition.  No, it was the design.  My Tauren Druid was tasked with fetching rattan switches for this quest:

A Proper Weapon

And as it happens, there’s a bunch of these switches by a neighboring merchant.  That Wowpedia link describes it a bit if you want detail, but I, quite mindlessly, as is my wont when I’m doing these bog-standard fetch quests, just grabbed one of those switches.

And then the merchant started yelling at me.

Immediately, my response was to right click on the guy and see if I could give him back the switch.  There were plenty in the neighborhood, and I was sorry I took his.

This quick incident was at once intriguing and disappointing.  For once, a character in the game exhibited small signs of an AI that was more than just “be present in the world”.  That was awesome.  It was a glimmer of what the AI in Everquest Next might get up to (and I hope that they make it interesting; there’s a TON of potential).  I thought it delightful that a NPC would chew me out for an admittedly stupid minor theft.

And yet, and yetI couldn’t react to it.  I couldn’t give him back the switch.  I couldn’t attack him and kill him for his insolence.  (I didn’t think of that option until later, as it’s not a reflexive response for me, but I still couldn’t do it, even if I had wanted to.)  I could /bow to him or /laugh, but there wasn’t really interaction there.  It was little more than a scripted event that’s just barely beyond what most NPCs do.

Still, it was an NPC reacting to something I did nearby, not something I did directly to them.  That was a nice touch, and I’m looking forward to seeing games take that further.  There’s a long way to go, and it’s sad to see only the very rudimentary efforts when there’s so much potential, but I choose to see that as a glimmer of hope for these MMO things.

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Just a quick thought today.  The venerable Big Bear Butt and the inimitable Syl have articles up today that reminded me of one of my old wishes for World of Warcraft: Housing.

Big Bear Butt’s Putting the Pieces Together

Syl’s Off The Chest: Midlevel and Endgame Grinds No Thanks, I Rather Have A Castle!

And just for reference, my old collection of Allods Online screenshots.

Y’see, I’d love to see private Outland/Allod style floating islands as housing locations in WoW.  Wizard 101 does almost exactly this already, and for their trouble, they earned some money from me when I bought my Marleybone steampunk island home.  (That I currently can’t find any screenshots for, sadly.)  I’d love to have a little floating island home out off the coast of Nagrand, or maybe a Dalaran satellite.  Maybe I could have a little research hut out by Area 52 and a winter home tucked in the Grizzly Hills. Of course, these would all be phased, so they wouldn’t be a blight on the world, but that’s OK, I don’t necessarily want visitors anyway.

…it all reminds me a little of the system of outposts I tend to make in Minecraft, actually.  That’s a delightful game that I’ve spend a great deal of time in.  When I’m out exploring a Minecraft world, I build little waystations in interesting locations, and I link them with shortcuts via the Nether, since moving one “grid square” in the Nether is equivalent of 8 spaces in the normal world.  I have developed a good sense of how far to go before the Nether portals don’t just tether to existing portals, so I can leapfrog a series of Nether portals and overworld exploration to cover a lot of ground.  I wind up with the Arctic home, the Swamp home, Anvilania, the cliffside village, the Burrows, the tree farm, the diamond mine and so on… a whole system of locations that fit into the larger world, but that are uniquely mine.  (Get it?  Minecraft?  OK, my humor needs work.)

If I could have a set of private islands or shacks in the World of Warcraft, especially if they were linked via a portal system… I’d spend more time in the place.  It’s even another monetization vector.  Yes, it would cost something to develop, but I think it would be worth it.  I’d prefer the game to go subscriptionless, of course, and note that I’d spend money on said housing… y’know, while I’m dreaming.

And yes, I know WURM Online kind of scratches this itch, as does Minecraft.  I know LOTRO has housing, as does Wizard 101 and Puzzle Pirates.  I’m not hopeful that Blizzard will do this, and I’m not really looking for them to take over the world.  I just think this is an obvious design area that WoW could go in, and I’d have fun with it.  Just ruminating a bit on a Tuesday morning.

Ah, and many thanks to DÀCHÉNG for taking the idea and running with it over thisaway.  There really is a lot of fertile design space to mine in this housing concept.  Blizzard is missing a trick here, I think.  Maybe they don’t need to leverage the Minecraft/DeviantArt “artist” impulse to be successful, but I’m pretty sure the cost/benefit ratio is firmly tilted in the benefit direction.  Letting players modify their experience a bit and share their creativity is at least partially the heart of the whole “transmogrification” scheme, and that’s been a success.

I suppose I should have made it clearer, but yes, I am assuming that players would be able to invite friends to see their homes/islands/fortresses.  They wouldn’t just be private instances, forever sealed away.  They might be instances, but they would be places that other players could access in some way.

…as far as I’m concerned, that builds community while granting players ownership and letting them invest emotionally.  That sounds like a game design WIN to me.

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I “tweeted” last week that I was going to take advantage of an offer from Blizzard (seven whole days of free game time, woot!) to go and take a look at Karazhan.  The venerable Big Bear Butt offered to show me around the joint.  So, I finally saw Karazhan.  And took almost 250 screenshots of the place.

…it’s way bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.  Oh, and in BBB’s son’s continuing quest to Control All the Things, he managed to grab control of one of Moroes‘ beefy melee henchmen.  That would have made a nice difference if we were running the place at level.  Also, Tinhead is creepy, but the Opera Event is pretty cool, and the Chess Event is awesome.  Yes, it’s not real chess, but it’s good fun anyway (and, like in real chess, knights are nicely useful).

Some highlights (in no particular order, because I’m short on time):

…and then, just because Blizzard finally got with the program and decided to allow anyone, even trial accounts, to play any race, I fired up a Pandaran Rogue.  The Pandaran starting area is really nice… even if I can’t fly around in it.  It’s the new shiny, and I like it, but I still like Gilneas and Mulgore about as much.  The Pandarans themselves are very well done.  I like the “Red Panda” look the females can access, even if the real world red pandas aren’t actually pandas.

So I guess I’m a Tauren/Worgen/Panda kinda guy.  Though I still say Blizzard missed a trick in not letting Pandarans be Druids.  Still, their starter area is open to pretty much anyone, so have at it!  There are plenty of photo opportunities and some fun character animations.

Google+ collection of Karazhan shots

Google+ collection of Pandaria shots

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