[Old Azeroth] On the colour yellow

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I noticed while touring Azeroth recently that the colour yellow doesn’t get much use in the palettes in Outland and Northrend. And desert zones don’t really translate at all – it just seems to be a climate that isn’t Outlandian, along with jungles.

I wonder how many deserts will be left after the Cataclysm …

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“The lone and level sands stretch far away ….”

5 ways to kill your sister

I have recently been playing Alliance casually with my sisters (and some friends). They’re both excited at the prospect of playing Worgen and wanted to get some Alliance naturalisation in, and it’s a fun break for me – which is one of the reasons I’m not playing an alt in SAN right now.

One of them is (sensibly) levelling solo, and it’s fun to be able to all chat on the guild channel even when we aren’t hanging out in game. Hopefully we’ll later make up for that too.

We have also discovered that I am a dreadful tour guide. I could probably charge for thrill seeking tours of Azeroth, because even with the best of all possible intentions, many of my guided tours are punctuated with sudden, inevitable death.

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Here’s some examples:

  1. A friend offers you both a portal to Shattrath while you both are low level. You take her up to the Scryer tier, forgetting that she is playing a draenei shaman. She gets teleported out into Terrokar forest, where lots of nasties lie in wait.
  2. You apologise and take her up to the Aldor tier to bind instead. As you head back down, you remember to say, “Be careful not to fall off the lift here,” just as she goes plummeting past you to become a draenei shaped splat on the floor below.
  3. You decide it would be a great idea to quest in Tanaris, and foolishly take the quest that requires exploring insect hives. This does not actually kill her, except possibly with boredom as you then get horribly lost. (Someone kill me if I ever suggest going to to silithus later on.)
  4. You are chatting lazing about stuff while both separately catching up on mining. There is a long pause, after which she reports that she accidentally rode off a cliff while typing.
  5. You forget to warn her that there is a horde camp right in the middle of the road through Feralas. The results are not pretty.

Good job she’s a shaman and has a self-res, huh?

Anyone have any other classic death scenarios to suggest if we want to make sure she gets the full Azeroth levelling experience? Particularly classic Alliance death scenarios.

ps. Happy Birthday for last Tuesday, Arbitrary. We celebrated with a special ‘falling off a cliff’ death.

The problem of old content, and is recycling the answer?

Anyone else love gossip and speculating about games you know nothing about? Yeah, me too. I was pondering the next WoW expansion a few weeks ago and mentioned in passing the notion that they might come totally out of left field and rework old Azeroth in its entirety. Except I didn’t really think it was a serious option.

I’m still not convinced about the latest Cataclysm leaks, although we’ll know more very soon since Blizzcon is this weekend. Me, I suspect some of the leaks will turn out to be true (new race/class combos might be a smart way of luring people into rerolling without actually having to generate any extra content). I’m still dubious about the sheer amount of work that would be involved in redoing everything in vanilla WoW.

But one thing is for sure, people have reacted with excitement about the possibility of revisiting their favourite old zones and instances in an up to date 2010 edition. Even the one raid boss who we know for sure is being revamped, Onyxia, has stirred plenty of interest.

The Problem of Old Content

In MMOs I have played, PvE content has a definite life cycle.

  1. It is new and a bit buggy. People flock to do it. They abandon the old zones they used to hang out in.
  2. Bugs are ironed out, content is better tuned. People complain about nerfs. More people flock to do it.
  3. Content becomes old hat. It stays popular if it is either fun, required, or offers good rewards for time put in.
  4. New content is patched in, go to #1.
  5. (Old content stays in the game, but no one goes there any more. It becomes part of the game’s mythology. Old players tell new ones about what things were like ‘back in the day’ when the old zones were busy. New players shrug and get on with the new stuff.)

We see this particularly with new expansions in games like WoW. The expansion is intended to reset the endgame, so the old endgame content is meant to be mostly abandoned. There are no relevant challenges or rewards there any more.

Even if the old instances could get revamped a bit, it doesn’t solve the problem that a lot of players are bored with them anyway and just don’t want to go back. So you can easily end up with vast areas in the game where no one ever goes. Perhaps the occasional exploring newbie will stumble into it, unaware that it’s not on the optimal levelling path.

Now aside from the fact that it’s quite atmospheric to have empty zones as well as full ones, this always feels a bit sad. And while there are ways to keep the old zones busy, they’re just not as exciting for players as a constant stream of new content.

But … could a cataclysm in which every old zone got a total revamp — new graphics, new quests, new updated storyline — could that be the way to make everything old seem new again? Maybe it could.

