Monday, 29 March 2010

Girls will be boys

I'm going to let you all in on a dirty secret.  Things are not as they seem in the World of Warcraft. That hunky male tauren whose biceps you've been sneakily admiring isn't a man in real life - it's a woman!

The signs are there for anyone to see. Who else would be playing a game whose main feature is the wide range of chat options and that rewards completion of the most difficult tasks with a pretty new outfit? A game where you can get your hair cut ten times a day if you want, with no frizzy ends from that change of colour!

No man would waste their time playing such a game when they could be out wrestling a bear, watching football, drinking beer or pausing Under Siege when it gets to the bit with the boobies.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

How Blizzard supports roleplayers

One of the great joys of playing on an RP server is the wide range of player-organised events, such as the superb Strongest of the Horde tournament on Argent Dawn (EU). It's hard to describe how huge and well-organised this event is, but there were hundreds of spectators from both Horde & Alliance (viewing distance limits mean that the picture above doesn't do it justice) and there were player performers, gladiators and drink vendors. The spectacle went on for hours and left some my fellow SANers who weren't from RP realms stunned.

The problem is, that at any event like this, some people see it as an opportunity for attention seeking. In this case, our "hero" was a human paladin who tried to interfere with the duels by running into the arena and deliberately attacking one of the contestants. The organisers had tried to anticipate this by posting guards around the arena, but there's a limit to what you can do when the person involved doesn't care about dying in the process - they can live long enough to significantly interfere with the event.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Who says mages can't dual wield?

I haz staff  + fishing rod. Fear my fiery wrath!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Vigilante logic

Sitting on the train this morning en-route to a meeting, I overheard the following snippet of conversation from a couple of lads in the seat opposite:
"It says 'ere that they're spending a million quid protecting some paedo!"
"Dunno why they're bothering with that. I'd slit his throat for nothing."
Now what I wanted to say was "Surely, the reason why we're having to spend this much money is because people like you want to murder him", but somehow I don't think they were in the mood for fine debate.

We see similar things in WOW quite frequently. Someone decides that something is immoral (whether that be ganking, high prices on the AH or mucky talk in Goldshire) and decides that they are the man  to deal with it, as the lilly-livered Blizzard admins aren't up to the task. So they embark on their campaign of vengeance, seemingly unaware that they are more Paedogeddon than Dirty Harry.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

My secret vice

I have a confession to make.

Although I certainly wouldn't describe my DK or paladin as my main characters, I have done a fair bit of tanking with each. It drives me crazy when I see the modern trend in WOW of rounding all the mobs up and AOEing them down. Not because it's inefficient in the hands of a good group, but because it can go horribly wrong in a bad one. It's led to a bunch of players who have forgotten there is an alternative: focus fire on the most troublesome mob in a pack to bring it down first & crowd control where needed. It had got so bad that when once I suggested marking mobs, I got met with a cry of "LOL! Marking is for n00bs".

When HOR first came out, I'd say 90% of wipes were caused by trying to AOE all the trash mobs down without having the tools to do so. This led to persistent cries of "it's too difficult" and people dropping group the second they got in there. So I started doing something sneaky. The so-called tanks were't marking anything, but I still have the keys bound from when I do tank, so I did it instead. Silently a skull would appear over the first mob to take down and a moon over the one to be CC'd. As if by magic, these previously incompetent random PUGs would start succeeding.
"Great tanking!"
"Great healing!"
"I think they must have nerfed it!" (they hadn't at the time)
Me? I just kept my mouth shut. But it got me wondering. How many other people are doing things quietly in the background to ensure that random PUGs succeed?

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Introduction to roleplaying: part 5 - the art of darkness

This is the final part of a series of posts designed to introduce fellow MMO players to roleplaying. Part 1 covered the basics of what roleplaying is, part 2 described how you can decide what your character is like as a person, part 3 discussed how you can portray that to others and part 4 explained how you can get involved. This last post deals with some of the problems you may encounter and makes some suggestions about how you can deal with them.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Whiney post day

Klepsacovic has decreed this whiney post day, but unfortunately I haven't got much to whine about. I even joined a PUG that completed RFC successfully (rarer than you might think) - there was crowd control and everything! Even better, the re-taking of Echo Isles has started to go official. Dat be good news fa all us Darkspear.

I suppose I'd better make more of an effort. How about this?
Water! Blizzard, will you please at least go to the trouble to make mage water as good as the shop-bought stuff for levels x5-x9? It's only useful for half the levels you go through. If you're going to make us vending machines, at least expand our stock beyond a 3 year old flat bottle of IrnBru. What do you think I am, some kind of warlock?
Oh, and combine it with the food, like you do at higher levels. Pretty please? How about whaaaaaa?
FailPUG - turning water into whine since 2010!

Monday, 15 March 2010

An introduction to roleplaying: part 4 - meeting others

This is part 4 of a series of posts designed to introduce fellow MMO players to roleplaying. Part 1 covered the basics of what roleplaying is, part 2 described how you can decide what your character is like as a person and part 3 discussed how you can portray that to others. This post addresses how you can meet up with like minded people and actually start roleplaying.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Can we all have a sense of perspective here, please?

