Thursday, December 29, 2011

[SWTOR] Crafting

The crafting profession subsystem in SWTOR is very different than the one in WoW, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.


A character in SWTOR can have up to three professions or "crew skills". There are three types of skills: crafting, gathering, and special professions. So the obvious pattern is to take a crafting skill and then take the gathering and special skills that compliments it. The gathering skill gives the materials to make green items, while the special skill gives the materials to make blue or purple items, as well as gifts for your companion. There is an additional special skill, Slicing, which essential gives money and schematics.

Crafters can reverse engineer the items that they make and that gives them a chance to learn to make the higher rarity version of the item, as well as some of the raw materials. For example, reverse engineering a green item gives a chance to learn the blue version. The blue version is better than the green version and has the same level requirement, and uses the same type of material to create.

For example, my Imperial Agent has Cybertech as her crafting skill, with Scavenging as the gathering skill, and Underworld Trading as her special skill. Scavenging gives the materials required to make green mods (items like gems). For example, I can make and use Green Skill Mod 10. Reverse engineering Green Skill Mod 10 gives a chance to learn Blue Skill Mod 10.  Blue Skill Mod 10 probably has the same stats as Green Skill Mod 12, but Skill Mod 12s require level 29 to use, and I'm not at that level yet. Blue Skill Mod 10 also requires some materials from Underworld Trading.

So if you keep your crafting up to date, you gravitate towards using the blue mods in your personal gear, and making green mods to level up. If you're behind on crafting though, you'll probably just make green mods to catch up.

Key Innovation

In any case, the key innovation in SWTOR's crafting system is the introduction of a new material: Time. It takes a certain amount of real time to craft an item. At the beginning, it's only a minute or so, but the time keeps rising. Right now, it takes me 15 minutes or so to craft an item, and I imagine that the time will increase to hours or possibly even days.

I've mentioned before that there are four elements to crafting: gathering knowledge, gathering raw materials, transmutation, and using the created item. In WoW, transmutation is a negligible element. In SWTOR, transmutation is a vital element that has to be taken into account.

The way this works is that your companions who remain behind craft for you while you adventure with your regular companion. You tell your droid to go make a skill mod, continue questing, and then the droid announces his success or failure 15 minutes later.

The reason this is so important is that it puts a significant constraint on the supply of items. As well, it's very hard in WoW to make a profit in crafting because the buyer often supplies her own materials, and the crafter is expected to make do with just a tip.  Or have guild crafters who do all the crafting for free.

For example, after my raid the other night, I did enchants for four or so people and cut gems for another person. It took maybe 10 minutes to do all that, and most of the time was coordinating the trade as they gave me mats, and then I gave them the enchant.

In SWTOR, it's literally impossible to do that. Even if they gave me mats, I'd have to queue up the crafting, and it might take several hours for it to all finish. This means that the buying and selling of crafted items will move entirely to the Auction House (or Galactic Trade Network) marketplace. Which means that people only purchase finished items, not raw materials, and that prices will float and a profit can be made from crafting.

It is a very intriguing system and I am greatly looking forward to see how this all plays out.

Major Weakness

But it does bring us to the greatest weakness of the SWTOR crafting system, and that is the fact that the Auction House interface is pretty terrible. It's worse than WoW's default AH. Something as simple as a price check for an item you want to sell takes like five steps. Select category, select subcategory, search, type in the name of the item, then filter the search. Repeat all the steps for each item you want to sell.

The SWTOR crafting systems needs a fully functional Auction House to reach its full potential. If I had one suggestion for the SWTOR crafting devs, it would be to take a look at the WoW AH mods that the serious goblins use, find the one with most usability, and copy that. Pretty much anything will be a significant upgrade over the current interface.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

[SWTOR] Character Personalities

I'm rather enjoying SWTOR. I'm slowly making my way up. My Imperial Agent (Sniper) is level 27, and has been a lot of fun.

This blog is probably going to have a lot of SWTOR posts in the near future, mostly because it's the new hotness and because--for all that it is a WoW clone--there are some very interesting differences between the two games.

Normally, I don't roleplay at all in MMOs. In fact, I've gone on record as saying that roleplaying is irrelevant to MMOs. But I find myself assigning personalities to the characters I make in SWTOR, and using that to determine which choices I make in conversations. I'm usually Light-side, but it's interesting how much variation there can be.

Imperial Agent - pure Light-side for the greater good of the Empire. Absolutely loyal to the Empire, but feels that Light-side choices brings order to the Empire, as opposed to the chaos of the Sith. This works astonishingly well with the Imperial Agent storyline so far.

Sith Inquisitor - mostly Light-side. Is snarky and insulting towards the pompous, arrogant Sith, but respectful to those Sith worthy of respect and to the lower orders of the Empire.

Republic Trooper - again, mostly Light-side, but will go Dark Side to foil the Republic's enemies, both foreign and domestic.

Jedi Knight - la belle dame sans merci. Again, Light-side for most choices, but does not show mercy to defeated enemies, and kills them instead. Follows the principle that Batman should have killed the Joker, rather than imprisoning him in Arkham Asylum, as the Joker will inevitably escape and kill more innocents.

It's actually kind of surprising how many Dark-side points the last will get you. I'm running about 2-to-1 Light-side to Dark-side points.

Monday, December 19, 2011

[SWTOR] Shared Reality

I find SWTOR's use of phasing to be fascinating.

The world changes. NPCs do different things and even die.  But the areas where the changes occur are cordoned off from the rest of the world, and are explicitly marked off using red and green force fields. If you enter one of these areas, there's an explicit note on the UI, telling you who controls this reality. It's generally the first person in the group who enters the area.

To put this in WoW terms, imagine if all the changes to the throne room of Stormwind in WoW's history still existed.  Bolvar and Lady Prestor start there. When Onyxia is revealed in the Great Masquerade, it phases to become just Bolvar. Then when Varian returns, the phase changes again. But the throne room would have an explicit entrance. When you enter, you get put in a specific phase, and you know who's phase you are in.

WoW uses what I call "seamless" phasing. The world changes, and you really cannot tell where the change starts, or who's reality you are seeing. Or more accurately, you are always seeing your own personal reality.  Two people in the same group can be in the same area, but be out of phase with each other.

By having the explicit entrance to the phased area, SWTOR has its phasing be less seamless and more like instances. Which makes it seem more gamist and less world-like. But this system has the advantage of making things clearer for group play.  And parts of the world still change in response to events.

The problem with phasing has always been, given a group of two players with different states, determining which player's reality should hold for the group. I have seen many algorithms and strategies proposed, and they all have some flaws.

SWTOR chooses to delegate the decision on which reality to use back to the players. It is a very interesting strategy. It is a lot easier to deal with, at the price of making the world less "world-like" and more "game-like".

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Looking For Raid

I rather enjoy Looking For Raid.

It's quick, it's pretty easy, but it also "feels" like regular raiding.  The large group, the controlled chaos. It's tuned almost perfectly, I think. It does feel like the group needs to do things correctly, but there's definitely a lot of slack.

The way Blizzard has handled people dropping and joining groups is perfect too. It's seamless, and almost invisible to the group participants.  It is gloriously transient, and I think, pitched perfectly at that demographic.

What I've found is that so long as the group has one person who looks like they know what they're doing, one leader, people will follow.  Most of them anyways. For some reason, target switching seems to be very hard for people. It's one thing to switch late, or not as fast as you could, but to never switch at all?

It's also interesting to see what mechanics Blizzard changed, in order to make the fight possible. The one mechanic that has caused the most problems in my LFR experience is the ice walls on Hargara. Almost every time, the first attempt sees half the raid dead. Oddly enough, the second attempt usually goes well, as most people get the hang of it.

But that's pretty much the only "Do X or die" mechanic. Everything else is healable, and the healers can basically carry the group if there's a decent tank and a few decent DPS. Ultraxion is especially funny, because every special, you can see the people who should have died, but that you can heal up in LFR difficulty.

Loot-wise, the current system is "good enough". To my mind, it just illustrates the difficulty of loot distribution, especially when you have to take off-specs into account.

I wonder if all the people who confidently predicted that this would be a total failure are willing to reconsider. In my view, Looking For Raid is another bold success for Blizzard.

Edit: I was thinking about it, and LFR really reminds me of raiding Molten Core, back in the day. It just has the same sensibility as the raids back then.

Friday, December 16, 2011

[SWTOR] Queue Troubles

I got into the head start of SWTOR on Wednesday. But Wednesday is our raid night, so I decided to just play for bit after the raid night. I rolled an Imperial Agent on a server, did the first couple of quests, and got to level 3. Then I logged off for the night.

On Thursday evening I log in, excited to get a good stretch of playing time in, and was confronted with a 30 minute queue.

Personally, I can't stand queues, so I ended up rolling characters on different servers. I tried a Jedi Knight, but found it to be boring. So then I rolled a Sith Inquisitor and ended up taking her to level 10 and finishing the starting area.

So now I have a bit of conundrum. Should I continue with the Inquistor, or try for the Agent? My initial plan was to have the Agent as my main.

In hindsight, maybe I should have just stuck out the queue. I wonder what I'm going to do if both servers have a queue tonight.

How do you deal with queues?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

[SWTOR] Pre-order Waves

I did not get into the first day of early access for SWTOR. And yeah, that kind of sucks a little.

