Friday, 19 February 2010

Why you should watch the Fall of the Lich King cinematic

Well, first of all, you don't have to. It is, obviously, your choice. I'm just here to tell you that you have no reason not to. And no worries, it won't contain spoilers.

So, Rem, do you read the ends of books ahead of time, too? Well, no. But World of Warcraft is not a book. It's not even a film. It's a game. And the purpose of a game is not so much telling you a story, as letting you take part in a story. Yes, I hear you shouting that you care a lot about the game's story. Your claim may be more or less justified by how much or little you actually learned about the background and history of the game so far, but I hear you in either case. That's exactly the point. You should watch the cinematic because you care about the story, not despite. Confused? Let me explain.

Like I said, the purpose of a game is letting you take part in a story. Consequently, the point at which you will be automatically confronted with the cinematic is tied to your in-game actions. To be more precise, to your defeating the Lich King for the first time. This is an event that may never take place. Despite all the ramblings about how "easy" the game is, it's not all that easy in fact. There is no telling at this point in time if you (or me) will actually be good enough to defeat the Lich King. I'm not saying you (or me) won't, I'm only saying the information is not available yet. Unless you've already done it. In which case you've already seen the cinematic. In which case .. uh .. this whole argument is not aimed at you anyway. Right, talk about trolling oneself. Where was I.

Let's assume you are good enough (and me too, yay!), because that's the more interesting thing to assume anyway. Allow me to describe the probable course of events. Allow me to attempt to immerse you into the atmosphere of the moment. The tension of the final sequence of the hardest boss fight in the game. Someone will be shouting "10% ... 5 ... 3", someone else countering "30 seconds to enrage ... 20 ... 10 ... COME ON, GIVE HIM ALL YOU HAVE!", and then, with the last bit of mana, health, energy, rage and pure will, he will fall and Vent will erupt in cheers, cries and yells, while you'll be fist pumping and/or doing a little dance (as well as cheering, crying and yelling). There will also be some cinematic playing in the background. You think you'll care, at that moment?

Besides, it's not really like you're actually jumping in the story arc. The story is technically already told. It's a long story, which started all the way back in WC3 and is rooted in even older events. But now it is at its end. Did you do the Wrathgate questline, the Matthias Lehner questline and the ICC questline? Then you do not need to flip forward to the last page. You are on the last page. That the Lich King will be defeated is not a spoiler, it's a rule of the genre. The story is told. The rest are details. You may, of course, defer reading the last page until you personally reach a certain milestone. Keep in mind though that when you do, you'll go out to party and drink. And when you return and sit down to re-read what you half missed, you may feel it's not quite as spectacular as reaching the milestone itself was.

Of course, this is not quite true. There are still a couple of blank pages between where you are now and the last page (i.e. the cinematic). But those will remain mostly blank. This is the place where, once again "take part" comes into play. This space will be filled with your adventures, with your personal path to the goal. It is a story no one else will write. More importantly, it is a story that is going to be better than what anyone else will write. It will be more exciting and more epic, because it will be yours. If it wasn't, if, instead, a 4 minute cinematic, no matter how atmospheric and well done it is, was better than anything you experience on the way to it, then, frankly, we'd all have wasted our time.

Don't save the cinematic as "the best thing for last", because it is not the best thing. Don't see it as a climax, because it's not. The climax, the best thing will be how you and your peers will carve their way to that ultimate battle and how everyone will do their very best to prevail in it. You should watch the Fall of the Lich King cinematic, because it is merely an appetiser for the hopefully even better things that lie ahead on your path.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Wrong sport, lads and lasses

The recent Ensidiagate prompted me into posting on a subject that's been on my mind for a while now: the morality of competitiveness. Maybe I should have used that as the title of the entry, but, honestly, my titles sound preachy enough as it is. So, what is this all about, anyway? Competition.

Competition is an interesting thing. A two-edged blade. Competition means motivation, determination. It is a reason to try to be better. Competition is the antidote to complacency, and thus a catalyst of progress. Us not living in caves is a direct result of competition.

Curiously, having come so far since the time we left the caves means that competition has changed as well. In fact, outright competing with the next person is societally frowned upon, and usually manifests itself in the less productive forms of constant 1-up'ing and raging envy. Also, mobbing and other sorts of ugliness.

The medium through which we experience modern competition in what is considered a "pure" form is almost exclusively sports. It is easy to argue that sports, as such, arose from the demise of competition as it was known in former ages of mankind, as a mimicry of activities that once constituted the competition for survival (and procreation): hunt, war, elopement, gathering, perseverance. Not that war could be attributed solely to "former ages of mankind", but at least we don't want it to be an open competition anymore.

So, sports. The pitfall here is what kind of sports we grow up with, what sports get the most spotlight and gain the highest prominence. Football/soccer and basketball matches are frequently decided by coaxing the referee into a wrong decision in your favour. Fall down without having been shoved, talk trash to disturb concentration and hope for a rebuttal that may be punished as an additional bonus. Yell at the referee and argue every decision. No-no, my foot wasn't behind the line. Inconceivable.

Then there's athletics, cycling and similar disciplines, which seem to have long evolved into a race of "who can shove more stuff into their body without being caught overstepping an official rule". The phrase "usage of illegal doping" alone is amusing already, when you think about it - it means there is legal doping, so, the question isn't really "if", but only "by how much". The answer may arrive in the form of a life-ending heart attack at age 40.

