Weekend Roundup: Guild Wars 2

This weekend’s been quieter than some on the MMORPG front, but the bulk of writing, discussion and debate reveals one thing: an awful lot of bloggers are still playing Guild Wars 2.

From NPC personalities to Arena.net’s sales tactics, it’s all here:

  • Dusty Monk writes a fascinating piece examining the new roles that replace the Holy Trinity in Guild Wars 2 dungeons“When ArenaNet said there was no trinity, what they meant is that the traditional trinity didn’t exist. Because there is still a trinity of roles, and there it is: Damage, Control, and Support. “
  • Klepsacovic writes explaining why he feels the Hearts system is far superior to conventional MMO quests” Furthermore, having many people helps average things out, so I can imagine that despite my obsession with shooting wasps, someone did eventually get around to fixing the pipes. Quests can use the trick of stacking, having a few quests that relate to the same area, but this doesn’t give the flexibility of wasp-killing vs. pipe-patching.”
  • Green Armadillo looks at a question that has a few people concerned – given that we don’t pay a subscription, how accountable will Arena.net and similar publishers be for what they do to or with player accounts?“We don’t have the data to tell whether bannings in Guild Wars 2 is actually more prevalent in other games since none of the studios routinely publicize such numbers, but one can certainly imagine that removing the subscription fee removes a financial incentive NOT to ban a customer. “
  • Azuriel still isn’t convinced by the Guild Wars 2 economy, and makes some good points in an admittedly somewhat pessimistic article on the subject“I do believe Guild Wars 2 brings some extremely nice innovations to the MMO formula. However, I am getting the distinct impression that other MMOs do not have these features precisely because of all the unintended consequences they bring down the line.”
  • Stubborn has a bit of a problem with the Sylvari and Human NPCs he’s met so far – they all appear to be bad guys (warning, spoilers)” It seems like all the NPCs I work with or against are bad. I won’t go so far as to say they’re evil, as some of their actions, like murdering a murder, are morally neutral, but they’re certainly not good.”
  • Syl applauds Arena.net’s reverse-psychology attitude to persuading players to buy items on the in-game shop“Of course they don’t just give away stuff for free. Well, they do – but not in the way one might think. They’re way more devious than that.”
  • Keen explains the feel of GW2 dungeons in a nutshell – which might have been intended to put us off, but had the opposite effect on me. The comments are fascinating too“I finally figured out how to explain dungeons in Guild Wars 2. Previously the best explanation I had was simple chaos and dodging. My guildmate has a better explanation: It’s like a WoW dungeon when the tank dies. “
  • And Tesh indulges in a great bit of creativity, coming up with Twitter-length backstories for every possible race/class combination“Norn Necromancer – Preparing heroic spot in afterlife for friends… by any means necessary.”

I’m fascinated to see how the Arena.net “exceed expectations of free stuff” strategy works out. I know some people in the Internet Marketing space have used the same technique to make really large amounts of money, so it’s not without precedent…

What do you think? Are dungeons chaos? Is the economy fine?

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Dear Developers: WATCH OUT!

WARNING! WARNING! Yes, today we’ve got a number of warnings – for game developers, of potentially disastrous potholes in their roadmaps.

I don’t know if game developers read MMO blogs. From a market research point of view, the big devs would be mad not to. But I certainly hope some of them are reading today, as a number of insightful bloggers appear to have gotten together to highlight just some of the things that could go very, very wrong in their plans.

From the eternal spectre of unfair F2P, to “emergent mechanics” that break your game, to accidentally supporting and encouraging prejudice and discrimination – it’s a pretty scary list:

