[Tales of a Scorched Earth
Saturday May 13, 2006

another crusade, but this time it's burning

Written by gatmog at 04:03 PM
Categories: mmorpgs, pc gaming, world of warcraft

[the blue giants]I'm going to feign surprise at Blizzard's recent announcement of the Draenei as the Alliance race for The Burning Crusade expansion due later this year. Details of the expansion - unofficial, of course - were available almost immediately after the initial announcement last October. I can't say I've gained any more appreciation for the idea.

Let's get the cosmetic stuff out of the way: the new races are boring. The Blood Elves simply look like re-skinned Night Elves. Though I find it interesting that a "pretty" race was added to the ranks of the generally nasty-looking Horde. I'm sure this will cause an influx of new Horde players to try the new Spellbreaker class, which up to this point seems to be only available to the Blood Elves. The Draenei look like a cross between Hellboy and the Twi'leks from the Star Wars universe, sharing their overall soft appearance with the Night Elves. They certainly look friendly enough to be an Alliance race. But no new class for them. Judging from the race's ability to wield Holy Magic I can see Paladin, Preist, Warrior and Mage being available.

A new profession will be offered: Jewelcrafting. It follows, then, that socketed weapons and armour will now be part of loot drops and Blacksmith recipes. I get the feeling that Diablo II really was their model for the simplistic, action-oriented gameplay. This is a good addition for those that want to customize their gear without having to level up any crafting skills to the point where they actually produce useful items. I'm assuming of course that socketed items and gems will be readily available to all players of the expansion. It will be interesting to see how this feature is handled for people without the expansion, because there is no doubt there will be a high demand for these materials at the Auction House.

The expansion also adds a new area: Outland. Formerly the Orcish homeworld of Draenor, it has since been ravaged by the Burning Legion. Being able to explore the floating remains of this planet seems like a cool concept, but it sounds way too much like Everquest II's Kingdom of Sky. Flying mounts are also made available in Outland, but I question the decision to limit them to Outland despite their immediate practicality in this new wasteland. It seems kind of pointless when more content is being added to the core game; why not allow players to explore it on their flying mounts? It's probably just another case of keeping the expansion pack owners separate from the rest of the players, a tactic used in Star Wars Galaxies for their own flying expansion. But at least SWG had an excuse: you can only fly in space. I could buy a ship and go anywhere in the galaxy without having to buy transport tickets. Blizzard is basically telling me that I still have to pay for griffin rides when I own a flying mount.

The Burning Crusade certainly expands the content of the existing game by adding new areas to explore, quests and instances to raid. However, I don't see it addressing the fundamental problem with the endgame that requires so much time and effort to gain any measurable benefit from. The additional 10 levels seem arbitrary when you consider what's involved in getting through them. It essentially propagates the idea that high level players not involved with raids or guilds must start yet another alt or gain the next 10 levels through grinding instances in pick up groups. I know there will be many people that buy this expansion the day it comes out, but are they really that desperate for more of the same? I had hopes that this expansion would be alluring enough to make me want to play the game again, but it seems like Blizzard is continuing its construction of another Everquest.

Sunday February 12, 2006

goodbye to Azeroth

Written by gatmog at 03:11 PM
Categories: game culture, mmorpgs, pc gaming, world of warcraft

I wasn't kidding; the deed is done before my next billing cycle starts tomorrow. While it's terribly easy to cancel an account, I find it a bit unnerving to be told that by doing so I'm "making the Peon cry".

[But you're making the peon cry!]

Truth be told, I probably haven't touched my main (a night elf hunter) for about two months, and haven't been the worse for wear. I simply don't have the time to spend on what is essentially just something to occupy all of my game time, when I'd rather be enjoying something, well, newer. It certainly makes writing about games a lot easier.

Before making the final decision to cancel my account, I was then presented with an animated gif of a robed figure begging for forgiveness, and the following:

The peon is full-on weeping now. We hope you're happy. Are you positive you want to deactivate your subscription?

I never got this kind of guilt trip with Star Wars Galaxies, though navigating SOE's Station Subscription site was a bit of a headache. Everyone knows that MMORPGs have addictive qualities. Some people's lives are so upended by them they seek professional help - or do nothing and lose everything. Why is Blizzard trying to make this process harder for someone who's looking to turn their life around? Though these comments may be intended as a humerous send off, I don't think the guy who lost his wife and kids to a game is laughing.

Tuesday January 31, 2006

there is an end, and I don't like it.

