Tag Archives: Game Design

Flying – You can’t put the Genie back in the Bottle

Note – This is a rant. I get ranty. And the f-bomb gets dropped with increasing frequency as it goes on. You have been warned.


There are many things they have added to WoW over the years and then later taken out. Like attunements and reforging. There have been many arguments on if these decisions were good or not. But in the end, they don’t impact the current face of WoW terribly much.

This expansion’s argument though is different. Flying. Blizzard decided to not allow flight in Draenor. Not just while leveling, like they did in Wrath, but at all. So here we are, level 100 for 6+ months, and still stuck on the ground.

I hate it. I HATE not being able to fly. It is by far my BIGGEST gripe with Draenor – and that includes the horrible random nature of crafting. I’ve even mentioned it TWICE before in previous posts about WoD:

– No Flying. I haven’t done one bit of archeology or farming because oy is it HARD to get around Draenor. It’s very clear they wanted to gate and limit the player’s movement, but did they have to make it SO MUCH in every zone? It’s a very strong reason for why I don’t want to do these parts of the game. I don’t want to use a glider, I want to fly. Fiddly one off mechanics over a system wide ability I paid a great deal of gold for… yeah.

No flight at 100. I decided to go do the daily in Spires of Arak yesterday and it took me 20 minutes to find my way there. Once I got there (after dying from fall damage) I was greeted by a few HUNDRED people all trying to do the same daily. 20 minutes later, I gave up and went back to my garrison, with 10% of the daily complete. This is NOT how I want to spend an hour of my game time.

So now that Mr. Hazzikostas has implied there may not be flying in future expansions I have to raise my voice. Before, I grumbled, but didn’t write about it, because, well, it was different. And I did need to experience it. And I did need to PLAY it to judge. And honestly, I thought they would be patching it in at the end of the expansion. So now, despite the fact I know people don’t want to hear the griping anymore, I am fucking griping, because not being able to fly is BULLSHIT.

The Problems with No Flying:

First – it’s a COST we already paid. We bought flight for 5k. Then we paid 1k for it in Northrend. Then we paid 250g for it in Cataclysm. Then 2.5k for Pandaria. Some of us have paid this fucking cost over multiple characters. This is not a fucking insubstantial amount of gold. It was an investment in our character that is now fucking worthless.

Second – Flying mounts. There are at least a 100 flying mounts. These mounts look fucking stupid when waddling on the ground. Remember the Netherwing Rep grind? The Cloud Serpent Rep grind? How much time did we spend grinding rep to get flying mounts that are virtually useless now? To head off the arguments, I have a spectral tiger. I have a BAD ASS ground mount. My owning of that mount doesn’t mean I don’t ever want to fly on all the fucking flying mounts I earned and farmed up over the years.

Third – What a Long Strange Trips It’s Been. Really? I spent a FUCKING YEAR doing every single damn holiday, stupid fucking rng within fucking rng achievements, and my reward of super speed flight is what now? A complete FUCKING WASTE. Thank you Blizz, for respecting the time and energy I have sunk into your game. /sarcasm (who am I kidding this whole thing is dripping with sarcasm because apparently some idiot thinks it’s a good idea to not have flight!)

Fourth – Archeology. It’s a profession practically requiring the speed and ease of flying around the world to dig sites. I haven’t done it outside my garrison because it simply takes too damn much time to travel now. So I do it through the mine. I am sure the designer who came up with it is happy to know that their profession has been reduced to something done off hand while getting ore.

Fifth – it just makes the designers build annoying ass landscapes like Nagrand and Spires of Arak. The inflation of time for travel is just fucking annoying. There is no reason it should take me 15 minutes to go from my garrison to the raid. NONE. And I certainly shouldn’t be showing up with a huge group of mobs chasing me that are the equivalent of mosquitoes.

Sixth – It just makes it HARDER to get where we want to go. I am a RABID pet collector. I didn’t go get the wild pets in Draenor until about a month ago because it was too fucking annoying to ride around the zones to FIND them. Making things harder is not going to retain old players or bring in new ones. Path of least resistance is the player way, and sometimes that’s right the fuck out of your game.

Blizzard’s Solution: “We’ll work on flight paths!”

UM. DO YOU EVEN UNDERSTAND? We want to be DOING things in WoW, not waiting while our character travels.

The game’s gains for not having flying:

Hidden treasures? – They aren’t that cool guys. OH AND RIGHT, you already added Aviana’s Feather, and Gliders, and all kinds of other CRAP to get around that. Can we just use the mounts we fucking paid for?

Jumping Puzzles? – If I wanted to play a fucking platformer, I would fucking play Mario. I want to play WoW, but more than that, I want to play WoW MY way. And if that means ignoring the fucking jumping puzzles until i can fly, then I am gonna fucking do it.

Travel time – Because apparently there just isn’t enough crap in a game with 10 years of content – they are still artificially inflating the time people are playing.

“It makes it feel dangerous!” – Yeah except it doesn’t. Danger is when I am level 90 and running around Shadowmoon Valley. At 100, it’s just annoying and leads to me dragging 20 mobs and finally stopping and nuking them all down. I am sure the poor little player leveling over there didn’t need those mobs for his quest did he? It was totally a great idea for me to drag them across the zone and kill them all. I felt so in danger when my health dipped down to 90%.

More structured leveling experience – this is the ONLY excuse that makes any sense. But again – WHY does it have to continue past level cap? Just require level cap for learning flight. It was done in all of the previous expansions. Yeah, it makes getting rare treasures easier, but at 100, that’s pretty easy ANYWAY. Oh look at that! A simple solution! Gosh, if only you had fucking known it would work really well and mollify your players… OH WAIT. YOU DID. BECAUSE YOU HAVE DONE IT FOUR FUCKING TIMES BEFORE.


I get it. I am a level designer. I GET how flying makes it harder to design zones. But you know what? You can’t take it back now. Suck it up, deal with it, and spend the time to make it work. We paid for it. We collected mounts for it. We sunk hundreds of hours into getting it and making it better. You can’t put the fucking genie back into the fucking bottle, we already found our freedom.

Motion Sickness in Games

Eternal Darkness. Morrowind. Drakon the Ancient Gates. Oblivion. Half Life 2. Quake 4. Portal. WoW. Minecraft. Borderlands. Legend of Grimmrock 2.

What do all these games have in common?

I have vomited at some point while or directly after playing them. It’s worth noting, I never once vomited while pregnant. But I play Half Life 2 for 10 minutes and I am seeing my lunch again.

