Thursday, 27 August 2009

Why do we raid?

Turmoil has engulfed the Blogosphere. Well, not really. But it's a cool thing to write. Tobold recently finished his epic Why do we play? series, which I still need to find time to fully read, resubscribed to WoW for reasons you might find familiar from my previous musings, but feels like going back to raiding would be problematic, even if he intended to. Gevlon is fighting the myth of the gear as well as other lame excuses, and would get lots of approval from me (not that he's after my approval!), if he wasn't so eager to insult everything he dislikes. Ixo battles stupid customs and bemoans the state of mind on his server.

And if this entry sounds like a blogroll so far, that's because, so far, it is. I am putting you into the right context and the right state of mind. Because now, I am going to deliver the answer. That is, the question. Because we all know, that the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Loot, the Raiding, and Everything is, in fact 42, so there would be little insight if I told you that. No, today I'll tell you the question, which is loosely related to all of the linked above, and which you won't even have to wait ten million years for. In fact, you can read it right now. Here it comes:

Do you raid for the gear?
Or do you gear for the raids?

And that's all. For now. I reserve the right to further elaborate on it at a later point in time. At this point in time, just allow me to claim, that figuring out what 42 means for someone in relation to the above question, should be enough to figure out just how much they should bother with raiding in the first place.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The critical view

After the excited fanboy shout, let's take a critical look at some of the other things announced for the near and far future of World of Warcraft. Source for the quotes is MMO Champion.

Cross Server LFG
  • This will let you PUG 5-man instances and search for groups through multiple servers.
  • It will come with its own reward systems. If you're the leader of a PUG and complete the dungeon succesfully you will be rewarded.
  • It should be out for patch 3.3.0.

The biggest problem with PuGs, put in very short terms, is that people you don't know are, statistically, prone to jackass behaviour. Let's not pretend you don't know what this is supposed to mean and save us paragraphs of redundant explanations. Teaming up with people you know even less, because they are, eh, on a different server, won't really go a long way to dampen that factor.

The biggest upside with PuGs is the recruitment potential, which is rendered irrelevant in a cross-server group. Except, of course, if we talk cross-server recruitment, i.e. sucking all existing talent to the "elite" servers. Oh, well...

Rated Battlegrounds
  • Rated Battlegrounds will be an alternative way to get arena points.
  • Each week, one of the BG will be the Rated Battleground of the week. Winning in this battleground will improve your rating and give you points. Losing will not lower your rating.
  • [...]

Remember the first of these quotes? Yeah. I actually should be amused, because this will wreak utter chaos in the entire PvP-/Arena-community and their inherent sense of superiority. I might be wrong, but from what I understand, the very reason for the introduction of Arenas was to discourage people from AFK-ing their way to PvP-rewards (Ettenmoors-style!). Now it's back, with the added bonus, that the entire "we're in it for the competition" PvP community will be screaming and queueing up for that one BG for the week.

Guild Leveling
  • Guild experience is earned through multiple ways, players leveling, killing bosses, leveling professions, PvP victories, reputations.
  • Each guild level rewards you with one talent point, these talents affect the whole guild. The top 20 earners of the guild will contribute to the guild experience for the day.
  • Some of the guild talents will allow you to remove reagent costs from spell, get increased gold drops, summon your entire raid, rez your entire raid after a wipe, automatically transfer a % of gold dropped by bosses to the guild bank. Guild talents can be reset.
  • Once your guild reached level 20, the guild experience becomes a currency and let you buy things like mounts, professions plans, banners, potions, rare reagents and guild talent respecs.
  • Anyone can learn a guild profession recipe, if you leave the guild after learning it you will loose the recipe and it will be transferred back to the guild bank. Guild heirlooms also work the same way and are bound to the guild.

See, in principle, I very much applaud the idea of (active - not just age based) guild levelling. The problem is, and this particular implementation seems as prone to it as anything, that the encouraged course of action becomes "recruit everything with a pulse". Don't even bother trying to bring up a small, tight knit guild. Just join the biggest one you can find, and get awesome abilities!

I wonder how long it will take for people to figure out, that the optimal strategy under these rules is to set up one huge server-wide guild, and then make private sub-channels for what should be the actual guilds. The guild channel becomes global chat, and everyone runs around with the same tag. Math (and computer science) teaches you to always consider the extreme cases. And online gaming teaches you, that people will, sooner or later, go for the most efficient way of playing your game.

