Monday, February 22, 2010

Allods Online Pricing

There's a mini-controversy about pricing for Allod's Online. Keen has details. Allod's Online is a Free-To-Play game that started out in Russia. Apparently prices in the North American game are 10-20x times higher. (Keen says 20x, but all his examples are only 10x.) A bag that costs $2 in Russia costs $20 in the NA version.

So all the vocal gamers, parsimonious creatures that they are, are up in arms over this.

I don't know if the price is too high or too low. But consider this: Russia is a poorer country than the United States. Its GDP-Per-Capita is roughly a fifth of that of the States. Is it really so unreasonable to believe that if people in Russia are willing to pay $2, people in the States would be willing to pay much more? Heck, this is the land of $5 coffees!

I think a lot of times gamers take it as an article of faith that there is a large segment of people who are willing to pay small amounts of money to a micro-transaction shop. But maybe that group doesn't actually exist. Maybe the two major groups are people who will pay nothing, and people who will pay a lot. In that case, it's the best strategy to get as much money out of that second group as possible.

Edit: Also, the other thing that struck me was that there is a "level 10 rune that was $689 is now $6,890." Now, I have a hard time believing someone will pay $7000 for an item, but then again, I have a hard time believing someone paid $700. If the $700 item sold, then it is entirely possible the $7000 one will too.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Healer Hubris

In the continuing adventures of my low level warrior tank, I joined a group today to tank Maraudon's Orange wing. I run the addon RankWatch, which notifies people when they use a lower rank of a spell than their max available. Because all spell ranks cost the same, it's almost always a bad idea to cast a downranked spell now.

Anyways, the druid healer in my group got upset when RankWatch told him he should be using Abolish Poison instead of Cure Poison. He told me that he put me on his ignore list.

On the next trash pack, I somehow died, even though the healer was at full mana. Cutting my losses, I leave the group.

After waiting 5 minutes for my Dungeon Finder timer to wear off, I rejoin the queue. I get put back into the same group I left, leading to this exchange:

I don't really know why he thought I would want to tank for a healer who deliberately let me die. That just sounds like a terrible idea.

Lately, I've seen a lot of forum and blog posts about healers abusing their healing power. Letting DPS who've annoyed them die "to teach them a lesson". Reveling in the fact that because their role is somewhat rare, that gives them the right to act like a jerk.

In my opinion, if you sign up as a healer, you heal as best you can. Triage as appropriate, but you don't let people die if you can help it, regardless of how annoying they are.

If someone is truly too annoying to play with, leave the group. Don't act like a petty tyrant.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Was Blackwing Lair Boring?

I recently had a chance to see a raid video of Blackwing Lair, by A Few Good Men. I have always liked Blackwing Lair, and consider it to be one of my favorite instances.

However, on watching the video, what struck me was the Blackwing Lair fights look really boring, at least compared to modern fights. Everyone pretty much just stands in one spot and spams DPS or heals. The only fights that look mildly interesting are Razorgore and Nefarian.

Admittedly, part of it is that a lot of the challenge in BWL dealt with tank threat (Vael, Broodlord, Ebonroc) and Line of Sight (Firemaw, Chromaggus) which was important in the days before Omen and that is something that is something that videos don't convey well.

Is it just nostalgia that tints our view of old fights? Is it hard to appreciate just how unique and interesting modern fights are?

Even Trial of the Crusader, for all that instance is denigrated, had far more complex fights than BWL. Take a look at Northrend Beasts, with its three phases, snobolds, multiple wyrms, poisons that cancelled each other, evading charging yetis, etc. That's significantly more complex than even Nefarian was.

Revisiting Blackwing Lair has certainly made me appreciate modern raid fights more, especially those in Icecrown Citadel.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Limits in Normal Icecrown Citadel Removed

Daelo, on the WoW Forums:
After each region's maintenance this week, raids will no longer lose attempts on wipes in Normal mode for Professor Putricide, Blood-Queen Lana'thel, Sindragosa, and the Lich King. There will still be limited attempts in Heroic mode.

We will continue to monitor developments in Icecrown Citadel in the future, especially since the Heroic difficulty has been unlocked by a significant number of raids.

There is a saying that generals are always trying to fight the last war. In a sense, so is Blizzard. The big problem in Trial of the Crusader was that the gap between normal and heroic was too large.

To fix that problem in ICC--to create more of a spread between the Gentry guilds, but still have many guilds eventually complete the instance--Blizzard added normal-mode attempt limits for the end bosses. I think the idea was that the normal-mode attempt limits would slow down Gentry guilds, but not really impede Aristocracy and Royalty guilds.

However, ICC turned out to be reasonably difficult. The attempt limit isn't what's holding back Gentry guilds. And the Royalty guilds are going out of their way to evade the normal mode limits, because they can't afford to fall behind on hard modes. Several edge guilds are doing alt runs of ICC first. I understand that Paragon, which got the world first Arthas kill, took this path.

