Thursday, February 28, 2013

Carbine is Listening!

When the creators of WildStar told us that they took their community very seriously, they weren't kidding!

I started this blog recently because I simply couldn't contain my enthusiasm about WildStar for much longer and I /had/ to share my ideas with others, especially the role-playing community. Imagine then, my utter shock and delight as Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney himself was the first commenter on my blog. (Which if you haven't read yet, check it out here,)

And it didn't stop there. I created a link to my blog on the WildStar subreddit in hopes of drawing some views and maybe some comments from my fellow WildStar enthusiasts. It was here that Jeremy Gaffney once again stepped in with one of the most impressive displays of PR I've seen. Right here, in the thick of the community, he asked us what WE wanted to see. What did the roleplaying community want from WildStar? What was important to us? The thread immediately went wild with people excited to share our opinions and ideas and was linked across the community!

“Mr. Gaffney has a question for us over on Reddit!” on WildStar Roleplay
“WildStar Role-Players Assemble!” on ZAM
“Jeremy Gaffney has a question for the roleplaying community!” on WildStar Central

And it goes further! Not long after this the Senior Community Manager David Bass (also known online as Scooter) gave the roleplaying community some brand new information regarding an amazing in-game chat feature which you should check out on the WildStar Central forums, here.

This goes to show that not only are Carbine studios taking their roleplaying community very seriously, they ARE listening to US. They WANT to know what we think.

Suddenly this game is no longer that exciting, but out-of-reach concept we are waiting with bated breath for. It is a source of pride as we become a living breathing part of this creation.

So go out there and make yourselves hear, Carbine is listening!

Edit: Almost forgot to include this: One of the early examples that Carbine studios was listening to their fans. A Traitor's Whim  created by Dyraele in 2012 was made into a song and posted on the Youtube channel for WildStarOnline which you can listen to here!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It's all in the Details: Emotes

“A good agent is highly skilled at reading the unspoken language all around himself. A nervous twitch, a strained cough or a silent signal could betray volumes of information on their owners without them ever knowing.”

Although typing out the actions of your character while you role-play can allow you an opportunity for plenty of detail, pre-set emotes can be extremely helpful and a lot of fun.

As I've seen thus far, most mmorpgs contain a set of emotes you can access to cause your character to display an action, often accompanied by some supporting text, with a simple typed command. They can range anywhere from silly dances to sighs or gestures. In general these can be fun. It almost makes your character seem a little more interesting, a little more real, when you can enact body language and actions familiar to ourselves. And this is exactly what makes them such a powerful tool for roleplayers.

Though it seems to be a general consensus to support a suspension of disbelief to make pretend when people type out the actions of their character, it is much easier to visualize and comprehend when it is acted out right there in front of you. As social creatures, we have evolved and learned to pick up on a great amount of detail in social cues.

For instance, I could tell you that Agent Hawkens here just sighed at me. I could further that with a bit more detail by explaining that he sighed with contempt as he watched me type this same segment again and again. But if you could see him sigh you could extrapolate that information on your own. In the slump of his shoulders, the scowl on his face, the roll of his eyes or even in the slight jerk of his head you could read his contemptuous sigh without a single word being said.

Now that we've established that emotes can be powerful tools for roleplayers, I'd like to talk more about specific pre-set emotes I'd like to see in WildStar. I feel that if the development team is going to go through all the trouble of creating these emotes then I would like to see those that many people might make consistent use of.

I've noticed that we typically see a set of command emotes such as “out of mana”, “attack my target” and other party-based comminicative emotes, but I have yet to find a situation in which I used them out of more then idle curiosity. With many chat services available such as Ventrilo or Mumble, we have much faster and more accurate ways to interact with each other. Perhaps instead of these basics that no one seems to use much, Carbine could invest that time into much more useful actions.

How about instead, we get a lean emote? Something that makes it look as though your character is leaning up against a wall. I don't know how many times I've heard people ask for this, especially in Star Wars: The Old Republic when we could see character models leaning in cutscenes. Perhaps it may look silly if they cannot tie it to a 'wall' in game, to see people randomly leaning in thin air. However many roleplayers already walk themselves over to walls to stand idly beside them as they manually type out the action. It would be fantastic if we could walk to the wall and actually lean against it!

