One cannot fly into flying.

I find it so hard to pick up old characters once I’ve abandoned them. I just can’t do it easily, or at all in many cases; I return again to the once familiar character selection screen and I look with gentle goofy-grinning fondness on the friend I once knew, admire their armour – carefully selected in order to minimise the usual clownful kaleidoscopic ensemble of the casual adventurer – and then launch into the game. Once my character has loaded I look at a hotbar full of abilities set out before me and… hmmm. Have you have seen the cockpit of a 747 airliner? Have you ever had one of those fantasies where you’re on a flight to some sunny destination and suddenly the pilot and co-pilot are taken terribly ill and nobody in the cabin crew has any idea how to fly? A flight attendant stutters over the comms, trying to hide the fear in their voice as they ask whether anyone familiar with how to pilot a 747 could please step to the front of the cabin. Of course nobody else steps forward, so you slowly walk up to the front. “I’m afraid I haven’t flown a 747 before” you quip to the adoring and hopeful-looking flight attendants, “but I did fly a few sorties of F-15 Strike Eagle on my friend’s Atari ST, so I think I should be able to help out with your little problem”. In your fantasy you step into the cockpit, settle yourself in the captain’s seat, calmly put on the headset and call the tower to let them know that you’re banking slowly back to the airfield and if they could just give you some pointers on what flap settings you’ll need to land, that’d be splendid. You land the plane without incident, of course, with the flight attendants saying that it’s the smoothest landing they’ve ever experienced, and how did you manage it, especially with that 160 knot crosswind and the other airliner cutting you off as it tried to jump the queue ahead of you? And you shrug and smile and take phone numbers from a couple of them as the other passengers sing For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, and as you leave the aircraft to the cheers coming from the throng of spectators and journalists waiting outside, the theme tune to 633 Squadron breaks out in the background, and you walk off into the sunset, arm in arm with a couple of rather attractive flight crew.

Of course what would actually happen when you sauntered up to the front of the cabin is that firstly you’d see this:

Welcome back to your high level MMO character

Followed shortly thereafter by you running to the nearest emergency exit and leaping out without bothering to check if there’s a parachute.

And that’s pretty much your standard reasonably high level character in an MMO after you’ve been away from them for any significant period of time. You start looking at all the buttons and, if you have any sense, run away screaming. If you don’t do that, then you’re possibly the sort who laughs merrily at all the power that your character must possess, because look: there are six finger-aching hotbars worth of buttons there! So you immediately run into a fight with three or four mobs of plus five levels, and as your character’s health starts to careen its way off the side of the screen you start maniacally pressing buttons in the order that you seem to vaguely remember from several months ago, and it all goes downhill from there. You find the button for ejecting your character’s armour, you find the button that sends up a flare in order to attract all the other mobs in the zone, the button that changes your hair colour, the one that launders your underwear (which you note down because it’s about to become quite useful), and you find the button which announces in General Chat that you’ve taken off all your armour and are currently flashing your whiter than whites at fifteen hundred angry orcs. And that’s when you remember that you were thinking of the buttons for another character, from a different game entirely; you watch your character vaporise into a cloud of bloody droplets, and all you can think is ‘well at least I know which button gets those stains out of my character’s underwear’.

