Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Heart's Desire

The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart.
- Lois McMaster Bujold, Memory, 1996
I've been contemplating that Bujold quote for quite a while now. I'm a gamer. I have been a gamer since I was ten years old. Chess, board games, RPGs, computer games, MMOs. It is what I enjoy doing, what I enjoy thinking about it, as the last eight years on this blog attests. It is probably as close to a "heart" as I have.

And yet.

I'm contemplating a new project. A "heart's desire", if you will. But to be successful with it, I believe that I will have to give up gaming. I do not think I will be able to afford the time spent gaming, or especially the mental effort spent thinking about games. Perhaps someone else could balance the two, but I have never been good at balance.

Since it is the New Year, it seems like an appropriate time to try this new direction. To stop playing games and try something new.

Accordingly, this blog is going on indefinite hiatus.

Of course, the odds are likely that I'll get terribly bored and start posting again in a couple of weeks. But if I don't, well, it has been a fun ride. Kill some dragons for me.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Player Commendations in FFXIV

FFXIV introduced a new system to try and promote good behavior in groups. It is a new currency called Player Commendations. At the end of the run, you can give a give a commendation to whichever other player you want. You can use these commendations to buy various unique items.

I'm sure that you are all thinking of the myriad ways this system could be exploited. However, Square did something brilliant here.

You can only give give a commendation if you queued up for the run in the group finder by yourself!

If you queue up as part of a group, you can receive commendations, but you cannot give them out. So to get a commendation, you have to rely on the goodwill of a perfect stranger, someone who you may never see after the run. As well, you only get the commendations when you leave the instance, and you don't see who gave you the commendation.

I think it is an excellent system considering the balance of power in a group. The solo player has the least power in the group, but since she is the source of commendations, that is incentive to at least try to be nice.

As well, the solo player has no stake in who gets the commendation. She will never see these people again. So she may as well give the commendation to the person who deserves it.

Now, I don't know if it has made a large difference in the quality of groups. My groups are always nice, and mostly competent.[1] I've gotten 12 commendations so far. However a good deal of that comes from the fact that I play a tank, and so am pretty much the default option for commendations. I've tried to make an effort to recognize good dps. Judging by the forums, others are making the same effort.

I think the Player Commendation system in FFXIV is inspired. I hope that Square stays with the notion that solo players are the only source of commendations. In my view, that restriction is what really makes the system work.

[1] Except for Hard Mode Titan. No one expects success in Hard Mode Titan, so the overall mood is not very happy.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Ghostcrawler Legacy, Part III

The Ghostcrawler Legacy, Part I
The Ghostcrawler Legacy, Part II

Continuing on, here are more system changes that occurred during Ghostcrawler's tenure.

4. Tanks move from threat to active mitigation.

In Vanilla, a tank would gear for survival, but her basic gameplay would focus on generating threat. The tank essentially limited how much dps the damage dealers could put out. A good tank allowed the dps to go full bore. A poor tank throttled her dps players.

However, because the tank always geared for survival, a lot of tanks felt like they were fighting themselves. With the introduction of Vengeance, threat became less and less of an issue. Tank gameplay has shifted to "active mitigation" where the tank has more control over how much damage she takes. The tank takes generating sufficient threat for granted. Ironically, now that the focus is on active mitigation, many tanks now prefer dps stats on their armor.

Unlike a lot of the other changes, I am not certain that this was a good change. Threat linked the tank and the dps in a party. They had to be aware of each other, and interact with each other. I am not sure that "isolating" tanks from the rest of the party in this manner has been good for the game. I play a couple of other MMOs which are still threat-based (TOR and FFXIV), and I do think the basic group gameplay skeleton in those games is stronger than the current group dynamic in WoW, especially in small group dungeons. Using crowd control and focus fire is much more fun than simply AoEing everything down because the tank has infinite threat on all the mobs.

(Not to mention the beautiful tension between threat and mitigation that a tank finds in a game like TERA.)

As well, if the change was to make tanking more attractive to the general populace, well, I think it has failed on that level too.

5. Replacing talent trees with exclusive choices.

I'm not really sure if this idea originated from the WoW team, or if Blizzard as a whole came to a consensus. But pretty much across all their games, talent trees were replaced with a series of exclusive choices.

I think this is a stronger model for making interesting builds, especially at endgame. WoW does have some issues because the choices have to serve for all three specializations.

However, talent trees were a bit more interesting while leveling. There was a sense of being able to "build" your character which is missing in the current leveling game.

6. The gradual elimination of restrictions.

In my mind, this is the greatest weakness of Ghostcrawler as a designer. (Though I rather imagine that a lot of the players will disagree with me on this.) I do not think Ghostcrawler had a proper appreciation of restrictions, or he was unable to communicate the necessity of restrictions to the player base.

In a lot of ways, what you cannot do is more important that what you can do.

To take a simple example, for years paladins could not attack from range. You had to spec deep into the Holy tree to even get one range attack. This restriction made playing a paladin a fundamentally different experience than playing any other class. You had to learn about body-pulls. You coveted Linken's Boomerang.

There were things like this for every class. Hunters used to have a "dead zone" where they could not attack someone who was 5-8 yards away from them. Then the dead zone was removed, and an expansion later the close range restriction removed entirely.

Casters used to have a lot of trouble casting while moving. Then they got more and more instants and abilities to allow them to cast while moving. Healers got more and more AoE healing tools.

Restrictions chafe players. Players petition hard to have those restrictions removed. In my mind, one of the key jobs of a dev team is stand fast against this tendency, and stick with restrictions in the face of player opposition. Restrictions lead to interesting gameplay, and watering down these restrictions is not good for the long term health of the game.

In my view, this was the greatest failing of Ghostcrawler. He was unable or unwilling to insist upon the necessary restrictions on the players, and the gameplay in WoW did suffer for that.

Again, I am sure that a lot of players will disagree with me on this. Indeed if you look at any single restriction in isolation, I'm sure that an excellent case can be built for removing it. But I do not think the cumulative effect of removing all these restrictions has been good for the game.


By and large, Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street did an excellent job with WoW. I disagree with some of the changes made during his tenure, but I also heartily agree with others. As well, he set a new standard for communicating with the players, which was greatly appreciated.

I look forward to seeing his next game or project.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Ghostcrawler Legacy, Part II

In Part I, we looked at Ghostcrawler's interaction with the community. In this section we will look at Ghostcrawler's influence on the rules, how the rules of WoW changed when he was in charge. Now, Ghostcrawler isn't solely responsible for these changes, they were the work of the entire dev team. But he's the man with the title and the face, so he gets the responsibility.

I'm going to break this down into areas of major change and look at each separately.

1. Bring the player, not the class.

If there is any phrase Ghostcrawler will be remembered for--other than "Nerf Ret paladins. TO THE GROUND!"--it will be "bring the player, not the class". The basic idea is that a decent player could play any spec of any class that she found in group content and not be a total liability. She would not be forced into a specific spec at endgame.  For the most part, save the very edge of content (and even here it is much better than it was in the past), this has come true. Pretty much every spec is viable.

Perhaps it is difficult for newer players to understand what an enormous change this is. I have been a paladin since Vanilla. Back in Vanilla, there was only one choice for endgame paladins: you healed. Didn't matter what spec (and for some reason Kings was in the Ret tree), you couldn't tank or deal damage. Your job was to heal. And most of the time you didn't even wear plate. If you look back at the history of the blog, the first three years are railing at this restriction, and eventually coming to terms with it.

Now, paladins can tank if they want, or hit things with a giant two-handed hammer if they prefer. I still heal, but I choose to heal, and am not forced to heal. For this alone, I will always count "bring the player, not the class" to be huge success.

If you look at any modern MMO where classes can play multiple roles, there is an unstated assumption that the devs will at least try to make each role viable. I hold Ghostcrawler responsible for this change of attitude in the MMO industry.

Now, there are concerns with this idea. This, in conjunction with smaller raid sizes, has led to some homogenization among classes. Classes can no longer be as unique as they once were, for fear that those classes will not be present in the raid.

2. All specs and classes have an interesting rotation.

The paladin rotation in Vanilla was ... unique. You put up a Seal, cast Judgement to start the fight and recast another Seal. Then 30 seconds later, if the mob hadn't died to your auto-attacks, you could cast Judgement and re-Seal again. Other classes were all over the map. Some were crazy complex, others were very simple. I remember the days where the optimum Warlock rotation was to sacrifice your Demon and spam Shadow Bolt.

All modern specs have a rotation of at least moderate complexity now. Usually you use 3-5 spells, and there is a proc or resource you have to account for. The rotations are different enough to give the different specializations their own feel.  Each class is at least moderately interesting to play, and not as terribly simple as paladins used to be.

For the most part, this has been a good change. The only concern I would have is that sometimes it feels that each specialization is "too" unique. For example, did Destruction warlocks really need a second nuke in Incinerate? I have always thought that Shadow Bolt was good enough.

3. Current tier instead of progression.

Vanilla was built on the idea of progression. No matter when your guild was formed, you started in Molten Core, and moved up raid by raid. The problem with this was that often guilds got stuck on bosses and couldn't move on. Only a small minority of raiders saw all the content.

Starting in Wrath, WoW essentially moved to a "current tier" model. The raid that was released most recently was the tier that everyone did. Each raid was available in multiple difficulties, allowing groups of different ability levels to see the entire raid. As well, buffs or nerfs would often occur to keep groups from getting stuck.