One of the concepts I really loved about The Secret World were stance emotes. When used, these kept themselves in place of your idle animation until you moved your character and could really set a good first impression for other people. For instance, my Dragon operative was very serious and proper so I enjoyed the emote /handsbehindback which allowed his to fold his arms behind his back and observe his surroundings with an air of professionalism. Other people enjoyed crossing their arms in front of them, creating a less approachable or “tough” look to their character. I would LOVE to see these in WildStar!

“Then you could easier instill the proper amount of fear and respect in the dull masses that plod along when they behold someone of such great importance such as myself”

As arrogant as the statement is, it's true. It is one thing for an agent to be standing idly in the middle of a social center of some sort and another thing entirely if he could fold his arms behind his back and glower angrily at everyone around him.

On that note it might also be interesting to see a sort of mood system in our emotes that could display facial expressions, such as the mood options in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Sadly I felt they just didn't work out well, often looking too overdone and making silly or creepy expressions on our characters. And with so many other areas we were limited in, in terms of physical emotes I rarely took the time to scroll in enough to view them. I couldn't say if they would really be worth the time and effort to put them in, but perhaps with WildStar's more exaggerated art style they could fit much more naturally and really lend an interesting level of depth for roleplayers.

Sitting! No matter how awesome or tough you are your character would probably like to sit and take a break from adventuring for awhile, enjoy a meal or attend an important meeting. Sitting is probably one of the most commonly used emotes out there. I would love to see the development team create for us a variety of interesting sits. Perhaps there is a sit you use with a hotkey akin to “x” causing your avatar to sit in World of Warcraft. Maybe there is a generic sit all could use or sits that are racial specific. (Draken and Aurin would probably have to be mindful of their tails) It would also be nice if environmental objects that could be sat on, let you interact with them and actually sit on them. That means every chair, couch, bench or etc. would let you sit down on them. It annoyed me to no end in Star Wars: The Old Republic when my agent would go to recline on his starship's couch and end up clipping through the model completely, sitting on the floor with the couch obscuring most of his body. And please let there be no sit like Star War's. Almost everyone I know all agreed that rather then appear casual, the sit in Star Wars: The Old Republic ended up looking more like an alluring “come hither” pose. If they want to add an emote for that, sure why not, but don't make that our generic sit!

Acrobatics. Cartwheels, handstands, backflips or perhaps a tuck and roll could be really interesting. They can be good ways to show off the fitness or energy of our characters.

Conversational emotes could also lend a lot of immersiveness to the world of WildStar. They don't have to match what I type entirely, but I'd really like to see my character's mouth move and his head and body shift as I type into the “say” chatbox. Or perhaps he could gesture much more strongly if I were to type something into the “yell” chatbox. To me that would make him feel a bit more lifelike.

Nodding. We might nod to agree with something, or we may nod as an acknowledgement of someone's opinion. We can even nod as a respectful greeting towards another. It would be interesting to see this split up into many emotes such as /yes /nod and /upnod, but just a simple /nod with no specific supporting text would be plenty fine. For instance, in Star Wars: The Old Republic, the nod emote would display on the screen (alongside the physical motion) “(Character name) nods” or “(Character name) nods at (target name)” Later on, however, when they added voice acting to their emotes they tacked on a “Yes” printed and voiced every time you nodded. I really loved this concept, but at least in this case it became sort of frustrating. Now if my character want to use that action in any other way I would have to type it out and not use the emote.

Dancing! It would be really nice to see a variety of dances available to all characters. Instead of the silly racial and gender based dances found in World of Warcraft, how about a couple of loops of popular dances styles? Perhaps something elegant, such as ballroom dancing. Or something fun, such as pop dancing or break dancing. Something enticing, such as club dancing or tango, or even something crazy and energetic such as rave dancing! Often times roleplayers would like their characters to dance together, but when our dances rarely match or look rather foolish, we tend to resort to typing it all out rather then utilizing the pre-made work.

So these are some examples of emotes I'd like to see. What about you? What emotes do you think would be important to have in the game, or that you wish we wouldn't see? Remember, the team working on WildStar has proven to us that they are watching and listening to us! So discuss, make your voice heard and tell them what their fans are looking for!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wonder Lost:Why Wildstar may be a much needed breath of fresh air.

I remember the first time I picked up World of Warcraft. I rolled my first character, stepped into the world and was blown away. It was HUGE. There were so many places to see and explore. I wandered aimlessly for hours just taking it all in.

