Archive for the 'RPG' Category

Dungeons of Dredmor: Patch and Crafting

Right after my last post, Dungeons of Dredmor got a pretty major patch, which Steam downloaded for me automatically. It always feels a little strange when a game spontaneously changes in significant ways just a few days after I start playing it, particularly an offline, single-player game. And it is a pretty major update: there are three entirely new equipment slots (for gloves, belt, and trousers), an entire skill specialization has been removed and its component skills shuffled into other specializations (apparently rendering one of the Steam achievements unachievable), new varieties of trap and vending machine have sprouted. Before the patch, wands used a strange and experimental system of “entropy” and “burn rate” to determine at random when they would become useless; after, they use a more conventional system of charges, which is a little disappointing to me, as I was looking forward to mastering the less-familiar system.

The single most intrusive change is the new crafting interface: the changelog states “we stole the old one from Minecraft, we stole the new one from Terraria”. What this means is that instead of putting items into slots in a special interface and hitting a button to put a combined item in another slot, with an optional recipe list to expedite the process, the recipe list is now all there is. You scroll this list until the recipe is under an unmoving pointer, then hit a button to execute it, using items from your inventory. This means it’s no longer possible to abuse the crafting interface to extend your carrying capacity, which is probably a good thing all told.

I find the new system unsatisfactory in a number of ways, however. The icons representing the recipe targets no longer have tooltips, leaving me guessing a little about what I’m creating. The scrolling list, unlike other scrolling lists in the game, doesn’t recognize the mouse scrollwheel, and the interface itself, unlike all other pop-up interfaces in the game, can’t be closed by pressing ESC. These are obviously bugs, though, and will probably be addressed in further revisions — indeed, I notice that Steam has downloaded another patch as I write this, so they may even be addressed already. But the interface is by its nature less convenient for certain things, like making ingots out of ore. Ingots are the basic ingredients for most smithing recipes, and ore is the basic ingredient for ingots. It doesn’t have a lot of other uses, so in most cases, you want to smelt your ore the moment you find it. In the old interface, you’d do this by picking up the ore off the ground and throwing it into your portable ingot-making tool, then hitting the “smelt” button. In the new interface, you have to find the appropriate recipe in the scrolling list, which slows the process down considerably. To make matters worse, you can’t just click on the recipe when it comes into view. You have to scroll it to the center, the spot pointed to by that pointer.

But again, maybe they’ve improved this already. And if they haven’t, they probably will. It may feel a little strange to play a game that’s being frequently patched, but it has advantages.

Dungeons of Dredmor: First Death

Actually what I’m reporting is my second death. My first game was over quickly enough that I don’t think it counts. My second lasted long enough for me to explore the first six floors of the dungeon quite thoroughly, and start on the seventh. A modicum of care and caution is all it takes to keep a game going for hours, it turns out, because there’s no hunger factor or anything forcing you to keep moving downward faster than you’d like. (Food exists, but is pretty much optional. It just gives you a buff that temporarily increases your healing rate to one hit point per turn.) And that care really should have carried me longer than it did. My death, as is traditional in roguelikes, was a stupid one.

It started with a treasure zoo. This is a blatant nethackism: on most levels (possibly all; I didn’t really keep track), there is a room completely full of monsters, which typically come flooding out the moment you open the door, accompanied by frantic zoo music. I pretty much knew how to handle zoos by this point, of course. I was playing a melee specialist, having chosen this for its simplicity so I could get used to the basics of the game, so I didn’t have a lot of power to kill multiple monsters at once. Taking on a zoo meant fighting more monsters than I could comfortably handle, and periodically falling back to heal and recover. In extreme cases, it meant retreating all the way to the stairs to the previous level.

The problem here was that the zoo was extremely close to those stairs. I managed to retreat to it once, but the monsters mobbed around me so close that I was completely surrounded when I came back down. And that created a problem I wasn’t anticipating when I went back down. The way you go up a staircase in this game is by moving onto it. Thus, in order to go back up a staircase you just came down, you have to move off it and back on again. But if you can’t move due to all the monsters crowded around you, you can’t do that.

