Choose your own adventure!

Azeroth is a huge game world with a lot of variety between the different zones. It has an enormous amount of lore, countless characters with a detailed backstory and even a lot of the items in the game have a story behind them. With such an enormous world and so many things happening all around you, it shouldn’t be a problem to go out there and have an adventure on your own.

Well, I’ve tried, but it’s really hard, and Blizzard seems to be trying their hardest to implement changes that somehow directly affected my current “adventure”.

 

You see, I really like customization and trying new things that are a little bit off the beaten path in games. When WoW was fresh I didn’t really bother all that much with this, because I still had plenty of fun with the regular content. Especially when playing your first character everything is new and exciting. But after a while you start to see a pattern. Enter a new zone, do a bunch of quests, get some new items and gain a level or two, go to the next zone, repeat. Well, if you like playing just for the story, that’s probably fine the first time around. When you start a new character and eventually end up in a zone you’ve already quested through with your first character, things might get ugly. Suddenly Random NPC-Guy #25 has lost his treasured hanky…again! In the same place! And it has been picked up by the same Random Evil-Mob #412! Again! What are the odds? Especially considering that Random Evil-Mob #412 should be dead, because I already killed him.

The fact of the matter is, that everybody experiences exactly the same story, due to the quest-heavy gameplay. While you sometimes have the choice of going to another zone for a few levels, especially with the expansions, the experience is insanely linear. Chances are…no, there’s not a chance…it’s a fact: Nothing you do in WoW hasn’t been experienced exactly the same way by millions of people before you. People with the same class, spec, equipment and professions have done exactly the same quests in exactly the same order with exactly the same outcome. They’ve seen the same “shocking” twists, killed the same “super evil” enemies just before they could blow up the universe and there’s nothing special about anything you’ll be able to do, especially while leveling your character.

It was more or less like that right from the start, but it has actually gotten a lot worse. Nowadays, the first expansion, The Burning Crusade, is considered to have a very unstructured and badly paced questing structure compared to later expansions and the overhaul the 1-60 content received with Cataclysm. To me that’s a very good example how the gameplay experience progressed.

I remember my first questing through the Outland zones quite well. At first it was a lot of fun, the rush and excitement of the very first WoW expansion was really something special and that experience will never be reproduced as long as WoW exists. But I wasn’t even halfway through Hellfire Peninsula when I started complaining about the quest structure in the game. All quests were in one zone, you hopped from quest hub to quest hub and when you left a zone you could rest assured you had seen everything. In WoW classic you didn’t have any choices either, but the zones weren’t self contained and a lot of quests lead to other zones or another continent and there often were quests “hidden” in remote corners of a zone, only available through rare quest drops or by simply being available at unusual levels (like the lvl40 quest in Westfall).

These days Blizzard doesn’t think that’s such a good idea so they force feed you all the content, making sure there’s nothing left to discover after casually finishing a zone.

Yeah...I get it, you want me to "discover" this funtastic quest.

I actually had to accept the quest at one point, because I couldn’t farm leather anymore…the damn thing kept popping up every 2-5 mobs and throwing the old one away each time to skin the mob got pretty annoying.

So, questing and story isn’t something where you can experience something unique or at least create a custom experience, which leaves the gameplay or the way “how” you play through the linear content.

Continue reading “Choose your own adventure!”

Why did I even start with WoW?

The year was 1998. Two years ago I had bought a new computer (Pentium 133) and one year ago I took my first steps into the world wide web. I’ve been reading about this game “Ultima Online” for a couple of months now and was pretty intrigued, so I started playing my first MMORPG in 98.

I won’t bore you with endless details on how incredibly awesome and unique this game was (maybe later). From 1998 to 2004 I’ve been playing UO, but when the expansion “Age of Shadows” was released in early 2003, I started looking for an alternative. You see, UO used to be a completely open game, with no quest direction, no character classes or levels. Everybody had dozens of skills at their disposal and using them improved those skills, which was measured in points. However, there was a limit on the total number of skillpoints a single character could have (700), so you had to make decisions which skills to raise to grandmaster (100 points). The variety of character builds was completely insane and the game wasn’t focused on combat alone either. You could be a craftsman (carpenter, tinkerer, alchemist, fletcher, blacksmith, miner etc.) or pursue a profession more suited for serious role playing (beggar, cook, fisherman etc.) and of course be a swordsman, archer, mage or anything else you could think of. Equipment came in different qualities and a few pieces were magical with damage or armor boosts, but the main strength of a character came from his skillset and the player’s ability to make the most of it. Leveling a single skill to grandmaster level often took weeks, if not longer.

Bring it on!

 

When Age of Shadows came along, they changed the focus of the game from skill based to item based. Raising your skills became much easier and the skills themselves became a lot more powerful. In addition to that, items got a lot of stats, armor got more resistances and the game introduced artifacts which made the good old vanq/power broadsword look like utter garbage…the investment of millions of gold instantly devalued, nice one.

