Thursday, September 20, 2018

Seasonal Alts

In the Reddit AMA, Watcher discusses alts:
We're often torn when it comes to questions about alt progression, alt catch-up mechanisms, or account-wide systems. Philosophically, what's the point of an alt? For one group of players, the primary desire is to jump into participating in endgame activities from a different perspective (a PvP alt, or a healer alt for a change of pace from your usual DPS main, or whatever). In that context, almost any required progression can feel like a nuisance - an obstacle in the way to the desired endpoint of being raid-ready, or arena-viable. 
For another group of players, an alt represents a fresh set of goals to pursue after reaching a point of diminishing returns on a main, whether that's someone who hits max level and then promptly begins leveling another character, or someone who doesn't have many available gear upgrades left on their main and hops over to an alt where progress can once again come quickly. For this type of player, the more things are account-wide, the fewer new goals they have to pursue.
This is a good point on how there are two groups with opposing desires when it comes to alts. Fortunately, Blizzard has a game which has already solved this problem: Diablo 3.

Normally, new characters in Diablo 3 share a lot of elements: access to followers, crafters and recipes, and a common stash. But Diablo 3 also has "seasonal" characters, which are a new character which does not share anything with the others. The character lasts for the season, and at the end converts into a normal character.

This might be a good system to bring to WoW. Allow people to create seasonal characters, which:
  • cannot use heirlooms
  • cannot receive mail from non-seasonal characters
  • cannot trade with non-seasonal characters
  • cannot access guild banks
  • do not share currency or reputations
  • cannot be boosted
Then allow normal characters to share reputations, and maybe other elements like a common bank stash, or even currencies.

Throw in some achievements, and maybe a pet or mount reward for levelling a seasonal character from 20 to 120 (start at 20 so that you can level Allied races). Maybe automatically give out an old tier set cosmetic armour. That's enough of an excuse for people to try out seasonal characters.  You can link the seasons to the PvP seasons, as they already exist.

I think this would solve the issue between the two groups of people who want to create alts. It would also create a new track of gameplay for people who are so inclined.

Personally, I really like Diablo 3 seasons. It gives you a reason to start a fresh character and level it to max, as well as several points where you can stop and feel satisfied with what you've accomplished. Seasons would be a good system to port to WoW, especially with all the new Allied Races.

Monday, September 17, 2018

More thoughts on Island Expeditions

Since my last post on Island Expeditions, I've done a bunch more. I do them on Heroic difficult now. Most of the time we win, but I have had a couple of losses. Here are a few more thoughts on Island Expeditions:

  • Island Expeditions are a lot more tractable when you start with a clear plan. I usually play with random groups, so it's very hit and miss. Generally, you follow the one person who's most willing to charge ahead. But I did a couple of expeditions with guild members, and we started with a very simple "Go for the X to the east, hitting diamonds, skulls, and quests along the way". Somehow just having that plan at the beginning made the expedition much easier to handle. It was a lot easier to predict where the team would stop and in which direction they would go.
  • Island Expeditions need more varied palettes in flora and fauna. Really, you should be able to identify the island just by the view from the ship at the start. Instead, your first sight is always a tropical beach with some crocodiles. This adds to a feeling of sameness with expeditions. Blizzard should have started with fewer, more distinctive islands.
  • Having Azerite elementals is a mistake. Right now, you run from a beach with crocodiles and end up in an area with Aerite elementals. This adds to feeling of sameness. Both the beginning and end of your charge are the same in every island. Start on a beach with crocodiles, run to the Azerite elementals. As well, you have to fight the Azerite elementals in world quests as well, and they're relatively uninteresting mechanically.
  • Island Expeditions should focus on skulls. In contrast to the elementals, hunting skulls is fun. They're always different creatures, with different abilities and minions. Remove the red X deposits, or have them spawn with a random skull and greatly empower the skull enemy.
  • Encountering the enemy Horde is odd. Maybe this is just coincidence, but in both of my losses, we never encountered the Horde. It feels like, in an average pickup Heroic group, the Horde's ability to collect Azerite outstrips ours. But we can kill them, and set them back enough to pretty much guarantee victory. It's always a close game until the Horde is encountered. It's slightly annoying too, because after you kill them once, they keep coming back and making things take longer. So it feels like you want to see the Horde, because it guarantees a victory, but it also guarantees that the rest of match will take longer and be more annoying ("Sneaky Pete!"). I don't really know how to fix this, or even if it is something that should be fixed.
  • I would like to see a variant that wasn't a race. Perhaps something where all the enemies are tougher and deal more damage, but a single death is automatically a loss. Though that might make tanks and healers mandatory. Perhaps disallow tank and healer specialisations, since every class has a damage specialisation.
Those are some more thoughts on Island Expeditions. After playing several, they're reasonably fun. I do enough to get the weekly quest, and I like doing that. However, I think a few tweaks here and there, especially a greater focus on the skull enemies, could make Island Expeditions better.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Reddit AMA with Ion Hazzikostas

