Category Archives: Explorer’s League

#Blaugust2016: Travel

There’s two kinds of travel as far as I’m concerned: there’s cultural travel with different stops and being on the road almost permanently – and there’s relaxation holidays, being mostly stationary somewhere taking the odd day trip. Having done a lot of both, I’d say I enjoy them equally. When I was younger and still subject to my parents’ whims, we went for typical beach holidays every year, to Italy, to France and sometimes to Germany to visit family.

My first longer trip was in 1994 to Iran where I stayed for a month in Teheran (mostly) with my father. It’s something I’d like to do again soon, in different company, because it’s one of the culturally richest places I’ve ever been to with a lot to see and great, welcoming people. Between 19 and 20, I decided it was time to go see more of the world on my own and so I spent prolonged holidays in the USA two years in a row, first on the East Coast and later, taking a long road trip across the West and staying in California for another month where I also have distant relatives.


Pic from the ferry in NY, summer 2000

Those were both good experiences, for one because I learned that seeing things for myself is rather different than on TV or from the news. Traveling abroad also gives you a great sense of independence and self-confidence. Starting university, I soon met my today partner and together, we began traveling parts of Northern Europe every year – something which was never in the book for me as a kid (“too cold”). We’ve been to Sweden a few times visiting his family and from there it was England, Scotland and Ireland together, a different place every year.

I’ve completely fallen in love with the British Isles but having spent the bout of my twenties doing road trips, I soon longed for the relaxation of staying somewhere more longterm again. And so we’ve spent the last three years at the Italian Adria during summer which is sort of our go-to place to recharge batteries, with short trips to Austria and France during the rest of the year whenever that city itch strikes.

the tor

Glastonbury Tor…to Avalon, summer 2009

Traveling is of course also lovely for taking pictures. Wherever I’ve been, I’ve come home with photographs from beautiful places and people, of which there are in every country. Every now and then I go back looking at older shots and wonder who I’d be without all my experiences from visiting different places. Being able to travel abroad is such an integral part to my understanding of the world today, my interest in cultural differences (that are fun but also not very serious), my love for language, for nature, for food and all the basic things that are the best in life.

I’ve only really gained an understanding of my own home and appreciation for where I live through traveling too, knowing what it is I like and also dislike about growing up and living in Switzerland. You can’t really perceive or judge your own position in the world without going away and looking at it from a distance.


Strassbourg Old Town, Spring 2016

Italy Impressions

Italy is the country I’ve been to the most, maybe 20 times altogether over the course of my childhood and also in later years. It’s therefore a place I don’t feel like a tourist in anymore – I have friends in Italy, I speak some of the language (although it could be better) and I completely surrender to the Italian groove whenever I am there. Italy is for letting the soul rest, dolce far niente and food goodness. People are warm and friendly (this is the “real” Italy, not a city like Milan up north which is as much typically Italian as London is typically English), life begins late in summer and goes all the way into the night, the sea is warm and nobody cares where you park your car.

UK Impressions

I’ve been to Great Britain three times and while Ireland has its enchantment, it’s been lovely Somerset and Scotland with its rough hills and green lochs which I’ve come to adore. England is brimming with history and its past grandeur is never more obvious than when visiting the numerous and impressive beach castles along the Eastern shore all the way to Scotland. Whether you’re interested in history or a fan of myth and mythology, there’s things to do and see to your heart’s content in Britain. It wasn’t exactly our best food experience but we’ve met nothing but fun and straightforward people with a rocking sense of humor. My plan B for when all goes to hell someday is opening a B&B somewhere on a hill in Scotland, keeping my own goats!

France Impressions

France is famed for cities like Paris and its Côte d’Azur but for me, it’s the southern parts of the country that are the most charming. The Alsace area of Strassbourg and Colmar offers a unique mix of French and German culture and some of the most beautiful old towns I’ve ever seen. Strassbourg is a city I love returning to and it’s perfect for a 2-day trip to visit its mighty cathedral, picturesque old town and taking a boat trip around the city. If you choose a central hotel, everything is doable on foot and many people generally understand French, German and English. The food is French and German fusion, generally hearty and very yum!