  • Pewter writes a really interesting article looking at the unspoken assumptions often built into character and game mechanic designs, and how they can end up supporting unsavory points of view“Obviously, sometimes NPCs are there to be emotional stimuli, or to impart information to a player; but recognising the way in which taught design principles can systemize the presentation of gender, race, disability, religion and sexuality in game is a first, and positive step.”
  • Jester tells the story of how some emergent behaviour in EVE let one player “break the game”, and why he believes CCP are still fixing the symptom, not the cause“It’s a glorious demonstration of EVE emergent game play, and yet another example of the lengths that EVE players will go to to avoid EVE’s sub-par PvE. “
  • The Ancient Gaming Noob sounds a general alarm bell about the shifting future of Free To Play – an alarm bell for MMO players and developers alike, IMO“The simple days of the implied social contract that came with the subscription model appear to be fading as companies look for further ways to monetize their games.”
  • Stubborn points out one way that The Secret World has utterly trumped WoW for him, despite WoW’s budget – by giving him actually relatable NPCs“Other than humor, and the very occasional moment of sadness, WoW did little with literally thousands of questgivers, and TSW has already hooked me with the 30 or 40 I’ve met.”
  • And Syp rounds off with a look at one area I’d agree many MMO developers are failing in – body language for their characters – the comments are very worth reading, too – “Whether players realize it or not, one of the reasons we have difficulty connecting and empathizing with the NPCs and events is how limited and stilted the body language is that we witness.”

I’d really not want to be an MMO developer. Film is a horrendous medium to work in because of the sheer number of things that can go wrong – but it’s nothing compared to the landscape of FAIL that can await an MMO.

What pitfalls do you see in MMO gaming’s future?

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Pawns, Micropayments, and Not Heroes

I’m looking to get an early night tonight before appearing on the Twisted Nether podcast at 8am my time tomorrow, so here are a few links for the weekend to keep you going!

  • Jester continues looking at MMO business models by examining “Free to play” games, and the ways in which developers are working to make them less free“”If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer,” says the famous little graphic before adding “You’re the product being sold.” “
  • Tobold examines new game Dragon’s Dogma and its NPCs / fellow players as “Pawns” concept“Using your friends as pawns in your game is a very shallow and indirect social interaction. But it avoids players considering each other as obstacles on their way to advancement.”
  • And Straw Fellow applauds Diablo 3 for casting none of its characters as selfless heroes“Their motivations are fairly selfish, and I’m sure if the demons weren’t threatening the world none of these characters would care about them.”

Have a great weekend, and hope to see some of you online tonight/tomorrow morning.

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Are All Female NPCs in WoW Wives or Fallen Women?

Does WoW place all its female characters in weak, stereotypical roles? And will Jaina’s upcoming role in the fall of Theramore break the mould?

There’s been a lot of talk about the graphical representation of women in MMOs recently – but what about their fictional representation as characters? With WoW’s Patch 5.0 coming up, Theramore due to fall, and Jaina Proudmooore, one of WoW’s most visible female characters, smack in the middle of it, will we end up with a strong, independent female role model for our characters, or another weak woman who needs a man to complete her?

That’s the question that Erinys of Harpy’s Nest is trying to answer today, and to do so, she’s delving deep into the literary theory of Victorian fiction

“I found myself back in a lecture theatre listening to my tutor talk about the themes of Victorian Literature. At length she discussed the two polarising roles of women in the Art and Literature of the period. The Angel of the Hearth in her guises as Mother, Madonna, Wife and her antithesis, the more popular Fallen Woman. To illustrate her point, along with lines of poetry she showed paintings of domestic bliss followed by image after image of dead girls floating down rivers trailing flowers in their wake or tearfully hurling themselves into angry rivers. Idly at first I found myself applying the same concept to the women of WoW, but then something dawned on me. Just like their Victorian counterparts, all our fleshed out female leaders are defined not by their own abilities but by their relationships with the men that surround them.

Take Sylvanas, the Dark Lady, the Banshee Queen, in a sense she’s the perfect embodiment of a fallen woman. Defined by Arthas, by the man who made her in his own image, who violated her and destroyed her. Her’s was literally a fate worse than death.

“The grinning face of Arthas Menethil, with his lopsided smile and dead eyes, leers at her as he pulls her back into the world. Violates her. His laughter—that hollow laugh—the memory of it makes her skin crawl!”

