Monday, October 31, 2011

The LFR is not going to work

... for randoms unless Blizzard makes these changes. And even then, I'm not sure.

Complaining players are like barking dogs ...

... they don't bite.

What Games Are: Conclusion

This series has been very interesting for me and I hope for some of you. In this post I critically conclude it.

What Games are: The Other Point

I further elaborate on the application of the model and its limitations.

What Games Are: The Point

Several commenters have asked me what the point of this series is. The point is to empower us to make better games. And this is how the model supports that goal:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Games Are: Raid Bosses

Now that I have confirmed that the model works with one traditional game, I am going to apply it to a single raid boss. I assume the perspective of an average damage dealer in an average raid who is not the raid leader.

Link Exchanges

Merle Klein from Bigpoint GmbH has asked me to exchange links. Below is the copy/pasted email for you to have a look. What's your opinion ?

What Games Are: Chess

When I was young I would often play Chess with my father when he came home from work. He had a beer and we started a match. I usually lost, but I loved it. At some point my father started to tell me that he didn't want to play right now and somehow we stopped playing altogether. Years later I talked with him about it [..]

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What Games Are: Expectations

Blizzard knows that there is no turning back the time. The second a competitor changes the feature, they have to follow suit or accept that players have genuinely less fun playing their game.

What Games Are

We are back in the arid territory of theoretical game design. In this post I present a systematic approach useful for discussing games. Several terms are introduced and defined where necessary.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dynamic Challenges

Dynamic challenges rely on the player's ability to subconsciously judge for himself what difficulty is right for him. They do not confront the player with a fixed difficulty level to overcome, but rather encourage him to achieve the same goals by accepting higher difficulty levels.

Blog Layout

This post is about this blog's layout. Skip it if you are not interested.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Challenge Modes and Pet Battles

I can understand that Blizzard wants to add other ways of progression to WoW instead of power creep. I support that. But they do it the wrong way. Good ways are activities that use my unaltered character and his abilities. Didn't Blizzard learn from other occasions where they offered their players minigames? Oculus, anybody?

Scenarios and the Open World

How can it be a waste of development resources if not every player sees all the content, but at the same time perfectly acceptable to throw away every raid instance of this and all prior expansions with every major patch?


I'm not a particular fan of Arthur Schopenhauer. On the other hand, I never studied his work.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Not One Villain

MoP will not have one villain, like the last three expansion had. Instead, it will be more similar to classic WoW. That's great. But is it possible?

Light, Dark, Serious, Funny, etc

Five days now and while I'm slowly working through the Blizzcon announcements I haven't even reached the one feature that might very well change everything. Tomorrow perhaps. First, I'll write about the announcement to make MoP feel more 'light'.

Blog Moderation

This post is about blog moderation. Skip it if you're not interested.

Horde vs. Alliance

You can't just create a leveling zone about Horde vs. Alliance and then declare that this expansion focuses on that conflict. I see this leveling zone maybe once and then never again the way WoW is designed. If there is no frequent Horde vs. Alliance conflict during endgame, there is no frequent Horde vs. Alliance conflict.

CCP, Sony and Steve Jobs

No matter whether you anxiously await Dust 514 or don't even know what it is, you should read this linked article.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why Pandas are more silly than Cows

Please don't consider this me trying to convince you. I can't. Nor can you convince me. It is not possible to derive matters of taste with the help of logical arguments. However, what we can do is elaborate. I want to try to be a bit more objective in this post and try to explain many peoples' reactions to readers who are interested in understanding it.

WoW Player Activity

There is this chart making it's rounds on the internet for quite some time now. It shows player activity between 2005 and 2009 as measured by and its addon CensusPlus.

Final Post on the New Talents

Choices are good for games, because the act of choosing can be made fun. Pondering on a choice equals consuming content. But that doesn't mean that every choice has to perpetually continue being a choice. It's perfectly acceptable if players sometimes leave content behind, just like they leave the leveling zones behind.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Proposal for Wowlikes

Game companies nowadays think that players should have instantly accessible content. Well, this content is instantly accessible. No queue times! No hassle with other players you don't like! And yet inherently social.

"It was never a serious game”

“Father, is it over?”
“At long last. No King rules forever, my son”
“I see ... only darkness before me”

So what, Blizzard ?

So you did it. And now the results are in. About 50% dislike your youtube video. Imagine that! You make an expansion for your game and 50% of the people who watch the intro movie at youtube vote 'dislike' !

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Talents, A Fair Approach II

It baffles me that the developers apparently consider having to look up boss strategies a no brainer, but having to look up speccs worth revamping the talents every other expansion.

Please read the post below first to be able to understand this one.

Talents, A Fair Approach

Let's be fair. It is not impossible to offer different choices to players that are absolutely meaningful and equally efficient. In fact, Blizzard has done this before and they succeeded without even all that much effort.

Get Diablo III for free

Obscure payment models are the future. At least until some governments realize that a market economy works best when there is transparency. This post is about Blizzard's offer to let you play Diablo III for free if you subscribe to WoW for one year.

Why I quit WoW

It is amazing how serious people can become just because somebody they don't even know deletes his chars. I had to delete several comments on that quit-post that didn't contain anything else but insults. And you don't even want to know about the comments on the youtube video.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Those new Talents ..

Raid Officer to new member: "I noticed you use the same talent configuration for three consecutive boss fights now! Didn't you read up on the best talent specc for the different bosses?"

At Blizzard HQ

Employee #1: Hi guys! You know what? We will probably finish the last Diablo 3 talent tree within the next three months!

This is the real Cataclysm

I had a feint hope this morning that it had been a dream. But, apparently Blizzard/Activision decided that completely changing their target audience to Kung Fu Panda and Pokemon fans is what is best for a 6 year old game. Oh - have fun selling a game in China that includes killing Pandas ...

Friday, October 21, 2011

My WoW account is going to expire today

and I am not going to resubscribe - ever.

And here's about as much proof as I could come up with.

I thought it was a joke.
Pandas. No. Just ... No.

WoW Random Thoughts

While playing WoW the last four weeks several ideas came to me. Take these with a grain of salt, please. I'm not going to point out when I am being ironic and when I am serious. This is for you to decide.

As a rogue doing LFD dungeons you need to have combat specc, because this way you can attack two enemies at the same time. This increases your dps dramatically. No other specc comes even near at level 1-40, because single target dps is only important for bosses and bosses are rare and trivial enemies. Groups of mobs, however, are usually pulled as many as possible so that the game is a bit more interesting (for the tank) and then aoed. To do single target dps doesn't make a lot of sense in these situations.

First: This is badly balanced.

Second: Why do rogues (and other classes, like shadow priests for that matter) get their first real aoe damage ability at level 80, when the low level LFD game is all about aoe? Doing single target damage while the tanks do 50% of group damage just by tanking and the mage does another 40% by spamming arcane explosion makes me feel a bit superfluous. Maybe I am?

Third: Combat specc is all about keeping slice and dice up that increases your auto attack damage by 40%. Keeping this buff up is easy and only requires pressing some key every now and then. What is very annoying is to constantly target some enemy, because they die so fast. Please make it so that I don't have to target enemies.

Forth: I love that this low-level game is all about aoe. It is so much fun to see so many numbers on my screen all the time.

