Category Archives: Story, Lore & Atmosphere

The Day Azeroth Stood Still

As you may or may not have guessed, I am not playing WoW any longer. For a while, I was pondering how to write this post, it felt like it needs to be an impossibly long post, not bashing, but pointing out bit by bit why the game lost its appeal for me, as well as incorporating references and commentary on statements of other bloggers. Indeed, I could probably write a very convincing leaving-WoW post simply by quoting countless posts by Klepsacovic, who analysed everything that he felt was going wrong with WoW for months before (and after) calling it quits; I could quote Melmoth, Syl, Tessy, Larisa and probably many others. It has all been said, really, but I’d equally like to explain my personal view, my personal disconnect with the current state and direction of the game, my personal preferences and objections. And I may well do that still, but in more bite-sized discussions of several aspects, because, as Klepsacovic wrote, it is not one particular change that “ruined the game”, it’s the sum of many small things that accumulated and made us stop caring. But not today.

Today, I am going to tell you about the moment when I realised that my days in Azeroth are counted. It was a Thursday in early March. I logged on and found myself standing in the middle of Stormwind, next to a vendor. Which meant that on the day before, I logged off in the middle of Stormwind, next to a vendor. On that Wednesday, I came home very late and very tired, and just wanted to immerse myself into Azeroth a little, before going to bed. I did my Tol Barad dailies, hit “Exalted”, bought the trinket and started to torture my tired brain with how to reforge. All my items were reforged, the optimal combination (hitting the expertise cap on the point) determined by myself, not by some Mr.Robot script, which likes to suggest you get rid of half your expertise, because who needs expertise after all, and getting an upgrade meant doing all the calculations again. I sighed, tabbed out and started writing a program to calculate it for me. Given the hour and the degree of tiredness, I failed. On the next day, with a fresh mind, I analysed the problem again, figured out an algorithm that would work, implemented it, tested it, let it calculate the perfect reforging (again precisely hitting the cap) and was rather proud of myself.

And then, in the evening, I logged in to find myself standing in the middle of Stormwind, next to a vendor. No, I wasn’t AFK’d while tabbed out and programming. I did, when I realised I’m too tired to achieve anything, tab back in, say goodnight .. and then I logged out where I was standing. That’s the thing. You see, I never before just logged out where I was standing. Never. Not unless I was in some sudden and unexpected hurry. In any game, I was always very “aware” of this being my character, my avatar in the virtual world, of the whole “what would be a reasonable thing to do” aspect. Doesn’t mean I’d log out in a carefully prepared bed after putting on my pyjama, not at all. But regardless of whether it’d be in a player-house, an inn, a city, a village, at a camp or a lake, there was always this bit of awareness present, “this is the spot where I log out, where my character will wait for my return, and logging out here makes some sort of sense“.

Until that Thursday in early March when I logged on to find that I had logged out in a random spot. I didn’t tell anyone, because it rather scared me, because I didn’t want it to be true. But this was the exact point when I realised that it doesn’t matter anymore whether the next patch is going to buff Raging Blow or nerf Mastery, whether T12 raid will be released before we manage to clear T11 or not, even whether people will finally start to reliably show up for raids or not. It didn’t matter anymore, because deep down, I stopped caring about the game, about the world, stopped being able to see it as anything but a set of numbers that grow, shrink and cancel each other out. Games, a wise person once said, are just databases with pretty interfaces. It is, I shall add, all about how well that interface is presented and how skilfully it hides what’s beyond it.

It was The Day Azeroth Stood Still, and if you follow that analogy further, it makes sense that it’s not the day when something specifically went wrong, but the moment when all things accumulated from the past caught up and disassembled the World of Warcraft around me.

What does it mean for this blog? Nothing, really. This blog has always been about my gaming adventures, and those are not likely to come to a stop. I’ll continue writing – about RIFT, about WoW (because it is a fascinating specimen of a game that warrants analysis – that’s analysis, not angry bashing) and about whatever else may be on my mind. Keep coming back, you’re always welcome, but remember: Do Not Try This At Home 😀

It’s not the boars, it’s the bores

From a recent discussion about MMO-design:

I’m tired that being a hero means killing 10 boars.

