Are games more fun when you know the lore?

There are two different types of tourist.

  • The well prepared tourist has read guides, made lists of things they want to see and do and planned out their holiday in advance. It may be a sketchy plan but it’s there. They may even have learned a few words of the local language and know which of the local delicacies they plan to sample. Perhaps they have watched films about their destination or even been inspired to go there from seeing the place featured in a favourite book, comic or TV show.
  • The accidental tourist travels with the aim of exploring. Maybe they have made some preparation but what they really want is to be surprised with new and exciting experiences to tell all their friends about when they get back.

I always feel like a tourist when I head into a MMORPG for the first time. I like to know about the lore so that I can have the fun of recognising places and people if I see them in game. If someone made a game set in the town where I live, I’d enjoy “walking” around it in the virtual world, even though I could go outside and see it in real life.

For Warhammer, I’ve been reading some of the Black Library books to get a feel for the setting. I really noticed the effect of this when I was reading this month’s newsletter. Every other paragraph, I caught myself stopping to think something like “Wait, I read about that!”, “Ooo, that looks like a rat ogre, that was in my book!”, “That sounds like one of the daemons I read about … and it’s going to be in that dungeon! Wow, cool!”. I don’t know how excited I really am about the Warhammer setting per se but I am very intrigued at seeing how the world I’ve been reading about will be brought to life.

Of course, a graphical setting can be breath-taking whether or not you know the lore behind it. It’s nothing to do with how hardcore a player you are or whether you roleplay in game; an awesome visual is a visceral experience, and a well-written storyline can engage anyone who reads it (this is why even in a game like WoW, you can ask people if they have a favourite quest and most of them will pick the well written ones.)

Do you prefer to research the lore before you play a game that is set in an existing ‘world’?

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Diablo III

The story of the week is Blizzard’s announcement of Diablo III, and we’re both very excited. And it won’t be a MMORPG but instead, like the last one, a standalone game that can also be played with friends via a LAN or over battlenet.

Over at Keen and Graev’s Gaming Blog, Keen geeks out over Diablo more eloquently than I could. I agree that we’ll hopefully see it for next Christmas, and probably not much before that.

We were discussing our memories of Diablo II in my WoW guild and one of my friends waxed nostalgic about playing D2 on her wedding day, in her wedding dress, as she waited for her parents and the rest of the bridal party to arrive.

Anyone have any good memories of Diablo? Has it really been 8 years already?

How players change over time

I remember my first MMORPG with rose coloured glasses. Being online in a world with other people and being able to team up with them to fight big monsters was exciting. I was entranced by the whole idea. In retrospect, it seems like a fluffier, happier age when everything was fun and nothing was a grind and no one ever whined at you to respec your fury warrior into protection.

This of course is not true. (Except about the warrior because it wasn’t WoW and I didn’t play one.) The games were terrifically grindy. Just I was so taken with the game that it didn’t matter to me. I remember we had some ‘endgame’ guilds on my server and found them utterly incomprehensible. It was a long grind to max level and I hadn’t thought about what might come next. We also spent a lot more time exploring and sharing what we found with our guilds.

Back then, raids weren’t in a great hurry to share their tactics, in fact keeping them secret was a big deal. You also couldn’t rely on being able to look online for quest or drop information and find a professional quality site serving up what you wanted to know. The player base, as it learned these games, has gotten more cooperative, has learned how to make money out of good quality websites, and has become more hardcore.

If you look at proto-guild adverts on the community forums, you’ll see a lot of promotional posts for hardcore endgame guilds already. Players who have already learned the genre and basic mechanics of MMORPGs know before they start a new game if they want to play hardcore or not. Even newer players are able to take a more critical eye to the different classes and dungeons and PvP scenarios, comparing them with other games they have played.

I was thinking about this when I read Massively’s interview with Richard Bartle last week, and he discussed how he decided which class to play in WoW based on a designer-type analysis (ie. what was this class designed to do? what kind of playstyle was it aimed at?). Even though we aren’t game designers, experienced players analyse classes in a similar way. Which class has the best buffs? Which class will be needed for PvE? Which class looks more simple to play? Which class is most similar to one I have had fun playing in the past?