Those are Dave Kosak’s words, describing a flashback she experiences at the start of his short story “Edge of Night“. Now I’m pretty sure if I read those sentences to someone out of context, the conclusion they’d jump to would be one of sexual assault. Again, when in Stormrage, she falls prey to the nightmares, it’s the Lich King who stalks her mind like an incubus. Her prowess with a bow is all but forgotten, it doesn’t matter that she was the Ranger-General because the second she met Arthas, her identity became bound up in his spiderweb. Then, when finally he’s defeated and she should be able to forge ahead with her own undeath, she seeks to kill herself because without him, without the hunt for revenge, life has no purpose to her. It doesn’t matter that she has obligations to both the Horde and the Forsaken, her intent is to throw that all away.

“She hurled the armor from the peak, watching it disappear into the roiling mists”

Kosak’s choice of verb to describe the mists conjures up angry turbulent waters, the kind that the Victorian Painters and Poets were so fond of casting fallen women. Like them, Sylvanas seeks oblivion by falling to her death, a suitably Victorian end for a woman who fell from grace.”

This is really fascinating stuff – as someone who studied some Hardy, amongst others, some time ago, I was immediately struck by the parallels between the imagery and elements present in a lot of (deeply irritating, IMO – I’m not a fan) Victorian literature, and those present in the stories of women in WoW.

Erinys goes through just about every major character, showing how they can fit without too much trouble into Victorian stereotypes, and goes on to discuss and dissect the potential plots for the future Jaina in the novel “Tides of War”. She does a great job of weaving small threads of information in here, too – although her conclusion isn’t particularly optimisic, I suspect it’s not wrong.

Regardless of how upbeat her conclusions might make you feel, this is a first-rate piece of WoW scholarship, and I’d highly recommend reading it if you want to think of WoW’s NPCs in an entirely new – and century-plus old – light.

Do you think WoW’s heroines are basically Victorian?

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Guild Wars 2: How The AH Works, Playground or Themepark, and more

The Guild Wars 2 beta is showing, over and over again, that what we’ve got here is something genuinely new. It’s now 4 days after, and the discussions of individual points in the game design aren’t abating – in fact, they’re getting steadily more interesting.

We’ve got some really meaty pieces of discussion of the upcoming MMO today:

  • Ravious at Kill Ten Rats offers a fascinating look at the Auction House equivalent, which sounds like a whole lot of fun“Right click, sell at the trading post. There was a buy order on 8-slot jute bags for 54 copper, and the average market price of jute scraps hung around 10 copper each. It took 20 jute scraps to make an 8-slot bag. Yeah, right I thought… “
  • Werit asks whether World vs World PvP is really a part of the game where NPCs belong“Fighting in RvR will always be about the players since NPCs are usually little more than speedbumps. “
  • Cyndre, also at Kill Ten Rats, muses about how Arena.net surprised him by offering an actual beta“I expected a Marketing Event, and was put-off by an actual beta testing phase.”
  • And Melmoth at Killed in a Smiling Accident wonders if GW2 has managed to be a “playground”, the perfect blend of themepark and sandbox“The Killers and the Socialisers can inhabit the same area and not necessarily get in each other’s way. Meanwhile, the Explorers can wander around discovering all the various parts of the playground (including that hole in the fence behind the bike sheds), and the Achievers can try to involve themselves in as many games as possible, flitting from one to the other without interfering with the game that is being played at the time.”

Don’t miss the best Guild Wars 2 discussion – sign up for the new MMO Melting Pot Weekly Digest

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How DOES everyone in the MMO world know of your deeds?

We’re rounding off today with a fun little link. Whilst it’s not directly about MMOs, it’s certainly talking about issues that crop up in them.

We speak here of the phenomenon of NPC telepathy, and specifically the tendancy of Oblivion NPCs to automatically know everything you’ve done anywhere in the world, ever – which The Land Of Odd is starting to get really freaked out by

“Wait! That’s it. Hear me out, because I know this is a bit far-fetched. Maybe Cyrodil doesn’t exist. Maybe it’s all an elaborate staging for me and only me to experience and go through as some kind of a twisted test to prove my worth. That even as I get more powerful, the world rises to match my power and everyone’s equipment and lives are designed around me. Like some kind of twisted fantasy Truman Show. Only where Jim Carrey has an axe, and continues to be entertaining past the 90 minute mark! By what twisted being’s desire is this horrific world made real? Who is pulling the strings behind all this? What foul divinity would forge such lengthy adventures of skill and repetitive tasks like jumping over and over because how the hell else are you going to level up your acrobatics other than making yourself look like a complete loon that no one notices?!”

