Sunday, June 29, 2008

Video Games, Art, and Social Status

Lume the Mad has an interesting post discussing whether video games are art. It's a good entry in the "Yes, Video games are art" side of the debate. This debate has raged all over the place, so I thought I may as well toss in my two cents.

My take: I don't really see why it matters if video games are Art or not.

To be honest, most of the arguments on either side boil down to how you define Art. I can construct definitions of Art such that video games fit. For example, video games can convey messages; they often use many of the same techniques of writing, dialog, etc.; they engage our aesthetic senses.

I can also construct definitions of Art such that video games do not fit. For example, Art requires an audience, video games require participants or players. As well, often the best game does not match the most artistic game, and that is incongruous for an Art. Tetris may very well be the best video game ever made, but is it the most artistic?

The more I listen and read the debates about video games and Art, the more I become convinced that this debate isn't about Art at all, it is about social status.

It's pretty clear that game developers and game players in our culture have low social status, especially in comparison to artists. This whole debate is gamers are trying to say that video games are like films and novels, so the culture should treat game developers like filmmakers and novelists, and game players like film buffs or literati.

Honestly, that's not going to happen anytime soon. The gatekeepers of culture don't care about your reasoned arguments. Social status doesn't really have anything to do who or what deserves that status. If anything, it's a function of how the wealthy and the intelligentsia differentiate themselves from the rest of masses. Oprah is not going to have a Video Game of the Month Club. She's not going to treat Will Wright and Shigeru Miyamoto like Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou. Roger Ebert won't treat them like Robert Altman or Martin Scorsese.

For one thing, video games are popular. In particular, the "good" games are often the same as the most popular games. The upper classes can't give games the high status of Art, as that would implicitly give high social status to the plebes, defeating the point of having social status in the first place.

To me, this entire debate smacks of the divide between cool kids and the unpopular kids in high school, only brought forward into the adult world. The unpopular kids are busy constructing arguments that the cool kids should consider them "cool", not realizing that none of these arguments actually matter. This was pretty pointless in high school, and it's even more pointless now.

Games are games. If they are not Art, that does not make them lesser than they are. If they are Art, that does not make them greater. And in the end, social status does not obey reasoned arguments.

Being on the Path, Part II

In a comment to Being on the Path, Messallina/Agrippina of Perenolde, writes:

I've only seen one other poster here who identified themselves as a gladiator level pvp'er, so even though this post is already filled with comments I still feel I can offer a distinct take on things. Also, as an additional disclaimer I will add that for entirely selfish reasons I am emotionally biased towards rating requirements for gear. Goddamnit getting gladiator skills took a long time and I want more tangible rewards besides just obtaining gear faster and a sweet title/mount!

Looking over Coriel's post, I see a couple of basic points that I would like to lay out before I respond to them:

Premise 1: Hope for achievement drives players (duh).

Premise 2: Hope is more important de jure than de facto. In other words, theoretically possible hopes motivate players more than practically possible hopes.

Conclusion: Rating requirements are inherently discouraging, even to those who won't get enough non-rating-required gear to the point where the only gear remaining has rating requirements.

Premise 2 is the weak one I feel, for the following reasons.

First off, I don't see any evidence for your de jure progression theory. You make an effective analogy with raiding, but there's no evidence offered that that is the case with raiding. It's like you cited something faulty in a scientific paper without checking the source. Back when I raided casual at 60 with a guild that was lucky to kill Nefarian before BC came out I doubt I would've cared two shits if Naxxramas had had some kind of blocking requirement for entry. I was worried about the present instance, along with the rest of my guild. Your claim was that de jure impediments demoralize people even if they have no plausible tangible harm, but I don't see any reason for that, and I don't buy that even pvp'ers who will never find themselves in a situation where their access to gear is limited only by personal rating will still be significantly demoralized by the rating requirements on gear. After all, the lower your personal rating, the slower you earn gear, which I know you understand: "In reality, of course, a casual PvPer is not likely to earn all the pieces of S4 before WotLK. But again, what is likely is not as important as what is possible."

