Monday, January 5, 2009

Achievements and immersion

Matticus is discussing what he thinks the ideal dungeon design would be, beginning with a look back at what worked or did not work in previous WoW dungeons. I think his list is good. Regarding storyline, I think Naxxramas missed a big opportunity by failing to have a tie-in to the world around it. Perhaps they felt that since it had already been part of vanilla, it didn't need a new storyline, or perhaps they didn't want to create quests that people who don't raid had no hope of completing, as Tobold suggests. I think in the spirit of making the entry-level raid game more accessible, you'd especially want to have quests pointing to it. Neither of the other raids, Eye of Eternity and Obsidian Sanctum have quests so it seems like a deliberate decision rather than something that just got cut on the way to release. While questing in dragonblight, frequent reference is made to the coming of Naxxramas and it's impact on the region. But players deal with that impact on the ground in the mid-70s before they even have flying mounts, so naturally no one suggests that these players actually try to get in to Naxxramas. However, I think it would have been really cool for level 80 players to have a quest send them back to the old Dragonblight quest hubs. On their return, the old quest-givers would recognize and welcome the players as returning heroes. However, you have come now not to perform rescue operations, not to defend, and not to take orders. You are now leading the charge, in a direct counter-attack, with the intent of utterly destroying the threat hovering in the sky above.

It does seem as though there is intended to be a clear divide from the leveling/questing game, and the heroics/achievements game. Achievements must necessarily exist outside the game, unreferenced by NPCs or quest text, since they would break immersion. So quests never point to anything beyond merely defeating bosses or recovering objects or NPCs in the dungeons. Unlike TBC, no quest that I'm aware of ever requires heroic difficulty. And although there were a few achievement-style objectives that existed in TBC (rescuing Millhouse or the prisoners in Shattered Halls) this style of play has been moved squarely outside the realm of quests and into the non-game realm of achievements. This all makes sense from the perspective of immersion. What exactly is happening in the game when you switch the dungeon to 'heroic'? No attempt is made to explain this, and none come to mind that don't strain the imagination. Similarly, the hard-mode style achievements can't really be explained. Rescuing prisoners within time limits, was all fine and well. But WotLK expanded the whole idea of hard-mode achievements into weird things like deliberately doing encounters in more difficult ways, or with fewer players, something that you really can't, nor should, try to explain in-game. So perhaps the decision was made to make the entire end-game sort of a separation from the leveling/questing game which you basically finish and 'win'. Raiding and achievements are a new type of leveling that don't really exist in game, since they all imply that you are doing the same encounters and killing the same bosses over and over, something which no longer fits in the immersion of the story line.

Interestingly, Ulduar is slated to expand even further the idea of 'hard modes', introducing special loot for doing encounters in harder ways. The Zul-Aman timed runs and the Sartharion drake runs already did this, but these were mostly cosmetic mount awards. The Ulduar hard modes, will give real loot, not mere mounts, and not mere achievements. I like this idea, since it's in keeping with the idea of accessible content. Practically anyone can see the content, and defeat the bosses, but real tangible challenges and rewards are held out for players that want them.

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