May 2011

Blizzard have announced that they’re removing the keyring bag from the game in 4.2. I don’t get this. I don’t understand. It just doesn’t make any sense. It makes so little sense that I think we need to go through their announcement bit by bit to work out what’s going on. I’m cherry-picking;

“… World of Warcraft has evolved quite a bit since the day the Keyring bag slot was added in patch 1.11…”

Yes, it has. Shall we get rid of Arena now too?

“… In today’s Azeroth, keys don’t really serve much of a purpose except to take up physical storage space from the game (which could be used for other awesome stuff), and visual interface space on yours…”

That’s because you’ve taken all of the wonder, imagination, and immersion out of the game, so yeah, I suppose it doesn’t make much sense to keep them.

“… Because of this, we’ve decided to get rid of the Keyring in order to free up some user interface space for exciting new features…”

Yeah, because those two or three millimetres are so precious.

“… This change could also potentially allow us to play around with the amount of default storage space you’re allotted down the road…”

Is it just me or does it sound like we’re listening to a snake oil salesman?

“… So, what does this mean for you and the keys you might not have looked at in the last couple expansions or so? …”

I see what you did there.

“… We’re currently working on the implementation of a system in patch 4.2 which will handle the removal of the Keyring, while causing you as little hassle with keys as possible…”

That’s funny, because I don’t remember them being much hassle at all. It’s not like I was wandering around cursing the weight of my in-game key chain.

“… We are continuing to work on new ways of allowing you to better manage the storage of various items in the game, and it is our goal to make sure the removal of the Keyring causes as little inconvenience to you as possible…”

It just makes you want to scratch your own eyes out with toothpicks doesn’t it.

Like I said at the start, I don’t get it, because this doesn’t make any sense. Why go to all the trouble to remove this? Unless it was an actual daily visual reminder of what your game used to stand for, of what heights it attempted to achieve, and one whose continuing presence leaves you feeling a tad uncomfortable. And what does this mean to rogues? No key-bag means no keys. No keys mean no locks. And thus I suppose no locks means another class ability down the drain. Remember that rogue quest in Westfall where you had to pick the bad guys pocket at the tower to get the key to open the chest inside? Pretty awesome quest that one. Yep, that was pretty cool.

Yes, I realise that most of you think that I have gone mental, (or more mental), but the fact remains that this is a perfectly understandable move by Blizzard with WoW in the current state that it is. In case you’ve missed the news, Blizzard has come out with a future feature where players will be able to bring in ReadID friends from different servers into the same heroic dungeon group that they are in. Oh yes, and it’s a premium service that will cost you an extra. Of course this has set off a chain of anguish throughout the blogging and forum world, with fists being shaken and thunder rumbling from the mountain tops. The common argument against this new plan is that it will punish, (ie make them pay more), the very players who care enough and are actually able to make friends in WoW. As Spinks says;

“… Since people who actually form their own groups are likely to be the more social players anyway, Blizzard effectively will be going the opposite way from Valve and charging the people who most want and are able to build social networks for their friends …”

Now this is a noble sentiment, but the problem with it is that it fails to take into account the actual state of the WoW community at present. If I were to say that the WoW community is, oh I don’t know, … a toxic waste-pit, or bereft of any redeeming features, or even non existent, I don’t think that I would find many players who would stand up and defend it against my remarks. Blizzard knows this. It knows that it has created a horrible two headed green monster. But part of keeping that green monster going, (because it makes them lots of cash), is keeping the LFG tool going so the monster can continue to get its instant gaming gratification. So it can’t put in a standard feature that would remove many of the good players from the great unwashed.

But Blizzard knows that the better players are leaving in droves, and even though comparatively those numbers are small, it still cares enough about that money to want to do something. But this has to be a feature for players that really, and I mean really want it, for it to work. Which means segregation. And the only way to segregate in this way is cash. The great unwashed are not going to pay for a premium account. But the old school gamers who want their game back are not going to get it without some sacrifice. Which means stumping up the cash.

There is the other bugbear in the room, which is Real ID lurking in the background. Well, if this is what it takes, then so be it. Honestly everyone, what more do you want? The community cannot be rebuilt with the state of the current player base. The only option is segregation, and the only way to effectively do it is to stick a price tag on it. Hopefully the price won’t be too high.

Here’s another thing that I didn’t like about Pirates of the Burning Sea; the gold factor. At about level 7 my fresh faced nooby trader had about 14,000 gold, or florins, or whatever the hell they’re called. Now this is some serious cash. Add to that the fact that I never had to spend money repairing my ship, (it just magically “got better” after every fight), and I had nothing to spend my money on, and I quickly got to the point where i didn’t even look at how much moeny I had. I didn’t need to eat, I didn’t need to drink, I didn’t need to go out and bonk comely wenches, although I would have liked that option. I didn’t need to buy ammo because I could loot it so often from my vanquished opponents. I suppose that I could have spent my mass of gold on buying a new ship, or getting upgrades, or painting my ship purple, but the simple fact of the matter is that I didn’t need to.

I was a Freetrader, so pretty early on I got myself a logging operation that churned out cut timber at a nice rate. I could have put this up on the auction house, or carried it from one port to the other and made a nice profit. But the fact is that once again I didn’t need to. I already had far more gold than I knew what to do with, and because I didn’t need to use that logging mill it soon fell into disrepair, leaving many workers out of a job, unable to feed their families, and ultimately turning to a life of crime stealing things from other people who had more things.

