Friday, July 31, 2009

Crowd Control and PvP

Note: This post is from a high-level perspective of what is "fun". I fully admit that I am not an experienced PvP player, and am just going by what is fun or not for myself. I am not calling for any specific class to be nerfed and/or buffed in a vacuum.

Crowd Control--by which I mean effects that cause a player to temporarily lose control of her character--is an important part of PvP. It adds a second layer of strategy over just inflicting and healing damage. To make an analogy, Crowd Control is like executing a pin in chess. You prevent a piece from being used, without actually needing to capture it.

But Crowd Control is also very frustrating to play against. No one likes losing control of their character, even if only for a short while. So Crowd Control is in somewhat of an awkward position. It needs to exist, to add that extra level of complexity, but it also needs to be kept in check or games become miserable.

There are two situations where Crowd Control in WoW goes over the boundary, in my opinion. The first situation is being able to lock down a character for an excessively long time with multiple abilities. At this point, you are simply not being allowed to play, which is extremely frustrating.

The second situation is being killed while being affected by Crowd Control. The primary culprits here are Stuns and Fears. No one likes being stunned and then blown up. It feels very unfair, like the player is unable to even try to defend themselves.

I would offer two suggestions for WoW PvP:

  1. All abilities which cause a player to lose control of her character share diminishing returns. No more categories for different types of Crowd Control. Treat them all equally.

  2. In PvP, all abilities which cause a player to lose control of her character break on receiving damage. This includes Stuns and Fears.

The first change already somewhat exists in WoW. Most abilities are separated into categories, and abilities in each category share diminishing returns. This just removes distinctions between different types of Crowd Control.

The second change is the bigger one, and would probably require balance adjustments. If necessary, glyphs or talents like [Glyph of Polymorph] could be added to make Stuns or Fears more usable.

Crowd Control is necessary in PvP, but it can also be overused and make the game less fun. Separating out Crowd Control from dealing damage lessens the frustration in PvP, and would remove a major source of irritation between classes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Period of Repeating Content

What is the ideal period for content that is meant to be repeated?

For example, WoW has quests which you can do once per day. Raid dungeons, on the other hand, can be done once per week. Is one time interval better than the other?

Part of the issue is that rewards tend to map towards how often the content can be repeated. The shorter the period, the smaller the reward is. Dailies in WoW tend to reward about 10 gold. Rewards are balanced assuming that people will do the content as often as possible. This is because there are people who will do the content as much as humanly possible.

Instead of having a daily quest which rewards 10g, would it be better to have a weekly quest that rewarded 70g?

I think it comes back to how people play. Are people (who are working on repeatable content) more likely to log in every day for small amounts of time, or do they log in less often but for longer play sessions? My personal thought is that the second alternative is a better fit for most lifestyles. Balancing around a period of a week might be better than balancing around a day. You could even make the quests a bit more involved.

However, there are two repeatable quests which I think are good as dailies: The daily Heroic Dungeon and the daily Battleground. These quests work best when there is a large pool of potential players, and having a fresh quest each day means that it will be easier to find a group.

To sum up, repeatable solo content and fixed group content are better off on a weekly basis, as this allows players to better make use of the time they have available, without being pushed to play every day. However, repeatable ad hoc group content is best on a daily basis, to make forming groups as easy as possible.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Duoing and System Requirements

Spinks has a good post on Duoing in MMOs, where she examines content in MMOs and pairs of players. I'd just like to add another thought to this discussion.

One important point about duoing that’s not often considered is that it has a large impact on system requirements.

A couple or family rarely has two top-of-the-line computers. They might have one edge computer, but the other computer will be a few years older. Then the oldest computer gets an upgrade, and the other person lags behind. Or the second computer won't be a desktop machine, but a laptop geared more towards work and websurfing.

So it’s important that your game be playable on the *second* household computer. I think that is where WoW has a marked advantage. A lot of newer MMOs are definitely playable on the first system, but won’t run on the second system in the household, and so the couple cannot play together.

Where a single-player game can target the spec of the first computer and still count on a purchase, an MMO or co-op multiplayer game really needs to target the second system in order to be considered a viable option for many players.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Paladin PvP From the Other Side

I decided to do some battlegrounds with my warlock. I'd forgotten how much fun they are. The BGs also seem to be a lot more competitive these days, as I had a wide range of experiences. Short, quick charges to the end, and also prolonged defenses. Several wins and several losses.