This has come up yet again because of WoW’s newest raid, Blackrock Foundry, and one of the fights is pretty awful.

I am a bit surprised it’s just coming up now, because for me at least, Grimrail Depot was far worse. Both fights have moving things, generally at a high speed, while the player needs to move or stay stationary. The problem occurs in that the player’s brain is immersed to the point they FEEL like they should be moving, but they aren’t, so everything gets a bit wonky.

In Grimrail, the specific problem is that the players are on a moving train. The developers added a screen “jostle” to sell the realism of being on a train. Then they have a section where the boxcar walls are lowered and there are canyon walls rushing by. But those walls have stripes on them, so the sensation of movement is very strong.

In the Hans and Frans fight, the floor moves, and the player has to run around dodging things while fighting against the conveyors.

“How does something like this get through?”

In my experience – it gets through because no one notices it. I have worked at 4 game companies, and only ONCE have I worked with someone else who got motion sick playing games. Occasionally a game will pop up that makes a large number of people motion sick, but they just adjust the fov and move on. (This is how I fixed Minecraft.) But for those of us that are sensitive to it, this is not going to solve our problems.

Game devs are generally, by definition, Gamers. They play tons of games. They have been playing games forever. (And if they don’t, like some artists, they don’t even play the games they make! But that’s another post entirely.) Much like riding on a boat, you get “sea legs” that makes you less likely to notice or be bothered by the motion sickness. You can acclimate. So by the time devs get to the point of working on massive games like WoW, they generally don’t get sick from it anymore.

“Okay, but I still feel like ralphing, how do I get around this without just skipping this fight?”

In a perfect world, Game Devs would contract a QA team to test and find things like – color blind issues, motion sickness, epilepsy, deafness, etc. Pretty much everything Able Gamers fights to raise awareness and solutions for. But there isn’t always time or money. (However for Blizzard I call bullshit. They know better. They have the money. They should have their OWN internal team checking for it.) At the very least, each company should have avenues for employees to bring attention to and address these issues. (Just like they should also do with sexist and problematic things!) At every company I have worked at, I invariably end up as a “motion tester” because I complain VERY LOUDLY any time I get motion sick. I get called to desks to test stuff and help the designer tweak areas and gameplay sequences to make them less hurl inducing.

But this isn’t a perfect world. So how did I get over it? After all, some of those games I listed are my favorite games! And I have to keep doing Grimrail for alts for the legendary ring!

– Saltines. It’s an old standby for a reason.

– Ginger ale. Again, we give this to sick kids for a reason.

– Greasy food. I have a method for a game like Skyrim or Grimmrock. I play it until I am feeling VERY unwell, then I eat some McDonalds. It calms my stomach down, and I wait until the sickness has completely passed, then do it again. Skyrim took 4 attempts. Grimmrock took 3. Drakon was the WORST. It took 11. I was persistent.

Preggo Pops. Seriously. I got these while pregnant and there is a reason I never got sick. Further, they are super safe, and many moms even give them to kids when they are ill.

– Lemon water. Especially if you are one of the people who has mouth watering right before vomiting. Lemon water knocks that right out. (Or just sucking on a lemon if you can stand it.)

Within the game solutions:

– Point your camera straight down. Or adjust it so you can’t see the movement. I am awful at Grimrail for this reason, I have to just stare at the plate and can’t look up at the walls.

– On Hans and Frans, get your warlocks to set up their portals ALONG the “stationary” bands. These are the thinner bands. Then STAY ON THESE BANDS. Do not spend any time if possible on the moving part. Doing this means your camera doesn’t move, so YOU feel stationary, even though everything else ever is moving. Use the portals to move for smashers and try to focus on only looking at the bands. (I also found it helped to keep my camera facing the same way – the door direction – and stay on the one band.)

– Turn down spell effects. The more graphical stuff you have going on, the more it fights with your ability to focus on anything. Turn it way down. This just clears out the noise.

– Request that your raid take a break after this fight. Maybe you can sit out the next trash clear. But step AWAY from the game, and eat something bready.

– Persist. You will get your sea legs.

– Last resort – Dramamine or Sickness bands. While in school, we had two semesters where we worked in Half Life 2. I took that crap twice a day for 6 months. It sucks, but it made me able to function in the tool to build levels for it.

I feel like Blizzard could do somethings to help this without destroying the fight. Clearly delineating the stationary parts. Tune it so you can lose 3-4 people without wiping (so the motion sickers can just die). But they do need to do something. This is definitely a stepping away point for some people.

Promoting Better Play

“We’re not above bribing you to be nice to each other. And frankly, neither are you.”

They said this at the BlizzCon they announced Warlords of Draenor at. And I remember thinking… That will be a neat trick. In the words of our tank Xxiv, “You can grief someone at anything, says the guy who was griefed in Journey.” (Journey has no chat, matchmaking etc, you just move through the world with another player. But apparently his match didn’t move. They just stood still.)

As a game designer, I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to convince the player to do what I want them to do, without just flat out telling them. And sometimes with just flat out telling them. It’s funny, because it kind of crosses over into being a parent. How do you get the toddler to do what you want, without forcing them to do it.

As all parents and pet owners know, there is positive and negative reinforcement. Positive is rewarding them for doing what you want. Bonuses, treats, special treatment. Negative is punishing them for doing things you don’t want them to do. Spanking, time outs, etc. Blizzard is pretty good at getting a majority of people to “play” the way they want us to play. They want you to quest instead of grind just killing mobs? Make the quests have better rewards, take less time, and give more experience.

Torgo answered the question “Does WoD promote better play?” and he answered the question from his pov. But the game designer reads that question very differently.

This question is asking a lot of things. And play is a very loaded word for a designer. So I wanted to answer it, with my designer cap on. Play is not just about with other people, but everything you do within the game. other people are going to come into it more because it’s a multiplayer game.

Yes. And oh god no.

I am sure you are all surprised at my dichotomy.


– Garrisons do an AMAZING job of promoting play. People logging in at weird hours and staying up late to check missions, discussing buildings endlessly trying to figure out the best ones, helping with invasions, even working together to get achievements to get the guild banners! Further, they provide a very REAL reward in the form of bonuses, extra gear, extra materials. Very much a positive reinforcement to get us to play and play with all the parts.

– Flexible raid size. Our team of raiders is 15, just within our guild and real life social group. Now 2-3 of those might drop or wander away, but that would still leave us with 12. 12 is an awful number of raiders in the old system. In WoD – no worries. Even so, if you add our partners in crime, we are at potentially 32 raiders. THIRTY.TWO. That’s a ton of players and far beyond what I ever expected us to be at. So many people to play and have fun with. No man or woman left behind!


