18 Oct. 2007

I couldn't think a better subject to start with, a post containing at the same time WoW and the Devil.... there must be some connection between the two. Kidding aside, I'd like to tackle the tedious problem of what distinguishes a great MMOs from mediocre ones namely what distinguishes WoW from the embarrassing amount of trying-to-keep-up MMOs which are being published lately (free or with subscription). Well many words have already been written on the subject and I would like to offer a slightly different perspective. The major strength of WoW and actually of all Blizzard games can be summarized, in my opinion, with the sentence “easy to learn but hard to master” which could be paraphrased “easy to get caught in but hard to get rid of”.

Let leave the analysis of the “hard to get rid of” section to a subsequent moment and focus for a second on the part “easy to get caught in”. I have tried many other MMORPG and what immediately struck me was the absence of the same “magic” I felt when I started playing WoW, that invisible force that immediately connected me with the game and made me feel at home from the first minutes. Now, I do not believe in magic (even if mages are my favorite avatars) consequently I have tried to figure out the reasons that make this force materialize in some games and not in others. I think that the ability of a game to create a proper “suspension of reason” in the gamer, since the first minutes, is essential to capture his/her interest and to encourage him/her to continue exploring and experimenting the gameplay.

But what are the ingredients that a designer can use to concoct this effective entree? Here are a couple of things which have been implemented properly by WoW and that made the difference to me versus other games:

  1. Character inertia. In many MMO I have played characters are disconnected from the ground and in general from the basic rules of physics. I mean their walking or running speed is not reflected properly by the correspondent animation; this creates a disconnection from the ground as if the character were sliding instead of really contacting the soil. This is particularly frustrating with heavy characters or big monsters where this phenomenon dilutes or even completely breaks the so called suspension of reason induced by the game. I know WoW suffers of this problem as well in many circumstances (see for example giant Kodos turning speed during combat) but it is incomparable to what I have seen in other games.
  2. Interaction with the environment. WoW, starting zone for Dwarves and Gnomes; it’s cold, air condenses through breathing and forms a visible vapor that is exhaled by the characters; when lv1 Giggins runs on the snow he leaves footmarks and visible snow sprinkles are tossed in the air at every step. Same environment, start zone LoTRO.. Nothing… no condensed breathing, no footmarks no sprinkles… again another little indent in the suspension of reason.

What’s your opinion?