Yeah, quite. I mean, how DO all the Shattered Sun Offensive or Kirin Tor people know about all the stuff I did for them? I mean, sure, the quartermaster’s got to be pretty familiar with my face by now, but everyone? Do they have a newsletter or something? And if so, could they please send a copy on to the next faction I need to grind with and maybe try and get me, you know, 10% less boar snouts to make them friendly?

What’s your theory?

This article’s from The Land Of Odd: http://landofodd.wordpress.com/. Thanks, guys!

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The evolution of WoW NPCs – a retrospective

The humble NPC has been with us a while now in the World of Warcraft world, from Captain Placeholder onward. Initially purely static characters, over the years Blizzard have experimented with a number of techniques to liven their characters up, including ongoing storylines for minor NPCs that evolved with the expansion.

WoW Insider’s Know Your Lore, a column I usually find a little bit too obscure for me, has a great piece up today talking about the “evolution of NPCs”, and in particular, highlighting some of the most notable examples of growing and changing NPCs from WoW Vanilla and TBC

“The saga of Cro Threadstrong Cro Threadstrong has to be one of my favorite NPCs of all time. He’s the leatherworking vendor in Shattrath City, tucked away in his own little stall down in Lower City. But Cro had an issue that players were immediately alerted to after spending any small amount of time in Shattrath. See, Cro had his wonderful stall, but a cart filled with fruit blocked the stall from passersby. Cro, being a reasonable Orc, attempted to solve this issue as any reasonable Orc would: by yelling about it. Repeatedly.

Cro’s cries could be heard all over Shattrath. “Does this fruit vendor not value his life? YOU ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME, FRUIT VENDOR!!” Players wondered who the heck was yelling and what on earth the problem with the fruit vendor was. Exploring Shattrath soon revealed the location of Cro and his nemesis the Fruit Vendor — a polite, somewhat absent-minded little old lady named, appropriately enough, Granny Smith. Granny didn’t quite know what that Orc was yelling about, nor did she always hear his bellows.”

This is less an examination of the role of NPC in the game, and more a retrospective on some of the great minor storylines in the game. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent read, particularly for people like me who saw much of this stuff in passing, but never got the whole story. Did you know the guy shouting about the fruit vendor in Shatt had an entire storyline that evolved over the TBC patches? Nor did I.

Apparently the series will be continued next week, with Wrath and into Cata. I’ll be interested to see what they highlight – I can’t think of anywhere as lively or memorable as Shatt’s Lower City in the later expansions, but I may be missing something…

Am I being a philistine? Were there great cameo NPCs in WoTLK and Cata too? And do you think that the column missed anything from TBC or Vanilla?

Quote taken directly from Anne Stickney’s column on WoW Insider” .

Find “Know Your Lore” at http://wow.joystiq.com/category/know-your-lore/ .

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Deuwowlity: When Is World PvP Childish, When Is It Fun?

Having fun and acceptable behaviour standards are hot topics at the moment, ‘specially if you talk about them at the same time. Must be something in the water round the blogosphere. Gronthe over at Deuwowlity has an interesting post with potential for discussion in a similar but unique vein today, inspired by something he witnessed in game as he was trotting along to the Exodar’s auction house.

In short, he saw a couple of horde slaughtering the low level NPCs there, including the utility NPCs which once gone effectively mean the ransacked city shuts up shop until the business-folk respawn. Gronthe recounts his immediate reaction to their behaviour, and theirs to his. It’s a story you might well have your own telling of, whether you’re alliance or horde. Either way, now that the moment’s passed Gronthe’s ruminating on whether those hordies were having fun or just being childish.

I don’t know all the rules, written or unwritten, of world PvP, but I’ve heard a lot of stories. I know of high level toons camping low level places in PvP servers, making it nearly impossible to level sometimes. I don’t think that that behavior is honorable, and therefore should not be engaged in. Now I do know that some say that “if the rule doesn’t prohibit then anything goes” an attitude that many lawyers take in many a court system, and we all know what the world thinks of lawyers.