– Items in dungeons not dropping from the final boss. Oh man… do you know how many times I have gotten into a Shadowmoon Burial Grounds run, the tank has been just terrible… we get to the first quest item and bam – he’s gone? Only to realize he was a dps, who had a tank offspec and used it just to rush to the item? It’s in the double digits already. Even worse – I had to run Grimrail Depot TWICE because I forgot to pick up the quest item off the ground, and even though I had a lockout where I had killed all the bosses, it wouldn’t let me back to that spot. So far actually none of the rumored “incentives” to keep playing together have been clearly communicated. And furthermore I have actually found it MORE difficult to succeed in a group of friends because we don’t get the luck of the draw buff.

– Proving Grounds. These were flawed to begin with. Players don’t really learn about their class in them. They don’t learn how to raid. They don’t learn how to move out of the stupid. All it does it gate the content. And what if my friend I want to drag along on heroics can’t do it? That doesn’t promote play, it promotes frustrated and upset people. This is a heavily negative reinforcer. It’s not good at all in that it makes players feel like crap and like they shouldn’t even be trying to play.

– No Flying. I haven’t done one bit of archeology or farming because oy is it HARD to get around Draenor. It’s very clear they wanted to gate and limit the player’s movement, but did they have to make it SO MUCH in every zone? It’s a very strong reason for why I don’t want to do these parts of the game. I don’t want to use a glider, I want to fly. Fiddly one off mechanics over a system wide ability I paid a great deal of gold for… yeah.

– Melee unfriendly fights. I already know one casualty to the melee unfriendly encounters of Slag Mines and Shadowmoon Burial Grounds. It is only a matter of time before we get into raids and find them there. Too often Blizzard seems to think the answer to making a fight “difficult” or complex is to make it insanely busy. There are a dozen different things to keep track of. And poor melee have to worry about huge swaths of downtime as they move. They have done this to a lesser extent to ranged, by taking away our ability to have some spells cast while moving. This is so negative. Especially for my guild groups, which are melee heavy. We would queue for a dungeon, get halfway through and be unable to complete it, despite having all done it singularly with pugs. The luck of the draw seems to be the deciding factor here, and we all miss it by playing with our friends. Bad choice.

In the end, I think WoD is just as good and just as bad as most expansions at promoting play both alone and in groups.

Waiting to be a Hero

I didn’t get the chance to raid in Vanilla WoW. I wish I had. 40 man raids seemed like an insane and exciting thing to participate in. Pandemonium. That’s what I would expect. I did raid in a 25 man guild in Burning Crusade though, so I can imagine the headache of trying to get 25 people logged in, geared, and ready to go, scaled up to 40. OW.

In the 25 man guild I was in, we had about 30 raiders. (Or up to 35 at various other times.) There were 3 guild ranks, just for raiders. They were ranked, the highest being called Thunderfury. If you successfully posted above a certain amount of DPS or HPS you would earn that rank. When forming the raid, Thunderfuries were accepted first, then the middle rank (Sulfuras something) and Warglaive as the bottom rank. Anyone who had all blue/purple gear of the appropriate level could be a Warglaive. The problem was, once you were a Warglaive, the only way to advance your character was through raiding… so you had to wait for a night when not too many Thunderfuries showed up to raid to hopefully get in. If there were 6 spots, and 7 raiders waiting, then you had to roll against each other and hope you weren’t the lowest roll. The system mostly worked, except it was very hard to ensure you were always getting to raid unless you were very lucky or very dedicated.

When I left that guild and converted to Alliance, it was a bit different. I joined a guild as a tank, and eventually switched to healing. But we were a 10 man guild. This changed everything in that we had a fairly solid core of 9 raiders who were always present. Generally we could fill that final slot with any pug and do fairly well. However, over time we gained a few lost a few raiders, as always happens and started having issues with having 11-12 people showing up. When you can only take 10 raiders, this leads to the guildleader having to make very painful choices.

Do you take your friend? Do you take the high powered, but also very annoying person? Do you take the sweet, but oblivious person? Do you take the undergeared so they have a chance to get loot and improve or the overgeared so the raid has the easiest time of it? And oh goodness don’t take them, we already have four people fighting over cloth and no one to take the leather drops…

When I left that guild, I ended up in OLN, a 25 man guild that had about 35 raiders. So each night they would draw lots and split into 25/10 raid teams. That worked for Wrath, but Cataclysm was a different story. We lost some big players, had other players drift away, but couldn’t find *anyone* to recruit. I even talked about our insane solution to this event before. It was absurd. 16 raiders squished into a 10 man hole. By the time we hit Dragon Soul we were firmly down to 10 raiders. It was the end of that guild. We couldn’t recruit, we couldn’t bulk back up, we couldn’t get people who were willing to be on a waitlist just in case.

And that’s the problem with tightly tuned raids. When you can’t just carry one or two people, you have to have a finely tuned team to consistently show up to raid. When life happens, you lose a raider and it could be the beginning of the end for your team.

When I formed a guild with Misstorgo, recruiting was our first and main issue. We had to recruit people who wanted a casual experience, were willing to raid only 2 nights a week, and not cause drama. Through a series of lucky events, we ended up with several of my co-workers forming a core raid team. However, as we progressed through MoP we had several events that lead to losing a FEW raiders and not being able to replace them.

I think over the course of the expansion we changed more than half our raid team three times. More often than not, we would find interested people – but oh they couldn’t play without their two friends… Do you have any idea how awful it is being the 11th member of a 10 man raid team? You feel selfish if you say “No, I want to raid.” knowing it means someone else will have to sit out. You feel terrible not showing up because of course, that’s the one night that someone else can’t be there and then no one gets to raid.

But then, the Third Great Change came from Blizzard. Flex – the ability for the raid to scale based on the number of players – was implemented to all difficulty levels (except Mythic, which is fine because we aren’t hardcore like that) of raiding. 11 raiders? You’re good to go with all 11. 14? Yep. 19? YEP.

This literally changes the most painful and difficult part of running a guild into a non-issue. If we get down to around 12 players, easy, we just recruit a few more. No one has to sit, so there is no danger of them getting bored and finding another guild. The fights seem to actually be a bit easier with a few extra bodies. Missing a person? It’s fine, we have more. Your buddy who only plays a month or two then takes a 3 month break? We can bring him, when he decides to show up, and not worry about having to replace him.

