the architecture of Ironforge and Orgrimmar

(At Aesthetics of Play) Mattias Ljungstrˆm – a lecturer in advanced media and game design in an interface design department in Potsdam. So design theory at the heart of his paper. Also it’s about World of Warcraft! Yay!

The presentation is based on A Pattern Language, a study by Christopher Alexander (architect) and colleagues in the 70s, looking at how traditional architecture works, in particular the principles we use for creating healthy societies and intuitive spaces that aid navigation and help us feel at ease. This is based on patterns – 253 patterns (e.g. house for one person, small parking lots) –> a language combining patterns guides the design process.

WoW is a good example of how to use Alexander’s Pattern Language – though of course he deosn’t know if they actually did, because lots of this is intuitive. Do we need architectural theory in game design? Well, not particularly useful in Space Invaders, probably not in Super Mario either, but for WoW clearly something else is going on. Players take behaviours they already have from real world and reapply them in virtual worlds. We have solutions for these behaviours in architectual theories. E.g. players complaining about taurens taking up too much space, yet in the game mechanics you can be on top of other characters – and yet we behave as though two bodies can’t be in the same place.

Languages for WoW

  • The World
  • the regions
  • the big cities

A language wouldn’t not be a language unless you reapply it in the world. Therefore discuss the two main cities: Orgrimmar and Ironforge.

  1. Square in front. Pattern: “path shape”: “streets should be for staying in, not just moving through.” Make a bulge so people slow down and calm down. Ironforge: always people hanging out in the square outside. Partly reinforced by game mechanics: you can’t duel inside the city so people hang out just outside and duel.
  2. Gateways.
  3. Entrance transitions. “Buildings with a graceful transition between the street and the inside, are more tranquil than those which open directly off the street.” Feeling of transition. Might be a technical reason (might need time to render?) Regardless: important as design.
  4. Widening when you come into the city. This will slow us down.
  5. Pedestrian densidy. “At 150 square feet per person, an area is lively. If there are more than 500 square feet per person, the area begins to be dead.” Lively areas attract more people, so it’s important to make the space small enough to create positive feedback attracting people. There are of course other reasons people come here, but to keep them, you need this.
  6. Activity nodes. “Communnity faciliities scattered individually through the city does nothing for the life of the city.” Ironforge: outside the bank, the the mailbox, and note that the auction house is just opposite, which creates a space for activity. The design guarantees a lot of players moving back and forwards between these important places. Not coincidental that this is done the same way in both cities.
  7. Promenade: this area also works as a place to see and be seen.
  8. Pedestrian street: same area works as this – you can inspect the coolest guy on the street to figure out what gear you should want. “social glue”
  9. Neighbourhood boundary: The strenth of the boundary is essential to a neihgbourhood. If the boundary is too weak the neighbourhood will”… not retain its specificity. Gates / canals / narrow streets
  10. Paths and goals. e.g. light sources that attract the player. we don’t walk rationally in cities, we aim at distant objects. This is particularly well implemented in Orgrimmar.
  11. Tapestry of light and dark. Try to make the player walk towards light areas.
  12. A place to wait. Battleground area – fails to implement this pattern well. It’s a place to wait, but there are inherent frustrations in waiting, and there is lots of waiting in WoW. On the other hand, the entrances to the battlezones are very social areas. People tend to duel while waiting for the “real game” of the battle. Other places where you wait in the game: waiting for the zeppelin to arrive, waiting for the Deeprun Tram to arrive. The Zeppelin platform seems more fun (of course, there are actually other people there) but Mattias Ljungstrˆm says it’s a smaller, nicer place, whereas the tram platform is hostile, big, lonely.

This is a design tool or an analysing tool that is useful for thinking about.

The chair of the panel points out how before there were battlegrounds in WoW, certain places would sort of emerge as de facto battlegrounds as players found them useful for whatever reason, and looking at the characteristics of such places would be useful. I think he said Tauren Mill or something was one, a Horde outpost? Other areas where players would run round and round and round jumping off hillocks or something.

14. October 2005 by Jill
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