I knew nothing at the time about mmorpgs. I understood Diablo or Oblivion, but this was a step above. I was fascinated by the idea that actions took /time/, not just the few second to swing a sword or fire a gun, but these strange things known as cooldowns that could take minutes to hours before I could use them again. I slowly learned about gathering nodes and the concept of loot drops, happily slaughtering random creatures just to collect a useless gray drop because it looked interesting. I was bombarded by new jargon and concepts, like a whole new world of gaming unfolding before my eyes.

Slowly, bit by bit, I learned about the world around me, adapting to the concepts and community that make up the base of mmorpgs. I learned what instances meant, the concept of group dungeons, captial cities, questing hubs and so many other basic concepts I now take for granted. Then I evolved further. I learned about raiding, theorycrafting, group synergy, powerleveling and min-maxing.

It was here that the wonderment died.

Now don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the game, in fact I felt quite proud and clever for learning how to be not only competent, but talented at tanking and melee dps classes. I raid led a huge raiding syndicate for roughly a year and led many other teams for the years following, using my extensive knowledge of the environment and concepts to even increase the enjoyment and rewards for others.

However, when you are a level capped character with excellent gear where your only source of improvement is to repeatedly raid with large groups with tough challenges or wait for the next expansion, you lose the ability to enjoy the small things. Leveling is no longer a wondrous adventure, exploring new and exciting places. You are familiar with all the zones and you've seen them all before. You no longer take the time to visit every mountaintop or see what might be just around that riverbend. In fact you try to find the absolute shortest and most efficient route to rush through the quests you've memorized to get your character to level cap as fast as possible. You never bother to search for anything interesting or rare in the zones around you, you've instead learned how to find the websites where other people have already documented this better then you could do anyway.
I've talked to quite a few people who have seen this similar development in their online gaming routines. When you are introduced to concepts such as “dailies” or other rewards that take a lot of time to reach, your time in-game suddenly becomes a valuable commodity with limited supply. When you only have a few hours you choose the actions that would most benefit you. You could perhaps raid and get a chance at some gear to make your character more powerful. You could “farm” or spend time actively collecting in-game materials that can be sold, combined or used in some fashion that could perhaps make you more gear or new tools for you to use. These things take time. So when rewards from many of these may take hours, days or even weeks to obtain, why would you waste such valuable time just wandering?

One of my favorite examples is when my friend and I were playing World of Warcraft during the Burning Crusade expansion. We took our characters to a swampy zone known as Dustwallow marsh and bravely attempted to fight our way through monsters bigger then our character level. It was during this that we accidentally stumbled across a cave that housed creatures known as Dragonkin. These enemies were tightly packed and hard to kill, leaving us proud as we slowly left a pile of scaly corpses in our wake. It was during this that my friend used their skinning ability to harvest materials from the corpses used in a crafting profession within the game and we discovered something that excited us. They dropped dragon scales! Up to this point, all “skinned” monsters were dropping leathers or leather scraps with to occasional turtle scale. But now this? Dragons were cool and powerful, obviously dragon scales must be really important crafting materials for cool and powerful armor right? And so we spent the majority of our evening simply racing around the dragonkin caves, felling them one at a time as we eagerly harvested their gleaming scales.
In the end we sold piles of the scales on the in-game auction house, netting a tidy profit as the remainder went to make some cool armor, just like we had thought. We felt so very accomplished and had a complete blast in the process.

Yet for some reason our other online friends could not understand why we had done this. There were no quests to lead us there, so we had no reason to blunder along the caves. In addition, with no quest, we also were not netting any additional experience or loot incentives to continue our slaughter. The dragon scales, once sold gave us a decent profit, but no where near the kind of gold we could have made had we raced to level cap and worked on end-game materials which were in much higher demand on the auction house. In the eyes of our friends there was absolutely no reason why we should have /wasted/ our time doing such random actions.

And one day we got to the point where we could no longer bring ourselves to do such acts of exploration. When we had reached these “higher” concepts we had essentially lost our innocence with the game. Playing was only about challenges and obstacles. This idea followed us into many other games as well. In Star Wars: The Old Republic we almost regained the wonder of exploring new zones alongside the phenomenal storylines, but it only lasted so long. As soon as we had learned the ins and outs of the new system we once again adopted the mindset of racing to the top so we could spend endless hours doing the same things over and over. It didn't matter where we turned into from there, we always carried with us this broken innocence.

