Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Deconstruction: King's Quest - Part II: The Plot

The story of the King's Quest series starts off simply, and gets increasingly complex.

At first, each episode is standalone and self-contained, but by the fifth game, they make back-references and continue unresolved threads of previous games.

Like this tangent.
King's Quest I is simple: the Kingdom of Daventry is falling apart, due to three magical treasures having been stolen from the King, and it is your job, the faithful servant Sir Graham, to reclaim the three treasures.  Upon presenting the treasures to the King, he names you his successor, and dies.

King's Quest II has Sir Graham as the new King, and decides he needs a wife to bear children.  He looks into the Magic Mirror (one of the three magical treasures), and sees a woman in a far off land held in a tower.  He decides to rescue her, and upon doing so, she falls in love with him and marries him.

The third game disappointed many fans because the player did not control King Graham.  In fact, through 90% of the game, the player had no idea what this game had to do with the other two.

In King's Quest III, you play a boy named Gwydion, who is a slave to a wizard named Manannan.  The wizard tends to kill his slaves when they turn eighteen, and you are nearly that, so you have to escape.  To keep the wizard from capturing you, you turn him into a cat with his spell book.

You then explore the land, eventually find your way back to Daventry, and rescue Princess Rosella from a dragon.  Princess Rosella is Graham's daughter, and as it turns out, Gwydion is Graham's son, Alexander, who was stolen as a child.

"Gwydion was a silly name anyway."
In King's Quest IV, you take control of Rosella, and you are tasked with finding a magical fruit that can bring her dying father back to health.  Along the way, she meets a man named Edgar, who asks her to marry him.  She denies him and leaves to save her father.  This is a subplot to the now more complex plot, but it comes back in King's Quest VII.

King's Quest V has you playing King Graham once more, and his family (and entire castle, for that matter) has been kidnapped by Manannan's brother Mordack, who wants revenge on Alexander for turning Manannan into a cat.

During this adventure, Graham meets a girl named Cassima, who Alexander falls in love with.

In King's Quest VI, Alexander goes off to rescue Cassima, working as a direct sequel from King's Quest V.

King's Quest VII splits its time between two characters, Rosella and Queen Valanice.  They are teleported away from each other, and must find their way back home.  Rosella runs into Edgar again, and allows him to court her, giving him a chance.

King's Quest VIII became the death knell for the series, when the player took control of Connor, a peasant with no relation to the King's family.  Everyone in Daventry has been turned to stone, and monsters have inhabited the land.  You must find pieces of a Mask of Eternity and put them back together again to save Daventry.

And it had a different ruler of the underworld for some reason.
King's Quest VIII was a disappointment to fans, beyond the gameplay already discussed, but also in terms of story.  Since the player does not control anyone related to King Graham, it felt more like a diversion or side-story.  Sierra might have known this would be the reaction, due to the initial reaction of King's Quest III.

Although this is a brief synopsis of the games and how they tie together, the games tend to get much more in-depth as they go on, usually adding a subplot where the player character must save the land they are in, particularly in King's Quest IV, V, VI, and VII (I and VIII involve this being the main quest).

Also of note is the increasing complexity and non-linearity of the games.  King's Quest IV and VII boasted two endings, and VI offered many variations on the ending.  King's Quest VI also offered multiple routes through the game, as well as multiple solutions to some puzzles, and VII continued the tradition of multiple solutions (although in the case of VII, this did not change the plot in any considerable way).

The plots of each game will be covered more in-depth as I go over each game in turn, but it is important to see the co-dependences and crisscrossing of plot points as the series continued.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Development Log: DOOM Mods

I've always enjoyed making DOOM levels since I first discovered the Doom Construction Kit in Middle School.  I think it was perhaps my first foray into designing and creating actual levels into a computer; before then, I drew level designs on large pieces of paper for a Sonic the Hedgehog sequel.

Probably something where Tails got to be the main character.
DCK was immensely enjoyable, and if anything cemented my desire to be a game designer, that was probably it.  I designed levels small and large, as well as episode-long level sets.

Unfortunately, they have all been lost to time.  When DCK stopped being compatible with later computers, I thought my DOOM design days were over.

It took all the way to the end of college before I decided to look for DCK again, and found a similar program called Doom Builder 2.  Now, to keep my level design sensibilities sharp, I've decided to design DOOM levels again.

Why DOOM?  Why not Unreal or Portal?  Although I could design levels for those, I find the simplicity and restrictions of the older game to be more enjoyable challenges.  I like the idea of trying to create a story out of a completely non-story-driven game, especially by storytelling through level design and gameplay.

My basic philosophy is that the player should generally be able to understand why everything in the level exists.  If they can't, it's not a particularly well-designed level.

Despite the amount of praise I give DOOM in my deconstruction of it, and despite the fact that the levels are awesome gameplay-wise, the buildings simply don't make architectural sense.  I have yet to understand how the Hangar looks like a hangar.

Helicopters ain't gonna land in that muck.
Since I started to get back into the groove of designing DOOM levels at the tail end of college, I've been designing some one-shots and some full-episode mods on and off when I have some free time.

So every once in a while I'll pop a dev log on Scattergamed that discusses a level I've completed, and I'll have it available to download.  Of course, it's not a flash game, so you'll need to have DOOM to run it.  But I'll also try to have plenty of screenshots and possibly video walkthroughs if you can't.

These won't replace the January Engine dev logs, and the January Engine will still be my top priority, but I thought it would be a good chance to show some of my level design through these mods just as I show my programming and gameplay design through the January Engine.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Development Log: January Engine - Week 4

It took me a while to get back in the groove of programming the January Engine, but it's coming along now.  Unfortunately the holidays may cause sporadic updates on it.

I've added NPCs, which you can talk to by clicking on them.  Originally I had it so you walked up to them and bumped into them to talk, but I thought that was kind of silly.

"And he clicked the purple N, and the N talked, and he saw that it was good."
There are also health pools now (blue squares with "H" in them), which restore you to full health.  This is useful because now after finishing a battle your health stays the way it was when the battle ended, instead of automatically regenerating.

You can also die now.

I added some colors just so the screen isn't purely black-on-white, although when I start adding "real" placeholder art it will all change.  But in the meantime, the colors allow you to know what you're doing at a glance.  For instance, you quickly memorize the color scheme for the battle cards, so you spot a "Damage 3" card just by color without having to read it.

I also learned how to embed images, although I won't be adding any art until I actually learn to make something decent.  I tried making a simple dirt square a couple of times with bad to worse results.  A friend sent me a link to a Gamasutra article on 2D art for programmers, and currently I have yet to make any art remotely on par with the article writer's.  Basically, I'll add art when it looks better than the textfields.

I also restructured the code so the Overworld section is not in Main; it's its own class like the Battle Class, so pretty much the only things in main are the ENTER_FRAME check that determines if a battle should occur (and wipe out the Overworld) and bring back the Overworld when the battle is over.

I don't like ENTER_FRAME checks, because I feel like there is a better way to accomplish something.  ENTER_FRAME always seems to me like a waste of memory.  Instead of the event listener, I think there should be an event shouter, if that makes any sense.  Unfortunately, there is little in the way of making that work, so I just try to remove the ENTER_FRAME check whenever possible.

