Sunday, May 20, 2012

World of Diablo? Diablocraft? By Any Name, The Perfect Game

So, I've been playing Diablo IIV. You may know someone else who is also playing the game. I would say it's popular, but only insofar as the ubiquitous crack-cocaine is popular. It's a niche market, but the fanboys and fangirls swear by it.

I've never played a Diablo-brand game before this. That might seem surprising, but in actuality, I'm not much of a gamer at all. I'm fond of saying that I went from Nintendo as a kid to World of Warcraft as an adult. That isn't strictly true...I loved the original Prince of Persia and I played a MUD (multi-user dungeon, text version of World of Warcraft) or two or three in between. But it is true in spirit...I just haven't spent much time on video games between my original fixation on them as a child and my latest fixation on World of Warcraft.

So the Diablo games simply passed me by in my non-video-game-playing existence. I'm still not much of a gamer outside of World of Warcraft, but now I'm dabbling in Diablo IIV because I got it free as part of the annual pass thing that Blizzard offered for World of Warcraft. 

So How Are you Enjoying It? 

Actually, I find it enthralling. I've been playing two characters so far...a monk in co-op mode with a friend of mine and, as a solo exploit, a wizardess (it's a word, I insist, and I refuse to use the word "wizard," which evokes the image of an old man with a long beard...I'm not playing Deckard Cain, he of the quavering voice).

The first thing I should mention is that game is beautiful. Drop-dead gorgeous. Stunning to the max. It makes just exploring a joy, because it's fun to see all the wonders of the world. Killing monsters is simple and zen...left click, left click, right click, maybe use 1-2-3-4 once in a while, maybe quaff a health potion once in a while. I'm not the first to think of this comparison (as I've discovered) but it's like a Roguelike game with stunning graphics and a gripping story. Those Roguelike games were ASCII art adventures that put the emphasis on exploration, killing monsters and loot, in partially or fully randomized dungeon maps. Hello, Diablo! Diablo's story is quite enjoyable, though. And the better graphics are important...I never really understood the point to "exploring" one room of text symbols after another (but some people really get into those games). Exploring a game with the lovely visuals of Diablo IIV, however, is great fun.

Also, it's extremely satisfying to wade into an army of demons and undead and unleash Hell (so to speak). The premise of these Diablo games seems to be that you play a hero...from the start. You're not a peasant working your way up toward hero status (you don't start off by killing chickens and bats, ala World of Warcraft). You start off by holding off hordes of undead and your tasks pretty much stay in that vein: be a one-person army, single-handedly destroying all evil in the world. Unless you do co-op, in which case you're two to four one-person armies. The spell effects are great...never has slaughter been so visually appealing. I am not a violent person, but I can't help being uplifted by getting a commendation for killing sixty to seventy monsters in a spray of magic and blood.

But World Of Warcraft Is Cool, Too, Right? 

Yes, yes it is. Boss fights are fun in Diablo IIV, but possess several orders of magnitude less complexity than the mechanics that raid bosses bring to the table in World of Warcraft. For good reason, as Diablo IIV is meant to be a "pick up and play for however many minutes or hours you have" type of game, while raiding in World of Warcraft is meant to be a "clear your night, this is serious business" type of endeavor.

I love the focus and effort and teamwork required for raiding. I like spending hours refining strategy and trying to play better to down a raid boss in World of Warcraft. I like it better than hack-and-slashing through Diablo IIVX (though I enjoy that too, see above). 

I've often felt that there are two things I enjoy in World of Warcraft: creating a character and raiding; everything in between is just busywork. That might be a little extreme (sometimes I enjoy a moment or two of the in-between part, especially the first time I leveled up a character), but it does get at the spirit of my feelings for the game. It's fun to start a new character, with new abilities and a new character image in your head (my priest has such a different personality from my hunter or my mage, you just wouldn't believe!). Then you stare at its back for several thousand quests (or endless trash packs, if you go the level-through-dungeons route) before getting to the big payoff.

