Money Is Not Time
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 September 2013, 12:41 am
There is an argument among Free-2-Play advocates that "money is equal to time". The argument goes that some players are time-rich and cash-poor, while other players are time-poor and cash-rich. MMO design usually favors the time-rich players. These F2P advocates argue that F2P levels the playing field, allowing cash-rich but time-poor players to use money to make up for their lack of time.

I think that Diablo 3 has shown that this is not correct. Money is not a substitute for Time.

This is because games are emotional experiences. Only, the emotions evoked are not the standard ones, but flow and fiero. The emotions of engaging in an activity, seeking to defeat it, and the payoff from defeating a hard challenge, or finishing a long task.

But these two emotions require time. You have to spend time to get into the flow. And fiero is very often related to how long you spent working on the activity.

When you substitute money for time, there is no flow, and no fiero. There is no emotional attachment to the event, or to the payoff. And that makes the game itself less compelling.


Warhammer Online Closes
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 September 2013, 1:00 am
Warhammer Online is shutting down in December.  I played it for a bit when it first came out, and actually wrote a fair bit about it on this site.

WAR had several good ideas, most notably Public Quests. Having both an offensive and defensive target is one of my favorite UI innovations. I think that WAR has been quite influential on the design of the MMOs that came after it.

But ultimately WAR was a failure. I think it was a failure because, while it reached for new heights, it didn't get the basics correct. Chat was a nightmare, and the latency and performance were pretty bad. And who can forget the contribution bug. Not to mention that just logging into the game meant wading through a morass of splash screens and opening movies.

The real lesson of Warhammer Online is that cool design will generate hype. But polish and performance, the basic grunt work, are vital to success.


Blizzard Shutters Diablo 3 Auction House
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 September 2013, 1:33 am
The big news today is that Blizzard announced that they will be removing both the Real Money Auction House and the gold Auction House on March 18, 2014. (Gee, I wonder when the expansion will be released.)

As you know, I am not a fan of the AH in D3. I still didn't think Blizzard would remove it entirely, though. Props to them for being willing to reverse course as needed. I think the major turning point was probably the release of the console version of D3, which did not have the AH. The console version has been very well received.

That being said, there are some people attacking Blizzard for putting the AH in the game in the first place. I think this is misguided. It wasn't an obvious mistake at first. The AH was put in to solve the problem of third-party scams, and by all accounts it did a very good job at that.

What I think will be most interesting is to see what measures Blizzard puts in place to stop the inevitable third party sales, scammers, and spammers.  Will there be some sort of secure trading? Will trading be disabled entirely?

By and large, I believe the console version doesn't have issues with trading because you trade primarily with local players in your living room. As well, the different networks are segregated and more controlled. But I think that free trading on the PC will lead to the same problems as D2.

But perhaps that's the better outcome. The positives gained by removing the Auction House might outweigh the negatives of spammers and scams.


Proving Grounds
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 September 2013, 1:45 am
Until 5.4, I never realized just how much I resented the way Mists of Pandaria was turning out. I play a healer, and it just seemed like so much of Mists was healer-unfriendly. There was all this neat new content and game modes, and I had to switch to Ret to do most of it.  Brawlers' Guild, dailies, scenarios, Battlefield Barrens.

On top of that, it was so hard to gear up my offset, which made doing all this new content even more painful. The loot system in LFR makes you focus on your main spec, so you can't pick up scraps like in a regular raid. All the reputation gear used to cost gold in previous expansions, so I could have bought both main and offset. But now it cost Valor, a much scarcer currency, so all my Valor had to be dedicated to my main set.

Let's put it this way: I entered 5.4 with two i437 green trinkets in my Ret set. And that mishmash was still better than Holy for soloing.

But 5.4 has introduced Proving Grounds, and they are amazingly fun for healers!

My first attempt went pretty badly. Went through Bronze, but wiped out on Silver 5. Then I realized I was healing like an idiot, and decided to play properly. This time I beat Silver, and then wiped out on Gold 5. I spent the next couple of attempts refining strategy, and got up to Gold 9. That's where I stopped for the night.

I really enjoy it. It's not exactly like raid healing, but it is very PvE healing with a little more responsibility for the healer. You want to add a little more damage, stun a little bit, maybe even try to interrupt. As a paladin, you need to use your cooldowns, including Sacrifice.

The thing is that even if Proving Grounds don't teach you to raid heal, they teach you to heal, and to adapt your techniques to different damage patterns (damn rabbit bleed!). If you can do that, learning to raid heal is not all that difficult.

The NPCs are pretty funny, and play just badly enough to make it interesting. They miss some interrupts, don't stack, and stand in the fire. The comments on the healer threads are amusing. Some of the priests were complaining that if they Lifegrip the hunter out of the fire, sometimes he'll manage to Disengage back into it.

