Who we were, who we are.

On some forum the same bullshit we used to have is being used now with The Elder Scrolls Online. That the game is still in beta, or that you couldn’t see enough of the game to properly know how it’s going to be. All bullshit.

My first impression of WoW was appreciated/acknowledged by WoW’s Lead Designer (Tigole), linked through several forums, and it was several pages long and written when my first character reached *level 8*. It took me much longer to write it than the time I played that character (this was in March, the game was out in November).

*Today*, or NINE YEARS later, I still stand behind everything I wrote in that review, and it’s still quite accurate describing the game. Actually, the more time passes, the more revelatory it becomes because nowadays we give that stuff for granted, and it wasn’t until Blizzard revealed it (and I complain about player collision there too).

Read it today, and you learn where MMOs come from, and what Blizzard achieved. And why TESO isn’t doing remotely ANYTHING of that sort. Really, read it even if it looks way too long.

I’m adding here some quotes:

You can also forget about the lack of “feeling” of a game like SWG. In SWG you cannot even jump, you can only hover phantom-like where the game allows you and everything feels so faked. You can see a rock but you cannot climb on it, you see a bench and you cannot climb on it and so on. You can go only where you are expected to go. In WoW you can do whatever you like, the world feels real. Jump around, climb rocks, jump on fallen trees, over tables and other objects and reaching points where you aren’t supposed to climb. It’s hell of fun and gives you a lot of freedom. You don’t feel simply *nailed* on the ground. Try for example to climb on a high flight of steps in SWG and then jump down in a second. You cannot. In WoW this is possible, you go wherever you’d like. Jumping and running like crazy. It seems something stupid but it’s another of those elements adding a lot to the game. It “feels” good. The tech guys at SWG probably never realized how much is important for a game to “feel good”.

– Character Creation –

PROs: The first pro is a design choice I *always* criticized. In games like DAoC or EQ you need to know the game quite well to be able to create the character. This because you need to know what’s better in race/class combination, but, in particular, you need to place points in your statistics. If you mess this phase now, you’ll have a gimped character. Or you know already how to build a good character because someone told you (or because you know already the game), or your character is going to be wasted when you’ll realize you made errors at min/maxing it (and min/maxing isn’t an roleplay choice, we are in a mmorpg). You’ll discover that you’ve wasted some points and there’s absolutely no way to gain them back. This is *stupid*. As a newbie I want to know how to make a good character. I don’t want to be able to mess it, since at the end those are always obligated choices. Well, in WoW you won’t have to choose anything aside the appearance. Yes, you choose the race and the class. But what you *need* is there. There’s a description you can read to have an idea of a race or a class, then you are done. No more mistakes. No ways to ruin your character permanently.

You don’t need hours to learn the interface. It’s absolutely newbie friendly but it also shows what you need and more. It isn’t simple because the game is childish or not deep. It’s simple because there’s “good design” behind it. It’s one of the less intrusive interfaces you can see in the market of mmorpgs. Try to load Shadowbane, EQ or SWG to have your game window completely cluttered. And you cannot disable something because you have there something you need. In WoW the interface is minimal and still easy/fast to use and with everything you need there for you. It’s more a combo of keyboard/mouse controls along with the interface and the result is great.

The game is a “work of art”, as a masterpiece. The first consequence of this, is that it doesn’t depend on the tech level. This looks awesome now and will look awesome in 100 years. It’s like a painting, it has its own soul and its quality isn’t due to just a up-to-date graphic engine. This brings also to the opposite side. It’s so near to a form of art that some players could really not like it. WoW isn’t realistic but it’s filled with style. If you want to have a more precise idea about how the game “feels” I can explain it as a mix between Joe Madrueira’s style and Tim Burton’s “Nightmare before Christmas”. It’s not childish style, it’s absolutely inspired and epical. Nothing, not even a pixel, feels generic.

Remember that this is for *everyone*. We aren’t talking of an awesome techdemo run at an incredible resolution with professional graphic cards. This isn’t SWG that runs at six frame per second with the whole world popping before your face as you move. This is a completely new experience.

One of the feelings it produced on me and I never experienced in another game to date (I began playing on the Commodore 64) is the “sense of wonder”. Compared to WoW other games feel like toys for kids. From the size of the trees and buildings, the amazing clip plane (both for the world and PCs/NPCs), the hills, the critters, the organic world design… Everything gives you a *new* feeling compared to what I played till now. It’s not that the ‘zone’ is bigger. It’s how things are put together that it makes you feel like in a world of *giants*.

In WoW the setting and the gameworld have an active role in the game itself. They aren’t simply the background, they are part of something more concrete, “coordinate” with the rest. When you play the game you live in it and with the same setting. It’s the opposite concept of “alienating”. And this is one of the core elements of the whole game. While other mmorgs tend to alienate and frustrate the casual player, WoW makes you involved, immersed in a dream. Where you don’t care about parting “the rules”. Like considering the graphic aside the gameplay. Everything here exists as a “whole”.