That could, of course, be easily solved if "guild progression" would be instead a quotient of total progression and number of members. Which would instantly result in the other extreme of everyone being prodded with sticks all the time and /gkicked as soon as they're offline for two days. So, this is all kind of meh.

There are, of course, many more things announced, and most of them sound pretty exciting. These were just a few of those that seemed rather odd or questionable to me. Enjoy the Sunday!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Grief Online?

Why is it, that nearly every time someone gets all excited about EVE Online, I can't help but feel the game in long term pretty much boils down to "Bullies in Space"? I may be a little harsh here, and I understand there might be much more to EVE, but stuff like this (and it seems to be regarded as the ultimate apex of EVE gameplay) appears to me as the gaming equivalent of getting your buddies together to beat up the unpopular kid, steal his lunch money, screenshot it film it on your cell phone and send it to a gaming site upload it on YouTube. So, your top achievement in the game was to gank some guys, who were trying to establish a foothold of their own without joining your zerg, together with your 500 homies? Uh, grats, I guess.

PS: Yeah, I totally miss the point of the game and just don't understand it. So, sue me.

Cataclystic genius

It's on MMO Champion, on, on Blizzard's official Cataclysm site and all over the blogs and news sites. The Cataclysm is coming. What's my take on it?

At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, this is simply a genius move. Why? Because it directly aims at core problems of the expansion mechanics and shoots them down with sniper precision.


We all know that one. As soon as a new expansion is announced, no matter how far in the future, everyone gradually begins to fall into that sense of "oh, why do anything, it will all be useless in just a little more than a year". Never mind that a year is an age in gaming terms, or that nothing you can do has any actual "use" beyond entertaining you in the first place anyway.

Instead, by announcing the end of the Old World, Blizzard turns lethargy into urgency. Suddenly, all those things you wanted to do "some time", but somehow always forfeited in favour of riding circles through Dalaran become things you need to do now, because in "only one year" you won't have a chance to do them any more. People won't tell their non-WoW friends they should "try the game, but better wait until the next xpac, it'll be better then", but instead to "come, come quick, you'll barely be able to see all the stuff in the time that's left!" whether this is actually true nor not.

Rather than suspending their subscriptions until the game version changes to 4.0, people will renew, just to run through all those places they will never be able to see again, ever. "Never again" are very strong words. They are better than anything when it comes to creating urgency and rattling the cage of a community, that, by and large, became stagnant in many of its ways.

Old content quality

To quote myself from yesterday: The moment you step through The Dark Portal, something happens to the quests. They suddenly become awesome.

See, the vast majority of the Old Azeroth quests is just plain boring. Yes, I know, that you might be nostalgic about this or that couple of gems, and that at least in the Plaguelands the storytelling reached a temporary high, and not having played in all the zones (yet), I leave room for the possibility that a nice chain or two might have escaped my attention. Also, the zones I have been in were nicely and diversely designed, the locations and positions made sense, unique atmospheres transpired. But when it comes to the very quests themselves, I spent the first 58 levels mostly with unimaginative tasks solved by unimaginative mechanics presented with unimaginative descriptions. Again, yes, there were exceptions and outstanding gems. But for the most part, everything these quests were concerned with was to make me cover as much ground and occupy as much of my bag space as possible.

The thing is, that in the Outlands, the proportions turn around. Instead of "10% awesome, 90% trash", I get 90% awesome, and the little trash that's left is easily and without much trouble handled on the way to the next original and in itself entertaining task. The difference in quality is immense, and could be already suspected when comparing the Draenei and Blood-elf starting zones with .. the rest of the low level game. It's not surprising either, there's two more years of experience and ideas working there. From what everyone is saying, there's another quantum leap in the WotLK content.

Blizzard knows this. They know, that most of their old content, to put it blunt, sucks. But there's nothing they can do about it, because if they spend an entire content update adding candy to some low level quests 90% of their player base already did a hundred times, everyone will laugh in their face, and most of it will be perceived as "dumbing down" anyway. Except, of course, if they redo the entire Old World and then add actually new and exciting quests.

