On the twelfth day of Christmas, my game dev. sent to me:
Twelve spammers spamming,
Eleven griefers ganking,
Ten mobs a-bugging,
Nine ninjas looting,
Eight raids a-wiping,
Seven zones a-lagging,
Six guilds amdramming,
Five SECOND pings,
Four camping bots,
Three class nerfs,
Two total noobs,
And a QQ talent in my skill tree.
Have a Merry MMOmas.
Cool-downs on skills are a curious thing:
Darth Vader: “Your powers are weak, old man.”
Obi-Wan: “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”
Darth Vader: “Nice try noob, but I’m not falling for that; I know you’re just stalling because your Jedi skills are on cool-down.”
Obi-wan [raising arms in the air and closing his eyes]: “Oh bum.”
Luke [Standing beside the grounded Millennium Falcon]: “Ben! No!”
Spirit of Obi-wan: “Run, Luke! Run… Your blaster trigger-finger is still on cool-down!”
Spirit of Obi-wan: “Now how in the name of the Force am I supposed to make this corpse run from Dantooine back to the Death Star? Bah, I’ll just stay as a ghost, at least I can’t get ganked by Vader any more and I won’t have to listen to that green imp bleating on at me: ‘Fix the leaking sink, you must’, ‘Be nice to my aunt when we visit, you will’, ‘My supper, on the table it is not.'” [Hands deep in his robe pockets, shoulders hunched, he grumbles off into the distance, kicking at stones, through which his foot passes without stopping.]
There’s nothing quite so frustrating as being a hero, super or otherwise, and leaping into the midst of combat with a ‘Stand thee back!’ and ‘Never fear!’ only to glance at one’s skill bar and realise that nine out of ten of the best powers are on cool-down. Admittedly there is some argument for learning not to jump into the middle of a cliché of villains without having first checked whether one can do anything more than perhaps distract them with the dance of the seven veils, but where’s the sense of adventure in that?! The sense of imminent personal pain and death is clear for all to see, I’ll concede.
It’s a curious evolution and is yet another mechanic that seems to be nothing more than sand thrown into the delicate moving parts of the player experience. There can be no doubt that cool-down mechanics, where a skill is disabled for a set amount of time after it has been activated, solve many rankling problems that would otherwise plague developers striving towards that incongruous mixture of restrictions and barriers that we know as ‘balance’. Yet from the player’s perspective, there can be few things more annoying than having an ability that will solve the current problem at hand and not being able to use it due to an artificial restriction. I say artifical restriction because cool-downs seem to be a strand at odds with the rest of the wily woven web of balance that entraps all players, the foundation of which is that set of mechanics that we shall call skill enablers. Skill enablers are the mechanics that limit the amount your character can do before they become exhausted, in World of Warcraft it is the rage of the warrior, the energy of the rogue and the mana of, well, everyone else. These mechanics serve as a way to control what a player can achieve and, with only a modest suspension of disbelief, make a reasonable amount of sense. Cool-downs, on the other hand, just leap out of the screen and pull down on your tie in that way that makes the knot so incredibly small that you need nanotechnology to get in there and unravel it. Annoying. I was trying to say that they’re really, quite terribly annoying. What do you mean you don’t wear a tie whilst playing so you wouldn’t know? What do you wear, then? I’ll tell you now: a tie is the only garment of clothing that I consider a necessity when playing an MMO!
Hmmm. Too much information?
I find it hard to put myself in a mindset that can accept cool-downs; I always envisage a warrior unable to perform the ability he did but a second ago use, yet is still able to perform any number of other combat feats, just not that specific one, not for another six and a half seconds at least. You slammed your shield into the enemy’s face to great effect, and now you can’t do it again? Why on earth not?! Was it perhaps too effective, and you think it would be better to give the enemy a fighting chance? Are you afraid that you have exhausted poor Kenneth, your shield, and you want to give him a chance to recover before slamming him into a sold object again? Perhaps you have some sort of religious belief system whereby you can cave-in the skull of an enemy using a solid wall of metal, but only after you’ve spent the ten seconds it takes to say seven Hail Marthas and cross yourself in penance. How about we say that you have a strange injury that causes you incredibly specific temporary amnesia every time your jar your arm in a specific way, such that you can’t remember how to perform that action again for a short period. Yes, let’s say that. Let’s say anything, anything at all that gives me a fighting chance to reconcile the utter stupidity of not being able to perform a basic action that you performed flawlessly only a microsecond ago.
