Sunday, November 28, 2010

Commentary on the Reputation System

From an Informational Pamphlet found in Westfall:

Give a man a tabard and he will pledge his undying loyalty to your cause. These men are now government sheep who care not for your hardships. They wear the tabard of their leader and care only for what he desires.

-V

Well played, Blizzard. Well played, indeed.

(The new Westfall is *awesome*. Don't read spoilers or anything, just go do it now.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Inscription and the Player Market

One of the most interesting things happening in Cataclysm/4.0 is a change to Inscription. Glyphs are now permanent one-time purchases, but changing glyphs requires a [Vanishing Powder] (for 80 or lower) or a [Dust of Disappearance] (for 81+ characters).

What is really interesting is that both items can be crafted by scribes, but they are also sold by NPC vendors. Vanishing Powder is extremely cheap from the NPC, but it looks like a single Dust of Disappearance will cost 10g or so.

To me, it looks like Blizzard is experimenting with setting an upper bound on the player-to-player marketplace. If supply and demand lead to an auction house price of less than 10g, players will buy Dust of Disappearance from the marketplace. But if the price rises to above 10g, then people will switch to buying from the vendor.

This is really the first time that we have seen this behavior in WoW. Normally, NPCs serve as the lower bound for selling items on the AH. If the AH price of an item drops below the NPC price, you sell the item to the NPC instead.

I expect that Blizzard is doing this to keep the Auction House accessible to everyone. Buying and selling on the Auction House is fun, but if prices are too high, that makes the game less fun for the subset of the population with less gold. Theoretically, the upper bound serves as a brake, ensuring that no matter what happens to the market, necessary items are always available at a known maximum cost.

It's also possible that we may see a similar pattern for Enchanting Vellums. Currently there's only one type of vellum, and it is available from vendors for cheap. A second, higher-level vellum for an upper-bound price would mimic the same structure as glyph dusts.

Edit: I forgot one other aspect. On a low-population server, there are occasional shortages of items on the Auction House, just because there are fewer crafters, and the entire stock of an item gets bought out before a crafter can replenish it. When I played on Lethon, this would sometimes happen with flasks. It was never a permanent thing. Having the Dust being sold on an NPC guarantees that it is always available, that you are never completely blocked from changing glyphs.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Starting Areas

Since I can't decide on what to do, I've just been making new characters and running through the first 5 levels in the new starting areas. They're very well done. A smooth introduction to the game, and several deft nods to experienced players.

Orc - They're introducing the human/orc conflict really early. It's an interesting choice. Otherwise very similar to the old version. Waking lazy peons is still the highlight of the early orc experience.

Dwarf - Nicely streamlined, with integration of the Dark Iron mages and warlocks. Of course, everyone rolled dwarf shaman. I don't think I saw a single dwarf mage or warlock.

Night Elf - They only make you run up to the top of the tree once, at the very end. And they give you a Slowfall buff so you can jump down! As well, the moonwell quest lore is now more in the game world, rather than quest text.

Tauren - The quillboar killed the Greatmother! I liked this the best of the starting areas I tried.

Gnome - Very well done. An interesting story, and lots of gnomish moments. Oddly, this was the hardest starting area. I almost died several times fighting troggs, as they hit hard and I kept getting attacked by multiples. They also have a knockdown, which didn't help. (I was playing a priest, so was a little squishy.) I did actually die during the final battle, as I got swarmed with little guys, and didn't use the special device properly, I guess. Still kind of shocked that I managed to die in the first five levels.

Haven't tried the others yet, but I probably will give the rest a whirl tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Shattering

So Blizzard came out with a major patch, and the servers came up ahead of schedule. Guess it really is the end of the world.

Kidding aside, props to the Blizzard operations team (or whatever they're called). Smoothest launch of a major patch (considering the entire world was remade) I've ever seen.

Though I'm kind of sad, I was planning a post which was nothing but an embedded video of Greyfoo's Happy Patch Day.

As for the actual patch day, I'm paralyzed by indecision. I rolled a dwarf shaman, then a night elf mage, then logged on Coriel and wandered around Stormwind looking at all the changes. (Harrison Jones is the archeology trainer!) I really like the Stormwind cemetery.

The redone class quests were interesting. No more Verigan's Fist! I think that shocked me more than all the other changes I saw. The new quest models are nice and shiny, but still, it's Verigan's Fist! Using the T1 helms for the level 50 quest is a nice touch, but Lawbringer is going to look so out of place.

I really can't decide between doing all the new quests on my main, just for all the achievements and lore, or rolling an alt and taking the alt through all the new content.

Edit: Also, welcome to all the new Tauren paladins out there!

Note to Commenters: Political Jabs

I do not like these small jabs at politicians or political parties in non-political conversations. They mar what are otherwise perfectly fine comments. I consider these jabs to be impolite and lacking in grace.

Accordingly, from now on I will be deleting any comments that contain unrelated political jabs, regardless of the quality of the rest of the comment.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Followup To Raiding Styles

From the comments on the last post.

Spinksville:

One issue with focus though is how new raiders will learn the ropes. It used to be that older learning instances were still in the rotation (so you'd join a guild which ran them). If people are coming straight in to the latest raid, where do the learning instances fit in?

I am beginning to wonder if new raiders actually need learning instances. I think that on the institutional, or guild level, learning instances are important. But for an individual raider, it seems like individual raiders can learn quickly when integrated into an already experienced group.

Yeah, they don't know the tricks and shortcuts. You can't go "This boss is like Chromaggus crossed with Illidari Council". But individuals not having done the learning instances doesn't seem to have significantly hurt, at least in my experience. It's actually kind of shocking to go into Ulduar with someone you think is an extremely experienced raider, and she starts picking up the basic achievements.

