Friday, July 16, 2010

The importance of jumping revealed

Considering how often I jump in WoW you would believe that I had become rather good at it by now. I never used the jump-count-addon, and probably that’s just as well.

99 percent of those jumps are completely uncalled for. (The final 1 percent is when it's needed, such as jumping over the Thaddius gap. Unfortunately I fail unless I buff myself with slowfall. Many facepalm moments there, I assure you!)

I can’t come up with any reason for this excessive jumping that makes sense. For someone looking at it from the outside it probably looks like a nervous twitch of some sort. It’s a tic, like tapping your feet, picking your nose or clicking a pencil. I suppose it can even become a little annoying.

But somehow jumping fills me with joy and energy. If Larísa is bouncing around, looking happy and excited, a little bit of her merriness spills over to me as a player. It’s contagious. Having a few good jumps before a raid begins is almost as essential as buffing up and having a flask drink.

The only thing that bugs me a little is that the droprate on gnome flipping is so low. I keep trying and trying and trying, refusing to accept that they just can’t. For heavens sake, I’m a merrymaker! The entire purpose of gnomes is to spread happiness and smiles around them. As opposed to night elves, which in my world are way too grown-up to engage in such pointless things. The vulcans of Azeroth.

Anyway: I haven’t given up entirely. The flip thing for nightelves comes randomly and it’s the same for gnomes. It’s just that the droprate is much lower. The bigger reason to keep jumping!

Blizzard’s view on jumping
Blizzard themselves obviously thinks jumping is a big deal too. Cory Stockton talks about it in a recent interview in the British newspaper The Guardian, where he appears along with Greg Street and Tom Chilton. (Part 1, Part 2).

Cory says that the reason why we like to jump so much is that they “tuned the living crap out of it”:

“When we do something in WoW, it's got to feel instantly reactive, it can't feel laggy, it can't feel confusing. Something as simple as the jump – you see people jumping about in WoW all the time and the reason they do that is because we tuned the living crap out of it. The animations are tuned exactly right, the way we send those commands over the server, we have prioritisation on stuff, so certain animations will play smoothly. And we have randomness built into that, in the way the night elf does an occasional front flip. A jump animation isn't just that, it has multiple alternatives. And no one would think that a jump animation matters that much, but we put in so much effort because we knew players would be doing it all the time.”
I think it’s interesting because it highlights how important the details are. For how much we love to experience cool, advanced, multiphased endbosses as Yogg and LK, it’s all for nothing if the basics doesn’t work.

Don’t put all your resources into working on the perfect endboss before you’ve gotten the jump right.

WoW as an ecosystem
Back to the interview in The Guardian. It’s one of the better I’ve seen – finally someone is asking about the stuff that I’m interested in hearing, and the developers are giving interesting answers. I really recommend you to read it all. I’ll give you a few more highlights here though.

Greg Street shows his background as a marine biologist, talking about WoW as an ecosystem.

“A slight perturbation in one slot can have unintended consequences. And then things evolve over time and you have players trying out things you never would have thought of, or thought they could do, and suddenly they make it work. It's fun, you learn a lot and it surprises sometimes. WoW is very hard to control, it's often running off on its own. We try to influence it, but I don't pretend for a moment that we have it captured!”
One example of when the player takes the game in a different direction than the developers had planned is Wintergrasp. Cory Stockton talks about the group mentality, which turned out to be very different when it went live, compared to how it was in the beta testing.

“We had a system where you had to get a certain amount of honourable kills to get vehicles, but the players ended up doing something completely different to get vehicles so we modified the whole system. The way that they were attacking the bases was way different to how we had planned. The problem with something like that is, with the beta it’s hard to get critical mass of people to play it, but when it goes on the server and you have a thousand people going on there at one time, a group mentality works very differently to a small number of players. Definitely, with things like that, we just make updates with every patch.”
Player personalities and sandbox games
I think we hear the biologist speaking again when Greg Street categorizes player types. It’s incredibly stereotyped, but I couldn’t help giggling at it.

