Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blizzards Handling of Forums

First, let me say that I am a supporter of strong forum moderation. I consider complaining about 'censorship' on open forums to be ill informed and even plain stupid. That being said, however, I also consider Blizzards handling of their forums to be .. improvable right now.

I will give you one example by Ghostcrawler:
As a rule of thumb, the better posts tend to discuss classes and mechanics and not Blizzard itself. :)

Blizzard wants us to not discuss Blizzard itself on their forums? That is not even in their own long term interest. And especially good are posts about classes and class mechanics?

Sure, as an individual developer you are constantly under pressure to get the small things done. Classes and class mechanics, for example. I can understand that a brilliant idea about class mechanics, written for free into their forum, would help Ghostcrawler more right now than a general idea about what could be improved about, i.e. low-level content.

But that does not mean that the more general ideas should not be discussed. Have a look at this. There are several recent topics about the low-level BGs. Try to find one that hasn't been closed by a moderator for being 'not helpful'. There are none.

Good posters get turned away if only the bad topics are tagged blue. This is basic psychology - don't argue with good posters being irrational. Blizzard, of all people, knows how powerful reward structures are. Why do they ignore them on their own forum?

In addition to that I would like Blizzard to reconsider what posts require locking. Complaining is not always bad. Even if it does not contain any constructive suggestions. It is important, because developers sometimes have a hard time to catch the big picture when they are working on details. (And 80% of forum posters have problems with that every single second).

The complaining about low-level PvP, for example, was necessary. Blizzard shouldn't want it any other way. Among a lot of bad posts, there have also been several very good ones on that topic. Posts that people put a lot of effort in. By closing the topic you also closed their topic!

This is no post about this specific issue, however. World of Warcraft consists not only of the small issues.. Even though these combined are very important, of course.

WoW also consists of philosophies, of directions the game is moving. For example the issue of e-sports during TBC and early WotLK. Back then there were a hell of a lot of posts about all of the sub-aspects of it. For example that a non-despellable 50% mortal strike that applies to all healers at the same time would not be balanceable in arena (without giving it to everybody).

By now Blizzard has long agreed that it was bad idea and I congratulate them. That being said, I also think that Blizzard might have come to that insight earlier if they had tried to answer constructively to well written complains about it. Not just calling it 'QQing' and be done.

Apparently, new forums are introduced soon and I very much hope that Blizzard has an easy mechanism there to tell good posters that they like their posts - without writing a lengthy answer that good posts usually require.

Concluding, I hope that Blizzard will be able to focus more on the good posts there than on the bad ones. 80% of everything is shit. But don't let that keep you from looking at the remaining 20% and always keep reward structures in mind.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Two Souls in their Chest

Perhaps it is inevitable that in any company as big as Blizzard there is more than one soul. More than one mastermind. While I have been rather unimpressed by Blizzcon, this announcement really makes me hopeful again. I almost feel like Keen :)

Once free to terrorize the world, Deathwing will randomly choose territories in Azeroth to attack each day until his ruinous reign is brought to an end. A blackened sky will be the only warning before every living creature caught in his approach is consumed by his terrible fire. The unfortunate victims of his malice will receive a rare Feat of Strength... as well as a repair bill and corpse run.
There is very little warning once he decides to strafe a zone. If you're not in the zone already, you have virtually no chance of sacrificing yourself to his flame.

If you're in the zone, you're almost definitely screwed.

This is incredible. Not for the event itself, which is nice, but for the change of attitude. During WotLK Blizzard promoted a passive Lich King who would only appear in a gimmick fashion every now and then and miraciously always spare you. Now, he may have had his reasons, but in the end I never feared that guy at all. Was he a danger to Azeroth? Didn't feel like it! Did he ever even try to kill me although I haven't attacked him first? No.

Now comes Deathwing. And ..

1) Deathwing is part of the open world. Believe it or not, but the open world is not only one of three ways of leveling and gathering herbs (by professional farmers) anymore. There is actually something going on.

2) Deathwing can kill you, even though you did not attack him first !!

3) From a pure gameplay point of view that doesn't make any sense! Why should you be killed at random without having a chance? But from a virtual world / immersion / story point of view it makes a hell of a lot of sense! Deathwing is not only the thing that awaits you at the end of Cataclysm to give you looot. No - he is a danger for the world as we know it!

If you are still unimpressed, you probably haven't play WotLK and haven't experienced that Lich King - or Illidans army, for that matter.