Now, if all that had happened was that I got surrounded and killed because stairs don’t work right, I would call it a cheap shot. But I managed to make a pretty good go of it. The monsters whittled me down to near death, but I had some emergency supplies that helped me to survive: buff potions, healing supplies, food. The food effect may not sound like much, but I’m finding that, for a heavily-armored melee fighter, this is a game of margins. Most monsters’ attacks weren’t doing me a lot of damage; I just had to make sure that I was regaining health at an overall faster rate than I was losing it. Elemental resistance also seems to be a big part of this. On most of the dungeon floors that I’ve seen, there’s a dominant elemental damage type, and donning an item that grants even one point of resistance to that type can be a big win.

Also, at one point during this fight, I gained an experience level, which heals you instantly to your new maximum health. But I couldn’t count on that happening again, and I was running out of useful potions, so I looked for other options. My best bet seemed to be that Knightly Leap skill that I mentioned in my last post. There was one spot that it looked like I could jump to, just past the mob, and from there I could possibly make a break for a side chamber that was a little farther away from the zoo, possibly far enough away that I’d stop attracting fresh monsters to replace every kill. Alternately, perhaps I could wait for the cooldown on the Leap to expire and leap back to the stairs, hopefully triggering them.

Neither of those things happened. The spot I was aiming for was not in fact one I could leap to — I think a corner of irregularly-shaped wall was keeping it out of direct line-of-sight. Discovering this on selecting the Leap action, I, like a fool, just poked around with it until I found a spot I could leap to, heedless of whether it was a spot that exposed me to more monster attacks. And that was that. I had put up a valiant fight that lasted a lot longer than I was expecting, and it’s conceivable that I could have pulled through if I hadn’t made that mistake. But that’s far from certain.

The thing is, I’m not even all that disappointed in my stupid death. You have to take this sort of thing in stride if you play roguelikes. And besides, it gives me an opportunity to try out a new character, with a different set of skills. I was thinking at first that once this game was over, one way or another, I’d take a break and play a different game for a while. But I’m honestly impatient to try out more of Dredmor possibilities.

Dungeons of Dredmor

Now, here’s a game I’ve been hearing good things about lately. Dungeons of Dredmor is a roguelike. I’ve commented before about the looseness with which this term is bandied about lately, but Dredmor really means it. We’re talking not just random maps and permadeath here. Dredmor fits the classical roguelike descriptor in every way except two, those being the shuffling of item effects from game to game and the graphics made of text characters. I could imagine a character-graphics version of the game. It would wind up losing much of the UI slickness, like the tooltips, but it wouldn’t play fundamentally differently.

Other than that, it’s so roguelike that it can steal some of Nethack‘s gameplay gags. For example, there’s the Knightly Leap skill, learnable by characters who specialize in dodging. At first I couldn’t figure out how to make this work, but then I realized that it’s just like the Knight class’s #jump command in Nethack — which is to say, it only lets you jump like a knight in chess. The game doesn’t explain this, which effectively makes it into a puzzle, albeit one that’s easier for people who have played other roguelikes. And that seems to be a major factor in the game as a whole. At least at the early stages, it’s not so much about fighting monsters as exploring your options and figuring out what’s possible.

The thing is, after investing a few hours into a game, I’ve become reluctant to try things that might be unsafe. I should note that the permadeath is optional: when you start a game, you get a menu of difficulty settings and other options, prominently including a big checkbox for permadeath. But it’s checked by default, and besides, as an experienced player of roguelikes, it just seems proper to me. But I’m not even talking just about death. This is a game with a major crafting element, with recipes for potions and armor and whatnot learnable from bookshelves you find in the dungeon. I’ve started finding equipment recipes that require items I’ve previously found and wasted, either by consuming them to find out what they do (some of the more exotic magic items take potions as ingredients), or by selling them to shops. So now I’m reluctant to throw anything out in case I find a use for it later. But your inventory is painfully limited — the block of slots looks nicely large when you first see it, but you can easily fill up entire rows just with different kinds of cheese. (And yes, cheese can be a crafting ingredient.) Crafting tools can extend your carrying capacity a little by holding items in their ingredient slots, but this is awkward when you actually want to craft something. So I’ve been spending a great deal of time just managing objects. There’s a large room on one level that I’ve made into my dump and warehouse, with items sorted by type, and I go back there whenever my inventory is full or I need to spend some time healing. If I die now, it’ll seem like wasted effort.

