Friday, June 18, 2010

The Rhythm and the Groove

I wanted to talk some more about why I am suddenly enjoying my time in World of Warcraft again.

It comes back to the old pen and paper games.

In the old days, and maybe still today with Dungeons and Dragons, the table top games would release "expansions" in the form of adventure packs. Some packs were self-contained adventures, while others were a series of epic campaigns.

The self-contained adventures would cover a specific level range and might be for a solo player and his Dungeon Master, or several players, but the characters all had to be a specific level range. They were likely intended to be side adventures from ongoing campaigns, but most players probably just rolled new characters so they could enjoy the adventure.

The campaigns, however, would start off with an adventure pack that players would roll characters for. The first pack in the series would be good for 1-2 or 1-5 levels (I don't remember the ranges anymore). The next pack would be for the next level range and so on until the campaign came to a close. Some campaigns might be good for a couple dozen levels or more, and many months of adventuring, across several pack releases. Then later, there might be another campaign for the next range of levels, then another campaign, and so on. At some point the packs would come to an end at some high level and the players would have to rely on a new setting, likely off-world, with no pack releases: the players would have to rely on ingenuity of their Dungeon Master to come up with the stories.

So, all of this is to help illustrate how expansion packs and live content patches work in current online MMORPGs.

Say for instance, The Burning Crusade just came out. That is your new setting. It is designed to entertain players with characters beginning at a specific level. The accompanying future patch releases are the campaign modules (adventure packs). Now, in pen and paper games, as I illustrated above, each module pushes the characters into new levels. But in online games, the "modules" push the characters into new levels of gear instead.

Obviously, the setting and module model works differently in each online game and none of them are a perfect translation from pen and paper tropes.

But the familiarity is certainly there for me. There are some things I wish online games would do, or do better, and other things I wish they would stop doing, but they come close enough to the mark that can enjoy them. I never played a pen and paper campaign or module (never had enough friends close enough, and once I did, no one had any, we just made up our own stories and winged it) but I always wanted to. Just as I always wanted to immerse myself in the Elder Scrolls games more fully and with a living, breathing population.

World of Warcraft brings all that to the table. Or at least, Blizzard has made the best effort so far.

And that is why I am still playing.

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