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  A Case for Virtual-World Weather  
Posted 2005-07-20 by Tony Walsh
Jeff Freeman, a game designer for MMOG Star Wars Galaxies, makes a case for story-enhancing "Weather in Virtual Worlds." Freeman supposes "If you're sad and it's raining then it's raining because you are sad. The weather is punctuation for life's little events. The undead don't come at dusk, they bring the night with them." While weather has traditionally been used a literary device, very few games have followed suit. Implementing weather in a single-player game is far easier than a multiplayer game, where it's only sensible for all players to experience the same weather in the same location--preventing such literary events as the clouds gathering over a fallen comrade (at the rate people die in multiplayer games, it would always be cloudy).

World of Warcraft features some of the best weather I've seen in a multiplayer game in terms of setting the atmosphere. Every zone has its own sky, fog, and sound effects; moving between areas is a gradual transition, allowing a player to travel from the bright, wind-blown desert of Tanaris to the misty green depths of the Un'Goro Crater in a believable manner. WoW's sun and moon travel in real-world time. When it's dusk here, it's dusk there. The sunsets are spectacular.
  School of Play  
Posted 2005-06-23 by Tony Walsh
I've been playing the online multiplayer game World of Warcraft for several months. The game takes place in a Tolkienesque fantasy world with its own peoples, places, and things. Despite my nerd history, I really couldn't care less about WoW's epic storyline, and frankly don't even know what it's about other than "good guys versus bad guys." I'm in it for the game play.

During the course of my adventures in the Warcrafty world of Azeroth, I've learned a number of things, and thought I'd share some of my learning with you:
  • I know the names, overall geography, and sea-ports of the two continents in the game.
  • I know the names, specific geographic features, and biological makeup of a number of distinct regions (approximately 60% of Azeroth).
  • I know the names, shapes, and typical locations and general usage of at least a dozen species of plant life. I recognize each type on sight.
I didn't set about to learn these things. They were absorbed through the course of play. What does this tell us about games?

Continue reading: School of Play
  Warcraft’s Big Dirty Secret  
Posted 2005-06-17 by Tony Walsh
Warcraft’s Big Dirty Secret
This typical wagon wheel is taller than a man, while its axle and planks are wider than a man's chest.
Massively-multiplayer game World of Warcraft (WoW) has a fantastic visual style, rendered in epic brush-strokes. Everything in WoW is heroic-looking, from barrel-chested humanoids to towering fortresses. Suspiciously heroic-looking. Every prop and set in the fantasy environment is about twice as big as it should be, and that's even considering the range in size of WoW's Tolkienesque player races. Pictorial evidence, and my startling conclusion follows.

Continue reading: Warcraft’s Big Dirty Secret
  Enter the Matrix?  
Posted 2005-03-22 by Tony Walsh
After the earth-shattering success of World of Warcraft, it's hard to imagine any new MMOG making the scene, but The Matrix Online (MxO) is now shipping. MSNBC has posted their impressions, but I'm more inclined to listen to gamers who endured the beta test, or at least posted about its spontaneous combustion. While there's no doubt that The Matrix is a sensible title to convert to a MMOG, I'm not confident about its ability to capture subscribers at this point.
  WoW: Population 1.5 Million  
Posted 2005-03-18 by Tony Walsh
The smash-hit MMOG World of Warcraft is enjoyed by 1.5 million subscribers, its maker Blizzard Entertainment announced today. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that this population explosion has happened in less than four months, starting from the North American debut in late November, 2004. What this means, as Gamma Fodder points out, is that we're looking at one of the first MMOGs to quickly creep into popular culture. While questions remain about the longevity of WoW, its short-term leap to worldwide success can't be ignored.

After North America, Europe, and Korea, Blizzard intends to launch WoW in China this year, where 100,000 signed up in a one-hour span to beta-test the game. Launches in Taiwan and elsewhere are expected following WoW's Chinese invasion.
Posted 2005-02-21 by Tony Walsh
It's time for the obligatory World of Warcraft "first impressions" post. In one obvious word: Wow! World of Warcraft (WoW), is a gorgeous massively-multiplayer online game (MMOG). Pop it in and drop into a living, breathing fantasy world.

WoW is fantastically-rendered in a painterly, storybook-style (similar, but superior to The Hobbit or Fable). The environment is thick with detail and colour. The architecture is realistic and sensible. The World of Warcraft is densely populated with people, places of interest, and creatures--each aspect distinct yet supporting the global creative vision. A masterful work at first glance, but as Gatmog of Tales of a Scorched Earth aptly puts it: "It's obvious [WoW creator] Blizzard can get players to jump in. The real test will be to see if they stay there."

Continue reading: WoW!
  WoW Protest Draws Real Ire  
Posted 2005-02-01 by Tony Walsh
The time-honoured tradition of virtual-world unrest has once again reared its controversial head (1, 2, 3), this time in the World of Warcraft. Players angry at the poor design of the Warrior character class gathered to let their feelings be known in a demonstration dubbed "The Gnome Tea Party." After several warnings from an administrator to disperse, many of the protestors were temporarily suspended from the game.

Postmortem, player opinions on the effectiveness and methods of the protest are varied, but seem to echo views about real-life dissent. Early on in an online discussion about the gathering, a contributor wrote "This sort of behavior is a form of terrorism and I can tell you that you won't likely get the Warrior love you crave as a result of this." Oh, to be denied the Warrior love.
  IGDA Persistent Worlds White Paper  
Posted 2005-01-21 by Tony Walsh
The International Game Developers Association's Online Games SIG has produced a white paper on Persistent Worlds intended to summarize contemporary issues in the development and operation of MMO persistent worlds. The paper provides a broad survey of the MMO market, an overview of of design and production, a guide to technology practices, and introduces the rigors of service and operations. It's that last one that'll really kill a project. Just look at what's happening with World of Warcraft: Their servers can't handle customer demand. It's so easy to become a victim of your own success in the online arena.
  Virtual World Sparsely-Inhabited  
Posted 2004-11-24 by Tony Walsh
A Second Life Townhall Meeting featuring SL founder Philip Rosedale took place yesterday, shedding light on some issues of importance to virtual-world inhabitants.

Rosedale stated that Second Life's population is comprised of "just under" 17,000 subscribers. This is the first time I've heard a number put to the SL world population. On one hand, it's a sizeable group of people. Compared to Massively Multiplayer Online Games, such as the new World of Warcraft, however, Second Life's population barely registers.

Continue reading: Virtual World Sparsely-Inhabited
  Grinding Games  
Posted 2004-11-03 by Tony Walsh
I have only recently begun an earnest examination of massively-multiplayer games. It's one of those areas I could never justify a subscription to research, but having gone through Second Life, I figure shelling out for potential article ideas is worth it. Nevermind that I love gaming.

So far, I've played the god-awful Beta of Risk Your Life Online, and am meddling a bit with Star Wars Galaxies now that the game finally supports movie-style space combat. I'm looking forward to checking out World of Warcraft later this month.

As a reader recently pointed out, MMOGs aren't so much "games" as "work." I am beginning to realize how true this is. "The Grind," as it is called, is the real-time activity required to advance your character in a massively-multiplayer game. Imagine X being an activity like killing a creature, tanning a hide, or mining: Do X 10 times, advance to level one. Do X 100 times, advance to level two. 10000X for level three... it's bloody exponential, depending on the game system. So basically, it's like being in Purgatory, where you suffer and toil until you can get a little closer to heaven. Why do people do this? Are "levels" so important?
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