IFComp 2011: Kerkerkruip

Spoilers follow the break.

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The Binding of Isaac

In Ultima IV, the is a dungeon room where a mob of children attacks you. To most players, this was just an interesting repurposing of a tile not normally used for monsters to produce a things-are-different-here vibe. (The previous game in the series famously has floor tiles attack you toward the end.) But some found it upsetting, and at least one even claimed that it promoted child abuse. Richard Garriott, Ultima‘s auteur, had intended this scene as a kind of ethical challenge, and has pointed out various solutions that don’t involve killing children in self-defense, such as using charm or sleep spells. 1One of his proposed non-lethal solutions was to unwield your sword and punch them with your bare hands until they run away, but that doesn’t really help much with the child abuse allegation. But players tend to be in kill-everything-that-moves mode at that point in the game, and forget about these options, and feel like they have no choices but atrocity or quitting in disgust.

Garriott considered this little controversy to be one of the game’s biggest successes, and he included a “child room” somewhere in every subsequent Ultima. But he had better taste than to push the idea further, to take it to its logical extreme. Enter Edmud McMillen and Florian Himsl, of Meat Boy fame. This pair once created a shooter about fighting diseased vaginas. Taste is no obstacle to these guys. Their latest work, The Binding of Isaac, is the story of a horrifically abused little boy trapped alone in a basement, naked and with no weapons other than his tears, forced to fight grotesque abominations. And he really is forced: unlike the child rooms in Ultima, the game doesn’t let you leave a room until Isaac is the only thing alive. 2Actually, there are exceptions to this. There are certain items that let you teleport away, and an explosion in the right place will reveal a secret passage regardless of whether the the room is in lockdown. But these are just exceptions. Many of the enemies, particularly the early ones, appear to be deformed children, variations on Isaac’s character design. There’s one sort that doesn’t even attack you, but just runs away, sobbing piteously. You still have to kill it to continue.

In a sense, though, that one type does attack you: it occasionally emits hostile flies, like guided missiles that you have to shoot down. Monsters that flee from direct confrontation and birth more monsters are not without precedent — see the Roach Queens in DROD, for example — but the way it’s presented here makes it seem like the guy you’re trying to kill is even more a victim of the flies than Isaac: his face is a mass of lumps presumably full of insect eggs. More advanced versions of this creature are only recognizable as once-human because of the legs supporting the bulging fleshy mass.

Yes, this is a truly repulsive game. There’s blood and feces all over the place, a synergetic combination that’s far grosser than the sum of its parts, and the monsters all look like things you really, really don’t want to touch. And to survive in this world, Isaac has to make himself as monstrous and grotesque as the things he fights. There are a great many upgrades to be found (a random assortment available in any session), and most of them physically alter Isaac in some way, usually for the worse: a permanent snarl, a bent coathanger through the head, a third eye. They stack, too, which can look ridiculous even when the components aren’t ridiculous individually (which many are). All this is overlaid on a style of exaggerated simplicity and sarcastic neoteny, like the Powerpuff Girls. It’s a dead-baby-joke-like juxtaposition that’s at times troubling and at times merely puerile. And sometimes it pulls out a bit of Satanic imagery for cheap shock value.

So I really can’t blame anyone for simply being turned off by the style and unwilling to play it. The problem is, such people will miss out on a really good game based on the gradual mastery of a complex system and the endless variability provided by combinations of randomly-selected game-changers.

The gameplay is a surprisingly harmonious combination of blatantly swiped elements. The basic design of the dungeon, the use of bombs to open secret passages, the appearance of the shopkeeper rooms, and the way that bosses show up later as ordinary encounters all hail from The Legend of Zelda. The horrific imagery owes a little to Silent Hill, as does the questionable reality of the whole experience, which is implied to be all a dream or hallucination that Isaac experiences while locked in his room waiting to be murdered; the cutscene after you win the game the first time shows a much more prosaic ending than the boss battle you just endured. The shooting mechanic, with its dual eight-direction controls for shooting and moving in independent directions 3Accomplished here entirely through the keyboard, WASD for movement and arrow keys for shooting, which is a curious choice for the people who were so adamant that you use a gamepad in Super Meat Boy. The fact that the entire game is in Flash might have something to do with this., are pure Robotron, down to the effectiveness of circling around the edges of the room while shooting inward, although with the twist that your movement affects the trajectory of your bullet/tears, making most of your shots somewhat diagonal. And there are sundry minor references, like a miniboss based on Bomberman.

