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Writing in a medical journal, Lofgren and Fefferman (2007), explained how an unintended disease epidemic in World of Warcraft showed how serious epidemiologists could use a virtual world to model the actual spread of infectious diseases. Many games represent disease or poisoning as temporary and often progressive degradation of the character’s ability, that under adverse conditions can lead to death. Usually, these virtual diseases are not contagious, but in September 2005, World of Warcraft included an infectious disease called “corrupted blood” in a new 20-man raid instance called Zul’Gurub. Given that the teams that enter this instance are fairly large, it must have seemed interesting to allow them to contract a disease from each other, as healer characters attempted to cure their companions even as the infection spread among them. The designers believed they had constructed the instance in such as way that would prevent the infection from spreading outside, but perhaps not enough beta testing had been done to evaluate this hope. Furthermore, while the illness was seldom life-threatening to the level 58-60 characters who could enter the instance, it was often fatal to lower-level characters once it had escaped the confines of the instance. Leaving Zul’Gurub by the normal route rendered the disease inactive, but apparently the designers had failed to notice that players could teleport out in different ways, and the new programming code did not deactivate the disease for all of them. Also, the hunting animals used by hunter characters could acquire and transmit the disease. To prevent their animals from dying, hunters would often deactivate these secondary avatars, and the code did not cure deactivated animals. Apparently, non-player shopkeepers in the towns and cities also contracted and spread the disease, but they usually were unaffected by it. So, on one level, the epidemic was the result of an innovative game idea, the consequences of which were not fully worked out in the programming.
But even within that constraint, the team made a beautiful new game in the margins -adding characters like the Lutece Twins, a colorful, blindingly bright Columbia, a winding, twisting Mobius strip narrative that literally spans universes and time, and preserving the majority of the mechanical heart that beats at the core of BioShock. All the while, the game attacks with an ambitious story that burrows deep into the mental state of men who wish to create and rule worlds, men who feel a desperate need to “save” their collaborators in distress, and how ambitions can collapse the world around both of them. And then we learn that all those men are powerless to escape -the cycle simply starts over -you respawn and carry on and are back at the start menu, whether you’re fighting enemies, creating floating cities, or making new video games.