Old content balance

I can't see into the past, but I do believe, that at some point (a.k.a. Vanilla-WoW), all the content, quests, dungeons, rewards, money, XP and difficulty were balanced with each other and resulted in an intensive game experience. The XP-curve was more flat, crafting worked slightly different, dungeons were harder, the quests fewer. But as of now, all Old Azeroth content is balanced for is getting you through it as fast as possible while still entertaining a notion of "the journey being worth it for the sake of the journey itself". You're being showered with XP and rushed through the levels at a pace that makes you wonder, why they don't just let you start at 55 and send you to the Outlands right as you leave your starter zone. Oh, wait, they do.

This is closely tied to the quality issue above. They know it's not the best they have in offer, so they just let you whiz through it. Redoing it from the ground and filling it with high quality content will enable them to restore a balance between content and progression, to really make the first 58-60 levels a worthy experience in itself, rather than just "the road to The Dark Portal", with shortcuts wherever possible.


The announcement of flying in the old zones was one of the points that created the most doubt about the validity of the leaked information. It was pointed out by many, that many of the buildings and structures in the Old World are not true 3D-objects, but just facades, consisting only of the parts that can be seen from the ground. It is the very reason, why flying mounts are only permitted in Outlands and Northrend - flying over Azeroth would let you see untextured and unmodelled back- and upsides, while turning the entire world into true 3D would just have been too huge an effort (more to that later). Of course, it kind of mashed well with the general notion of redoing Azeroth completely, but seemed to only underline how technologically non-feasible such an enterprise would be.

Here's the perk: the WoW-engine was created with this sort of "facade"-landscapes in mind. It doesn't work well when it has to render too many too large 3D-objects. This is why your frame-rate collapses upon entering the Outlands or Northrend. There, everything is in full 3D, which they just square-into-round style shoved into the old engine. They can't really update the engine either, however, because something like 80% of the existing content interacts with it in a very specific way. You'd have to redo that entire content completely ... see where we're going here?

Expect a major, and I mean major engine update for Cataclysm. And, to dispel fears, this doesn't mean the game will suddenly have much higher hardware requirements. The graphics style won't change, it's the staple of WoW and its eternal youth. But in the past 5-6 years, technological advances in rendering efficiency have been made (as always). Making use of those while still sticking to simplistic roots will result in a game that will look better and run faster. You can say you heard it here first (unless you heard it somewhere else before).


No one removes old content. No one removes old content. No one ever removes old content. It's a principle so fundamental, that the leaked information seemed ridiculous for suggesting Blizzard would. Old content is something that a significant monetary investment was made into, and that is there now, paying for itself. You might want to streamline (i.e. accelerate) or polish (i.e. nerf) it, but you never remove it. It's real value, you don't just throw it away!

The complete Azeroth-revamp is a muscle-move by Blizzard that is simply unprecedented and carries so much weight, I am seriously lacking adjectives to describe it. We all know Blizzard is rich, and sitting on a near-guaranteed revenue. Which is why they are probably one of the very few companies who can afford it. Yesterday, Blizzard basically came out and said "we are taking this money we earned with WoW, and we are sticking it right back into WoW, to facilitate a never seen before quality leap within the life cycle of a single game". With people all over the blogosphere already singing nostalgic, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes hostile swan songs to WoW (again), they basically flipped everyone the bird and said "forget it, WoW isn't going anywhere, it's here to stay". You can bet that members of NCSoft (disclaimer: I am very excited about Aion and wish it luck and success!) and other companies with great aspirations cried themselves into sleep last night.

In an age when games take more than half a decade to develop only to ship in a buggy and unpolished state, Blizzard stood up and said they'll make a game nearly with the content scale of original WoW within a year. And for all the joking about Soon (tm), deep down, everyone knows they'll pull it off. It is an incredibly bold move, which makes it clear, that WoW is not the ageing, helpless prey, out there for the challengers to hunt - it is the mighty giant, who smashes all opposition and feasts on their remains. Whether it will indeed play out this way, time will tell. But it is this incredibly strong message that transpired.

Monday, 17 August 2009

A silent nod

Some articles you do not expect to come across on a gaming site. And when you do, it makes them all the more valuable and worth pointing out. Especially since most of us can relate, each in their own way.

There's nothing to discuss or to add here, except that the author's conclusion perfectly captures how I feel about gaming:
WoW is not an escape from life, it is a reflection of it. It is a journey we walk with our friends, and a memory we carry with us when we log out and come back to the real world. Make it something that you can remember with a smile, not because you played a game, but because you played it with fun, beauty, and kindness for everyone who played along with you. Any hobby you have can and should be, part of a life worth living.

