Thursday, December 27, 2012

Looking For Raid, Pandaria Edition

My computer was having a lot of trouble with Looking For Raid in Pandaria. It would crash often, on pretty much every fight. Given that it would occasionally crash at other times, I finally bit the bullet and got a new machine. Ah well, the old one served effectively for almost five years, so I guess it was just time.

So in the past couple of weeks, I've actually gotten to try out the new raids in Mists of Pandaria, if only the LFR versions.  Here are some thoughts.

I like pretty much all the raids in this tier. They're a lot of fun, with interesting mechanics. By and large the difficulty seems appropriate for LFR. It's doable, but you do need at least some of your group to pay attention.

Skill-wise, LFR seems pretty much the same. There doesn't appear to be any completely terrible people, but there's the standard not-switching targets or killing adds issue that always plagues LFR. I can usually count on having at least 4 of 6 healers being competitive on the meters.

I've switched away from Eternal Flame to Sacred Shield. In LFR, raw HPS is pretty much the only thing that matters, because you can't "trust" your other healers in the same manner as in a normal raid group. So raw raid healing with cooldowns on the tanks is more likely to help the group survive.  That means heavy reliance on Holy Radiance and Light of Dawn.

Loot System

So the big controversy with LFR this time around is the loot system.  I have mixed feelings about it. On the whole, I think I get loot at the same rate as in previous tiers.  And per-character loot definitely solved the drama issues with LFR loot in previous tiers.

But now, killing a boss seems like a big letdown. Previously, you killed the boss, and there was a cascade of purples. Maybe you personally wouldn't get anything, but there was plenty of treasure for the group. But now, most of the time it seems like just a small amount of gold, which is a disappointment.

I don't know. It's like before, the treasure definitely existed. If you didn't get an item, then someone else did. You saw rogues get cool daggers, and hunters get bows, and enthused with everyone else when they got their items. But now, it seems like 80% of the time there is no treasure at all.

Also, not being able to get off-spec gear is a bit disappointing. Especially since rep gear costs Valor, that precludes reputation as a source of off-spec gear. But on the other hand, it's better than people taking off-spec gear over main spec players.

This is especially reinforced with the Greater Charms of Forture. You pop a Charm, and 80% of the time is just gold, again. Blizzard should have just tripled the cost per Charm, and only allowed you get one per week, but made it guarantee a drop.

I don't really see a decent solution for the loot issues. Maybe announcing the winners of items to the raid, since you can't change anything, would be enough to get the old feel back. This system is good enough, though. I just feel sad that the previous system wasn't able to work, that it died in a tragedy of the commons.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Case Against Cross-Server Raiding

Big Bear Butt had a post last week decrying Blizzard's stance against cross-realm raiding in the current tier. Ghostcrawler tweeted that Blizzard was worried "about what it would do to guilds".  BBB generally disagreed with Ghostcrawler, and felt that cross-realm raiding would generally be good for the game.

Well, I'm here to outline the future where cross-realm raiding goes badly.

If you look at BBB's post, there's an underlying, unstated assumption. He assumes that if you need a raider for that last spot, you would pull from your guild, then pull from your cross-realm friends list, and lastly pull from trade chat on your server. That there is a priority list that goes:
  1. Guild
  2. Friends
  3. Strangers
Now suppose that assumption doesn't hold. Suppose with the advent of cross-realm raiding, the priority list becomes:
  1. Friends
  2. Guild
  3. Strangers
I.e. you pull from your friends list before you pull from your guild.

This would do immeasurable damage to WoW in the long run. If you're someone new to end game, how would you break into raiding? Right now, the path is you apply to a guild, and the guild takes you on runs. The application and acceptance does not require an existing friendship. Both sides understand that they are taking a chance on strangers.  

A lot of people don't like guild apps because they are impersonal, but that distance sometimes makes things easier. The guild app process provides a path where strangers can become friends through raiding together. Every new app is a stranger to the guild as a whole, not yet a friend.

In contrast, breaking into someone's circle of friends will be very hard. They'll be raiding with their friends, so you can't play with them. The barrier to entry for raiding could become much larger, and the barrier between strata of raiders could become even higher. If you're a Royalty raider, is it better to raid with another Royalty raider from a different server, or take an effective stranger from your current server?

Now, you could say that this future isn't likely, that no one will prioritize Friends over Guild. (Though, wouldn't many people say you should prioritize Friends over Guildies?) But one never knows how people will react. I would have never predicted everyone rolling Need in LFR, and subgroups funneling loot to their own members. And obviously, neither did Blizzard. But that happened.

As well, prioritizing Friends over Guild does provide two distinct advantages. First, you get to play with friends, as opposed to people who are still strangers. Second, your pool of friends is often higher quality (and a known quality) than new guildies.  If you're friends with someone in Paragon, bringing her alt is more likely to lead to success than taking your latest guild recruit. And as we've seen time and again, WoW players always take the short-term success, even if that leads to issues in the long run.

So that's the case against cross-realm raiding in the current tier.  If it goes badly, it has the potential to seriously damage the method through which people get introduced to serious raiding, as well as one of the major methods by which strangers become friends in the game. It has the potential to see the raiding stratas become very tight cliques, which become harder and harder to break into.

Raiding needs new blood to keep going, and anything that has the potential to damage or block that intake should be looked at with great trepidation.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Preview: City of Steam

Last Monday, Andrew Woodruff from Mechanist Games gave me a little tour of their upcoming MMO, City of Steam.

City of Steam is a browser-based game. But it doesn't match traditional notions of a browser-based game. It's a fully 3D game, with pretty decent graphics, and is very responsive. Mechanist Games is focusing on making as easy to jump in and play as possible, with very fast loading times.  It's actually quite an impressive technical feat, in my opinion.

The setting is a more steampunk-ish, Victorian or Industrial Age fantasy. There are humans, elves and orcs, but the orcs and goblins form the working underclass. It's similar to Troika's Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura.

Mechanics-wise, it looks to be a themepark MMO using the trinity. The main classes are Gunner (ranged dps), Warder (melee dps/tank), Arcanist (mage), and Channeler (healer).  Gameplay is quest driven to start, but there are lots of dungeons. Also interesting is that the dungeons have challenge modes, which change the objective of the dungeon. One challenge mode might be to kill 200 enemies in 5 minutes, or break 100 barrels, or make it to the end before the timer.

I tried out a Gunner for a bit. The animations were nice, and the early part was fun. I didn't get very far, and only got a peek at the customization options, which look very extensive and looks like complicated fun. People who enjoy tweaking their characters should enjoy this aspect.

Somehow, even though it is a 3D over-the-shoulder perspective, I got a very "Diablo II" vibe. I'm not sure entirely why that is so, it may just be how the UI is laid out, and the fact that there's lots of barrels and crates to break. But that's probably a good sign.

In keeping with the extremely accessible theme, City of Steam is going to be a F2P game.

All in all, City of Steam looks like it will be an interesting game. It's definitely worth checking out, especially to see how far the brower can be pushed, and how quickly you can just jump in and start playing. It really drove home just how much more powerful modern computers are.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Leadership and Effort

In a comment to my review of The Guild Leader's Companion, Bearness writes:

The book sounds helpful and thorough...and very disenchanting. I feel intrigued and disgusted at the same time. At what point did running a gaming guild become so business-like? I understand that a guild, especially a big one, has a lot of social dynamics and requires some leadership and organization to run properly. But, I feel like it can be done without dehumanizing guild members into "human resources".  

I do appreciate certain efficiency in my gaming. If I play for x amount of hours, I'd like to have something to show for it. At the same time, it's just a game, which means the main purpose is to have fun. For me, even if I didn't kill the boss or get that "phat" loot, if I had a good time hanging out with fellow gamers, mission accomplished. But, I guess everyone has different expectations.
Making things look effortless requires a lot of effort.

No matter how you slice it, leading a guild is work. You have to recruit people, deal with drama, keep things running, and keep people happy.

If anything, one could argue that running a serious raiding guild is easier because the expectations of people are much more concrete. Everyone expects to log in and raid at time X, that loot will be distributed according to the system, and the goal is to kill bosses. You're all on the same page.

A casual guild, on the other hand, can't really count on any of its members to show up for anything. Some of them might, some of them might not. And that is even more soul-destroying to a guild leader who's trying to make the game fun for her guildies.

Maybe this is an outdated idea, but I've always felt that the point of organization is to make life easier, to make it run more smoothly. Which ends up allowing you to have "more fun". You can concentrate on having fun, and the rules and structure take care of the necessary elements.

It's kind of like money. Sure, you can go through life running on the edge, using a credit card or borrowing money to pay for stuff and then paying it back. Heck, I've done that before. But it's astonishing how much easier a small cushion of savings makes your life. Even just a couple months of living expenses stashed away makes a radical difference in how smoothly your life can flow. It may even just be a psychological benefit, not having to worry about things as much.

That's the same role that good rules and good structure plays in a guild. Ultimately, it makes life easier, and allows you to have more fun.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Agency and Failure

Milady wrote a really interesting post last week about Agency and Powerlessness. She contends that gaming narratives are immature in part because the hero always succeeds.

I agree and disagree with Milady. Gaming narratives are often immature because the hero is always successful, sometimes verging on omnipotence. However, Milady attributes this to the general maturity level of the gaming industry, suggesting that the gaming industry prefers adolescent fantasies. I disagree with this view. I think gaming narratives are the way they are because of the fundamental structure of games.

Failure in games is different than failure in novels and movies. In novels and movies the writer controls both the protagonist and the challenges she faces. Thus the writer can have the protagonist fail, and the audience considers it a valid failure. Similarly, in real life it is person versus the world, and if the person fails, that failure is valid.