I think in a lot of ways this is the most controversial of the changes during Ghostcrawler's tenure. Progression "feels right" in a way that is somewhat hard to articulate. There is this sense of "being on the path" that no longer exists in WoW. Right now, I'm playing FFXIV, which has a progression-style endgame. It feels "right" to be moving up slowly through the content, that each challenge is similar in difficulty to how it was at release.

But the truth is that it feels "right" up until the point where you get stuck. My first serious raiding guild shattered on Lady Vashj, and I've never forgotten that. The current endgame promises guilds that they can stick together. It promises that you don't have to make the choice between playing with friends or seeing content. In Vanilla/TBC, this was a very real and present concern for players.

To Be Continued

There are other changes that happened during Ghostcrawler's tenure. I also want to talk about what I think was his biggest failing or weakness in terms of rules systems. Hopefully this post won't take me another couple of weeks.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Ghostcrawler Legacy, Part I

Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street has announced that he is leaving Blizzard for a new opportunity. Ghostcrawler has been with Blizzard for about six years now, and was an important part of Blizzard's interaction with the community. This is a look back at Ghostcrawler's tenure.

Ghostcrawler essentially held two different jobs at Blizzard. He was the Lead Systems Designer and he also became the public "face" of the WoW dev team. Let's take a look at each aspect separately. In this post, we'll look at the public nature of Ghostcrawler's interaction with the player base.

Public "Face"

Before Ghostcrawler, devs really did not interact with the playerbase. All communications would go through the community managers or public relations people. As a result, communication was rare and somewhat opaque, tending not to be specific. Under Ghostcrawler, that changed. He was willing to talk specifics, to talk math with the theorycrafters, and outline Blizzard's reasoning on issues.

There were three primary mediums in which Ghostcrawler communicated. Each had their positives and negatives. This is how I saw each medium,.

In talking about each medium, I'm going to reference a technique called 5 Whys. In engineering circles, this concept is used to find root causes of problems. X happened. Why did X happen? Because A. Why did A happen? Because B. After asking Why about 5 times, you get to the true cause of the problem. I find that this technique explains a lot about what Ghostcrawler got right and got wrong when interacting with the player base.


The first place Ghostcrawler started posting was the WoW forums. He would jump in threads and answer questions, or provider the developers' point of view on certain topics.

I regard this era as the best era of communication with Ghostcrawler. His posts could go into detail, and convey some of the nuance and trade-offs. Because he was always responding to threads, his posts were always directly on point for player concerns.  In terms of the 5 Whys, I felt that these posts would often cover the second through fifth Whys, the root causes, and not just the surface cause. Almost every Ghostcrawler post was insightful and worth reading.

However, Ghostcrawler's presence warped the forums. People ceased to make threads to communicate with other players, and made threads to "bait" Ghostcrawler, to get him to respond. While Ghostcrawler's posts were always worth reading, the rest of the forum often became worse, and more noise than signal.

Dev Posts

After a while, Ghostcrawler gave up on the forums and tried writing regular columns on the WoW site. While these were okay, they suffered from two problems. First, Ghostcrawler wrote at too high a level. Essentially, he would talk about the problem and the first Why. But what we really cared about were the deeper Whys. Dev posts need a certain level of detail, of getting into the weeds and nitty-gritty. Ghostcrawler's dev posts often eschewed detail and talked about changes as high-level, obvious concepts.

The second problem was that Ghostcrawler was no longer responding to players. He was initiating the conversation. Thus he wrote posts on topics that no one really cared about, or that were obvious to the player base.

The best posts that Ghostcrawler wrote in this era were the ones where he went through the patch notes and explained the reasoning behind each change.

The lesson I would draw from this era is that dev communications are best when they start from concrete detail and examples, rather than high-level concepts. As well, they need to respond to player concerns, not what the devs think are player concerns.


After a while, Ghostcrawler moved to Twitter. Here, pretty much everything he posted was a response to a question from the community. But the major problem was that nothing he tweeted was worth reading!

I don't really fault Ghostcrawler for this. I think it was just a limitation of the medium. 140 characters are not enough to get into details, into nuance and trade-offs, to talk about the deeper Whys. Most of his responses are facile "first Why" responses.

In my mind, Twitter is a good medium for quick answers, to point to better sources, or to be snarky. It is not a good medium to try and convince people of things. You need long form writing to be able to do that.


Ghostcrawler created a new template for dev interaction with the player base. He showed that he could talk reasonably to us, to outline the devs' thoughts on issues, and that the players would respond favourably to this. He may not have been perfect ("Nerf Ret paladins TO THE GROUND!"), but he made talking about the game and changes far more insightful and interesting than they were previously.

Unfortunately, Ghostcrawler could never capture the same magic as his forum posts. His two other attempts, dev blogs and Twitter, did not work. In my opinion, they failed because he was unable to reach the proper level of detail, to delve into the 5 Whys of issues.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Wildstar's Interrupt Armor

Yesterday, Syl tweeted about a video demonstrating some of Wildstar's combat mechanics:

The second mechanic discussed is intriguing. Some bosses have "Interrupt Armor". Essentially, if you want to stun the boss, you have to first reduce the interrupt armor. Each stun you apply reduces the interrupt armor by one, and the armor regenerates after several seconds. So if the boss has interrupt armor of 2, you need to use 3 stuns to get through the armor and actually stun her.

This is the inverse of most systems used to keep Crowd Control in check. TOR has resolve. WoW and FFXIV use diminishing returns. In these systems, the first CC used has full effect. Subsequent CCs have shorter and shorter durations, until they cease to work at all.

In the interrupt armor system, the first CC has no effect. In the diminishing return system, the first CC has full effect.  The defender has more of an advantage in interrupt armor, while the attackers need to coordinate their attacks. The defender can take action to escape the battle and hide, allowing her time for her interrupt armor to regenerate.

I think that interrupt armor might be a better system for handling CC than diminishing returns. It makes CC rarer and require more work. But it still allows CC to be used.

As well, it offers more "knobs" to make abilities more unique. For example, you could imagine a long-cooldown stun being able to remove 2 stacks of interrupt armor instead of just one.

Interrupt armor is a very interesting solution to the problem of chaining crowd control on a target.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I finally got my legendary cloak, [Jina-Kang, Kindness of Chi-Ji]. I really liked the last quest, where Wrathion and Lorewalker Cho told the story of your adventures in Pandaria. It was a really elegant way of underlining Wrathion's philosophies.

I also like the way the last few people to get the Legendary are shown outside the room:

That was a very nice touch.

I have seen some grumblings about how this Legendary is too accessible, a "Legendary for casuals", if you will. I think that sometimes the hardcore forget that skill is not the only virtue. Dedication and perseverance are virtues too, and worth rewarding.

I should mention that this is my first Legendary. I was always the wrong spec or too far down the depth chart for the others. We actually gave 2 Val'anyrs to people who left the guild before ICC. So I may be biased towards a model that actually allowed me to get one.

I think this model for the Legendary is a very good one. It keeps it within reach of every demographic. You only get the legendary in the last patch, mitigating power concerns. The questline is long and involved, and very satisfying. I like how you had to do a bit of everything, even PvP. I know a lot of people didn't like the PvP part, but I thought it added to the scope of the challenge, making it more worthy of being a Legendary.

I hope a similar model is used in Warlords of Draenor.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ever, Jane Kickstarter

I like Regency novels, so I was intrigued when I saw the Kickstarter for Ever, Jane. This is the first Kickstarter that I have contributed to. They are aiming to build an MMO based around Jane Austen's novels, with a specific focus on social interaction and manners.

They have a demo, which is pretty rough around the edges, but is still interesting.

Honestly, I am not too sure how successful this project will be. However, I think the MMO world does need some work on non-combat systems.

Combat systems are very well developed these days, with lots of variations, types and experimentation. Of course, there are many good reasons this is so. But non-combat systems are much less advanced. There has been some interesting developments in crafting and economic systems. Still, these systems, and even social systems tend to be far more rudimentary than the combat systems in most games.

My hope is that a game like Ever, Jane, with strong connections to the source material, might come up with a good, interesting social mechanic. Something the larger games will find worth stealing.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Warlords of Draenor: Featured Heroes

Scene: A meeting between Rob Pardo, Chris Metzen, Dave Kosak, and an unnamed junior developer who happened to be walking down the corridor outside.

Pardo: Hey guys, thanks for coming. Marketing wants to feature 10 existing characters that will be playing a role in the new expansion. You know, to get the players excited about seeing old faces.

Kosak: Well, the seven orc warlords, of course. Everyone loved them in the RTS games, and they're the focus of the expansion.

Metzen: How about some of the strong orcish women? Garona and Draka? Dave, I know your team has done a great job with their characterization.

Kosak: Great idea! Maybe Ogrim Doomhammer or Rexxar for the last spot?

Junior Dev: What about the Alliance?

Pardo: ... Alliance?

Junior Dev: Yeah, the other faction. Shouldn't we feature some of their heroes too?


Metzen: Well, I guess if we have to. What Alliance heroes are there?

Kosak: Maybe one of the Draenei, they do have a minor role in the story. The leader, what's-his-name, Velen!

Metzen: Man, I love Velen. It was so awesome when he went back in time to create Minbari society and founded the Rangers.

Junior Dev: Uh, that's Valen from Babylon 5.

Metzen: Oh. Then who's Velen?