I've noticed some interesting conversations on whether guilds should require Proving Grounds for their raiders. I think that requiring Gold is excessive for a normal/Flex guild, but any decent player should be able to handle Silver. Requiring a Proving Grounds achievement is still better than requiring gear or raid achievements. I would break down the levels like so:

Bronze - for people completely new to healing. After this you should be able to do normal dungeons and LFR.
Silver - If you can do Silver, you're ready for Flex or normal
Gold - If you can do Gold, you're ready to try Heroic content
Endless 30 - Probably good enough to hang with the Royalty crowd

I think Proving Grounds is an excellent feature. I hope it encourages more people to try out the group-centric roles of tank and healer. Before Proving Grounds, you had to learn how tank or heal by getting tossed into real situations with other players. While there's something to be said for learning through trial by fire, a lot of people did their best to avoid that harrowing experience.


Giving up Your Unique Points
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 September 2013, 12:37 am
In the last patch for The Old Republic, Bioware added two new flashpoints (4-man instances). The Czerka instances and boss fights are reasonably decent. The role-less story mode is excellent. However, the flashpoints are missing something.

All the other flashpoints in TOR have a light/dark choice. Most of them have conversations. The entire group goes through the conversation, everyone picks a choice, and the game randomly chooses a choice to play out the storyline.

The new Czerka instances are missing that element. They play like a pretty normal dungeon from WoW or similar games.

I think Bioware has listened to all the speed runners who urge people to "spacebar" through the conversations. Now there is no conversation to spacebar through. Admittedly, I only listen to the conversations the first few times I run an instance. Afterwards, I spacebar through them.

But those conversations are what made TOR flashpoints unique. I enjoyed them. Some of the conversation and choice-heavy instances are the best part of TOR.

Basically, if I wanted to run a straightforward, linear instance without conversations and LS/DS choices, I'd play WoW. I think giving up your unique points for the sake of end game efficiency is a mistake.

The Czerka flashpoints are good MMO instanced content. But they are not good TOR flashpoints.


5.4 Holy Paladin Changes
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 September 2013, 12:58 am
Patch 5.4 comes out tomorrow, and there are a fair number of changes for Holy Paladins. Here is a quick rundown of the major changes as I see them.

  • Tier 3 talents are rebalanced - Mastery no longer affects the Eternal Flame HoT. The HoT does tick for more healing. Sacred Shield can be maintained on 3 targets. Selfless Healer will give you a Holy Power charge when you Judge (but Judgement increased in cost) and you can get free, instant Divine Light and Holy Radiances. I like the new Sacred Shield. Selfless Healer looks powerful, but you have to change your playstyle.

  • Mana changes - Seal of Insight no longer gives back mana. Divine Plea now has no drawback. You should use Divine Plea on cooldown as soon as you have spent some mana. There is no reason to melee anymore.

  • Holy Shock improvements - Holy Shock became cheaper and the cooldown is now affected by Haste. Combined with the change to Eternal Flame, Haste might become the new stat of choice.

  • Guardian of Ancient Kings - cooldown is lowered, but only heals the target, not multiple people.

  • Glyph of Blessing of Sacrifice - removes the drawback on Sacrifice. This is now a must-have.

  • AoE Heals - had their mechanics changed to improve performance during raids. They should still heal for the same amount, but they now heal in a slightly different style.
There's probably a couple other minor changes. I'm probably going to switch to Sacred Shield. I may also try a Haste build and see how that plays. I did like the faster Holy Shocks with T14, and the new changes may bring that style of play back.

There is also lots of new content. I am very interested in seeing how Proving Grounds and Flex Raids turn out.



FFXIV: Launch Woes
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 September 2013, 12:59 am
Final Fantasy XIV has been out for a week or so. There have been two experiences with the game. The first, the actual game itself, is very good and a lot of fun. The second, trying to actually log into the game, is very unfortunate.

The problem is FFXIV was not prepared for the amount of interest. The producer has said that, since it was a relaunch of a failed game, they predicted that it would start slow, and slowly grow through word of mouth. This may have been a reasonable assumption.

I think that they got a lot of last minute sales. I don't think the vast majority of the audience realized it was a relaunch. The 1.0 launch slipped under the radar for a lot people, including myself. As well, there are so many FF games that it is sometimes hard to remember exactly which number the series is on.

In any case, the servers have been swamped. Character creation has been locked on most servers. Most NA/EU servers are full, and you cannot even log into them. Personally, I've been experimenting with random characters on the Japanese servers.

Now, there are some technical flaws that make the situation worse. The log-in queue system is not very good, it seems to only handle a few people. Most of the time, attempting to log into a server is met with a flat rejection, rather than a queue. This encourages people to spam the login, hoping to catch the small window when someone leaves the server.

The second issue is that there is no auto-logout if someone has been AFK for a while. People are logging in, and simply never logging off. As we have seen time and again in MMOs, gaining personal advantage trumps behaving in a way that would benefit the group as a whole.