Picking loot up - even with auto loot enabled - is a pain in the ass. First, there's rarely time, because to wait for loot pickup would bore the tank even more. So tanks usually don't wait for it. Second, even if there was time, picking everything up after you aoed 10 enemies down takes often more time than actually killing them. Please make it so that every enemy I kill automatically transfers his loot into my backpack.

First: Applying poison should be instant and have no 'cast' time. I am a busy person, playing WoW just because I sometimes (rarely) have a bit time left in my busy life. Please don't waste this little time I have with time sinks.

Second: Why does poison only stack to stacks of 20? Why not 100, or better 1000?

Third: Poison should last forever and should not need to be re-applied after 60 minutes.

Forth: There should be a way that allows me to add poison to my weapons without clicking the poison and then clicking on the weapon. Doing this for two weapons is almost a grind. I get it that this adds some immersion, but we all know how important it is to speed things up.

Why are there non-combat actions that are not instant? This is just a waste of my precious time. (I am a very, very busy person) (Yes, even more busy than you!!). Mounting up should be instant. Picking locks should be instant. Applying poisons should be instant. Moving around while out of combat should be instant. Crafting should be instant. Learning glyphs should be instant. You get the idea.

Why do I have to click on NPCs to get quests? There are several examples in WoW now where you can get quests just pop up when you enter an area. This is so much more convenient than having to click on NPCs first, let alone moving next to them!

Speaking of which. I think I should be able to interact with any NPC I can see on my screen. There's no need to annoy me with having to move next to them!

Sneaking around is fun. Sometimes there are mobs that can detect you being stealthed. If I am much lower level these mobs can actually see me from farther away when I am stealthed than when I am not stealthed. Does that make sense?

Bug: Several items, usually random drops in dungeons, are listed as bind on equip. But as soon as you pick them up, they become soul bound. One example is the Eidolon Talisman.

Bug: Sometimes the minimap button is missing when in a BG.

Bug: When an 'enter battleground' window pops up and that battleground has not started yet, there is a sound bug.

Bug: Sometimes you win a battleground, but gain significantly less honor than the losers, because they killed you more often. Is that working as intended?

The matchmaking sometimes leads to ridiculous results in battlegrounds.

Bug: You get a message that some opponent on the other end of the map just drank something.

Bug: Item stat comparisons are sometimes bugged

I know it's working as intended, but I think monsters, including bosses should be smaller. It just doesn't look good.

Bug: Somebody else yells something, but it looks as if I yelled it.

I hate some BGs.

Bug: Raid leader of the battleground group should not be able to set markers everywhere. Fortunately most leaders don't know that they can do this. Yet.

When I do a class quest and gain a new dagger as reward it should at least be a bit better than the ones I already have. Especially if I do the class quest while having an appropriate level.

Bug: The combat log often lists my ambush like having happened twice.

Level differences have different effects when players fight players. So, there's already special rules. If there already are special rules, why don't remove any level penalties? Is it really good game design to emphasize level differences in BGs even more by making lower level opponents easier to hit and easier to spot (stealth)?

I was a profound enemy of dual specc, because I wanted to roleplay a fire mage and not just a mage. However, now that we have dual specc and won't get single-specc back, I see absolutely no reason to not add triple-specc. Or better multi-specc.
It's not like having to decide on two of three (and sometimes more) speccs is an inherently fun decision. For example, it has prevented me from testing the mutilate-specc as of yet. Most annoying is the fact that you have to change all the key bindings and hotbar configurations when you test a specc.
The current situations in a bad compromise.

Please allow me to reforge at level 1. Also make it accessible from anywhere. There's no reason to have to run to some npc before. I already told you that I am an even more busy person than you and don't have time for that!

Please make my bank space accessible from anywhere. No, wait. Please make my bags larger so that accessing the bank that is accessible from anywhere doesn't look so pointless.

Having to look for some friendly rogue to open a locked box is really dated. It's basically forced grouping! Please remove this annoyance.

Please make the buffs you gain from eating stuff appear instantly. There's no reason to bore me with having to eat for 10 seconds. You know how busy I am!

So I wanted to add that friendly enchanter as a friend to not forget him. But right clicking his portrait didn't work. Neither did right-clicking his name in the chat window work. I had to manually type in /friend XY. Is that some kind of Freudian oversight?

Mounts should be faster. All mounts should move at 500% speed, minimum. I don't care whether the server can send me the data at this speed. I don't look at the environment anyway. Please just make me arrive faster wherever I want to go. (Teleports to all loctions of interest in a town would, of course, be the best).

Many sounds in WoW are brilliantly done. But few are as good as the rogue stun.

Idea: Turn off auto run (num lock) if someone runs against a wall without getting anywhere for more than 2 seconds.

Please make my mail box accessible from anywhere. Just add some icon to the interface. Less time wasted => more time for fun.

Resurrection bug in Warsong.

Stealth icon bugged.

My WoW account is going to expire today

And I am going to resubscribe for another month. Because I found a little black hole full of fun. Here's how I play my rogue right now:

First, I level to level 10 in the undead starting area. That's actually pretty fun, because this area can absolutely be dangerous. Then I do BGs until level 15. I've posted about a lvl 14 rogue before, so you know that this is fun.

Next, I switch off experience gains and run instances until I have good equipment, most importantly good daggers. DD queues are surprisingly short at this level and I can do non-WoW stuff while waiting. Running those instances is mostly very boring as DD; but it is short enough to be bearable. It's a typical grind to improve your character. I never had a problem with that. Also, you can solo most elites, so I sometime sneak away from the group and kill enemies on my own. The groups rarely care.

Once I have good equipment, I enchant it with cheap enchantments. Then I switch experience gains on again, so that I can enter normal leveling BGs, instead of the twink BGs that have very long wait times and 100% best-in-slot heirloomed and enchanted characters with max profession boni. I do BGs until I hit level 20, which can take quite a while. At 20 I switch off experience gain and do LFDs until I have good equipment ... rinse repeat.

Right now the rogue is level 41 and this is still fun. And that's why I am going to resubscribe for another month.

Please keep in mind that this only works with a few classes, like rogues, feral druids, hunters and disc priests (the shield and penance are very powerful!). Other classes are victims in these BGs without being fully-heirloomed. And, yes, one reason this is fun, is because I can instant-kill every player who is not heirloomed. Of which there are still a few - especially in level 10-25 BGs. Later, at level 40 most players are heirloomed. I guess the new players quit by then.

In combination with being able to stealth, so that I can pick my fights, this makes low-level rogues fun to play in WoW. The heirloomed hero characters actually even add to my enjoyment. Without them it would really be too easy and boring to constantly instant-kill everybody.

My name is Nils

Tobold sent me a mail with yet another example of people misspelling my name. That's why I decided to finally make a blog post about this. Don't worry, there will be another post today.

My name is Nils, "N I L S". The genitive is Nils' or, if you prefer more dated English, Nils's.

Thanks for reading ;)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"You can't prove this"

The first subject I studied was financial mathematics. It was mostly mathematics with some economics attached which most of us found ridiculous. And rightfully so, as the year 2008 has shown. Anyway, mathematics is all about proofs.

A mathematical proof is perfect. You have assumptions and definitions which are all written out clearly. And then you have conclusions. The final conclusion proves what was to be proven. A simple example using the definition of an even number and the distribution law (an assumption) is this.
Consider two even integers x and y. Since they are even, they can be written as x=2a and y=2b respectively for integers a and b. Then the sum x + y = 2a + 2b = 2(a + b). From this it is clear x+y has 2 as a factor and therefore is even, so the sum of any two even integers is even. Quod erat demonstrandum.

