Change, No-Win Situations, and Zombies

2008, October 30th 4:19 PM

There are, as I see it, two main forces involved in the plot development of MMORPGs. They are the Force of Awesome and the Force of Progress.

The Force of Awesome is the group that wants new, exciting things to occur. They want the world to be torn asunder by eldritch powers beyond the ken of any current player (and then they want to level up and wipe the floor with said eldritch powers.) They want something new. The Force of Awesome is not named so because it's a superior, more awesome force, but because of what it represents. "Sure! Change everything! Let's have a global invasion! It'll be fuckin' sweet!"

The Force of Progress is the opposing force. They do not want change. They want to keep doing the same thing they've been doing for months, and continue making progress along the same lines that they have grown accustomed to. High Tinker Mechanopants over in Dwarfholm wants you to retrieve 18 bear butts, and by gum, we're going to go find those bear butts! (This will probably involve killing at least 60 bears. Surprisingly, most bears don't have butts. This is a different article that I will write someday.) This desire isn't necessarily a bad thing – the player just has goals in mind, and those goals do not involve eldritch powers besides their own.

The problem with reconciling these two viewpoints is that neither of them is wrong. There's no way to say that either one makes for a better or worse game – they just make for different games. Most of the time, MMORPG staff looks at this, realizes that following the Force of Awesome costs money, and lets the game go entirely unchanged.

Last week, the entire game of World of Warcraft was under assault by zombies.

At the beginning of the week you couldn't get infected unless you actually tried. Infected boxes appeared off in the middle of nowhere – you could fly over to them, wait ten minutes, wander around as a zombie while attacking people, and quickly get killed. You could in theory infect other people, but it took about ten minutes for them to become zombies as well (minus five seconds every time you hit them, which was rather inconsequential), any Shaman or Paladin could cure them before they became a zombie, there were NPC healers littering every major city, and overall force-conversion just wasn't practical. Fun, for a while. But that's it.

By the end of the week, things were different. There were infected boxes, infected cockroaches, and infected rats in every major city. Infection took one minute, not ten . . . minus five seconds every time you were hit, which suddenly became a serious issue. Cures had perhaps a 10% chance of working. The NPC healers were almost entirely gone, and the few remaining ones were frequently swarmed and slain by dozens of zombies. Entering a major city would result in zombification in minutes at most, frequently seconds, and even minor cities were often zombie-infested wastelands.

It. Was. Awesome.

I imagine you can see where I'm going with this.

As awesome as the zombie invasion was, people who simply wanted to level their characters found this impossible. You couldn't enter major cities, you could barely enter minor cities. If you weren't level 70, or near to it, you expected to die instantly if you got anywhere near civilization. Realistic for a zombie assault, perhaps. Not fun for World of Warcraft.

There were complaints like you could not imagine. Wars on the forums. Screaming matches in trade channels. One group of players claimed it was the worst thing the developers had ever done, one group claimed it was the best thing. (And then the latter group attacked and zombified the former group, which didn't really help matters.) Amusingly, the latter group was divided on its own – some people set about zombifying everything they could, some went on a zombie-hunting and disease-cleansing rampage, with righteous anger flung between both groups whenever possible. Every group insisted that their method was the One True Way To Play The Game.

Skeletons carpeted the ground. Literally.

Then a cure was discovered, and the zombies vanished, never to be seen again (unless they repeat the event next year.)

It remains to be seen whether it was a savvy business decision.

Hundreds (if not thousands) of people posted loudly that they were canceling their subscription for World of Warcraft. I imagine most of them have quietly resubscribed by now, though certainly not all. Some people still grumble, of course, about the wasted time and the wasted money spent repairing equipment.

But then others tell war stories.

We held them off for two hours – Alliance and Horde, side-by-side, no common language but a common goal.

I entered Ironforge not knowing what to expect. I barely escaped with my life.

We started the infection in the Spirit Rise. Within half an hour, the city was infested. I personally converted two dozen guards. All hail the Lich King.

The cockroaches are gone, the corpses removed, but the sky is still black, the air still smoky.

The Argent Dawn set up a place of worship. We knelt, and prayed for the horror to end. A wave of the Scourge would attack, and we would raise our weapons against them. Afterwards, the survivors knelt again.

And that's why the Force of Awesome is a force to be reckoned with.

I imagine they lost a few subscriptions from the Progress camp – but I imagine they've gained a few as well, from people hoping to see, and participate in, the next zombie invasion.