Tuesday, July 29, 2008

WotLK Beta - Soloing with Protection

Protection is a lot of fun for solo questing. It's not as fast as Ret, but it's pretty good. I used Judgement, Hammer of the Righteous and Holy Shield, and easily went through 1-3 mobs at a time. I didn't feel it was worth using Consecrate for so few mobs. Prot is a little mana-hungry, but I went JoL + SoW, and still killed fairly fast while keeping my health and mana pretty high.

The caveat to this is that I did not use Prot gear. I used my Ret gear + a green 1H hammer from one of the first WotLK quests (~84 dps) + an Illidari Runeshield. When I tried with my epic Prot tanking gear, it just felt terrible. I think you really need a decent amount of strength to make the new Protection work. I'd probably get the new Cobalt blacksmithing gear as soon as possible, and replace all my precious epics.

I think I'm probably going to level as Protection in WotLK. It's solid for soloing, and I can tank instances on the way up.

WotLK Beta - Random Notes

Quick bullet points:
  • As predicted, Art of War was changed. Overall, Ret is still awesome, but no more 20K crits.

  • Seal of Righteousness is really strong at the moment. It's scaling a bit too well with AP. In full Ret gear, with a Ret spec, SoR is looking like my highest DPS seal. Unfortunately, it's our levelling seal for 1-60, where we don't have any SP, so Blizzard will have to be very careful with it. The only solution I can think of is to have a breakpoint in the AP scaling. I.e. the first 1000 AP gets 10% scaling, but all AP after that only gets 5%.

  • Divine Storm's graphic is awesome! It's pretty much the single best spell effect in the game. It's like a storm of hammers swirls around you.

  • Seals now last for 2 minutes. However, Judgments now invoke a global cooldown, as they should.

  • Pets and mounts are sort of spells now. At least, right-clicking the pet or mount causes you to "learn" the pet/mount and puts it in a pane on your character sheet. This is pretty neat, and frees up a ton of bag space. Plus, it's really easy to review your collection. The pane has a display so you can see what each pet looks like.

  • There's a built-in calendar now. You can schedule raids, and do sign-ups. It's somewhat bare-bones, but it covers all the basics. In my view, this is a huge step forward for new guilds. In many ways, this simple change has the potential to be the best change for endgame that Blizzard has introduced.

  • Potions grant a debuff now that prevents you from drinking another potion until the end of combat. This puts an end to chain-potting, and returns potions to an emergency-use item.

    One interesting thing about this change I found is that a lot of casual commenters are predicting that the hardcore would be unhappy with this change, as it makes the endgame more accessible to casuals (no more farming for pots). Meanwhile, at EJ, pretty much everyone is cheering the change. The point is that a lot of the things that the casuals don't like about endgame, the hardcore also do not like. However, the difference is that the hardcore is willing to put up with these negatives, to do whatever they deem necessary to be successful.

    On the one hand, that's good, as they're willing to work hard for a goal. If killing a boss requires chain-potting, they will chain-pot. On the other hand, they do lack a sense of proportion about things, and things end up balanced around the extremes, rather than closer to the center. Raid encounters end up balanced assuming that everyone is chaining potions.

  • Back to paladins, apparently Consecration and Exorcism now scale with AP as well as SP. The biggest problem with current prot gear is that there is very little strength on it, and that makes it hard to judge how good the the Protection tree is. I'm strongly considering junking all my Prot epics and trying the new Cobalt blacksmithing armor (+Str, +Sta, +def). I also need to find a good DPS 1H weapon. Maybe I'll try Ret Gear + 1H/Shield, and see how that works for general soloing.

Monday, July 28, 2008

WotLK Beta - Retribution

I feel sorry for Retribution paladins. Every beta, Blizzard overpowers Retribution, and ends up scaling it back for live, thus disappointing all the paladins who are watching eagerly.

WotLK appears to be continuing that trend. Retribution is sick right now. I'm testing on Quel'Danas, and level 70 mobs die instantly. Judgement, Crusader Strike, Divine Storm, dead mob. I'm not even in that amazing gear. I'm in T4 with a Gorehowl. I'd hate to see what the T6/Sunwell people are capable of.