Second off, I dont think it was accidental that rating requirements reached their apex for BC in the final season. For each day that elapses in this final arena season of BC players will care less and less about season 4 gear as lich king draws nearer.

Also, since I'm all about the empirical evidence, it's worth noting that more teams participated in 3v3 in my battlegroup in season 3 than season 2. Almost 40% more, in fact ( Arena Junkies; WoW Armory: Cyclone Battlegroup)

It doesn't seem that the 1850/2000 rating requirements significantly lowered (in one casual pvp'ers words) the "popularity" of arena from S2 to S3. After all, players have been "blocked" in arena from the start, given the stern title requirements since Season 1. Obviously, gear>titles for most people, but it's worth pointing out.

I should have introduced the concept of "Being on the Path" earlier, rather than attempting to force that one article to do double duty. I actually came up with it a long time ago, back in the pre-TBC days, just never really blogged about it. If you look at Casual vs Raider, Part VI, written in Jan 2007, you'll see the same idea echoed.

Essentially, I was looking at the introduction of Naxxramas, and the great flamewars on the forums between the casuals and the hardcore. One thing that struck me was the lower raid guilds, the ones in MC and BWL, sided with the high-end guilds, instead of the casual players who wanted Blizzard to spend more time on regular 5-man and lower content. This seemed odd to me, as the MC/BWL guilds had practically no chance of seeing very much of Naxx, and would have benefited much more from new 5-man dungeons instead of a new raid instance.

From the practical standpoint of who would actually experience the content, the split should have occurred between the AQ40 top-end guilds vs the MC/BWL/non-raiders. Yet the actual split was between those who could raid, and who could not raid; those who were on the path, and those who were not.

I can't really cite scientific proof of any of this. I don't have access to any real data. All I can offer is my observations and my experiences, and my theories and explanations. This is punditry, not science.

But the concept of Being on the Path is why I've usually concentrated my suggestions on ways to get more guilds raiding. To me, making it easier for guilds to raid is a much better use of resources than making additional 5-mans or even additional raid instances. That transition from normal guild to raiding guild is the most crucial transition in the game, and something which could use a lot more attention.


Premise 2: Hope is more important de jure than de facto. In other words, theoretically possible hopes motivate players more than practically possible hopes.

Premise 2 is not exactly how I would word it. I would invert it. Hopelessness (or the impossibility of doing something) de jure is worse than hopelessness de facto. Knowing that something is guaranteed to be impossible for you is a lot more demoralizing than knowing that something is most likely not possible.

Now, I don't know if this will really result in less people playing season 4. S3 was different in that most of the armor could be obtained. Yeah a couple pieces were out of reach, but you could still get most of S3. I felt it still came doing on the de facto side. As well, coming later means that more people hit 70 and started PvPing for gear. Not to mention that S3 pushed PvP into T6 territory, ahead of the vast majority of raiders, who were still stuck in T5 content (Vashj/Kael). All that combines into more people playing S3 than S2.

S4 is different. All the pieces have requirements on them, all of which are higher than the average. That immediately guarantees that at least 50% of the audience will not be able to get any of S4. However, PvP doesn't really require a lot of time or organization. It's pretty easy to just do your 10 games and go. So even if people aren't happy about the S4 requirements, they may still put in their 10 games. Some improvement is better than none, especially if the time cost is minimal.

If PvP actually required a significant time cost--like raiding does--I would expect participation to diminish sharply. However, because the time cost is so low, I'm not sure what will happen. I do think the rating requirements will diminish enthusiasm for PvP, and satisfaction with the game. But that is hard to measure and hard to see, and whether that translate into diminished participation or subscriptions is an open question.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

New Security Dongle

According to Broken Toys (aka Scott Jennings/Lum the Mad), it looks like Blizzard is introducing a keychain security dongle called the Blizzard Authenticator.

