Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Perfect Battleground System

Of course a perfect MMO would use instancing only where necessary and there are quite a few ideas about how to make good PvP without instancing. But for the moment let's talk about instanced battlegrounds - and how to embed them into a fun system.

My perfect battleground system has these properties:
1) If I am better I start to win more often.
2) Winning is helpful for improving my character.
3) Improving my character is very limited. There is, however, no cap. Every single win helps.
4) No complete anonymity within your own 'faction'.
5) 'Harcore' and 'Casuals' fight along each other.
6) You are able to play with your friends.

So, how do we do this?
1) You are required to create a 5-man group before the BG starts.
2) The BG system merges those groups of 5 'friends' randomly and thus creates the one side of the battle. For example 8 groups on each side for a 40-man BG. The BG size is varible!
3) If you win you get points. If you lose you gain no points.
4) The points an individual player can earn per day/week/month diminish drastically the more he gets. Use some "x to the power of 1/y" type of formula to achieve this.
5) The points can be used to improve your character (e.g. 'buying' gear).
6) There is some time to talk with each other before every battle. Battles last long enough that this is kept in perspective (at least one hour).
7) If a member of a group goes offline, the entire group is kicked from the BG after a minute. Groups can also leave a BG. No penalties apply. Either way, if the BG is won later on, they get a portion of the points depending on how long they participated. The entire group is replaced by another group that is also rewarded depending on how long they participated until the win. Nobody gains any points if a BG is lost. The new group members spawn near the location in the BG where the old group members left. There is a minimum amount of points you can get if you won, but left before. If you participated for only a few minutes you cannot gain any points.
8) Capitulation is possible. A voting can occur only a few times during a BG and is initiated when 1/4 of of players on one side mark a respective checkbox. If at least 3/4 of the number of players vote 'capitulate' the winning team gets a small(!) bonus to their winning points. The losing team doesn't lose anything, but is now able to queue for a new BG.

A few remarks:
1) Communication between groups will usually be some kind of Teamspeak. Since battles last long enough it is possible to have some preparation phase where team members exchange e.g. TS server data. Ideally, the MMO would offer a good system that would be used.
2) The two-stage system allows friends to play together, but also joins hardcore and casual groups. It is in the best interests of the groups to discuss their strategy before the battle. It is a major component of the battle and supposed to be fun ;). You would want stronger  groups to fulfill more important tasks in battle or join weaker groups to achive objectives together. The preparation phase lasts no longer than 10 minutes, but can be ended beforehand if every player marks a checkbox that says 'ready'.
3) This has been written with Alterac Valley in mind.
4) Clarification about the replacement of groups. If your group quits the battle for whatever reason two things can happen:
a) The battle is lost later on. In this case they do not gain any points.
b) The battle is won later on. T is the total time of the battle. N the time the group participated in the battle. They gain N/T of the maximum points. Due to the lower limit of points it makes no sense to join a battle and leave a short time after.
5) Capitulation: A few minutes in the battle you realize that this is hopeless. But you don't have to afk. You check a box that says capitulate. You ask other players on your team to do the same. As soon as 25% of the players checked the box a vote starts. You vote yes. If 3/4 of the team also vote 'yes' your team capitulates. If less than 75% vote 'yes' The next vote is started in no more than 10 minutes. The winning team gets a small bonus.

I conclude with a remark about rated systems: Most people want to win more often if they are better. A system that pitches the best against the best and the worst against the worst creates 50:50 matches all the time (if it works). That is great for sports and making a ranking, but bad for fun and immersion. Winning generally feels better than improving a number.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Am I too old for WoW ?

Cataclysm PvE .. I don't know.

During an extended weekend I started to do PvE in Cataclysm. My druid has itemlevel 345 for tanking/dpsing and healing equip. That equip is well gemmed and enchanted. I've spent quite some gold and even more time and was confident that I am well prepared for raiding.

My equip probably was. But I was not. The first thing we did was tanking Omnitron Defense System. We wiped an entire evening, but got him down the second night. Not too bad for our guild. As a tank you sometimes have to be fast, but it was manageable. You needed to stop autoattacking at some points, which required me to get that autoattack button on my UI. As soon as we managed to disrupt some rather fast spells in a rotation everything went fine.

Then we went to Tol Barad and onehitted that PvP boss there. Easy going. On the next night we went to Halfus Wyrmbreaker in the Bastion of Twilight. After some inital problems with the trash that we sorted out rather fast, we started some tries.


That guy hits like a truck, his dragons hit like a truck and generally, it seems our equip is just not ready. Our healers go oom within 30 seconds without producing a lot of overheal. Maybe the problem was that my tanking partner, has went for maximum life instead of maximum avoid, like I did. He had some 20k HP more, but ate some 10-30% more damage. What is OP in this fight is a paladin that can remove the healing debuff on the tank. Since both tanks get this debuff two paladins would be even better. It is also possible that the debuff is simply bugged. Judging from the tooltip it is supposed to be applied by Halfus attacks, but regardless of those attacks being dodged, the debuff is still stacked!

Anyway, what was very hard here, again, was interrupting the boss in a rotation. Rotations are necessary, because even with the relative short interrupt cooldown that bears have (10 seconds) we can only interrupt every second spell. Even one such spell going through is almost unhealable (massive AoE attack on the entire raid).

After two hours we managed to kill the first dragon, but there are two more to go, a second phase after than and possibly an enrage timer. With our current equip (and the way it was customized by the raid) this seems impossible from a healer PoV.

So we moved on the Blackwing Descend once again. Magmaw would be the boss that would make me ask whether I am too old for raiding. Since you only need one tank for the boss, I respecced to healing and a healer respecced to dps. I would have loved to respecc to dps, but there is only a dual specc in WoW.

Dual specc interlude:
I always was an opponent of dual specc. I want one persistent character in an MMO. Not an entity for my arcade gaming. But since Blizzard already crossed that line, there is no reason to limit the number of my speccs any longer. My character in WoW now offcially is my entity for arcade gaming. So please allow me to use that dps specc without teleporting to town before and changing glyphs. Dual specc is bad, but not better than triple specc, or anynumber-specc.

So I healed and .. wiped the raid.
Thing is that Magmaw does a Pillar of Flame and I missed that pillar. Again. and. Again. and. Again.
Sometimes I saw it on my monitor just the second it would explode. Mostly I wouldn't see it until it exploded! My groupmembers didn't seem to have a problem with it. But my success rate at escaping it, even while concentrating on doing this and almost nothing else, was about 20%.

I don't even think it is about reaction time. On the usual online tests about reaction time I score a mediocre average, but nothing abysmal. It was about the pattern recognition in my brain. That Pillar of Flame effect on the ground would just be ignored by my brain. Among all the green and blue player-made circles, massive sparkle, enchanted weapons swriling and firebreath and fireballs that obfuscated my view I just didn't see that pattern !!

After the like 10th try and getting tired of apologizing to the raid (damn, I have a reputation to lose! :), I just went to the melees. The thing is that we have had only one melee in the 10-man raid and the event is (as usual) seriously scripted. There is a predifned area for melee where they are not hit by that Pillar of Flame. Since Wow is unable to see that I am actually a healer, just standing where melees are supposed to stand, it worked. At least now we wiped for other reasons.

I have no doubt that we will down this boss within the next few days. But without a better boss mod (will try BigWigs instead of Deadly Boss Mods) that turns my monitor flashing like a rainbow sending thunder to my headphones I don't think I'd ever have a chance to reliably escape that Pillar of Flame. My brain's just not good enough.

Now, of course I more than ever would love to actually find a triple-A fantasy MMORPG that puts those scripted encounters in the trash can. The only fucking (I am european I may write those words) difficulty in these encounters is execution. You know exactly what to do, like in a choreography, it's just that a fraction-of-a-second pattern recognition and reaction is required and one out of 10 or 25 people usually fails at it. I'd prefere to actually talk about strategy more which is only possible with unpredictable encounters (internet). Encounters and dungeons need to be created by a computer on-the-fly.

But that's not the only problem here. I wiped at Baron Geddon in MC with 40 people where somebody ALWAYS forgot to run out of the group when he was the bomb. It wasn't much of a problem for me then. But it was as lame - if not worse, wasn't it ?

I think it is really about my expectations of entitlement. In 40-man MC I didn't exspect the boss to go down. It was a big fantasy fight and even though I'd give my best you would usually lose. You woudn't win any reasonable amount of epics, anyway. I didn't do MC to play WoW, but did MC while playing WoW. Nowadays endgame is what I do in WoW and if I fail at it I get .. sad.

I also did not organize these things in MC. I was just one of 40 people hitting some buttons. I don't organize our raids today, either, but I usually have a lot of smartass ideas about how to handle encounters better and thus I do take responsibility. It's that things go wrong that I feel responsible for to not go wrong. It is even worse if they go wrong because of me. But what's really, really bad is when you fail repeatedly without any hope to do better the next try, because you actually have yet to see that pillar of flame in un-exploded form!!