There's been a huge amount of raging about how bad gold buying is on various forums following Tobold's post on the subject.

  • Gevlon (the man who advocated that poor Africans should take up piracy) has suddenly come over all moralistic and declared that "there is no harmless cheating" in a comment on Tobold's post. Perhaps he should go back and read his own post on law and morals from last year.
  • Syncaine said that "buying gold makes you a bad person" and
  • Daergel stated that "if someone told me in game that they had bought gold, my reponse would very likely be the same; I would add them to my ignore list and raise a ticket."
  • Update: Gnomemaggedon has managed to escalate still further with "I hope some punk comes and burns down your friggin house you scumbag gold buyers!".
Now I'm no fan of gold buying or selling (it would spoil the fun of the game for me), but I really don't get all this outrage. Even if we accept the hypothesis that most gold comes from hacked accounts (and, as Tobold points out, nobody has actually published any hard data on this), the worst consequence is that somebody could have their account hacked and their gold stolen. That's it - some temporarily lost pixels and perhaps a few days of playing a video game missed out on while Blizzard restore everything. The gold buyer has broken no law, nobody has died, nobody has been injured and nobody has lost any real money.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

An introduction to roleplaying: part 3 - finding a voice

This is part 3 of a series of posts designed to introduce fellow MMO players to roleplaying. Part 1 covered the basics of what roleplaying is and part 2 described how you can decide what your character is like as a person. This installment talks about how you portray your new character to the outside world. In part 4, I'll go on to discuss how you can meet up with like minded people and actually start roleplaying.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Introduction to roleplaying, part 2: find out who you are

This is part 2 of a series of posts designed to introduce fellow MMO players to roleplaying. Part 1 covered the basics of what roleplaying is, hopefully in enough detail for people to decide whether they want to get involved or not. Here, I'll assume that you're interested enough to want to give RP a try and want some starter tips about how to go about it. I've listed the process in terms of three steps, but it's important to understand that these aren't linear - it's perfectly OK to switch between these as you refine your ideas and even go back and change things if a better idea comes to you later on. Step one of this process is deciding what you character is like as a person, which is what I'll be discussing in here. Step 2 is about how you portray your character to the world around you and step 3 is about how you interact with other people - I'll cover those in future posts.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Introduction to roleplaying, part 1: settling in

A lot of my fellow guild members from Single Abstract Noun are new to roleplaying servers and I've noticed a lot of questions cropping up in guild chat about what's going on and how to react to this unfamiliar way of playing the game. So I thought I'd write a little introductory guide to help them out and perhaps help others too. This first section is presented as a series of questions and answers covering the basics: I'll try to go into more detail in future posts. I've deliberately started from a very simple level, so if you find a question that you already know the answer to, feel free to skip ahead.

Theme park vs sandbox

Tobold has recently posted an interesting article about "sandbox" games vs "theme-park" ones. For those who aren't familiar with the terms, "sandbox" MMOs are those where players are given a lot of freedom to make their own fun, whereas "theme-park" games have an emphasis on developer-provided content, but offer fewer options.

Of course, sandbox and theme-park are not binary states; they're poles that any game can sit between. All MMOs have elements of sandbox and elements of theme-park, but some have more of one and some have more of another.

What's interesting from a design point of view is how that choice affects the content. By making a game more theme-parky, you are guiding players in specific directions, but that means you can focus your developer effort in those areas, to produce a high quality experience there.

More open games suffer from the problem that developer effort is, by necessity, less focussed, so the average experience is worse, even if you have more choice. To some extent they attempt to fill this gap with "player generated content". For me, this is one of the most interesting areas of MMO design. At its best it can lead to epic battles between different groups of players as in EVE. At its worst, it can lead to unrestricted ganking of players who are minding their own business, as in ... errr... EVE.

Before you ask - yes, I do know that both the above links lead to descriptions of the same event. That's the nature of player generated content - it can be both good or bad, depending on your perspective.

Is there a sweet spot between the two, where the limitless content offered by a sandbox play style can be blended with high quality developer-provided content? I'd certainly enjoy WOW more if the economy were more open, with buy orders available on the AH and real options available for high-end raiders to profit by selling-on their BoE rather than BoP items. These are fairly small changes, but they could open up new ways of playing: for example, gearing up by making money selling services & using that money to buy high-end gear you can then choose to raid in. On the other hand, I don't want to get ganked every time I go to the shops.

Choice is good, but when that choice includes the right to deprive others of their preferred play style, that's where I draw the line. There's a fascinating reflection on the issues associated with this kind of "choice theft" in China Miéville's Bas-Lag series, where it's the basis of the Garuda legal system. Excellent books, which I suggest you go check out- they go way beyond the regular fantasy Orcs vs Elves cliche. Now there's an idea for an MMO...

Monday, 8 March 2010

Is WOW too hard for the anti-socials?