I have real trouble picking up with characters again after having been away from them for a while. I recently re-rolled my Bear Shaman in AoC and my Warrior Priest in WAR because of this. Now I’d been away from them for half a year or more (and admittedly I have a terrible memory for these things), but how long does it take before that 747 cockpit feeling starts to take hold? Well, I haven’t played my Warden in LotRO for a week and a half due to the aforementioned re-rolling of priesty warriors and shamany bears, and already it had started to feel strange and uncomfortable when I returned the other night. It’s like having a favourite pair of comfortable shoes that feel odd on your feet because you’ve had to wear a different set of shoes recently. Even if it was your favourite shoes, the ones you’d never take off because they fit you like a glove. A shoe-shaped glove. That fits your feet. Hum. And even if you did take those favourite shoes off you vowed never to wear another pair of shoes ever. They were your best shoes, you would both go everywhere together; take photos of yourselves laughing and goofing around in picture booths; they’d sit on the bench of a rowboat looking coy as you sculled them up the Thames; when you got home after a long day out you’d place them carefully on the rug in front of the fire; and later you’d take them up to bed and have them cuddle up on the pillow beside you… I’ve said too much. But you know what I mean: you loved those shoes, platonically or otherwise, and suddenly because you’ve had to wear work shoes for a few weeks now you find that your favourite shoes are a bit uncomfortable around the heel. You start to get annoyed with your shoes, they don’t lace-up right and they have a bit of a reek, and your shoes are deeply offended by this and fill themselves with small stones at every opportunity. Eventually you both decide to take a break and see other shoes, and it’s never the same again.

Yeah, so anyway, it’s a bit like that with my MMO characters. Perhaps a bit less creepy. This is one of the reasons that I like MMO expansions with new races and classes because it gives me an excuse to start afresh with all the other players that are doing the same; World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm will be a blessing for me because I’m not sure I care to go back and remember what all the buttons do on my level eighty characters, especially as I often like to play the healer role. I can just picture myself being the gung-ho type I mentioned earlier and signing up for a dungeon run as soon as I get back into the game after almost a year away from it. I’ll still be desperately trying to get my AddOns to stop aligning my entire interface into a six pixel by six pixel square in the top left corner of my screen when I need to start with the healing. I picture myself looking at all the buttons and hovering over one, then another, then sucking my finger a bit before going back and pressing the first with the daintiest of tentative dabs while directing a hopeful pleading look of Please Don’t Let This Be Bad towards the screen. And afterwards I’m sure we’ll all sit around and laugh and laugh while I finish washing all the blood out of the group members’ underwear.

12 thoughts on “One cannot fly into flying.

  1. mbp

    Great post Melmoth. Don’t forget the added entertainment provided when the devs have radically altered the function of key skills and equipment in some half remembered patch that hit when you weren’t playing.

    I actually think this is actually a pretty important topic for the future. I think that swapping between games has become the norm for an awful lot of players. The proliferation of welcome back deals shows that mmorpg companies are aware of this phenomenon and trying to get people to return to older games but they aren’t doing anything in game to make it easy. I think that a game which is designed to be easy to pick up again after a break could be on to a winning business model.

  2. FraidOfTheLight

    It’s for this reason that I fear going back to my level 80 warlock in WoW.

    When I left the game last year, I was using all 40 buttons on the standard toolbars, plus the ones on the pet bar, plus yet more on a warlock-specific add-on, presumably made by nice people who realised that playing a max-level warlock would otherwise require 7 monitors to fit all the buttons on.

    Incidentally, re shoe-shaped gloves: the German word for glove is Handschuh, i.e. hand shoe. Just sayin’.

  3. Melmoth Post author

    @mbp: Oh yes, the old ‘I WIN’ button becoming ‘Fly Underwear On Flagpole Above Head’ while one has been absent from the game is also a doozy.

    Certainly with the advent of lifetime subscriptions and free to play payment models it wouldn’t hurt for consideration to be given to the perils of returning to a character after some time.

    An interesting example of this seems to be a side effect of Guild Wars 2’s weapon attacks, where the icon changes to the next ability in the combo each time you press the button, as well as the skills automatically updating depending on the weapon equipped.

    @FraidOfTheLight: I never got into raiding but I still had four hotbars pretty much full with icons, not many of them were terribly useful most of the time if I’m honest, however. Perhaps a ‘re-introduction mode’ could be, uh introduced, where the game just slots the three or four abilities you’re going to use most of the time for that particular class, then each time you advance the mode you get another set of abilities, grouped in some sensible fashion (stealth and relevant abilities for Rogues, for example).

