The Birds

The BirdsA WoW guildie of mine organized a pretty awesome druid flash mob earlier this week. The concept: Get a bunch of druids together, fly around Nagrand as a flock (in bird form) and find an unsuspecting Horde, swoop down to the ground, surround him, and stare at him until he cracks, a la Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.

WoW Insider has a pretty great writeup of the event, which included druid skywriting, mobs of cheetahs running down Horde on Quel’Danas, and other craziness. There must be other cool possibilities here. I think it would be fun to get a lot of hunters to hide inside of a building near a questing area, then when a horde approaches, use Eyes of the Beast to send out a ton of turtle pets to swarm him.

I’m a little surprised fun events like this don’t happen more often in virtual worlds, given how much easier it is to execute creative, crazy ideas. But I guess you still have the burden of actually organizing a lot of people to do something, which is a non-trivial task in the virtual world, too.

New MMO malaise

I wish I could get really excited about one of the new MMO’s coming out.

Warhammer seems to be the biggest hype machine right now, but for all the neat-sounding gameplay offerings, I just don’t like the visual feel. It seems kind of lifeless to me, a bit like Everquest 2. Like the buildings are made of cardboard, and the players are painted wooden mannequins. Reminds me a bit of Everquest 2. WO’s gameplay may turn out fantastic, but I just don’t know that it’s a world where I’d actually enjoy spending time.

Conan looks much nicer to me, but I’m kind of iffy about the whole barbaric blood-and-guts vibe. The Conan universe is never something that I’ve felt drawn to in book or movie form, and my impression of the game isn’t feeling that different so far.

Like Conan, The Chronicles of Spellborn has some really beautiful imagery; that looks like a world I think I’d like to spend some time in! Unfortunately I don’t have much faith that it’s going to be a solid product. For example, their website doesn’t clearly explain how TCoS will differentiate itself in a way to make me want to spend dozens or hundreds of hours with it. Instead they spend time explaining to me that resistance rank zero to rank +5 is an exponential curve divided in 64 points, which may be a perfectly good design decision , but is just a tad more detailed than I’m really looking for. And if they can’t don’t even have a sense for what I, as a consumer, want to see from their website, I’m not too optimistic they’re going to have a good sense for what I want to see from their world.

So I’m waiting to see what 38 Studios and BioWare have up their sleeves, and keeping my fingers crossed.

– James

Speculating on WoW’s successor

Tobold posted some musings about what Blizzard will eventually do with their next MMO that got me thinking.

Tycho over at Penny Arcade speculated a few weeks back that Blizzard’s new MMO project will simply be an engine update for WoW, but I don’t think this will be the case. It seems inevitable that someone will eventually come out with something better designed, more accessible, more fun than WoW, just as WoW did the same for Everquest. And of course Blizzard would like that “someone” to be them.

I’m also not convinced that “the next big game” will be significantly more advanced than WoW, graphically. When you get into the sort of subscriber numbers that WoW has, you’re reaching far beyond the market segment of hardcore gamers, which means you’re targeting people that don’t make a point of upgrading their PC every 2-3 years. So you’ve got hardware limitations to deal with.

I’m also of the opinion that graphics technology today is already “good enough.” It can (and will) continue to get better, sure, but the main thing that distinguishes WoW for me visually is not the graphics technology, it’s the aesthetic. The art, the architecture, the style and spirit that goes into the world is something I find beautiful. I think it’s wonderful that graphics technology is advanced enough so that artistic beauty is finally the biggest differentiator in terms of a game’s visual impact.

– James

Getting Whirled

I must confess that I’ve been feeling underwhelmed by new sites like Metaplace and Whirled.

I get it intellectually — these sorts of services can do for gaming and virtual worlds what YouTube has done for video. But I just haven’t found myself feeling excited. I don’t even have enough time to run all the WoW dailies I want to run, much less putz around through a dozen new MMO’s every month. Give me my WoW expansions and give me Warhammer Online, but Metaplace? Yawn.

And I was trying to like them, I really was. I’m a big admirer of Raph (who’s responsible for Metaplace), and I spent an hour or two poking around the Whirled beta last week. The concept seemed neat, but I found the experience underwhelming. Boring.

‘Till this afternoon.

Continue reading Getting Whirled

Virtual materialism

We’ve all heard grumbling here and there about the latest WoW patch’s new high-end loot. The new loot can be obtained much more easily than before the patch, when you had to complete high-end raids to get gear of this caliber. The grumbling generally revolves around the idea that it’s unfair and demoralizing to raiders who obtained similar gear when it was more difficult to do so.

My feeling on this is, so what? The change is not massive, and there are good reasons for it — it will help more people see high-end content before the expansion comes out. But more importantly, there’s more to WoW than gear. What about the experience of learning to work as a team? What about the satisfaction of overcoming a really tough boss fight? What about the aesthetic beauty of seeing a new dungeon? What about meeting new people and making new friends as you play together?