So Blizzard removes the limit for Gentry guilds, and is relying on natural difficulty of the fights and the eventual Faction Leader buff to spread out the guilds.

What will be interesting to see is how Blizzard reacts to the creation of alt teams to evade time and attempt limits. I'm not really sure what they could do, other than excessive attunement chains. But if it is hard to attune alts, it is also hard to attune trials and new characters, and that has its own pitfalls.

Perhaps Blizzard will just start creating impossible fights, with a built in buff timer like the Faction Leader buff timer, and let the best guilds wipe until the buff stacks just high enough to clear the bar. Like a high jump bar slowly being lowered until someone can just clear it. Then the bar keeps going down so the rest of us can experience the fight.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Third Dimension

Valithria Dreamwalker has really driven home a point for me: I am not fond of having to maneuver in 3 dimensions.

Oculus, Malygos P3, and Valithria have all had portions where you could move in all three dimensions. And I haven't really enjoyed those portions. It's not the vehicle aspect either. I like Flame Leviathian, and I don't mind jousting. Plus, in Dreamwalker you fly with your normal character.

Part of it is because I don't think I am very good at 3D movement. I always seem to move too far up or down unintentionally.

3D fights add a extra level of complexity that I am not sure makes an encounter more fun. For example, Malygos might have been better if the dragons were restricted to the plane. If they couldn't really move up or down. Would Valithria be any different if the orbs were on the ground, and maybe had to be killed instead of flown through?

But on the other hand, riding a dragon is all about flying in three dimensions. Maybe limiting it to two would be overly restrictive.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Top WoW Videos - #2 - Here Without You

The #2 video on my countdown is Here Without You by Dimoroc.

This video is one of the oldest WoW music videos. I think it might have been first one I saw.

It's a great storyline, which fits the song perfectly. The video also embodies the Forsaken extremely well. While some of techniques--notably the fight between Redsword and Dimoroc--are less advanced than videos today, a lot of the other effects match anything produced recently. Especially the cuts and fades, and the flashback sequence.

I love this video. It is simple and not especially flashy, but it just works.

Top Video List (so far):
  1. Here Without You
  2. Tales of the Past III
  3. The Craft of War: BLIND
  4. Big Blue Dress

Friday, February 05, 2010


So Ensidia claimed the world-first kill of Arthas, but were then hit with a 72-hour ban and had their kill and titles revoked.

I admit that, like Tobold and Larisa, when I first heard the story I was a bit sympathetic to Ensidia. Their story was that a rogue using Saronite Bombs as part of his regular rotation happened to make part of the encounter easier.

However, now I think it's likely that the ban was completely deserved. Apparently, what happened was something like:
  1. The Lich King destroys part of the platform during the fight.
  2. Valkyrs come and snatch raid members. They have to be DPSed down before they reach the edge or they drop the person to their doom.
  3. Saronite Bombs are bugged and apparently rebuilt part of the platform.
  4. Ensidia apparently sent the Saronite rogue to deliberately rebuild the outer edges of the platform where the val'kyrs drop people.
  5. Ensidia ignored the val'kyrs when they appeared, focusing DPS on the Lich King.
  6. The val'kyrs dropped the people, but they landed on the rebuilt platform safely, and rejoined the fight.

That's textbook "exploiting a bug to avoid part of the fight". Thus, Ensidia fully deserves their ban.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Star Trek Online: Ground Combat, Skill Points

The other half of Star Trek Online is ground combat. In true Star Trek fashion, anytime you need to beam down into a hostile situation, rather than sending Marines, you send the bridge crew.

You beam down with your officers, creating a party of 5. If you are with other players, you have less NPCs and more real players. The NPCs are pretty good. Kind of honestly, they seem to do a better job than I do, so I let them do their thing. I'm still not sure what the Science Officer is doing with tachyons in the middle of the fight, but I'll assume it's something useful.

Combat is pretty much MMO-standard with 3rd person-view and hitting buttons corresponding to abilities. The one twist is the Expose/Exploit system. About half the weapons have a special ability that has a chance of putting an enemy into an "exposed" state. The other weapons have a special Exploit ability. If you hit an Exposed target with an Exploit, the target takes massive damage, and is usually vaporized thus far.

This adds some nice coordination between characters. My Engineering officer sets people up with an Expose, and I vaporise them with an Exploit. There's a real sense of teamwork there.

An added concern is that Exploit abilities do large amounts of damage on their own, but they have a long cooldown. The cooldown is long enough that you often miss an Exposed window. So you have to decide if it's worth saving the Exploit ability for an Expose (which is not guaranteed) or if you should use it whenever it comes off cooldown.

Ground combat is okay. I don't think it's as fun as space combat, but it's interesting enough in short doses. However, I think there is a issue with skill points.

Skill Points

Star Trek Online gives you skill points as you play which you can invest in skills. However, Space skills are separate from Ground skills, but both use the same pool of points. Because I like space combat, I've been dumping all my skills into Space skills. This has the side effect of lowering my effectiveness in the ground game, which makes the ground game harder and less fun.