Speaking of racing - Formula 1, anyone? Turned into a competition for finding the most improbable loophole in the technical regulations. Funnily, the stricter and more complicated the rules get, the more severe those loopholes are. Back when the limits were more relaxed and everyone was shooting for the sky, the differences were more, you know, tangible. Back then, A had a better engine, B had a better chassis and then we watched it unfold. Now it's all "so, turning this screw 57° to the right can be justified with the following paragraphs as not contradicting to those other paragraphs, and it also gives us half a second per lap".

Major sports these days are a cutthroat business where the limits of the "humanly possible" were reached decades ago, and now everything that gives you any sort of advantage that is not in clear and unmistakable contradiction with the rules is considered "fair game". And then you venture into regions that are in contradiction with the rules and simply hope not to get caught. You are supposed to take everything you can get, try to grab some more and then act as you deserve even more yet.

Having grown up with this image of sports and thus competition, we arrive in a place where everything can be justified by pointing out that X is going up against Y. A "competitive situation" is suddenly a sufficient reason to abandon all honour, humanity, grace and dignity. You are supposed to bite and claw, to kick and punch, to blow low and exploit, exploit, exploit. All is fair in love and competition.

I would like to introduce you to another sport - or, rather, remind you of its existence. One that is not as widely popular world wide, which doesn't get much prime time spotlight. I'm talking about Snooker, a billiard variation with an emphasis on high precision and, most importantly, strategic thinking. Is Snooker competitive? Oh, boy, yes. Look at the faces of the players. They want it. They want it badly. So, what's the difference?

The difference is that Snooker is a deeply aristocratic sport by its very nature and origin. You can't play it in school yards, you can't play it in pubs, half drunk. You have to overcome a high entry barrier to play it at all, and thus, it has traditionally been coined by the, dare I say, noble. Therefore, the standards the players are held up to are inherently higher. And I don't mean merely things as the dress code. I mean moral standards. An example.

There is a rule that forbids you to, at any point, touch a ball, any ball, with any part of your body or clothing. This is something that can be very hard to keep track of, because it basically only becomes relevant in those cases where the intended shot is a highly tricky one, so the view will be obscured, and although the referee will try his best to have a line of sight, he'll also do his best to accomplish this without distracting the player (ideally staying out of his field of view). You can't exactly drive a camera in there either. Besides, in the vast majority of cases, the fleeting contact of, say, a sleeve with a ball wouldn't do anything. So, what?

I'll tell you what. It is considered and unexceptionally accepted the duty and obligation of a player to announce an illegal contact when he becomes aware of it. Immediately. Even if nothing has moved even by a dust particle's margin. It's a matter of honour, it's a matter of morality, it's a matter of what defines you as a Snooker player and earns you respect. Just as a pointer, respect is what earns you money through the discreet ad sticker you're wearing on your breast pocket. It is not considered "okay" to run with it, just because no one noticed.

If you touch a ball, you admit it. If you are carefully swinging at the ball and your cue touches it before you execute the actual shot, you announce it. If you get a double contact (white jumps back from first contact with other ball and hits cue again before you pull it away), you say it. Even if no one noticed. Even if it costs you the frame, or the match. You don't try and figure out how much you can get away with. You don't care how much you can get away with. You care about fair and clean competition, and you are not interested in any unfair advantage.

If you get a fluke (i.e. a lucky shot with a much better outcome than initially planned), you apologise. You appreciate its results, of course, and the opponent accepts them gracefully, without any "lol ur lucky nuub" rage. Luck is part of competition, as it is of any process. But you apologise. When your opponent masters a particularly difficult situation successfully, or plans and executes a masterful shot, you congratulate. You don't cry "hax" and rant about how his haircut is overpowered, but show respect for the skills of your opponent. It's tradition. You just do it. Failure to comply with the moral standards of the game is as severe as a violation of its functional rules.

The bottom line is, competition does not have to be that dirty, grey-zone, cutthroat, no-respect-for-anyone dogfight we learned to accept it to be. You can compete, and compete on a very high level, without disregarding respect and morality. And next time you think about competition and what it allows and justifies, don't think about what ESPN is showing right now. Think about Snooker. Otherwise you're just tuning yourself to the wrong ideals.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Analogy of the day

Taken from the WoW tanking forums:

Being a gorgeous 18 year old girl allows you go out with as many guys as you want. But in the end, you're still a bitch.

Being a tank is the same thing. It does allow you to coerce people into doing things they don't want to. But in the end, you're still a bastard.

Oh, and since we're at it, here a very, very nice statement I read (and saved) a few months ago on the MMO-Champion forums:

This is my opinion. There are many like it, but this one is mine. The game does not suck completely just because I've run out of normal modes to farm gear from. The game is neither easy, nor hard, except from my own vantage created by my experience and skill that makes it so in my mind. Naxx does not suck just as Sesame Street does not suck. I won't complain about 6th graders having it easy because their algebra homework doesn't compare to the rocket surgery I perform daily at a 6 figure job. They have to start somewhere just like I did. Even though I am very smart and skilled, I am one person of a 25 man raid who killed a boss. I did not solo him with my skinning knife even though I sometimes talk like I did. Let me live to a 102 and still have a hard mode achieve out there worth getting or strike me down now if I cry about no new shiny new content with so much still left in the game to do.