WoW is most fun when playing with friends and now it doesn’t ask you to rank your friends and boot the ones who don’t fit into a 10 man hole.

Starting at

What are Raid Lockouts, why do they matter, and how do they work?

Whew, what a loaded series of questions!

Raid lockouts were originally a Raid ID that said “This raid is this much completed, and can be completed later.” The problem was, people would raid on Tuesday, get X# of bosses in, then plan on coming back the next day, or later in the week. Then some a-hole in that raid would come back early, with different people, and clear to the end. Blizzard fixed this by effectively giving each person on the raid team a unique lockout. So when you can back, the raid leader would zone in, and that was the same raid they had worked on before.

Players could run raids that had downed bosses they hadn’t, but not raids that went earlier than their own lockout. Yes it’s confusing, so here’s an example:

Trial of the Champions – 10 man:

There are 10 raiders and they raid on Tuesday and killed the first 2 bosses (Beasts and Champions) on Tuesday. Wednesday, they come back, but two of their raiders are out. They grab a guildie and a pug. The guildie hasn’t cleared ANY bosses, but because the raid leader is one of the original 8, he zones in to see the Valkyr up and is asked if he wants to be saved to 2/4. The Pug has cleared Beasts, but not Champions, so he also zones in to see the Valkyr up and is asked if he wants to be saved to 2/4.

This gives the players a clear picture of what is going on, where they are starting, and what they are potentially skipping. So the guildie in this example is passing up the chance of loot from the first two bosses. Once he kills the valkyr, he would not be able to go back and do them later. The two members who DIDN’T make the raid could zone in with an entirely new group and would also be 2/4.

Raid lockouts matter to players because it allows us to take the raid in a series of chunks that are better for our specific playstyle. So like Weeping Angels, we raid 2 nights a week, 2 hours apiece. If we don’t clear the raid in that time, we don’t clear the raid. No running over, no extra nights. We all have kids, and spouses we want to see. WoW is a big deal, but not the highest priority. When we got to Garrosh, we held the lockout even when we would have reset because we wanted to kill him without starting all the way at the beginning of the raid.

So how did this change in WoD?

Well, it got a lot more complicated for one. (Bad designer, no twinkie! Simplicity is a goal over complexity.) Now, the lockout is per BOSS per character. So to reuse the above example, I decide to go into a raid that is 2 of 4. We kill the 3rd boss. I am now “saved” to the third boss. But I have to go, so I leave. I am saved to JUST the Valkyr though. So if I try to start a raid later, it puts me at the FIRST BOSS I haven’t defeated. Which is Beasts, the first boss. When I get to the Valkyr again, I just don’t get loot, but I still have to kill them again.

This is a TERRIBLE design.

Players use raid lockouts to skip bosses they need nothing from. So a guild will run SoO, get to the final “wing” and switch an alt out. This allows that character to “hold” the lockout. So the next week, they can start at Blackfuse and finish the raid faster. Get to the meat and potatoes faster. Get to the new loot – FASTER.

The only reason for changing this would be if Blizzard didn’t WANT players skipping bosses like this. But the problem is, their “fix” for that didn’t change that. it just made it clunkier! Now if we want to save a lockout, we have to bring an alt for the first 11 bosses, then switch that alt out, and have them be raid leader the next week, instead of just switching an alt out for a single boss.

I don’t understand the logic behind this. It doesn’t make sense in the scheme of raid lockouts and progression. Following the “new” method, it should just put the players at the boss directly AFTER the last boss the raid leader defeated. If we really wanted a fresh raid, we wouldn’t be extending the lockout! If we wanted a fresh raid later in the week, just have the raid leader be someone who hasn’t run!

I would even like to see the ability to “jump to wing” for raiding. As long as everyone in the raid has previously cleared all of those bosses, when we get ready to go in, the raid leader can choose to start at a specific boss or wing.

Flying, Riding, and Exploring

It was announced that Warlords of Draenor would not include flight at “the beginning”. Players complained, as always, and discussions were had. Several things came up I wanted to think/write about.

In previous expansions, players had to get to level cap first, then they could purchase the ability to fly. This usually came a high-ish price. This is good design, in my opinion, for many reasons.

1. It forces the player to ride through the world for an extended period. It has been proven that people who fly from one place to another don’t feel the “distance” the way someone who drives does. By forcing players to level until they can get off the ground, they generally feel the vastness of the expansion world.

2. It allows for funneling the players to locations. Level design is all about how to get the player to stay within the game area and how to get where we want them to go. Keeping them grounded allows for this. It makes it so the designer can be reasonably certain the player enters a zone from a specific point, and the gameplay can be tailored to match the leveling player.

3. It’s a gold sink. If it’s something WoW needs, it’s more gold sinks. Anything that takes gold out of the economy is good.

4. They see the monsters, NPCs, hidden things much better from the ground. It goes back to exploring, but it makes it worth it to spend dev time on doing silly things like the hidden treasures of Pandaria.

Now, having said that… I am strongly opposed to the idea of waiting for flight until AFTER the first content patch of WoD. As any long time WoW player will say, the game is very different when leveling versus when at level cap.

So why is it a bad idea to be level cap and not have flying?

1. Playing with Purpose.

It’s pointless-ish for level capped characters to kill monsters. We get no exp, the gold and drops aren’t worth it, since we get more in dungeons, and generally, we are never in danger – so it’s really just a slog that takes up time. Level capped players who are doing dailies just want to get their stuff done and move on to more important things, like dungeon runs. So I timed it. It takes me about 20 minutes to fly over, do the Shado-Pan dailies, and get back to the flight path. If I only play WoW an hour a day, that’s a 1/3rd of my play time burned doing what is effectively a chore. To test, I decided to do it on mount/foot. It took me 48 minutes. MORE THAN TWICE the time. A majority of the extra time was spent riding over and back, and dealing with extra mobs in the way, since the bug island is DENSE with monsters.

2. Designed for Reality not for Flow

Stormwind is a very interesting city. So is Ironforge. Both of them are sprawling and believable cities. They have houses, shops, districts, and dozens of landmarks. But in the terms of playing a game, these are terrible areas. Logically, in a game, there would be none of the wasted space. The Auction House, Inn, Vendors, and Flight Point would all be gathered together right inside the door. Now that’s not to say they should change these cities, but rather that they need to “lessen” the impact on the players. The ability to fly over the buildings and canals in Stormwind helps ease the players passage while allowing the city to look realistic.

3. Travel Time is Wasted Time.

You know that one person, who is always late? They are constantly running behind, to the point you tell them to be somewhere 30 minutes early so they will be even remotely close to on time? Now imagine you are waiting on someone to run dailies… Or a dungeon… or a raid… WoW is a game best played with friends, but always having to wait on someone is just as frustrating as it is in real life. We have things to do! And waiting about, or just riding through the world is not those things.

Why do flight paths not fill this need? Well for one, there are never enough of them. Two, they take some of the most meandering paths. Three, it’s dead time. You can’t DO anything while flying. I am not here to watch a bird fly, I am here to do interesting things. Also, everyone has had the experience of accidentally clicking the wrong destination and having to wait even LONGER to get where you wanted to go. On my own mount, if I see an herb, rare, or battle pet along the way, I can stop and engage.

Not having flight wouldn’t bother me as much if I knew that it was going to be reasonably easy to get where I wanted to go. But spend some time in Pandaria and realize how unlikely that is. The flight path from the Shrine to Half Hill takes twice the amount of time as just flying over the mountains.

At 90 (and 100 in WoD) the player isn’t playing to explore anymore. They don’t need to kill monsters for exp. They are trying to get the things they need to raid or pvp. That does not include spending hours of time traveling about. Players will take the path of least resistance and it’s a designers job to make sure that path isn’t quitting playing. To give an example, I started playing Hearthstone one night while taking a flight path. I didn’t notice I had reached my destination until the game auto logged me out for being afk for 20 MINUTES. Having a long flight path and travel time meant I stepped away from the game, and potentially would not come back.

Time spent in the game is valuable. There is so much to do and so many goals, for players, time is at a premium. The designers need to take this into account when making decisions. Make a game, not a jogging simulator.

Design and Nostalgia

To start, I didn’t play the original Dungeon Keeper. I get the design brief though. A player builds a dungeon with traps and monsters and then the ai let’s loose adventurers that try to get to the treasure in the dungeon. It’s a neat idea. When EA announced they were doing a new one, for iPad, people got excited, until they heard the word micro transactions, then it all went to hell very quickly.

When the game finally hit, it was universally panned on gaming sites, and my twitter exploded with vitriol at EA. I decided, for science, to download it and play it. If it was really that awful, I wanted to know. I wanted to see why everyone was so upset.

If anyone has a right to be upset, it’s SuperCell. The new Dungeon Keeper is effectively a direct lift of Clash of Clans (CoC). But here’s the funny thing. The same day I started playing Dungeon Keeper (DK), I also fired up my CoC again, despite not having played for months. Here I am, a month later, and I am still enjoying DK, and still hating CoC.

I am going to pick apart the design a bit, but here’s why, despite being the same general kind of game, DK is a superior design to CoC. Why I won’t be playing CoC, but will likely keep playing DK for a good long while.

Both games have the player building a base, then raiding other bases for materials with units. In CoC, the base area is a wide open space, filled with trees and such, but it takes a relatively short time to clear, after which the player can arrange things how they wish. When attacked by another player, that player can drop their units anywhere in open space. There is no way to build the village at the back of the area and effectively “narrow” the access. So the player has to build their base with a 360 defense in mind. Walls can be broken down, and archers can shoot over them. In truth, the village is never very secure, and it only takes a single fallen wall to lead to a complete destruction.

In DK though, every tile of the dungeon must be carved out. The raiding enemies can *only* appear at resource collectors, and taken over rooms. Theoretically, a player could force the enemy to meander around a maze of traps before gaining access to the dungeon heart. It allows for strategy that is lost in CoC because of the 360 requirements.

People complain about the time it takes to dig out corridors, but I am thankful for it. In CoC I dropped a bit of money on gems to buy more builders. Within a day I had one of my builders just sitting around. My money had been wasted because I wasn’t able to gather resources fast enough to keep up with building. By the time I quit playing the first time, all 4 builders were just sitting about. I have slowly built up to 4 imps and I seriously think I will never have them just sitting around!  Any time I have a free imp, I have at least 5 different choices of where to send him.

This next argument is a bit “anecdotal” as I do not have firm numbers on the production curves and gathering stats on each game. I have reached the point in CoC where I have cleared all the single player raids, and can do nothing but raid other players. As a result, I only get resources from my gatherers, not from playing the game. When I get raided, I lose resources, both from my stores and my gathering buildings. The amount I lose is often MORE than the amount I earn over the time period. If I don’t get a shield, I could be raided several times in a row. The people who can raid me are people who are “within” range of me as determined by trophies. So high level players will intentionally LOSE raids to lower their trophies, to be able to attack weaker players. I have a negative income of resources unless I spend money on shields. When I do queue to attack other players, I have to cheese the system to find players I can even think about attacking.

In DK though, I earn far far more resources than I lose in a raid. I don’t know how it decides who can raid me in DK, but so far, none of them have had a huge force that is significantly stronger than what I would be able to amass. And even when they completely demolish my dungeon, they make off with fewer resources than I could get in an hour or so, and I get a 12 hour protection spell! I am usually only attacked every few days or so as well, as opposed to CoC where I will be attacked within 30 minutes of my shield coming down, without fail.

CoC has become a game of watching how slowly my resources are taken from me while in DK, it’s still exciting, even now, figuring out what I am going to focus on next.

It comes down to the balance of the two games. CoC was clearly not balanced for the numbers of users it has. The ability to cheese the trophy system and fight noob players need to be patched out (though it hasn’t in the year I have been playing). DK has a better matching system and doesn’t punish the player for having lost to a raid nearly as much.

I am certain some of my ability to enjoy DK comes from NOT having the nostalgia over the original game. I feel like this is yet another case where the company would have been better served not using the old name, but giving it a new one. I understand they want to use old IPs, but when the old IP has so much baggage like this (or XCOM) it’s just unwise to try to overwrite it.

I will likely keep playing Dungeon Keeper for a good long while. I don’t think I will persist in Clash though, as I am so frustrated at the designer’s lack of desire to fix the problems in their game. At least DK has the potential to get better.

A dilemma of epic levels

So I canceled my WoW accounts this week.

WoW is a thing I do as a hobby. I play other games, but WoW is the one I could play all day. And I did.

I love playing WoW. As you can tell, by the things I generally rant on here about, WoW is my favorite game and the one I am most critical of.

I left the game over the sexism. It all started with one little thing that pisses me off. Rating a woman based on how she looks. Then calling her by that number. So I started writing about it, but the more I thought about it, the more instances of sexism I saw. It was like when you wipe that one spot on your tv and suddenly realize the entire entertainment center is completely covered in a thick layer of dust.