I also added an inventory button, which doesn't work, so don't bother.  I think I'll be making that functional for next week's log.  The inventory will allow you to look through your deck and see what cards you have.  Eventually I intend to make the deck customizable, so you can swap cards in and out to get a deck to your liking.  But that'll probably be much later.

So next week I think I'll be trying for that inventory functionality, as well as making the enemies move around.  I might also have art, if I'm not too frustrated by it.  I figured I could always make intentionally bad art, but it's tough to even get up to bad quality.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Article: Crossing Media

I've heard it said that when you try to turn a videogame into a movie, you've already lost; you're trying to take two art forms that are so different that you might as well make a movie out of a painting.

On the surface, a casual movie-goer and game-player might think it would work out fine.  Action games = action movies, and there is no reason game-based movies should be terrible, apart from Uwe Boll.

The stuff nightmares are made from.
Yet a more critical viewer/player understands that gameplay doesn't translate well, and no matter how intriguing or cinematic the story of a game might be, the story would need to be changed to clear out the repetitive gameplay, which would become repetitive action on the silver screen.

But I find another alternative to these two views.  I agree whole-heartedly that no matter how great a game is, translating it into a movie is a futile exercise in wasting millions of dollars.  But I also think that certain games -- some which are subpar in the first place -- can come out strikingly good in the theater.

Mostly because some games should never have been games in the first place.

Some games suffer from poor gameplay because not enough resources went into design and too many resources went into the writing and the visuals.  When this happens, it is because the lead decided to tell a story first and make a game second, and that decision shines through the entire product.

So when a game has long cutscenes and gameplay that appears to be tacked on, perhaps that gameplay should be un-tacked and a movie or TV show or mini-series or anime should be made out of the story instead.  Perhaps it should even be a book.

Ok, maybe not.
I am a writer myself, and I often come up with ideas for stories.  As I come up with the premise, I also decide how it should be told.  Will I write a short story, a play script, a screenplay, a comic book, or a game script?  Each has its advantages and disadvantages.  Each helps to give off a certain feeling and help along what I am trying to achieve.

If I think the storyline best fits in a game format, I have to come up with a genre and mechanics that help incorporate and intermix the gameplay with the story.  If I can't do that, perhaps I picked the wrong medium.

Some game writers are struggling novelists, that don't understand how gameplay should interact with a story.

In fact, I've heard that it's easier to get into Hollywood screenwriting and move to game writing than it is to start in games, so often game writers actually did write movies first and never quite got out of the trappings of screenwriting.
Heck, when I check out game writer job postings, if you don't have game experience, movie or even prose writing experience is considered the next best thing!

It's not.  The next best thing to videogame writing experience is tabletop game writing experience, and after that is gamebooks.

There really isn't much like game writing at all, because it is so necessary to incorporate gameplay into the writing, and often nonlinearity, as well.  Novelists and screenwriters have their own challenges, but those aren't some of them, and there is no analogous challenge in those fields.

Showing screenwriting credits or novels shows off your style, sure.  It also shows your ambition and commitment to complete long-term projects.  But it doesn't show that you can actually write for games.

I can think of lots of games that can't become movies (or shouldn't have), but I also recognize plenty of games that should have been movies from the get-go.

On rare occasions, the boundary can be broken and games can be made from movies and vice versa.  However, this works best when an elaborate world is created and new adventures can take place without one medium copying the plot from the other.

Take Star Wars for example.  The movies were great, and should have been left as movies.  Game versions of the movies were not particularly noteworthy.

But Star Wars games started to get good when new stories and characters were created in the same universe.  You didn't have to be Luke anymore; you could be a Jedi from generations past, or an x-wing pilot on a side-story between movies, or anything.

In fact, I am in favor of expanding universes into different media, as long as the story gets created by the writer knowing full well what medium they're writing for, and knows the tricks and traps of that medium.

Otherwise, try turning a painting into a movie and see how that works out.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

World of Charybdis


The following analysis is a discussion of my experience playing World of Warcraft.

I'm a game designer, not a critic or reviewer.  I say this so you understand where I'm coming from when I tell this tale.

I'm looking at this game from the point of view of both a player and a designer.  As a player, I explain my emotional state and my addiction to this game.  As a designer, I explain some of the design flaws that seriously damage the game and make it a completely unenjoyable experience.  The mixture of player and designer talk is sometimes a jumbled mess, but it shows, to the best of my ability, how my fried brain can comprehend this game.

If you truly enjoy World of Warcraft, feel free to discredit or ignore me; but if you are like me and like thousands of other players, and you're addicted to this game yet hate it at the same time, perhaps this will explain why.
The Meat of the Affair

So I happened to notice recently that World of Warcraft had a free starter pack where most features were available, and the only major restriction was that you were capped at level 20.

Since the only thing really stopping me from playing WoW is the monthly subscription, I decided it was finally time to try out the king of MMOs.  I am so late to the game that I might as well review Pacman, but I'll take what I can get.

I may have said in a previous article that WoW players have admitted to me that they don't enjoy it, but play it anyway because they're addicted.  If I didn't mention WoW by name in that article, then I'll say it now that is the game I was talking about.

They were all right.

In the few days I've played WoW (seriously, four days, which I swear were only three), I can safely say that it is a contender for the Most Addictive Game award*.  That's not an award a game should hope to win.  Because there is no way it is even considered for Most Enjoyable Game.**

*(Further research tells me it actually has won such an award -- and here I was being hyperbolic.)
**(It's won multiple Game of the Year awards and is consistently highly favored by critics, publications, and players.  I respectfully disagree.)

Trying to organize my thoughts after a WoW bender is like trying to write with a hangover.  So before I even get into the experience of the game, I'll give you a rough estimate of my emotional state.

Approximately this.
I dreamed last night about WoW.  I dreamed I just had one more quest to finish up, but I couldn't do it.  But in my dream, I wasn't playing WoW, I was in WoW.  I literally lived in that world.  The Tetris effect occurred in less than a week.

Even when I woke up, the dream I had been having was just one quest item away from complete, and I stayed in bed for hours trying to recreate the dream just so I could finish it.

I should have gotten up and walked the dog, given both her and myself some exercise.  I was too hungover with WoW to do so.

Before bed last night, I got a charlie horse because I'd been sitting at my computer for stretches far too long at once.  Normally, I'll get up and move around, get a cup of coffee, go to the bathroom.  But during my game sessions I held in my bodily functions as long as possible just so I could finish the next quest.

I found myself getting more and more frustrated with every interruption.  This is not uncommon with games, but it was worse than usual because it's an MMO, so there is no pause button.  If I was interrupted in a battle, I was dead.

I ignored my cat, who mewled and meowed and called for my attention.  I love my cat and will normally drop everything to stick him in my lap and pet him.

I stayed up all night multiple times, thoroughly ruining my sleeping schedule.  I am terrible at rearranging my sleeping schedule to a decent timing, so it may take me another week or two or ten to get back on track.