This is just the individual level, though, and on Normal modes. Exposure to the experienced group seems more important than exposure to previous content. However, I'm not sure throwing a group of people who have never raided before into ICC will really work.

Gevlon:
There are middle ways like: standard progression but every month all existing raids get a 5% ICC-like buff. So imagine the old MC-BWL-AQ40-Naxx way, but one year after start MC has a +60% heal, HP, damage buff and BWL has +30%.

I think this kind of cuts against the whole progression idea. The idea is that every group encounters content in more or less the same difficulty. I really don't see any difference between getting i251 gear and going back a tier vs a 60% buff.

If there's going to be a 60% buff, why bother making them do the old content at all? May as well just point them to the current content content and tell them to have at it.

Codi:
I don't understand how the WotLK raiding system helps people see more content by skipping to the last raid of the cycle.
...
In both styles, you are not seeing content. So I don't understand at all how that somehow becomes a part of equation.

The difference is in Wrath, you don't do earlier content by choice. Your ICC guild can always go back and run through Naxx and Ulduar for fun. Odds are you'd be able to complete it fairly easily. My own guild did Yogg+1, Yogg+0, and got someone a Valy'nar at the end of the expansion.

In Vanilla/TBC, the upstream content was pretty much blocked. Once a guild was stuck, it was stuck. There was no aspect of choice involved at all.

Kadaan:
If MC was dropping 6 items per boss instead of 3 when AQ40 came out, new players and less progressed guilds would have been able to catch up faster without getting a free skip-all-old-content pass.

I don't think I agree with this. In my experience, by the time your guild reaches a boss, you have enough loot to beat that boss (excluding edge cases with the Royalty guilds). Loot is very rarely the true stalling factor.

Now, you can use loot to overpower fight, but that generally requires loot from higher tiers. The current tier of loot is almost never enough. If you are stuck on a boss in a progression-style, the kill usually comes through improved execution or an improved strategy.

Do Hard Modes change things?

One thing to consider is that Vanilla/TBC didn't have hard modes. It's quite possible that the guild-killer bosses we all know and love would really be a Hard Mode in the Wrath environment. Perhaps the Normal mode progression chain would be enough to keep guilds from stalling out.

Obviously a lot of the Aristocracy and Gentry guilds would leave Hard Modes unfinished when the next tier came out. And a new guild would probably ignore Hard Modes altogether until it got caught up. They would do Naxx-normal, Ulduar-normal, TotC-normal, and ICC-normal. There really isn't a Vael or a Vashj in that path to really get stuck on.

Other issues and thoughts

But that doesn't solve the recruitment issue. For a guild in the ICC tier, being able to recruit relatively new 80s is a huge boon. It makes life a lot easier than poaching from the TotC or Ulduar guilds would be. But if progression is in place, if you need to do TotC before ICC, then obviously an ICC guild must recruit someone in a TotC guild, or run old content to gear them up.

Maybe a different change would help. What if, when TotC came out, Naxx gear was automatically upgraded to Ulduar ilevel? And when ICC came out, Naxx and Ulduar gear was upgraded to TotC level? This would mean that Naxx and Ulduar are not entirely obsoleted. But perhaps Naxx would become the zone of choice, because it is easier than the other two but would provide the same reward.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Raiding: Progression or Single-Focus?

In Vanilla and TBC, the raiding endgame was based around the idea of progression. A guild did Molten Core first, and after they moved on to Blackwing Lair, then AQ40, and finally Naxxramas. This was the pattern guilds and players followed regardless of when they started. A new guild or raider was expected to start in Molten Core and move their way upwards.

In contrast, Wrath raiding was based around a different idea: focus on the current tier. In general, at any given time the community--including newer raiders and guilds--focused on the most recent tier. When TotC was released, that was what everyone did. When ICC came out, everyone went for ICC. You could essentially solo your way, gear-wise, to the entry point for the most recent tier.

So which style was better?

Progression Style

To me, they both have strengths and weaknesses. Progression felt natural and organic. You moved through the raids and as you got better you did harder raids. You experienced each tier of content in roughly the same difficulty as it was intended. There was this sense of "being on the path" which really doesn't exist any more.

But on the other hand, guilds often got stuck on the path. There would come a boss or point which you just could not beat with your current guild, and that was that. And very few guilds actually got a chance to see the last couple tiers. The vast majority of guilds stalled out a lot earlier.

Secondly, I don't think recruitment was healthy in the Progression era. In order to sustain itself, a guild had to pick up people at the same level or just below to keep going. That meant that the high-end guilds poached the better players from the tier of guilds below them, and that tier in turn poached from below them. Players were always moving up from guild to guild, because they had to join a better guild in order to see newer content.

I know that in Wrath, a lot of the Royalty guilds have been complaining that recruiting has gotten harder, but I have no sympathy for them. Previously, they had their pick of good players, because joining a Royalty guild was the only way a player could see content like Naxxramas. Now, a good player doesn't have to leave her guild just to see new content.

Current Tier Focus Style

The Wrath model also has strengths and weaknesses. It's greatest strength was that a much larger percentage of the player base got to see the newest content. If you raid at all in Wrath, you've gotten to see ICC, and quite possibly have gotten to see the Lich King. Compare that with the percentage that saw Kil'jaeden or Kel'thuzad.

Second, I think it may have made recruitment, and bringing in alts, easier for lower tier guilds. They didn't lose people to the high end guilds as often, and newer recruits can solo to a reasonable entry point for raiding. We don't have to carry people through a lower tier to gear them up like we used to.

