Saturday, October 8, 2011

I am an idiot: I play WolfQuest so you don't have to!

In the words of its creators, WolfQuest is "an immersive, 3D wildlife simulation game" that "challenges players to learn about wolf ecology by living the life of a wild wolf in Yellowstone National Park." It achieves its goal, I suppose, if the wolves of Yellowstone--all five of them, counting the player--live in a dull, featureless bowl that's surrounded by invisible walls and infested with plagues of dead elk.

This game was first released in 2007, and, despite numerous attempts to improve it by adding new features and extra content, it is still as bad as it was four years ago. The latest update adds weather, a rudimentary day/night cycle, and, at last, the long-anticipated ability for your wolf to sit down. How much effort does it take to animate a wolf plonking its butt on the ground? More than you'd think, apparently, seeing as how it was only patched in a few days ago. It doesn't matter how many sitting wolves and terrible lightning effects the developers have come up with, however. WolfQuest is a terrible, terrible game, and playing it is about as much fun as sitting on a bed of rusty nails and pulling your own teeth without Novocain.

But I get ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning of my WolfQuest: Survival of the Pack Deluxe experience.

I made myself a wolf, a male named Killmurder (Kilmurdr, actually, due to the name length restrictions), and was immediately dumped into the middle of Yellowstone according to WolfQuest.


As you can see, it is a vibrant and meticulously landscaped place. A work of digital art, really!


Dead elk began to spawn almost immediately. Being a wolf in Yellowstone appears to be a pretty sweet deal. You never have to hunt; your prey just drops dead for you!


Wandering out of the starting desert/petrified forest area brought me to the forest-forest, which, again, is extraordinarily detailed and full of character. It absolutely does not feature hundreds of identical trees all lined up into neat little groups, with no undergrowth, roots, or even rocks to be found for variety. Nope. They certainly didn't skimp on the environments in this game!


Killmurder ran into a strange wolf, one that belongs to the park's Specimen pack. Since this is WolfQuest he had no packmates around to back him up and never will ("packs" in WolfQuest are a joke; pack wolves spawn one at a time and just stand there until you approach them), and since Killmurder is a gigantic canine douchebag, I naturally roughed him up until he fled. It's a shame that I didn't get screenshots of the combat--it was so dynamic and exciting!


Actually, it wasn't. It was more boring than the turn-based combat systems of oldschool JRPGs. I pressed a button, Specimen Male pressed a button, we snarled at one another with exactly the same animation and sound effects, and then he ran away.


After I sent Specimen Male packing (hurr), I decided to try out the new sleep functionality. Nap until dusk, Killmurder!


The wolves stretch every time they wake up. The animation is pretty neat and realistic, if slow, until you realize that you can't skip it. And did I mention that it's slow?


After Killmurder finally got his sorry hide up off the ground, I examined the dusk lighting. Meh. It's nothing dramatic.


But then something dramatic did happen! This Druid wolf ran up to confront me for being on his territory, and then moments later the entire pack appeared!


Oh, sorry, what did I say? I meant, "I wandered unmolested through this male's territory until I decided to hunt him down and pick a fight, and despite belonging to a pack he was completely alone and vulnerable."



But, seriously, I know these camera angles are awful. This is because the WolfQuest camera is awful and I have not yet figured out how to control it, or even if it can be controlled.


Killmurder took another nap so that I could see how nights look.


I love unexplainable ambient lighting, don't you?


As I roamed around staring at the hills and crappy forests, I got my first taste of the new weather system. The rain didn't stay for very long, but it did stick around to watch me scale a cliff that I should not have been able to scale.


Spiderwolf, Spiderwolf--does whatever a Spiderwolf does!

I wish I'd gotten more screenshots of what happened next, because it was one massive glitch. Killmurder made his way back to the desert and onto the territory of Yellowstone's third pack, the Slough. He happened upon the "pack," which, naturally, consisted of one member: a wolf named Slough Male. He approached with murder in his eyes or at least general douchebaggery, prepared to instruct the unfortunate Slough Male in the meaning of pain.