Written by gatmog at 10:47 PM
Categories: game culture, mmorpgs, pc gaming, world of warcraft

And this is why I'm cancelling before it's too late.

In the context of the article I'm definitely a "casual" player of World of Warcraft - I just don't have the time or the patience to get involved in a guild, only to serve as a single-function entity in some 30 person raid for possible drops of elite gear. Which is really only useful for more raids. Where's the adventure? Forget that, where's the roleplaying?

I like soloing. I only have to worry about myself and I can have fun for as long as I want. I also don't mind grouping with friends for a few quests here and there. There's less of an investment required in these activities. It's this point in the game where high level characters perpetuate the need for high level group raids or PvP combat that turns me away. As Jennings points out, this isn't the game I started playing, and certainly isn't the one I plan on finishing.

and it corrodes my soul

Thursday January 19, 2006

welcome to Azeroth

I consider myself off the skag that is World of Warcraft; I have had enough of a break from the game that I can view my experiences with it objectively. I've got an article over at The Cultural Gutter that is an attempt to capture the essence of what is arguably the most popular MMORPG in existence right now. With an expansion looming in the distance that tears my heart in two, and holding on hope for the last three patches that something might actually be done to deepen the experience, I consider the article a purging of that other life.

in my new pattern shirt

Friday August 19, 2005

World of Warcraft plays dress up

Written by gatmog at 09:12 PM
Categories: mmorpgs, pc gaming, world of warcraft

The options for visual customization at the character creation stage in World of Warcraft are extremely limited in comparison to Star Wars Galaxies and Everquest II. I always thought that what WoW lacked in initial customization, they made up for with the unique looking armour and weapons found in game. However as the endgame approaches, every player wants their avatar festooned with the most powerful of epic gear. Ultimately, everyone in each character class ends up looking more or less the same.

With the upcoming 1.7 patch, Blizzard intends to implement a feature called the Dressing Room, where a separate window shows your avatar wearing armour, clothing and weapons before purchasing them. This feature works regardless of the required level of the equipment, allowing you to plan your snazzy new outfit in advance. I can see this also being useful for any Soulbound items you may find that are otherwise unsellable to other players once you've worn them. Though the entire prospect of simply previewing clothing on your character seems ridiculous when compared against a system that actually allows you to customize your outfits.

Tailoring and Leatherworking are the only professions that allow the use of dyes to be used in the crafting process, but even then they're only for use in certain recipes. When I look back to the item creation system in Star Wars Galaxies, it not only allowed players to change the appearance of the item, but also experiment with the item's stats themselves. Through probability and the Engineering skill level, even lower level Artisans in Star Wars Galaxies are able to create powerful items relative to their character's level. World of Warcraft has a similar system in that the recipes you obtain when you first select a profession are usually useful for your character at that level, but the process by which the items are created is extremely stringent in comparison. Indeed, even the player-enchanted items in World of Warcraft's Auction House begin to seem repititious in light of some of the unique or rare drops you would find by simply killing monsters. The entire crafting system seems underdeveloped in this regard.

World of Warcraft has turned into a completely absorbing experience for me; this is a world I can spend hours simply wandering through, paying no heed to the tasks I may have volunteered myself for. The first time I visit a new region I take a few moments to simply observe my surroundings - sure, the monsters may have simply changed names or color, but the environments are easily the most carefully designed elements of the game. With such limited choices for building new characters, I'd like to see more effort put towards allowing players to customize their characters during the game. The social aspect of World of Warcraft is certainly part of the appeal of playing, but careful examination of the gameplay reveals a startlingly slim difference from the typical stat-pumping RPG.

I know you too well

Thursday February 17, 2005

World of Warcraft big in Europe

Written by gatmog at 10:11 PM
Categories: mmorpgs, pc gaming, world of warcraft

Over the weekend I learned of Gamma Fodder's wholesale plunge into World of Warcraft. Though I was basically labelled as the dealer of some hyper addictive drug, I can't blame him for wanting to try it out.

Interest in this game doesn't seem to be letting up: the European launch press release cites sales of 280,000 copies last Friday, with 380,000 by the end of the first weekend. Not suprisingly, the official site for WoW Europe warned of choppy seas ahead, as the account creation site was out of order like the North American release, with players experiencing wait times just to be able to get into the game. I find it a bit concerning that Blizzard's European team was not able to foresee this kind of response with so much evidence to support the tidal wave of new users that would hit its servers at launch. Though things appear to have settled down it doesn't negate the fact that they were once again unprepared.