The boars are not the problem, nor is killing them (except when they parry). The problem is the lack of a credible context.

Reason

Why do we kill boars? Because an NPC asked us to. It is not our goal, it is not something that we, by looking at the world in its whole and parts, decide that needs to be done, it does not even remotely contribute or assist any of our goals or things we think need to be done. We have no desire to kill the boar. It is only the NPC’s desire or goal, and they reward us for advancing their agenda by handing us XP, coin and loot, all of which only serves to help us get to the next NPC, who will then recruit us for their goals.

I had this thing in LotRO that my character particularly despised orcs (no, they didn’t kill his parents). He’d be vanquishing them wherever he encountered them due to personal motivation. It worked quite well, but was of course just a little personal gimmick, not a feature of the game itself.

WoW has a very interesting example in Sholozar Basin, where Frenzyheart and Oracles are basically acting as boars and farmers, each asking you to kill and/or annoy the respective other on a repeated daily basis. As a player, you could not care less. Your character could not care less. You just pick the faction with the cuter pet – or ignore them altogether.

Effect

There is none. And I’m not even talking about having an impact on the world, real or faked through phasing. There is no effect on the player. Because the slaying of the boars was not motivated by my own reasoning or desire, their death means ultimately nothing (harsh). Whether they respawn, or whether we are moved into a phase where all boars are dead after we killed our precisely measured amount of 10 (and where we cannot adventure with those of our friends who have not yet slain 10 boars), doesn’t make a difference. It could be either way, and it will have no impact, not on the world, but on us, because we’ll move on anyway and whether the boars are there or not will be entirely irrelevant to our future doings.

As long as we are doing what NPCs ask us to do and for no other reason than the reward the NPCs hand us for complying to their will, rather than making decisions based on our own observations and motivations and taking actions according to those decisions, everything we’ll do will carry an inevitable shade of blandness.

Ordinary nothing

Last night (more like “this morning”, the conversation went on for quite a while) we logged out on the rings above the Violet Citadel. We’ve been briefly talking about how from great height, Dalaran looks just like the curious busy city it is supposed to be – you can’t see people exchanging inappropriate remarks in /s and /y, no mammoths dancing on mailboxes, only the “big picture”.

Today I logged into the game and…

[20:34] Carilyn gasps at you.

A Blood-Elf was sat there, quietly watching over the world. We exchanged a few generic friendly emotes and then, as the rings are apparently “part of Dalaran” and you can’t invoke your flying mount up there, I hearthed down to the inn. First thing I read in chat?

[20:36] [Y] Holycrystals: lol

*sigh*

Realisation strikes .. with a hammer

Ever wondered what those pretty bugs you occasionally see around the Argent Coliseum are supposed to be there for? I did! So did my favourite druid (attention – new forest! Update your pathmarks). Every time we’d be there and one of these creatures would cross the area only to disappear under one of the buildings, we’d exchange curious remarks in chat or on Vent. What are they? Why aren’t they even targetable?

There I was yesterday, running The Room of the Crusader. It was going very smoothly, we got to the last boss without incidents. One of our raiders had to AFK briefly, I was done outlining the tactics (and people who know the fight better than me were done correcting my mistakes – thank you guys!), so we were all just standing around for a few minutes, mentally preparing for the fight ahead. I was gazing around the cave. My eyes stopped on one of the scarabs, non-aggressive at that point. “Hmm,” I thought, “he looks remarkably like…”

And then my mind wandered back to maybe 10 minutes earlier.

The Lich King yells: The Nerubians built an empire beneath the frozen wastes of Northrend. An empire that you so foolishly built your structures upon. MY EMPIRE.

Structures. Coliseum. Passive bug here … non-targetable bug there … oh … OH!

Subtle, Blizzard, very subtle. Consider my hat taken off to you.

Why you should watch the Fall of the Lich King cinematic

Well, first of all, you don’t have to. It is, obviously, your choice. I’m just here to tell you that you have no reason not to. And no worries, it won’t contain spoilers.

