Dire situations can lead to self-discovery. And sometimes soiled drawers.
Very few of us are born experts. The process of going from novice to expert can be long and arduous. At times, it can be difficult to determine where to begin. In video games, once you get past the basic questions of which button does what, the various ways to distance oneself from being a newbie can seem overwhelming. Just as writing sometimes needs to be taken one word at a time, and programming to one line of code after another, so to can gaming be broken down into more manageable aspects.
It’s a form of what’s called ‘deliberate practice’. We choose an aspect of our skill set and work it hard until it’s forged into something that will contribute to greater success. This is probably most prominent in any RPG you care to mention. If you want to find more loot, you need to practice picking locks. When I was playing World of Warcraft I found myself needing to improve on laying traps for crowd control or cooperating with a group without becoming flustered. You can be I will continue to work on those skills in Guild Wars 2, along with mastering the nuances of the classes one weapon at a time.
It’s not just limited to role-playing games, though. Even bare-bones shooters like Killing Floor lend themselves to this form of practice.
Killing Floor features a set of perks for each player. You can choose which perk you want when joining a server and between waves of specimens (‘zeds’). You can grind away at a particular perk until its maxed out, or you can get to a particular level and use that perk to earn some cash before switching to a problem area or something relatively untouched. For example, if you like being up close and personal, you can either get every tier of Berzerker or open up a long game by spending a few waves on that perk, then use the cash you earn to buy weapons for an underdeveloped perk such as Commando or Sharpshooter. The best part about Killing Floor is that some perks can be worked on even if they’re not your primary choice – healing teammates contributes to your Medic perk even if you’re running around as the Firebug.
I didn’t realize this particular form of practice had a formal name until I rekindled my interest in StarCraft 2 with the return of Day’s Newbie Tuesday. He’d talked about a mental checklist before, but he also showed how focusing on a particular item on that list not only strengthens that item but also highlights other areas of weakness to be worked upon. I took this advice to heart and started playing again. I actually tried not to win and instead focus on one aspect of my play.
I won a few games anyway.
It’s as true for video games as it is for most of our endeavours: sometimes, in order to build ourselves up, we need to break ourselves down first.
I feel like Karn some days. And not just from lack of coffee.
Bad writing can be just as influential and inspirational as good writing.
That may seem to be an incongruous statement. But in my experience, there have been some instances where I’ve been reading a novel, a story or a post, and have wanted nothing more than to blow the author out of the water, literarily speaking. I find this to be the case especially in writing related to gaming, which makes me twice as angry. It’s one thing to write badly, but to degrade a setting or concept I like through that bad writing should be a hanging offense.
That’s my opinion, at least.
Take, for example, the Quest for Karn. I’ve been looking for a good Magic: the Gathering novel ever since Arena, which is still the best if you ask me. The planeswalkers that Wizards of the Coast have put together are an interesting bunch, but I feel like there’s more that could be done with them, territory in the human experience and the permutations of their powers that remains unexplored. And when you present these characters in as bland a way possible, with no real characterization and a plot apparently paced to make The Lord of the Rings look like a jaunty sprint by comparison, you leave a sour taste in the reader’s mouth, instead of making them hungry for more.
I must confess, however, that doing this to the likes of Venser and Elspeth is pretty harmless, considering what could have been done. As far as I’m aware, Wizards has yet to acquire the services of someone like Richard A. Knaak, who misses the point of characters like a champ. Consider Stormrage. In Warcraft III, we learn that Tyrande Whisperwind is a confident, driven and inspiring leader of her people, a warrior-priestess with thousands of years of experience in doing what she says and making decisions without regret. By Knaak’s hand, however, she’s transformed into someone who never grew out of being a teenager, an immature and insecure person who fears the judgement of her peers and might just be cribbing notes from Bella Swan. There’s no growth in Knaak’s characters. If they’re great, they’re always great as well as flawless. If they’re flighty, uncertain and relatively weak, they’re a girl.
I had to pause for a cleansing breath, there.
Gaming books outside of novels suffer as well. Mage is probably my all-time favorite permutation of the World of Darkness, but the core book for Ascension feels unnecessarily huge. There’s great stuff in there for storytellers and players a like, but it can take a little sifting. The prose passages feel ponderous more often than not, with some overwrought language and long-winded anecdotes that are likely aimed at increasing the book’s gravitas while taking away from the essential information gamers are looking for. I still love the book, don’t get me wrong. It’s gorgeous, the new mythology tickles my fancy and the new spheres of magic are very well thought out. It’s just fluffier than I’d like.