“There are definitely certain types of players who gravitate toward certain types of character. The guy who wants to be the hero, to come in and save the day, that's often a paladin; the guy who wants to cause grief to other players, they'll be a rogue, they'll hide and get someone as they go pass; the mage wants to be a loner, but still very useful. Also, when presenting bad news you need to do it in different ways – for a rogue you can present it very mathematically, because they like to number crunch a lot. Paladins have often felt oppressed, very defensive, so they want you to take their feelings into consideration. You go through a lot of, well, I feel your pain, I know what it's like to get nerfed!”
Hey, Ghostcrawler, have you been spying on me and my guild?

The last part I’d like to mention from this article is where they’re taking a look at the next generation of MMOs. Tom Chilton calls sandbox games “interesting from a study standpoint”, but is worried about the quality that becomes unpredictable when players are creating the content and the fun by themselves, doing “random stuff you can’t control”.
This said though, he says they’re looking closely at it.

“It's too early to make any announcement about that, but sandbox gaming is something we look at and explore and think about a lot. There are good elements of these styles of games that we'd like to integrate.”
That sounds hopeful to me. Maybe this interest will have an impact on Blizzard’s Secret Next MMO-project. How much I love the amusement park and the rollercoster rides, I think the sandbox elements in a game can keep you entertained for a longer time. My ideal MMO doesn’t contain one thing or another, but both.

On the other hand there’s the statement by Core Stockton that points in another direction, towards the console platform.

“When I look at WoW, that's what I think of, the action adventure genre. You've got to get the MMO part of it out of your head. For a player, when they're doing a dungeon or a quest, there's no reason that you can't do things you can do in a console game. It's the idea of erasing those barriers.”
Hm. I don’t’ quite get this thing about “getting the MMO out of your head.” Is that so wise if you’re actually working on an MMO? Wouldn’t it be more natural to look in the opposite direction: “What does an MMO bring to the table that a solo-player console game doesn’t, what’s our unique selling point, what is the core idea that we should develop and refine to perfection?”

But what do I know? I’m just a simple innkeeper in a far distant corner of Azeroth, an average player thinking aloud.

After all: Blizzard still knows how to make a good jump. And that’s what matters most. Now if they only could tune up the drop rate for gnome flips a little…

34 comments:

spinksville said...

Good points. I also thought it was interesting that one dev said they were looking at sandbox games and the other said ... well practically the opposite.

Pangoria Fallstar said...

I think if you were to play an action adventure console style game, you would see the difference between them and an MMO, and what he might mean by "taking the MMO out of it."

It makes a great deal of sense, and many MMOs coming out are following this idea, making the game feel more physical and involving.

mat said...

Bouncing is inherent to bouncy personalities. refer to Tigger and Zebedee.

Tessy said...

I love jumping! There is no way you can convey such happiness as when you are jumping up and down!

And I wish all races could make front flips :-)

Dwism said...

Honestly, try and compare jumping in WoW to lotrO. jumping there is annoying, jumping in WoW is fun.

Its the little things!

azerothapple said...

Y'know, the gnome flip droprate must be INANELY low, because I didn't even know they HAD a flip! :O And I've PLAYED gnomes!

*logs on to hers and goes to jump obsessively*

Larísa said...

Spinksville: Yeah, I wonder if it reflects some ongoing discussions. Maybe there are different factions pulling in opposite directions?
Or perhaps I'm reading too much into it. I guess they get inspiration from everywhere - console games as well as sandbox games. However I was a bit bugged by the suggestion to forget about everything MMO. That sounded so weird.

@Pangoria Fallstar: I admit that I haven't played any console games, so that would explain a bit of my lack of understanding.

@Mat: I'm a bouncer. Definitely.

@Tessy: oh yes. Should we start a let-everyone-flip-campaign, complaining about the injustice in the fact that only OP NE can do it?

@Dwism: Indeed it looks weird. My jaw dropped the first time I saw the hobbit jump. They look like athletic frogs! The jump is way too high to make sense. Even though it comes handy of course, jumping over fences as youi're roaming about in the fields.

@azerothapple: Your comment makes me a little bit nervous. I hope the humour in this post got through?

Redbeard said...

Great post, Larisa!

Speaking of tuning the jump, I've discovered that going from one race to another has a big impact on my ability to time jumps. On my BE main, I've no problems at all. Now that I've started leveling a male Draenei on the side, I suck. I missed the jumps in Wailing Caverns and Blackfathom Deeps way too many times to count. At least the pugs I was in were tolerant of my foibles (plus I was the healer, so they had to wait), but it was still embarrassing.