USA Impressions

I spent my first three weeks in the US at the East Coast, mainly the area around DC, Maryland and New Jersey, with a trip to New York. While NY is a special place no doubt and it feels weird looking back on pictures taken from the WTC (in 2000), I enjoyed my time in the western USA a great deal more; there was a more distinct American character or culture for lack of a better word, which probably makes some sense historically. I like to think of the USA as a continent more anyway, rather than one nation and country. The nature was simply beautiful, especially Montana, Utah and Arizona with their fabulous canyons and national parks. What struck me about these parts of the US was the sheer size and open space which I find very reassuring. Anywhere, people were very friendly and helpful, as if meeting tourists was the greatest thing in the world.

Sweden Impressions

For a Swiss, Sweden is basically home but bigger, with red houses and coastlines but fewer mountains. The south-western part of Halland is Sweden’s popular summer resort and it’s heaven for anyone who enjoys long walks at the beach, cycling and forest solitude. Swedish summer is short and despite having been there in July a few times, I didn’t feel like swimming in the ocean. It’s a lovely country with friendly people and a strong sense of community, freedom but also privacy and decorum. If I go back sometime, I would like to travel further north to see the landscape change and become more barren and rough. If you don’t enjoy seafood like me, Sweden isn’t exactly a culinary highlight but then, I can live off meatballs and mash for a while if need be.

Visiting Next?

Planning your next trips is a lot of fun and our next holidays are always something I’m looking forward to during the year. Now that flying is becoming an option for myself and my partner (who didn’t use to fly at all), we can extend our radius although I’m glad to have spent so much time around central and northern Europe in the past. It’s easy to think that traveling is “the farther, the better” but that’s simply not true; wherever you are, there’s much to discover at your doorstep and at your closest neighbor’s. That said, without anything set in stone yet, I’d like to visit the following places over the coming years:

  • Eastern Europe, esp. Croatia and Greece
  • Canada and California, incl. Burning Man (possibly in 2018 with friends!)
  • Return to Scotland and Iran
  • Go somewhere tropical….maybe Maldives?

My partner and I have a few rules about where we don’t go which includes generally hostile places for tourism. I honestly also don’t look forward to US customs which make you feel like a criminal these days but it’s something to endure. I just hope our current world remains stable, so we can actually visit parts of the Middle East sometime. My better half would also love meeting with friends in Israel but that doesn’t seem like such a great idea at the moment.

What are your travel plans for the future or places you’d like to go?



Me right now.

Between playing the wonderful FFXIV and BDO, two games that complement each other very well, and so many Steam titles waiting to be explored, I feel a little overwhelmed by you right now, 2016!

I didn’t find a minute to play The Division yet or Firewatch. Then there’s Stardew Valley which looks addictive and cute and No Man’s Sky appears to hit PC way sooner than I expected. What a fantastic year so far, especially for explorers (I guess for the others too, I’m not paying attention). Where will I ever find the time??

MMO Forests, Jungles and GW2 I can’t hear you, lalallaaa

Fall has started to paint the trees around here this time of the year. The morning air is brisk but the days are mild and sunny. Sunlight touched leaves turn from crimson to copper and gold. The brilliance of fall is breathtaking before it submits to winter cold.

This morning

Just this morning

Fall is a tricky season to get right in MMOs for its wide spectrum of colors and different moods. The Plains of Ashford in GW2 come to mind or LOTRO’s Trollshaws, both stunning in their own right. That reminds me that I wished games simulated the turning of seasons more dynamically and persistently than they usually do – just imagine Elwynn Forest going through the seasons with you, instead of seasonal themes being divided by static zones.

MMO forests be it fall, winter or spring, are some of the most popular zones among the player base. Design-wise I imagine it’s easier to create player immersion with a forest setting than a desert or plains, so plentiful are your options with forests. That makes them more design intense for sure, yet also more rewarding when done right. And then there’s jungles; forests of a different kind which by my anecdotal experience, are a lot less popular somehow than the classic, northern European or Canadian role models. Before Heart of Thorns launched, several bloggers were expressing their (premature) dislike for the concept of the new zones.

World of Warcraft is well-known for its jungle maps from Stranglethorn Vale and Un’Goro Crater to the more recent Tanaan Jungle. I remember detesting STV with a passion as an early WoW player – the colors, the noises, the way you had to navigate terrain. My partner on the other hand loved questing there, getting all his pages together for the Nesringwary questline while I bought most of mine on the auction house and thank god for no bind on pickup!