I'll get over it. Fortunately for Blizzard there's still PvP to do. Even though those 45 minutes rated BG queues for Horde are a bit silly. I'm pretty sure Titan won't have factions the way WoW had. From a gameplay point of view they are a pain in the ass and, surprisingly, even Blizzard hasn't crossed the line yet and allowed Horde to fight against Horde to take control over Warsong Gulch for the ... Horde.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

They did it

So Blizzard did it. They made heroics challenging - and not just a little. I have yet to do a DF-heroic, because I don't consider it possible that it is a pleasing experience. I've done five heroics with my guild (that is not hardcore at all) so far. These 5 heroics were difficult for us, we wiped a lot, but we completed every single one.

Healers can heal almost anything now, but they run out of mana within seconds if they do. Tanks can tank a lot, but only with cooldowns. There are moving patrols! The bosses are actually (even) harder than the trash!

What I don't like so much is that they are as linear as every dungeon since end of classic and that some encounters require very fast reactions. Yesterday we were wiped 6 times in a row by a boss that required us to move out of a instant-death AE. To do that we would need to use his damage reflection shield, to put a DoT on us. Why? Because the boss would stun us before the AE and the only way to get out of the stun was to take damage.
Try to communicate this to a random dungeon finder group .. no, thanks.

Moreover, this is annoying even for us, because you know exactly what to do, but since there are five players who need to do this about 10 times in a row, even a small probability of individual error will make you wipe. Then there's lag and some other mechanics that also needed attention. This kind of boss feels too much like an arcade reaction game. But then .. I am about to accept that WoW really is no MMORPG any more, but a MOG.

For a long time .. 4 years? .. I complained about WoW moving farther and farther away from a virtual world and becoming more and more an arcade game. By now it is so far removed that I start to think of WoW as an arcade game with RPG elements and as such it is rather nice.

I will certainly continue to play this game until a polished AAA fantasy MMORPG comes out (if within my life time ... ).


Sunday evening I was tanking the first 10 man of our guild. We managed to down four .. trash mobs. Four, because those two respawned after 2 hours.

The Omicron Defense System is kinda neat. But these tiny things you need to move out of or need to move the boss out of within half a second are quite annoying. With our rather bad equipment that was hardly enchanted/gemmed and consisted of several greens this boss did not allow any kind of error. We did manage to get a stable 5 minutes boss fight, but eventually somebody made a mistake and we wiped. I don't think we ever got the boss below 50% HP.

Remember that world class guilds have already cleared the entire raid content Cataclysm offers. So it is not technically impossible, just .. difficult.

What I am really looking forward to is rated BGs instead of those scripted predictable boss fights that tend to become boring if you farm them and annoying if you don't manage to farm them. The amount of 'interesting decisions' I am confronted with during a raid encounter as tank is very limited. It is mostly when to use what tanking cooldown. The rest of the things I do are not 'interesting decisions', but things I must do and sometimes fail to do. The healing game seems to incorporate more 'interesting decision', so perhaps I'll try that eventually.
What is fun for a while is theorycrafting about tanking stats, but there are several reasons to consider it a moot point. Raids don't wipe, because the tank is hard to heal: They wipe, because the rest of the party takes too much damage.


It took me exactly two days to get 85, doing and reading every quest in every zone. Then it took me another day until I had done all the (obvious) quests of Cataclysm and got that achievment. Nice story. 100% linear, but I like it. Blizzard doesn't want the players to create the story, so it is only consequential that they do it and to do it well linearity is necessary. Unfortunately, although I forced myself to read every single quest text, the memoriey are already fading. Blizzard are still bad at story telling most of the time.


Not the sound, the items! I don't wear a single epic at the moment and look forward to gain my first one. This is, however, not Cataclysm game design. It is just the first few weeks. With the second tier raids everybody will be full epic again.

I am not certain Blizzard will leave current heroic content unnerfed. There are powerful exspections of entitlement and the hard heroic content doesn't fit the arcade-like game WoW has become. In a virtual fantasy world it makes sense that the evil is hard to beat. In an arcade-like game it doesn't. The daily heroic suggests that you 'should' do that daily heroic dungeon and combined with the WotLK experience this is a deadly mix. Subscriber numbers will drop. And I am not certain they will raise again (at least not due to this feature). Difficult 5-man content, that plays a major role in a 'daily quest', doesn't work. It certainly doesn't work with an anonymous dungeon finder and an arcade-like game with RPG elements.

Friday, December 3, 2010

WoW is Challenging ... sometimes

Yeah - WoW is challenging. And I am not talking about that minigame called heroic raids. I am talking about leveling. More precisely, leveling dungeons. Unfortunately, it depends on the dungeon and your level. A lot!

I made a druid some week ago and started to level. While the new quests were interesting and sometimes even fun, the overpowered gameplay during leveling was simply too boring. Add to that that becoming stronger makes the problem only worse. So questing stopped to be fun.

So I decided to heal some dungeon groups. I knew that would only worsen the gameplay while doing the new quests, but .. well. Shit happens.

So here I am, a level 15 healing druid and for the next 5-10 levels the game is actually fun. Immersion is bad, because there are now monkeys mining ore and boss fights are more colorful than a rainbow, but the difficulty is ok for a beginner random dungeon group. Not exactly challenging, but I do need to use a healing spell from time to time.

Then, suddenly, level 30-45. I can't believe this! The Paladin tanks (there are only paladin tanks right now at horde side (!), don't need any healer any more! Neither needs the rest of the group a healer. A joke by Blizzard ?
I am already condemning Blizzard, when I reach lvl 45: Stratholm.

I realize that tank is taking damage. Not just a little, but WOAH!!
I need to use instants, cooldowns. I calculate my healing/mana on the fly to determine my most efficient heals. It is crazy. I need to innervate myself, even use mana potions. No wipes. Once a DD dies, because I cannot afford to heal him from a mana point of view. That is the WoW I love. That is classic World of Warcraft: Letting the dps die on purpose to save the mana for the tank. Now that is an interesting decision.

I want to find out whether this is just due to bad equip, so I inspect the tank: Full heirlooms! And he even plays rather well, nothing fancy, but very solid! He occasionally uses his instant heal, not only to heal himself, but members of the group!
Sure, we don't use CC and we don't pull, but run into groups. But that's normal for the random dungeon finder.

During the dungeon I mention that I love that difficulty. First time anybody talks. Some two minutes later the tank responds: "I hate it".
That's where we are.

Nerf incoming, my friends ;)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Random Thoughts on the Shattering

- The Undead starting experience is really good now. Having said that, I wanted to play a Druid in Cataclysm to be able to fulfill each role. Therefore I stopped playing my Undead when the starter story was finished. Highly recommended for everybody, though.

- I somehow dislike the look of the Troll feral forms (except for flight form!). I also didn't like their starting zone. It feels wrong to fight lvl 85 bosses at level 6.

- The Tauren starting zones are not so well. I still made a tauren Feral Druid and got him to level 34.

My impressions:
- Mulgore hasn't changed a lot.
- Azshara is concentreded coolness. Too much for me. I liked to play through it, because it was new, but I won't do it again. Coolness is good. To concentrate it like that is a mistake. It hurts immersion.
- I dismissed Durotar, as I hate to quest by onehitting mobs.
- Northern Barrens haven't changed much.
- Ashenvale has changed quite a bit and also is a lot of fun.
- Stone Talon Mountains. WTF! Phenomenal. Was there a moment were Blizzard excelled at story telling? For the first time since - I don't know. That big bomb has a story that you will not be able to foresee. Incredible for WoW.
- Southern Barrens has changed a lot. Also nice story line so far.

I generally like the leveling a lot. I do, however, have a big, really big problem.
I level too fast. (No, I do not use heirlooms).

There is no way I can do battlegrounds without outleveling a zone. In fact, I can only do each dungeon once when it is green, if I want the questmobs to stay yellow/green. Things like heirlooms/resting experience or even RAF look like a penalty. This is really a problem. Not just for me. There is a large threat at EU forums about it.

My suggestions on how to fix this:
- Cut exp gain by 50%.
- Require all characters to do all important questlines in a zone before being able to level beyond it.

My practical, diplomatic suggestions on how to fix this:
- At character creation allow me to lock a certain exp penalty. For example by 25%, 50%, 75%. If such a character reaches max level he receives an achievement and a title (yeah, yeah and a lot of pets).
- Eliminate or drastically reduce exp gain from doing dungeons/battlegrounds.
- Increase character power at level 1 massively, to be able to reduce character power gain during leveling. There is no reason a mob 5+ levels below you is a onehit.

It has to be hoped that Blizzard sorts this issue out. It is no fun to have to pick between doing battlegrounds/dungeons or having yellow mobs to kill. Leveling is already too 'easy' to be immersive. It becomes absurd if killing a mob feels like killing a mosquito. Actually I killed a few green mobs yesterday with resurrection penalty and it was enjoyable. I got to use my abilities and there was no danger of dying whatsoever.
Generally, I want to be able able to do at least one finishing move every now and then and I would like to enjoy becoming more powerful. The last few days I often forgot to go to the trainer, because the only thing I could do to kill mobs, anyway, was mangle spam.

