Sunday, August 28, 2011

Catering to New Players

Jinxed Thoughts talked about Blizzard's desire to smooth the first 30 minutes of gameplay for more casual players. She espouses a view that I think is pretty common among experienced WoW players:
People around me basically go into two different categories - the ones that know games because they enjoy them and the ones that don't know games because they don't enjoy them. The latter ones probably wouldn't enjoy WoW no matter how easy it was at the start because the whole idea of running around and killing monsters on a computer simply does not appeal to them. ... She had no idea on how to handle the spells, although there were only two or so, or what to do with quests. I find it really hard to see how you could make the game so easy so that she would be interested in playing. Am I evil to say that people who can't get through the first 30 minutes of a game that is as simple as WoW should be trying something else instead? Can WoW ever be the learning grounds for people who've never touched a game before?

While I sympathize a bit with this view, here's the thing: it is not trivial to start playing WoW, even before you get in game. You have to buy a copy or download a multi-gig client. You have to set up and create a account.

People who don't want to play WoW don't do those things. If someone goes to the time and effort of installing WoW, then they are interested in playing WoW. Maybe because they know people who play, and want to see if they can join them. Maybe because they want to try an MMO. Who knows?

But the point is that just by getting to character creation, they have demonstrated a significant interest in playing the game. They want to like the game, if only to justify the time and money spent setting it up.

This situation is not like various television networks dumbing down sci-fi shows, in order to appeal to people who never watch sci-fi. I think that's what we're scared of, that our game will be weakened in a vain attempt to appeal to people who have no interest in sci-fi.

But I think the people who Blizzard is targeting are not those uninterested people. They're new people, most likely new to computer gaming, that is true. But they have demonstrated interest. The simple act of getting, installing, and setting up an account for WoW shows that.

Some game has to be the first real game for new gamers. I think WoW is the best for that because of its network effects. It's totally understandable that a new gamer would want to play the game her friends are playing. If encouraging that new player takes more hand-holding at the lower levels, then I am all for it.


My guild, Ad Infinitum, is looking for DPS. (Though we could always use another healer or tank.) We're a 25-man guild. We raid Wed/Sun/Mon from 7-11pm PST. We're currently 1/7 Heroic Firelands.

We would really like a couple more regular raiders. Apparently, you can 23-man Heroic Shannox. Heroic Ryolith, not so much.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Risk Legacy

Hasbro is going to be publishing a very interesting variant on the board game Risk. It's called Risk Legacy.

One of the fundamental axioms of board games is that each game starts fresh, resetting back to an original starting point. Chess goes back to the original layout, as does checkers, Axis & Allies, Scrabble, Monopoly and pretty much every other board game out there.

Risk Legacy does not.

Instead, playing Risk Legacy causes the game board to permanently change so that the next game will be slightly different than the last game. The board itself evolves as games are played.

The designers accomplish this by using stickers that you attach to the map. Each sticker added essentially changes the map for all games from that point on.

Here's a very interesting thread with information from Rob Daviau, one of the designers of Risk Legacy. He outlines a lot of the reasons behind and aims of this attempt:
This led us to wondering why games always have to reset. Why are they a medium that always goes back to start? Movies and books are static forms of entertainment meant to be viewed but not altered. Games, by nature, demand that the user create the experience. We wanted to push that boundary to have lasting effects. Now you really create the experience. This game is not art to be hung on a wall but a leather jacket to be worn around until it has its own unique story.

I'm not sure how I feel about this board game. It is definitely an example of truly bold and ground-breaking game design. Will it be a success? Will it be a failure? I have no idea, but it is a glorious experiment.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Instanced Starting Content

Should starting content be instanced?

Most games say no, though that leads to over-crowding on launch day. Some games, like Age of Conan, do start off with the player in a small instance by themselves.

I actually think that starting content being instanced is a mistake for MMOs. I don't think you can make the assumption that people start playing by themselves. There are a lot of people who start by creating a character with a friend or family member. I think that it is a bad idea to separate them right at the start.

When I first started WoW, I started with a friend. We both created undead, and jumped right into the game together. That was a very attractive feature of the game.