I didn't work on the January Engine; I didn't work on other projects.  Remember how I said in my last update to expect a new feature?  Not this month.  Not after this.  Not with the recovery time I need to get myself back on track.  If there's a new feature to be had this month, this is it.

The one and only time I took a break from WoW to do any work was to write and post the King's Quest Deconstruction Overview before jumping back into WoW.  At least I can say that WoW's grip was not so tight that I lost all sense of responsibility.  The same can't be said for everyone who plays it.

I did lose track of time, however.  I thought it was Thursday when it was Friday, and almost did miss posting anyway.  One of my days just up and disappeared.

When I was in college, they had counseling for WoW addiction.  I can see why people needed it.  I'm glad it requires a monthly subscription, because that's what always stopped me in the past.

Now I just uninstalled it, because I really don't want to have the temptation there on my computer, where it calls to me like a ghost outside your cabin porthole on the sea, calling in that eerie, faraway voice that just wants you drive the ship into the rocks and kill you.

Wow, WoW is a modern equivalent to Charybdis.  If you drive too close, you're sucked under, and you can't get out.

I feel like I grazed the edge there, and I'm lucky to make it out alive.

I've played some addicting games before, games with quests and achievements like the Tony Hawk series, Mario 64, etc.  Those games are so addicting that I'll play them again even after I've achieved everything there is to achieve; I'll just create a brand new file and start from the beginning.

This was a similar experience, but for two things that made this far worse:  1. This became addicting much more quickly and much more deeply than others I've played; and 2. There was nothing enjoyable in it.

Mario 64 is one of the most fun videogames in existence.  Perhaps the only thing that would make it more fun is if Nintendo made a Mario MMO that plays mostly the same.

But WoW is a frustrating, infuriating game, which makes it all the worse to get addicted to.

I know I'm not doing myself any favors by writing this, and I can probably scratch off ever working at Blizzard when I post this, but my god, I'm not sure it would be morally conscionable to not do so.

And here's the thing:  I love the Warcraft series.  The three RTS games and their two expansion packs, that is.  I think those are wonderful games, and it almost seems like a natural step to take the beautiful Tolkienesque world Blizzard created and make it a fully realized 3D MMO.

So to be honest, I'm not sure if I walked into WoW expecting it to be awesome or to suck, but whatever I was expecting, it wasn't what I got.  Perhaps I should have taken the warnings more seriously.  When people said they hated it but were addicted, I didn't think it was as bad as they made it out to be, or they were weak-willed.

If they're weak-willed, I am too.  So let me repeat how addicting this game is.  I was so hooked that if I didn't get out now and uninstall it, I'd never escape.


I can't believe it myself.  The only reason I did stop is because I maxed out one of my characters and completed every possible quest.  If there were more quests, I would be playing right now instead of writing this.

In fact, right now I do want to play.  I want to load up a character and go questing.  I almost want to pay that monthly subscription so I can go past level 20.  I'm having WoW withdrawals.

Trying to figure out why it's so addicting is the puzzling thing.  The satisfaction of leveling up quickly loses its charm, and half the time I don't even notice how far along my experience bar is getting until I suddenly woosh and glow.

So if it's not that, it's definitely the quests.  Finishing a quest is the buzz.  It's like a high to see the little question mark disappear, and when a new exclamation point appears over the same head, I groan.  Another one?  God damn it, I just want to be done!  I just want to complete all the quests!

The only momentary joy I get is when I get a new item as a reward that changes my character's look.  It's fun to see what the change will be, but complete disappointment if it's uglier.  It's even worse when I see someone else wearing the same thing, because that means they completed the same quest, but I'll get to that particular complaint later.  That's a biggie.

When all I get for a quest is xp and some money, there is still a little buzz, but not as much.  WoW seems to be a grind machine for a dressup game.  And you can't even dress your character the way you want, because usually one item is clearly superior in combat than another, so you will always pick it, even if it's uglier.

Heck, sometimes I found myself swiveling the camera around just to see the front of my character for a change.  If I spent time giving them a face, I want to see it!

But now we're getting into the details, so instead of simply nitpicking I'll try to relay my experience as best as I can about what happened when I played.

Like a good little reviewer, I decided to try one of every race and one of every class to see how each played, what the differences were, and to basically try to experience the whole game, top to bottom, as much as I could.  That is, as much as the free starter pack would allow.

I also wanted to try different, odd combinations.  I didn't want to just be a human warrior, an elf with a bow, or anything else right out of Lord of the Rings.

So first I made a cute little Gnomish Warlock girl I named Dailite ("Daylight" was taken, so I played with the spelling until one took).

I had no idea that in WoW, Gnomish Warlocks are about as common as Hobbits in LoTR.
Unbeknownst to me, one of the most common Gnomish phrases that is uttered every time you finish talking to one is "Daylight's burning!"  So that was unsettling.  I can't blame Blizzard for that; just a delightfully macabre coincidence.

Great start!

Anyway, the area you start in (what amounts to the tutorial level) was perfectly safe, and yet felt dangerous, compelling, and disorienting.  It took me up until a third character before I realized nothing will attack you if you're under level 5 unless you attack first.

But that's okay, I couldn't expect to not be a little disoriented without having any instruction manual to read.  But by the time I left the starting area, I felt good, in control of Dailite.

So far, so good, or thereabouts.

One of the first oddities came about when I was asked to be irradiated or detoxicated or something.  I needed to grab ahold of some flying contraption that would carry me across what amounted to a carwash.  I didn't notice what exactly I was meant to do, so I just walked through, went up the lift, and out.  My clothes went poof and I got normal warlock clothes.  I have no idea why.  I knew I did something wrong, so I went back and floundered about until around ten or fifteen minutes later I understood and did as I was supposed to.

My first impression was that this was terrible design.  Why would they allow me to exit the tutorial area without completing the tutorial?  Why did the arrow on the minimap point to the guy I was supposed to talk to after I rode the doodad, instead of pointing to the doodad itself?  Why would my clothes poof into something else?  Storywise, why would I need to fly through the radioactive carwash when I just ran through it six times?

Every one of these questions occurred to me, and at first I thought it was me.  Maybe the creators didn't expect a player to choose a Gnome their first time playing, so if they chose, say, a human, this kind of stuff would be better explained.

But I could chose a Gnome, and the first area was clearly a tutorial, so they obviously designed it for first timers, just like every other race.  In fact, just about every race goes through the same basic few quests in the beginning, so everyone can be brought up to speed.

Perhaps it was an oversight, or a programming error, or anything, I'll never know.

But Dailite's journey was just getting started, so after completing the tutorial (finally), I got out of the intro area, forgot about that experience, and was happy to start exploring.

I helped out the gnomes for a while, running through the quests one at a time, being cautious not to overtask myself.  When I became more comfortable with the game, later characters would just talk to everyone with a quest for me, and I would stack them up and do a bunch at once.

When you choose to do one quest at a time, problems arise.  I would often enter a cave three times for three different quests, do the same thing over and over, getting increasingly annoyed that I already did what they asked.  Kill the boss in the cave, ok done.  Now kill five of creature x and five of creature y in the cave.  Ok, I'm sure I did that already, but since the quest wasn't active, all of the creatures of type x and y I killed didn't count, so I have to enter the cave and do it all again.  Ok, done, finally.  Now go back into the cave and collect object z from creatures x and y.