So far, Ret is extremely good for soloing. Judgements of the Wise returns a fair bit of mana to the paladin. Basically, right now there is close to zero downtime with Retribution.

The biggest Retribution news out of beta are the massive 15K - 20K Judgement of Command crits Retribution is capable of. This is not an exaggeration. My best crit so far was 12.5K, and that was without trying. In better gear, pop Avenging Wrath and trinkets, and I can easily see coming close to 20K.

What's really weird about these crits is that they are somewhat controllable. The Art of War is procced off a Crusader Strike. So you wait for Art of War to proc, then stun and Judge Seal of Command. And since Fanaticism gives you +25% crit chance, that puts the chance for Command to crit at over 50%. Between the Art of War proc and Fanaticism, this burst is oddly reliable.

All in all, I think Retribution is headed for a nerf. And there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the Paladin forums.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The First Thing You Should Do In WotLK

The very first thing you should do in WotLK is roll a Death Knight and do the Death Knight starting questline.

The DK starting questline is like a prologue or introduction to the expansion. It sets up a couple of very interesting storylines to be revealed in the expansion. After you finish the questline, you can switch back to your main character or continue with the Deathknight as you please.

I'm not really impressed with the Deathknight class itself (I'll probably expand on this in a later post), but I strongly suggest you do the DK quests first before heading to Northrend.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Crafting, Gold, and Balance

Right now, there's a trend--especially at the high end of raiding and PvP--of characters taking two crafting professions. They do this in order to get the "perks" from each profession slot, maximizing their character's potential.

This has some interesting economic ramifications. There are now fewer gatherers, and more crafters, so the raw materials have become scarcer, and prices have increased significantly. To combat this, Blizzard is introducing perks for the gathering professions in WotLK. For example, Mining gets a +Stamina bonus.

However, some people aren't happy with this, because levelling crafting professions is an expense, while levelling gathering professions gains you money. They feel that because they put in the greater expense, they should get a greater reward.

The problem with this is that money or gold is really irrelevant when it comes to character balance. If Leatherworking gives more of a boost to your characters stats than Mining, Mining will be dropped by the serious players, regardless of how much money it brings in.

It's like there are two mutually exclusive choices. A crafting profession can either be useful to your character (I.e. it has benefits that cannot be provided by another crafter), or it can be profitable. If it is useful, everyone will take it, increasing the supply, increasing the costs, and reducing the profits. If it is not useful, then fewer people will take it, increasing scarcity and making it more likely you can make money with it.

For example, if Blizzard really wanted players to be able to sell crafted goods for profit, they should increase the perks for the gathering professions until they are noticeably better than the perks from crafting. This means that most serious players will drop crafting professions and go double gatherer. This means that there will be plentiful supply of raw materials. Then Blizzard should have crafted BoE recipes of good quality available. Plenty of raw materials + fewer crafters = lots of income.

But would you take that trade? More gold in exchange for lower character prowess? I think that most people won't. That it will just lead to complaining by everyone. So Blizzard will try and balance perks between the crafting and gathering professions.

Unless the cost is extremely exorbitant, gold costs never hold players back. Respec costs haven't, costs to level professions haven't, repair costs haven't, alchemy costs back in WoW 1.0 didn't. You cannot count on gold costs to balance character prowess. All significant gold costs really do is cause players to spend more time farming, complaining, and cause players to drop out of the game when they can't keep up.

Edit: This post is really the confluence of two somewhat-related ideas: gold costs do not affect game balance; and crafting can be useful or profitable, but not both. I probably should have tried to separate them out a bit better.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

WotLK Beta - Protection

I got fed up with trying to figure out Judgement of Command, so I specced Protection to try out some new talents. Some thoughts in no particular order:
  • Wow, there are a lot of talents in the Prot tree. I spent all 61 points, and I still wanted to spend 10 more. Prot really needs a couple of talents in the high end collapsed, and maybe a couple PvP-dedicated talents in their place.