Plus, the distinguishing feature of this genre is that you are playing with other people. I think it's important that right at the start you see other people running around. That's what makes it an MMO.

Even the crowds lend the game a certain "energy". People running around like crazy, chat channels going nuts. It might not be mechanically ideal, but I think crowded starting areas are important to the social ideal of this game.

I think there are things the designers could do to alleviate crowds. In particular, drop the tagging rules right from the start. Have mobs drop items for everyone involved in the kill, rather than only one person.

Tagging rules are primarily to prevent exploits, or prevent other people from stealing your loot or kill. Those situations don't really applies to the starting zones.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ragnaros Redux

Alternate Title: Molten Core was merely a setback.

I really like the new Ragnaros fight.

I'm not 100% sure why though. It's not too stressful. There's some randomness, notably where the hammer lands and where the engulfing flames appear. But the randomness is very controllable.

I like the Sons phase. It's a nice nod to the old fight, with an interesting mechanic. Plus, I get to Hammer of Justice something.

The pace of the fight moves nicely, and the last phase (in normal) builds to a nicely chaotic ending, as there are lava waves and giant boulders flying around.

In some respects, it reminds me of Moroes back in TBC. It's a fight that you win because you do all the little things right. You keep the raid healed up, you dodge the fire, you burst down the Sons, you pop traps appropriately, you kite meteors properly.

It's very much a fight that when you beat it, you know you deserved to beat it. Your raid gains mastery over the fight as you learn it phase by phase.

About the only disappointing thing is the lack of RP with Ragnaros. I loved the old Ragnaros RP to start the attempts. I'd quote it along with him and Majordomo Executus when we first the triggered the fight. In fact, I'm going to quote it in this post because it's just that awesome:
Majordomo Executus yells: Imprudent whelps! You've rushed headlong to your own deaths! See now, the master stirs!
Majordomo Executus yells: Behold Ragnaros - the Firelord! He who was ancient when this world was young! Bow before him, mortals! Bow before your ending!


Majordomo Executus yells: These mortal infidels, my lord! They have invaded your sanctum and seek to steal your secrets!


Ragnaros kills Executus.


Sadly, Firelands lacks anything this stylish (which, to be fair, is a really high bar). Apparently some crazy stuff happens in Heroic mode, but that's Heroic Mode.

So that's Ragnaros. Awesome fight, but I miss the introduction.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Story and Impact Decisions

I was reading Tobold about The Old Republic and how certain story choices give you certain Light Side or Dark Side points and how some gear may require Light Side or Dark Side gear. I want to comment on this, but I am having a little trouble phrasing it in my head.

The thing is that Bioware wants Story to matter in their MMO. Their whole "Fourth Pillar" concept. But for the story to matter, for the decisions you make during the story to be real decisions, they have to have consequences.

If there are no consequences, then the decision and the story is just cosmetic and unimportant.

Now, maybe this particular implementation is heavy-handed. Maybe people will game the Light Side and Dark Side choices to get a specific piece of gear.

But maybe instead people will choose the other way. That they will make their story decisions first, and live with the consequences. Maybe the consequences themselves will make the decision worthwhile.

I'm sure that we all think it's unlikely, but we don't know for certain.

Perhaps that will become a differentiator for guilds. Certain guilds might put a requirement on Light/Dark points, and certain guilds won't.

I don't know if this system will work out for Bioware. But if they want Story to become vital, to become that Fourth Pillar, then they have to have consequences, and they have to attempt something like this system.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Remembering Divine Intervention

I rather miss Divine Intervention.

For those who don't know, Divine Intervention was a spell that killed the casting paladin, but removed another player from combat and encased him in a unbreakable bubble for up to three minutes. It was generally used to save someone when wiping, or possibly to grief the tank.

Divine Intervention definitely was a clunky spell, mechanics-wise, but I always felt that it spoke to the heart of the paladin class. The paladin sacrificing herself to save a comrade.

I had the thought that--if it was still in the game--Divine Intervention would actually work really nicely with Mass Resurrection. Wipe is called, you DI anyone else still alive, and they Mass Res the raid.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Transmogrification and Cosmetic Gear

Well, it looks like I'm the only one, but I don't think cosmetic gear is a good idea.