Well, let's check my inventory.  I tend to pick up everything that creatures drop, even cheap nonsense that I can sell.  But the object I need isn't there, because the creatures don't drop that object unless the quest is active.  So I go back in the freakin' cave again, kill a bunch more creatures, and it's not a solid drop.  That is to say, not every creature you kill will have the item.  So I need to kill twice or three times as many creatures as I should have to to get the right number of the item I need, then I go back and finally, after all that, I don't have to enter the stupid cave again.

This isn't just a problem with Gnomes, either.  This is a basic quest structure.

I started to dread having to find item z off corpses, because at least when the quest was "slay creature x" I knew exactly how many to kill.  I became increasingly frustrated when I killed a creature and it didn't drop what I needed.

Even more infuriating was after I discovered the trick of taking as many quests at once as possible.  Okay, I can enter the cave and kill x creatures and collect item z at the same time.  Excellent, two birds, one stone, and I only have to enter the cave once.

No no no, because when I get back to the guy who wants dead creatures, only after I complete that quest does he give me the next one to reenter the bloody cave and smite the boss.  If he gave me that quest on top of killing creatures, I'd be fine with that, but it doesn't become available until I've already been through the rigmarole, and probably already killed the boss the first time through just because he got in my way.

The only acceptable form of grinding.
Caves suck.  I know the entire RPG genre owes its existence to D&D, sprinkled with Colossal Cave Adventure, but my god we need to take caves out back and shoot them.  There was plenty of variety in locations, but despite this it felt like far too many were caves.  A cave or two is fine, but it seems like whenever the designers ran out of ideas, they said "Screw it, make a cave."

In fact, some caves were almost completely recycled in different locations.  I went across the world from Azeroth to Kalimdor and found cave layouts that were identical save for the enemies and finer details relating to quest objectives (there were flags in one, absent in another).  Even the location of the boss was identical.

I didn't mind fighting creatures in forests, lakes, hideouts, enemy strongholds, abandoned cities, on beaches, and even once in a destroyed pirate ship, but for every interesting and unique area, there was a cave to enter with the same three or four kinds of quests.

It became predictable.  A game as massive as an MMO should never be predictable.  Sure, it's understandable that tutorials per character need to be consistent to introduce new players, but once you're beyond the first major location, things should get mixed up.  I was thankful to play the Draenei because I don't think I had to enter a single cave as far as I played.

But back to Dailite's adventure.

Dailite was a tad difficult to handle.  At first I thought it was just me, but soon I realized Gnomes should pretty much not be allowed to be Warlocks.  Warlocks summon demons, and I had this big badass demon that looked like a DOOM cyberdemon crossed with Lord Zedd.  Sounds awesome on the surface, except the demon is about ten feet tall and Dailite is about two.

The demon just got in the way.  I had a difficult time getting the demon to move so I could click on a corpse to loot, or worse, to click on the enemy in battle!  I could hardly hit a thing because the demon took up so much screen space that I had to rotate the camera every time I saw an enemy because I couldn't see what I was doing.

But it's possible that, being that that was my first character, I just couldn't handle it well.  I also played a Dwarven hunter and a Draenei hunter, both which came with pets, and they were much easier to control.  I'm not sure if it was Warlock pet versus Hunter pet, or if it was just the size of the beasts, but I was frustrated with Dailite's demon much more than I should have been.

Or maybe they just like to take a little piece of Hell with them wherever they go.
Another oddity with some classes, particularly non-combative magic users, in their complete inability to autofight.  Once again, this could be me, but I couldn't figure out how to make some classes throw lightning or fireballs or whatever their standard magic attack is on right-click.  Right-clicking for melee and ranged fighters sends the character into an auto-attack frenzy, but magic users seem to think that auto-attacking means using their staff to club creatures to death instead of firing magic missiles, which is the thing they're supposed to be good at.  I don't even know why they wield weapons at all.

When using a hunter, they take out their crossbow or gun and just shoot from afar, but magic users don't think the same way and need their basic attack to be constantly clicked on (or press the 1 key).

I found it kind of funny, when I tried my first hunter, that the tip on the character creation screen says "good for soloing".  Yes, the hunter was great for soloing, but it was the only class for soloing.  Magic users were toast if the enemy got too close, and melee fighters were toast if they were ganged up on.

I tried as many of the classes as I could (Death Knight was not available), and found that only the hunter was even close to being enjoyable to play.  Every other class had something game-breakingly annoying about the way it played.

Yes, yes, the second M in MMO stands for multiplayer, and if I'm soloing I'm not getting the full experience.  I didn't do any raids or played with anyone I know.  But to me, even a game that is primarily multiplayer should offer a competent single-player experience.  If the game didn't offer a single-player option at all, that would be fine, like if every quest was an "Elite" quest requiring a party, and soloing was simply not allowed or not advised.  I would be okay with that, but because the game set up a series of solo quests, they clearly encouraged it, yet the only decent solo class was hunter.

I'm getting offtrack again.  Let's finish up with Dailight.

Nah, let's go further off the rails.  I want to talk about dying.

RPGs have always had a problem with dying.

If you die in a shooter, maybe you have to try the level over again, which is fair enough.  Sometimes you get a nice autosave in a safe area, and only have to try the challenge you died on over again.

In a classic RPG, if you die, you reappear at your last save.  Sounds fair enough on the surface, but that tends to suck.  You wind up back at a town that's far away from the godforsaken cave you had just been plowing your way through, because saves are few and far between.  A good classic RPG will at least resurrect you at a town with your current experience and items, so you don't have to load your last save.  Bad RPGs make you reload, and you have to grind your way back up to whatever level you were at.

WoW, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.  Your soul winds up at the nearest graveyard, and you have to run back to your corpse to regenerate.  Why this isn't the other way around, I have no idea.  You would think your corpse (if found by some other adventurer) would be taken and buried, and your soul would "wake up" where you died.  Of course, that might be even more annoying, but either way, the whole death mechanic seems like very odd design.

So, while you're a spirit you can't interact with anything; your task is simply to make it back to your corpse to resurrect.  You can also just resurrect at the grave yard, though I don't see the purpose in doing so, and after level 10 you are punished for doing so anyway, as if to discourage the worse option.

As if wandering the barren, monochrome landscape to find your corpse were not enough, sometimes you find it too early, and you have to wait before you can resurrect.


Do I need to wait for my body to decompose a little or something?  Why am I waiting to play?  I have to stand around and do a crossword until I'm allowed to jump back in my body.  Why does this make any sense, in the world or in the mechanics?  Who thought that would be a good idea?

While I'm on the subject of waiting, why do I have to WAIT TO LOG OUT?  If I want to quit the friggin' game, it shouldn't take more than two seconds.  I understand if they want to make sure I'm serious about logging out, maybe with an "Are you sure?" box and an OK/Cancel option, but I have to sit there for ten or twenty seconds to leave the game.  There is a cancel, there is no OK.