Kosak: He's like an ancient priest and prophet.

Pardo: Sounds boring. But I guess we'll throw him in. Now for two more Alliance heroes.

Metzen: What about the King? The dude with the Chin?

Pardo: Marketing has asked us to back off Varian. He has his new book, Soul of the Wolf, coming out, and they don't want to over-expose him.

Kosak: Oh, yeah. That's the book where Varian teaches Taran Zhu how to control his emotions, defeats Lei Shien in single combat, then leads the Alliance attack on Ogrimmar and personally subdues Garrosh.

Metzen: I'll never understand the cries of Horde favoritism. Look at all the crazy things Varian does.

Pardo: In any case, what about the son, Prince Goody-Two--I mean, Anduin?

Kosak: Yeah, Anduin is in the expansion. He has that long chain where he meets Corki and the two of them get captured by the ogres over and over, while the player continues to rescue them.

Metzen slams the table.

Metzen: OH MY GOD! I've just had the most AMAZING idea!

Pardo: Oh?

Metzen: What if Garrosh kidnaps Thrall's baby son before he goes back in time? The boy is raised as a Hellscream, and is a teenager when the players reach Draenor!

Kosak: Brilliant!

Junior Dev: Wasn't this a plot line on Angel?

Metzen: It's got drama, pathos! The kid is a savage prince for a a savage land! How will Thrall react? The rest of the Horde? The father-son dynamic will be incredible!

Kosak: Amazing idea! I'll start dropping bread crumbs in the current content, and we can go full bore in Patch 6.2.

Metzen: Yeah, we can even set the kid up as the future Warchief. Garrosh done right!

Junior Dev: What about Vol'jin?

Metzen: Why would a troll be in charge of orcs? It doesn't make a lot of sense. We'll just have Vol'jin be corrupted by an Old God or something.

Kosak: Yes! That way we can have a troll dungeon in 6.3. Zul'Durotar!

Pardo: Great idea, Chris. You've still got it! But we have to go back to the featured heroes. We have Velen. We need two more. Ideas?

Kosak: Let's back off Anduin, we used him heavily in Pandaria.

Metzen: What about Khadgar? Lots of stuff with portals in this expansion.

Pardo. Sounds good. Khadgar is our second Alliance hero. Now for the third?


Kosak: Maybe we should look up the other Draenei on Wowpedia?

Metzen: Man, where's Red Shirt Guy when you need him?

Junior dev brings up Wowpedia, and they look at the list of existing Draenei characters.

Metzen: I don't remember any of these people.

Kosak: Just pick one at random, and I'll make sure he's in a quest.

Junior Dev: Okay, how about this Maraad guy? He's still alive.

Pardo: Great! Maraad it is then. I'll send this list to Marketing. Thanks for attending, everyone.

Metzen: I still think we should have featured Garona or Draka. We did a really good job with them.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hard Mode Corrupter Zero Strategy

Corrupter Zero is the fourth boss in Dread Fortress, the first of the new Oricon raids in The Old Republic. On Hard Mode, it's a bit of a blocker. My group beat it for the first time last week after a few weeks of wiping. Our strategy is a bit different than the standard strategy, so I thought I'd post about it. I contributed a fair bit to the design of this strategy, and I'm rather proud of it.

The standard strategy and boss abilities can be found at Dulfy. This is for the 8-man version.


The key to this fight is handling Concussion Mine. Concussion Mine is a debuff the boss puts on a random player. The debuff starts stacking every second and doing a short-range damage pulse every second as well. As stacks increase, the damage from the pulse increases. The debuff goes away when a pulse hits the boss.

Basically, your raid and tanks cannot afford to take the third or higher pulse of damage. It just stresses healing and everything goes badly from that point on. Ideally, the very first pulse (the lowest damage one) is the pulse which hits the boss. This strategy is focused around the idea of eliminating Concussion Mine as a mechanic you need to think about. Ideally, you should not need to watch your debuff bar for Concussion Mine at all.

Basic Strategy:

1. Tank the boss in the center of the room. Everyone stacks in melee range of the boss. You can also have everyone stack in the center and the boss be tanked just off the center. You don't need to worry about facing the boss away.

2. Tank swap on Heavy Slash. Heavy Slash knocks the current tank away, so if the second tank taunts while it is casting, the boss should stand still. Tanking on Heavy Slash also keeps the tank debuff stacks low.

This positioning eliminates Concussion Mine as a mechanic. Concussion Mine goes out, the first pulse is guaranteed to hit the boss, and the debuff drops off right away. As well, being in the center of the room means that the ranged can reach all the adds without moving.

3. Burst the Elite add first. When the adds spawn, drop large AoE so the ranged gets aggro over the healers, and then burst the elite add first, interrupting his ability. Your ranged should not have to move.

We are ranged-heavy, so I am not precisely sure how melee should play this. You could leave one melee on the boss. If the melee is on adds, they should save their speed boost or leap for Concussion Mine (run out to the adds at normal speed). Then they should jump back to the boss as soon as it starts casting, rather than waiting to see if they get the debuff.

We do have one tank go out to the adds and aoe taunt to get a little bit of aggro before he comes back to the boss.

4. Run out of Anti-Gravity Field. If you see a red circle, run out of it. Run back in as soon as the cast is finished. This ability is on a strict timer, which makes it predictable. The first anti-gravity field will occur 1 minute into the fight, when the boss changes from ranged to melee. The second anti-gravity will come 30 seconds later (at the 1:30 min mark).  Then there are no anti-gravity fields until the next range to melee change at 3 minutes, then at 3:30.

That's the general pattern, once when he changes from ranged to melee, and then 30 seconds later. There will be a concussion mine right before the change, so wait for the mine before running out.

5. Avoid the really big laser at the end. Run to a corner, see where he lands (use the mini-map) and then run to the channel where he isn't. Then switch channels as soon as the laser finishes. Try to kill the adds if you can, but avoiding the laser is key. Once the lasers are done, you can mop up and finish the fight.

Final Notes:

Note that this strategy does mean that the raid takes extra AoE damage from the various other mechanics like the Missile Barrage or Massive Slam. Your raid should use defensive cooldowns as appropriate, especially during Missile Barrage. However, your healers should be able to heal through this. In exchange for taking this damage, you minimize damage from Concussion Mine. What we found was that extra ticks of Concussion Mine was what led to wipes.

I think someone in my guild took a video of our kill. If so, I'll link it when he uploads it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Warlords of Draenor: Leveling

The big news in leveling is that WoD will give every account one free level 90 (I gather you can boost any one character to 90), allowing them to completely bypass the old leveling game.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, if you want to play with your friends, 90 levels is a pretty huge barrier. Plus, your friends can help you adjust to the flood of abilities at 90, not to mention that you can play with Proving Grounds and the 10 levels of Draenor.

On the other hand, I believe that a game should not offer a shortcut for it's "central fun", and leveling is certainly a very important part of the WoW experience. As well, it's a lot easier to adjust to all your abilities when you get them slowly over time.

On the third hand, leveling has been sped up and simplified so much that it is a hollow shell of the leveling experience in Vanilla/TBC.  There's really two opposing viewpoints here. One side feels that leveling should take time and effort. The other side believes that leveling is an inconvenience before getting to endgame. In the past, Blizzard has attempted to split the difference, making you level, but increasing the leveling speed so that you reach endgame fairly quickly.

I don't think this compromise has satisfied either side. One side is unhappy that they are outleveling their quests, while the other side is unhappy that they have to level at all.

I hope that Blizzard takes this opportunity to recalibrate leveling to something more sane. Something that may take longer overall, but the pacing of individual zones more closely matches the older experience. After all, everyone will already have at least one 90 that they can use for endgame. And probably this will get offered as a character service for an extra payment.

Then you can skip it leveling you want. But if you want to level, you get a proper, non-rushed experience.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Warlords of Draenor: Lore

As Mists of Pandaria progressed, and the Alliance complaints about "Horde favoritism" got louder, I bet there were some Blizzard developers looking on with dismay. Unlike the rest of us, they knew that the upcoming expansion--with production already in full swing--was Horde-centric, dialed up to 11.

After the WoD reveal, I think that even the most die-hard Horde supporters have to concede that the Alliance has a point about faction focus in the storyline. Still, hopefully there will be some interesting elements about the Draenei and some paladins running around smiting orcs.

As for the expansion topic itself, eh, it seems okay. Instead of time travel, it's probably easier to think of it as a "Mirror Universe" version of Draenor.

The one thing I am a bit concerned about is that Blizzard seems to be focusing on their core properties a little too much lately. Hearthstone is Warcraft-skinned. Heroes of the Storm uses the Warcraft/Starcraft/Diablo universes.  Now WoD hearkens back to the original Warcraft games. Admittedly, it does come after Mists of Pandaria, which ventured into a new direction.

Nostalgia is all well and good, but sometimes you need to look forward, not backward.

 I would like to see Blizzard come up with a new Intellectual Property. Their three universes all date from the 1990s. Perhaps Titan would have been a new IP, but that's been sent back to the drawing board.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Warlords of Draenor: Raiding

As predicted, flexible raiding kills normal raiding and takes its stuff.

In WoD, there will be four raiding modes, each on separate loot lockout:

1. Raid Finder

More or less the same as now, with a little bit of scaling tech. I'm not really sure what the scaling will really add, given that every role but tank fills pretty fast. I don't really see fights scaling down from 2 tanks to 1.

