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

Theramore

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

Rotations

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.

or

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?

Conclusions

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.