Well, I didn’t like these changes and the new custom housing feature (player housing was in the game right from the start, but now you could design your own home), collecting rare items (something that never catched on in WoW, I’ll talk about this as well one day, since I believe I’m the only WoW rares collector) kept me playing for a while.

A friend introduced me to WoW in 2004, but he couldn’t really persuade me to play, because I knew how good the classic UO was and even the current UO sounded better than what WoW was supposed to offer when it was released.

Continue reading “Why did I even start with WoW?”

Almost there…

One more level and I’m done. As expected my precious rogue is still going downhill fast. Hitpoints are rising, and I suppose I’ll be around 250k when hitting 90.

But wait…what’s this? Could it be….?

Omg! Parry went UP!?

Oh glorious day! Due to the tiny increments of agility I get with every level I’ve gained 0,01% parry since 85! Damn, that feels good! Rogue tank spec, here I come!

Don’t be fooled by the rising attack power and damage values…my haste level still sinks much faster so the dps still goes down a lot. I’ve lost about over 500dps total so far…

It was always this easy… (Part 2)

Welcome back to part 2 of my little analysis of the leveling difficulty. Last time we went over the way the character’s skills and equipment during leveling (especially in the 1-60 content) became much stronger. This time we’ll take a look at several other aspects that had an impact on the leveling difficulty and speed.

First up is travel. This is actually a more complex topic with more consequences than just reduced leveling speed, so I’ll go into more detail about traveling in a later entry.

Blizzard introduced several convenient changes and additions to the way characters can travel through the world, reducing the time to get from point A to point B, either by making mounts available at earlier levels, adding flight paths, flying mounts, teleporters and many other things. I won’t go on about the advantages and disadvantages of these changes, so let’s just acknowledge the effect they had on leveling. While leveling through quests, a player has to travel…a lot! Either from questgiver to quest-objective, from questhub A to questhub B or to a different zone or continent. With every aspect of travel made easier and faster, while also introducing completely new methods, it’s clear that a huge amount of leveling time has been cut. We could argue that Blizzard just removed dead filler, thus allowing players to get to where the action is faster, but I don’t quite agree. We’ll discuss this in detail some other day.

 

What do we usually do while leveling? Killig stuff! Well that’s what players used to do most, but nowadays I’m not so sure anymore. Anyway, combat plays a huge role in World of Warcraft, during leveling, after reaching the level cap, PvE or PvP and even the tradeskills often involve combat.

Those were the days...

What could Blizzard do to make the core aspect of a game called World of WARcraft less important? Again, a lot.

Continue reading “It was always this easy… (Part 2)”

Still getting weaker…

Just a small update about my leveling progress: The character is currently level 88 and each levelup provides me with more hitpoints and less in everything else. My dps, crit, hit, expertise, dodge, haste is dropping to new lows. Yes I’m keeping the level 85 gear to 90, just to prove this point. Here’s a quick screenshot: 87 on the left, 88 on the right. 85 and 86 can be found here.

Oh boy, when I hit 90, I'll REALLY suck! I can't wait!

It was always this easy… (Part 1)

While we’re talking about leveling up, let’s tackle a topic that ties in quite well with the previous posts: The difficulty, speed and overall process of getting to the next level.

Every now and then, someone on the official forums mentions how leveling in WoW used to be a lot more challenging, which is usually followed by countless people claiming that nothing has changed, and the leveling process was always as trivial and easy as it is right now.

I disagree, especially about the content from 1-60 and I’ll explain why.

You see, Blizzard has constantly been making changes to the leveling process. Some small, some large and some changes to other mechanics that ended up affecting the overall leveling speed and difficulty. I guess most people claiming the leveling process has always been the same haven’t been around for a long time or didn’t really experience those changes in a before and after scenario using fresh characters. But your guess is as good as mine.

So what has changed to make the leveling process so easy? Was it really more difficult in the beginning? Well, I’ll admit that to a certain extent, the inexperience of new players can be responsible for the “it used to be more difficult” approach. Players are still learning the overall mechanics, the game world is new to them and it takes a long time to get used to that. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume sufficient knowledge of classes, quests and zones for our little theoretical experiment.

So, what’s different? For starters, the very character you’re starting with has changed drastically over the years, becoming a LOT more powerful right from the start.
Having played a rogue in PvE for the last 7 years, with lots of alts of the same class, I guess I’ll take this class as an example for some more specific talents etc.

Monster DPS!