So, what is it with jungles that makes me cringe where forests don’t? I’d say most of it is guilt by association because frankly, I have very little experience with real world jungles and I understand there are hundreds of different kinds. Yet simplified, jungles mean heat and damp; they’re wild, sticky, oppressive, unnerving, chaotic and dangerous in my mind. And there are mosquitoes! Forests on the other hand are cool, composed and quiet. They can be dark and spooky of course but also very reassuring and lonely, in a good way. There is a special German word for the loneliness inside forests that cannot be adequately translated to English: “Waldeinsamkeit” (forest loneliness). It is a feeling of isolation and yet, being solemnly embraced by the forest.

The new zones in Heart of Thorns

I’m hearing good things about the new GW2 expansion so far, particularly about the zone design which is something of a surprise. There’s only so much you dare deduct from pre-expansion announcements, but I was certainly among those unimpressed by ANet’s information on Maguuma Jungle and its altered gameplay at the time. However, it seems my concerns were unfounded: Jeromai reports the jungle in HoT feels a lot different than expected, with amazing zone design and screenshots to show for it. Bhagpuss too has been full of praise since his first day impressions. Two strong votes from fellow explorers for an expansion I had no intention of acquiring anytime soon (damn youuu!).


I am currently overloaded with new games on Steam and subbed to FFXIV and Wildstar, where I have yet to make an earnest attempt at decorating the new plot. Also, I really don’t have much time for gaming at all right now so ARGH……I’ll just ignore everyone talking about the beauty of HoT henceforward, close my eyes and go lalallllaaaaaaaaaaaa I can’t hear youuuuu!

We are Explorers [#Blaugust 19]

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” [T.S. Elliot]

One of the very first tags I ever introduced for this here blog was “explorer’s league”. Over the years, the topic of exploration in MMOs and the psychology behind the explorer mindset have been the driving force of many an article. What moves explorers? What lies at the bottom of their heart’s desire? Where do they find ultimate ingame satisfaction? Asking those questions, I came across some of the answers for myself and as a big extra, I’ve come to know kindred souls – bloggers with the same passionate interest in exploration as myself.

What has all of this taught me?

Explorers like you and me, seek out the journey. They seek out the winding path that smells of roses and dust.

Explorers like you and me want neither endings nor completion. Their maps remain unfinished as their wisdom.

Explorers like you and me care for secrets over riches. Their currency is wonder, their virtue is patience.

Explorers like you and me know no achievement beyond their own. They crave mystery.

Explorers like you and me look back and forward. Their worlds rise and fall with diversity.

And whither then?

And what happens after we have come full circle, when we see the old with new eyes? Maybe our world really is limited after all and bound to repeat itself; the experiences we make in life real and virtual follow the same circle. We grow only in perception; it is the lessons and wisdom we take with us that second, third and fourth time that make the difference. And when we pass through the same doors and challenges in games and elsewhere, we may behave differently next time and see different things, new options that were always there but hidden. It took us a journey across the world and back to reach a deeper understanding. How many more MMOs must come and go before we realize there are no new worlds unless we make them?

NBI Screenshot Safari: Horizons

For the very last day of this May’s #NBI2015Safari, I decided to do the impossible and go with the “landscape” theme which proves quite the challenge for someone with too many screenshots on her hard disk. After spending an hour browsing all the prettier MMOs – Guild Wars 2, Tera, LOTRO and FFXIV, I decided to break with tradition and go with a non-MMO screenshot instead. I have spent around 50 hours of gametime on the Witcher 3 so far, to say that I’m loving it would be an understatement. Even if you’re not into the series however, you gotta admit the game comes with some stunning visuals. I will upload a full screenshot gallery at some point but for now, this one pick must suffice.

One of the most remarkable things about the Witcher’s world is its viewing distance even on medium settings; the way you can see cities and important landmarks from halfway across the map. Even more so than in Skyrim, this world feels never-ending and like a genuine, natural place. The sky above is beautiful and changes dynamically with daytime and weather. I intend to spend a great deal more time exploring this open world down to its last nook and cranny!

A beautiful view.

A beautiful view.