  • I'm running out of space to put all my icons. 3 Judgements, Hammer of the Righteous, Seal of the Martyr, and at 75 we get Shield of Righteousness. It's all putting a squeeze on the available bar space I have.

  • Hammer of the Righteous is broken at the moment. Admittedly, I'm using a caster weapon, but my character sheet says 116-213 damage, and I'm seeing white hits of 76-132. I run up to a mob, smack HotR, and it does a whopping 35 damage!

    HotR does anywhere from 35-120 damage, so I think it's bugged at the moment. As well, I haven't yet seen it crit. Admittedly, I have a pretty low crit rate in Prot gear, but I did test it a fair bit.

  • The new cast time on Avenger's Shield is very nice. The dazed duration has increased to 10s, which is nice because it slows down the pull in a group. On the other hand, it takes forever for the mob to actually get to you.

  • Protection plays pretty much like always does. Gather mobs, Consecrate, Holy Shield, and lots of numbers appear on your screen. For solo play, I think it might be a bit mana-hungry.

  • The really interesting question will be Spell Power versus Attack Power gear. To a large extent this depends on how HotR works. Touched by the Light gives a fair bit of spell power to keep your SP-based spells from falling behind.

So that was my quick look at Protection. Some interesting things going on with it, but so far it seems very similar to TBC Protection.

WotLK Beta - Judgements II

Here's a quick way to sum up the new Judgement system:

Debuff comes from the Judgement; Damage comes from the Seal.

I actually really like the new system. It's really intuitive once you start playing with it. It makes Seals and Judgements more central to the paladin experience.

You get the benefit of JoL/W without having to sacrifice extra damage. You get an initial burst of Holy damage at the start of the fight. You can switch the debuff you have on the target quite easily.

Pretty much everything scales with both Attack Power and Spell Power. (I think Seal of Blood is the only thing that does not--it is AP-only.) It's great to see your Judgement debuffs become more powerful as your gear improves.

Heh, the only problem is that I keep forgetting to cast a new Seal after 30s. I'm so used to casting immediately after the Judgement, or macro'ing the Seal to the Judgement.

I've been doing a bit of work determining the new coefficients for the Seals and Judgements. They're buried in the thread on EJ, if anyone is interested. I just have to figure out how Command and Blood work, and I'll post a summary.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

WotLK Beta - Judgements

WotLK is revamping the Seal and Judgement system. Here's an overview of Judgements.

There are three Judgement spells: Judgement of Light, Judgement of Wisdom and Judgment of Justice.

Casting a Judgement
- costs 5% of base mana (your mana without any gear)
- does not invoke a Global Cooldown
- requires an active Seal
- does not consume the active Seal!

Casting a Judgement has 2 effects:

1. Puts a debuff on the target. The exact debuff depends on which Judgement you cast. Casting Judgement of Light puts the Light debuff, JoW puts the Wisdom debuff, and JoJ puts the Justice debuff. Judgements last for 20s, but can be refreshed with your melee hits, or any Paladin's Crusader Strike.

2. Unleashes the active Seal for some Holy damage. The amount of damage depends on the active Seal. All Seals, including Seal of Light/Wisdom/Justice, do damage when unleashed. This effect does double damage on a critical strike for all active Seals. This effect does not consume the active Seal!

The Judgement of Justice debuff prevents NPCs from fleeing and prevents the target from increasing her speed beyond 100%.

The Judgement of Light and Wisdom debuffs have a chance to return health and mana, respectively, when an attacker strikes the target. The amount of health or mana returned depends on the paladin's Attack Power and Spell Power.

JoL: Health gained per proc = 18% * AP + 18% * SP

JoW: Mana gained per proc = 9% * AP + 9% * SP

In a group, the amount of health or mana gained depends on the stats of the Paladin who cast the Judgement.

Still to be determined:
- How refreshing debuffs with Crusader Strike interacts with health/mana values from JoL/JoW
- How changing stats in the middle of a fight (from temporary buffs or debuffs) affects JoL/JoW

Monday, July 21, 2008

WotLK Beta - Requests?