Wildstar has become an opportunity for myself to regain this innocence, this sense of wonderment.

Here we have a new rich world to explore and no reason to rush. I want to learn all about the races and factions, all about the Nexus and what happened to the Elden. And the best part? Carbine studios has created ways to /reward/ us for this! For example, with the path system, Explorers are perfect for people who want to see every inch of the map. In fact, you might uncover secret tunnels or exciting new places you would not have seen before, encouraging you to search every nook and cranny. You can share these experiences with your allies as well! This encourages people to join together and explore, sharing their benefits as they go rather then race to find some sort of common ground at the end. And they took this a step further even! In WildStar we are expected to hit our level cap and open up raiding and other opportunities /before we have finished the content./ This is an amazing idea! When I get done with the game...I'm not done with the game? It seems so odd. Rather then bringing the world and the immersion storyline to a grinding halt, we are given even more opportunities and adventure once we hit the level cap. No longer do I have to sigh as I table my favorite character who can do no more then senselessly repeat the same monotonous tasks day after day or raid maybe once or twice a week. No longer do I feel like I need to rush another character though the content, just to open more variety for myself. Now I get to keep going, keep exploring and learning.

I will never quite regain the sense of pure wonderment when I first entered the world of mmorpgs and in some ways I don't wish to. I'm rather proud of how far I've come. However WildStar may be a breath of fresh air in this stale loop I've been locked within, putting excitement and reward back into the epic adventures that draw me in again and again.

Monday, February 25, 2013

It's all in the Details: Environmental Ambiance

"Though I am certain it is hard for your small minds to grasp, you must understand the concept of details. When you are an agent of the Imperial Corps of Intelligence, which you clearly lack the capabilities of, but should we pretend you could ever be such, it would all fall down to the details. The smallest, seemingly innocuous detail could make all the difference between identifying your target as a loyal servant of the glorious Empire or a vicious traitor to be culled from our ranks."

As Agent Hawkens so eloquently states, details matter. And not just in such life and death situations, but even in tiny, seemingly unimportant situations. I am a large fan of such details. To me they richen the world around us in imaginary settings, furthering  my feeling of immersiveness in my online surroundings.

I'd like to point this out within Wildstar's setting with this video of Gamespots Now Playing featuring Wildstar on February 13th. The video showcases the Stalker class with an emphasis on one of the earlier zones known as Deradune. It's a great video if you haven't seen it yet, click here,

The part that I really want to show you though is at 27:24. Watch the corpse of the deer like creature on the ground here. Not long after the body hits the ground you can see a flock of carrion birds (Vulcarrion) land on it and begin to eat it. A few more seconds and the body is changed to the graphics of a pile of bones.

Image from
There is is. The details. I flipped out when I saw this. Why did these birds arrive? Do they always come down? Does this only happen when some of the carrion birds are nearby? Are they part of a quest? Without being told or shown otherwise, I assume this display of consumption is an environmental ambiance. Something to set the mood of the stage.
In Deradune it is survival of the fittest, kill or be killed. Strange and vicious creatures are being flown in for the powerful Draken to test their might against. It makes sense, then that the local carrion eaters would take advantage of this. We now know that there /are/ carrion eaters, or at the very least one species and what they look like.

Part of my fascination may simply come from my experience as a biology major. Seeing a parody of life, more accurately reflect reality is pretty exciting. Perhaps I'm just strange.

"One could hardly blame you."

Ahem, ignoring him.  Either way, these sort of details, while entirely unnecessary are almost more exciting in their existence just for that very reason. Here is something that does not further the story, does not further the gameplay itself, but is there for an interesting addition to the world around you to help make it feel more alive. You can see it in World of Warcraft when predatory animals will randomly charge and attack prey critters or where waterfalls will actually pull your avatar over the edge. Not only did these carrion birds in the video react to a "prey" species (in terms of the corpse) they interacted with the fresh kill made by the player AND they also added yet another detail by showing a new image as the flesh was stripped from the bones by the hungry creatures.

Ultimately this proves a exemplary attention to detail on behalf of the development team as well as providing the gamers with a deeper insight to the world around them. Personally I hope to see more of this within Wildstar!