What I would like to see is for signing up for multiple instances to be the norm, more like Dungeon Finder. For example, let me sign up for all of the Siege of Ogrimmar instances at once. As long as I get put in an instance that still has bosses I haven't killed this week, life should be okay. It would mean that the pools for each wing would be much larger, and raids able to form quicker.

Also, I would like to see four tanks, but that's very unlikely.

2. Normal Raids

What's currently Flexible difficulty. Scales from 10 to 25 people.

The only really interesting thing here is the loot system. Apparently Personal Loot will become an option like Master Loot or Need Before Greed. Otherwise the amount of loot you get will scale. I gather this means that--if you get 1 item per 5 raiders--11 raiders would mean you will have a 20% change of getting 3 items, and an 80% chance of getting 2 items.

3. Heroic Raids

What's currently Normal difficulty, but with flexible scaling. Scales from 10 to 25 people. Pretty much the same as WoD Normal, but more difficult.

4. Mythic Raids

Current Heroic difficulty. Fixed size of 20 players. Having a fixed size should allow Blizzard to make more inventive fights. As well, the race (at least in the West) will have a common format. One nice thing about 20 players is that you should be able to take your bench along when you farm a Heroic Raid.

This does suck a bit for current Heroic-10 groups, but the scaling of the lower level should allow them to work back up to size if they wish to. As for current Heroic-25 groups worried about cutting people, the truth is that there is always churn around expansion time. Some people will want to retire, some will want to come back. The drop from 25 to 20 should be taken care of with normal attrition.

There are also several high end raiders worried that the separate lockouts will mean that they will need to run every instance. I think that the fact that the lower difficulties are flexible will make it easier, it make showing up more optional. You can have smaller subgroups run the lower difficulties, without really affecting things.

Personally, I like separate lockouts because you don't have to worry about time as much. You just finish one instance and then start on the next. When you want more time on a specific instance, you just drop a lower instance from the schedule.

Questions and Conclusions

I wonder what will happen with Thunderforged/Warforged gear. As well, how will Valor be handed out? I wonder if it wouldn't be better to just drop these two ideas altogether. Just go old school and rely on drops entirely.

All in all, I think this is a solid plan for raiding. I think the Flexible raids will make roster and attendance issues much less of a headache for all non-Mythic guilds. Even Mythic guilds should find that the Flexible nature of the Heroic raids will make organizing farming runs a fair bit easier, allowing them to focus on the truly difficulty content.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Warlords of Draenor: Itemization Changes

Blizzcon has come and gone. Lots of information about the next expansion, Warlords of Draenor, was released. Let's take a look at some of the changes.  WoD will see a fairly large overhaul of gear. Here's a summary of what's coming.

1. Armor with different primary stats is going away.

There will be no more "Strength" plate or "Intellect" plate armor. Instead, plate armor will have both Strength and Intellect. If you're a Holy paladin, you use the Intellect. If you're a Ret paladin or a warrior, you use the Strength. The same thing will happen with mail and leather (Agility/Intellect gear).  Set gear will use the bonuses for the current spec.

This is a brilliant solution to the Intellect plate problem. It makes armor usable by far more specs. It allows Blizzard to make lots of armor with different combinations of secondary stats. It makes life a bit easier for gearing up secondary specs.

All in all, a superb solution. A veritable Alexander's sword cutting though the Gordian Knot.

2. Hit, Expertise, Dodge, and Parry stats are going away.

Juggling the Hit and Expertise caps has long been an annoying problem. So these stats are being removed. I imagine that special attacks will always hit, while white attacks may have a small miss chance still.

The tanking stats are also being removed. It looks like tanks are going to focus on active mitigation. One thing to note is that it looks like there won't be "tank" armor or "dps" armor. Each spec might be prefer different secondary stats, but it won't be as obvious as it is now.

3. Reforging is being removed.

I called for the removal of reforging (and hit/expertise) back in 2011. I've never liked it. It's been an ugly hack, and I'm glad it's gone.

The only concern is that the differential between the Best-in-Slot piece and the second-best piece will be slightly larger. But everyone chases BiS anyways, and the game got along fine with this gap back in Vanilla/TBC.

4. Tertiary Stats

This seems very vague at the moment, but Blizzard is looking at putting new small unusual stats on items. Maybe things like movement speed increases. Possibly gem sockets will become rarer and less important.

I dunno, I wonder if one of these small stats will be overpowered and then everyone wants it. Somewhat like some procs on current gear. But I guess we'll have to see more concrete items to judge.

5. Item squish

It looks like all the numbers will be reduced in size, by at least an order of magnitude. It seems mostly cosmetic, with assurances that old content will still be soloable.

Concerns - Spirit?

All this looks pretty good. The only concern I have is with Spirit. I don't see how Spirit can go on armor. Since DPS and Tanks get nothing from Spirit, Spirit gear would be automatically tagged as healer gear, and then non-spirit gear is not for healers. This seems to cut against the whole reasoning behind combining armor types. Not much point in getting rid of Intellect plate if Spirit plate takes its place.

But if armor doesn't have Spirit, that means the total Spirit a healer can have is a significantly lower proportion than she has now. So I'm a bit curious as to how Blizzard will handle regen. Maybe they'll just tune mana regen for the lower amount of spirit.

Or possibly this is a signal that the devs are looking to reign in mana regen, and conservation and triage will once again be part of the healer vocabulary. I personally am in favor of this style of play, but it was a large part of the Cataclysm intro dungeon/raid debacle. I am not sure if the community will approve of making mana more important for healers again.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Warlords of Draenor Expansion Speculation

The major rumor running around pre-Blizzcon is that the next WoW expansion will be titled "Warlords of Draenor". The rumor is that we will go back to Draenor (last seen in The Burning Crusade) and end up time-traveling through the past to see Grom Hellscream.

Going back to Draenor seems like a legitimate topic for an expansion. Focus outward on the Burning Legion, bring back Alleria and Turalyon.

The time travel part of things seems a little more sketchy. I'd be more inclined to believe that there are a couple Caverns of Time dungeons focusing on Grom Hellscream or Ner'zhul and the rise of the Horde.

The biggest problem with a time travel expac is how would you explain all these different races showing up? A Pandaren in Outlands? The Caverns of Time handles it by putting us in disguise as the opposite faction as appropriate. But while that's fine (and even fun) for a single instance, having your character be a different model for an entire expac does not sound appealing.

Still, we'll see what happens at Blizzcon. Personally, I'm still holding out for Corgis Unleashed!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Star Wars is going to be reclaiming numerous character names on Nov 1. Essentially names of character who are under level 30, have not logged in for 3 months or so, and do not belong to current subscribers will be freed up. I think this is great news. Last time I tried to make a character, it was quite hard to come up with a name that had not been taken.

It's interesting to see what approaches new MMOs are taking to naming. Names have to be unique, so that you can uniquely identify the people you mail or interact with. But at the same time, the "good" names get taken early and players have to resort to more and more unusual names.

Cryptic tags character names with @account. So you can use any name for your character, but your account name has to be unique. The downsides here are that there is an explicit link between your characters and your account, which a lot of people don't like. And it does look kind of funny.

Some games like GW2 allow names to include spaces or punctuation (a common one is a period). This allows you to make names which are more complicated, but still easy to remember.

FFXIV makes you chose a first name and a last name. This allows you to vary a common first name with different last names, while still having everyone use your first name in conversation. As well, it seems to make people name their characters better.

Of the current methods, I like having a first and last name the best. It's simple and easy, and feels natural. I think that new MMOs should strongly consider using this model for their naming schemes.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

FFXIV: A Realm Reborn - Review

I've been playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn for the last two months or so. I finally finished the main campaign and got a maximum level character. So it's about time for a review.

FFXIV is a themepark fantasy MMO in the WoW/EQ model. However, it has a very old-school feel to it. In a lot of ways it feels closer to Vanilla WoW than to modern WoW. The global cooldown is 2.5s, leading to a slower, more deliberate style of play. Rotations are simpler, usually being actual rotations where you go A-B-C, repeat, while throwing in some cooldowns.  A lot of people don't like the long GCD, but I rather do. I'm not a fan of the way haste has sped up WoW.

However, there is more emphasis on movement. Many mobs will do area attacks indicated by a red shape on the ground, which you have to move out of. I find that this works will with the slower pace of the game.

The setting and storyline are very Japanese/anime style. Personally I find it interesting because it is askew from Western sensibilities. For example, nations are divided by philosophy, not race. Each nation, even the bad guys, is composed of the same races as the others.  The story line is pretty decent as well, full of the anime tradition of bad guys philosophizing. (The bad guys are pretty awesome. There's one guy who dual-wields shields. With guns on them.)

The only problem with the storyline, in my mind, is that the final climax comes during an endgame dungeon. People farming the dungeon become very impatient as you watch the cutscenes. SWTOR had your main storyline be entirely single-player (though others could tag along) and it worked much better. You could watch the finale in peace without inconveniencing anyone.

The major mechanical attraction is the class system. A single character can level up in multiple classes. Each class has a specific weapon type. Switching to that weapon switches your class. This is a particularly elegant mechanic, especially with the built-in armor system. To qualify for advanced classes, called "jobs", you have to level up multiple classes. For example, my character's main job is Paladin. I had to level Gladiator to 30 and Conjurer (healing priest type) to 15. Paladin is essentially an advanced Gladiator, so leveling as a Paladin also increases my Gladiator level.

