Wednesday, November 30, 2011

[Mists of Pandaria] Hammer of Wrath

First off, I'd like to say that I like the 5.0 Holy Paladin. For the most part it looks like it will play the same as the 4.2/4.3 Holy Paladin, and that's good. However, I have a small concern, and that is the fact that Hammer of Wrath is going to be Retribution-only.

Hammer of Wrath is an extremely fun ability. It always has been. I remember when it was first introduced, and it has always had a spot on my bars since that time.

It's definitely not a necessary ability for Holy. But you know, when it's the end of a tense fight, down to the last 10% with the enrage timer coming up, being able to throw a few Hammers of Wrath at the boss is extremely fun. It feels like you are contributing even more. It hits hard, but has a cooldown so you can't abandon your healing.

I don't really know how to phrase it well. It's the perfect ability at the perfect time. Our dps is terrible, but when things go down to the wire, Hammer of Wrath allows us to step up, like the ace up our sleeve.

I'm sure every long-time Holy paladin has a story about the one time the boss hit enrage with 2% left and people were dying left and right so you bubbled and flung a Hammer of Wrath for the kill.

And even if you've never done that, there's always the hope that someday, somehow, it will happen. That you'll need to step up and drop the boss with Hammer of Wrath.

Even in PvP, it's quite fun. I've always enjoyed sniping killing blows with Hammer of Wrath.

I guess I'm just saying that as a Holy Paladin I love Hammer of Wrath. I know it's not essential to healing, and may even cause small balance issues. But it is just plain fun, and I think the spec will be poorer for its loss.

I urge Blizzard to consider giving Holy access to Hammer of Wrath in Mists of Pandaria.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Holy Paladins in Patch 4.3

So, Patch 4.3 is upon us. I'm looking forward to the new 5-mans and the new raid.

Kurn has a very good roundup posted. I'll just focus on a couple of the major changes for Holy Paladins.

Holy Radiance

Holy Radiance has changed significantly. It's now more of a heal you cast multiple times on the raid, rather than a "fire-and-forget" heal.  The new Holy Radiance is a group heal with a direct heal component and short heal-over-time component. It also generates one Holy Power with the Tower of Radiance talent.

The heal-over-time component means that you should cast Holy Radiance on different people if you cast it multiple times in a row. Cast it on Player 1, then Player 2, then Player 3, then back to Player 1 to get the most healing out of it.

The thing is that Holy Radiance is no longer something you have active while you are tank healing. Rather, you have to switch modes when you use it, to move from tank healing to raid healing.  A lot of times, this will be the wrong thing to do, as your raid will rely on you to keep single-target heals flowing on the tanks while other healers raid heal.

But now, you might be assigned to raid heal, while someone else tank heals, and that's when you bust out Holy Radiance.

In raid-healing mode, the new rotation is something like:

  • 3x Holy Radiance, 1x Light of Dawn - Maximum throughput, high mana cost
  • 2x Holy Radiance,  1x Holy Shock, 1x Light of Dawn - Less throughput, but less mana cost

You'll have to see which works out best. But the key is to remember to target different people when you cast it in succession.

Judgement

The other major change is to Judgement. Along with the Haste buff of Judgements of the Pure, you also get a significant boost to your regeneration from Spirit.  This means that you must Judge as soon as you enter combat, to get the JotP buff up right away.

You don't need to judge on cooldown any more. In fact, it is a waste of mana to do so. So you may want to move your Judgement keybind if you are in the habit of hitting Judgement often. But you absolutely cannot let the JotP buff fall off.  I would recommend judging every 45 seconds or so.

Get the Judgements of the Pure buff up ASAP, but only Judge to refresh the buff, instead of Judging on cooldown.

Stat Value Changes

Gear-wise, the Judgement change means that non-Spirit builds are no longer viable. Spirit is pretty much established as the best secondary stat. (Intellect, of course, is still the best overall stat.)

There is some debate over whether Mastery or Haste is the next best secondary stat after Spirit. At this point, I would lean towards Haste, but I think it's still inconclusive.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

[SWTOR] Beta Weekend 2

Alright, this was the second beta weekend I've participated in and probably the last one before launch. Here are some more thoughts.