Oh, one last thing:
The dungeon mobs have been iterated and now those bosses sometimes live up to a minute. As a healer you sometimes even need to watch your mana. Not as 'hard' as I would like it, but a definite improvement. Let's just hope they do the same with open world mobs.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pace, Epicness, Adventure


A few days ago I wrote about my Perfect Dungeon Run. One difference to current dungeons in major MMORPGs is pace. Optimally, the pace in a dungeon changes. A perfect dungeon includes periods that are

- slow & thrilling
- slow & relaxing
- fast & relaxing
- fast & thrilling

Current dungeons in World of Warcraft are fast & relaxing. Every single second. The only reason this does not result in boredom is the brevity of the dungeons. And the carrot at the end. This is in contrast to raids that include slow & relaxing (trash) and fast & thrilling periods (boss encounters). Sometimes even fast & relaxing trash.

In the presented dungeon you have slow & thrilling periods while exploring the dungeon, fast & thrilling periods while running away from the goblin patrol or during combat, slow & relaxing periods while searching the room or resting and fast & relaxing combat against the insects or maybe the first goblin encounter.

Change of pace needs to be part of any experience that lasts longer than a few minutes. Otherwise boredom sets in. It is also helpful to have several gameplay concepts at work. If dps or heal is the only concept, boredom sets in even faster. Thus, the concepts of sight/sound/smelling/bag space/weight/illumination and during combat Block/CC/support/dps/interrupt/pulling/distance are important. They are not just copy/pasted from real life.

There exist a lot of interesting gameplay concepts, but it is sometimes hard to find them. Tetris was the result of an interesting concept that has almost nothing to do with any natural default. Most games, however, look at nature and transfer concepts. MMORPGs, of course, have always done this more than most games, because they started not as games, but as simulations of a supposed interesting experience: Overcoming challenges in a fantasy world.


Not every concept in real life is a good gameplay concept. Especially not if non-modified. This applies to wounds that drastically hinder one's capabilities or traveling for hours or days real time.

What a MMORPG basically does is to compress real life and modify it to be more fun - on a screen. The compression applies to time as well as to space: Compared to the size of your character, all things in a MMORPG are drastically smaller than in real life.
In fact, this has become almost a problem in Cataclysm-WoW, because Blizzard allowed the graphics engine to display far further into the distance. Suddenly you can see how close everything is. The fog was not only a graphical limitation; it also was part of a beneficial illusion.

The time compression can become problematic, because different compression factors are needed to create different experiences. It turns out, for example, that 'epicness' is difficult to create if players spend only 20 minutes on something. Any story your grandpa might have told you that lasted for less than 20 minutes didn't feel epic. And this also applies to any experience in a MMORPG. There are fundamental limitations for humans and any epic experience. And one of that limitation is a minimum investment of time.
There are no 20 minutes epic experiences. No matter how good the content/dungeon is.

This, however, does not mean that a MMORPG should not contain 20 minutes experiences - or even 10 minute experiences. In fact, all MMORPGs should! In addition to epic experiences that are broken up into segments that potentially last hours!

A MMORPG has to be as diverse as the players that are supposed to play it. And while achieving within any persistent social context is fun, it is ultimately inferior to achieving by experiencing epic adventures in a persistent social context.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

CCP considers F2P the future !


You've probably all seen or heard about the changes that hit the test server last month where you could buy a neural remap (redistribution of attributes) with a PLEX. The ensuing community discussion and a whole heap of Council of Stellar Management discussions we had, both during their visit to CCP earlier in October and, through the magic of the internet, has led us to revisit that specific change and helped us form a holistic strategy for virtual goods sales moving forward.

Phew, that was a long sentence.

There are two things we want to communicate in this blog, in response to all the discussion that's been going on:

First, we've decided to shelve all the changes to neural remaps we had planned. We now have no plans to change things from the way they are currently on Tranquility. No PLEX for remaps, no ISK for remaps, nothing. All code has been reverted, no new code has been written. Nothing will change.

Second, we wanted to explain our thinking a little more. It‘s always been the intent of CCP to continue diversifying EVE Online's business model and we‘ve been looking at various options to do so. This started with the introduction of PLEX, which was an innovative way for players to exchange in-game assets for subscription on a fully player driven marketplace. Since we introduced the PLEX item we've monitored its trading, price and velocity closely. It's now time for us to take the next evolutionary step.

It‘s clear that it‘s the will of the community to keep virtual goods sales outside the spectrum of what we classify as the "merit economy". That refers to skills gained over time or items that have a gameplay impact. So after discussions, designs, brainstorming and all sorts of processes we‘ve come up with a strategy that we‘ve already polished with the help of the CSM and would now want to present to the larger community.

Virtual goods sales in EVE Online will evolve through sales of vanity items, first in Incarna but later in-space features. The scope will be (and there‘s no design has been done around this, we‘re just talking strategy now) that anything that doesn‘t affect gameplay directly can be, potentially, sold for PLEX or other means. Ideas that have come up include Incarna clothing and furniture, logos on spaceships and swapping out portraits. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor is it a commitment that said items will be available for sale, I mention these as an example for what type of items we‘re thinking about.

It‘s important to clarify that virtual goods sales isn‘t an arbitrary - or particularly greedy - decision. There is a constantly decreasing number of MMO‘s out there that don‘t incorporate virtual goods sales at some level. - games that aren't responding to this trend are dying out. Diversifying the business model allows us to offer our players the services and features they desire in ways that are conducive to how they wish to spend their entertainment dollars. The result is that we provide a wider range of options to our subscribers which, in turn, leaves us better positioned to react to future seismic shifts in the market.

If we don‘t react to the wishes of the market we will simply become the dinosaurs of the industry. And everyone knows what happens to dinosaurs. God makes them disappear. Through MAGIC.

Now .. what I love about this post is the honesty. And the fact that they talk to me like an adult.

What I hate is what they actually say. And I actually disagree that not selling vanity items for $$$ makes a MMO become a dinosour of the industry. I think becoming a dinosour is more about the content of your game.

Well it seems, there is a market niche growing larger and larger: MMORPGs that respect the division line between the players wealth and the players fantasy entity.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Perfect Dungeon Run

In this article I will describe a fictional perfect dungeon run. It is losely based on World of Warcraft, so I do not have to describe the whole MMORPG before.

The (relatively) short version:
- Flying mounts exist, but you can only mount one at a flight master. You can unmount it everywhere, but it then returns to the flight master.

- The dungeon is instanced. Trying to make good non-instanced dungeons is not something for this article. It requires a lot of changes to the game, like more dungeons, no fast travel etc.

- Although the dungeon is instanced, you are not necessarily alone. It is possible to meet another group of adventaures. Since we play on a PvE server they will not be able to attack us and we might, in fact, decide to work together. Usually the game does this when it is smart to work together.

- There is no light in dungeons unless you make it.

- Your carrying capability is realistic. Yes, not immersive, but realistic. That's why gems and gold are so valueable: In addition to what they are worth, you can easily carry them.

- Enemies behave credibly. They 'add' each other, can be alarmed if you make too much sound or allow them to see you.

- Sneaking and watching, listening and smelling things is very valueable. Information in general is.

- Not every group of enemies is supposed to be slaughtered. You pick your fights and hope to not be picked.

- If you wipe you lose everything you gained in the dungeon and respawn near the nearest city.

- You need to walk out of the dungeon to leave it.

- While being logged off things can happen, but things stay fair from a gameplay point of view.

- Sound plays an important role. Also the sounds enemies make.

- Heavy melees classes can tank by initiating a formation that does not allow any enemy to pass between them if they are not too far apart. No 'threat'. More powerful monsters require more heavy melees to be blocked. Friendly players and mobs cannot be blocked.

- Casters generally pull with AoE, but are severly restricted if they are behind a tank. They don't want to hit the tank with their spells, after all. After pulling, they often use spells and abilities to help the melees. If they are attacked directly they try to slow the enemy down or use temporary defensive spells. This limitation does not apply to non-caster ranged DDs (say hunters).

- AoE and fights in general are loud. Loud things can pull other enemies if they have a reasonable duration.

- Things can be lying on the ground. To keep hardware requirements in check, not every item is rendered. In fact, most are not and you need to initiate a search to find things if stuff is next to each other. The longer you search, the higher the chances to find something. (Diminishing returns).

- Enemies become ever harder the deeper you venture. Of course, loot also becomes ever better.

- Light melee classes are good at CC and have defensive cooldowns during which they can attack a foe one on one. They can, however, not block foes (tank) and are rather weak without the defensive cooldowns. While doing CC they tend to be ignored by other mobs.

- Wounds heal very fast after a fight. There is only very weak healing during a fight. Instead, there is a lot of support to keep your party member from being hurt in the first place.

- DPS is rather unimportant. It just reduces length of a fight and thus probability of something bad happening.

- Dungeons are unpredictable and based on random seeds. This also applies to the inhabitants. While some creatures prefer some types of equipment, it is impossible to predict their capabilities/behaviour from looking at internet sources alone.

An example dungeon run:

1) A friend asks me if I would like to do a dungeon. I agree.

2) I get invited to a group of two people. We search some time to find another one, who also knows a fifth one. We agree to continue over the next two days. The group consists of two heavy melees, one light melee, one ranged non-caster dd and a caster. (For example, a warrior, a paladin, a rogue, a hunter and a mage).

3) We go to the flight master to pay for a mount. It is the only place you can get a flying mount. We steer our mounts to the dungeon and unmount. While the mounts fly back to the flight master, we venture into the dungeon.