I'm not sure if this is a global sales tactic by Blizzard, where they firmly establish that their product is unplayable so that new users are deterred, but it's not working. People flock to this game with blinders on, eager to drink the sweet, sweet nectar of an MMORPG that is actually fun to play. I fully acknowledge this as indisputable; World of Warcraft injected into every MMORPG fan's mainline exactly what they were looking for - when they can play it. Though when gamers continue to line up for the high-population servers only to have to wait or trudge through a lag-crippled session, it calls into question the reasoning of the gamers themselves.

Due to its level of accessibility and favourable conditions for short game sessions, I plan on getting into World of Warcraft eventually. However at this time I'm finding it more beneficial to observe this growing community from the outside. It seems to me that the game still revolves around a discrete model of "Player vs. Everything", where inter-player communication and cooperation is almost unnecessary. As it stands, World of Warcraft could operate interchangably as a locally-run game. To me, the Battlegrounds are simply something they've been dangling in front of players to convince them that they've made the right decision. These are tactics SOE used when Star Wars Galaxies first launched. The Galactic Civil War was going to change the way people played the game, making Galaxies a true representation of the war-torn universe shown in the films. Though this never happened, and instead the development team pushed out a space expansion while they tried to alleviate the more important class balancing and changes to the combat system, because that's what the players wanted.

After just over two months, it's impossible to predict how World of Warcraft will weather the test of time. I know first hand there is plenty of material in the game to keep players busy, but there are only so many quests you can throw at a player before they start realizing that what they do has little effect on their surroundings. Indeed, waiting while a quest "boss" respawns is enough to remove me from a game world that hinges solely on a player's desire for more experience. Those that have fallen in with guilds have had better experiences in community building, but is the game world deep enough to secure long term interest? For the sake of the players, I'd like to see Blizzard use World of Warcraft's success to build something worthy of its name and not simply rely on its short-term addictive qualities. It's obvious Blizzard can get players to jump in. The real test will be to see if they stay there.

trapped in the sun

Friday November 26, 2004

World of Warcraft a crippling success

Written by gatmog at 09:03 PM
Categories: world of warcraft

I knew the launch of World of Warcraft would be successful, but this successful? With 200,000 new accounts created and 250,000 boxes sold on the day of release, the response to the latest MMORPG to enter this increasingly competitive arena has shocked even me about its widespread appeal. Stories of downed character creation servers, Blizzard adding an additional 34 game servers after launching with 41, queues to just play the game - it was sounding like a disaster. Yet the fans remained faithful to Blizzard, a beacon of truth and honesty. And it appears this kind of dedication pays off, as Blizzard announced a short extension for those that are currently on the free 30 day trial who have probably spent a good portion of their time waiting. Blizzard also reports that stores are having trouble keeping the game in stores - which doesn't surprise me given the protocol most specialty game shops use for major releases.

I have to give them credit for the way they handled the Beta program, but the reaction to the Open Beta should have told them a little something about what the climate would be like on launch day. Instead, I think they hamstrung themselves by arbitrarily closing off the Open Beta. You could assume more people would be interested in a free game, but you also have to assume that access to broadband is as pervasive as those with computers to play it on. As soon as hard media is available for purchase, you get everyone - especially those that felt they "missed out" on the Beta program. I mean all the way up to release the internet was saturated with hype and positive feedback about this game. There's a great discussion over at Terra Nova that speculates about World of Warcraft hitting the one million concurrent subscribers mark. A true accomplishment for a Western MMORPG, but it's tough to make those kinds of predictions so early in the release version's lifespan.

After essentially waiting in line for Steam to verify my store-bought copy of Half Life 2, I think I'm going to hold off on World of Warcraft until at least the Christmas break. That should give players some time to settle into playing schedules, and me time to catch up on this season's numerous releases.

beneath the spider's eye

Sunday November 21, 2004

World of Warcraft prepares for launch

Written by gatmog at 09:33 PM
Categories: betas, mmorpgs, pc gaming, world of warcraft
[Hanging out in Tirisfal Glades]

Blizzard officially closed the World of Warcraft Open Beta test on Thursday, announcing that they would be wiping clean the servers in preparation for the game's launch this Tuesday. According to the official site, over 500,000 people signed up for the World of Warcraft open beta, before they had to turn away account requests. The game was absolutely packed during the first few days of the open beta: wandering around my test server I couldn't stretch my arms without hitting another player. Adding to this percieved chaos were the truckloads of monster swarms surrounding each population centre. Low level character quests thrive on these "Kill X number of [Monster]" quests, but at peak hours it was like walking through the killing fields. The server lag was equally troubling - but what a perfect way for Blizzard to test their architecture.