Advances in Griefing

Every time the MMO genre takes a step forward, it seems like the griefers also move forward as well. Bioware's main emphasis is story, and it should be no surprise that the griefers will seize upon that.

The new griefing in SWTOR: spoilers in general chat.

I would strongly suggest turning off the general chat channels when you start a new character if you care at all about spoilers. People will spill details about your companion and plot twists.

As a bonus, with the chat channels turned off, you won't have to listen to the constant chatter about World of Warcraft. Seriously, this makes me want to play WoW even more, because at least there people are not constantly talking about WoW.

But not having the chat channels active does make the game feel like less of an MMO. Part of the draw of MMOs is the fact that you are playing with other players, sharing an experience with them. Seeing chat go by is a large part of that experience, and I do miss it when it is turned off.

Other Classes

I tried the Republic Trooper and Sith Warrior, with a little of the Bounty Hunter and Smuggler. These stories were all good, but not quite as good as the Imperial Agent and Sith Inquisitor.

I took the tanking advance class of the Republic Trooper, the Vanguard. It's ... a bit odd. It's a "short-range ranged" class, as far as I can tell. Melee range is 4m, and long range is 30m to 35m. But the Vanguard's core skills have a range of 10m. So you're not in melee, but you're not really at range either. It does feel a little weird.

The Bounty Hunter is the exact same as the Republic Trooper. However, the skills are skinned in the inverse way, which is kind of neat. The Trooper starts at full Ammo, and abilities uses up Ammo, and Ammo slowly recharges. The Bounty Hunter abilities, on the other hand, generate Heat, and the Bounty Hunter starts with zero Heat, and Heat vents over time. The systems are the exact same numerically, I believe, but are presented in opposite ways. It's rather amusing.

Flashpoints

I did manage to try some more flashpoints (dungeons). It's odd, but I've never managed to get into a "fresh" flashpoint. I always seem to join groups who are partway through.

I didn't try healing again, I just went with the Trooper and Sith Warrior.  The flashpoints went reasonably well. I really like Bioware's conversations with multiple players. That system is superb.

In one flashpoint with the Sith Warrior, I got to see a strong advantage of the companion system. One person left midway through, after a wipe. So I brought out my companion, and the three of us plus the companion continued through the instance. It worked reasonably well. Then we got to a boss that wiped us a couple of times, and another player brought out a different companion who could heal. We beat the boss with that configuration. (Though to be fair, it was also because we figured out how to avoid the boss' special move.)

I don't know how effective a companion will be in the higher-level dungeons (as opposed to the introductory ones), but it was really nice to be able to "patch" the group and keep going, instead of having to find a new person.

The only problem with flashpoints so far, in my view, is that it doesn't really feel like you are in a group. The sense of teamwork, of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, is very weak. It feels like four individuals attacking all the mobs, rather than one team. Perhaps the sense of team will grow stronger when the tanks and healers come into their own.

Factions

To be honest, the major thing this beta has done is to make me second-guess my choice of class. I was originally going to go with a Jedi Guardian. But I found the Sith Warrior mechanics to be awkward. And for some reason, the Sith Empire is much more interesting than the Republic. The Sith Lords are very well drawn, and it seems like the Republic characters are much less memorable.

Of course, the problem with the Sith faction is that most of the (vocal) Sith players appear to be "Hur, hur, look at me, I'm evil."  That's always annoying, and is going to be especially annoying in a game that actually allows players to act evil.

I'm still definitely looking forward to the game, but I now have no idea what faction or class I am going to play.

Friday, November 18, 2011

[SWTOR] Thoughts on Beta

These are some thoughts about Star Wars: The Old Republic, written after the beta test weekend of November 12. The NDA has dropped, so here is the post. It's probably missing a lot of clarifying details, though.

Overview

I played a Sith Inquisitor and Imperial Agent, both to about level 10. I did all the quests in the starting zone.

Technical Aspects

The game performed very well. No lag, good frame rate. The only issue I saw was rubber-banding on other players when going down a lift.  There were some minor tooltip problems, and some missing or incorrect gear icons.

All in all, I think the game is in solid technical shape for release.

Story Line

The quests and stories are amazing! I liked the voice acting for all the various NPCs, and even my own characters.

I really like the use of seamless phasing/instancing (areas where access is controlled by green/red forcefields) that separate important story points from the world at large. That was very elegantly done.