Tomorrow, Square is planning to add more servers. While this will be good, I hope they don't go overboard like The Old Republic did. Overly full servers now are better than half-empty servers in a couple months. I can see a lot of people trying this game and deciding that it is not for them. It is a slower, more old-school experience, with all the inconvenience that implies.

The real lesson is that these server-based games should start limiting sales. With physical sales, you could match your copies printed to your server hardware. With digital sales, the temptation is to just sell an infinite number of copies. As pretty much every major launch in the last few years proved, that creates an unhappy launch environment. The artificial scarcity (assuming that the game is good) might even help the sales, by creating more interest and more anticipation for new sales.


The Next Warchief
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 September 2013, 1:14 am
In 5.4, Garrosh Hellscream will be deposed, and a new warchief chosen to lead the Horde. Who do you think the next warchief will be?

I think that Blizzard will not pick someone obscure. They will pick someone with a lot of name recognition, who makes sense to the average, casual Horde player. With that in mind, here are my rankings:

Front-runner - Vol'jin

Vol'jin has gotten a lot of screen time, including a full novel. He's also the driving force behind the rebellion, and has been a racial leader for all of WoW. That makes him the obvious choice.

Contender - Lor'themar

Lor'themar has also gotten a lot of screen time in MoP, and has been developed into an admirable, competent leader. However, the big negative is that he is a blood elf. The Horde's motif in Warcraft is to be the "monstrous" faction, the outsiders. Having a pretty-boy blood elf be the Warchief cuts against that, and cuts against the Horde's identity in a major way.

Contender - Thrall

Thrall was the previous Warchief, and he has very high name recognition. But he's also the one who left the Horde, and it might seem weird to just waltz back into leadership. However, the orcs will still need a racial leader. Thrall is pretty much the most important orc left, and is likely to be the orc racial leader. Having Thrall be leader of the orcs--but not Warchief--may seem odd.

Dark Horse - Sylvannas

It's Sylvannas. Massive name recognition and popularity, and cunning enough that her ascension could seem plausible. However, she's been on the sidelines for most of Mists, so it would be odd for her to come out of nowhere and grab the throne. Plus, what would she really do as Warchief? She has her kingdom and her armies over in the Eastern Kingdoms. Taking on leadership of the entire Horde seems like it would gain her a lot of trouble and not many advantages.

I would expect her to use this opportunity to throw out the Kor'koron Overseers in the Undercity. That seems like a very Sylvannas-like move to me.

Conclusion

That's how I see the race for Warchief. I think Blizzard is going to pick Vol'jin. He's the one they've been setting up, the one who's story arc leads to the mantle of Warchief. To be honest, picking anyone else really seems like deliberately making a twist ending, just for the sake of having a twist. That rarely works out well.


General Chat
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 August 2013, 11:55 pm
I got into a bit of an argument on FFXIV yesterday. There were a couple of people having a random conversation in general chat (or shout, which is FFXIV's zone channel). Then a third person, Octavia, got upset with those two, and told them that general chat was for people to find groups and sell stuff. Octavia said that the other two were "making general chat like that of WoW".

I felt that was incorrect. I don't want to see general chat to be a list of "LFG, LFG, LFG, WTS". I like seeing random conversations.

But then again, random conversations often make LFG messages disappear if people are talking a lot. That can be frustrating to someone who is looking for a group. Also, conversations that touch on hot topics such as politics and religion are also annoying. Seeing variations of "Trudeau/Harper is a meanie"[1] makes me want to turn off general chat.

That's not even to mention getting into barrens chat and the Chuck Norris or even less savory spam.

I don't know. Trying to restrict conversation, to move the conversational norms to just WTS and LFG seems excessive to me. At the same time, I see the attraction of it.

[1] In some alternate universe where Canadian politics is debated in MMO chat.


First Impressions: Path of Exile
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 August 2013, 2:22 am
It all starts with Diablo 2. Diablo 3 took one path, streamlining and simplifying systems. Path of Exile takes the opposite path, dialing complexity up to eleven.

Path of Exile is a Diablo-style action RPG. There are six classes: Warrior, Duelist, Ranger, Shadow, Witch, and Templar. Each class is locked to a specific gender and model. Like most action RPGs, you wander around the zone killing things for randomly dropped loot, upgrading your gear as you level. However, many of the systems are very different from the standard.

For starters, abilities do not belong to the class. Instead they are gems. All gear has sockets. Sockets are red, green, or blue. You match the ability gem to the socket. Let's say that you have a Templar and you find a Glacial Hammer blue gem. You put that gem in your weapon or armor piece with a blue socket and you can now use the ability. Any class can use any ability, only some classes are more suited to the ability than others. While you have the ability gem equipped, the gem accrues XP and levels up.