There were 3 reactions to my defection:

1. Good for you! Get away from that addictive game.

First off, this reaction really bothers me. Yes, WoW can be addictive. But addiction implies that something leads to harmful consequences. Does WoW lead to harmful consequences for me? I have never lost a job, failed a class, lost a pet/child, become ill, or not been able to live my life because of WoW.

Second, I generally play less WoW in a day than other people watch tv. Or look at the internet. Or read. WoW as a hobby, is an entertainment thing just like other games, tv shows, movies, or books. In fact, for me, it can be considered career supporting since it often makes me consider design topics and challenges.

2. This makes me sad.

I was very surprised by this reaction. Several people said it, and when I asked for clarification this is what was said: “It makes me sad, because it’s something you clearly enjoy so much. It sucks when people can’t do the thing they enjoy because of sexist bullshit.”

:'( I love these people. They don’t play WoW. They don’t like WoW. All they know is that it makes me happy and for that reason they want it to be better. For me. <3

3. You shouldn’t quit. You need to stay, so *someone* will be here to call them on their bullshit.

To be fair, this came from 3 people in game and 2 people out of game. This surprised me. Mostly because I was expecting everyone to support my decision fully.

This argument gave me pause. Was there a way for me to play WoW, while still not accepting their bullshit? From my point of view, the only way to make them listen is to hit them where it hurts, their subscriber numbers. Withholding money does nothing at this point because they are so monolithic they wouldn’t even feel my $30 a month. But -2 subs, after the last two years of bleeding over 4 million subs? That would hurt more.

I thought about it all weekend. While desperately wanting to boot up WoW and play, I found myself out of sorts and cranky. Because I wasn’t playing WoW. I played some Skyrim. And Minecraft. And Pokemon. But each of them wasn’t enough to distract me from knowing I wasn’t going to be playing WoW that night. I cleaned, organized, and watched some Big Bang Theory.

And then… an episode aired on Big Bang Theory. It was the one where the girls didn’t go to Vegas and instead stayed and played Dungeons and Dragons with the guys.

I like Big Bang Theory, and I have talked about it several times. It does tend to craft it’s gags from stereotypical nerd culture. And I can honestly say, in the 25 YEARS I have played D&D, I have never played with another woman.

The jokes they made through the whole thing were not funny, and more than a little sexist. As I sat there, already hurting because of the loss of something I loved due to sexist bullshit, I wanted to turn it off. But then I had that moment. Where you hear something you don’t really want to hear, but it makes total sense. I could hear this minister from my youth, standing up there advocating that everyone in our church stop watching TV because it wasn’t Christian and Godly. I actually remember laughing out loud, then getting a ton of nasty stares. Even then I thought, There’s no way I would do that. I was a part of the world, and so was Buffy. And even if Buffy wasn’t very Christian, there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to watch it. And I laughed because I remember thinking there was no one at that church who would be willing to give up TV.

I watch Big Bang Theory, and though I can see the reasons people might dislike it, from my lens it doesn’t strike those same chords. Is WoW the same way? It stuck the chord, but how does that look through other people’s lenses? We can love something while still being concerned and critical over the problematic aspects of it. Thank you Anita.

I think the devs made the correct choice, both on hotfixing it out so quickly and on ignoring it otherwise. Why is ignoring it a good idea? Calling it out, even as being fixed, would just draw the slavering masses of horrid sha who follow these things and attack us “Crazy censoring over reacting feminists”. Even more, they *have* made the correct choice on some occasions – female druids, transmogrification to fix the sexy armor issue, etc.

Here’s the center of this problem : the people making this game (and a large chunk of players) do not care about how these things make us feel, because it doesn’t make them feel that way. This is privilege. They don’t care what someone says about a woman on the street, because no one would do that to them. They aren’t boiled down to a number. They aren’t measured purely on their looks.

Blizzard still needs to hire a feminist (preferably a woman) to their writing team. Her job needs to be to review everything before it goes into the game. To champion strong female lore characters. To champion strong female villains, until we approach 50% female characters. Her job is to prevent things like these orcs and the quests that occasionally go to far. Her job would including speaking up and saying, “Hey guys, include a female in the cinematic.” Even better, hire a woman of color and she can do double duty and make sure they aren’t pissing minorities off either!

The answer is not necessarily removing the offending material either. For example, our orc friends – I think it may have even been better to have a quest where the player has to go tell them off. Then put in a random chance – every so often they would attack instead of slinking off. What an eye opener. How interesting that would be. Even allowing me, as an orc player, to kill them would have been nice, fulfilling the power fantasy and all. (Revenge porn – for street harassed women!)

Blizzard needs to fix their problem. But what about me? How do I fix my problem? Do I cut and move on? Do I stay and call them on their shit? I feel like going back now would make me seem weak and unable to stand my ground. But I do also think now, leaving, and taking my voice away, is the wrong choice. They need my voice. They need me bitching as loudly as I can over it. Because I will. Not every woman who is bothered by it will. But I will. I am not afraid of attacks over my feminist sensibilities. I am not afraid of speaking up. My courage has always served me well, and maybe this is the place to apply it.

Is this going to improve the game? – A Design Question

“If someone says, ‘It would be cool if…’ tie them up and throw them in a closet until the game is done.”

That might be a bit of a harsh reaction, but if there is one thing I have learned in video game design it is this: ALWAYS CRITIQUE YOUR WORK.

Is this thing you are doing, this choice you are making, is it *vitally* important to the game. Will it make the game better as well as not break or make the game worse?

Let’s look at a few examples:

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, I worked on the Darklight Crypt expansion. One of the things I chose to do early was have a “boss” fight at the end. Most of the other levels, if they had bosses, they were against Kaos, and all done by another designer. But Darklight Crypt was an adventure pack level, meaning the user would have to spend extra money to get the toy for it to unlock the level. The theme was dark and very haunted crypt castle kind of place. So the boss I created ended up being a huge eyeball.

Queue the jokes. “I see you!” The boss would shout and kids would burst into fits of giggles. Was the boss fight the best? Nope. It was a super simple push the button to make the boss vulnerable and then hit him with the big guns, repeat three times, and win. The fight wasn’t the reason to include it. The ability to cleanly mark the end of the level with a climatic moment was. The addition of a bad guy the player could see and interact with was pretty important too. The humor that tagged along turned out to be vital to the level as well, but at the time we didn’t know that would happen.