*bows head in condolence*

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Spoilers (none contained)

Okay, this isn't going to be some revolutionary insight. More the domain of stating the obvious. But still.

If you know me, you probably know that The Matrix is my favourite movie. Like, ever. I can't imagine ever liking a movie more. I love it for so many different things and on so many different levels, that it would take an entry of its own to point them out. When Alqua & Colt were here and the conversation crossed The Matrix, I surprised them by pointing out a little design detail about the movie which they didn't notice before - and that's the thing, you don't notice it (unless you've seen it as often as I did), but it all adds up to a whole. Oh my. I feel the urge to watch it again just from writing about it.

Oh, and don't ask me which of the three I mean. There was only one. Then there was some Matrix-themed ad-lib fan fiction which was accidentally released as full feature movies. Let's not talk about them. Or, let's, when I finally remember to post that translation (from German original) I made of an excellent recension of the "trilogy", which really put up the three movies (no-no, there was only one!) against each other. I already spent two paragraphs talking about The Matrix when it totally wasn't what I intended to talk about. Happens every time. But now you have an idea of the passion I feel for that film.

You may also know, that roughly from 2000 to 2008 I was a very avid filmgoer (apparently, that's indeed a word). Almost every Saturday night I'd be sitting in a cinema with a friend, watching some new movie. Or, in some very rare cases, watching a movie we'd already seen, again. Yeah, we were that crazy. Now don't mistake me for some French-arts-"the black lamp shade in the background symbolizes concealed feelings" type. I was, and am, always happy to ride the blockbuster-/entertainment-train. Like most people, in fact (that's why they're called blockbusters, doh) - most people just won't admit it. If the movie turned out to be crap, all the better, we'd rip it apart sitting at Burger King until 3AM. If it was great, we'd ... basically do the same, only with a positive connotation. Or rip apart another one, that failed to be as great. You get the picture.

There was one thing I came to hate during that time, and that is movie trailers. You see, we're slowly edging closer to the topic. I was fine with teasers - a few disconnected frames from the upcoming film followed by a release date to, basically, just notify you, that something is coming up. Great. But then the release date would come closer and we'd get into the domain of trailers. And not just the sort that gets shown on TV, but those full fledged 2-3 minutes long (sometimes even longer...) previews, which could technically rather serve as a review. And as a regular filmgoer, you'd have to watch them over and over again, especially in the last few weeks/months before the advertised work would hit the theatres.

It's the nature of the medium trailer, that you have to pick the best stuff from what you're advertising. You want to lure, and you lure with cake, not with bread. So, essentially, by the time you'd pay for the ticket, you'd have seen all the best scenes and heard all the best jokes several times already. All that'd be left for the actual movie, was putting them into the right order and filling the gaps with .. the stuff they thought themselves wasn't really that hot. And then the actual plot. See, pretty much every plot, no matter how intricate, can be summarized in 2-3 minutes. Yes, even Lord of the Rings, if you try really hard. And that's what trailers do. They try really hard. You'd know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, what they're conflicting about, what the problem to solve is. Of course, the resolution would be left out (usually). But that doesn't really make things better. The resolution rarely is the gem of the plot. The interesting part is the problem itself, the setting, the setup, the conflict, the history, the riddles and the hurdles. All things trailers happily give away to wet your mouth. The resolution mostly boils down to "hero wins", and although he might do that in an original, clever and spectacular way, or sometimes not even win at all, this is not what drives the movie. We don't sit down for two hours for the sake of the last five minutes. We want to enjoy the entire ride.

And now the two, so far apparently disconnected topics discussed here join together. The Matrix (1999) was the movie that started off my passion. It is what made me into a filmgoer in the first place. Which means, I wasn't going to cinemas before. Which means I haven't seen any trailers. All I saw was a TV teaser in which Neo famously dodges a bullet followed by "What is the Matrix?". When I first sat down in my cinema chair to watch it, I actually didn't know what the Matrix is! Every line of dialogue, every action scene, every special effect were provoking a "whoa, that was AWESOME!" response in my brain.

Today I visited YouTube and it recommended me to watch The Matrix Trailer. And I did (and instantly desired to see the movie itself again). While being who I am I'll of course point out, that The Matrix contained so much awesomeness, that there is still a metric ton left unshown, I can't but wonder if I'd liked it as much as I did, had I been bombarded with that trailer beforehand.

