Monday, October 31, 2011

Guild Split

While I was on vacation, my guild shattered into two pieces. I was surfing WoW Progress and I noticed a whole bunch of "X has left the guild", which was a pretty terrible way to find out.

Like many raiding guilds, we've found recruiting to be very hard this tier/expansion. Through regular attrition, we gradually slipped to the point where we were getting 23-24 people on some raid nights. As we were working on hard modes, this made progression very difficulty. We'd get one or two nights where we could field a full raid, and one night where we couldn't

It was decided that we'd split into two 10-mans, so we could at least continue knocking down heroic modes. Unfortunately, the heroic lockouts make it hard to recombine into a 25-man, even if we had the numbers.

I gather that the other 10-man was having drama. It culminated in that entire group, minus our guildmaster who was in the group, leaving the guild.  I felt really bad for our GM after finding out the scope of the split.

So we're basically down to one 10-man worth of people. It's a pretty solid 10-man, we go 6/7 Heroic Firelands.

Taking advantage of the new Guild Transfer Service, we've transferred to the Lightbringer server, a more populated server. I think the plan is to try and recruit back to 25s.

But I'm not really sure what the future holds.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pet Battles

The snobbishness of game culture never ceases to amuse me.

Video Gamer: "Pokemon is so childish!"
Normal person: "Video games are childish!"

I think Pet Battles are an interesting idea. I probably won't do a lot with this system, but it looks neat and I'm sure there will be people who find it fun.

It occupies an unique space, design-wise. In some ways, it's a solo PvP game, only without the crazy balance issues that would occur if Blizz made dueling a official sport. It does not depend on gear, so it's good for people who don't climb either the PvP or PvE grinds, while also not interfering with PvE or PvP.

It's a completely transient activity, so you can drop in and out. But it still leverages the multi-player and permanent aspect of WoW, as you get to play against other players.

It might be a possible sub-game for the people who want less twitch and more strategy, depending on how it's implemented. It would be easier to make the pet battle slower, or even turn-based, than it would be to change the regular game.

There are a significant number of people who can't or don't want to raid, or who don't want to be on the gear treadmill for PvE, and who aren't good enough for competitive PvP. These people need something to do, just as much as the raiders need raids.  This is an option for those people.

I don't know if Pet Battles are the best option for this segment of the audience, but it ties into pet collecting, and is generally not as "hardcore" as PvE and PvP main games are. I think it's good for WoW to have these "softer" elements, and I would like to see Blizzard come up with more of them.

So what pet are you going to level and train? I'm going with my favorite White Kitten.

Also, Blizzard, make a [Faceless Minion] companion pet! You know you want to. We have a couple of die-hard pet collectors in my guild, and there is much sighing over the tiny Faceless Minions every time we go to Bastion of Twilight.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monks

So monks. Leather-wearing tank-dps-healing hybrid characters, so they will pretty much share gear with druids. Every race except the newest ones, goblins and worgens, can be monks.

The resource system described sounds pretty intriguing. In a lot of ways, it's the inverse of the death knight resource system. Both classes have two linked opposite-phase cyclical resources (see Resource Theory). But where the death knight had multiple full-phase resources feeding a single zero-phase resource, the monk has a single full-phase resource (Chi) feeding multiple zero-phase resources (Light and Dark Force). It will be really interesting to see which system plays better.

One twist on this system that might play well is an ability which costs Chi, but generates a random Light or Dark Force. I think that would shake up the rotation in an interesting manner.

As for healing, I was concerned at first. I don't think cyclical resources are a good model for healing. You can't burst when you need to, and you can't conserve the resource. But Blizzard has said that the healing monk spec will get a mana bar--a net-loss resource--so monks will fall in line with the other healers. Blizz says that monks might heal in melee, but we'll see. There are a lot of obstacles to melee-healing, as we paladins know all too well.

I expect that the monk's main three heals (the Holy Light, Divine Light, and Flash of Light equivalents) will cost only mana, but that the unique monk spells might partake of the Chi/Force system. Perhaps like paladins use Holy Power.

As for tanking, it's somewhat odd, but non-shield tanks will actually outnumber the shield tanks. That does feel a bit weird to me. Legendary tanking polearm incoming?

