Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Come rain! Come thunderstorms! Come blizzard!

Have you felt the earthquakes recently? They remind me of the days when I was struggling in Hellfire Peninsula, spending 75 percent of my online existence as a ghost. Every time I managed to get out of the way from the boars who ate me alive, I could count on that a fel reaver would stomp me into a pathetic pool of blood. The world trembled, and so did I, out of fear. (Actually I don’t think I’ve ever been as close to giving up and quitting the game as I was for a while there).

Now the world is shivering again, and even though we don’t see any direct consequences from it yet, it makes me smile out of excitement and expectation. Those quakes are not just a promise that we’ll see an expansion in a not too distant future. They are an example of that WoW still, in 2010, offers more than rollercoaster-like gimmic encounters and glorified chatrooms. There is still a WORLD out there, outside of the Dalaran lag feast, outside of the badge grinding and achievement hunts.

And there’s still someone in Irvine who cares about it! Not everyone in the Blizzard crew is assigned on RMT duties to find new ways to increase the incomes. Some guys are working on the world and maybe even - yes, I dare to say the forbidden word aloud! - our immersion in it!

The use of weather effects
I hope that the earthquakes marks the beginning of a new era, when Blizzard once again will use devices such as earth quakes and weather effects to make the world feel a little more believable and "for real".

Let's ponder a bit more upon the weather effects. Do you ever think about them, as you're doing your daily route of dungeon jumping? I bet you don't. Not much sunshine available in the Halls of Lightning, right?

Then I'd like to remind you that once upon a time the weather was a big deal and it was even launched as the only content in one of the earlier major patches.

According to this article from 2006 (found thank's to Wikipedia's article on weather), Blizzard had spent five years working on it and they were eager to see how the audience would receive it:

" 'Is there too much weather or not enough weather?' That's the big question that we're asking ourselves right now," said Kaplan. "I feel like the jury is still out on the weather." He wants everyone to experience a few weeks' worth or storms before they decide. “

It's said that they even had a special “weather guy” appointed, just to watch the fan reactions and possibly prepare some new weather patterns. (He did this on part time, apparently he was also working on The First Scourge Invasion, preceding the arrival of The Original Naxxramas.)

But you could guess that the rain, sunshine and sandstorms never got that much of fan love. The jury wasn't charmed. Or at least it wasn’t popular enough for them to allocate a lot of developing resources into any continuation. In the article they’re speculating world-events such as a monsoon, on seasonal weather that would have an impact on the world, such as herbs growing better after a rain. Nothing of this has happened as far as I know.

A step backwards
As a matter of fact TBC seems to have been a step backwards in weather terms, at least from my newbie point of view. The skies of Outlands were pretty, but they felt more like the painted ceiling of a cathedral than something you could believe in. They felt static and didn't make the world come alive.

This trend has continued in WotLK. Apart from the fog on a few beaches – which is constant and not quite as sophisticated as the randomly appearing weather in the vanilla zones – Blizzard doesn't seem to bother much about the weather anymore. While the atmosphere in for instance Redridge Mountains shifted radically depending on if it was in the dry or wet season, Borean Tundra is the same old place whenever you visit.

And I think it’s a shame. I don't suggest I'm representing the silent majority - probably many players don't think much about this aspect of the game. But nevertheless: I was much more impressed the first time I noticed that Larisa actually made real footprints walking in snow, than I was by any of the monsters I encountered in the starting zone. I thought to myself: so THIS is what they mean when they're talking about creating virtual worlds.

In TBC there were those nights when the rain was pouring from the grey sky as you were summoning your friends. In best case you were in the raid and could soon slip into the relatively cosy castle. In worst case you were on reserve spot and spent the night fishing at the pond, ice cold rain drops dripping in your neck, making you shiver.

That's all gone. And I don't know if it's just because the weather is gone or if it's because the speed has changed and we're in too much of a rush to bother to even pay attention to it.

