Sunday, 28 November 2010

20 Days of Warcraft - what class & race are you most like in real life?

This is a bit of a tricky one. If it was about which class / race combo I'd *like* to be IRL, I'd have no trouble; that would be troll shaman. I'd love to be as cool & dangerous as a troll, and ankh and astral recall sure would prove handy. Even I could manage to avoid dying IRL more than once an hour, so I'd effectively be death-proof.

In my more crotchety moments, I'd like to be a forsaken afflock, bringing slow, agonising death to those who cross me. Boring presentation? Haha! Curse of tongues! Spy a smug-looking jogger out of my window on a winter morning? Haha! Curse of exhaustion! Annoying people getting in my way in a supermarket? Fear should do the trick!

Unfortunately, the question is about what I'm really most like. The sad truth is that I'm closer to being a follower of The Way of Rincewind than the Way of the Warrior, so melee classes are right out. I tend to solve problems with my head, so mage seems the closest fit. As for race, I'd say gnome, but that would leave me a little ... short. So I'll go for three drunken gnomes standing on each other's shoulders to try to get into a bar. That's about right height-wise, plus it has the requisite level of coordination and balance.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

20 days of Warcraft - favourite dungeon

As Pilf has rightly pointed out, the word "dungeon" has a pretty loose interpretation in WOW. We old D&D hands sort of know what it means - a big base full of enemy mobs that you have to fight your way through, but in WOW the meaning has been diluted. Does the word "dungeon" include only five-mans? Raids? Does it have to be instanced at all?

I've taken the latter route when thinking about my favourite WOW dungeon. Jintha'Alor is interesting in a number of ways. Of course there's the strong lore connection to the trolls (Vilebranch in this case), combined with a strong series of quests that lead through it.

But it's also an interesting glimpse into an alternate reality, where Blizzard had taken the non-instanced, open world dungeon route that games like Everquest and Vanguard followed and it tells us a lot about their thinking and the consequences it has had for game play.

Jintha'Alor started life very close to that original EQ model. The mobs inside were all elites and needed a party to defeat. But it wasn't cut off from the world in the way other dungeons were. Everything else was instanced, so that multiple parties could progress through the content in parallel, without ever meeting. In fact that model has become so dominant in WOW now that the word "instance" is itself used as a synonym for "dungeon".

Going down the instanced route was a controversial move at the time and for some people it still is. The open-world model has a number of strengths:

  • It feels more realistic than the instanced world, where people walk in through a door ahead of you and then vanish from your sight.
  • It encourages social interaction between the players - it's very easy to team up when there are a number of people in the vicinity and coordination is needed to prevent conflict over resources.
  • It also encourages good behaviour on an individual level. Act like an arse in an open-world dungeon and it's not just a bunch of anonymous strangers who notice, it's all the people on your server of a similar level.
However, it's also important to remember the problems with open-world instances that caused Blizzard to move away from them:

  • Having all those people in the same place can induce huge loads on both the server and the player's computers. Think Dalaran with combat! Ultimately, though, this is a technical problem that could have been resolved using beefier servers, carefully placed walls and doors, etc.
  • The real killer-problem is the flip-side of the increased social interaction discussed above. Whilst open-world dungeons encourage cooperation on an individual level, they vastly increase the level of conflict between different groups. With only one boss to kill between them (on a long re-spawn timer to prevent him becoming a loot piñata), kill-stealing and boss-camping was commonplace. Ultra-competitive guilds would log-off en-masse where the boss spawned, then take turns to watch for the re-spawn to prevent anyone else getting it. When he reappeared, the watcher would summon everybody back from real life and they'd kill the boss. Essentially, being a leading progression guild required you to be available 24/7.
  • "Cock blocking" was common, where leading guilds deliberately camped bosses below their gear  level to prevent others from killing them and catching up.

Instances solve a lot of these problems - you can't kill-steal, you can't be blocked from progressing and you don't have to give up your whole life to raid. Initially, they seemed great, but as WOW has developed, they've become increasingly detached from the world. Remember when the "summoning stone" was once just a "meeting stone" and you actually had to travel to a place to enter it? Now we're in an era of cross-server, instant-teleport in instances that may as well not be in the game world at all. It's more like a separate mini-game. In the rush to make everything "more convenient", we've lost a lot. The joy of travel, meeting strangers who actually mattered because you'd probably meet them again in a few days and an any sense of a broader community beyond your specific guild.