Each class can use some abilities from other classes. Some abilities can be used by any class, while others can only be used by closely related classes. For example, my Paladin pulls some abilities from Conjurer and Marauder.

Now, each class must be leveled up separately. You can grind mobs, kill specific mobs listed in a hunting log, do "levequests" (repeatable quests), dungeons, scenario-like "duties", or "FATES". FATES are essentially public quests like rifts in RIFT. They appear on the map, have an object, and then disappear when done. Regular quests can only be done once per character. Somewhat unfortunately, FATES are the best way of getting experience, and that's how most people end up leveling secondary classes.

The class system extends to crafting classes. Each crafting and gathering class is a fully realized class with 50 levels. You get xp by crafting or gathering. Crafting is kind of like combat. You use different abilities attempting to get as high a quality as you can without running out of durability. I actually like this system a lot. It's very interesting if you like crafting.

FFXIV is also rather group-centric. The main storyline requires that you do several dungeons. Dungeons are old-school. Threat matters a lot, as does marking and killing in order. Thankfully it seems like the people who do play can follow the rules. By and large, my grouping experiences have been excellent. Of course, I am playing a tank, so I do get to exert a fair bit of control over the run.

Endgame is also very old-school. Here is the current endgame in FFXIV:

The first raid is the very bottom of the chart. There's lots of grinding and work to even become raid-ready. It reminds me a lot of running dungeons in Vanilla, trying to get my class set.  As well, several fights in the list are supposed to be very difficult. People are already selling carries for HM Titan, among others. But there is a real sense of progression as you work your way through. The path is there, and I am on the path.

So would I recommend FFXIV?  I think it's worth taking a look at, if just to see the way the class system is handled, and to take a look at the crafting classes. If you're craving a more Vanilla-style WoW experience, but in a modern game, with several modern innovations, I would strongly recommend checking out FFXIV.

Will I continue to play FFXIV? I'm not sure. Truthfully, I'm not really a fan of grinding for experience or currency. I've seen the story, which was my main motivation. I suspect that I will play for a bit longer, maybe take a look at a couple of the harder fights, but will ultimately drop it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Counter-Intuitive Idea For Tanks in LFR

One of the major problems with LFR is the lack of tanks. Queue times for non-tanks can be very long. Losing a tank can cause your group to wait for a long time to get another tank, which often leads to a cascade of other people leaving.

First, let's acknowledge all the things which have been done in an effort to attract more tanks to the game. Threat has been nullified as a meaningful mechanic. Multiple new tank specs have been introduced. Extra rewards have been given out to tanks. The number of required tanks per raid has been reduced. And yet, all of these have not really solved the problem. At best we can say that maybe the problem would have been a lot worse without these actions.

So here's my idea for improving tanking in LFR:

Increase the number of tanks in LFR from 2 to 4.

This seems counter-intuitive. How can increasing the number of required tanks improve our experience?

Here's my theory. Whenever you ask about why people don't tank, they talk about the pressure, about the visibility of the role. There is a lot of truth to this. When you look at LFR, tanks are the only role where there is no "slack", no room for error. Raids are designed around 2 tanks, and usually both tanks have to perform at a high level to be successful.

If you look at healers in LFR, you can usually get by if four of the six are decent. For DPS, 10-12 decent dps are usually enough. Both these roles have slack, room for players who are less skilled. In contrast, the tanking role has no room for slack. On most LFR fights, both tanks have duties that they need perform successfully.

If we moved to four tanks, but left fights designed around two, there would be slack in the tanking role. Maybe instead of having a tank swap and having the current off-tank pick up adds, you could have two tanks dedicated to the tank swap, and two tanks on adds full-time. If one tank dies, the others can compensate. Instead of two tanks having to be perfect on a tank swap, you could have three tanks swapping. This would mean that it's okay if a tank misses a taunt.

For an inexperienced tank, it's far better to be the fourth on the roster, and maybe have one dedicated duty, rather than have to pull the full weight of a co-equal tank.

This plan wouldn't work in normal raiding, because the group controls the number of tanks, and always reduces the tanks to the minimum in order to add more DPS. But in LFR, the game controls the number of tanks. The game can throw in four tanks each time. As well, this ratio is closer to the ratio required for 5-man dungeons.

An LFR with 4 tanks, 6 healers, and 14 dps would have a larger margin for error in each role. One weaker tank will not doom the raid, any more than a weaker healer or a weaker DPS will. This will make it easier for people to start tanking and may lead to more tanks overall. Spreading out the load among more tanks should reduce the pressure on each individual tank.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Galactic Starfighter and Payment Models

The Old Republic unveiled its latest expansion: Galactic Starfighter. I'm looking forward to this. I absolutely loved X-Wing and TIE Fighter back in the day. TIE Fighter in particular is in my Top 10 Best Games Ever, maybe even Top 5. If Bioware can capture a fraction of the magic of those games, I think they'll be very successful.

The most interesting thing about this expansion is how Bioware is releasing it.  It's completely free for everyone. However, subscribers get access significantly earlier, about 6 weeks, than Preferred Players. Subs are also the only people who get access over the Christmas break. Then it's another month or so until F2P players get it. That's a lot longer than most early access programs.

It's also a good strategy to reduce server load. Only a portion of the playerbase will be able to try out the new content when it is first released. Then, perhaps when interest among the subscriber set is waning, there will be a rush of new blood.

It's interesting to see The Old Republic pivot back to emphasizing subscriptions. The Hutt Cartel expac is now free to subscribers. Now this new perk of time and exclusivity.

It's interesting that Bioware doesn't seem to be worried about people picking up a sub for 2 months and then dropping back to Preferred. Or maybe they feel that $30 is roughly the price of an expansion, and is $30 they might not have gotten otherwise. Plus they might get away with reporting that subscriptions jumped by a significant number for the last quarter, and then neglect to say anything when they fall back down.

In any case, as a subscriber I'm pretty happy with this method of release. It's a solid perk that makes subscribing worthwhile, but Preferred and F2P players will still get the content eventually. A perk that does not need to be maintained forever.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

An Alternate Explanation for Gender Bias in Healing and Tanking

Milady at Hypercritism has an interesting post on The Politics of Tanking and Healing. Milady notes that women are more likely to be healers than tanks and feels that this is due to traditional gender roles:
In our social setting, many women see the role of healer as natural, appropriate, expected. And men are equally conditioned as wanting to fill the role of the protector as well as the leading actor.
This is quite possibly true. In fact, among Asian WoW players, the gender differences are even starker, perhaps reflecting a society where the traditional gender roles are stronger.

However, I'd like to propose an alternate explanation. Note that Milady does not consider the DPS classes. But there is a gender divide in the DPS classes. Female players are more likely to play ranged dps classes such as warlocks, mages, shadow priests, etc. than melee classes like rogues and warriors.

If you add the ranged/melee split to the tank/healer split, I think there's a stronger factor present than gender roles: range.  Healers and ranged dps operate at a distance from the enemy, while tanks and melee dps have to get up close.

So why choose stay at range? One possible explanation is risk-aversion. As a group, women are normally more risk-averse than men. So it makes sense that female players would gravitate to the classes that can stay away from the enemy the longest. Even healers fit into this scenario better. If you want to avoid dying, what's better than a class which can restore health?

Sadly, we don't really have access to good data that identifies the gender of the player. There are some interesting questions that we could look at. For example, among female DPS shaman, what proportion plays Enhancement (melee) as opposed to Elemental (range)? The same question could be asked for Druids: Feral or Boomkin?

What about Monk healers? Do female Mistweavers "fistweave" or do they heal in the traditional style?  Are women who tank more likely to tank on their second character, once they have a better handle on the game and the risks involved?

If we just looked at the healers, is the proportion of female paladins higher or lower than the norm for the other classes? Perhaps risk-aversion thesis should predict lower paladins, because paladins are traditionally melee. Though I suppose this is countered by the whole hard-to-kill vibe with the bubble and plate armor. I'm not entirely sure if a risk-averse person would be attracted to paladins or not. Plus, we'd have to account for the general awesomeness of paladins.

In any case, either theory might be true. Women and men might be responding the social pressures corresponding to traditional gender roles. Or women may be attracted to classes which appear to be less risky and more likely to survive. Or maybe both theories are in play, with different individuals having different motivations.

However, I prefer the risk-aversion theory over traditional gender roles because it also explains the bias in DPS class choice, and not just the tank/healer split.

Monday, October 07, 2013


The Old Republic launched patch 2.4 last week, unveiling the new planet/moon base of the Dread Masters, Oricon.

There's a daily area and two new operations. I really liked the small questline that introduces you to Oricon. It's well written and I like how it tied back into or referenced the class storylines. Oricon makes me want to level my alts to 55 just so I can see the references for each class.

For new character or alts, completing the storyline will give you a full set of entry-level purple gear, positioning you nicely to work on endgame.

The new operations are quite good as well. I've only done them in story mode, and haven't yet killed the very last boss, but they're lots of fun. There's one fight where you send one team into the past and the other into the future. The future team has to relay information from the future back to the past team so that the past team can fix the future. It's quite inventive and very well done, if a bit confusing to explain.

Ever since Thorim, I've loved fights where the raid splits into small subteams to accomplish different goals. I think it's a mechanic that could be used more often. It always seems to result in elegant, inventive fights.

All in all, I think this patch was an excellent one by Bioware.

