Balancing Act

I’ve been playing a lot of World of Warcraft this weekend.  Hardly surprising since, as you may have seen from a fairly regular commercial running on the tube, the latest expansion for WoW has released and it is a doozy.  But I’m not here to talk about WoW.  At least, not WoW specifically.  Rather, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on something WoW has confirmed for me.

It’s the limitations that make things worth doing, that give them value.

One of the fun things to do in WoW is the dungeons.  Dungeons, for those uninformed souls out there, are segments of the game designed for 5 players to team up, fight bad guys, and (hopefully) pick up some good rewards along the way.  The evolution of dungeons in WoW has mostly been in how you find other players to join you in the dungeon delves.  The current system is simple.  You just que up for a dungeon, carry on with whatever else you’re doing in the game, and when you’re matched up with a group, you can just jump right into the dungeon.  It’s ridiculously easy.  Especially considering that originally doing dungeons meant trekking across the landscape to meet up at the entrance of whatever dungeon you were going to do.  This could lead to all kinds of problems, not the least of which was coordination.  And if even one of your party members was someplace far off…it was just as likely someone would decide not to wait and you’d have to start all over in your search.

But things are different now.

What’s unique about Cataclysm, the latest expansion, is that you have to discover the new dungeons before you can que for them.  This means you have to do some questing and exploring, which I’m sure will annoy some players.  Personally, I love this system and hope they keep it.  Because discovering dungeons makes them special.  Players might be annoyed by it, but that’s the point.  It’s annoying.  It’s meant to be a reward at the end of your playing experience.

You would think that Blizzard would avoid possibly annoying many of its players, and that it would be smarter to just give the players exactly what they want.  But I think that’s wrong.

Giving people what they want all the time is a bad idea.  If WoW was merely an imaginary playground where players could do whatever they wanted, where any reward was within easy reach, then it would not be the game it is.  On the other hand, there’s a balancing act here.  You can’t ignore the audience.  But neither can you just bow down to their every outcry.

The parallel is everywhere.  Especially in entertainment media, where every successful film becomes a franchise and where series books dominate the fantasy and mystery shelves.  I don’t want to say that these are always a bad thing.  Or even usually bad thing.  But the job of an artist, be they a video game designer, novelologist, or filmmaker, is to find the balance betweeng keeping the audience interested without giving them too much or not enough.  Give them everything they want, and they’ll get bored.  Screw with their expectations too often, and they’ll get angry.  Either can be death of whatever you’re attempting to do.

This is something I think about quite often.  And it only gets harder as time goes by.  With my first few novels, I didn’t have to worry about expectations.  There were few.  Gil’s All Fright Diner came out with absolutely none.  Nobody had heard of me and so nobody knew what they were getting.  They might have had some ideas, but they still went in fresh, more or less.  In the Company of Ogres and A Nameless Witch both had a similar advantage, though even Witch started to bear the weight of my previous work.  When I heard The Automatic Detective called wacky and zany, I suspected that had as much to do with my previous books as anything in Detective itself.

It’s not that Detective doesn’t have humor.  It’s just that I never intended it to be a “funny” book.  And it really isn’t all that funny.  It’s a little weird, a little retro, but it’s not nearly as silly as some like to consider it.  Absurd?  Sure.  But isn’t all fantasy?

Whenever I start a new novel, I find myself pondering where it will fit in my previous catalogue.  It’s not like my books don’t have similarities.  It’s just I don’t always know where those similarities lay.  More importantly, I don’t know where other people will think those similarities lay.  I’ve heard the full range of comments, both good and bad, and I realize there’s no escaping them.  If I write something too much like what I (or someone else wrote) then I run the risk of treading water.  If I try to do something different then I could end up annoying my audience.  Both pitfalls are unavoidable.  Especially as I continue to add books to my list.

But if I had to pick a trap to fall into, I think I’d rather fall into the one defying expectation than blindly following them.  Maybe that makes me an artist after all.  I’ll leave that for others to decide.  All I know is that, so far, I’m getting paid to write and have been fortunate enough that I haven’t really had to face that dilemma.  And that’s only because of the fine work and support of a lot of people.  I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating.  I wouldn’t be here without you, gang.

By the by, A. LEE MARTINEZ APPRECIATION DAY!! is on the way.  January 12th, as if I have to tell you.  Hope you have your monster movies and board games at the ready.  If not, you might want to get on that.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Posted December 17, 2010 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    When leveling my priest I had a hard time questing because I could not find a good group and soloing was difficult since it took forever killing stuff ( I was a holy priest before we got the Cata talent reset). But I eventually only leveled with dungeons and pvp so I missed important flight paths and gear. I like that they force you to explore and do quests now that Im higher level. I think I would have hated that if I was still level 20 though. It would have taken forever 🙁 Then again who am I to complain when I have not played wow pre Dungeon Finder. ^.^

    I totally agree with you about rewards and how much satisfaction a player gets when they have more difficulty to get it. I love the pets. Its my motivation to do a lot of the quests and the crazier the quest makes me the harder I play and the higher I value the pet. . . As silly as that sounds. (Zombie Land rule # 32 enjoy the little things).

    As for your novels they rock the literary world. In my very humble opinion your stories exceed my expectations as a reader. They are always entertaining, have memorable characters, but are very different from each other that they have their own world to get immersed into.

  2. Roth
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    My only annoyance with the new system in Cata, is that sometimes finding necessary quests for advancing in a particular area or getting to a dungeon can be a little wonky. Not horrible, but sometimes I wonder why they put a certain starting quest in this area or why I have to back-track to an area that I’ve already cleared and comb over it to find some minute item or NPC that will lead to a huge chain. Most of the time they’re objects and people that are easy to over-look.
    Though they did this in the other games, it wasn’t quite as often. Rewarding though it may be to finally find what you’re looking for (mostly because you can stop raging about it inwardly), sometimes I want to pull my hair out and beat the computer with a stick.
    One thing i really like is that the quests and results of the quests are far more interactive. It’s not just ‘go here and kill/gather’ like your normal grind, but the small games and war-like simulations that they have thrown in. I find it odd to come across them, but still think they’re neat and a nice touch.

    And the dungeons are actually a challenge now! Its kinda nice that a tank can’t speed-run the new content. Feel sorry for healers though, lot more to manage and take into consideration with the new play style.
    One thing is for certain, I want some of the old stats back (oh armor penetration, how I miss thee).

    On to your novels. Personally I try not to expect anything in particular, aside from what the summary might be on the back of the book. Maybe it’s to keep myself from getting disappointed, but at least it’s easier to enjoy a book without being to biased by an authors (possible) previous works. Your books carry a similar feel as far as delivery, but the themes do vary every so often.
    As any type of creative artist, it’s difficult to not become pigeonholed within a certain category. But part of the fun can be proving that, yeah, you like doing certain themes or genres more than others, but you’re not limited to it. It’s always good to dabble in other areas since you never know what could spawn from the attempt!

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