The amount of traffic settled down after a while, and I was able to continue my adventures in earnest. I created another Human Warlock, an Undead Warrior, and a Night Elf priest. Once again I was amazed at how well designed each race's homeland was. This was my first time playing a Night Elf, and though some of the quests were a little uninteresting, the virtual realm that was sprawled before me kept me thinking about other things. And when you die as a Night Elf, you are converted to Wisp form instead of the standard ghost form every other race must endure, allowing a few extra degrees of freedom when trying to find your corpse. Blizzard has to be commended for really dipping into every piece of Warcraft lore and making it so believable. Originally I thought the low-poly graphics were a little too cartoony compared directly with my experiences in Star Wars Galaxies, but looking deeper at the World of Warcraft reveals a cohesive whole.

There are many areas to explore: the dwarven mountains of Khaz Modan to the undead stronghold of the Undercity are all reachable by foot. And you can hop on a Zeppelin to travel between the islands of Kalimdor and Azeroth if you wish to explore the homeland of the Orcs. I have to admit it was pretty amusing to see my Undead warrior hanging out with some Tauren Shamans and an Orc warrior in the barren lands outside the orcish city of Ogrimmar. Mounts are also available to travel great distances, and though I talked to players who had ridden on the back of a mighty griffin, my own efforts to obtain a mount were fruitless. I wanted to get a skeletal horse for my undead warrior, but a level requirement (and significant amount of money) was needed. This wasn't a huge deal, though, because the game's quests mostly depend on the surrounding area they are assigned in.

This time around I paid particular attention to the initial character building stages. I found that beginning characters don't feel as useless as in Star Wars Galaxies, and can fend for themselves on all of the beginner and intermediate missions. Any mission you pick up that would be a challenge for your character will be marked in red in your quest journal. You can either team up to complete this mission, or level up a few more times until the quest is marked in green. And because each quest will more than likely take place in one region, this makes it easier to prioritize and plan your trips. It also makes your game sessions much more manageable, instead of spending your time marathon running to your next objective. I found I was able to have satisfying gaming sessions that were sometimes less than an hour with a feeling that I've actually accomplished something: whether it was levelling up or completing a few quests.

But this gives rise to a serious flaw surrounding quests, weapons, and monsters: once you get out of a town or region you have no real direction except to go forward. Going back to previous towns and locations will always contain lower level monsters that don't give out as much experience or better loot, which is understandable to some degree. But I also remember clearing an older quest after levelling up a few times in a later area, and my reward was a weapon that was a lot weaker than what I was currently using. As a result, you will rarely see higher level characters going back to the starting areas, unless they are grouped up and helping out some newer characters with the more difficult quests. In that sense, the game world seems like a bunch of "zones" of increasing difficulty tacked together - something I've heard a number of times used to describe Everquest.

I made a conscious decision to put myself onto a roleplaying server, to see if this would affect the way the game is played. I know that during the first stress test roleplaying was the farthest thing from people's minds as all of the servers were made up of first-time players. During the first two days of the open beta, players on my test server did their best to keep conversation in character. But as new players joined, some not even knowing what "roleplaying" was, this diluted the effect and all but eliminated any hopes of getting a believable game world up and running. With newbies asking questions on one side of me, I had powergamers challenging me to duels on the other. The Blizzard-sanctioned game masters tried to keep out-of-character (OOC) conversation in check, but when you have hundreds of players in one zone, it becomes a large and unmanageable task. I doubt this will change for the full release. But as I have said in the past, I can't imagine this action and levelling-focused game will be attracting the serious roleplayer. To give some perspective about the game's intentions, out of the 12 or so Eastern test servers only one of them was for roleplayers.

On the Player versus Player (PvP) servers, Alliance and Horde characters are automatically at war. Anytime you encounter a player of the opposing side, you can fight them - or be promptly killed - without any warning or authorization. On the Player versus Everyone (PvE) or "Normal" servers, if you wander into an Alliance or Horde area and are of the opposing side you will not be touched. If, however, you decide to attack a town NPC or character while in this area, you will be identified as hostile and will become a potential target. This allows potential for massive, player-driven faction wars befitting of its source material - something that Star Wars Galaxies still hasn't been able to nail down a year after its launch.