So, Rem, do you read the ends of books ahead of time, too? Well, no. But World of Warcraft is not a book. It’s not even a film. It’s a game. And the purpose of a game is not so much telling you a story, as letting you take part in a story. Yes, I hear you shouting that you care a lot about the game’s story. Your claim may be more or less justified by how much or little you actually learned about the background and history of the game so far, but I hear you in either case. That’s exactly the point. You should watch the cinematic because you care about the story, not despite. Confused? Let me explain.

Like I said, the purpose of a game is letting you take part in a story. Consequently, the point at which you will be automatically confronted with the cinematic is tied to your in-game actions. To be more precise, to your defeating the Lich King for the first time. This is an event that may never take place. Despite all the ramblings about how “easy” the game is, it’s not all that easy in fact. There is no telling at this point in time if you (or me) will actually be good enough to defeat the Lich King. I’m not saying you (or me) won’t, I’m only saying the information is not available yet. Unless you’ve already done it. In which case you’ve already seen the cinematic. In which case .. uh .. this whole argument is not aimed at you anyway. Right, talk about trolling oneself. Where was I.

Let’s assume you are good enough (and me too, yay!), because that’s the more interesting thing to assume anyway. Allow me to describe the probable course of events. Allow me to attempt to immerse you into the atmosphere of the moment. The tension of the final sequence of the hardest boss fight in the game. Someone will be shouting “10% … 5 … 3”, someone else countering “30 seconds to enrage … 20 … 10 … COME ON, GIVE HIM ALL YOU HAVE!”, and then, with the last bit of mana, health, energy, rage and pure will, he will fall and Vent will erupt in cheers, cries and yells, while you’ll be fist pumping and/or doing a little dance (as well as cheering, crying and yelling). There will also be some cinematic playing in the background. You think you’ll care, at that moment?

Besides, it’s not really like you’re actually jumping in the story arc. The story is technically already told. It’s a long story, which started all the way back in WC3 and is rooted in even older events. But now it is at its end. Did you do the Wrathgate questline, the Matthias Lehner questline and the ICC questline? Then you do not need to flip forward to the last page. You are on the last page. That the Lich King will be defeated is not a spoiler, it’s a rule of the genre. The story is told. The rest are details. You may, of course, defer reading the last page until you personally reach a certain milestone. Keep in mind though that when you do, you’ll go out to party and drink. And when you return and sit down to re-read what you half missed, you may feel it’s not quite as spectacular as reaching the milestone itself was.

Of course, this is not quite true. There are still a couple of blank pages between where you are now and the last page (i.e. the cinematic). But those will remain mostly blank. This is the place where, once again “take part” comes into play. This space will be filled with your adventures, with your personal path to the goal. It is a story no one else will write. More importantly, it is a story that is going to be better than what anyone else will write. It will be more exciting and more epic, because it will be yours. If it wasn’t, if, instead, a 4 minute cinematic, no matter how atmospheric and well done it is, was better than anything you experience on the way to it, then, frankly, we’d all have wasted our time.

Don’t save the cinematic as “the best thing for last”, because it is not the best thing. Don’t see it as a climax, because it’s not. The climax, the best thing will be how you and your peers will carve their way to that ultimate battle and how everyone will do their very best to prevail in it. You should watch the Fall of the Lich King cinematic, because it is merely an appetiser for the hopefully even better things that lie ahead on your path.

The quest to end all quests

The upcoming (NA/EU) release of Aion once again sparkles musings about cultural differences in Western and Eastern gaming habits. At the centre of it, as a reoccurring theme, are quests. The Asian MMOs are typically referred to as “grind-fests”, while the Western are .. well .. what? Quest-fests?

Two bits of reading got me thinking. First, there was Eurogamer comparing the (claimed) numbers of quests in Aion and WoW.