Thanks to a friend, I'm now have a WotLK Beta Key!

I'm currently near the SSO, with zero talent points, trying to nail down how the new Seals and Judgements work. (Seal and Judgment of Justice are bugged like crazy, which isn't helping.)

Anyways, if you guys have any requests about what I should look at or report on, feel free to ask in this thread. I only have my paladin transferred over at the moment, though.

Also, I haven't gone to Northrend or seen any of the new content yet. I'd like to play with some of the talent and mechanic changes first.

WotLK Beta - Burst Damage

Sometimes I really don't understand Blizzard. Back in March, they said they were worried about Paladin burst damage. Fast forward to the WotLK Beta, and we see the following two talents:

Righteous Vengeance (5/5)
Requires 45 Points in Retribution
Increases critical damage bonus of all attacks by 15%.

The Art of War (3/3)
Requires 40 Points in Retribution
Your damaging Crusader Strikes have a 15% chance to cause your next Judgement spell to cause double damage.

Let's say you have a 30% critical strike chance. Your attack possibilities (ignoring misses, parries, etc.) are:

59.5% - Normal damage
10.5% - 2x damage
25.5% - 2.15x damage
4.5% - 4.3x damage

Yes, that's correct. In the current Beta, Retribution paladins have better than Quad Damage!

I think The Art of War is going to be nerfed, and nerfed hard.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

WotLK Beta - Holy Builds

Here's some thoughts on likely LK builds for Holy paladins. Again, it's still in beta, so things may change drastically.

48/0/23 - Sheathbot

This looks to be the best single-target healing build you can make. It has the most spell power, the most crit, and a massive 2.4x crit multiplier. (For reference, a normal paladin has a 1.5x multiplier.)You also provide Imp Might and 3% crit for the raid.

I think this will be the standard 25-man raiding build, at least for the first Holy paladin in the raid. You are giving up any chance of an AoE heal, but the druids, priests and shamans can cover that while you concentrate on keeping the main tank up.

51/0/15+5 - Beacon of Light + Ret

This build trades-off the extra spellpower and crit multiplier from the previous build in exchange for an AoE heal in Beacon of Light. Basically you trade raw single-target healing in exchange for flexibility. You also provide Imp Might and 3% crit for the raid.

I think this build will be very popular for 5 and 10-man instances. Since you have fewer other healers (or none) to cover your weaknesses, flexibility becomes more important.

51/20/0 - Beacon of Light + Prot

Trade the goodies in Retribution for Blessing of Kings, Imp Devo Aura, and Divine Guardian. Also get Beacon of Light for some AoE healing.

Essentially, this is the "We don't have a Prot Paladin and people are whining for Kings" build. It should be pretty good for the second Holy paladin in a 25-man raid.

Edit: On EJ, Cathela posted an interesting way of looking at 25-man raid composition for paladins. Positing two default slots per class (fair, considering there are now 10 classes), Cathela proposes that it will break down as follows:

Slot 1: Sheathbot or DPS Ret Paladin
Slot 2: Beacon of Light + Prot or Tank Prot Paladin

Friday, July 18, 2008

Two Pressing Beta Questions

1. What is going on with Judgments? It looks like there are new Judgement spells which automatically Judge Light/Wisdom/Justice in addition to your running damage Seal. But Seal of Light/Wisdom/Justice still exists, as does the regular Judgment spell. This seems very cluttered and inelegant.

2. Take a look at the new 51-pt Holy talent:

Beacon of Light
1.5 sec cast, 780 Mana, 40 yd range
The target becomes a Beacon of Light, healing all party or raid members within 10 yards for 990 over 15 sec.

Pretty neat, and a very welcome addition to the paladin healing arsenal. But the real question is: does this spell have a graphical effect causing the target to shine with light? Because if it does, all we need is a feral druid tank, and we end up with a giant, glowing bear!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Salvation's End

Beta patch notes are out, including a whole whack of changes for paladins.

The stand-out change:

Blessing of Salvation renamed Hand of Salvation, now reduces total threat on the target by 2% per second for 10 seconds while also reducing all damage and healing done by 10%. Only one Hand spell can be on the target per paladin at any one time. Now costs 6% of base mana.

