My history with World of Warcraft over the past two expansions has been… not good. I quit in Mists of Pandaria, tired of raiding and overwhelmed by the factions with daily grinds. It was a job, not a game anymore, and I hated it. They also fired a huge chunk of the Creative Development team, and the seams in the writing were showing. For the first time since playing any MMO, I played different ones – Wild Star and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn both took over my life for a few years, as well as offline games. I played Warlords of Draenor for a bit, only because I could finally pay for my subscription time with gold, and because the expansion itself was on sale for 12 bucks. Friends were getting really excited for Legion, and I did a lot of stuff solo in my other MMOs because people were all resubbing to WoW.
Turns out, it was for a good reason – Legion is flippin’ fantastic.
It’s like a dress that looks horrible on the rack, but makes you look like a superstar when you put it on. Illidan is coming back, and he’s bringing Demon Hunters? The Burning Legion is a threat again? Whatever.
Blizzard’s taken the best parts of all their previous expansions, and melded it into something really cool. Players finally feel like they’re the hero of the story, can change things in Azeroth – something FFXIV: ARR was great at. Demon Hunters are fun to play, and get great cut scenes:
But most of all, there’s an element of surprise and discovery to the exploration of the Broken Isles that I haven’t felt playing WoW since Vanilla. I’ve been max level for a few weeks, and I am still finding quests in areas I never discovered – despite being the kind of person Bioware complains about on Twitter. Dungeon quests are slotted at the very end of the zone’s main story so you’re not held up from progressing due to waiting in hour long queues as DPS, but in addition to that, there are tons of quest hubs hidden all over the five Broken Isles zones that you can just pick up and do any time.
Still not convinced? How about small, hidden caves all over the coastline filled with orbs that players need to click in a specific order to unlock a world boss? Or that the artifact weapons (upgradeable legendary weapons based on class-related lore) all have hidden appearances and effects that players will have to figure out how to unlock? It’s pretty hard to make discovery exciting and fresh in a post-Wowhead world, but the way it’s been established so far in Legion has made me excited to at least try things on my own as much as possible, to occasionally sad and/or hilarious results. (For example: poisoning nobles on behalf of the Revolution in Suramar City, only to find out that I was poisoning my own allies at the behest of a loyalist. HECK!)
The addition of World Quests to supplant dailies as the end game mechanic was also a great choice – World Quests each have their own individual timers, from a few hours to a few days, compared to the daily mechanism, which changed all dailies, every day at the same time. It keeps things fresh, and sends players all over the region hunting down the quests with loot or materials that they want, before the timer runs down. Half the time I begin my World Quests for the evening, and only finish hours later, because I got caught up in fishing, or rescuing a baby bear from an attacking Tauren. Especially because of rescuing baby bears…
I don’t know what my plan will be any more when I sit down to play WoW. I’m excited to see what new thing I’ll discover when I log in. Like rescuing a baby manasaber? Or a baby fawn… look, I really love baby animals.
(Or: Is that a <<print $game.PC.inventory[$item])>> in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?)
A few weeks ago (right around GDC) I took some time in my professional life to mortar up a shameful gap in my clerical history – total ignorance of using excel. I found learning it was a lot like playing euchre: you can observe someone doing it for years and be totally baffled, but as soon as someone teaches you the basics, it ends up being incredibly simple.
A few months prior to that, a lot of game critics and devs on my twitter feed had been talking a lot about Twine, a game creation tool. I sort of paid attention in the same way I do to any game item I see repeatedly, but figured most programming tools were outside my limited scope.
Cue one of the biggest and coolest stories out of GDC, in which award-winner Richard Hofmeier vandalized his own expo-floor booth to promote and allow attendees to play Porpentine’s Howling Dogs. Charmed by the story, I gave the interactive novel cum text adventure game a try. An hour of reading and clicking left me with an experience I found haunting and poetic. Then I noticed the fine print: Built in Twine. “WHAT IS TWINE?” I screamed at my screen, “TO MAKE SUCH THINGS?”
I hit the google machine, and found anna anthropy’s intro to building games with Twine. Twine, to my delight, dovetailed neatly with my new knowledge of Excel. It also, to my exceeding delight, lit up nodes of my brain that are tickled by choose your own adventure novels and text RPGs. It’s a simple tool than can create elaborate results with infinite possibility.
I don’t want to reinvent the wheel – guides to twine are plentiful and both anna’s information and the info included in the official Twine FAQ are more than adequate for a beginner, and a great deal of the appeal of Twine lies in both its simplicity and the desire to figure out why something didn’t work the way you wanted to.
I started with a text adventure played straight where you play as… my cat Gary!
The visual mapping made it easy to lay out the general flow of the idea (which mimicked the general flow of my house!), and create places for Gary to level up – the scratching post in the basement to sharpen his mighty hunter’s claws, the toy mousie for agility, the litter box to level up his … uh dignity. The roadblock? I couldn’t figure out how to get the game to save the randomly generated stats using these items gave him, which meant he couldn’t progress to fighting monsters (my fat beast of a cat, Minnow) or the next level (portal to fairyland) (because naturally GARY IS AN IMMORTAL BEING OF SUPREME POWER)
I was, I think, trying to run before learning to walk, and furthermore, not being true to my own personal strength (storytelling) or the medium’s personal strength (the human experience)(also hilarious hacker adventures). Some day, Gary’s story will be told and everyone will know he’s ａｎ ｉｍｍｏｒｔａｌ ｂｅｉｎｇ ｏＦ ＳＵＰＲＥＭＥ ＰＯＷＥR. But today is not that day.
Instead, I started a twine game about the walled city of Mzandrei, where women are the strength, the leaders and knowledge holders. Men circle the city gates at night, baying to be let in. You can play as the Queen and try to juggle resources for a city caged and besieged; a soldier, hunting a killer before they kill again, or a librarian, struggling with a secret that may be killing you.
Of course, that’s where the game has stalled so far because I am nothing if not consistent with procrastination. But fun things are always funner together and twine can literally be for anyone – check out the #pphsjam column on twitter, and see how people can take a small idea (dating) and turn it into all kinds of stories whimsical and sad and terribly joyful. You can leave your project simple and sparse, or with the use of custom spreadsheets, have all kinds of blinking, jiggling, flashing text mayhem at your disposal. You can use colours. You can use art. You can use music.
In a way, Twine is exhilarating because you can do anything. In a more visceral way, Twine is absolutely terrifying because you can do anything. When people talk about the interactivity of gaming, Twine is a good hard look at what a slog through someone else’s shoes can be like, without anything between you and your gut but the words. Sometimes that experience is a pastoral life herding sheep. Sometimes that experience is somewhat more harrowing.
It’s communal. Take a look at the aforementioned game jam. How about the active Google group? It’s not just communal, it’s open-handedly community oriented. porpentine shares the twine map for Howling Dogs, so you can see how it’s done. People share custom spreadsheets and scripting phrases for the less computer literate among us (Bless you!).
Anything and everything can be an inspiration. Anyone can develop the kind of game that causes a man to graffiti the booth of his own award-winning video game. It could be you. If you let it.
Let’s learn Twine, together.