Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Should Diablo 3 Remove the Auction House?

As you know, I believe, in hindsight, that the regular Auction House in Diablo 3 is a mistake. There have been several comments by the dev team that indicate that they are leaning to this view as well. Not to mention the crazy inflation due to recent bugs.

Assuming that the dev team comes to the same conclusion, here's a question:

Should D3 remove the auction house in the inevitable expansion?

Now, obviously if the AH is a mistake, the game without the AH would be a better game. But on the other hand, the people who are still playing Diablo 3 are okay with the Auction House.  A significant number of them like it. (Some may be playing in spite of it.)

I think this is one of the hardest questions for MMOs and persistent games. Should you remove a feature that your current playerbase likes, if you think that it will lead to a better game and/or more subscribers? After all, as the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

As well, if you can't remove a feature, does that make you less likely to add new features, realizing that you can't go back if they prove to be a mistake?

Perhaps for D3 specifically, the best idea would be to introduce a new "No-Market" game mode. Like Hardcore, characters in that mode would not share a stash with characters in other modes. And that mode cannot access the Auction House or trade items. But gameplay would be the same as Normal.

It will be interesting to see how Blizzard approaches the Auction House in the new expansion.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Jedi Knight Complete!

Over the weekend I finally finished a second Star Wars: The Old Republic class story line. This time I played a Jedi Knight with the Sentinel advanced class. The sentinel is a melee class that wields two lightsabers.

The story was quite good, but a lot more "straightforward" than the Imperial Agent. It's often said that the Jedi Knight story is the equivalent of Knights of the Old Republic 3, and that's very true. But on the other hand, it plays out almost exactly like you would expect it to play out.

I did play Light Side again. I guess I'm just not one for the Dark Side.

I can't really talk about about the story line much without spoilers. However, I do like that Bioware did not shy away from making significant changes to the game world in the various story lines. The Jedi Knight (and Agent to a lesser degree) had "world-shaking" events happen in them, and the other story lines in the game reflect those changes.

My next class in TOR is the Sith Inquistor. This time I'm going with a healer character, to see how leveling with a healer is. I don't know if I'll end up Light or Dark. I started out Light Side, mostly rebelling against the Sith, but then other characters started annoying me, and the Shock conversation options became too tempting. So now my Inquistor is pretty neutral.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wildstar Settlers

The hype machine for Wildstar has been gearing up.  From Reddit, here's some info about the Settler path which looks rather interesting.  I'm especially interested by the idea that almost everything a Settler builds is unphased. Will that result in a landscape overrun with buildings?

Settler Path

  • Meant for socializers and also "builders"
  • Tasks include mending broken or degraded equipment such as a farmer's fence which, due to the breakage, is letting all his cows escape. Such tasks are separate from questing. This is internally called "minfrastructure"
  • True infrastructure tasks include building a new shop, new vendor or a bus station.
  • Smaller "projects" helps gather resources for bigger "projects"
  • Can unlock Settler powers that allow you to "free-farm anywhere"
  • There are goals when building -- raise a town's value or utilize your abilities
  • Increasing value to a certain extent allows special things to happen like bigger rewards
  • Bigger, more meaningful projects will take multiple settlers to complete while smaller projects can be done solo
  • If structures aren't maintained, they will decay
  • You can get a lot of path XP by running around and building everything by yourself but less from social tools like campfires
  • almost everything Settlers do is unphased
  • Settlers have utility in dungeons such as being able to make a resurrection station next to a boss -- can use resources that can be found in the dungeon. Random chance whether many of these resources will appear
  • Settlers will be useful when placing structures next to harder areas in the world
  • While there are static locations that can be built on, there are also free form structures you can freely place
  • Settlers will get more housing equipment(FABKits) than other paths
  • Housing dungeons mentioned explicitly after being asked the question "What sort of perks will Settlers bring to player housing?" I would not bet on housing dungeons being exclusive to Settlers, however.
  • Settlers get increased XP the more their structures are built (campfire, for example)
  • Speculation: in a video segment about settlers, a player is seen swinging a sword to cut down trees
  • Can build quest givers with really good loot
  • Video demonstrated the building of a jail which opened up quests for the area and had a warden that could give players a buff
  • Can build taxi vendors to allow rapid travel through area
  • Can make outposts with guards in an area to help you fight mobs (not just in towns)
  • There is somewhat of a meta where you have to decide where to place structures to get optimal use. For example build an outpost in the wilderness and choose to put your campfire there. You can put structures like a campfire in major areas, but then you are competing with everyone else doing that. We can expect that if there are two fires placed immediately on/next to each other, only one settler is going to get credit for a player standing within reach of both fires.
  • Mission types: Expansion(improving towns), Supply cache, Public ServiceTasks for the greater good), Civil Defense(combat, I think), Infrastructure (builds hospitals, taverns, spaceports, etc)
  • Can make puzzles appear

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Patch 5.3

Patch 5.3 came out today. I am actually way behind in WoW. I haven't beaten Lei Shien yet in LFR, I have 0 Secrets for the Legendary Quest, and I just hit Revered with the Klaxxi.

