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Column: 'Blogged Out: Invisible Elements'

In his latest 'Blogged Out' column, veteran UK writer Jim Rossignol takes a look at the world of video game developer blogging, this week featuring ideas from the land of MMOs, and something special about mechanics.
Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week: Can we stop talking about World of Warcraft? No. Invisible Elephant I’m not sure who the author of the ‘Elements’ blog is, but he has posted a report from the Austin Game Conference which contains the following observation: "WoW was the invisible elephant in the room. Everyone seemed to agree not to talk too much about this millions-subscriber MMO with no real representation at AGC. In every talk, every panel, it felt like WoW’s existence was a constant undercurrent. When examples were needed, WoW supplied the examples. When those examples were given, it seemed that everyone understood them. When you talked to people, inevitably the conversation would turn to WoW. “Do you play WoW? What level is your character? Do you play on a PvP server? I quit playing WoW. I’ve started playing WoW again. Everyone at the office plays WoW.” This game has a mind-lock on our industry, and Blizzard doesn’t seem to care." And that makes me think that perhaps next week’s Blogged Out should go without mentioning any blogging about MMOs. Is that even possible? We’ll find out. But not this week... For Insects Damion Schubert’s site remains one of the best forums for discussion of MMO-related issues. In a recent post ‘Classes Continue To Be Misunderstood’ Schubert complains that the class system is continuing to get a bad rap from the likes of LOTD’s Hades, who argues that the specific nature of skills and class-based tasks is a mean time sink, especially when more time is spent selecting players to a party than performing the task itself. Schubert comments: “This has nothing to do with class-based systems or use-based systems, but rather has more to do with player differentiation at all. If you have players who have different skillsets, you will end up in situations where you just don’t have the skills you need to complete a puzzle or dungeon. Whether those skills are granted automatically by classes, grinded through via use-based skills, or left under the pillow by the Advancement Fairy, player differentiation means that some players are going to do the job.” He then goes on to point out how some games have dealt with this problem – WoW’s solo-play content, for example. He concludes with this observation: “Classes end up telling me how I need to play. If you’re the only priest in a party with 4 rogues, you know you have to stay alive at all costs. If players can ‘build their own class’, you don’t have those clear clues on what the capabilities of your party is.” Which led me to think about games in which there are no classes at all: in Quake III we still had people who would defend, or attack, or ‘power-up hog’, even if we were all equal. Do human beings naturally gravitate towards a ‘class’? Down in Schubert’s comments section, a neat rebuttal to this idea is offered by ‘Cael’ of Faith, with a bit of sci-fi philanthropy added: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” - Robert A Heinlein Mechanical Man Finally, over at Lost Garden ‘Danc’ tells us: “The phrase “game mechanics” sends a pleasant shiver down my spine. At the heart of every game are these mysterious whirring clicking mechanisms that deliver to the player pleasure and thrills. We use them, we build them, but I’ve never seen a good unified definition of game mechanics that gives us a practical base upon which to build great games. Here is one.” And it’s not bad. [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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