No, not ‘and relax’, because furthermore the more powerful the ability the longer the cool-down. If you spent half a lifetime’s worth of gold at the money grabbing freeloader that you call a trainer, in order to learn a powerful ability that can help turn the tide of a fight whenever you use it, then it goes without saying that you can only use that ability once every blue moon. Which is quite the undeniable shame, considering that ninety nine percent of the time that you’re in a fight which requires such intervention you’ll find that if you cast your gaze fleetingly upwards the moon that you are fighting under just happens to be bloody well WHITE. OK, OK, lemon-scented oak-soaked barely with a hint of camembert, or whatever those twits in the emulsion paint marketing department have decided the colour of the moon is today.
Oh, I’m so very glad that I sold my castle and half my lands in order to buy this ability that, having now used it, I can’t use again until the wedding of my great great grandchild.
Still, in the end cool-downs are there to protect us from ourselves, otherwise we might be faced with characters with stupendous powers that they could use at will, and wouldn’t that be plain madness:
Wise trainer: “BEWARE!”
[Hero looks at wise trainer. Wise trainer stares back through squinted eyes.]
Hero: “Uh… beware of what?”
Wise trainer: “Eh? Oh, right. BEWARE…”
Hero: “Yes, we’ve done that bit.”
Wise trainer: “Don’t INTERRUPT me in the middle of a BEWARING!”
Wise trainer: “I don’t know. Heroes these days, ALWAYS butting in, think they know better. Why, when I was younger… bah, now I’ve FORGOTTEN what it was that I was SAYING!”
Wise trainer [looking around in mild panic]: “What? Where?!”
Wise trainer: “You said ‘Beware!’. Beware what?”
Hero: “No, no. ‘Beware’ is what you were saying.”
Wise trainer: “No it wasn’t. You just said it.”
Hero: “Yes, yes, I know. But I was saying it because that’s what you were… oh never mind, can we just get on with it?”
Wise trainer: “BEWARE!”
[Hero makes a rolling hand gesture in an attempt to speed things along]
Wise trainer: “The POWER that I have bestowed upon you can DESTROY the entire WORLD, however, you can use it but ONCE every ten years!”
Hero: “So I can destroy the entire world.”
Wise trainer: “Yes.”
Hero: “But I have to ‘beware’, because I can only do so once every ten years.”
Wise trainer: “That’s quite correct. You MUST only destroy the ENTIRE world when it’s really necessary, because you won’t be able to do it again for AGES.”
Hero: “Uh huh, well I don’t think that that’s going to be a problem. And why do you emphasise WORDS like that.”
Wise trainer: “It’s a CURSE, thrust upon me by that ACCURSED witch at number SEVENTY ONE.”
Hero: “But you’re able to cure curses aren’t you?”
Wise trainer: “It’s on COOL-DOWN.”
I’m sure you’ve all heard the big merger news, but in case you hadn’t:
It seems that Virgin Interactive Entertainment, Gamecock Media and Zoo Digital Publishing are set to join forces to form a game industry behemoth.
Look for Interactive Virgin Zoocock games in store near you soon!
(Mercy, the search terms that are going to hit this site now…)
Regarding Warhamer Online’s Tome of Knowledge:
But above all, I think what makes the Tome of Knowledge so special is that it’s your story. We are simply making a vessel to show you how you play Warhammer Online, and we expect people’s Tomes to express their different play styles and methodologies. While we are making one Tome, we are also making many. We are making your Tome. It’s waiting for you, and we can’t wait for you to come and check it out.
It’s a wonderful, powerful feature, which could potentially be the enabler for players to really identify with their characters and take pride in them. The WAR folks are always talking about realm pride, but they seem to be investing equally great an effort into developing a sense of character pride. Yes, there’s definitely an element of the age old e-peen mindset about it, but the fact that the Tome also seems geared to tell the story of your character through many factors, not just those related to having hit other players over the head the hardest, means that it’s not necessarily ‘all about the epix baby’.
My thought though: if the Tome of Knowledge is indeed a complete scrapbook of one’s character’s adventuring life and not merely a few stats and titles, then please for the love of all that is holy, provide the ability to export the Tome into a document format that can be read outside of the game, pdf perhaps, or maybe XHTML based.