The inclusion of the boss was risky. I was new to the project and studio. The fight was a complex bit of scripting. There were a dozen things that could have gone wrong. There was bad choices made within the fight (locking out players from using two cannons at once). BUT in the end, we can see that it added so much of the heart and character to the level, it wouldn’t be the same without it. When I suggested putting it in, I made these arguments for it: It makes the level feel different from the main game, with a boss fight at the end. It gives the player a firm target and goal, that is clear from the beginning of the level. It wouldn’t detract from the level, because it would give it a climatic moment and would be very simple for the player to understand.

I think, for the most part, it was successful. One thing that we did fail on, and learned our lesson, was using the main mechanic of the level, switching worlds, in the boss fight. Occulus, while awesome on so many levels (did you notice after him, there comes Eyebrawl?) didn’t fit within the switching mechanic of the level well. I shoehorned some switching in, but it felt out of place. In Giants, we did this MUCH better with the boss at the end of Wilikins Isle, the new switching level. I worked with the designer who did the boss fight to make sure that it incorporated switching in an organic way. Of course, it helped that before I ever suggested it, I knew he was an Ikaruga fan. It made it very easy to convince him.

So why is this so important?

Because not every game can patch out their problems. You have to put every design decision under the microscope. Think about the player and how they are going to have to deal with each decision you make.

Another example:

World of Warcraft recently added pet battles. All the minipets crazy people (like myself) had been collecting as pure vanity items suddenly became the source of gameplay. They essentially turned pets into Pokemon, complete with elemental affinities and weaknesses. Pet battles is an amazing feature, that needs a great deal of polish. Deciding what parts need polishing becomes very clear the minute each decision has to be defended.

One of the major things to do as a pet battler is go out and fight Trainers. Much like Pokemon, these are NPCs that have a team of their own, that you, as a player can challenge and beat for rewards. One design decision, that looks good on paper, is that the early trainers have set orders to their team. The order that their pets fight in is always the same. This allows the player to start off on a good foot, by stacking their first pet against the trainer’s pet. As the trainers level though, their pets begin to appear in a semi random order. Meaning that they will choose to use one of two of their pets seemingly randomly at the beginning of battle. I know, I hate random. But in this case, it is clearly worthless.

Let’s say I go up against a trainer that can bring out either a critter or a dragon first. Well clearly, I want to stack my first pet to be against one of these two. So I pull out my humanoid, who is strong versus dragons. I initiate the battle. The trainer brings out their critter. I could, and it is clearly designed that I should, switch pets, forfeiting one turn to the trainer, to have my strong pet out. BUT they allowed us to forfeit the fight entirely, with no punishment for doing so. So instead, I just forfeit, then re-initiate the fight. Repeat until the trainer brings out her dragon first, then battle away. Sound tedious? OH IT IS.

At this point, the designer should defend their decisions. They have made two. 1. That pet trainers should pull out pets randomly. 2. That forfeiting costs the player nothing. First, look at the source design, Pokemon. In Pokemon, the trainers always use their Pokemon in a set order (also generally having a team with nearly all the same elements). Also, if the player wants to quit a fight… they have to lose all their Pokemon. So there is a conflict with the source design on both points.

Which feature makes the game better? If you could only have ONE, which one would you chose: Random pet order or forfeiting? I choose forfeiting. It’s never very fun to realize that your entire team is all wrong and then just have to suffer through being bludgeoned to death so you can try again.

So what about the random pet order? Well, defend it. 1. Does it improve the game? The argument could be made that it makes the fights more challenging. 2. Does it break or make the game worse? The ability to forfeit negates the challenge introduced in point 1, and the constant cycling to try and get the “correct” pet up first makes it tedious, so yes, it makes the game worse.

At this point, CUT IT. Rip it out. Not only are the battles less tedious, but also they make the fights easier on the players. If there is a need for challenge, do that in the numbers with a systems designer, or have the trainers use more “dual affinity” pets (like dragonkin who use all magic abilities, super tricky!). It takes some of the randomness out, and improves the flow of the mini-game. Designed is always better than random.

Unfortunately, according to patch notes, Blizzard has already decided to create a punishment for forfeiting. Now each of the pets on your team will take some small amount of damage when forfeiting. So rather than streamlining the game, they left the tedious part in, but increased the time it takes to get past it. NOW players will forfeit, then wait for the 8 minute timer on the ability to heal their pets to come up, heal the pets and try again. Or they will just stop fighting the trainers completely. (In explanation, they will not just switch out pets, because the high level trainers are so tightly tuned that even one miss or dodged attack can lead to the player losing even WITH the first pet being stacked to win.)

No design decision should be made without first asking, “Does this make the game better, without making anything worse?” Would the game be better without this feature?

Once the game is shipped, the players will see it, and rip it apart. They won’t ever know about the features that were cut or didn’t make it in their original state, but they will see the broken or bad features that are present.


The Secret World – It’s all true…

“It’s an MMO, set in the Modern world. Conspiracies like the Illuminati and stuff, it’s all true. And the Secret World is spilling out into the real world. That’s where the player exists.”

That was the first description I heard of the Secret World. It was at least 3 years before the game came out. I was interested.

“It’s like Lovecraft, Poe, and Stephen King had a love child, and they made a game about it.”

OMG, this game is going to be awesome. I started to follow the game voraciously. Every tidbit. Every video. Every screenshot.

When the game finally launched in June, I had already made my pre-order of a lifetime sub. I not only wanted to play this game as much as I could, but also wanted to support it as fully as possible.

The intro tutorial quest was very… odd? Discouraging? Combat felt odd to me, and I really didn’t like the aggro mechanics. But I persisted.

And boy was I rewarded. If you do nothing else, get Secret World and play through Kingsmouth. It’s the first “zone” of the game.

Kingsmouth is a small coastal town that feels very New England. There are mines, junkyards, the shipyard, the old forest, and even a small municipal airport. The first thing that really struck me about the town, just on the surface, was how well a “real world” location actually felt to run through. As someone who started playing WoW when ground mounts weren’t available until level 40, I am well aware of what it feels like to run through MMO games. The town made sense, and the more I moved through it, the better I understood it. Normally I am one of the first ones to call games out for being “jogging simulators” where you are forced to backtrack over and over again. It took me about 4 hours to realize I had run back and forth across this small town at least a dozen times, and it STILL didn’t feel old. It just felt good moving through the world, jumping over trashcans, fences, and barricades.