At long last, Blessing of Salvation is gone. This one spell has warped our class so much, and I am *thrilled* to see it tossed out.

There's a bunch of other changes, and I'm especially pleased to see that Blizzard has decided to prune away a lot of the deadwood. Notable spells that have been removed are Blessing of Salvation, Blessing of Light, Seal of the Crusader, and Sanctity Aura. A lot of the worst excesses of the 1.9 change--pushing the good Holy talents deeper into the tree--have been reversed. Holy Wrath is on steroids now for some reason.

It's amusing to see how many changes from this old 2006 post of mine have been implemented.

It still appears that Blizzard is sticking with the specialist paladin, rather than the hybrid ideal. But other than that, the changes are actually quite good so far. There's still a lot of work to be done, but this is a great clean-up pass.

Just one note to Blizzard: Seal of Corruption is a terrible name for a paladin ability. Corruption is a warlock word. Please don't try to be "edgy" with the whole "Arthas falling from grace" thing. Just play it straight and give us an ability with a proper paladin name.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Libram Swapping Nerf

Yesterday's patch nerfed the practice of libram-swapping. Basically, you could macro a command to switch librams to the command to cast a spell, and get the full benefit of the libram. So you would bind a Holy Light libram to Holy Light, and a Flash of Light libram to Flash of Light, and you would get the full benefit of your libram slot for whichever spell you cast.

My response to the nerf is: Good! Libram-swapping was a lame hack.

Librams are designed to be powerful but specific. You get a bigger bonus than normal, but only for a portion of the total time. This makes gameplay interesting, as you try and shift your gameplay to maximize the use of your Libram. Rely more on HL if you have a HL libram. Tank heal if you have the BoL libram.

If you wish Librams to be more general, they're going to be weaker overall. That's just the way balance works. Swapping Librams with spellcasts allowed paladins to get all the bonuses of a libram with none of the drawbacks. This was not intended, and would have just led Blizzard to make weak, general Librams.

To see what I mean, compare [Libram of Souls Redeemed] to [Blue Diamond Witchwand]. They both drop from the Opera event in Karazhan.

The wand gives:

+13 Int
+11 Spi
+29 Healing

The libram gives a Holy paladin:

+125-150 Healing but only on targets with Blessing of Light

The libram healing bonus is significantly higher than the wand healing bonus. The drawback is that it really only works when healing the tanks. Given that the tanks are the ones taking the big hits, I would much rather have the specific libram than the general stats wand.

Specific librams are more *interesting* than general librams. They give us something to discuss, to theorycraft about, to make decisions about. Making decisions is what makes games interesting. Going from a +10 healing libram to a +20 healing libram is not an interesting decision. It's an obvious one.

Most of the other equipment slots are general, boring, and obvious. (Trinkets are a notable exception.) One slot dedicated to a new model of itemization is not too much to ask.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Initial Hand in Card Games

How a game unfolds in a card game is very dependant on the initial hand. Essentially, the initial draw gives you a random subset of your total abilities to work with. That means your game plan changes with your draw. A lot of the work in deck construction for CCGs goes towards making that initial hand has good options for playing.

The big advantage of this is that each game is slightly different. Sometimes you'll have lots of small effects to harass your opponent. Other times you'll have to stall until you can play a big effect.

Contrast this to WoW. In WoW, you always have access to the full set of your abilities. That means that most non-raid boss fights tend to progress in the same manner. First you play ability A, then you play ability B, and so on. There's some reaction abilities like Kick or stuns, but by and large, once you have worked out a rotation, you stick with it.

(I suppose this doesn't apply to healing in a 5-man, as that is very reactive, and thus different each time.)

Imagine what gameplay would be like if a random 2/3rds of your abilities were locked out when the fight started. I think it might be pretty neat. Every fight would be slightly different. No Fireball this fight, use Frostbolt!