Now, when you get into a confrontation, the opposing wolf's name tends to remain above them. Slough Male's name vanished as soon as Killmurder interacted with him, and, not only that, Killmurder had a set of new options. What the?


The goal of WolfQuest's first "episode," Amethyst Mountain, is for your wolf to find a mate that it can pack up with. In a nutshell, you spend the entire mission running from one-wolf pack to one-wolf pack and getting into fights with them because this will somehow increase your chances of finding another lone wolf to start your own little family. When you do manage to find a lone wolf of the opposite sex, you must then befriend it. Then you're done. (Yep, that's all there is to Amethyst Mountain. It's such a short and irritating mission that it feels pointless, but that's a rant separate from what happened here.)

To befriend the opposite-sex lone wolf you must be rather friendlier towards it than you are towards the pack wolves, so the game gives you a set of kinder, gentler interactions to accomplish this goal. For some reason, even though Killmurder had bumped into Slough Male and not a packless female, he had those friendlier interactions. And, for some reason, Slough Male accepted them as if he was a packless female.


Okay then, thought I. "Let's play!" said Killmurder.

Slough Male stared at him uncomprehendingly, but he still had a little heart and was still saying hello. Now Killmurder's interactions had changed again, so I picked a new one.


"Let's hang out," tried Killmurder.

Slough Male stared at him uncomprehendingly, presumably so bugged out at this point that he had no idea what to do.


"You're okay," Killmurder tried again.

"Hello there!" replied Slough Male, complete with more hearts.

"Let's play!" Killmurder suggested a second time.

"Hello there!" repeated Slough Male, and Killmurder's available interactions changed again.


"I like you," opined Killmurder, whose taste obviously runs blond, and...wait, what the?!


"I like you," agreed Slough Male, who had, in the past two seconds, somehow become Dispersal Female.


They decided to start a pack, and once they did I was given the opportunity to name Slough Male/Dispersal Female.

I called her Hedwig.


Hedwig doesn't sleep.


It turns out that she doesn't really hunt, either, because I took her to get some food the next day...


And by the time that Killmurder caught up with their breakfast she had vanished off to who knows where and left him to bring down a grown elk all by his lonesome. The elk kicked him repeatedly in the face and nearly killed him, but...


Luckily, an already-dead elk had spawned nearby! He ate it to recover his strength.


Then he went back and finished the elk off even though there was no real need to do so.


Later on I did manage to rope Hedwig into chasing an elk and a grizzly bear halfway across the map. She's a very quick runner, but utterly useless since she'll catch up to the animal being pursued, overtake it, and then not do anything to attack. The AI in this game is so very intelligent.


Here we see two things: a tree set on fire by lightning, and what I cannot stand about WolfQuest's rain. A blue tint gets applied to the world, I guess to make it appear misty, but it...tears or something...and you end up with a patchwork of normal and blue landscape that just looks horrible.


So why are we bothering to chase this elk down when there is another dead elk just lying right there?


For that matter, why are we bothering to chase down anything at all ever? (The pink trails are all elk carcasses that appeared out of nowhere. Count em.)

Once I got tired of roaming the empty and uninspired Amethyst Mountain, it was time to move on and play the second half of the game.


Slough Creek's environment is, at least, somewhat more interesting.


Hedwig and I ran around and explored for a bit, and I took several screenshots but the game arbitrarily decided not to save any of the interesting ones. How lovely! This is the only one left that is remotely worth posting, because it kind of shows the fact that elk herds can and will cross rivers that are in their way. It's a nice little touch.


They're incredibly vulnerable while in the water, so, of course, it was time for one of them to die! Hedwig was actually helpful this time, chasing after our dinner and nipping at its butt while fat, slow Killmurder stood there and caught his breath.


In all likelihood there was a pre-killed elk fifty feet away, rendering Hedwig's valiant efforts completely unnecessary.


After eating, it was time to establish a territory. I took some entertaining screenshots of the whole process, including one densite's unfortunate bear problem, but they were among the pictures that got eaten. If you manage to have any fun at all in WolfQuest, the game will know and it will penalize you for it.

I did get a screenshot of this "stranger confrontation," though. In essence, a wolf from another pack spontaneously appears on your turf and you have to drive it off. Killmurder, naturally, was up to the challenge.