I talked a bit about this in 2007. Your character model is on screen for 99% of the time. It's the one constant in your WoW experience. I think the game is better served by having that model gradually change over time. I wore T4, and then upgraded to T5, then so forth.

As seasons change, your character changes in a natural fashion. You look forward to new sets, commiserate with others when sets are weird (honestly, pally T3 and T5?), rejoice with them when they are good. Your character changes as you do things, and your gear reflects your accomplishments.

Gear is tied to a time period, and gear from that time period evokes memories of that time.

Cosmetic gear throws away all that. You find some set of gear that you think looks "cool", and you wear that. Or more accurately, all the teenagers will find the gear that looks the sluttiest and wear that. Yay for raiding with people wearing [Black Mageweave Leggings].

I guarantee that the vast majority of paladins will be wearing T2 Judgement from now until the end of time. Judgement is awesome, I have collected 7/8 T2 and an Ashkandi recently. I consider that to be the high water mark of paladin fashion, and wear it in town on occasion. But its time has come and gone. New tier sets will just not be as exciting as before when everyone wears the best of the old ones.

There are issues with gear art at the moment. There are too many recolors, diminishing the uniqueness of the art. Tier art is reused for off-spec pieces, so everyone looks the same, instead of having Tier sets being instantly recognizable.

But I think those issues could have been solved without cosmetic gear. I think cosmetic gear will prove to be a mistake in the long run. We play these games for a long time, and fashion needs to cycle, to refresh itself with new ideas. Allowing time to stand still, to grow stagnant and ossify, will only hurt WoW.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tank Changes

Ghostcrawler has written a post on upcoming tank changes in WoW. The changes can basically be broken down into two items:
  1. Tank threat is being significantly boosted, to the point where tanks can maintain threat leads with minimum effort. This is coming in a hotfix soon.

  2. The tanking classes will have some of their survivability changed from passive to active. Basically, moving towards the Death Knight model where the tank uses Death Strikes at appropriate times to stay alive. This will be implemented with the 4.3 patch.

In the past, tanks have had responsibility for both threat and survival. And yet, survival has always been the most important. I don't think that--in the history of the game--there has ever been a time where tanks sacrificed survival for more threat.1

So this change is basically Blizzard throwing in the towel after 5 years and saying, "Well, you tanks don't care about Threat at all, so we're going to stop trying to force you to care." Instead, tanks will have to take a more active role in their survival. They will still gear and optimize for survival. But if, for example, Shield Slam has to hit the enemy to boost your armor, then stats like Hit and Expertise become survival stats instead of threat stats, and will be valued higher as a result.

Additionally, this will make it easier for under-geared tanks to group with geared DPS, which should help out Dungeon Finder groups a little.

The truth is that tanks never really had to care about threat, save at the edges of progression content. If a DPS pulls threat, most people consider it the fault of the DPS player. This change is merely reflecting that reality.

1. Possibly Horde-side Vaelastraz back in Vanilla, as the Horde didn't have Blessing of Salvation then. But I don't know for sure. I do know that Horde tanks were pretty sick threat machines compared to Alliance tanks in my experiences back then.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Creator-centric Games

There's been a fair amount of chatter recently about Namaste's upcoming game/system, Storybricks. The tech they are talking about looks very cool.

But here's the problem I have with these types of games:

Where is the audience?

Creators need an audience for their work. A writer needs readers. A director needs movie-goers. A machinima maker needs YouTube viewers. And a game designer needs players.

So what is the hook that will get people that will play the stories that others make with Storybricks?

When I think of the most robust add-on/amateur communities, they tend to be for games which stand on their own, which throw in mod-tools as more of an extra than anything else. Quake, Civ mods, the WoW mod community.

And I don't think this is coincidence. I think that the audience, that group of non-creators, is essential to the growth of a creator community. It provides the feedback loop and the sense that people are using your creation because it is useful or provides enjoyment.

This is the part where the creator-centric or building games always seem to stumble for me. I just don't see what will draw the audience. And without the audience, I don't think a creator-centric game can thrive.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Some Thoughts on World PvP

WoWInsider posted an article on world PvP. MMO Melting Pot posted an editorial decrying that post, calling it "a guide to griefing". I meant to comment on this kerfuffle at the time, but got distracted. Jinxed Thoughts posted some thoughts and reminded me about the issue.