Unfortunately, in this youtube video Deathwing does not seem to kill you if you are on a mount - which is rather ridiculous considering the fact that every not-leveling player has a mount and uses it constantly. I hope it is a bug.

I also hope that it is really almost impossible to flee and that some lasting effect can be seen on the ground for some time after Deathwing burned a zone. Well - persistence has never been the strong part of WoW.

On a sidenote: Also part of the open, non-instanced world will be creatures that need at least 5 players to defeat and actually drop something meaningful.

Seems like Guild Wars 2 with its focus on a persistent non-instanced world (in addition to a lot of instancing) does have some effect. I like competition.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blizzcon, some criticism

During Blizzcon I somehow had the feeling as if the wrong questions were asked and the few good ones have been answered with some kind of this-is-a-party mentality.

Here are a few questions that I think should have been asked and should have been given an extensive answer, also in Blizzards own interest.

1) Why are old raid instances not tuned down (considerably) and used for leveling players? Shouldn't players who quest in Outland also experience the end of that story?

2) Why do you think that there is an optimal time to max level and not an optimal leveling speed?

3) Is the fact that low level enchantments are used only by PvP-twinks working as intended?

4) How important do you consider PvP before max level?

5) Have you ever considered introducing a tutorial to WoW instead of reducing the difficulty of the first few levels to take into account that
  • some new players misinterpret the 'this item will be soulbound' as 'I will never be able to unequipp it'
  • some new players do not get that they can cast from range.
  • ...

6) What are the three most important factors for WoWs success in your opinion? How important do you consider the raiding game for the success of the overall game from 2005 up to now?

7) How do you explain that Wow grew the fastest while only an insignificant minority of players raided?

8) Why are all dungeons in WoW designed to take 30min with appropiate gear and all BGs to take 20min? Why do almost all level 80 mobs have 12600 health? Do you think WoW could profit from more variety?

9) Does Blizzard employ psychologists to determine player reactions to things like, anonymous Dungeon Finders, the Tx => T(x+1) gear mechanism or items / mechanisms that increase leveling speed by increasing experience gain?

10) One of your 'mission statements' is "gameplay first". Do you consider gameplay and the feeling of a virtual world to be contradictory?

11) What is your target audience in terms of age?

12) Do you consider it worthwhile to investigate ways of reacting to external information sources (e.g. Elitist Jerks, WoWiki) in addition to including all possible information in the client (e.g. boss abilities)?

13) In your opinion, are there parts of classic or TBC WoW that are better than WotLK. Could you name a few?

14) How interesting do you consider WoW as an economics simulation? Do you consider it worthwhile to extend this part of the game?

15) Is your upcoming MMO meant to copy WoW or do you try to diversify your MMO portfolio?

16) Do you think that players' focus on dps is a result of the necessity for top-dps throughout the current content, or a result of the lack of other challenges for DDs? Do you have an alternative explanation?

17) From a game developers point of view: What are the advantages / disadvantages of a RNG-based loot distribution mechanic in comparison to a point-based scheme?

18) Are there plans to make the official forums more constructive? For example with points that are given to constructive posters, by blue only?

Friday, October 22, 2010

working as intended

My level 25 feral druid without heirlooms and without enchantments has just done stockades on his own. I queued as tank (instant) and told my groupmembers that I will stealth kill the boss for them in 60 seconds so that they can gain their award. They liked it.

By the way, the endboss is level 25.

Blizzards next MMO

Let's assume for a second that Blizzard does not plan to make a groundbreaking different MMO, but rather a WoW follow-up. That is, they try to beat WoW at being WoW and since they are Blizzard they think they have a chance where a generation of game developers failed.

What could they change? What would be possible differences to WoW? What would be the lessons learnt?

1) Trade
A nice economy with meaningful trade. This would easily be an addition to WoW. You can even keep teleporting players, if you really want. You just need to forbid teleporting goods. I consider this unlikely, as it is impossible to make a two hour trade route fun to a player that plays 1 hour a week. But it is a possibility. And it would open WoW to a completely different kind of player.

2) Just one faction.
Almost every MMO in the last decade had at least two factions, sometimes more. Considering how neglected the conflict was in WoW and considering the problems it caused - especially at PvP, I am convinced one lesson learnt would be to have just one faction.

3) The core gameplay should stay the same. That is targeting, movement, controls, camera, hotbars, global cooldown. This is the real strength of WoW. No need to change a perfectly working system.