On Friday, Reddit had an Ask Me Anything with WoW's Game Director Ion Hazzikostas (WatcherDev, formerly Gurgthock from Elitist Jerks). It's a very interesting read. Watcher talks a bit about all the perceived issues with the new content in BfA.

For some reason, Reddit (and MMO-Champion) seem to have a lot of issues with Battle for Azeroth. I am not really onboard with the majority of their complaints.

To me, the "meat-and-potatoes" of BfA, the questing, the dungeons, mythic+, the raids, are the best they've ever been. That's where I spend the bulk of my time. A few of the newer "side-dishes" could probably be improved. But even then I don't really think any of them are outright bad. I think the complaints are overblown, and more a community circle-jerking than serious issues that greatly affect players.

Reading Ion's responses, though, I do think that the WoW team is not paying enough attention to "first impressions". They seem to be designing for the steady state, how things play months into the expansion. That's probably good, as it's been a flaw in the past. Something seems amazing on first glance (say Legion legendaries) but five months down the line every one hates it.

But the WoW team are stumbling on the new mechanic's first impression. People look at the new element, or try it once, and aren't excited. This is a real problem that the WoW team needs to address.

The other major issue I saw is that Blizzard is moving to a model where class specializations have strengths and weaknesses. But they have not communicated to use exactly what strengths and weaknesses our specializations actually are supposed to have.

Having strengths and weaknesses doesn't bother me, as I play a Holy Paladin. We're pretty much the archetype for a specialization with true strengths and weaknesses and have been for most of the game's history. We're strong in single/double target healing, and bad at healing many targets at once. So I'm used to it. But I can see how the specializations (especially DPS) which were well-rounded are now disconcerted that they don't have mobility, or lower AoE damage, etc. compared to their compatriots.

I do think that Blizzard should explicitly lay out the expected strengths and weaknesses of each class specialization.

In any case, the AMA with Ion is well worth the read.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Venturing into Heroic Uldir

This week, we decided to go into Heroic Uldir after killing the first 7 bosses in Normal. We didn't actually get attempts on Normal G'huun. I rather think we won't actually attempt it until we get stuck in Heroic. The lure of higher item level gear is too strong for our leadership.

Heroic Taloc

This fight was more or less the same as Normal, except there are laser beams below the elevator as it descends. You have to look below the elevator to see where the beam is, and make sure you avoid it as the elevator goes through it.

In our first attempt, I think everyone was trying to look for the beams. We successfully avoided them all, but the adds on the elevator wiped us. In the second attempt, we paid more attention to the adds and did the fight successfully.

Realistically, if you move as a group, you only need a few people watching for beams. The rest of the group just follows them around while focusing on adds.

Heroic Mother

This fight has a new mechanic in the second room where lasers come down from the ceiling and there is a row of swirlies which mark the safe spot. In the first attempt we all thought the swirlies denoted danger, and got wiped out by the lasers.

We also killed Mother in the second room, and never moved to the third room, where I gather there is another new mechanic.

Heroic Fetid Devourer

This guy hits like a truck. The mechanics are fairly straightforward, but it's pretty much a gear check for your tanks and healers. And in a way, dps as well, as you need to kill the boss before you run out of cooldowns.

