Richard Bartle, one of the first developers of MUDS, predecessors to modern day MMOs

Richard Bartle, one of the first developers of MUDS, predecessors to modern day MMOs

If you’ve been keeping up with the MMO blogs the past couple of days, you’ve probably read about the latest prattling from our dear friend Richard Bartle. Should you have missed out, check in on his blog. He has a post up right now that bloggers everywhere are picking at. Funnily enough, they’ve picked at him in the past because of his criticisms of World of Warcraft. This time, they’re picking because of his praise for it, specifically, Stranglethorn Vale.

I respect the guy, really. If it wasn’t for him, our genre wouldn’t be where it is now. Our precious WoW and WAR and EQ? Would never have happened. For that, everyone that enjoys these games owes him a debt of praise.

Unfortunately, I think Richard has let that go to his head a bit too much. The aforementioned post comes with several stunning features, including condescension, arrogance, and an effusive adoration for intricacies “maybe 20 people in the world” will pick up on.

Well, first of all, la-dee-f’ing-da Mr. Bartle. You’ve already alienated all of your readers because, like you say but seem to not care about, those 20 people have probably never heard of “Qblog.” Secondly, it’s almost as if you’re attention seeking, Richard. You’d never do that, would you?

The whole thing continues in that manner, gushing over the wonderful funnel-like effect the zone has, pushing people towards Booty Bay and to harder mobs as they too gain in levels and strength (and lootz, don’t forget the lootz). He pours over the brilliant design of the Hemet Nesingwary quests. Let’s share just a little piece before we move on.

In regards to the stepped Nesingwary kill quests:

“The stepped nature of these hunting quests mean that whatever level you first encounter the Nesingwary camp in STV, there’s going to be a quest of an appropriate level for you. It’s like a net, spread wide to catch players.

You saw that? A net, spread wide to catch players?”

That line right there is flat out false. It would be true if you could jump right into to step 2 of 4 in any one of those quest lines… but you can’t. They’re all prerequisites for the next in series. If you happen to get there at a level appropriate for say the third quest in that series… you’re still stuck starting from the bottom up. This kind of thing makes me wonder how much he really thinks of his readers. Most of us have played through that quest line, you know. Now, we’re made to wonder whether or not Richard has actually played through the zone more than once, far enough back that his memory is now skewed. Thanks buddy, the whole of your article is now subject to question.

Based on this article, I’m left with the notion that he must look at his readers like peons, ready to believe anything he says because “well, he’s a developer, so he must know something I don’t.” If I can’t trust the most basic fact in the article, why should I buy into your gushing? Then again, one Blizzard developer or two now has something to hang on their fridge.

All that being said, the article does portray a very different angle for viewing a zone and, really, it may give a little insight into the divide between player and developer. After reading it, I was left with the feeling that because he spends so much time working with games, he must inherently overanalyze everything he comes across in them.

I won’t restate the whole article here. If you’d like to read it, I encourage you to (don’t worry, I’ll wait). But, to take so much that in all likelihood was completely unintentional and certainly embellished by his “developer’s mind” really just relegates it to a profession piece. It’s an analysis in the same vein as a carpenter who really appreciates the workmanship of a coffee table. That carpenter could talk all day about the intricacies of its creation and the artisanship of its design, all the while unappreciating of the fact that it was made by a machine in some dusty Chinese factory. That my friends, is 90% of what Bartle’s tickled over.

Now, one of the results of this article was to bring out a lot of players bitter memories of leveling through the zone. They seemed to hate the kill quests and potential for being ganked.

Personally, I loved it. I leveled through it on both an RPPvP and PvE server. The PvP side was irritating at times, sure, but if someone decided to gank/camp, I’d just check my email for a few minutes and wait for the guy (it invariably was a guy) to get bored. Mostly though, it was fine on both sides.

I loved the atmosphere of the zone. If Bartle is right about one thing (and don’t misunderstand, he actually points out a lot of legitimate strong points in the zone) it’s that the music really helps support that “dangerous jungle” feeling. It was colorful and exotic and filled with ruins and really made me want to explore. I was never under the misimpression that I was going to stumble across a treasure chest filled with gold and purples, yet, something about the zone made me want to know more. It’s the only zone I’ve played through where it feels “deep,” almost Indiana Joneish, like that.

The kill and collection quests didn’t really bother me either. Heck, they’re one of the most efficient ways to level your character. Players working on getting alts maxed out should absolutely love STV. Likewise, mobs were bunched up and spawned quick enough to make finding the right ones fairly easy. I was surprised to hear about players actually quitting the game over the frustration of completing these quests. I mean… really? I can only figure that these people must have never played an MMO before. It’s probably best they figured out the game wasn’t for them before they discovered the dreaded faction grind.

The only thing that really bothered me was the long running distance. You’ll probably be there at level 40 though, at which point buying a mount solves that issue.

So, I think Bartle looks at things with the rose colored glasses of the lovelorn developer having spent too much time analyzing and too little time enjoying what it is he’s trying to create. Thank you, Mr. Bartle for allowing me to have nearly 12 years of wonderful MUD and MMO gaming. I’ll happily forgive your eccentricities for all of that time. Still, as a developer, don’t forget that if most of the people don’t enjoy a zone (I truly believe that I’m in the minority with my feelings on STV) it shouldn’t be made a model for others. If the players don’t like it, for all of the intricate and overlooked design flourishes, it’s still short of a success. Players want the show for the lights and scenery; the behind-the-scenes footage only matters if people enjoy the production.