I told you

This is not directed at those who read this blog, but those who do, know whom it's directed at.

I told you. I didn't, admittedly, do it in the most diplomatic or clever way, but rather in the form of an emotional outburst. But I told you there are issues, there are problems. You told me I'm the problem. You told me to take it or leave it. And I left. Others left with me. Only the problems, the issues, they didn't leave with us, they remained with you. Now you're stuck with the under-performers and the ride-hitchers, whose equality rights you were so eager to protect. Those who sleep through the raid and only wake up when it's /roll time. Who don't want to bring a character as soon as they're geared, but to have their next alt geared instead. Who laugh when you bring the topic up, because they don't understand why you suddenly have an issue with it. Because you failed to make a stand when you could have had. You cannot now, and thus you're stuck with the split mentality, which you failed to acknowledge for too long. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

And yes, I bath in gloating. Because I told you. And you didn't want to listen.

Friday, 14 August 2009

On being Prot

Look, I know I'm doing it all wrong. I respec to Prot and ... start looking for ways how to maximize my damage output. I know the rulebook says that from this day on, I should only concern myself with Dodge Rating and Effective Health, but, honestly, can you see that happen? With me? I doubt you can.

But, oh boy, is Prot a fun spec to play! I effectively have two ranged interrupts (Charge and Intercept) and two melee interrupts (Shield Bash and Concussion Blow) accessible at all times, without any need for macro-stance-dance-GCD-awkwardness. And Shockwave has yet to come..! I can generate enough up-front threat so my favourite Druid doesn't need to wait with her Moonfire until the fight is half over, and can soak up enough to make her worry less about my survival and free her up for some nuking. I can Shield Slam nasties into oblivion, and strike them with the full wrath of Remaglar's Revenge (hey, that's what it says in the combat log..!). All that, while only beginning to put points in Sword and Board.

Long story short, I'm having fun. Just wanted to put that fun into writing.

Don't Cha

I can't say much about the value of the content in this blog, but the top graphic made me laugh. A lot.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

New layout

The narrow layout was very convenient when I first started this blog - obviously I didn't have much content on yet, and making what I had appear like more by padding it in the vertical was a welcome side effect. Now, after some time, I do have some content to show, plus, I tend to be verbose, which means that a single long entry - like the last one - would turn into furious scrolling and thus not be pleasant to read. Thus, it was time to switch to a stretching layout. Enjoy (hopefully) and come back (hopefully).

Monday, 3 August 2009

The quest to end all quests

The upcoming (NA/EU) release of Aion once again sparkles musings about cultural differences in Western and Eastern gaming habits. At the centre of it, as a reoccurring theme, are quests. The Asian MMOs are typically referred to as "grind-fests", while the Western are .. well .. what? Quest-fests?

Two bits of reading got me thinking. First, there was Eurogamer comparing the (claimed) numbers of quests in Aion and WoW.
But times have moved on, and in this day and age - after the deft pacing and storytelling expertise shown by Lord of the Rings Online and Wrath of the Lich King - simply having quests in the first place isn't enough. And while NCsoft's claimed total of 1500 quests may sound like a lot, we learned from former WOW lead Jeff Kaplan today that World of Warcraft had some 2600 at launch, and now has over 7600. With a strict division in questing between the two playable races, it will have to be a fairly compact world and short levelling curve for these to fill it out.

So far so good. Let's keep that notion in mind for later reuse. Then there was Keen "Comparing Aion vs. WAR" and stating the following:
I don’t LIKE questing. I feel that it is overused, simplistic, mind-numbing, and a shortcut.

Huh. Now that came out unexpected. And the first thought is probably "eh, dude, sure you're playing the right genre?" Because MMOs/RPGs/MMORPGs are all about questing ... or are they? Let's spend a second thought and ask ourselves, what it is that seems to make questing desirable for us. For the sake of an argument, let's split up the players in three categories. And before you come after me with torches and pitchforks, yes, I am fully aware and taking into account, that a single player well might represent any weighted combination of the three, as well as switch between any imaginable weighted combinations within the course of one gaming session. That's not the point. We'll get to the point, bear with me for a moment. So, the players.

