Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Server Merges in WoW Classic

It looks like WoW Classic is actually going to do server merges in preparation for Wrath of the Lich King. Shintar has a good post on the changes. It's a pretty big change for Blizzard, as they've always avoided server merges in the past. 

It will be interesting to see how they handle names, especially for the people still playing on the smaller servers. It's quite likely that their names will already be taken on the larger server that they will be transferred to, possibly by a character who is no longer subscribed.

Hopefully they do something like the subscriber keeps the name if a non-subscriber has it. Still, for the subscriber vs subscriber case, I bet there will be a lot of complaints.

I'm generally in favour of experiments, so good for Blizzard for trying something different.

One experiment I'd like to see--maybe with the next Season of Mastery--is very strong faction and server balance restrictions. If the Horde or Alliance gets more than 1% larger, lock the larger faction, preventing new players to the server from making characters. Similarly keep the server populations in lockstep, and prevent mega-servers from forming. Disallow faction transfers. Have these restrictions be based on the number of accounts that played in the last week or so.

Blizzard has always shied away from things like this, except when a server is truly overloaded. They've felt that it's better to live with unbalanced servers than have friends be unable to play with each other. But I think Classic has shown that the playerbase will actively make balance problems worse. So I think it's worth experimenting and seeing what happens if balance is enforced, and mega-servers are prevented from coming into being.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

First Impressions of Diablo: Immortal

First off, I'm not going to discuss monetization in this post. I've observed before that F2P ends up poisoning the conversation around the game, and I'd like to to discuss the game itself. As well, I'm still pretty low level, and haven't reached a point where the monetization actually impacts me.

Diablo: Immortal is a Free-2-Play mobile phone/tablet game, though it does have a PC version. The PC version is technically a beta, but as character data is shared between mobile and PC, it's live for all intents and purposes.

Now, I don't actually play any games on my phone. But I decided to try D:I on the phone given that it's the native environment. I have an iPhone X, so a couple generations behind the very latest. The game ran pretty well. Controls are fairly straightforward and easy to use. Your left thumb controls a "joystick" for movement, and your right thumb presses the attack and ability buttons.

However, after about 5-10 minutes, my phone got uncomfortably hot. I'm not sure if this is normal, or if it's just a little too old, or if I should have turned down the settings. But in any case, I removed D:I from my phone and installed it on PC. Everything carried over, so I picked up where I left off.

Diablo: Immortal is a somewhat simplified Diablo III. Most of the classes and abilities are very similar to D3 abilities. However, there's only one primary attack, and 4 extra abilities, plus one ultimate ability. No runes modifying abilities so far. Abilities appear to be cooldown-based so far.

I'm playing a Crusader. Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Wizard, and Necromancer are also available.

The story is very Diablo, featuring many characters from the series. It's also rather grim, maybe aiming a little more towards Diablo II. It's pretty standard, you're chasing down and trying to destroy Shards of the Worldstone, which are being used by a variety of bad guys. For now I'm just following the main questline, but there are dungeons, bounties and a couple types of rifts you can also do.

D:I is kind of an MMO, but one where playing with others is very optional (at least so far). For example, you see other people when running around in the world, and you can opt to do dungeons and rifts with others using automated match-making. But if you don't want to play with others, you can do the dungeons and rifts solo.

The UI is interesting. It's obviously meant for mobile. So for example, there's no right-click or drag-and-drop in the UI. Everything is button-based. It does have a nice feature where gear and menu items have a red gem on them if you can do something with them.

You can upgrade rare items and gems. In a nice twist, if you equip a new item, you can automatically "transfer" the upgraded level and gems.

Diablo: Immortal is clearly a mobile game. The graphics are decent enough, but obviously meant for mobile. It's lacking a lot of the bells and whistles that a PC game would have. For example, it doesn't have destructible barrels and jars, which is pretty traditional for Diablo.

If you feel like playing more Diablo, give Diablo:Immortal a whirl.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

The Creation Catalyst

This tier, Blizzard introduced a mechanic to help with Tier gear: the Creation Catalyst.

Previously, the problem with Tier sets was that you could be unlucky and never get Tier to drop for you. Or perhaps worse, you have Tier shoulders, and a higher item-level non-Tier shoulders drop, and you have to choose between the set bonus or discarding the higher level item.

The Creation Catalyst pretty much solves all the issues with Tier. Once a week, you can transform a non-Tier item into the Tier item of the same item level. It's pretty much the equivalent of allowing you to purchase a Tier item of any slot at the rate of one per week.

So the first couple of times you use the Creation Catalyst, it's to finish off your 4-piece set bonus. Then after that, you can start transforming upgrades, always keeping your set bonus.

It even allows solo-players or non-raiders to get their Tier set bonus. You can transform the Zerith Mortis rewards into Tier, so you should get your set bonus in 4 weeks.

All in all, the Creation Catalyst was an excellent mechanic that solves many of the issues with Tier set bonuses. I hope it is carried forward for future content.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

The Return of Master Loot?

In an interview, Game Director Ion Hazzikostas said that the Dev Team is interested in bringing back Master Loot. He specifically called out the problems around clarity which items are actually tradable. 

I'll be honest, I have zero idea how trading Tier tokens actually works in this tier. I just look for the blue text on the item if I don't want it.

