(In)fidelity

Syp’s /played list is constantly surprising. How can one player switch between so many MMOs? There can only be one answer: there’s more than one of him!

More likely he’s just really good at playing mmo’s the way you’re meant to – that is, making in game friends quickly, finding a guild, jumping into pugs, etc. Not relying heavily on playing with people you already know. And certainly not playing just to compete for end game status, which pretty much requires commitment to a single game.

I can only keep up with my WoW guild because they are (mostly) as casual as me. So there’s no progression raiding (other than Blackrock Depths this week!), and hence no pressure.

Even so I can’t imagine dropping WoW for a month or two to try Fallen Earth, then hopping over for some quick STO, back to WoW, then a taste of SW:TOR. Even finding the time for single player games is challenging when you’re hooked into the MMO feed.

Penny-Arcade nailed it, as they often do.

I WoW mostly with people I know IRL, which makes MMO fidelity more compelling. If I wanted to make and play with virtual friends, I guess hopping around would be easier.

I did play Warhammer for about 30 minutes, and dipped into LotRO too, for 90. On both occasions I was pretty quickly overwhelmed with the task of re-establishing ties to friends in game. Or should I say, selling them on the idea of moving to something new, and retiring or abandoning a game we had all invested a lot of time in – and still enjoyed.

It seemed that it was either/or in terms of other MMOs. Either play LotRO, or play WoW, but not both.

Having said that…TOR is going to require some careful consideration. A sci-fi setting is less appealing than high fantasy (despite my reading preference being totally the other way around – other than A Song of Ice & Fire, great Fantasy fiction is pretty rare), but the Bioware polish and depth of Star Wars lore could – should – be a killer combo.

Wowkindy

A while back, before quitting for good, BRK started a great series of “Video Hunter Guides”. You can still download them from his old site, or view it on the (frustrating) Project Lore site.

They are great because they start from the assumption that you know nothing about being a Hunter. Nowt. Zip. He introduces each skill or talent that you get, explains what it does, and shows you how to use it. Even skills you don’t actually ‘get’ – like kiting, jump shooting, etc. There’s a video every two levels or so, each one adding a little more to The Knowledge.

It’s great content, and it’s surprising that there’s so little of it about. There’s plenty of “how to nail boss x” strategy videos, and places like Tankspot are invaluable sources of end game strategies. But there’s very little in the way of video guides to starting out, class basics, and how-tos.

One reason is videos are painful to produce, take hours longer than you expect, and (at least here in 64k-if-you’re-lucky upload country) days to upload to YouTube etc. Another is you have to really know your stuff to make it worthwhile, and be a good teacher at the same time.

But there’s 8 quintillion WoW players out there, there’s people doing incredible machinima, and there’s plenty of great teachers.

Imagine a site with video guides for each class, taking it slowly and teaching people how to play by showing rather than telling. Introducing each skill, demonstrating it, building up to rotations, glyphs, talent builds, the works. It would be an invaluable resource, a Wowhead/Wowwiki for how to play from the ground up. A WoW Kindergarten. Wowkindy.

Make it so!

Gotta catch them all

A while back, Pike had a nice thoughtful post up about encountering genuinely new players when you’re busy on an alt (or a main visiting the old world areas during things like Hallow’s End). Unless they’re obviously sporting Heirlooms or twink gear, I tend to treat everyone as if they are a Stranger in a Strange Land, helping out and assuming they know as much as I did when starting out (i.e. nothing – being absorbed in Civ4 at the time, I spent 5 minutes trying to make my very first Dwarf Hunter move forward by right clicking where I wanted him to go. WASD didn’t even enter my head until my friend /whispered me to ask why I was still standing on the spawn spot).

Even if they don’t have the gear it’s easy to get fooled – I was tooling around Mulgore in my Heirloom Shoulders and someone asked where I got them, how you get them, etc. I was dutifully explaining that when you get to 80 you can earn tokens, which you can use to buy Heirlooms, etc. He then challenged me to a duel, at the same time as insta-swapping into his full Heirloom/Twink gear set…ouch.

It is nice when you do encounter someone who really is new to the game, and you can help out in some way. I still remember the total awe I felt when first approaching Bloodhoof village, seeing a high level toon offering free bags to the first 5 people to visit him in the Inn. Or encountering a level 70 running wild in Gol’Bolar Quarry in Dun Morogh on that same 2nd level Dwarf Hunter. I asked him why he was doing it, and he said he just wanted to come back to where it all started end exact some revenge on those tricky early mobs.

The other question Pike asks in her article is whether Blizzard have effectively closed off older end-game content (e.g. Naxx) by making the rewards from newer areas (e.g. ToC) so much better.