Players don't care
Maybe the players who inhabit Azeroth these days just don't care. Like Brian "Psychochild Green" commented in on Wolfshead's recent post about the lack of immersion in the modern WoW:

"Initially the game was a deep world full of mystery for gamers to explore. As WoW has penetrated into more of the mainstream, they have to appeal to a different type of person. The geeks who want to live in a fantasy world are being displaced by people who see WoW as something a lot more social to do with others. It’s like playing golf or shooting pool: you play the game and bullshit with your friends. Getting immersed into the world isn’t important to WoW’s current audience. I think most of the hard-core gamers have left WoW by now, but it’s the more casual people who are interested in just hanging out that make up the larger audience now. So, while immersion might have been vital to the game at launch, it’s no longer such a major part of the game for the audience still playing."

He's probably right. He's a game developer after all and knows his stuff. And I'm just an old geek, still lingering in Azeroth in the hope to revive some of those first magical moments when I was wrapped up in the huge magical world. The foostep in the snow. The sandstorm covering me up in the desert of Tanarsis. I want to experience that thrill once again.

The earthquakes give me hope.

Come rain! Come thunderstorms! Come blizzard! Come Cataclysm! Shake up the world and make it come alive again!

27 comments:

Prelimar said...

agreed, agreed, a thousand times AGREED!

i really really want the weather to come back to the world. when i first started playing, it blew my mind that there was random weather happening, and i LOVED it. for the first few months, i was giddy anticipating the changing of the seasons with the calendar in north america, and i was disappointed (still am, actually) that this doesn't happen. i want drifts of snow and blizzards during winterveil, and to see the land and trees slowly get green again in the spring!

i think people hated it because it affected game performance (e.g., lag), and so blizz killed it in almost all the areas (it still rains in some places, but only rarely). now that newer computers are so efficient and powerful, it's my hope that they bring back weather and all its related things in cataclysm (herbs are more plentiful after a rain? GENIUS!).

Dariush said...

I think you and Brian are spot on Larisa, when commenting about who the game is designed for these days. Blizzard still has a story to tell, but the telling of it has altered greatly from the earlier efforts. The world (with a few exceptions) is just a place to pass time until you hit the level cap. Far more time and attention is spent on instances and raids than the world around it.

Look at the entire WotLK expansion. The whole continent is supposedly riddled with nerubian civilization? What did we get? 1 small cave, and 2 crappy instances. They could have given us twice the content by creating an 'Underworld' for players to quest in, full of story-driven content fueled by helping the surviving Nerubians escape the wrath of their undead brethren.

That could have led to further old god content, as the deepest caverns touched upon the Old God buried there, giving us a far more urgent reason to be visiting Ulduar. But why do that? Why use world bosses when you can just make a new instance, with no rhyme or reason for existing (hello Sartherion, or shall I call you loot pinata? Tournament of LootBags? Vault of "I want EZ PVP gear?) Instead of purposeless instances, give me mind-blowing, story-driven genre changing game worlds.

Otherwise, star trek looks tempting. I'm not a trekkie, but I hear they've done things for aerial combat that no other game approaches. Are you watching Blizzard? Are you listening? Because if Deathwing is another overgrown Onyxia, I'm gone. I will never be back. Give me drake mounted, 3-dimensional combat, where I mix dragonfire with my own character's abilities in a true cataclysmic showdown. And if it's ring around the Malygos 2.0, I'm also gone.

hound said...

One of the things I lamented was the lack of weather in Outland. However, I spent so much time there that I forgot I missed it. I spent a lot of time in Deadwind Pass and around Kharazon, but there didn't seem to be any weather there either.

Then of course I made a Deathknight like everyone else, no weather there either.

Went to Northrend and spent a very slow 2-3 months leveling to 74, then finally went back to Azeroth to do some achievements. One day I logged on and my screen was all fuzzy, poked around in the graphics options for a moment before it dawned on me that I was looking a fog.