But games are innately adversarial, either player versus the rules, or player versus the game writer/designer. For failure to be considered valid, the player must fail because of a choice she made. Failure that is simply imposed by the rules or game designer is not considered valid, not considered fair. Every situation the game puts the player in must have a solution.  If a player fails to find the solution, that is a fair loss. But if no solution exists, the game is flawed.

To put it another way, Kobayashi Maru situations are innately bad game design. The audience instinctively understands this, and when James Kirk reprograms the simulator, they applaud his ingenuity.

It is fundamentally a question of the balance of power in gaming. It is trivially easy for the game designer to make a no-win scenario. Thus it is bad form for one to actually do so. You see this in tabletop RPGs. The Game Master can easily wipe out the player characters whenever she feels like it. But a GM who actually does this is considered a bad GM, and accused of "railroading".  Failure must come from the players' actions, because the GM has all the power.

So from this we see the problem that games have. All situations the game puts the player in must contain a path to success to be considered fair, valid, and good game design. But, especially in an age of saving and reloading, the player can take all successful paths, and end up with a narrative where the hero is effectively omnipotent.

Sometimes games get around this by offering paths which are partial successes and partial failures. For example, in Mass Effect there is a choice on Virmire. The player can either save Ashley or Kaiden. She cannot save both. So that situation is one way of making the player fail in a "fair" manner.

Similarly the game can make the player fail by having the player make the choice to fail. Where failure is actually the right choice. But this is extraordinarily hard to do without making things feel artificial and forced. Of all the games I have ever played, only Planescape: Torment and Bastion have ever come close to this.

A Solution

My solution to this issue is a gamist solution. The problem is caused by the nature of game mechanics, and thus it must be fixed by game mechanics, not narrative ones. We desire a narrative game where the player does not always succeed. But the player's failure must come from the choices the player makes.

My solution is to have narrative success constrained by a resource the player controls.

You always hear political pundits declare that "the president must spend his political capital" as if political capital was an actual resource that is accumulated and then cashed in. So let's borrow that idea.

The narrative game should have a resource called Influence. The player earns Influence in some manner, and can spend Influence to adjust the outcomes of situations. But the player does not have enough Influence to affect the outcomes of all situation. She must chose which situations she must win, and which situations she can afford to lose.

This sets up a game where every given situation has a solution, but not all solutions can be taken. The player will fail sometimes, but she always fails because of her own choices. Either she spent the necessary Influence on other problems, or she chooses not to spend Influence on this problem, that she can live with the default outcome, and saves Influence for a future problem.

Games are not like other works of art. Failure must be handled in a form true to gaming. It cannot just imposed from above in order to create a mature narrative.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Review: The Guild Leader's Companion, 2nd Ed

Adam 'Ferrel' Trzonkowski of Epic Slant sent me a review copy of his latest book, The Guild Leader's Companion. This is the second edition of that book, but I had not read the first one so it is entirely new to me.

Preliminary Observations

I read The Guild Leader's Companion in electronic (epub) format, so I'm not really sure what the paper version looks or feels like. The electronic version was good enough, with a detailed table of contents.

The Guild Leader's Companion is well written. It is written in a more conversational style than most non-fiction guides, with Ferrel using first-person a fair bit, and drawing on his personal experiences as a guild leader. Interestingly enough, Ferrel's experience comes from Everquest 2 and Rift, not WoW. Everything is more or less the same, though as all three games have a very similar style.

For the content, I am in basic agreement with Ferrel about almost everything. I may spend more time on the things I disagree with in this review.

One small thing I would have liked is a summary section at the end of each chapter. It does seem a little superfluous, but I've always liked summaries in other non-fiction that I've read.

Chapter 1 - Human Resources

Ferrel goes over the major categories of individuals in a guild and discusses them: the Leader, the Officers, Team Leaders, Franchise Members, and regular Members. I particularly like the discussion on Franchise Members, as they are a very important part of the guild which is not often given much ink.

Ferrel introduces an acronym, STAFF, which stands for Serenity, Transparency, Availability, Flexibility, and Fairness. These are the virtues that Ferrel believes leaders should espouse. There is a good discussion about these virtues. In particular, Ferrel has convinced me of the necessity of Serenity and Availability as essential leader attributes.

This chapter also discusses Recruiting, Punitive Actions, Organizational Longevity, Burnout, Leading vs Management, and Social Interaction. In particular, the section on Recruiting is quite good, with much detailed and concrete advice.

Chapter 2 - Organization Structure

In this chapter Ferrel discusses Purpose, Founding Documents, Written Rules, Hierarchy, Culture and Community. The chapter is a solid mix of specific advice and more general discussion.

In particular, the notion of detailing 'outs' in the rules, specifying when and how rules will be changed or explicitly giving the leader authority in unclear situations, is well done. If, during play, one of the rules turns out to be a bad rule, the founding documents should specify how the situation is handled.

It's something that seems obvious, but that many guilds don't really consider, until they're faced with the situation, and then they panic and make hasty and unwise decisions.

The only thing I would quibble with in this chapter is that Ferrel is a bit too narrow in his vision of ranks as a hierarchy of authority, as in the military. He does not really acknowledge the notion of ranks as 'tags' specifying specific attributes, rather than the flow of authority.

Chapter 3 - Public Relations

This chapter talks about Branding, Forum Behavior, Website Behavior, Dealing with Developers, Meetings, and Alliances. I rather imagine that Dealing with Developers is not really something that most guilds have to worry about.  Again this chapter has a lot of solid advice.

Chapter 4 - Applying Leadership Skills to Content Types

This is an interesting chapter. Here Ferrel goes through different types of content such as Small Group, Raids, Competitive Raiding, PvP, Crafting, and Roleplaying. He offers specific advice for each type of content.

The advice is generally well thought out. However, this chapter does discuss everything from the point of view of extended gameplay. I think some thoughts on how a guild interacts with automatic group creation, such as Dungeon Finder and Raid Finder, would be worthwhile.

Chapter 5 - Data Accounting and Resource Management

This chapter is really about Loot Distribution, with a small discussion on meters thrown in. I'm not really a big fan of Ferrel trying make things more universal by talking about Resources instead of Loot. It did make this chapter a little harder to read than it should have been.

However, Ferrel is strongly in the "Loot as Investment" side of things, and this discussion proceeds almost entirely from that. This approach is defensible. Indeed, most high-end guilds follow the same path. But it does leave one blind to problems that a "Loot as Reward" outlook would anticipate.

I haven't read a treatise on Loot Distribution that I have been totally satisfied with. Ferrel's discussion comes close, and is a quite solid discussion on several specific loot systems. However, it is missing several major ones (Shroud, Suicide Kings, Gold DKP, Wishlist). I also think it would benefit from a lower level discussion, specifically about the trade-offs involved.

Heh, maybe one of these days I'll write my own guide to loot distribution.

Finally, a small quibble, but Compound Interest is the wrong name for a problem Ferrel describes, where members use points that are built up from previous content to win items from current content. This section was really confusing until I realized what he was talking about.

Chapter 6 - The GLC2e in Practice

Here Ferrel talks about the ideas that he has put into practice with his two guilds from EQ2 and Rift. He details problems that his previous guilds ran into, and solutions that they came up with.

Final Observations

There is one major element of guild leadership that Ferrel is missing: Time Management. Time Management is a crucial aspect of running a guild, and really should be pulled out and examined on it's own. But that's really the only section which is missing.

The Guild Leader's Companion is an excellent guide to running guilds in MMOs. Most guild leaders will find that this book contains useful and specific advice that can be applied to any guild.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Currency Conundrum

So in Patch 5.1, Blizzard converted [Lesser Charm of Good Fortune] into currency. Then they gave us [Domination Point Commission] as an item drop.

One step forward, one step back. Sometimes Blizzard's logic is hard to fathom.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Indians and Gaming

A lot of feminist gamers decry the fact that gaming companies are almost totally male. Personally, I've never felt this was an entirely fair accusation. To me, gaming companies are mostly male because computer science and engineering programs are mostly male. When the pool of talent you hire from looks like X, it's hard not to end up looking like X, especially when you pay below-market wages.

Of course, there is a bit of chicken-and-egg going on here. A lot of men go into Computer Science because they are gamers, and the idea of maybe joining a gaming company after graduation lingers in the back of their minds. (Then they find out about the hours and pay, and decide to go into business programming.)

But something about the above formulation troubled me. Then I realized that it is wrong. Game company demographics do not quite match CS demographics. Oh, they more or less match according to gender, but they don't match according to race.

Specifically, the Indian population is missing from gaming.

If you drop into a CS program, you will notice that there are three significant racial groups: White, Asian, and  Indian. (I am ruthlessly compressing several cultures into each category. Painting with broad strokes.) But the gaming industry is almost totally White and Asian.

Indeed, I would argue that geek and gaming culture is mainly White and Asian. It is rather interesting that Indians are missing, given that all three cultures share enough similarities to make Computer Science a common goal.

Now, I'm not ascribing the difference to racism or anything like that. Rather, I would say that the geek/gaming culture carries many White and Asian people into CS, and the gaming companies recruit from that stream. Meanwhile, the large presence of Indians in CS is a effect of Indian culture's esteem for engineering, and seeing engineering-like careers as desirable.

I've been musing about this lately because (as you may have guessed from my name) I am Indian by ancestry. But when I was young, my parents moved to a town that was almost entirely White. (The actual story is a little more complicated than this, but it will suffice.) So in many ways I am White by culture, and part of that is that I fell into the geek/gaming subculture. It's pretty much what White people of my temperament and talents do: read sf and fantasy, rhapsodize about Star Trek, and play video games. It was what all my (White) friends did, and since I was like them, I did the same.