Sunday, October 06, 2013



Matticus interviewed me for his site! Go have a look.


Thanks for the advice about Nalak. I managed to find a group of people who were pulling Nalak for giggles. I tagged Nalak with the lance and lasted long enough to finish the quest. Now on to the collecting Runestones portion of the quest.


I've signed up for Twitter. You can follow me if you really wish at @rverghes.

I haven't actually tweeted anything yet. To be honest, I rather doubt I will. But we'll see how it goes.


Twitter and the New Blogger Initiative have me contemplating how we compartmentalize our lives. A lot of MMO bloggers have given the advice that you should use a pseudonym when blogging, and I would expect that to extend to things like Twitter.

I am undecided about whether this is a good thing or not. If you were writing about a subject like running, would you bother with a pseudonym. I don't think you would, I think you'd just be okay with people finding out that you are a runner. I'm not really sure it is good to hide the fact that you are a gamer.

Of course, on Twitter it is a little weird to see tweets from multiple areas mixed together. Politics mixes with WoW mixes with regular news. And even if you can separate these into separate streams, what do you do with the other people who don't choose to compartmentalize?

Tuesday, October 01, 2013


I'm at the point in the Legendary questline where I need to throw a lance at Nalak. (Yes, I've been slacking this expansion.)

However, no one seems to be killing Nalak anymore. There were some suggestions on Wowhead for soloing this stage of the questline. When I tried though, everything kept despawning on me.

I'm at a bit of a loss now. Any suggestions on what to do at this point?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Trust, Reputation, and Impersonation

It's interesting that CCP chose this issue of impersonation as its "hill to die on". When you look at all the terrible things that Eve players have done, why is this issue the one that CCP moves to squelch?

I think it is because this issue has the greatest potential to break down trust in the game. Now, most people in Eve say "Trust no one." In reality, however, many of them do trust others. Trust is only way a group of people, a society, can build something larger. And Eve is very much about building things. It is very important for Eve to foster trust.

In a world where many of the "civilized" social norms do not apply, trust has to be earned. Trust can only be earned by building up a reputation over time. However, to take advantage of a reputation, an individual must be identifiable as the one who built that reputation. If someone else can easily pretend to be that individual, then you cannot rely on reputation and therefore cannot trust anyone.

If two players cannot trust each other, they have to interact through a third-party that they both trust. But if no player can be trusted, then players are forced to rely on the one third party which they can trust: the game itself.

We see this a lot in MMOs. Most trading is done through automated markets or auction houses. Thus neither player on both sides of the transaction need to trust each other. In WoW, when LFR came out, it soon became apparent that players could not trust each other to distribute loot fairly. Thus Blizzard had to step in, and implement a game system that could be trusted.

The less players trust each other, the more the game company has to intervene. The game company has to mediate the interaction and dictate how the interaction works.

And this is unfortunate, especially for sandbox play. If all interactions occur through game systems, the emergent behavior we prize never has a chance to develop. The games become less interesting and more static.

It would be interesting to see a game with even fewer system that act as a buffer between players. Consider a system where mail had to be delivered by other players. Or a game without automated markets. It would certainly be inconvenient. But this game is also more likely to give rise to unexpected styles of play.

Another interesting experiment would be a game system which cannot be trusted. For example, an unreliable Auction House or NPC merchants who sometimes steal the money from a sale. What systems would players evolve to cope? Maybe they would make many small orders and just take the expected loss. (More likely they would just quit and go to another game, though.)

MMOs need to foster a certain level of trust between their players. The less trust in the system, the more the game company itself has to intervene to reduce the necessity of that trust, and the less likely that interesting or inventive emergent behavior will evolve.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

An Asymmetry of Justice

Eve Online recently changed its Terms of Service and made pretending to be another player a bannable offence. Naturally, this being Eve, there is an uproar over the issue.

This issue is very interesting. Once you start examining the situation in detail, it leads to a lot of different places and different ideas.

One thing this illustrates is that there is a real "asymmetry of justice" in online games. The bad player can scam you, but you cannot punish her. In the real world, a scammer can be caught and lose their liberty or life. But in most online games, players cannot effectively punish other players. They cannot jail them, they cannot permanently kill them.

Even ostracism is very hard to pull off. As a simple example, you cannot prevent a player in Eve from trading with you, because the markets are implemented with an in-game system.

Of course, players punishing other players might lead to more griefing, which is why everyone stays away from it. But this leaves the game company as the only entity capable of punishment, capable of enforcing laws.

In a sandbox game, the game company should enforce the "laws of nature" of the world. How the world works, the nuts and bolts of physics. Ideally they would not enforce the "laws of man", leaving that up to the players. But other than A Tale In The Desert, no game has made that distinction. And even ATITD still had the game company be the enforcer of the laws.

The other problem, of course, is that of alts. In a way, alts are not really different characters. They are masks or disguises that a single character wears. And these masks are virtually impenetrable to other players. Once again, only the game company is capable of penetrating the disguise to the character underneath. And the mask can be discarded and thrown away if necessary.

Again, that makes it very hard for players to enforce laws or punish those who break them.

Eve takes pride in it's "Wild West, anything goes" atmosphere. But another way of looking at it is that Eve deliberately coddles the outlaws, denying the sheriffs the necessary tools to impose law and order.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Money Is Not Time

There is an argument among Free-2-Play advocates that "money is equal to time". The argument goes that some players are time-rich and cash-poor, while other players are time-poor and cash-rich. MMO design usually favors the time-rich players. These F2P advocates argue that F2P levels the playing field, allowing cash-rich but time-poor players to use money to make up for their lack of time.

I think that Diablo 3 has shown that this is not correct. Money is not a substitute for Time.

This is because games are emotional experiences. Only, the emotions evoked are not the standard ones, but flow and fiero. The emotions of engaging in an activity, seeking to defeat it, and the payoff from defeating a hard challenge, or finishing a long task.

But these two emotions require time. You have to spend time to get into the flow. And fiero is very often related to how long you spent working on the activity.

When you substitute money for time, there is no flow, and no fiero. There is no emotional attachment to the event, or to the payoff. And that makes the game itself less compelling.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Warhammer Online Closes

Warhammer Online is shutting down in December.  I played it for a bit when it first came out, and actually wrote a fair bit about it on this site.

WAR had several good ideas, most notably Public Quests. Having both an offensive and defensive target is one of my favorite UI innovations. I think that WAR has been quite influential on the design of the MMOs that came after it.

But ultimately WAR was a failure. I think it was a failure because, while it reached for new heights, it didn't get the basics correct. Chat was a nightmare, and the latency and performance were pretty bad. And who can forget the contribution bug. Not to mention that just logging into the game meant wading through a morass of splash screens and opening movies.

The real lesson of Warhammer Online is that cool design will generate hype. But polish and performance, the basic grunt work, are vital to success.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Blizzard Shutters Diablo 3 Auction House

The big news today is that Blizzard announced that they will be removing both the Real Money Auction House and the gold Auction House on March 18, 2014. (Gee, I wonder when the expansion will be released.)

As you know, I am not a fan of the AH in D3. I still didn't think Blizzard would remove it entirely, though. Props to them for being willing to reverse course as needed. I think the major turning point was probably the release of the console version of D3, which did not have the AH. The console version has been very well received.

That being said, there are some people attacking Blizzard for putting the AH in the game in the first place. I think this is misguided. It wasn't an obvious mistake at first. The AH was put in to solve the problem of third-party scams, and by all accounts it did a very good job at that.

What I think will be most interesting is to see what measures Blizzard puts in place to stop the inevitable third party sales, scammers, and spammers.  Will there be some sort of secure trading? Will trading be disabled entirely?

By and large, I believe the console version doesn't have issues with trading because you trade primarily with local players in your living room. As well, the different networks are segregated and more controlled. But I think that free trading on the PC will lead to the same problems as D2.

But perhaps that's the better outcome. The positives gained by removing the Auction House might outweigh the negatives of spammers and scams.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Proving Grounds

Until 5.4, I never realized just how much I resented the way Mists of Pandaria was turning out. I play a healer, and it just seemed like so much of Mists was healer-unfriendly. There was all this neat new content and game modes, and I had to switch to Ret to do most of it.  Brawlers' Guild, dailies, scenarios, Battlefield Barrens.

On top of that, it was so hard to gear up my offset, which made doing all this new content even more painful. The loot system in LFR makes you focus on your main spec, so you can't pick up scraps like in a regular raid. All the reputation gear used to cost gold in previous expansions, so I could have bought both main and offset. But now it cost Valor, a much scarcer currency, so all my Valor had to be dedicated to my main set.

Let's put it this way: I entered 5.4 with two i437 green trinkets in my Ret set. And that mishmash was still better than Holy for soloing.

But 5.4 has introduced Proving Grounds, and they are amazingly fun for healers!

My first attempt went pretty badly. Went through Bronze, but wiped out on Silver 5. Then I realized I was healing like an idiot, and decided to play properly. This time I beat Silver, and then wiped out on Gold 5. I spent the next couple of attempts refining strategy, and got up to Gold 9. That's where I stopped for the night.

I really enjoy it. It's not exactly like raid healing, but it is very PvE healing with a little more responsibility for the healer. You want to add a little more damage, stun a little bit, maybe even try to interrupt. As a paladin, you need to use your cooldowns, including Sacrifice.

The thing is that even if Proving Grounds don't teach you to raid heal, they teach you to heal, and to adapt your techniques to different damage patterns (damn rabbit bleed!). If you can do that, learning to raid heal is not all that difficult.