In addition to wrapping up the first draft of one manuscript, rewriting another and editing a third, I think it would behoove me to investigate more deeply the ways and means people find their way into gaming material, from source books to novels. I’ve had great experiences working with Machine Age Productions and I hope I can take that experience to other gaming houses in the future. Writing for and about gaming isn’t just something I want to do, after all; it’s something worth doing right.
I’ve been a fan of your work since the days of Warcraft 2. I’ve played games in all three of your major IPs and enjoyed every one. I’ve begun playing StarCraft 2 in a competitive sense (even though I suck) and I’ve watched the development of Diablo 3 with interest. However, I have let my World of Warcraft subscription lapse, and in light of the latest major patch, I doubt I’ll be re-subscribing any time soon.
When I pay for World of Warcraft every month, my expectation is not that the game will be exactly what I want. My expectation is that the game will allow me to explore the extensive world you’ve created, interact with like-minded players and face challenges in the form of dungeons and raids. It’s that last part that’s been lacking for some time now. Cataclysm began with some promising steps in the right direction, but in light of many, many complaints from some of the more vocal members of the community, you have taken World of Warcraft down a path I can no longer follow.
I’m reminded of a scene from the movie The 13th Warrior. Antonio Banderas is traveling with a band of Vikings looking to protect their homes from vicious savages, and one of the Vikings gives him a large sword. “I cannot lift this,” says Banderas’ character. The Viking shrugs and says with a smirk, “Grow stronger.” The solution to the problem is not handed to Banderas; instead he must find the solution for himself. Granted, he eventually has the sword shaved down to a scimitar-like size and balance, allowing him to use speed he possesses instead of strength he does not, but it was still a solution he developed on his own.
Instead of letting your players grow stronger or adapt to face the challenges you present on their own terms, you’ve swapped the big heavy sword for a butter knife.
By lowering the difficulty of encounters, you do several things that I feel will be to the ultimate detriment of the game. You remove the challenge that is part of the appeal of dungeon and raid encounters. You encourage players to be lazy and not improve their skills. Most importantly, you foster the notion that a player or group of players who complain loudly enough about something they feel is unfair or to which they feel entitled will gain them what they want, without them having to expend any real effort. Get a bunch of like-minded friends together, post on the forums about how unfair or overpowered or unbalanced something is, and next thing you know stuff is less difficult and it’s easier for you play. It’s magic!
I’ve been frustrated by encounters before. I’ve gotten into absolute fits over not being able to clear a particular boss. I’ve been short with guildmates, yelled at my wife, startled pets. But not once did I think any of my difficulties needed to be fixed with a wave of Blizzard’s magic wand. No, my frustration came from the idea that my skills were not good enough, so I would need to improve them. I can be impatient, and crave my shinies just as much as any other adventurer in Azeroth, but I want to earn them, not have them handed to me. Developing the skills to earn something is difficult and time-consuming, not to mention carrying the possibility of failure.
Rather than letting players fail more often, you lower the requirements for success to near insignificance. I know I’m not the only player who feels this way, but as I don’t complain regularly my voice is one of the many that goes unheard. These concerns and worries go unspoken, because we’d rather work on our problems within our own reach rather than wave our arms in hysteria and grab attention, screaming as soon as we have it until we get what we want.
I was hoping to come back to World of Warcraft soon. I met my wife there, after all. But I’ve realized you can’t hope for things to go back to the way they were. I met my wife during The Burning Crusade, long before this sense of entitlement crept into the player base and the development team was producing multiple raid dungeons for every tier of progressive content. We had a great guild that worked well together, from role-playing to raiding, and it was a great time we’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
But those days are gone. And no matter how fondly I might recall them, wishing for a thing does not make it so. You have decided that a vocal minority demanding you change is more important than the majority of the player base who want to progress, improve and succeed on their own merits. I feel this is an incorrect decision, and all I can do is call attention to the whys and wherefores of my own decision not to return to World of Warcraft. I hope I have done so and that this criticism is taken in the spirit with which it’s written.
I will continue to play StarCraft 2, but I must admit to being wary of doing so. I am aware that many of the official forums for that game are also full of complaints about balance issues and how one unit is more overpowered than another, how this matchup is unwinnable or that one needs a nerf. I’m also now nervous about Diablo 3. While I still look forward to playing it when it launches, I fear that within a month of its release players will complain that a boss is too hard and your response will be to lower its difficulty until all challenge and excitement from the encounter is lost, reducing the experience to the repetative process of “click enemy once, recieve loot.”