After a few games, I'm beginning to sympathize with all the anti-paladin feeling out there. However, it's not really the damage, or the healing, or even the bubble that's annoying. All of these seem to be more or less comparable to the other classes. I'm just in the crafted tailoring gear, so I have the minimum resilience, but it doesn't seem that bad.

The real annoyance is the Hammer of Justice stun. It's a long stun, and the paladin gets free reign to beat on you while it's up.

It seems like the only comparable class that locks you down for so long is the Rogue. At least rogues have the courtesy to stealth and sneak up on you. When a rogue stunlocks, it feels like she went to some trouble to do so, so you can't really begrudge her that.

In comparison, the paladin just bulldozes ahead, runs straight at you, and stuns you. It just seems effortless for the paladin, and it doesn't seem fair that the paladin should be able to stun you for so long without taking a lot of trouble to do so.

If I were to change Paladins in PvP, I'd take a long look at Hammer of Justice, and find a way to make it more interesting. Maybe a shorter stun with a lower cooldown. Maybe an incapacitate instead of a stun. But it feels too easy as it exists now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Official Paladin Q&A

Blizzard's Paladin Q&A can be found here.

Gap-closer

The quote that is inciting the most controversy is:

Judgment of Justice is intended to be the gap-closer for paladins.

Ghostcrawler is getting a fair bit of flack for this statement. However, I think he just used the wrong word. JoJ isn't a gap-closer, but is more of snare. However, using the word "snare", would be impolitic. In a little bit of sophistry, JoJ isn't technically a snare, which means that anti-snare mechanics like druid shapeshifting don't work. JoJ is designed to be the "glue" that allows a paladin to stick to her target once she is in range.

Personally, I don't PvP, so I'm not too sure how good JoJ is. I think it would be neat if it had an additional constraining effect. Something like "prevents teleportation" so the target can't Blink or Demonic Teleport away from the paladin. Another amusing idea I had was that JoJ could prevent the target from changing form. So if a priest was in Shadowform, JoJ would prevent him from dropping out of Shadowform.

Q&A in General

In general, nothing new or interesting came up in the Q&A, other than Ret would get an interrupt effect. I got the sense that Blizzard feels that the paladin class is finished and complete, with only minor tweaking to be done as needed. So if you're not happy with your paladin spec playstyle, it's probably time to switch classes.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Champions Online and Unique Names

Gamespy has an interesting video where Bill Roper demos character creation in Champions Online, an upcoming superhero game.

It looks pretty neat, but what struck me was an almost throwaway line at the end (at about the 3:10 mark). Roper states or implies that multiple player characters can have the same name:

Just like you see in comics, sometimes there are heroes which share a name or share a concept for a name. We know that's going to happen, but the important thing is that when I put that name on the character, I'm going to get the name that I want to really put the last finishing touch on my concept.

This is a radical concept. Most games enforce that each character on a server has a unique name. Thus that character can always be identified by that name. Sometimes it's annoying when you have a good name and it's taken, especially if it's taken by a low-level character that is never played.

But at the same time, can you imagine two characters running around on the same server with the same name? There would be mistaken identities and the possibility for identity theft. How would you send mail or whispers to a character?

Basically, you'd end up with all the problems and confusions of names in the real world. Except in the real world, most people are bound by the geography they inhabit, which you can use to be reasonably sure of identity. Joe Smith who lives at 11 Haro Street and works at 21 Bond St in Toronto is different from Joe Smith who lives at 32 Cordova Street and works at 944 Younge St in Toronto.

In a virtual world with multiple people of the same name, it seems like you would have a lot more problems.

I just don't see how non-unique names would work. Maybe you'd have a "superhero name" which is not unique, but also a "secret identity" which is unique. Of course, it's possible that I'm reading too much into that one line and that Roper means something else entirely.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

In Defense of the "B Team"

Eric at Elder Game has written an article claiming that the current Live team working on WoW "is making newbie design mistakes that seem like a benefit on the surface, but are really not good decisions."

I disagree with most of his assessment. The current WoW team has changed some of their practices, and is experimenting with new ones, but I would argue that the current design team is the most successful, and that WoW is in far better shape than it has ever been because of their efforts.

Eric tells the following anecdote about Asheron's Call 2:

I found that the Feral Intendant class was 30% overpowered, and that’s why so many people were playing a Feral Intendant. Yet somehow, reducing the power of the Feral Intendant to the correct level did not suddenly make the game more fun… thousands of players were complaining and nobody was telling me they were happy about the change. Weird! I double checked my calculations. They were correct. So what had gone wrong?