But times have moved on, and in this day and age – after the deft pacing and storytelling expertise shown by Lord of the Rings Online and Wrath of the Lich King – simply having quests in the first place isn’t enough. And while NCsoft’s claimed total of 1500 quests may sound like a lot, we learned from former WOW lead Jeff Kaplan today that World of Warcraft had some 2600 at launch, and now has over 7600. With a strict division in questing between the two playable races, it will have to be a fairly compact world and short levelling curve for these to fill it out.

So far so good. Let’s keep that notion in mind for later reuse. Then there was Keen “Comparing Aion vs. WAR” and stating the following:

I don’t LIKE questing. I feel that it is overused, simplistic, mind-numbing, and a shortcut.

Huh. Now that came out unexpected. And the first thought is probably “eh, dude, sure you’re playing the right genre?” Because MMOs/RPGs/MMORPGs are all about questing … or are they? Let’s spend a second thought and ask ourselves, what it is that seems to make questing desirable for us. For the sake of an argument, let’s split up the players in three categories. And before you come after me with torches and pitchforks, yes, I am fully aware and taking into account, that a single player well might represent any weighted combination of the three, as well as switch between any imaginable weighted combinations within the course of one gaming session. That’s not the point. We’ll get to the point, bear with me for a moment. So, the players.

The Endgamer. He wants to reach the level-cap, because that’s where the game truly begins for him. For him, the levelling curve is just a progressing tutorial. As far as he’s concerned, quests yield good and easy XP, getting him that next level and edging him one step closer to the content he’s actually aiming for. Don’t expect him to soak up the quest background, because he honestly doesn’t care. He’s certainly pleased by playing in a nicely designed and rendered environment, but why he’s doing what he’s doing isn’t of interest for him.

The Altoholic. He has 3 level-cap characters and 5 others in the making. But he’s not doing it for the sake of the content, he’s doing it out of curiosity for the class mechanics. Much like the endgamer, the altoholic gratefully accepts every extra XP he can get, because every next level unlocks more class-specific goodies he’s being after. Finding out how exactly to infiltrate the troll hideout won’t get him excited, because he did it before. Like, 5 times, on his other characters. And another 10 times to help his altoholic friends.

The Explorer. Now things get interesting. Because this guy actually cares about the world as such, wants to soak up its atmosphere and enjoy the trip itself. He’s prone to reading quest dialogues and going after unorthodox quests, even though they might take him more time. He’ll stop and look when he sees the sun set, the moon rise, the rain drop, the sea .. uh .. swash? He’ll sidetrack and go explore a mysterious cave, just because it’s mysterious and a cave.

I’d say this roughly covers it. Again, I’m fully aware, that gamers are usually “hybrids” of those, and switch their degree of hybridazation with an arbitrary frequency. That’s not the point. The point is, that questing in its current form isn’t really a fantastic experience for either of them. But, hey, what about the explorer types? I think, for them it’s actually the most disappointing.

And here we get back to the first quote. See, it’s the mass. The sheer amount. There’s no good having 7600 quests, when 7500 of those are just identical copies of each other, delivering you the Reason Of The Day why to go and kill baddies in this particular area. The true and massive caveat is, that you cannot possibly develop any sense of involvement or dedication to Task #1829. There’s no point in reading all the quest text, because your mind won’t be able to store – and, more importantly, distinguish between – all the countless quest texts you read. So, you just scan over it, picking up keywords and/or just scroll down straight to the “objectives”. Or don’t even bother with that and hit “accept”, because QuestHelper will figure that out for you.

I fancy myself an endgamer-explorer hybrid. I love endgame, but I also love the world I’m gaming in. I love to love it. So I try to read some of the stuff thrown at me, but, in the long run, I fail. My memory is just incapable of actively keeping track of all the tasks these 8 NPCs just imposed on me. I got a rough sense that Gadgetzan is generally concerned with its water supply, which makes sense with it being in a desert, and serves nicely to, well, point out that it’s being in a desert. But beyond that? No idea. I just go out and hit stuff, basically. Luckily, I love doing that, too (very much so).