Being overly-focused on gear is simply materialism brought to the virtual world. It’s not a very fulfilling path. I’m not saying gear is bad, or material goods are bad, just that treating them with the proper priority is an important part of having a fulfilling life in a virtual world as well as the physical one.

The depth behind ARGs and MMO’s

I poked my nose into The Lost Ring on Thursday night, and man, did I get sucked in. The Lost Ring is a very large-scale ARG designed by Jane McGonigal, one of the designers behind I Love Bees. It’s tied in with the 2008 Olympics and they’re really making it a global event — the game characters all speak/blog/write different languages, the clues are all in Esperanto, and objects are scattered all over the world.

Anyway, as I finally pulled myself out of the rabbit hole this evening, it’s occurred to me that there’s an important similarity between ARGs and MMO’s that tends to make them powerful experiences for those involved, and that is that both types of games are a lot closer to real life than other types of games. I’m not talking about sensory things, like graphics and sound (ARGs are especially good at those!). I’m talking about higher-level gameplay mechanics like relationship building and teamwork. In the case of MMO’s, you also have things like economics and sometimes ecologies.

Compared to mechanics like maneuvering tactics or aiming in an FPS, these are a lot more interesting than. They involve more parts of ourselves — more of our brain, and more of our heart. And they’re usually more relevant to the rest of our lives, as well.

One of Raph Koster’s claims in A Theory of Fun (wow, $150 for a copy now? Time for a reprint, Raph) is that fact that much of the emotional feeling of “fun” is actually our brain’s reaction to learning something. I think it’s true, and I also think there’s potential for a deeper, more meaningful sort of fun when the things we are learning reach deeper into us and have greater relevance to our overall lives.

Player governance in EVE

After all the comments on that last EVE Online post, I gave it a try for the first time today. I basically just worked my way through the tutorials, but had a good time. I can see how the environment might feel tedious after a while, but I’m sure I’ll be playing some more.

I have no idea whether the choices I made during character creation were reversible, but it didn’t seem like it. Man, the whole irreversible character development mechanic is so backwards in long-term games like these. It will be nice when it’s finally died out.

I also saw that CCP just started accepting candidacies for the Council of Stellar Management, or as their news post was amusingly titled, the Council of Stellar Awesomeness. They announced their intent to do this months ago, so I’m not sure how much of this is old news, but the details are pretty fascinating to me. This is a player-elected council of nine members who represent the playerbase to CCP, and CCP in turn promises to “attempt to accomodate all reasonable [emphasis mine] requests by player Representatives” and to “do everything in its power to resolve the topics presented.” They’re taking it pretty seriously, too — each term of the council requires a face-to-face meeting at the CCP offices, with travel (to Iceland!), lodging, and food paid for by CCP.

Continue reading Player governance in EVE

Goonswarm wants YOU

I’ve always been curious about EVE Online, but today I stumbled across something that has made me want to play more than anything else I’ve seen so far:

What a cool guild (er, excuse me, corporation) recruitment. I really think the whole single-server approach EVE has is key here; it creates more of an (authentic) feeling that what you do matters. It doesn’t just affect the 1% of EVE players who happen to be using your server, it affects everyone who plays EVE.

If you are the one guy who tackles the scout who gets killed who doesn’t provide good reconaissance etc etc… you will see the whole EVE blogosphere light up with news about the battle you were in, because it significantly changed the politics and economics of the game for everyone. And that’s really cool.

The main drawbacks I hear about are the crazily complex UI, extensive grinding & downtime, and an emotional emptiness (becuase, you know, you’re spending hours as a gray box flying around in outer space.) And those do sound like pretty big drawbacks.

I’m really tempted to give it a shot, but I feel torn. Could I handle two MMO’s? If something grabs me, I usually really want to get into it, and I don’t think I’m ready to leave WoW behind. We’ll see.

Residual self-image

An old WoW partner of mine was thinking about getting back into the game, and soon we were talking about playing together again. We both had level 49 Night Elves on Dark Iron which we naturally figured we’d take out of retirement. This 49 is the most advanced character I have. My main had recently been a level 25 Blood Elf on Sargeras. (I couldn’t transfer the 49 over since he’s Alliance, and my Sargeras crew was Horde.)

Now, my life has been crazy for the past several weeks, with lots of travel, an unexpected move out-of-state, and my computer out of commission for a week to boot. With free time being scarce, and my ambitions about actually experincing the endgame one of these days, I was really looking forward to the 24-level boost.

So last week, we brought out the old guns — our 49’s. I logged in and materialized in Ironforge, which I hadn’t seen in years. Spent a while re-speccing our talent trees and re-organizing our action bars, since we hadn’t logged in since the talent wipe. Then it was a quick griffin ride to Burning Steppes, and there we were, ready to go.

We picked a quest and started marching across the map, dodging elementals and worgs on our way. And after about a minute, something strange happened.
Continue reading Residual self-image