It looks like an interesting option for anyone really worried about the security of the account, as it enables proper two-factor authentication. You will be able to purchase it from the Blizzard store for $6.50, which is a pretty reasonable price, in my opinion.

The only issue is that this is optional, and some of the people who would get the most use out of this will not hear about it or pick it up.

It will be interesting to see the effect of this Blizzard Authenticator on the game. For example, account sharing is rampant among the high end. But the people at the high end also have the most to lose to a hacked account, and are the mostly likely to purchase and use the Authenticator. And that may cut down on tactics like getting someone else to play your character in Arenas.

It might also have an effect on guilds. A lot of guilds are very concerned about security for the Guild Bank. I can see a guild requiring that all its members, or at least all the officers, purchase and use the Authenticator.

It's good to see that Blizzard has been taking security more seriously lately. They took my advice on disabling hyperlinks on the official forums, and are now introducing a good two-factor authentication system. However, I still think that the default game experience needs to be a little more secure.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ask Coriel: Magic-Immune Mobs

Jupis asks:

Well,recently,I encountered a problem. I was MTing Karazhan,and we reached the room after Curator(Before Aran,where the Journal of Medivh quest is).I was terrified of the fact that the mobs there are magic immune,since as a Paladin tank,I can't generate threat with just physical power. Luckily enough,my druid Off Tank picked them up for me,and got the whole deal done,while I was standing aside,shamed that I could not have helped the group.

This leads to my question:

A) Are immunities same as resistances for mobs? Would spell penetration of any kind would help?

B)Although they don't hit hard,they still do hit.If I can't control agro,it means damage on DPS and healers,but all of our mages and warlocks couldn't do a think in that situation,for the very same reason.

How is this situation solved without a full physical team,or a non magic using tank?


A) Immunities are different than resistances. Spell penetration will not help against immunities.

B) In general, don't worry about it. These mobs don't hit hard enough to make it an issue. Your hunters, warriors, rogues, shamans can help tank these things. Just get everyone (including the mages/warlocks) in there whacking away with their weapons.

As well, you should use Seal of the Crusader when attacking the mobs. You still get threat from white damage, though not a whole lot. SotC will increase your white damage. Tab-target to hit different mobs. It should be enough threat to keep them off the healers.

Basically, no one should stand aside on these mobs. Just attack them with your physical attacks, focus fire, and they'll go down quickly.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bosses, Tokens, Recipes, Crafting

There are many people who feel that the current model of loot distribution (primarily random drops) in raiding is flawed. They feel that players are at the mercy of random numbers, and that it is very easy to be unlucky and miss out on a specific piece of loot (Dragonspine Trophy, for example). The proposed solution is that we should move to a more tokenized model of loot, like how Tier gear is distributed.

There are also other people who feel that crafting is not utilized enough in the endgame. They feel that crafting is pointless, as you inevitably replace crafted gear with raid loot.

This raises an interesting idea (which to be honest, has probably been proposed before): What if all endgame loot was crafted?

The way I envision it working is that each tier would have 5 or so epic materials. Bosses would drop a couple recipes and about 3 different bind-on-pickup mats. Every player that killed the boss would get these materials. The recipes in each tier would only use the tier materials to create items. The last boss in each instance might drop a special material that was only used in a few really good recipes. Essentially, crafting materials become the tokens/Badges, and player crafters become the gear vendors.

This solves a few problems. It gets crafters more involved in the endgame. All your gear will get that <Made By X> tag, which I find neat. Crafters get to forge every piece of loot. It makes getting gear more fluid, as different bosses could drop the same components. You still need to progress, as certain materials might only be available on certain bosses. There's still an element of randomness in the recipe drops, but because you only need the first drop, the effect of that randomness is muted. Worst comes to worst, you can go outside the guild to find a crafter.

You'd have to play with the numbers necessary for each recipe to get a good rate at which people could gear up, but I'm sure it could be done.