However, it's pretty hard to come up with a reason to justify only having access to a random subset of your abilities in non-card games. In a card game, it's just obviously the way a deck of cards works. Once you accept the metaphor that your powers are cards in the deck, you don't bat an eye at not having access to all powers at all times.

I can't really think of a way to justify not having all your abilities available for a non-card game. Why shouldn't a Warrior be able to use Mortal Strike when he has enough rage? Yet, the initial draw is a very interesting mechanic that goes a long way towards countering the repetitiveness of individual fights.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Life Tap and Scaling

Why does Life Tap scale with spell damage?

The simple answer is that spell damage improves your spells, Life Tap is a spell, and thus spell damage should improve Life Tap. However, I think that this logic is flawed, and a scaling Life Tap actually causes some issues with warlocks.

Power Stats like spell damage and attack power work in a linear fashion for individual spells. They follow the general equation Total Damage = Base Damage + Coefficient * Power Stat. Pretty much all classes use this model to determine how the Power Stat affects the damage done by spells or abilities. Even warlock spells use this equation.

However, unique to warlocks, spell damage also changes the ratio of spells being cast. Consider a warlock who just casts Shadow Bolts and Life Taps. At zero spell damage, the warlock can cast 1.3 Shadow Bolts for every Life Tap. For about every 500 extra spell damage, the warlock can cast another Shadow Bolt before needing to Life Tap. 500 spell damage = 2.3 Shadow Bolts. 1000 spell damage = 3.3 Shadow Bolts. 1500 spell damage = 4.3 Shadow Bolts.

What this means that as a warlock accumulates spell damage, the percentage of time she spends on DPS increases. This is in addition to the fact that the individual spell's damage increases as well. So spell damage essentially has a double effect--a non-linear effect--on a warlock's DPS. It increases the damage of Shadow Bolt and, through Life Tap, increases the percentage of time Shadow Bolt is cast.

This shows that warlocks scale in a different manner than the spells of most other classes, and this probably makes them hard to balance accurately for all tiers of endgame.[1]

On the other hand, if Life Tap didn't scale, you can replicate much of the same effect by downranking Shadow Bolt. A downranked Shadow Bolt has a lower cost, meaning it can be cast for a greater percentage of the time, and potentially doing more total damage than the higher ranked spell at some point.

So now I'm not really sure what we can conclude from this exercise, other than once again we show that being able to downrank spells causes problems in WoW. In many ways, costs are most important part of game balance. Being able to change costs without repercussion has caused a lot of balance problems in WoW. One of these days, I hope Blizzard takes this to heart, and removes the ability to cast downranked spells.

[1]DPS warriors also have some of the same double effect, in that AP allows them to hit harder, therefore they generate more rage, which allows them to use specials more often. However, DPS warriors tend to hit the point where they have always have enough rage for their ability cycles relatively early in their progression, so it ends up not mattering as much.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

No Room For Johnny

In Magic:the Gathering design, people often speak of three player archetypes: Timmy, Johnny, and Spike.

Rosewater writes that "Timmy likes to win big. He doesn’t want to eke out a last minute victory. Timmy wants to smash his opponents. He likes his cards to be impressive, and he enjoys playing big creatures and big spells." In WoW terms, we'd probably ascribe the "casual" label to Timmy.

"Spike is the competitive player. Spike plays to win. Spike enjoys winning. To accomplish this, Spike will play whatever the best deck is. Spike will copy decks off the Internet. Spike will borrow other players’ decks. To Spike, the thrill of Magic is the adrenalin rush of competition. Spike enjoys the stimulation of outplaying the opponent and the glory of victory." We'd definitely tag Spike with the "hardcore" label.

But there's a third archetype in Magic, one that may be missing from WoW: Johnny. "Johnny likes a challenge. Johnny enjoys winning with cards that no one else wants to use. He likes making decks that win in innovative ways. What sets Johnny apart from the other profiles is that Johnny enjoys deckbuilding as much as (or more than) he enjoys playing. Johnny loves the cool interactions of the cards. He loves combo decks. Johnny is happiest when he’s exploring uncharted territory."