I think there’s some truth in that – but only for those where Progression/Gear is the goal. If you’re playing to have the best gear, and see the latest content, then sure, you will bypass Ulduar by simply buying Tier 9 epics so you can dominate Icecrown.

But if you’re playing to enjoy the content, to “see it all”, to experience the thrill of downing your first Ulduar boss, these days there’s not much stopping you. With the new LFD system, you should at least be able to easily see every five man, and if you can find a Guild that isn’t in it for the Progression, and you should be fine with the 10’s too. With the massive success of 3.3 LFD, it can’t be long before Blizzard extends that to 10 man raids too.

My old guild didn’t reach Kara until just before WotLK was released, but that didn’t stop us having a ball in there, spending hours slowly working through the bosses and honing our tactics. Maiden stalled us for weeks, but the hoots when we beat her, and the way each week we got better until she was just traffic, was brilliant.

Salty #1

Salty. The one Achievement (and title) I really want.

For inexplicable reasons I love WoW fishing. It’s medatative, can be profitable, and every cast is a surprise. Levelling fishing through the skill zones where you need 7+ catches for each skill point was mind numbingly slow, but then numbing your mind is almost the point of fishing.

Right now I have every fishing Achievement needed for Salty but two. One is to win one of the two weekly fishing comps. Despite many attempts, including the latest this morning, I’m still waiting. If you think about the odds, only 104 players per server can win the comp each year and hence get the title. Before the added the Kalu’ak Derby in patch 3.3, it was only 52 players. Ouch. Unfortunately I’m on a US server, so the Stranglethorn Extravaganza is pretty much inaccessible, being a 9AM on a Monday morning.

The other missing Achievement is the One That Didn’t Get Away, the goal of which is to catch one of ten possible rare fish. As of this morning, I’ve hooked 4302 fish, out of a total 6534 casts, and have yet to get one of those ten.

But then that’s the great thing about fishing. Your very next cast could be the one you’ve been waiting for.

This sporting life

Despite being in Australia, I’ve managed to catch a fair amount of NFL action this year (the new free-to-air sports-only Channel One is brilliant). Gridiron has always fascinated me – what other sport has people wearing full body armour and helmets?

The coverage, presentation, amazing camera work (they seem to have one HD camera for each player, for every game), and deeply knowledgeable commentators make it a real spectacle. The way it is hyped is amazing, making every game (or at least the Sunday Night/Monday Night games) seem like an epic battle of the utmost importance. It’s a unique insight into American culture.

Watching this year has made me realise just how much the military is a day-to-day part of American life. Every game seems to have an airforce fly-by, or military marching band, or tribute to the fallen, or gigantic American flag being unveiled & folded with military precision. The zenith was during Veterans Day, when they went as far as flying some of the commentators and coaches to Afghanistan to bond with the troops, who then rhapsodised on air about how much they missed those times with ‘the boys’. As if they too were ‘in the fight’. Truly strange stuff.

A group of friends used to run a virtual Madden NFL season, getting together each week to try out our tactics and seek PC domination. It was great fun until one of our more obsessive players, and the one with the most time on his hands, worked out how to ‘break’ the game via an undefendable play that would have been impossible in the real game. Or so we thought.

One of the most interesting things watching the actual NFL this year has been the emergence of the “Wildcat” formation. This is where the regular quarterback is replaced instead by someone who can run, pass, fake, kick, do magic tricks, and cartwheel. The unpredictable nature of this player means the defence is often completely confused, which is the general idea. Do they set-up for a pass? For a run? A punt? It’s fun to watch as the D scrambles to make sense of what is about to happen.

Miami seems to have been the first to popularise it in the NFL, though apparently it’s long been a staple of College football. But it’s now spread to many teams, and in many variations. In the last game of the regular season, the New York Jets created the most bizarre formation I’d seen where the regular quarterback lined up several times as a Wide Receiver. I had no idea what he was doing out there, nor did the commentators. It was so strange, and you could see the defence just didn’t know how to deal with it. A Miami game earlier in the season had a fake punt, that turned into a run, and then a pass, for a touchdown. All in the same play.

I’ve been amazed that at times this season it seems like the NFL has been influenced by the Madden computer game. Madden encourages you to try different formations, do some insane stuff that the other player won’t be prepared for. Just like my friend, the NFL coaching staff have come up with something unpredictable that changes the game. They haven’t broken the NFL like you could the computer version, but they’ve sure made it more entertaining.

Who knows, thanks to Madden, we may see the old under-the-jumper statue-of-liberty 70 yard hoike in the NFL after all.

Toruk Makto

http://richi89.deviantart.com/art/Toruk-147875360Just saw Avatar, again. And was again amazed by the reality of the world James Cameron created. You no longer need to suspend your disbelief – it is real.