It's been something of a fashion recently to say that WOW is too easy and has been deliberately dumbed down to pander to the "socials" as Gevlon would put it.

There's just one problem with that theory: it doesn't fit the evidence. Single Abstract Noun is a guild that is as full of friendly, helpful, sociable people as you can hope to see. If there is a progression raider there, I haven't met them yet. So if this theory were correct, you'd expect these hopeless social types to be worse than the average player, because they're certainly more sociable.

Fortunately we can test this theory pretty simply. Compare the success rate of guild runs with those of random PUGs. You know, the ones where nobody speaks and is only running it for the selfish purpose of getting loot (or emblems) for themselves. That's about as anti-social as you can get, so they should perform better, right?

Of course the opposite is true. SAN guild runs scoot through content that's many levels above them with no deaths, no wipes, no problems, all the while chatting away and being friendly. This isn't because we're a bunch of twinks who outgear the content - most of the players are in whatever mix of whites & greens they have picked up from levelling on a new server. Meanwhile the anti-social PUGs wipe & fail continuously, even when they are many levels above the instance in question and are twinked to the bejesus with heirloom items. Since joining SAN, I've done 5 guild runs & 5 PUGs. Guild run success rate: 100%. PUG success rate: 0%. Not one of the PUGs has made it even to the first boss.

So what makes these socials so good? They talk and learn from each other. Because it's a friendly environment, they aren't afraid to say when they don't know something, because they won't get kicked for being a n00b. Instead other players who have more experience of playing that class on an alt can help them learn the tricks of the trade. More importantly, they care about what happens to their guildies, so they try harder to avoid letting them down. Playing with people you like and respect improves your performance, it doesn't hinder it.

Its those anti-social "gogogo" types that struggle.

Edit: The "dumbed down WOW" cliché is heroically revisited by Klepsacovic here. Kids of today ... good old days ... national service ... it's the only language they understand.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Culture shock

Joining Single Abstract Noun (SAN) has been a revelation for me in many ways. First of all, because most of the bloggers involved aren't from RP servers, the guild chat is out of character.

Having come from an RP background (pen & paper games to begin with, plus always playing MMOs on RP servers), this is quite a psychological shift. I'm used to having an out of character (OOC) channel for the guilds I've been in, with guild chat being in character (IC). This arrangement may seem strange to those who don't take much notice of the "RP" part of MMORPG, but it's something I'm familiar with and I find to helps reinforce my sense of my character being a separate person from me, which is part of the reason why I play these games. For a roleplayer, it's obvious that my rude, scheming warlock (or my nice but slightly dull druid) aren't me, any more than Robert De Niro is Travis Bickle. For people who aren't from that background, the avatar is the person: if you're rude IC it means you're rude in real life (IRL). Right now, I'm going with a relatively likeable character to avoid potential misunderstandings.

The second strand of this is the level of surprise from my new guildmates as to how nice & helpful people are on Argent Dawn (EU). They seem genuinely amazed that people stop to help them if they look lost, rather than insulting them for being n00bs. To me, this is normal - it's how MMORPGs are played; they are, by nature, highly social games. I've never "got" the frequent accusation that the WOW community is unpleasant, because that hasn't been my experience. With hindsight, the evidence was there for me to see in the cross-server dungeon finder groups I've been in. People rarely spoke except to blame others for their own mistakes or say "gogogo". Whilst this sort of thing is not unknown on RP servers, it is much rarer, and most groups are friendly and helpful to people who are new to a role. It all makes me very glad that AD was chosen as the host server for SAN. I'm not sure I'd have coped anywhere else.

Finally, I'd like to thank all of the Alliance guys who were RP-defending Northwatch Hold using /duel last night. Yes, it interfered with my minor levelling quest, but it made me feel like I was in a real world, where people cared about their faction and castles are more than just places to kill pixels and gain XP.


Well, it's been a long time coming. I've been thinking about starting an MMO-related blog for ages and I've had this empty shell sitting around for months, waiting for me to conjure up the inspiration to write. I'm not sure that there was a simple reason for all this dithering, but I think it was a mixture of concerns:
  • Does the world really need another MMO (or MMORPG - I'll get to that distinction in a later post) blog?
  • Do I actually have anything interesting to say? Keeping up a daily stream of interesting posts as (for example) Tobold does is quite a challenge.
  • Do I have the commitment to keep up with the workload - I do have a terrible habit (inherited from my grandfather) of being incredibly interested in something for a few weeks and then getting bored and drifting away.
All these things in combination have left me hovering just below that "just bloody write something" threshold until now. So, what's finally pushed me over that line?

Well, I can't take full credit for that myself. Tamarind of Righteous Orbs has started a blogger's guild on Argent Dawn (EU). Since so many of the bloggers I read had announced that they were joining simultaneously, I thought I'd pop over & take a look, as non-bloggers are welcome too. What I saw there was an incredibly friendly & chatty group of people (bloggers being talkative - whoda thought it?) who find time to both play the game and write interesting things about it. Maybe it is possible after all...