Thursday, February 25, 2010

Design Test: Favorite Zone and Why?

My posts have been pretty few and far between, and for that I grieve.

Then again, nobody probably ever actually visits my webpage anymore, and is let down by a lack of new posts. All you young whippersnappers and your RSS feeds get Ixo delivered directly to your inbox, so I take that back. Short term grieving FTW!

I've stayed relatively quiet on one important front for a while, and that's been my search for employment in the gaming industry. Just because I haven't talked about it doesn't mean it isn't underway, and in fact I've just received a huge indicator that it's actually going pretty well!

I won't jinx myself by disclosing... well, much of anything... at this point, other than to say this: they saw my raid dungeon and NWN2 module, and took the next step of calling for a phone... uhh... chat. It wasn't so much a real interview as probably just making sure that I can carry on a normal conversation, because with the internet, well... you never know. The official interview (hopefully) comes later. The chat went pretty well, I think, and I've moved onto step 3 in the process. I'm whacking away at a "design test" they've given me to see how I handle certain problems, or my assessment of certain things in existing games.

Again, I'm not going to just paste the whole test up here or anything ridiculous, but some of the questions are what I imagine to be pretty standard fare for stuff like this. So I think I can get away with asking the question of the day without fear that I'm giving away any huge trade secrets. In addition, I've already answered it, SO YOUR RESPONSES MEAN NOTHING TO ME!

Oh wait, I mean... your responses aren't going to influence mine, but it might be a neat excersise for you guys to take part in, too, and hooray there's a new post on Ixobelle to boot! Win Win!

What is your favorite zone from a current MMO and why? How would you improve it?

Howling Fjord in WoW is awesome. From a purely visual standpoint, you have these huge cliff faces all over the place, absolutely towering over you from the distance, the instant you arrive into the zone by blimp. Pulling into Vengeance Landing (as Horde), your first exposure is this awesome little distinctly undead town, as indicated by its unique architecture, dwarfed by this backdrop of huge cliff faces looming over you. There's some rickety chain elevator leading up to this dragon's mouth, and although you aren't sent directly to it on your first few quests, it didn't stop me from running up there and immediately surveying the area from the highest vantage point I could find.

Borean Tundra, by comparison, feels like a flat collection of tepid puddles and cob webbed crevices. It's much more claustrophobic. Arriving at Warsong Hold gives you a rather muddled view of your immediate surroundings; you don't have an expansive vista to greet you. You jump off the blimp into this... castle thing... and are running around on elevators looking for skill trainers. Questgiver exclamation points are visible, but you don’t know if they’re above or below you. Warsong Hold itself is a poorly laid out and confusing introduction to Northrend in contrast to the wide open and direct first impressions of Vengeance Landing at Howling Fjord. Vengeance Landing itself is a proper town, and you run from building to building looking for NPCs to interact with, not up and down magically floating pentagonal elevators. Even the elevators themselves are frustrating; if you're stuck at the top level, you need to stand around and wait for it to meet you before you're allowed back down. I would have opted for a simpler layout using staircases.

If I were to make changes to Howling Fjord, it would be from a content perspective; adding quests to climb around on the cliff faces themselves. After a while, it eventually sets in that the cliffs are nothing more than the "boundary mountains" that surround any of the old world zones like the Barrens or Desolace.

By giving us a reason to climb around on them, it gives them a purpose for being there, instead of having them just be fancy looking walls. Eventually we gain the ability to fly in Northrend, but all that does is grant us the ability to skip the rickety elevators, not reach some out of the way nooks that were impossible to access before. By having a reason to revisit previous zones, it allows us to spread higher end content to the lower end zones, and gives players a chance to interact with each other outside of that zone's "designated level range". As it stands, the primary reason you see 77+ players in the Fjord is because they're farming herbs or ore.

I'm curious what you guys think, what zone(s) do you like, and why?


Kiryn said...

From an Alliance perspective, there's a quest where some guy teaches you falconry, and you control this little tiny falcon as it zips around the cliffs stealing the eggs of larger birds.

I haven't seen the zone from the Horde perspective, but it saddens me that they don't have something like this involving those beautiful cliffs. Thinking back now, it was probably my favorite quest chain in the zone.

Kyir said...

Kiryn, we have some quest where we have to get eagle feathers which then let us farsight up to them.

Or maybe that's Grizzly Hills.


Kyir said...

Also, I like Black Rock Mountain personally. Despite housing four (or five, depending on how you count LBRS and UBRS) excellent instances, I always thought the level design was awe inspiring. I remember the first time I went in and saw the giant rock suspended in the middle and thinking "Wow, I really wish I could get more then three feet before dying".

I also remember being level 60 and thinking "Gee, killing all these people entering with the rest of my zerg is really fun."

Oh the memories.

Juzaba said...

I never much liked the zones in WAR, but I loved the Greenskin camps. They did such a good job of capturing a war machine that was barely holding itself together, yet had such inexorable momentum.

Copperbird said...

I do love Howling Fjord, it isn't just the geography so much as the quests, the look, the exploring, the towns all add up to reinforce the overarching themes and general gothic-ness of the whole place. It's an amazing introduction to Northrend. I also love how the instances are in a huuuge fortress in the middle. You won't see it at first, but as you explore you'll notice it in the distance, and then finally end up there yourself.

