Thursday, August 26, 2010

On Crafting

There are four aspects involved in crafting:

  1. Gathering knowledge - This is learning how to craft items. It can be finding recipes, or trial and error, or even random chance.

  2. Gathering raw materials - This is getting the ingredients necessary to make the final item.

  3. Transmutation - this is the specific process of converting the raw materials to the finished product.

  4. Using the created item - Using the item for it's intended (and maybe unintended) function.

Different games emphasise different aspects. For example, in A Tale in the Desert, Transmutation is a complicated process, essentially a mini-game within the game. In contrast, WoW abstracts Transmutation to a single press of a button. In WoW, the game associated with crafting is primarily focused on the first two aspects of acquiring knowledge and raw materials.

A lot of people dislike this choice, and feel that Transmutation should be more involved. I am not so sure that this is the case. An interesting mini-game is fun the first time you make the item, but it what about the tenth or hundredth time? Not to mention that it is inconvenient for potential customers. If I get some new gear and need 5 gems cut, I don't really want to wait for my jewelcrafter guildie to struggle through 5 games of a Bejeweled clone, maybe even failing some of them. I much prefer getting the raw materials, giving them to her, and getting cut gems almost immediately.

I think where WoW's crafting really falls down is actually Aspect 4: Using the Item.

Initially, WoW is character progression through level. But at the level cap, it switches to character progression through gear. But that progression is controlled through the Bind-on-Pickup mechanism. Bind-on-Pickup ensures that a player needs to actually complete content to have their character improve. While there is a smattering of items you can buy, or alternate ways to earn gear like daily heroics, the vast majority of good gear can only be gained by going out and defeating content.

The problem is that currently crafting cannot partake of the bind-on-pickup mechanism. As I've mentioned before, WoW crafting is missing an action: a crafter cannot create a Bind-on-Pickup item for another character using Bind-On-Pickup raw materials that the other character has acquired.

Crucially, an NPC can do this. That's why crafting is sidelined in end-game, and NPCs hand out emblem gear. Crafting is missing that crucial verb that would allow it to be used in the endgame content.

If a crafter could make Bind-On-Pickup items for another player, that would open the door to a lot of possibilities. For example, Tier armor could be crafted entirely, given that it is already tokenized. Raid bosses could drop recipes, and players would gather raw materials along with special boss drops and take them to a crafter to get their tier gear. You could even restrict recipes to specific classes. Imagine if you had to find a paladin blacksmith to forge Lightsworn Battlegear.

Such a scheme would make crafting armor--not just consumables--an integral part of endgame once again. I think it would also feel better. To see what I mean, compare turning tokens to a vendor to gathering raw materials (could have a field day with what you need to collect) and getting armor forged by a blacksmith who learned the forgotten recipes deep inside the epic dungeon. On one level, both methods are really the same thing, but on another level, the latter would be so much more stylish.

Much better than getting to play a random Tetris-clone every time you want to cut a gem.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Roleplaying and MMOs

Hopefully, roleplayers won't feel too insulted by this post.

Kill Ten Rats has an article up asking why there isn't more role-playing in Dungeons and Dragons Online? We can extend the question to ask why--since MMOs stem from pen-and-paper (PnP) roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons--relatively few people roleplay in MMOs?

I'm going to say that it is because roleplaying in an MMO is fundamentally different than roleplaying in a PnP game. And the difference is significant enough that the majority playerbase sees MMO roleplaying as mere affectation, irrelevant window dressing that kind of misses the point of the underlying game.

The thing is that the point of pen-and-paper roleplaying is "conflict resolution in character". You play a character, you are presented with conflicts, and you resolve them in character. It's sometimes hard to see this in D&D because so much of the rulesbase concerns itself with combat. But if you look at indie PnP games such as Dogs in the Vineyard, where conflict resolution is more abstract, it becomes really obvious.

But in an MMO, you can be in-character all you want, but you cannot resolve conflicts in character. You are limited to the options provided to you and the need to share the same world with other players. You can try and spin "extra" conflicts between other players, but those do not have same weight as the conflicts the game itself provides. It's not "roleplaying" per se, it's just amateur theatrics.

(As normal, we pause to insert the standard EvE Online disclaimer. This is mostly because EvE Online gives players the tools to resolve said conflicts: ship-to-ship missiles.)

So I think that role-playing is not really relevant to MMOs, and isn't really something that should be expected from the players, regardless of the lineage of the genre. If players want to indulge in RP, there's nothing wrong with that, but I don't think it is something that game developers need to spend time worrying about. And I don't think that the presence or absence of a roleplaying community has any bearing whatsoever on the quality of an MMO.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Recruiting

My guild, Ad Infinitum, is trying to make a last push for Heroic Lich King before Cataclysm comes. We're looking for some people to fill out our raid.

Specifically, we're looking for priests and mages, but we're always willing to talk to good players of any class.

We're 11/12 Heroic ICC. We're a Pacific Standard Time guild on US-Lethon, which is a low-pop PvP realm. We raid 25-mans 3 days a week (Wednesday, Sunday, Monday) from 7pm - 11pm PST.