I really think that it has also made raiding guilds that target a shorter number of raid days or more casual atmosphere a lot more viable than they were in Vanilla/TBC.

However, the Current Tier Focus style does have downsides. First, the lower tiers of raid content got obsoleted. Very few people do Naxx and Ulduar now. And that means that raiding isn't quite the shared experience that it used to be. For instance, all raiders in Vanilla went through Molten Core. If I say "Loot the Hound", every single person who raided in Vanilla understands me. Whereas if I comment about the Heigan dance, there are players in ICC right now who won't know what I am talking about.

Or difficulty-wise, pretty much everyone who did BWL understands the challenge of Razorgore or Vael, because we all did it at more or less the same difficulty. But someone who gets taken to Ulduar now, in full i264 gear, just doesn't experience it in the same fashion as those of us who did it when it was the current focus.

The other major downside is that this model is very sensitive to the amount of time that an instance exists as the current tier. It is very arguable that the Wrath experience would have been a lot better if Ulduar had lasted for 2-3 more months, TotC 1 less month, and ICC maybe 1-2 less months. TotC was actually the current instance for longer than Ulduar.

In the Progression style an instance was "current" for as long as you were working on it, which is pretty much the ideal amount of time. You want just enough time to beat it, and maybe farm it a couple of times to finish off your set, before the new instance opens. Unfortunately, that amount of time is completely different from group to group.

Conclusions

So which style would you pick? As much as I liked the Progression style, I would much rather have the Current Focus style. The people at Elitist Jerks are very much in favor of the Progression style, but I think they suffer from survivor bias. It was a lot less fun for those of us in the lower tier to get stuck and lose players to the upper guilds.

Or worse, to have to choose to leave the guild and people that you liked because you knew that if you didn't, you would not see new content at all. For all the flaws of the Current Focus style, pretty much every guild that raids regularly can see all the content that Blizzard creates.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Outvoted

I saw this Frostheim story making the rounds, and I've wanted to comment on it, but didn't really find the right words until today.

For those who don't know, Frostheim is some kind of hunter personality. He writes for WoW Insider occasionally, and runs Warcraft Hunter's Union, a big hunter guild. Apparently Frostheim joined a random Dungeon Finder group, saw that it was Old Kingdom, and announced in party chat that he did not have time to do the optional bosses. The other party members did not say anything. Later on, the other four went to do an optional boss. Frostheim went off on his own and attempted to solo the last boss. The boss managed to get the rest of the group into combat and the group wiped. Drama ensued.

In my view, there were three mistakes made during this fiasco:

1. Frostheim should not have signed up for a dungeon if he didn't have time to complete it.

2. The group should have decided about the optional bosses at the start and communicated that decision to everyone. Then people could leave if they were unhappy.

3. Frostheim should not have gone off from the rest of the group.

In any case, the main point I want to make is:

Sometimes, you get outvoted.

Sometimes, you're in a group, and the majority of the group wants to do something that you don't want to do. The right thing to do is either leave the group, or follow their lead.

There is no shame in losing the vote. "I wanted Y, but more people wanted X, so we did X" is okay. It leads to a functioning group or society. "I wanted Y, but more people wanted X, so I attempted to force them to do Y" just leads to strife.

But a lot of people seem to take being outvoted personally. Like it's a judgement on you as an individual, and it's vital for you to "win" at all costs. And this seems to be happening not only in WoW, but society at large.

For example, take all these schemes to introduce new voting systems like Single-Transferrable-Vote. I can't shake the feeling that the backers feel they can't win normally, and so are trying to rig the game so that they can magically win. We all know Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, so why try and make life more complicated?

Though, to be fair, I am unreasonably conservative on the subject of voting. I disapprove of absentee voting, computerized voting, machine voting, assisted voting, write-in candidates, punching holes in ballots, internet voting, non-secret voting, counting votes by machine, butterfly ballots, releasing results to the media before voting closes, and pretty much anything that is not going to a polling station and marking an X on a paper ballot beside the name of your preferred candidate.

Anyways, went a bit off-topic, but the point remains: when you're in a group, sometimes you get outvoted. You either leave the group, or you abide by the results. Of course, this isn't absolute if we're talking about something like slavery, but for the vast majority of life, it's a pretty good rule to follow.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nostalgia and 10s vs 25s

As most readers know, I'm a 25-man raider. It's not that I dislike 10s, it's more that I just don't care about them. A lot of other people do care, though, enough that's it worthwhile to have 10-man raids exist.

But to me, 10-man raids are UBRS1. I did UBRS a lot, before I started raiding. It was fun and all, but it was just UBRS.

25s are Molten Core and Blackwing Lair. The grail, the goal. When I think of 25s, it seems to tap into that line of instances.

I'm not really going anywhere with this train of thought. But really, I don't think there's any real, logical reason I prefer 25s to 10s.

I do think that for the Royalty guilds, the Paragons and Premonitions, 25s will provide a greater challenge than 10s. But for someone at my level, I think a tuned 10-man can be just as challenging as a 25-man.

I do like working within a sub-team, having a healer channel, etc. Yet it's also nice being part of the entire team.

But still, at the end of the day, 10s are UBRS and 25s are Molten Core or Blackwing Lair. The patterns laid down in our youth are hard to break.

1. Upper Blackrock Spire. But really, it's UBRS.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Willingness to Schedule

Just a random thought, but sometimes it seems like it is a lot harder these days to schedule things, to get people to commit to showing up at a given time in advance. Not just in WoW, but in real life too.