I know that Johnny exists in WoW. He's the guy who is constantly tinkering with off-the-wall builds; who derides "cookie-cutter" builds on the forums; who attempts to challenge a paladin raider who declares (rightly) that you should use spell crit gems instead of +heal/+int gems. (This last one is from recent threads on the paladin forums. Osc is arguing with Aus and an whole lot of paladin raiders on this issue. Osc is wrong, but I understand why he is arguing.)

Yet Johnny occupies a very different place in the Magic hierarchy than in the WoW hierarchy. In Magic, Johnny is respected because occasionally his creations are tournament-level, and often end up being the most powerful decks and/or breaking the format. In WoW though, Johnny's creations are almost never as good as the cookie-cutter builds and options. Johnny is considered misguided at best, a bad player at worst, and generally to be wasting his time. The hardcore guilds are rarely tolerant of Johnny.

So why does this difference exist? I think it exists because the math behind WoW is a lot simpler than the math behind Magic. In particular, the costs in WoW (mana, rage, energy, time) are a heck of a lot simpler than the costs in Magic (tempo, card-advantage, mana-curve). The value of an ability rarely changes in a fight. Thus the best abilities and sequences are quickly calculated. There is no real room for Johnny to experiment.

I think that when designing a game, it's important to try and ensure a place for Johnny, to look at what you can do to prevent cookie-cutter builds/gear/rotations from dominating and stifling that segment of your playerbase.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Blizzard's Lack of Vision For Paladins

The various paladin forums have been discussing a few posts by Blizzard on the Alpha forums. Joanadark has a good rundown at Tankspot.

I do not have confidence that Blizzard will be able to fix the paladin class. So far, they have demonstrated an utter lack of a vision for what the paladin class should be. And they show no sign of coming up with a plan anytime soon.

The old vision of the paladin class shattered upon the rocks of raiding. Ever since then, Blizzard has been frantically running around slapping band-aid fixes on each of the paladin specs, hoping to get them--and for the majority of the game, only one of them--at least somewhat raid-viable.

The only saving grace for the paladin class, the only reason we are consistently taken to raids, is because our Blessings are overpowered. Salvation > All.

Think about this:

Even with the upcoming changes to spell and melee statistics, there is not a single statistic which is desired by all three Paladin specs.

Strength - Holy and Prot don't want
Intellect - Prot and Ret don't want
Stamina - Holy and Ret don't want
Crit - Prot doesn't want
Hit - Holy doesn't want
Spell Power - Ret doesn't want
Attack Power - Holy and Prot don't want
Defensive Stats - Holy and Ret don't want

Maybe it's just me, but that seems crazy to me. There should be at least one stat in common to all three specs.

Take a look at the base 0/0/0 paladin. What can she do? She's missing the essential tools for melee dps (SoC, CS). She's missing the defining talent for healing in Illumination. She's missing Holy Shield, the vital talent for tanking.

I think Blizzard needs to start from scratch. Stop with the band-aid fixes. Stop swapping talents around madly. Wipe the slate clean. Come up with a vision for the base paladin and then expand on that vision with the talent trees.

I don't think this will happen in Wrath. I think, just as in TBC, we will get more and more slap-dash patches until one or two individual specs finally become viable, eternally relying on the crutch that is our Blessings.

What is a paladin? I don't know anymore. And so far, Blizzard has shown that they do not know either.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Keeping Secrets From Players

One game that has been a huge influence on my thinking about games and game design is Magic: The Gathering, made by Wizards of the Coast, and specifically the writings of Mark Rosewater. His archive is very long, but it's worth reading. You probably need to know how to play Magic to get most of it, but a lot of the basic concepts transfer to many different games.

I love the way Magic does the Design/Development columns every week, especially the way they are actually willing to discuss changes and decisions in detail. I would love for Blizzard to do something similar, to publish a weekly column from a designer that actually has some detail in it.