So here's two more fun facts about that: 1. Logging out isn't really logging out; it just takes you back to your character select, but you're still logged in.  2. You can EXIT immediately, which completely quits the game, but you can't LOG OUT immediately.  What is going on here?

So if I want to switch to a different character, it is in fact faster to quit completely, reopen WoW and log in again than it is to simply pop back to the character select screen.

And WoW is not the only MMO to suffer from this.  It blows my mind.
Okay, time to cool down, because these pervasive problems are some of the poor design decisions that led to my utter disgust with the game.  I don't want to be writing in anger; it's clouding my head about as much as this WoW hangover is.

So let's finally get back to Dailite, and see what she's up to, because this part of her journey is the part of the game I enjoyed.

She just got herself in a world of trouble.

She fell off a dam, got lost, and found herself in a scary marsh miles away from civilization.  I couldn't get back up the dam, and the place was surrounded by unscalable hills.  My god, was that place creepy and barren, especially in the middle of the night when Azeroth's sky mimics the real-world time.  Creatures I'd never seen before swam in the bog, water elementals crossed the land, and I found myself hiding and avoiding all confrontations.

I was lonely and frightened.  I felt like Dailite would have felt if she were real.  Holy crap, I'm completely off the beaten path, and it's exhilarating!  Even having a demon companion didn't help.  I was still a small, small girl in a big, big world; a big, big bog with big, big beasts.

After over an hour of wandering, hiding, and avoiding the enemies, I got to exhale when I found a road, and I took it until I found a tunnel, and two dwarves talking to each other. Civilization!  Thank the Gnomish gods, civilization!  They had exclamation points over their heads, indicating quests, but I didn't care.  I blew right past them and continued to take the tunnels until I made it back to a real village, sat by the fire, and quit right there.

Dailite was safe, and I was done with her.  She was actually only level 18, but I got her back to safety, and she was scarred for life.  No more adventuring for her, by gosh.  One little spill and she was traumatized.

In fact, I could have quit once I realized how much trouble she was in, but I had to see her safe.  Now that is awesome.  That is a good game.  I cared enough about my little Gnomish Warlock that I had to make sure she wasn't left out to dry.

After all that, after trying every race and almost every class, the best part of the game was when I messed up, when there were no quests, no people, just a frightened gnomish girl wandering a terrifying landscape.

Blizzard scripters must have spent tons and tons of time, energy, and money creating quests, creating this cozy narrative for soloers to play through, but ultimately the quests were nothing but an addiction machine.  The real amazing gameplay came in when I was far away from the preplanned route, off in territory too big for my britches.  It was like playing a survival-horror game.

I wasn't addicted to the game right then, I wasn't trying to just finish my quest, I was trying to see my little Dailite safe.  That wasn't addiction, that was good old fashioned flow.  That was engagement.  That was roleplaying.

That's what roleplaying is all about.  You're on an adventure, and you don't know where it will lead.  Any DM will tell you that no matter how cleverly they design their adventures, players will eventually find a way -- completely by accident -- to derail the adventure and change things drastically.  That's where the real fun takes place, the ingenuity, the innovation.

One of the best exercises for fiction writers is to create their characters, then throw them into situations that won't be in the novel, just to see how their characters will react.  It gets the writer into the minds of the characters so deeply that when they do start writing the real thing, the plot writes itself just based on the interactions of the characters, and everything flows without a hitch.  You don't get writer's block when you do this; the characters tell you what to write.

And this is the essence of an RPG.  You should be playing your character so deeply that you become them.  You are no longer you.  Playing preplanned quests that thousands of players have played before doesn't leave room for real roleplaying.  You're just playing a videogame, you're not experiencing the world, experiencing the flow.

I am about to discuss perhaps the most egregious gamebreaker WoW has to offer.  The annoyances of the logout, the deaths, the interface, the gameplay; all of these are nitpicks compared to this:

When you go on a quest, others are on the same quest as you.

That sounds weird, like it's not a big deal, of course others are on the same quest as you.  But the thing is, the NPCs act as though you're the only one doing it.  During a pitched battle it works, because you can imagine that the other players have been assigned different orders, or maybe the task you were assigned is too big for you alone.  But when you are asked to do something very specific that is very secretive, for your ears only, and someone else is just ahead of you, killing all of the enemies before you, it destroys any and all semblance of adventure.

Multiple times, I had a quest to kill a boss.  I head into the blasted cave to kill it, and the whole area is littered with corpses.  Someone else is already inside, taking care of business.  I follow the trail of corpses and see another player just leaving the final chamber.  I walk in.  There's the boss's corpse.  Ok, the boss is dead.  End of quest.

A medal and a cookie?  You're too kind!
But no, I don't get credit because I'm not the one who did it.  I get that from a gameplay perspective, but if this were really happening, the boss is dead.  I should go back to the guy who wanted me to kill him and say "Oh, hey, I know I won't be getting any sort of reward now, but I wanted to let you know that someone else killed the guy and the threat has ended."  Then the NPC should say "I like your honesty, here's a couple coppers for your trouble anyway."

So, boss is dead, but I can't just end the quest, so what do I do?  I wait for the thing to respawn, and then I get to fight him.

That does not suck me in.

Okay, so people disappear and reappear all the time, that's how half the NPCs work.  I've seen enemies respawn in front of my face.  I've seen a jail crate I just unlocked and opened magically close and refill with a new prisoner to rescue.  I've seen wandering NPCs enter a room only to fade away and reappear back where their movement started.  These are annoying bugs on their own, but that's another almost minor nitpick.

So why can't it be so that whenever I am soloing a quest, the other players can't disappear as well?  And obviously to those players, I should be the one disappearing.  That way, I don't feel like I'm doing what everyone else is doing.  Scratch that, I don't want to clearly see that I'm doing what everyone else is doing.

So I wait around for the boss to respawn only to kill him again, then I can head back and say to the NPC "So I killed the boss but he doesn't die, you know, he comes back; and your stock response about how the village is safe isn't cutting it and it's funny you made boots out of the creature's hide and I should be the only one in the world getting those boots but the guy that just killed the boss before me has them now and the guy that is a minute after me will have them soon.  Thanks for trying to make me feel like I'm a hero, but the programming is obstructing that feeling I should be getting."

I repeat, the only time I felt like I was my own character was when I was lost, alone, doing something that I don't think many people ever experience, and at the time I certainly felt like no one had ever done what I'd done.  I fell off a dam; sure, it was an accident, but I thought I was someplace new, someplace no one had ever explored, and the designers and artists had created this area that no one was even expected to find.  Heck, when I found the dwarves with the extra quests, I thought man, that's terrific!  They put so much attention to detail into this world that they even want to give me hidden quests!

More on them later.

Here's another sidenote about enemies respawning before I move on: I understand that enemies need to respawn, makes all the sense in the world, because by this point in WoW's lifespan all the monsters would be gone and Azeroth would be saved if they didn't.

But bosses are unique creatures, enemies with names and faces and storylines.  There is only one of them in the world.  And when I find it's already dead, or I can watch it being killed by someone else, all magic is lost.  Heck, I can even participate in the boss fight and not get credit for completing the quest as long as the other player started the fight.  (What is that nonsense?)