    “Those Germans have a word for everything!” to quote the great yellow prophet.

  4. Machination

    I experienced the same thing on my 60 Warlock in WoW. After a 2-year break, I decided to hop on and see what all the fuss was, and immediately decided to attack something with my glittering host of abilities.

    I soon realized that I had not the foggiest idea of what all of them did, and so I resorted to hitting the SPAM button over and over until my tusked opponents (and my voidwalker) died. To make matters worse, I had placed several quest items that had long since been used in random spaces, so I wouldn’t have to open my bag and dig for them. However, I was actually able to find my old 1,2,1,3,4,1 skill sequence, which when applied repeatedly, made every last one of my others skills irrelevant. But that’s just WoW :)

    I actually had much more fun rerolling new characters, because I got to build up from scratch without all the complication. I actually ran a nice little study on it too.

  5. Melmoth Post author

    That’s two for high level Warlocks so far. I wonder if this accounts in some very small part for the low population numbers for Warlocks.

    As m’colleague would happily verify, I’m a certifiable altoholic and don’t need an excuse to re-roll, but this is certainly one amongst my many diverse reasons for doing so.
    Wrong beard style/colour still being the KiaSA favourite, I believe.

  6. Adventurer Historian

    This was an absolutely hilarious post, and more hilarious for it being true. Hell, I had a level sixteen character in Star Trek Online that I rerolled after a three month break, all for the same reasons. In my case, I reremembered the buttons and powers fast enough (there were like seven), but the ‘old shoe’ feel had already set in.

    And you’re right, the theme to 633 Squadron would be awesome.

  7. Melmoth Post author

    “and more hilarious for it being true”

    It’s good to know that so many other people cuddle up with their favourite shoes on their pillow too.

  8. FraidOfTheLight

    Re Guild Wars 2 mapping multiple combo abilities to one button: Aion has this too, which means that the button mashing sequence 1,2,3,2,4,5,1 ends up being 1,1,1,1,1,2,1,1,1. Whether this is an improvement or not I leave up to the reader to decide.

    Re flying planes: F-15 Strike Eagle II was my second ever PC game, back in 1989. It too had a lot of buttons. However, my main memory of it is that, due to the graphical limitations of the time, all of the mountains looked like pyramids. Either that, or every mission was, for some reason, set in ancient Egypt.

  9. nugget


    On one of my returns from a WoW-Break, I managed to… drown my warlock in Zangarmarsh. -_- This was especially humiliating because as everyone knows, warlocks don’t drown.

    There I was, swimming around in one of the big lakes, hellfiring happy little piranhna type fishies… Die fishies die!

    Then I realised my health was plunging at a most alarming rate.

    Thought the little gnome, just before she expired, ‘Jeez, did they make these fishies hit like elites in the time I was away?’

    As I was corpse-running back on my stubby little ectoplasmic gnome legs, I realised that I was probably running back because I’d, y’know, confused the icons for Detect Invisibility, and Underwater Breathing.

  10. Melmoth Post author

    @FraidOfTheLight: There certainly is a danger of things becoming an even more key-mashing experience than they already are. LotRO’s Warden is a good example of how just a few keys can be made to work really hard for the player, rather than just being a 1-1-1-1 2-2-2-2 mash-fest.

    @nugget: Even better when you’re trying to sneak past an elite boss by breathing underwater at him.

  11. Machination

    I wonder if it’s just that the Warlock skill icons are particularly similar to one another.

    I suppose it’s because they all have little thumbnails of someone’s hand with a non-descriptive ball of colorful fire.

  12. nugget

    Now that you mention it…

    Around the time of that particular return, I remember madly mashing ‘Soul Shatter’, or what I *thought* was Soul Shatter, on a boss mob. AAAA it’s not WORKEEEEEEEEEEEEEENG!!! AAAA! *overaggro* *die*


    I believe I was mashing Underwater Breathing that time…


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