As far as the sandbox goes, you have to be very careful so long as the sandbox doesn't degenerate into a lowest common denominator approach. Can you imagine what would happen if Trade Chat or Barrens Chat were the normal mode of interaction?

SpiritusRex said...

Do not mock, nor covet my front flip! Only my immortal race has the necessary agility, the savoir faire, if you will, to complete it appropriately. My heavens! Should the dwarves and gnomes, and, by the Titans, tauren and draenei, be able to attempt it, we would certainly find feet and hooves sticking out of the ground all over Azeroth like so many inverted mushrooms. Only with true age and immortality shall the front flip be granted to ye lesser races!

SpiritusRex said...

Post-script:

By the way, getting trapped in one of Sindragosa's ice blocks in the midst of a flip is like reaching a state of nirvana!

Anaia said...

I'm a compulsive jumper. I jump everywhere I go. I jump when mounted. The bouncing elekk. The only time I fail at jumping is when a fight calls for it, that's when I strafe and promptly die.

Blood elves without a doubt have the best jump animation. Humans have the worst.

Prelimar said...

i really liked this from ghostcrawler:

GS: We tend to work from these very long task lists of ideas. When we have a new idea, we put it on the list then we spend time either bumping them up or bumping them down. In the software we use to track our tasks we're in numbers like 20-30,000 ideas. And we'll see an item at number 5,000 that's just been bumped for years and years, and maybe some day we'll do it, of if the game has gone in a different direction, we just delete it. So for every patch we'll get the list out and say, "okay, is there anything on here we want to try to get in?" Often it just takes a designer who's very passionate about something. People have a lot of power on the team to just push something they're very excited about, to get it in the game. Often all it takes is one champion to get the ball rolling."

the fact that even still, on the brink of cataclysm, one person at blizz can champion an idea and get it through... it just makes me happy.

Prelimar said...

OH: and ghostcrawler's broad-brush description of me as "a loner who wants to help people" because i play a mage... uh, well, spot on, sir. frighteningly so, i think. spooky.

Bri said...

Everyone knows that it's absolutely mandatory to jump through instance portals. They don't work otherwise, right?

Larísa said...

@Redbeard: That's interesting! So you mean that the timing and aiming when you go for a jump will vary between different races?

I'm glad I'm not the only one with jumpophobia when it matters.

And yeah: I can understand why you don't want to turn over all the power to the people. But still - I think it's good to try to support player initiatives when possible, such as providing things that facilitates roleplaying.

@SpiritusRex: oh noes! Gnomes are basically formed as little balls, what race could possibly be better for spinning around in the air?

Stuck in an iceblock in the middle of a flip? Sounds awesome, but screenshot or it didn't happen I'd say!

@Anaia: Oh, my hate for the looks of humans is well documented. I'd better not start going on this one... Enough to say that it was partly because of her stupid, stupid looks that I deserted my first character, a human female pala.

@Prelimar: Oh, that was a brilliant quote as well! There was also a discussion about the idea to merge all servers into one big world - what problems it would cause if you disregarded of the technical limits. I found that one very interesting.

The entire interview is great and full of stuff to think and talk about. For obvious reasons - ethical and copyright - I didn't want to quote all there was in it, but I really hope my teasers will make readers take their time and go and read the original.

The mage description was exactly me. Scary stuff. Am I THAT predictable?

@Bri: Curiously enough I think I’ve missed that. Bu from now on I’ll definitely jump my way into them. Always.

Dhusque said...

Ah! The joy of the NE front flip! Many's the time I've jumped off something dangerously high, front flipped and just as you round the top of the arc... swoosh into druid flight form! It's a little bit of gaming goodness delivered right to your desktop each and every time you get it just right and end up soaring off after a smooth transformation!

Also - of course instance portals only work properly if you jump through them. Not doing so allows bad luck to follow you inside as you track it in like dirt on the soles of your sandals. It should be part of the instance checklist:

Buff food - check
Flasks - check
Reagents - check

Right! We're ready... Jump!!!

SpiritusRex said...

@ Larisa

"Gnomes are basically formed as little balls, what race could possibly be better for spinning around in the air?"

The only reason gnomes should be spinning in the air is a result of being punted!

Cheers and good weekend, friend.

Elkagorasa said...

Orc's have an awful jump. Doesn't stop him from hopping all over the place. I feel it's a warm-up before jumping into PVP.