I wonder if it is related to the increasing inter-connectedness of our social lives. Sometimes it seems that everyone wants to leave their options open. To not commit to X, because there's a small chance that something else more interesting might pop up in the time between now and X. And because of the speed of communication, you might hear about the new thing in plenty of time to go to it.

It just seems like in the past, because it was harder to communicate with people, that people ended up making arrangements earlier, and sticking to the arrangements with more faithfulness.

I'm not really sure which way is better. Ad hoc gives the individual a lot more leeway with what they want to do. But it does make life a lot harder on the people who have to organize events.

And I think there is a strength in scheduling that is often undervalued. To be able to count on people to show up when they say they will show up. I've always felt that the single greatest characteristic I would want in a raider is dependability, not raw skill.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Elemental Invasion

For God's sake, is it really so hard for a tank to wait 10 seconds and let everyone get the quest before charging in?

I even broke my own rule and did not heal the second tank who did this to me. He had been requested to stop so the group could get the quest, and he just kept charging. I know it was wrong, but it was so satisfying to watch that tank faceplant.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Complexity

Some of the comments on the last post have brought up complexity. Yes, the optimum pattern is relatively complex. But there are other patterns which are a lot less complex, and only slightly worse.

For example, with that Chaotic meta-gem, you could follow Suicidal Zebra's pattern of Purple gems + 1 Blue gem. It simplifies the gemming a great deal, and is only a little bit worse. You could even go Purple in Red/Blue slots and Green in Yellow slots (or Yellow and 1 extra Blue in a Blue Socket), and that would easily get you the meta-gem activation and your socket bonuses.

There are other meta-gems you could use. Maybe they aren't as good as this one, but it would make gemming easier if you were concerned about that.

There's a thread espousing the same thing for classes on the DPS forums. The poster is complaining that the optimum rotation is getting too complicated and asks for some specs to have a simpler optimum rotation, but not do as much damage.

I'm not sure I really understand this request. You can alway simplify your rotation and do just a little bit less damage. For example, if you're a Retribution paladin, drop Holy Wrath and Consecration entirely. Your damage will go down slightly, but that rotation would be a lot easier to manage.

Or take Destro warlocks, which is the poster's concern. Drop Corruption and maybe Chaos Bolt. Don't worry about the Imp Soulfire buff. Unfortunately, the Shadow Bolt buff is a group buff so it's harder to drop. But now your rotation is just Immolate, Conflag, Bane, Incinerate, and instant Soulfires when they proc. That's a lot easier to keep track of.

I thought this was the ideal that people wanted. A moderately complex rotation for good damage, or a highly complex rotation for a bit more damage. An easy gemming strategy for good effectiveness, or a complex gemming strategy for optimum effectiveness.

When reforging was introduced, I seemed to be the only person who didn't like it, because I saw it would introduce this level of complex tweaking. But everyone else seemed to think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I don't really see the difference between reforging and this gemming strategy. If anything, this meta-gem is easier to deal with than hit caps, expertise caps, and haste soft-caps.

So where then does this vision of complexity go wrong?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Requirements for Cataclysm Chaotic Metagem

Note to new readers. Blizzard is changing these gems in a future patch. You may want to hold off before spending a ton of money on regemming.

Suicidal Zebra and Graylo have commented about the meta-gem requirements for the Chaotic meta-gems.

Chaotic Shadowspirit Diamond Activation Requirements:
New: Requires more Blue Gems then Red Gems.

In my opinion, they are both using a sub-optimal gemming pattern to take advantage of these gems, and as a result, their valuation of these meta-gems is lower than it should it be.

This is what I think the optimal gemming method is:

Assumptions

1. I assume that our goal in gemming to maximize our Red primary stat (Str, Int, Agi) while still activating the meta-gem. We can always fiddle around with the secondary stats with reforging.

2. I assume that we will hit the socket bonuses. Since we're already messing around with red and blue gems, it's a small step to get the yellow sockets too.

Description of problem

Let each gem have a "meta-score". This how that gem affects the count for activation of the meta-gem. For example, red gems are -1, and blue gems are +1. The end goal is to have a net meta-score of +1, as that is exactly the minimum to activate the meta-gem.


Socket ColourGem ColourMeta-scoreRed Primary Stat Amount
RedRed-120
Orange-110
Purple010
YellowOrange-110
Yellow00
Green+10
BluePurple010
Green+10
Blue+10


As you can see from the table the best gems to maximize both Meta-score and the Red Primary Stat are Red, Green, and Purple. You want to put Red gems in Red sockets and Purple gems in Blue sockets. That leaves Green gems in Yellow sockets as your method of balancing the Red gems.

The second tier of Orange and Blue are last resort gems, only to be used when the number of sockets doesn't work out nicely.

Algorithm

(Note: for the purposes of this algorithm, prismatic sockets count as Red sockets. You will also need to keep track of your current meta-score as you are gemming.)

1. If half or more of your sockets are Red, put Purple gems in Red sockets until the number of empty Red sockets is just less than half of the number of total empty sockets.

2. Put Red gems in the empty Red sockets.

3. Put Green gems in the empty Yellow sockets until your meta-score reaches +1 or you run out of Yellow sockets.

4. If there are empty Yellow sockets remaining, alternate Orange and Green gems until you run out of Yellow sockets. (If you don't care about socket bonuses, you can use Red gems instead of Orange gems in this step.)

5. If your meta-score is 0 or lower, put Green gems in Blue sockets until your meta-score reaches +1. (You can use Blue gems in this step if you still want more of your Blue stat.)

