Saturday, January 04, 2014

Map of the World

That's a very good question.

My good dear friend (who works for a big-name software developer that isn't Blizzard) and I have, over the years, had numerous discussions as to the various approaches to questing and exploration in MMO's. Although Syl's tweet that began this entire train of thought wasn't referencing Warcraft at all (and was talking about 2013 'indy darling' games) it immediately made me think of Warcraft because, like it or not, that's how the game has worked in my mind pretty much since Day One. With one notable exception we've always started our journeys in exactly the same manner, and although the World may maintain a measure of flexibility and intrigue, very little has altered that approach in ten years. You need to get from A to B: in our case, from 1-60, 60-70, 70-80, 80-85 and finally 85-90. That's pretty much as linear as it goes, and the process that accompanied all that remains pretty much untouched since Vanilla. You went to Place A, you got XP, and then you moved to Place B as you got higher levelled for better gear. In fact, I have the process so refined now in Pandaran terms I can tell you which quest area I'll stop in when I hit a certain level, which quests I'll drop and where I'll go next to maximise not simply the time it takes, but the gear I receive.

In our discussions M and I inevitably return to one fact when this subject is raised. There is normally the single path to tread when you level, and there are very rarely consequences to your progression as you do. To give you an example of this, I'm going to take you to Krasarang Wilds, and a quest that really bothered me when I had to complete it... so much so, I won't go to the Wilds again as a result.

Horde captive, *not* my problem? *sigh*

So, there are both Horde and Alliance NPC's trapped, yet the quest dictates you can only free your own faction. This is just wrong for me on so many levels: I've helped the Horde before, and at the end of this very Expansion we find ourselves willingly accepting just that... so why can't I free them as I do the quests? There's a very good practical reason for this, of course: that's the Horde's job, and assigning individual quests to each faction is hugely time-consuming from a design point of view. This game's become all about speed, and moving expansions through quickly... so I'm doubting you'd see a massive diversion in Horde/Alliance goals any time soon. I understand why these things happen, but that doesn't mean I have to like them. When it comes down to it, I think I'd rather lose the need to quest altogether if these are the kind of choices I am presented with as a player. So, what does that provide developers with as an alternative?

In 5.4 Blizzard deliberately threw away the rule book and gave us an Island where anything goes, to a point. Think what might happen, for instance, if every Rare you were killing in the new Expansion granted XP to 100? If they were all giving the same XP, would it really matter what order you killed them in? No, it would simply boil down to how many, but there'd still be a very linear progression to your goal. What might then matter more would be grouping, and that would be a change to the way things have worked... which is why traditionally questing's always been the better choice because it rewards you gear AND more XP than just simply killing mobs. However, if my alternative is nothing but a pre-defined path with no 'real' options, is this really so bad? Where would my gear come from? Would it matter if there were a group of us combined anyway?

Is there really any way to avoid the persistent spectre of linear progression?

From Someone wanna explain this to me? ^^

These problems aren't really Blizzard's, if we're honest. They get stymied when people get their hands on the game in Beta and are able to find ways to 'cheat' the intricately-constructed system: all you need to do is look at how people made it to server first 85's and 90's to understand that there's more kudos getting there first than actually following any kind of plan Blizzard put in place for you to follow. If you can chain grind mobs with help it's well worth ignoring every signpost to do so, because the game has played on the notion of 'winning' for far too long as the ultimate goal for certain players. Questing is long, time consuming and the gear ultimately pointless if you're moving to End Game, especially if you're already in the best gear the game has to offer before you start the Expansion grind. There are considerably more ways you can't 'beat' this game immediately, and the notion of completion/winning something is a far bigger positive endorphin hit than you'll ever get from quietly grinding away. However, if you believe what some people tell you, lowering your expectations can be the key to greater happiness. Maybe it is high time that Blizzard stopped the need to push everyone to the End Game as a priority... oh, who am I kidding?

Look at the fuss when they told us there was no flying. Any 'deliberate' gating mechanic will now have some fairly serious consequences...

What we need ideally is less ways to cheat the system but a greater flexibility in the choices we are given. Even I think that may be a Holy Grail too far under the current circumstances, but there are possibilities. As soon as Blizzard present their Beta to the world someone will be in there, trying to exploit every niche... and actually this then becomes a compelling reason for having every player possible playing it, despite the seemingly 'terrible' idea that was with the Annual Pass last time around. It then moves to the Devs to be able to deal with all the data they'd get, to try and identify the areas where people might be exploiting.... but again, we're straying off the path. How can Blizzard make the 'linear' not seem that way, when it remains as exactly that? We're on a path from 90 to 100, like it or not: how does that become different? Is it even possible without making things so complicated most people will simply give up and stop playing?

From Just how simple do we want this, exactly?