4) They might add several different resource mechanics. They actually try to do this with WoW already: Rage, energy, mana, holy power, chakra, cooldowns, random proccs …

5) Despite the obvious advantage of a cartoon style, future graphics might make it reasonable to create semi-realistic graphics. I have no idea whether it would be a good idea in the end. But it might be worth a try. After all, good graphics is something you can buy for money. And money supply will be practically unlimited for Blizzards next MMO.

6) System requirements, of course, need to stay relatively low. That's a lesson most developers have learnt by now.

7) Full voice output. Bioware does it. And it is just a question of money. So .. I guess they will do it. There isn't really a reason not to.

8) Player housing? Guild Halls? Somehow this, also, is just a question of money. Especially guild halls. But if Blizzard doesn't like these features, because all cities (in addition to the landscape?) are empty as a consequence, they might not do it.

9) Player controlled construction, land estate, ... in short: Sandbox elements. Now .. I can dream. I certainly think that this would be the direction they should go. But it also makes a game much more complex and harder to 'control'. Blizzard do not seem to be sandbox fanatics with WoW, so this might be unlikely. On the other hand, this would be a perfect opportunity to catch the other half of the MMO players. In my opinion they should try this, because the potential benefits would be huge. It is, however, possible to fail here. So this probably comes down to: How bold are they?

10) Raiding can and will be part of the new MMO. Let's hope that it does not have the kind of focus it enjoyed in WotLK.

11) Unpredictable content. This would be a logical consequence of Diablo - influence. In my opinion it is likely that some small unpredictable elements will be part of the game. More is unlikely.

12) Dungeon Masters for every server. Would be great. Is, however, unlikely.

13) Grinding will be part of the new MMO, I hope. But I don't think so.

14) Achievements. Are a pest; but they will be part of that game. The management will see to that.

15) Lore will be completely new. This is actually something Blizzard has already state. It is the right decision.

16) Vehicles will be part. How much they are used, especially for combat, is another question., considering WotLK experience. The engine, however, will be designed to allow for that.

17) Naval combat. Oh yeah. Hell, why not? Seems to be a matter of money after all.

18) Air borne combat. I'm not so sure that is a good idea. Unlikely.

19) Flying in general was a bad idea for WoW, in my opinion. On the other hand, some players seem to consider it mandatory. They will likely have 'flying mounts'. *sigh*.

20) Space combat. This really depends on the setting. I still hope for a fantasy setting. But there are settings that allow for space combat. This is tricky, but has great potential. Especially, because it can be considered a matter of money to have a team that designs this in addition to teams that design other parts of the game.

21) Massive instancing. 99% certain, unfortunately.

22) Talent trees will be removed or be completely different. Star Craft 2 comes into mind.

23) Makros and user-written add-ons will be part of that game. This is one of the success secrets of WoW - and the iPhone, for that matter.

24) Destructible environment. They will try to have an engine that supports this to some degree. Questionable how much they will use it.

25) Some kind of a Chain-of-Command. Depends on the setting. Unlikely.

26) Diplomacy between guilds / user created factions. Would be great. Unlikely.

27) Under-water combat. They will wait for Cataclysm and see how it goes. In my opinion it will be nothing but problems; and not immersive, too.

28) Inventory system will stay the same. No item weight/size - unless they have some kind of trade.

29) Mob AI will stay very simple. Better AI is incredibly hard and the benefit of better AI, even if it worked, is probably low.

30) Collision control instead of threat. Now that is hot iron. If they can make it feasible, technically, this were a real match winner. Possible.

31) Holy Trinity (tank, healer, dd) will probably remain. No good alternatives in sight.

32) Variety. Worth an own blog post. More variety between mobs, dungeons, battlegrounds, raids, etc. There is no good reason to have all BGs take 20min and all dungeons 30min and all mobs 12600 HP.

33) A Dungeon Finder. There will be some kind of DF, but it will not teleport you as much as in WotLK and it will perhaps be embedded in a server architecture that makes you care about your reputation at least a little bit.

34) Infinite dungeon crawls by procedurally created content. How I would love that! 100% worth it,  but unlikely.

35) Dangerous travel. Unfortunately unlikely.

36) Locks, traps. Unfortunately unlikely.

37) Player-owned shops. Worth it, but tricky. Unlikely.

38) Player companies, shares. Unlikely.

39) Player-run financial services. Unlikely.

40) 'Soulbound' items. Quite probable.

41) RvR. Possible.

42) PvP, in general, will be limited to instanced areas.

43) Business Model. Subscription plus careful microtransactions in EU/US. Basically the same as WoW. Perhaps some limited amount fo free content, too.