Open world-dungeons were deeply flawed as a concept, but it seems to me that the Wrath way is even worse. It just doesn't feel much like an MMO any more; just another cooperative online game like Left 4 Dead. It's all rather sad. To paraphrase Larkin:
And that will be Azeroth gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The friendly PUG of strangers.
There'll be solo content; it will linger on
In empty expanses that no-one visits;
But all that remains for us will be "go go go" and emblems.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

20 days of Warcraft - favourite emote

Coming from an RP-server, I've had occasion to use most of the built-in game emotes from time to time. But most of the time, they're too basic a tool for what I'm trying to convey. For example, /kiss doesn't tell you what kind of kiss it is - is it a peck on the cheek, an insincere air-kiss or a passionate snog.

That's why my favourite emote is ... /emote itself. With that, I can communicate greater nuances of meaning than a basic emote. Sven smiles coldly says something completely different to Sven smiles warmly or Sven smiles through the tears.

With /em , it's possible to say things without speaking, much as actors use their expressions and body language to convey mood. /dance just makes your character dance on screen; Sven dances with technical perfection, but without passion conveys volumes about your character and his emotional state.

The great thing about /em is that it can be used to add layers of characterisation in almost very RP situation. It's that flexibility that makes it so powerful.

Monday, 22 November 2010

20 days of Warcraft - favourite NPC

My instant reaction when thinking about my favourite NPC in WOW was one name: Varok Saurfang. He's an incredible, admirable figure. He knows he participated in the horrors that the Orcs committed under the blood curse and remembers it clearly:
"I think it was the sounds of the draenei children that unnerved most of them... You never forget... Have you ever been to Jaggedswine Farm? When the swine are of age for the slaughter... It's that sound."
Yet, unlike other major characters who have lived through traumatic times in Azeroth, he has retained his reason. Neither wallowing in self-pity like Arthas, nor descending into the deranged messianic delusions of Kael'thas. Even the death and corruption of his beloved son, Dranosh hasn't broken him. He's still there, advising Thrall, restraining Garrosh. Doing his duty.

He watched my back when I got sent on the suicide-mission to kill Varidus the Flenser, and he's watching everyones else's back too - he's made it clear that he'll kill Garrosh Hellscream if he takes the orcs back to their savage past. He's a great man, a great role model, but he's not my favourite NPC.

Then my thoughts turned to one of the most memorable moments in all the years I've played WOW. The glorious, deranged figure of Grand Apothecary Putress on the rise above the Wrathgate:
"Did you think we had forgotten? Did you think we had forgiven? Behold, now, the terrible vengeance of the Forsaken! Death to the Scourge! And death to the living!"
He comes so close to succeeding ... wounding the Lich King, slaughtering Alliance and Horde alike. It's still not entirely clear who was really behind the whole scheme - Sylvanas would certainly like us to think it was Varimathras, but could he really have done all that without her knowing?

Great lines, glorious evil and fantastic dress-sense. Putress is the villain's villain. I do hope we haven't seen the last of him. He's not my favourite NPC either, though.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

20 Days Warcraft - favourite race

One of the problems of designing a virtual world is drawing the balance between making it different enough to be interesting and being so alien and strange that people can't relate to it without making a huge investment of time and effort. This particularly applies to playable races - you can make alien NPCs mysterious and incomprehensible, because players don't have to be able to think like them to play the game, but player races have to be something that people can identify with.

The lazy default for fantasy MMOs is the Tolkein-lite world. Humans (white, european-looking ones, of course - in the clichéd world of the hack MMO, nobody looks african or asian), elves (beautiful but aloof ... yawn), dwarves (like a drink, grumpy ... seriously - what happened to sneezy, dopey, happy and bashful dwarves?), plus a smattering of ugly green-skinned races to be the bad guys.

Friday, 19 November 2010

20 Days of Warcraft- favourite class

Ama over at Specced for Drama has an interesting posting challenge here. Essentially, the idea is to answer one of twenty questions each day. The first one seems, at first sight, simple:
Favourite class and why?
Of course, the correct answer should be Shaman. They have so much utility, are deeply tied into the lore and have a unique mechanic in totems. They combine high ranged DPS with heavy armour (glorious for levelling) and have ankhs in case of emergency.

I love druids, too. Heal, tank, ranged and melee DPS in one class, with added stealth and the wonder that is swift flight form.

But ultimately, there's one thing that decides it for me: Zeppelins. I hate 'em. Sitting there waiting for the darn thing to turn up. The second you go AFK, it appears, the second you come back, it leaves.

So ultimately, my favourite class in WOW is mage. No floating about on those goblin death-traps with Arthasdklol for me. Just nice, safe, clean teleporting. It's how travel was meant to be. Compared to waiting for a Zeppelin, being reduced to a bloody stain on the ground by your feeble armour and lack of healing is merely an inconvenience.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The end of the Horde?