Now there are some problems with this model. Immediate gratification is not present. You kill a boss, and you don't get loot immediately. You do get some new recipes, which might serve the immediate "oooh, that's neat" aspect of loot. Players would need to do a little more research into what's available when gearing up. You can't equip new gear right away, you have to obtain it out of raid. Though with gemming and enchanting requirements, this is pretty much standard unless it is a massive upgrade.

The bigger problem is that if the materials or the crafted gear is Bind-on-Equip, then that will drag raid drops into the economy. One of the big things about WoW is that the top end stuff is not buyable (most of the time), and generally has to be earned by the player participating in activities. If it was all Bind-on-Equip, then that might have negative effects on the game, with increased gold farming, buying, and selling. It would make your farming prowess a very large factor in how well you are geared. I don't think that is a good idea, and I'm pretty sure all the tanks and healers will concur.

In reality, item crafting in WoW is missing an action. Currently, you can:

1. Make a Bind-on-Pickup item for yourself.
2. Make a Bind-on-Equip item for anyone.

It would be really useful if there was a third option:

3. Make a Bind-on-Pickup item for someone else.

If you think about it, this is essentially what a NPC token vendor does. You give them a Bind-on-Pickup material component, and they give you a Bind-on-Pickup item. For this idea to work well, you really need to be able to replicate that same transaction with a player crafter.

Perhaps the solution is a crafting window, like the trade window. The buyer puts her materials (and fee/tip!) on her side, the crafter chooses the recipe on his side, hits the craft button, and the item is deposited in the buyer's inventory.

I think craftable raid gear is an interesting solution to the problem of unlucky raid drop distribution. We get the excitement of random drops in the recipes, while mitigating randomness because only the first recipe drop is important. We get the consistency of badges and tokens in the material drops. We get the variety of loot in that certain recipes or materials only drop from certain bosses. We make crafting an integral part of endgame without overpowering it. Pretty much get to kill two birds with one stone, as I see it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

Wow. I just finished Dreamfall, and I am in shock.

I regret buying this game. I regret the 10 dollars I spent on this game. I regret the hours I spent playing this game. I regret posting that it was "superb". I regret playing the first Longest Journey--even though I loved that game--because it caused me to purchase this one.

The ending was the biggest, most nihilistic, "F*ck You" to the player that I have ever seen. This was not tragedy, or cleverness, or an ending that was fated to be. It was the designer making the last few hours of the game one giant railroad. He took all the characters the player liked, and just stomped them into the ground. Kind of honestly, I am in awe at how far he went.

The Longest Journey had a bittersweet ending that was almost perfect. This was beyond bittersweet, beyond tragedy. The only word I can use to describe Dreamfall's ending is nihilistic.

Man, between Dreamfall and The Time Traveler's Wife, it's been a very depressing weekend.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Weapon Speeds

One of the weird things about WoW melee combat is that you almost always want a slow weapon. There's only a few situations where a faster weapon is better. This is because a lot of abilities depend on "weapon damage" and slower weapons have a higher damage range than faster weapons with the same DPS. So given two weapons, you almost always want the slower weapon.

This seems odd to me. It seems like there should be some advantage to using a faster weapon, some trade-off that would make faster weapons better in some situations. You'd think that effects that have a chance of occurring on a hit--also called procs--would be lend themselves to fast weapons, but because Blizzard uses a Proc-Per-Minute system for most of these effects, there's no advantage to a fast weapon.

(A quick explanation of Proc-Per-Minute (PPM): The probability of proc happening is independent of the weapon speed. For example, Seal of Command will proc an average of 7 times a minute, regardless of how fast or slow your weapon is.)

The few times a fast weapon is desired usually occurs when one of these two trends is broken. For example, combat rogues desire fast off-hands because none of their regular abilities rely on off-hand weapon damage, and because Combat Potency returns energy on every swing (a non-PPM system).