So, Two Different Things For Two Different Purposes, Then 

Yes, that certainly makes sense and works. However, I can't help but think that the perfect game would blend the two types of fun. My view is that the leveling process and pre-raid gearing-up process in World of Warcraft is just grinding. Grinding quests, grinding mobs, grinding dungeons. Doing lots and lots of often very repetitive tasks. Grinding isn't fun.

Except when it is. After all, Diablo IIVX is nothing but grinding when you come right down to it. You hit one scenario or dungeon after another, slaughter your way through and collect your loots. There's obviously some strategy in building your character via the skills and runes you can mix and match, but the meat of the game is the grind. The glorious grind.

And it is glorious. In every way that World of Warcraft's grinds are tedious (to me), Diablo IIVX's grinds are great fun. Gripping, even. You're not running around a 20 yard square area killing a specific type of quest boar, hoping that you'll find nine of them that possess working hearts. You're exploring fairly large swatches of dangerous territory, all lushly and interestingly detailed. And you never know when you'll run into elites or named monsters, which are always more fun than the rare, named gnoll in World of Warcraft that maybe you'll happen to kill by accident while killing all the other gnolls in his 20 yard vicinity.

I purposely explore more than I need to in Diablo's world. It's not at all a unique strategy (I started doing it because a couple of people mentioned it as a tip) but I try to unfog the entire map before I move to the next step. This means purposely running around and killing a lot more than I would otherwise need to. I would never even consider doing this when questing in World of Warcraft. In World of Warcraft, I want to get the quest done as quickly as possible...and I know I'm not alone, because I can see how many people are annoyed when quest mobs take forever to drop enough unicorn horns to complete the criterion. 

Shotgun Weddings Are So Romantic 

So put Diablo IIVX and World of Warcraft in a room and force them to breed. For science. It's ethical when it's for science.

I'm not literally saying that Blizzard should merge these two games. They're both established and separate. Shoehorning the one into the other would probably not work. However, I can dream of a game that combined the best elements of both.

You'd level up in a style of play like, such as, for instance, Diablo IIVX. Leveling is a grind and Diablo makes grinding fun. Check and check.

Then you reach level cap and you run some fancier scenarios, still in the Diablo IIVX style, but maybe requiring co-op play. Whatever, needing co-op play isn't an important detail to me. You run those for your pre-raid gear. 

Then you raid, all World of Warcraft style. And start Diabloing up an alt.

It doesn't have to be so cut-and-dried separate. Maybe you can also run dungeons, World of Warcraft style, while leveling up. As a break from the Diabloesque hacking and slashing, and to learn the fundaments of group play so that you're not confused when you begin raiding. Maybe the co-op play of the Diabloesque leveling process can include more "holy trinity" elements than Diablo IIVX has.

It's all negotiable. I'm just envisioning a game that largely allows the fun of Diablo grinding to replace the tedium of World of Warcraft grinding while not losing the excellent (in my opinion) World of Warcraft end game. 

Conclusion, In Which I Realize I'm Not The Only Person On Earth

You may have noticed that my enthusing over what makes each game fun and/or tedious is a bit opinion-based. Not everyone would agree with me that World of Warcraft questing is boring and repetitive. Not everyone would like to replace the run-one-hundred-heroics-to-be-raid-ready process. Not everyone likes Diablo IIVXXXXL's playstyle. Not everyone wants to raid.

So, obviously, I'm creating a game for myself. The perfect game for me. I'm sure there's at least a small band of people who value things in each game as I do, so it would be a perfect game for me and those people. How large that group of people is, I don't know. Maybe one day, though, we'll get this game. And, hopefully, the people who like completely different things will get the game they like.

And maybe it'll be the same uber-game that all of humanity plays when they're not eating cleverly-concealed human remains. Did I just blow your mind?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Taking Credit Where Credit Is Due

Just a quick post here, but back in March (do we even remember those heady, innocent days? Ah, we were all so young!) I penned this post: Priests Desperately Need Minors

That, of course, was my cheeky way of noting that we priests needed a bunch of cool cosmetic minor glyphs and pronto...we were falling behind in the stylistic arms race on the Mists of Pandaria beta.

