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.