This is the other reason why linear works, because it can be so easily documented, and therefore emulated by the masses via the wonder that is the Online Guide.

We have often spoken here of how it's great to have a plan. That is particularly true when levelling: understanding what rewards you get, what the benefits are of staying in certain places for so long (often not completing the quests in a zone when you out-level rewards) all adds up to making your first max level as stress free as possible. Beta access again becomes a positive advantage, but then there's the problem that if your questing experience is terrible the first time around and you did it before the game was even released, you'll not want to even go there again. So, throwing away the rulebook's all well and good, but you stand the chance of destroying all player trust when you do. The Timeless Isle shows there is longevity in the simply reliance of a few well-placed gathering quests to allow people their meat and drink (50 Valor a day works for me added to all the other potential sources of points collection, and my gear supports the endeavour now with pretty much the minimum of fuss.) Using the drop mechanic on the Island also allows persistence to take priority: if you want to camp or farm you can, but it won't destroy your World if you don't. Giving the choices back to the individual in a linear environment can produce some interesting results, if they're prepared to do the work... and that can happen over a week or a month, depending on their personal commitment. Then the power goes back to the individual, and Blizzard can sit back and get on with the next bit.

A change in attitude can make you believe it isn't a journey, even if that's exactly what it remains.

It's a place called DECEPTION PASS, folks :D

So, to alter our perception of the journey, I reckon there's going to need to be some deception. People are ready and waiting with pitchforks and torches the moment Dailies reappear, or if ANYTHING gets shoved behind a rep grind... but if you are ready for a bit of smoke and mirrors, an opportunity to let yourself be deceived by the notion of old dressed up as new, we could still get just that, under a different guise. What I think might help, and this goes back to a notion we used back in TBC, is not to strictly segregate zones as being 'you should only be here if you're 90-93' If we want to negate some of the notions of linearity, I feel each zone needs to cover the entire 90-100 journey in some form, depending on which 'random' course we choose to steer through the experience. So, you could take as a starter the 90-91 experience in Zone A for your first L100, and then 91-93 in Zone B, but with your second 100 you'll take the 90-91 Experience in Zone C and 91-93 in Zone A... so this means each area has a questline you could follow from start to finish in a set zone if you desire, or you could mix and match pieces from a 'puzzle' that still come together to form a coherent picture. Looking at the Warlord 'figureheads' we're being presented with for the Expansion, I reckon this path could be the most likely, and if the formula works, it would be a fabulous template on which to duplicate subsequent Expansion 'experiences' onto.

It would also significantly redefine the notion of linear in Blizzard terms, even though this is exactly what the idea remains.

See, the thing with Warcraft is the numbers. It always has been, and with a company that excelled in strategy games and with linear progression as it's lifeblood, that's not really a surprise in the long term. What we lose in spontaneity and excitement is made up for in a community that is quite unlike any other you'll find anywhere online, and so you make a choice. For someone like me, having invested a significant portion of my life into something, it would be a revelation if Blizzard threw away the rule book, but not a total surprise having experienced the the events of the last year and a bit in game. Warlords needs to be something rather special indeed if it is going to herald the renaissance that the game requires to keep it riding high in the public consciousness, and to make it to the release of the Movie next year, because that's at least one reason why we've been sent back into past to begin with. All we can do now is sit back and wait for a Beta.

This real world linear progression is a right pain too... ^^

1 comment:

R said...

I would KILL (not really) for them to widen the level range for levels going forward. It's always seemed ridiculously limiting to require 86 for the 2nd tier zones, 87 for the 3rd tier zone, 88 for the 4th tier zone and 89 for the 5th tier zone.

(I think that's wrong, too, I believe Kun-Lai quests don't open up until 87)

That's just silly. With most of my toons, the first thing they do after opening up the portal in Jade Forest is to hoof it to the Vale city to set their hearths there, picking up flight paths on the way... so, Jade Forest to Valley to Veiled to Kun-Lai, up to the Shado-Pan FP, hoof it along the wall down to the Dread Wastes starter quest FP on top of the wall, then drop down into Vale and head over to the city... at 85. There are times I have to fight mobs on the way and it's doable.

Lately I'd (prior to 5.4.2) also been taking L85 toons all the way out to Dread Wastes both to level gathering professions and to hunt the BoA i450 weapons that are lying around... I have to fight a LOT in DW and yeah, it can be rough, but I'm there voluntarily... why the heck can't I pick up some quests while I'm there? Maybe I kill them, maybe they kill me, but I'd like to be able to make the choice to take on that challenge.

Make everything up to Kun-Lai doable at L85 and make the last two zones L87+... done. I'd be happy. I'd really like to see that type of thing in WoD, too... I understand that some restrictions are necessary but those ones are silly, even for solo toons, especially for those leveling in groups.