I think it would be better if fast weapons had some innate advantage, to balance the extra damage that slow weapons give to your abilities. Right now, I think weapon speed makes a bit too much of a difference in the quality of weapons, and that makes several drops less desireable than they should be.

Note: Slam Warriors and Hunters don't adhere to the slow weapon rule. Because of the way their abilities interact with the weapon swing/shot timer, there's usually a specific "best" speed for them. The weapons still suffer from the same problem, in that a weapon can be much better or worse than others of the same DPS, just because it happens to have a specific speed.

Network Traffic

A couple days ago, Tobold wrote a post on tiered pricing for Internet access, caused by the rise in BitTorrent traffic. Essential, he took the position that heavy users of the Internet, who transferred more data, should pay more than light users. The resulting firestorm caused him to delete the post and all the attached comments. It's sort of a pity he had to do that, as it is an interesting topic. It's not directly related to WoW, but as we play WoW over the Internet, how the Internet is structured is important to us. (Plus, I haven't written anything in a while, so here's some content.)

For the purposes of this discussion, let us assume that all file-transfer or BitTorrent traffic is legal and does not infringe copyright. This isn't true, but I feel that moral arguments about copyright infringement are a distraction, and obscure the real issues at the heart of this problem.

A lot of people say that if a company says you have X amount of bandwidth, say 512 Kbs up/down, the company should allocate that amount for each customer, and not punish you for using the full amount. The problem with this view is that it is supremely wasteful. It's like you and your neighbour each having a private road from home to work. The vast majority of the time, both roads will be empty and just taking up space. A much better solution is a common road that everyone shares.

Network traffic is like cars on that road. The important part here is that an individual doesn't really care who else is on the road, so long as he can get from point A to point B in a fast and efficient manner. As more and more cars appear, the road becomes more congested, and it becomes harder to use the road to full effect. In the past, whenever this happened, ISPs would add more bandwidth to the system, essentially adding an extra lane to the road, spacing out the cars once again. (Unlike real roads, extra bandwidth is often the cheapest solution.)

So why don't ISPs just continue adding bandwidth? The answer lies in the nature of BitTorrent, which is the major protocol used to transfer files these days.

BitTorrent

BitTorrent is a very aggressive protocol. It basically uses all available bandwidth, saturating your connection. This is one of the reasons that downloading with BitTorrent is so fast. To go back to the road analogy, it's like the road was suddenly packed full of trucks, taking all the available space. If you're in your car, trying to get on the road to go to work, this is very frustrating. Adding bandwidth doesn't help in this case, because the BitTorrent trucks will immediately fill up the new lane.

Anyone who's tried to play WoW at the same time that several torrents are running understands this. WoW takes very little bandwidth. It's playable on a 56K modem. But add several torrents downloading in the background, and your WoW connection craters. God help you if you want to run Ventrilo as well.

There are essentially two solutions to this problem: a technical solution, and an economic solution. Like all solutions, neither one is perfect.

Technical Solution - Quality of Service

The technical solution is something called Quality of Service. Basically, each type of traffic has a priority, and higher priority traffic gets transmitted first, while lower priority traffic gets delayed until the network is free.

Using the road analogy, it's like the road is full of trucks, but as soon as you pull up to the entrance, a space automatically opens up for your car, and you get shifted into the fast lane immediately. It doesn't really matter that the rest of the road is filled with trucks, you get to your destination quickly.

My personal priority system would look something like this, from highest to lowest priority:

1. Game traffic (low size, needs high responsiveness)
2. Streaming audio/video (moderate size, needs high responsiveness)
3. General web (low size, moderate responsiveness)
4. Email (low size, low responsiveness)
5. File transfers (high size, low responsiveness)

People who want to transfer files via BitTorrent can still do so, but without interfering with other people's web experience. Quite honestly, there will be a large amount of bandwidth still usable for file transfers, especially at off-peak hours.

There are several issues with Quality of Service. It is a bit expensive to implement across the entire Internet. There needs to be common agreement on the priority scheme. The network neutrality fanatics will be upset. Some bright MBA will probably think it's a good idea to prioritize by source or destination, and charge for increasing your priority.