Then there is the talent tree. I urge you to go take a look at it. It is the ultimate talent tree, with hundreds of talents.  All six classes are embedded in the same tree, but talents closer to the class are more suitable. For example, if you wanted to make a necromancer, the major minion talents are close to the Witch's starting location. But you could still reach those talents from another class, it would just take longer.

I believe the development studio is from New Zealand. This gives the game a unique flavor. The accents are New Zealand or Australian. The native warrior is based on the Maori, I believe, rather than the typical Norse or African. It just feels very different from the norm.

There are other interesting touches. There doesn't seem to be any gold. Instead people trade using scraps of Scrolls of Wisdom, which allow you to identify magical items, and other bartered items. This is a very interesting idea, getting across the idea that this is an uncivilized land without even basic luxuries like coinage. Health and mana potions are gear items which can have stats. The potions refill as you kill monsters.

Path of Exile is also big into "leagues", which are modes of play where you start a new character. Each league often has specific rules. A simple example is the Hardcore league where you can only die once, and then your character transfers to the regular league. But leagues can get a lot more complicated. For example, there's a league which starts at a given time and lasts for 12 hours or so. Every few minutes, the lowest level character is kicked out of the league. The last character standing wins a prize.

There is really only one thing I dislike about Path of Exile, but unfortunately it is a major element. I do not like the graphics. It's all from the "realistic" palette, all dark greens, dark reds, greys and browns. I just find it unpleasant, and even hard to identify elements on the screen. I much prefer more "cartoony" graphics which "pop" on the screen. But I think this is very much personal preference. Other people may like this graphics style better.

Mechanically, Path of Exile is a very intriguing game. It's Free-2-Play, so it's easy to check out. It's complex, but if you feel that D3 went in the wrong direction, you'll probably enjoy the complexity.


Subscriptions Strike Back!
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 August 2013, 1:34 am
The latest news is three up-and-coming MMOs (Final Fantasy XIV, Wildstar, and The Elder Scrolls Online) are going to try for subscriptions rather than Free-2-Play.

Reactions seem to mostly mirror existing biases. The people who think F2P is the future, feel this is going to fail hard, or that it is just a money grab before the inevitable F2P conversion. The people who champion subscriptions want to believe that the tide has turned, and that super-aggressive monetization is falling out of fashion.

The only real conclusion I am drawing is that, given a choice, most developers would prefer subscriptions. The steady income without the need to constantly hawk the latest items in the store must seem a more enticing proposition to the devs.

I think the key is the target number of subscribers. If any of these games are targeting a million subs, I think they're going to fail and end up as F2P. But if they're targeting 100,000 steady subs, I think that's within reach for all three games. In between those two targets is a great deal of uncertainty.

Wildstar and C.R.E.D.D.

In addition to going subscription, Wildstar is copying the Eve Online PLEX model. CREDD is worth a months subscription and can be traded for in-game currency. It does cost a bit more than a month's subscription, though, which is odd.

I'm not really sure how successful this will be. Eve has a much stronger economic simulation. In Eve, the people who earn enough to purchase PLEX are heavily involved in producing and trading the goods that make Eve work.

Wildstar, on the other hand, looks to be more like a regular themepark game where the economy is secondary to boss drops.

Second, Eve does boost the trade in PLEX because they effectively only have one character per account. That means that many players have multiple accounts, increasing the income per player, and increasing the market for PLEX. Someone who is perfectly fine paying $15/month for one account might decide to purchase PLEX to fund a second or third account. That means the market for PLEX is larger and more liquid.

I don't really see that happening in Wildstar. But I don't know for sure. It is certainly an interesting experiment.


Do More Tanking Options Lead to More Tanks?
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 August 2013, 1:09 am
A couple of commenters mentioned on the previous post that having paladins be Alliance-only would mean that the Horde would have fewer tanks.

Has having more tank classes led to more tanks, though?

Vanilla only had 2 tank classes: warriors and bears.  Now we have five.  Yet it seems like the proportion of tanks out there is still the same. It's still very hard to find a tank, just as hard as it was in Vanilla. I am suspicious of the idea that death knights, monks, and the emergence of pally tanks has lead to more tanks overall.

Of course, it's also possible that there are more tanks now, but that Dungeon Finder and LFR introduced a larger population of DPS into regular grouping, which has swamped the increase in tanks.

But I don't think that is true. I think the number of people willing to be tanks is just rather low, regardless of the different ways one can tank.  Introducing more tank classes just increases the diversity of tanks, but not the overall total.


What If Paladins Had Stayed Alliance-Only?
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 August 2013, 2:16 am
I was thinking about the story imbalance between the Horde and the Alliance, and started wondering. What happened to all the Alliance paladins?

In a lot of ways, the story of the Alliance in Warcraft is the story of their paladins. Uther, Turalyon, Arthas, Bolvar Fordragon. But all the major Alliance paladins are gone. The last one is Tirion Fordring, and he is now neutral.

