Monday, October 07, 2013

It's in the game.

So, my main character in World of Warcraft is a blood elf hunter. Blood elves are the elves on the side of the Horde, and the Horde is the side in the game whose architecture features lots of spikes and skulls. In true Po-Mo fashion, however, the Horde has this whole Klingon stoic virtue thing going on, while the other side, the Alliance, composed of all the standard fantasy "good guy" races, is full of the evils of everything from feudalism to capitalism. It's best to disengage your political brain from the proceedings.

Anyway, in addition to your character's main "class" (your usual fighter-wizard-cleric-thief tropes are all present and accounted for) you can also learn two side "professions": everything from tailoring to blacksmithing to herbalism to the inscription of magic scrolls can be learned as a side profession. You can gather or buy raw materials and increase your ability to make ever more complex and valuable things which you can sell in an auction house in-game for imaginary money.

For my first WoW character I decided to be pragmatic and picked skinning and leatherworking. That way as I encountered various critters as my character progressed through the game world, I could skin them and then make salable belts and boots and armor bits from the hides. This seemed clever. The problem is that I forgot to keep up with my side professions as I adventured my way through the game, and wound up with a potent level 90 (that's good, btw) hunter who had a hard time gutting a squirrel and making a coin purse from the skin.

The solution? A thing called "power leveling". In my spare time I journeyed through lower-level areas of the game where I had already been and did all the industrious little chores I should have been doing all along, except on the industrial scale made possible by the disparity between my character's level and the low-level surroundings.

Many small groups of lower level characters saw a figure like a Molly Hatchet album cover swoop out of the sky riding a skeletal dragon, hop off and mow down a veldt's worth of wildlife in quantities that would make a party of railroad buffalo skinners blush, set to skinning it all, and then swoop back off into the sky again without so much as waving hello.

So, I'm out doing this in a part of the map that is styled like some fantasy-world version of Egypt, following the forested area along a river through the desert and killing & skinning every gazelle and hexapod crocodile I run across. And I cut loose at a croc with an attack called "glaive toss", where your hunter boomerangs a pair of big spinny blades at the target. The blades arc out, intersect at the croc which flops belly-up, and return to my character's hands. I run over, loot and skin the dead croc, and as it fades out, I see this...

One of the little "eep frogs" that infest the area apparently caught peripheral damage from my glaive toss or my pet core hound's fiery breath and was lying there, er, "croaked" under the dead croc's carcass. You can't skin the eep frogs. You don't get any benefit from killing them, or any penalty; they're just like the butterflies or the little snakes in the desert or the mice in the towns, scenery to add a bit of prettiness and verisimilitude.

Now, I've been going through this place like a platoon of seal-clubbers run amok, damaging the ecosystem with a single-minded intensity that you'd need to wreck a dozen oil-tankers to duplicate, but I suddenly felt bad about accidentally "killing" the little imaginary frog-shaped blob of pixels on my screen. Bad enough that I snapped a screen shot...

And that's when the game designers can pat themselves on the back, because they managed to get the player good and immersed there. Good job, Blizzard. I haven't had that "in the game" feeling since I tipped my head to the side to look under a stall door on my screen while rooting terrorists out of a bathroom in a missile silo in Rogue Spear all those years ago.

17 comments:

Phssthpok said...

ZOMG!

You killed the FedEx FROG!

Tam said...

[wails]I KNOW![/wails]

Mike_C said...

"I tipped my head to the side to look under a stall door on my screen while rooting terrorists out of a bathroom"

I can empathize. In high school driver's ed they showed a "driving simulation" film (you were supposed to wrestle with a mock steering wheel -- along with the other two dozen saps in your class, each behind their very own useless toy steering wheel) where the hood abruptly popped up, obscuring your view. I instantly scrunched down in my seat (well, desk chair) and tipped my head trying to look through the gap under the hood. I remember being kind of embarrassed that I did that (cause that'll totally change the camera angle and all), but at least I wasn't the one who shrieked.

FedEX frog? Had to look that up. Gotta pay more attention to advertising, popular culture and all. You know those old WW1 movies where the German infiltrator pretending to be an American gets shot after voice challenge between the trenches because he didn't know who won the last world series? I'd be toast on that kind of stuff.

Tam said...

I have a serious soft spot for the FedEx frogs. :o

Anonymous said...

If you run around with the Sleepy Willie companion he'll occasionally blast critters with an eye-beam as an idle animation. I guess some really awful people have been known to stand around areas with lots of critters just to watch them get zapped.

Anonymous said...

If you want a companion for your froggy friend, they're on sale

http://www.bdasites.com/FedExCollection/Product/FEDX800101-00?cat=KIDS

Free-range Oyster said...

Blizzard seems to do that pretty well, especially in the last couple of years. The missus and I play together, and while I love lore and roleplay and the thrill of exploration, she's there purely to kill monsters and take their stuff. So it was quite a feat when she was working through the quests in Dread Wastes and reached the line "She looked like Li Li..." and got all choked up and misty-eyed.

On a separate tangent, I take it you're not going to attempt the Pest Control achievement now? :P

Steve Skubinna said...

The first game cartridge I got with my Atari 800 back in '82 was Frogger. I let a neighbor's kids play it one day and noticed that they were deliberately running the frog into cars and giggling maniacally at the "SPLAT!" sound and the road kill frisbee fading into a skull and crossbones.

Anonymous said...

I actually read that entire post........

Precisely why I am no longer allowing myself anywhere near anything like that. It's like digital crack!

iinteger said...

Been known to lure mobs way the hell out of range of any critters just to avoid casual murder. 'Course, one of my favourite time-wasters ingame is to beat seven kinds of hell out of said critters with my own team of pit-bred pets, so there's no real karma gain there.

@Anon: Willie is one of a few that'll annihilate anything its size that wanders too close... my personal favourite is the Creepy Crate, which will *Death Grip* critters in and then devour them Luggage-style. >:D

Anonymous said...

Kinda weird, this selectiveness, isn't it? Also, rather complicated because of learned behaviour due to conditioning from game mechanics.

Look up the "dickwolf debacle" that started from a rather observant comment on typical WoW-style quest behaviour.

global village idiot said...

Tam, I just bought you that FedEx frog - I couldn't NOT do it. Send me a text re: where to send it.

gvi

Lonewolfe31705 said...

Tam,

As a fellow WoW player, you seriously need to get that gear transmogged. Talk about walking around looking a wreck...

Also, it's a critter...they put them in the world to give us something to autoshot to death.

Stacy said...

In Guild Wars 2 there's an achievement called Ambient Killer, where you get points for killing the "little things." Bunnies, frogs, birds. I WON'T DO IT. You can't make me.

Mike_C said...

Okay, gotta admit that Bo the Enchanted Frog is kinda cute. But please tell me he is wearing a mushroom hat, and not suffering from a fungal condition that's going to take more than a tube of clotrimazole* to clear up.

*randomly selected antifungal; actually I have no idea what you'd give to someone with what looks like an Amanita muscaria growing out of his head. Last rites?


Erich505 said...

What a lovely post!

I have never played any of these things (just precisely the right age to miss it all), so I enjoyed the well-written tour for oldsters (chuckled out loud at the Molly Hatchet line - you can turn a phrase!) and flat-out guffawed at the screen shot.

And just loved the feel of the whole post. Why aren't you writing for the "review" section of the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal? Thanks for a great one!

cheers, erich

freddyboomboom said...

My favorite core hound to tame is The Kurken.

Core hounds: who doesn't love a two headed dog that breathes fire?