Blogs are a wonderful way to record the adventures of our characters, but if you have a feature within your game that already automates part of this – recording the basic history of a character – then exporting it would allow players to write around those raw facts and concentrate on fleshing out the spirit and feel of the game more, something which a data collection tool such as the Tome probably won’t be able to capture.
If nothing else, I envisage myself in my eighties sitting in a rocking chair beside an open roaring fireplace, blanket across my legs and grandchildren all sat around my feet, and then relishing the groans and the looks of ‘do we have to?’ directed towards their parents, as grandad blows the dust off of his e-book, opens up his Tome of Knowledge, and begins to regale them all with the adventure of Gunberk the Dwarf vs the Dragon Ogres for the hundredth time. [crazy old man cackle]
I was reading an article over at Kinless’ blog about areas of meaningful activity, where they ask at the end:
Do any of you have more ideas about “meaningful activity” that could be incorporated into the game to get people out of Shattrath and back into the world?
As pitiable as it may sound, I quite enjoyed the photography element in Bioshock. For those of you who haven’t played that game, the photography element was a mini-game where you took photos of enemies and, once you had collected enough shots of a particular enemy, it earned you a ‘research’ bonus which granted you various character improvements, such as extra damage, for example.
I think that a mini-game along the same lines within an MMO could be quite a lot of fun. It would have players searching out locations, flora and fauna and taking pictures of them to earn bonuses or vanity items. For example, take a picture of all the various species of tiger in WoW and get yourself a mini tiger vanity pet to run around after you. It could well have players visiting old areas to find various mobs and locations. If mobs or items were deep inside some of the old-world dungeons then you could even get people running those dungeons again to get to the photo bonus objects.
What better than photography to make one open their eyes again, focus on more than the mundaneness of their immediate surroundings and see the vast expanse of the world anew.
I was reading a thread on Usenet about pornography recently and it got me thinking. Firstly I was marvelling at the improbability of finding a thread about porn on the Internet, I mean, what are the chances? Shockingly, however, the discussion was at least attempting a sane and rational look at pornography and erotica, especially with respect to the strangeness that is sex as a fully-fledged industry. Admittedly it became progressively stranger, as Usenet threads are wont to do, until it veered wildly into considering what aliens would make of our sex industry if they visited the little pit of abasement at the end of the universe that we happen to call Earth. At such a point one can only surmise that the topic of tentacle porn would shortly follow, which is as good a Godwin’s Law for porn threads as one is going to get, and hence your humble narrator left forthwith.
It did however, as I have already related, trigger a train of thought.
Pornography has been with us for quite some time, but it would seem safe to say that it is only in mankind’s recent history that a true industry has sprung up around the luxuriant idea of sex as relief through performance and art. The basic premise is this: as mankind has advanced, sex has become less of a basic fundamental need for survival and more of an indulgence. With indulgence comes over-indulgence, and with over-indulgence comes abstinence and a desire to attain a more seemingly healthy balance. And here is where the porn industry steps in, for the desire is still there within many people although they do not wish to carry out their desires themselves, and thus they live out their fantasies through others, while they remain safely ensconced behind the protection of a glass screen and an ‘off’ button.
The thing is, it’s not just related to the porn industry, and this is where I hope to drag this discourse, kicking and screaming, back on to the topic of MMOs. Firstly though, let’s look at the food industry. Again, as mankind has advanced (and obviously this outlook is taken from a western world perspective) food has become less of a basic fundamental need for survival due to its abundance, and therefore has become more of an indulgence in certain areas of society. As the obvious signs of over-indulgence set in, with obesity and heart disease becoming far more prevalent than these societies could hope to counter, people start to enter the abstinence cycle and eat less, and more healthily. Here is where industry steps in, and what we have now is essentially porn for food lovers, with TV shows abounding with luxuriant foods, celebrity chefs travelling the world to indulge themselves in an orgy of gastronomic gangbangs, and adverts with hot, steamy puddings, naked from the oven and just begging to be covered in cream.
So what does this have to do with MMOs? Well, in recent times there have been numerous concerns relating to the amount of time indulged in MMOs. Many players themselves are starting to realise that the sheer scale of time that they devote to nothing more than a pixelated spreadsheet simulator is possibly unhealthy, perhaps bordering on clinical obsession. Is it long, therefore, before we enter the cycle of abstinence with respect to MMOs? Has it already begun? I believe it has. MMO porn thy name is Raids.
“Oh yeah, show me the epix baby, show me the epix.”