Included in that list of suggestions was this little nugget:

Glyph of Vengeance

Spirit of Redemption is now a Spirit of Vengeance...instead of using the model of a graveyard angel for when you turn into a Spirit of Redemption, you gain the model of a val'kyr.

Fast forward to May (otherwise known as present day) and lo and behold, what is this new glyph? For those too lazy to mouse over the link, let me reproduce the text here:

Glyph of the Val'kyr

While Spirit of Redemption is active, you now appear as a Val'kyr.

Why, it's my glyph idea, with a less evocative name!

For those priests out there, main or alt, reading this: you're welcome. (In Mists, Spirit of Redemption is a baseline ability for holy priests, so every holy priest will have it.)

Did I just write an entire post for the express purpose of self-congratulation? I think I did!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dungeons Are Hard

Well, for some people. Like me. Other people breeze through them, but they represent a serious investment for me and, worst of all, the difficulty can never be nerfed (at least for as long as they are current content).

I don't mean performing my role in the dungeon. That was difficult at the start of the expansion when, as a healer, mana was tight and damage was reasonably high. However, now I overgear pretty much everything. And, really, even if I consider lower level dungeons on lower level alts, dungeons I don't necessarily overgear, I really never have much trouble playing my character. Dungeons aren't hard for me in that respect.

It's the social aspect that makes it hard, that makes it an investment that I have to weigh every time I queue. I'm not at all bad with people, in my daily life, in my personal life--even in my World of Warcraft life, with guildies and in-game friends. I wouldn't call myself socially awkward or anti-social. I get along with people, by and large.

However, in all those respects, the people are accountable to you in some respect. Even if it's as thin as the knowledge that the interaction is taking place with your real-life person, that's an accountability that puts quite a few limits on socially unacceptable behavior. In that setting, I'm fine with people. 

That, of course, is an overly-complicated way to introduce a pretty commonly-expressed sentiment that people given anonymity will (as a population) act quite a bit worse with respect to social mores.

Let me, though, start at a more general level before getting back to that.

Faking It

Even in "real life," I've become a pretty introverted person. In elementary school and junior high, I was a pretty introverted kid. I was the kid who took a book to school and spent recess sitting alone reading the book, because that's what I wanted to do. In high school, I was much more extroverted and friendly and that extended into college years. However, since then, it's been a slow descent back to introversion. Currently, my natural inclination is to keep to myself and avoid contact.

However, I avoid doing that at times. You can become a hermit, but it's not advisable. Some amount of socialization is healthy and you don't want to end up cut off from everyone. You don't want to be a dark presence in the company of friends, because then you'll be shunned.

So I force myself out of the automatic introversion and chat with people in an outwardly social manner. In fact, I'm so good at forcing myself to do this that people sometimes mistake me for outgoing. But I'm faking it!

This begs the question (and people have put the question to me directly), "What's the difference? How social one is is defined by how one interacts, so how can one plausibly define two identical results differently; one as real and one as fake?"

It's a good question, but I believe I have a good answer. 

The "bad answer" (by which I mean, the one with no explanatory value) is that it feels different. I know what it's like to want to interact and do it naturally and I know what it's like to do what I do today and they don't feel the same.

The better answer, from an explanatory standpoint, is the energy cost. Doing it naturally is effortless, because you enjoy doing it and it's the instinctive action. Faking it, however, requires the mental and emotional exercise of forcing one's self out of one's comfort zone and therefore carries a much greater toll and costs more energy (while generating no combo points).

I can experience this dichotomy even now. I am actually quite naturally social with people I'm very comfortable with. With those people, it's natural and I can interact with them easily for a great deal of time. It costs little, so it takes a long time to become mentally/emotionally exhausted. However, with strangers or casual acquaintances, it's forced and that costs a lot more energy per minute. Doing this exhausts me (again, on a mental/emotional axis) much more quickly.