I’m certain that Blizzard Entertainment is not overly concerned with the complaints of a single customer who will no longer be using a particular service of theirs. It’s entirely possible that this rather verbose dissertation on the state of the game will fall on deaf ears and go largely unread by anyone in a position to correct the course World of Warcraft has taken. I accept that, yet I could not let my feelings go unvoiced. It is my hope that as I and others of a like mind try to bring this very real and unfortunate situation to light, you might understand the position we are in and look into ways to make World of Warcraft great again. I guarantee you’ll see players coming back if you make the right decisions for the sake of the game, rather than pandering to players who feel entitled to their loot instead of being willing to work for it.
Thank you for the years of entertainment. I wish you nothing but success.
Arguably one of the best lines ever to come out of Star Wars, even before the questionably valued prequels, was this tidbit snapped at C-3P0 by Han Solo just before he plunged the Millenium Falcon and its hapless passengers into a deadly asteroid field. It was a challenge, a potential deadly one, and Han went about facing it with gusto. The droid underscoring the fact that it was all but impossible was just more incentive for him to do it.
Last night I faced a similar situation. The World of Warcraft event the Lunar Festival was rapidly coming to a close. I had visited most of the Elder NPCs necessary to complete the over-arching achievement, which would earn me a new title and bring me one step closer to the Reins of the Violet Proto-Drake, a rare flying mount, as well as the means to ride it at maximum speed (saving me 4000 gold pieces). It was about two hours before midnight, when the event would end, and the Elders I needed to visit were tucked away in dungeons scattered throughout the frozen land of Northrend. My wife, who also had a few other Elders to visit, questioned the wisdom of pursuing a deadline that, in the end equation, really didn’t matter.
While on an intellectual level I know she’s right (who’s going to care about my WoW achievements after I’m dead?), I heard Han saying “never tell me the odds” as I cracked my knuckles and hopped on the north-bound zeppelin.
Long story short, there were seven Elders I had to visit, and some of them were past packs of enemies and even bosses. Thankfully, the maximum level of Hunter granted me an essential ability for this sort of thing: Camouflage. I stealthed my way through most of the dungeons, only running afoul of foes a few times. I used hidden back ways and exits to speed up my journey. The biggest challenge came when I had to face Skadi the Ruthless on my own. After a false start and a couple of inexplicable resets, my faithful ‘tank pet’ Blinky the warp stalker and I were able to take him down. I had about ten minutes to midnight. I sped past the encounter, through the pack of waiting bad guys, under the stairs and bowed to the last Elder.
The resulting audio and visual cues for the achievements earned filled me with delight. I’d done it!
I’ve written before about the merits of achievements. It seems that their appeal and the satisfaction born from putting in the effort to attain them has not diminished. Either there truly is something to the idea of extending the replay value and investments necessary to continue playing games based on these introduced elements…
…or those cues I mentioned have programmed into me a positive Pavlovian response that speaks to a deeper insidiousness amongst Blizzard’s programmers.
You are in Blue Ink Alchemy.
There is an exit through the Internet.
There is a New Post here.
It is dark.
You may be eaten by a grue.
Does anybody else remember ZORK?
It was something I played briefly in my youth. It was one of my very first adventure games. This was long before anything like graphical user interfaces had made a big splash in computing, let alone PC gaming, so the action and suspense played itself out in the form of lines of text.
My first ‘MMO’ experience was similar. It’s not strictly a massively multiplayer experience, as I have no idea how many simultaneous players the server supports, but MUME – Multi-Users of Middle-Earth was perhaps my first real foray into online gaming, happening about the same time I really hit my stride with Trade Wars.
Speaking of which, I’m still interested in getting some kind of iteration of that thing going on my local server with friends and stuff. I just haven’t had the time.
Anyway, text-based adventuring. These are actually more intricate and deep than you might expect. Instead of relying on glitsy graphics or gameplay powered by a few quick button-presses, the designer has to include common command ideas such as “LOOK”, “GET” and “INVENTORY” while being ready to respond to unknown commands like “RESPAWN”, “SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST” or “TEABAG”.
There’s also the fact that it’s the player who populates the game world, at least in a sense. By reading the text of the adventure, it’s your imagination that are giving the characters, settings and threats of the world flesh, weight and meaning. This requires the setting to be well-written, with clear descriptions and consequences that matter. It also means that the designers need to lay out a path to victory for the player, with obstacles and misdirects placed carefully so that once the player gets the hang of which commands work, there’s still plenty of challenge to be had.
How might a text-based adventure if it were programmed today, say using a popular IP?
I can’t assume that every reader who passes by here knows enough about World of Warcraft to get all of the in-jokes, but pay attention to some of the longer descriptions. This is well-written, cleanly described and carefully directed work. More than just an exercise in “trolling the forums for the lulz,” it’s a great example of good writing, good design and a fantastic result.
It also had me laughing so hard I was crying. So, there’s that as well.