If players didn't get to see other players during solo quests, I could get into the game so much more.  Restrict seeing players to towns or warzones, so it seems natural that they would be there.  I think what needs to happen is that each player on a quest should be given their own instance of that quest, or the cave the quest takes place in, or what have you.

I'm willing to suspend my disbelief in everything else, if only I get the rush of feeling like the quest was tailored to me, that I'm the only one who found it, or I'm special in the world and the task was entrusted to me because it's something no one else can do.

The beginning of many races, when you're still in training, works great.  You are clearly a new recruit, and you're training with your fellow players.  But once you're out of the first level, you're supposed to break free from boot camp and become an individual.  A different face and hairstyle and funky armor doesn't cut it.  That is not all there is to customization.  Customizing the character is not limited to actually customizing the character, if that makes any sense; you have to customize the world for the customized player.

Videogame designers have known this for years.  My favorite example, and one I've spoken of so much it annoys my friends, is the various endings to Silent Hill 2.

There are three endings a player can experience on a first playthrough, and they aren't tailored to any conscious decisions you make during the game, but rather changes depending on your own personality that you inject into the character.  Different players will play their character in subtly different ways, from hanging around Maria too much, to not healing often when in dire straits.

The first time I played it, I got the best ending for me, and on subsequent playthroughs, when I intentionally looked up how to get the other endings, I found them excellent, but just not quite as satisfying a conclusion as the first I got.

Other players think their own natural ending was the best, because Silent Hill 2 understood psychology.

Player psychology isn't WoW's strong suit.

Obviously everyone is doing the same quests, but that doesn't mean it has to feel like it.  DMs know that the best stuff doesn't come from a preplanned adventure from a book.  When you make up your own quest, you know very well that this is a one-of-a-kind experience.  Your players are participating in an adventure that was tailored just for them, and no one else in the entire world is doing the same thing.

Like WoW, but orders of magnitude better.
When you play a single-player RPG, this feeling persists, even if it's not factually true.  Everyone who plays a Zelda game is playing the exact same adventure.  But since no one else is around, it feels like you are a lone adventurer, saving the world by yourself.  You're the hero, and no one else can claim that title.  Until tomorrow when you talk about it, at least.

But in WoW, you are obviously doing what everyone else is because you can see it happening before your eyes.  Fine and dandy for a battlezone or training grounds -- in fact it's warranted and required, because it makes sense in the storyline of the world and would feel barren and lifeless without other players -- but in other solo quests that require you and you alone, you might as well be on a rollercoaster in a theme park, doing the same twists and turns and loops that thousands of other people have twisted and turned and looped around before.

In fact, when I was only doing one quest at a time, I thought I was taking one of many possible paths.  I thought each NPC would offer me some new place to go, some new location, and it would be forever branching, and I might wind up anywhere.  That made me feel good as I played Dailite.  It wasn't until much later with other characters that I realized every single quest was variations on a theme, and that your path was completely linear.  If you veered off course from the singular pre-planned route, there was nothing around.  The world was void beyond the hand-holding step-by-step one-into-the-next quests.

But let's move on from this game-breaker.  I'll come back to it.

So I put Dailite away to rock back and forth shivering by a fire for the rest of her days, and started a new character.

Let's go in the opposite direction, I thought, so I made an Undead Warrior named Unfleshed.  Unfleshed was a silly name, more a descriptor than a name, really, and it made the NPCs that knew my name sound weird.  Can't blame Blizzard for that, either.  I'm a whiz at naming characters.

So anyway, I played for a bit, got two monsters attacking me at once, died, resurrected, and tried again.  Why an Undead would die with a soul going to a graveyard is beyond me.  It seems like if you've had your head chopped off you're pretty much done with that character.

I got up to level 9 with him, stealing pumpkins and all sorts of other silly things, but nothing felt quite as epic as Dailite's adventure.  She got to ride a flying machine and drop bombs on a battleground!

With Unfleshed, all I did was fight other undead.  What the hell?  Where's the humans and elves and dwarves I should be killing?  Why would I kill my own brethren?  Oh, I guess these undead serve one person, while those other undead serve another.  I don't care about infighting, I want to fight a real enemy.  Gimme some Alliance to slaughter.  Perhaps in later quests I would get to, but I never reached those quests because I gave up on Unfleshed.  It was flat out boring.

This expression should never be on my face while playing a game.
That, and I died way too often.  Melee fighters suck.  If more than one enemy gets to you, you're dead.  Redead, as the case may be.

In fact, no matter what class I chose, even the Hunter, 90% of the combat involved stealth, just so I could sneak up on enemies and pick them off one at a time, because I couldn't handle anything more.  As the hunter, with a critter at my side, I could handle two at the most.  Anymore and the fat lady sang.  All the armor and weapons and abilities I had did nothing.  It was simply a numbers game: if there were more of them than there were of me, game over.

Increasing frustration occurred when I was extra careful to get just one guy, targeted, began combat, then a second guy would pop out of nowhere and kick my ass from behind.  The worst offense was once when I was being extra sneaky, extra careful to get only one enemy at a time; I engaged in combat with one guy and barely started hitting him, and another enemy spawned two feet in front of me.  I had no time to react, he spotted me (not hard to do), and he attacked.  Without even a chance to escape, I was done for, through no fault of my own.  He just faded into existence and murdered me.

Okay, you want me to sneak and only take on one enemy at a time?  I'll bite, I'll work with that.  That'd be pretty clever as a design choice; not what I was expecting, but cool and different and interesting.  But when I think the coast is clear and I have a target in my sights and the game literally cheats me into death, that's either horrible programming or horrible design.

At no point should I ever witness an enemy respawning before my eyes.

One more gripe:  the game has clearly been made for me to sneak and be stealthy, and I have long range weapons to pick off enemies at a distance, so why am I not allowed to snipe bosses?  More than once, I stayed up on a ledge and sniped a boss while my beast jumped down to rip the boss apart.  Yet despite trying this strategy multiple times, the boss fully regained all his health when he got low for no apparent reason.

The first time this happened, I thought it must have just been that the boss had a healing spell or something.  Then it kept happening, over and over.  So I'm not actually allowed to employ a decent strategy.  Didn't this game evolve from an RTS series?  I know it's an RPG now, but it seems rather odd that they programmed the game so you're not allowed to employ a good strategy.  The boss knows your presence; your beast doesn't gain health back, and yet I'm simply not allowed to beat the boss with a tactic other than marching up to it and pummeling with melee, or standing three feet back to shoot, where he can easily give chase.

Hold on, my cat is meowing.  Be back in a few hours.

"Ever since he started playing WoW, he stopped skritching my belly."
So where was I?  Ah, yes, Unfleshed was a bust.  The gameplay wasn't fun because I died too often and the quests were boring because it was mostly undead versus undead.  Eventually it just got too tedious and I moved on.

I next made a Dwarven Hunter named Brawnman (so stock I assumed it would be taken and was surprised to hell that it wasn't).