(no, the character above isn’t some random, lvl30 alt with 8 hours /played. It’s my old wow-classic rogue at lvl60 with some questing gear, crafted items, low level instance loot and a ton of buffs)

In general, the talents and abilities have constantly been modified by Blizzard. They removed useless talents, switched around the priority of others to give useful abilities to new characters earlier and implemented totally new ones to help players. And I know, people always moan about their class getting nerfed constantly, but since release, almost every aspect of most classes have been buffed and simplified.

Continue reading “It was always this easy… (Part 1)”

*ding* (Part 2)

Having finished the previous entry mainly due to length concerns, I’ll continue my talk about the level up mechanic in World of Warcraft today.

The way WoW’s stat system works these days (again, a lenghty topic for another day) is different from WoW classic. Back then you usually had stamina and your primary stat on an item, but it wasn’t unusual to have strength on rogue items (the Darkmantle set hat several pieces with strength on them). Things like hit or crit were nice to have, but a rare bonus, so you didn’t worry so much about them. Today, you have to watch your hit and expertise cap and think about the weight of mastery, crit and haste. Have stats over the cap and you’re wasting dps, reforge into a weak secondary stat and again, you’re left with a dps loss. It used to be so simple and in fact, the current model is already simplified. Stats like armor penetration got removed and the UI shows a ton of information to the player. But I digress. Due to the stat inflation, there are a lot of stats that have dynamic caps, changing with each level and requiring more points to not drop in efficiency.

This results in a “funny” behavior when leveling up. Usually a new level is something to be celebrated, because the character obviously gets stronger, right? I mean, higher level = stronger character, right? Well, not in World of Warcraft. I observed this recently on my main rogue. The equip wasn’t completely high end, but more or less on par with heroic firelands ilvl. Pretty much the absolute best you could get from valor points, Deathwing lfr (shudder), the occasional 397 leatherworking item, all flawlessly reforged, gemmed and enchanted. Now, when I leveled from 85 to 86, I noticed something odd. Luckily I take screenshots like a madman, so I can show you what I’m talking about.

Wow, isn’t that something? Ignore the higher stamina for one second and look at the rest of the stats. Mainly dps, speed, haste, regen, hit, crit, expertise, mastery and dodge are interesting. Judging by those stats, you’d guess that the left side is level 86 and the right is 85, right? But that’s not the case. In World of Warcraft, your characters actually appear weaker after leveling up. I know, the character actually does get stronger. Stamina rises, attack power goes up slightly and the remaining stats stay at the same level (just the amount required to reach the cap at a higher level changes), so relative to before the character isn’t weaker, not a whole lot stronger, but has a lot more potential.

Continue reading “*ding* (Part 2)”

*ding* (Part 1)

Today I’d like to talk about level ups, everybody likes level ups, right?

Blizzard made some huge changes over the years and the way a character gains a level these days is almost entirely different from the way it worked back in 2005. I’ll make a detailed list of the levelup process and try to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of both.

I hope I don’t get details mixed up, so correct me if I’m wrong about some of the old mechanics.

Continue reading “*ding* (Part 1)”

What this is all about…

Well, the banner already gives the answer, but I’ll go into a little bit more detail…just in case anybody actually reads this 😉

 

This blog will simply be about my observations on computer and video games in general, but with a focus on the game design aspect. Other blog entries will cover my own thoughts and experiments in game development as well as all projects related to gaming, game design and game development.

One more thing I’ll cover every now and then will be World of Warcraft. I’ve been playing this game on and off since 2004 and it’s a love/hate relationship. I really love the approach Blizzard took with WoW classic, and to a lesser extent Burning Crusade as well, but as we all know, they’ve changed their focus quite drastically following the unexpected success of the game. I’ll try my best to cover these topics from a game designers perspective, but I probably can’t avoid ranting about this game. Most things they do with the game have a lot of potential, but almost everything gets screwed up to a certain extent. But that’s just my personal opinion…and I’m certain most of the current or newer players won’t agree with me at all, but that’s fine.

I started playing MMORPGs in 97/98 with Ultima Online and switched to WoW once UO changed from a skill based open world game to an item and stat based quest/instance oriented game. I know, WoW is exactly the same (even worse, I hated WoW classic when I started playing), but at least it was a change of scenery. Originally WoW was just meant to be a stopgap solution until I found a suitable successor to UO, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Now I periodically play WoW for a couple of months, get increasingly displeased with everything I do, quit the game, vowing never to return and resubscribe a couple of months later.

 

I’ve been playing video games for almost 25 years now and started programming a few years after playing my first game. I’ve studied computer science and I guess my current job is more or less in that field, but I’m trying to start working as a game designer/developer with a small independent team. I’m constantly researching game design topics and even got a letter of recommendation from David Perry a couple of years ago. Right now I’m working on a small RPG with the free Unity game engine as a learning project, I’ll cover the development process in this blog as well. Oh and I’m also learning Japanese…I guess I’ll figure out a way to link this to gaming so I can post about my progress as well 😉