I would particularly like to single out the support for playing a Light-side Sith. It was very well scripted and written. It is a particularly unique experience to play a good guy working for the bad guys, and lying to everyone for the greater good.

In some respects, it's even better than Bioware's single player games. In the single player games, there's always the sense that I can save and restart this conversation if it goes badly. I found that having only one try at the conversation to be much more immersive, and it felt like conversation choices were more meaningful.

I think having repeatable group quests very early on (around level 4 or so) was a neat idea. However, the implementation where you can group and converse in General Chat with people in different instances made assembling groups a bit of pain. After a few tries, I gave up on forming groups and just did the quests with my companion.

Graphics

I like the graphics. They are clean and good looking. In particular, they look very good when in the conversation screens.

The animations are all excellent. Combat animations are great.

The only problematic animation is the humanoid female running animation. It is slightly incorrect. Or more accurately, it's correct when viewed from the side, but when you view the character from behind, the elbows sort of disappear, and the character looks as if she is running in an awkward or "prissy" manner. Lord of the Rings Online has this same issue.

Chat Box

The chat box is pretty good, it's easy to talk to people. However, there are a few too many system messages being sent to it by default. In particular, selling items is a particular bad offender. Going to a vendor makes your chatbox useless. Also when you die, there's this "8 4" which is sent to the screen and chatbox, which is very confusing when you look back at the box a bit later.

In general, the cardinal rule of chatboxes is that they are for talking to other players. The less game messages that are sent to it, the more useful the chatbox will be.

Mechanics

As is normal for Bioware games, here's where the problems start.

Self-healing

Before I start in on things I didn't like, I would like to mention that I really liked the ability to quickly heal up outside of combat. All classes get a variant of this.

In particular, Seethe (for Sith classes) is amazing. It's the pacing that Darth Maul does when he's fighting Qui Gon Jin in the Phantom Menace. It just works, looks awesome, and makes your character seem like a total bad-ass. I look forward to pressing the Seethe button whenever I can.

Number one reason to play a Sith: you get Seethe.

Auto-Attack

The decision to not have an auto-attack is interesting. However, I think giving a zero-resource attack at the start was a bad idea. It takes up an extra button slot for an ability that is hit somewhat infrequently. You use it enough that you need it on your bars, but it really doesn't do enough to justify its placement.

More importantly, there are a lot of players who seem to use that zero-resource attack exclusively. I found this especially problematic with Agents. I grouped a couple times with "quiet" players. People who were in the same area to do a group quest, and didn't talk, but accepted an invite when I sent it to them. I found that these guys seemed to use the zero-resource attack almost exclusively (well, they also used grenades). They never went into cover, never sniped.

These types of people are going to perform really poorly in groups, and I'm not certain I can blame them entirely. The whole "cover" thing takes getting used to, but if the zero-resource attack is good enough, combined with your companion, that's what people will use entirely.

In some respects, it might be better to delay giving people a zero-resource attack until a later level. Let them get used to managing their resource, even if it means waiting for the resource to regenerate. Most early fights end before the resource bar is exhausted entirely.

Edit: I am not 100% sure about this critique anymore. I did not realize it, but the resource bar regenerates non-linearly. The closer it is to full, the faster it regenerates. I still have to think about how this works.

Number of Abilities

You gain too many abilities in the early levels. It completely swamps your hotbar. As well, these abilities often seem contradictory. Why am I getting knife attacks when I snipe? Why do I have so many cooldowns? Two types of lightning attacks and saber attacks, which should I use?

It was somewhat hard to figure out exactly how my character was expected to play. I ended up picking a couple of abilities and using them exclusively, ignoring the majority of the hotbar.

It was only after I hit level 10 and the advanced classes that I understood the logic behind the early game. Bioware gave us two sets of abilities in the early game, to get a feel for how each advanced class will play. But you don't know that when you get the abilities. It just seems like you're getting overloaded with abilities you rarely use. And if you try to use all the abilities together, you feel less effective.

I think the early game would work better with fewer, more cohesive abilities. Every time you get a new ability, you should be able to add it to your rotation and perform better than you did before.

Advanced Classes

The transition to advanced classes at level 10 is flat out terrible. There is almost nothing about this process that I can say was done well or done correctly.