There's also several 10-mans throughout the week and an alt 25-man on Fridays.

If you're at all interested, please take a look at our website and apply. If you have any questions, feel free to email me or comment on this post.

Virtual Passports

John Patricelli wrote an exceptionally good post on MMOs as a virtual government. It's extremely thought-provoking.

I do have a couple of quibbles. For example, sometimes changes are made for reasons other than controlling player behavior. For example, John cites the tremporary window where you can trade BoP items with other people in party as a reaction to ninja looters. It's far more likely that this was done so that people could correct genuine mistakes, where someone accidentally rolled need, or the item was master-looted to the wrong person.

That's a general weakness of attempts to legislate good behavior through programming. It's often hard to distinguish between someone actively griefing, versus a genuine mistake, or someone who doesn't know what the "right" thing to do is. The classic example is a newbie hunter joining a group with his pet on aggressive. Very annoying, but it's hard to tell if it is a griefer or a new player.

(Though, 99% of the annoyance could be removed if Aggressive was disabled in instances. The new Defensive is more than good enough for group play, even for a hunter who doesn't micro-manage their pet. To be honest, I don't really see why Aggressive pets are a good idea to start with. The new Defensive could be Aggressive and bring back the old Defensive. I'm not sure it's good gameplay for the Hunter to ever lose control of her pet the way Aggressive does.)

I would like to point out the very first example of Blizzard attempting to promote good behavior via game rules: the language barrier between Horde and Alliance. It was done in order to remove trash talking from the PvP game, or at least move it to the forums.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Warrior Tanking is Fun

You know, I really like the way the warrior tank plays in Wrath. At least at level 66, which is where my lowbie tank has gotten to.

There are two major things I like about warrior tanking. First is Charge. Warbringer is one of the best talents in the game. Charging into combat is fun. Charging around during combat is fun. Charging into the next pack when the current pack is almost dead is extremely fun.

The second thing is Thunderclap and Shockwave. The thing about these skills that I like is that they very much reward you for timing things well. There's a satisfaction from Thunderclapping at the exact right time to get every mob in the group. Or lining up the perfect Shockwave and stunning everything just right.

It's not like Thunderclap and Shockwave are hard to use. But you can make mistakes with them. And that makes using them correctly valuable.

All in all, I really like the way the warrior tank plays in Wrath. I hope it doesn't change too much in Cataclysm.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Gearscore and FICO scores

I came across a couple of interesting articles by Megan McArdle of The Atlantic where she talks about a new trend of employers using FICO (credit) scores to weed out job candidates.

This situation immediately reminded me of Gearscore, and the way the WoW PuG community often uses Gearscore to determine who gets into raids.

(For those who don't know, Gearscore is a mod which examines a character's gear and gives a single value score that represents the quality of the gear. The higher ilevel, the higher your Gearscore.

FICO is a credit score that represents your credit-worthiness. It's the main score used in the United State. It is generally used when people are deciding if they should lend you money. Low scores generally mean that you have trouble paying back loans, or have declared bankruptcy, and are likely to be a bigger risk for a loan.)

In the articles, employers are using these credit scores as a general proxy for your overall trustworthiness, just like raid leaders use Gearscore as a general proxy for your skill as a raider.

In both situations, the measurement is a weak proxy for what the evaluators really want. It's easy to imagine that someone with a poor credit score might still be a good employee, or someone with a lower Gearscore might still know how to play.

But there are reasons that these scores are used. It's too easy to say that using Gearscore or FICO score is wrong, and so raid leaders or employers should be forbidden from using it.

First, it's fast and obvious. A FICO score of 300 is worse than one of 800. GS 4k is worse than GS 5k.

Second, the best method to determine competence is unfeasible. The best method is by giving the potential employee or raider a trial. But this is just not possible due to logistical constraints. Even the second or third-best methods are not viable. For raiding, high end raid guilds often require proof in the form of logs, or will ask the candidate questions in an interview process. You just don't have time to do this when making a PuG.

Third, you cannot trust the potential employee or raider. People lie on their resumes all the time, and due to litigation concerns, most previous employers won't do much more than confirm employment dates. Similarly, all raiders say they know the fights and will do top DPS.

Finally, it is better to be wrong in one direction than to be wrong in the other. For example, when picking up a PuG raider, there are two different ways a raid leader can be wrong. He can turn down a good player, or he can pick up a bad players. The consequences for picking up a bad raider are much higher, and so the raider leader will pick a method that minimizes the chances of that outcome, even if it increases the chances of the other wrong outcome.

The same thing happens with employment. It is generally considered better to turn down a good employee than hire a poor one.

I find the two parallel situations to be very intriguing. It's always interesting when a real world issue comes up independently in a controlled game world.

Note that I don't actually use Gearscore. It's a chatty mod, and I dislike taking a chance of being disconnected in raids. But I still understand why people do use Gearscore.

If I had to make a Gearscore-like mod, what I would actually do is evaluate gems/enchants against spec. The more optimal your gems/enchants for your spec, the higher your score. In my experience, people who care enough to keep their gear in good condition, regardless of the underlying ilevel, are more likely to be successful raiders.