And then there’s the rougelike elements. Other commenters seem to have mostly focused on this, and on debates over whether it really qualifies as a roguelike; the comment threads at rockpapershotgun coined the term “roguelike-like” to describe it. It seems to me that it’s got a better claim to the genre than some other things that have been described as roguelikes, such as Spelunky, whose only roguelike attributes as far as I can tell are randomly-generated levels and inability to go back to earlier saves. Isaac has these attribute too, but it also has other pointed rogueisms like randomized items: where Rogue randomly assigned colors to different potion types, expecting you to learn what each color does by drinking it, Isaac does the same with scavenging Mom’s pills, putting the mechanic in a new perspective that makes you realize just how awful it is underneath.

For that matter, the whole setting is something of a subversion of the dungeons-of-doom cliché, or perhaps a reinforcement of it, giving the idea some of the power it loses by being set in a pure fantasy environment. I’ve seen it argued that the intrinsic unfairness of the luck factor in roguelikes, where your ability to win is largely determined by what items the random number generator picks, complements the utter unfairness of the underlying story, of a little boy unfortunate to be under the power of a psycho who thinks God talks to her. For these and similar reasons, I think it would actually be a worse game if you reskinned it to be less horrible.

   [ + ]

1. One of his proposed non-lethal solutions was to unwield your sword and punch them with your bare hands until they run away, but that doesn’t really help much with the child abuse allegation.
2. Actually, there are exceptions to this. There are certain items that let you teleport away, and an explosion in the right place will reveal a secret passage regardless of whether the the room is in lockdown. But these are just exceptions.
3. Accomplished here entirely through the keyboard, WASD for movement and arrow keys for shooting, which is a curious choice for the people who were so adamant that you use a gamepad in Super Meat Boy. The fact that the entire game is in Flash might have something to do with this.

WoW: Clambering back out

One errand I left incomplete when I left for PAX last week: getting Oleari up to level 70, the Burning Crusade level cap. She was only about a dungeon and a half away from that milestone, and it didn’t seem right to just stop playing until I reached it. I have done this now, and a fair bit more: there’s a sort of dungeon nexus in the ruins in Terokkar Forest, with multiple dungeon questgivers in easy walking distance of each other, and that pulled me in for longer than I had intended. I came away from PAX with a refreshed enthusiasm for all the nifty new indie games out there and a determination to play them, but after a few hours of WoW, all I wanted to play is more WoW. This game is dangerous.

Of course, having reached the level cap, and not being willing to buy another expansion until I’ve explored Outland more thoroughly, I’m no longer getting experience for completing quests. But I’m getting guild reputation, which is more of a concern for me right now, and getting it much faster than previously: high-level quests seem to yield a lot more rep than low-level ones. Whether the guild is worth it is open to question: it’s shrunk to a mere 10 members since I joined, less than half its peak size. I don’t know why this is, or whether it’s normal. I tried asking on the guild chat, but no one replied. Maybe it’s a sore point right now. At any rate, I’ll assume this happens to every new guild until someone tells me otherwise.

Looking back, I see that WoW basically ate this blog for the entire month of August. I’m forcing myself away for at least as long as it takes to complete one randomly-chosen game from the Stack. I’ve got a whole bunch of half-completed games that I started blogging and mean to get around to — you can see them listed on my Backloggery page as “Now Playing”, inaccurate though that description is — but I really think I need something fresh. Next post, we’ll find out what.

WoW: Guild Switch

One side effect of getting hacked seems to be that I lost my guild membership. Presumably this happened as a result of Oleari being deleted. At first, my reaction was that I had to get back in. I mean, I was almost halfway to raising my guild reputation from Neutral to Friendly! And that took a very long time, due to my inability to participate in guild activities. Guild rep works more or less like any NPC faction reputation, which is to say, it’s completely automatic and has nothing to do with what your guildmates actually think of you. Nonetheless, it’s significant: to some extent, it governs perk access. There are special tabards you can wear that increase the rate at which you gain guild rep, but your rep has to already be at least Friendly for you to buy them, a sort of semi-permeable catch 22.