After my first degree I decided to switch to physics. And physics was some kind of shock. Those physicists had a completely different idea about what a proof is! They would state a hypothesis and then make an experiment. And if the experiment was consistent with the hypothesis they would say that they had proven it. In my opinion that was stupid. Nothing was proven - if anything the hypothesis wasn't refuted.

And I have been right. It's just that those physicists, of course, knew that they hadn't proven anything. It was just an imperfect term they used. This is the reason why Mathematics isn't part of the natural sciences, but part of the humanities. Mathematics makes (arguably arbitrary) assumptions and then researches all possible logical conclusions which follow. While this is often extremely useful for the natural sciences, at the end of the day, Mathematics is not grounded in the natural world, but only in the human brain.

If you want to find something out about the natural world you usually don't have the luxury of knowing all circumstances. You can't just make assumptions, because, well, these assumptions can be wrong. Is the woman you consider your mother really your mother? You can't prove this! Yes, you can make a DNA test and the scientists may tell you that the probability of her being your mother is 99.99% percent, but that's not a proof. It is a typical result of the natural sciences.

It is the kind of logic humans use intuitively to some degree. It can also be defined in strict mathematical terms - using some assumptions which can't be proven.

Back to MMOs. Let's assume you are the developer of a successful game with exactly one million players. It is January and you change one feature. The player numbers drop to ten thousand within one week and stay there for the rest of the year. You are bankrupt. Was the change of the feature the reason for your failure?

You can't prove this! It could have been anything! Maybe aliens invaded the planet at just this time and stayed undetected. One of the things they did before they left was to make exactly 990.000 players of your game stop playing. Can you prove that this didn't happen?

When discussing things like this, one often encounters people arguing that correlation isn't proof. And, of course, they are right. Just because there is some chronological correlation between you changing the feature and your players stopping to play, doesn't mean that this is necessarily the reason. It could be anything!

But if humanity had only ever accepted mathematical proofs and not used Bayesian Analysis - in an intuitive way - we would still live in caves. Sure, maybe your computer doesn't work the way it does due to the scientific models applied. Maybe the models are completely wrong. Maybe it is just a coincidence and tomorrow the computer will stop working. Maybe you are just dreaming. Can you prove that any of this is wrong?
N. Taleb's famous example of the goose says that the goose looks at her past and concludes that she will continue to live a well fed life until a natural death. The next day she is butchered and eaten. Sometimes you miss critical information. Sometimes the people with doubts are correct.

But fact is that our common experience has shown that while correlation isn't proof, it is still a useful hint. Yes, sometimes it is wrong. Sometimes there is a common cause you didn't consider. Even though the number of people drowning increases at the same time that they like to buy ice cream, ice cream doesn't lead to people drowning. It's the Summer.

Maybe the aliens didn't only manipulate your players, but manipulated you, too! They made you change this feature which didn't cause anybody to stop playing. And then they also made your players stop playing! And now you think that the change of the feature is the reason, while, in fact, there is a hidden common cause that you didn't consider! Stupid you!

I think it's pretty obvious what I am saying here. First, I don't have all the information of the universe - and if I did, I arguably needed to have a brain as large as the universe. None of us have all the possibly relevant information. Certainly the developer does not! The trick is to make good decisions facing imperfect information.

Second, I don't want to prove anything on this blog unless I clearly state it. I am specifically looking at you, Azuriel :). All I do is making educated guesses - just like everybody else.

Third, my insights as a blogger can be interesting for developers not only in spite of me having less information, but because I have less information. Insights from the outside are useful for human beings, because we tend to become absorbed in our environment and ignore obvious things. We aren't computers. There's something called psychology. More information doesn't necessarily improve our decisions. Metrics aren't necessarily good: they can make you ignore more relevant but less quantifiable information. And those recent page hits from Anaheim tell me that Blizzard employees actually enjoy reading blogs written by bloggers who have less information than they do. I like that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How to Draw Players into Communities

I've touched that subject before, but it certainly deserves its own post. First let us all agree on this: Communities are good for MMOs (actually, any product). Zynga would agree, CCP would agree, EA, Activision/Blizzard, .. anybody who says 'no'? Good...

But how do we design a game that makes players create communities? First, we need to give them some tools. For example guilds. That's already enough to make a small percentage of players create a community. And that's why virtually every MMO I ever played had these tools. But it's not enough.

The majority of players doesn't really want to join a community. And I can really report from own experience. I knew that I would have more (any?) fun playing Eve Online if I joined a community. And after a long time I did join one (arbitrary) corporation eventually. But then I didn't really 'like' the people there. It's not that they were unkind. I just didn't really like playing with them. They were talking about things I didn't consider interesting. And they did so in a way that I wasn't accustomed to. So, because I didn't want to leave them so soon after I had joined, I just stopped logging in. From a game designer's point of view this community magnificently backfired!

I don't really enjoy joining communities. And most people do not. We absolutely enjoy our existing communities, but we don't enjoy any effort to become part of a new one. And one reason is that becoming part of a community can absolutely not work out. Like in this example.
Of course, there are counter-examples. Some people absolutely love to create new friendships. I have a few real life friends who do it constantly. But they are a minority. Most people don't like creating or joining communities. They just enjoy being part of one.
Consequently, just giving the players the tools to create and administrate a community isn't enough.

Also, tools to find the right community for the player, are not enough. Eve has them, and now WoW has them. But, really, do you enjoy using the Guild Finder? Sure, you might like the result, but using it isn't that much fun. And one reason is that, while it's certainly of interest what activities your future guild engages in and at which weekdays, what is at least as important is whether you actually like the people over there. If you end up not liking the group of people you joined, the whole community aspect can absolutely backfire.

The second biggest problem with these tools is that they only help those players find a guild who actively look for one. The new players who don't actively look for a guild - some of them are afraid to interact with any stranger - don't benefit from from these tools at all. And, make no mistake, these players are often a silent majority! Moreover they, being new, haven't played the game for long yet, which means that they potentially have many recurring subscription periods in front of them.

This reminds me that I put Gevlon back on the blogroll. He did have some insights into WoW raiding lately which are worth reading. Even though I don't agree with many of his conclusions, he does analyze many problems correctly.

Next, you can give existing communities incentives to recruit new players. Eve, as well as WoW nowadays, do this. And it's not wrong. But it's still not really good either. This is how it works with me: "Pimpmix has just whispered me to join his guild. ... .. .... no".

Also, these systems can have side effects. Just look at guild achievements in WoW that made many smaller guilds dissolve, because players joined bigger, more anonymous guilds.

All these tools and ideas aren't wrong, but the best way to get players into communities is this:

You offer content that can be enjoyed alone. But you also make sure that it is slightly more efficient to group up. Make your players meet each other while doing the same thing. And make sure that they meet each other repeatedly. This way they will start to empathize with each other. They start thinking: “Hey, this guy has been here yesterday, and the day before. He is similar to me.” Yeah, you manipulate people. It's not always bad. In this case it is for their own good.

After being engaged in the same activity for some days / weeks, the players will eventually start to talk. It will probably require some kind of event for this to happen. For example, one player notices how the other one is in trouble after an unlucky pull and helps him out. The other one says “thanks” and so a conversation is started. A few moments later they group up to farm the mobs together, because it is slightly more efficient.