44) Server identity. No chance. They will concentrate on 'guild identity' to be able to connect servers much more than today.

45) Immersion: Relatively strong focus in the beginning. Will quickly be reduced.

46) Character progression via standard levels. They will not adopt the EVE system nor will they introduce a skill points system.

47) Size of the world will be huge. This is a matter of money.

48) Death penalty will be low, perhaps innovative. Perhaps there will not even be nominal 'death' (Guild Wars 2). They will observe GW2 very closely.

49) Arena-like PvP. Probable. One lesson learnt is that a game needs to be balanced around PvP first and the PvE content will be balanced around PvP abilities then. This does not mean that PvP will be more important. It is just the reasonable thing to do, because PvE mobs don't complain if you nerf them.

50) In general, they will concentrate on their one undeniable advantage: Money.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blizzard Overstrained

Is Blizzard overstrained ? I say: Yes.

And I quote Ghostcrawler:
We are going to spend some effort adjusting numbers for 1-80. It's not as big a priority as 85 because frankly, more players care about balance at 85 than they do lower level balance. As some folks have pointed out, inexperienced players almost by definition, don't place a premium on balance, and experienced players tend to not worry about balance much until they're at max level since things are changing so quickly.
Rather than adjusting everything independently, we tend to focus on max level and then work backwards from there. It doesn't help to nerf say rogue damage by 5% from level 1-60 if we then find we also need to nerf it at level 85 and then buff the 1-60 numbers to compensate.
There is some goofy stuff going on at lower level, but we'll get it all straightened out. After spending so much effort revamping the old zones and quests, we don't want the leveling experience to be an odd one.

There are a lot of eloquent complains about the 'numbers' on the forums. That is about the average dps, hps and health of all mobs and players while leveling. Apparently, Blizzard considers the 'balance' while leveling just important enough to not want it to be 'odd'.

Now, if Mystic or Funcom had officially stated that they just want low-level content to not feel odd, I would have left those games even faster than I did. Until now Blizzard was an outstanding player in the industry due to their devotion to quality. With Cataclysm this does not seem to hold.

Please note, when I say 'balance' here I am not talking about some tricky stuff, like warriors not having a way to counter frost mage-kiting after the 2nd charge on cooldown.

I am talking about oneshots and mobs that die so fast that you cannot actually play your char. When Patch 4.01 was made available I made a new feral druid to test it out. I was especially interested in the leveling, because that is what I am going to do with Cataclysm, and actually have done 50% of WotLK already. The way Blizzard designs endgame is not for me anymore - even though until mid-TBC endgame was all that I cared about.

But this post is not about complains about the World of Warcraft endgame. This blog post is about Blizzard going to destroy the leveling experience, too. I find myself commenting on forums and my blog right now, because I cannot get myself to play my new feral druid. It is just too boring. And here is why:

At level 10 I got "Mangle". Mangle instantly hits the mob I attack and creates one combo point. The combo point can later be used to launch a finishing attack. Now, when I attack a mob of same level  or slightly higher (yellow, orange) it goes like this:

1) Mangle
2) Mangle
3) Mangle
4) Mob dead.

Mangle has no cooldown on its own and since the global cooldown for rogues and ferals is 1.0 seconds, I need 3 seconds to kill the mob. Before I reach the next mob, my energy is restored and I will be able to do exactly the same again. Making bad things worse, if the first or second mangle actually crits, the mob is dead after 2 seconds. And I am not talking about some twinked char. Since I disdain heirlooms this char just wears greens/whites!

Attacking red mobs is no solution, either, by the way. The main reason fighting red mobs (mobs of significantly higher level) is 'hard' in WoW, is that your abilities miss all the time. That is no fun, of course. They do not even offer a higher reward and usually quests for red mobs are not available.

It is important to note that I do not complain about there being no challenge. That's not the point. The point is that this kind of gameplay is not fun. I cannot care about combo points, because there is no way that any mob lives long enough to build up some combo points and make a meaningful "finisher".

To actually play the char, I entered Ragefire, a low-level dungeon as damage dealer. The randomly created dungeon-finder group was not very well equipped. None of them used heirlooms, to my surprise. So I was looking forward to have some fun. Unfortunately I wasn't able to build any reasonable amount of combo points here, either. Everything died too fast; including the bosses!

Now, that cannot be the designers' intent. Can it? It seems like Blizzard considers it a minor problem and it took them several days to even make the first constructive comment on the topic. It is the comment quoted above. Was there so much need to coordinate internally before a statement could be made? Did none of the developers feel offended that his careful low-level balance was criticized?