There was some evidence that I still had my accumulated guild rep in some kind of dormant state, and could recover it by rejoining. But in order to rejoin, I would have to contact someone in the guild, and the only person in it I actually know had been inactive for over a month. Which in itself was perhaps a sign to let it go.

There’s also the fact that the guild had reached its level cap. I think I mentioned guild levels once before. They’re a concept that came in with Cataclysm. Various activities, including just completing quests, give experience to the guild as a whole. As a guild levels up, its members get perks like increased riding speed and diminished wear-and-tear on equipment and the like. Some of the perks help members gain reputations faster, but it’s not clear to me if this applies to reputation with the guild itself. I suppose that a powergamer would want to be in a level 25 guild all the time in order to have all the perks, but to me, the whole point of having a system of levels is to level up. I actually felt a little cheated when I logged on after three months and found that my guild had managed to reach level 25 without me. There’s no sense of accomplishment in reaping the benefits of what other people have done.

And there, I perhaps show why I’m not ideal MMO material. I mean, a lot of people do take pride in other people’s accomplishments, in simply being associated with the group that accomplished them. Consider fans of sports teams. Or consider Alternate-Reality Games. I like the concept of ARGs, but they’re really designed as team efforts, things that can only be solved by people sharing information, which always feels to me like spoiling the puzzles. I’d rather figure things out on my own, you know? Or if I’m going to be part of a team effort, I want to know that my own efforts were significant to the result. One of the most satisfying MMO experiences I’ve ever had was participating in the construction of the first Megalopolis in A Tale in the Desert, an undertaking that required no fewer than 49 participants, because it was made of 49 segments, and each segment had to be slotted into place by a different person. But as well, all of the 49 people were working together on the materials needed for those pieces — mixing cement, cutting gems, etc. — because no one got credit for their part until everyone did. (When the final piece was put into place, most of the participants gathered in front of the structure to watch. Then we all gained a rank in Architecture simultaneously, and the resulting pyrotechnics were enough to crash the client.)

So clearly, if I was going to be in a guild again (and really, it’s something of a waste to not be in one), it was going to have to be a new, small one that I could actively participate in growing.

Finding a guild to join is not hard. The mere fact that Oleari was nearly level 70 and not in a guild meant that she was getting frequent invitations from strangers. (Possibly the fact that she’s a healer helped.) But I wanted to make sure I was joining a guild where I could make a difference. Fortunately, there’s a newish built-in tool for this: the Guild Finder. I had never seen this before, because it was added after I joined my previous guild. The button for it sits in the same slot that, when you’re in a guild, brings up the guild details. It’s not really adequately documented: the list of actively-recuiting guilds lists a few numbers without explaining what they mean. One was clearly the guild level (as it never rose above 25), and another seemed to be the membership count, but the third took me a while to puzzle out: it’s the number of guild Achievement points it has. Achievements are another area where getting them is more appealing to me than already having them, so I wanted to find guilds with low level and Achievement points, but more than just a couple of members: I don’t want it to fizzle out underneath me.

Finding such a thing could have been made simpler with a better UI, one capable of sorting by different fields, like a Windows directory listing, but no, the UI designer here decided to go with pretty rather than functional. But I did find a few, and even got a reply from one, a new one that had just been created the day before. We’ll see how it goes. The membership was about 20 strong when I last checked, and an encouragingly large fraction of them were below level 85.

WoW: Authenticator

So, one of the responses to my post about my WoW account getting hacked suggested getting an “Authenticator”. I remember seeing these devices in the Blizzard store, and basically dismissing them as akin to the identity-theft protection plans sold by credit card companies: an attempt to scare you into paying extra money for something that’s really supposed to be part of the vendor’s job anyway. But this impression was, it turns out, way off. For one thing, you can get an Authenticator free of charge. Blizzard will sell you a hardware device if you need it, a little LCD-display device that fits on a keychain, but they also provide a free app for various mobile platforms (including, but not limited to, iOS and Android), as well as an option to do your authentication through a toll-free telephone number. Basically, they just want you to use an Authenticator of some sort, and try to make it as accessible as possible. In fact, they go so far as to give a special thank-you in the form of a vanity pet — a “core hound pup” — to anyone who links an Authenticator of any kind to their account. As chance would have it, I had exactly 14 pets before I set up my Authenticator, and there’s an Achievement for acquiring 15. So already I think it’s worth the time it took to download the app.