Catching Fireflies

So whaddaya know. Between speculations of ArenaNet launching a first GW2 expansion, Heart of Thorns (an event that would certainly bring me back to Tyria) and ESO going buy-to-play (an event that most certainly will not bring me back), I managed, with a little help from my friends, to re-instate my decrepit Square-Enix account and jump back into FFXIV:ARR on Cactuar, where bloggers roam.

For now I am happy to smell the roses and enjoy watching my Lalafell Arcanist study her book as she hurls mighty spells at the enemy. I have trusty Carbuncle to keep me company and a world of brooks and windmills to explore. SE got as many things right with this MMO as they got wrong – it’s up to the individual to make it work or not. Leaps and bounds from its predecessor, there is still a cleanness and arrangement to this world that bothers me sometimes, the way the same texture is stamped all over big areas and never alters or how there’s ten paths cutting through green plains when two would do just as well. I miss secrets too, little things to find off the beaten path instead of invisible barriers. Alas, Final Fantasy attracts us by familiarity: the well-known names and places, the quirkiness of its characters, the style of clothing, beautiful animations and of course music.


And fireflies. In the middle of the night, illuminating the sky. The promise of high adventure is like a lighthouse in the distance, always calling and spurring me on to discover what may lie beyond the next bend of the road. Eorzea or Tamriel, Azeroth or Tyria – Magic is only ever a glance away.

Wildstar Panoramania

As a passionate screenshots taker in MMOs, I love the first few weeks when that folder is swelling on my hard drive because there are so many things to see and love. Back in August 2012 I did a series of GW2 panorama pictures and now that Wildstar is finally out of its beta-overlay phase, I had another shot at some of my favorite vistas in the game so far. I used to eye Wildstar’s cartoony graphics with worry but having seen the game live now, I am a sucker for the whimsical aesthetic and detail of the Nexus which outdo other cartoony titles by far.

All panorama pictures were created by myself and photoshop (I insist on not spoiling these by slapping on a fat mmogypsy banner or something). You can click individual images for a full-HD version. Enjoy! (as always all screenshots are best enjoyed while listening to Louis Armstrong!)

Sylvan Glade


Whitevale (my favorite zone!)



Farside (new!)

Achievement (Hate), Exploration and Mystery

The epic quest of kill ten rats has humble beginnings. Once upon a time the explorers of virtual worlds received hardly a hint of where to go or what to do but such are not the times we live in. Those who embarked on this journey before Blizzard’s time will remember that era of glorious uncertainty but early WoW players too, know how considerably the questing experience has changed over the course of a decade. The “kill ten rats” of yore and the “kill ten rats” of today have precious little in common.

Kill ten rats: a history of epic questing

Year #1
Player X overhears NPC talking of a special breed of rats with silver pelts that may exist “somewhere”. Player finds said rats by accident one day. Player kills rats, loots five pelts in 30 minutes. Player feels special. Wahey.

Year #2
NPC asks player X to find rats with silver pelts and deliver them. Player finds said rats one day, thanks to friendly advice in zone chat. Player kills rats, gets money in return from NPC.

Year #3
NPC asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn northwest of the inn. Player finds said rats after some searching, kills rats, gets money in return from NPC.

Year #4
NPC with an exclamation mark asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn northwest of the inn. Also, there is a yellow marker on the world and mini-map. Player finds said rats, kills rats, gets money in return from NPC.

Year #5
NPC with an exclamation mark asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn northwest of the inn. Also, there is a yellow marker on the world and mini-map. And the rats sparkle! Player can’t miss rats, kills rats, gets money in return from NPC.

Year #6
NPC with an exclamation mark asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn northwest of the inn. Also, there is a yellow marker on the world and mini-map. And the rats sparkle! And the fastest route is now also indicated in red on the world map! Player can’t possibly miss rats, kills rats, gets money in return from NPC.

Year #7
NPC with an exclamation mark, now also indicated on the mini-map, asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn northwest of the inn. Also, there is a yellow marker on the world and mini-map. And the rats sparkle! And the fastest route is now also indicated in red on the world map! And the player has epic flying mount of ludicrous speed. Player can’t possibly for the life of him miss rats, kills rats, gets money and silver pelt cloak in return from NPC.

