Am I the onl- just kiddin. But seriously,did this age THAT badly?

Spoilers: this post is full of frustration. You have been warned. Seriously, I get frustrated again just looking at it.

Disclaimer: I'm not comparing WoW as a whole to single player games! Just comparing similar elements used in a different way elsewhere!

Teaser: Last weekend a friend sent me a scroll of resurrection because he wanted that stupid pet for his character as a reward.

Bored now ... *flails skin off random person*
Bored now ... *flails skin off random person*

I hadn't played WoW since Wrath of the Lich King launched which I didn't buy. Back then I just bought Burning Crusade for cheap since that was old and I wanted access to the new characters (hadn't played for over a year at that point as well). I played my first character on vanilla WoW till level 59 - it just got so boring I didn't even care to at least reach the original level cap.

I made it to level 42 with my Blood Elf while the others were having fun with the brand new Death Knight and stuff. I got bored again, basically I had seen all the stuff beyond the new starting area in my previous playthrough and finding people to go into dungeons with was still somewhat of a pain (the over abundance of damage dealers did its part, sure).

When Cataclysm launched, I wanted to use the free game time Blizzard threw at me to check out the world in its original state and then live through the transition and check out the changes just out of curiosity. I say wanted to because I never did, I just didn't care enough.

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So, as I said, last weekend I got the rez scroll and had free game time again. I checked out the cool new installer and was up to go back to the new and improved Azeroth (since the scroll came with a free character transfer to the realm my friend is on and a bump to level 80 including flying mounts and blahblahblah). Once I forced those 10gig down my pipe, I clicked play and went back to my Blood Elf who suddenly hung out in Orgrimmar for some reason (don't remember leaving her there but whatevs). With the level bump came preset new equipment and my talent tree got reset but automatically respecced according to the specialty I chose during the resurrection process. That was weird. So off to questing.

Upon finding my quest log empty, I decided to check out all those yellow !s with my new flying mount. At least they're helping you with way points on the map now since the world is so fucking huge and you are so damn slow. I must've started the Cataclysm main quest line because I was told to check out some vision in a pool which I had to google because I couldn't find a pool. Turns out the thing was tiny and right next to me. Not fun.

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Then, I thought I'd fly around to check out the transformed areas finally. On my flying mount! Must be awesome! ... No it wasn't. That thing apparently has 280% flight speed - so why does it still feel like I'm swimming in a pool of honey! My god, traversing the world was sooo frustrating, especially since I just came off of playing Xenoblade which has instant fast travel to all major and even minor locations. No hassle whatsoever! This was just tedious and boring. I also got into my first fight, by the way. While flying over Ashenvale(?) I saw a giant fire elemental sitting on a volcano and decided to fry him. He died quickly but then I fell off the volcano and had to walk back to my body (didn't wanna start off with the item damage penalty) and was reminded how annoying that process was.

Screw that, I thought to myself and went to the next quest objective - riding the boat to the front lines or something. What's nice is that they actually scripted some sequence where the boat gets attacked and you end up underwater where you have to save some of the dudes and gather equipment before you can make your way to solid ground again. But then and there a huge problem revealed itself. The quests are FUCKING TERRIBLE! My god, I forced myself to give the game a chance to win me back. I was close to quitting after the FIRST quest. "Kill X crabs and collect Y shells". It's been YEARS and two major expansions since I last played and NOTHING changed! The slow movement speed and snoozefest-combat make these quests so unbearable.

Standard Issue Fetch Quest
Standard Issue Fetch Quest

What was the next quest? The area is not safe, "kill X Naga duders" and after "collect X number of the shit we lost". Seriously? I mean, sure, you basically do that kind of stuff in every RPG but the way they present this to you and the mechanics are so ancient and simply unfun it's almost painful. Again, I have to mention Xenoblade because I spent 30 hours with that over the last two weeks (70+ total so far) and it's fresh on my mind. From an objective point, the quests aren't that different. "Kill X number of that monster", "find Y of those thingys for me". The difference is a) your character has a dialog with the quest giver, not just a text block explaining what you need to do which you don't read anyway and b) YOU DON'T HAVE TO WALK BACK TO TURN THE QUEST IN!

I should make this bigger:


Yo-Yo-Gameplay(TM)! :-)
Yo-Yo-Gameplay(TM)! :-)

This was such a revelation in Xenoblade; World of Warcraft basically feels unplayable and broken without it. The worst thing about it is that you usually get sent right back to where you just collected the stuff for the previous quest to do more uninteresting shit. I'll call that Yo-Yo-Gameplay(TM). You can back and forth between the same two areas and have meaningless interaction with either an NPC or a group of enemies. I was glad I had a Blood Elf specialized in Demonology so I could summon some hell beast to defend me, saving me from pressing 1, 2, 5, 6, 1, 2, 5, 6, 6, 2 (see, I switched up the order to avoid falling asleep) longer than I needed to.