And what does an Authenticator do? It generates eight-digit numbers, which are then required to log onto your account, both in the game and on the web. These numbers are apparently only good for 30 seconds — at least, that’s how often the mobile app version spits out a fresh one. When I saw how it all worked, my first reaction was that there should really be some way to link the authentication to a particular machine instead, like Steam can do, so that you don’t have this extra step every time you log in. But apparently it does that too: once the server recognizes that you log in consistently from the same machine, it stops asking for the Authenticator code there. And, having wished for that, I now hope that there’s a way to stop it if necessary.

Now, there can only be one Authenticator paired with an account at a time. This seems reasonable to me: if there were a way to register a second Authenticator, you wouldn’t be able to be sure that no one else can access your account. But it does raise an issue: if you don’t have an authenticator, the attackers can link your account to an Authenticator of their own, thereby locking you out. Mind you, they’d have to also have access to your email in order to confirm the link, but that’s a possibility: if they can get access to your password, there’s a reasonable chance that they can get your email password as well (especially if they’re the same). And being locked out would make it difficult to submit a support ticket, or even to cancel your subscription. So to that extent, the existence of Authenticators actually makes things a little less secure for the people who don’t have them.

I’d complain about this if there were any good reason not to have an Authenticator, but as far as I can tell, there isn’t. The only downside is the extra step in the login process, and that’s nothing next to the worry and inconvenience of being hacked, even if (as in my case) it’s a temporary condition. I don’t really like the fact that an Authenticator is a must-have, but that’s genuinely the way it is. I only wish someone had convinced me of this sooner.

WoW: Fishing Derby

Today, before heading back to Outland, I tried out something that has been on my WoW to-do list for some time: the weekly fishing contest in Stranglethorn Vale. This is an activity that’s thrust before your face as soon as you get your first point in fishing skill, by NPCs handing out flyers in Orgrimmar (and presumably in the Alliance capital as well), but what chance does a rank amateur have of winning? My fishing skill is over 300 now, close to the maximum I can get before buying more expansions, so it seemed worth at least trying out. Mind you, people who have Cataclysm can get a fishing skill over 500, but I figured that at this late date most such people had won the contest before, and gotten bored with it, and quit. Which may in fact be the case, for all I know, but the competition isn’t abandoned. I saw maybe four other people fishing, and there were probably a few others that I didn’t see. The competition was won in less than a half an hour, and at that point I was only about halfway to the goal.

The way the derby works is this: At 2:00 PM every Sunday, schools of Speckled Tastyfish suddenly appear all along the Stranglethorn coast. Schools of fish are a mechanic seen wherever there’s fishable water: they’re spots where some particular sort of fish is much more likely to be caught, visible as a circular ripple on the surface of the water. You can even make schools show up on your mini-map if you want. After a certain number of fish have been pulled out of a school, it fades away. (There are also pools of debris in some places that look similar to schools, but with bits of board and crates floating in them. Fishing in one of these yields strongboxes and other salvage.) Speckled Tastyfish are a special sort of fish that can only be caught during the derby, and apparently they disappear a few hours after being caught, so you can’t stockpile them for next week. The first person to turn in 40 of them wins the prize: a special fishing item, the title of “Master Angler”, and an Achievement. Apparently there are a few kinds of rare fish that can also only be caught in Tastyfish schools, and which can be turned in for their own special rewards regardless of whether you win. This strikes me as a clever bit of design: it gives people a motivation to try their luck even if they have no chance of winning.