I think it’s inevitable that the player base becomes more sophisticated. It’s not enough to just be in a persistent world. We have a better idea of what we want out of the game and actively seek guilds and characters that will let us accomplish it. We’ve learned tactics from previous games also. eg. In DaoC, everyone at the start used crowd control in PvE because that was how Everquest had played. Later on, AE pulls took over because the game and classes supported them.

And now, players will apply what they have learned in more recent games to Warhammer Online too. Some, of course, will have burned out on being hardcore and will be looking for a more laidback game experience and guild. But we can never be new to the genre again. And games have to adjust to this faster learning curve. Players do enjoy the learning curve, but that means there has to be something new out there to learn.

One thing I’m really looking forwards to in Warhammer is the sheer variety of scenarios. Why? Because each one will have its own set of tactics and …. we’ll be able to go discover them for ourselves.

Behind the scenes

If you are interested in what’s going on behind the scenes with Warhammer Online, some of the people involved have personal blogs where you can keep up with what they are doing and thinking (probably something like ‘”deadline. deadline. deadline. omg if its Tuesday this must be Toronto!” etc.)

I’ve taken the job titles from EA-Mythic and GOA’s websites, so apologies to all if they’re not correct.

Adventures in MMO Community Management – Iain Compton (Community Manager, GOA)

Doubt the Stars — Carrie Gouskos (Assistant Producer, Mythic)

Josh Drescher — Josh Drescher (Associate Producer, Mythic)

Paul’s Blog — Paul Barnett (Design Manager, Mythic)

Or in other words, we’ve reorganised the blogroll tags slightly in the left margin.

Fashion Police: the stupid hat club

It seems strangely appropriate that in the same week as Ladies Day at Ascot (as you’ll see from the link, it’s famous for people wearing stupid hats), we take a look at the latest in milinery for online games.

We don’t have many examples yet from Warhammer, but check out this dashing Knight of the Blazing Sun (known to his friends as ‘Fevvers’)

Here’s a couple from Warcraft:

Hat or Bucket, you decide

Swirly hat

Many of the fashion parade come to us from Lord of the Rings Online, a game which sets the bar for stupid hats at the moment:

How sweet, a leprechaun? No, just a hobbit in a stupid hat.

And thanks to The Silent Minority for modelling these fine specimens (it’s no big surprise that learning how to turn off the hat graphics is one of the first things players learn in LOTRO)

A bear hat

A double pointed hat

Santa Hat

More stuff to read

Amusing little article on Fidgit.com lists 10 possible announcements Blizzard could be making at Paris GDC. If you wanted to get your Diablo 2 fix in advance of a possible D3 announcement, there’s a new patch as of last week so you can play without the CD.

Dreamy Gamer posts some videos of Paul Barnett talking about how to get into the games industry (from Youtube).

Kieron Gillen over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun publishes the first in a series of articles based on a meeting/chat with Paul Barnett. This first one covers games journalism – we look forward to the rest of the series.

The Gonzo Scientist describes a scientific conference held in World of Warcraft.

IGN has posted a new video interview on their site.

The Greenskin and Waaagh Insider comment on the Byron Report, UK games ratings and whether it might impact the UK shipping date for Warhammer Online. We hope not. And not only do EA claim it will affect dates, Microsoft whine that it’ll cause price increases. nb. industry is good at whining.

Warhammer Alliance publishes a list of emotes in Warhammer Online, compiled by community member Satarko.

TenTonHammer has a really interesting piece about prospering in PvP, with tips to help PvE’ers prepare for the launch of the game. We might not agree with all of them, but there’s some good stuff in there.

Apparently gamers will buy anything if it’s hyped enough. A fake games marketing team tried to sell made-up games and people were keen. Someone probably started a blog about one of them already!

A frankly disturbing (but amusing!) introduction to the recent US primary season, phrased in the vocabulary of Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War. Ah.. now we understand all.

And lastly, we haven’t had any Spore creatures for awhile. Check out this viking ship with oarsmen.

July Grab Bag — The Magus

The Vault and Freddyshouse boards have been selected to get some questions for July’s Grab Bag, which’ll be all about the Magus. So if you have any burning questions on-topic, head on over and ask away!