6. Fill the remaining empty Blue sockets with Purple gems.

Basic Idea

That looks a little bit complicated, but the underlying idea is fairly simple:

You use your Yellow sockets to balance your Red sockets (Green gems against Red gems), and then you zero out your Blue sockets using Purple gems.

The extra steps are just to compensate for cases where the number of sockets doesn't easily match the basic idea.

Example

My character right now (in DPS gear) has 9 Red sockets, 1 Prismatic socket, 9 Yellow sockets, and 2 Blue sockets. Remember that Prismatic counts as Red.

1. My Red sockets are less than half of my total sockets (10 out of 21) so I move to step 2.

2. I fill all 9 Red sockets and 1 Prismatic sockets with Red gems. Meta-score is -10, with +200 primary stat.

3. I put Green gems in all 9 Yellow sockets. Meta-score is -1, with +200 primary stat.

4. I don't have any Yellow sockets remaining so I move on.

5. Meta-score is 0 or less, so I add 2 Green gems to 2 Blue sockets to bring it up to +1. If I needed more hit, I could use 2 Blue gems instead. Meta-score is +1, with +200 primary stat.

6. I don't have any remaining Blue sockets, so I am finished.

Net result: Meta-gem activated, +200 primary stat, all socket bonuses. If I have excess hit rating from the Green gems, I can use reforging to convert the extra hit rating into another secondary stat.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thoughts on the Authenticator

In a thread on the Guild Relations Forum, Karamoone of Dark Iron expresses a view on the Blizzard Authenticator that I've often seen espoused by various "power users" or highly technical people:

I don't get malware on my PC, and if I did I'd look at blocking the infection vector (to prevent things like my credit card number and SSN from getting snagged) rather than just slapping on a band-aid to protect access to one video game. If I played on insecure PCs I'd get one in a heartbeat, but I only play on one PC. I'll probably set up the phone number authenticator, since it doesn't involve any additional annoyance in my normal style of play, but that doesn't count for the 'require authenticator' ranks in a guild.

This authenticator madness seems to me to be driven by a bunch of people with really unsafe computing habits who pick up malware routinely, but don't want to believe they're being incautious so choose to believe that everyone has a parade of keyloggers on their systems.

...

But really, I think if you're going analogize to home security, it really makes more sense to analogize the house to a computer than to a single video game, since the house has multiple valuable things in it and isn't used just for the one game. The game account is better represented as a collection of RPG character sheets or a single board game. So really, getting the authenticator is like getting a safe to store the paper character sheets for your RPG characters while leaving your credit cards, emergency cash, SSN card, and title documents out in the open on your desk, and the attitude some people are expressing is like not worrying about a break-in because they couldn't get to your character sheets.

I think this attitude is somewhat hubristic. I've never been hacked or had a virus, and I try my best to keep my computer secure. But I'm only human, and I can make mistakes. Maybe some of the hackers are smarter than me, and might outwit me. Maybe one of the people I rely on to help me keep my computer safe will themselves make a mistake and let me down. (And this is the worst, because sometimes I might not realize that they let me down.)

To go back to the analogy, a house has multiple vectors for a break in. They might come through the doors, the windows, maybe even the wall or the roof. I can harden each potential attack vector, but I might make a mistake. Or maybe a new attack that I did not anticipate will appear. Adding the safe to protect my RPG sheets might be good idea if I care that much about them, or if losing them will negatively affect other people.

I looked at the authenticator and decided the trade-off was worth it. It was fairly cheap, and typing in the authenticator code is pretty quick and doesn't add that much more to the login process. Plus, I got a corehound.

Considering an extra layer of security is never to be sneered at.

As well, consider that this layer of security is verifiable. If you are in a partnership with someone else online or at a distance, you can't tell if she follows good computing practices. All you have to go on is her word that she is doing things correctly. An authenticator can be verified, and acts as a guarantee. You hope that your partner is doing everything else correctly, but if it turns out she isn't, at least she had an authenticator which helped protect your interests.

In many ways, your authenticator is not so much about protecting your interests--though it definitely does that--but about signalling to others that their interests will not be attacked through you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Proposal for Raid Loot in Cataclysm

When I look back at how loot dropped in Wrath, there are two major items that I disliked.

1. I never really understood why normal loot needed to be strictly better than the heroic loot of the previous tier. The same, or even slightly worse, seemed more logical to me. But loot being strictly better in the new instance meant that the previous instance was dropped instantly, and added to gear inflation concerns.

2. I really did not like having multiple recolors of the tier sets. It really devalued the uniqueness and recognizability of the tier sets. Of the 25-ish different tier sets released this expansion, I doubt that I can even name a handful on sight. Which is far different than the previous two tiers.

So here's my proposal for how loot should be handled in Cataclysm:

Normal C1 raids would drop C1 gear of all slots, including the tier set. Heroic C1 raids would drop the normal C1 gear plus one C2 ring/trinket/necklace/cloak (maybe relics and throwing weapons too). Basically, you only get access to one tier of cloth/leather/mail/plate at a time.

When the C2 raids come out, they drop C2 gear of all slots, including the tier sets. And the heroics give you one additional C3 piece of jewelry or cloak.

This has two important effects. First, there is only one tier of armor at any one time. There are no recolors or anything similar. Gear inflation is kept to a minimum, especially that of armor and weapon inflation.

Second, the heroic loot is usually available to the widest pool of players as possible. All healers can go for the heroic healer ring. You won't end up with the situation where a heroic paladin healer plate drops and everyone groans. As well, since rings and trinkets have two slots, the normal rings and trinkets of the next tier will still be valued.