Can it be that Blizzard decided to make a whole expansion about low-level content to attract new players and at the same time planned to not care much about the numbers at low-level? Is Blizzard a victim of the illusion that you can make things ever more trivial and it will actually feel ever more fun? Can it be that rated-BGs are the main PvP focus of World of Warcraft (something I approve a lot), but level 1-84 BGs will be about one-shoting and who first got to chain his one to three abilities of 'ultimate death' ?

Strange Mathematics

And there is even more reason to worry. Let us have a look at this sentence from the above quote:
It doesn't help to nerf say rogue damage by 5% from level 1-60 if we then find we also need to nerf it at level 85 and then buff the 1-60 numbers to compensate.

Does anybody understand the way Blizzard determines the numbers?
In WoW, the damage of a low level ability (or any ability for that matter) usually consists of some fixed damage and some scaling damage.

Mangle, for example, works like this:
Mangle the target for 230% normal damage plus X and causes the target to take 30% additional damage from bleed effects for 60 seconds. Awards 1 combo point.

The "normal damage" is the auto attack damage that is determined by a level-dependend fixed value and some scaling with attack power. Attack power then is two times agility plus a fixed value.

Now, that is certainly no rocket science. If I worked at Blizzard I'd solve the problem like this.

1) Define a bracket of how long combat against one mob should take. For example 10-20 seconds.
2) Determine the abilities a player of each specc is going to use when he attacks a mob and in which sequence. Do this for every level. You can use a trainee to do this.
3) Use Excel, Mathematica, or similar software to automatically calculate the level-dependent fixed damage (i.e. X) of each ability to fulfill your requirement (1). Calculate a top-geared char and a low-end char. Make sure the scaling is appropiate to still fulfill requirement (1).
4) Iterate.

Originally, WoW was designed around players having about as much health as mobs. This way, PvP combat would automatically take approximately as long as PvE combat vs. leveling mobs. The PvE mobs just did slightly lower dmg than players and did not have any sophisticated abilities. Therefore PvP combat took longer.

Some remains of that system still exist. Unless you twink your char, you will have about as much health as the mobs you fight. Over the years, and especially with Patch 4.01, however, your damage has been raised dramatically.

Let me finish with this:
There are some players (and it seems, developers) that consider the game to be better the faster it is. Like: "It was so much fun to rush through the mobs after I twinked my char. Let us make everyone rush through the mobs while leveling."

This is the fun fallacy. Fun is not an inherent property of an isolated activity.

If ever faster leveling was indeed fun, we should make us level up with each mob we kill. The reason it was fun to rush through the mobs with a twinked char was not due to an inherent fun factor. It was due to the contrast to 'normal' leveling and the illusion of power that resulted from one's own effort. If you remove 'normal leveling' for new players, they will not have this comparison and just look at the negative aspects: The fact that they have several bars of abilities, but only ever use a handful of them. That is not fun. In fact, it is a sign of lacking quality.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Challenge Fallacy

Currently people complain that the low level content of WoW is too easy. They are countered by people who say that leveling was never challenging and should not be challenging.

I agree. With both groups.

Leveling, indeed, was never challenging. And it would be impossible to make it challenging for 30 different speccs and different levels. What the people who claim that leveling is too easy mean is not that they want it to be challenging, but interesting.

Consider two mobs.
1) This mob takes 20 seconds to kill. He reduces your health by 20%-80% depending on how 'skillful' you are (20% = pure auto attack).
2) This mob takes 1 second to kill.

Now, which mob is more challenging to beat? Neither. You have a 100% chance to succeed. But which mob is more interesting to beat ?


Random Nostalgia

When I leveled my second char – a feral druid at the end of classic WoW, I encountered some spiders in Stonetalon Mountains (~ level 25). They were lead by an elite spider. The second I saw it, I started to make a plan on how to beat it. I thought about my Tauren War Stomp in combination with healing up, hots, bear form, starting in cat form to place a dot. It took three attempts and an additional healing potion & bear stun to kill it. When I did, I felt great and I remember it today!! I love it when a plan comes together - everyone does.

Was killing it difficult? Not really. I mean, the plan is rather obvious if you think about it. Just use all your starting burst/healing/stuns and hope for a lucky crit. The point was not that it was challenging, but that I had to make a plan and to execute it.