He imagines a few scenarioes as to why they were there in the first place. He wanders through a few thoughts on world PvP in general. He has specific ideas on what circumstances are acceptable for world PvP, like fighting someone of the same level in the local area. He goes on to ask – and I can hear the mystification in his words – just what one might get out of ‘other’ world PvP styles, before wrapping up with a special msesage for those two lovely hordies that spoilt his trading.

What do you think? Which forms of world PvP are acceptable, and do some of them fall under the “fun” category and others under the “childish” category?

_Quote taken directly from Gronthe’s post

You can find Deuwowlity’s homepage here_

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Have You Ever Stopped To Stare At Azeroth's Moon?

Raindrops pattering on Elwynn’s fields as my new hero-in-the-making scampered up the path to Stormwind.

My bleary-eyed and bloodied priest pausing on a cliff with his party, on the way back from relieving some miscreant’s head from his shoulders in Arathi, to watch the sun slowly climb from the horizon on a summer’s day.

My overgrown cow of a hunter, just beginning to adventure on a realm in a foreign language, running along a path lit by moonlight on a course following the stars in the crisp sky.

All of these are memories I have of being fully immersed in the game world, if only for a few seconds. There was no “how should I order my spells on the UI” or “how long am I going to be waiting to find other players for a dungeon” – it was just me and the very real game world. I might be talking about WoW here but these things apply to many MMOs.

So what is it that makes immersion in the game work? What makes those moments when we just synch with the enviornment and relax into it happen?

And how on earth/Azeroth/your world of choice can it be done better?

The Power Of Nature

All of my examples above have one thing in common: they all have something natural about them. The rain in Elwynn, the sun and summer’s day in Arathi, the clear night sky. Each of them evoked a sense of familiarity in me. Think about it – rain in a forest brings out wonderful smells and calming sounds, the clear night sky anchors you wherever you are, even in a foreign realm. And the sun rising is just magic wherever you are (and kudos to Blizzard for making the graphics good enough that it’s true in Azeroth too).

Sure, I’m British. I like to talk about the weather. Who knew I’d find an excuse to do it on a weekend as a post here? But it’s true: these natural touches anchor us into the game, and that’s one way that game designers could make immersion more complete. By looking at nature and weather in the game.

I’ve always thought that WoW’s weather effects, while good when they happen, suffer from abrupt changes. Crossing a border from one zone to another? The heavy rain you were squelching through will probably turn into dazzling sunlight in the space of one step.

If weather changed gradually it’d resemble real life a bit more. If you go on a long trip the rain at your starting point will probably tail off into a drizzle and then a mizzle until it gradually stops. And it’ll be a while yet before the grey skies lighten up into pale blue with less angry looking clouds. It won’t normally happen at the drop of a hat when you cross out of London into outlying countryside. I guess it’d be too much to ask for patterns of seasons – and maybe that’s too pseudo reality for a fantasy world – but that would be the icing on the cake for long-term immersive nature.

Napping Questgivers

Funny that weather’s the thing I’ve always thought could be made more of. I think it’s because my first character was a dwarf and I found the combination of Dun Morogh’s icy mountains and the sound of my footfalls in snow enrapturing. Add to that the critters – which are a brilliant stroke of nature in game – and the fact that WoW’s maps were well balanced between getting you where you’re meant to go and getting you lost … let’s just say I often found myself unexpectedly on top of a mountain, at turns wondering how I got there and at others wondering at the beauty of the scenery. Now of course the maps have handy quest markers. But the quest givers themselves are something else that could be given an immersion-make over.

I increasingly get annoyed with NPCs who stand in their house or by their rickety fence all day waiting for adventurers who they can task with bringing them 50 chicken lips. They might not be real people but I’d relate more to NPCs who actually did things throughout the day. Normal, everyday things, like going for naps (no, I don’t care that during this time you wouldn’t be able to get the chicken lips out of your bags, come back later).

Or having breakfast.

Or having a neighbourhood game of cards on the lawn. Or going upstairs, rocking the newly painted cot and stitching a chestplate for the grandchild on the way.

Ok, that might be a bit much, but all of those things make them seem just a bit more real than standing around all day every day not interacting with the world around them.