I'm also not sure about the "no auto-attack" thing. It sounds cool, but I think that it might lead to burst problems in PvP. No auto-attack means that each ability needs to hit harder. Also, the monk doesn't really feel like a DoT class, which might mitigate that effect. It would have been kind of nice if they used bleeds, but I'm not sure if that sounds right.

I do like their weapon selection. It's a nice selection of agility weapons crossing rogue/shaman/druid lines, while maintaining thematic appropriateness.

I'm not really sure what else you can say about monks. Lore and culture-wise, monks are somewhat interesting, but not really in my areas of interest.

Oh, one other interesting point is that with monks, a 10-man raid is guaranteed to always be missing at least one class. I wonder what ramifications, if any, that will have for encounter design.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pandaren and Pandaria

So Pandaren are the new playable race. In a surprise twist, they're available to both Horde and Alliance. The Pandaren starting area is neutral apparently, and the individual Pandaren choose Horde or Alliance at about level 10.

I am rather lukewarm about Pandaren characters. I don't think that pandas are any worse than gnomes, goblins, space-goats, or werewolves. But I'm not really excited to play one either. Though that may be more because I have my main, and I really don't feel enthusiastic about alts anymore. I'll probably roll a Pandaren to play through the starting area, but I doubt it will get much farther than that.

What I really hope is that Blizzard chooses to give the pandaren--and pandaren culture--a vein of seriousness, and use understated humor rather than slapstick. I think that would balance the intrinsically humorous nature of panda warriors.

I am wondering what Pandaren will look like in Tier armor. Most tier sets seem to designed for a "less round" body type. And of course, we'll see how sexy Blizzard can make female Pandaren. There are a lot of people who want a, let's say, more lush body type. But the stats show that these types of female figures tend to be the least played, even by women.

I actually kind of pity Blizzard that decision. The more sexual dimorphism they introduce (even to the Draenei level), the more people will actually play the characters, but the more outrage it will generate on the forums and possibly even the media and press.

A final thought about player characters, will Pandaren characters be able to communicate cross-faction? It seems odd that they would start together, but be unable to talk. Maybe the Pandaren language only will be cross-faction, so when the panda-trash-talk starts, no one else--Horde or Alliance--will understand it.

As for Pandaria itself, it does look pretty neat. The art is very nice and very different from the rest of Azeroth. I actually really like the theme of expansion, at least as Blizzard explained it. The Horde versus Alliance war, playing out by both sides courting or fighting the Pandaren. Symbolically, it works extremely well with the Pandaren being available to both sides. The individual's choice echoing the continent's choice.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

WoW Annual Pass and Free Diablo III

Blizzard is offering an Annual Pass for WoW. It's essentially a contract that if you subscribe for the next twelve months, you get Diablo III free, a mount, and beta access for Mists of Pandaria. You still pay monthly (or whatever your current payment plan is), but you can't cancel for a year. Or possibly you lose D3 access if you cancel.

I picked up this option as soon as I saw it. I'm going to play WoW for at least the next four months until I beat patch 4.3, if not longer. I'm also going to pick up Diablo III when it comes out. There's pretty much no downside for me, as far as I can see.

This promotion is, of course, a preemptive strike at Star Wars: The Old Republic. To staunch the bleeding from the number of subs who cancel WoW in order to subscribe to The Old Republic.

But perhaps more importantly, it is a preemptive strike at Diablo III itself!

The thing is that, with Diablo III, Blizzard is making a competitor to its own game.  A lot of people will move from World of Warcraft to Diablo III. By allowing people to avoid having to choose between D3 and WoW, Blizzard may get the best of both worlds. People stay subscribed to WoW, maybe logging in once or twice a week, while spending the majority of their gaming time in D3 for a few months.

The web of social ties that make up an MMO stays stronger, doesn't have as many holes from people who have stopped subscribing because of D3. Maybe they don't log in as much, but they're still there.

I think that this is a fairly strong indication that when Titan comes out, a Titan subscription will include a subscription to WoW.