The other zone I love at the moment is Lothlorien in LOTRO. It's so perfectly designed to feel like a respite after having slogged through Moria -- not just the graphics, the quests as well.

Larísa said...

Don't know about the Horde side, but I remember how special the arrival was as an alliance... The mighty entrance with the gigantic fjords first of all. And then, the very stumbling quests you're taking out of town, you're facing waves of crazy wolves, coming in waves, running around. Tons of them. I even died! Puh. It set a certain pace and atmosphere somehow.

And I'm SO glad things are moving on a bit. I will be so proud once you succeed, knowing that I never was one of the nay-sayers.

Good to hear from you! cheers and hugs!

Silkworm said...

Ahn Qiraj 40 was very impressive. Especially up the stairs where you kill Prophet Skeram, there is a fantastic desolate landscape view with a dawning/setting sun.

Sadly few people have actually been to AQ like pre WotLK Naxxramas. I would definetly revamp this as a 10 man dungeon. And in my opinion when they are revamping a dungeon, add something more. I mean if you are reviving Onyxia dungeon, put a small story to it. Like I don't know one of her brood takes up residence and you kill it.

Kyir said...

Revamping any old instances just cheapens the memory and it's never as good as the original, even if it looks the same.

kangax said...

azshara man ... azshara ... its amazing there to just sit on one island or something or just stroll on the beach and listen to the magnificent soundtrack ... and the setting is so tranquil ... so escapist ...
in fact u can escape from reality when you are somewhere in azshara... and there are not so many ppl there which only contributes to the objective. u can have a rest from a busy or hard day ... just sit and chat... or just sit and observe ...
besides the place is not like any other zone in WOW...
The other place with a similar effect is the Twisting Nether ... just sit on some flying boulder and enjoy the ambience, soundtrack and lightning show

Hatch said...

Grizzly Hills is the most beautiful zone in WoW, but the game design there isn't so great.

Meanwhile, the game design in Zul'Drak is excellent. I love the level design with the road/staircase leading across the entire zone to the temple. The Ebon Blade vs. Undead Troll questline is probably one of my favorites in all of WoW. The questlines where you do favors for the animal demigods is also great. So I'd have to say Zul'drak. The only problem is that it could use a little more variety and beauty. The zone would be more effective if the base of it leading in from crystalsong and grizzly hills was greener and more verdant, and then you saw the decay grow as you moved further into the zone.

The background lore in that zone is also quite good. You get a feel for the losing battle the native ice trolls have been fighting against the scourge (though I would like to see this in more explicit detail) and come to understand the sacrifices they are making of their own gods in the name of defeating the scourge. Then you have the ebon blade and the argent crusade both battling the scourge in their own way (EB uses espionage while AC uses direct assault).

So I surprised myself here...zul'drak is my favorite zone in wow!

Duskwood is a good candidate too, but the old world just can't compete with northrend in terms of design.

Tesh said...

I can't speak to a favorite area (though Mulgore is pretty cool, I'm more of a "snow and ice" kinda guy, and I've not explored Northrend) in WoW, but I'll wholeheartedly second the notion that those cliffs need to be useful.

I saw a teaser for a new MMO titled TERA. At one point, the characters are literally climbing a rock wall (not just running up a narrow path carved into the cliff). That struck me as pretty dang cool, and I'd love that sort of mechanic in WoW. Let me climb the cliffs and see what's up there... and make something interesting to see up there while you're at it.

Firespirit said...

HF is by and large my favorite zone in both looks and effectiveness combined. The quests, especially when arriving as alliance to Valgarde, really do feel like you are assaulting the lich king's territtory. And subsequent quests further the storyline, very few being true "kill ten rats" style.

From a strictly visual perspecitve, I think Duskwood takes the cake. HF and GH are both very nice, but the stark contrast that this zone has to the surrounding zones, as well as this being one of the few zones that actually have this sort of "downtrodden dark" feeling make it really stand out, and in a good way. The webs hanging from the trees help immensely :) Our guild always throw's a halloween party in this zone.

From a design perspective, I would have to agree with Hatch, ZD is way up there. The whole zone just flows from one part to the next. The story is omnipresent, and one of the best quest lines, including a lichiepoo encounter, is in it. Though, I have to say that Elwynn/northshire valley is a close second. I know, I know, a bit cliche? But think about it. It really does set the quintessential tone of that whole first "vanilla" wow. The quests follow the zone well, and they arent too grindy.

SirFWALGMan said...

I agree with your assessment of Howling Fjord.. As Alliance for the first time it was epic to be sailing on this boat between these HUGE glaciers and deep dark waters that housed some life you could see swimming around.. and you would see clusters of penguins just hanging out on ice bergs. It was awesome the first 50 times I saw it. XD. Not sure how you get rid of the familiarity problem. (Oh yeah, blow the fricken world up!)

Another epic zone to me the first time I saw it was the Gate to Outland. I was a n00b who never had been to this Outland. Someone told me I had to go through the badlands to get there. So here I am walking in this zone and it's dark and creepy and bolts of electricity are going off and this huge glow comes into view and I am like WTF is that? OMG I am so going to die! HELP! So I creep up on it watching out for the doom hammer to slap me down and go over the crest to see this giant rift in the fabric of space time and this encampment of people before it. I thought it was a very good introduction to Outland. The crazy topsy turvy world of Outland itself was sorta meh.