The Choose your own Adventure books started coming out when I was around 10 years old. Which meant that I got very lucky, as I was just the right age for them. In these books the reader took the role of the protagonist, being able to choose alternate paths and thus arriving at many different possible endings. Copying this new format, the Fighting Fantasy books took the same idea into a fantasy setting, with the addition of adding dice rolls to the battle sequences. I must have purchased nearly all of these books; I probably still have them somewhere in a box back home. Without a doubt they were my stepping-stone to Dungeons & Dragons and then computer games. And they offer the reader one very important tool when playing a game:
I thought about this last night after playing some of the Worgen starting zone for the first time. I lasted about 10 minutes before I gave up. A lot of commentaters have said how much they like the new starting area. I suppose that it is nice to look at, and there is some groovy gothic-type atmosphere. But overall it is entirely forgetable. You are not playing a game in that zone. You do not have to think. You are merely led from one npc to another as they force-feed you the required information. The very first quest had you rescuing townsfolk by banging on doors. When the first one of them rushed out my instinctive reaction was to have a look behind the now opened door. But you can’t. It is open, but you can’t go in. Because that is not where you are supposed to go.
What I am writing here is not new; plenty of bloggers and commentators have been saying the same thing over the last few weeks. But this morning I cast my mind back to my very first experience of WoW all those years ago, to the human starting zone. You know, the one where you have to go and take out all the poor kobolds. And I asked myself, did I have any choice there? Or was I being railroaded also? Because I want to be fair when I write this blog. I don’t just want to dump on Blizzard in a high and mighty way. I want to really understand if the game is broken or if it’s just me. And then it came to me; we might not have had much choice back then, but there was the illusion of choice.
Strip someones illusions away and what are you left with? In the case of the Worgen starting zone, not very much. Pretty pictures, yes. Nice water graphics, yes. Come on, we can do better than that. Either Blizzard have totally lost sight of what makes a game playable or they have become comsumed by their own arrogance and contempt for their player-base. There is choice everywhere you look. Even reading a book presents you with choice. You can choose how to interpret what the writer is saying. This is why authors like Dan Brown have so much success. They give the reader no choice, the story is force-fed into you. All you have to do is sit there and consume the pages. And writing that now, perhaps Blizzard have realised this also. They don’t want to be remembered for a great game any more than Dan Brown wants to be remembered for a great book.
The first Choose your own Adventure book was called, ‘The Cave of Time.’ I still remember that moment of discovery where it was I who was deciding the course of events. Well, we are always free to decide our own course, that is the beauty of life.