A couple of days later I saw rain again for the first time in maybe over a year. I turned up the sound and parked my toon up on a high rock somewhere and just listened to it.

Yeah, I'd like more of that in the game.

Flex said...

I'm afraid I agree with Psychochild. In 2005, Red Cloud Mesa and Coldridge Valley were huge undiscovered areas, and I had to discover the map, follow the instructions on my quests, and be observant enough to realise there was a quest item on the floor in Brambleblade Ravine. I had to look around and observe the world in order to play within it. It wasn't a simulator, but it was immersive.

Now, my minimap lights up with where to find or hand in quests, the built-in user interface is cluttered with hints like which item to click on to complete my current quest, and I can pretty much play the game just from the UI overlay without even looking at the world around me.

The funny thing is, I don't see any of the new games really delivering what WoW did five years ago. I feel like I'm getting old when I look back on something fondly and mumble "I remember when..."

thenoisyrogue said...

Agreed. I was in Stranglethorn Vale the other week, levelling my mage. The rain began to come down so hard that it was almost like a monsson - it reminded me of when I used to live in the tropics. It made seeing mobs difficult. I was bumping into ogres all over the place. It was so enjoyable that when I had finished my quests I just spent time watching the rain come down.

Contrast that with the effects of the new questhelper, (I never used the addon.) Nesingwary told me to go and kill some rare panthers, but he wouldn't tell me where they were as finding them was the real challenge. Too bad that all I had to do was to glance at my map to see their exact location.

Spinks said...

I think I'm one of those geeks who realy wanted to hang out in a virtual world.

Knowing how much this is at odds with the current intended audience makes me profoundly sad, somehow.

Dwism said...

Yeaaaaaaaa.

I remember when the weather came into wow. People would spam guild chat with messages of "its snowing ehre" or "its raining, cool".

Honestly Larisa, this post has done more to psych me up for cataclysm than anything else. Thank you :)

Firespirit said...

I think Blizz still underestimates the value of the weather. In our guild, whenever someone is questing around in old world, they always yell out "It's raining in Darnassus!" or "Sandstorm in Gadget!" Its fun, and the immersion is there. For a game company that is all about the details, I am surprised that they haven't went this far.

Id love to see flurries up in northrend, where npc's are bunkered down. I know I have seen the occasional snowflake or two, but nothing on the scale of a full on snowstorm. Imagine the dragons of wyrmrest having to give it a rest because it is a blizzard outside (no pun intended).

Anyway, I had heard of these earthquakes going around the world, but I had not experienced them myself. I cant wait to finally feel one on my toons!

Cantique said...

When I first saw weather on the game I was amazed. It is one of the things that I refer to when speaking of WOW to others that do not play the game. They wonder what I find so fascinating about a “silly computer game.” LOL I say, “It rains there, it snows, there are sand storms” and their eyes get big.

“Really?”

“Nod”

Just the other day, I was somewhere in the game (maybe the crater), see I don’t remember where I was, but what I DO remember is that the rain was almost blowing sideways!!! I loved it.

It bothers me that it does not rain in Stormwind while it rains in the forest. Something is wrong with that.

Another thing, when I first saw the “magic brooms” sweeping, I wondered why there wasn’t a company of NPCs cleaning the streets in Stormwind. I know, I know. Lag.

I say lets make that level one toon coming into the city to spam ads for gold automatically hold a broom and little pan to pick up the mount offerings.

Gronthe said...

I love weather. I grew up with it in RL, but now I live in the SW US, in the middle of a desert with none of it. So the first time I saw rain falling in Elwynn Forest I put my headphones on, closed my eyes, and pretended I was back home where I grew up.

I have not, however, felt any earthquakes in Azeroth...yet. Oh how I would love to have a lot more weather. How about some tornadoes? I can see it now, a bunch of new guild popping up called "Storm Chasers". That would be fun...RUN!!!!!!!!

Dhusque said...