It may even be the first step to one day having a "Blizzard subscription", where you get access to all their MMOs, and free copies of all their single-player games when they come out. Other MMO companies have done single subscriptions to multiple MMOs, but I don't think anyone has yet added single-player games to that. I think Bioware is probably the only other company that could do so.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Blizzcon Initial Reaction

In the immortal words of Keanu Reeves: Whoa!

Edit: I'm probably going to do a series of posts over the next week, each focusing on one of the new elements announced at a time.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Out of Town

I think I need to refine the last post, and respond to some of the (very good) comments made.

However, I'm headed out of town for a week. (Sadly, not Blizzcon.) So the conversation will hopefully resume in a week or so.

Or more likely, we'll all get distracted by the latest shinies from Blizzcon.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Extrinsic Rewards

I was thinking about the mechanics and systems that I do not enjoy or approve of in WoW, and it struck me that a large percentage of them share the same characteristic of being extrinsic rewards.

These include mechanics like crafting profession perks, or guild perks, or valor points. Basically rewards where you stop doing the underlying activity for its own sake and instead are doing it solely for the sake of this extra reward.

Crafting used to be about making stuff. Or about gathering resources to sell. I used to have Mining, and I rather enjoyed it. But now crafting is all about the character perks which add power to your character.

This is in contrast to Fishing, for example. I rather like Fishing, even if it isn't the most challenging activity in the game. The point of Fishing is to get fish, which you turn into Feasts via cooking. This chain makes sense to me, the rewards are inherent in the profession.

Before Cataclysm, guild used to be about joining friends or social groups, or banding together to accomplish a goal. Now it's about getting random rewards from being in a guild, most of which have nothing to do with the guild itself.

I've discussed Valor Points before. I'm not a fan of running old content over and over again just to get VP.

All these perks and systems share the same characteristic of giving extra rewards to entice people to do these activities. And yet all these perks and systems have warped the game, in my opinion, and made it less fun.

The only extrinsic reward system that has really worked, in my opinion, is reputation. I'm not really sure why reputation works. Maybe because it is a side-effect of questing and dungeon running, and never really moves into the point where you are doing quests and dungeons solely for reputation.

And even then, reputation used to be a lot less fun before the tabard system. Even Therezane and Hodir reputation are not the funnest parts of the game, but you do it because you have to have the extrinsic rewards of shoulder enchants.

I think extrinsic rewards are bad for the game. If an activity cannot be made inherently fun or useful, then maybe it's better to let the players ignore it until it can be improved.

Take archeology, for example. Some players like archeology and have collected everything. Some players ignore it. I would absolutely hate for Blizzard to decide that not enough players are doing archeology and tack on a perk that gives you a stat bonus for hitting 450 archeology.

Personally, I would be quite happy to see profession perks, guild perks, and valor points and most other extrinsic rewards stripped from the game.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Kitten Economy

The big news this week is that Blizzard is going to sell a new pet, a Winged Guardian cub (or kitten, as everyone is referring to it), in their Real Money store. Unlike the previous pets, however, this new pet will be trade-able, and thus can be sold on the Auction House for gold.

Here are some assorted quick thoughts:

  1. Yes, it's technically a way to indirectly trade real money for gold.

  2. Prices will probably start pretty high, and then fall rapidly as people get kittens.

  3. As an experiment, it's good, because it won't permanently distort the game. At some point, we'll probably reach a kitten saturation level and everything will calm down.

  4. I think people are paying a lot of attention to the real money aspect. But I think Blizzard might actually see more gain in reducing or eliminating support costs dealing with scams.

  5. We may also see an increase in liquidity in the markets. There's probably a lot of goblins hoarding large amounts of gold, simply because there's nothing for them to buy. Some of that gold will go to kitten sellers, and then get turned into things like mounts, motorcycles, and Vials of Sands.

  6. I wonder if a lot of people who don't normally purchase pets might take a flier on one. You buy a pet and put it on the AH. If it sells, great. If not, well, you can add it to your own pet collection. Right now, I'm thinking of going this route, even though I've never bought a mount or pet before.

  7. I much prefer this to Eve Online's method of selling game time. As I've mentioned before, I think it's important that everyone in the audience spends a little money, shares some of the burden of paying for the game, and that good players do not end up playing for free.