A high-end edge raid would still see significant upgrades in heroics, just from upgrading all her jewelry. But she would also see good upgrades in normals, while not completely obsoleting the heroics of the previous tier.

I think that this would strike a good balance between reward and upgrades from tier to tier. Tier armor would be more unique, and hopefully more recognizable.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hard Mode Triggers

In Ulduar, hard modes were triggered by an in-game mechanism that was unique to each fight. For example, Yogg had the Keepers, Thorim had the race in the tunnel, and Mimiron had his Big Red Button.

With Trial of the Crusader and ICC, the hard mode trigger was changed to a switch on the interface. This was done to make creating fights easier on the developers, but it has resulted in qualitatively worse raid fights and hard modes. Hard Modes in ICC are uninteresting compared to those in Ulduar, and mainly consist of the boss hitting much harder, having more health, and maybe one new mechanic.

Ulduar hard modes were better because they told a different story than the normal mode fight. This is because the in-game trigger causes the fight to have a determinant phase. And how the determinant phase unfolds changes the story, and seems to have encouraged the developers to make a more interesting hard mode. For example, reaching Thorim before Sif leaves, causes Sif to jump down and join the fight. It makes sense story-wise, and adds a new element to the fight that is not simply more health,damage, or a new debuff.

The determinant phase is not always part of the fight. For example, on Flame Leviathan, the determinant phase is the towers before the fight. But again, the determinant phase causes the hard mode to change in storyline, which results in a better fight.

It's interesting to note that the one Ulduar hard-mode that is generally regarded as worse than the others is Hodir, and Hodir's hard mode does not have a determinant phase. It's a straight timer, and thus is much less interesting than the other fights.

The determinant phase also had the advantage of tying the boss fight to the rest of the instance. As good as the Lich King fight is, for all intents and purposes the rest of ICC may as well not exist when it comes to the storyline of that fight. In contrast, Yogg's hard mode involves the Keepers that you rescued, strongly tying Yogg to the rest of the instance. In Ulduar, the boss fights feel more a part of the instance, and I think that is in large part because of the way the hard modes were designed.

The in-game hard mode triggers are a much better mechanism than the interface trigger. It may have been harder for the developers to make fights, but they rose to the challenge in Ulduar, and it resulted in much better fights and a more engaging raid instance as a whole.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Star Trek Online: Weekly Episodes and Design Inheritance

I'm not playing Star Trek Online, but I have been following Tipa's descriptions of the weekly episodes that the STO Live team is putting out. Each week they put out a new short quest line. The story arc completes over several weeks and then a new arc starts.

I thought it was a really good idea, because it fits in beautifully with the source material. Star Trek was an episodic TV show that aired weekly, and mimicking that structure has a certain resonance. What they are doing just feels very Star Trek-y to me, as an outside observer.

And of course, it gives you incentive to subscribe, to "tune in" every week to see the new episode.

Tangentially, before this, Star Trek Online always seemed like the design inherited from the wrong games to me. Inheriting design from DikuMUD style-RPGs like EQ and WoW, with destroyed enemies dropping loot and gaining levels and ships never seemed to quite match the feel of the televsion show. I remember seeing that you could buy and sell officers on the auction house/marketplace, and--green-skinned Orion slave girls aside--that felt really out of place in the Start Trek universe.

I've always thought that the better games for STO design to have inherited from would have the Sims games. Focusing on your officers, and giving them needs and desires, and then balancing that against the various adventures you go on, might have fit the IP a bit better.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Winning and Losing

I read an interesting article by Barry Rubin the other day:

My son is playing on a local soccer team which has lost every one of its games, often by humiliating scores. The coach is a nice guy, but seems an archetype of contemporary thinking: he tells the kids not to care about whether they win, puts players at any positions they want, and doesn’t listen to their suggestions.

He never criticizes a player or suggests how a player could do better. My son, bless him, once remarked to me: “How are you going to play better if nobody tells you what you’re doing wrong?” The coach just tells them how well they are playing. Even after an 8-0 defeat, he told them they’d played a great game.

...

Or am I right in thinking that sports should prepare children for life, competition, the desire to win, and an understanding that not every individual has the same level of skills? A central element in that world is rewarding those who do better, which also offers an incentive for them and others to strive, rather than thinking they merely need choose between becoming a government bureaucrat or dependent.

...

When the opportunity came to step in as coach for one game, I jumped at the chance to try an experiment. I’ve never coached a sport before, and am certainly no expert at soccer despite my son’s efforts. Still, I thought the next game could be won by simply placing players in the positions they merited, and motivating them to triumph.

...

They played harder, with a bit more pressure and a less equal share of personal glory than they’d ever done before. But after the victory, they were glowing and appreciative, amazed that they had actually won a game. Yes, winning and being allowed to give their best effort as a team was far more exciting and rewarding for them than being told they had done wonderfully by just showing up, that everyone should be treated equal as if there were no difference in talents, and that the results didn’t matter.


I really wonder how Mr. Rubin’s column would have turned out if his team had lost. If his team had tried to win, played their better players more, and yet still lost, maybe because they made more mistakes, or because the other team was flat-out better.

I’m not disagreeing with Mr. Rubin’s central point. This no winners/no losers thing is silly, and is doing a disservice to those youngsters. But at the same time, I think that stopping at "winning matters" was the easy, facile point. In a lot of ways, losing matters more. How to lose gracefully, how to deal with the sting of losing even though you did your best, how to draw lessons from your loss so you improve. Those are the really important lessons of childhood games, and those are much harder to teach than the simple "winning matters".