I am sure there are well written, meaningful, out-of-the-box quests. In know, in fact, there are. But the even bigger crime is, that you have a really, really hard time spotting those under the endless heap of kill-rats. Since you’ve been conditioned to at best scan over the text, in the rare case when it contains something actually worth reading, you just won’t know.

Which brings us back to what a quest should actually be – namely what the word actually means, in its classic meaning. Setting out on a quest (mind you, one quest, singular) used to mean pursuing some extraordinary enterprise. It meant you’d go on an adventure, search for places, people, hints and items, fight villains, solve riddles, make decisions to achieve a goal you might not even be fully aware of when you started. And when it would be over, you’d look back at your quest and say, wow, that was quite something I did there. What we have instead at present, is all of the aforementioned tasks split up in separate and, at best, loosely connected, well .. tasks! Feel the emotional difference between “quest” and “task”? Because what we’re doing in the game now, are no quests – it’s just tasks.

WoW surely has a lot of quests. And at times, it feels like they’re all out to get me. I’m running to the forge in Stormwind, and I see this exclamation mark popping up, and I’m trying not to look at it, because my quest log is full, and it’s probably for an area I had no immediate plans to go to, and will be greyed out by the time I do. I’m just trying not to think too much about those probably 70% of the content I’m just passing on, because the other 30% are more than enough to get me through the level progression. Hey, I’m telling myself, it’s probably just another meaningless errand. Of course it might also be the most exciting quest chain ever written, and I’ll never know, unless someone explicitly points me at it (and I probably will have outlevelled it by the time I could get around to do it).

Yet we cling to our quests. Why? For the same reason we fear those Asian MMOs. The grind. The evil word of terror. We don’t want to be sentenced to have to kill millions of rats and boars for our level-up. But what does this effectively mean? It means, that when we chew through quests barely reading them (and, be honest, we do!), all they do for us is XP-amplifying. Instead of just getting 500 XP from killing 10 boars, we get an additional 5000 on top of that! It just speeds things up by giving us additional candy for doing specific things at a specific time.

Caveat to this: quests discourage exploration! I read this somewhere, but forgot where, thus no link, but it makes perfect sense for the way I play. When you enter a new area, what’s your first thought? Mine is “let’s see what’s around here”, run around and just see what’s where. When you see a cave, or a castle, or something of that sort, what do you think? I think “let’s go in there and clear it completely!” But then, I will remind myself, that I’ll most probably get a quest to go just there and kill the same mobs … again. So, instead of looking for adventure, I first look for the quest-hub. Because these are the rules of the game, and if I don’t play by them, I don’t receive the candy. That doesn’t stop the process from being a grind, it just makes me grind quests, rather than mobs.

So, what are the alternatives to this system?

Age of Conan has the Destiny quest-chain, which starts at character creation and runs through to level 80. It is supposed to be your quest, you know, the one with adventure, decisions and dragon slaying. While the idea is not a bad one, it’s basically implemented as a single-player campaign. And it’s not the solo-aspect (in fact, I have no idea if later stages might even involve grouping) I’m criticizing. But its entire plot focuses around you being such a special snowflake, a unique individual in possession of a unique artefact who should uniquely change the course of history. Hey, newsflash, this is an MMO, and there’s lots of other snowflakes running around. It’s a freakin’ snowstorm! Besides, for such a supposedly personal experience, there’s a stunning lack of interactivity, as in decision making. While you have to click your way through intricate dialogues (just as you have to acquire the quest to kill 10 rats…), your choice always boils down to being railroaded to your “destiny”, or standing around with nothing to do. Plus, it’s only one quest-chain. And while the entire point of this article is advocating “less is more”, I didn’t mean just one. One you don’t even get to choose! Gah.

Aion has two sorts of errands: quests and missions. Quests are supposed to be the regular daily stuff, the boar and rat killing, while missions are designed to be more, well, epic. So, you see, we went from “tasks and quests” to “quests and missions”, because the word quest was devalued so much over time. It’s an interesting take, maybe reminiscent of LotRO‘s division in regular and book-quests. I reserve judgement until I get to experience it myself.