But, you know, I'm rather okay with the method that Bioware chose to gate entry into early access.  The people who pre-ordered first are the ones with the most faith in Bioware. The ones who were willing to put up their cash first as a concrete manifestation of their faith.

They made the largest sacrifice, such as it is. They were willing to "put their money where their mouth is".

And if Bioware rewards them by giving them first shot at early access by a day or two, then that's okay by me. It is a reasonably just way to determining who gets to go first.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ask Coriel: Breaking the Judgement Habit

Chantal asks:
Ever since the patch was released I've had large mana problems and I'm a fairly geared paladin. I'm still stuck on judging every 8 seconds from force of habit.

Would you consider any addons to remind or report judging after 30 seconds? Before it was easier because usually after cool down it was easy to judge after 8 seconds (every time judgement came off cool down.)
The first thing you could try is simply to change the key you've bound Judgement too. Perhaps moving it to a different key will be enough to break the habit.

For keeping track of the Judgements of the Pure buff, I actually use two mods, TellMeWhen and Paladin Beacon of Light/Sacred Shield Tracker.

The second one is a pretty old mod back from when we had to track Sacred Shield and the HoT, but I still use it to track the Beacon and Judgement of Light timers.

For TellMeWhen, I have it set up to display the Judgement icon when Judgements of the Pure either does not exist or only has 15 seconds remaining. I also use TellMeWhen for Holy Shock and 3-pt Holy Power.

Here is the TellMeWhen setup:

A Screenshot

I was poking around in my screenshots directory, and found this:

Monday, December 05, 2011

Dragon Soul 25-Normal is Correctly Tuned

There was a lot of chatter in the community last week that normal-mode Dragon Soul is too easy.

I disagree. After experiencing the first six fights (on 25-man), I think that Blizzard has done a solid job and the majority of the fights are correctly tuned for normal mode.

The thing about T11 and T12 is that the difficulty curve was very flat. There was not a lot of difference in difficulty between the non-end bosses. If you can beat Shannox, you can beat any non-Ragnaros boss. I've talked about this before, but I think that was a mistake. An instance works better when there is a clear ramp up in difficulty.

Morchok is pretty easy, true. But he's the first boss. Yor'sahj and Zonnzoznzonznnnz (or whatever his name is) are a solid step up. Hargara is another step up from those two.  Then Ultraxion is large step up from Hargara (possibly a touch overtuned). Warmaster Blackthorn is about the same level, but is a coordination fight instead of pure performance.

There is a very clear slope of difficulty in Dragon Soul. Almost every guild should be able to get Morchok down. Then they can at least farm him and Raid Finder until they can beat the next two.  And so on.

Normal mode Dragon Soul features a real progression in fight difficulty, unlike all the other tiers this expansion. Blizzard has done a good job with tuning this instance, at least in 25s.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Ask Coriel: Judgement Talents in 4.3?

Jeremy asks:
Are enlightened judgement and improved judgement essentially useless at this point? Judging is obviously not a priority and there is plenty of time to move in close once per minute to exclude the need for longer range. I can see some value in having the spirit to hit for when my mana pool is fine and I shock and exorcise the baddies for fun.
I am not sure. The thing is that judging is still very important to our class. You must judge, only you judge a lot less than before. However, in a six minute fight, you're still judging at least 6 to 10 times.  That's 6 to 10 times you'll have move up to melee range and back.  In general, you want to minimize unnecessary movement. Time spent moving means less time healing.

I would say that you should have at least 1 point in Enlightened Judgements. That will give you enough hit rating so that your Judgements always hit, and 15 yards of range.

So then the question basically boils down to 2/2 Improved Judgements for 35 yard range, or 2/2 Blessed Life for extra Holy Power.

If you can handle running in and out of melee, or staying in melee full-time, Blessed Life will increase your throughput.  However, Improved Judgements makes life a lot easier. You don't have to run. You can stand at range or in melee. You can refresh Judgement whenever you need to. You sacrifice a little throughput for a lot of stability, which I find valuable.

So that's my choice. I have 1/2 Enlightened Judgement and 2/2 Improved Judgement. I would rather lose a little throughput, in order to minimize movement and improve positioning flexibility.

Judgement Macro

Also, apparently Judgement was changed slightly so that it doesn't auto-target the way it used to. I saw a good macro for smoothing out Judgement for a healer:
/cast [harm][@targettarget,harm] Judgement
This casts Judgement on your current target if it is an enemy, or on your target's target, if you're targeting a friendly player.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Players and the Sack of Theramore

Mists of Pandaria will have a renewed focus on the Horde versus Alliance conflict. As part of that, it's been revealed that Theramore, Jaina Proudmoore's city-state, will be sacked by the Horde.

Now, it's probable that, like most major storyline events, this will happen "off-screen", in a novel or comic, or maybe a cut-scene before Mists of Pandaria comes out.

One of the problems with this method is that it's never the player's fault that the Alliance and Horde are at war. It's always that angry Garrosh, or stupid Varian. If only they were sensible and intelligent, then all these problems could be avoided.

I think it would be better if the players were responsible for the destruction of Theramore. If they had their bloody handprints all over the ultimate trigger for the FourthWar.

Here's how I envision it playing out:

Garrosh Hellscream (questgiver): Lok'tar Ogar, Champion of the Horde, Slayer of Deathwing! The Alliance have held us back for too long. Even now their armies encroach upon our territories, and kill our soldiers. It is time for us to deal with the main Alliance stronghold on Kalimdor. Your orders are to sack Theramore, destroy their ability to threaten us, and eliminate their leader, the mage Jaina Proudmoore.

Horde Player: What!?! Are you mad? This is an atrocity, an act of war. It is stupid and short-sighted! I will not do this.

Garrosh Hellscream: I offer you this epic weapon, Champion, and this rare striped kitten. It is not just any kitten, it is a Kitten of the Horde!

Horde Player: Theramore will burn, Warchief! The men and women will be put to the sword, and their children enslaved. Also, I would also like a gemstone collar for my kitten.

And then we have a phased instance of Theramore like the Wrathgate, only the players would be treated as the champions of the invading army. The Horde player's object is to destroy Theramore. The Alliance players also have a similar questline, but their quest would be to hold the line as long as possible, and then evacuate and get Jaina to safety.

I think an event like this would get the players deeply invested in the Horde/Alliance conflict. And it would force them to take responsibility for the conflict as well, the blood on their hands, rather than treating it as something that stupid NPCs came up with, or was written in a novel that most don't care about.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

[Mists of Pandaria] Hammer of Wrath

First off, I'd like to say that I like the 5.0 Holy Paladin. For the most part it looks like it will play the same as the 4.2/4.3 Holy Paladin, and that's good. However, I have a small concern, and that is the fact that Hammer of Wrath is going to be Retribution-only.

Hammer of Wrath is an extremely fun ability. It always has been. I remember when it was first introduced, and it has always had a spot on my bars since that time.

It's definitely not a necessary ability for Holy. But you know, when it's the end of a tense fight, down to the last 10% with the enrage timer coming up, being able to throw a few Hammers of Wrath at the boss is extremely fun. It feels like you are contributing even more. It hits hard, but has a cooldown so you can't abandon your healing.

I don't really know how to phrase it well. It's the perfect ability at the perfect time. Our dps is terrible, but when things go down to the wire, Hammer of Wrath allows us to step up, like the ace up our sleeve.

I'm sure every long-time Holy paladin has a story about the one time the boss hit enrage with 2% left and people were dying left and right so you bubbled and flung a Hammer of Wrath for the kill.

And even if you've never done that, there's always the hope that someday, somehow, it will happen. That you'll need to step up and drop the boss with Hammer of Wrath.

Even in PvP, it's quite fun. I've always enjoyed sniping killing blows with Hammer of Wrath.

I guess I'm just saying that as a Holy Paladin I love Hammer of Wrath. I know it's not essential to healing, and may even cause small balance issues. But it is just plain fun, and I think the spec will be poorer for its loss.

I urge Blizzard to consider giving Holy access to Hammer of Wrath in Mists of Pandaria.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Holy Paladins in Patch 4.3

So, Patch 4.3 is upon us. I'm looking forward to the new 5-mans and the new raid.

Kurn has a very good roundup posted. I'll just focus on a couple of the major changes for Holy Paladins.

Holy Radiance

Holy Radiance has changed significantly. It's now more of a heal you cast multiple times on the raid, rather than a "fire-and-forget" heal.  The new Holy Radiance is a group heal with a direct heal component and short heal-over-time component. It also generates one Holy Power with the Tower of Radiance talent.

The heal-over-time component means that you should cast Holy Radiance on different people if you cast it multiple times in a row. Cast it on Player 1, then Player 2, then Player 3, then back to Player 1 to get the most healing out of it.

The thing is that Holy Radiance is no longer something you have active while you are tank healing. Rather, you have to switch modes when you use it, to move from tank healing to raid healing.  A lot of times, this will be the wrong thing to do, as your raid will rely on you to keep single-target heals flowing on the tanks while other healers raid heal.

But now, you might be assigned to raid heal, while someone else tank heals, and that's when you bust out Holy Radiance.

In raid-healing mode, the new rotation is something like:

  • 3x Holy Radiance, 1x Light of Dawn - Maximum throughput, high mana cost
  • 2x Holy Radiance,  1x Holy Shock, 1x Light of Dawn - Less throughput, but less mana cost

You'll have to see which works out best. But the key is to remember to target different people when you cast it in succession.