Year #8
NPC with an exclamation mark, now also indicated on the mini-map, asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn north/northwest/south/southwest of the inn. Also, there are many yellow markers on the world and mini-map. And the rats sparkle! And the fastest route is now also indicated in red on the world map! And the player has epic flying mount of ludicrous speed. Player can’t possibly for the life of him miss rats, kills rats, gets money and silver pelt cloak in return from NPC. After delivery, player X receives special kill-ten-rats achievement!

Year #9+
After reading the achievement tab, player X finds NPC with an exclamation mark, also indicated on the mini-map. NPC asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn north/northwest/south/southwest of the inn. Also, there are many yellow markers on the world and mini-map. And the rats sparkle! And the fastest route is now also indicated in red on the world map! And the player has epic flying mount of ludicrous speed. Player can’t possibly for the life of him miss rats, kills rats, gets money and epic pelt cloak in return from NPC. After delivery, player X receives special kill-ten-rats achievement!

..Such explorers we are. Paradoxically, the shorter, the safer, the more navigated and convenient our questing has become over the years, the more MMOs have felt the need to reward us for it. That makes no sense whatsoever but it’s not a coincidence either. More on that later.

Why I hate Achievements

A fair warning: I don’t like achievements. I get why some players like, nay love achievements but I really don’t. More importantly, I don’t think they have any business in this genre.

The unconditionally worst thing that has ever happened to MMOs are achievements. Hate is a strong word and applies for my case of die-hard explorerdom although it need not be yours. Nothing feels more counter-intuitive, more obtrusive or immersion-breaking to me than the flashy achievement fonts and in-your-face achievement tabs that greet me in most of today’s MMOs – yes, even at the bloody login screen of once-great Guild Wars 2. Sic transit gloria mundi virtualis. When did all this happen?

While that’s achievements on the surface, repercussions reach much further. Several times on this blog have I raised the question of why virtual worlds need to save time, why players need to be told what to do and where to go by which path when developers have spent years creating vast open worlds of beauty. What’s it all for – just a pretty, expensive paint around a game telling me what’s an achievement?

Who would wish to complete a world? Completionism, pre-defined paths and goals, extrinsic motivators – none of these go with my personal sense of exploration. Every time unwanted and un-asked for achievements pop up in an MMO, my chosen modus operandi is disturbed or hindered. Every time that happens, that delicate illusion of virtual world is shattered. Worse, there’s no opt-in (why?).

The greatest RPG I’ve ever played was a game I didn’t complete. Where things happened at random, sometimes or never again. Where going south was as good as going north and an endless sense of mystery added depth and immensity to the world.

Even if you can’t design endless worlds, you can create size through mystery. Exploration feeds off mystery – and mystery is neither excellent nor should it be fully solvable.

Mystery resists.  Mystery refuses.  It will not yield.  Not to me.

Mystery resists closure.  It resists completion and clean getaways.  It, instead, insists.  I’m not done with you yet.  Get back over here.

Mystery is not merely the unknown.  It is the impossibility of knowing and yet the continual attempt to know.  It is unknowability itself.  It is futile and essential.

Why do we diminish our own experience?  Are we afraid of not connecting, of confirming our solitude? [T. Thompson]

No really, go read the whole thing.

When the journey is no longer the reward…we need more rewards?

Whether you agree with my passionate sentiments or not, what most design critics can agree on is the relationship between journey/effort and goal/reward in games; the required balance in order to make either feel significant. Long and hard journeys with never a memento to show for feel unfulfilled, just as easy and plentiful loot won’t be remembered by anybody. More than that though, whenever players think back on their greatest achievements in MMOs, they don’t usually name purple swords and special titles but rather the road that led there, the obstacles that had to be overcome in the company of comrades. Naturally, loot matters too and we’ll keep those special items forever – yet loot like an epilogue, is only the last part of that story.

The journey is the reward. Knowing that we did it, that we’ve accomplished something. The shiny purple sword is a representation of that experienced, gratifying victory. It means nothing if we got it for a bargain on the flea market. (Okay maybe if there was an achievement for that….)

So, if the journey becomes ever shorter, ever more straight-forward and without mystery, what will a game attempt in order to compensate for lack of win? Will it pile on the rewards, the titles, the achievements – desperate to convince us we achieved something anyway?

I don’t need to be told I achieved something in shrill and flashing colors. I should be able to feel it and to judge it was a worthy cause. That’s when you may reward me with items, sometimes, so I may carry them with me to tell the world about my adventures.