It also again struck me the influence WoW (amongst other video games) must have had on some of the designers. There are many moments that recall Warcraft, from the critters that roam Pandora’s forests, to the no agro radius wildlife, to the epic ground mounts.

The scene when the Na’vi warriors scale the Hallelujah Mountains to the Banshee nests is my favourite sequence, the moment when the wonder of Pandora really sinks in. And the Banshee are the strongest WoW reminder of all. Those things are Proto-Drakes through and through. Jake & Neytiri’s flying cliff dive is almost enough to make you want to go B.A.S.E jumping to experience what they do, or failing that to hop on a WoW dragon and wish for some VR goggles.

It’s a great film. When I finally finish What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been, I want a Toruk instead of the Violet Drake 🙂

Not that kind of Ironman

Achievements have been a huge success in WoW, obviously. Some love them (two of my guildmates are engaged in a daily see-sawing battle to stay 5 achievement points ahead of each other), some not so much (though even an admitted anti-achiever admits so wanting some of them). But they’re a nice mixture of fun and serious, and players are free to follow the achievement paths that interest them most.

One Achievement that’s missing and I’d love to see is some kind of Ironman recognition. What’s Ironman? It’s not dying. Ever. For anything – Murlocs are no excuse, nor Rocket Boots or falling off the Thunder Bluff elevator. A friend and I have started playing this way a few times: roll up a toon, start playing, and survive. If you die, by any means, you have to delete the toon.

It’s obviously insane, and easier for some classes than others – I got a Hunter to about 28 no problems until relaxing too much cleaning up Quillboars in The Barrens. And a Druid to mid 30s before getting overconfident on, you guessed it, Murlocs.

There is at least one WoW player who has actually accomplished this, a Warrior (yes!), which is all the more impressive for having no self-heals to speak of. And with a name like Cautious, she obviously set out to do this.

The PC adaption of the DnD “Temple of Elemental Evil” implemented Ironman as the ultimate hard mode, a no save option meaning if you die, you die. I’m not sure that any MMO has done so yet, the psychological damage to the player might be too great.

But it would be great if there was an Achievement that tracked this, including the progress. Maybe every 10 levels without dying you ding an Achievement, something that can stay on your permanent record. And if you reach 80 – “Ironman Banehammer” has an impressive ring to it.

Outlandish

outland trading cardsThe reinvention of ye olde Azeroth in Cataclysm is a stroke of genius by Blizzard. It’s revitalised interest in the game, and created a “one last time” levelling community who want to experience the original content before it’s rent asunder. So unlike many expansion or patch announcements which end up reducing the player base while bored end game players tap their fingers and wait, Cataclysm has probably increased the active player numbers.

But there’s one problem with the plan: Outland is immune to the pending events.

Outland is…annoying. I’ve read any number of bloggers who reach Outland and really struggle to get motivated to move through it. My level 60 Hunter is in this exact position. For whatever reason, it seems like a hard slog and a bit of a grind, especially when compared to the 1-60 experience. Hellfire Peninsula comes under a fair amount of criticism – it’s a visually harsh, unfriendly environment and tends to be a brick wall of sorts. Similarly Shadowmoon Valley and Netherstorm seem to rub people the wrong way.

In fact the only Outland zone that people seem to actively enjoy is Nagrand. The common description is “relaxing”. I suspect that is largely due to it’s visual appeal – it’s a lush, living environment teeming with wildlife that doesn’t just attack on sight. One zone out of seven isn’t a winning formula, and probably goes a way to explaining the Outland hump.

So what could be done?

Blizz managed to make the earlier levels fly by far quicker, by a combination of earlier mounts, heirlooms, more powerful talents, and nerfing instances. Outland was also modified, but another refresh might be needed – increase the XP gains again, or drop the average mob health to make quest grinding quicker. The LFD system has obviously helped too – many are levelling through Outland via Dungeon runs alone.

For the Recruit-a-friend brigade, one simple thing would be to continue the triple XP to level 70. At the moment it stops at 60, just when you’re ready to take the deep Hellfire breath. Given the pending 85 cap, why not keep the XP bonus through to Northrend. RaF users are a minority group though, so this would only solve the problem for some.

The biggest improvement would be to make Cataclysm hit Outland. Change the environment, make it a new experience, give Hellfire a fertile rainforest heart, flood Dragonblight like Thousand Needles will be, bring Zangarmarsh some sunshine. Of course this would be a huge undertaking, similar to Azeroth in scope, but Outland totally escaping the coming of Deathwing is a bit of a cop out.

Blizzard have cried resources when explaining why Outland isn’t being impacted, despite it being the zone that most needs work to make it more appealing. No-one wants to spend time there any longer, Shattrath is a ghost town, and there’s nothing much to farm. So make it quicker, or make it more interesting.

Oh, and leave Nagrand alone 🙂