Then I went to university and encountered that divide I discuss above. I went to a very techy university with tons of fellow geeks. But even though there was a large Indian presence at university, it was almost non-existent in geek circles, even though those circles pulled people from the same classes.

It was, and still is, slightly disconcerting. Growing up, I had made the assumption that I was the only Indian geek I knew because there was a bare handful of Indians in the town's population. Then I went to university, met a large Indian population, and realized I was still pretty much the only Indian geek I knew.

I'm sure there are others out there, but it has always seemed odd to me that there isn't a larger Indian presence in gaming and geekdom, given the fact that there are so many Indians in CS and engineering.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Opposite Gender Avatar Study

I got an email from  Amalia Badawi about a psychology study at Charles Darwin University in Australia about people who may or may not use characters/avatars of the opposite sex. I thought I would pass it along for your delectation:

We are conducting an Internet based psychological study at Charles Darwin University [in Australia] and are seeking male and female participants who are over 18 years of age, are able to read and write in English fluently and who use avatars. The study will examine participants' identification with their avatars as well as explore why people may use, or not use an avatar of the opposite sex. The study will examine psychosocial functioning in the real world, personality factors as well as sex role identification of the participants' and their avatars. Please go to for more details. You are not required to provide any identifying information in order to participate. All information given will be anonymous and protected. Ethics approval has been obtained for the conduct of this study. Thank you.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Randomness in Raiding

Tobold is calling for more randomness in raiding. I disagree with this idea. Here are my reasons:

1. Randomness has been disliked in the past.

Historically, fights featuring a high degree of randomness have been disliked by the playerbase. Prince Malchezzar and Faction Champions are the prime examples here. Both of them were fights which led to a high degree of grumbling.

I don't really see the point in adding more randomness, when the evidence shows that randomness is unpopular.

2. Randomness encourages "fishing".

Often, a fight with random elements contains one set of elements which is significantly easier or significantly harder than the others. This encourages guilds to reset the encounter until the "easy" combination shows up, or wipe it early if a hard combination appears.

My guild did this with Heroic Twin Valkyries back in Trial of the Grand Crusader. Twin Valks used one of four random abilities every minute or so. My guild used a very specific strategy that relied on rotating cooldowns to mitigate enough damage to survive.  However, there was one combination of elements which that strategy could not handle because the cooldowns didn't line up correctly. For all other combinations, the strategy was easier to heal, but that one was a guaranteed wipe. So we fished. We just trusted in the odds, and took the wipe if it came up.

Honestly, though, it was kind of silly. We should have mastered a strategy that would allow us to always beat the fight, even if it took more time.

3. Execution is not trivial.

There is an unfortunate tendency in the geek subculture to regard thinking as hard, and execution as the easy part, the part to be left as a trivial exercise for the reader. I deeply disagree with this. Many times, execution is the hard part, and mastering the execution is the challenge.

It's like writing a novel. Sure, you can tell someone how to write a novel, come up with characters and a plot. But that's easy. The hard part is actually sitting down and writing out the novel, polishing page by page.

Mastering execution simply scratches a different itch for us. It's like learning to play a new song. Sure, one could say that it should be easy, because you've already got the music in front of you. But learning to play the song is still a challenge, still worth doing.

Joel Spolsky talks about trying to hire people who are smart and who get things done. In my view, smart people are a dime a dozen in our subculture. People who get things done, on the other hand, are exceedingly rare.

That's what raiding is aimed at. It's all about execution and getting things done. And it's still difficult, and still challenging. Just because you can't show off how smart you are, doesn't mean it is automatically an inferior activity.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The last few weeks have been pretty crazy for me in real life. I've barely had time to play games, let alone write about them.

Hopefully life has stabilized and I will be able to write more soon.

The Old Republic

TOR launched it's F2P shop and a new companion quest. I haven't bought anything from the store. The thing is that I just don't care about cosmetic gear. My entire bank is filled with moddable rifles and gear, but I'm just wearing the latest gear I have.

I haven't finished the new companion quest yet. I've done the first part, which includes an entire "puzzle" segment aboard a ghost ship, with almost no combat. Instead it's like an adventure game. It was pretty fun, and very atmospheric.

World of Warcraft

I haven't played WoW very much either. No time, really. As well, I have some sort of crash issue that comes up randomly on fights. It happens very often in LFR, once or twice on a boss fight in a dungeon run, and very rarely at other times. It's actually really annoying, because it is so inconsistent. All my drivers are updated and everything.

Maybe it's a sign that it's time to upgrade my computer.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Brawlers Guild Invitations

The latest mini-controversy in WoW is invitations to the Brawlers Guild. Unlike most content which unlocks immediately, invitations to the Brawler's Guild are being passed out virally, from other players. The initial set of invitations are being auctioned off in the Black Market Auction House. Which, of course, riles everyone else.

As I am a great fan of experimentation, I'm generally in favor of Blizzard trying this out. It's content that is completely new, that no one is invested in yet. So it's a perfect ground for trying something new.

However, let's analyze things further. First, let us separate idea from implementation.


The central idea of the Brawler's Guild invitation is to have a content gate that depends on other players. This is very different from most content gates in WoW. Most content gates are independent of other players. Whether or not your character is attuned to an instance really doesn't depend on anyone else. It solely depends on your own efforts and those of your guild.

A content gate that depends on other players has been tried once before: the opening of the Gates of Ahn'Qiraj. That too was an interesting experiment, and is remembered by Vanilla players. It was memorable, but maybe not entirely successful.

However, unlike AQ, this gate is not all or nothing. Rather, it is set up to spread virally throughout the population, a la Gmail. Perhaps this will prevent large population spikes or activity that hurts the servers. Maybe this will have positive benefits, or maybe artificially preventing some people from the content will be negative.

Either way, I think the idea behind the invitations is interesting, and worth experimenting with.


Now, the specific implementation of the Brawlers Guild Invitations is to sell them on the Black Market Auction House. Many people instinctively rebel at giving the "rich" people initial access to content. However, there are some advantages to this method.

First, everyone who buys an Invitation wants an invitation. They are deliberately purchasing the item, not picking it up by accident. That means that there are no "wasted" invitations, and the number of invitations is strictly known.

Second, this method allows a consortium of people to band together and purchase a set of Invitations.

Third, this method is not random. It is guaranteed, while still limiting the number of available Invitations.

Fourth, this method does not disrupt the rest of the economy or the playstyles of people not interested in the Brawlers Guild. Imagine if daily quest mobs had a chance to drop the invitations. People farming the mobs for invitations would conflict with people who just want to do their dailies. As well, there would be a large influx of farmed materials like cloth, which would temporarily depress prices in the regular markets.

Now, there are other ways Invitations could have been handed out. You could hand out invitations to people who could kill a heroic raid boss. Or maybe the PvP's who win the most arena matches each week. But this too is just as elitist as giving it to the rich people. And these people already get first crack at new content.

It could be purely random, but that would just encourage people to farm futilely, or have some invitations be wasted.

You could put the item on powerful rare spawns. But then there would be intense camping of those rares. And how would you deal with raid groups that killed the spawn? Look at the competition for things like Loque when it first came out, and imagine it a thousands times worse because killing the spawn actually unlocks new content for all classes.

To my mind, selling the Invitations on the BMAH might not be the best possible idea, but it might be the one with the least side-effects, and thus, the least-worst idea. All the other ideas I can think of are either too baroque, or will negatively impact people who are not interested in the Brawler's Guild.

Plus, you know, this method hasn't been tried before. Killing bosses and the like has been done before. I think it's worth experimenting on something relatively low key like the Brawlers Guild.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Eternal Flame Blanketing

A quick post for Holy Paladins running Heroics in Mists. I'm using a new technique, Eternal Flame blanketing, and it is working out really nicely, even with minimal non-raid gear.

The basic idea is to cast Eternal Flame for one Holy Power on the non-tank players in the group. So Holy-Shock on cooldown, put a small EF on someone. And keep doing this to make sure that all five players have an Eternal Flame on them. With Beacon of Light, half the heal transfers to the tank, so the tank is getting a constant stream of small heals.

As well, Eternal Flame keeps renewing and building your Mastery shield on the players. It constantly ticks, so the shield timer renews and does not expire, and the shield can build up to quite a significant value. This greatly blunts the occasional damage that non-tanks take in heroics.

As well, it's extremely mana-efficient. HS-EF costs pretty much nothing. So you can do a great deal of healing for very little mana. I've done entire Heroics where I have not dropped below 80% mana, and that's without any raid gear other than quest boots from Sha of Anger.

As well, EF blanketing works very nicely with Blessing of Sacrifice as the shield and HoT on you will take care of a lot of the sacrifice damage. With Divine Plea, you'll occasionally get free 3-pt Eternal Flames that you can roll on people, which makes life even more stable.

Of course, when damage starts being serious, you will have to step up with larger spells. But I've found that EF blanketing makes everything feel more stable, and not as immediate. Frankly, it makes healing heroics significantly easier.

Now, is this a good idea for raids? I rather doubt it. You really cannot roll EF on more than five or so people, and the HoT is only 1-point, so it is somewhat weak in comparison to real HoTs. In a raid, if you use Eternal Flame, I think it would be better to build to 3-point Eternal Flames and keep them running on the tanks. Let the druids blanket the raid in HoTs. That's their strength.

But for Heroics, where you're the only healer, EF blanketing can make life a lot easier, dampening the incoming damage, and allowing you to leverage your strong Mastery on the non-tanks who only take damage sporadically.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Fatty Goatsteak and Golden Lotus Dailies

Fatty Goatsteak

If there's one Tillers daily that generates a lot of ire, it's Fatty Goatsteak. Personally, I pull one goat at a time, and see something like a 50% drop rate. AoE'ing an entire group seems like overkill as well being annoying to everyone around you.

