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Posts with tag terranova

"The Image of the Undercity"

Terra Nova has a fascinating read up about architecture in World of Warcraft, and to an extent, all videogames. In the latest Wired (which appeared on my doorstep yesterday), there's a Clive Thompson piece about Halo 3, and in there, he compares creating videogames not to creating movies, but to designing architecture. There are all sorts of challenges in dealing with the flow of self-driven players, and those are directly related to the forms and format of architecture, and you can see that kind of design all over Azeroth. When players grouped around the bank and mailbox in Ironforge, designers spread out both in places like Silvermoon and Shattrath. And as the article Terra Nova quotes makes clear, sometimes Blizzard wants the architecture to work for the players (as in Undercity, where everything is laid out in a circle, with lots of clues as to where things are), and sometimes it wants the space to work against them-- Blackrock Depths is a challenge to get through, which is fitting for (well, what used to be) a higher level dungeon.

Just as we "learn" the places we inhabit in real life, we also eventually learn virtual spaces as well-- tell me you weren't confused the first time someone had to show you how to get to UBRS, and yet now you could probably get there blindfolded, right?

Very interesting stuff. And it brings up one more question: Most players, by now, have learned pretty much all of Azeroth. But eventually (and we've seen this hinted at in the supposed "events" that will kick off the next expansion), the world will change. What if you entered Ironforge one day, and things weren't where you expected them to be?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Blizzard, Instances

Considering a real simulated reality

Those of you who are regular readers might have figured out by now that I'm very interested in the relationship between the real and the virtual world, but the latest post at Terra Nova goes far beyond any simple reasoning I've ever done. Basically, they sum up some speculation being performed by academics that says that just like we Earthlings have created our own virtual worlds (in Azeroth and elsewhere), it's somewhat, maybe possible that we ourselves actually live in someone else's virtual world.

Wow. To me, that's so far off the beaten path that who knows where to begin with it-- you've got religion in there somewhere, as well as the old question of our existence itself. But supposing that were true (and it's almost too big a jump for even me to make, except for the fact that even if it is true, we'll likely never know it), what would you do if you were living in a virtual world? Would you act differently? Would you be a griefer? Or would you play the game, play by the rules, and help yourself and others not only "win," but have fun too? It seems a little loony (because who wants to admit that their world is someone else's toy?), but it's a fascinating thought experiment that should help you examine both how you're living your life and how you want to live it-- what would you do if you were an NPC in a virtual world?

Of course, things get even stranger, because we don't just create virtual worlds-- we play in them. Azeroth isn't just full of NPCs-- it's full of us, walking around, killing things, and generally taking (and taking over) whatever we want. If our world really is someone else's, does that mean they're here too?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Odds and ends

Live performance in a virtual world

This piece on Terra Nova got the gears turning in my head again about something I've been thinking about for a while: a live dramatic performance in the virtual world. The article goes a little deeper than that-- basically, it suggests that we're all performers in the virtual world, and all the world (of Warcraft) is a stage for us to perform on. You may not be a roleplayer, but you still play a role in the game, whether it be the stalwart main tank or the ganking PvP moonkin.

But I'm talking about something a little more concrete: an actual dramatic production performed inside a virtual world. Unfortunately, my background in drama is tiny (I did some production stuff in high school and college), which is probably why I've never mustered up enough effort to pull it off, but others have, and I'd love to see more of it. The colorful, fantasy world of WoW seems perfect for putting on a production-- can you imagine Hamlet in the corridors of the Stormwind castle, or The Tempest down in the tropics in Stranglethorn Vale? It'd be a lot of work (not to mention a lot of typing) for all those involved, but a finished, complete production created entirely within the world of Azeroth would be incredible to watch.

There have been a few groups aiming for something like this (the Synthetic Worlds Initiative even planned an entire online world about Shakespeare, at one point, though I'm not sure what happened to it). And I can't believe this idea is original-- someone has to have performed something in WoW at some point, I'm sure; I just haven't heard of anyone really taking the time to do it professionally (and live). We're already playing our own made-up roles in the virtual world-- the idea of going one step further and recreating fictional characters in that world fascinates me.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Odds and ends

Real reactions to virtual environments

The always-interesting Terra Nova has a piece up about Nick Yee's the Proteus Effect, which is based around how we relate to (and interact with) stimuli in virtual worlds, specifically our and others' avatars.

