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 ;)