What I would like Blizzard to do is give the goats a buff that, when in close proximity, significantly increases the knockback on their attack. So if you pull an entire group, you get flung back into Karasang Wilds. I think that would "encourage" people to share the goats, as well as provide a great source of amusement for the rest of us.

Golden Lotus Dailies

For the most part I like the various dailies. But I think that Blizzard repeated the error of the Molten Front when it comes to the Golden Lotus dailies. Like the Molten Front, you have to go through the Golden Lotus quests in the same order everyday. Every single day you start off at the stairs, and have to kill 12 mogu.

It would have been far better if you could access all two or three mini-hubs at the same time. Maybe the base hub has three quests, one for each mini-hub. That way you could do whichever hub you wanted to, or are not bored of yet.

The mistake is compounded because Golden Lotus is the key reputation in the "serious" reputation chain, as it unlocks two other reputations. That means that you absolutely have to do that stairs hub again and again.

The most disappointing thing though, is that this is a repeated mistake. That Blizzard did not learn the lessons from the Molten Front that they should have learned.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

SWTOR F2P Model Thoughts

The Old Republic is releasing more details on its Free-2-Play option. It looks like they are setting up a three-tier system:

  1. Subscribers - people who predictably pay money
  2. Preferred Status - people who have paid money in the past, and therefore might do so again in the future
  3. Free To Play - people who have never paid money and/or gold seller/scammer/suspicious accounts
The last tier is heavily restricted, but a lot of the most annoying restrictions are lifted as soon as a bit of money is spent.

Now, you all know my position on F2P. I think the amount of money Bioware will get from the second tier will be negligible. Most gamers are just talk and don't put their money where their mouths are. The real money will come from people they convert to subscribers, and the extra money that dedicated subscribers will spend.

That being said, this doesn't seem that bad. Once you get to Preferred Status, the restrictions are not crippling, and are minor annoyances. There's a lot of cosmetic gear that looks kind of interesting. 

Most hilariously, there's a chestpiece for male characters which is transparent. I guess that matches the female bikini armor. Equality for the win?

One other thought: I don't think a lot of people complaining about restrictions on the forums really understand how much a gold seller or hacker could do with free accounts. Just imagine what someone could do with a thousand accounts all slaved together. Even simple things like the /who command could bring a server to its knees if invoked simultaneously by everyone.

Or the credit boxes from Slicing. That profession is credit-positive, so you could just set up all the accounts to continuously run slicing missions and generate tons of credits, and feed it to a main character. Massive inflation, anyone? So Bioware has locked away the credit box missions behind a paywall, and F2P players can only use the Slicing missions which generate augment parts. Lots of people are upset about that restriction, but to my mind, it's a very necessary one.

Ah well, this will be an interesting experiment. Personally, I really enjoy The Old Republic, and recommend it to all my readers. I think it is a very good themepark MMO, especially if you like story and group PvE.  Imperial Agent is the best story line, possibly the best RPG storyline I've played in the last couple years. Most of the others are quite good too, with many people voting for the Jedi Knight and Sith Warrior story lines.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


It's odd, but for me, the killer feature of Mists is your farm at Halfhill.

I've played games which had player housing, and similar cosmetic structures, and I've never really done anything with them. I've bought the land or house, maybe added one decoration, and then never bothered with it again.

So why is Farmer Yoon's farm so different?

I think it's because the farm is useful.

I like logging in and harvesting vegetables to level cooking. Or planting crops for various quests. Or planting crops to get raw materials for professions or even Motes of Harmony.

It's like you don't need to farm mats anymore, you can just "farm" them. Very zen.

I like upgrading the farm, and making it more useful. I like that there's a "rhythm" to the farm. Log in, harvest today's crops, plant tomorrow's crops. Simple, and yet feels just right.

I even like getting the cosmetic features like the dog. It's like player housing, but making it actually useful instead of just cosmetic was the element that put it over the top.

Excellent work on the farm and the Tillers, Blizzard.

I hope the next expansion sees an expanded farm system, maybe near Stormwind, that is more integrated into the game as an evergreen feature, rather than just an expansion-only feature.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Categorizing Payment Models

The Old Republic released its vision of Free2Play, and naturally all the forums are in an uproar over it. The big issue is that there is no common definition of F2P, so everyone believes that "true" F2P is something different.

I thought it would be interesting to categorize F2P models. However, I realized that the inverse, categorizing payment models, is actually more illuminating.

First, let's stipulate that all MMOs must be paid for in some fashion. At the end of the day, someone has to hand money over to the devs so that they can eat. One would assume this is obvious, but judging by a lot of the forum rhetoric, it isn't.

Here are the payment models that I can think of:
  1. Box - a large initial payment when the game is first obtained. Not really optional.
  2. Access - a fee must be paid for access to the game for a given time. Not really optional. 
  3. Content - a fee is paid for access to specific pieces of content. Not really optional.
  4. Cosmetic - can purchase items which have no effect on gameplay. Optional.
  5. Convenience - can purchase items which allow players to skip hurdles. Optional.
  6. Power - can purchase items which directly increase a player's power, and cannot be obtained elsewhere. If the item or equivalent can be gained in-game, it's more accurately a convenience item. Kind of optional, playing with or against other players might make it effectively required.
  7. Advertising - the game sells advertising space to other companies
  8. Sponsor - the game is sponsored by an organization for a specific purpose. Example is America's Army.
You can use these categories to describe the payment models used by different games:
  • WoW - Box, Access, Cosmetic (minor)
  • LotRO - Access or Content (have to pick one), Cosmetic, Convenience
  • TSW - Box, Access, Cosmetic
  • GW2 - Box, Cosmetic, Convenience
  • League of Legends - Essentially content with specific champions, Cosmetic, Convenience
And so on.  TOR is proposing Access or [Content (temporary), Convenience, and Power] (have to pick one of the two groupings), and Cosmetic. I think a lot of people are unhappy with the temporary part of Content, and some of the Power items (epic gear licence, ability bars) if you don't subscribe.

Most players who are proponents of F2P seem to feel that the maximum allowable categories are Cosmetic and Convenience. That anything more is excessive. I would say that most games don't think that is enough to support them, and they require at least one more category.

Edit: Spinks reminds me that the method of sale is important as well. Two types here: direct and lottery. Direct is the default way. You pick item X and you buy it. The other way is lottery, where you buy a random item that contains something from the categories above. The method influences the behavior of the player, and adds randomness and rarity to the equation.

There's possibly a third method where you purchase a category above with the intent of selling it to another player. Eve PLEX and so on. One person buys Access, and sells that Access to a second player. Let's call this method "agent".

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Disconnect on Valor Gear

After thinking about the dailies issue for a bit, I wonder if there is a disconnect between Blizzard's view of Valor gear in this expansion and the player's view of that same gear.

Perhaps Blizzard is viewing Valor gear as entirely optional in this expansion. That the best route for PvE players to get gear is to skip factions entirely and just run dungeons and raids. Meanwhile the players feel that capping out faction rep is the best path to gear.

I think the disconnect between the two views hinges on how both parties view randomness. I've mentioned before that I don't think raiders handle randomness particularly well, and I think this is yet another example of that.

If we just look at what gear is available and the timeline to acquire it, I suspect that gear that drops from instances will account for the vast majority of slots, and players will only have one or two pieces of valor gear, even if they cap out reputations as fast as they can.

But instance drops are random, and raiders tend to discount randomness. Or they expect the worst possible outcome of that randomness. But Valor gear is entirely under their control. They guarantee themselves a piece of valor gear, even if it is more probable that they will get enough gear just through random drops.

That difference between randomness and guaranteed result pushes the raider to focus her efforts on the guaranteed result, even if that path is far more work per item than purely running instances.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Optional, Redux

I am kind of glad I am not raiding so far in this expansion. There's so much to do at level 90, and I'm having a lot of fun just taking it slowly. I've decided to focus on two factions: Golden Lotus and the Tillers. I do their dailies, and maybe an instance. I don't need to log in every day. Eventually I'll switch to another faction, maybe when I hit revered. But there's more than enough content to sustain me for a long while now.

Meanwhile, I look at all the raider blogs out there, and they're all tearing their hair out. So much stuff to do, and they all have to do it right now.

I wrote a post a couple years ago, Optional, that still applies today, more than ever:
Sometimes it seems like this genre has no concept of the term "optional". Something is either absolutely necessary, or it is useless. There doesn't seem to be any in-between.
As far as I can see, Blizzard has tried to thread the needle here. They've tried their hardest to make the factions optional, but still give good rewards for those who do them. Feasts give good stats, but if you focus on cooking, you can get a tiny bonus.

And yet, have they succeeded? I don't think so. Judging by the blogs in my reader, the higher-end raiders can't pace themselves, and look to be burning out.

I guess I'll end this post the same way I ended the post two and a half years ago:
Maybe it's better for the designers to assume that players will have no sense of moderation or sanity, and will take every possible step to gain any potential benefits. Then design the game to severely limit the amount of possible steps to keep players from hurting themselves.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ask Coriel: Diablo 3 Abilities and WoW

Songen writes:

I was thinking about WoW the other day while I was playing Diablo 3. The thing I love most about Diablo 3 is that you can switch your abilities up anytime you want. So I started thinking about how you might be able to implement that in a way that might fit WoW.
What I came up with was taking all the spells that the WoW classes have and boiling them down to what all the specs share. Like making Crusader Strike available to all specs for example (which Blizz has already done). Then making glyphs work along the lines of the rune system in Diablo 3, where major glyphs change the spells dramatically (Crusader Strike turning into Hammer of the Righteous) and minor glyphs making smaller changes to the spells (increased or decreased  cost/cooldown/range of use/area of effect).
Right now I’m thinking that your specialization would change the glyphs available to you, if we would even need specializations but the many hybrid classes leave me thinking that specializations are necessary in the game today. 
I thought it was an interesting idea, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Do you think it could work? What do you think would need to change to make it work? Would it make the game better? Worse?

