Just to keep you all up to speed in with my virtual adventuring…

Things have slowed down rather dramatically in the past week or so. Where I had been moving multiple levels upward each day, now I’m more or less ignoring level entirely as I have focused on learning the more complex aspects of the game, particulary the optimization of combat options. But I have also spent a good chunk of my online time working on making my characters profitable meaning that they make more virtual money than they spend. I’m not quite there yet. I thought I was but then I got my behind whupped pretty good in a player vs. player duel that I should have won, and it became clear that my generally middle-of-the-road equipment was simply not going to cut it in the “Twinked” world of player vs. player combat. So I went to the auction house and spent virtually all of my fortune on new weapons and armor. I had not been doing that up until now because I didn’t want to blow 100 gold pieces on items that would only be good for a couple of levels. But, as they say in business and sports, don’t expect to compete if you don’t have the right tools. The upgrade has significantly improved my day-to-day combat, but I haven’t gone back to PvP since then, so I don’t know if it will have that much of an impact where it really counts. Regardless, I’m more or less broke again now.

I have been advancing a second character (a gnome mage) up the levels and managed to get that character up to level 17 so far. I created that character specifically to allow me to work on the same level as the Cosmic Daughter or other characters from other players that I know. Last night I used that character to take the CD on a wide-ranging tour of the world of WoW, helping her to complete her druid quest which allows her to take a new form (I think the form is “Sea Lion”).

Having said that, I do want to take a minute to talk about the actual “World” of “World of Warcraft.”

I think I’m usually a fairly harsh critic of game design, having designed and written some of my own. And there is plenty to find fault with for sure. Sometimes I think my natural career would have been in computer or board game design, but I never found a way to make enough money at it. The bottom line is that I am pretty quick to spot issues in a game that I think should easily have gone better. I was a particularly harsh critic of EQ in that way, as much as I enjoyed the game otherwise.

Having said all that, and understanding that the graphics in WoW are a few generations behind modern heavy-client game programs (like Oblivion, for example) I still have to say that the game designers in WoW did a remarkable job of making the world an engaging one. They really managed to convey a sense of epic proportions that can sometimes nearly take your breath away.

For example, the city of Ironforge is almost certainly my favorite part of WoW right now, from a pure game-design perspective. Whoever designed the “dwarven” parts of WoW, whether it is Ironforge itself (the capital of the Dwarven race) or if it is the dwarven tunnels that take you between the different areas of the game, the result simply oozes dwarvishness. Even something as simple as a dwarven tunnel is done on an epic scale, with precision and style. Dwarves in WoW build BIG. In fact the obvious conclusion to draw after visiting typical dwarven architecture is that the dwarves over-compensate for their shortness of stature with epic architecture that can only be described as “grand.” This feeling of gargantuan scale is best found in Ironforge, where the walls loom overhead like great cliffs of precisely laid and cut stone. Great rivers of molten metal run throughout the “great forge” of the city, dwarfing the inhabitants. A dwarven dam built nearby is on the scale of the Hoover dam but the water erupts out of the dam to the valley below through the open mouths of truly monumental dwarven heads. The visual result, even with the resolution limitations of the WoW engine, is quite overpowering and impressive.

Traveling from the dwarven realm to the realm of the night elves reveals that where the dwarven architecture is all about precision, power and colossal scale, the architecture of the night elves is thoroughly organic and radiates a balance with nature that is palpable. The elvish buildings meld and merge into the general woodland scenery. The scale of things is modest and the structures open and airy. The difference in architectural style is well thought out and I actually find it to be mood-affecting. In the dwarven realm I tend to be more aggressive and direct as I interact with the WoW world, while in the elven realms I tend to be more sneaky and laid back. Everything is green and brown and dappled with muted lighting which filters through foliage.

I have to assume the above things are intentional, and as such, I have to give kudos to the desgners and implementers of the game. I believe that they have set out to create pretty much exactly the reaction that they get from me, and when taking the Cosmic Daughter through realm after realm, from her reaction I could tell that the effect was more or less the same for her as it was for me.

The main reason I am so impressed by all this visual detail and the planning and thinking that went into it is that most of it is superfluous to the game engine and game mechanics, and as such they game designers really didn’t need to put that much thought and effort into it. That they did demonstrates to me that the WoW design and implementation team take great pride in their creation, and imho, rightly so.