The Endgamer. He wants to reach the level-cap, because that's where the game truly begins for him. For him, the levelling curve is just a progressing tutorial. As far as he's concerned, quests yield good and easy XP, getting him that next level and edging him one step closer to the content he's actually aiming for. Don't expect him to soak up the quest background, because he honestly doesn't care. He's certainly pleased by playing in a nicely designed and rendered environment, but why he's doing what he's doing isn't of interest for him.

The Altoholic. He has 3 level-cap characters and 5 others in the making. But he's not doing it for the sake of the content, he's doing it out of curiosity for the class mechanics. Much like the endgamer, the altoholic gratefully accepts every extra XP he can get, because every next level unlocks more class-specific goodies he's being after. Finding out how exactly to infiltrate the troll hideout won't get him excited, because he did it before. Like, 5 times, on his other characters. And another 10 times to help his altoholic friends.

The Explorer. Now things get interesting. Because this guy actually cares about the world as such, wants to soak up its atmosphere and enjoy the trip itself. He's prone to reading quest dialogues and going after unorthodox quests, even though they might take him more time. He'll stop and look when he sees the sun set, the moon rise, the rain drop, the sea .. uh .. swash? He'll sidetrack and go explore a mysterious cave, just because it's mysterious and a cave.

I'd say this roughly covers it. Again, I'm fully aware, that gamers are usually "hybrids" of those, and switch their degree of hybridazation with an arbitrary frequency. That's not the point. The point is, that questing in its current form isn't really a fantastic experience for either of them. But, hey, what about the explorer types? I think, for them it's actually the most disappointing.

And here we get back to the first quote. See, it's the mass. The sheer amount. There's no good having 7600 quests, when 7500 of those are just identical copies of each other, delivering you the Reason Of The Day why to go and kill baddies in this particular area. The true and massive caveat is, that you cannot possibly develop any sense of involvement or dedication to Task #1829. There's no point in reading all the quest text, because your mind won't be able to store - and, more importantly, distinguish between - all the countless quest texts you read. So, you just scan over it, picking up keywords and/or just scroll down straight to the "objectives". Or don't even bother with that and hit "accept", because QuestHelper will figure that out for you.

I fancy myself an endgamer-explorer hybrid. I love endgame, but I also love the world I'm gaming in. I love to love it. So I try to read some of the stuff thrown at me, but, in the long run, I fail. My memory is just incapable of actively keeping track of all the tasks these 8 NPCs just imposed on me. I got a rough sense that Gadgetzan is generally concerned with its water supply, which makes sense with it being in a desert, and serves nicely to, well, point out that it's being in a desert. But beyond that? No idea. I just go out and hit stuff, basically. Luckily, I love doing that, too (very much so).

I am sure there are well written, meaningful, out-of-the-box quests. In know, in fact, there are. But the even bigger crime is, that you have a really, really hard time spotting those under the endless heap of kill-rats. Since you've been conditioned to at best scan over the text, in the rare case when it contains something actually worth reading, you just won't know.

Which brings us back to what a quest should actually be - namely what the word actually means, in its classic meaning. Setting out on a quest (mind you, one quest, singular) used to mean pursuing some extraordinary enterprise. It meant you'd go on an adventure, search for places, people, hints and items, fight villains, solve riddles, make decisions to achieve a goal you might not even be fully aware of when you started. And when it would be over, you'd look back at your quest and say, wow, that was quite something I did there. What we have instead at present, is all of the aforementioned tasks split up in separate and, at best, loosely connected, well .. tasks! Feel the emotional difference between "quest" and "task"? Because what we're doing in the game now, are no quests - it's just tasks.

WoW surely has a lot of quests. And at times, it feels like they're all out to get me. I'm running to the forge in Stormwind, and I see this exclamation mark popping up, and I'm trying not to look at it, because my quest log is full, and it's probably for an area I had no immediate plans to go to, and will be greyed out by the time I do. I'm just trying not to think too much about those probably 70% of the content I'm just passing on, because the other 30% are more than enough to get me through the level progression. Hey, I'm telling myself, it's probably just another meaningless errand. Of course it might also be the most exciting quest chain ever written, and I'll never know, unless someone explicitly points me at it (and I probably will have outlevelled it by the time I could get around to do it).

