WoW and Loathing

If there’s one thing that starting to play World of Warcraft has given me so far, it’s a greater appreciation of its influences in other games. In particular, several aspects of Kingdom of Loathing that I had taken to be simply drawn from CRPGs in general turn out to be direct imitations (or satires) of things in WoW. Which is a little strange, because KoL was in fact released first. But both games have changed substantially since launch.

For example, one of the more noticeable additions to KoL from about three years ago was an optional alternate combat interface. Before this, combat was done with a simple HTML menu with a couple of drop-down lists. The new interface used DHTML to present a row of numbered boxes, into which you could drag icons representing skills or combat-usable inventory items, which you could activate by either clicking on them or by hitting the corresponding number key on your keyboard. It also supported multiple banks of such icons, with buttons for paging up and down between banks. In short, it was an awful lot like the WoW action bar, except for the fact that it only applies to combat. In WoW, it’s the main way you perform any action in the game.

One of the more useful icons you can put on the KoL action bar represents the command “repeat last thing” — either repeat the last action when in combat, or, afterward, adventure again in the same location. The icon for this is the number 1 in parentheses — “(1)” — which is sort of a joke on the notation used throughout the game to warn players that an action will cost an adventure. The zones on the maps are all marked with strings like “The Spooky Forest (1)”, but this icon obviously doesn’t know what zone you’re adventuring in, so all it can display is the “(1)”. Anyway, now it seems to me like it’s also poking fun at WoW‘s “!” icon in its action bar, the icon for accessing the quest log. It similarly takes a piece of UI typography and elevates it to the status of symbol.

KoL doesn’t have or need a quest symbol of this sort, because questing of the kind you do in WoW isn’t a very big part of the game. But there’s one thing that’s very much in the same vein: the Bounty Hunter Hunter. The BHH’s job is to find and hire adventurers willing to go after specific monster types for a reward. You can approach him once per day to start hunting something, with the choices available varying from day to day. In other words, it’s what WoW calls a “daily quest”, and like several of the WoW dailies, the reward is a special pseudo-monetary token that can only be spent at the same premises that awards it. But the biggest WoWism here is the way that questing for a particular creature makes it drop a special quest-redemption item that it never drops otherwise. I thought this was very strange when I first encountered it in KoL, but it turns out to be one of the fundamentals of WoW. It should be noted that before 2007, the Bounty Hunter Hunter worked completely differently: he just bought a daily assortment of ordinary monster-leavings for twice the usual price. But this didn’t encourage people to go out and hunt the day’s selected monsters; it just encouraged them to hoard their trash until it the BHH wanted it. So switching to the WoW model here was probably a good idea.

I don’t want to imply that KoL is just a WoW imitation. They’re very different games, and most of KoL‘s mechanics are either original or cribbed from other browser-based games. But they do occupy more or less the same niche in my mind, of a game that’s as much a social experience as a gaming one, and that gives you the feeling that you have to play every day to really keep up.

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