Tuesday 5 February 2013

We Flew Spitfires

Gordon of We Fly Spitfires asks "Do MMOs Make You Feel Old?" I wrote quite a long reply on his website to this, but grrrh! Yet again, a Wordpress-based blog ate my homework. Undaunted, I know at least that I can respond here.

Gordon mourns the passing of his once-nimble dexterity, and feels old when faced with bleeding fingers caused by the game mechanics of today's MMOs. In days of yore, combat mechanics were much more straightforward than they are today. Even Syncaine, when not bashing WoW for being too easy, is praising Ultima Online because it's combat mechanics were basically semi-afk auto-attack.

It's hard to see the logic of Syncaine's position, since WoW combat is much more complex. And yet there is some merit behind what he says. In earlier times, MMORPGs were virtual worlds where we played the role of an adventurer, exploring these worlds, helping the people we met and occasionally slaying monsters. Today's MMOs are combat-based games, so it makes sense to improve the combat mechanics to make them more interesting. Virtual worlds are shrinking. Non-combat game-play is disappearing.

Travel, for instance. Once upon a time, we would venture forth from a city to find a distant wizard living in a dark tower in a darker forest to ask him for arcane help with an enchantment. The fun you could have on such a journey was great. Nowadays, there is no need to find him. Just look up his location on wowhead. No need to do any venturing forth, either. Just fly, teleport or zone in. And anyway, we now automatically learn the enchantment without needing to visit a trainer.

In bygone days, we would find concealed entrances to mystical dungeons deep inside caves high on lofty peaks, or in submerged caverns below the sea. It was a rare moment to come across these thresholds to adventure. We would ride for many leagues, o'er hill and dale, for three days and three nights, back to the city where, in a basement beneath a beer-swilled, sawdust-carpeted tavern down a narrow winding lane, our guild of adventurers holds its secret deliberations. There, we would raise a party of trusted comrades to investigate the dungeon, map it out and discover what lay within.

Today, no investigation is required except on Google. Nothing in the dungeon is unknown, except the location of its entrance1. Instead, all we need to do is click the Dungeon Finder's "Enter Dungeon" button along with four other strangers and congratulate ourselves on how streamlined getting into dungeons is nowadays compared to the old days, and how bored we are to be doing them for the 50th time. Still, at least the tank knows a route whereby we can skip half the instance. Meantime, we've missed all that game-play of the imagination, and Blizzard has had to make the combat more complex to make up for it. The big old world we used to find adventure in is reduced to a city background that acts as a lobby to the discrete combat games we queue for.

So, do not mourn the passing of your dexterity, Gordon. Mourn the passing of your virtual worlds.

1. The only time the location of the entrance is needed now is when the group wipes and the players have to find their way back to their corpses from the graveyard. Many a player has dropped group rather than having to actually find the entrance! Blizzard, take note. Put the Spirit Healers inside the instance, preferably every 100 yards.

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