What I will do instead, is pick it up from there and go a step further to suggest Rem’s Quest System. We start with Aion’s quests and missions pattern. First, we take the quests … and throw them away. Out the window. And don’t even look to see where they land. We don’t care. Once we’ve rid ourselves of those, we can rename missions into quests again. Or into Amazing Adventures. Now comes the trick: we tell our content department (we still have one, we didn’t throw them out the window with the “quests”!) to sit down, take their time, and really turn those amazing adventures into what the name suggests they should be. From 7600 quests 7500 of which are just copy-and-paste crap, we go to just 100, which are brilliant pieces of gameplay mechanics and storytelling. Hire actual writers. Play with everything your game engine has to offer. Pull all stops. Have them be few, but meaningful and exciting, such that when a player finishes one of those, he feels like sitting down and writing a book himself about his amazing adventure and his (and his friends’) way of solving the challenges thrown at him (them). High quality instead of meaningless quantity.

But what about those “quests”? They’re gone. And they’re not coming back. Never again will any douchebag be asking you to go fetch him 5 Flawed Boar Hides. Does that mean back to endless mob-grind outside of the amazing adventures? No, of course not. I still have a trick up my sleeve, and here it comes.

So, you go out into the wilderness and see this .. uhm .. boar. It’s an evil boar, so you kill it. And then you loot it. Familiar so far? Okay, here comes tweak one: no trash loot. Trash loot is called trash loot, because it’s just that: trash. Stuff no one in the game needs for anything. And since it’s useless, why should you even be picking it up? Obviously, because the NPCs are struck by some curse forcing them to purchase endless amounts of diseased rat livers from the player. Occam’s Razor says: out with it! If you can pick it up, it has to have some use – if it doesn’t have any use, you wouldn’t want to pick it up in the first place. But where do we get our steady money flow from, are we being forced into even more grind? Not at all, be patient and read on.

So, you loot this boar. You acquire this meaty looking shank and that solid peace of his hide. Or not. Same system as before, only, with the added rule, that if you can loot it, it’s somehow useful. You adventure for a while, gather this and that – like that very special flowers you can only pick up when you have the quest to do so, but which are invisible otherwise – and then, at some point, come across a village. Huh!

If you’re looking for exclamation marks now, forget it, they’re gone, live with it. What you do instead, is walk up to, say, the provisioner and “ask” him what the village needs. Hurray, they need boar shanks (who would have thought), and you just so happen to carry 9 of those in your bags! So, what you do is, basically, just barter. You give him 1 boar shank, and he gives you 250 XP and 20 silver. Bring more, get more. Now off to the tailor and see if he has some demand for those hides. You can go from here and construct an economical model with supply and demand, or you can just leave it at infinite demand. I’d go with the latter option – it’s a game, not a simulation.

Next you go to the sheriff (whatever) and he complains about brigands. No intricate stolen-ponies-story, we’re not in amazing adventure mode. Just brigands. Occam’s Razor. This is the point where you say (because the game kept track of it), that you assaulted their nearby hideout and slew 17 of them, including a semi-chief-brigand-dude. The sheriff breaks out in celebration and rewards you with 17*500 XP and 17*40 silver (uhm, throw in some bonus for the semi-chief-dude in there somewhere). How would he know I’m not making things up? Well, how do the current NPCs know I actually went out and killed those they wanted me to kill, rather than just walk around the corner, come back and say “done”? Same magic applies. Oh, and for those cases when I have to bring back someone’s severed head as proof, let’s just say, when I vanquished that brigand, I noticed him wearing an intriguing badge and took it with me. Collecting tiger claws because they look special to be used as a latter proof of fighting the .. tiger plague. Again, everything you can pick up, has a purpose. And players are basically willing to suspend any disbelief if they get fun in return. Note how realism discussions only ever appear to confront aspects that are not fun.