4) The dungeon is completely new to us, because we get an ID (random seed) at the start that is used to create it randomly within a style that is determined by the story of the dungeon.

5) The dungeon is mostly completely dark (black) once we got some distance to the entrance. We need to use our own light sources. Luckily, that is an easy task for our caster. Otherwise we would need to use torches which need a free hand, cost money and inventory space.

6) We are not running, therefore the dungeon appears even larger. Running would be foolish, as sounds travels very far inside a cavern and we'd warn half the mobs of our presence. They would not automatically find us, but were alarmed and thus harder to attack by surprise.

7) Walking is not boring, because we constantly need to watch for traps/things that make sounds, valueables lying on the ground, anything unusual, light in the distance, and of course, enemies.

8) After five minutes we reach a room where a lot of stuff is lying on the ground. We inspect it all, but do not find anything useful. We are about to leave the room behind, when I find a small red gem. We agree to share whatever this thing is worth to some crafters back in the city.

8) After a while we see some light in the distance. Some kind of humanoids create shadows at a wall. Our rogue sneakes near to find out more. (Future graphics, yeah!)

9) It is a small group of goblins. Our caster tries his best to sneak near and 'pulls' with a big fiery AoE spell. After which he runs back behind our two heavy melee classes who block the path for the goblins who started running towards us. They use a block-formation to due this. The AoE sends a booming sound through the caverns, but our group is not suited for silently killing enemies and we are still at the very start. Dungeons are increasingly difficult the deeper you venture.

10) The hallway we came from is a great choke point, so we are not too worried, even if other mobs should come to the source of the fighting sounds. Some kind of clairvoyance spell would have been helpful, but our caster is unable to cast one.

11) No other enemies add and we easily dispatch of the Goblins after a short, but fierce fight during which our caster casted defensive spells on the melees. Our light melee class CCed one goblin, the two heavy melees blocked (tanked) and the ranged non-caster DD fired from behind the heavy melees.

12) After a while one of the goblins tries to flee. We expected that and he is an easy target.

13) We search the goblins. They wear some modestly valueable armor and weapons, but we decide that it is not worth the extra weight. We store some of it in a hidden corner so that we can carry it back out if we return and haven't found anything valueable.

14) One of us needs to log out, so we decide to continue the next day.

15) At 6pm the next day we meet again. Our characters spawn at the exactly same spot they left. The items of the Goblins are still around. Nothing seems to have happened in this forgotten part of the world while we were away.

16) We continue exploring. After a while we hear something in the distance. It is hard to make something of it, but one of us says that he heard it before in this dungeon and it was a underground river.

17) While we anxiously move towards the source of the sound (it seems to get louder), a bright light appears far away. Our caster stops his light spell and we wait in total darkness. After a while our eyes have adjusted and we can see shapes due to the light in the distance.

18) One of our heavy melees has a low-quality telescope (very expensive, he claims). He gives it to the hunter who has better eyesight. It seems that a rather large force of goblins is slowly marching towards us. It also seems that the sound was, in fact, not the water, but those goblins marching. Fortunately we did not allow that goblin to escape, yesterday.

19) We might have a chance against them. It is a narrow hallway, so our melees can easily block their melees. We are at full health and it's just Goblins. Wiping, however, means to have to be returned to a graveyard outside the nearest city and lose that gem. Our rogue says that his sense-danger ability says that he is really uneasy, although not in deadly danger. We decide to not risk it.

20) Our rogue says that he would need to log off, because his mother needs him to do something. We manage to convince him to stay, though. There is no way to log off now and survive. We will first need to get some distance to the goblins.

21) Our caster creates a weak aura to makes us less loud, while our warrior says to stay behind him, because his race has better low-light vision. We run back to the room of the first fight and then decide to explore a different path. The reason our caster did not create the aura before, is that it applies a considerable penalthy to all other abilities for quite some time. It also has a cooldown.

22) After some minutes it turns out that this path actually leads behind the goblin patrol. From behind we see that it was a very good decision to evade them. It's about 12 of them and we are only 5. They walk slowly, with a bright light and not careful at all. We wait 10 minutes for our rogue to return and continue.

23) In a corner we find a fireplace the goblins probably used. Had we been faster we could have surprise-attacked them there. We decide to use it to rest our characters a bit. This place is very well hidden and easily protectable (blockable). Logging out here decreases the chance to be attacked when logging back in. We decide to meet again tomorrow. While well rested we get small boni to everything we do.

24) We log in at 6 pm to be surprised by some insects that attack us (after a clear warning). We very easily dispatch of them. Our caster is a rather skilled cook and claims that he will be able to make something great of that insects back in town.

25) We continue our exploration. After a while the sound our boots make changes. We are not walking on stone anymore. The earth we walk on is quite wet here. This probably means that enemies change, too. Our hunter smells something being cooked in the distance. Some minutes later everybody smells it.

26) Carefully walking forward we reach a really large room. At the one side of it there is a group of lizardmen. Our hunter sneaks near and uses the telescope. There are six of them. They look rather big which is not a good sign. On the other hand, there is a metal chest next to them and they have powerful looking weapons. Our heavy melees would love to have a closer look at these.

27) After discussing it for a while we decide to attack. We still need to get out of the dungeon again and we would prefer to do this together. We had started this by agreeing to explore together for three days and two of us will not be able to play the next week.

28) Our caster is weakend by the aura he casted before, but still manages to pull with a nice AoE spell. Our heavy melees block the path and protect the caster. Since there is no chokepoint they need to slowly rotate to keep the lizards away caster and the hunter behind them. Our rogue CCs two of the lizardmen.

29) The still burning Lizards run towards us. A very tough fight develops. Those weapons the Lizards use turn out to be quite powerful and, more than that, long range. Our caster has problems helping the melees from behind without being hit. Our rogue CCs the two mobs really well. He's certainly the first I'd invite again.

30) Unfortunately, one of our melees is eventually struck down and our group is ripped apart. Wipe. Damn!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Those Dalaran Portals

Big Bear Butt has an interesting article online.

Essentially he asks the question whether it is a good decision by Blizzard to remove those portals in Dalaran. In this post I will analyse this question. I will also give reasons to assume that this is, in fact, not a "gameplay vs. immersion" - problem!

About Gameplay & Immersion:
First, it has to be noted that many things that are good for immersion are also good gameplay (i.e. a backpack, looting, fighting, etc.). Secondly, many things that are good for gameplay are also good for immersion (i.e. high fps). Thirdly, sometimes gameplay & immersion are deadly enemies.

In this case, however, there is no gameplay vs. immersion problem. In the World of Warcraft lore, obviously, there can be a lot of portals. From an immersion point of view, there should be portals all over the place!! If anything, the small number of portals has gameplay reasons!

In fact, this is just and only a gameplay problem. And as such the only reason that some players like a world with portals more than a world with less portals has to be player specific.

If a player has only half an hour every few days and (thus) started to play WoW with WotLK, he will not be able to enjoy travel times for more than a few minutes. If, on the other hand, a player plays WoW in chunks of several hours, he will not have as much of a problem with long travel times. The proof is classic WoW and other (MMO)RPGs. To have to actually move through the world to get somewhere creates the feeling of playing in a living virtual world. Teleports, on the other hand, transform the perceived virtual world into connected hubs, like Hellgate London did.

However, many players who have a lot more time than half an hour, also hate the removal of portals. How can this be explained?

Gamers are usually very bad game designers. Games are self-contained elements of the real world that consist of equipment, players, goals and rules. The fun comes from reaching the goals within the rules. But for a player it is often very hard to see whether he is beating the game within the rules or by changing the rules.

You often see this argument in WoW forums. For example people argueing:
"If you increase my dps the game will be more fun to me"
This is, obviously, absurd. After all Blizzard could increase your dps as much as they want. You want 1mio dps? No problem for Blizzard.

Fact is, that for a short amount of time 1mio dps can be fun. But in the medium and long term it is no fun. However, once you had 1mio dps it feels terrible to be put back to 100 dps even by an outside intervention. To understand this, it is helpful to assume the role of a game designer, not a gamer.

As a game designer you will know the Fun Fallacy.
Example: Some years ago I ran around Molten Core for many, many months spamming nothing but frostbolts! You tell me how that particular activity could have been fun. Because it was!

Fun is not an inherent property of an isolated activity. Instead, fun activities are embedded in an environment that is more important than the activity itself. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That, of course, does not mean that any amount of running around is good. Quite obviously, real world distances and travel times would be absurd in a computer game.

Walking somewhere can include the pleasant anticipation of future fun. And this pleasant anticipation is what MMOs generally thrive on.

So, how much travel time is actually good, depends on two things:
- The situation of the player (how much time does he invest in the game?).
- The attitute of the player. I wrote about that before here and here.

The first cannot be influenced by Blizzard. All they can try is to aim the game at the people who like to pay the most $ in aggregate. The second, however, can be shaped by Blizzard. And during WotLK they did shape it. With Cataclysm they try to reshape it and this will be very painful.