First, you can leave the starting planet before level 10. In particular, the Sith Inquisitor story line doesn't seem to give enough experience. So I left at level 9, realized that I needed to be 10, and came back and ground out the rest of the level by killing random mobs.  But it seemed really easy to end up missing the advanced classes quest line and keep going when you really shouldn't.

Second, the advanced classes are sprung upon you with almost no warning. You get to make an irreversible choice that affects the rest of your game. There isn't even a confirmation screen! Misclick, and you've wasted hours.

Third, having your advanced classes abilities be in a separate tab in trainer screen is non-intuitive. I chose the  Sorceror so I could heal, and then could not figure out how the game expected me to heal. I only noticed the new separate tab in the training screen after 15 minutes of searching for any way to heal another player.

Why not just combine the two ability lists at the trainer? I don't particularly care if an ability is a Sorceror ability or an Agent ability. All I care about is if there is a new ability to train or not.

The entire experience of getting an advanced class should be a reward. Instead, it's a process full of perils and pitfalls, where it feels like you are making an enormously consequential decision on very little information, and you're not even sure you did things right.

Healing and Flashpoints

I don't really have much experience with the flashpoints. I only tried one Black Talon.

I chose Sorceror so I could heal, and I saw a group advertising in General for a healer, so I joined them. They were partly through the instance, at some sabotage droid boss.

I tried healing, but the one heal I had was so small compared to the health bar and incoming damage. I'm not sure if I should have tried to do damage as well/instead, but healing took all my Force and my time. We ended up wiping and the group dissolved.

I'm not sure if there was something else I was supposed to do, or if the other guys just didn't do enough damage, or if the tank was playing badly and taking too much damage or what. But all in all, it was a pretty lousy experience. When you fail, you should kind of know why you failed. I have no idea what went wrong in that group. I only had the one heal and I was spamming it with almost no overheal.

The main thought I had after the flash point experience was that I should have chosen Assassin so that I could have gotten back to regular quests.

Conclusions

TOR is a Bioware game. It has all the strengths of Bioware games, and all the weaknesses.

The quests and storyline, and general solo play is amazing. I really enjoyed that and I look forward to fully exploring the game when it releases. Also, I'd like to reiterate that I loved Light-Side Sith.

But mechanically, it feels like there are a lot of design issues. These don't really matter for solo play, but I think the crucible of group and endgame play will expose a lot of flaws.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Guild Updates and a Shocking Nerf

Guild Updates

After a bit of time at the 10-mans, my guild has crawled back up to 25s. We transferred to Lightbringer, merged with another guild, and got some new recruits. Hopefully this has put us somewhat back in gear, in time for 4.3.

Also, in an amazing feat of RNG, Shannox managed to drop 4x [Scalp of the Bandit Prince] in a single kill. No one in the raid needed the helm.

A Shocking Nerf

Gentle readers, I regret that I must inform you of a most shocking nerf, a nerf that threatens the very foundation of our illustrious civilization. A nerf so disgraceful that it truly deserves the most outrageous appellation that we, as moral and decent gamers, can apply. Yes, dear readers, this nerf is a veritable slap in the face!

Lady Vashj's [Tainted Core] no longer roots you in place.

We ran an SSC/TK the other night to get some transmog gear. I went along for a shot at [Ashes of Al'ar]. When we got to P2 on Vashj, I killed a tainted elemental, got the core, and threw it to another party member who was jumping at the top of the stairs. That player threw it to another person standing by a pillar, and the pillar was disabled.

Just as God intended it to happen.

Then another player, who had never been to SSC before, killed a tainted elemental, looted the core, and ran up the stairs to the pillar!

I was shocked, appalled, and even horrified. Is nothing sacred in this world?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bioware Games

Hagu asked about Bioware games, for people who haven't played any of Bioware's previous games.

First, if you haven't played any Bioware games, go out and buy Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. They are amazing games, showcasing Bioware at its peak.

Strengths

Bioware games are Roleplaying Games. You build a main character, take her out into a world, and follow a storyline until the end. The main character gains experience and levels as you go through the game.

The main difference between Bioware games and the current crop of MMOs are Conversations. Whenever you talk to an NPC, it starts a conversation where the NPC says a line, and you choose a response from a given menu of options. The responses can cause the conversation to go in different directions and result in different outcomes.