Turns out that the people who played the other classes available to that race had taken on an “underdog” mentality. The people who played Claw Bearers liked that they were woefully underpowered compared to Feral Intendants. It was like playing the game on Hard Mode. And the people playing Feral Intendants liked playing on Easy Mode. In balancing the game I had failed to understand the needs of the people playing it. I just ham-handedly fixed the equations, instead of solving the problem with the finesse it needed. It was one of my more serious missteps. (And it’s a great example because I think it’s pretty obvious in hindsight. Most mistakes were much more subtle.)

If memory serves, AC2 was a failure, and didn't really last long enough to develop a significant endgame. All this talk of "Easy Mode" and "Hard Mode" goes out the window once people stop getting invited to groups because their class is underpowered.

Then you see how important class balance becomes. The point of MMOs is to play with other people. If other people refuse to play with you because of your class, your game has failed at a fundamental level.

By that measure, the current Live team has done a superlative job. Pretty much every spec for every class is respectable in the modern PvE game. That is a massive difference from the situation during WoW 1.0. If you now want to play as a Enhancement melee shaman, go ahead. Survival Hunter, why not. And each of these specs are reasonably different from each other. The current Live team managed to make Discipline priests both viable and play differently than Holy priests, which is nothing short of a minor miracle.

As an example of how much better the game is, last night I got to DPS as Retribution on our guild-first kill of XT-002 Hard Mode. (I was pretty terrible--lol 4k DPS--but it is my secondary spec.) In 1.0 and TBC, I would not have been able to play as Retribution as my primary playstyle in optimum gear, let alone in mismatched leftover gear. I would have been forced to heal. Now, I heal because I choose to heal. For that alone, I think that the current Blizzard team is doing a great job.

It's not just class balance. Ulduar is a superb instance. It has a large variety of bosses, interesting trash, complex fights, and challenging hard modes. It is quite possibly the best instance ever released. Even the hotfixes have improved the pacing and tuning.

I do think Eric has some good points, especially about the fact that some changes are not "clean" enough, and the fact that tooltip changes lag behind hotfixes. Some of the current Live practices could be improved. But I think he is focusing on smaller flaws, and is missing the very large advantages that the current Live practices are bringing.

The current WoW team is doing many things differently from the original team. Changes are coming faster, and they are more open about current and future plans, even if those plans end up changing. Sometimes this makes them seem more fallible, but I think they should be judged by the result. And the clear result in my view is that the current game is leagues ahead of WoW 1.0 and 2.0.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Making an Impact

I don't really understand why so many MMO commentators are obsessed with the idea of players making an impact on the game world.

Scratch that. I understand why they want to make an impact. What I don't understand is how they expect people who don't make an impact in the real world, to all of a sudden be able to make a significant impact in a virtual one.

Very few people actually change the world. Most of us settle for small victories and quiet defeats. That's not bad, that's just how life is. Very few of us are offered Achilles' choice.

But it would be the same in an impactful MMO. You'd have a few people--the hardcore, the Ensidias and the Mittanis--and they would shake the world. A dragon would arise, and they would rush to slay it. You and I, we'd probably arrive on the scene much too late, long after the dragon has been defeated.

Faced with that, I'd much rather have a world of handcrafted, polished content that I can experience. Even if everyone else experiences the same content. Indeed, there are advantages to having shared experiences. Everyone knows who Hogger is, because because everyone has experienced Hogger. Shared experiences help knit a community together.

In the end, I guess I doubt I would be the hero in an impactful world. At least in a static world I can slay dragons, even if everyone else can slay them as well.

Updates

Blog

I've really been slacking with this blog for the last couple months. I'm not really sure why. There's stuff I want to write about, but I can't seem to take that last step and actually put the words down.

Warlock

I finally got my warlock Valarin up to level 80 last weekend. Now I'm wondering what to do. I could:

  1. Do Battlegrounds with Valarin and get some PvP gear.

  2. Continue questing with Valarin.

  3. Do Battlegrounds with Coriel.

  4. Level a new character.

Healing

I'm contemplating switching to a 51/20/0 Holy/Protection spec that relies on Sacred Shield and Flash of Light. Between Divinity and Glyph of Seal of Light, that makes FoL 10% stronger. It would also be really good once I got 4-piece Tier 8 and the improved Sacred Sacred Shield.

I'm even considering regemming to [Revitalizing Skyflare Diamond] and then putting a red spellpower gem in every gem slot to maximize the effectiveness of FoL. I'm not sure if this is a good idea, and it seems a bit too expensive to just experiment wildly.