Surprisingly, having a high fishing skill apparently isn’t the advantage that I assumed it would be: you can catch Tastyfish with a fishing skill of 1. The winners are, rather, the ones who can find fresh schools efficiently. Each school only yields maybe 3 Tastyfish before it’s tapped out. Mind, this doesn’t mean noobs have an equal chance. The real fishing champs are high-enough level to have fast flying mounts. (My flying mount is slow, and can only fly in Outland.)

And that’s before we get to the one really decisive factor that I wasn’t anticipating, but probably should have been: violence. On a PVP server, violence really is all-pervasive wherever Horde and Alliance players mingle, and a nice friendly fishing competition is no exception. If you’re level 85, and you see a sub-70 enemy near a Tastyfish school you want, you better believe you’re going to take a half a second out of your busy fishing schedule to kill them. It’s absurd, but that’s how little life means when everyone just respawns at the nearest graveyard.

WoW: Hacked!

So, here we are at the end of my 6-month subscription. Despite my badmouthing the game in these posts, I’ve basically been thinking for the last few days that my desire to see more of WoW‘s content, including the rest of Outland, was strong enough that I actually would be extending my subscription after all — making this, all told, the most expensive game I’ve played in years — and presumably, in due course, get the remaining expansions. What I do when I hit the level cap, I don’t know. It depends somewhat on whether there’s a new expansion out yet by then, and also on whether it looks like the game’s decline in membership is continuing. (I suppose I’m one of the few people who would be more likely to keep the subscription if it is. I kind of regret not being there at the end of A Tale in the Desert‘s first telling, and being on hand at the fall of another MMO, especially an epochal one like WoW, is not something I’d pass up.) In last night’s session, I even bought some new high-capacity luggage at auction (including a 36-slot fishing box), in expectation of great things to come.

But I started seriously reconsidering when I checked my email this morning. I had a message from Blizzard stating that my account was suspended for three hours, and my password reset, due to abuse of the terms of use. Apparently someone had hacked my account while I was asleep and spammed commercial messages over the chat channels.

That much was demoralizing, but not catastrophic. Blizzard’s abuse team at least understands that one day of spam after six months of good behavior is likely a hack job and doesn’t really hold it against you; the three-hour lockout was as much for my own protection as to keep the chat spam-free. Unfortunately, it seemed to have come too late. When I logged on, Oleari was missing. The only character on her server was a level-1 Human priest.

Oleari, gone? Without her, there wasn’t much point in continuing. I really don’t feel like starting over from scratch (or even from level 27, the highest level of my other characters). The really enraging thing about this wasn’t the loss of wealth and equipment, mind you. I can understand stealing a character’s stuff. I once got hacked and looted in Kingdom of Loathing, but the most valuable things there are unlootable — character experience, permanent skills — and to some extent, the same applies here. Oleari’s an herbalist; she could rebuild her material fortune pretty quickly by selling Outland herbs at auction. (Most of her 1000+ gold was acquired this way in the last two weeks, and that’s after buying a bunch of expensive bags.) But she can only do this if she exists.

No, the enraging thing was that scrapping the character herself seemed so pointless. How did it benefit anyone? It just seemed like a sign that we live in a bad world, where people do bad things to each other for no reason. I actually think I have a better explanation now: it turns out that the hacker created a great many characters on different servers, all Human. Perhaps the spammer deleted Oleari in order to keep within the limit on the number of characters per account.

At any rate, my thoughts were basically that I don’t need to play a game where this sort of thing happens. And so I removed my payment information from the account, giving Blizzard no way to charge me further. But then they impressed me with their responsiveness to my support ticket: despite an estimated 48 hour turnaround (by which point my subscription would have expired), they restored Oleari and all her belongings in just over 12. I can’t think of another online game I’ve played where loss due to hackage has been rectified so swiftly and thoroughly; my usual experience is that what’s done is done and the GMs either can’t or don’t like to undo anything. But WoW is a class act. I suppose the fact that Oleari was simply deleted rather than looted makes it simpler, but still, they deserve some kudos for making wrongfully-deleted characters so easily recoverable.

So, I’m inclined at this point to write this off as just another crucial part of the WoW experience, something that my journeys through Azeroth and Outland would be incomplete without, and keep going. But I was kind of looking forward to putting it behind me and throwing myself into a different game tonight. Maybe I’ll take another break soon. Well, level 70 shouldn’t be that far off.

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