Conversations are a huge part of Bioware games. It's quite possible that you spend more time talking to various people than actually fighting. Though there's quite a bit of fighting too.

The thing is that Bioware uses the conversation trees to deliver powerful storylines. In some respects it's closer to interactive movies than traditional games.

The next major component of Bioware games are Companions. In Bioware games, you don't just control your main character, you control a small party of characters. You can directly control your companions in combat, but usually they have some AI and you let that run, only intervening when you need to.

Your companions are very detailed NPCs. They usually have a backstory. You have to engage in conversations with them to reveal their background, and usually end up with special quests to give them closure over their own story.  Usually you can also set up a romance between your character and one or more Companions.

Your companions also interact with the world, adding commentary and participating in conversations.

The third component of Bioware games is usually some form of Moral Choice. Very often the game will offer choices--especially in conversations--between good and evil, between Light and Dark, between Paragon and Renegade. The path you pick changes the reaction of your companions to you, changes the outcome of quests, and can change the ending of the game as well.

So those are main strengths of Bioware games: Conversations, Companions and Choice. Bioware combines those three elements in a beautiful way.

Weaknesses

The main weakness of Bioware games, in my view, are the actual game mechanics. Very often they're overly complicated, somewhat unbalanced, often non-intuitive, and don't really "play" well. They're not outright bad though, and as it's a single player game it doesn't really matter if the mechanics are the best or even balanced.

As well, because companions do play a large part in combat, there's often significant effort in making sure they play properly instead of say, blowing all the mana they have on weak DPS spells when you'd prefer them to save it for healing.

In my experience, you play Bioware games for the stories, and not because combat is amazingly fun or challenging. Some people do like it, because very often you can pause and micromanage your party for extreme effect, and it's fun figuring out the very powerful stuff.

Most of the time I just set the difficulty to easy, and savor the story line.

I do have to say that I actually really liked the way Mass Effect 2 played. Though possibly that was mostly because the AI was finally somewhat competent, so I could let Garrus and Miranda take care of stuff while I sniped (boom, headshot, never gets old) to my heart's content.

So those are the strengths and weaknesses of Bioware games, as I see it. I do strongly recommend their games though, especially the Mass Effect series. That series is science fiction, and not the typical fantasy story. I am greatly looking forward to Mass Effect 3.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Old Republic Beta Test

I got into the latest weekend Star Wars beta test.

I want to discuss and dissect this game so badly! There are so many interesting design points. This NDA is killing me!

Hopefully this won't get me into trouble, but here is my initial reaction to the game, in its beta state:

The Old Republic is a Bioware game. It has all the strengths of Bioware games, and all the weaknesses.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Old Republic NDA

Why do you think Star Wars: the Old Republic still has an Non-Disclosure Agreement up? There's about a month and a bit until its release, and information from the beta testers is still (officially) locked down tight.

Some theories:

  1. It's a dog of a game. EA/Bioware is hoping to maximize the initial box sales and hype by preventing people from talking before the game is released. Same theory as the movies which don't give advance showings to critics.

  2. The NDA will be dropped one week before launch, to saturate the media battle-space. This gives the Star Wars hype no time to drop before the game is launched.

  3. The NDA will be dropped when Patch 4.3 for World of Warcraft comes out, in order to drown out any publicity WoW gets before the game is launched. EA/Bioware tried this with Blizzcon, but it seemed like a miserable failure to me.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Talent Trees

There's been a lot of discussion of the Mists of Pandaria change to talents, essentially the removal of talent trees, and adding in a new system. Most of the discussion has focused on World of Warcraft and what the change means. But I would like to step back and look at the broader, more interesting view.

In the gaming industry, Blizzard raised up talent trees for RPGs. Previously, the main place you saw talent trees were the technology trees of games like Civilization. But with Diablo II and then World of Warcraft, Blizzard made talent trees truly mainstream.

And yet, Blizzard is abandoning the talent tree concept almost entirely. Starcraft II did not use talent trees, Diablo III will not use talent trees, and World of Warcraft will also stop using talent trees.

So that begs the question, what is the fatal flaw of the talent tree concept? What made talent trees appear like a good solution at first, but now appears to have been a blind alley?

