World vs. Game

| Monday, August 10, 2009
Before you read this post, read this one by Larisa. It's a good start to this topic.

There is a balance between WoW as a game and WoW as a world. They can coexist, but there are diminishing returns, so going too far in one direction will have a major negative impact in the other. WoW has been steadily becoming more of a game as time has gone on. It is an excellent game. This is why it is so popular: because it is a good game.

Unfortunately, this has come at the cost of being a world. Immersion has been weakened. How? On what do I base these claims?

Let's start with Larisa's desire for long instances. Raids also come up, both in the post and in comments, I'll leave those for later. What makes a long instance better? Well, immersion. It takes time to get oneself mentally into the world. Not many people can walk into an instance and instantly be in it mentally. Sure, you might be ready to start pulling, but are you virtually living in it yet? Probably not. Ever notice how pinball tables usually have some sort of theme and artwork? Do you care? I doubt it. In the early minutes of an instance it's practically like pinball. With some time you might get into it.

Except something can get in the way: the game. If you have to pull carefully and fight carefully with full attention, you can't notice the instance. Easy trash is essential. Trivial trash. All it does is slow you down, keep you from reaching the boos, but without taking your attention too much, leaving your eyes free to wander and see the art which is a well-done instance. And as you take it all in, you are more able to be taken in by it, immerse yourself in it.

Instance design matters as well. It cannot be a hallway. Or at least it cannot be an obvious hallway. Sadly, this was a problem in many BC instances. They were very obviously hallways with practically no indication of being part of a larger world. You were clearly in a small area, isolated, with no impact on or from the larger world. That's hard to get into.

WotLK does this better. It still has pretty linear instances, but they are loopy and have large areas which add to the instance but aren't part of your travels. Gundrak is a great example, with parts sticking out which don't make you run further or get lost, but which add a sense of scale, that you're in a larger troll city. But even this is not as effective as simple making a big instance.

Enter BRD. I mean that both as fake stage direction and as an order: go to BRD. On your way in, look around at Blackrock Mountain. Now go down, down down down, into the heart of a mountain. Deep inside. BRD is practically a maze and very long. You would have to try to not sense that it is a city. It has a bank, a bar, peasants, forges, an armory, a highway which seems to lead to an even larger area which has its door shut. Notice how it looks so similar to the mountain. This is not an instance, it is a city, a part of a world.

Here's the problem: BRD can take hours to clear and you can easily get lost, even after being in there a few times. The quests go all over the place and there's no clear path. These make perfect sense in a world, after all, could you easily navigate New York by a narrow path with only a handful of turns? But they aren't so good for a game. They are frustrations. In contrast the BC instances were very good as games: straightforward and understandable, with no chance of getting lost (I'll admit people still managed).

This goes beyond instances to the entire game environment. However that will have to wait, since I'd guess the demand for really long instances is about the same as that for really long posts: low. If you get bored while waiting for the next posts on this subject, hop over to Stabbed Up and check out the recent posts about RP. Presumably if RP can emerge from gameplay, so can the immersion of a world, it just has to be properly done.

6 comments:

Stabs said...

Thanks for the plug!

I am very much reminded of an excellent post-mortem on Warhammer Online.

http://spinksville.wordpress.com/2009/08/08/re-reviewing-warhammer/

The article Spinks links to explains what happens to a game that focuses on the instant gratification at the expense of everything else.

LarĂ­sa said...

A lovely brooding out on this topic, thanks!

Yeah, I never came around to discuss the getting-lost-aspect of longer instances. It's significant. I always have to rely heavily on the presence of veteran players who have done it way too many times...

I regret that I never have explored BRD as a whole. It sounds amazing. A whole city. And yes, far, far from the instant-gratifiction mantra...

seriouslycasual said...

BRD was one of the few instances that I didn’t mind running people through even as a well geared 60 or at 70 with alts. There is just so much to see and do there. So many bosses and quests or events that you don’t even know about until you go there with someone who knows the way around. It was WoW without rails. Sadly, there is no comparison in either TBC or WotLK.

Dorgol said...

Nearly 5 years later - and I still get lost in BRD. I can still remember the intricate details of virtually every quest I've ever done... but BRD is crazy.

I know the place in limited chunks: I can navigate from the Bar to the entrance, but I can't go from the Bar to the Lyceum without wandering a bit.

Blizzard could add another massive instance as a sort of fan service, but I have a feeling it would end up being the way Shadow Labryinth or Shattered Halls were before the daily heroic quest (and even better when badges became so important) - rarely visited.

Klepsacovic said...

@Stabs: It's not a plug, it's a public service announcement; your blog is worth reading. :) I read the post by Spinks earlier; I wonder if that was my subconscious inspiration.

@Larisa: I am one of those players who has done it too many times. Or perhaps not enough since I love it when my alts hit 50 and are ready to go to BRD. You might have fun exploring it. I mean really explore. Go through a few times. That place is filled with tricks. In fact, I think my next post will be about BRD and all the intricacies. Thanks for the idea!

@seriouslycasual: Some of my early thoughts in BRD: "You mean those places are connected?" and "Woah, there's another boss?" I find it ironic that people complain about BRD trash since the boss/trash ratio isn't all that bad, it just had TONS of bosses.

@Dorgol: Something as big as BRD is probably out of the question, but maybe a LBRS-UBRS combo which can be half as big per 'wing' but gives the same sense of scale. Not to sound cruel, but I'm glad you still get lost, that's how you can tell it's something more than a path for picking up epics.

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