I did the first scenario, Blood in the Snow. Pretty good scenario, and I do like what Blizzard is doing with Moira.  I must admit that I ignored the NPC telling me not to attack the big group of trolls, and promptly marked one to be shot. Well played, Blizzard, well played.

Don't really have a lot else to say about patch 5.3 so far. The PvP changes are interesting. It occurs to me that PvP gear has evolved a lot. When resilience was first introduced, better PvP gear made you harder to kill. Then better PvP gear made you harder to kill and better at killing others. Now everyone is equally hard to kill, but better PvP gear makes you better at killing others.

How was your Patch Day?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Levelling and Talent Trees

For background, please read Talent Trees.

Leveling in Mists of Pandaria is definitely missing something. There are too many dead levels, levels where nothing interesting happens. As well, there is a distinct lack of choice, of the feeling that you are crafting your character as you level. In previous expansions, the mechanic that accomplished this were the talent trees. Every level or so, you got a talent point, you had a choice where to place that talent point, and you slowly improved your character.

Now, from a endgame point of view, the talent tree system wasn't very good. There was no real choice, and all comparisons being implicit made it hard to offer meaningful options. The current explicit choice system is much more interesting at endgame.

But the current system is much less interesting while leveling. You only get a choice every 15 levels, which is an eternity. Often, the choice isn't really relevant to leveling gameplay. For the purposes of leveling alone, talent trees were a superior mechanic.

Here's my proposal: Bring back talent trees, but have them only be used for leveling.

Have one tree structure for each spec. Each spec tree contains all the active and passive abilities that a class would get while leveling. But each tree consists of exactly 81 points. With a point per level after 10, that means a max level character has filled out the tree entirely.

Thus talent trees become a leveling mechanic only. It becomes the way abilities are delivered while leveling, rather than automatically gaining those abilities. Players can choose the path through the trees, making a difference in how you choose to level. Maybe you'll get Holy Radiance early, maybe you'll make a run at the cooldowns, or go for important passives first.  While leveling, the order in which you gain abilities is important. But it's still a temporary choice, because leveling is a temporary state.

Since all talents will eventually be taken, the design of the tree can be as intricate as you desire. You can have lots of prerequisites, multiple paths, even arrange the tree to form a pretty picture.

At max level, you can just assume the tree is filled in. Switch specs, and the new tree is already filled in. A max level character has all the abilities she requires for endgame, just like the current system for Mists.

Talent trees would make leveling a little more interesting. It would add some more choice back into the early game, and allow you some agency over how your character developed.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Variable Group Size

In my opinion, the next big challenge for PvE MMOs is creating interesting content for a group that varies in size. Right now, good PvE content is built for groups of a very specific size, be it 5, 10, or 25 people. As we all know from the past few years, this leads to all sorts of complications where groups have to maintain a bench. Where people have to sit out in order to guarantee that future attempts will have enough people.

I believe this is the one true strength of Eve Online. There is always room for one more in an Eve Online fleet. This makes participating much more fun. You always get to go with the group. You never have to sit on the bench.

The few attempts in the themepark MMOs to allow a variable group tend to fail for a few reasons. Very often the content just becomes a zerg, where you just throw bodies at it. If the content difficulty is fixed, the maximum group size becomes the "accepted" size. We saw this in Vanilla, where dungeons were capable of being done in a 5-man, but everyone insisted on taking 10 people.

Ideally, the size of the group would scale from n to 2n -1.  So if you wanted content for about 10 people, you could go with 7 to 13 people.  This allows the group to divide into two smaller groups that can still do the content.

There needs to be some difficulty scaling involved. If there is no scaling, everyone will insist on taking 13 people always.

But scaling things appropriately will be a significant challenge. I am not sure that a game with variable group sizes can offer such a tuned experience as WoW does.  However, variable group size would make organized grouping much easier, and smooth out a lot of the current social issues with grouping.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

F2P and Conversation

In some ways, the worst part about Free-2-Play is that it poisons all the conversation around the game.

If you look at forums about a subscription MMO, the vast majority of posts are discussing the game. Oh, they may be complaining about lots of things, but they are at least complaining about game mechanics.

For a F2P game, on the other hand, it seems like every conversation about the game ends up devolving into an argument about the payment model. Is it Pay2Win, is it being too greedy, etc. It just seems so much harder to find a place to talk about the game itself.

The two main F2P MMOs I'm following are Neverwinter and The Old Republic. Discussions on these two games follow the same pattern. Mechanics get discussed for a little bit, then a payment model argument breaks out.

