Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What's So Annoying? Ralai Quests

Ralai Quests (or 'Running Around Like an Idiot' Quests) are really annoying. These come in two distinct varieties. But before I get into that, I should say that I am a systematic and methodical person. I like to do things in an orderly way and I like to see progress in what I am doing. I think most people are like this although, perhaps, not as extreme as I am. I realize that there is an element of disorder inherent in WoW because different players will choose to pursue quests in a different order for a variety of reasons. So, some element of randomness and disorder is inherent in a dynamic game such as this. I have no qualms with that. It is when unnecessary chaos is added for no particular purpose that I find it annoying.

There are numerous quests such as The Missing Diplomat or the Legend of Stalvan that force you to run from place to place talking with different NPCs or collecting various items. These are some of the bigger ones but there are dozens of little ones where X tells you to talk to Y, Y tells you to talk to Z. And Z tells you to talk to X again. Further, X,Y and Z are all in the same area. What is the point in that? Quests should be designed to teach you something about the game or give you a reward of some kind that enhances your play experience. Most of the time, especially on the larger Ralai Quests, the effort is way out of proportion to the effort required. One might try to argue that Ralai Quests force players to see more of the game than they would otherwise and this is a valid claim. However, if the goal to to get players to see more of the game this has be be about the most lame way to do it.

The second kind of Ralai Quest is a dungeon with windy passages all of which look the same or very similar. The Den in Stonetalon is a good example of this. This quest is an unqualified disaster. There is no systematic way to explore the dungeon and even if you have done it many times, as I have, you cannot apply what you learned from previous runs to the current run. I don't expect a series of signs pointing to the quest object. But I do expect that I can reasonably figure out where I need to go. After all, there should be a logic to the game and as you acquire more experience, you should be better at figuring things out.

Even if you can't figure it out you should be able to systematically go through the dungeon. Having different passages and different levels that are indistinguishable is either laziness or perversity on the part of the designers. If they made them look the same because it was too much effort to make them look different then it is just laziness. If they enjoy frustrating their account holders to the point where they drop the quest in frustration and bail out with the hearthstone then it is just perversity.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What's So Annoying? The Graveyards

The death model in World of Warcraft works pretty well. Your character gets killed. You get sent to a graveyard. You have to run back to where you got killed. And you have to rebuff yourself. It interrupts the rhythm of your play and causes you to loose certain buffs. And that make getting killed something to avoid. That is the good part.

Here are the annoying parts. As far as I can tell, every time you go to a graveyard, your character is placed so that you are pointing in the wrong direction. Every damn time! This is such a small thing but I find it incredibly annoying. It would actually be less annoying if it were random and you had to figure out which way you were pointing. There is an important element in game design in this comment. Features of the game should all contribute to the game. That is, there has to be a rationale other than just unnecessarily making something more difficult. Challenging is fine. Random elements are fine. But annoying is not fine.

Second, some of the graveyards are way too far away from the point where you got killed. I know that Blizzard has noticed this because they have added some graveyards a little closer so your character doesn't have to run so far. One example is a new graveyard near Brewnell Village in Dun Morogh. When you are a higher level and have a mount, being killed and having to run without the mount is frustrating. You want the death model to be a deterrent to being killed, but not a punitive annoyance.

Third, there is some times difficult terrain to navigate to get from the graveyard to your corpse. This happens in mountainous areas and sometimes in dungeons. The problem here is that when dead you do not have the same resources available to you as when you are alive. The terrain is difficult to see because it is grayed. It may be totally unfamiliar if you just entered a new area. You can''t just bail out with the hearth stone. And you don't have use of your mount. Further, once you leave the death angel and get lost you are really in trouble. You can't find your corpse and you can't find the death angel. You are screwed!! Personally, I don't feel that running around like an idiot ever enhances my game experience.

On the positive side, I find the graveyards in battle grounds to be much more effective. It is like a time out for getting killed without the unpleasant experience of having to run around like an idiot over unfamiliar terrain trying to find your corpse.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pretty Won't Make Up For Annoying

I usually write this blog on Wednesdays. I have a Tuesday blog written about Second Life by my Second Life avatar Doctor Cosmos. But, after four years, I am giving up on Second Life. While I still think there is enormous potential for virtual world technology, I think the window of opportunity has closed for Linden Labs. Anyway back to the topic of this post.

Let's say that you are in a relationship with the most strikingly attractive woman you have ever know (please make any necessary adjustments for your circumstances or preferences). But, sadly, this luscious creature  argues with everything you say no matter how trivial. Will this relationship last? No! Why? Because pretty won't make up for annoying. In fact, there is not enough pretty in the world to make up for annoying. Over time the impact of the prettiness fades and the impact of the annoying grows until you simple cannot stand it any more.

I say this not to be a sexist or chauvinist because it applies equally as well to any other pairing combination. I say it because it is analogous to the World of Warcraft experience. There is no doubt that this is an amazing game. It never ceases to amaze me at the care that went into the design, technology, graphics, concept, all of it. After more than two years, I still notice little things that impress me. And I still love to play.

However, there are also some really annoying things about the game and over time the clever aspects diminish and the annoyances grow. It doesn't surprise me that after a while people play less or move on. I am not sure if the things that annoy me annoy everyone. Maybe its just me. And I don't know if these annoyances are unavoidable given the theory of game design or if they are just bad design.

Nonetheless, next time I will spell out four annoyances that will some day have me run screaming into the night. After that, my relationship with WoW will never be the same.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Stranger - A Solo Player

In some ways the solo player sounds like an oxymoron. World of Warcraft is, after all, a Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game. Doesn't multi-player mean, well, multi-player? How does the solo player fit into all this?

The Stranger is a solo player, pursuing quests individually and leveling up strictly from individual efforts. This can be a slow way to level and it can be made event slower if the player waits until the character has acquired double experience credit. Double experience credit give your character twice the experience normally acquired from killing a mob. If you do not use double experience your character will not level quickly enough and the quests will become too difficult. However, you can level without quests by farming for goods that you can use in your profession. For example, if you are a skinner, you can kill mobs that yield leather. You get points for killing the mob and you get the leather which you can use to make a variety of useful things. The things you make in your profession can help your character and extra items can be sold in the auction house. This money can then be used to buy addition things your character might need such as amour or weapons.

The Stranger with many faces is a solo player with several characters of different classes and with different professions. There are several benefits of playing this way. First, while your wait for a character to acquire double experience credit, you can play other characters. If you have a full set of characters you will have a constant supply of double experience credit. In addition, the different character can have different professions. The leather worker can supply the other characters with armor enhancers. The tailor can supply bags. The blacksmith can supply weapon sharpeners and so on. The drawback of playing multiple characters is that you have to get reacquainted with the capabilities of each one, each time you play it. It can also get confusing trying to remember the names, classes and professions of each. WoW can be overwhelming for the new player. Having a full cast of characters can make it even more confusing.

It is possible to reach the top levels as a solo player. And, if you wish to go on raids you can announce your interest in the general chat and may be picked up by a raiding team for just that raid. And you can always group with other characters for specific task.

The benefit of solo play is that you can advance at your own speed, play when you want to play, avoid guild chat drivel, avoid obligations, and most of all avoid drama and annoying people. If you are not a particularly social person, this may be the approach for you. If, on the other hand, you are social and like to get help from other people, maybe you could consider being a guildie. And that will be the topic of then post.