After I rode around on a seahorse in a scripted quick time event to tame it, I was apparently finally free to leave that horrible underwater area where I soon ran past every enemy because the combat was just that unappealing to me. I also died a lot because I stopped paying attention to the enemies at some point out of boredom. My demon wasn't strong enough to take care of business alone, it seems. Just walking around was a pain as well since I pulled aggro pretty much constantly from the nearby enemies no matter where I went (still in the underwater area where everyone is lvl 80-ish as well).

I gave up once I found the way to the overworld to open up flight paths to the main continent. It seems unbelievable that I managed to level my character to 59 back when they hadn't even introduced all the improvements to make things more convenient. Unfathomable. I think I spent two hours and all of it was just terrible.

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In my opinion, WoW is (or at least has become) a terrible game that has aged extremely badly. Blizzard needs to step their game up tremendously with their Titan project because the basic gameplay in WoW just does not hold up. Or maybe it's just not for me and this exact barebones interaction that requires zero effort but simply lots of endurance is why this has such mass appeal. A facebook game without facebook and better graphics, is what it sounds like when I think about it.

Thankfully I didn't pay for it again.


Back to better games.

Better game is better.
Better game is better.

Of clones named Snake, healing tubs and Suda51: Contact (DS)

Just to be clear: this blog is separate from by BA research journal. I wanted to use that to finally get my blogging going and while the BA journal will be an on-going series of blog posts, I plan on writing about random stuff in between. So here we go...

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Sometime last year, I was browsing to my multi-tab (read: friends list) on my backloggery page (backloggery is a place where you can keep track of your gaming collection and how many games you actually finish and how many end up on your pile of shame) and I came across an update about a DS game called Contact. I don't remember what it said that intrigued me, but I ... contacted (gosh, I'm hilarious...) the person who played it and asked what it was about. Turns out Contact is an RPG by Goichi "Suda51" Suda's studio Grasshopper Manufacture that came out on the Nintendo DS in 2007 and does not at all resemble your traditional Japanese RPG with spikey-haired protagonists who summon dragons to save the world from an regime of sorcerers or whatnot. Remember those? They made a few like that, I hear.

A spaceship hidden inside a ship. Pretty cunning, don't ya think?
A spaceship hidden inside a ship. Pretty cunning, don't ya think?

So what is the game like? Actually, it is quite reminiscent of our beloved EarthBound! You play as a boy called Terry ... well, no - actually you play as yourself who controls/helps a boy called Terry according to the instructions from some old Einstein-looking professor on a spaceship. You think that's weird already? See, the game loves to break the Fourth Wall a lot. The professor who shall not be named or was named and I simply forgot his name ... contacts (ha, yea ...twice now - still funny, right? ...right?) you via the device he identifies as a DS and asks you to help Terry help him get some energy cells back so he can fly back home with his spaceship that he hid in an actual sailing ship. Just like in EarhBound, the professor asks you personal stuff (where you live, favorite food, your special secret) that may or may not be relevant later on in the game. Also, he has a cat. Suda apparently loves cats. You can even summon the cat called Moichi by applying a sticker onto the screen to help Terry when he's in trouble. Moichi gets stronger if you play with her while Terry sleeps in a bed (= saving the game). Really, can't they think of something new? All JPRGs are the same these days. *cough*

Making "contact" with Terry. Moichi chillin' in the cockpit.

Your journey starts on a deserted island and takes you to other islands with different vegetation and different types of civilized life on these islands. The lower screen is where all the action happens and the areas are all beautiful pre-rendered backdrops including some front layers. On the top screen, you'll always have a very graphically different looking view of the professor and Moichi in the cockpit. It actually looks more cartoony and provides a stark contrast to the more "real" looking action on the lower screen. I'm currently in the third major area, a forest area with a military base on it. All the soldiers look like chibi versions of Solid Snake for some reason and they even manage to throw in some more not-so-subtle MGS references. That same area also created a moment that made me laugh out loud due to its utter ridiculousness. See, the military spent all their budget building the runway for an airfield and they have no money left for actual planes or jets. What are the pilots supposed to do now? How are they supposed to hone their skills without aircrafts to fly in? I won't spoil that here but I guarantee it's hilarious.

Let's hope R. Kelly isn't trapped in that closet.
Let's hope R. Kelly isn't trapped in that closet.