Talent Trees and Time

Let's start by looking at what exactly talent trees do. When you first encounter a talent tree, you are presented with a few choices. You pick one of those choices, and that may unlock future choices.

The key thing here is talent trees essentially have a "zone of choice" which is limited to a small fraction of the total tree. As time passes, the zone of choice moves further down the tree. However, it does not usually get much larger or smaller. Almost always, you still limited to choosing from a small number of talents.

What's really important about talent trees is that while you are moving through the tree, the order in which you gain talents is very important. For example, if you are playing Civilization, you can go straight for Literacy, but you give up other talents, like Calvary.

However, this choice is a temporary choice, not a permanent choice. In the end, you usually get all the necessary talents you missed. After you pick up Literacy, you go back and grab the Calvary and declare war on Babylon.

As another example, in RIFT, I'm leveling a rogue. The end goal is Ranger 31/Marksman 18/Assassin 17. The top of each tree gives a specific benefit. Ranger gives a new pet, Marksman gives weapon enchants, and Assassin gives bigger crits. While leveling, the tree I focus on makes a big difference. Do I want the big crits early, can I wait for the pet, etc. But at max level, that doesn't matter anymore. The path to the final build is not important anymore. Only the final build itself matters.

Between those two aspects, we start to see some of the issues with talent trees. The small zone of choice explains why, even though there maybe 30 or more talents, it always seems like you only get a choice between 2 or 3 talents at the end. That's where your zone of choice has been pushed to.  And how the talents were assigned, point by point, ceases to matter.

In a lot of ways, I think the above points demonstrate why talent points were embraced at first. Zone of choice and the order of points mattering are great features when you are looking at leveling. But when time stops mattering, those advantages aren't really advantages any more.

Explicit Choices

In a talent tree, almost all choices are implicit. Every talent matches up to every other talent that can be taken at the same level. There is no idiom for making an exclusive choice within a specific talent tree.

To see what I mean, let's say that you have two talents, Talent A and Talent B. You would like a Holy Paladin to be able to take one of those talents, but not the other. Where do you place the two talents?

In the current WoW talent trees, you place talent A in the second tier of the Protection tree, and you place talent B in the second tier of the Retribution tree. In the old talent trees, you would have to place one talent at the top of one tree, and the other in a different tree just out of range (31/21, etc.)

Kind of honestly, that just doesn't seem right. Talent trees make it very hard to offer exclusive choices. You have to assume that any player can take both talents. For example, a Fury warrior can take both Titan Grip and Single-Minded Fury. It's a bad idea, but nothing in the tree structure prevents it.

The lack of explicit choices means that all talents within reach are compared to each other and ranked accordingly. And this has lead to some awkwardness. For DPS, damage talents always outweigh survivability talents. For tanks, survivability talents always outweigh damage talents. So for a final build, the only choice is between a few talents that you don't really care about, that aren't really important to your role.

In a talent tree, it is extraordinarily hard to make someone choose between two good choices. Most of the time the player will take both, and drop a third, less important choice.

The New System

The new system that Blizzard is using in Mists of Pandaria--and the one they used in Starcraft II--is a series of explicit choices. This system is simpler, and does in the end offer more real choice than a talent tree does.  You have to choose between good talents, instead of being able to take them both.

The other major advantage of this system is that it allows Blizzard to easily offer a choice between a less powerful but lower-skill option, and a more powerful but high-skill option.

For example, let's look at the Tier 3 Paladin talents in MoP:

Sacred Shield
When reduced below 30% health, you gain the Sacred Shield effect. The Sacred Shield absorbs 18005 damage and increases healing received by 20%. Lasts 15 sec. This effect cannot occur more than once every 60 sec.

Ardent Defender
Reduce damage taken by 20% for 10 sec. While Ardent Defender is active, the next attack that would otherwise kill you will instead cause you to be healed for 15% of your maximum health. (Instant, 3 min Cooldown)

Ardent Defender will be the choice of all high-end tanks. But it does require precise timing to use to full effect. Use it too early, use it at the wrong time, or simple not use it when you should have used it and you might die.

Sacred Shield, on the other hand, is a decent option for a less experienced tank. It procs automatically, is one less option you have to think about, and will help with survivability. A less powerful ability that actually gets used is better than a very powerful ability that is never used.