As well, this method will decrease the average speed of file transfers. I think the increased responsiveness of all the other types of traffic more than makes up for it. However, someone else will disagree, and make a file transfer client that pretends to be the highest priority. That will lead to an arms wars between ISPs and file-transferrers as the ISPs develop new methods (Deep Packet Inspection, etc.) to classify traffic, and file-transferrers try to fool those methods.

Economic Solution - Metered Pricing

The other solution is to charge people according to the bandwidth they use. This essentially causes people to decide what uses of the Internet are important to them, and implement their own priority. I suspect that most people will cut down on file transferring, and spend their money on web surfing and email.

This is a good solution because it's fairly easy to implement, very hard to evade, and will almost certainly work. It also maps to what people think is "fair": people who use the service the most pay the most, and people who use it least pay the least.

The problem with the economic solution is that there are a lot of interesting ideas or applications that rely on people having access to extra bandwidth at negligible cost. For example, if metered pricing had been the norm, I don't think things like podcasts or YouTube would exist. Similarly, digital distribution of games or movies would have very little chance of taking off. Downloading patches for games and software becomes expensive.

There are also a lot of implications for open source. To a large extent, open source software relies on being able to easily transmit changes and updates across the Internet. Metered access puts a significant cost on using and creating open source software, which would be a shame.

As well, metered pricing can provide a disincentive for the ISPs to improve their service and increase the bandwidth available. To a certain extent, this depends on the competition available, but many ISPs in the United States seem to operate in a quasi-monopoly fashion.

Conclusion

Network congestion caused by BitTorrent and other distributed file-transfer systems is a real problem. Trying to ignore it, or getting into unrelated arguments about copyright infringement, will not work.

My personal preference would be for the ISPs to implement a decent Quality of Service system (with WoW and other games at the top, naturally). However, I lack faith that the ISPs will remain source/destination neutral, and only prioritize on traffic type. I also lack faith in file-transferrers, and I am pretty sure that instead of accepting slightly-reduced file-transfer performance for better overall performance, they will trigger an arms war by attempting to fool the Quality of Service systems.

The Quality of Service solution essentially requires a degree of cooperation between all parties, and I don't think that's likely. So we will probably end up with some form of metered pricing.

Friday, June 13, 2008

L70ETC Music Video Contest

Blizzard's latest Music Video contest is over, and the winners can be seen here.

I sort of wish that Blizzard had used the same format as the 2007 Music Video contest (with the Ataris). I like L70 Elite Tauren Chieftain, and I'm not really a fan of the Ataris, but the 2007 contest produced much more interesting videos.

In particular, the song chosen in 2008 was a WoW-specific song about rogues, and the L70ETC models exist in the game. So we basically ended up with clips of L70ETC interspersed with Rogues doing roguey stuff. All the videos were very similar in content.

In contrast the Ataris' songs were much more abstract, not related to WoW at all, which required the filmmakers to do some interpretation. This lead to a wide variety of videos, which were much more interesting to watch.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Choice in Deus Ex: Invisible War

I mentioned Deus Ex: Invisible War in my last post. Invisible War is an interesting game. A lot of reviews panned it as being worse than the first Deus Ex, but I thought it was actually a superior game.

The thing is that where the first Deus Ex made choices obvious--usually through RPG elements like skills--Invisible War stripped out all extraneous choices, and built them into the gameplay itself. You could handle almost every situation multiple ways. But you never really saw all the different possibilities, because your first plan, your chosen playstyle, would usually work, and you never had to consider playing the game differently. If you approach every problem from the stealth perspective, you see the stealth solution first, and don't even consider the "guns blazing" option.

From a game design point-of-view this is very clean work, to build multiple solutions for every problem with such elegance. But the player ends up only seeing one facet of the game. RPG elements make the different paths obvious. If I can assign points to certain skills, I am chosing to *not* assign points to other skills. If the player never even thinks of using a rocket launcher, does the rocket launcher exist?