The NPCs are pretty funny, and play just badly enough to make it interesting. They miss some interrupts, don't stack, and stand in the fire. The comments on the healer threads are amusing. Some of the priests were complaining that if they Lifegrip the hunter out of the fire, sometimes he'll manage to Disengage back into it.

I've noticed some interesting conversations on whether guilds should require Proving Grounds for their raiders. I think that requiring Gold is excessive for a normal/Flex guild, but any decent player should be able to handle Silver. Requiring a Proving Grounds achievement is still better than requiring gear or raid achievements. I would break down the levels like so:

Bronze - for people completely new to healing. After this you should be able to do normal dungeons and LFR.
Silver - If you can do Silver, you're ready for Flex or normal
Gold - If you can do Gold, you're ready to try Heroic content
Endless 30 - Probably good enough to hang with the Royalty crowd

I think Proving Grounds is an excellent feature. I hope it encourages more people to try out the group-centric roles of tank and healer. Before Proving Grounds, you had to learn how tank or heal by getting tossed into real situations with other players. While there's something to be said for learning through trial by fire, a lot of people did their best to avoid that harrowing experience.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Giving Up Your Unique Points

In the last patch for The Old Republic, Bioware added two new flashpoints (4-man instances). The Czerka instances and boss fights are reasonably decent. The role-less story mode is excellent. However, the flashpoints are missing something.

All the other flashpoints in TOR have a light/dark choice. Most of them have conversations. The entire group goes through the conversation, everyone picks a choice, and the game randomly chooses a choice to play out the storyline.

The new Czerka instances are missing that element. They play like a pretty normal dungeon from WoW or similar games.

I think Bioware has listened to all the speed runners who urge people to "spacebar" through the conversations. Now there is no conversation to spacebar through. Admittedly, I only listen to the conversations the first few times I run an instance. Afterwards, I spacebar through them.

But those conversations are what made TOR flashpoints unique. I enjoyed them. Some of the conversation and choice-heavy instances are the best part of TOR.

Basically, if I wanted to run a straightforward, linear instance without conversations and LS/DS choices, I'd play WoW. I think giving up your unique points for the sake of end game efficiency is a mistake.

The Czerka flashpoints are good MMO instanced content. But they are not good TOR flashpoints.

Monday, September 09, 2013

5.4 Holy Paladin Changes

Patch 5.4 comes out tomorrow, and there are a fair number of changes for Holy Paladins. Here is a quick rundown of the major changes as I see them.

  • Tier 3 talents are rebalanced - Mastery no longer affects the Eternal Flame HoT. The HoT does tick for more healing. Sacred Shield can be maintained on 3 targets. Selfless Healer will give you a Holy Power charge when you Judge (but Judgement increased in cost) and you can get free, instant Divine Light and Holy Radiances. I like the new Sacred Shield. Selfless Healer looks powerful, but you have to change your playstyle.

  • Mana changes - Seal of Insight no longer gives back mana. Divine Plea now has no drawback. You should use Divine Plea on cooldown as soon as you have spent some mana. There is no reason to melee anymore.

  • Holy Shock improvements - Holy Shock became cheaper and the cooldown is now affected by Haste. Combined with the change to Eternal Flame, Haste might become the new stat of choice.

  • Guardian of Ancient Kings - cooldown is lowered, but only heals the target, not multiple people.

  • Glyph of Blessing of Sacrifice - removes the drawback on Sacrifice. This is now a must-have.

  • AoE Heals - had their mechanics changed to improve performance during raids. They should still heal for the same amount, but they now heal in a slightly different style.
There's probably a couple other minor changes. I'm probably going to switch to Sacred Shield. I may also try a Haste build and see how that plays. I did like the faster Holy Shocks with T14, and the new changes may bring that style of play back.

There is also lots of new content. I am very interested in seeing how Proving Grounds and Flex Raids turn out.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Next Warchief

In 5.4, Garrosh Hellscream will be deposed, and a new warchief chosen to lead the Horde. Who do you think the next warchief will be?

I think that Blizzard will not pick someone obscure. They will pick someone with a lot of name recognition, who makes sense to the average, casual Horde player. With that in mind, here are my rankings:

Front-runner - Vol'jin

Vol'jin has gotten a lot of screen time, including a full novel. He's also the driving force behind the rebellion, and has been a racial leader for all of WoW. That makes him the obvious choice.

Contender - Lor'themar

Lor'themar has also gotten a lot of screen time in MoP, and has been developed into an admirable, competent leader. However, the big negative is that he is a blood elf. The Horde's motif in Warcraft is to be the "monstrous" faction, the outsiders. Having a pretty-boy blood elf be the Warchief cuts against that, and cuts against the Horde's identity in a major way.

Contender - Thrall

Thrall was the previous Warchief, and he has very high name recognition. But he's also the one who left the Horde, and it might seem weird to just waltz back into leadership. However, the orcs will still need a racial leader. Thrall is pretty much the most important orc left, and is likely to be the orc racial leader. Having Thrall be leader of the orcs--but not Warchief--may seem odd.

Dark Horse - Sylvannas

It's Sylvannas. Massive name recognition and popularity, and cunning enough that her ascension could seem plausible. However, she's been on the sidelines for most of Mists, so it would be odd for her to come out of nowhere and grab the throne. Plus, what would she really do as Warchief? She has her kingdom and her armies over in the Eastern Kingdoms. Taking on leadership of the entire Horde seems like it would gain her a lot of trouble and not many advantages.

I would expect her to use this opportunity to throw out the Kor'koron Overseers in the Undercity. That seems like a very Sylvannas-like move to me.


That's how I see the race for Warchief. I think Blizzard is going to pick Vol'jin. He's the one they've been setting up, the one who's story arc leads to the mantle of Warchief. To be honest, picking anyone else really seems like deliberately making a twist ending, just for the sake of having a twist. That rarely works out well.

Monday, September 02, 2013

FFXIV: Launch Woes

Final Fantasy XIV has been out for a week or so. There have been two experiences with the game. The first, the actual game itself, is very good and a lot of fun. The second, trying to actually log into the game, is very unfortunate.

The problem is FFXIV was not prepared for the amount of interest. The producer has said that, since it was a relaunch of a failed game, they predicted that it would start slow, and slowly grow through word of mouth. This may have been a reasonable assumption.

I think that they got a lot of last minute sales. I don't think the vast majority of the audience realized it was a relaunch. The 1.0 launch slipped under the radar for a lot people, including myself. As well, there are so many FF games that it is sometimes hard to remember exactly which number the series is on.

In any case, the servers have been swamped. Character creation has been locked on most servers. Most NA/EU servers are full, and you cannot even log into them. Personally, I've been experimenting with random characters on the Japanese servers.

Now, there are some technical flaws that make the situation worse. The log-in queue system is not very good, it seems to only handle a few people. Most of the time, attempting to log into a server is met with a flat rejection, rather than a queue. This encourages people to spam the login, hoping to catch the small window when someone leaves the server.

The second issue is that there is no auto-logout if someone has been AFK for a while. People are logging in, and simply never logging off. As we have seen time and again in MMOs, gaining personal advantage trumps behaving in a way that would benefit the group as a whole.

Tomorrow, Square is planning to add more servers. While this will be good, I hope they don't go overboard like The Old Republic did. Overly full servers now are better than half-empty servers in a couple months. I can see a lot of people trying this game and deciding that it is not for them. It is a slower, more old-school experience, with all the inconvenience that implies.

The real lesson is that these server-based games should start limiting sales. With physical sales, you could match your copies printed to your server hardware. With digital sales, the temptation is to just sell an infinite number of copies. As pretty much every major launch in the last few years proved, that creates an unhappy launch environment. The artificial scarcity (assuming that the game is good) might even help the sales, by creating more interest and more anticipation for new sales.

Monday, August 26, 2013

General Chat

I got into a bit of an argument on FFXIV yesterday. There were a couple of people having a random conversation in general chat (or shout, which is FFXIV's zone channel). Then a third person, Octavia, got upset with those two, and told them that general chat was for people to find groups and sell stuff. Octavia said that the other two were "making general chat like that of WoW".

I felt that was incorrect. I don't want to see general chat to be a list of "LFG, LFG, LFG, WTS". I like seeing random conversations.

But then again, random conversations often make LFG messages disappear if people are talking a lot. That can be frustrating to someone who is looking for a group. Also, conversations that touch on hot topics such as politics and religion are annoying. Seeing variations of "Trudeau/Harper is a meanie"[1] makes me want to turn off general chat.

That's not even to mention getting into barrens chat and the Chuck Norris or even less savory spam.

I don't know. Trying to restrict conversation, to move the conversational norms to just WTS and LFG seems excessive to me. At the same time, I see the attraction of it.

[1] In some alternate universe where Canadian politics is debated in MMO chat.

Friday, August 23, 2013

First Impressions: Path of Exile

It all starts with Diablo 2. Diablo 3 took one path, streamlining and simplifying systems. Path of Exile takes the opposite path, dialing complexity up to eleven.

Path of Exile is a Diablo-style action RPG. There are six classes: Warrior, Duelist, Ranger, Shadow, Witch, and Templar. Each class is locked to a specific gender and model. Like most action RPGs, you wander around the zone killing things for randomly dropped loot, upgrading your gear as you level. However, many of the systems are very different from the standard.

