8 May 2011

Warcraft, Rift and Fun

I’m not sure if I announced this anywhere, but back in March I took a month long holiday from Warcraft to play Rift. I felt a little jaded from the game and needed to take a break, much like I occasionally take time off from my real-life job. I think its a healthy thing to do, plus it gives me the chance to look at other games on the market.

Like many people at the moment, I find myself looking at Rift and questioning my subscription. Some people I know have quit the game completely, while others like me are keeping a subscription going to both games.

Rift is a technically adept game with some interesting takes on the classic MMO model. I love the Ascended soul system as a replacement for talent trees, and think it’s something that other games will pick up. I think that using artifacts and collections to expose more in-game lore is also neat – it’s what I hoped Archaeology would (and still could) be.

But does Rift itself have a soul? If it did, it would be brown and drab. A thin, plain looking man dressed in well-made but simple looking garb. He’d be one of those friends you’d have that would be incredibly intelligent but short on jokes. The kind of person you’d ask round to fix your computer, but maybe not at the top of the house party guest list.

By contrast, Warcraft is a more flamboyant and laid back person. Sure they’re not the sharpest tool in the box, but you’ve known them for years and they’re always cheerful. The world might be ending tomorrow, but what about wizards making ice-cream with pointy hats for cones?

I play MMOs partly to get away from the dreary grey tableau that the world outside sometimes. presents. It’s a form of escapism. Logging in to find the same mood, the same attitude from the NPCs and the same humourless expanse laid out before you is not a great start to a gaming session.

First person shooter developers like Valve put a lot of work into the pacing of their game. Listen to some of the developer commentary and it’s a real eye-opener in terms of why they used certain mobs, what emotions they wanted to put the player through and so on. Sure they generally switch between “relaxed” and “holy crap zombies!” but you get the idea

In the same way, Blizzard’s quest design team places a fair amount of focus on the emotional pacing of zones. Is a zone starting to feel tedious or repetitive? Do they need to lighten the mood a little? Do they want to make things more intense  and exhilarating for a big set-piece finish? The MMO developer has a wide range of options and needs to make use of them in order to provide texture to the game.

Humour doesn’t need to be pulled in through pop-culture references or slapstick pratfalls. What about the clumsy inventor, or the unfortunate farmer, or the charismatic merchant? Our real lives are filled with people and events that make us laugh so shouldn’t our games be as well?

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