This final leg of the Beta testing phase was a good indicator of what things will be like at launch, and allowed Blizzard to prepare for the new user onslaught unlike certain other developers. I said in my first experiences with World of Warcraft that the traditional level grind didn't feel like a grind, and was more like part of being a resident of this virtual world. I would often wander the wilderness while completing my quests, slaying a few beasts on the way just to pick up a little extra experience. Certainly this side effect of all MMORPGs will get tiresome, but during the Open Beta I put any negative thoughts about the grind aside and actually enjoyed absorbing everything this unique game world had to offer. As stylized as the environments are, Blizzard has done an excellent job in converting their legendary universe to a MMORPG. They just have to stay ahead of the curve, and make sure players stay interested once they discover the grind has just been dressed up in some new clothes.

why can't we just look the other way?

Wednesday November 10, 2004

World of Warcraft open closed beta

Written by gatmog at 10:46 PM
Categories: world of warcraft

It only took me two days to download the new and improved client, but I'm back in the World of Warcraft beta. Both Blizzard and Fileplanet took a savage beating on Monday during the afternoon and evening after the Open Beta was first announced, but the client download page was back online later that night along with numerous unofficial torrents. The account creation page, however, had been taken offline completely. It wasn't until the next morning before work that I was able to create my account, only to find out later that day the account creation page was again unavailable. And then today, the official site announced that due to an obscene amount of requests the Open Beta was, in fact, now closed. Anyone that missed this opportunity should keep an eye out, because Blizzard will be monitoring the player population and will open up any spots that become available before the game's release on the 23rd. I think this last minute call to arms is a genius marketing move - Everquest II launched this week (did anyone notice?), and apparently you may be able to carry over your Open Beta characters into the retail version.

With all the buzz surrounding sales of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Halo 2, I can only imagine what launch day will be like for World of Warcraft. Granted, the open beta is free, but so was Guild Wars, and it hasn't even come close to developing the same amount of interest. Even though the client for Guild Wars was more accessible, and substantially smaller. Considered as games, I think many players may have been disappointed with what Guild Wars had to offer at the preview event last weekend, and turned to World of Warcraft to satiate a more discerning appetite for massively multiplayer RPG action.

are you tuning in

Thursday September 23, 2004

the brief life of a World of Warcraft stress tester

Written by gatmog at 09:22 PM
Categories: betas, features, mmorpgs, pc gaming, reviews, world of warcraft
[The mighty Valhagen relaxes after a long day of crag boar smiting. Okay, so I'm a sucker for campfire screenshots.]

Next to the mass hysteria surrounding the release of Star Wars Galaxies, the MMORPG scene could never have anticipated the reaction to Blizzard's first foray into this growing marketplace. The difference being that most of the people waiting to play a space faring smuggler or bounty hunter were Star Wars fans that just happened to be gamers; this time around, existing MMORPG gamers and neophytes alike are eagerly awaiting the chance to try out what could potentially become the Everquest slayer.

Standard game commentary hyperbole aside, after spending five days and just shy of 20 hours with World of Warcraft I can say that this description is more than adequate. The easiest comparison I can make is to Blizzard's own Diablo II, which transplanted the simple "kill-reward" system into a decent looking game where the goal is not just to complete quests, but to get better equipment and level up as many times as possible. Along with a free online component, all of these things created a theoretically endless game. And deftly executing this simple design concept is where World of Warcraft succeeds. The level grind in MMORPGs is a design contrivance that will never go away, unfortunately. But in World of Warcraft, it doesn't have to feel that way.

Continue reading "the brief life of a World of Warcraft stress tester"
Wednesday September 08, 2004

World of Warcraft stress test beta

Written by gatmog at 10:20 PM
Categories: mmorpgs, pc gaming, world of warcraft

Along with other catch up material like the demo for Rome: Total War, the Tribes: Vengeance Beta, The Jedi Trials publish, and the gigantic Pacific Assault demo, I found a most suprising email decorating my inbox when I returned - I had been accepted into the World of Warcraft Stress Test Beta which was extended until this Sunday. The lucky bastards who have been playing this game since last year probably look upon us stress testers as an unrefined mob of inconsequential characters that Blizzard is throwing at their servers - which is true, for the most part - but I'm going to enjoy every minute of this opportunity and hopefully find the time to record some impressions here. The Stress Test is being kept separate from the Closed Beta that is still going on, and there is a Level-grinding contest that will allow some players to secure a spot in the Closed Beta after the Stress Test is over. There is also talk of an Open Beta that is allegedly taking place before the game's release this November. I can feel another delay brewing on the horizon, but you can't fault Blizzard for testing the shit out of their software, and likely providing the MMORPG world with the smoothest rollout in the genre's history.

a chemical embrace