I got wolf meat from a rabbit that turned into a monkey

The machine is almost complete.

This title describes what happened to me in Winterspring the other night, and it reminded me of how the meaning of what you see on the screen is contextually dependent on the world created by the game. In any other setting it would be pure nonsense worthy of Lewis Carroll himself.

Usually thinking about such things is thinking about what the game designers were doing with specific areas, quests, NPCs, and the like. But now thinking about the world created by the game is different, because we’re going to be creating our own little world/context in WoW for the next part of our research.

We’re building a little quest in WoW that will be similar to what we did in Second Life. People will log on, party up, learn about the story, and search around for clues to solve the mystery in a small group. Doing that in WoW, though, is a completely different project because, of course, we don’t get to create buildings and program objects to explode. Instead, the only things we can do are chat, trade basic items (cheap ones), send in-game mail, and change the interface by creating our own add-on.

Sounds like there’s not much to work with, I know, but actually, a huge part of games is the interface – the information you receive about what you’re seeing and the results of your actions. If we can make a message pop up when you kill a poor helpless rabbit that says, “Congratulations! You found a clue!” then we’ve changed the meaning of that rabbit – and your action (as I’ve mentioned before, value is all in the feedback). From that, it’s not a big leap to think of ways we can create our own game from things you find around Azaroth.

Of course, we can’t make the rabbit explode, we can’t add buildings or objects to click, we can’t add NPCs…. wait! Of course we can! We are the NPCs. Yes, we’ll be using researchers (let’s call them actors, shall we?) to follow scripts just like an NPC would. With their designated ‘toon, our folks will stand where they’re supposed to and say their lines so the players can move forward in the game. So, rather than programming the prims that make up Madame Drusilla to say, “You seek the wrong man, and the wrong thing!” when you click her, we’ll “program” actor Jane to say in local chat, “You will never find what you seek.  You must realise that there is no spoon” (or something  like that?) when you get close to her.

Fundamentally, we’ll be changing the meaning of what you do in WoW by putting messages, sounds, images, buttons, etc. into the interface. Maybe we’ll be able to program the add-on to tell you things when you type something special, like /clue. Not sure yet. But so far, we’re collecting ideas about what kinds of things are possible and might be fun to have players do to get points or find clues.

A few initial thoughts:

  • Have everyone /follow one group member and see how long they can wander around without losing anyone
  • Use /dance to get an “NPC” to like you
  • Collect some gray “tattered ears” or the like and give them to an NPC
  • Do a /love on a rabbit (which might just tell you that the machine is almost complete)
  • Jump in precise order and in a precise location to “open” a box held by an NPC

The possibilities are severely limited in some ways, because really, our most powerful game-play mechanism is language. A few animations and interactions like the ones in the list above will help, but mostly we’ll be telling people things and they’ll be telling us things. Sounds pretty limiting, until you realise that, well, everything can be done in language (especially if we can include images and sound in that add-on)!

When it’s time for testing, you’ll get to learn more – mostly because we’ll be begging you to help us by playing the game.

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