I'm good at faking it, but my endurance isn't great in this mode. I can seem very social and chatty, but my clock is counting down rapidly.

Was This About World Of Warcraft Or Something?

I was just getting back to that, actually! I "recently" (end of November or so) switched guilds. I was joining the guild of a long-time friend, and several other friends were joining at the same time, but that still meant most people in the guild were new to me. I was leaving a guild of people I had known long enough to be quite comfortable with (including a good friend there, too).

For the first few months, I was faking it. On guild line, in vent, in raid chat...I didn't want to maintain a sullen silence, because no one likes sullen silence, right? I wanted to know the people I'd be spending so much time with per week, but I wanted them to know me, too. I consider myself reasonably interesting and occasionally funny, so I wanted people to know that. So I chatted on all those lines and made my little jokes and banter. It was tiring, though. Not tiresome, but tiring. The raiding was the easy part, the pretending-to-be-what-I-could-eventually-be-once-I-came-to-know-them-better was the part that taxed me. (Also taxing? Reading that hyphenated abomination I just created in the previous sentence.)

It's easier now, as I know them all better and they probably know me somewhat better. I no longer feel like the newcomer with no defined personality. Mission accomplished, but it came with effort.

So, this gets me back to where I started: dungeons are hard. A behavior of mine that I didn't really understand until I began to think about it in these terms now comes clear. Generally when I queue for dungeons, I queue for several in a row. Sometimes, a bunch in a row. There are times when I just want to run some dungeons, for the experience to level up or for gear.

What often ends up happening is that I run the dungeon, it goes well with no conflict and someone re-queues the group once it's finished. I'll watch one person after another re-queue as I hesitate, trying to decide if I will. And then, after saying something cheerful like "Good group, thanks!" I'll drop party and manually re-queue.

That, at face value, simply doesn't make sense, in my opinion. As I noted above, this happens when the run was smooth (so everyone was generally competent at their job) and there wasn't any conflict. I still want to run more dungeons. Why, then, would I turn down an instant queue with a perfectly reasonable group (the kind of group I'll hope to get in my next queue)?

The answer, now I realize, is simply that the social pressure got tiring. Even though I'll still be dealing with strangers in the next run, it'll be a new set of strangers. I can start over...I don't have to keep "being a person" with the same set of people. It sounds pretty strange and I'm probably explaining it with language poorly, but the longer the time spent with a group of people I don't know, where at any moment I may be called upon to interact, the more the toll. Re-queuing feels like a chance to recharge. Even as a healer (I'm usually a healer), my queues are generally not completely instant...more in the 1-5 minute range. That proves to be a nice mental/emotional recharge period. Plus, I get a new group of people. That does help ratchet down how much energy it feels like I've spent, since I'm not trying to extend the time of being nice or interesting or whatever with a group of people, I'm starting it from scratch.

Hopefully, the above paragraph made sense. It makes sense to me, because I know what I mean. Reading it over, I can see how it might not make sense to someone not already familiar with what I mean.

When you add in the knowledge that anyone in the party could be a griefer or that the first adversity (or any random event, really, from your point of view) could turn one or more people into raging jerks, that adds to the cost. The energy isn't only spent when I say something or when someone else says something. Some of the cost is just the presence of other people and that cost goes up when you have no reasonable expectation of what those people will say or do.

That is what makes dungeons hard and an investment. Each queue, I have to decide how much energy I have left for faking it. Depending on what else I've done during the day, I have more or less desire to spend that energy. Running a dungeon with friends substantially reduces the energy cost (indeed, reduces it to about 0, if I'm running with 3-4 other friends). Raiding with friends and guildmembers is about 0 in energy cost.

Running a dungeon with a PUG is costly, though. And until I can solo it, that cost can't be reduced by much of anything Blizzard does.