The moment a bear appeared at my side I said "Oh, crap, another beast."  Fortunately, either the AI is better for beasts than demons, or it was just smaller, but either way I just didn't mind it as much.  My bear ended up being extremely useful, wherein I could stay back and shoot while my bear meleed and kept the enemy away.

So I played the Dwarven tutorial, which was alright, then I moved on and wound up right in the same area Dailite had been.  Cool!  I thought.  I'll get to meet the same people, and get all new quests!

And here comes the crushing disappointment.

After the intro area, the gnome and dwarf have identical quests.  There was zilch difference.

That was basically cheating me out of new material.  I thought Gnomes would get their own quests, and Warlocks would get their own set of quests.  Neither was true; everyone gets the same quests if they visit the same locations.  No tailoring quests for strengths and weaknesses.

So, instead of sighing in disgust and picking a new race, I decided to replay the exact same quests all over again.  Why?  Because I was already addicted.  Despite having gotten to level 18 with Dailite, and having most material recycled for Brawnman, I actually got to level 20 with Brawnman, and fairly quickly too, since now I selected every quest at once and ran the gamut.

I was level 20 hours before I reached the end of the line, when I simply ran out of quests.

So I got all the way back to the quest with Brawnman where Dailite fell off the dam, and this time I simply avoided the dam altogether.  I completed that quest and more, until eventually the quest line led me directly to Dun Algaz, the tunnel system that brought me to the marsh where those two dwarves with extra quests were.

I hadn't found a hidden gem with Dailite after all; I simply skipped ahead about twenty quests.  Now the disappointment grew, as well as the dread that I now had to play quests in the very bog that freaked me out so much earlier.

Dreading the fact that the one good part of the experience would be ruined, and I was too addicted to stop myself.
Not that it mattered; the quests were the same basic stuff.  Find an item, kill a bunch of critters, kill more critters, find some more items, enter the cave and kill some critters and a boss.  Enter a different cave and kill a boss.  Ok, had enough?  You may move on.

By the time I finished Brawnman, I'd actually already made a few new characters, but kept coming back to him to reach level 20 and keep questing, because despite the monotony, as I said before (and as stated by the game itself), the hunter is the only class that is any good for soloing.

But next I tried a Mage Night Elf, and I forget her name, but quit quickly on her around level 7 because a bug broke the game and pissed me off too much to restart.  Basically I was in a you-know-what when suddenly I lost the ability to attack things, to click on things, to talk to things.  I could still move, but the enemies ignored me like I was completely invisible.  Of course, I had that ability, but it wasn't active.  This went beyond intentional invisibility.  I couldn't interact with the game in any way other than to walk.  As if my mouse was broken, except I could still rotate the camera with it.  I couldn't click on my spells or inventory and I couldn't even click the menu buttons.  I had to three finger salute to quit and restart.

So that went bust and I was too annoyed with her anyway, so I tried as many other combinations as I could:  A Tauren Paladin; a Human Priest; a Druid Blood Elf; an Orc Shaman; a Troll Rogue; and a Draenei Hunter (might as well try a new race with a class that I know works well once I've run out of other options).

I won't be able to get into too much detail with each race and class that I tried, mostly because they played the same (battle, die, repeat).

The Blood Elf was actually pretty fun for some reason; perhaps it was the setting that was surprisingly fresh.  I also found the Draenei decent, but I think that was because I used a Hunter.

After getting so bored by the story of the Undead, I actually stopped caring completely about all storylines altogether.  I boiled the game to its mechanics and just accepted quests without looking at them.  Eventually I learned to accept every quest I could, then check the map to see which ones I could knock out quick that were packed together.

The Troll storyline was really shoved down my throat, I felt; lots of voiceovers to try to keep me engaged, but I couldn't care less about the Jamaican stereotypes.  Since Warcraft III, they were a joke race, but it was unobtrusive in Warcraft III simply because they were mixed in with Orcs, and Kalimdor was a silly place anyway because of its Seussian scenery.  Trying to take Trolls seriously just didn't work.  Do they expect me to take Pandas seriously in the next expansion?

But back to classes:

I almost think Blizzard saying Hunters are great for soloing is their way of whispering "Hey, the classes are horribly unbalanced and this is the only good one."  I understand some classes are helpers that stay in the background and heal when playing raids or in groups, and if there were only a couple of those, that'd be fine.

And again, I know I'm missing the true multiplayer experience by soloing, but when they give so many solo quests (and I had achieved over fifty with at least two or three characters, and remember I was stuck at level 20), which fully encourages soloing, then there should be more than one class that's decent for soloing.

Well, now that this rant has reached twenty one pages, and my brain is winding down, I need to put my thoughts in order and try to sum this up for the TLDR crowd.

...No, I can't.  I didn't really get into a lot of the other major blunders of the game, particularly gameplay issues.  The most important part of a game is its interactivity, and no amount of beautiful scenery can hide that.  The gameplay is simply subpar.  I know it's an RPG, and RPGs aren't known for particularly thrilling and action-oriented battle systems, but they took an RTS interface and plopped in on an RPG.

If World of Warcraft were an MMORTS, that would be awesome and would probably work out fine; if the game was only about Raids and pitched battles, that would probably (no, too strong a word -- possibly) work out fine.

Heck, the bomb-dropping quest I played with both gnome and dwarf would have been awesome, but it was mauled by the controls.  I had to tilt the camera to see better, and even so the plane got in the way, then instead of just clicking on the spots to drop the bombs, I had to constantly reselect the bomb tool from my ability menu.  There is such a simple fix to that I wonder why it wasn't implemented.

Indeed, often when there is a quest item I am given and need to use, I have to add it to my ability list, select it, click the object I need to use it on, and then repeat steps 2-4 until complete.  On occasion the controls get switched up and all I had to do was right-click, which saved a lot of the hassle, but when and where I must to do one or am allowed to do the other is beyond me.

A lot of this is the little things, like how when you first create a character and you get that opening flyby with narration, you can see other players standing exactly in your spot and it looks like you have two heads and four arms and two swords on your back; or how the fire extinguisher in the human solo quest is a couple of untextured cubes, or how condors in the gnomish/dwarven area by the lodge are stuck in the "spread eagle" pose and don't move.

But minor glitches are acceptable if Big Rigs was released.
But all of that can be forgiven; those are just bugs that could be worked out (and in the seven years it's been out, you'd think those might have been noticed and fixed, or maybe they only appeared since Cataclysm, or only on the starter edition, but whatever).  Gameplay could be tweaked, content could be changed or added, and the game could be half-decent.  Still not worth the endless praise it's received over the years, but it could be okay.

The only two major gripes I have, then, are that the game doesn't make you feel unique and heroic, and that it is too addicting for its own good.

The former complaint is pretty much a failure on the part of the designers.  I hope they were intending to make players feel like they were truly part of this world, but the way the quests are structured in chain-link form, and the player interaction in solo quests, both destroy that idea.  Without these two strikingly huge changes, World of Warcraft fails to entertain on its most basic level, and becomes 100% grind.

The latter complaint is a cardinal rule of good business and bad game design.  Games simply should not be addicting; as I said in a previous article, if they are addicting at all, it's because they are fun and enjoyable, not because they're digital nicotine.

