Thursday, April 9, 2009

What's in a (Spell) Name?

Via the Ratonga Warlock, comes the announcement that EQ2 has opened its spell name consolidation poll.

The issue
As a bit of background, EQ2 for whatever historic reason gives a different name to each new rank of a spell you obtain. For example, the basic Dirge lifedrain/damage attack is known as:
"Singing Strike" at level 1
"Singing Blade" at level 8
"Singing Thrust" at level 15
"Thuri's Doleful Thrust" at level 29
"Bereavement" at 43
"Grievance" at 57
"Siphon Blade" at 71 (current highest rank)

Though I'm sure there are interesting lore reasons for this - for instance, characters in the game probably wouldn't tell you they were teaching you "Singing Blade (Rank 3)" - it can be very confusing. I had to look that list up, because I have no idea what any of my bread-and-butter attacks are called at any given level. Instead, I rely on a combination of the icon and keeping the keybindings constant. This makes it hard to tell what abilities will be affected by your AA points, much less have conversations with other players about what spells do.

Anyway, SOE decided to consolidate the spell names within each line (within each class, not for the entire game), and they're holding a massive series of polls - one for every spell line for every one of the game's 24 classes - to determine what the lines will be called going forward.

Lessons from spell names
I based my votes for Dirge ability names primarily on what names sounded cool. I can usually guess what spell we're talking about when you give me the whole list of names, but have no idea what spells for other classes do. There are some interesting trends in the polls and voting:

- In that Singing Strike -> Siphon Blade line I listed above? The poll shows a split between "Singing Blade" and "Thuri's Doleful Thrust". I have no idea who Thuri is, or what is so doleful about his or her thrusting. Perhaps I would see nostalgia value in the name if I did. (Some of the other "named" spells reference the EQ pantheon of gods, most of which I've at least heard of, but it seems that many classes have one or more unfamiliar names attached to spells.) There are also some spells where an otherwise unimpressive name is the community favorite because it had that name in EQ1.

- Some classes actually do identify with having different spell names as they level. For example, the Conjurors (pet class that summons elementals for tanking or damage) have made numerous write-in comments on their polls (e.g. the poll for their tanking pet line) AGAINST consolidating the names. A level 1 Conjuror's tanking pet is a little beetle, and they slowly gain the ability to summon more powerful pets, up to a massive golem. The conjurors (and their necromancer counterparts) rightly point out that "Tanking Earth Elemental Rank 2" is a less interesting name for a pet than "Tellurian Soldier".

- Sometimes, players have no idea what name to pick. Take this warlock poll, which appears poised to name the "freeze" line "encase", but is a pretty significant 4-way split with votes for every option but "deter" (which has nothing to do with ice - this is the kind of name you get when you have to name 100+ spells for 24 classes).

- Some of the lines have some really random names. Here's another warlock poll in which SOE has managed to name the ranks of a poison AOE attack:
Gas Cloud (good)
Putrid Cloud (good)
Grievous Blast (no longer a cloud, nor does it sound specifically poisonous, and I'd guess it was a single target spell if I didn't know otherwise)
Dark Nebula (uh, kind of cloudlike but nothing to do with poison)
Nebula (kind of cloudlike but not even referencing darkness)
Radiation (the fact that we call it "radiation poisoning" does not mean that radiation is like a biological poison).
Dark Nebula currently has a substantial lead in that poll.

- Another funny little trend is that many spell lines can't even agree whether the spell in question is a noun or a verb (see example wizard poll). Some spell lines actually managed to keep their naming relatively consistent (take this druid line where all the spells are somehow "untamed"), but many do not.

A single target direct damage attack by any other name....
If you're going to consolidate spell names anway, you might as well get the fan favorites, though I wonder what they will do with the closer votes (e.g. three separate options with over 25% of the vote, as with the Freeze line above).

Beyond that, there's an interesting question about what's in a spell name. Is it supposed to sound cool? Offer clues as to what the spell actually does? (This is one thing that I wish EQ2's spell names would do better.) Should spells be named after famous characters (either lore, or actual players)? What would you name the spells on your favorite character, if you could? Or would you not want to rename a spell that you've been using for a long time now, even if a better alternative came along?

It's an interesting little exercise for something that emerged out of a need to clean up the naming system.

1 comment:

Xtian said...

Perhaps a special Hunter pet spell for the cat family. It buffs the cat, turns it big and red, and is called "Brash Ravenous Killer" or something.