Back in Vanilla, paladins were unique to the Alliance, while shaman were unique to the Horde. I think that class distinction added a great deal of character to the two factions. The paladins symbolized the civilization and law of the Alliance, while the shaman symbolized the wildness and more natural state of the Horde.

But when the two classes were opened up to both sides, I think the Alliance lost more of its identity than the Horde did. For example, the Order of the Silver Hand went neutral, and became the Argent Crusade. However, the Horde gained two paladin orders: the Blood Knights and the Sunwalkers. It seems odd to me that there is no Alliance paladin order, but two different Horde ones. A Horde paladin, Sunwalker Dezco, is playing a major role in the Horde storyline.

I don't think the parallel case of the shaman matches. Alliance shamans are pretty marginal in the lore. There are some in the Earthen Ring. But shamans, especially with Thrall, are still central to the Horde.

Personally, I think the classes should stayed faction-specific. In my mind, the balance issues were not that bad, aside from Blessing of Salvation. Had Blizzard just axed that one ability, I think the imbalance would have been easier to fix.

It's interesting to ponder an alternate timeline where the classes had remained faction-specific, and the mechanical divisions between the factions had been deepened instead of lessened.

For example, in Wrath, Tirion Fordring and the Argent Crusade might have remained Alliance. And this could have been balanced by making Death Knights a Horde-only class. Death Knights were always classic Horde units, and the theme of outcasts banding together fits in well with the Horde. Not to mention the natural relation with the Forsaken.

Then in Mists of Pandaria, Monks could have been an Alliance-only class. In my mind, the quiet, contemplative nature of the monks and pandaren fit in better with the lawful Alliance than the rough-and-tumble Horde.

So in this alternate timeline, we'd have a Horde with Death Knights and Shamans, and an Alliance with Paladins and Monks. The differences between the factions would have been more pronounced. I think this would have made it easier for the writers to craft stories that were unique to each faction.

Of course, I don't think this plan would have been okay with the players though. If the Death Knights had been revealed as a Horde-only class, with no Alliance class in Wrath, the howls of outrage would have been deafening.


First Impressions: Final Fantasy XIV
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 August 2013, 12:42 am
I decided to give the open beta of Final Fantasy XIV a shot. I don't really play FF games, so I'm not too sure what the backstory of this game is like. I did like the trailer very much.


I haven't played a lot, so these are very basic impressions.

Character Creation

The character creation is superb, the best I've ever seen. It offers a very nice balance of options, while still making it easy and not too complex. In particular, I like that you can save a character look, and reuse it.

I think you can download the character creator from the main site, if you just want to see that. The only downside for character creation might be that you cannot really change body types.

Initial Gameplay

The game seems very polished. The UI is clean and colorful.

Gameplay looks like the pretty standard tab-target hotkeys. The GCD seems a little high, it's 2.5s to start with, but I think that there is a stat which reduces it. Combat is decent, though the effects seem very "flashy", with lots of particle effects. It's pretty typical "kill 3 squirrels" stuff.

Talking to people feels very much like a console game, with the speech bubble you keep clicking through.

One interesting thing is that there are three starting zones, but your starting zone is determined by your initial class.

Setting 

The setting seems like a typical Japanese fantasy setting, with a melange of types. You know, different characters using very different accents, and the word choices and names are mixed in from all real-world cultures.

It's interesting how Western settings seem to emphasize far more cohesive cultures. There is a common culture and style to Ferelden in Dragon Age, for example, which is different from the other countries in that setting. I wonder if it is the influence of Tolkein, or just the structure of Europe in general.

Experiences

I first rolled a gladiator, which looks like a one-handed sword class, maybe with a shield. Unfortunately, I ran into a bug where the North American servers think that I am logged in, and won't let me log in again. I didn't even get to test out combat on the gladiator.

So I made a lancer, which is a spear-wielding character, on the Japanese servers.

I gather that a single character can take multiple classes, though the classes use different gear. The armory system seems a little complex. I'm not exactly sure how multiclassing works.

Conclusions

It seems like a good enough game. It's colorful, nicely polished, and seems to work well (aside from that nasty login bug).

But it's pretty much the same style of MMO we're all used to and have been playing for years. If you're looking for something different, this is not the game for you.


Diablo III Expansion Speculation
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 August 2013, 12:49 am
Blizzard is starting to put out teasers for the D3 expansion. Here is the first teaser image: Reaper of Souls.

This means it's time to start speculating about the expansion. Here's my wish list:

1. Two new classes, including the Paladin

I'm biased of course, but I'd love to see the paladin come back. D3 could really use another class that emphasizes melee weapons and armor.

The second class could be the necromancer, or maybe the druid, or even something totally new to Diablo. Actually something totally new would be cool, so we'd have one returning class and one new class.