But the point is that this type of choice is very hard to offer in a talent tree. If both talents are in the Protection tree, then every tank will take both talents and drop some threat or utility talent instead.

This is the major significant benefit that the dev team gets. Each talent doesn't get compared to the entire tree, only the other talents in the separate tier. Utility talents match up against utility talents, healing talents against healing talents, and damage talents against damage talents.

Conclusion

Though talent trees were very attractive at first, the lack of explicit choice has proven to be a fatal flaw. The new system is simpler, easier to understand, and has the potential to offers more significant choices than talent trees could have.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

On Auction Loot Systems

Ferrel at Epic Slant had a post on Bidding Systems, where he was looking for comments on a zero-sum bid system. I commented with a giant wall of text, and figured I'd post it here as well.

My guild used to run an auction system (English bid, multiple bidding rounds, winner pays bid, like a traditional auction) before we switched to a Loot Council system. What we found is that a bid system works best if the players are willing to be aggressive with bidding. But a lot of players don’t like the feeling that they are competing with fellow guild members–the adversarial nature of the system–and they do things like “pass to someone else, she needs it more”. Which you know sounds like a good thing a tight-knit group would do, but actually tends to warp the bid system.

I’d like to add that the “not bidding aggressively” was not collusion per se. It was more a feeling that bidding aggressively was “impolite”. That aggressive bidding, especially if you had won something already, was somehow saying that gearing up your character is more important than gearing up your guildmate’s character. So out of respect for the social ties that bind the guild together, people refrained from bidding if they saw that someone else really wanted the item.

But in reality, that aggressive bidding was *necessary* for the auction system to work properly. Points needed to be spent, and items need to go for their “true price”.

Like, let’s say you know your popular guildmaster really, really wants Uber-Weapon off this boss you haven’t killed yet. On your first kill, the weapon drops. If your guild is the type of guild who would collectively pass the weapon to GM in appreciation for her hard work, your guild is a bad fit for an auction system. That weapon needs to be auctioned off, to be sold for hundreds of points, even if a relative new person gets the weapon over the GM. There is no room in an auction system for your raiders to feel bad about outbidding the GM for the weapon.

There was also some drama associated with bidding. Like if people knew that Dave wanted an item, they would bid on that item to drive up the price. But if Sally wanted the item, no one would compete against her, letting her have it for very few points. Naturally Dave would get upset at this behavior.

That was my experience with a bid system. I liked it a great deal, our paladins were okay with bidding against each other for items. I think we liked having the rest of guild be amazed that a healing shield would go for hundreds of points. But a lot of the other classes and people had issues with bidding, and it prompted the change in loot systems.

From a more theoretical standpoint, what’s important in a bidding system is not really where the points come from (the zero-sum part). Bid systems tend to flush out point inflation by their nature (again, if people bid aggressively). So you don’t need to use zero-sum. Handing out points based on time or attendance will probably be easier.

The important part is how the auction occurs. English bid is the system everyone knows, but multiple rounds means that it is very time consuming. It’s also a good system to “discover” prices. If you don’t know how much an item is worth, you’ll soon find out as the price starts increasing.

Sealed first-price auction is a single round of secret bids. Whoever bids the highest wins the item, and pays what she bid. It’s fast, but it can be very hard to judge how much to bid. You don’t want to bid thousands of points if you’re the only bidder.

Vickrey auctions are my personal favorite. Like the auction above, there’s only one round of bids. But the winner pays the *second-highest* bid (sometimes second highest + 1). This means that the optimal strategy in a Vickrey auction is to bid what you think the item is worth. You’ll either win the item and pay less than you think the item is worth; or someone else will win and overpay for the item. The problem with Vickrey is that a lot of other people simply don’t “get” the system, and not understanding it leads to dissatisfaction. There can also be some drama when people deliberately pitch bids high in order to make someone who really wants the item pay more. This is mathematically a bad strategy, but can lead to bad blood and harsh feelings.

That’s what I think of auctions. To be honest, if I had a guild that was totally on-board with Vickrey, it would be my preferred loot system. But I think the other two types of auctions have enough disadvantages, especially with regards to speed, that I would not use them if I could use another system instead.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Glyph of Holy Wrath

I've been running [Glyph of Holy Wrath] for the last couple of months. Originally, it was for Ragnaros, to add extra stuns on the Sons of Flame.

But it turns out that there are a lot of other places you can use Holy Wrath and get off a short stun, especially in Firelands. This glyph is turning out to be quite enjoyable. I'm rather glad that Ragnaros provides an excuse to take this glyph instead of the more pure healing choices.

My current favorite place to use the Holy Wrath stun is Heroic Ryolith. The little blobs that move towards Ryolith and increase his armor when they fuse are elementals. So you're busy healing, and you notice that a pack of blobs are moving past you towards Ryolith. A quick Holy Wrath, they're all stunned, and that delays the increase to Ryolith's armor, theoretically speeding up the kill.  Realistically, it probably doesn't make a huge difference, but I enjoy stunning the blobs, so I'll pretend it's vital for the kill.

You can also stun the regular elemental adds, but that's less interesting.

There are a lot of other places where the AoE stun can be used. It's especially easy for a healer to use, because you don't have to change targets, you just have to be close by the mobs.

So, [Glyph of Holy Wrath]. A surprisingly fun and useful little glyph.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Vindictus

I've been playing a bit of Vindictus lately. It's an action MMORPG that's sort of like Diablo. The game is over-the-shoulder 3rd person perspective like WoW.

But it's an action game where left-click is one attack, and right-click is a second attack. So you string these moves into combos like LLLL+R or LLL+RR.

It's more of a central hub with NPCs, followed by instanced dungeons/quests, than a virtual world. Each dungeon or quest can be run multiple times with up to four people.

The classes are named individuals, which I find odd, but seems to be a common thing lately. There's Lann, male who dual-wields swords, Fiona, who is female sword and shield, and Evie, who is a female mage.  But you can still customize your character's look extensively.

As you level up, you improve your skills and combos, and get new abilities. For example, I'm playing a Fiona, and she's all about blocking hits. But when you're blocking, you aren't attacking, so there's a bit of timing involved.

Combat is very twitch-based, especially boss fights. There's lots of running and dodging out of the way of the boss' big special attacks (or blocking them at the right time). The animations are quite good and add a lot to the game.

One of the interesting things so far is that you don't really get weapons or armor from the dungeons. Instead you get materials and you bring the materials to crafters in town to make items for you.

It is not quite as polished as some of the big name MMOs. In particular, the central hub and all the NPC interactions and UI feel a lot more complicated than they need to be.

But the basic gameplay is very solid. Just running through waves of enemies and the boss fights are a lot of fun.

It's a F2P game. I believe that after the beginning quests, each dungeon/quest costs tokens to run. But you get a certain amount of free tokens each week.

In some respects, this feels like the game Age of Conan should have been.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Challenge Modes

Challenge Modes are the evolution of Zul'Aman bear runs and Culling of Stratholme drake runs.

Like Pet Battles, Challenge Modes are a non-gear based activity. Gear will be normalized to a set item level. Where Pet Battles are solo, Challenge Modes are aimed at small groups. Challenge Modes are also indirectly competitive. Total times will be compared, but groups don't directly challenge each other.

I think Challenge Modes will shine a spotlight on tank classes, more than any other role. I think that we will see differences in the tank classes be magnified on the forums, and one tank class will be declared the best, three will be average, and one will be known as the worst.

I think Challenge Modes will be a good addition to the game. It's small scale, somewhat transient content. The emphasis on speed means that actually completing a Challenge Mode dungeon takes relatively little time, and should take less than an hour.

I don't really know how well Challenge Modes will work with a random group, though. My gut feeling is that running Challenge Modes in the Dungeon Finder will be less fun.

But on the other hand, if you still get the Valor/Justice points, it might be better to run Challenge Modes instead of heroics after you've finished gearing up. You don't need the gear drops and the people you group with are also focused on speed. From a strictly-rewards point of view, after you've gotten your gear, there's no downside to doing Challenge Modes instead of Heroics.

That means that the "Go Go Go" people are filtered out of Heroics and into Challenge Modes. Which would make Heroics a more pleasant place to be, with people who are actually interested in gearing up and killing all the bosses.

I don't know if that will actually happen. Maybe random Challenge Modes will remain a ghetto, with most people doing Challenge Modes in premade groups, to ensure the best chance of success. The effect of Challenge Modes on the "normal" dungeon runs will be very interesting to observe.