Sunday, April 3, 2011

Suddenly I notice things

Being a game designer has to be a pretty ungrateful job at times. I'm not just talking about the effort they put down to make us happy, only to have their forums flooded with whine and everything is wrong no matter what they do. That has to be pretty tough as well, but I'm rather talking about the guys who are busting their ass equally much, but rarely get any recognition, not even whine. People like the music writers and even more often, area and zone designers. This is true for most games, where there are plenty of people who've added their work and soul to some part of the game, going basically unnoticed by the vast majority of players. Alas, that is the fate of many background people, making things work and see the recognition go to someone else.

I do occasionally take a moment to just wander around and enjoy the scenery in WoW. More rarely in other games. Most games have a set pace which is diffuclt to escape from, allowing little time to just run around and explore. Just randomly running around is something people enjoy alot however, I can only imagine that it has to be a big reason that the GTA games are so popular, as one example. "Sandbox" has become for the 00's, what "3D" was for the 90's. For some reason, of which one probably could write a whole lot, we just love to be able to run around and do nothing and everything. In some ways it's quite obvious. Whenever I think about what I would do if I was suddenly the last person on earth, running around and do random crazy stuff comes pretty high on that list.

Still, it amazes me how I can sometimes see something hundreds of times without ever really seeing it. I might notice some special part of a questing area only the 50th time I do it, although I've been through there 49 times before. "There was a house there? Never noticed". Some of these things that I "discover" after a long time are just ridiculous. How could I have missed that all this time? Now that I see it, it seems impossible, yet I am absolutely sure I didn't notice it before. I probably saw it all along, but I just never registered it, if you know what I mean. These things can stretch from the blatantly obvious that stares you in the eye each day, and becomes part of the unnoticed background because of that, to things that aren't noticed because they're not where you usually keep your focus of attention.

Instance interiors are a great example of this. How many times do you look up into the ceiling of the instance you're running? And then suddenly you just happen to turn your camera that way, the 45th time you do the instance and go "Woot, has that thing always been there?". We're so focused on doing our job and keeping the pace, steadily moving along that we miss everything around is. I even regularly miss what's going on in the chat windows, no wonder I miss out on all the cool instance interior designs that Blizzard have done. It's not odd, because we rarely have a reason, or the time, to stop and just take a look at everything around us. But some instances have loads of details which get lost if you don't decide to turn your camera slightly up or down here and there. Vortex Pinnacle and Halls of Origination come to mind as two instances where I have found lots of details which I'd missed the dozen of times I did the instances before. Just tilting your camera slightly back, looking up into the ceiling of Halls of Origination will often result in a view you never noticed before. These detours often give you a new idea of how the instance really looks and an Aha-experience like I had when I flew over Zul'Farrak the first time. Although I knew exactly what the instance looked like, having done it some 100 times by now probably, seeing it all at the same time from above still offered me a unique experience to something I had seen 100 times before.

The other day I was standing by the summon stone outside of Blackwing Descent and summoning a couple of guildies. Well, the guildies did the summoning, and I mostly ran around while waiting. Suddenly I stopped, started circling the camera around and felt a small light bulb emerge inside me. Waiiit a minute, I thought. I recognize this place. Doesn't this look exactly like Nefarians throne room in Blackwing Lair? When I told Love about my discovery he looked at me like I was the village idiot. "Duh", he said. "You only just noticed?" Yeah, I had done BWD some 20 times before I noticed that the entrance actually is the end room from Blackwing Lair. To my defense I never did BWL back in Vanilla, and had only done the instance a handful of times afterwards on fun-runs, which usually doesn't mean you spend a whole lot of time on any one boss or in any one room. Still, it took me ages to notice I had been at the exact same place before.

You probably won't believe me on this one, but what really sparked this post was when I noticed that there is a skull on the loot screen. It was a while ago now (actually probably a year ago), and I didn't use an addon that replaced the loot window. I had the regular one. I had been playing the game for a couple of years when I suddenly one day just... noticed the skull. I turned to Love and said "did they just implement a skull onto the loot screen?" and he looked at me like if I was a flying pig. "It has always been there", he said, "you won't get me to believe you've never noticed it before". No indeed, I must have noticed it before. I am quite sure I've seen it everytime the loot window opens. But that day I actually noticed the skull. If I had noticed it before and just forgot about it I can't say, but the experience was quite freaky nonetheless. Kind of like having an elephant in the living room which you just suddenly one day see. I could find some sort of explanation for my random blindness. When opening the loot window, you're really looking for the loot, and not the design of the loot window. The skull was completely uninteresting, so I just never bothered to process it. Also since I had changed to auto loot pretty early in the game, the loot window only actually flicks up on the screen for a brief second each time, and like I mentioned, at that time I won't be focusing on much else than what I was looting, if anything at all. Still, it was freaky as hell. How could it be even possible to miss something like that, right up in my face, countless times per day, for such a long time? Maybe that was the issue exactly - I saw it so often that I didn't see it anymore. You can't see the forest for the trees.

In any case it was a wake up call. This game deserves me to put more thought into the details. Now when I run around and do the new lowbie quests I definitely try to experience as much of them as possible. Read through all the lore, take a moment to listen to the great music that is everywhere in WoW and enjoy the fun and interesting mobs. Even though I've played this game for 6 years, I am quite certain there are loads of areas I've never seen before. Especially now with the Shattering. It's kind of like the post I did about the discussion on how the lfg-pugs were only means to an end, and my conclusion (in some ways) that we might enjoy the pug runs more if we invested more time into them. This could be true for most things in WoW. If we try to enjoy all the small details and the work put into everything in WoW, it might become more than just another Stonecore run. Maybe.


  1. I usually play in windowed mode, which is great for when you need to go check out wowhead or adjust things in mumble for a sec now and then... but it really does take away a lot of the immersion and as an effect, the way you notice things. Everything becomes sort of background.

    So whenever I know that I'll be questing on my own for a bit I usually turn on full-screen and kick the sound up from 20% to 100% so I get the full experience. When I'm in this mode, I rarely miss any details. But in windowed mode with low sound? All details just pass me by.


  2. If internet commercials has taught us anything it is to ignore them. Many games work the same way, we get rewarded for finding certain things that usually stands out so everything that don't stand out gets ignored. It's just more efficient that way.

  3. I've done that kind of thing too. I remember a few months ago someone posted an article about loot rolls and pointed out the golden dragon around the boss loot roll window in a screenshot... and I was like: there's a dragon there? How many years have I been playing this game again?