- Pleasant anticipation and the feeling of playing a character in a living virtual world can make travel fun.
- The optimal travel time for WoW is player specific and player-attitude specific. The latter can be influenced by Blizzard, the former cannot.
- The optimal travel time is probably higher than what it takes to teleport for most players.
- Reshaping the attitude of players will be painful and will have a negative, albeit temporary effect on subscriber numbers.
- This issue is no gameplay vs. immersion problem. From an immersion point of view, people should teleport all the time according to the magic existent in WoW. If anything, the small number of portals has gameplay reasons!

Monday, November 22, 2010


Have I become desensitized?
Several blogs write about the Pilgrims's Bounty and how it does not fit into a world in the midst of an elemental invasion that is about to be ripped apart by a cataclysm.
Honestly - I did not notice.

I, generally, do not take part in holiday events in WoW. Firstly, because these are holidays for citizen of the United States of America and I play a Tauren. Secondly, because it does not make sense that Garrosh Hellscream, Mighty Warchief of the Horde, does a Pilgrims' Bounty celebration. You laugh? I cry!

Moreover, there are so many things in this game that do not make sense, I really stopped noticing, I think.
So, as much as I like to applaud the bloggers who suddenly realize: "Hey this does not make a lot of sense!", as much do I cry that it requires so much to invoke a reaction.

I mean, it is one thing if somebody accepts that WoW is a collection of things to do that are represented in a three-dimensional geography. It is an entirely different thing if people still believe that WoW is a credible virtual world, but only start to realize immersion-breaking stuff when there is a Pilgrims' Bounty celebration taking place next to a burning capital of brutal Orcs, while a group of citizen asks to be allowed entrance to the city, while other citizen flee in terror, while fire elementals are setting every house on fire without these houses actually changing in form or shape at all. And I am not even talking about concepts like heat or that this 'event' 'repeats' every two hours.

To conclude this, let me ask you a question:
Do you think the fact that some people notice immersion breaking things earlier has genetic reasons? Or cultural? Do you have any explanation?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A History of Balance

When I started to play World of Warcraft, balance was something I did not know; at least not in a computer game. I first encountered it when people talked about rogues being “better” than mages, due to higher dps. I played a mage at that time, but it really did not concern me. Quite obviously, there was almost no combat in WoW that allowed players to “optimize” dps. It would have been silly, too. In the case of my class, raiding consisted of spamming fireball or frostbolt. Of course, I tried to have little downtime between casts, but I also knew that lag would dominate anyway. War, battle, combat would have to be chaotic to be credible and enjoyable.

Not that a theoretical mathematical concept, like dps, was important, anyway: There were no enrage timers in early WoW. If an encounter took long enough for healers to run oom, more healers would be needed and they would rotate. That is, have mana regeneration phases during which they did not do anything, but regenerated mana outside of the “five seconds rule”.

I raided rarely. The equip was highly interesting, but not central to my character. The focus of my play sessions were exploration, the community I belonged to and PvP. In the beginning, even open PvP. What a great fun! Hellishly unbalanced; I did not care. I did not even think about it. I wasn’t fighting other people. My fantasy character was fighting other people’s fantasy characters. It was expected that some would be stronger and some would be weaker.

Sure, you could be good and bad at PvP. There might even have been an optimal reaction to any action of the opponent. But that hardly mattered, because everything was dominated by the ridiculously unbalancing fact that other characters could help you or your opponent. I considered that the way it was supposed to be; even the way it should be.

At the end of classic WoW I had visited every dungeon tens of times. I had really good equipment compared to the average player. But some people had especially good equip. They were raiders. There were few raiders and even fewer who raided so often that they were almost completely ‘epic’.
In battlegrounds such characters were heroes to me; or villains. At no point did I consider it unfair. To me, it was a fight character vs. character and group vs. group.

That all started to change with The Burning Crusade. TBC brought us the arena. I loved the concept. But it started to bug me that some players had an advantage due to better equipped characters. This thought sneaked into my brain and I did neither realize it nor resist. Nobody did. When players defeated me in PvP I would now try to figure out whether it was due to equip or lucky crits. Or maybe even skill (can’t be!).

At the same time I started to organize raids with my guild and our undead partner guild (we did not want no undead in our guild!). I started to mercilessly min/max: Group composition, skill rotations, tactics, strategies. I was good, I knew it and everybody else, too. That, I also knew. We were mildly successful, mainly because we had some people in our midst who hadn’t made the transition to the new WoW. As a friendly guild we would not kick them and they would still raid with us. But in the middle of TBC I would leave my raid (not my guild). Among other reasons, there was this other feral druid who refused to use “shred” in his rotation. I considered it a social crime to hinder our progress; which it had certainly done.

With TBC Blizzard had also introduced the concept of “resilience”. The idea was to segregate PvE and PvP gear. I had heard about the idea of PvEers and PvPers before, but had not understood it. I liked both. And I deeply hated the new system. I still hate it today. I loved to gain gear in PvE to do PvP and I loved to gain gear in PvP to do PvE. In my opinion, a well rounded character would engage in all activities. He would defend the Horde against the evil allies (especially Night Elf hunters!!) and he would try to defend against the evil from black rock mountain and the countless dungeons. During classic it had never appeared to me that there would be a fundamental difference between PvP and PvE.

Sure, I lamented the fact that you would only use such a limited set of your ability-toolbox in PvE. But I also understood why 40 people chain-stunning one boss mob would be a gameplay problem. I loved Razorgore, first boss of Black Wing Lair. During this encounter you would need to fight and control many other mobs. It felt like a battle, not like a “boss fight”, because you could use all your tools to fight these other mobs. Differences in PvE / PvP were a gameplay-induced necessity that hurt immersion and I was certain Blizzard would fight and eventually remove it. How wrong I turned out to be!

After a while I came to hate arena: Predominantly due to imbalance. My feral druid did not stand a chance. The reason was resilience. It did no only reduce my damage, but also my crit chance. Unfortunately, my crits not only did more damage, but also gave double combo points. The combo points were important and thus I was hellishly OP against low-resilience targets, and a sorry cat against high-resilience targets. It took Blizzard two entire expansions to finally agree!

But what is more important is the fact that it did not occur to me that I had changed my approach to WoW! I had started to look at my character as a part of me, not as a part of a fantasy world. Any defeat of my character was now a personal insult, not a part of that character in the virtual world! I got to be known to be swearing loudly during arena games and eventually turned off my microphone and asked other people to organize the fight. I joked that every arena fight reduced my life expectancy by 1 day.

In addition to the inherent unfair design of resilience, I disliked and still dislike resilience for the fact that it segregates the community. Open PvP does not make any sense when some players are victims due to PvE equip. Not that it mattered. The introduction of flying mounts had reduced open PvP by nearly 100%.

During The Burning Crusade Blizzard would try fanatically to “balance” the game. All classes and all their speccs would have to have the same dps and hps in raids and also be similarly useful in arena PvP in any combination. Blizzard was known for its incredible skill of balancing games. They started carefully, but became more and more desperate. Unfortunately, the game itself was created in a way that did not allow balancing the way it was needed. It was not a matter of numbers, but of the entire architecture of World of Warcraft!

With WotLK they decided to attack the problem at this deeper, architectural level. All classes would be changed drastically. They would be homogenized when necessary. “Bring the player not the class”. The focus was the player, not the character. The line between character and player was blurred and eventually removed. What had started slowly with TBC was about to be completed.

But they were too cautious, still. In combination with a wild-running character power progression the balance problems became not better, but worse. Arena PvP lost much of its former glory due to these imbalances. Battlegrounds became deserted. Wintergrasp, which had been a relative success, was drastically imbalanced on most servers.

10-man raids, which had been introduced with WotLK, struggled. The number of class buffs was too high and the buffs were too powerful to be ignored. You cannot make challenging content when you cannot know the capabilities of the group of players that is challenged. And the capabilities, as homogenized they had become, were still too diverse. Blizzard had failed at balance; again.

With Cataclysm Blizzard has learnt that good balance requires drastic measures at a fundamental architectural level. The talent trees were remade. They are now better to balance. The difference between classes has been drastically reduced, again. “Bring the player, not the class” in a game with 30 speccs and 10-man raids requires that the classes differ only in flavor, not in capability. The focus of balance is on endgame level - alone.

When, today, Blizzard does not allow some healers to heal without mana constrains and others with mana constrains; when, today, Blizzard does not use tank niches; when, today, Blizzard makes all your spells have 40 yards range, then because of fundamental architectural balance considerations.

It should be hoped that Blizzard achieves what they had set out to do with The Burning Crusade: Balance at an individual player level. I hope they do. They fought hard and sacrificed … much.

But I will never forget the time when balance was of no concern; the time when character power depended on what a character had seen in the world, not the skill of the player. The time when I would venture into the molten core, spamming hundreds and thousands of frostbolts not thinking about my skill or me being balanced, but about us, Ragnaros and the story of the world. I will never forget the time when I considered items nice, and not central to my individual success as a player.

I will not stop to believe that it was not naivety alone that shaped my first year playing a MMORPG. The game I played and the people I played it with made it possible; the former of which can be re-created.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Farewell to WotLK

I critizise Blizzard a lot on this blog. Actually I critizise anything a lot on this blog. I do not believe in listing things I like a lot unless they are really worth mentioning.
When I read a review before buying a game I usually skip reading any that are too positive. That's not only suspicious, but actually useless. I'd rather buy a game somebody critizised as "too much focus on immersion and not enough on gameplay" than a game somebody praises as "very immersive". You can see the difference, can you not?