For reference, I play on a PvP server, though I'm really a PvE player at heart. But my guild prefers PvP servers, so that's where I am.

In my experience, there are two "mindsets" when it comes to player-against-player combat. One mindset is that of chivalrous combat:
The orc warrior steps into the clearing, and sees the human knight. The knight draws his sword and salutes the orc warily. The orc unlimbers her axe and grunts, acknowledging her enemy's bravery. A charge, and there is blood in the snow. A single tear rolls down the face of the victor.

This mindset is old, invoking Arthurian legends, and codes of single combat and dueling. Combat here is consensual for both parties, and they are driven to it by their honor.

The second mindset is that of total war. Here victory means everything, and victory is the goal. Ambush, poisoned knives, the destruction of supply lines, outnumbering your opponents. All of these are acceptable practices. There is no honorable combat, only death and victory. Under this mindset, the entire idea of consensual combat does not even apply.

In my experience, the players who tend towards the first mindset usually prefer PvE servers, while players who tend towards the second mindset prefer PvP servers. But then the chivalrous mindset people see what happens under total war mindset and object to those tactics. And the other side doesn't see why they are objecting. In essence, they are playing different games, and talking past each other.

The thing is that world PvP is not consensual on a PvP server. Or rather, the act of existing is implicit consent.

If you cannot handle that, or you think that is dishonorable or griefing, then you should not roll on a PvP server. It will just lead to frustration. Stay on a PvE server and formally flag when attacking the enemy or do battlegrounds. The act of flagging counts as giving consent on a PvE server, but there is no equivalent action on a PvP server.

For PvP though, the entire mindset is different, and you just have to accept that PvP servers play by "total war" rules. You have to keep your guard up, be alert. It is a tiring playstyle sometimes. (Also, I miss bubble-hearth.)

So why play on a PvP server? Because you get random stories that never happen on a PvE server. The other night I got jumped by a Horde rogue and shaman healer. They killed me pretty quickly. When I got back to my body, the rogue had attacked a druid. But that druid had a friend who the Horde hadn't seen. So I ressed, and jumped into the fight. We killed the shaman, and the rogue vanished and that was the end of the fight.

A short vignette that interrupted my questing, true. But it is something that doesn't really happen on PvE servers.

Finally, from a fairness perspective, the Molten Front is the best place to engage in world PvP. All parties are guaranteed to be level 85. As well, there are usually many people questing, so you can call for help from others of your own faction in the area.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Molten Front Daily Quests

Warning: Contains spoilers for the first part of the Molten Front.

I'm way behind on my Molten Front dailies. I generally like the quests, but I haven't been doing them diligently. I've unlocked the Shadow Wardens and the Druids of the Talon, but haven't unlocked any of the next three.

I really like the Leyara storyline so far. When she killed Hamuul Runetotem, it was a genuine shock, and Leyara jumped quite rapidly to the top of the villain list. Even though my guild is Alliance, there were outcries in guild chat as people hit that part. As I posted back in Wrath, villains need victories. In some ways, it's sort of unfortunate that Blizzard copped out and let Hamuul survive, though badly wounded.

For the quests themselves, they're quite good for the most part. I like how a lot of the group quests share tagging. The Mylune quests are awesome.

I also really like the quest that gives you a small group with a named character to help out. It's really nice to see old favorites like Mankrik, Chromie, etc. The one thing I would like for this is if these friendly NPCs would show up on your group bars. It would make it a lot easier for a healer character.

However, in one respect the Molten Front dailies feel weird to me. The zone really feels like it was designed to "progressively phase". It really feels like when you first unlock the Shadow Wardens/Druids of the Talon that the first area is supposed to permanently phase to a "finished" state. And then you only do the tearing down of the tower and walking through the flames once. Instead of going through the entire process every day.

One point of evidence is that there are no Achievements for those first quests in the Molten Front, though there are Achievements for every other section.

I think this would have lead to slightly fewer daily quests, and not so many bottlenecks in questing progress. You would unlock entire sections of the Molten Front once, and they would stay unlocked from that point on.