  8. I think that the effects of gold-selling in WoW are more nebulous than in a lot of games. It is actually somewhat hard to purchase "power" with gold. You could buy BoEs or crafted equipment. It might help you in a GDKP run. You might be able to purchase a raid spot if guilds still sell them. But realistically, I think the vast majority of kitten gold will probably get turned into other pets or mounts.
All in all, experiments are good for the genre. This one will be particularly interesting to watch unfold.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dancing

Note: All Cataclysm fights being discussed in this post are pre-nerf.

I've been pondering Gevlon's assertion that Cataclysm raiding is no longer about improving your ability to play your character, but about mastering the "dance steps" of each fight.

I think he has a definite point, at least as it pertains to Normal modes.

I believe I've discussed it before, but I do think that the difficulty level of Normal mode fights this expansion has existed in a very narrow band. To me, pretty much all the fights this expansion have hovered around the same difficulty as the Icecrown Citadel wings.

It's easiest to look at DPS. If your guild can meet the DPS requirements to kill Shannox, then you can meet the DPS requirements to kill the other Normal mode bosses, save only Baleroc and Ragnaros, which have slightly higher requirements.

It feels like all Normal mode fights are being designed around about 60% of maximum theoretical DPS. If you can meet that, then you can meet the DPS requirements of any of the other Normal mode fights. It might rise to 70% for the final boss.

But if the DPS requirements stay constant, then all that's left to master are the specific abilities of each boss, the "dance steps", as Gevlon puts it.

Hard modes, on the other hand seem to have a larger range. The first bosses come in at about 75% or so, but the DPS requirements do rise as well. I remember that our problem with Heroic Ryolith was hitting the Superheated timer, and that was a pure DPS problem, not any issues with "dancing".

I'm not too sure what Blizzard could do about this. If they keep raising the DPS requirements, then groups start dropping out as they become unable to meet the latest requirements. The difficulty of increasing DPS requirements is non-linear as well. It's much more difficult to go from 80% to 90% of the theoretical maximum than it is to go from 60% to 70%.

A lot of the problem does go away once you start pushing into hard modes. There's more than enough challenge on all levels, including basic class performance, to satisfy everyone.

Perhaps it would have been better for Blizzard to start raiding at a lower difficulty. If T11 was aimed at 40%, T12 at 50%, and T13 at 60%.  Or perhaps a greater gradient within a tier. Perhaps starting Shannox off at 40%, and having the DPS requirements rise within the tier until you hit Ragnaros at 70% would have been the better way to go.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Need Before Greed Issue

My praise for the new Need/Greed system may have been premature. It's been pointed out that there is a moderate flaw in the system

Consider the case of a player who rolls Need on everything she can, regardless of what she is currently using. Under the new system, that player will prevent a off-spec character from getting the item. Under the old system, the off-spec character at least has a chance of getting the item.

So it's a trade-off, I guess. Under the old system, a rogue player has a chance--it's not guaranteed--to take main-spec items from you. Under the new system, a rogue player can guarantee that you won't get any off-spec items at all.

Of course, there is a work-around. If you really want gear of a certain role, queue as that role. And guaranteeing the main-spec items you need is probably the more optimal outcome.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Random Observations on Armor

RIFT Sets

I've been playing RIFT again lately, mostly as a casual leveling game. But recently I stumbled across the raid armor vendor, and I thought that their system for handling raid sets was rather neat.

Basically, RIFT has 4-piece armor sets, but the set bonuses are actually on a different piece of gear, a "synergy crystal". There are 8 souls in each class and each soul uses a different set of abilities. So each soul has it's own synergy crystal. The armor sets themselves are more generic. For example, there's DPS armor and tanking armor. So you buy the armor for your role, and then get the synergy crystal for your main soul.

In WoW terms, it would be like having a single DPS plate armor set that could be used by any warrior, death knight or paladin. Then you pick up a Retribution crystal, Fury crystal, etc. to get set bonuses specific to your spec.

Obviously, it's not the best solution for WoW, if only because WoW classes prefer unique looks. But for RIFT, it's a rather elegant solution, as each class has its own armor type.

New Need Before Greed System

Blizzard posted that the new Raid Finder will use a modified Need Before Greed system. Items will be tagged with roles. If a player with the same role as the item rolls Need, she gets a +100 bonus to the roll.