It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it would be a good fit for WoW. I think an MMO would have to be built from the ground up to work this way.

If you look at D3, it has very simplistic rotations compared to WoW. A builder and a finisher is the main part. That allows D3 to have many options for the builder, and many options for the finisher. In
contrast, the standard WoW rotation has about 5 buttons. You would need different options for each of those five buttons.

Plus, WoW players really like having all their abilities available to them. I think they would react badly to seriously limiting the cooldowns and special abilities available. As an example, would you be happy if Blizzard said you can either have Cleanse, or you can have Blessing of Freedom? I think most paladins wouldn't, because they're used to having both.

That's not to say that this style can't work. The Secret World and Guild Wars both limit the number of abilities you can have, forcing you to pick X abilities from a larger pool of abilities. But rotations in those two games are notably simpler than rotations in WoW. For example, TSW is basically Builder + Finisher 1 + Finisher 2, where the builder builds 2 different resources, one for each finisher.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Endgame PvE in The Old Republic

I really like the endgame group PvE in The Old Republic. As Goldilocks says, "it's just right" for me. In fact, in a lot of ways, I would say that it feels even better than the current incarnation of WoW group PvE.

I think the biggest thing is that TOR has the balance between AoE and single-target almost perfectly correct. Sometimes you AoE, and sometimes you single-target individual mobs. Crowd Control is often used, but it is not absolutely required.

In contrast, WoW has devolved into spamming AoE much of the time, especially in 5-mans.

I think one key element is that AoE in TOR tends to be either much weaker, or on a long-ish cooldown. For example, my sniper has one excellent AoE, Orbital Strike, but it is on a 45 second cooldown. So you can really only use it every other pull, or once every three pulls if you're moving quickly. The other two AoE abilities are very weak compared to the single target abilities.

The other major key is probably the composition of trash packs. Trash packs are often composed of several mobs of differing strengths. There are weak, normal, strong, elite and champion mobs. AoE is really only good for dispatching weak and normal mobs. The other types take too long to kill with AoE.

As well, the tank really only needs to tank the elite and champion mobs. Strong and below are roughly what you encounter in questing, so the DPS can take them out with only a little healing.

So in TOR, a standard pack often sees one of the champion mobs be crowd controlled, the tank jumps in and grabs the elite or other champion, and the DPS start single-targeting the other adds from weakest to strongest before moving onto the tank's mobs. This gives the tank a fair bit of time to build threat, and keeps threat reasonably important.

Or if there's many weaker guys, AoE is used to clear them out while the tank holds the stronger ones, and the stronger ones are finished off with single-target abilities.

Another factor that might contribute is that there is only 2 DPS in a small group in TOR. They can't bring a huge amount of AoE damage to bear. You would think that this would make DPS waits very long, but oddly, I find that they're about the same as WoW, about 15 minutes or so.

It's so much more fun than the current WoW 5-man instances, where the tank grabs everything in the group, and the three DPS start AoE'ing. Meanwhile the tank has super threat, and can't be pulled off. Indeed, actually single-targeting things makes it more likely you will pull threat.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Reputation and Rewards

Reputation in Pandaria is interesting. There are a lot of factions, each with many dailies. It's clear that Blizzard is positioning the faction reputations as endgame content for the solo player.

However, Blizzard also tied the Justice and Valor point gear to the factions. This means that the Group PvE players also have to work on faction reputation to unlock gear.

In Cataclysm, this worked fine because of the tabard system. With tabards, a Group PvE player gained faction reputation by doing Group PvE. So faction rep was gained in doing what the Group PvE player was going to do anyways.

However, in Mists, Blizzard did away with the tabard system. This meant that the Group PvE players now had to do the Solo PvE game in order to unlock their rewards. Naturally, this made them upset, and Blizzard has had to weaken the repuation system, to make it easier, in order to compensate.

I think the major problem was "crossing the streams". The Group PvE endgame content should have stayed separate from the Solo PvE endgame content. To be honest, almost every time crossover happens, be it from PvE to PvE or Solo to Group, there is unhappiness.

And yet, if the factions have gear as rewards, they will be seen as necessary to the Group PvE player. But if they don't have gear, the Solo PvE players don't get to improve their characters by playing their endgame.

My solution would be to offer all Justice/Valor gear from a regular vendor, just like in past expansions. But if you get the faction reputation, you can buy that same gear at a significant discount, say half-price.

So this sets up two paths. If you don't want to dailies at all, you can just run dungeons, get Valor at a faster rate as well as boss drops, and buy gear from the regular vendors. If you do dailies, you get Valor at a slower rate, but eventually you unlock and can purchase gear for a significant discount.

If you do a mix, then you can get some gear cheap, and some gear at full price. You can do the factions you care about, and ignore the others. If you like min-maxing, figuring out the optimal mix of dailies and dungeons would be an interesting exercise.

But essentially, it would make reputation and dailies optional for the players who don't like doing them, since you can always replace dailies with more dungeon runs.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Level 90, Coren Direbrew, Eternal Flame

Kun-Lai Summit

Townlong Steppes

I hit level 90 in Townlong Steppes. Townlong Steppes is a little more linear than the preceding zone, but it's also fairly short. The storyline zone was a little confusing to me midway through. I think the zone storyline actually starts in the Shado-Pan Monastery instance. As I have not done any instances yet (45 min wait for healers!), the storyline made me wonder if I had skipped a hub somewhere.

Otherwise it's a good zone. I like the Shado-Pan. I like how the story took a bit of darker tone from the earlier zones.


The Sha are interesting villains. The one problem I have with them is that they are very interchangeable. I can never remember exactly which Sha I'm currently fighting. Is it Hatred, Despair, Fear, or Anger? Half the time, it's like, "Didn't I kill this Sha in the previous zone? No, wait, that was other negative emotion."

Coren Direbrew

It's funny. There's a 45 minute wait for healers to get into the leveling instances. The queue for Coren Direbrew, on the the other hand, is instant. I tried it a couple times at level 89, and quickly realized why that was so. Healing is harsh, especially in pathetic gear. I tried at 90 and it went much better.

Mana is very harsh when you're just starting. You can't even afford to spam Holy Light. Instead, you have to be very conservative with mana, and use cooldowns aggressively. I like Execution Sentence particularly. Double Sacrifice with Clemency  is also a life-saver. Also stand somewhat near the tank so she can pick up adds from you.

The first time I killed Coren, I had a shadow priest roll need and beat me on the healing trinket. It was very annoying. Honestly, if you're too scared to heal, you should let the person who actually did the work get the trinket. And don't offer "needing to gear up" as an excuse. I'm doing this in the i408 purchased green gear and a couple quest greens.

Eternal Flame vs Sacred Shield

I've changed my mind on Eternal Flame after trying it out. One important thing about EF is that it transfers through Beacon (at 50%). So if you combine it with Divine Purpose, you can often have multiple Eternal Flames running at the same time, especially if you get a good string of Divine Purpose procs. Then you can blanket the group with EF and the tank gets a huge buffer of heals.

It's very stabilizing. Can't really guarantee that it will happen, but it did often enough. The only thing you have to watch out for is making sure that you don't cast EF on the same person twice in a row.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

More of the Same

Bronte comments on the previous post:

Optimized it may be, but isn't [questing in Pandaria] just more of the same? With a new coat of (panda) paint, running on the same treadmill, with the scenery a little more scenic?

Well, yes. But the implication of the comment is that "more of the same" is a bad thing. I don't agree with that.

Novelty is not the only criteria for value. It is an important one, yes, but there are others. Execution is worth a lot, and Pandaria executes extraordinarily well.

It comes back to polish. The gaming industry drastically underestimates how important polish is. I think it's because different features are easier to justify and to advertise. Almost all modern games would be made better by cutting features, not adding them. Then spending time just cleaning up the small things.

I have a perfect example with The Old Republic. Ever since launch, two graphical bugs have been annoying me. First, when character select screen comes up, the current character appears shifted downwards. Selecting a new character immediately fixes it from that point on. Second, if you destroy something in game, the character model does not return to the default rest position, but is instead stuck in an awkward state until you manually pull out your weapon. They're utterly trivial graphical bugs, but I see them every single time I play the game, ever since launch. Seeing those bugs just reminds me that Bioware is not dedicated to polish as they should be.

Anyways, back to WoW. Yes, Pandaria is more of the same. If you are absolutely tired of WoW, then you're not going to like Pandaria. As for me, I really only have one character, so I only do extensive questing in WoW once every couple of years. So I'm not tired of it yet.

Pandaria is WoW, only a better, more polished WoW than ever before. Personally, I'm more than happy with that.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Into Kun-Lai Summit

I finished Karasang Wilds, hit level 88, and have moved on to Kun-Lai Summit. If you don't know, finishing both Karasang Wilds and Valley of the Four Winds unlocks a final quest hub, which provides an ending to the main storylines in both those two zones.

I thought this final hub was very well done, capping the story line appropriately, and also bringing back many familiar faces from the two zones.

Moving on to Kun-Lai Summit, I've only done a couple quest hubs. I particularly liked the hub where you essentially build an Alliance outpost, and the outpost improves as you do quests. It's a good use of phasing.

Phasing in Mists is interesting. Blizzard is doing a lot with phasing of NPC characters and individuals, but is using phasing of terrain sparingly. As well, the majority of phasing occurs in friendly, non-combat areas, and not out in the world. I think they're doing this to keep everyone in phase which each other especially when it matters most for combat, even if we're interacting with NPCs in different phases.

All in all, questing is still going strong.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Mists Weekend Thoughts


I've made it up to level 87. I've completed the first two zones, Jade Forest and Valley of the Four Winds, and am midway through Karasang Wilds.

Valley of the Four Winds

I really liked this zone. It's a pretty quiet zone that reminds a lot of Nagrand. Blizzard did an excellent job showing off the Pandaren daily life. Lots of interesting characters and situations. Plus the training montages were hilarious.


The farm at Halfhill market is really neat. It's a very simple mini-game, but it is very nice to slowly build something, to plant seeds and then harvest a crop. I think that's a mechanic which could stand more use. I'm currently growing carrots, to help level cooking.  What crops are you growing?

Storyteller Quests

Blizzard's new quest style is very interesting. There are quests where someone is telling you a story, and you play out the story as that character, as the person narrates what happened. It's an excellent use of the game dictum, "do, don't show or tell". The narration is very Bastion-like, and I find the whole setup just works. It makes it feel that there are other people in the world who are doing stuff.

Now obviously this could be overused, and you end up not playing your character, but random other people. But so far it seems like a judicious use that spices up questing.

Overall Thoughts

So far, Pandaria has continued to impress me. I am really enjoying leveling. I haven't yet had a chance to try out instances, mostly because I join the queue, then get caught up in the quests, then leave the queue so I can continue questing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mists Day Two Thoughts

You know, I'm rather glad I'm not in a raiding guild at the moment. There's no pressure to level, to get to max level as fast as possible so the guild can start raiding. I can play a little bit, then log off, then play a bit more later. Plenty of time to stop and smell the cherry blossoms.

I've hit level 86 and am about 75% of the way through the first zone. The first half of the zone was very much  the faction intro quest, and the second half is more of "Introduction to Pandaria" where you show off the pandaren culture and meet the inhabitants of the continent.

The second half is structured as a "spoke-and-wheel" sort of idea. There's a central hub, and it sends you in multiple smaller quest hubs in several directions. You can do these smaller hubs in any order. I think one of the hubs is the "main quest line". I think this spoke-and-wheel setup is a lot better than Cataclysm's linear model. It feels more sprawling and gives the separate parts of a zone a more distinct flavor.

I'm also enjoying the new Retribution model. Most abilities give Holy Power, and Inquistion/Templar's Verdict use Holy Power. It's a much tighter loop, and is a lot of fun. As well, Divine Purpose is pretty hilarious when it procs off itself. I've managed to chain 4 Templar's Verdicts back-to-back. It's just awesome when RNG goes off in your favor like that.

A final observation, the introductory quest plate armor is very good looking. It's a white/lightish set, and is very clean, elegant, and functional. Not very a lot of bells and whistles, but just gorgeous.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mists Day One Impressions

In a word: magnificent!

Admittedly, I've only done two or three questlines in the very first zone. But so far it has been Blizzard at the very top of their game. Fun, enjoyable quests. An interesting storyline. Killing lots of Horde. Gorgeous scenery. Lots of excellent small touches.

The SI:7 mini-questline was superb.

Now, it is a bit crowded with tons of people running around. Truthfully, I think Blizzard intended to use the Cross-Realm Zone techniques to split up the crowded zones into multiple ones. But since the outcry against CRZ is harsh, they've just let the zones be.

But still, it's the same as every expansion at release.

The gear rewards are interesting. If it's a green reward, you only get the reward appropriate for your current spec. But if it's a blue reward, you can choose the item for whichever spec you prefer. I think that's a reasonable way of keeping your dungeon set up to date if it is different from your questing set.

I really hope Blizzard can keep this up for the rest of the continent. If they do, it will be--by far--the best expansion of WoW.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pandaria Anticipation

Why do we fight? Because that dude over there said he'd give us a new sword if we did.

Is everyone excited for Pandaria?

I'm debating staying up until midnight and playing for half an hour or so. Just for the new expansion release excitement. And seeing everyone try to click the main quest giver.

On the other hand, it will probably be half an hour of crashing servers, so maybe sleep is a better choice.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Catch Up Mechanics

Matticus proposes that Blizzard remove in-combat resurrection spells. His rational is that "Individual player accountability would have no choice but to go up. Can’t really be as reckless anymore."

That's probably true. But it would also result in a lot of unfun gameplay. "Someone died, wipe it up." Again and again.

Combat resses are a "catch-up mechanic". These mechanics allow players to recover from a mistake and keep going. Without these mechanics, game outcomes have the potential to be unchangeable. As soon as one side gets an advantage, they ride that advantage all the way to the end. If you fall behind early, you can never catch up and win.

Think of chess. You can often predict who's going to win right from the first exchange which results in a loss of piece advantage. Someone nets an extra pawn, the odds in their favor skyrocket. Sometimes the losing player can mount a comeback, especially if she is more skilled, but it is rare.

In my opinion, having good catch-up mechanics is an important element in making games more interesting and the outcome more uncertain. A lot of the problem with MMOs is that catch-up mechanics are hard to create, because invariably they get woven into regular play, rather than being reserved for times when one falls behind.

Think of most damage reduction cooldowns. Or feral/moonkin druid Tranquility. Tranquility used to be a great catch-up mechanic. If things went south, your feral druid could shift out of cat form and Tranq, stabilizing the raid. But now many raid teams incorporate non-healer Tranquilities into the healing strategy, and use them to buttress the regular healers at specific times.

Other catch-up mechanics in WoW include Lay On Hands or a rogue's Evasion. In an ideal world, you don't need these abilities. But when things start going bad, they're golden. I'm sure we've all seen a rogue Evasion-tank a boss for a few vital seconds.

Without catch-up mechanics, every mistake means that you have to restart.  This doesn't result in a raid which doesn't make mistakes. It results in an increasingly short-tempered raid.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Limited Number of Auctions

Azuriel has a nice post on the problems with the Guild Wars 2 economy. However a couple of comments have proposed limiting the number of auctions that each player can make. They feel that this will cause prices to increase.

This suggestion betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of "supply" in supply and demand. Supply is not just the items available right now. It's also the items could be made available very rapidly. If you have a store, the stuff on your shelves available for purchase is supply, but so is the stuff in the back rooms.

In fact, restricting the number of auctions one can make can drive prices even lower. It introduces the concept of inventory turnover. Once you've maxed out your auctions, inventory space taken up by other objects you could sell is wasted space. You need your auctions to sell quickly so that you can move items out of inventory. To do this, you price items even cheaper, so that they have the highest chance of selling.

This phenomena happens in Diablo 3. Only the best items can command good prices, or are worth the possibility of not selling. Everything else must be sold off cheaply just to clear inventory space.

The only way you can increase prices for most goods is by decreasing supply, or increasing demand. Playing games with the structure of transactions rarely works out as expected.

The only reason to have limits on the number of auctions is to limit the load on your auction house servers. If your servers can at all handle the strain, you're better off allowing as many auctions as possible.

Monday, September 17, 2012


The worst thing to happen to World of Warcraft were the novels.

Ever since the novels started coming out, the in-game storytelling has been downright shoddy. WoW stories has never been high art, but at least they were more or less cohesive in-game.  Now, nothing really makes sense unless you read the companion book.

Last year, I predicted:
Now, it's probable that, like most major storyline events, [the destruction of Theramore] will happen "off-screen", in a novel or comic, or maybe a cut-scene before Mists of Pandaria comes out.
And that's exactly what happened. Out of nowhere, the Horde nukes Theramore. With an actual nuke mana bomb dropped from a skyship. It's like the Focusing Iris from the Eye of Eternity, or something.

Apparently it makes sense if you read Tides of War. I just wish it made sense in-game.

Stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end. More and more, it seems that Blizzard is putting the beginning and end in a book, and featuring a small part of the middle in-game.  Even a random quest from King Varian Wrynn sending you to Theramore would have added so much.

Onto the actual scenario mechanics, they seem about what you can expect from a 3 dps group. It's a bit of a zerg, with some mechanics and some running around. This particular scenario wasn't very hard, especially if you're in full raid gear. On the whole I think this was a good thing, in order to allow everyone to see the content within a window of only a week.

I started as Holy, got bored of spamming Denounce, and switched to Ret. I did have to heal myself a few times. I do like how Blizzard used swarms of enemies. With three dps, this allows you to split the aggro, and thus split the damage in a sensible way.

On the whole, the scenario mechanics seem okay, and probably as good as non-Trinity content can be. Hopefully the level 90 scenarios are a bit more difficult.

Back to the storyline, one thing I dislike about WoW's current direction is that it's heading in a very technological direction. I blame the goblins. Now, WoW has always had steampunk elements with the gnomes, but lately I think they're going too far. I liked the fantasy style with paladins and dragons. Honestly, I think nuclear weapons being dropped from planes crosses a line.

It's like, what was wrong with an actual siege and battle involving armies? That's traditional fantasy. Why resort to having a nuclear weapon? Or even a warlock/mage ritual.  More fantasy, less technology.

(Yes, I know the mana bombs appeared or were foreshadowed in TBC.)

I did also hope that Theramore would make the players central characters once again. Make them take responsibility for the Horde/Alliance war. Sadly, Blizzard stuck to their current style and had the NPCs do everything, with the players just acting as clean up once again.

I hope that Theramore is not a sample of what we can expect in Pandaria. I fear that it will be, though.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I play a Marksmanship Imperial Agent Sniper in The Old Republic, and it has a very interesting rotation. It has a ton of abilities, but at the same time it's very structured.  It's not the "John Madden" craziness of old-school feral cats, but it does feel significantly more complex than most class rotations.