The other major change is to Judgement. Along with the Haste buff of Judgements of the Pure, you also get a significant boost to your regeneration from Spirit.  This means that you must Judge as soon as you enter combat, to get the JotP buff up right away.

You don't need to judge on cooldown any more. In fact, it is a waste of mana to do so. So you may want to move your Judgement keybind if you are in the habit of hitting Judgement often. But you absolutely cannot let the JotP buff fall off.  I would recommend judging every 45 seconds or so.

Get the Judgements of the Pure buff up ASAP, but only Judge to refresh the buff, instead of Judging on cooldown.

Stat Value Changes

Gear-wise, the Judgement change means that non-Spirit builds are no longer viable. Spirit is pretty much established as the best secondary stat. (Intellect, of course, is still the best overall stat.)

There is some debate over whether Mastery or Haste is the next best secondary stat after Spirit. At this point, I would lean towards Haste, but I think it's still inconclusive.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

[SWTOR] Beta Weekend 2

Alright, this was the second beta weekend I've participated in and probably the last one before launch. Here are some more thoughts.

Advances in Griefing

Every time the MMO genre takes a step forward, it seems like the griefers also move forward as well. Bioware's main emphasis is story, and it should be no surprise that the griefers will seize upon that.

The new griefing in SWTOR: spoilers in general chat.

I would strongly suggest turning off the general chat channels when you start a new character if you care at all about spoilers. People will spill details about your companion and plot twists.

As a bonus, with the chat channels turned off, you won't have to listen to the constant chatter about World of Warcraft. Seriously, this makes me want to play WoW even more, because at least there people are not constantly talking about WoW.

But not having the chat channels active does make the game feel like less of an MMO. Part of the draw of MMOs is the fact that you are playing with other players, sharing an experience with them. Seeing chat go by is a large part of that experience, and I do miss it when it is turned off.

Other Classes

I tried the Republic Trooper and Sith Warrior, with a little of the Bounty Hunter and Smuggler. These stories were all good, but not quite as good as the Imperial Agent and Sith Inquisitor.

I took the tanking advance class of the Republic Trooper, the Vanguard. It's ... a bit odd. It's a "short-range ranged" class, as far as I can tell. Melee range is 4m, and long range is 30m to 35m. But the Vanguard's core skills have a range of 10m. So you're not in melee, but you're not really at range either. It does feel a little weird.

The Bounty Hunter is the exact same as the Republic Trooper. However, the skills are skinned in the inverse way, which is kind of neat. The Trooper starts at full Ammo, and abilities uses up Ammo, and Ammo slowly recharges. The Bounty Hunter abilities, on the other hand, generate Heat, and the Bounty Hunter starts with zero Heat, and Heat vents over time. The systems are the exact same numerically, I believe, but are presented in opposite ways. It's rather amusing.


I did manage to try some more flashpoints (dungeons). It's odd, but I've never managed to get into a "fresh" flashpoint. I always seem to join groups who are partway through.

I didn't try healing again, I just went with the Trooper and Sith Warrior.  The flashpoints went reasonably well. I really like Bioware's conversations with multiple players. That system is superb.

In one flashpoint with the Sith Warrior, I got to see a strong advantage of the companion system. One person left midway through, after a wipe. So I brought out my companion, and the three of us plus the companion continued through the instance. It worked reasonably well. Then we got to a boss that wiped us a couple of times, and another player brought out a different companion who could heal. We beat the boss with that configuration. (Though to be fair, it was also because we figured out how to avoid the boss' special move.)

I don't know how effective a companion will be in the higher-level dungeons (as opposed to the introductory ones), but it was really nice to be able to "patch" the group and keep going, instead of having to find a new person.

The only problem with flashpoints so far, in my view, is that it doesn't really feel like you are in a group. The sense of teamwork, of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, is very weak. It feels like four individuals attacking all the mobs, rather than one team. Perhaps the sense of team will grow stronger when the tanks and healers come into their own.


To be honest, the major thing this beta has done is to make me second-guess my choice of class. I was originally going to go with a Jedi Guardian. But I found the Sith Warrior mechanics to be awkward. And for some reason, the Sith Empire is much more interesting than the Republic. The Sith Lords are very well drawn, and it seems like the Republic characters are much less memorable.

Of course, the problem with the Sith faction is that most of the (vocal) Sith players appear to be "Hur, hur, look at me, I'm evil."  That's always annoying, and is going to be especially annoying in a game that actually allows players to act evil.

I'm still definitely looking forward to the game, but I now have no idea what faction or class I am going to play.

Friday, November 18, 2011

[SWTOR] Thoughts on Beta

These are some thoughts about Star Wars: The Old Republic, written after the beta test weekend of November 12. The NDA has dropped, so here is the post. It's probably missing a lot of clarifying details, though.


I played a Sith Inquisitor and Imperial Agent, both to about level 10. I did all the quests in the starting zone.

Technical Aspects

The game performed very well. No lag, good frame rate. The only issue I saw was rubber-banding on other players when going down a lift.  There were some minor tooltip problems, and some missing or incorrect gear icons.

All in all, I think the game is in solid technical shape for release.

Story Line

The quests and stories are amazing! I liked the voice acting for all the various NPCs, and even my own characters.

I really like the use of seamless phasing/instancing (areas where access is controlled by green/red forcefields) that separate important story points from the world at large. That was very elegantly done.

I would particularly like to single out the support for playing a Light-side Sith. It was very well scripted and written. It is a particularly unique experience to play a good guy working for the bad guys, and lying to everyone for the greater good.

In some respects, it's even better than Bioware's single player games. In the single player games, there's always the sense that I can save and restart this conversation if it goes badly. I found that having only one try at the conversation to be much more immersive, and it felt like conversation choices were more meaningful.

I think having repeatable group quests very early on (around level 4 or so) was a neat idea. However, the implementation where you can group and converse in General Chat with people in different instances made assembling groups a bit of pain. After a few tries, I gave up on forming groups and just did the quests with my companion.


I like the graphics. They are clean and good looking. In particular, they look very good when in the conversation screens.

The animations are all excellent. Combat animations are great.

The only problematic animation is the humanoid female running animation. It is slightly incorrect. Or more accurately, it's correct when viewed from the side, but when you view the character from behind, the elbows sort of disappear, and the character looks as if she is running in an awkward or "prissy" manner. Lord of the Rings Online has this same issue.

Chat Box

The chat box is pretty good, it's easy to talk to people. However, there are a few too many system messages being sent to it by default. In particular, selling items is a particular bad offender. Going to a vendor makes your chatbox useless. Also when you die, there's this "8 4" which is sent to the screen and chatbox, which is very confusing when you look back at the box a bit later.

In general, the cardinal rule of chatboxes is that they are for talking to other players. The less game messages that are sent to it, the more useful the chatbox will be.


As is normal for Bioware games, here's where the problems start.


Before I start in on things I didn't like, I would like to mention that I really liked the ability to quickly heal up outside of combat. All classes get a variant of this.

In particular, Seethe (for Sith classes) is amazing. It's the pacing that Darth Maul does when he's fighting Qui Gon Jin in the Phantom Menace. It just works, looks awesome, and makes your character seem like a total bad-ass. I look forward to pressing the Seethe button whenever I can.

Number one reason to play a Sith: you get Seethe.


The decision to not have an auto-attack is interesting. However, I think giving a zero-resource attack at the start was a bad idea. It takes up an extra button slot for an ability that is hit somewhat infrequently. You use it enough that you need it on your bars, but it really doesn't do enough to justify its placement.

More importantly, there are a lot of players who seem to use that zero-resource attack exclusively. I found this especially problematic with Agents. I grouped a couple times with "quiet" players. People who were in the same area to do a group quest, and didn't talk, but accepted an invite when I sent it to them. I found that these guys seemed to use the zero-resource attack almost exclusively (well, they also used grenades). They never went into cover, never sniped.

These types of people are going to perform really poorly in groups, and I'm not certain I can blame them entirely. The whole "cover" thing takes getting used to, but if the zero-resource attack is good enough, combined with your companion, that's what people will use entirely.

In some respects, it might be better to delay giving people a zero-resource attack until a later level. Let them get used to managing their resource, even if it means waiting for the resource to regenerate. Most early fights end before the resource bar is exhausted entirely.

Edit: I am not 100% sure about this critique anymore. I did not realize it, but the resource bar regenerates non-linearly. The closer it is to full, the faster it regenerates. I still have to think about how this works.

Number of Abilities

You gain too many abilities in the early levels. It completely swamps your hotbar. As well, these abilities often seem contradictory. Why am I getting knife attacks when I snipe? Why do I have so many cooldowns? Two types of lightning attacks and saber attacks, which should I use?

It was somewhat hard to figure out exactly how my character was expected to play. I ended up picking a couple of abilities and using them exclusively, ignoring the majority of the hotbar.

It was only after I hit level 10 and the advanced classes that I understood the logic behind the early game. Bioware gave us two sets of abilities in the early game, to get a feel for how each advanced class will play. But you don't know that when you get the abilities. It just seems like you're getting overloaded with abilities you rarely use. And if you try to use all the abilities together, you feel less effective.