In any case, I've long held that the current iteration of Personal Loot is a corrupted system. It was created to reduce drama in automatic group content, and then adapted for premade group content. I've posted my ideal loot system suite before, but it might be a little complex.

What I think Blizzard should work towards is the following:

  • Two systems: Personal Loot and Master Loot.
  • Personal Loot cannot be traded at all.
  • Master Loot has the standard "Tradable for 2 hours to people in the group"
  • Automatic Group Content uses Personal Loot and it cannot be changed.
  • Premade Groups can choose between Personal Loot and Master Loot.
  • Switching the Loot System requires everyone in the group to agree to the change. You can do a Ready Check style thing, where everyone has to click Yes for the switch to happen. (Maybe change the look/feel of the popup so people don't mistake it for a Ready Check.)
  • Master Loot is deactivated in new raids/dungeons for the first month. This is mostly to cut down the degeneracy of split runs in the World First race.

I think that would be good enough. Personal Loot is for no-drama Automatic Group Runs. Master Loot is for when you create the group from scratch and want control over how loot is handed out.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Ya Boy Kongming!

For some reason, Google is not letting me sign in and reply to comments. Not sure what's going on there.

In any case, there's a pretty good anime airing this season: Ya Boy Kongming! The ancient Chinese strategist Zhuge Liang (also called Kongming) reincarnates in modern Japan and decides to help a young singer achieve stardom.

I rather enjoy these shows that start with a wacky concept and and then commit to it. Additionally, Ya Boy Kongming is actually a decent show, and uses its conceit well.

Also, it has an amazing opening! The really weird part is that the opening is actually a good reflection of the show.


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Dungeon Finder in Classic

Blizzard announced that there would be no Dungeon Finder in Wrath of the Lich King Classic. The Classic community promptly exploded into a state of civil war.

In the end, this is really vindication for J. Allen Brack when he said that "You think you do, but you don't". For better or worse, Dungeon Finder is the dividing line between Classic and Retail. Now basically we have the Retail audience plus a significant minority (maybe even a majority) of the Classic audience wanting to go down the same path that the Retail devs took a decade ago.

A reader reminded me of the posts I wrote when Dungeon Finder first came out. I've always been reasonably happy with Dungeon Finder. I like running dungeons, especially at low levels. And my groups have not been particularly toxic. Though these days I do lend more credence to the idea that healers are drama-prone, which I don't see since I heal.

I generally like the Dungeon Finder, but at the same time, I'm a Retail player, not really a Classic player. I pretty much only dabble in Soul of Iron in Classic Season of Mastery. I'm not really sure it would be fair to apply my preferences to the Classic audience who really want something different than Retail. After all, if you want to play WoW with Dungeon Finder, you can always play Retail. There's something to be said for the idea that two different games should offer two different experiences.

Still, it's possible that there are two ideas in play here, both true at the same time:
  1. Dungeon Finder makes it easier for players to run dungeons.
  2. Dungeon Finder destroys the server community.
I do believe that Dungeon Finder hurts the server community. I once defined social fabric as "the bonds created by repeated, positive interactions between the same set of people." Dungeon Finder cuts directly against this. You no longer do the most common repeatable action with the same set of people. You don't see the same people or the same guilds regularly.

But maybe being able to do content whenever you want is more important than server community. Maybe Classic is really about the content and class systems that was lost with Cataclysm than about nebulous notions like community.

The real irony here is that Retail sees far less use of the Dungeon Finder than Classic would. Mythic and Mythic Keystone dungeons don't use the Dungeon Finder and automatic group creation, they use the Premade Group Finder. So really, the only people using the Dungeon Finder are people levelling, people doing dungeons to finish quests, or people gearing up a little at the very start of an expansion. Otherwise everyone is doing dungeons the old-fashioned way, even having to travel to the instance entrance in the world.

So should Classic Wrath have the Dungeon Finder? I don't really know. I do think that it would worth experimenting with the Premade Group Finder first. See if being able to post and apply to groups in a nice format with requirements listed where you can see what roles are needed. Getting notified when someone applies to your group instead of having to post advertisements in an LFG channel every minute or so.

Perhaps that would end up balancing the ability to run dungeons with server community better than the Dungeon Finder did.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Trailer

In 2004, Wizards of the Coast released the Kamigawa block, sets inspired by traditional Japanese mythology. By every measure, they were a failure.

The original Kamigawa was a "deep cut" into Japanese mythology and spirit lore. Too deep, it turns out. Most of the audience didn't get the references and concepts. It didn't help that it was much less powerful than the sets immediately before.

This year, WotC took another crack at Kamigawa. 

I do admire this about Wizards of the Coast, they are willing to revisit their failed mechanics and settings. They even brought back phasing in the last couple of years, which stunned old-timers. It's now something you can do temporarily to targets, to remove a threat, or save one of your creatures. "Target creature phases out." 

In the intervening years, manga and anime has become much more popular, especially in Magic's target demographic. So the new Kamigawa set, Neon Dynasty, jumped forward in time, and leaned heavily into a lot of recognizable anime/manga tropes.

And naturally enough, WotC made an anime trailer for the set, featuring two of their new planeswalkers, Kaito and the Wanderer: