Conquering One’s Self

by on Sep.19, 2009, under game reviews, games industry, mmorpg, WoW


There are three titles that may appear with great frequency as one meanders the gaming news these days. Each are certainly worth discussing on their own, simply on the merits of having such attention bestowed upon them. However, there is a common thread to be pulled from these stories in particular. These companies, and their gaming products, are faced with tremendous obtacles. The bigger and better they become, the harder it is to grow beyond . In essence, their fight is a fight against themselves. Success can be a cruel instructor. Read on to see what I mean.

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Too good to pass up

by on Jan.21, 2009, under geek culture, WoW

Very well done, to both Obama and the person that WoW-ified his inauguration!

POTUS Achievement!

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Massively online communities : the genre paradox II

by on Jan.24, 2007, under games industry, gaming, geek culture, mmo, mmorpg, new media, WoW

fitting communities together

As mentioned in my previous article, gamers expect a community from the game publisher. In a sense, this demonstrates the unique position of videogames in the landscape of entertainment. Consequentially, feedback and community become a cost of doing business.

I believe we’re quickly reaching the point where publisher-run communities no longer serve their purpose. The communities are too vast. Moreover, the gamers themselves have evolved toward a deeper level of sophistication. Gamers are the reason we’ve come this far, and we simply demand more.

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Massively online communities : the genre paradox

by on Jan.17, 2007, under games industry, mmo, mmorpg, WoW

massively online communities

The nature of things

When online gaming was getting started, there was a certain novelty in spending vast swathes of time with the same people on the same game servers, night after night. It seemed inevitable that we’d eventually all team up. And team up we did. Forming groups is the most basic of human qualities, and is certainly no less true in virtual worlds.

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Aiming at Vanguard

by on Oct.23, 2006, under games design, mmo, mmorpg, WoW


Quiz. What do these three things have in common?

a) Hockey
b) Artillery
c) MMORPG Design

Give up?

The answer : it’s where you aim your shot.

In the immediacy of hockey, players don’t pass to where their teammate is, but where they’ll be in the next 0.5 seconds. In artillery, shots follow a ballistic trajectory. In sum, the game isn’t won by playing the current game. It’s won by anticipation.

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MMORPGs, Security, and the Grand Promise of Middleware

by on Oct.06, 2006, under games design, games industry, games programming, mmo, mmorpg, security, WoW

WoW and SecurID

A big congratulations goes out to Neardeath Studios on the 10th year of Meridian 59. What a fantastic accomplishment. M59 is the first, the longest-running, and most respected MMORPG of them all.

This article is in response to M59 co-creator Brian “Psychochild” Green’s post, “Why middleware will not save us“. He hits pretty hard, and sets his sights on the “middleware market” in the MMORPG space. I’ll say I agree with the bulk of it. Yet, some of the specifics cause me trouble. Thus this post.

His argument noted two levels of the MMORPG industry, the indies and the AAAs (“the blockbuster games”). The gist of his article is that, as a technological cure-all, MMORPG middleware companies fail in their promise. They will make little impact on game development in MMORPG games. A gross-oversimplification on my part, so I’d encourage you go read Psychochild’s post.

First off, how does one define middleware?

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World of Cokecraft

by on Sep.08, 2006, under games industry, geek culture, mmorpg, new media, WoW

TerraNova highlighted it, I watched it, and ‘iCoke’ blazes a trail for World of Warcraft into China. The ad is actually somewhat old, but combine it with this :

With 7 million subscribers, WoW is now in the list of the world’s top 100 most populous countries.1 2

It easily exceeds the population of Lebanon or Israel. It will likely surpass them both put together. Think of how all those Wow players could represent a significant force for massive social change, if only the damned Horde would stop getting in the way!

Priorities, priorities. 🙂

(Keep reading!)
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Not all that WoW’d

by on Dec.09, 2005, under games design, mmorpg, WoW

wow nerds

After a long and undeniable fade, I finally uninstalled WoW and cancelled my account. Many months have gone by where I have not touched the game, for a variety of reasons. The strongest of these, hurridly scrawled below :

Despite my contention that its a complete design, a perfectly overflowing package with busy little treats for everyone, the game is essentially dead for me. Getting to 60, the current maximum level, was “mostly harmless” fun. Despite fits of sheer boredom, peppered with many instances of reading magazines during combat, I finally did it and by mid-summer dinged 60. Surprising yes, but a promise was made, and I always try to do what I say I will do. I was glad to have my compatriots with me while I did that : Iolo, Dorgrim, Thorgar, Davina, Iara, Gropp, Kali… the many nights of fun we had is undeniable.