Having said that, I think WoW-WotLK deserves a Farewell, a nice Farewell :)
So, let me try to list what I really liked about the Wrath of the Lich King and forget about the things I did not like for a while.

- I loved the trailer.
This is in stark contrast to the Catacylsm cinematic. The WotLK one was actually intelligent, creative. This easily beats the classic trailer and certainly the abysmal "You are not prepared" of TBC.

- I liked the Wrathgate cinematic. Very well done.

- I loved the Banshee Queen, Sylvanas Windrunner, in WotLK. Especially her song during the battle for Undercity. Great music, albeit bought by Blizzard, not made by Blizzard. Every fanatasy story needs a strong female character. Especially one of the evil and mysterious sort. I'd fall in love. If she weren't undead .. ;)

- I loved the Undead in general during Wrathgate. Hell, they really hate all living? I was beginning to doubt their sincerity.

- I'm not very convinced about the new quest design. But I acknowledge that it is technically much more advanced than in prior expansions. In my opinion things like flying on a dragon should be used rarely to have more impact. But in the end the technical capabilities of WotLK need to be mentioned as positive, even if their actual implementation is not.

- The graphics were nice and sometimes even great. I liked the winter/snow/cold setting. Perhaps because I lived in Finland for some years :). The artists generally made a good job. It's not really surprising, since you can buy good graphics with money, but it's part of this Farewell.

- I enjoyed building up my characters from green equipped to epic. After I eventually accepted that all a damage dealers should do is deal damage, I liked rocking recount - for a while. I'm not a fan of the insane character power progression in WotLK looking at its side effects, but I have to acknowledge that I enjoyed it for a time.

- I enjoyed running the dungeons, even if they were much too linear and not really a dungeon you can get lost in. I completely stopped enjoying them with the dungeon finder, even though I ran them a lot with the DF! I have to acknowledge that the dungeons have been fun the first few times.

- I like the looks of my wrathful gladiator armor on my feral druid. In contrast to most armor in WotLK, it is not too shiney or too absurd. It's brown leather; looking great.

- I liked the fact that Icecrown was filled with undead - some relatively powerful ones even. Even though there was hardly any reason to interact with them or even look at them. Let alone fear them.

- I liked all the things you could explore in Dalaran. There is actually a lot of them. This is true even though I hated the idea of Dalaran itself and can't await normal faction cities on the ground.

- I liked raiding Naxx and Ulduar with appropiate equipment.

- I liked the idea of a buff, like in ICC, even though I disliked ICC. I wrote about a similar suggestion before.

- I liked the vehicles in general even though they have been used badly from a gameplay point of view. The first time I was sitting in a siege engine I was looking in awe at the great steam animations.

- I liked the concept of Wintergrasp even if it had its balance problems. After all, this is world PvP that could be great if people actually used PvP armor. Keeping the problems of PvE/PvP gear segregation and sabotaged server identity in mind, Wintergrasp was relatively enjoyable; considering what was possible.

- I actually liked the Death Knight voices and what some NPC DKs would say when clicked at.

- Some of the phasing was enjoyable - even though I dislike it for fundamental reasons.

- I liked the animation and surprise of falling through the ground in the colloseum. ... until I understood how completely silly it was from a (logical) story point of view.

- I agree with the relatively focused theme in WotLK even if I do not consider the actual implementation to be done well. Story telling (in contrast to story!) is still a very weak point at Blizzard.

- I liked the fact that the place seen in the trailer can be visted in the game.

- I loved the fact that raiding yielded stuff that could be sold on the AH and the way Blizzard removed the money from the game (via luxuary items). Real world politics can actually learn something here.

- I like the fact that Blizzard finally stopped running for e-sports. I liked that arena played only a minor role. (This is coming from somebody who mostly does PvP).

- Even though I never managed to complete the DK starting area I acknowledge its theoretical quality. Some of the moral hazard quests were nice. Almost mature.

Mmh ..I think that's it. I strictly tried to mention what I liked. That was hard and maybe not achieved fully ;)
WotLK won't be missed, but it had its strong points and hopefully Blizzard learnt some things.

On Tobold's Raid Design

This is a comment on Tobold’s blog that became too long for a comment ;)

Firstly, I appreciate that you use the delay between your posts to make longer, higher quality posts. Great read here.

Secondly, I appreciate that you active criticize WoW. I know that you claim to do that all the time. But then I also claim to regularly post about the good sides of WoW and then looking back I can almost understand why some people have problems believing me :)

So, on topic:
Everybody agrees that the key problem of raiding is its “difficulty”, which has been endlessly discussed all over forums and the blogosphere.
It is certainly a key problem, but not the key problem. Other key problems would be organization, impact of the individual player or immersion.

I think everybody would agree that raiding is more difficult than the other content of the game.
You probably ignore arena, because you do not participate in it. Nor do I. But becoming a Gladiator is certainly a hell of a lot more difficult than killing heroic Lich King. Even without buff. Just look at the number of people who achieved the one and the other.

The token system is useful to make sure that there is a constant improvement and progress, to make sure that it is really skill and not gear that determines how far and fast a player can progress.
If that is what you want, I’d suggest to remove the gear requirements. What is the point in giving everybody gear on a silver plate and then also scale the gear requirements? It only leads to the massive scaling problems WotLK suffered so much.

In Wrath of the Lich King, raid difficulty did not go up from Naxxramas to Icecrown Citadel. That is somewhat unintuitive
I agree that difficulty did not raise much. However, I think your idea is quite problematic. Not everybody who raids in a WoW expansion, raids for the first time. In fact, most have raided before. These people would be bored to death if you made MC-level entry raids and might even unsubscribe if they have to wait for over a year for any raid they could perceive as fun.

If Blizzard made use of all their raids and scaled them in difficulty, things would look different. But for some reason (I suspect too much influence of the raid content development department at Blizzard), they continuously throw old raids into the bin.

Concluding, I agree fully that iteration worked only so far for Blizzard. At some point you also need to know what you basically want. I sometimes feel like this has changed in WoW. It went from an adventure to an arcade game; from group experience, like killing Ragnaros after spamming frostbolts for 5 minutes, to an individual PUG game. From a game that allowed anybody to reach anything if he invested enough time to a game that was based on "skill". Iteration is fine, but you need to have a goal you want to reach with it. What is it that you want to perfect? Without that information, iteration runs danger to go the path of least resistance.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

MMORPG design guidelines

Over the years I repeatedly tried to write down a description of my dream MMORPG. I failed; every time. Today I consider myself smarter: A complete MMORPG is too complex to think it through in your mind. You need to play it and iterate, iterate, iterate...
However, what I consider myself capable of is writing down a few design guidelines. Here are 11 of them.

MMORPG design guidelines

1) The virtual world is separate from the real world
This is easily the most important. It is the main reason why I do not like F2P/RMT. I do not want what you do in real life to have any influence whatsoever on anything in the virtual world. Partly this is for immersion reasons. A cause-effect relationship that crosses the line to the virtual world always seems like a divine intervention. The concept of arbitrary real world interventions into the virtual world simply feels wrong to me.
Of course, some limitations always apply. After all, the virtual world is imbedded in the real one. For example, people need to log off from time to time. Therefore, we need solutions for how to handle the logged-off characters. So, this design guideline can never be absolute. It is, however, extremely important to me that it is obeyed as much as possible. No pets/achievements that arbitrarily cross this line, for example.

2) As much credibility, consistency and immersion as possible and as little as necessary

Credibility means that I can believe what is happening in the game. Some people call this believability.

Consistency means that there are no logical problems inside the framework of the virtual world.

Immersion requires the first two, but is more: Immersion means that I do not have to actively ignore things to enjoy the virtual world. Good graphics would be an example.

Realism is a very bad word in this context. It makes people think that I (or anybody for that matter) were interested in the virtual world being as similar as possible to the real world. That would be silly.
I am not interested in a simulation of the real world. I already live in one. As a game I consider it too grindy, not very just, tedious and there is rarely enough action going on. Also, your possibilities to experiment are severely restricted. Of course, the real one can be very rewarding at times, so I do not condemn the real world here. I simply express my wish of supplementing it with a virtual one.

Seriously, I am interested in a game; but not in an abstract game like Tetris or Chess. These games can be great fun. I played both of them enthusiastically for years. When playing an MMORPG, however, I am interested in playing a role. This wish can be characterized as escapist. I do not consider this much of an insult, actually. Rather it means that I am interested in creativity and like to dream. Within limits that is very desirable for every human, in my opinion. In fact, it is the basis for almost all literature, theater ... culture, and yes, also science.

That being said, I am very serious about the “as little as necessary” part. Some things are simply no fun. It may not be consistent with the virtual world that you drink much more than you could ever pee, but that is really not important to me. Neither is blood, violence, sex or all these things people consider ‘mature’ when they are, quite obviously, the opposite. I also acknowledge that the concept of “hit points” makes for much more fun games than the corresponding concept of the real world that would look more consistent with the rest of the physics inside the game.

