Wednesday, March 31, 2010

White Words on a Black Site

Three large cardboard boxes are, at the moment, sitting full of unread books. I intend to change this, whether by burning the boxes, throwing them around, or reading the books. Perhaps all three. However, in order to do such things, I will probably eventually read the majority of them anyway. I have about 25 critically acclaimed Fantasy/SF books now displaced onto a shelf, where I will begin to read them. As a way of making myself read them more/learn more from them, I'll post a short review/synopsis/etc. on the site about each one. Should be fun!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

There and There Again; The World Strikes Back!

New oratory today, folks! However, in addition, I will try to reduce rampant resurgences of blatantly boring banality by practicing perfect punctuation and accepting an alliterative air. Or not.

I am here to converse about a game. A free to play game, in fact, the type of which I have mentioned before. A familiar, famous, frequently-mentioned free to play game, one which brings to mind many marvelous mishaps. This game is known as Allods Online. I will attempt to describe to you the wonders of my first few levels there for you. See if you can spot my point before I've said it. It'll be like a game!
Yes, I do all my own stunts. If (stunts == screenshots).
Wellp, proto or otherwise, I logged on to a brave new world with such people in it. Not over-densely populated, but a good number, so competition - as well as companions - were always within reach. I was excited, too - this was a game that took things as we knew it and shook them up a little, improving here, sidestepping there, all with a very detailed and amazing art scheme that would assuredly last a long time. A community was slowly building up around it, with jokes about awful drop rates and overpowered classes already emerging. It was enthralling, to be a part of something so new and so large. But enough about the large-scale stuff.

It began with a densely packed tutorial with firm, regimented boundaries, designed to give a thorough knowledge of game mechanics in their entirety to the player. It was successful, too - by the time I walked out of the bounded area, I understood what I needed to know to begin in the first zone. Following a number of grindy quests involving either killing mobs, getting drops, or using items, was another camp, filled with quests that involved... well, killing getting and using. Some drops were atrocious, some places overfarmed, some zones overfilled. Creatures like the Damned Soul one shotted me without a trace. In such, I was astonished to find I loved it. Why? Because it was Vanilla WoW.

I could do a recap paragraph, but really, just go read that again if you have to. It's EXACTLY THE SAME. Now, I understand that the story is more focused in this, yes, and it has a more Cryptic-style in medias res tutorial, sure, and the levels are different and it's free to play and... fine fine fine. It's not 'exactly' the same. But to me, the player, it feels the same. Like, to the note. Levels are gained insubordinatly slowly, compared to today's WoW, and the death penalty is not devastating yet is much harsher than I'm used to. Really, it was just fun feeling like the world was tougher (read: not more difficult, just tougher) than I'm used to.

Unfortunately, I cannot draw concept art for an already released game, so this is liberally hijacked from developers. :(
I'd heartily suggest anyone that played vanilla WoW and is still playing a modern MMO to go check it out. Or, those that want too feel what vanilla was like if they missed it. If anything, it reminds you of exactly why they made the changes they did - opening up content, speeding levels and death, adding a report spammer function - but the community is different, too, and it's worth checking out. People react differently to a harsher world, with a very different mindset than what has cropped up in the 'pandering to casuals' world of today. (You can stop reading now if you don't want a sweeping game design-esque solution.)

I think what this gets at for developers is that the new-game experience, eyes wide and unblinking, is not unachievable twice. While many people say that your first MMO, first shooter, first game will be the only one ever to pull you in with that fascination, I felt it slowly gripping me again. Not firmly, just an ever-so-slight tug to enter a new world, forge a new trail, leave a path of brilliance behind me. MMOs made today do not NEED to cater to new players to impart that first-game feel. It can be done. It just requires a successful IP, a brilliant developer, superior art and level and gameplay design, and a fanbase eager to explore a brave new world.

Friday, March 19, 2010

In which I rediscover oratory; or, The expotition of theatrical game design

After reading through my previous posts, I realized one thing - that they were simply tirades, endless rants that (I believe) contained useful and interesting information, yet presented in a dull fashion. Some bloggers can get away with this; in fact, almost everyone who has another aspect to their blog attached to it (see: webcomics, machinimas, class data-crunching, etc.) are allowed to make such posts, people will read them, and leave enlightened.

I am, however, slightly different, in that: a) webcomics that I made would be drawn with a trackpad in, b) Machinimas are... well... tricky, and while I've tinkered around a bit I've found that using free movie editors just doesn't cut it. I may try to do one using all in-game footage a la Scarlet Toy, but that also takes time. Which is something I am severely lacking at the moment. Lastly, c) there is already a wonderful, marvelous, magnificent moonkin blogger out there and it would be repetitive to post similar information.

So, since posting such posts would be silly, I will instead change the presentation of the posts, using in this the common oratorical device of explaining the macrocosm through the microcosm - explaining major problems, difficulties, etc. through another, apparently unrelated story. In any case, it will be an adventure. School is in session!

(Disclaimer - The picture is entirely irrelevant. Though, very cool.)

My sister recently directed her first play. Now, this was no simple series of one-acts; it was a full-blown musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, involving a huge cast and crew, and a multitude of moving pieces. From music to costuming to production to everything else, she had a huge hand in making sure each piece would line up perfectly. It was a massive amount of work making sure each piece was in line, and there is no way that she could have done it without help - so she divided it up into smaller tasks, directed by their own individual directors - one for music, one for crew, and herself for the characters and cinematography.

