Augmented Reality is a technology that’s gained a lot of ground recently, used primarily in advertising schemes or accompanying products to allow people to “interact” in the real world with objects that aren’t actually there. Usually this is accomplished by using a “target” (a card or other surface marked up with a special code), that when read by software through, say, a webcam, displays the fictional bauble above as though it truly exists. The user can then do things such as pass their hand over it to move it about or cause it to perform other actions.
Two examples that come immediately to mind are a line of toys based on AVATAR (the one with the blue people, not the kid with the funny arrow on his head) and Sony’s interactive card game, Eye of Judgment.
Now, not too long ago, a mod hit the scene called AVR. That would be Augmented Virtual Reality, and it works on the same basic principal, except it allows things to be drawn on top of or overlaid upon an already fictional world (in this case, it’s Azeroth). Blown you mind yet? The possibilities of such a plug-in should be immediately obvious, and it sure didn’t take long before people figured out how to use it to their advantage. One popular use was to mark the locations where people should stand during Sindragosa’s air phase so that you don’t wipe the raid (which is, in my experience, notoriously hard for your average raider to remember — yes, I’m bitter about it).
I found this idea so intriguing that I nearly made a video of it for Lore Hound, but retracted the idea when I realized that though the technology was cool, it wasn’t perfect. As it lays above the environment instead of specifically being pasted on it (imagine the way a puck is lifted just above the table in air hockey), changing the camera angle or using it on variable-height surfaces like stairs rendered it nearly useless. Still, the idea was great. You could place symbols on the ground to mark things, or put range circles/rulers around your character to figure out how far away you need to be from things, but of course this would make things far too easy when it did work.
People complain about World of Warcraft‘s difficulty all the time, but it makes you wonder how many of those players are raiding with a spartan, mod-free interface. How many of us are relying on one crutch or another to get through an encounter (and, as an added wrinkle to the argument, how many of those should have been standard and provided by Blizzard in the first place)?
Blizz is generally pretty lenient about the kinds of mods people create and we tend to depend on those that give us added information about the game world. I think the reason AVR is causing such a stir, though, is that it goes one step further and allows us to affect the environment itself. It exists beyond the two-dimensional plane of our user interface and expands into the third that Azeroth occupies, and that’s a major no-no. Here’s the official line:
This is a notice that we’re making changes in 3.3.5 in attempts to break the ability for the AVR (Augmented Virtual Reality) mod to continue functioning. For those unaware, this mod allows players to draw in the 3D space of the game world, which can then be shared with others who are also using the mod. In some cases this manifests itself through drawing/tagging/defacing the game world, but more popularly is used to give visual guides for dungeon and raid encounters.
We’re making this change for two reasons. The invasive nature of a mod altering and/or interacting with the game world (virtually or directly) is not intended and not something we will allow. World of Warcraft UI addons are never intended to interact with the game world itself. This is mirrored in our stance and restriction of model and texture alterations. The second reason is that it removes too much player reaction and decision-making while facing dungeon and raid encounters. While some other mods also work to this end, we find that AVR and the act of visualizing strategy within the game world simply goes beyond what we’re willing to allow.
The change we’re making in attempts to break the functionality is light in its touch and approach. When blocking any functionality we run the risk of affecting other mods, but we’ve targeted the changes as carefully as possible. If we find that the AVR mod (or any mod attempting to replicate its functions) are usable after 3.3.5 we will take further, more drastic steps.
Now, I don’t disagree with them. It does provide an unfair gameplay advantage and makes difficult fights much simpler. My problem is that we already have popular mods that kind of do that sort of thing. Deadly Boss Mods, for instance, has been a part of my raiding interface for a very long time (and judging by its 18 million+ downloads on Curse, I’m betting it’s part of yours, too). If, for some reason, you aren’t familiar with it (or add-ons like it), it basically provides the player with information about the encounter on the fly — the boss’ abilities are on visual timers or messages and sounds fill your screen when you need to do something like move out of the fire.
Great cases can be made for how this affects game difficulty, but I think there’s a fundamental problem with combating information and it comes down to the fact that there will always be a way to access it. If you weren’t using DBM, you’d probably still be looking up videos or guides on these very same encounters. One way or another, you’re going to be giving yourself an advantage and if not, then I guarantee someone else in your raid will.
There are ways to accommodate this, I think, by making more of a boss’ skills randomized (thus, a time cannot be relied on) or shortening the span between said abilities (pushing players to react even faster than normal). And that’s fundamentally what it comes down to: either increasing or decreasing a player’s ability to do something with the information that they’re given.
So this whole thing has made me question how add-ons like DBM affect my own personal performance. Am I ready to give them up? Honestly, I think I’m far too used to them to go that far, and I think Blizzard is designing future encounters with this sort of thing in mind. I’m not sure how else to explain the increase in native “raid warning” messages that pop-up during an encounter whether you’re using mods or not. Like a better healing interface, this is something that I think players really want to be a part of the game.
I think where AVR crosses the line is that it assists directly in your ability to react. Even when you’ve got information beforehand, it’s up to you to process and do something with it. AVR turns a boss fight into a wholly pre-conceived strategy. When A happens, you go to point B on the screen, and you know precisely where that is because your raid leader marked a symbol there before you even began.
Let’s face it, though encounters are less difficult than they could be, do we really need to make it worse? I’d like to have some sort of system to mark things on the screen, like a “virtual playbook” of sorts, that disappears when enemies are engaged (it sure as hell beats running around the room and jumping up and down on spots while trying your best not to aggro the mobs), but it’s not worth eliminating player communication. Part of the fun of playing the game with other people is interacting with them, discussing strategy, and talking with each other as a cohesive unit in battle. The frustration comes not from how hard the boss is, but rather when people are too stubborn or lazy to participate in the shared experience (and, thus… stand in the fire/void zone/dragon’s nuts).
Add-ons like AVR also dull a player’s ability to think on the fly, even when they aren’t receiving typed or oral instructions. And in a game that doesn’t necessarily force a player to learn their class, or prepare them for advanced strategies, until you hit the top end of the game, that’s a dangerous proposition.