I don’t care how good the economy is in PoTBS, if you don’t need to use it to survive then it’s all just pretty padding. You’ll get the fanatic players who will use it to an absurd degree, but to the rest of us it’s just not really interesting, because as a player I have no vested interest in it. WoW was a different story than this some years ago when I began playing. I still remember the day when I finally cracked a grand total of one gold piece on my toon. It was a momentous occasion. I often didn’t have enough gold to pay for essential class training. True, I wasn’t using the Auction House, but even when I did begin using it I wasn’t making huge sums of money. A beginning player in WoW today only has to go out and get some herbs or copper ore, throw it on the AH, and they have enough gold to pay for god knows how much training. The economy may have suffered high inflation, but the training prices have not.

If we are playing in virtual worlds then the best way for such a world to reflect reality is to have an economy that forces you to get involved with it just to survive. This may not sound like fun, but surprisingly it is, and it keeps you engaged with the game as well. I’m not talking about going to extremes here; we don’t all want to have to live in a shoe box on the side of the road eating cold gravel for breakfast. But game designers would do well to understand the fact that throwing heaps of gold at players induces boredom more quickly than waiting for this blogger to respond to comments.

I got into WoW around the start of Burning Crusade when a few old friends of mine travelled across to Italy from Australia to say hello to me and take advantage of my hospitality while they went skiing. Everyone brought along their own laptop, and one of the group was into WoW. We had all played D&D together in the past, and he convinced us all to give it a shot. Even though I was sceptical I ordered the WoW Battlechest on Amazon, as did a few others, and pretty soon we were spending less time skiing and more time sitting around the house yelling at each other from our computers as we died in Westfall.

But before my Battlechest arrived I spent some time checking out the game on my friend’s account. I rolled up, wait for it, you’re going to be shocked … a human warrior. I can’t remember his name but I think he was bald. Anyway, I was on my own in a relatively new realm, and I bumbled around having fun and trying to work things out. I had no knowledge of what specs to have, or what the different talent trees were for. I also had no idea of the holy trinity of the tank/healer/DPS roles in instances. Come to think of it, I didn’t really understand what instances were either. But I was having fun and I wasn’t bothering anybody.

I had got up to level 18 or so when a new found friend of a similar level and I decided to give The Deadmines a shot. He was a priest, so he could heal. I was a warrior, so I could bash things. And in we went. We worked our way up to the first ogre boss, the one that drops that nice blue hammer. I wanted that blue hammer. I had seen it before when I had done the instance with another group. My role had been DPS as far as I knew. I was most probably crap on that run, but they had seemed to like me and there wasn’t any recount to make them hate me.

Anyway, so we started to have a go at this boss, just the two of us. He was healing and I was getting the shit knocked out of me. And we died. So we rezzed, and ran back in to where we were, and we had another shot at it, but changing our tactics slightly. And we died again, but we did better this time. And back we came. This ogre must have been getting sick of the sight of us. We probably spent a good hour and a half trying to get him down. On our final attempt we got him to about 5% before the priest ran out of mana and we were cactus. So we decided to call it there. And we left the instance happy and in good spirits. Sure we hadn’t got the boss down. But we had tried, and we had had a great time.

Did I have the best spec for this situation? I think you know the answer to that one. Did my priest buddy? I highly doubt it. The next day the priest whispered me in game. He said that he had looked at his specs and had changed them around a bit so as to have more mana. I didn’t even know that you could do that. We looked at mine and decided to change a few of them as well. The priest had to lend me the gold as I only had some silvers to my name. And we went in there and we got him down on the first attempt. And I got the blue hammer, or whatever it was that he dropped. And we agreed that our performance had been most optimal. And a hell of a lot of fun.

So I’ve been playing through Pirates of the Burning Sea and I have a problem. It’s to do with being on rails. Not on rails like with what has happened with WoW quests since Cataclysm, (oh such a fitting expansion title), but a different kind of rails.

Literal rails.

You see, when you enter a town in PotBS your entry point is a dock. Funny that, seeing as you’ve arrived on a fucking ship. And you walk along the dock, and perhaps the dock turns, like into an L shape. On the sides of the dock there is now ground. Perhaps a town common with a comely wench lying provocatively on the grass. I know what I’ll do; I’ll jump off the dock, (it’s not high at all), and go and check out the chick.

But I can’t. Because I run into an invisible wall. I am literally on rails. The only path I may take, the only thing that I may do, is walk along the dock. I can walk anywhere on the dock that I wish, but I cannot jump off it. As a matter of fact I cannot even jump. I hate not being able to jump in an MMO, and I really hate invisible walls. Can I dive off into the water? No, I can’t. Can I enter the water? No? Can I swim in the water? Not a fucking chance. Well, what the fuck can I do? You can walk on the fucking dock.

Apparently Sony has been designing this game for a long time, like four or five years long. So what were they doing? I don’t know, because when you look at it the vast majority of the game world is water, (which you can’t swim in, or you can but I’m so stupid that I don’t know how). So the only areas of the world that they had to design were the towns. And they put you on rails. This is really lazy stuff. There are some great towns too. Towns set into sheer cliffs that soar above your head, with bridges that swing lazily from precarious drops. Can you jump off a bridge into the water? Nope. The houses, can you walk into a house? Only some of them if there is a quest that you are on. The majority of them are façades.

This is a façade of a game. Apparently my ship can do 45 knots on the open sea, which is amazing considering that historically it would have been pushing it to reach ten. There might be an intricate crafting and economic world going on here, but there is no immersion in this game. Sailing a ship is as simple as pointing in the direction that you want to go. Run into a cliff or a sandbank or a coral reef? Bump, oops, just keep going. How about the weather, the greatest enemy that ship captains and their crews had to deal with. The horrors of a lee shore? They don’t exist. So trundling around in your ship, the only danger is from some other player if you wander into a PvP circle zone, but seeing as I’m doing 45 fucking knots I can leave him for dead if I have a run on him already.

It’s disappointing, it really is. The ship to ship fighting is amazing, but it’s not enough when faced with this half assed excuse for a game.