In some ways, I think the unspoken reason behind the whole no winners/no losers idea is to avoid those lessons about loss, rather than any real animosity towards the idea of winning. We fear the the concept of losing so much that we denigrate the concept of winning. After all, if there are no winners, then there are no losers.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Pandaren Pet and F2P

One of the things mentioned at Blizzcon was that Blizzard donated $1.1 million from the sale of the Pandaren pet to the Make-A-Wish foundation. That's great for the Make-A-Wish foundation, but I'm not sure what it says for the viability of item shops.

$1.1 million sounds like a lot. Blizzard donated $5 from each Pandaren, so we can infer that 220,000 people bought a pet. Sounds like a lot. But Blizzard has approximately 4 million subscribers across North America and Europe. So just 5.5% of Blizzard's subscriber base were willing to pay for this pet, even though a significant portion of the money went to charity.

Blizzard would have to sell *27* items of equivalent appeal just to make the money they make from one month of subscriptions.

This is the part I just don't believe about F2P and item shops. Every indication I've seen suggests that only a tiny fraction of the potential audience is willing to pony up money if they aren't forced to.

I just don't think that games where 5% of the players support the game and the other 95% just leech can be financially stable enough to thrive.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Class Anthems: Warrior

It's Saturday, so let's look at some machinima. I was thinking about class anthems, short videos which focus one class and make them seem awesome. Something that makes you want to roll a character of that class after watching the video. For example, Blind for rogues.

Here's an anthem for warriors, Red Eye Lobine's music video for Pillar's Frontline:



Ah, good old orc warriors. The Intervene->Spell Reflect was particularly stylish.

So what other videos would be good anthems for other classes? I think of a couple, like Cranius' Big Blue Dress for mages. Oddly, though, I can't really remember any videos that would have been a good paladin anthem.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Rated Battlegrounds: A Compromise?

If rated battlegrounds are not going to have automatic group creation, I think that will hurt them as transient content. But what if Blizzard pushed rated battlegrounds towards the extended content side of the spectrum?

Instead of rotating the three brackets (10v10, 15v15, and 25v25) every week, making assembling teams very hard, what if each season focused on a specific bracket?

For example, PvP Season 9 could focus on 10v10, and the rated battlegrounds would be Warsong Gulch, Battle For Gilneas, and Twin Peaks. PvP Season 10 could focus on 25v25 and the rated battlegrounds would be Alterac Valley and Isle of Conquest. PvP Season 11 would focus on 15v15, with the rated battlegrounds being Arathi Basin, Eye of the Storm, and Strand of the Ancients.

The big advantage of this is that you could form your team at the start of the season and play with the same people for the entire season. You would only need to find a new team after the season ends, which is a natural point of change in many cases.

I think this change would encourage team play and mitigate the frustration involved in assembling a PuG group each week. You would win or lose with your team, and if you did well, your entire team would be rewarded at the end of the season.

Meanwhile, if you didn't want to form a permanent team, you would PuG a team each week, just like you would in the current design. You don't really lose anything under this system.

I think this might even lead to better gameplay, as focusing on a few specific battlegrounds for longer period of time might lead to more strategies and counter-strategies being created. You wouldn't need to master all 8 battlegrounds at once, you would focus on two or three at a time.

And the other battlegrounds would still be available as unrated options if you wanted to indulge. Blizzard could even remove the current rated battlegrounds from the unrated pool to keep things different.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Rated Battlegrounds: A Missed Opportunity?

Apropos of our discussion yesterday, Blizzard posted a FAQ on Rated Battlegrounds. The key points I want to pull out are:

1. Rated Battlegrounds are broken down into three brackets. 10v10, 15v15 and 25v25. These brackets rotate weekly and can be viewed in-game via the calendar by activating the battleground holiday filter.

2. Players must create a raid with the full number of players required for the current bracket before entering the queue. Any level 85 player of your faction may participate in the battle (regardless of guild association).

As I've mentioned before, I think there are two main types of group content: transient and extended. I think the current design of rated battlegrounds falls in-between the two types, and thus is more awkward than it needs to be.

Extended content works best when you have the same team each week. Where you work together as a team and gradually become better and better. Things like raiding and Arenas. However, for rated battlegrounds, the size of the team needs to change from week to make, making it extremely awkward to have a consistent team. One week you go with 10, the next with 15, the next with 25. It's a scheduling nightmare. You'll have to do substitutions and all sorts of shenanigans to get everyone in the guild their full quota of points, if you approach rated BGs from an extended content point-of-view.

From the transient side, there's no automatic group creation. Again, I believe that automatic group creation is a killer feature for transient content, that transient content is essentially crippled without automatic group creation.

With this design, rated battlegrounds will become like pugging raids today. However, if you think that Gearscore is bad today, you are not prepared for the hell that will be rated battlegrounds. Lose a game, and recriminations will start flying, even if the team that won was simply better. Those the group leader sees as weak will be kicked from the team after the first game, and the next 30 minutes will be wasted as the team lead tries to find the perfect current "overpowered" class with the best gear and rating possible.

Rated battlegrounds seem perfect for an automatic matching system. Just match people of similar rating together, and let them fight opposing teams of similar rating. Transient content should be approached in a transient manner. If people want to queue up with groups, let them, but the differing battleground sizes will always make that hard to do consistently week after week.

Creating a successful Pick-Up Group for a raid right now is a time-consuming and frustrating exercise. I'm not sure why Blizzard wants to use it as the model for Rated Battlegrounds, especially when the automatic group creation of the Dungeon Finder seems like a far better path.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Leechers and Automatic Group Creation

Sometimes I think that if Gevlon did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.