Y'know... normally I'd read this type of post and nod quietly in agreement without commenting, but this one clicks almost exactly with one of those "where's the camera?!?" moments I had last night. You know the ones I mean. The ones where you ride round a bend and stop in awe at the sunlight glinting off the ocean far below, or the point where you stand at the top of a waterfall and look down at the water crashing on the rocks beneath you.

Let me set the scene... I was pottering around getting bored with the lag in Dalaran, not really in the mood for dailies when I thought to myself... "My 'lil bank alt hasn't leveled up for a while. Maybe I can use the Love is in the Air quests for some easy XP... hmmn..."

One quick log-off/log-on later and I'm picking up the starter quest

So off I trot to Stormwind, churn through the in-city stuff I've done several times before, going through the motions, and now I need to go and kill some things in Hillsbrad... OK. Been a while since I was up that way. To the griffin! And off I go into the wild blue yonder.

And off /I/ go to grab a coffee while in transit.

On returning to my screen I'm just passing into Wetlands and... blink. Wow. There was mist. And sunset. And fingers of light probing from the distant hills, illuminating the scenery below in a pearlescent haze. It was gorgeous! The griffin descended into the mist and it just got better and better. Just sitting there looking at it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. Then it was off over the sea and it faded away as my coffee sat cooling, untouched in the mug beside me.

Killed what needed killing and flew back, but the sunset had passed. And I actually felt sad that it was gone. Still. At least I got to see it. *sniffle*

Ahem! Anyway! The thing is - it's occurred to me that back when I was playing through vanilla content I had an old and creaking PC. Turn up the graphics settings? No way! It's low res textures and minimum distance all the way for this gamer! But now, a few years on, the machine has been upgraded, the graphics settings no longer have to be throttled back for that all-important fps and I can see what I was missing all those aeons ago.

I urge all of you reading this who've tweaked their settings for new content (or even just not grinding to a halt in Dalaran), to give it a try. Crank up the settings, fire up some long-forgotten alt and enjoy the old world like it was meant to be played. In high definition!

Cap'n John said...

I use the max graphics macro and it's not a huge hit on the FPS. The problem occurs when you're a Herbalist and you can't see the Herbs for the plants, but in that respect the shining twinkles are a good thing because they make the Herbs stand out.

If you crank the graphics right up, WoW's world does look really nice.

I'm leveling an Alt at the moment so I am out in the real world, and every now & then it rains where I am. I also noticed the ground rumbling but I was in Un'goro at the time. I kept spinning around looking for the Devilsaur. The fact that I couldn't see him didn't calm me down, but only make me more nervous. It's not the dinosaur you see that you need to look out for, it's the one you don't see ;)

Shintar said...

Psst, Wowwiki is not the same as Wikipedia. :)

Other than that, very nice post. I, too, remember how awed I was the first time I saw rain and sandstorms in WoW. I'm all in favour of having more of that again.

Haven't experienced any earthquakes yet though.

Anonymous said...

I agree, totally! The other day as I was searching for the last quests for the Loremaster title, I was running around the "old country" as I like to think of it -Eastern Kingdoms and Kalamdor - and it occurred to me when visiting places like Duskwood and its sun-blocked dank and fetid creepiness and Menethil Harbor with the sun always trying, but never able, to penetrate that constant fog shrouded hamlet with its sea salt smell in the air, that I felt the original feelings I had when I began playing the game. For instance, I can remember when I was just a young hunter with barely enough coin to scrape up enough to afford arrows, running around Duskwood (at around midnight irl) hoping that a Worgen or, worse yet, a creepy denizen of the Raven Cemetery, would not suddenly appear and - in this order: surprise the crap out of me and then promptly destroy me. It seems to me that the “new countries” (Outland and Northrend) lack this depth and subtlety. I mean, think how awesome it would be to be up in the furthest reaches of Northrend when a sudden snow squall hits, forcing you to dismount from your flying proto-drake and hoofing it by foot (unless you’re a Draenei, in which case you would literally be hoofing it), until it passed. Would it be a pain in the ass? Probably, but it would in my opinion add more character to the zones and the game experience. I mean, if I just want to shoot things, I can always go play CoD: MW2.