In my experience, WoW is digital nicotine, and many people I've talked to have told me the same, long before I tried it out and almost picked up the habit.  I'm getting a craving right now.  That is not a joke.  After this long diatribe about every broken aspect of the game and after stating how much fun I did not have, I still have the urge to make a new character.  I have the urge to pay for it, pay a nice monthly subscription fee and waste my life in Azeroth.

My own brain is trying to overlook all the negative aspects and convince myself that everything I just wrote isn't as bad as I made it out to be, just so it can get its fix.  My brain is a conniving jerk.

Isn't that a symptom of addiction?  Convincing yourself that something isn't as bad as you thought it was so you can do it again?  Don't alcoholics say "never again" after a hangover, and get another one next weekend?

That should not happen.  When I watch a bad movie, I don't watch it again.  When I play any other bad game, I stop playing it.  Heck, I'll stop playing great games when I run out of enthusiasm for them.  No matter what classic games in my deconstructions I praise to high heaven, I don't play any of them 24/7.  Yet WoW is making me itch for a virtual cigarette right now.  Roll up a fresh character and smoke it down 'til I burn my lips, then buy myself a carton and go to town.

The comparison will always be justified.

Is this what games have become?  World of Warcraft and its expansions have won tons of awards including Game of the Year, from multiple publications, and have been universally praised by critics.

How?  How does a game that creates addicts get credited as a great game?  Sure, I'll praise a game all day for what's great about it.  World of Warcraft has some beautiful views, some nice music, some cute dialogue and even some clever jokes ("The Kessel Run" quest made me laugh).  I already said before how I loved the day-to-night transitions, as well as being able to explore free of questing.  The game feels epic in scope and I can easily tell you I experienced less than 1% of all the content.  But quest-wise, I'm pretty sure I've done all there is to do.  The same four or five types of quests reoccur over and over.

"Why not stop questing?" You may ask.  Answer: because it's the quests that are addictive.  They exist and I must quest.  If WoW was a free-roaming game that had no quests other than what you discovered yourself, it could be pretty cool.  Heck, you accidentally find a landform-that-must-not-be-named and a boss and kill it and bring its head back to town and get a reward, all without being told, and it seems like your little secret that no one else knows about, and now you feel like an adventurer.

How about if NPCs give you quests, but they aren't in your face about it?  Instead of exclamation points and question marks, you just casually drop by and talk to random NPCs, and some of them give you quests -- casually, such that they don't appear on the side and remind you what you have to do.  Then you would definitely feel like you're the only one who discovered the quest, and you are under no obligation to complete it.

Holy crap, I just killed two birds with one stone.  I'm not claiming to be the best game designer in the world, or to know better than the dozens or more designers on the Blizzard staff, but I would have at least given this idea a beta test to see if it flew.

But now I want to do something to distract myself from the desire to play WoW.  I don't want to replace one addiction for another, of course, so I'll settle on a fun but non-addictive game to cleanse the palette.  Maybe I'll play Half-Life, or Mario 64, or God of War, or another MMORPG even.

Heck, maybe I'll work on the January Engine, since that's a project that's fallen by the wayside since this four-day fiasco.

Maybe I'll go walk the dog.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Deconstruction: King's Quest - Part I: Overview

King's Quest is largely considered the first graphical adventure game, allowing the player to visually see the world with colors and animation.  Previous adventure games were entirely text-based, or had static images to accompany text.  This was the first time a player could move around the screen with a character in an adventure game.

The CryEngine at its best.
The game's mechanics were simple: move the character with the arrow keys, and type commands of one to three words.  The parser understood simple verbs and many objects in the environment, even going so far as to describe otherwise non-interactive objects in its dictionary.  For instance, the player could type "Look at flag" on the first screen and be given a description of the flags flying on the castle.  The player could do nothing with this information and could not interact with the flags in any other way, so this level of detail was purely for flavor text.

Much of the time, the possibilities seem endless: the player can interact with objects in a variety of ways, and when they can't, the computer might still understand the intent.  However, players might eventually type a term that the computer doesn't understand, and the player would grow frustrated.

For instance, a player might not know the proper noun, and might use a synonym instead which was not programmed in.  The player might try to look at an Ogre that is actually a Troll.  Most of the time, synonyms were accepted, such as fiddle for violin, knife for dagger, rocks for pebbles, etc.  But other times, players played a game of "Guess the noun".

This was not limited to King's Quest, however; it was a common complaint against all text adventures of the time.  Eventually, the text parser was replaced with more discrete iconographic options in the King's Quest series, beginning with King's Quest V.

By VII, it became completely point-n-click.
But even so, King's Quest lured players in with animated graphics, showing that the genre did not have to be left wholly to the imagination, and started a trend adventure games would follow furthermore.

King's Quest developer Sierra On-Line went on to make many more graphical adventures with the same engine, including Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Mixed-Up Mother Goose, and other series.

King's Quest itself was well-loved when it first came out, not only for its new graphical system, but also for its content.  The country of Daventry (the locale of the first King's Quest game) was comprised of fairy tales, including Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, Billy Goats Gruff, and more.

Players who recognized the fairy tails would be able to deduce the solutions to puzzles, making the game more accessible than other text adventures of the day, which would often take place in wholly imagined fantasy worlds or require illogic to solve strange puzzles.

Later installments of King's Quest added more fairy tales, but also included other famous figures from literature and mythology, including Dracula and Medusa.

Although I don't remember Snow White needing to clean up after the dwarves all the time. 
In much of the series, points were awarded for completing puzzles, taking objects, etc.  A number of bonus items could be found in the first game, such as a golden egg and a golden nut.  These items could be used to solve puzzles, but the player received the most points by solving each puzzle in ways that allowed players to keep their items.

Players were also rewarded for using clever, non-violent means.  For instance, the player could kill a dragon with a dagger, or throw water in its face, and the player received more points for the water solution.  The only notable exception to this in the first game was in killing the witch from Hansel and Gretel by shoving her in her oven, although this was probably because it followed the fairy tell best to do this, rather than avoid the witch altogether.

The first three King's Quest games used the same engine.  By the fourth game, a much more advanced engine was used, allowing more colors and finer detail, as well as pausing the game as the player typed, so they didn't feel like they were in a rush in a dangerous situation.

The first King's Quest game was then remade using the new engine, but this disturbed many gamers.  Sierra On-Line had planned to remake all three early games with new engine, but fan disappointment led Sierra to scrap that project.

Oddly enough, fan-made versions of the early games were eventually made, along with a cult following for them.  Perhaps the idea simply wasn't ready to emerge when Sierra tried it.

People are fickle.
The eighth installment added combat and RPG elements, taking a break from the cerebral puzzle-solving of the previous games.  This marked a drastic change in the genre of the series, as well as the complexity.  The interface for the series up to the seventh installment got gradually simpler and easier to use, until there was nothing but point-and-click left.  But the eighth installment added combat, navigation, weapons, health, and a variety of keyboard commands to keep up with the new features.

The King's Quest series presents a history lesson through each installment showing the evolution of the adventure genre through the years, and its eventual disappearance in favor of action and RPG titles.

Read Part II...