The Marksmanship Sniper rotation follows a 4 GCD cycle:
A - F - X - X
  1. The heart of the rotation is F. F is the ability Followthrough, which has a 6 second cooldown, and must be activated by using another ability first. Following this pattern means Followthrough is always available right when it comes off cooldown.
  2. A is the ability which activates Followthrough:
    1. Ambush with proc. The proc reduces the cast time to 1 GCD. Ambush has a 12s cooldown.
    2. Snipe. A basic ability that costs Focus
  3. X-X has two possibilities:
    1. One 2-GCD ability:
      1. Series of Shots. Has a 12s cooldown.
      2. Orbital Strike. Technically an AoE ability, but does really good damage and costs a lot of focus. 45s cooldown.
    2. Two 1-GCD abilities. Choose from the following list:
      1. Takedown. Execute ability only available at low health.
      2. Corrosive Dart. Damage-over-Time.
      3. Explosive Probe. 30s cooldown.
      4. Scatter shot. Puts an armor reduction debuff on the boss.
      5. Snipe. Can use if you have excess focus.
      6. Rifle Shot. The basic auto-attack that does not cost focus.
Edit: Heh, in the next patch, Takedown moves from the X column to the A column.

It's a complicated rotation, but you can see that is is heavily structured. It's not just a priority list.

The other wrinkle is that a sniper must manage focus, and focus regenerates faster the more you have of it. So you do have to manage your focus a bit. For the most part, I find it's not an issue except when you use Orbital Strike.

So that's 10 abilities that get worked into the regular rotation. There's also 3 offensive cooldowns, about 5 defensive cooldowns, and an interrupt and an incapacitate which is sometimes used.

The Old Republic really has issues with ability bloat.

Now, you can simplify this a fair bit. Drop Explosive Probe and Corrosive Dart and don't bother with Orbital Strike for single-target. That brings it down to 7 abilities for a fairly minor dps loss, and pretty much takes energy management off the table. It also allows you to stay out at a greater distance, as all the remaining abilities have a slightly longer range.

Now is it a good idea to have rotations this complicated? Honestly, I rather think that this is is too complex. I  generally prefer rotations with about 5 abilities. One of the other points to note is that The Old Republic doesn't have an auto-attack, so you have to fill every empty GCD with Rifle Shot. There's no such thing as a free GCD for you to do something else.

But then this is balanced by not being quite as strict with performance requirements as heroic raiding in WoW is. I would say that The Old Republic difficulty tops out in mid-heroic WoW, and has nothing like the killer end bosses of WoW (H-Lich King, H-Ragnaros, etc.)

What is your ideal rotation? Do you prefer structure, or a strict priority list? How many abilities do you want? Do you want to watch timers, to keep up debuffs? How much free space should there be? Do you want to keep track of a resource, or just go off cooldowns? What class in what game would you say has the best rotation?

Or do you just want 1-button Cataclysm arcane mage or Burning Crusade warlock spam?

Friday, September 07, 2012

DoT/HoT Tooltips

Watching some of the Diablo 3 changes and patch notes, I started wondering what the best format for a Damage-Over-Time or Heal-Over-Time tooltip is. Would you rather see:

1. Spell deals 5000 damage over 30 seconds.


2. Spell deals 500 damage every 3 seconds for 30 seconds.

The advantage of Option 1 is that, while it doesn't tell you exactly how the damage is dealt, it gives you the total amount, making it easy to compare damage-per-cast-time to other abilities. Given that DPCT is the most useful stat for ranking spells, this is a useful format. Option 2 requires you to multiply and divide to get the DPCT.

Option 2 tells you how much each tick is worth, which is useful if you won't get the full duration of the effect. This often happens with area DoTs like Rain of Fire, where people run out. As well, heals and shield hots (the new Sacred Shield) might have wasted ticks when the target is at full health, so knowing the tick amount can be more useful than a total number which is only partially used.

Option 2 also gets less useful when the damage dealt per tick changes. Like the new paladin spell Execution Sentence or the old warlock Curse of Agony. With Option 1, you can just tell the total, and add a rider saying that the damage increases as the time goes on.

Which tooltip do you prefer? Or do you have a different form that you'd like to see?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

A Thousand Posts

Apparently, this is my 1000th post.  It's been about seven years since I started this blog.

Currently Playing

I'm currently playing The Old Republic the most, and have joined a small raiding guild. I still have subscriptions to WoW and The Secret World, but I haven't really played them in a while. WoW I will go back to in Pandaria, but I'm not really sure about joining a guild or raiding. I probably will end up joining a guild, but we'll see.

In the The Old Republic, I'm playing an Imperial Agent Sniper, and also leveling a Sith Inquisitor Sorceror on the side.

For The Secret World, I dunno. I went Illuminati because they had good rifle decks, but the Illuminati are starting to annoy me. Their Hollywood or Corporate-speak is rather grating. I wish I had rolled Templar.

Trends in MMOs

Of course, the big trend in MMOs over the last seven years has been the move to Free-2-Play.

However, I wonder if this is just part of a larger trend to ... reduce a player's commitment to the MMO, might be the best way of putting it. To make it easier to play and join the game, to drop in and out. To smooth away all inconveniences that might stop someone from playing, or cause them to quit. Going F2P, making the game easier, avoiding conflicts in loot and resource gathering.

I'm not sure how well this trend is working out though. To me, an MMO is kind of like the bar in Cheers. A place where you sign in, and you see the same faces in the community, and everybody knows your name. But lately, it seems like that feeling has been disappearing. That rather than a community, it is an anonymous crowd.

To go back to the Extended/Transient division, it feels like games are becoming more and more Transient. Which is good, I suppose, as Transient players are the large majority. And yet to me it feels like the Extended aspects are what gave the game weight, what made it worth subscribing to for months on end.

The other big trend, which is annoying me, is loading screens. Whatever happened to seamless continents?


I hope you've enjoyed the last thousand posts. Hopefully there will be a thousand more, and in less than seven years. (Though I really wouldn't bet on the "less than seven years" part.) I've enjoyed reading your comments and emails, and the blogs of other players.

I'm also thinking about starting another blog. This would be about real life stuff I find interesting, like programming, politics, books, etc. I've been thinking about this for a while now, but am procrastinating because I cannot think of a decent name for the new blog.

Monday, September 03, 2012

A Crafting Mistake

I recently realized that, when it comes to crafting, I always make the same mistake in every MMO I play. At first, I always choose a profession that makes armor or weapons.

This is a predictably bad choice. Armor and weapons are almost always given as loot. Indeed most people will level up and gear out from quest rewards. So as a gear crafter you are left with two outcomes. Either your crafting always lags behind your level, and you never actually craft usable gear. Or you keep your crafting up to date and end up vendoring your quest rewards.

Then when endgame comes around, because no MMO implements the "crafting BoP gear for other people" verb, gear crafting really does not happen.

Essentially, when you pick gear crafting, you end up in competition with the game itself. And because not everyone is a crafter, the game usually wins.

The much better strategy is to pick crafting professions which do not compete with the game. Examples are consumables, enchantments, glyphs. Things where the crafter, and not the game, supplies the vast majority of items. These professions tend to be much more useful than gear crafting, because there are always other sources of gear.

Ironically, I realized this before I started GW2. Yet when I looked at professions, I still picked armorsmith and weaponsmith. It's a hard habit to break. The lure of being a master craftsman is strong.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Don't Like Guild Wars 2

After playing Guild Wars 2 for a week or so, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I simply do not like this game. Here are my reasons:

1. No Stories

I play RPGs for the stories. It's not the only element, but it's the most important one.

Guild Wars 2 doesn't have stories, other than a single main questline (which is not particularly well written). All the hearts have terribly simplistic situations, with simple resolutions. There are no interesting characters, no twists, no plot other than the vaguest semblance of one.

There were 17 quest hubs or hearts in the first human zone. I don't remember a single one.

2. The Grind

Go to a heart. Kill or click on stuff until the bar is filled. Go to the next heart in order of level.

I just don't find this process interesting. The events and main questline do break up the monotony, but it's not enough. It seems extraordinarily linear to me, without even a decent story to make up for it.

3. The Combat is Bad

I don't like combat in GW2. It's boring and involves a lot of waiting for cooldowns. It's also very fiddly with all the long cooldowns. It just doesn't feel visceral or fluid.

Even the touted combos are boring. Someone put down a field? Click your finisher ability and random stuff happens.

Now, I can see how someone might like this combat. It has the potential to be very strategic. But I prefer a more immediate style of combat.

4. Character Models and Animation

I don't like the character models and animations. They simply do not look good to my eyes. All the models feel like there is something wrong with them. Especially the human models with their matchstick legs.

Now the environment and other effects are very nice. But not the character model which is on-screen all the time.

5. Playing Alone Together

For the most part, the presence or absence of other players simply does not matter in this game. At most, a fight might be slightly easier because another player helped out. But even groups of players are nothing but a zerg.

In other MMOs, the presence of another player affects my gameplay. Maybe I have to kill mobs in a different area because she's killing stuff over here. Maybe I have to wait for her to finish something before I can proceed. Maybe we'll group up so things go faster. Maybe we don't and things go slower. Maybe she'll get that ore node before I will.

The other player and I both inhabit the same world. Our actions affect each other. Maybe sometimes this interaction is rough and negative, but it's better than the smooth nothingness of GW2.

I think the element that pushed me over the edge here is the fact that resource nodes exist for all players. If I see a copper ore node, and someone else runs up and mines it, the copper node will still exist for me. I suppose it's very convenient, not having to worry about other players "stealing" your nodes. But at this point are the two players even in the same world any more?

There are a few times when the presence of other players matters. The biggest is reviving a downed player. At those times you can almost see the game that could be.


Basically, I just do not like GW2. The only element I really like is the weapon and skill system. The events are okay as well. But I just do not find the core mechanics to be fun, and I'd rather play a game with interesting stories. I have not seen anything yet that would keep me playing.