This game doesn’t tell you where you have to be and what you have to do. It doesn’t oblige you to enter risky fights because it’s the only way to gain your tiny, stupid experience (just to die and loose an hour of *work*). It doesn’t “laugh” at you because it relies completely on grind/risk based gameplay and here I think there’s another revolution.

With current mmorpgs you have the whole matter about risk/reward. It means that if you want to accomplish something, even stupid, you need to risk something. This brings to catasses to rule the game with powerful and organized guilds, while the casual player, with his crappy equipment due to the grind with low level mobs, just can keep getting frustrated because he sees around himself those guilds packed with buffbots and special equipment and succeeding at taking advantage of a particular system (like making experience faster, sometimes by “powelevelling”). So you basically have to die, die and die, while other organized players have the possibility to reach all the nifty features. They can go right into the risk/reward matter. They have the tools to cheat the game (like buffbots) and have an advantage over you.

So the whole risk/reward game is based on the frustration. If something is easy it *must* be tweaked. If you are killing a monster easily they’ll put a way so that, after a bit, you’ll die. Like a periodical patrol of an higher level mob. Devs (stupid devs) have based completely the game on the concept of “pissing you off”. In any way possible. They think that by making things frustrating the game will give you more satisfaction when you’ll finally accomplish something. And this is the *soul of the stupidity*. It’s one of the biggest plague of the mmorpg genre.

Risk/reward is an optimal mechanic applied in some situations, but mmorpg designers simply didn’t get it right. Risk/reward is good when you die (you are defeated) because you did an error. So you can *learn* from your actions and improve. In a mmorpg, usually, you die just because you are forced to play on the borderline. When you have just a few styles to choose it’s not that the game asks you some kind of ability. You sit there and hope it will go well. If it doesn’t, you *cannot learn a damn*, because you cannot change what you do. This means that you can just lower your aim, till you finish to kill critters that give you an amount of stupid exp making you realize that if you keep killing those you’ll need like two weeks of real gameplay to pass a level. And here some smart players just cancel their account and laugh at who thought a stupid system like that. Then tell me: How damn can you blame peoples selling and buying accounts on E-Bay when the game is that bad?

Lately I levelled a Paladin on DAoC from 20 to 36 and I have just 2-3 pieces of equipment, and this by playing for hours and hours on the same spot, killing the same monster (and no, it’s not my choice, or I go there and do that or I don’t play). This simply doesn’t happen in WoW. You walk around just to see what’s behind an hill and you kill wandering mobs. The whole place feels very lively, packed everywhere with monsters and critters. Every little corner of the world seems to contain a “microcosm” but there’s not the concept of a “spot” where you have to go and stay. It feels more like a promenade (some on the forums are complaining about this “too much” walk, which I consider absolutely compelling).

I think that a long beta phase with no NDA is a great sign from Blizzard and a good thing for many reasons. One of these is that it doesn’t matter how much information you receive from the outside, the game should remain fun. It’s not a fun coming from an unknown quest, after all you could just receive the same old “bring me six pelts”. But even these trivial quests are fun. Fun because you have to do them in a game where every single system is neat. The combat system is fast paced and lively, improving in many ways from DAoC, the world is amazing and you live it a lot more as an experience than as a ‘game’. It’s wonderful as a whole.

In every game to date you just wait because devs promise this and that. You wait and wait. The game is never fun *now*. It will be fun in three months, or six, or a year. Till you realize that it will never happen. In WoW you can forget about the promises, it’s by far the best mmorpg out there even if they pack everything and release it as it is.

What I suggest is that it’s an hint about something completely new. Something completely missing in other mmorpgs on the market (or near to be released). Perhaps only FFXI has tried to go, timidly, in this direction: “building a world”. I think this is the main strenght of WoW. I also think that analysts all around the world will never succeeded at understanding what will make the game great and successful. I can already imagine how many clones it will produce, how many companies will try to copy it to jump on the bandwagon. Mmorpg will become again a green pasture and marketers will try every way possible to take advantage of Blizzard success. And they will fail.

The point is that even in a MMO, you’re playing the engine. Within a few MINUTES you know how the engine handles pretty much what’s fundamental. Movement, animation, collisions, world rendering, the way monsters exist and behave around you, UI, the basic structure of combat, world design. And how well it handles all of these. Then you see quest flow, itemization and progress.

That’s enough to know how the game plays and if you like it. Coming from games like DAoC or Everquest it took just a minute to see how much more superior WoW was with UI, world design, quest flows, graphic engine, animations and so on. It was all right there. The first step you move, the first jump on a fallen tree, the first time you hit a monster. It qualified the game as a whole different league than the MMOs we used to play. Their clunky interfaces, horrible animations, poor rendering, glitches everywhere, stuttering mess, plus no idea of what you were supposed to do.

Posted in: Uncategorized |

Leave a Reply