So, you just earned your quest XP and your quest reward money (as well as the trash loot money). Feel free to go out and do it again to earn more at the same rate, or to venture into new lands to discover more boars, brigands and villages. Oh, but what with the quest reward items? The awesome Ring of Sparkly Bling, are we taking that away? Of course not. And this part is ridiculously easy, really. Obviously, when you help a village out by providing them materials and fighting their foes, your standing with them will improve. You know, same way it does now. Remember the tales when a hero would save a city and then ride away clad in armour they gave him as thanks? Yeah, like that. You can make reputation a condition or even a currency in itself. Both systems work and have their pros and cons.

So, are we turning the entire game into one huge reputation grind? Well, yes and no. Yes, because .. well, we do. No, because there’s nothing inherently bad about it. Or even any different from the questing as it is now – we just remove the “acquire task before being able to accomplish it” restriction and scale the rewards more transparently. Reputation only has a bad .. uhm .. reputation, because it’s frequently used to stretch out the existing content beyond the actual .. uhm .. content. You know what I mean. It’s a long article and my brain is slowly running out of words. Anyway. If you build it right into the process of adventuring, make it as foundational and natural as XP and money, well, what’s bad about it then?

And that’s it. We remove the pretension of “quests” where they are just placeholders for trivial and mundane task, and turn them into barter systems, with the additional benefit of being able to do the deed before being tasked to. In return, we keep those really meaningful quests and build them into epic adventures people will want to do for their own sake, and not just the rewards.

The Curse of Winning

How awesome would that be!?

And it invariably reminds me of something that was on my mind often during the later stages of LotRO already. It seems apparent, that most MMOs are bound to suffer from the Curse of Winning. Allow me to elaborate.

When an MMO sets up the playing field, it will usually use the most simple and effective storytelling tools to get you involved: you’ll be made an underdog, and there will be some overwhelming threat to create a sense of urgency. This set-up may be sort-of original (WoW, Warhammer Online) or licensed from different media (AoC, LotRO). In the beginning, it works out quite well – you’re a low level character and everything around is new, big and threatening.

Then you level up, get into gear, get a clue, learn your skills, get your talents. And keep beating the crap out of everything in your path (hey, that’s the whole idea). And then you reach the famous “endgame” and go raid (depending on your preferred play style, you might, of course, not). There you are met with considerable challenge. Yet, challenge, in compliance with unwritten rules of the genre, has to be surmountable. And so you win. And then you win again. And with every dragon you kill, with every demon you vanquish (and with every time it becomes easier and more of a second nature), it becomes harder and harder to feel that sense of danger the background story is still suggesting for you to have.

What to do? Well, as the linked article is suggesting, it’s probably time for the creative heads behind our favourite games to start thinking about how to make us lose from time to time. To make those wins count more again.

Taking it even further than the linked article, I’d like to point out, that a deterministic scripted loss isn’t that much different from a regular win anyway. In the suggested scenario, the “loss” is triggered when the boss reaches 1% health. Well, that doesn’t change much. Actually, it makes things even easier – you’d usually have to bring it down to 0%, after all! I understand it’s mostly meant to just shake up the story, but let’s take it to the gameplay as well.

My rough suggestion: let’s base it off the Balrog’s “last 12k” phase. In other words, a climatic finish to a fight, with significantly increased difficulty factor, that requires everyone, tanks, healers and DPS alike, to make a full-out push to drive it home. As an aside, and stating the obvious, that’s why the Balrog fight never got boring, ever – no matter how far in you got, you always knew the biggest challenge will be during the last 10 seconds. However. Let’s say, that once you get to and into that phase, the encounter will “finish”, no matter what. If you kill the ‘Rog and the Elf chick stays alive – great, you get your loot, you get your locks. If the Elf chick dies (or you wipe, which will invariably get the Elf chick killed as well), then she’s dead, the Balrog roars in triumph and flies (runs?) away, freed and ready to torture the world – however, you still get your locks and your loot (maybe from a slightly weaker loot table – but not even necessarily). That way you can actually complete an encounter with a loss – still getting your winnings out of it, yet a lack of satisfaction attached. And best of all, the outcome depends on your performance, not a script. When you come back next week, you’ll want revenge, and you’ll always know, that this guy can actually kick your behind, as opposed to the usual “we play the game until I win” pattern.