Fear said...

I agree, the weather is cool. I didn't start playing till the Burning Crusade patch, but I wish I was around to see it in the beginning.

I've seen some weather, and I do find myself thinking how cool it is they have different weather sometimes. I like to watch the rain.

I haven't experienced the earthquakes yet. I am looking forward to that.

It's funny, the things that inspire us to write isn't it?

Tesh said...

Interesting. It's like you were reading my mind, reminiscing about footprints in the snow. I miss that sense of wonder.

I'm all for more interesting worlds. I explore these games; 'tis about all I do. Gamist elements are fine for some, but give me an interesting world any day, and let me play in it.

Larísa said...

@Prelimar: Agreed! It would be cool to see overtime changes over the year, just as I really liked the day/night switches in the old world…

@Dariush: Well… I’m not quite as critical to WotLK. After all I think many of the areas are stunningly beautiful. Icecrown, Stormpeaks… they’re really more detailed and advanced than for instance Badlands or Desolace. Imho. But it’s a pity they didn’t bother about the weather anymore because it could have added even more depth. This said: yeah, I agree that there’s a little bit too much focus on the theme park dimension in wow right now. I hope Cataclysm will shake up the trend a bit, putting back more focus to the world.

@Hound: Are you sure about Karazhan? I missed to write it explicitly in the post, but when I talked about waiting outside the instance, rain dripping in your neck, it was actually DWP I was talking about. I’ve spent quite a few rainy nights there.

@Flex: Yeah. All those fancy addons or even the modern buili-in ui with the quest tracking things pulls away our attention from the world. It’s still raining in the old world, but do we really notice?

@The noisy rogue: Awww… rain in STV. The jungle, the humidity, the atmosphere… Makes me want to bring up another alt, just to enjoy the world.

@Spinks: Yeah. We’re not the main target audience anymore. I guess we feel as if we’ve been rejected by our long time lover?

@Dwism: thanks! Yeah, I’m really looking forward to the world aspect of the expansion. Cataclysm… the very name of it brings images and expectations!

@Firespirit: Awww that would be so cool! If the npcs actually acted because of the weather! And imagine if it had effects on the looks of our characters! The pink pigtails dripping, hanging down when wet from rain and then slowly drying up, getting back their shape. Clothes all soaking… Or even your character shivering with cold… (in the winter veil bikinis especially!)

@Cantique: yeah it IS a little odd that Stormwind has a weather zone of it’s own… but it’s a magical world after all, right?

@Gronthe: Hm… I guess the air elementals are some sort of tornadoes… but they could appear much more integrated with the weather.

@Dhusque: what a beautiful story! Yeah, with my new pc which actually can have much higher settings, I should definitely revisit the old world! Time for another alt maybe… Or perhaps I should go for Loremaster on my main… that could actually be an idea. Thanks for the inspiration!

@Cap’n John: it’s remarkable what an impact those tremblings actually have on your mood. It’s such a small effect but it triggers pictures in your head I guess. Which is a very cost efficient way to design a game… Everything doesn’t have to be shown.

@Shintar: oh, I’m so careless and distracted sometimes. It even happens that I miss a word completely, it’s only in my head, but I fail to write it down. Thanks for pointing it out.

@Anonymous: Thanks for a beautiful story! And yeah, I wonder how much work it would be for them to add a bit of weather to Northrend. Didn’t they do the basics of it during those five years they spent on making it up in the first place?

@Fear: I’m a TBC player myself, so I guess I’ve been taking it a little bit for granted. It was there for me right from the beginning. It was only very much later that I realized that it had been added in a ptach.