For starters, abilities do not belong to the class. Instead they are gems. All gear has sockets. Sockets are red, green, or blue. You match the ability gem to the socket. Let's say that you have a Templar and you find a Glacial Hammer blue gem. You put that gem in your weapon or armor piece with a blue socket and you can now use the ability. Any class can use any ability, only some classes are more suited to the ability than others. While you have the ability gem equipped, the gem accrues XP and levels up.

Then there is the talent tree. I urge you to go take a look at it. It is the ultimate talent tree, with hundreds of talents.  All six classes are embedded in the same tree, but talents closer to the class are more suitable. For example, if you wanted to make a necromancer, the major minion talents are close to the Witch's starting location. But you could still reach those talents from another class, it would just take longer.

I believe the development studio is from New Zealand. This gives the game a unique flavor. The accents are New Zealand or Australian. The native warrior is based on the Maori, I believe, rather than the typical Norse or African. It just feels very different from the norm.

There are other interesting touches. There doesn't seem to be any gold. Instead people trade using scraps of Scrolls of Wisdom, which allow you to identify magical items, and other bartered items. This is a very interesting idea, getting across the idea that this is an uncivilized land without even basic luxuries like coinage. Health and mana potions are gear items which can have stats. The potions refill as you kill monsters.

Path of Exile is also big into "leagues", which are modes of play where you start a new character. Each league often has specific rules. A simple example is the Hardcore league where you can only die once, and then your character transfers to the regular league. But leagues can get a lot more complicated. For example, there's a league which starts at a given time and lasts for 12 hours or so. Every few minutes, the lowest level character is kicked out of the league. The last character standing wins a prize.

There is really only one thing I dislike about Path of Exile, but unfortunately it is a major element. I do not like the graphics. It's all from the "realistic" palette, all dark greens, dark reds, greys and browns. I just find it unpleasant, and even hard to identify elements on the screen. I much prefer more "cartoony" graphics which "pop" on the screen. But this is very much personal preference. Other people may like this graphics style better.

Mechanically, Path of Exile is a very intriguing game. It's Free-2-Play, so it's easy to check out. It's complex, but if you feel that D3 went in the wrong direction, you'll probably enjoy the complexity.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Subscriptions Strike Back!

The latest news is three up-and-coming MMOs (Final Fantasy XIV, Wildstar, and The Elder Scrolls Online) are going to try for subscriptions rather than Free-2-Play.

Reactions seem to mostly mirror existing biases. The people who think F2P is the future, feel this is going to fail hard, or that it is just a money grab before the inevitable F2P conversion. The people who champion subscriptions want to believe that the tide has turned, and that super-aggressive monetization is falling out of fashion.

The only real conclusion I am drawing is that, given a choice, most developers would prefer subscriptions. The steady income without the need to constantly hawk the latest items in the store must seem a more enticing proposition to the devs.

I think the key is the target number of subscribers. If any of these games are targeting a million subs, I think they're going to fail and end up as F2P. But if they're targeting 100,000 steady subs, I think that's within reach for all three games. In between those two targets is a great deal of uncertainty.

Wildstar and C.R.E.D.D.

In addition to going subscription, Wildstar is copying the Eve Online PLEX model. CREDD is worth a months subscription and can be traded for in-game currency. It does cost a bit more than a month's subscription, though, which is odd.

I'm not really sure how successful this will be. Eve has a much stronger economic simulation. In Eve, the people who earn enough to purchase PLEX are heavily involved in producing and trading the goods that make Eve work.

Wildstar, on the other hand, looks to be more like a regular themepark game where the economy is secondary to boss drops.

Second, Eve does boost the trade in PLEX because they effectively only have one character per account. That means that many players have multiple accounts, increasing the income per player, and increasing the market for PLEX. Someone who is perfectly fine paying $15/month for one account might decide to purchase PLEX to fund a second or third account. That means the market for PLEX is larger and more liquid.

I don't really see that happening in Wildstar. But I don't know for sure. It is certainly an interesting experiment.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Do More Tanking Options Lead to More Tanks?

A couple of commenters mentioned on the previous post that having paladins be Alliance-only would mean that the Horde would have fewer tanks.

Has having more tank classes led to more tanks, though?

Vanilla only had 2 tank classes: warriors and bears.  Now we have five.  Yet it seems like the proportion of tanks out there is still the same. It's still very hard to find a tank, just as hard as it was in Vanilla. I am suspicious of the idea that death knights, monks, and the emergence of pally tanks has lead to more tanks overall.

Of course, it's also possible that there are more tanks now, but that Dungeon Finder and LFR introduced a larger population of DPS into regular grouping, which has swamped the increase in tanks.

But I don't think that is true. I think the number of people willing to be tanks is just rather low, regardless of the different ways one can tank.  Introducing more tank classes just increases the diversity of tanks, but not the overall total.

Monday, August 19, 2013

What If Paladins Had Stayed Alliance-Only?

I was thinking about the story imbalance between the Horde and the Alliance, and started wondering. What happened to all the Alliance paladins?

In a lot of ways, the story of the Alliance in Warcraft is the story of their paladins. Uther, Turalyon, Arthas, Bolvar Fordragon. But all the major Alliance paladins are gone. The last one is Tirion Fordring, and he is now neutral.

Back in Vanilla, paladins were unique to the Alliance, while shaman were unique to the Horde. I think that class distinction added a great deal of character to the two factions. The paladins symbolized the civilization and law of the Alliance, while the shaman symbolized the wildness and more natural state of the Horde.

But when the two classes were opened up to both sides, I think the Alliance lost more of its identity than the Horde did. For example, the Order of the Silver Hand went neutral, and became the Argent Crusade. However, the Horde gained two paladin orders: the Blood Knights and the Sunwalkers. It seems odd to me that there is no Alliance paladin order, but two different Horde ones. A Horde paladin, Sunwalker Dezco, is playing a major role in the Horde storyline.

I don't think the parallel case of the shaman matches. Alliance shamans are pretty marginal in the lore. There are some in the Earthen Ring. But shamans, especially with Thrall, are still central to the Horde.

Personally, I think the classes should stayed faction-specific. In my mind, the balance issues were not that bad, aside from Blessing of Salvation. Had Blizzard just axed that one ability, I think the imbalance would have been easier to fix.

It's interesting to ponder an alternate timeline where the classes had remained faction-specific, and the mechanical divisions between the factions had been deepened instead of lessened.

For example, in Wrath, Tirion Fordring and the Argent Crusade might have remained Alliance. And this could have been balanced by making Death Knights a Horde-only class. Death Knights were always classic Horde units, and the theme of outcasts banding together fits in well with the Horde. Not to mention the natural relation with the Forsaken.

Then in Mists of Pandaria, Monks could have been an Alliance-only class. In my mind, the quiet, contemplative nature of the monks and pandaren fit in better with the lawful Alliance than the rough-and-tumble Horde.

So in this alternate timeline, we'd have a Horde with Death Knights and Shamans, and an Alliance with Paladins and Monks. The differences between the factions would have been more pronounced. I think this would have made it easier for the writers to craft stories that were unique to each faction.

Of course, I don't think this plan would have been okay with the players though. If the Death Knights had been revealed as a Horde-only class, with no Alliance class in Wrath, the howls of outrage would have been deafening.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

First Impressions: Final Fantasy XIV

I decided to give the open beta of Final Fantasy XIV a shot. I don't really play FF games, so I'm not too sure what the backstory of this game is like. I did like the trailer very much.

I haven't played a lot, so these are very basic impressions.

Character Creation

The character creation is superb, the best I've ever seen. It offers a very nice balance of options, while still making it easy and not too complex. In particular, I like that you can save a character look, and reuse it.

I think you can download the character creator from the main site, if you just want to see that. The only downside for character creation might be that you cannot really change body types.

Initial Gameplay

The game seems very polished. The UI is clean and colorful.

Gameplay looks like the pretty standard tab-target hotkeys. The GCD seems a little high, it's 2.5s to start with, but I think that there is a stat which reduces it. Combat is decent, though the effects seem very "flashy", with lots of particle effects. It's pretty typical "kill 3 squirrels" stuff.

Talking to people feels very much like a console game, with the speech bubble you keep clicking through.

One interesting thing is that there are three starting zones, but your starting zone is determined by your initial class.


The setting seems like a typical Japanese fantasy setting, with a melange of types. You know, different characters using very different accents, and the word choices and names are mixed in from all real-world cultures.

It's interesting how Western settings seem to emphasize far more cohesive cultures. There is a common culture and style to Ferelden in Dragon Age, for example, which is different from the other countries in that setting. I wonder if it is the influence of Tolkein, or just the structure of Europe in general.


I first rolled a gladiator, which looks like a one-handed sword class, maybe with a shield. Unfortunately, I ran into a bug where the North American servers think that I am logged in, and won't let me log in again. I didn't even get to test out combat on the gladiator.

So I made a lancer, which is a spear-wielding character, on the Japanese servers.

I gather that a single character can take multiple classes, though the classes use different gear. The armory system seems a little complex. I'm not exactly sure how multiclassing works.


It seems like a good enough game. It's colorful, nicely polished, and seems to work well (aside from that nasty login bug).

But it's pretty much the same style of MMO we're all used to and have been playing for years. Indeed, it feels very old-school, closer to vanilla WoW and Lord of the Rings Online (and probably Everquest, etc.). If you're looking for something different, this is not the game for you.