All I am saying here, really is:
A small back bag can be fun. The concept of thirst can be fun. The concept of rust can be fun. Characters searching for a bridge instead of swimming through a torrent can be fun. A lot of things in real life can be used to enrich the game world. Fallout 3: New Vegas is the most recent proof of that.

3) Fluid graphics are much more important than good ones
Good graphics are great. But any frame rate lower than 30fps is a catastrophe. Stutter is a catastrophe. This really needs to get into the heads of game designers! Nothing breaks immersion more than that.

4) Character power progression (CPP) is a fun concept, but needs to be used very carefully
What is generally accepted is that humans recognize differences in numbers only if they are higher than 10%. So, if your CPP relies on items and you want each item to be recognizable as a direct increase in power, you double character power every 8 items. That means that after 80 new items the character becomes about 1000 times as strong. After 160 items he is 1mio times as strong and after 240 item upgrades the character is 1billion times as strong.
Obviously, that is not sustainable. More importantly, however, the chances of successfully combating something in a typical MMO tend to be fun only if the character power is within +-50%. A character with 50% less hit points for example will generally have no chance at all against a character with 100% hit points.
This is not only a problem in PvP, but also in PvE. Depending on the pace of the game, a good time span to defeat a “typical MMORPG mob” is somewhere between 10 seconds and 5 minutes. Therefore, the amount of item upgrades you can give out per hour played would be very, very small.
Consequently, the 10% should be completely ignored. Players love to become more powerful even if that power increase is not obvious. The new shiny armor is nice on its own. In fact, a linear CPP system can help to keep the players who play a lot within range of the players who play not as much.

5) Players should have the illusion of impact
See the post before this one. The point is not that you necessarily need a sandbox approach to MMORPGs. But the developers need to at least try to create an illusion. If they do not even try, the world and all events feel so gimmicky that I cannot really like them. This is connected with point (2), of course.

6) Players tend to optimize the fun out of your game
Careful with min/maxing. The best games in the world use min/maxing to be even better, but these games are not like a MMORPG. They are much more simple. Chess or Soccer have extremely strict rules. Only within that very strict rule-set can they still be fun when players start to min/max them.
Often, things that are great fun when you do them without much min/maxing, become absurdly un-fun if you give players incentives to optimize. Your players optimize the fun out of your game within weeks.
Arena-PvP is World of Warcraft is a wonderful example. And my fear is that with battleground-PvP Blizzard runs into the same trap. This is really not about the feature itself. Battlegrounds have been fun in WoW for 6 years. But with the introduction of rated BGs, Blizzard is suddenly required to ban fun things like rocket boots. Things like ranking, prices for the best or a high number of participants play a much larger role than the feature itself.

7) The game should offer players something to do no matter when they log on
This can make the game a bit addictive, but is really important to me. I want to be able to do something on my own – also in a MMORPG. But I also want to do things together with other people. Indirect interaction (like the economy) is also very important here. “Grinding” is not necessarily bad.

8) The game should make players socialize without forcing them to do it
Not much to add here. You want that new player to make friends in your game, because in the end that is why MMOs are successful: Social interaction.

9) Good games are easy to learn and hard to master
Easy to learn is, in fact, the easy part here. The “hard to master” is problematic, because not everything that is hard is also fun.

10) Progression by time investment is better than by skill
This is a really controversial topic. There may not be many people in the world who agree with me nowadays. So let me state first: I am not unemployed, I work 60-70 hours the week, but, obviously, have some “disposable” time during work.
The reason I like progression by time investment is that this allows all people to reach anything in the game. The reason I dislike progression by skill is that it creates elitist behavior.
Back in classic WoW, when there was not much skill involved in anything, even the High Warlords (PvP rank 14 – only possible if not working), would be nice people. They would help you when you asked them, they would organize for you. They wouldn’t tell you to become a pro or call you noob. That, at least, is my personal experience.
In WoW this all started to change with The Burning Crusade and since then, supported by tools to measure character performance, the skill segregation is running wild.

11) Treat me like a grown-up

Elementals stole my Mailbox !!

Have a look here.

Is this sad or funny? I guess both :).
The blue answer is ok, but then, I understand this guy. I, too, liked the invasion at first, but after I completed it once (~1 hours) it was .. boring? Certainly not immersive.

So .. here's an alternative event:
Orgrimmar and Stormwind are attacked by elementals. The strength and/or number of these elementals scales with the number of players in the city. And not proportionally, but more than proportionally ! *evil grin*

Why? Because we want to have a world event that does not crash the server.

So the event begins and elementals spawn and spawn and spawn and all players on the server know that Orgrimmar is attacked. These elementals do not go away on their own, you need to kill them! There are several centers where one or more really powerful elemental bosses and more powerful minions are. With loot - of course. After all this is World of Warcraft.

Everybody wants to be part of that world event, but since the power and number of elementals scales more than linearly, a lot of players die. These players respawn distributed all over Azeroth (to prevent server crashing). They cannot get back into the city, because there is a giantic wall of flame that kills anybody who tries to move through. Including paladins (immunity while moving always was a bad idea..).

Eventually, only a reasonable number of players (~200) is left and because the strength of the elementals scales down now that players die, they will be able to work towards the center and kill the bosses. For even more fun, you can have the bosses respawn if not all are killed in some timeframe.

What if they fail?
In this case half of all items on the AH vanish and the items in the bank are deleted .. .. just kidding ;) This is World of Warcraft after all. There cannot be lasting consequences.
So, I guess, the flame wall will occasionally and partly despawn for a very short amount of time. Lucky/bold players can get through. The less players are in the city the more this happens.

Will the event repeat?
Oh please, no! What about this: The elementals are very powerful in the beginning and scale down the longer they are on Azeroths' surface. What's nasty is that also the loot scales down *evil grin*. Use this mechanism to have the event last at least two days and no longer than 7 days.

Eventually the boss elementals will be killed and Orgrimmar be saved.

Healers: Big trouble. Heals in WotLK are so powerful that the amount of dps to kill a healer has to be a multitude of what a dps/tank could ever survive for more than few seconds. Thus, only healers will survive the event.
First: How did we even get there? How stupid is it that such a problem can even exist?
Second: Have the elementals have a considerable mana burn. Have them have a 99% mortal strike aura. Have them silence people. Have them occasionally transform healing spells into damaging spells if cast on ourself...

A lone guy at 4am kills all the elementals:
The strength of the elementals should have an offset.

The elite PvE guild on the server does this event on its own. The rest of the players is basically excluded.
First: Yeah .. that's the kind of thing that happens in a game that encourages elitist segregation and concentrates on guilds instead of places.
Second: The elementals should have an AE. (Make AE healing less powerful!!) This way players are encouraged to stay distributed all over the city. Therefore, you can allow a lot of players to be inside the city and require it. If you require about 200 players inside the city, the elite PvE guild will need the 'casuals'. Almost feels like an MMORPG!

"I am casual. I pay the same amount of money as everybody else. For these few days I have not been online. I think it is unfair that I could not be part of freeing Orgrimmar."
You are wrong.

Where's my mailbox???
Have a look in any of the other capitals.

You didn't say anything about a new pet!
You are correct.

Where's my achievement?
Oh! Sorry! Must have forgot about it.

All those elementals have exactly the same health. This feels strange and boring. Not natural, not immersive.
You are right. Great point! What about some random fluctuation so that people can cry out: "Damn, this was a powerful one!" ?

Concluding, WoW is not suited for such events. That does not mean, however, that it were impossible to have them.

Would it be a lot of work? I bet! Would it be a lot of fun? Yes! Would it be remembered. For years, at least. Can similar events be made using the ressources of this event? Yes.

Blizzard, please:
Try to offer your players something special from time to time. Just having some (cloned) mobs spawn, then modify some bosses, teleport you there to kill them and having it all repeat every two hours without any lasting consequences AT ALL .. sorry. This is cheap. We, the players, want to at least have the illusion of making a difference.


As you can see I am not afraid of a lot of unimmersive gameplay elements (unsurmountable walls of flame!). The motto of this blog is: "A MMORPG has to be as immersive, credible and consistent as possible and as little as necessary."

In the case of world events a lot of gameplay tricks are necessary to prevent the server from crashing. In this example, however, they serve a greater goal: To empower players to have (a little) impact. The elementals need to be killed before Orgrimmar is free again. A revolutionary idea nowadays.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blizzard makes us optimize the fun out of it

Once again a Blizzard post. There is much to say about Blizzard prior to Cataclysm. I will, however, keep it short this time:

One of the main problems with Blizzard is that they want all their games to also be played professionally. That would be ok, if the games would live up to that challenge; but at least WoW does not.

Rated battlegrounds make the players think about
- using >60% healers to never lose a Warsong match again
- elitist behaviour that segregates the community (even more)
- stack 10 moonkins with Starfall to slaughter all and everything in the vicinity

Just three examples of optimizing the fun out of it.

Point is: If you want your game to be played professionally, it has to fulfill some standards. WoW does not right now. Even more class homogenization will need to be done.

How much fun was simply playing your class some years ago and finding other people to play together with instead of optimizing the fun out of a game that encourages elitist behaviour !

This is so ridiculous :(


World of Warcraft turns six on November 23rd, 2010! It’s been a truly incredible six years, and we’d like to thank you all for joining us on this momentous occasion. To celebrate, players that log into the game between the dates of November 30th and December 14th will receive a feat of strength added to their Achievements. We look forward to another great year ahead and many more to come!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What makes a good Battleground ?