You have to make the same choice between Space and Ground skills for your officers as well. My officers have been maxing out their Space abilities, but still have poor ground abilities, which really isn't helping.

I can't help but think that it might have been better if there had been separate point pools for Space and Ground. Or if each skill had both a ground effect and a space effect. That way you don't end up gimping yourself for one half of the game.

Not to mention that there are no respecs yet, and if Cryptic follows the Champions Online pattern, skill respecs will end up being sold in the RMT store for real cash.


Well, that's an overview of Ground Combat and the Skill system. I think that they are both interesting yet flawed elements of the game.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Offering Advice

Apropos of our discussion last week, here's a question. Let's say you see another player make a mistake. When should you offer them unsolicited advice?

  1. They're playing solo and you come across them randomly.
  2. They're part of your Random Dungeon group.
  3. They're part of your PuG Raid Group.
  4. They're a member of your guild.
  5. They're a member of guild's steady raid team.
  6. They're a long-time "in-game" friend.
  7. They're a "real-life" friend.
  8. They're a family member.
  9. Never. Only offer advice if someone asks for it.

I think most of us are more willing to offer advice as you go down the list. The more tenuous the social connection, the less likely we are willing to offer unsolicited advice.

Where I disagree with a lot of readers, it seems, is that I think it is perfectly appropriate to offer advice to pretty much everyone. Why not? Are you afraid of looking elitist?

Obviously you should be tactful, but if you're a skilled player, I don't think it's a good thing to just keep your head down and collect badges.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


So Valithria Dreamwalker is now active in Icecrown Citadel. It's an interesting boss, where the healers have to heal the dragon up to full health, while the rest of the raid deals with adds trying to prevent this.

It's a pretty good fight, but there's one aspect of the fight that I do not like.

Every so often, Dreamwalker will create portals to a dream world. In the dream world are little orbs that you can touch and it will give you a stacking buff that increases your healing by 10% per stack.

It's possible to carry your stack from portal to portal, but the timing is exceptionally tight. If you are capable of carrying stacks, your healing gets massively magnified. If you're not, or have high latency, your healing is greatly hurt.

The timing is way too tight for the potential gain. If healers are meant to carry the stack from portal to portal, the timing should be slightly longer. Alternatively the penalty could be less severe, maybe losing a stack per second instead of all of them at once. If healers are not meant to carry stacks, the timer should be lower, so the stacks drop off before you enter the portal.

Basically, if Patricia is a little bit better than Daisy, Patricia should do a little more damage or healing than Daisy. You shouldn't have a situation where Patricia can all of a sudden do twice as much damage or healing as Daisy. Small differences in skill should not translate into very large differences in effectiveness.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Star Trek Online: Space Combat

Space Combat is Star Trek Online's killer feature. It's relatively novel, interesting, and fun.

Combat is quasi-2D. There is a Z-axis, but movement along it is restricted. It's 3D-enough that you can do cinemactic passes underneath or above an enemy ship, but the combat itself is effectively 2D. No Immelmanns for you.

Combat is not really frantic, it has a measured pace that works extremely well. Also, there are explosions, which always improves everything.

Your ship has four shields: fore, aft, left, and right. Weapons are all about firing arcs. The starter ship has forward phasers and photon torpedos, and aft phasers. Photon torpedos have a narrow firing arc, so you can only fire them when your target is directly ahead. They also have a longer cooldown. Phasers, on the other hand, have a very wide firing arc. If the enemy is to the side of you, you can fire both phaser banks at them.

So much of the early game is using phaser broadsides to weaken shields, trying to keep a strong shield between you and the enemy, and getting a photon torpedo to strike through a hole in the enemy shields.

(Tip: if you right-click your weapons, you can set them to auto-fire. I think you still have to fire them once before auto-fire kicks in.)

However, new weapons can completely change how you fight. On my first ship, I got a Disruptor Cannon, which did a lot of damage but had an extremely narrow firing arc, and a Disruptor Turret, which did low damage, but had a 360 degree firing arc. So now, if I faced the enemy straight on, I did a huge amount of damage because the Cannon, Turret, and Photon Torpedos were firing. However, as soon as I had to turn, damage dropped off greatly.

As well, if you keep one side facing the enemy always, that's the shields which are going to be pounded, so there's a nice tension where you have to keep rotating which weapons are firing and which shields are taking hits.

You can also adjust power for your various weapons. You can send more power to the shields, or the weapons as you need.

Long-term cooldowns are special abilities given by your bridge officers. For example, my Engineering officer can greatly boosts the shields every few minutes. (I envision "Scotty, I need more power to the shields!" "She cannae take much more of this, Cap'n!" when I click that button.) The Science officer does something with Tachyons which damages the enemy's shields. It's a very neat way of handling cooldowns, and very much works with the IP.

I am not very far in yet, so I don't know how the rest of the game will pan out. However, I think Star Trek Online is worth trying for the space combat alone.