Parallels are abound here, and I'll let you bask in the fact that you see them - if you see them - for the time it takes you to read another paragraph. What prompted me to think about this was not the production in and of itself, which was packed with high energy and was extremely entertaining to watch, but rather the weeks up to their first performance. No more than one or two people ever saw the play in action, but when they did, they mentioned key advice and gave input over multiple views. If they had mass screenings of, say, 20% of their targeted audience beforehand, voices would become cluttered, and a number would not ever come back and see it again simply because they had seen it in pre-prediction.

Ah-ha, say ye astute readers. That sounds EXACTLY like modern MMO production! Your script-writers become writers, your crew becomes programmers, your characters become voice and action-capture actors, your costume designers become model artists, your directors become designers. Yes, this is what I'm getting at. Energy, as we see, is an extremely powerful portion of a game's success - look at the impact you see in Portal and you can understand what I'm getting at. Another key piece is division; where 30 years ago games would be made with teams of 5, now hundreds of people can work on triple-A titles, and making sure that communication lines stay open is a must.

But the key point I'm pointing out here is the evolution of Beta testing. Essentially, early MMOs took in a few beta testers after the F&F alpha phase, as a sort of meager stress test and to see a bit of reaction to the game from your target audience. This crosses over to the dramatic realm; first invite a few friends and family - and if you, say, needed to check the stability of the sound system or the capacity of the audience, you'd invite a few more in. Maybe get a few random fans in for a private screening to get some fresh ideas. But that's IT. Beginning with huge closed betas for Warhammer and AoC (10K testers there), then progressing to ridiculously large 'Open Betas' in titles like Pirates of the Burning Sea, Aion, STO, and Allods, it has really gotten out of hand. A player now sees a beta like a demo; and the testers who have a true passion and dedication fade into obscurity, outshouted by the hundreds of whining testers that are annoyed a game is not finished before it has been finished.

What do I suggest? Take a look back at our oratorical device. Pick a select few for hardcore testing. Limit the beta test for others, perhaps allowing them to run through the starting levels of the game only, at specified times to stress test, but no more than that. Jam-pack your audience full to see if they'll fit, and reward them with a promise of a better play in the future, or a cheaper play, or a play with exclusive in-play titles and minipets, but never show them the whole game, just whet their appetite for a better, sharper, more structurally sound experience.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Questes: The Sprite Darter

Well, here we are again, with me reopening up the old Questes template in one tab and a Wowhead client in another. In an unrelated note, I really, really dislike blogspot. Like, really. I could write a post about it. However, I will not, as this is a Questes, not a Tyrades. Which would be a cool column. Maybe I'll do it. But until it occurs, we shall never know whether it will be cool or not. Ah well.

Who can do this?

Only Alliance, sadly. However, the once Alliance specific reward that makes this whole chain worthwhile is not available to the Horde through a drop off of the Sprite Darters in Feralas. Almost easier for them, really, if you just put in the required amount of grinding to get the random.

Level requirement for the first quest Alliance side is 37; Horde side, the mobs are level 42-45, so the drop is technically possible for your level one bank alt if you really want to put in the time and dual-box or have a good high level friend who'll group with you and farm for you for a while.

Where does this start?

This one is pretty simple, although it actually isn't. Holy contradictory statement, Batman! But really, it begins at Kindal Moonweaver, up a little path northwest of the Grimtotem village. A little tricky to find at first, so turn on low level quest tracking.

The reason that it is tricky is that about halfway through the chain, it stops. As if the chain is over. You need to return to Kindal at this point, and you can begin working on getting your own sprite darter hatchling with 'An Orphan Looking for a Home'.

Also, before you begin it, pick up two Elixers of Fortitude. You can do it in the middle of the chain, when you're at Darnassus, but you might forget, and it doesn't hurt.

How to do this:
Horde: Get a good audiobook (I recommend Douglas Adams) or catch up on your shows on Hulu while grind, grind, grinding away.

Alliance: Follow NinjaPirateTaki's guide on the wowhead pages. Or you can look on Wowwiki, or check out the guide WarcraftPets recommends.
What do I get?

You get a totally awesome and unique pet. Not many people have it, so it is a mark of prestige as well as another pet to check off for your deer.

Also, you get some other stuff. Not really anything of note, but here goes:
Nightscale Girde: A high strength mail belt, and
Firwillow Wristbands, some cool NElf Druid RP gear, has a unique texture that would go well with the starting cloak.

Why this? Why now? Why meeee?
Basically, this was (and still is) one of the rarer, more unique pets out there - simply because there is nothing pointing you towards it. Of course, anyone with Wowhead in one hand a questhelper in the other can have it done faster than you can say 'Darnassus Hold-Em', but the rarity and coolness factor still stands (especially when the new swarm of Cataclysm WoWers heads in). Also, it could go away in cataclysm, yadda yadda yadda, all stands here. I've just realized if you're reading these out of order, my ramblings and exclusions could seem a bit weird. However, you all who this applies to are from the future, so you obviously have more pressing issues to worry about. Like zombies.