But even annoying things can help. Just yesterday I was on a LFD run with my rogue. I selected “need” for a locked box, like I always do. In my experience, non-rogues sell them unopened anyway, and nobody ever said anything. But this time the healer with a female avatar (that always plays a role, yeah, silly) complained. I explained myself and apologized (I am a nice guy as soon as you start to know me. It's just before we talked that I don't care). We ended up doing three more instances together whispering about the ridiculous tanks we got. Then we broke up, because, well, it's not like I will ever see you again, anyway. bb.
So, even if one char 'steals' some resource node from the other or even causes the other one's death, this isn't necessarily bad for the game.

I got to know the first guild I ever joined in WoW, and that I ended up main-tanking for two years later in TBC, by repeatedly meeting the same hunter and his shaman friend in instances while leveling. Eventually he challenged me for a duel. As an inexperienced mage vs. a hunter, I lost many times. I tried to keep distance, stupid me. Yeah, I even remember! I also remember about a year later me challenging him and beating him repeatedly with my new rang 12 armor set and by starting the duel inside his safe zone. haha! ;)
Anyway, this got us talking and ultimately me joining his new guild. God knows how long I had played WoW had I not joined his guild back then!

If you remember my first example about how I ended up not logging into Eve any more, you see why it is superiour game design if players talk to each other about something else than joining the guild, before they start to talk about joining the guild.

Summarizing, you want people to meet each other repeatedly while doing content on their own. You want there to be occasions that make it socially awkward to not start talking. You want there to be a slight incentive to team up now - and in the future.

And that's really all the magic behind it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


First, let me thank Azuriel and Helistar for regularly pointing out a different opinion in the comments. Blogs, like any media, have the tendency to attract only people who like to have their own opinion supported. That's why it's great to have commenters who take the time to say why they disagree. Of course, this doesn't mean that I value commenters less who share my opinions *grin*.

Azuriel and Helistar commented on the last post:
The leveling/10m raiding community I was a part of would not have survived into Wrath if that expansion was TBC 2.0 - we were already bored out of our minds and drifting apart until Wrath came along.
Point taken. But please understand that I might never have stopped playing in the first place if some changes hadn't occurred. These are very hypothetical situations and hard to discuss.

Honestly, you say that you are disconnected from the community and are otherwise unwilling to shop around for another guild. Would being required to have a full Friends List and/or be in a guild to even have the notion of running a heroic kept you occupied all this time? Hell, one could rightly say that this "replacement" was the only reason Blizzard has another month's worth of subscription from you, right? If there was no "LFD experiment" to try out, is there another reason you would have stayed aboard this long?
Would I still be subscribed if Blizzard hadn't changed WoW at all since TBC ? No, of course not. But that's not the question really.

Please understand that I do not think that Blizzard should not have changed/added anything since TBC. I absolutely would have wanted them to move forward. They could have added housing. Or they could have added trade and a more sophisticated player-run economy. Or they could have added more variety when it comes to mobs outside of instances. They could have added a lore-history for items. Or they could have tested procedurally generated dungeons. Or they could have tried more divers battlegrounds and more divers instances, instead of homogenizing every single BG/dungeon into a 20 minute version. And what about at least some experimental areas in the open world that are actually dangerous?

There are many things Blizzard could have done carefully. Instead, they revamped the game dramatically. They replaced the entire endgame character power progression. They replaced major parts about how community works in the game. They completely reshaped the new-player social experience by adding heirlooms.

I said before: Adding some LFD functionality to the game, carefully, would have been alright. A cross-server LFD might arguably help with dungeon runs while leveling in a level-based game, for example.

LFD destroyed nothing; it created activity out of thin air. The people who don't bother talking or saying hello in LFD? They would not be looking for groups or joining pugs in Trade chat. If social "Friends List" people use LFD instead of using their Friends List, that indicates they (or the people on the Friends List) don't actually enjoy being social, but did so out of necessity. Sort of like, hey, Facebook games.
Excuse me? LFD stopped me adding people to my friends list over night. It did destroy something. And, yes, it also added something. Look, we can discuss this. But arguing that LFD is without any disadvantage at all is really not helpful. We both know better.

I am the guy who doesn't bother talking in LFD most of the time. Still, I explained many dungeons before LFD to the players on my server. I made many, many groups in Rift earlier this year and led them to the dungeon entrances I had scouted before. And still I am an asshole in the LFD more often than not. qed.

Blizzard learned that heroic raiding isn't necessarily doubling the content perhaps, but as a method to avoid having a single difficulty level (and shoehorning 25m as the de facto "hardmode") the heroic raid model was a pretty solid success. 
Please don't use straw man arguments. I never said that heroic raids where useless or such. I said that the number of people moving from normal raids to heroic raids, that is, the number of people doing the same narrative for slightly better itemlevels at the cost of a higher difficulty level, is minimal. The same has to be expected for the number of people moving from LFR to normal raid content.

Please don't take this badly, I already had the experience on Tobold's blog, where after endless posts on how bad the current raiding is because of "the dance", I asked to describe how a combat SHOULD BE. I wanted a detailed description. Instead, I got the usual generic answer about "making things fun". Yeah, sure, HOW?
So you are comparing me with such a self-opinionated guy like Tobold? Now, that's a good way to make me write a wall of text :). But do you see what you are asking there? Am I to create the polished version of an alternative WoW for you, from scratch? Last I checked I wasn't paid by Blizzard.

What I can do, is critically point out what is happening and give some reasons why. Also, I can report from my individual experience and, again, give reasons. If Blizzard decides to throw me some money, I might be willing to give more detailed advise that doesn't take the form of short blog posts.

It's very easy to criticize Blizzard, but at least you have to admit they are trying to change things (even if slowly and with mistakes), which is still more than what the competitors are doing....
Just for the protocol: it's also very easy to defend Blizzard's actions.

I don't admit that they are trying to change things. I blame them for it! The changes were not the kind of changes you would make to one of the most successful computer games in history which, at this point, was still running strong. They weren't desperate!

The second team took over a game that was consistently growing at 2 million subscribers a year and brought it to a standstill within a few months. Then they made the next expansion and started to lose subscribers a few months after it had shipped in Europe / North America and after the previous expansion had shipped in China! Many parts of the game are in a sorry, unpolished state: look at that stealth animation in the latest video! Am I ice-skating?

Yes, you can interpret everything differently. You can say that the trend of gaining 2 million subscribers a year had actually turned into losing subscribers near the end of TBC and they managed to stop the loss mid-WotLK. You can say that, if you want. You can say a lot of things, really, that aren't completely impossible.

But let me point out where I aree with you: Blizzard, every now and then, did a few things I like. For example, giving background information about dungeons and bosses in a dungeon journal is a good idea for this type of game. I also like the art a lot and the combat mechanics for many speccs are still leading the MMO world by a very large margin.

I also liked their attitude with Cataclysm to make the game more challenging again. But they completely failed by applying it only to the raids and LFD content and making the leveling game extra easy (and that is an understatement). This was a completely predictable issue. Had I beta-tested Cataclysm before (I generally don't do betas), I could have told them exactly what the problem is going to be. I honestly don't know how Blizzard could even think that an anonymous LFD in combination with a daily quest and past experiences from WotLK could work with difficult heroic dungeons. It is beyond me!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Your Content is a Crutch

Early this year Blizzard explained the declining player numbers with players consuming content faster these days. And I agreed. But I think they didn't understand why players are consuming content faster these days.