Everything in the game is there because Blizzard chose it to be. If you look closely, you see the design and technical decision points all over. For the good and bad, it is what it is. I won’t fault Blizzard for the “why’s” of what they did, but I will fault them for the “because” – that is, the result of their decisions :

The end-game for WoW
As meticulous a design it is, did not appeal to me. I strongly feel that they really did a fantastic job with the game as a whole, and the effects of what they have wrought shall be felt throughout gamedom for a very long time. Yet there is so much missing from what could have been a “funner” game. The prerequisite for large group instances included a party of absolutely correct composition, but this manifested a direct barrier to actually playing and enjoying the game! If you couldn’t find the right healer or tank, you did not play. Why pay for a game that you cannot play?

The objective is fighting, yet combat is dull
The prevailing mode of point-and-click combat is hopelessly deterministic, thus removing the visceral pleasure one should have when vanquishing an opponent. A joyless exercise to be sure. And complete ignorance of the five-second rule.

The story? What story!
This is a huge world, filled with peoples and places and legends and history. Yet I challenge anyone to tell me five story threads from the top of their head. The God Hakkar did what, exactly? What did Overmaster Pyron do to deserve repeated assasination? ETC.

The warped and cartoon-like visual design
It fills the world from each end with a lovely, contiguous language making each corner different yet predictable. The work of a consistent hand. A god. But the lack of photorealism and the cutesy elements lead me astray from immersion. If they were to drop an entire new continent into the game (and they will), it would actually appear far too similar to what appeared before it, and no matter what they were attempting to render for us. One may argue, but the visuals actually get tedious.

The characters
By the characteres I mean the design. Not compelling and far too similar. Yes, they create ownership and uniqueness as a game reward (ie. time spent in procuring new “looks” in the form of weapons and armour), but too often I would meet another night-elf rogue that looked identical to me. My opinion (and you may disagree) is that this should not happen. And looking at my character’s face, right from the start, caused me to curl my lip in slight disgust.

If you drop a sword in the forest, does it make a sound? Not in WoW. The world is a backdrop to a player’s interactions with a database. You cannot interact with the world in any way, nor can you drop items, move objects, build things, destroy them, or do anyhting to change or disturb this lovingly crafted universe in any way shape or form. This breaks immersion (at least for me). It makes the world less interesting to spend time in.

And thats it. I recall grinding my way through Azeroth’s Silithus region for a rare item, doing it for several hours, and decided to listen in on my guild Ventrilo server for the whole voyage, partaking in the conversation. Three hours of nothing but discussion of particular pieces of armour and weapons. “Those gloves are nice.” “Yeah if I combine them with this and this, that will complete the set I’ll need to do that and that.” “Fantastic”. I am not joking, this was a three hour non-stop discussion for two enthusiastic players. I will not fault them at all – its the game that they are playing, and they enjoy it as they have every right to. In my humble opinion, three-hour discussions about gloves and boots do not a game make.

For what it is, the game is great. But at this point, time-based games just aren’t for me.

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“ur a n00b”

by on Nov.30, 2005, under games design, WoW


There is no question that WoW’s “game formula” is :

(time devoted) == (success)

There are other subtle factors that also contribute to one’s success in the game, (such as knowing the various buffs/debuffs, aggro management, pre-knowledge of the content, or macro’ing your way to victory…) yes. But the absolute core is Time. We all know this. If you don’t spend huge amounts of time in the game, you aren’t getting anywhere.

So it was quite the day to have a guildmate turn to me in guildchat one day and say, “Kafka, you are a n00b.”. Hilarious, actually. Was it because my best piece of equipment was merely a pair of Shadowcraft gloves? Or that I didn’t have my Epic Mount yet? Yes, that could very well be.

I was part of online gaming when it didn’t even exist yet. Back in 1993, my friend digital and I used to rack up long-distance bills so that we could gun each other down for hours in Doom II. From the days of simple twitch gaming, to helping create one of the earliest online clans, to objectives-based team games, to gaming communities, to MMOs of all shapes and sizes, and even this blog, I’ve done everything there is to do in online gaming through the years.

So, no. I don’t think I’m a n00b.

But the comment struck me, and it had nothing to do with name-calling. What I really saw was this – that it was the purest evidence imaginable of the brilliance of WoW’s game design. How so?

  • Its a game that even non-gamers can play
  • Every aspect is molded to drive towards Time
  • Non-twitch/click-based deterministic combat

Add these up, and what do you get?

Fools who delude themselves into thinking they have l33t skillz.

For the guys that spend 9 consecutive hours in the Molten Core doing the heal-tank dance, this is perfect. They are leet, because their time invested guarantees that they will be. I’m consistently in awe over how Bliz completely satisfied their design goals with WoW. Kudos to their team. Note that this doesn’t mean that the game itself is awe-inspiring. They realised their design, and the design is perfect for a subscription game (not to mention the sheer amount of polish).