As would questgivers phasing to a different life for individual players when you had a quest hand-in. There’d be something more fulfilling in seeing the NPC going about their day to day life when you’ve sorted out their crisis for them, rather than watching them stand there and talk to the other five adventurers waving assorted bits of animal at them.

In addition, in that thing called Real Life we have a wide range of people. We have black people, white people, women, men, disabled people, people of all widths and heights. In game we have… mostly average build white men. Think about it.

In real life we also have different languages. We have the sense of belonging to a group and also the boundaries that languages produce. That’s why I’m really glad that we also have languages in WoW. Sure, a player spouting 60 lines in Orcish in Dalaran might be annoying for your chat box, but if all the races of Azeroth could understand each other we might as well dress them up in happy, pastel costumes from Disneyworld’s “It’s a small world”. And that would just look creepy.

Everyman Hero

The thing with Azeroth, and others like it, is that for what they are they are huge worlds. But our characters become heroes of those worlds. They become, individually, as large as life gets.

But for me at least my characters haven’t really felt that their heroic deeds have been that heroic; they haven’t felt like they’ve been a natural part of that world’s heroic ideology. Developers could do things with the weather and with NPCs to connect the game world more to what we see everyday in real life. But what about our characters? How can they seem less “unique just like everyone else”? Start at the beginning. When you make a new character their basic backstory, minus any roleplaying history you give them, is generally that they’re drafted in from civillian life to help out.

They’re the everyman.

There’s nothing overly special about them, except maybe that they can hold a sword or they’ve been playing with matches from an early age and have a tendency to sprout fireballs at will. That everyman thing needs to be built on.

At the moment there’s no progression from that to Heroic status. We just grind until 80 when suddenly NPCs start treating some of our deeds as heroic. But they don’t feel all that epic because everyone else around us is doing the same. I don’t have any good suggestions how – helpful I know – but if the progression from everyman recruit to hero is gradual and constant, heroic deeds might just feel more epic when we achieve them.

After all, isn’t that why many of us play – to be immersed in a life where we, the everyday joe, gets to become a hero? Albeit a rather sodden one just in from the April shower and dripping on the floor waiting for the NPC to wake up so we can present them with all the chicken lips they’ll ever need.

What do you think? What would make game worlds more immersive for you – and what already does get you to forget that you’re playing a game, or spend 99% of your playtime min-maxing your performance?

Read more →

Have You Ever Stopped To Stare At Azeroth’s Moon?

Raindrops pattering on Elwynn’s fields as my new hero-in-the-making scampered up the path to Stormwind.

My bleary-eyed and bloodied priest pausing on a cliff with his party, on the way back from relieving some miscreant’s head from his shoulders in Arathi, to watch the sun slowly climb from the horizon on a summer’s day.

My overgrown cow of a hunter, just beginning to adventure on a realm in a foreign language, running along a path lit by moonlight on a course following the stars in the crisp sky.

All of these are memories I have of being fully immersed in the game world, if only for a few seconds. There was no “how should I order my spells on the UI” or “how long am I going to be waiting to find other players for a dungeon” – it was just me and the very real game world. I might be talking about WoW here but these things apply to many MMOs.

So what is it that makes immersion in the game work? What makes those moments when we just synch with the enviornment and relax into it happen?

And how on earth/Azeroth/your world of choice can it be done better?

The Power Of Nature

All of my examples above have one thing in common: they all have something natural about them. The rain in Elwynn, the sun and summer’s day in Arathi, the clear night sky. Each of them evoked a sense of familiarity in me. Think about it – rain in a forest brings out wonderful smells and calming sounds, the clear night sky anchors you wherever you are, even in a foreign realm. And the sun rising is just magic wherever you are (and kudos to Blizzard for making the graphics good enough that it’s true in Azeroth too).

Sure, I’m British. I like to talk about the weather. Who knew I’d find an excuse to do it on a weekend as a post here? But it’s true: these natural touches anchor us into the game, and that’s one way that game designers could make immersion more complete. By looking at nature and weather in the game.

I’ve always thought that WoW’s weather effects, while good when they happen, suffer from abrupt changes. Crossing a border from one zone to another? The heavy rain you were squelching through will probably turn into dazzling sunlight in the space of one step.

