Friday, June 12, 2009

Finally seeing the game as a gnome

It probably sounds pretty odd, but it wasn’t until this week that I realized that I’ve never seen the game from a gnome perspective. Now I have and my love and respect for gnomes has reached a new level.

But let me start from the beginning. I’ll walk down the memory lane, back to my first stumbling steps in Azeroth, more than two years ago.

The beginning
First there was the introduction movie. Do you remember it? Or will you normally escape away from it whenever you start an alt, too eager to begin questing?

I remember the feeling very well. It was a virtual punch in my stomach, not like anything I’d seen before. It gave me the same thrill as a high standard 3d movie at an amusement park, only that it took place in the middle of my living room.

It was all a blur, an unknown universe, but somehow I realized that I was about to take a step into a new zone of my life, starting an adventure that I had no idea of where it would end. Or maybe I’m just making this up afterwards. Maybe I just thought: this is a computer game my sister has been talking about. I’ll play it a few hours and then put it aside.

Anyway – I remember also that it wasn’t just the presentation of the glorious past of human race that impressed me (mind you, my very first toon, soon deserted, was a paladin). I was also thrilled when I saw how it ended, in the smooth transition from the movie to the starting area where you suddenly see your character in game for the first time.

The camera was flying pretty quickly, coming from a far distance and then closing in. Without noticing any barrier I went from the timeless to the present. I started to notice NPC characters in action, toons controlled by other players who in this very moment were playing the same game as I was, occupying a spot in the same space and time continuum.

It gave me a “sense of wonder” experience first time I went through the process – and somehow it still does, even though I’ve created a number of characters since my debut. And I think the thrill didn’t just come out of the idea that you’re actually seeing other people in a virtual room (probably something a teenager will take for granted, but quite revolutionary for a 40 year old lady). It also was somehow connected to the movements and perspectives of the camera.

I’m afraid that the sensation of this first flight never quite came back in the game. The travels between regular fp:s have never been able to give me much of excitement. (Apart from the first flights between IF and Stormwind, oh, how I stared at the volcano landscape below me, with mobs at unknown levels, wondering if I’d ever be as big and strong that I’d be able to go into those zones.)

Zooming out
After this first flight I didn’t think all that much about camera movements. I wasn’t aware of the importance and the possibilities until much later. If anything, it made me a bit seasick to move my character. My previous gaming experience was limited to Lemmings and a little bit of Civilization, so moving in a three dimensional space on a flat screen was completely new to me and it took me quite a while to get used to it. For one thing, I thought the characters moved too quickly. Pretty much the same way you feel when you start learning to drive a car and think that 30 kilometres per hour will make you lose control and crash.

It wasn’t until much later that I became aware of the importance of the camera perspective. I think the wake-up came when I started to do Void Reaver in Tempest Keep and Jan’alai in Zul Aman. I learned how to maximize my camera distance with the help of a macro. Playing an ant-size version of Larísa changed the level of difficulty.

Ever since then, zooming out has been the standard way that I play the game. Most fights including any kind of fire or zones to avoid, will become substantially easier seen from a distance. The question is: even though it will improve your raid performance, will it improve your game experience? I’m not so sure.

Zooming in
The insight about how much the camera affects us even if we don’t think about it came to me the other day as I was doing a few Hodir dailies on my gnome rogue. Yeah, if anyone’s wondering, I still boycott the AT grind, but the exalted isn’t that far away on my rogue, and since she’s a herbalist she can grab quite a few ingredients for flasks at the same time, so I do them – not every day, but once in a while.

Anyway – I was in the cave to kill off a few slimes and the worms guarding them – when the idea suddenly came to me: I wonder what this would look like through the eyes of Arisal? I started to spin my mouse wheel frenetically and suddenly I wasn’t staring at the back of Arisal anymore. My whole screen was filled with the hungry, screaming, frightening face of a worm monster, bowing over me. Considering the size of his jaws he was capable of swallowing me in one piece, without chewing once.

I shivered more than I imagine I would have done if I had been around those days when Ragnaros was about the most impressive thing you could see in Azeroth. And then I started to ponder my little mace in a heroic effort to defeat this monster of gigantic proportions.

Suddenly the rather bleak “meh” quest in the cave was turned into a real fight! Lacking the overview I found that I did many more mistakes, aggroing things I didn’t want to aggro, unable to avoid mobs that sneaked upon me from behind.

You could hardly call it an effective way of questing – it probably took me twice the time to complete it compared to how long it takes normally. But the experience, the experience! Oh boy, it was almost as if I was thrown back to those first, innocent days, seeing the introduction movies. This was cool and exciting!

A new way of playing
I kept playing in this zoom-in-manner for a while and it certainly gave me food for thought. It’s not breaking news, I know, but you don’t quite see how incredibly small gnomes are until you see it from their point of view. Even the most common, everyday-life things that you take for granted suddenly appear in a different manner. For instance: did you ever know that a herbalist gnome actually doesn’t pick herbs and flowers? She fills her magic backpack with bushes and trees! A lichbloom is huge when you see it from the ground.

So is this how I’ll play the game in the future? Well, hardly when I’m in company, unless we all agree about it for the joy of having a change and a laugh. After all it gimps my performance quite a bit and I don’t want others to suffer from my experimenting. But if I’m soloing and doing some rather repetitive task just for the reward, I’ll definitely do it once in a while. I’ll do it for the laugh and thrill of it and for the gentle reminder of why small is beautiful and the gnomes deserve our love and admiration.


Klepsacovic said...