Meaningful choice.
I could end that entry here, but let me explain ;)

In PUG Warsong you can
1) get the flag and move the flag
2) defend the flagroom
3) defend a captured flag
4) get a captured flag back
5) kill players on the field
6) organise

In PUG Arathi Basin you can
1) try to capture any of the flags
2) defend any of your flags
3) figure out where to move next
4) kill enemies
5) organise

In PUG Eye of the Storm you can
1) Do all the things you can do in Arathi (5)
2) capture a flag
3) recapture a flag
4) wait with the flag somewhere until the center is free
5) defend a flagcarrier

In PUG Strand of the Ancients you can
1a) drive a tank or
1b) destroy a tank
2a) plant bombs or
2b) defuse bombs
3a) defend a graveyard or
3b) capture a graveyard
4) kill any enemy on sight
5) figure out where to move next
6) organise

In PUG AV you can (if no faction rushes)
1) defend towers
2) blockade points of interest
3) defend graveyards
4) attack towers
5) break through points of interest
6) attack graveyards
7) scout
8) (re)capture a mine
9) stealth (w/wo the skill) into the enemy base
10) kill enemies
11) collect stuff to summon stuff
12) zerg
13) oranise

In PUG AV when any party rushes you can
1) wait for 1 minute in a cave then klill a PvE mob after riding on your mount for another 1 minute and waiting for another 5 minutes

I'll stop here.
Let's now look at rated BGs:

In rated Warsong you can
1) stay together and protect your flag carrier while trying to overpower the enemy group that does the same. This is the best strategy, trust me.

In rated Arathi Basin you can
1) do all the things you can do in PUG Arathi (5)
2) talk about it while you do it

In rated Eye of the Storm you can
1) Do all the things you can do in PUG EotS (9)
2) talk about it while you do it

In rated Strand of the Ancients you can
1a) drive a tank or
1b) destroy a tank
2a) plant bombs or
2b) defuse bombs
3a) defend a graveyard or
3b) capture a graveyard
4) figure out where to move next
5) talk about it while you do it

In rated AV you can ..
Rated AV is too epic for WoW. No rated AV.

Warsong will be boring. The rest can be interesting. From a pure tactics point of view Eye of the Storm will be the most fun. Considering the environment, Arathi will remain the best BG. EotS looks ugly and is highly unimmersive.

AV would rule them all.

Evolution, yeah ...

We wanted to progress.

First we had skills.

The day before yesterday we had levels, because nobody should not be able to reach max-skills.

Yesterday we had equipment, because nobody should not be able to reach max-level.

Today we have titles, because nobody should not be able to reach max-equip.

Tomorrow we will have Path of the Titans .., because nobody should not be able to reach all titles.

What do you think will come then?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Blizzard’s Focus on Noobs and Elitists

After reading my blog for some time you might know that I am not a noob. Well, actually I am not the elite either. I am just a normal guy; a normal WoW player. Chances are high that you are, too.

Now, have a look at this.

A post on Blizzard’s new forums that are especially concentrated cool. Especially the fact that my European account does not allow me to reply or even rate the post .. ah, another topic.
80% of what I do in WoW and have always done were battlegrounds. Not because I am a PvPler: I hate arena. I did BGs, because I liked the combination of elitists with noobs. It was somewhere in the middle. You could join and leave whenever you wanted, but you could also join together with a friend and leave whenever you wanted. You would find good players in the BG. Organized small groups in Alterac Valley that you could help defend a tower or a flag.

Also, you could work towards a goal. Usually some kind of PvP equip. This was much more fun when the PvE equip also was of use in PvP (and vice versa), but the elitist PvPers didn’t like that the elitist PvEers had better PvP equip. I never cared about it, because I am not part of any elite.

Since TBC we have the divide and battlegrounds are less fun, but still enough to play them. With WotLK endgame PvP became rather strange. PvE equip would make you a onehit and PvP equip would make you a three hit. Unless you had a healer. Then you would live forever. The consequences of Blizzard's ongoing try to give as many cookies as possible to as many players as possible. Cute.

WotLK PvE focused on noobs that did not know anybody on the server and would never organize anything and elitists who would kill the Lich King heroic.
I am neither!

I am somewhere in between and was rerolling all the time, because PvP at 80 was crap and PvE was only for elitists and noobs. There was nothing I could do if I logged into the game at a Saturday morning. No reasonable PvE, no fun PvP.

The PvP problem is about to be attacked by Blizzard with Cataclysm. So, let’s assume they manage to solve it and players can live again for more than a few globals. Will it be fun?
Will it be fun for me? I thought so. Due to rated battlegrounds. My imagination went like this: Epic battles that you could join whenever you wanted. With a few friends if you wanted. That you could leave whenever you wanted. That would contain both casuals and hardcore. That would encourage you to do the little things that make you lose honor-kills, but win the game and thus increase your personal rating.
But now look at what Blizzards has done to rated BGs: You need to have a premade group and you will only be able to do BGs that require 10 or 15 players.

I know that there are statistical limitations for a latter-like system. If you need to play 1000 games before Blizzard can make an accurate latter that is a problem. So this may come down to fairness. In my opinion the game is no e-sport, so I consider fairness rather unimportant. I just want to have fun, damnit.

And Blizzard just destroyed all my hopes for that. People who do rated BGs will be well organized. They will not need any randoms. Consequently, this is a feature for elitists and not for me.

So I will have to do the even worse non-rated BGs. Even worse, because the elite is now in the rated BGs! Non-rated BGs are now noob content and will take even more time to pop up.

And this is what I complain about about in this post (call it QQ if you want): Content that is only for noobs that never organize anything or for elitists who only play with their guild and address their guild management with “Officer Smith, yes Sir!”

In short: I want content that is neither made for noobs nor for elitists.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Thanks to Tobold for mentioning Perpetuum.

Now, I might be applying double standards, but since this is the very first EVE clone I think that is ok. I like it; so far. I just wish it were a fantasy setting. Robots and stuff .. I've never really been into that.

Blizzards' rated Battlegrounds

If you are late in this discussion, read this link.

I think Blizzard does this perfectly right. I may be the only one, but let me explain:

The best time I had in WoW was during classic WoW trying to achieve Rank 14.
The only way to get this done was to do BGs a lot and win a lot. So to get it done people on my server had organized themselves. But they were not enough. They needed more people - people like me.

They set up a queue system manually. You could ask them to be put on the queue and when somebody had to leave, they would invite the next one on the queue list.

You would tell them that you would be online from 16:00 on and they would consider that and you would be on top of the queue at 16:00. If you wanted to leave, you left. The next one was invited.
The mix of an organized core and random players, that were organized by the core players, worked great.

Everybody could play as long as he wanted and drop out as soon as he wanted. If you were willing to manage the list (and do it well) you would be prefered in the queue.

This system estabilished server identity! This system achieved what all MMOs should strive for: To make the hardcore organize for the casuals in a way both groups enjoy.

The only thing that can destroy the new rated BG system is too much focus on performance. Too much min-maxing. During classic the community was pretty hardcore, but not very elitist. Sure, some players were better than others, but in general it averaged out in the battlegrounds. The peer pressure of a closed server made the elitist behave and not kick the 'slackers'. But it also made the 'slackers' behave and work for their progress.
After WotLK, however, World of Warcraft is not the same and it remains to be seen wether good times will return or are truely gone.

By the way. I dropped out at rank 11. I considered myself harcore at that time. But not THAT hardcore :)

Friday, November 5, 2010

About Balance, Part 2

After the last post you might think that balance is impossible. Well it is not.

In this very simple model there are five variables:

And there are four design targets:
T1:= Player_Health / Player_DPS = Time a player needs to kill another player
T2:= Player_Health / Player_HPS = Time a player needs to heal another to full
T3:= Mob_Health / Player_DPS = Time a player needs to kill a mob
T4:= Player_Health / Mob_DPS = Time a mob needs to kill a player

This yields:
Player_HPS = Player_Health / T2
Mob_Health = Player_Health x T3 / T1
Mob_DPS = Player_Health / T4
Player_DPS = Player_Health / T1

One varible can be used to scale the rest. I have chosen Player_Health, but you can choose any other.
Point is that balance is possible. Just not by cycling through the variables like in the post before, but by looking at all of them simultaneously.

What is interesting, maybe, is that some design targets are not free to chose by the developer. For example
T5:= Player_DPS / Player_HPS = Power of dps vs. healing.
Actually, T5 = T2 / T1.

Now, obviously MMOs do not consist of players and mobs that only heal/dps at the same rate. In fact, some players need some time to get going (e.g. Feral Druid) and others are best up front (e.g. Arcane Mage).

This not only makes the whole thing much more complicated, but it also is the only hope for some variety while maintaining balance.

About Balancing

Problem: Players die too fast in PvP
Solution: Increase health of players

Problem: Players have too much health for PvE
Solution: Increase PvE mob damage

Problem: Healers are too weak in PvE
Solution: Make healers more powerful

Problem: Healers are too strong in PvP
Solution: Increase player dps

Problem: Players die too fast in PvP ... ... ...