@Tesh: Well… I guess I want it all, and that’s reflected in my blog. I’m a raider at heart and I love new content in the form of raid bosses. But on the other hand I still enjoy the world, and can’t imagine WoW without it. However convenient the instant teleporting to the dungeons is these days, I also regret that I see so little of the world and that currently so little attention seems to be put into it. I want it all. WoW is a huge game AND a huge world. It shouldn’t have to be one way or the other, should it?

Klepsacovic said...

I've not yet experienced these earthquakes. Until I heard Blizzard had acknowledge them, I had assumed they were just kodo herds.

thebarrenschat said...

I do in fact notice the weather. I still remember feeling that there wasn't enough of it. It took more than a year before I saw snow for the first time (No surprise since there are only two snowy zones in Vanilla). I would actually hang around in Dun Morogh and wait.

Unlike a lot of people, whenever I'm not raiding I play with in game sounds on. Running around Feralas both hearing and seeing rain poor down or dodging dust devils in Tanaris, almost tasting the dust storms in my mouth just makes the experience ten times better.

I really hope to see some more spectacular weather in Cataclysm, perhaps even weather that affects the world.

Tesh said...

It only has to be one or the other when budgets and schedules come into play. I'm perfectly happy with having everything, though. ;) I'm not a raider, but even though I have no use for raiding, it doesn't bother me either, certainly not by its mere existence. I do suspect that worlds are harder to build than treadmills, though, so it's really no surprise that we get what we get; the game, not so much of the world.

Syrana said...

Late comment is late.

But!

I love the weather in WoW. I've encountered some snow falling in Northrend, but you are right, weather doesn't seem to affect much outside of old Azeroth.

While I love the weather, I know some people have graphical issues with it.

I'm actually hoping there will be some wonderful weather affects come Cataclysm....

Anonymous said...

Here here!
You know, it's been so long since I really spent time in the old world that I'd quite forgotten about weather Your post, though, has made me remember. Do you think we could get up a petition about this?

Ryan said...

Here's a way to make players care: invest players in it. Give them abilities that are weather-driven in some capacity. For example, give druids an additional lightning attack that only works when it's raining. Give warriors a 'make your opponent slip in the rain' ability. Etc. Give other abilities for when it's clear -- maybe an innate ability to hunters to hit at higher rates in clear weather. Maybe give some classes an ability to end weather patterns or even start them. Etc.

chaos said...

One of the first things I've wanted when starting playing the game is to have weather affecting gameplay.
Why note add a debuff decreasing fire spells when its raining. Or increase cyclone power when windy...

Problem is that most raids are inside buildings, which doesnt make sense being affected by weather.

But would be cool if you needed to check a weather man for the weather on a specific day, so you can prepare a raid to take advantage of it :D

xenovore said...

I too love the weather effects; it just brings so much to the immersiveness! I also enjoy just standing still in WoW, feeling the rain...

I don't know exactly what it is about weather, but it can definitely evoke some almost primal emotion in us. I mean, we either hate weather or love it, right? To bring that into a game is huge.

Another game that comes to mind is Farcry 2, which has some exceptional weather effects. It can be pretty amazing to watch the sky cloud up, "feel" the wind pick up (the trees, bushes, and grass start blowing around in the wind)... You think, "Hmm storm's a-comin'..." and sure enough, within minutes rain starts pouring down -- awesome stuff! =)

xenovore said...

Oh forgot to add: I completely agree with the previous couple of comments... Weather itself is hella cool, but to have it affect game-play or be affected by game-play -- that would be truly awesome!

Shaman Leveling said...

Hmmm I don't know about Brians comment. Although I agree that there are a lot more casual players now, there are still lots of players like you and me who enjoy exciting world events like the coming cataclysm.

Everytime I talk to one of my best friends and fellow gamer we talk about WoW and the world at least once.

By the way, the earthquakes suddenly remind me of the appearance of all the flying Necropoli. Too bad the mobs were weak and didn't really threaten the world back then (totally overfarmed).