Yet we cling to our quests. Why? For the same reason we fear those Asian MMOs. The grind. The evil word of terror. We don't want to be sentenced to have to kill millions of rats and boars for our level-up. But what does this effectively mean? It means, that when we chew through quests barely reading them (and, be honest, we do!), all they do for us is XP-amplifying. Instead of just getting 500 XP from killing 10 boars, we get an additional 5000 on top of that! It just speeds things up by giving us additional candy for doing specific things at a specific time.

Caveat to this: quests discourage exploration! I read this somewhere, but forgot where, thus no link, but it makes perfect sense for the way I play. When you enter a new area, what's your first thought? Mine is "let's see what's around here", run around and just see what's where. When you see a cave, or a castle, or something of that sort, what do you think? I think "let's go in there and clear it completely!" But then, I will remind myself, that I'll most probably get a quest to go just there and kill the same mobs ... again. So, instead of looking for adventure, I first look for the quest-hub. Because these are the rules of the game, and if I don't play by them, I don't receive the candy. That doesn't stop the process from being a grind, it just makes me grind quests, rather than mobs.

So, what are the alternatives to this system?

Age of Conan has the Destiny quest-chain, which starts at character creation and runs through to level 80. It is supposed to be your quest, you know, the one with adventure, decisions and dragon slaying. While the idea is not a bad one, it's basically implemented as a single-player campaign. And it's not the solo-aspect (in fact, I have no idea if later stages might even involve grouping) I'm criticizing. But its entire plot focuses around you being such a special snowflake, a unique individual in possession of a unique artefact who should uniquely change the course of history. Hey, newsflash, this is an MMO, and there's lots of other snowflakes running around. It's a freakin' snowstorm! Besides, for such a supposedly personal experience, there's a stunning lack of interactivity, as in decision making. While you have to click your way through intricate dialogues (just as you have to acquire the quest to kill 10 rats...), your choice always boils down to being railroaded to your "destiny", or standing around with nothing to do. Plus, it's only one quest-chain. And while the entire point of this article is advocating "less is more", I didn't mean just one. One you don't even get to choose! Gah.

Aion has two sorts of errands: quests and missions. Quests are supposed to be the regular daily stuff, the boar and rat killing, while missions are designed to be more, well, epic. So, you see, we went from "tasks and quests" to "quests and missions", because the word quest was devalued so much over time. It's an interesting take, maybe reminiscent of LotRO's division in regular and book-quests. I reserve judgement until I get to experience it myself.

What I will do instead, is pick it up from there and go a step further to suggest Rem's Quest System. We start with Aion's quests and missions pattern. First, we take the quests ... and throw them away. Out the window. And don't even look to see where they land. We don't care. Once we've rid ourselves of those, we can rename missions into quests again. Or into Amazing Adventures. Now comes the trick: we tell our content department (we still have one, we didn't throw them out the window with the "quests"!) to sit down, take their time, and really turn those amazing adventures into what the name suggests they should be. From 7600 quests 7500 of which are just copy-and-paste crap, we go to just 100, which are brilliant pieces of gameplay mechanics and storytelling. Hire actual writers. Play with everything your game engine has to offer. Pull all stops. Have them be few, but meaningful and exciting, such that when a player finishes one of those, he feels like sitting down and writing a book himself about his amazing adventure and his (and his friends') way of solving the challenges thrown at him (them). High quality instead of meaningless quantity.

But what about those "quests"? They're gone. And they're not coming back. Never again will any douchebag be asking you to go fetch him 5 Flawed Boar Hides. Does that mean back to endless mob-grind outside of the amazing adventures? No, of course not. I still have a trick up my sleeve, and here it comes.

So, you go out into the wilderness and see this .. uhm .. boar. It's an evil boar, so you kill it. And then you loot it. Familiar so far? Okay, here comes tweak one: no trash loot. Trash loot is called trash loot, because it's just that: trash. Stuff no one in the game needs for anything. And since it's useless, why should you even be picking it up? Obviously, because the NPCs are struck by some curse forcing them to purchase endless amounts of diseased rat livers from the player. Occam's Razor says: out with it! If you can pick it up, it has to have some use - if it doesn't have any use, you wouldn't want to pick it up in the first place. But where do we get our steady money flow from, are we being forced into even more grind? Not at all, be patient and read on.