At the end of classic WoW I would often go to Hearthglen with my mage and kill scarlet monastery elites over there. The (comparatively slow) power progression had made elite areas the only non-trivial areas. I could kill packs of up to three with my mage. I would just need to make sure they would not be in melee range for more than a second, because they could do some nasty special moves, like a crusader strike that reduced my chances drastically.

I would
  • Pyroblast the first at 41m range.
  • Start a fireball,
  • add my instant pyroblast.
  • Sheep the one with mana when he comes into range.
  • Start a fireball,
  • followed by fire blast.
  • Now the two elites would stand in front of me, one of them severely wounded.
  • Frost Nova both,
  • 8 seconds to gain distance and finish next spell. No more than 30m, counter spell distance.
  • Counter spell a healing spell from the one with mana.
  • Frost Bolt at the unhurt one to snare him,
  • fireball+fire blast to finish the other one of.
  • Run a bit until Frost Nova CD is up again – careful with pats!
  • Sheep, if necessary, evocation,
  • Drink mana up to full (20-30 seconds).

I remember it! But why did I do it? Well, firstly because I could. Secondly, because these elites had a (relatively) high chance to drop magical armor. Sometimes you would even get a blue item !!
(I only got one world epic ever in classic WoW. Sold it for 500G – with my personal inflation, that is about 20k gold nowadays.)
Add runecloth to that and a relatively high amount of silver per mob.

Was it challenging? Well … no. The above is quite obvious once you start thinking about it. And it is always the same. It could become more interesting if you tried to go into one of the houses, because space/kiting would be a problem. Every once in a while you would add and you needed to decide whether you could deal with the add or simply needed to run. Running was risky, too, due to circling pats, but it usually worked. Sometimes you would die – my fire mage would die in melee within 10 seconds (that was a short time back then).

If you read so far, you might ask why I tell nostalgic stories. One reason is homogeneity. I don't like it. Have you ever had a look at the amount of hp a level 80 WotLK mob has? 12600 – all of them! Sometimes a creature (e.g. bear) would have a 20% modifier, but usually all mobs are equal. In the old world all elites were removed. A level 60 mage in Hearthglen can aoe down any number of mobs. Is that fun? Yes – for 10 minutes.
There are very few pats in WotLK and if mobs can heal at all you can ignore it. There are almost no houses/caverns with dangerous mobs in them and if the mobs do a 'crusader strike' you couldn't care less.

Since mobs have the same amount of health – and since Blizzard allows us to see the exact number – all mobs seem like clones.

Now, there is one area in WotLK that I had high hopes for when it came out. Ice Crown. There are a lot of elites there – there are even some dangerous pats. Unfortunately, there is no reason at all to fight them.
  • The drops are worthless.
  • There is no reputation to be gained.

See, I would never have been in Hearthglen back in the time, if there had been no reason to. Usually I needed money and was hoping for a lucky drop.

The advantage of drop chances had been that you might have heard that somebody had made a fortune by farming at location X and now you did the same. But it did not feel very grindy, because you did not expect the next mob to have a blue item. In fact, you expected that you could farm the entire day and not gain one lucky drop. You were happy about the gold and simply playing your char – whenever you want.
Every once in a while, however, you would find a valuable blue item.

My main problem with WoW today is that I don't know what to do when logged in.
  • Dungeons are not fun anymore.
    • they don't last long enough,
    • they are a pushover,
    • they are about aoe and aoe only,
    • they are highly anonymous,
    • there is no social interaction,
    • they don't even have a remote chance to improve your char.
  • Raids
    • are PuG-only for me. That may be my fault. But there is no reason for a raiding guild – I can get all the stuff I ever need with PuGs and a flexible schedule.
    • are about one instance only for months.
    • are too much about aoe on trash. I get a headache from watching.
    • are highly scripted.
    • are about doing your rotation as flawless as possible to be #1 on dps meter.
    • are about boring gear
      • you gain upgrades all the time. Do you know the name of your items nowadays? I do not. The only thing I can say is: “I got the item-level 264 variation of the caster-haste chest”.
      • all players of your class look the same.
    • Are mostly about boss mobs that I have never heard before and will never hear about again. They are “just a boss mob”.
  • Battlegrounds
    • have a very long queue compared to the time you are actually in the BG.
    • are very anonymous.
    • PvP suffers from too much burst. Something that wasn't a problem during classic WoW, because the vast majority of players didn't raid much – if at all. The occasional elite raider would be focused by the (server) community that would actually communicate in the chat.
  • Arena
    • has been boring and frustrating from the start.
    • even more so with WotLK.
    • has all the PvP-related problems.
  • There is nothing in the open world that makes me play my char.
    • no reputation to gain by playing my char (only 'innovative' dailies).
    • no rare random drops that are worthwhile.
    • no worthwhile drops at all!
    • a total pushover – even the elites in Icecrown.