Of course, maybe Blizzard is scared of the reactions from the forums, but watching the M:tG forums, most people seem to take things in stride. In fact, I would say that the columns have actually made the Internet audience more attuned and accepting of Wizard's process and decision trade-offs. Right now, any change to WoW comes down the pike, the WoW forums immediately make claims about how it's because designers play class X. And quite frankly, some of the occasional claims by CMs make no sense. Mages do insane damage, are the kings of AoE? That was met with disbelief by most theorycrafters, because--as has been proven--it was not true at all.

In the absence of real information, game players will believe the worst. If you can look at the M:tG columns, the designers will post their reasonings after bannings, or post about mistakes or things that didn't work out. And most of the commentary on the forums is sensible. If anything, disclosure has made the M:tG forums a better place.

In many ways, the computer game industry seems very unwilling to share details about process. Sure, they'll publish technical algorithms now and again, but you'll rarely see people discuss how they design, develop, or test. And of course, they end up reinventing the wheel a lot, making the same mistakes over and over.

If you look at the comments on this post on Patcher Surveys on We Can Fix That With Data, Sarah Jensen Schubert (who is an actual MMO designer) asks if someone from Pirates of the Burning Sea can tell her what percentage of people filled out that survey. Joe Ludwig responds, "Not on The Internet, no. :) Ask me at AGDC."

Honestly, why not say the percentage in public? What harm would that do? But the first instinct of game developers seems to be to keep information secret from the players, and only pass it on through back channels. In my opinion, this behaviour, this tendency towards secrecy, hurts the game industry far more than it helps.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

PvP Servers

I really want to like PvP servers. For some reason, the *idea* of being at war with the opposite faction, with danger around every corner, and engaging in battle with unpredictable human foes is very appealing.

However, the *reality* of a PvP server is my level 39 Paladin getting jumped by a level 70 Rival Warlock in 3/5 Vengeful Gladiator.

There's probably an interesting thought somewhere in here, but I'm too disgruntled to try and find it.

Edit: Just for reference, I have been on a PvP server before. My first character was a warrior on a PvP server (made it to level 48), and my warlock levelled to 60 pre-TBC on a PvP server.

So I have experience with PvP servers. It's just odd that I keep coming back to them, even though I really should know better by now.

Is Questing Anti-Social?

Tobold has an interesting post, Making Quests Less Anti-Social, where he argues that people do not group up for quests because quests "*must* be done alone if the players want to maximize rewards".

I agree that most people don't group up with strangers when doing solo quests. However, I've always found grouping to be more efficient, especially for reducing downtime. Additionally, grouping with people is usually more fun than going it alone.

Second, if players were going solo to maximize reward, I would think that if you asked someone to group, they would turn you down. Yet my experience is that if you encounter someone doing the same quest as you, and you ask if you can join their group, 90% of the time they will send you an invite. To me, that behaviour implies that maximizing reward is not the reason that people don't group.

I think people don't group because they are ambivalent about approaching strangers. Maybe it's fear of rejection, a desire not to impose on someone else, or feeling bad about asking for help. But my experience is that a lot of people are perfectly willing to group up, they just don't want to be the one to ask. And because you can solo most quests, they don't ask unless they have to.

In some ways, I think this behaviour is at the heart of the whole 'clique' issue in a lot of guilds. You join a guild, and your guildmates become something more than strangers, but less than friends (at least at the start). It's still hard to approach them and ask if you can join them, because they are sort-of strangers. Yet it still stings when they leave you out, because they are sort-of friends, and you expect your friends to ask you to do stuff.

So I don't know how to solve this. Maybe Public Quests in Warhammer Online will solve this problem, by implicitly grouping people in the same area on the same quest, without making one party formally ask and risk rejection. In WoW, though, if you are willing to take the first step, and ask for help on the General channel, or whisper someone you see working on the same quest, you may be surprised at how easy it is to group up with a perfect stranger.

Funny/weird grouping story: A couple of nights ago, I grouped with a mage to do another Arathi Highlands quest. This mage didn't like buffs. He didn't run Arcane Intellect, didn't cast a mage Armor. He even asked me to turn off my Aura (I was on a paladin alt--yeah, I'm not really sure why, either). I wasn't able to figure out why he had an aversion to buffs, but he was a nice guy in all other respects and we finished that quest easily.