What I think happened is that Blizzard originally designed the Molten Front to work like this. But a lot of people complained that extensive phasing made it hard for grouping, so Blizzard cut back on the phasing that actually affected questing, leaving in the cosmetic phasing like the tree, and then "resetting" the phasing of the zone every day, so you always start fresh.

In some respects, I think that was a mistake, and a progressive phasing design for the entire zone would have been better and smoother. But it would definitely have caused issues for people at different stages of progression trying to group together.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Mists of Pandaria?

MMO-Champion is reporting that Blizzard has trademarked the phrase "Mists of Pandaria". Apparently the timing and technical details of the trademark are leading people to speculate that this will be the title of the next WoW expansion.

It could be true. A mysterious continent, maybe magically hidden until the Cataclysm revealed it, would be an interesting setting for an expansion.

I don't think Pandaren will be a playable race, though. Which faction would they belong to? What race would the other faction get? If anything, I thing Blizzard should go with making them a neutral race, maybe one that both the Alliance and the Horde are courting for favor.

Another argument against a Pandaren expansion is that it would not be "epic" enough. The last two expansions have been the Lich King and Deathwing. Pandaren are simply not in that league.

While this is a good point, I wouldn't mind a quieter expansion. A little less world-destroying threats, and a narrower, more detailed focus.

So is Mists of Pandaria the next expansion? I have no idea, but Blizzcon this year should be very interesting.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Diablo III Cash AH

Eliminating the middleman is never as simple as it sounds. ‘Bout 50% of the human race is middlemen, and they don’t take kindly to being eliminated.
-Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly)

So the big news is that Diablo III will feature a real currency Auction House.

Personally, I don't think it's that bad an idea. Diablo being more a single-player game than a persistent world, it seems very optional.

Things I like about this plan:
  • It uses real currencies like dollars. There's no messing around with "fake" transition currencies like Turbine Points, etc.

  • It's obvious how Blizzard is going to make their money. They get the listing fee on every posting and the transaction fee on a sale. There's no games or trickery. Their cut is obvious, straightforward, and reasonably fair.

  • It's symmetrical. You can buy or you can sell. But there's also no subscription fees so that certain segments of the audience end up going infinite and playing for free at the expense of others.

  • It's completely ignorable. You can use the regular gold AH or even not use any AH at all.

  • Arbitrage between the two auction houses might be interesting. Maybe people will buy items off the gold AH to put up for sale on the cash AH.

  • Hardcore mode is cordoned off into its own section. You play Hardcore, and all you have to rely on is in-game resources. That is respectable.

Stuff I'm unsure about:
  • It kind of legitimizes farming. The "illegal" and dangerous part of farming has always been the transfer from gold to dollars. This gives a reasonable way for people to take advantage of this. Further, farmers will decrease prices on the cash AH, because of increased supply of items. But they should actually increase prices on the gold AH, because the farmers will use the gold they farm to buy items on that AH to sell on the cash AH.

    Keeping the dollar price low seems better, even if it frustrates would-be sellers. It sort of separates the professional sellers from the people would sell in the course of playing the game. The gamer sellers would probably be better off with the gold AH, at least in my initial eyeballing of it.

  • As someone on another message board pointed out, this is the precise strategy offered by many people to deal with illegal drugs. Legalize it and tax it. Let's see how that works out.

    Most gamers tend to the liberal/libertarian side of things, so it's amusing to see how many of them complain about this strategy when it affects what they deem important.

Things I don't like:
  • It raises the stakes enormously for account theft. Let's say you have $100 attached to your Diablo 3 account. Now if your account is stolen, the immediate strategy is to buy overpriced items from a specific seller in order to transfer your money to a different account.

    I don't really know how Blizzard plans to deal with this. Perhaps access to the cash AH will require an Authenticator. Perhaps there will be a significant delay on the actual cash transfer in order for Blizzard to identify and reverse false transactions. You could give the item to the player right away, but just delay the payment for 48 hours.

So those are my thoughts. Overall, I think it's a good fit for a random item-driven game like Diablo. I especially approve that Blizzard makes it obvious how they are going to make money. In my view, when you can't tell how the company providing a service will get their money, that is cause to be nervous.