2. A No-Trade, No-AH mode

I'd like to see another game mode, like Hardcore with its separate stash, only without trading and the AH. I think the AH hurt D3, and I'd like to see what the game is like without it.

Introducing a new mode with the expansion also creates a new level playing field for everyone to compete in.

3. Allow Hardcore characters to transfer to Normal mode on death

This one is shamelessly stolen from Path of Exile. When a hardcore character dies, transfer it to Normal mode. That way the hours of work that was put in is not completely wasted. I think this might encourage more people to play hardcore mode.

On the other hand, part of attraction of hardcore is the "sting" of losing a character. Maybe reducing the risk will make hardcore less thrilling. Maybe having the character lose all her gear would be a good compromise. Or maybe it would be better to just leave it alone.

Those are the three (or two and a half) ideas I'd like to see in a D3 expansion. What would you like to see?


Thoughts on Garrosh Hellscream
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 August 2013, 2:01 am
Dacheng asks:
Why are the orcs turning on Garrosh? Isn't he the best warchief they ever had? Oh, I understand why the other species in the horde might not be so happy with him, but why would any real orc care about those wusses? Lok'tar Ogar, and all that.
If we're talking story, the orcs generally aren't turning on Garrosh. Which is why we're besieging Ogrimmar.

As for players, I think that Horde players see themselves first as Horde, and second as an orc, troll, tauren, etc. So they oppose Garrosh for damaging the Horde as a whole.

I saw an interesting question today: Why do players hate Garrosh, but like Sylvannas? You can make a case that Sylvannas is morally worse than Garrosh, what with the plague and the val'kyr. Yet Sylvannas is still a clear favorite with many players.

My first thought is that it is because Garrosh is a jock, and Sylvannas is a nerd. Garrosh is a thug, with lots of shouting and physical intimidation. Sylvannas is all cool and calculating. Since the playerbase draws extensively from the nerd/geek subculture, which is pretty hostile to the jock subculture, their sympathies are with Sylvannas.

What's sometimes lost is that Garrosh is pretty effective as a warleader. He's conquered most of Kalimdor. The strike on Theramore was tactically brilliant. He took out the main Alliance stronghold on Kalimdor, and killed many high-ranking Alliance officers. He almost took out Jaina Proudmoore, which would have been the one of the greatest Horde victories. Not to mention that if Jaina had been killed, Dalaran would have almost certainly fallen to the Sunreavers, as both Rhonin and Jaina would have been dead.

Yet if you asked the players which type of villain they would be like, the vast majority of players would choose the cool, calculating intellectual style of a Sylvannas. They look upon the rough, physical style of a Garrosh with distaste.

Still, the greatest crime of Garrosh is not Theramore, but the death of Cairne and the treatment of the other Horde races. It would have been interesting to see a Garrosh who took the exact same actions towards the Alliance, but chose to bind the Horde together instead of dividing it. A Garrosh who gave Vol'jin command over a theatre of war like Sylvannas, instead of attempting to assassinate him.

I think that if Garrosh did that differently, but everything else the same, including nuking Theramore and despoiling Pandaria, I think the great majority of the Horde would have been happier with him as Warchief, even supporting him over Thrall.


What to Talk About?
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 August 2013, 1:32 am
I'm drawing a blank on what to write about. We kind of seem to be in a waiting period in MMOs. There's some interesting stuff on the horizon, but nothing immediate.

We could rehash F2P, or the Trinity, or similar, but I'm a bit tired of those topics.

So I will turn to you, faithful readers. Anything worth writing about?


Musings on the Bench
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 August 2013, 1:04 am
Everything seems to be moving along steadily. My guild in The Old Republic is trying to move into Nightmare Modes. We've killed Writhing Horror on NiM, but absences have delayed attempts on Dread Guards.

The thing is that we have exactly 8 players on the team, all with solid performance and excellent attendance. This is great most of the time, as we move through content at a steady pace. But when one person is out, we fall to pieces.

I dunno, it's the same pattern I saw in WoW at this level. Progress is so good with consistent core that everyone tries for that instead of maintaining a bench. Then absences cause significant setback. I just can't convince anyone that preparing for those absences is a good idea.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the increased performance from a smaller team is worth infrequent chaos around an absence.

This was also the problem with 25s and 10s. The performance gain from simply taking the 10 best and most consistent raiders was too high for many 25 guilds to ignore.


Destructible Terrain and Griefing
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 August 2013, 1:33 am
Another major element EQ Next is promising is destructible terrain. I think it's going to be an interesting experiment.

The immediate question, of course, is how long will it take for everything to be destroyed? What will the anti-griefing measures be like. For example, if a monster can destroy a city, I foresee someone kiting a monster to the city at every opportunity.

It's kind of sad how everything can turn into a tool for griefing. Destruction can lead to griefing. Creation can lead to griefing. For example, people can take up all the free space with buildings, making it hard for new players to start. Or they crowd out existing players.