In the actual gameplay department, it's a bit more inside the box but still manages to throw in a few cool twists. You don't find armor pieces to equip but Terry can find a number of "suits" that enhance his elemental abilities and open up special moves to make combat a bit easier. There's a chef's suit that allows you to cook at fireplaces, for example. By cooking, you can basically prepare health items and depending on the recipe (which you can find or buy), they might also add various temporary status bonuses. There's also a thief's outfit that allows you to pick locks. Leveling works much like an Elder Scrolls game where you don't distribute attribute points but instead gain upgrades by using skills. Want to improve armor? Keep getting hit. To upgrade stamina - keep running, etc.

So far, I have only come across melee weapons like swords and clubs (and magic staffs?!) but there is a great amount of variety among them with some of them proving effective in different situations. Further customization and skill bonuses come with the decal system. Personal decals are applied to Terry himself and enhance certain stats. Trick decals transform enemies into harmless animals or transport you back to your ship or summon Moichi to help out. There are tons of things to collect, modify or cook that influence your game directly.

Contact is one of the most refreshing RPGs I have played. Not enough of them stray from the fantasy formula and branch out into completely different settings and scenarios like EarthBound, Alpha Protocol, the upcoming South Park RPG or the Persona games. Contact oozes with charm and weirdness and I'm excited to play more of it (I'm guessing I'm about somewhere close to the end of the first third of the game) and I highly recommend everyone who owns a DS and loves RPGs to check this out. It's dirt cheap on eBay so there's no excuse. Maybe I'll write more about it once I've finish the game.


Project: Bachelor Thesis - Finally - a Topic for My Blog!

So, if you take a look at the date of my first (and last) blog entry, you'll notice it's been a while (after which you'll probably laugh since that post was about finally starting a blog which obviously never happened). Now that I'm fairly close to finishing university, I finally found a topic worth blogging about: the process of researching and writing my bachelor thesis ... about video games!

As someone studying English and Media Studies and an avid gamer since the early SNES days, writing my final paper about video games was somehow inevitable. The only real alternative would've been to write about TV Shows and milk Joss Whedon's shows for yet another topic (I wrote my first paper mainly about the Buffy episode "The Body" and the portrayal of death on TV). One of my classes this year in the literary studies department was about utopias/dystopias and I thought this would be a natural jump-off point for a topic relating to video games.

Today I finally got around to talking to the professor who's going to oversee and grade the paper for the first time. Fun fact: turns out, he used to be a gamer as well. What I want to write about is basically interactive narrative, player choice and emotional investment in games set in a utopian/dystopian world. One of the major influences for this was episode six of the Irrational Behavior podcast in which designer Justin Pappas talked about playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. with the Redux mod installed which introduces a hunger mechanic that forced him to resort to extreme measures to survive and how that made him feel (starts at 26m50s).

I killed a man for his sausage and I still carry the guilt. And no game has ever forced me to so compromise my morals as this S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Redux mod and I think it was because of this hunger mechanic - Justin Pappas

After reading some interesting blogs and articles over the last years, I have my eye on games like BioShock, Metro 2033, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and possibly Deus Ex. Most or all of them have been significantly influenced by other works (Metro 2033 is even a straight up adaptation of a book) like novels (Atlas Shrugged, Roadside Picnic) or movies (Blade Runner, Stalker) which may or may not be relevant to the final paper. My professor told me that covering three games should be more than enough for a topic like this which he said he liked and found quite interesting.

The next step will be more pre-research to narrow down the topic and justify my topic and the choice of works to analyze. The tricky thing with that is that the focus should be on works from anglophone regions which is why S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Metro are a little problematic. But I might be able to make a good case for why they are important enough to write about regardless. More (?) importantly, I need to play the games! The only game I have played out of those I want to look at is BioShock (and its sequel). I own all the others but they're firmly situated in my pile of shame, waiting to be played. Last week, I joined a "Game Club" for Metro 2033 that Giant Bomb user started in the forums because I loved the idea. It's like a book club, for video games! That's going to be a nice resource for detailed impressions!

I plan on updating this blog with my progress or lack thereof. Maybe someone even ends up caring enough to read the blog, who knows! If anyone reading this has any suggestions for other games portraying detailed utopian/dystopian worlds or has read something interesting about interactive narrative, world building and immersion on games, feel free to post suggestions in the comments!


New Kid on the Blog

So ... I've been thinking about starting a blog for ages. A few days ago, I came up with a title for it that I thought was pretty clever and unique. Turns out, it's not. I randomly stumbled across a site that used almost the exact same title with a slight variation just a day later and a google search revealed multiple blogs with "my" idea. Great - so let this be the first entry of many while I try to find a "cool" name for my blog.
Quite fitting that I start by ranting/complaining since that's what I like to do ... a lot! :)
ps: no, this is not just a "quest"-blog.
pps (edit): oh, the presumably "clever" name was "A Boy and His Blog" ... I was sooo happy and then *gutpunch* :/