Maybe those graceful NE (@SprititusRex) can provide us training? WoW Dance, er, WoW Trampoline Gymnastics!

Ratshag said...

Ya gotta jump inta instances. The mobs is on the other side of the portal with they's legs stickin' out, waitin' fer ta trip ya!

Talarian said...

Those are fun interviews! Thanks for linking them.

An interesting note about the quote you put down,

"When I look at WoW, that's what I think of, the action adventure genre. You've got to get the MMO part of it out of your head."

Reading it in the full interview, I'm going to say that you're taking it out of context and the prior paragraph is very important to understanding this mindset:

"Look at some of the boss fights we're doing nowadays compared to way back. One of our first raid boss fights, Ragnaros – he's stuck in a room and barely moves, the room never changes. But you look at the fights we do now, we have bosses who break down walls; you can break off parts of their limbs, then that falls through the floor, and the player jumps through too. If you think of the Zelda bosses, they interact with the whole environment."

If you look at ye olde MMORPG bosses such as in Ultima Online, EverQuest, etc. the big thing was always getting a huge group of your friends to take down a big baddie, not the big baddie themselves. Due to technical limitations of the past, I believe MMOs evolved to take advantage of numerical difficulty (getting large numbers of people together, rotating heals, etc.) as opposed to technical difficulty (movement, which targets to attack, changes in environment, etc.). It was hard to make things like walls disappear, or to have the environment change on you. Over dial-up, lag would prevent any sort of choreographed movement. Imagine trying to do the Safety Dance in Naxxramus with 1500 ping. Good luck :) However, during the same time you had games such as Zelda, Jak and Daxter, Metroid, and Sonic which had dynamic battlefields, enemies that moved quite a bit, and players found them engaging. Now with better programming techniques and better internet connections the WoW team can bring that kind of dynamic into WoW itself. That disparity between how console games were largely design versus MMOs for a long time had technical limitations preventing them from converging, but when Cory Stockton talks about getting out of the MMO mindset, I think he means that don't use the traditional MMOs such as EQ, UO, Anarchy Online, etc. as the basis for design, but look elsewhere.

Now, you'll have all sorts of folks that lament the death of the numerical difficulty style bosses such as Ragnaros in favour of high movement choreographed fights, such as Putricide, but that's another argument altogether. I know it's a favourite topic of the commentors on Tobold's blog anyhow :)

Shintar said...

If there's an interesting WoW-related interview somewhere, we can trust you to find it. :)

And if you love jumping, I hope you've heard this song!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txWUM-3q-0s

Vigorless Fragmentary said...

Talarian has very much summed the article up....and there is indeed a lot of players (myself included) who do not like the changes towards classic adventure / zelda style that we especially got in WotLK - encounters have become a lot more 'jump'n runny' than the tactical fights they used to be in vanilla.

I personally like the tactical and organisational aspect in MMOs, I have plenty of consoles that give me jump'n runs or classic adventure games if that's what I'm looking for. taking the mass effect out of the MMO is basically killing it - the main appeal of them is that they're online performed with a lot of people (and 5-10 isn't 'many'...I get bigger coops when i'm playing xbox360 online).
I guess there is a healthy balance between stale boss fights à la oldschool MMOs and going totally the other way, but WotLK is kinda pushing it for me. it's my biggest fear for cata too; they're scaling it all down to 10mans, lets face it.

maybe blizzard should start making console games? WoW is already to a lot of people a solo thing more than anything - quick dungeon tool runs maybe here and there to get gear. big guilds disappear because you dont really 'need' them, content & loot goes 10man....when does it stop being an MMO? I'd say we're hellishly close already. I don't doubt their market is bigger that way but in terms of game genre WoW has started to go down another road in WotLK.

oh and I like jumping in WoW and its not just cosmetic / useless btw: I've played MMOs where you can't jump and it's tedious sometimes when you'd like to shortcut. and from a PVP perspective jumping is actually quite important in WoW. :)

Imoh said...

I loved GC's comment about mages being loners but essentially helpful, fits pretty perfectly in my opinion, but it brings up a question of what he thinks the player base of the rest of the classes is like, I think there might be some interesting statements to come out if he went through class by class.

Also, jumping sucks, my RSI is bad enough without spamming something pointless (I blame my DK, can't wait for the Rune Strike changes in cata).