I think there could be a lot more work to be done with costs in MMOs, especially non-linear costs. For example, maybe maintaining 5 buildings costs 1 resource per building, but maintaining 10 buildings could cost 2 resources per building. Or something where it's easy to destroy one piece of terrain, but gets harder and harder to destroy more terrain.



Stable PvE Strategies
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 August 2013, 1:49 am
Continuing the discussion on Trinity gameplay, I'd like to take a step back and survey the situation from a higher viewpoint.

So far, in my experience of MMOs, there are three stable strategies for dealing with PvE. The reason I call these "stable", is that all other schemes I've seen are "unstable". These unstable strategies always break down and devolve into one of the stable strategies.

The stable strategies are:

1. Zerg - The enemy's target cannot--or it is not worth the time to--be calculated ahead of time. Whichever player is targeted is reactively healed or protected, or forces the enemy to turn away, or just takes the hits until death.

2. Kiting - The enemy's target cannot--or it is not worth the time to--be calculated ahead of time. Whichever player is targeted proceeds to run away, out of attack range or utilizing line of sight, forcing the enemy to chase after. The chasing enemy does minimal damage, while the other players can attack the enemy. When the enemy switches targets, the new target runs away.

3. Tanking - The enemy's target can be identified ahead of time, and the situation manipulated to force the enemy to attack a specific, hardened target. While the enemy is focused on the hardened target, the other players attack the enemy freely, while the hardened target is healed and protected.

Of these three strategies, Tanking is the most interesting, the structure capable of the most variation. Zerg and Kiting are far less fun if they are the major strategy in a game.

I do not think these are the only stable strategies in existence. But I have not yet seen an MMO that has successfully executed a fourth strategy.

A "rock, paper, scissors" strategy might be stable. The classic "infantry, artillery, and cavalry" is one example. Artillery destroys the slow-moving infantry before the infantry can reach it. Calvary moves too fast for the artillery, but gets broken upon the defenses of the infantry. But "infantry, artillery, and cavalry" generally requires a great difference in movement speed, which I don't think will work in a single-character MMO .

A game that is entirely ranged might have a strategy based on cover and firing lanes. This is typical of shooter games. This strategy is rarely suitable if melee is an important part of the game.

If you want to convince me that a non-Trinity PvE MMO will work, you have to outline a fourth stable strategy. You can't simply assume it exists. Describe it, and show that it will not devolve into Zerg, Kiting, or Tanking.


Revisiting the Trinity
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 August 2013, 1:11 am
Once again everyone is hyped up for another game which promises to do away with the Trinity of tank-healer-dps. This time the game is EQ Next. I am deeply skeptical of this claim. I'm not saying that the Trinity is necessarily the best system for PvE. But so far, no one has demonstrated a better system.

I've seen various people saying that EQ Next will feature complex AI, which will obsolete the idea of the Trinity. In my view, if the system does not work at the simple level, making it more complex is not going to improve things.

Let's take the very simplest PvE scenario. We have a knight with sword and shield and a barbarian wielding a two-handed greatsword. Both characters are fighting an ogre in melee combat.

Who does the ogre attack?

This is the simplest decision the AI has to make. The knight's shield improves her defense. The barbarian's greatsword improves her offense.

Logically, the optimum path is for the Ogre to attack the barbarian. Generally, the rule of thumb is that you first want to kill the highest offense or the weakest defense. The barbarian meets both those criteria. And indeed, this is what will happen in PvP.

But the archetypes of fantasy demand that the Ogre attack the knight, to take the sub-optimal path. That is the very point of the shield, to take the blows. The shield is a pointless choice if no one is attacking you.

So no matter what, to stay true to the soul of the fantasy archetypes, the ogre has to attack the knight. Trinity systems do it very simply by introducing the concept of threat, which is linked to--but not equal to--damage. You could also do it by having the knight "intercept" attacks made against other characters. Or perhaps by turning the knight into a source of debuffs strong enough that getting rid of the knight first becomes optimum.

Another path might be making the knight do the highest damage, making the choice harder. This probably won't go over too well with the barbarian, though. And it doesn't match the archetypes.

It is trivially easy to make a more competent AI than the Trinity system. The harder task is making one that leads to fun gameplay and yet stays true to the fantasy genre.


Group Dynamics in Raid Finder
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 August 2013, 1:22 am
I had an interesting experience in a Raid Finder group yesterday.

We had killed the first boss and were clearing trash to the second boss. One DPS player called out one of the tanks for not pulling fast enough. The other tank spoke up in support of the tank in question. Other people in the group chimed in saying that everything was fine.

The DPS player persisted in his comments. Then he got vote-kicked out of the group.

If this is a trend in WoW, it's a good one. Vote-kicking people who cause drama will make Raid Finder groups more pleasant. But most people would say that this is unusual behavior, and that normally the "elitists" hold sway.