When making my previous post on the 20 most powerful people in Azeroth, I was struck by one recurring theme: how little many of the Horde races would lose from leaving it.

In the past there have been good reasons for the different factions banding together under the Horde banner. They were facing a large external military threat (whether it be demonic or undead) that was best countered by large, organised armies. Come the Cataclysm, that's no longer true. The main bad guy of the expansion is a big dragon, which isn't the kind of thing an army is much use against - that's more a job for a small group of elite troops.

The Horde has always been something of a rag-tag coalition, mostly held together by the various leaders' personal loyalty to Thrall. With that gone, what's left?

Sure, there's an external threat from the Alliance, but that only really exists because of Garrosh's aggression. If the other Horde races were to distance themselves from that, there's no reason why they couldn't live in harmony with other nations. Well, OK, maybe the Forsaken would have issues, but I'm starting to get the impression they're strong enough to stand alone. They don't seem to be getting much military assistance from their allies in any event, so they may feel they are having their hands tied by the Horde leadership.

The Trolls don't really need the Horde's assistance in retaking the Darkspear Isles any more - that job's done. Given Garrosh's bad relationship with Vol'jin, they're unlikely to get much help from their orcish neighbours in the near future anyway.

The Tauren are in conflict with the Alliance, but mostly as a result of their ties to the Horde. A little druidic mediation could easily lead to a ceasefire there, allowing the Alliance to concentrate its forces on Orgrimmar. Whilst they had a lot in common with Thrall's Horde, they have very little with Garrosh's. In fact, they're probably more natural members of the Alliance than the new, rampaging, Horde.

The Sin'dorei have only ever been members of the Horde for pragmatic reasons - culturally there's nothing in common. Now that Kael'thas is gone, the door might be open for them to re-join the Alliance too. That might be tempting for another reason, too. The only really dangerous force on their doorstep is the Forsaken, who aren't exactly famous for being good team players. Alliance troops in Silvermoon may provide more protection than a piece of paper saying you're friends.

That leaves the Orcs and the Bilgewater goblins. The latter do need a strong neighbour in their current state, but wouldn't really be a huge help in the war effort. The Orcs do need allies right now - they're in a huge war. But do those allies need them?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The twenty most powerful people in Azeroth

With Forbes publishing their list of the most powerful people on the planet this week, it got me thinking: who are the most powerful people in Azeroth at the start of Cataclysm? For the purposes of this list, I've only included humanoids; dragons, demons and the like have been left out.

I'm sure your list will differ, so debate away!

1. The Jailer of the Damned
Straight in at number one this year, Bolvar Fordragon has taken on what is probably the hardest (and most powerful) roles Azeroth has to offer. With the fall of Arthas, Bolvar heroically sacrificed himself to take control of the Scourge and prevent it running amok in Azeroth. Bolvar vies with Thrall as one of the nicest guys in Azeroth, but the fact remains that whatever is left of him controls a giant army of undead minions. Should he choose to unleash it, for good or evil, it would be the most powerful force on Azeroth once more, under his complete control. All of this makes him the most powerful person on Azeroth.

2. Sylvanas Windrunner
Even under the relatively close oversight of Thrall, Sylvanas's apothecaries managed to create a blight so powerful that it harmed Arthas himself. Under the unsophisticated supervision of Garrosh, she has thrived, using both military might and Azeroth's equivalent of WMD to cut a swathe through Gilneas. A Lich Queen in all but name, her authority at home is unquestioned and her forces were barely halted at Gilneas City. For any other playable faction, the question "would they win if they took on the whole of Azeroth?" has a clear answer: "no". For the Forsaken it's "hmmmm, maybe...if they planned it right." That's what makes Sylvanas the number two on this list.

3. Varian Wrynn
Repulsive egomaniac he may be, but you have to hand it to Varian when it comes to old-fashioned rule by force. He's building castles to keep the peasants from revolting and his troops are everywhere. As a result, there's no serious challenge to his leadership of his nation and he has a large and disciplined army. That makes him number three.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The mask

One of the things that has always fascinated me is the different way gamers view online anonymity. As anyone who's read my rants about Real ID will know, I value my privacy pretty highly and I've found it hard to understand why others don't feel the same. Sure, we've all had bad experiences with people hiding behind that mask acting like arseholes, but then some people just ... are aresholes, and I'd never put it down to anything more than that; the majority of the anonymous players I've met have been perfectly polite and respectable.