I think the early game would work better with fewer, more cohesive abilities. Every time you get a new ability, you should be able to add it to your rotation and perform better than you did before.

Advanced Classes

The transition to advanced classes at level 10 is flat out terrible. There is almost nothing about this process that I can say was done well or done correctly.

First, you can leave the starting planet before level 10. In particular, the Sith Inquisitor story line doesn't seem to give enough experience. So I left at level 9, realized that I needed to be 10, and came back and ground out the rest of the level by killing random mobs.  But it seemed really easy to end up missing the advanced classes quest line and keep going when you really shouldn't.

Second, the advanced classes are sprung upon you with almost no warning. You get to make an irreversible choice that affects the rest of your game. There isn't even a confirmation screen! Misclick, and you've wasted hours.

Third, having your advanced classes abilities be in a separate tab in trainer screen is non-intuitive. I chose the  Sorceror so I could heal, and then could not figure out how the game expected me to heal. I only noticed the new separate tab in the training screen after 15 minutes of searching for any way to heal another player.

Why not just combine the two ability lists at the trainer? I don't particularly care if an ability is a Sorceror ability or an Agent ability. All I care about is if there is a new ability to train or not.

The entire experience of getting an advanced class should be a reward. Instead, it's a process full of perils and pitfalls, where it feels like you are making an enormously consequential decision on very little information, and you're not even sure you did things right.

Healing and Flashpoints

I don't really have much experience with the flashpoints. I only tried one Black Talon.

I chose Sorceror so I could heal, and I saw a group advertising in General for a healer, so I joined them. They were partly through the instance, at some sabotage droid boss.

I tried healing, but the one heal I had was so small compared to the health bar and incoming damage. I'm not sure if I should have tried to do damage as well/instead, but healing took all my Force and my time. We ended up wiping and the group dissolved.

I'm not sure if there was something else I was supposed to do, or if the other guys just didn't do enough damage, or if the tank was playing badly and taking too much damage or what. But all in all, it was a pretty lousy experience. When you fail, you should kind of know why you failed. I have no idea what went wrong in that group. I only had the one heal and I was spamming it with almost no overheal.

The main thought I had after the flash point experience was that I should have chosen Assassin so that I could have gotten back to regular quests.


TOR is a Bioware game. It has all the strengths of Bioware games, and all the weaknesses.

The quests and storyline, and general solo play is amazing. I really enjoyed that and I look forward to fully exploring the game when it releases. Also, I'd like to reiterate that I loved Light-Side Sith.

But mechanically, it feels like there are a lot of design issues. These don't really matter for solo play, but I think the crucible of group and endgame play will expose a lot of flaws.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Guild Updates and a Shocking Nerf

Guild Updates

After a bit of time at the 10-mans, my guild has crawled back up to 25s. We transferred to Lightbringer, merged with another guild, and got some new recruits. Hopefully this has put us somewhat back in gear, in time for 4.3.

Also, in an amazing feat of RNG, Shannox managed to drop 4x [Scalp of the Bandit Prince] in a single kill. No one in the raid needed the helm.

A Shocking Nerf

Gentle readers, I regret that I must inform you of a most shocking nerf, a nerf that threatens the very foundation of our illustrious civilization. A nerf so disgraceful that it truly deserves the most outrageous appellation that we, as moral and decent gamers, can apply. Yes, dear readers, this nerf is a veritable slap in the face!

Lady Vashj's [Tainted Core] no longer roots you in place.

We ran an SSC/TK the other night to get some transmog gear. I went along for a shot at [Ashes of Al'ar]. When we got to P2 on Vashj, I killed a tainted elemental, got the core, and threw it to another party member who was jumping at the top of the stairs. That player threw it to another person standing by a pillar, and the pillar was disabled.

Just as God intended it to happen.

Then another player, who had never been to SSC before, killed a tainted elemental, looted the core, and ran up the stairs to the pillar!

I was shocked, appalled, and even horrified. Is nothing sacred in this world?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bioware Games

Hagu asked about Bioware games, for people who haven't played any of Bioware's previous games.

First, if you haven't played any Bioware games, go out and buy Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. They are amazing games, showcasing Bioware at its peak.


Bioware games are Roleplaying Games. You build a main character, take her out into a world, and follow a storyline until the end. The main character gains experience and levels as you go through the game.

The main difference between Bioware games and the current crop of MMOs are Conversations. Whenever you talk to an NPC, it starts a conversation where the NPC says a line, and you choose a response from a given menu of options. The responses can cause the conversation to go in different directions and result in different outcomes.

Conversations are a huge part of Bioware games. It's quite possible that you spend more time talking to various people than actually fighting. Though there's quite a bit of fighting too.

The thing is that Bioware uses the conversation trees to deliver powerful storylines. In some respects it's closer to interactive movies than traditional games.

The next major component of Bioware games are Companions. In Bioware games, you don't just control your main character, you control a small party of characters. You can directly control your companions in combat, but usually they have some AI and you let that run, only intervening when you need to.

Your companions are very detailed NPCs. They usually have a backstory. You have to engage in conversations with them to reveal their background, and usually end up with special quests to give them closure over their own story.  Usually you can also set up a romance between your character and one or more Companions.

Your companions also interact with the world, adding commentary and participating in conversations.

The third component of Bioware games is usually some form of Moral Choice. Very often the game will offer choices--especially in conversations--between good and evil, between Light and Dark, between Paragon and Renegade. The path you pick changes the reaction of your companions to you, changes the outcome of quests, and can change the ending of the game as well.

So those are main strengths of Bioware games: Conversations, Companions and Choice. Bioware combines those three elements in a beautiful way.


The main weakness of Bioware games, in my view, are the actual game mechanics. Very often they're overly complicated, somewhat unbalanced, often non-intuitive, and don't really "play" well. They're not outright bad though, and as it's a single player game it doesn't really matter if the mechanics are the best or even balanced.

As well, because companions do play a large part in combat, there's often significant effort in making sure they play properly instead of say, blowing all the mana they have on weak DPS spells when you'd prefer them to save it for healing.

In my experience, you play Bioware games for the stories, and not because combat is amazingly fun or challenging. Some people do like it, because very often you can pause and micromanage your party for extreme effect, and it's fun figuring out the very powerful stuff.

Most of the time I just set the difficulty to easy, and savor the story line.

I do have to say that I actually really liked the way Mass Effect 2 played. Though possibly that was mostly because the AI was finally somewhat competent, so I could let Garrus and Miranda take care of stuff while I sniped (boom, headshot, never gets old) to my heart's content.

So those are the strengths and weaknesses of Bioware games, as I see it. I do strongly recommend their games though, especially the Mass Effect series. That series is science fiction, and not the typical fantasy story. I am greatly looking forward to Mass Effect 3.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Old Republic Beta Test

I got into the latest weekend Star Wars beta test.

I want to discuss and dissect this game so badly! There are so many interesting design points. This NDA is killing me!

Hopefully this won't get me into trouble, but here is my initial reaction to the game, in its beta state:

The Old Republic is a Bioware game. It has all the strengths of Bioware games, and all the weaknesses.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Old Republic NDA

Why do you think Star Wars: the Old Republic still has an Non-Disclosure Agreement up? There's about a month and a bit until its release, and information from the beta testers is still (officially) locked down tight.

Some theories:
  1. It's a dog of a game. EA/Bioware is hoping to maximize the initial box sales and hype by preventing people from talking before the game is released. Same theory as the movies which don't give advance showings to critics.

  2. The NDA will be dropped one week before launch, to saturate the media battle-space. This gives the Star Wars hype no time to drop before the game is launched.

  3. The NDA will be dropped when Patch 4.3 for World of Warcraft comes out, in order to drown out any publicity WoW gets before the game is launched. EA/Bioware tried this with Blizzcon, but it seemed like a miserable failure to me.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Talent Trees

There's been a lot of discussion of the Mists of Pandaria change to talents, essentially the removal of talent trees, and adding in a new system. Most of the discussion has focused on World of Warcraft and what the change means. But I would like to step back and look at the broader, more interesting view.

In the gaming industry, Blizzard raised up talent trees for RPGs. Previously, the main place you saw talent trees were the technology trees of games like Civilization. But with Diablo II and then World of Warcraft, Blizzard made talent trees truly mainstream.

And yet, Blizzard is abandoning the talent tree concept almost entirely. Starcraft II did not use talent trees, Diablo III will not use talent trees, and World of Warcraft will also stop using talent trees.

So that begs the question, what is the fatal flaw of the talent tree concept? What made talent trees appear like a good solution at first, but now appears to have been a blind alley?

Talent Trees and Time

Let's start by looking at what exactly talent trees do. When you first encounter a talent tree, you are presented with a few choices. You pick one of those choices, and that may unlock future choices.

The key thing here is talent trees essentially have a "zone of choice" which is limited to a small fraction of the total tree. As time passes, the zone of choice moves further down the tree. However, it does not usually get much larger or smaller. Almost always, you still limited to choosing from a small number of talents.

What's really important about talent trees is that while you are moving through the tree, the order in which you gain talents is very important. For example, if you are playing Civilization, you can go straight for Literacy, but you give up other talents, like Calvary.

However, this choice is a temporary choice, not a permanent choice. In the end, you usually get all the necessary talents you missed. After you pick up Literacy, you go back and grab the Calvary and declare war on Babylon.

