A Word (or Six) on Pet Battles July 16, 2012Posted by Stormy in Uncategorized.
As you’re all well aware, the latest Mists of Pandaria beta patch is here, and it brings with it the debut of one of the bigger new features in Mists, pet battles. Despite the incessant whining I did when the beta first launched, I haven’t been playing the beta at all. Having slogged through the Therazane quest chain five times, I don’t want to feel the same way about Mists a year from now as I do about Cataclysm now (“Oh God, I have to do that *again*?!”), so I’ve largely been avoiding the beta. I did, however, catch this video demonstration of pet battles from the fine folks at Wowhead…
Note that in the beginning of this post I referred to pet battles as one of the “bigger new features of Mists,” while every other post I’ve read on the subject invariably refers to them as the “most anticipated new feature.” Perhaps. Pokemon was a big thing back in the day, and I’ll confess that I am too old and was too much of a loner in middle school and high school to have any exposure to Pokemon at all. I knew it was a kids’ TV show and I can recognize Pikachu, but other than that my level of familiarity with Pokemon is on par with my level of familiarity with Star Wars–it’s about space, and there’s a girl with a cinnamon bun hairdo and a couple robots, right? So I have zero frame of reference for how this whole pet battle thing is supposed to work or why people have worked themselves into such a tither over it. Having seen the Wowhead video, on the other hand…
This may, in fact, be the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
To qualify as a “video game” and not just a “video,” a game must require some sort of input from the user in order to make the game do something. The player clicks things with a mouse or types things on the keyboard, and things happen as a result. To be a good video game, there has to be a point to the inputs a player is making: a baddie that must be killed, points that are accumulated or some other sort of prescribed outcome at which the player can either succeed or fail.
Let me tell you a little story–although it’s one I’ve told before. Five years ago I met a guy I really liked, and he kept interrupting chat sessions with me to go play this thing called World of Warcraft. He kept referring to “instances” and other things that apparently required his full attention so that he could not talk with me and play WoW at the same time. That was okay for a while, but after a while I became curious and decided to try out this WoW thing to see what all the fuss was about. I was a level 1 dwarf pally in Dun Morogh and I was given my first quest to kill a certain number of boars. I found an appropriate boar that needed killing (he looked at me funny, I swear) and clicked on it. And that was it. I had no concept of special attacks or that I was supposed to do anything more than click on the boar to kill it. The boar and I went back and forth doing white damage to each other, and because I had more hit points than the boar did, I eventually outlasted him. It was a nail-biter of a battle, but I won. At the time, I thought this was the entire premise of killing things in World of Warcraft: find something smaller than you that has fewer hit points than you do, click on it, and it will eventually die.
This *is* the entire premise of pet battles. Once you’ve selected a pet to kill, you quite literally take your hands off the keys and mouse, and your pet and the other pet go back and forth biting each other until whoever is the strongest wins. There is no intervention from the player at all. Once you’ve picked another pet to battle, it literally becomes you watching what amounts to a video of your pet killing the other pet.
Please, someone tell me how, in a game where players are continually chewing each other out for not knowing the different stat weights for intellect, spirit, hit, etc., in a game where only a handful of guilds can put together the coordination, gear and outright skill to take down heroic raid bosses, in a world where even the Auction House can be played in such a way that it requires a degree in Microeconomics, this fits as something the playerbase is going to find engaging and interesting. I just…don’t get it.
Beyond being a complete failure at the purpose of a video game (giving the player an objective at which to succeed or fail), I’m actually insulted that the folks at Blizzard Entertainment felt this was an appropriate use of development resources for World of Warcraft. I wish I could find the actual tweet from Zarhym from a few months ago, but part of the justification for canceling this year’s BlizzCon was that Blizzard’s two marquee products for the year, Diablo III and Mists, were both scheduled for release in Q2 2012 and would be old news by October. Now a release in Q3 seems less and less likely every day, and our attention has shifted to a possible release in Q4. There has literally been zero new content introduced in WoW for eight months, and it’s likely to be eleven or twelve by the time Mists is actually released. The last big piece of the puzzle to be released, which is by all accounts a buggy mess, is pet battles. There are coders sitting at desks in Irvine right now coding their collective tails off to get this pet battles feature perfected so the expansion can be released. As a result, almost every server is a ghost town right now. Raiding guilds have largely locked up the shop until the expansion comes out. Those of us who are still logging in are flailing around to find ways to fill the time between now and the release of Mists (and although I can’t speak for everyone, I’m currently doing content from BC and Wrath, grinding my second Crusader title and Netherwing rep, because there just simply isn’t anymore Cataclysm content to be had). The content that *has* been released on live servers, the Dragon Soul raid, is widely considered one of the most underwhelming raids in the game’s history. Every minute of programming time spent on pet battles is a minute that could have been spent programming something else.
I know I’m in the minority. There are tons of people looking forward to reliving the ’90s through Pokemon, and there are tons of people excited about this pet battle thing for all sorts of other reasons. I sincerely hope they get the enjoyment they’re hoping for, and I hope they get their money’s worth out of the new expansion. As for me, I’ll stick to things that actually constitute playing a video game.