When Blizzard talks about content they mean dailies and raids, in short: narratives. And if narratives are your content, then more content won't help all that much, Blizzard. Of course, more narratives will help short-term. And should you manage to create like ten times the content per year, which is easily possible considering your profit from WoW, content would solve many of your problems.

However, increasing your content production speed by like 50% or so, won't help much, if at all. It's not like players magically started to consume content faster since mid-WotLK. There were reasons, and players being more experienced is only one of these reasons; and a minor one. Many of us have been 'experienced' for years now.

The reason content doesn't last long these days is the missing community. In a guild with friends I don't care all that much if I wipe many times in front of a raid boss or a dungeon boss. I am busy explaining things to people and as long as they appear to be listening and trying to succeed, I am absolutely willing to wipe many times. Even if I am not leading the raid and just eating my meal in front of the screen while the raid leader explains the encounter for the 10th time, I don't have much of a problem with it; at least not the kind of problem that would make me get bored with WoW per se.

This is different with random groups. My tolerance for failure with random groups is very low. Actually, it's zero. While I am a very nice player in a community, I turn into a sarcastic, elitist player in a random group. And I am not even ashamed for it. I behave according to the social environment which, in this case, I despise. Is my behavior really that hard to predict?

You will find out, Blizzard, that the LFR's biggest problem will be that people have no tolerance for wipes. And that turns raiding upside down! Raiding, when you look at what players actually did most of their time, was all about wiping!

But in a random group, you need to make the encounters really easy. And then, obviously, players consume the 'content' faster and get bored. You could also say: being socially invested in a community makes players have fun while engaging in time sinks. This doesn't work outside of a community.

Now, the obvious solution would be the same you used before: Turn bosses into dailies. Only one boss kill (boss loot) per day. And that, once again, would solve the content consumption problem by making the game worse.

You could also word it this way: When in older MMOs developers found out, to their surprise, that players would stay subscribed although they spent 90% of their time wiping on absurdly overpowered bosses, they started printing money. Producing this kind of content was very cheap and kept players subscribed for months, sometimes years.
By replacing communities with random groups, you are destroying a critical element that made this work. And you will find out that you need to produce content (narratives) at the rate at which a television series produces narratives, if you want to keep players subscribed. Probably, even faster if you don't want players to unsubscribe during cliffhangers.

Your hope that players who do LFR raids become 'normal mode' raiders later on, is going to be dashed. The kind of player who is going to use the LFR is not the kind of player who would do the same content at a harder mode for a slightly higher itemlevel and at the 'cost' of considerable socializing. Only very few players actually move to a harder mode of the same raid to get slightly higher item levels until the next patch. Haven't you learned that from the experience with 'heroic mode' raids?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Warsong, lvl14 Rogue

Playing around with the last pieces of fun content WoW offers, I found that playing low-level Warsong can actually be really good. And I am not the only one. Waiting times are better than at max-level!
Of course, the lower levels are dominated by heirloom players, so you need to pick your class and specc very carefully. Playing a warrior, paladin, shaman, warlock or mage without being heirloomed and enchanted is pointless. But if you can stealth or kite and find a nice weapon on the AH, hunters, rogues or druids are really good.

I recorded one of the more fortunate matches. It's 13 minutes long.
I think it is very interesting how low-level Warsongs are functioning. The amount of abilities the characters have is minimal, but that makes the entire game very tactical, especially for a not-heirloomed rogue. And even though the game is so dramatically unfair (I can't win a fight against a heirloomed char with 500+ hit points, nor does anybody with less than 400 life have a chance against my stealth attack), and even though I can die within the fraction of a second to even not-heirloomed characters, the game is pure fun. I played like 20 matches in a row yesterday; and not every one went as well as this ;)

I absolutely love the pace of this game without mounts. It's not the use-every-GCD-style of the endgame, but, well, much better: you can concentrate on what is going on instead of on your actions bars. Oh, and no magic explosions are plastering my screen, no absurd amount of AoE effects! And great looking character models!

Of course, this is not playing a MMORPG. It's more similar to any matchmaking PvP game and it might be hard to justify paying a monthly sub for this.

In the name of gameplay that stealth animation is now unpolished.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Quality of Life

In their recent class questionnaires, among other questions, Blizzard asked the players:
What are your biggest quality-of-life issues? For instance, no longer requiring ammo could be considered a quality-of-life improvement for hunters.
I thought really hard on this so that I can find the last hard edges in WoW. Here are the results.

1) I really don't understand why I have to endure flight paths! Everybody knows that they are boring. Just make it a teleport. It's more convenient for the player and less work for you. A typical win:win situation.

2) I don't see why I am supposed to return to a repair guy to repair my equipment. Please make every merchant able to repair my equipment. Once you've done that, please make every NPC able to repair my equipment. And once you've done that, why don't you just add a button to my character screen: “Repair equipment, gold cost XY”? Wait, why don't you just remove the durability from items and instead subtract gold from my pockets whenever I take a hit or die?

3) While leveling I repeatedly have to return to my trainer. But why? If I gain a level I should be able to instantly use any newly acquired abilities. Less work for you, more fun for me!

4) Why can only healers resurrect me? It's so annoying to not have a healer around! Every class should be able to do it. .. And while you're at it, why can't I resurrect myself, see (5).

5) When I die, I have to run back to my corpse. But why? There's no challenge in that. No gameplay! Please just let me instantly choose a respawn location in a 100m radius of my corpse. Thanks.

6) I can stay underwater for about 10 minutes. But yesterday I had to leave the computer and died. I think this is inherently unfair. Please remove the breathing bar!

7) What gameplay is there in falling damage? None. So, just remove it. I am not supposed to fall a hundred meters anyway and if I do, it's just annoying to die.

8) Movement via WASD is a good gameplay element, but why do I have to do this outside of combat? There's no reason I should have to use WASD to move from the auction house to the mailbox, really. Please just add a list of available teleport locations when in town.

9) Some challenges stop being challenging after some time and training. I shouldn't have to prove for the 10th time that I can beat a heroic dungeon. Please just give me the rewards each day for logging in if I did not fail the last 10 times. Thanks!

10) Please add more support for macros !

Bashiok, what the hell?

A Lesson Forgotten

Having about a week left of WoW time I am playing randomly generated characters, or so. Tanking with a lvl20 orc tank I found these gems.

I have to agree with Rohan. The more your 'reward' (I hate this word in the context of MMORPGs by now), is linked with the activity, the more enjoyable it is. Somehow designers forgot this lesson some years ago and started to add stuff like that

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A f2p system I like a lot

It's interesting to what lengths people go just to make their game be "free to play". MBP has a post up about a steam game with such a f2p system and I like that system a lot. Now, we should just remove those gold coins from the game and put them on the account page to completely separate game and business model. Of course, that would make the game appear like not being f2p and having no microtransactions. A crazy world this is.


I considered alternative titles for this post. But really, do I need to say more? ST:TOR is going to be interesting. If I end up playing it for more than one month I'm going to be surprised. If I end up subscribed after six moths I would be very, very surprised. Guild Wars 2 is going to be interesting for many of the new gameplay features. But are they about to offer a virtual world? Not really.

And those other games, like Vindictus (they are spamming my email to post about them. Here, now I did). Come on! These aren't virtual worlds, they are *insert dirty word*.