I suspect that Deus Ex: Invisible War would have gotten a lot higher ratings if two different reviewers had sat down and compared their experiences, and realized that they may have approached the game in two completely different styles and yet each style worked perfectly and seamlessly.

The lesson that Deus Ex: Invisible War taught me is that if you want people to appreciate their choice, you have to make obvious the fact that that there was a choice. People need to not only see what they are choosing, but also what they giving up.

Old and New Graphics

As I've said before, I wasn't all that impressed with the graphics in Age of Conan. Therefore, I was relatively surprised that I really, really like the look of Dreamfall, which is an older adventure game made by Funcom.[1]

Of course, Dreamfall has a number of advantages over Age of Conan. It's a single-player game with few models on screen and smaller locations. It also uses bright colours, and has that vibrant look that I enjoy.

However, I think a bigger factor may be that Dreamfall is an older game, published a couple years ago. My system is fairly new, and so I can crank all the video settings to maximum. In Age of Conan, I can't push the settings all the way up, and have to settle for medium quality.

It begs the question: is 100% of older graphics better than 50% of newer graphics? Maybe one reason I preferred WoW's graphics is that I can run the older graphics at near-maximum, and that provides a better experience than newer graphics at medium.

I had a similar reaction a while ago, when I played Deus Ex: Invisible War. I played it a couple of years after it was published, and on newer hardware. Again, I was able to crank the graphics to maximum, and I thought it was a really good looking game.

Maybe it's harder to get all the different elements of a graphics system working together perfectly at the mushy middle quality. Maybe the contrast between quality of different elements is a factor. I mentioned that I was very impressed with Conan's water. Did the quality of water diminish how I viewed the avatar graphics? Would it have been better if the water quality was intentionally degraded to match the other graphics settings? Would that have provided a better overall experience?

I'm not sure, and I'm not really into computer graphics. I just found the difference in my visual reaction to two Funcom games to be interesting.

[1] As an aside, Dreamfall and its predecessor The Longest Journey are superb adventure games. I'm still working on Dreamfall, so please don't post any spoilers.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Heroes, not Tourists

I generally like Mount Hyjal. The setup is very different from a normal raid instance, with the trash waves, NPC allies, and bosses that come to you instead of you finding them.

However, one big negative for Mount Hyjal is that there is no purpose to the heroes being there. Unlike the previous Caverns of Time instances, where the Infinite Dragonflight is trying to alter history, pretty much everything seems to happen as it is supposed to. The raid isn't a band of heroes, they're a group of tourists.

I don't demand much from the lore in this game, but there's usually a mission behind our ventures into the various raid instances. Mount Hyjal seems to lack any purpose. It feels like Blizzard thought, "You know what was a cool mission/event in Warcraft III? Mount Hyjal! Let's allow players to revisit it." Playing tourist, rather than doing something heroic.

The Infinite Dragonflight are also superb villains. Mysterious dragons, with that awesome reverb effect for their voices. Epoch Hunter's reveal in Durnholde was an epic moment. Aoenus in the Black Morass made a really good argument for preventing Medivh from opening the Dark Portal. In many ways, the Infinite Dragonflight are the best villains in The Burning Crusade, and it was a real disappointment that they did not appear in Mount Hyjal.

The reason I'm writing about this now is that Blizzard is talking about the new Caverns of Time instance coming in Wrath of the Lich King, the Culling of Stratholme. And the manner in which they are talking about it seems to be emphasising the tourist aspect heavily, "The Culling of Stratholme was a cool mission in WC3. Let's have the players go play tourist with Arthas."

New CoT instances are a great idea. They're fun and often unique. But they need to be along the lines of Durholde and Black Morass, giving the players a heroic purpose, rather than Mount Hyjal, where the raid is just a gaggle of tourists.

Also, bring back the Infinite Dragonflight please.