Fast-forward to springtime! Or summer! Or one of those!


Killmurder and Hedwig had four puppies, who, in keeping with their father's dreadfully stupid "death" theme, were named Murderkill, Redrum, You're Dead!, and Kills You.


A bear spawned on top of Redrum, so he didn't last long. The surviving pups got to see this: a tree catching on fire while the stupid rain effects blinded me.


I didn't miss Redrum terribly; the other three were pesty enough to make up for his absence.


At least they were easy to feed, with free food scattered all over the place.


When I say there were a lot of dead elk, I mean it. Remember, each pink cloud of smoke represents one body.

After I spent about thirty minutes peeing on land to claim it and feeding the pups to get their weight up, it was time to take them and move them to a new den. I didn't have much opportunity to screenshot the whole process, as there were too many things happening at once, so here's a textual blow-by-blow:

  • Spend five minutes trying to move into a position that will allow you to pick up a pup, as the controls are incredibly stupid and don't want you to carry your own offspring around without fighting the spacebar first.
  • Set pup down again to go chase off a golden eagle that has appeared.
  • Spend an additional five minutes trying to catch another pup. Start off toward the new den, which is about sixty billion miles away.
  • Turn around to see if the other two puppies are keeping up with you. (Hint: they aren't.) Where's Hedwig?
  • Set down the pup you are carrying and run back to collect the others. Hedwig appears just as you reach them. Oh, hello, Hedwig. What are you holding?
  • Hedwig is holding the pup that you just left right where you wanted it. She sets it down and then vanishes again. Fantastic.
  • Grab a pup yet again. This time, don't run. Walk slowly so that the puppies can keep pace with you. Find out that they still can't. Mutter obscenities at them.
  • Get to the edge of a river crossing. Puppies can't swim and won't try, so you'll have to carry them to the other side one by one. Bring one across and place it safely on dry ground.
  • Stare at the message that has just appeared: Kills You is drowning! Get out of the water! Huh?
  • Turn around and see that Hedwig had decided to help you ford the river, but has grown bored halfway through and dumped Kills You in the shallows where he is apparently still in over his head. Rush over to get him. Carry him out of the river and place him safely on dry ground.
  • Watch in disbelief as Hedwig dumps another puppy in the river, this time right in the middle. Run over to save that one too. Prepare to murder the developers of this game as Hedwig then seizes Kills You and drops him back in the water.
  • You can't rescue them both. Mutter more obscenities as another message appears: Your puppy, Kills You, has died.
  • Continue on with your journey, stopping every so often to chase off that damn eagle. You are now hungry and the pups are hungry, but there is nothing to hunt and elk carcasses have mysteriously ceased to appear.
  • Along the way, Murderkill dies of unknown causes. Either he has starved, or Hedwig has taken him back to the river. You suspect the latter.
  • Since there is no longer any need to take things slowly and You're Dead! is about to starve, himself, you opt to sprint the rest of the way. Finally, you reach the new den with your one living pup in hand...err, mouth.
  • Nothing happens. You poke around the area, searching for piles of rocks or odd-looking trees, but a whole lot of nothing continues to happen. Why is this game so glitchy? Regret playing it. Wish you could have the last hour of your life back, and mourn the time that you could have spent doing anything else.
  • Notice that, instead of having one pup left, the game is now saying you've got two again. What? Dump You're Dead! where you stand and run back to look for your resurrected offspring. It could be anywhere, and in the meantime You're Dead! is still on the verge of starvation. That's just great.
  • Find Murderkill kicking his heels in the grass some distance from your summer territory. Watch in amazement as Hedwig and You're Dead! appear out of nowhere, the mission completes itself where it shouldn't, and the game ends.
  • Decide to write a blog post detailing the entire sordid experience, so that other unsuspecting people might be warned away from playing WolfQuest.

If you haven't played this game already, please don't. I would rather undergo a Blood Eagle administered by clumsy Vikings than ever touch WolfQuest again.

If you have played WolfQuest, you have my condolences. Might I offer some quality brain bleach to help get you through this painful and difficult time?