Then I found it. The best quest ever put in an MMO. Funcom wanted to make Secret World different. They wanted it to be unique. And they succeeded 100%. The quests in Secret World are broken down into Main Story Missions, Action Missions, Investigation Missions, and Side Missions. Main Story are obviously varied missions that move you through the game’s main plot. This actually works quite well for keeping a coherent lore thread. Action Missions usually involve alot of killing. That’s fine, although I will get back to combat in a bit. Side Missions are pretty much fedex or fetch quests, nothing really standout. Investigation missions are what makes this game so.much.better. than all the rest.

The Secret World comes with a Google browser built into the game. Why does it need it? Well obviously, they didn’t want people alt tabbing while doing investigation missions. The Kingsmouth Code was the first quest where I really began to understand what Funcom had done. Most games, when presenting the player with a puzzle, include the answer in the game. In most modern games, the answer is 2 feet from the player at all times, outlined in yellow, and so simple even a 10 year old can get it. The dumbing down of games is a holy war I don’t want to get into, but regardless, Myst wouldn’t make it today, purely based on the insanity of the puzzles. Secret World went the complete opposite direction. Not only was the answer not in the game, but they actively expect you to use Google. (Best part, one of the NPCs responds to you and says “I don’t know! Google it!”) You have to pay attention to the most minute of details in the world. They will give you hints that really only get you about halfway there. Don’t know Latin? Better just keep a Google Translate tab open.

At one point in the quest you are given this clue: “Time is the province of Kings and Gods. The hands of time point to truths written by kings in the words of God. The path is open to the enlightened.” That’s it. I immediately looked around for the clock. Sure enough, there’s a clock with the time set at 10:10. I am a bit sad to say that it took me another 20+ minutes to figure out the next part. Did you already? Words of God. The Bible. Kings 10:10. Of course, this verse talks about a woman giving talents to King Solomon… How does that apply? It just gets more convoluted from there. In the end, the entire quest chain took me about 2 and 1/2 hours. I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Seriously though, Kingsmouth Code (and by virtue it’s extension, Digging Deeper) are amazing quests. Almost worth it alone, if you can get the game for $20 or so. The other investigation quests are just as fiddly, deeper, and mind bogglingly obscure. (Do you know who composed the Four Seasons? Cause if so, you are going to do better than most.) The best part is, unlike games like Myst, where the puzzles are just obscure, the investigation missions in Secret World are all based on fiddly niche knowledge. Do you know where old churches list the hymns you will sing that Sunday? Do you know how to translate Morse code? Do you know how to dig into a company’s website to find info on their employees? When you know the answer, you quite possibly feel like the smartest person in the world. When it takes you three hours to figure something minor out, you feel like the stupidest person in the world. And it’s ALL AMAZING.

The game holds up through the second zone, the Savage Coast, but after that it starts to go downhill. The Faction Missions you get every so occasionally are superb and well worth the time, but once I hit Blue Mountain, it was like smashing into a wall. Which brings me to my big complaint.

Combat and the over abundance of choice. In Secret World you don’t pick a class. You pick a weapon. You earn AP points, which you can then spend to get skills in any weapon you want. There are 9 possible paths right from the beginning. I picked Blood, as it appealed most to my Warlockian nature. Turns out, you can’t solo as Blood. In fact, you really can’t do anything as *just* Blood. So I had to go back and pick up another weapon. So I snagged Shotguns (seems like a solid choice yeah? Zombies + Shotguns == always fun!). Only shotguns, being short range, really didn’t fit in well with my ranged magic. So then I switched to Blades. How? Well, in Secret World, you can’t respec, you just need to earn more AP. So they let you redo quests you have already done, and you get the same reward. I just had to go back and re-grind Kingsmouth’s quests until I could level my Blades skill up to match the monsters in the area I was fighting. The thing is… as much as I loved doing the Investigation Quests, they weren’t the quests you could re-do. It’s the Action ones… which require you to kill things… which I was having trouble doing… which is why I picked up a new weapon… which I couldn’t use effectively because I didn’t have the AP… that I needed from the Action Missions. Oh dear. For you WoW players out there, imagine getting to level 50, as a priest, realizing you really want to be a Shadow Priest instead of leveling Holy, and instead of just respecing and changing some gear, you have to go back to Westfall and relevel from 10 to 50 to gain access to your Shadow Spec. Seemed like a great idea on the surface. Fails in reality.

Once I got my blades up to skill level, I noticed something very disheartening. I was mowing through enemies like one of those oversized lawn tractors. Blades was *significantly* more powerful than Blood or Shotguns. Enemies I barely beat by the skin of my teeth before were dying from a single slice of my katana.

I never really appreciated the balance that goes into WoW class design. Yeah, I can argue that my warlock does twice the work of mages for half the dps, but in the end, I rarely feel as if I am just completely playing a wasted class. I felt that way with Blood vs Blades. The options seemed so numerous at character creation, but in reality they were few, you were just very likely to pick the wrong choice.

I am currently at the Egypt zones (having a child really cuts into the gaming time), and starting into them, but I can already tell the slow degrade of polish through the second two Solomon Islands zones is going to continue through the game. It’s very clear they worked very hard to nail the first zone, Kingsmouth, and as a result the other areas did not receive as much love. The Faction missions, which are scattered based on how much overall experience you have earned are clearly in the Kingsmouth polish category and do some really amazing things. (The first one sends all three factions to the same location, but each tells a different side of the story. And each are scary on Silent Hill levels.)

The Secret World doesn’t hold your hand. The community tools like Wowhead and Wowinsider don’t exist. Figuring out powerful solo specs requires a great deal of work and number crunching, as opposed to just stopping by Elitist Jerks. It’s a game that makes you work for it. In some ways that’s good. In others, it makes you realize how much WoW has spoiled us as gamers (I am looking at you Random Dungeon Finder). It makes me realize that any MMO that wants to compete with WoW can’t compete with WoW at launch, they have to compete with WoW as of today (or rather the day the competing game wants to launch). And that is an exceptionally tall order.

On the up side, it costs me nothing to take long breaks between playing. There have been small content patches, with bug fixes and new quests, every month. The game will keep getting better, and I will keep coming back. The Secret World is just as engrossing and enthralling as I had hoped. It just doesn’t feel like an MMO. It feels like a single player game. The social aspects weren’t vital to the game. (In fact some of the missions required solo instances and thus actively prohibited group play.) I can’t wait to see where they take it. I can’t wait to see plot threads picked back up and extended. And I can’t wait for more Investigation Missions.

Secret World is one of my games of the year and very much worth the initial investment, provided you can give it the time to play through Kingsmouth during your free month. Watch for sales on Amazon or Steam, and pick it up for under $30. The first zone is worth that much.