During classic WoW I could log-in and farm some mobs or do BGs in the organised server groups that were aiming for the High-Warlord title. Sometimes I could get a dungeon group together. This has always been a nice variation. Every once in a while I made it into a raid.

During TBC I could do BGs and raid. Sometimes I could get a dungeon group together.

During WotLK I did daily dungeons *vomit* and .. raid.

Today, if I log in during a boring Saturday morning there is just nothing to do. That is the reason I blog instead. But I would prefer to play *sigh*.

  • I consider small random chances for loot a very valuable tool. It feels much less grindy than predictable 'points'. I don't necessarily like the carrot to dangle in front of my eyes all the time.
  • I consider variation in mob power very important! Homogenization is to be avoided when possible.
  • I don't care much about challenge, but I love to make plans and see them come together.
  • I consider playing my char in the open world an important part of the game – especially at max level!
  • I consider interesting environments important (e.g. Hearthglen).
  • The more things I can do when I log in at a boring Saturday morning the better. 
  • Raiding is not the strongest part of WoW. World of Warcraft grew the fastest while only an insignificant minority of players raided.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Blizzard, are you joking?

The first BG bracket that new players will enter is the opposite of balanced. It is a joke. A sad one.

A new lvl 10 mage does not only get 1-hitted, but actually 1/3 hitted. If necessary, several times during a stun.

While a lvl 10 mage should not exspect to rock in there, this is in stark contrast to the PvE environment that makes you fall asleep (and wonder about those pro-tips in the tooltips that are obviously totally unnecessary). If I were a new player just having played my first BG against those heirloom twinks, I stopped playing instantly.
Really, Blizzard: Cut damage by 75% for all players and reduce power progression if anyhow possible.

WoW is not just endgame raiding! Especially new players need to like the low-lvl game to ever reach the end game!

Leveling in WoW V4

Since I plan to start all over in Cataclysm, I am very interested in the leveling experience. That is why I started an undead mage yesterday and got him to level 10.

In general, the game has been dumbed down even more. Yeah, yeah! It obviously, was possible. My spell tooltips do not tell me how much damage they do, but now tell me that 'this is an instant, that's why I should use it when moving'. Apparently Blizzard is convinced that

1) A large number of new players are 10 or younger.
2) These players can read, but not think.
3) These player do not feel good when figuring easy(!) things out on their own.
4) These players are a welcome addition to the WoW endgame.
5) The players won't be confused, by the fact that the first 10 levels are so incredibly easy now that it really does not matter at all what button you press when.

I needed to make this rant. Sorry.

The second part of this post is about the removal of skill ranks.
In old WoW you would gain new skill ranks when you leveled. Your fireball rank 2 would make (much) more damage than your fireball rank 1. Now, for some time already your fireball rank 1 actually already scaled with your level. But there were still ranks that improved it.

In V4 you will never again get a new rank. Your skills just scale on-the-fly. Is this good? I do not think so.

The reason for ranks was to make players feel like their character progressed, became more powerful. Unfortunately allowing players to become more powerful also has downsides:
- Problems leveling with friends of different level
- Balance issues
- 6 digit numbers are hard to read
- Immersion in the game world

That is why you do not become 10x as powerful with every level - even though there are certainly people at Blizzard HQ who pointed out that players like to feel more powerful, the more the better.

Since power progression has downsides, it is important to make perfect use of every single increase in character power. The player needs to know that his character has just become more powerful! This, however, is exactly the opposite of what is done. Basically your character becomes more powerful, but Blizzard tries to hide it from you.

In addition, you are so busy with looking/thinking at/about the next GCD now, that there is little time to look at the environment, let alone the damage numbers of your fireballs.

So the feeling of becoming more powerful is sabotaged. That is bad game design.

Pre-Cataclysm Patch

So.. WoW v4 is out. Here are my thoughts.

1) The big bang button to start WoW is annoying. DEVs already promised to 'fix that'.

2) My character now has some animations in the character selection screen. Nice.

3) Graphics are better - they can be fine tuned to optimize for fps. Works well.

4) Water looks perfect .. if you wanted to have water look like in laboratory conditions. I do not. Water should have waves. Of course that is asking for a lot, but really: The new water is perfect for a strange mysterious lake with deep waters. But it is not very immersive that all lakes - including the ocean are like this. There is a lot of work to be done here for the graphic guys. And also for the sound engineers, btw: Why is there never a storm on Azeroths coasts?