If weather changed gradually it’d resemble real life a bit more. If you go on a long trip the rain at your starting point will probably tail off into a drizzle and then a mizzle until it gradually stops. And it’ll be a while yet before the grey skies lighten up into pale blue with less angry looking clouds. It won’t normally happen at the drop of a hat when you cross out of London into outlying countryside. I guess it’d be too much to ask for patterns of seasons – and maybe that’s too pseudo reality for a fantasy world – but that would be the icing on the cake for long-term immersive nature.

Napping Questgivers

Funny that weather’s the thing I’ve always thought could be made more of. I think it’s because my first character was a dwarf and I found the combination of Dun Morogh’s icy mountains and the sound of my footfalls in snow enrapturing. Add to that the critters – which are a brilliant stroke of nature in game – and the fact that WoW’s maps were well balanced between getting you where you’re meant to go and getting you lost … let’s just say I often found myself unexpectedly on top of a mountain, at turns wondering how I got there and at others wondering at the beauty of the scenery. Now of course the maps have handy quest markers. But the quest givers themselves are something else that could be given an immersion-make over.

I increasingly get annoyed with NPCs who stand in their house or by their rickety fence all day waiting for adventurers who they can task with bringing them 50 chicken lips. They might not be real people but I’d relate more to NPCs who actually did things throughout the day. Normal, everyday things, like going for naps (no, I don’t care that during this time you wouldn’t be able to get the chicken lips out of your bags, come back later).

Or having breakfast.

Or having a neighbourhood game of cards on the lawn. Or going upstairs, rocking the newly painted cot and stitching a chestplate for the grandchild on the way.

Ok, that might be a bit much, but all of those things make them seem just a bit more real than standing around all day every day not interacting with the world around them.

As would questgivers phasing to a different life for individual players when you had a quest hand-in. There’d be something more fulfilling in seeing the NPC going about their day to day life when you’ve sorted out their crisis for them, rather than watching them stand there and talk to the other five adventurers waving assorted bits of animal at them.

In addition, in that thing called Real Life we have a wide range of people. We have black people, white people, women, men, disabled people, people of all widths and heights. In game we have… mostly average build white men. Think about it.

In real life we also have different languages. We have the sense of belonging to a group and also the boundaries that languages produce. That’s why I’m really glad that we also have languages in WoW. Sure, a player spouting 60 lines in Orcish in Dalaran might be annoying for your chat box, but if all the races of Azeroth could understand each other we might as well dress them up in happy, pastel costumes from Disneyworld’s “It’s a small world”. And that would just look creepy.

Everyman Hero

The thing with Azeroth, and others like it, is that for what they are they are huge worlds. But our characters become heroes of those worlds. They become, individually, as large as life gets.

But for me at least my characters haven’t really felt that their heroic deeds have been that heroic; they haven’t felt like they’ve been a natural part of that world’s heroic ideology. Developers could do things with the weather and with NPCs to connect the game world more to what we see everyday in real life. But what about our characters? How can they seem less “unique just like everyone else”? Start at the beginning. When you make a new character their basic backstory, minus any roleplaying history you give them, is generally that they’re drafted in from civillian life to help out.

They’re the everyman.

There’s nothing overly special about them, except maybe that they can hold a sword or they’ve been playing with matches from an early age and have a tendency to sprout fireballs at will. That everyman thing needs to be built on.

At the moment there’s no progression from that to Heroic status. We just grind until 80 when suddenly NPCs start treating some of our deeds as heroic. But they don’t feel all that epic because everyone else around us is doing the same. I don’t have any good suggestions how – helpful I know – but if the progression from everyman recruit to hero is gradual and constant, heroic deeds might just feel more epic when we achieve them.

After all, isn’t that why many of us play – to be immersed in a life where we, the everyday joe, gets to become a hero? Albeit a rather sodden one just in from the April shower and dripping on the floor waiting for the NPC to wake up so we can present them with all the chicken lips they’ll ever need.

What do you think? What would make game worlds more immersive for you – and what already does get you to forget that you’re playing a game, or spend 99% of your playtime min-maxing your performance?

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