And whither there? I cannot say. For now, let’s leave it a mystery!

EQNext’s Rallying Calls – A Reason to rally?

Personally I’d like to know […] what type of spin SOE intend to put on traditional questing. Frankly, I don’t think anyone can do much better than ArenaNet in this department. ~ Syl

One of the great achievements of Guild Wars 2 will always be the introduction of more dynamic, or shall we say more complex and genuine public events than ever before in MMO history. Some have tried to downplay this achievement for various reasons, but as far as I am concerned ArenaNet have completely altered the state of traditional MMO questing and set a very high bar for AAA-MMORPGs to come in the exploration department.

The fact that fetch & delivery have all but gone in this game, with travel and exploration actually focused on the environment with random events triggered all around you whether you be there or not, have spoiled me completely for older games such as LOTRO where the fedex-grind is still alive and well (ftr: I like LOTRO but questing is tedious). Fans of traditional questing have argued that a mixture of public events and traditional questing would’ve created a better outcome for GW2 – I’m not sure I concur. Guess I’m just too loaded with kill-ten-rats-angst to delve further into this subject.

Now, just to remember briefly why GW2’s dynamic events are mostly amazing:

  • Randomly popping up, free-for-all, location-bound scenarios with individual loot; it’s true that they’re actually on a timer but the average player such as myself doesn’t really track this and probably won’t for a while to come (unless you’re after specifics).
  • Multi-stage events with various outcome; the wiki calls this the “cascading effect” which basically means some events will trigger more events (sometimes) and with various outcome depending on if/how the group succeeded.
  • Multiple targets / solution finding; most quests allow for different playstyles in order to be solved – be it slaying monsters, gathering items or setting roofs on fire. Unlike for Wildstar, paths exist in GW2 without being a determining and lasting choice.


TERA didn't get the memo!

TERA didn’t get the memo!

Still, events in GW2 aren’t perfect. There’s certainly room to improve, especially where mechanics and impact are concerned:

  • Repetition & lasting impact; many events reset too swiftly with the environment going back to base one. Sometimes you see structures re-assemble right after your quest marker popped up. While MMO worlds must restore much of their status quo for obvious reasons (and we all hate phasing), there could be longer and more lasting public events overall, shaping the face of the land and story.
  • Scaling; this never really worked well in GW2. Encounters become a trivial zerg in larger groups, difficulty doesn’t scale as dynamically as it should. That said, this is a very tricky task to master as group size often changes constantly.

EQNext’s Rallying Calls

During the big Las Vegas reveal, SOE introduced their “holy grails” for EQNext, one of which are Rallying Calls (RC). Yet another word for public events, there seems to be a lot of added depth and complexity to RCs which may greatly improve the dynamic events we know so well from GW2 – in theory, anyway. I am all for permanent change in MMOs, public events and collective server efforts; what WoW veteran doesn’t think back fondly on the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj? In this context, I admit the promises of SOE sound exciting –

….Long-term, multi-chapter public scenarios (3 months or more) which continuously change and shape the environment? Multiple problem solving? Different / random order of events on different servers? – I like it!

We can do with a lot more randomness, secrets and continuous change in this genre. It’s the spice that adds excitement and authenticity to our virtual worlds which all too often boil down to a static and broken record, no matter their pretty paint. Now, if SOE are going to pay as much attention to things like environmental / weather and sound effects as they do for events and permanent change, this upcoming title might truly evolve questing and exploration to the point of new-found MMO immersion.

This is where I say a prayer there shan’t be added “traditional quests” in this game (“…please don’t let there be a quest log, please don’t let there be a quest log!”) – or are there any traditionalists out there longing to see the fedex routine return to EQNext? If so, I’m all ears!

Wildstar and why I don’t like the Explorer path

Just when I thought I was pretty much not going to play Wildstar this year, Zenimax Online dropped the bomb and announced that The Elder Scrolls Online release date would be pushed back to spring 2014, to meet the launch date of Sony and Microsoft’s next-generation consoles. That’s one of the many things this “MMOs go console”-trend is gonna do for us in the future: delay stuff. Porting to different systems, creating individual interfaces and testing everything cross-platform takes time. Well, great. If it meant that the MMO community is growing, I could probably live with that but since servers will be split between different systems, there’s not really an upside there for PC players other than that Zenimax make more money (which will hopefully go back into designing great, future content updates).

