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

Farming

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.

Sha

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

Progress

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.

Farming

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.