So, you loot this boar. You acquire this meaty looking shank and that solid peace of his hide. Or not. Same system as before, only, with the added rule, that if you can loot it, it's somehow useful. You adventure for a while, gather this and that - like that very special flowers you can only pick up when you have the quest to do so, but which are invisible otherwise - and then, at some point, come across a village. Huh!

If you're looking for exclamation marks now, forget it, they're gone, live with it. What you do instead, is walk up to, say, the provisioner and "ask" him what the village needs. Hurray, they need boar shanks (who would have thought), and you just so happen to carry 9 of those in your bags! So, what you do is, basically, just barter. You give him 1 boar shank, and he gives you 250 XP and 20 silver. Bring more, get more. Now off to the tailor and see if he has some demand for those hides. You can go from here and construct an economical model with supply and demand, or you can just leave it at infinite demand. I'd go with the latter option - it's a game, not a simulation.

Next you go to the sheriff (whatever) and he complains about brigands. No intricate stolen-ponies-story, we're not in amazing adventure mode. Just brigands. Occam's Razor. This is the point where you say (because the game kept track of it), that you assaulted their nearby hideout and slew 17 of them, including a semi-chief-brigand-dude. The sheriff breaks out in celebration and rewards you with 17*500 XP and 17*40 silver (uhm, throw in some bonus for the semi-chief-dude in there somewhere). How would he know I'm not making things up? Well, how do the current NPCs know I actually went out and killed those they wanted me to kill, rather than just walk around the corner, come back and say "done"? Same magic applies. Oh, and for those cases when I have to bring back someone's severed head as proof, let's just say, when I vanquished that brigand, I noticed him wearing an intriguing badge and took it with me. Collecting tiger claws because they look special to be used as a latter proof of fighting the .. tiger plague. Again, everything you can pick up, has a purpose. And players are basically willing to suspend any disbelief if they get fun in return. Note how realism discussions only ever appear to confront aspects that are not fun.

So, you just earned your quest XP and your quest reward money (as well as the trash loot money). Feel free to go out and do it again to earn more at the same rate, or to venture into new lands to discover more boars, brigands and villages. Oh, but what with the quest reward items? The awesome Ring of Sparkly Bling, are we taking that away? Of course not. And this part is ridiculously easy, really. Obviously, when you help a village out by providing them materials and fighting their foes, your standing with them will improve. You know, same way it does now. Remember the tales when a hero would save a city and then ride away clad in armour they gave him as thanks? Yeah, like that. You can make reputation a condition or even a currency in itself. Both systems work and have their pros and cons.

So, are we turning the entire game into one huge reputation grind? Well, yes and no. Yes, because .. well, we do. No, because there's nothing inherently bad about it. Or even any different from the questing as it is now - we just remove the "acquire task before being able to accomplish it" restriction and scale the rewards more transparently. Reputation only has a bad .. uhm .. reputation, because it's frequently used to stretch out the existing content beyond the actual .. uhm .. content. You know what I mean. It's a long article and my brain is slowly running out of words. Anyway. If you build it right into the process of adventuring, make it as foundational and natural as XP and money, well, what's bad about it then?

And that's it. We remove the pretension of "quests" where they are just placeholders for trivial and mundane task, and turn them into barter systems, with the additional benefit of being able to do the deed before being tasked to. In return, we keep those really meaningful quests and build them into epic adventures people will want to do for their own sake, and not just the rewards.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Status: cancelled

It is done. Logged into my COG account, looked at the beautiful landscape in the website's background, the Gandalf-impression at the top and some ugly hobbit next to him, sighed and clicked the red button (and then was anti-dramaturgically redirected to the PayPal site where I had to log in to, you know, actually cancel the subscription).

So, this is it. Goodbye LotRO - I loved you, but won't miss you. Thank you for the good times, the many hours of fun and the wonderful people I met (and ventured forth with).

My subscription still runs until the 18.09. - this is what you get when you decide to quit a game basically the next day after entering the subsequent period. But, then again, it made the decision easier, there was more of a safety cushion, more "I can go do that now, but don't have to really leave yet" factor due to it. But by now, all possible doubts are gone. Don't think I'll be ever coming back either, to be honest. WoW is lots of fun right now, and then there's still AoC waiting for its chance (which might never come), Aion looming behind the horizon as well as Mortal Online in the role of "the next, totally different thing". The road goes forward, not back. Yet it was a nice time, and a nice game, be it even just because it had the Misty Mountains *winks*