So…Wildstar. A while ago I mentioned that no doubt this is a polished game with a good shot at the World of Warcraft demography. Since then, Carbine have been pretty open about it too – yes, we’re coming for ya, Blizzard! Only, we have the updated questing system and awesome player housing, along with all the PG-rated candyland. The latter is still one of my biggest qualms with the game: I am so over the Warcraft cartoon aesthetic. I do greatly appreciate the maturity in MMOs like Age of Conan or LOTRO, Rift and GW2 too are on my good side even if slightly more to the center of that Venn diagram. Wildstar shoots the hyper-fantasy rocket into deep space where it crashes somewhere between Outland and a Pixar movie. This is certainly no sword&sorcery MMO. But I digress.


Feeling the Explorer path

Carbine’s spin on the Bartle profiles is interesting and if I was to choose a path for myself, no doubt that would be the explorer’s. Or such would’ve been my initial reaction because y’know – wandering around at random is awesome, listening to the world, discovering secrets and taking the long road whenever possible. Only, that’s not really what exploration means every time.

It struck me that while exploration has been widely praised in GW2 (and justly so), it’s also one of the most popularly gamified activities in the entire game. Players say exploration and mean “climbing all vistas”, hitting all pre-marked (!) points, “doing all jumping puzzles”, “getting the 100% achievement”. See that there? – Not me! I couldn’t care less if my world map is complete in GW2, I’ve a feeling it’s currently somewhere around 60% and that’s with me playing since launch. When I explore I don’t set out to find every last corner of a zone, let alone doing silly jumping puzzles. Oh, how I hate them. I want to smell the flowers and go wherever chance takes me. As for “mapping the world” –

“…there’s nothing worse to me than a world that’s fully discovered, fully mapped and fully understood. The moment we draw the last line in that picture is the moment we limit our world, the moment where it becomes small and finite – when hypothesis and speculation become hard fact and there is no more ‘may be’.

To a traveler and explorer “finishing a world” is the death of his playstyle. I want to stand at the shore of the southern sea and wonder forever what may lie beyond.” [source]

What am I gonna do once I’ve mapped the entire world? Let’s not map it!

Now, seems to me Wildstar’s explorer sounds an awful lot like exploration in GW2. The shiny somewhat wishy-washy job descriptions on the official page can’t conceal what gets very obvious in this explorer showcase or devspeak: climby vista-missions and timed (!) scavenger hunts, power maps (more jumping), achievements, completionism…on the clock.

To clarify: I realize that achievements can be a great motivator for some players to go and travel the world at all, although I can’t judge how much they are actually seeing and exploring it when they’re out hunting marks. In any case, that makes me wonder about two things: a) Is this path for people who are already explorers (and therefore need no achievements as ‘incentives’) or is it just another coat of paint for the achiever? And b) What’s in it for me who finds achievement spam, event markers and countdowns obtrusive to the exploratory experience rather than helpful?

Of course that begs one more question, namely what the hell I was expecting and I guess that’s fair. Exploration being such an intrinsically motivated activity for me of almost meditative quality, there’s just no active setting up or instrumentalizing this in an MMO, the way the devs would like to. Explorers like me need a living, breathing open world first and foremost, one that doesn’t flaunt its riches and doesn’t scream at you but offers reward in terms of discovering secrets and random events. Proper scale and size matter too, extensive travel and eye candy – plenty of that. It’s especially nice if you can “do” things – leave a mark, create or change something no matter how small (how would player-created geocaching do in MMOs I wonder?). What I’d like to see too is literally drawing your own maps instead of getting world map view all the time.

I’d be up for more erring in general; it’s bizarre beyond words that designers spend years creating virtual worlds and then hand you all the maps, event/location markers and even lists of “what you can do there” (aka achievements) from the get-go. And then they wonder why it all lasted a few weeks only.

Anyway, my preferred modus operandi isn’t nearly enough for a fully fledged, gamified playstyle with tangible progression and rewards, I get it. So for now the big question of which path to pick in Wildstar is back on the table. I’ll probably have to do the usual: “force” my inner explorer on any given path. It appears Settler is quite en vogue, so maybe I should just roll Kill…err Soldier out of spite and blow up all those jumping puzzles they no doubt created.