And, sure, there's CCP and World of Darkness which will turn out a virtual world. And even though I'm not really into werewolfs and vampires, I am certain to buy it, whenever it is realeased. If ever. I don't know enough to have a more detailed opinion about it right now.

This leaves me with Titan. And Titan is worth blogging about, because I expect it to be announced this Blizzcon. Ha! I think this is the first time I made such an prediction, so it has to be right. I mean, this thing is in serious development since end of classic WoW, January 2007. That's four and a half years of serious development. Blizzard announced Diablo III years before its release and they might do the same with Titan. And Blizzard is running short on interesting stuff for Blizzcons. WoW is declining, and fast, if you ask my stomach. The LFR will result in a subscriber spike, but at the end of the day it will only speed up the decline.

But why would I expect Titan to be anything else but a WoW clone plus some extras (like instanced housing)? Well, first because Blizzard is one of the last companies run by gamers. I often criticize this, as many of the shortcomings of WoW result from the hardcore raider's mindset. But it's also a reason for hope.
Second, because they still resist the f2p business model to some degree. Which means they haven't fallen for it completely. Third, because Blizzard said very early that Titan is the most ambitious project ever undertaken by them. And I see no reason to doubt this.

Now, remember when it was started! Some time during 2005-2006. This was a time when undertaking a ground-breaking MMORPG project still meant creating a virtual world with many features and not a WoW-clone with a ground-breaking business model and more daily quests.

So, what do I expect Titan to be about? They already said it's going to be a different IP. Very good, Blizzard, you evaded trap #1. I also actually expect it to have a cartoon-style like WoW, which means, no ultra-realistic graphics. I also welcome this. Computers still can't display 500 ultra-realistic character models and there is really no need to. However, they will have tried very hard to make it look very different from WoW. Will it be about medieval fantasy? I hope, but I'm not sure. In fact, I guess it is not probable, unfortunately.

What will be the defining features? First procedurally generated locations. They started this with Diablo I and it is the future, anyway. It has the potential to completely distinguish the game from any competitor and all it requires is a lot of time and money to buy the most talented people. I know Blizzard's management is greedy and rather buys back stocks for billions of dollars than to invest, but I still hope that a few million were put aside for some basic research.

Once you have procedurally generated locations, and thus unpredictable encounters, things like scouting and picking your fights can change the entire gameplay and create a radically new game. I'm also certain that they played around with collision control replacing tanking, but I'm not sure they succeeded. They'll watch GW2 very closely, I guess.

Titan will have player housing, but it will be heavily instanced. Player housing isn't really something I ever wanted, but it would be good for marketing and, really, it's not that hard.

Finally, Titan will have a completely player-run economy. But not for idealistic reasons. They want it so that they can further develop their business model which they already test with Diablo III. It is ironic that it required those terrible creative business models, to finally make companies put a player-run economy into games, but in any case I welcome the decline of soulbound items.

Oh last reason: It's probably the A-team's dream MMORPG! :)

Last question: when do I expect it to be released? 12. November 2019 after many internal delays and allegations of vaporware. Remember my words!

But I like the Art

One of the things that World of Warcraft did much better since WotLK is the art. This was at an all time low at TBC and has become ever better since.

The only thing bugging me a bit about this picture is that I am supposed to be holding a dagger in my right hand ..

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Converting some honour points into justice points I was actually able to buy a heirloom. I made a new char and then, at level 2, made this short video.

The Three Mistakes of WoW

Azuriel wrote a response to one of my posts. It remembered me to sum up my remarks after playing WoW for about three weeks now and having leveled up a priest to itemlevel 350.

LFD was introduced about a year after WotLK was released if I remember correctly. Back then I and many others instantly said that this is a mistake. Just like the cross-server battlegrounds have been a mistake. But this one was on a much larger scale: The PvE scale of WoW.

Well, players are often wrong. But this time we have been right. There would have been nothing wrong about supplementing WoW with some kind of cross-server PvE content. But that's not what Blizzard did. Instead they replaced major amounts of PvE content, all group-content except for raids, over-night. My comment over at Azuriel's place is this:
You may be right that WoW never put you into groups, but the way I came in contact with the server communities in classic and TBC were instances and battlegrounds. I met the same people (who played at similar times like I did) again and again. Eventually we would start talking; putting each other on friends lists to be able to invite each other when we wanted to do a instance – or even farm elites in the open world.

We started to know each other. Eventually people would tell me that they finally want to make their own raid and if I wanted to join – just a test run tomorrow evening?

This is how it worked. This is not how it works anymore.

I am not drawn into any community right now with my priest. I would have to make a very proactive decision to join a guild and then spend weeks to get to know those people. That's not how it worked in the past. I remember when I was the main tank of my raid in TBC that when doing an instance I was constantly on the lookout for good (and friendly!) players who might join my raid. In the beginning I, too, was asked to join raids, later people knew whom I already tanked for. Major parts of the server community knew each other. This added incredibly much to WoW !

There would have been nothing wrong with adding a few extra cross-server dungeons to WoW (e.g. during leveling), but to remove all the content that made the community know and depend on each other was a fatal mistake.

But it wasn't the only one. The second big mistake was the trivial leveling game. And I am not talking about making it faster. I wouldn't have a problem with a faster leveling game as long as I didn't dramatically outlevel my opponents. But even not-outleveled opponents are terribly trivial until level 60. And never become dangerous again.

Moreover, there is no variety. All mobs of the same level have the same number of HP, which you can even see displayed. Some have some special moves, which are irrelevant, because they won't even scratch your health points.

During level 4-9 in the Undead starting area there is some resemblance of danger for completely new characters. This makes this starting zone incredibly fun. You really feel immersed and not like a detached tourist.

Finally the third big mistake of World of Warcraft is the endgame character power progression. I wrote an entire series of posts about that before. The quintessence is that the mechanic that has been introduced with WotLK makes you gain itemlevels relatively fast until you hit a ceiling and then that's it for a few months. You can come back a few months later and do it again. This mechanic makes the absurdity of the system very, very apparent. Why would a designer want to do that?

Classic WoW provided reasonably challenging content that players could experience in a pleasant social environment at their own pace. And this applied to all players; from the most hardcore to the most casual. WotLK and Cataclysm herded players together at one difficulty level by requiring them to regularly experience trivial monotonous content in an unpleasant social environment. Classic WoW was far from perfect. But the character power progression mechanic was superior to the one we have now, for everybody but the top 10% of raiders.

You also know my opinion on why they did this: Because WoW is mostly run by hardcore raiders who just want to do scripted raids for their own sake. That's all they want from WoW. But it is probably the part of WoW I want the least. Furthermore, the hardcore raiders are part of estabilished communities. That's why the LFD doesn't affect them much and they don't need to care about how well WoW pulls people into communities.

The Rest
Last but not least there are several smaller mistakes.

The core combat has become too fast, in my opinion. It's often stressful and not suited for players of age 30+. This is especially true for PvP, but also for PvE. Combat is too much about speed right now and, consequently, not enough about pressing the right buttons and moving to the best positions, unless you mastered the speed first. Most importantly, this speed just doesn't feel right to me.

The power progression at all times in WoW is too fast. This causes all kinds of problems. It would have been easy to fix this with Cataclysm, but apparently Blizzard decided against it. They should understand that gaining new abilities and thus exploring and mastering your character is what makes leveling fun. Gradually doing more damage which isn't even a direct consequence of any specific action of yours, adds only very little to the leveling game.