So what made this group different?

I think it was the vocal support of the other tank. Followed by the agreement of a couple other players. In my experience, Raid Finder groups follow the lead of the first few people who speak up, and of the "skilled" people. I think there is a majority of people who don't like the "elitist" rhetoric, but they will keep their heads down and defer to the tanks and the top healers and top dps who do express an opinion.

Which leads to two conclusions. If you want to promote a positive Raid Finder group, you have to be:
  • Vocal. You have to make your voice heard early, when the first sign of conflict occurs. You can't let the elitists hold sway, and attempt to reclaim the group later.
  • Competent. No one questions you if you are the top dps or top heals or a strong tank. Maybe it is unfair, but as far as WoW groups are concerned, "might makes right". This is, of course, because the presence of a strong player makes the run more likely to be successful. Deferring to their wishes means they are more likely to stick around and shoulder much of the burden.
The thing I've found about many of the people who complain about the quality of WoW groups is that they don't put enough effort into the second requirement, into being skilled.

If you want to contribute to a better environment in WoW, you have to be competent. Otherwise your voice is discounted. Maybe this is unfair, but it is remorselessly practical. A tyranny of skill.


Resets on Player or Game
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 August 2013, 1:04 am
Clockwork at Out of Beta has an interesting post on questioning whether timers should reset based on the individual player's cooldown, or on a fixed schedule.

I think the general rule of thumb should be that if the timer can involve multiple people, it should reset based on a fixed schedule.

To see what I mean, imagine dailies had a personal cooldown of 22 hours.  Anna logs in a 4pm and does here dailies. Betty logs in at 10pm and does her dailies. The next day they both log in at 6pm and want to do the dailies together. Only they can't, because Betty's dailies reset at 8pm. In these types of situations, fixed schedule resets are better.

In contrast, personal abilities generally work better when they are tied to the player.

The intriguing situation comes when personal abilities are tied to the group. For example, in-combat resurrection. These ability cooldowns started off tied to the player, but more and more they are shifting to be tied to the group. In WoW, abilities with a cooldown greater than 5 minutes reset when a raid encounter ends. In SWTOR, using an in-combat res puts a debuff on the group for 5 minutes, preventing more in-combat rezes.

It's an interesting shift in how cooldowns and timers are handled.


Short, Pyschopathic Races
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 August 2013, 12:29 am
Wildstar released details of their latest race, the Chua. The Chua are a short, psychopathic, technologically-inclined race.

This seems to be a little bit of a trend in MMOs lately. WoW had the Goblins, Guild Wars 2 had the Asura, and now Wildstar comes up with the Chua.

I confess that I don't really understand the appeal of these races. They just come across as caricatures, with no nuance, depth, or grace.

These races seem to be an MMO-only phenomenon. I don't recall seeing anything similar in single-player games, books or movies. And odd coincidence, don't you think?

Frankly, the Chua have given me a bit of a distaste for Wildstar. I strongly hope that Wildstar doesn't overuse the Chua, thinking that they are "cool".


Small Decisions, Part II
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 July 2013, 1:09 am
In the comments to the last post, Talarian references Sid Meier's quote, "A game is a series of interesting choices."

Not all choices are made equal, though. Some choices are hugely important, some are less so. Some seem important at the time, but in hindsight were not. Some choices are difficult to make, others are easy.

My question is: Are small choices better than no choices?

The thing about removing all these small choices is that they really were not replaced with anything else. Or were replaced with a large choice that comes far apart in time.

Consider talent points. You used to make one small choice every level. Then that got replaced with one large choice every 15 levels. I've argued before that this was not a good change for the leveling game. The frequency of choice is also important, not just the magnitude of the choice.

A lot of other commenters brought up the point that these small choices were what added immersion to the world. I confess that I didn't consider immersion at all. But it is true. A lot of what we spend our time with in the real world is trivial (for example, choosing a drink at Starbucks), but that trivia adds texture. It is logical that minor choices would do the same thing for a game world.

Another common comment was that these choices are "no-brainers" and because they were not difficult choices, they were not necessary. I am not sure that I agree with this point of view. Some choices should be easy. Some choices should have a high success rate.

I think this is especially important for newer or less competent players. They need choices to make and be successful with. Small successes lead to larger successes. There's a reason that every guide in the old days emphasized taking enough reagents to the raid. This was something small and easy you could do, that made you a better player than you were before. A hunter that kept her pet fed was a better hunter than one who ignored the pet.

And of course, we all remember the people who failed these choices. If the choice was truly a "no-brainer" why did people keep failing on it?

I think the idea that all choices in a game should be hugely difficult is wrong. A good game needs a variety of choices, including some simple and obvious (to experienced players) choices. These small choices instill confidence in new players, and guide them to the more difficult choices. They make the game more interesting than having no choice at all.


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