I often zoom in on my rogue. It makes me feel more sneaky. Maybe it's because then my perspective is more like that of my rogue or a close-in 3rd person sneaky game rather than zoomed way out and it's more like I'm spying on my rogue (she can never seem to sneak away from me).

Changing camera angle really does change how we see the game, both literally what we see but also how we interpret it. I remember way back in old AV on my shaman when I'd briefly gone resto. I sat behind the zerg zoomed way out with my camera titled up, throwing chain heal at random people (they always needed it). As we were fighting down from Snowfall I suddenly felt less like I was a single character, but more like I was playing a RTS, directing the mass of ground units in front of me. Maybe that was when I started thinking more about tactics, something to which I've developed a small addiction and which I think helps while tanking.

gnomeaggedon said...

One of the things I love about changing to 1st person is the way you are suddenly looking over your shoulder... rather than having the "over the shoulder view".

Makes adventuring interesting

Gevlon said...

When I have to stand near a wall and the camera auto-zoom to near-max, I max it, so my own character won't block the screen and I see the tanks and the bad guys. Auraiya is a perfect example. Back then in Kara, I did it on the staircases.

I wouldn't try it on Mimiron though.

Carra said...

Yes, zooming out makes raiding quite a bit easier. But zooming all the way in doesn't feel natural. This is no FPS game. To make it feel natural, we'd have to see ourselves if we look down. Or at least see our hands with the weapons/spells we use.

And playing WoW for the first time had something magical I haven't found in a new game since. That first time using a flightpath. Buying my first snowshoe rabbit. Someone was kind enough to escort me to the rabbit selling girl. It felt so great to have that cute thing walking behind me. Fishing a bit next to other fishers in Redridge lake. This game was just on a completely different scale then I had ever played before. And I hope I can one day find another game that gives that same "wow" effect.

holydiscipline said...

I've thought about that from time to time, actually - how I have a MUCH easier time questing and leveling since I can see everything around me in a huge radius. I zoom in once or twice just to see what it's like, but I can't say that I've made a point of questing in such a manner. I hate to think of the massacre, haha.

However, even as a Draenei, I'm up off the ground a bit and can see better. Gnome-view would be MUCH different.

Lantana said...

Zooming in also makes you feel like you're going faster when you run.

For me, too, as you say, make things more difficult practically speaking, and more personal in some ways. Those big creatures like in the Sons of Hodir dailies are scary from down there on the ground!

I tend to be a bit more jumpy in WoW than is helpful, especially when a boss is new (or in PvP - I'm dismal at PvP). Being down there on the ground gets that adrenaline pumping sometimes! It really is fun!

And then there's zoomed in when with another player - somehow so much more intimate and "character to character" rather than player to player.

I think I sometimes change the zoom depending on my mood. When I want the more rote kind of play, just chugging through a quest for lazy entertainment, i'm always zoomed out. But I do have moments when I want to get the sense of the game world in a different way - to *feel* it. Zooming in (and turning up the game music :) does that.

Fitz said...

The only unfortunate thing about playing a Gnome like a FPS (zoomed-in) is that you get a real nice view of everyone's pants in the city. :-)

I do think it's a nice switch, and I leveled my first character as an FPS view for a long period of time. I was more used to FPS from playing console shooters like Halo more than Zelda, Mario, etc. But now I enjoy looking at my character in her gear, so I stay zoomed out. I think you can be fully effective in either.

Jormundgard said...

I've done this myself a few times, and it's loads of fun. Simple things like new mob spawns become very creepy when they start hitting you and you have no idea where they are.

I think it'd be great if certain encounters required you to be in first-person, such as in a vehicle cannon, or running down a narrow corridor in a phased raid boss.

Larísa said...

@Klepsacovic: Actually I can't help thinking it can be somewhat good for you to switch it sometimes. Either zoom out extremely much or the opposite. It can really make you see things from a new angle...

@Gnomeaggeddon: it definitely does. Strange that it took me so long to experiment with it though. Guss it's got to do with the fact that I've never played fps games.

@Gevlon: hm... not a bad idea actually, though I probably would hesitate to try it. As I said, I do this experimenting on my own, when it doesn't hurt anyone else.

@Carra: My lack of fps gaming experience makes me not think about those details. But I think you're right about it. Something is missing.

I do get that feeling sometimes still. But it takes more and more. Like the wrathgate questline, the battle of Undercity. Wow. That was cool!

@Holydiscipline: yeah, most of the time I go for efficiency like everyone else, playing in zoomed out mode. Zooming in is only for the experience.

@Lantana: oh, you're so right! The running becomes much less tedious if you're zoomed in. I know it's an illusion, but the feeling is that it goes so much quicker.

@Fitz: haha, yeah I think I get a bit more of the tank feeling. Their view in the game isn't always that pretty... Levelling up in fps - that's pretty impressive! But I reckon it's like you say also - a matter of habit. I just feel clumsy doing it.

@Jormundgard: that's a cool idea actually! It would certainly require some practice though... especially for us noobs who haven't practiced fps in other games.

Leah said...

you know after you mentioned it, it made me wonder. so I tried it myself. Riding down hellfire peninsula, past the pools of aggonar unable to see behind me to check if fel reaver was there, sneaking up behind me - kinda cool :) still so very uncomfortable and why is it that when I'm an orc riding a wolf, the view is the same as when I'm a ghost wolf streaking down the path? so very low to the ground :/

it certainly was an interesting experience, but i cannot imagine playing wow this way for more then that sight seeing minute. it actually feels wrong to me.