Heirlooms and low-level PvP are ridiculous for new players and anybody who likes to engage in it without grinding for heirlooms first.

There's no incentive at all, not even an advantage, of leveling in a group of even two players, let alone more. I'm not an advocat of forced grouping, but that doesn't mean that grouping should be discouraged or even be outright ridiculous.

Mobs are often too large. If my sword can only hit the opponent's feet, sometimes only the toes, that's a problem in my opinion. If I can't even see my whole opponent, but only his legs, that's also a problem! The alternative, to zoom the camera out a lot, leads to not seeing your character anymore. That's not good; period.

Spell effects are often absurd for a melee. The screen is full of magic explosions, while you would like to see the effects of your sword hitting the opponent.

Character advancement gained in PvP is not usable in PvE and vice versa. I know why this was done in TBC, but I still think the advantages don't outweigh the disadvantages at all. Raiding just to gain equip for raiding and PvPing just to gain equip for PvPing not only rips my character in two halves, but also reduces my incentives to do either of the two.

Starting without any PvP equip at all at max level is absurd. Expensive crafted items whose existence a new player can't possibly guess don't help much.

Much of the late-game five player content is badly tuned for melees. Ranged classes are almost always superior, because they take less damage.

The leveling game 1-80 is neglected. Ironically after Cataclysm hit. Things like being unable to defeat even two opponents at level 4-6 in the undead starting area, but killing scores of them at level 20 and even more at level 30 is one proof of this. Learning curves for all kinds of activities are messed up! Professions are useless unless at max level, especially non-gatherer professions.

The TBC, WotLK and Cata transitions during leveling are far from perfect. And I am not even talking about the story. More polish is needed!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Leveling DDs

I would actually love to level up a damage dealer. In the past few years I leveled up three tanks and one healer. But only in Original WoW did I ever manage to level up a DD. Why? Because DDs can't level by doing LFDs. The waiting times for DDs are anything between 15 minutes to 60 minutes during leveling. That's too much. It would mean that I had to play the leveling game; which I tried. But I can't. While the story lines are sometimes mediocre and sometimes good, the meat of the leveling game is too trivial and too monotonous to be bearable for more than an hour.

I considered playing a DD up by battlegrounds, but for that to be any fun I needed heirlooms. And I won't grind heroics for a few days with my priest just so that I can buy heirlooms. Forget low level PvP without heirlooms. No matter what you think about it: the balance is even worse.
The remaining alternative would be questing with a DD in grey items. And no, thank you.

Blizzard are you reading this? The endgame has always been a problem for any MMO. But the leveling game, especially the leveling game in WoW with its many different starting locations and different classes / speccs was always a success. It isn't anymore. And since raiding-to-gain-items-to-raid stopped being fun late in TBC, I'm stuck. I just can't figure out how to continue playing WoW at this point.


Different topic. I put some youtube videos online to prove that WoW actually does try to teach the new players raid mechanics. You can see for yourself why this fails. And even if it succeeded .. I'm not so sure I even want Simon Says while leveling, too.

Oh, and if it weren't phasing it were a bug, I guess.

No Context in World of Warcraft

I just ran out of stuff to do in WoW. I could do more random Troll heroics to add a few more itemlevels to my 355, but I don't want to. Been there, seen that. I could start to grind a PvP set. But I'd start at 0 resilience, which is a bit silly as a healer. Also, healing in PvP never really looked that appealing to me. I did it before on my druid during TBC and WotLK and it was fun for a while to be immortal. But it feels bland to do this now. I could play through the 85 quests, but I can't stand the monotonous combat against the paperdoll enemies; even if the stories are sometimes nice.

It hasn't always been like that in WoW. And although I already know that some readers start to talk about 'burnout' now, I rather prefer the explanation that there is absolutely no context to what I do in WoW. Improving your character was fun for years in WoW, but to improve it outside of any context seems silly. It was fun learning to play the new class and to figure out how to bind keys, but that's done now. I know when to use my different heals and shields. All that is left is learning encounters; no thank you.

In the past there was a community, but there is no community now. WoW doesn't actually put you into any community. Everything is random groups. Sure, I could try to get into a guild. But I don't feel like it. Blame me if you want: I bet I'm no more different than a lot of other players. Why did I play WoW for so many days again? The combat mechanics are top notch; as is the art. Unfortunately that's it. There's no context for my character.

One last word about the Firelands. This is actually rather nicely done. But it doesn't add context, either. I run around on single player mode and can kill anything. The mobs are (finally) a bit tougher in the firelands, but they are still not dangerous in any way - especially not for a healer. How much fun would it be to have huge Firelands with different mobs and stuff to explore, and, yes, items to gain? A virtual world where you could band together with other players and pick your fights? Expand a frontier?
World of Warcrafts's core, the (group-based) combat, is world-class if you manage to find serious enemies. But there's nothing else there; no context for the combat.

The Dishonesty

More than anything else, it is the dishonesty that makes me cringe (link).

Q: Why did you decide to make the Guardian Cub tradable?

Since the introduction of the Pet Store, many players have been asking for ways to get the companions we offer there without having to spend real-world cash. By making the Guardian Cub tradable (much like the BoE mounts from the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game), players interested in the new pet will have fun, alternative in-game ways to get one. In addition to trading the pet, players can give the Guardian Cub as a gift to another character for a special occasion; guild leaders can use them to reward members for a job well done; and so on. We also hope this change will help reduce the number of incidents of scamming via trading for invalid pet codes.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Itemlevel 352

So, I reached itemlevel 352 after a weekend of playing a lot and have to say: WoW is too stressful at this point. Have a look these three videos of different random groups. I don't think I play badly, really. I'm certainly not perfect, but these are among the very first times I ever did these bosses. My execution can get better, but not dramatically so.

And how much better need my execution and my itemlevel have to become for these fights to be actually enjoyable? Because right now they are at challenge 9-10 at my meter. It's just too stressful to be fun for me. Please keep in mind that these are random groups of players I'll probably never see again. Stuff could be dramatically different if I had a good guild and worked together with my friends to overcome the obstacles. But we all know what kind of investment it is to be active in a guild. Since I really don't know whether I will play WoW for longer than one month I am not convinced that this is what I want. LFD and difficult challenges just don't go well together.

I also dislike what has been mentioned before on blogs: this focus on Simon Says. I want to play my character. I don't want to constantly move out of the fire or learn some special boss mechanic. Yes, that might be boring for the players at Blizzard's headquarter who for better or worse had to play WoW for the last seven years or so. But for me there are 10 different classes with each three different speccs. To master them all is enough content for me. To also play some special boss mechanics game, in random groups, is not really fun. Just let me play a properly tuned instance with just a few extra mechanics (one or two in the entire instance) and tell me a nice story.

Last but not least, this modern WoW is "just a game". It is so far removed from the simulation, that it's hard to even think of bosses as sentient opponents. Sentient opponents wouldn't create safe zones before they unleash a world-shattering AoE spell, so that the group can (has to) move into the safe zone. And this happens repeatedly in WoW at different encounters. I know, sentient opponents also wouldn't wait for us to attack and stuff like that. But, as I said before, somewhere there is a line. If the designers constantly rub the immersion-breaking stuff into my face, I am eventually unable to suspend disbelieve, sorry.