Monday, August 27, 2012

F2P, Subscriptions, Raiding, and Community

The Old Republic announced that, as part of its F2P conversion, raiding would remain subscriber-only. Many people, including myself, knocked Bioware for that decision. However, after some thought, I wonder if that is the right decision. It might be an unsuccessful decision, but it might also be the only path to preserve proper extended raiding.

Whenever I see people advocate F2P, they always enthuse about how this will let them enjoy the game on their schedule. It's common to see points like, "I have the freedom to play for a couple nights, then go try something for a few weeks, then come back." And that's certainly true. It's a lot easier to dip in and out in a F2P game.

But consider the viewpoint of the poor raid leader. She absolutely does not want raiders who play for a couple nights, then disappear for a few weeks, then come back. She wants people who play on a regular schedule.

By making raids subscriber-only, The Old Republic is potentially allowing people to signal their commitment to the game. That they will log in and play regularly enough that a subscription is a good value to them. That they will make the type of dependable raiders that a raid needs.

I fully expect the pool of people able to raid will shrink, perhaps even shrink greatly. But the people left in the pool should be more dedicated, and could end up forming steadier guilds.

To take a larger view, I wonder if this extends to community in general. Community bonds are formed through repetition. To joining the group, and seeing the same people every time the group meets. You know, you log into your guild, and the same people are playing, and they greet you and you greet them.

But with F2P, and everyone logging in at random, will the same bonds form? Or will what passes for community end up being weaker.

I guess I don't really see the point in playing an MMO if that community isn't there, if you don't see the same faces whenever you log in. You may as well play a normal multiplayer game where everyone is anonymous.

Perhaps by abandoning the subscription model, MMOs are weakening what makes them special.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More Impressions of Guild Wars 2

First part found here.


I adore the skill system in GW2. It's diverse and elegant, with lots of choice and restrictions to make it very interesting.

You have a limited number of ability slots. Only about nine or so.  The first five slots depend on the weapons you have equipped. Each class has a different set of abilities for the different weapon types they can equip.  Slots 1 to 3 come from the main-hand weapon. Slots 4-5 are provided by the off-hand. A 2H weapon gives all five slots. Slot 1 is an auto-attack.

As an example, my Guardian can use swords or maces, along with shields and off-hands. A sword gives more offensive abilities, while the mace is more defensive. The shield gives protective abilities, while the off-hand leans more towards healing.

So changing weapons means something, it actually changes your gameplay. It's not just cosmetic. This also allows GW2 to make weapons feel appropriate. The sword is all slashing finesse, while the 2H mace is slow and hard-hitting.

Slot 6 is a healing spell. There are four or so different spells you can unlock, but you can only choose one at a time.

Slots 7-9 are extra abilities. You unlock them with skill points that you get as you level, and you can use any three.

The Guardian has a lot of abilities which have both a passive and active component, including abilities that you can activate to give friendly players around you a buff.

There's also traits, which are virtues for your class that you can invest in and they give bonuses to specific stats. For example, traits for the Guardian include Honor and Zeal. Very Lord of the Rings Online, in fact.

I really like the skill system in GW2. It's structured, but also has a lot of options. Weapon choice means something.


I'm not certain if the observations in this section are Guardian-only, or if they apply to all the classes.

The combat in GW2 is ... odd. At first glance it looks like standard MMO combat, but it really isn't. There's no resource involved, so ability use is governed entirely by cooldowns and the situation. But it doesn't seem like there are enough abilities to form what we would traditionally think of as a "rotation". In particular, GW2 seems enamoured of medium-term cooldowns at the expense of short-cd rotation mainstays.

Now, my thinking on this might be skewed because I'm coming from a SWTOR marksman sniper, which features a very formal A-F-X-X rotation with something like 9 regular abilities. (It's actually a little excessive, and I actually want to write a post about it sometime.)

But GW2 combat is like having a paladin with auto-attack, Crusader Strike, and 6 abilities that each have a 1 minute cooldown and are highly situational.

So what does actual gameplay end up like? You start auto-attack, and hit Crusader Strike on cooldown. Maybe use a cooldown every so often, but those abilities can only be used once per fight, and you'll maybe use only 1 or 2 of them.

Now, maybe this is better in PvP, where it could become all about moving and timing those medium-term cooldowns.

But mundane PvE is a little boring, with lots of waiting around for the next ability to come off cooldown. I find myself gravitating to the weapons that have abilities with shorter cooldowns, just so I have more buttons to press.


So far, crafting is pretty similar to crafting in other MMOs. I just want to mention something that I thought came *this* close to amazing, but GW2 didn't take that last step.

Among your inventory is a "collection", which is a grid of every single crafting material in the game. You can send crafting mats directly to your collection from your backpack. This is huge for preserving bag space and organizing crafting mats. I really like the collection, and hope that more games steal it.

Unfortunately, when actually crafting things, the game does not look at your collection to see if you have enough mats. It only looks at your backpack. So you have to move mats from your collection to your backpack before crafting.

You can see how much more streamlined crafting would be if the crafting UI could draw directly upon the materials in your collection. They're so close, and they just didn't take that last step.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

First Impressions of Guild Wars 2

I picked up Guild Wars 2 late last night, and gave it a whirl. Why exactly was this game hyped up? Admittedly, I've only played for a day or so, but I've seen nothing yet that would warrant the fervor of the GW2 partisans. There are lots of nice, small touches, but nothing amazing.

Character Creation

There are five races and eight or so classes. Character creation has lots of sliders and buttons. I would have really liked a "reset to default" button, though.

The human females generally "need a sammich", as the saying goes. There didn't really seem to be any equivalent of SWTOR's body type 2 or WoW's human female. Either too much on one side or the other.

I did like the Sylvari art, the use of leaves and plant forms for hair and ears. That was very clever.

I also liked the use of additional choices to flesh out the character, like what god the character followed, or what spirit animal, or even greatest regret. I do wonder if those choices were orthogonal enough though. Sometimes it seemed like there were obvious choices for the magic users, and obvious ones for fighter types.

I also like the history for the races, especially humans being a race in retreat. Very different from the standard "humanity waxing" storylines.

I ended up creating a Human Guardian.

Oh, I should mention something about names. I think names have to be unique across the entire GW2 universe. So your regular name is probably taken. I know 'Coriel' was. But GW2 allows you to put spaces in the name, so you make a last name, and the combination is very likely to still be available. I named my Guardian "Coriel De Rohan". I really like this solution. It's a solid mix between uniqueness and availability.

Main Quest Line

The main quest line seems decent enough. The writing and voice acting is okay. Better than TERA, but not up to SWTOR or TSW. There was an investigation-style quest where you had to question different parties and accumulate evidence against a powerful noble that I thought was rather neat.


A main conceit in GW2 is that there are no "side" quests. Instead of quest hubs, you have a "heart" on the map.

In a quest hub, you would have four or so NPCs. One would give a quest to kill 10 boars. Another would give a quest to collect 15 trinkets. Another would give a quest to search through poop. And the last would tell you to kill 20 bandits and their leader.

In a GW2 heart, these are not discrete elements. Instead of you have to (all numbers made up) accumulate 100 points, where you get 5 points per boar, 2 points per trinket, 10 points per poop, and 6 points per bandit. And you can do any combination of things that add up to 100 points.

So if you really hate killing boars, you can avoid that entirely. Or you can just do stuff until you hit the required total.

What I find is that this lacks context, lacks those small stories that weave together. For example, in Elwynn Forest in WoW, I really enjoy the Young Lovers questline. It's nothing amazing, you take a note from Maybell Maclure to Tommy Joe Stonefield, get Grandma Stonefield to direct you to her old suitor, the alchemist William Pestle, kill some mulocs for ingredients for an invisibility potion, and give the potion to Maybell so she can elope. Nothing amazing, just a short little story. But I guess I'm a romantic at heart, so I always enjoy doing that questline.

The thing is that, so far, the hearts in GW2 really lack that. They're just a bar on the screen to be filled with repetitive tasks. And the tasks don't really build on each other to form a story, except in the vaguest, most general sense. (There are bandits attacking the farm. You kill the bandits. The farm is saved.) It's also very UI-driven. At least normal questing has a semblance of interacting with the people in the world.

Now, in the end, maybe normal questing is just the same. That the stories of side quests are just an illusion, a fig leaf over reality, and it's all about filling up many smaller bars instead of one bigger bar. But it turns out that I like--and maybe even need--that illusion.

GW2 Hearts are quests for people who think that skipping through instant quest text is too much work.


Events are basically a cross between public quests from Warhammer Online, and rifts from Rift. They're a public quest which is not always available. Instead, they sometimes "activate" like a rift and appear on your map. Then you do the event, and get some rewards. They differ from rifts by being more varied and not just monsters spilling out from another plane.

Sometimes it's an escort quest, sometimes it's a quest to kill a special monster, sometimes waves of monsters are attacking a certain point, etc.

Because the starting point is unknown, events are something that you don't really plan for. Instead you do them when you come across them.

They do make the world seem a bit more dynamic, and break up the questing a bit. But they do repeat, and if you stick around in the same area, you'll see the same event pop over and over.

I like events. But they're not revolutionary, they're evolutionary. A better Warhammer Online public quest.

Combat, Crafting, Skills

See this post.

Initial Conclusions

GW2 is an okay game. But not one that deserves anywhere near the hype it is getting. To be honest, so far it really feels like a better Warhammer Online.

Heh, it occurs to me that GW2 is the game where the "bears, bears, bears" promise from Warhammer Online was finally fulfilled.

Again though, this is early impressions. I haven't gotten very far, and I haven't been able to try out this WvWvW, as I've been on overflow servers most of the time.