His latest brainwave is a mod that kicks and blacklists people from the Wintergrasp raid. Basically, if he or other mod users see people leeching or being stupid, they can kick them out from the raid, preventing them from gaining much of the rewards that the people in the raid get.

The thing is that for as long as PvP has had rewards, there have been leechers. People who sit in the Battleground doing nothing, essentially forcing their team to play at a disadvantage, while racking up the rewards that the rest of the team earns. Because the other players cannot impose consequences for negative behaviour, that negative behaviour flourishes. Automatic detection of negative behavior hasn't really helped.

What's interesting is that in the PvE implementation of automatic group creation, there is a mechanism to allow players to punish negative behavior: Vote-kicks. The group can vote to kick a player from the group and get a new player. All of a sudden, behavior that reduces the chances of success has consequences.

And I think that by and large vote-kicking, or the threat of being vote-kicked, has worked. There is far less obvious leeching in dungeons than in PvP.1

Gevlon's mod is essentially a vote-kick system for Wintergrasp, albeit with only one vote.

It begs the question: would PvP battlegrounds benefit from a vote-kick system like the one the Dungeon Finder has? Automatic detection of negative behaviour can usually be outwitted, but I think it's fairly obvious to the entire team when one person is slacking.

The sad truth is that when there are no consequences for bad behaviour, people often behave badly. There have been no consequences in PvP for a long while, and maybe it is time there should be.

1. We can debate about people doing low dps in random dungeons another time. To me, at least they're trying to hit the mobs, even if they aren't very effective. It's much better than them sitting at the front of the instance leeching xp and loot.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Living with Loot Council

As most long-time readers know, I'm not the biggest fan of Loot Council. I much prefer DKP systems that leave the decision-making up to the players. So when my guild decided to switch to Loot Council, I viewed the move with some trepidation. I really did like our previous English-bid DKP system. But a lot of the guild felt uncomfortable with the "adversarial" nature of that system, and so we decided to change it up.

So what has Loot Council been like so far?

First off, I would like to note that I really like the implementation of Loot Council that our leadership came up with. We have three people on the council: our long-time loot officer, the guild master, and one non-officer raider. The non-officer raider changes each raid and is chosen more or less randomly. The guild master only casts a vote if the other two members disagree.

On the whole, Loot Council has worked out more or less okay. Loot distribution is a little bit faster, and there's definitely a much lower burden on the loot officer. There's not a lot of record-keeping to worry about.

But at the same time, I don't really see the Loot Council leading to a "better" distribution of loot than the previous system did. This is the flaw in Loot Council. The council is human, and thus, is likely to make mistakes and be unable to capture every piece of information necessary to make the ideal decision.

It's not like the council makes outrageous mistakes. But sometimes things can be subtle. For example, let's look at one example of loot distribution that I consider a mistake:

An i277 caster/healer cloak dropped. Of the people who wanted it, several had i264 cloaks, and one had an i258 cloak. The i277 cloak was given to the i258 guy because it was the largest upgrade. Certainly it is a defensible decision, or so it seems. But the thing is that most of the i264 cloaks were Emblem cloaks, purchasable from a vendor. So either the i258 cloak was better than than the i264 cloak, in which case the i277 cloak was a bigger upgrade for someone else, or the i258 cloak was worse than the i264 cloak, in which case the i258 guy wasn't willing to spend the Emblems to upgrade. In that case, the people who took initiative to upgrade their gear outside of raiding got passed over in favor of someone who didn't.

Certainly it's a very small mistake. I would have just considered the i258 and i264 cloaks more or less the same and had everyone roll for it.

The other amusing Loot Council folly was counciling 4 i277 tokens in row to a disc priest to help with Heroic Lich King. Said priest promptly quit right after getting the fourth token. Now obviously, the priest could have pulled similar shenanigans in the DKP system, blowing all his DKP right before quitting. But when something like this happens in Loot Council, it's the Council's error, their misjudgment thrown into stark relief, rather than the impersonal nature of DKP earned and spent.

But so far, Loot Council doesn't lead to obviously "worse" results than the previous system. And the savings on administrative overhead are huge. Plus, the guild seems much happier with this system than the previous one.

And that is a very important part of loot systems. Your guild has to believe in your loot system. You can have the most technically and mathematically sound system in the world (*cough* Vickrey bidding *cough*) and if the guild does not buy into it, it will fail. Similarly, a terribly flawed system can succeed if everyone is willing to work with it.

Monday, November 01, 2010

How was your Wrath?

As the pre-Cataclysm events started today, I guess it's time to look back at Wrath of the Lich King. How was your Wrath experience?

Mine was pretty good. I joined and stayed with one guild throughout this expansion. I moved up from a Gentry level guild into one that is definitely Aristocrat. I got to see all the content in the expansion, which was my major goal this time around. I got to drop raiding down to a nice, steady 3 nights/week.

I even got my Ulduar drake a couple weeks ago, which I think was my last major goal (one of the ICC or Ulduar drakes). There's still stuff left on the table: Heroic LK, Heroic Halion, Yogg+0, ICC drake. My guild actually has the ICC drake, but I was waitlisted the one night we did Neck-Deep in Vile. :/

I would have liked to PvP a bit more, I guess. I didn't do much PvP at all, but it might have been nice to explore that facet of the game.

I also seem to have lost interest in alts. I'm actually heading into Cataclysm with fewer max-level characters than I took into Wrath (my hunter is still at 78). I actually have a lot of random alts stuck at many different levels, but I can't seem to care enough to actually level them to max.

But really, all in all, I'm satisfied with how this expansion went.

How was your Wrath expansion?