Basically, almost all of the research so far shows that we react to virtual stimuli exactly the same way as if it were real stimuli-- we don't want our characters standing too close to other characters, because it's a social convention in the real world that we all have our own individual space. But we still react positively to attractive avatars, whether we know it or not. No matter how much we're supposed to be roleplaying, or how much we realize consciously that the virtual world is different from the real world, we still react in a real way to virtual stimuli. It's heady stuff, but here's Terra Nova's soundbite, by Dmitri Williams: "You can take the person out of the real, but not the real out of the person."

And Williams closes with an extremely interesting proposition, considering how the interaction works: what if, by making many parts of Outland dark and gloomy, Blizzard has caused us to react realistically and feel depressed? TN's informal survey says that players' favorite zone is Nagrand-- is that because it's sunny and green there? And if so, what does that say about our reaction to the expected upcoming expansion-- should Blizzard reconsider the dark, cold stretches of Northrend for a more tropical locale?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Blizzard

Class-action lawsuit filed against IGE

Speaking of lawsuits, Terra Nova is reporting that there's been class-action lawsuit filed in Florida against IGE for... well, I'll let you read for yourself:

The case involves IGE's calculated decision to reap substantial profits by knowingly interfering with and substantially impairing the intended use and enjoyment associated with consumer agreements between Blizzard Entertainment and subscribers to its virtual world called World of Warcraft.

The lawsuit seeks both monetary damages and a stop IGE's gold farming activities. (If you just can't get enough legalspeak, you can take a look at the entire text of the lawsuit here, via Terra Nova.) Now, I have to admit that I am not a lawyer and cannot tell you whether this lawsuit has any substance to it. However, I can assure you that over here at WoW Insider we'll be looking for any updates on this -- so we can pass them right on to you.

Filed under: Blizzard, News items, Economy

Arena battles and "Must-See PvP"

Terra Nova has a good piece up asking a question I've been thinking about ever since I saw video of the WoW arena fights at WSVG: even if Blizzard (or anyone else) sets up the technology for us to watch professional arena fights live, are they really going to be "must see PvP"?

Joshua from TN says yes-- he says he enjoys watching for tips, including how the players move, what targets they take, what strategies they employ, and so on. Personally, I have to disagree. I enjoy playing arena or fighting in the battlegrounds as much as the next guy, but when it comes to watching just the ingame fight, I just can't get into it. Part of it really is the presentation; WSVG could do a much better job explaining what's happening, just by showing the teams' makeup and their separate goals before they mix it up, and also by getting a new announcer ("It seems" like he repeats himself, and "that's going to be the case"). They do pull it off once-- in the China team vs. the Pandemic match (which I can't direct link to for some reason-- WSVG should fix that, too), the fight comes down to a mage vs. a warrior, and that fight is simple and easy enough to understand that the tension actually builds to an amazing victory. With the rest of the matches, though, things are too crazy and chaotic for anyone but a really knowledgeable viewer to keep it interesting.

So even if the presentation was broadcast quality, I would think that the only people interested in watching these videos were the top arena players themselves. No one else would have the knowledge they need to catch every spell interrupt and every strategy choice. And the natural appeals of other sports, I think-- the glory of a football player making the play for his team-- don't apply here unless you show the actual people behind the keyboards, or at least show what that big Tauren warrior is doing when he goes for the priest instead of the mage. Will arena PvP ever be a really good spectator sport?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Machinima, PvP

When it comes to nerfs, maybe change is good

Here's a fascinating post over on Terra Nova. Joshua Fairfield has been playing a lot of Arena PvP, and he suspects something very interesting: that the developers might not be trying for equilibrium in PvP at all. They may actually be trying for imbalance.

Our assumption, he says, is that with every nerf and/or buff, the developers are trying to reach a nirvana of balance-- a game where every class has an equal chance to win when all of their abilities are used correctly. Keep in mind that the "chance to win" could only involve a percentage of the time-- Blizzard has already stated that they're working for a "rock, paper, scissors" solution, where rogues beat casters but warriors beat rogues, and so on. But we've assumed that the main goal is a balance, where as long as every class is played well, every class will win a certain percentage of the time.