As another example, in RIFT, I'm leveling a rogue. The end goal is Ranger 31/Marksman 18/Assassin 17. The top of each tree gives a specific benefit. Ranger gives a new pet, Marksman gives weapon enchants, and Assassin gives bigger crits. While leveling, the tree I focus on makes a big difference. Do I want the big crits early, can I wait for the pet, etc. But at max level, that doesn't matter anymore. The path to the final build is not important anymore. Only the final build itself matters.

Between those two aspects, we start to see some of the issues with talent trees. The small zone of choice explains why, even though there maybe 30 or more talents, it always seems like you only get a choice between 2 or 3 talents at the end. That's where your zone of choice has been pushed to.  And how the talents were assigned, point by point, ceases to matter.

In a lot of ways, I think the above points demonstrate why talent points were embraced at first. Zone of choice and the order of points mattering are great features when you are looking at leveling. But when time stops mattering, those advantages aren't really advantages any more.

Explicit Choices

In a talent tree, almost all choices are implicit. Every talent matches up to every other talent that can be taken at the same level. There is no idiom for making an exclusive choice within a specific talent tree.

To see what I mean, let's say that you have two talents, Talent A and Talent B. You would like a Holy Paladin to be able to take one of those talents, but not the other. Where do you place the two talents?

In the current WoW talent trees, you place talent A in the second tier of the Protection tree, and you place talent B in the second tier of the Retribution tree. In the old talent trees, you would have to place one talent at the top of one tree, and the other in a different tree just out of range (31/21, etc.)

Kind of honestly, that just doesn't seem right. Talent trees make it very hard to offer exclusive choices. You have to assume that any player can take both talents. For example, a Fury warrior can take both Titan Grip and Single-Minded Fury. It's a bad idea, but nothing in the tree structure prevents it.

The lack of explicit choices means that all talents within reach are compared to each other and ranked accordingly. And this has lead to some awkwardness. For DPS, damage talents always outweigh survivability talents. For tanks, survivability talents always outweigh damage talents. So for a final build, the only choice is between a few talents that you don't really care about, that aren't really important to your role.

In a talent tree, it is extraordinarily hard to make someone choose between two good choices. Most of the time the player will take both, and drop a third, less important choice.

The New System

The new system that Blizzard is using in Mists of Pandaria--and the one they used in Starcraft II--is a series of explicit choices. This system is simpler, and does in the end offer more real choice than a talent tree does.  You have to choose between good talents, instead of being able to take them both.

The other major advantage of this system is that it allows Blizzard to easily offer a choice between a less powerful but lower-skill option, and a more powerful but high-skill option.

For example, let's look at the Tier 3 Paladin talents in MoP:

Sacred Shield
When reduced below 30% health, you gain the Sacred Shield effect. The Sacred Shield absorbs 18005 damage and increases healing received by 20%. Lasts 15 sec. This effect cannot occur more than once every 60 sec.

Ardent Defender
Reduce damage taken by 20% for 10 sec. While Ardent Defender is active, the next attack that would otherwise kill you will instead cause you to be healed for 15% of your maximum health. (Instant, 3 min Cooldown)

Ardent Defender will be the choice of all high-end tanks. But it does require precise timing to use to full effect. Use it too early, use it at the wrong time, or simple not use it when you should have used it and you might die.

Sacred Shield, on the other hand, is a decent option for a less experienced tank. It procs automatically, is one less option you have to think about, and will help with survivability. A less powerful ability that actually gets used is better than a very powerful ability that is never used.

But the point is that this type of choice is very hard to offer in a talent tree. If both talents are in the Protection tree, then every tank will take both talents and drop some threat or utility talent instead.

This is the major significant benefit that the dev team gets. Each talent doesn't get compared to the entire tree, only the other talents in the separate tier. Utility talents match up against utility talents, healing talents against healing talents, and damage talents against damage talents.


Though talent trees were very attractive at first, the lack of explicit choice has proven to be a fatal flaw. The new system is simpler, easier to understand, and has the potential to offers more significant choices than talent trees could have.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

On Auction Loot Systems

Ferrel at Epic Slant had a post on Bidding Systems, where he was looking for comments on a zero-sum bid system. I commented with a giant wall of text, and figured I'd post it here as well.

My guild used to run an auction system (English bid, multiple bidding rounds, winner pays bid, like a traditional auction) before we switched to a Loot Council system. What we found is that a bid system works best if the players are willing to be aggressive with bidding. But a lot of players don’t like the feeling that they are competing with fellow guild members–the adversarial nature of the system–and they do things like “pass to someone else, she needs it more”. Which you know sounds like a good thing a tight-knit group would do, but actually tends to warp the bid system.

I’d like to add that the “not bidding aggressively” was not collusion per se. It was more a feeling that bidding aggressively was “impolite”. That aggressive bidding, especially if you had won something already, was somehow saying that gearing up your character is more important than gearing up your guildmate’s character. So out of respect for the social ties that bind the guild together, people refrained from bidding if they saw that someone else really wanted the item.

But in reality, that aggressive bidding was *necessary* for the auction system to work properly. Points needed to be spent, and items need to go for their “true price”.

Like, let’s say you know your popular guildmaster really, really wants Uber-Weapon off this boss you haven’t killed yet. On your first kill, the weapon drops. If your guild is the type of guild who would collectively pass the weapon to GM in appreciation for her hard work, your guild is a bad fit for an auction system. That weapon needs to be auctioned off, to be sold for hundreds of points, even if a relative new person gets the weapon over the GM. There is no room in an auction system for your raiders to feel bad about outbidding the GM for the weapon.

There was also some drama associated with bidding. Like if people knew that Dave wanted an item, they would bid on that item to drive up the price. But if Sally wanted the item, no one would compete against her, letting her have it for very few points. Naturally Dave would get upset at this behavior.

That was my experience with a bid system. I liked it a great deal, our paladins were okay with bidding against each other for items. I think we liked having the rest of guild be amazed that a healing shield would go for hundreds of points. But a lot of the other classes and people had issues with bidding, and it prompted the change in loot systems.

From a more theoretical standpoint, what’s important in a bidding system is not really where the points come from (the zero-sum part). Bid systems tend to flush out point inflation by their nature (again, if people bid aggressively). So you don’t need to use zero-sum. Handing out points based on time or attendance will probably be easier.

The important part is how the auction occurs. English bid is the system everyone knows, but multiple rounds means that it is very time consuming. It’s also a good system to “discover” prices. If you don’t know how much an item is worth, you’ll soon find out as the price starts increasing.

Sealed first-price auction is a single round of secret bids. Whoever bids the highest wins the item, and pays what she bid. It’s fast, but it can be very hard to judge how much to bid. You don’t want to bid thousands of points if you’re the only bidder.

Vickrey auctions are my personal favorite. Like the auction above, there’s only one round of bids. But the winner pays the *second-highest* bid (sometimes second highest + 1). This means that the optimal strategy in a Vickrey auction is to bid what you think the item is worth. You’ll either win the item and pay less than you think the item is worth; or someone else will win and overpay for the item. The problem with Vickrey is that a lot of other people simply don’t “get” the system, and not understanding it leads to dissatisfaction. There can also be some drama when people deliberately pitch bids high in order to make someone who really wants the item pay more. This is mathematically a bad strategy, but can lead to bad blood and harsh feelings.

That’s what I think of auctions. To be honest, if I had a guild that was totally on-board with Vickrey, it would be my preferred loot system. But I think the other two types of auctions have enough disadvantages, especially with regards to speed, that I would not use them if I could use another system instead.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Glyph of Holy Wrath

I've been running [Glyph of Holy Wrath] for the last couple of months. Originally, it was for Ragnaros, to add extra stuns on the Sons of Flame.

But it turns out that there are a lot of other places you can use Holy Wrath and get off a short stun, especially in Firelands. This glyph is turning out to be quite enjoyable. I'm rather glad that Ragnaros provides an excuse to take this glyph instead of the more pure healing choices.

My current favorite place to use the Holy Wrath stun is Heroic Ryolith. The little blobs that move towards Ryolith and increase his armor when they fuse are elementals. So you're busy healing, and you notice that a pack of blobs are moving past you towards Ryolith. A quick Holy Wrath, they're all stunned, and that delays the increase to Ryolith's armor, theoretically speeding up the kill.  Realistically, it probably doesn't make a huge difference, but I enjoy stunning the blobs, so I'll pretend it's vital for the kill.

You can also stun the regular elemental adds, but that's less interesting.

There are a lot of other places where the AoE stun can be used. It's especially easy for a healer to use, because you don't have to change targets, you just have to be close by the mobs.

So, [Glyph of Holy Wrath]. A surprisingly fun and useful little glyph.

Thursday, November 03, 2011


I've been playing a bit of Vindictus lately. It's an action MMORPG that's sort of like Diablo. The game is over-the-shoulder 3rd person perspective like WoW.

But it's an action game where left-click is one attack, and right-click is a second attack. So you string these moves into combos like LLLL+R or LLL+RR.

It's more of a central hub with NPCs, followed by instanced dungeons/quests, than a virtual world. Each dungeon or quest can be run multiple times with up to four people.

The classes are named individuals, which I find odd, but seems to be a common thing lately. There's Lann, male who dual-wields swords, Fiona, who is female sword and shield, and Evie, who is a female mage.  But you can still customize your character's look extensively.

As you level up, you improve your skills and combos, and get new abilities. For example, I'm playing a Fiona, and she's all about blocking hits. But when you're blocking, you aren't attacking, so there's a bit of timing involved.

Combat is very twitch-based, especially boss fights. There's lots of running and dodging out of the way of the boss' big special attacks (or blocking them at the right time). The animations are quite good and add a lot to the game.

One of the interesting things so far is that you don't really get weapons or armor from the dungeons. Instead you get materials and you bring the materials to crafters in town to make items for you.

It is not quite as polished as some of the big name MMOs. In particular, the central hub and all the NPC interactions and UI feel a lot more complicated than they need to be.

But the basic gameplay is very solid. Just running through waves of enemies and the boss fights are a lot of fun.

It's a F2P game. I believe that after the beginning quests, each dungeon/quest costs tokens to run. But you get a certain amount of free tokens each week.

In some respects, this feels like the game Age of Conan should have been.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Challenge Modes

Challenge Modes are the evolution of Zul'Aman bear runs and Culling of Stratholme drake runs.

Like Pet Battles, Challenge Modes are a non-gear based activity. Gear will be normalized to a set item level. Where Pet Battles are solo, Challenge Modes are aimed at small groups. Challenge Modes are also indirectly competitive. Total times will be compared, but groups don't directly challenge each other.

I think Challenge Modes will shine a spotlight on tank classes, more than any other role. I think that we will see differences in the tank classes be magnified on the forums, and one tank class will be declared the best, three will be average, and one will be known as the worst.

I think Challenge Modes will be a good addition to the game. It's small scale, somewhat transient content. The emphasis on speed means that actually completing a Challenge Mode dungeon takes relatively little time, and should take less than an hour.

I don't really know how well Challenge Modes will work with a random group, though. My gut feeling is that running Challenge Modes in the Dungeon Finder will be less fun.

But on the other hand, if you still get the Valor/Justice points, it might be better to run Challenge Modes instead of heroics after you've finished gearing up. You don't need the gear drops and the people you group with are also focused on speed. From a strictly-rewards point of view, after you've gotten your gear, there's no downside to doing Challenge Modes instead of Heroics.

That means that the "Go Go Go" people are filtered out of Heroics and into Challenge Modes. Which would make Heroics a more pleasant place to be, with people who are actually interested in gearing up and killing all the bosses.

I don't know if that will actually happen. Maybe random Challenge Modes will remain a ghetto, with most people doing Challenge Modes in premade groups, to ensure the best chance of success. The effect of Challenge Modes on the "normal" dungeon runs will be very interesting to observe.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Guild Split

While I was on vacation, my guild shattered into two pieces. I was surfing WoW Progress and I noticed a whole bunch of "X has left the guild", which was a pretty terrible way to find out.

Like many raiding guilds, we've found recruiting to be very hard this tier/expansion. Through regular attrition, we gradually slipped to the point where we were getting 23-24 people on some raid nights. As we were working on hard modes, this made progression very difficulty. We'd get one or two nights where we could field a full raid, and one night where we couldn't

It was decided that we'd split into two 10-mans, so we could at least continue knocking down heroic modes. Unfortunately, the heroic lockouts make it hard to recombine into a 25-man, even if we had the numbers.

I gather that the other 10-man was having drama. It culminated in that entire group, minus our guildmaster who was in the group, leaving the guild.  I felt really bad for our GM after finding out the scope of the split.

So we're basically down to one 10-man worth of people. It's a pretty solid 10-man, we go 6/7 Heroic Firelands.

Taking advantage of the new Guild Transfer Service, we've transferred to the Lightbringer server, a more populated server. I think the plan is to try and recruit back to 25s.

But I'm not really sure what the future holds.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pet Battles

The snobbishness of game culture never ceases to amuse me.

Video Gamer: "Pokemon is so childish!"
Normal person: "Video games are childish!"

I think Pet Battles are an interesting idea. I probably won't do a lot with this system, but it looks neat and I'm sure there will be people who find it fun.

It occupies an unique space, design-wise. In some ways, it's a solo PvP game, only without the crazy balance issues that would occur if Blizz made dueling a official sport. It does not depend on gear, so it's good for people who don't climb either the PvP or PvE grinds, while also not interfering with PvE or PvP.

It's a completely transient activity, so you can drop in and out. But it still leverages the multi-player and permanent aspect of WoW, as you get to play against other players.

It might be a possible sub-game for the people who want less twitch and more strategy, depending on how it's implemented. It would be easier to make the pet battle slower, or even turn-based, than it would be to change the regular game.

There are a significant number of people who can't or don't want to raid, or who don't want to be on the gear treadmill for PvE, and who aren't good enough for competitive PvP. These people need something to do, just as much as the raiders need raids.  This is an option for those people.

I don't know if Pet Battles are the best option for this segment of the audience, but it ties into pet collecting, and is generally not as "hardcore" as PvE and PvP main games are. I think it's good for WoW to have these "softer" elements, and I would like to see Blizzard come up with more of them.

So what pet are you going to level and train? I'm going with my favorite White Kitten.

Also, Blizzard, make a [Faceless Minion] companion pet! You know you want to. We have a couple of die-hard pet collectors in my guild, and there is much sighing over the tiny Faceless Minions every time we go to Bastion of Twilight.

Monday, October 24, 2011


So monks. Leather-wearing tank-dps-healing hybrid characters, so they will pretty much share gear with druids. Every race except the newest ones, goblins and worgens, can be monks.

The resource system described sounds pretty intriguing. In a lot of ways, it's the inverse of the death knight resource system. Both classes have two linked opposite-phase cyclical resources (see Resource Theory). But where the death knight had multiple full-phase resources feeding a single zero-phase resource, the monk has a single full-phase resource (Chi) feeding multiple zero-phase resources (Light and Dark Force). It will be really interesting to see which system plays better.

One twist on this system that might play well is an ability which costs Chi, but generates a random Light or Dark Force. I think that would shake up the rotation in an interesting manner.

As for healing, I was concerned at first. I don't think cyclical resources are a good model for healing. You can't burst when you need to, and you can't conserve the resource. But Blizzard has said that the healing monk spec will get a mana bar--a net-loss resource--so monks will fall in line with the other healers. Blizz says that monks might heal in melee, but we'll see. There are a lot of obstacles to melee-healing, as we paladins know all too well.

I expect that the monk's main three heals (the Holy Light, Divine Light, and Flash of Light equivalents) will cost only mana, but that the unique monk spells might partake of the Chi/Force system. Perhaps like paladins use Holy Power.

As for tanking, it's somewhat odd, but non-shield tanks will actually outnumber the shield tanks. That does feel a bit weird to me. Legendary tanking polearm incoming?

I'm also not sure about the "no auto-attack" thing. It sounds cool, but I think that it might lead to burst problems in PvP. No auto-attack means that each ability needs to hit harder. Also, the monk doesn't really feel like a DoT class, which might mitigate that effect. It would have been kind of nice if they used bleeds, but I'm not sure if that sounds right.

I do like their weapon selection. It's a nice selection of agility weapons crossing rogue/shaman/druid lines, while maintaining thematic appropriateness.

I'm not really sure what else you can say about monks. Lore and culture-wise, monks are somewhat interesting, but not really in my areas of interest.

Oh, one other interesting point is that with monks, a 10-man raid is guaranteed to always be missing at least one class. I wonder what ramifications, if any, that will have for encounter design.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pandaren and Pandaria

So Pandaren are the new playable race. In a surprise twist, they're available to both Horde and Alliance. The Pandaren starting area is neutral apparently, and the individual Pandaren choose Horde or Alliance at about level 10.

I am rather lukewarm about Pandaren characters. I don't think that pandas are any worse than gnomes, goblins, space-goats, or werewolves. But I'm not really excited to play one either. Though that may be more because I have my main, and I really don't feel enthusiastic about alts anymore. I'll probably roll a Pandaren to play through the starting area, but I doubt it will get much farther than that.

What I really hope is that Blizzard chooses to give the pandaren--and pandaren culture--a vein of seriousness, and use understated humor rather than slapstick. I think that would balance the intrinsically humorous nature of panda warriors.

I am wondering what Pandaren will look like in Tier armor. Most tier sets seem to designed for a "less round" body type. And of course, we'll see how sexy Blizzard can make female Pandaren. There are a lot of people who want a, let's say, more lush body type. But the stats show that these types of female figures tend to be the least played, even by women.

I actually kind of pity Blizzard that decision. The more sexual dimorphism they introduce (even to the Draenei level), the more people will actually play the characters, but the more outrage it will generate on the forums and possibly even the media and press.

A final thought about player characters, will Pandaren characters be able to communicate cross-faction? It seems odd that they would start together, but be unable to talk. Maybe the Pandaren language only will be cross-faction, so when the panda-trash-talk starts, no one else--Horde or Alliance--will understand it.

As for Pandaria itself, it does look pretty neat. The art is very nice and very different from the rest of Azeroth. I actually really like the theme of expansion, at least as Blizzard explained it. The Horde versus Alliance war, playing out by both sides courting or fighting the Pandaren. Symbolically, it works extremely well with the Pandaren being available to both sides. The individual's choice echoing the continent's choice.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

WoW Annual Pass and Free Diablo III

Blizzard is offering an Annual Pass for WoW. It's essentially a contract that if you subscribe for the next twelve months, you get Diablo III free, a mount, and beta access for Mists of Pandaria. You still pay monthly (or whatever your current payment plan is), but you can't cancel for a year. Or possibly you lose D3 access if you cancel.

I picked up this option as soon as I saw it. I'm going to play WoW for at least the next four months until I beat patch 4.3, if not longer. I'm also going to pick up Diablo III when it comes out. There's pretty much no downside for me, as far as I can see.

This promotion is, of course, a preemptive strike at Star Wars: The Old Republic. To staunch the bleeding from the number of subs who cancel WoW in order to subscribe to The Old Republic.

But perhaps more importantly, it is a preemptive strike at Diablo III itself!

The thing is that, with Diablo III, Blizzard is making a competitor to its own game.  A lot of people will move from World of Warcraft to Diablo III. By allowing people to avoid having to choose between D3 and WoW, Blizzard may get the best of both worlds. People stay subscribed to WoW, maybe logging in once or twice a week, while spending the majority of their gaming time in D3 for a few months.

The web of social ties that make up an MMO stays stronger, doesn't have as many holes from people who have stopped subscribing because of D3. Maybe they don't log in as much, but they're still there.

I think that this is a fairly strong indication that when Titan comes out, a Titan subscription will include a subscription to WoW.

It may even be the first step to one day having a "Blizzard subscription", where you get access to all their MMOs, and free copies of all their single-player games when they come out. Other MMO companies have done single subscriptions to multiple MMOs, but I don't think anyone has yet added single-player games to that. I think Bioware is probably the only other company that could do so.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Blizzcon Initial Reaction

In the immortal words of Keanu Reeves: Whoa!

Edit: I'm probably going to do a series of posts over the next week, each focusing on one of the new elements announced at a time.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Out of Town

I think I need to refine the last post, and respond to some of the (very good) comments made.

However, I'm headed out of town for a week. (Sadly, not Blizzcon.) So the conversation will hopefully resume in a week or so.

Or more likely, we'll all get distracted by the latest shinies from Blizzcon.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Extrinsic Rewards

I was thinking about the mechanics and systems that I do not enjoy or approve of in WoW, and it struck me that a large percentage of them share the same characteristic of being extrinsic rewards.

These include mechanics like crafting profession perks, or guild perks, or valor points. Basically rewards where you stop doing the underlying activity for its own sake and instead are doing it solely for the sake of this extra reward.

Crafting used to be about making stuff. Or about gathering resources to sell. I used to have Mining, and I rather enjoyed it. But now crafting is all about the character perks which add power to your character.

This is in contrast to Fishing, for example. I rather like Fishing, even if it isn't the most challenging activity in the game. The point of Fishing is to get fish, which you turn into Feasts via cooking. This chain makes sense to me, the rewards are inherent in the profession.

Before Cataclysm, guild used to be about joining friends or social groups, or banding together to accomplish a goal. Now it's about getting random rewards from being in a guild, most of which have nothing to do with the guild itself.

I've discussed Valor Points before. I'm not a fan of running old content over and over again just to get VP.

All these perks and systems share the same characteristic of giving extra rewards to entice people to do these activities. And yet all these perks and systems have warped the game, in my opinion, and made it less fun.

The only extrinsic reward system that has really worked, in my opinion, is reputation. I'm not really sure why reputation works. Maybe because it is a side-effect of questing and dungeon running, and never really moves into the point where you are doing quests and dungeons solely for reputation.

And even then, reputation used to be a lot less fun before the tabard system. Even Therezane and Hodir reputation are not the funnest parts of the game, but you do it because you have to have the extrinsic rewards of shoulder enchants.

I think extrinsic rewards are bad for the game. If an activity cannot be made inherently fun or useful, then maybe it's better to let the players ignore it until it can be improved.

Take archeology, for example. Some players like archeology and have collected everything. Some players ignore it. I would absolutely hate for Blizzard to decide that not enough players are doing archeology and tack on a perk that gives you a stat bonus for hitting 450 archeology.

Personally, I would be quite happy to see profession perks, guild perks, and valor points and most other extrinsic rewards stripped from the game.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Kitten Economy

The big news this week is that Blizzard is going to sell a new pet, a Winged Guardian cub (or kitten, as everyone is referring to it), in their Real Money store. Unlike the previous pets, however, this new pet will be trade-able, and thus can be sold on the Auction House for gold.

Here are some assorted quick thoughts:
  1. Yes, it's technically a way to indirectly trade real money for gold.

  2. Prices will probably start pretty high, and then fall rapidly as people get kittens.

  3. As an experiment, it's good, because it won't permanently distort the game. At some point, we'll probably reach a kitten saturation level and everything will calm down.

  4. I think people are paying a lot of attention to the real money aspect. But I think Blizzard might actually see more gain in reducing or eliminating support costs dealing with scams.

  5. We may also see an increase in liquidity in the markets. There's probably a lot of goblins hoarding large amounts of gold, simply because there's nothing for them to buy. Some of that gold will go to kitten sellers, and then get turned into things like mounts, motorcycles, and Vials of Sands.

  6. I wonder if a lot of people who don't normally purchase pets might take a flier on one. You buy a pet and put it on the AH. If it sells, great. If not, well, you can add it to your own pet collection. Right now, I'm thinking of going this route, even though I've never bought a mount or pet before.

  7. I much prefer this to Eve Online's method of selling game time. As I've mentioned before, I think it's important that everyone in the audience spends a little money, shares some of the burden of paying for the game, and that good players do not end up playing for free.

  8. I think that the effects of gold-selling in WoW are more nebulous than in a lot of games. It is actually somewhat hard to purchase "power" with gold. You could buy BoEs or crafted equipment. It might help you in a GDKP run. You might be able to purchase a raid spot if guilds still sell them. But realistically, I think the vast majority of kitten gold will probably get turned into other pets or mounts.
All in all, experiments are good for the genre. This one will be particularly interesting to watch unfold.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Note: All Cataclysm fights being discussed in this post are pre-nerf.

I've been pondering Gevlon's assertion that Cataclysm raiding is no longer about improving your ability to play your character, but about mastering the "dance steps" of each fight.

I think he has a definite point, at least as it pertains to Normal modes.

I believe I've discussed it before, but I do think that the difficulty level of Normal mode fights this expansion has existed in a very narrow band. To me, pretty much all the fights this expansion have hovered around the same difficulty as the Icecrown Citadel wings.

It's easiest to look at DPS. If your guild can meet the DPS requirements to kill Shannox, then you can meet the DPS requirements to kill the other Normal mode bosses, save only Baleroc and Ragnaros, which have slightly higher requirements.

It feels like all Normal mode fights are being designed around about 60% of maximum theoretical DPS. If you can meet that, then you can meet the DPS requirements of any of the other Normal mode fights. It might rise to 70% for the final boss.

But if the DPS requirements stay constant, then all that's left to master are the specific abilities of each boss, the "dance steps", as Gevlon puts it.

Hard modes, on the other hand seem to have a larger range. The first bosses come in at about 75% or so, but the DPS requirements do rise as well. I remember that our problem with Heroic Ryolith was hitting the Superheated timer, and that was a pure DPS problem, not any issues with "dancing".

I'm not too sure what Blizzard could do about this. If they keep raising the DPS requirements, then groups start dropping out as they become unable to meet the latest requirements. The difficulty of increasing DPS requirements is non-linear as well. It's much more difficult to go from 80% to 90% of the theoretical maximum than it is to go from 60% to 70%.

A lot of the problem does go away once you start pushing into hard modes. There's more than enough challenge on all levels, including basic class performance, to satisfy everyone.

Perhaps it would have been better for Blizzard to start raiding at a lower difficulty. If T11 was aimed at 40%, T12 at 50%, and T13 at 60%.  Or perhaps a greater gradient within a tier. Perhaps starting Shannox off at 40%, and having the DPS requirements rise within the tier until you hit Ragnaros at 70% would have been the better way to go.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Need Before Greed Issue

My praise for the new Need/Greed system may have been premature. It's been pointed out that there is a moderate flaw in the system

Consider the case of a player who rolls Need on everything she can, regardless of what she is currently using. Under the new system, that player will prevent a off-spec character from getting the item. Under the old system, the off-spec character at least has a chance of getting the item.

So it's a trade-off, I guess. Under the old system, a rogue player has a chance--it's not guaranteed--to take main-spec items from you. Under the new system, a rogue player can guarantee that you won't get any off-spec items at all.

Of course, there is a work-around. If you really want gear of a certain role, queue as that role. And guaranteeing the main-spec items you need is probably the more optimal outcome.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Random Observations on Armor


I've been playing RIFT again lately, mostly as a casual leveling game. But recently I stumbled across the raid armor vendor, and I thought that their system for handling raid sets was rather neat.

Basically, RIFT has 4-piece armor sets, but the set bonuses are actually on a different piece of gear, a "synergy crystal". There are 8 souls in each class and each soul uses a different set of abilities. So each soul has it's own synergy crystal. The armor sets themselves are more generic. For example, there's DPS armor and tanking armor. So you buy the armor for your role, and then get the synergy crystal for your main soul.