5) Under water now looks non-credible. You can see as if you were looking through air. Even dark lakes suddenly look light-green once you are under water. This probably had to be done to allow for under-water content in Cataclysm. I do not like to move underwater as if I were on land, but I agree that it is the only way to make under-water content feasible. Conclusion: Scrap-under water content. (Not gonna happen, of course.)

So much for an introduction. Now let's get to the meat:

I played an arcane/fire/ice mage in BGs/5man dungeons so far. In theory the new game mechanics are great. You have a limited amount of abilities that are interconnected. Easy to learn, hard to master. Great.

About the fire mage: Here this seems especially well done! You have several abilities that basically set everything on fire. What I do not really understand, however, is how this goes together with the less-aoe style of Cataclysm? If tanks cannot hold AoE-aggro, why do I get so many abilities that are just about aoe? On pure single target fights I will only be able to use fireball/pyroblast now.

Arcane has incredibly insane damage bursts on single target. My average item lvl is 255 with a focus on haste (former arcane mage). During cooldowns I crit on target dummies for up to 53k with a single 2s arcane blast! That is self buffed / self debuffed!
I wonder how my 10k fireballs are supposed to beat that dps? However, Blizzard already announced to nerf mages, especially fire mages.

Here comes my main concern:
Although it is great in theory to have so many interconnected abilities, I feel like playing against my action bar instead of playing against NPCs/PCs. I do not think that this is just due to necessary training alone. There are random proccs all the time that I need to respond to. That makes me look too much on my action bar! Now, I know that there are well-visible warnings in the center of my screen now, but they do not show the running GCD! I do not have the time to look at the actual battle.

Of course, I have 24% unbuffed haste, so this char is especially demanding when it comes to quick reaction times. But I am full of doubt at this time. Also during WotLK I prefered classic BGs. They always felt more interesting. You had more time to actually look what was going on - especially in PvP. (In PvE you never should look up since WotLK, because the rampard spell effects create a headache. I doubt this will change with Cata.)

Now, I PvP with a PvE geared fire mage, so there will be a remarkable difference to a resilience-buffed 85 PvP mage. But I do not feel like I die too fast. In fact, it is ok. I have 40m range, 2-3 shields (depending on specc), blink, invisibility, mirror images, rocket boots, snares, knockbacks (arcane mana shield collapse), CC. My survivability seems ok. But the game is still too fast.

So my main concern in one sentence:
I feel like fighting a very fast action bar instead of mobs/players.

What should be done about it?
My suggestion is to allow players to have a plan about what buttons to press (not so many random proccs). They should need to change this plan no more often than every 10s in a battle, better 20s. To make the entire game random-procc based diminishes your feeling to have your character under control and puts you on constant stress. The game becomes too much about the next second and not enough about the next 20 seconds.

About myself:
I play WoW since release and computer games for 15 years now. I am 30. If the games feels too fast for my taste, it certainly feels too fast for a lot of players.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Blog Moderation

It is my personal opinion that bloggers need a thick skin. I got a few personal-insult comments since I started the blog. I deleted them permanently and was done.

However, I differentiate between strong words and insult. Insult is if I think that the other person wanted to insult me. Strong words are if they just did not care too much about my feelings.

Strong words are ok. I, too, sometimes use them by accident, because I want to concentrate on the topic and not on foreseeing the others feelings.

Example: If somebody says "Nils focus on immersion in MMOs is soo stupid!", I would not feel offended. It is just his opinion and strong words.
Now, if somebody comments on my blog to mock me, ignoring the topic, I delete his comments.

I also believe in strong moderation to manage comments/forums. Thus, I might delete the above example if it is the whole comment and adds nothing to the discussion.

A strong moderation has nothing to do with "censorship", by the way. People in my country are free to state any opinion they want. They are not free to do it wherever they want. And they are certainly not free to shout loud enough for me to hear them in my house, let alone to post any comments they like on my blog.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Kill 'em all

When Blizzard started with Cataclysm one designer tried to convince the others that they should let all 80s die in a spectecular event and then really restart the game. The fear was that they would never be able to add enough high end content while also redesigning the entire game.

Anyway, this was mentioned in some interview - probably by Ghostcrawler. I wanted to write a post about it, but unfortunately I cannot find it anymore. So perhaps I have just dreamt it ...

Can somebody of you remeber it or even find the link?