But Fairfield suggests the opposite-- that "games that seek permanent engagement by communities," i.e. MMORPGs like WoW, are actually working against equilibrium, and fighting to keep things constantly interesting. Mages are winning because of Pyroblast's high damage? Nerf it to make Mages use other spells. Warriors are being kited around? Give them a way out of it, so other classes have to learn new strategies.

That's a wacky way of looking at game design, but it works for games like WoW because we're already expecting the rules to constantly change. Chess has an established balance-- rook moves a certain way, queen moves another way, and every game they will always move those ways. But WoW is dependent on the rules changing every patch-- if players maxed out their characters and learned all possible strategies, they'd quit paying the monthly fee. So in that strange sense, Blizzard should be happy when lots of players cry foul over a nerf-- the more players they affect with a change, the more they can keep interested. "Any change disrupts the current equilibrium," and forces players to figure out new ways to win.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Podcasting, Blizzard, PvP, Classes, Buffs

Voice chat and the virtual identity

Terranova has a great little piece up about what they say is "the inevitability of voice" in online gaming. Blizzard has talked (ha! I just made that up!) about implementing a voice chat system into the default client, but at this point, they don't really have to-- I don't think I can remember a higher level instance run that I've done in a long time that hasn't been accompanied by a Vent or Teamspeak server with my friends on it.

But the interesting thing about what Nate writes about online voice is that it's more than just being able to react quickly with strategy in a game-- with voice, we're moving ever closer to a deeper connection between our virtual and real identities. Part of the appeal of online gaming, way back in the beginning, was that players were able to keep their virtual identities separate from their real ones-- if you were an accountant during the day, you could hack and slash away at orcs all night, and no one from either world might ever know about the other.

But now, with voice chat, the people you play with get to know more than they ever have about the real you-- first and foremost, your gender, which is why some women still don't bother speaking on Teamspeak. But beyond that, I know much more about my guildies-- their age, their professions, their locations, their situation in life-- than I think I ever would have if I spoke to them only in text. More than ever, as voice chat is commonly and conveniently found in more and more games, it's not just how you play the game-- it's going to be how you sound as you do it.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Guilds

Seeing the effects of guild affiliation

See, this post by superdeluxe over on Livejournal, I think, constitutes exactly the kind of great "emergent gameplay" that the folks at Terra Nova are so ga-ga over lately. The poster found his way into a guild that, because of their size, is well-known and loved on his side of the server, and as a result, he finds that he's getting "10-20 times the amount of Free buffs/free stuff/bow's/hugs etc than I did before."

He's not on an RP server-- rather, his guild has just built up a social reputation, and he's benefiting from it. Likewise, a commenter on the post says his guild, because of PvP, has a negative reputation, and as a result, he became Kill-on-Sight for a number of opposing faction guilds around the server. The only way this stuff is built into the game is that Blizzard has put everyone's guild name above their character, and players have socially created all the rest of these affiliations themselves.

Now, a lot of it simply follows from common sense: my guild isn't huge, but every time I see someone with my guild name, I'll /wave and buff, even if it's someone I don't know that well. We haven't really made too many enemies (well, we did have a little tussle with the alliance that we seperated from, but they've since dissolved), but as we've moved further and further into the endgame (we're still not server-first, but we're working on it), we've created more and more of a reputation as a known and trusted guild on the server.

What other examples of this have you seen? I'm fascinated with the way players treat each other based on guild affiliation-- at their essence, guilds are mostly the social structure within a realm in the World of Warcraft.

Filed under: Realm News, Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Guilds, PvP, Raiding

A toon by any other name

... would crit as high? We've talked a lot about guild names, heard lots of good examples of pet names, even checked out server names and NPC names, but we haven't (ok we have, but it's been a while) yet talked about your name. Your character's name, that is. How'd you come up with it? Was it what you wanted or what you settled on? You know, when "Legolass" was taken for your female NE hunter.

Terra Nova's latest article
takes a quick look at how we create our online identities through our nicknames. For some people, it's serious stuff-- we want our online identities to be a close approximation of what our real-life identities are, and you get names like Lindsay, Ralph, and Drewster. For others, it's a joke-- we still use a reflection of ourselves, but it's through such a dark glass that even guildies might need some explanation if they met us in real-life (Jessirogue, Dakstalker). And still other people care even less-- they jump onto a pop culture identity (Leggolas again, or Vaderrogue) or other social reference (TN's example of "FlirtyGrl91") and try to make their online personality completely seperate from anything that represents them in real life.