Basically, it's Main Spec beats Off-spec, but you hit Need if you want it for either spec. Your role is defined as the current role you are playing in the raid.

It's an interesting solution. Tanks always get priority on tank gear. DPS gets priority on DPS gear. And healers get priority on healing gear.

The hard part here, as always, is classifying items. Is an Intellect cloth item without Spirit or Hit considered Healing or DPS or both? Are categories going to be restrictive or broad?

But still, this should be an improvement. Nothing burns a tank more than seeing a DPS--who has proven themselves unwilling to take the hard job of tanking--grab an upgrade that the tank needed.

Transmogrification

Apparently, plate bikini bottoms are selling on the Auction House for 5000+ gold.

Hooray for transmogrification?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Heirlooms

Are heirlooms a good idea?

It occurred to me that there are generally two complaints from experienced players about the early game that was revamped in Cataclysm: it is too easy; and you level too fast.

Now, I'm not saying that heirlooms caused these problems at all. But it's pretty clear that heirlooms make these problems worse. A character decked in heirlooms is significantly more powerful than a character in quest greens, and has a much higher rate of XP gain.

Cataclysm made the leveling game easier for new players. At the same time, heirlooms made the leveling game even easier for experienced players. I think the combination has proven to be excessive.

Additionally, I think heirlooms have created a couple of other problems. Low-level PvP is very affected by the disparity in power between a character with heirlooms and one without. As well, heirlooms remove much of the "upgrading gear" game while leveling. You never replace your heirlooms, so you never experience the thrill of getting a better bow or chest piece. I think that does suck a lot of the fun out of the leveling process.

I wonder if the Death Knight solution would have been a better way to go. Rather than speeding up leveling for someone who doesn't really want to level, maybe it would have been better to simply allow them to skip the leveling process.

You could sell a level 80 character to someone who already has a max-level character. Either for real money, or put in a way the max-level character can earn the extra character. But if you liked leveling, you could still level the old-fashioned way. It would be easy, but not as easy as heirloom-assisted leveling is.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Bastion Review



Bastion is an amazing game.

On the surface, it's an isometric action-RPG that's about 6 hours long. It's available on Steam or Xbox Live for $15 or so. You play The Kid, who's exploring the world after a Calamity struck and destroyed the existing civilization.

And yet, that description comes barely scratches the surface of Bastion. I saw another reviewer describe Bastion as three games in one: the game you see; the game you hear; and the game in your mind. This description is so apt that I am going to steal it.

The game you see is the basic action RPG. You can equip two weapons from an arsenal of about ten. Each weapon is different and can be upgraded in a different manner. You go around levels and fight various bad guys, find new weapons and secrets, gaining experience and "treasure" you can use to buy new items or upgrade old ones. That's the basic game-play.

The game you hear is the element which immediately separates Bastion from other games. The main conceit or innovation is the omni-present narrator. This gravelly-voiced narrator tells the story of the game as you play through it, reacting to what's happening on screen. It feels a bit like an old Western or noir-style film. The narration is superbly written, and adds an amazing amount of depth and pathos to the game.

In addition to the narration, the music is very well done, and adds a great deal to the experience. One interesting thing about the game is that even though we're praising the sound, there's almost no dialogue. It's entirely narration and music that creates the game we hear.

The game in your mind is the way all these elements come together to serve the story of Bastion. And Bastion's story is outstanding. It's very sparse, with a bare handful of significant characters. But the resulting story is beautiful.

The final hour, in particular, is a tour-de-force. The choice at the end is so much better than the standard good-evil choices in most games. Both choices are arguably right, and yet they are opposites. The game ends extremely well.

Bastion is not perfect, though it comes very close. In particular, I would like to single out one sequence for disapproval. For most of the game, the space bar causes you to do a rolling dodge. But late in the game, that's changed to a jump, and a platform jumping-puzzle sequence happens. It's completely out of place, is pretty much the only time you have to jump, and is extremely annoying. But at least Bastion is very forgiving when you fall off, so it's not like a true blocker.

But, aside from that jumping sequence, Bastion is superb. The basic game-play, the narration and music, and the story all combine for one of the best gaming experiences of the last few years.