It's getting to the point where I'm looking at the WoW forums fondly. There people are theorycrafting, joking, insulting others, and calling for everyone else to be nerfed. But at least most people aren't constantly whining about the subscription.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Neverwinter First Impressions

Cryptic and Perfect World's latest Free-To-Play MMO, Neverwinter, recently had its soft launch. I gave it a whirl, and here are some impressions.


Neverwinter is billed as a Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition game. It uses a lot of the 4E Forgotten Realms setting. However, mechanics-wise, it is not a conversion of the 4E rules. It would be better to say it is "inspired by 4E". A lot of the mechanics have a nod to the pen and paper game, but are really more standard MMO mechanics.

It actually feels a lot like a third-person Diablo game. You have two "at-will" abilities bound to the left and right mouse buttons. Then there are up to three "encounter" abilities with 10-20 second cooldowns. Finally, you have a "daily" special which can only be used when you've built up enough action points. Targetting is reticule-based, where you aim with the mouse and move with WASD. There's also some dodging mechanics.

On the whole, the base mechanics are pretty fun, and work decently enough.

Character Creation

It's odd, but I've noticed that if a game uses sliders to control character creation, I have a hard time making an attractive character. Perhaps I can recognize an attractive character when I see it, but I can't really identify the specific elements that make that character attractive.

Neverwinter falls into that trap for me. Lots of sliders and options, but I had a really hard time making a character that I was happy with.

There are several D&D races, including humans, elves, half-elves, dwarves, half-orcs, halflings, and tieflings. There are also Drow (dark elves) but I think you have to buy them.

There are some nice RP-ish elements where you pick a background and a god that you worship. I made a half-elf cleric of Torm the True, who was a former Purple Dragon from Cormyr.

Finally, let me reiterate my love for Cryptic's naming convention of "characterName@accountName", where the character name is what is displayed most of the time. It is so nice to be able to name your characters whatever you want, rather than fighting "That name is already taken" errors.


There are five classes so far: Guardian Fighter, Great Weapon Fighter, Devout Cleric, Trickster Rogue, and Control Wizard. I find the classes to be very hit-and-miss. I like the Devout Cleric and the Trickster Rogue, but the others just felt awkward to me.

The cleric is pretty interesting. It's very support-based, and uses debuffs on enemies as well as reticule targeting to heal. You still do a fair bit of damage-dealing while healing.


Neverwinter is a Free-To-Play game. The monetization scheme is a bit interesting. There are three currencies: gold, astral diamonds, and zen. Gold is what we all know and love. Zen is currency that you purchase with real money. Astral Diamonds are an in-between currency. You can purchase diamonds with zen, or you can earn them at a slow-ish rate. Most non-basic items in the game seem to cost diamonds.

To make an analogy, it's as if you could buy Valor points in WoW with real money.  You can still earn them normally, but the standard weekly cap applies. However, you can ignore the cap if you use real money.

In general, there seems to be a pretty explicit trade of money for time. I don't know if you would consider this pay-to-win. If something takes 6 months of real-time to earn, but you can skip those six months with real money, is that over the line?

Questing and the Foundry

The default questing is pretty standard MMO questing. There are a lot more dungeons in the game, and they have traps and levers and all those fun elements.

However, the Foundry is the most intriguing aspect. Players can make their own adventures, and release them for everyone to try. These adventures automatically scale to your level. Treasure and experience are handled by the game, so you can't write an adventure that consists of 100 treasure chests. Of course, people have made adventures which are designed to maximize the efficiency of leveling.

I've played one Foundry adventure, that seemed to be rated highly. In the adventure, you were tracking down someone and some mysterious cultists interfered. It was a pretty decent adventure, and the author tried to make a good non-combat encounter where you had to talk to people at an inn and figure out which room you needed to enter. The author provided a couple different options of how you could finish this encounter.

I wouldn't say that it was amazing. It was very verbose, and the author wrote with a lot of unnecessary verbiage. As well, the author made the mistake of telling you how your character felt and reacted, instead of just describing the world. Ironically, more than anything else, this felt like D&D to me, with a decent but not-great DM.

The other neat thing about the Foundry is that at the end of the adventure, you can review it, and you can tip the author some Astral Diamonds if you want. Writing a popular adventure might turn out to be pretty lucrative.


On the whole, I would say that Neverwinter is a B-grade MMO. The game looks decent enough. The character models aren't the best. Classes are hit and miss. The mechanics are decent enough, but nothing amazing. The UI is a bit cluttered. It just doesn't have that layer of polish that you expect from the top tier of MMOs. As well, the monetization scheme has the potential to be very annoying.

However, the Foundry is the wild card here. The Foundry has vast potential. But it remains to be seen if that potential will be realized.