And a big LOL out to “Ticktock” from PG. Thanks for teaching me another lesson in game design. 🙂

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This is not a post about Battlefield 2.

by on Jun.29, 2005, under game reviews, games design, mmorpg, WoW

Binds when equipped
Main Hand Sword
29-55 Damage Speed 2.70
+4 – 8 Shadow Damage
(17.8 damage per second)
Durability 75/75
Requires Level 19
Chance on hit: Sends a shadowy bolt at the enemy causing 30 Shadow damage

I have done well in my life to always heed the words of Mutha. So when he says, “Don’t miss out on the FPS Squad game of the year”, you no longer have free will.

So of course I listened! I rushed out and bought Battlefield 2 as soon as I could. Well, actually, I tried. Virgin Megastore Vancouver has been axed by its distributor so no more PC games for a while, LOL. I am certain that the competition will be happy to hear this.

Instead, I bought Diablo 2 for 10$ in the clearance bin. 🙂

Note : I did get Battlefield 2 eventually, so watch for a review soonish.

So I took my new 10$ purchase home, installed it, and levelled my fresh and sparkling Paladin to 7.

So what the hell did I do that for? Why should I waste money, time and CPU cycles for a game that was originally released in June 2000? Doing it just for clicks? A click down memory lane? Gah, sorry about that. Diablo was alllll about the clicking.

The main reason was Blizzard, actually. I must admit to some fascination with their story. Although the Blizzard of today is probably different than the creature that created those cool games back in the nineties, I think that the core staff has probably remained. Blizzard games have rivalled iDSoftware Valve in both their fan and developer devotion. Today, it is owned by Vivendi Universal, a French media conglomerate that includes DefJam Records and STUDIOCANAL. Their most recent release has become one of the world’s biggest and most popular MMOs. In fact, their subscriber numbers so exceeded their best-case scenarios that they’ve had to madly scramble to produce more boxes, add world servers and hire personnel. Quite the success story!

But back in the day, there was Diablo. Not high tech, even for the day. But solid. Well constructed. Playing Diablo today allows me to re-experience that polish and attention to detail, as I click my character through each hackfest on his way through the story. And the more I played it, the more I realised that really truly, the template for the design of World of Warcraft exists soley within the domain of Diablo.

Looking back to this game, I was shocked to see how far the roots of WoW extend. Aside from the obvious and unavoidable similarities with other games of the MMO, RPG and MMORPG genre, I see a complete replication of core Diablo elements that make me wonder why they chose Warcraft as the centerpiece theme of their new MMO at all (most likely a market decision, not a design one). Examining the “Diablo on steroids”, World of Warcraft exists as one absolutely gigantic treadmilling machine. In every conceivable direction, the game has been designed from the very foundation to keep as many people playing it for as long as possible. Again, the game was not designed to disguise this, because the treadmill is the fun.

It owes this to Diablo, which turned into its own phenomenon because :

  • It was exremely simple to learn.
  • Little effort was required to excel in the early game.
  • Did not overextend the technology so that it ran well.
  • Clean and predictable RPG UI. Didn’t rock the boat.
  • Attention to the “feel” of the world. Sound effects and music, etc.
  • Happy to be stupid!

Was it stupid? Well.. yeah! As a player, it was a repetitious, grinding machine. it barely had “virtual worldness” in its 8-bit universe. But because everythin was so complete, it was a place you could sort of hang out in. It was predictable, at least in the established visual language. Just like WoW. But there was something more to Diablo 2 that kept a significant fanbase playing…right up until, well, last night! How could a mindless hackfest do that?

RPG Combinatorics.

  1. Combine item A with item B and you get item C. [Crafting / Loot]
  2. Equip character X with item C and receive benefits Y and Z. [RPG abilities]
  3. Allow these “world primitives” to be interchangeable and collectable. [Game mechanic]
  4. Then combine it with competitive or cooperative online play [Quests / Instances]
  5. Add a touch of visual reinforcement to show who was better [Characters]

and voila! People are still playing it today. Warcraft 1, 2, or 3 did not achieve this.

Obviously there are other elements involved in these games. But if you look at the long-term viability of World of Warcraft, you need only look as far as Diablo. The items are the game. In fact, the loot is so important, that the upper level WoW game (the “uber game”) is exclusively devoted to the procurement and display of the most powerful and unique items in the game. And it is so important that its almost like gambling when you hope that the next drop will be one that nets you tangible in-game benefits. And really – how does gambling in virtual space really DIFFER from gambling in real life? Our world of dollars is truly as constructed as the so-called “fake” world of gold. Even WoW has a rudimentary economy, just as evolving and dynamic as the western world’s.

This is an MMO that is essentially designed to make the players feel unique, and does this through stark, staring materialism. It really does say something about the depth and genius of the WoW game design. It takes all of these elements and wraps them up perfectly! (except for the grind, aspect, ahem)

Its amazing what games can teach us about the world we live in.

I found it hard to write about Diablo without writing about WoW (and vice versa). They are the same game. So… when my new Paladin struts around, swinging his “Green Curved sword of the Fox” against Troll Priests, I know that I’m really playing…. which?

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