Aside from the fearsome amount of work (yeah I’m still not convinced), what better way to lure back old players who had quit than the offer of cool fun things to do in the zones which they remember? And that’s exactly the audience Blizzard needs to be looking for at the moment. To add some extra charm, reviving 5-year old content in this way is far enough in the past that even old players who ran it to exhaustion might be over the boredom and ready to go check it out again. So maybe, just maybe, the leaks are on the money…

And it was evening, and it was morning

I logged into EQ2 the other day and headed out into the unknown wilds of Butcherblock Mountains. The zone is unknown to me for three main reasons:

  1. I’ve only just poked my (small but perfectly formed) fey nose into it, so it’s all new to me, kobolds and all. I am still getting my head around the notion that EQ2 kobolds look a bit like gorillas.
  2. I still have a fog of war setting on my map so most of it really is still hidden to me.
  3. It was night time in game and I couldn’t see very far past aforementioned nose anyway. This is why I didn’t take any screenshots of the kobolds, I was struggling to find an actual screenie to link but the best I could do was one of Tipa’s epic cartoon strips. The kobolds in game don’t look as dogman-like as the room decoration she’s using here — at least not on my settings!

Lots of MMOs have included some kind of a day-night cycle. “Well of course it’s night time”, you tell yourself as you trip over a treeroot, whilst all the regular daytime beasties continue to frolic in their enforced darkness, “That’s because having day and night settings is so fantastically immersiv–OWWW!” (that was you falling off a cliff, by the way.) I do really enjoy the day-night cycles, especially when you throw in the sorts of heartbreakingly beautiful sunrises and sunsets that MMO artists love so much. If I ever pause in awe at the sheer beauty of the virtual world around me and take a random screenie, there’s a good chance that it is during in-game dusk or dawn.

Days and nights in game can genuinely be hugely immersive. It does give a sense of time passing, and of being able to see different aspects to zones that you know. In a PvP game, the difference between night and day is even more marked. I remember night time raids in DaoC where the whisper went down the line for everyone to turn off their torches and march in darkness, so as to catch the enemy by surprise. Night time raids felt stealthier and more exciting than the day time battles where you could see your enemies cresting the hill on the other side of the zone … (OK, who am I kidding? In DaoC we knew where the zergs were coming from by turning around and seeing which direction felt more laggy but you get the general idea.)

It’s because day and night don’t usually have a huge effect on gameplay (apart from walking into things) that I remember so vividly when that rule is broken. The inhabitants of Pyrewood that transform into humans during the day and into worgen during the night, for example. The schools of nightfin or sunscale salmon that only spawn at the right time of day. The quest mobs who only appear at night (I don’t recall many of these in WoW but I think DaoC had some), and so on. Pokemon actually goes the whole hog with this, synchs its cycles to the player, and includes some encounters that only happen at day or at night, and others that only happen on specific days of the week too. But while this is just about acceptable in a single player handheld game, there are issues with it in a MMO.

A casual player may not be able to either hang around until in-game nightfall, or may not want to arrange her playtime around the extra hassle of working out the in game cycles.

So how long is an Azerothian day?

So let’s assume that you decide you want your game world to have nights and days. How long should a day be?

If you set a 24 hour cycle then players who always play at the same times of day will never see the full cycle. Some of them will be stuck in virtual eternal darkness forever. If you want some content to be specific to the time of day in game (and frankly if you are going to all the effort of generating extra art, it’s tempting to do so) then there’s also a limit on how long a player will want to wait around for the sun to rise or set, so the cycle needs to move fast enough for a player to experience it all during a typical session. Alternatively you need to find ways to give players lots of other reasons to hang around in the right area, so that it’s likely that they’ll be there for several sessions and will get a chance to see both day and night.

So there’s definitely more to this than meets the eye. Also probably you want the day to be longer than the night, because falling over treeroots gets old quick. So assume that most players would like to be able to see where they are going for most of the time. There are some exceptions — some games or genres favour night over daytime. In a vampire game, most of the action takes place at night. Any grim, moody, or gothic setting might have long evenings and gloomy moonlit nights, and very short days. As far as WoW goes, I’m not certain but I think their cycles are zone specific. So some zones will be in night whilst others are in day. The darker themed zones like Duskwood might never get proper sunlight.They do the same thing with seasons — different zones are themed for different seasons, rather than changing through the year.

I always feel that it’s a lot of effort to put in the day night cycles for so little gameplay return. I love them and I know I’d miss them if they weren’t there, but Im always impressed that people bother.