In WoW terms, it would be like having a single DPS plate armor set that could be used by any warrior, death knight or paladin. Then you pick up a Retribution crystal, Fury crystal, etc. to get set bonuses specific to your spec.

Obviously, it's not the best solution for WoW, if only because WoW classes prefer unique looks. But for RIFT, it's a rather elegant solution, as each class has its own armor type.

New Need Before Greed System

Blizzard posted that the new Raid Finder will use a modified Need Before Greed system. Items will be tagged with roles. If a player with the same role as the item rolls Need, she gets a +100 bonus to the roll.

Basically, it's Main Spec beats Off-spec, but you hit Need if you want it for either spec. Your role is defined as the current role you are playing in the raid.

It's an interesting solution. Tanks always get priority on tank gear. DPS gets priority on DPS gear. And healers get priority on healing gear.

The hard part here, as always, is classifying items. Is an Intellect cloth item without Spirit or Hit considered Healing or DPS or both? Are categories going to be restrictive or broad?

But still, this should be an improvement. Nothing burns a tank more than seeing a DPS--who has proven themselves unwilling to take the hard job of tanking--grab an upgrade that the tank needed.


Apparently, plate bikini bottoms are selling on the Auction House for 5000+ gold.

Hooray for transmogrification?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Are heirlooms a good idea?

It occurred to me that there are generally two complaints from experienced players about the early game that was revamped in Cataclysm: it is too easy; and you level too fast.

Now, I'm not saying that heirlooms caused these problems at all. But it's pretty clear that heirlooms make these problems worse. A character decked in heirlooms is significantly more powerful than a character in quest greens, and has a much higher rate of XP gain.

Cataclysm made the leveling game easier for new players. At the same time, heirlooms made the leveling game even easier for experienced players. I think the combination has proven to be excessive.

Additionally, I think heirlooms have created a couple of other problems. Low-level PvP is very affected by the disparity in power between a character with heirlooms and one without. As well, heirlooms remove much of the "upgrading gear" game while leveling. You never replace your heirlooms, so you never experience the thrill of getting a better bow or chest piece. I think that does suck a lot of the fun out of the leveling process.

I wonder if the Death Knight solution would have been a better way to go. Rather than speeding up leveling for someone who doesn't really want to level, maybe it would have been better to simply allow them to skip the leveling process.

You could sell a level 80 character to someone who already has a max-level character. Either for real money, or put in a way the max-level character can earn the extra character. But if you liked leveling, you could still level the old-fashioned way. It would be easy, but not as easy as heirloom-assisted leveling is.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Bastion Review

Bastion is an amazing game.

On the surface, it's an isometric action-RPG that's about 6 hours long. It's available on Steam or Xbox Live for $15 or so. You play The Kid, who's exploring the world after a Calamity struck and destroyed the existing civilization.

And yet, that description comes barely scratches the surface of Bastion. I saw another reviewer describe Bastion as three games in one: the game you see; the game you hear; and the game in your mind. This description is so apt that I am going to steal it.

The game you see is the basic action RPG. You can equip two weapons from an arsenal of about ten. Each weapon is different and can be upgraded in a different manner. You go around levels and fight various bad guys, find new weapons and secrets, gaining experience and "treasure" you can use to buy new items or upgrade old ones. That's the basic game-play.

The game you hear is the element which immediately separates Bastion from other games. The main conceit or innovation is the omni-present narrator. This gravelly-voiced narrator tells the story of the game as you play through it, reacting to what's happening on screen. It feels a bit like an old Western or noir-style film. The narration is superbly written, and adds an amazing amount of depth and pathos to the game.

In addition to the narration, the music is very well done, and adds a great deal to the experience. One interesting thing about the game is that even though we're praising the sound, there's almost no dialogue. It's entirely narration and music that creates the game we hear.

The game in your mind is the way all these elements come together to serve the story of Bastion. And Bastion's story is outstanding. It's very sparse, with a bare handful of significant characters. But the resulting story is beautiful.

The final hour, in particular, is a tour-de-force. The choice at the end is so much better than the standard good-evil choices in most games. Both choices are arguably right, and yet they are opposites. The game ends extremely well.

Bastion is not perfect, though it comes very close. In particular, I would like to single out one sequence for disapproval. For most of the game, the space bar causes you to do a rolling dodge. But late in the game, that's changed to a jump, and a platform jumping-puzzle sequence happens. It's completely out of place, is pretty much the only time you have to jump, and is extremely annoying. But at least Bastion is very forgiving when you fall off, so it's not like a true blocker.

But, aside from that jumping sequence, Bastion is superb. The basic game-play, the narration and music, and the story all combine for one of the best gaming experiences of the last few years.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Preliminary 4.3 Holy Paladin Changes

The 4.3 Public Test Realm and patch notes came out today. There are pretty significant changes for Holy paladins.  I'm going to quote changes from Ghostcrawler's explanation post as they're the most high level:
We changed Seal of Insight to no longer return 15% base mana and then changed Judgment of the Pure to provide mana regeneration so that Holy paladins would not need to Judge every eight seconds. With these changes, they will want to Judge every 30 seconds, which seems more reasonable. Judging every eight seconds is hard to ask someone who is also targeting players a lot to heal them.
I like this change from the Judging standpoint. You now need to only judge once a minute or so, instead of having to judge on cooldown. On the other hand, tying Judgement mana regen to Spirit guts the Mastery/Crit build. I would suspect that Spirit/Haste will go back to being the one true build.
We made several changes to Holy Radiance to make it a cast time spell. We felt like Holy paladins couldn’t go into a group healing mode because Holy Radiance had a long cooldown and in the absence of a cast time, didn’t compete with any other spell. With this change (and the Light of Dawn change below), paladins can opt for an AE healing “rotation” (insofar as healers can ever have a rotation) of using Holy Radiance to Light of Dawn instead of Holy Light et al. to Word of Glory.

Several Holy talents changed to support the change to Holy Radiance, such as allowing it to benefit from Illuminated Healing, Clarity of Purpose, and Infusion of Light.
This is the big change to paladin AoE healing. Holy Radiance becomes a cast spell, with pretty much the same cast time as Holy Light and Divine Light. The current implementation targets another player and heals the people around her for a 3 second HoT.

There's also some Holy Power tossed in there, but the current notes are inconclusive. No word on how it interacts with Beacon of Light or our Mastery. This is the spell we'll have to keep an eye on. Not sure if the numbers will work out for us to spam it during high AoE, or do something like Holy Radiance, Holy Shock, Holy Radiance, etc.

I think it's way too early to evaluate this spell. It's definitely something we'll have to see on the PTR.
It didn’t make sense for Speed of Light to be triggered by a cast-time spell, so we caused the Paragon of Virtue talent to lower the cooldown on Divine Protection, so that Holy wouldn’t lose quite so much functionality of Speed of Light. Speed of Light has definitely been nerfed compared to 4.2, but we feel it’s an acceptable change given the entire package.
We do lose a little run speed boost, but we also get 30s Divine Protection, which can be pretty huge. There are a number of effects that trigger every 30 seconds, and we will be able to cooldown all of them.
We reversed the glyph for Light of Dawn. Instead of providing an additional target to Light of Dawn, the glyph now reduces the number of targets but increases the throughput. Light of Dawn was not a very useful spell in 10-player raids or similar small groups, like Arena teams. This glyph should allow paladins to tailor Light of Dawn for their group size.
An interesting change to Light of Dawn. There's also a change such that Divine Plea give a Holy Power when you use it. That's a bit odd, but it's a straight buff, so I guess we'll take it.

 All in all, 4.3 will be very interesting. We will see if this change makes us acceptable raid healers. I do lament the death of having two viable builds, but I think cleaning up Judgement was worth it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Old Republic: Release Date and Companions

Release Date

It was kind of funny watching Diablo III and The Old Republic dance around each other's release date. But D3 has been pushed into 2012, and The Old Republic seized the opportunity to get a Christmas release date.

The game looks pretty interesting so far. Like many gamers, I'm looking to give it a whirl.


Whenever I think about NPC companions, the following dialogue runs through my head:
Gamer Gary, MMO newbie: "MMOs are awesome! You get to play with real people!"
*Gamer Gary goes off and plays with real people for several years*
Gamer Gary, MMO veteran: "NPC companions are awesome! They'll help me solo!"
Snark aside, I do like the idea of NPC companions. For one thing, they make the fundamental unit of play a group, rather than a solo character. You're always in a group. That makes group-centric characters like healers and tanks a lot more viable.

From a healer standpoint, the one thing I hope The Old Republic does with their companions is make them full party members in the UI. Often in WoW, healing companions and pets--especially those belonging to other players--is hard to deal with most UIs.  The poster child for this is that one Firelands daily that gives you a full group including a tank. But because there's no UI support for that group, healing them is a pain.

Ideally, NPC companions show up in the UI exactly like other players, making healing a companion the exact same as healing another player. This would even help train new healers.

Other than that, I would like companions to not be so "main character"-centric as they have been in recent Bioware games. In some ways, I enjoy the NPC-NPC interactions more than the NPC interactions with my character. It feels a little bit weird that everything is about your main character. I rather liked the husband-wife pair, Jaheira and Khalid, in Balder's Gate.

Of course, I may feel this way because Alistair and Morrigan were clearly destined for each other in Dragon Age: Origins. It was gravely disappointing when I realized that I could not promote that pairing.