Erik said...

Jumping is a hold over from FPSs used by exploiters to manipulate hitboxes to make them seem like they were leet (they weren't, aren't and never will be)

Rodolfo said...

At GDC is discovered that the perfect jump in any computer game is 1.2 seconds. The more you know.

Iapetes said...

WoW does often kinda feel more like an action game than an RPG. At least, most RPGs I'd played in the past were turn based, so WoW is really different feeling from those.

Also, fun fact, jumping is really useful in pvp! for example if you get hit by a frost nova in the middle of a jump, you won't stop moving till you land, which gives you more time to react and hit cleanse or freedom!

Iapetes said...

Also GC completely nailed why I rolled a paladin. OTOH, I don't really feel like I need my feelings to be coddled either. But I think I might be in the minority in that regard.

Larísa said...

@Dhusque: Awww. More NE goodness. I really need to play my druid more. I barely can get my flips right, combining them with shapeshift sounds awesome!

@Spiritus Rex: You ARE in a teasing mood!

@Elkagorassa: we just need to work on it. It’s the hugest grind ever. Learning an orc or a gnome how to flip. But if we’re persistent…

@Ratshag: The sad thing though is that if you jump into the instance, you end up on the other side standing on the floor, not flying in the air. As far as I know of. But maybe I killed them landing? Even though they don’t show it.


@Talarian: You may be right that I was a little bit unfair and maybe I was overreacting to it. But it really… stuck in my eyes that he said “forget about MMOs”. It seems to me that he values action very highly and role-playing and virtual-world-experience very, very low, maybe a little bit too low imho.

There is a tension between those different parts of the game within the community. Different parts value different things. I guess this tension exists within Blizzard as well, where different design ideas will pull in different directions.

@Shintar: Oh, I hadn’t seen that song! It was absolutely lovely! Made me smile

@Vigorless Fragmentary: I know what you mean. In those silent X-realm pugs, when I don’t get any answer saying “hi”, I really start asking myself if I’m actually playing an online game or if I’ve been disconnected from the server and slipped into a console game without noticing… It worries me a bit. I have no interest whatsoever in console games.

@Imoh: Oh yes, I’d love to hear the continuation as well. Shame the interviewer didn’t grab that.

@Erik: Hm… Exploints from jumping? Only I know of is wall-climbing, which I can’t say that I think is a huge crime in my world.

@Rodolfo: Hehe 1.2 seconds you say? Interesting. Imagine jumping 1.2 sec in rl. I think it would feel as pretty long!

@Iapetes: I definitely PvP too little. I’ve noticed sometimes that players who are deeply into PvP tend to run around a lot – jumping, spinning in spastic movement patterns even when they’re not in a battleground. Practicing the moves I suppose. Maybe my urge for jumping indicates a deeper inclination towards PvP that I’m just not aware of? :)

Iapetes said...

I dunno if they're practicing, they probably just enjoy jumping all the time too :p

Imoh said...

That spastic looking jump-half turn that you see people doing is so you can fire off an instant cast nuke while moving away from someone attacking you. Quite a handy thing to know how to do perfectly, even in PvE.

Lazaros of Llane said...

I wasn't a jumper when I started, but since I switched to a Druid as my main (Bear / Cat), I'm jumping all the time. Especially in Bear form. Follow the bouncing bear!

I do agree with the jump, flip, and Rocket Bird, too. Best. Thing. Ever.

I try to also time my jumps with mounting. If you get it just right, you mount in mid jump due to client-server timing.

Mick said...

I played through the tutorial area of LOTRO recently, and the reason I didn't continue with the game was due to how unpolished the character movements were, in particular jumping!

Oh and my friend has an add-on installed that makes the Mario jumping sound whenever she jumps in game :)

Mick said...

@Dhusque- coolest thing about playing a nelf druid imo

And the only thing that makes jumping as a female gnome better?

Dual boxing 2 of the little suckers and bouncing around in front of the IF bank with them :)

azerothapple said...

Belatedly, Larisa, this is why I shouldn't read things just after I get home from work, when my brain is still rebooting - I literally logged onto my gnome and jumped for, like, 15 minutes before my brain actually kicked into gear and went "Uh... gnomes don't HAVE a flip. That's the POINT."

/facepalm