On the other hand, I did play over this weekend, so WoW absolutely did succeed at keeping my mind busy and looked like an attractive activity. It's just the question of whether I will continue. I said before: In contrast to other business models, sub-based business models only need to make players remember a good time during the last session and give them something to do for the next one. That's all. Did I have a good time? I wouldn't say that. The WoW virtual world is too far removed from anything believable that I don't feel like doing anything meaningful. Notice the word 'feel'? Of course, games and virtual worlds aren't meaningful in the first place according to most philosophies. But when I think about starting a WoW session, right now, my thoughts are not "I want to continue playing my priest and see what adventures wait for him". It is rather "I need more itemlevels. Should I watch a youtube video before I try the boss?".

This WoW easily moves in the direction of "Why the hell do I even do this??". Running with a fictional character through a fantasy landscape, exploring things, experiencing adventures, meeting other people: these are things that create a meaning for me. But gaining more itemlevels to kill scripted bosses with random people in a totally immersion-breaking fashion? Sure, it keeps my mind busy while I am at it. But I fear that is not enough. If it weren't for the blog and the videos I doubt I'd do this.

Of course, this is just about the LFD/LFR content. Questing and stuff is still so absurdly trivial that it's not at all able to keep my mind busy. It is impossible to die in the open world unless you leave the keyboard for a minute or two while fighting a mob. The stories are not bad, but very badly told. It's mostly like "Thrall does this, you have to do that. Now Thrall does this, now Deathwing does that, ...". I said before: I would like Blizzard's stories to be told by Bioware. Because Bioware's stories are abysmal, but they are really good at telling them.

So far ...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Healing Heroics at Itemlevel 339

It seems like my very first day at level 84 and those three LFD groups were bad luck. Since then most groups were actually pretty smooth. Besides luck there are two reasons for this, I think. First melees are f***ed in Cataclysm heroics. I can easily predict the challenge of any group based on the number of melee dps, and for some reason my first groups had a lot of melees.

You could say
0 melee: easy mode
1 melee: still ok
2 melee: really hard
3 melee: can be impossible

Second, I didn't use the 'random dungeon' feature at lvl 84, because I wanted to get into the instances that still had drops and not those I already ran at levels 80-83. Consequently I didn't have the 'luck of the draw' buff that increases all healing, health and damage by 15% currently.

Using the random LFD at 85, I was able to heal heroics pretty soon, and not trying to heal melees at any cost actually allows me to even enjoy the run. I'd say it is a 8 at my last post's challenge scale. It's really hard to keep everybody alive and the groups are far from perfect. By concentrating on the tank, the melees are more careful (when they reach 50% health and are not instantly healed). This way I usually don't run oom unless we fight two groups at once. What is extremely useful right now is the undeads' skill "cannibalize" which restores 35% mana over 10 seconds if I can find some human or undead corpse. Interestingly this works perfectly well in combat and has saved quite some wipes so far. I even ended up not looting prior groups before boss fights so that the corpses stay longer to eat. Yeah, that's almost some innovative thinking here in WoW. Who would have thought?!

This morning I recorded a heroic for you to watch. The full heroic is 1 GB and that's too much to upload for my taste. That's why you get a nine minute snapshot.

And if you're interested in my equipment/specc/glyphes, here's the video. I slightly upgraded the weapon, but otherwise it is the same.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Challenge of Leveling an Undead Priest

I drew a fast picture about how challenged I felt while leveling my Undead Priest as a LFD healer. I consider anything below 3 as only suitable as a tutorial. 5-6 is probably best for most players. Since I already played WoW and MMOs for many years and tend to play them pretty seriously, I prefer 7-8. Anything above 8 is stress for me and 10 is too stressful to be fun.

Keep in mind that this is 100% subjective. It includes feelings of social pressure, expectations and all this stuff. It is also only about the LFD and about being the healer. Before level 15, when you can first use the LFD, it is about the Undead leveling areas.

Curves for tanks, DDs, questing or PvPing can look radically different.

Level 84 was Underwhelming

It caught me by surprise. This level 84. I queued in the LFD as usual and started to heal the tank. What had already happened at level 82 and 83 was now very apparent: I was healing for the same amount, but at a very significant higher mana cost. In addition, the tanks had about twice as much health and played in a way that they needed it.

In my three runs yesterday evening, 8 (eight) tanks left before the end of the dungeon. Not because I couldn't keep them alive – I barely could. But because I couldn't keep the DDs alive and because I had to drink for about 45 seconds after each pull.

Now, in one way I love this. Finally the dungeons are no mindless zerging anymore. At least not for me. The fact that the DDs suck up so much damage is, of course, a result of them never avoiding any dmg if it costs dps. And who could blame them? Add a hundred itemlevels to my equip and I would probably urge the DDs to just do maximum damage – just like I did the last 83 levels.

I might try to record some 'good examples' later, but right now take this as an example: For about 81 levels my AoE heal would heal about 30-50% of a player's health. It was cheap enough to chain-cast it through most encounters – if I had wanted or needed to do that. Right now it heals for about 5% of a player's health and is too expensive to use if any overheal is involved. The same is true for most of my spells. They completely change their character at level 82-85.

On my third run I was kicked from the group – without an explanation, but I can guess why. If I weren't an experienced player, but a newbie, I am pretty sure that I would hate this game as a healer right now. The problem is not that it is (very) challenging: the problem is that everybody pities you – or is even annoyed by your equipment (by your presence). What is very challenging for you is not accepted as a challenge by them. It shouldn't be hard for you, but it is. If you use your cooldowns and most mana efficient spells in the best way possible - which is not easy - everybody seems to think that you are at least not letting them die.

This creates a very awkward feeling. Healers want to be liked. They want to be helpful. They don't want to be a burden. That is the mindset of a healer. To confront a healer with this level 84 is not very smart from a game design point of view.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Even Blizzard can't do Underwater

Underwater almost seemed to be the next big thing. Since it was known that GW2 wanted to try it out, Blizzard's team decided to try it, too. And Blizzard being Blizzard they put gameplay really first. The simulation be damned. But still a siginificant number of WoW players doesn't like underwater. The three dimensions are confusing (they are a bit for me) and nothing really feels right.

And this really means something! Because you can't really remove underwater walking further from the simulation than Blizzard did. This is what underwater walking is like; is really like:

And this is Blizzard's version.

It rather feels like running on a small moon; whose atmosphere is filled with some very light, perfectly transparent and slightly luminescent liquid. Me, personally, I think it's a funny thing this Vashj'ir. But only because I don't try to think of it as water, let alone deep ocean.
Forget the simulation, concentrate on the gameplay. In Vashj'ir that's not just what the designers did (had to do). It is what the player has to do in order to have fun.

Maybe underwater isn't such a good idea in the first place? I had much prefered some outland(ish) planes with less gravity. The loss of the 3D certainly wouldn't be a problem; rather an advantage. Putting the gameplay first means to adjust the simulation to fit the gameplay's needs. It does not mean to ignore the simulation.

If I don't feel like I am underwater then what is the point of underwater zones?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Blizzard Polish

Maybe it's just part of the "suspending disbelieve" thing. But judge yourself.

On encoding, the second video is an attempt to record at 2560x1600 and then scale the video down to the rather unusual 1728x1080 format using Lanczos3. This is 16:10, but looks almost better than the upper video, which is a native 1920x1080 resolution without resizing. Since both videos are very short and do not have a lot of moving pieces, I used the excessive CRF=15 to encode both. Naturally, both look best at 1080p at Youtube.