I'll let you decide which category I'm in-- my two current mains are a gnome warrior named Tankey and a orc shaman named Shamanic. I'm also working on a UD PVP twink rogue named Punishment (my favorite names, I've found, are just one single word) and a human shadow priest named Shadowgirl (female, obviously). Then again, maybe I'm all three types of namers. What's in your name(s)? Do your character's names reflect who you are as a player, or something else, or nothing at all? Would my guildmates treat me differently (or, more likely, see me differently) if they all called me Mike instead?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Virtual selves

"In Praise of the Grind"

Liz Lawley posted a great piece over at Terranova this past weekend, in which she sings the praises of the grind. She compares it to pulling weeds-- a "mindless" and yet "indescribably satisfying" task. Unlike most players, who seem to be making an end run for 60 as fast as they possibly can, she revels in the grind. She actually enjoys the hacking and slashing of countless unnamed mobs, picking up the loot left over, and moving on... to more of the same.

And I have to say, I agree with her. I play mostly PVE, not because I'm a carebear, but because there's a very Zen beauty to getting in the groove of collecting loot and XP just for collecting's sake. My NE hunter was my first character, and I had grinding with her down to a science-- Mark the mob, send the pet, put on a sting, pour on DPS until the monster closes, and then hack and dodge until it's dead. Finally, mark the next mob, skin the killed one, and send the pet off to start it all over again. I was almost angry when my bags filled and I had to head back to town and break my rhythm.

I will say that having music or television on in the background helps a lot-- I've made it through seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development across all of my many alts, and with the upcoming iTunes controls, listening to music will be easier than ever. But there's still a certain thrill in drinking in the game Blizzard has created all by itself, away from prepubescent gankers, angry guilds rolling on l33t gear, and QQing whiners. Next time you're in Azeroth, give it a try-- close your chat windows, choose a nice secluded glade, and grind, grind, grind away.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Tips, Quests

One man, 40 characters

A thought experiment, of sorts, over at the forums: could you control 40 characters at once, enough for endgame raids or PvP all by yourself?

Inspired by this video of a mage-heavy raid downing Ragnaros, player Xzin (who currently plays five characters at once) wonders about the logistics and feasibility of upping that to 40. Given the time it would take to level 35 more characters to 60 and gear them up for MC, I can only conclude that Xzin will have to really want this challenge in order to put the money and time in.

As Terra Nova debates, perhaps it's an issue of human-computer interface design and control; taking charge of 40 different characters is far more akin to a real-time strategy challenge than MMO play. Still, there are always people who want to beat the game in new and interesting directions; as he's planning to keep everything above-board, good luck to him.

Filed under: Odds and ends, Instances

Cultural Borrowing in Warcraft

Terra Nova has an interesting article about the "cultural borrowing" that takes place in World of Warcraft - the way certain races in Azeroth have characteristics shared with social and ethnic groups from the real world.  However, I do wonder whether the characterization is really a negative one when the different factions (both the primitive Horde and the refined Alliance) are shown with equal strength  and capability.  Regardless, the article does present some very interesting food for thought.

Filed under: Horde, Alliance, Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves

Nerf the naughty

This idea from Terra Nova would certainly help clean up Barrens chat: nerfing characters as a penalty for bad behaviour in-game. If you use an alt to misbehave, then they'll all lose a level every time you break the bounds of decency.

Key problems with this idea include inconsistency between GMs (we've already seen the trouble one slightly misguided GM can cause) and the systematic targeting of players; if you really want to hurt someone, get everyone you know to report them and suddenly they'll be back at level 0.

As Terra Nova's commenters observe, social pressure and access control (making the players ashamed to misbehave, and banning them) are the most effective ways to control behaviour at the moment. However, if you lost a little bit of xp every time you called someone "gay" in general chat, you might well be less inclined to bigotry in public--the idea's got some potential.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, WoW Social Conventions, Odds and ends

Massively multiplayer single player gaming

The PlayOn project has been quietly gathering data about how we play World of Warcraft for the past eight months, across five representative servers, and their findings are neatly summarised over at Terra Nova.

By looking at the time spent in groups, and the social interactions embodied in guilds, they've found some interesting results:

Read more →

Filed under: Virtual selves, Guilds

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