The similarities are stark: bold, brash starlets are presented to the viewer, prostrating themselves on the bed of raid content as they display their epic assets, but peer behind the facade and more often than not one will glimpse the unhappiness, insecurity or personal sacrifice of the superstar raider. The top raiders are the porn stars of the MMO world, gazed upon with the hungering eyes of players who, despite desiring the epic image that these starlets portray, are secretly happy that they have not had to suffer the trials and degradation that these raiders have gone through to thrust themselves into the public eye. Instead, the average player will observe, sate their epic-itemed desires, and then return to the comfort and safety of an ordinary adventuring life.
So the next time that you see an MMO raider standing at the post-box in a major town, with their purple bits proffered for all to see, just remember that raiders, like porn stars, are people too.
At the behest of Sir Bildo the Creepily Gazed, I decided to play a little more of my Draenei priest in World of Warcraft last night in order to see just whether the latest patch, 2.3.x, could really improve what I dub the ‘mid forties death grind’, where all but the most exceptional of one’s characters are usually abandoned, floating in the lifeless inky void of the quest hole.
A little back story: I currently have two level seventy characters, the druid was my main for the majority of the game when, I think it’s safe to say, fully half the known world was playing WoW. I played my paladin in the rare gaps when friends weren’t online in an attempt to not advance my druid too many levels ahead. After the initial rush, pun intended, was over I had a level sixty druid and a paladin in the mid forties where he’d been abandoned in the dark depths of questing hell, where even the light of the holy often failed to reach him. After a significant break I returned to WoW, as any player who has been touched by the game’s dark chaotic tentacles is wont to do, and found that a friend, who was looking for a change from their raiding main, had a character who was also stuck in the mid forties. We teamed-up, worked our way through various quests that wouldn’t have been possible solo, and mutually boosted one another through the slog, like a couple of mountaineers battling their way against the blizzard to eventually break through the cloud cover and, gasping frosty breaths, lay eyes upon the sunny summit. From then on it was the plain sailing of sunken temples and black-rocked depths as others succumbed to the Cthulhu-like pull of the Elder Game, allowed a little of the insanity to enter their lives once more, and returned to adventuring with us. Come the time of the Burning Crusade I found little trouble in getting both my level sixty characters to level seventy, and although many a group adventure was had, soloing was always an option when others weren’t around. The Burning Crusade came and went, extinguished as quickly as a candle in a waterfall, and the migrating players took wing and looked for the warmer climes of other games. I hung around though, and took the opportunity to explore the new content at the other end of the scale, creating my Draenei priest and blasting through the first twenty levels of excellent new quests, slowing somewhat as I went through the enjoyable but many-times-undertaken quests in Darkshire and Redridge, until eventually (having worked through all of the Night Elf areas up to Ashenvale in order to become Exalted with Darnassus by level forty, and thus be able to buy my Draenei a graceful, lithe kitty as a mount rather than some monstrous waddling mutant pachyderm) I hit a wall at around the mid forties and I drifted away from the game on the flotsam of disenchantment.
Fast forward to yesterday, which is an impressive manoeuvre if one thinks about it, and it was with some anticipation of disappointment that I took the five and a half hour journey from Ironforge to West Feralas where it had been determined that there were probably quests that I had yet to undertake. I found some quests of suitable level range, some below my character’s current level which are always good for warming-up and getting back into one’s stride, and a few more challenging ones. What followed was a couple of hours of insane experience gaining, loot gathering and general all round OMG and indeed, as those kids say, WT to the F. Yo. My character gained a level and half in what seemed like the blink of an eye and, although I’m not sure if this was due to the recent patch or that luck was having a day off from being a shrewish harridan and was now a lascivious lady of loot, I gained my first ever epic world drop, a mountain of green items, a fourteen slot bag and more pearls than I’ve ever seen.
Certainly, if Blizzard are trying to entice players back to the game, then this is a fine way to go about it, much to the chagrin of the ‘dedicated’, ‘hard working’, ‘skilled’ ‘elite’ of the game’s upper echelons I’m sure. I shall certainly be returning to my priest again tonight, and although lady luck might not be putting-out with the amply lubricated lootual favours this time around, I can already see the summit of Mt. Grind where the Outlands Express awaits to whisk me onwards to the golden land. Either that or I’m being fed a pleasant dream, an enzyme-induced euphoria, while the Elder Game wraps its dark velvety tentacles around my head and sucks away the last remaining ebb of life force through my brain.
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh WoW R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.