We even lost the Thrash tank near the end, and then starting bleeding dps as different melee would run in and try to pop cooldowns to take the Thrash attack.

Heroic Vectis

This is fight we're currently working on. Unfortunately, the strategy we're following requires some choreographed movement to deal with the blood vectors safely. Choreographed movement is a great weakness of ours. So I don't think everyone in the raid really understands it.

We'll see how it goes next week.

I wonder if we will drop Normal and continue working on Heroic. We have three bosses worth of loot, and I think we could to five. That's enough for a reasonable farm, and we'd be able to get back one and a half raid nights to work on Heroic.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Azerite Armor

The major new mechanical system in Battle for Azeroth is Azerite Armor. It's kind of a cross between Legion legendaries and artifact weapons. Like artifact weapons, you empower your neckpiece by collecting Azerite Power. Then your head, shoulders, and chest are special pieces which have abilities that unlock based on your Azerite level. You can usually choose one ability from four or so choices.

There are three or four rings which can be unlocked. The first ring has abilities which modify your powers. The second-last ring has defensive abilities, and the last ring gives +5 item levels. Raid gear has a second outer ring with offensive passives.

However, unlike legendaries, it's not a completely random system. Specific pieces have specific abilities, so you can farm exactly the abilities you want. Azerite pieces also don't warforge, so you don't have to worry about getting a better version.

It's not a bad system, but it isn't a great system either.

The greatest flaw is that it's not an exciting system. It's a very "Spike" system, to use Magic: the Gathering terminology.[1] A Legion legendary drop was an event. It was rare, and was raw power compared to normal gear. The only problem was that some legendaries were much more valuable than others. A similar thing happened with Artifact weapons. Getting one was another event, and then you unlocked this giant tree of abilities which you worked on filling out. The anticipation of having a completed weapon was very attractive.

Compared to those systems, Azerite Armor lacks sizzle. Most of the power is in that first ring, so it's very front-loaded. The final reward, +5 item levels, is useful, but rather boring.

The other issue with Azerite Armor is that there is a corner case which is a bad experience if it happens to you. If your necklace is behind on Azerite levels, and you loot a very high ilevel piece, none of the rings are unlocked, and the armor feels useless. It's not quite as bad as getting the "worst" legendary, though. Your comparative power to other players is still the same, and you can leave the armor in your bags until you achieve the required level and you've got an instant upgrade then.

For the most part, though, I think Azerite Armor will play well. It will give players something achievable to chase, kind of like set gear, but without the massive gap between those who have the item and those who don't. It's also different from normal armor, where you chase secondary stats. You also get to collect different sets of Azerite Armor for different specs, but you can get by with only those 3 pieces (and trinkets and weapons).

It's just a very boring system, compared to the pure excitement of the Legion gear systems. Azerite Armor may very well be better in day-to-day play, though. It might have been better received if Azerite Armor had been the mechanic for the next expansion, to put some space between it and Legion.

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

Monday, September 10, 2018

Wildstar Closing, Eve Online Sold

Last week had some big news in the MMO world. NCSoft announced that Wildstar and Carbine Studios would be closing down. Eve Online developer CCP was purchased by Pearl Abyss, who make Black Desert.

Wildstar Closes

This news is unsurprising. The game never got traction. Even a switch from subscription to F2P didn't help. Apparently there was a lot of internal drama in the studio as well. There are a lot of potential causes for Wildstar's failure: the focus on the hardcore, the polarizing marketing campaigns, the telegraph action mechanics, the sci-fi'ish setting.

I think Wildstar's base mechanics just required too much intensity for an MMO. Casual play was tiring. I remember giving up at level 15 or so in the beta because it was just too much.

I also saw a comment saying something similar about high end gameplay. It was challenging enough that "farm mode" really never existed, and even high-end raiders got exhausted with the pace.

Also, being sworn at on level up really, really annoyed me. Hopefully, every game takes this to heart and never does it again.

Previous posts on Wildstar:

Black Pearl buys CCP

The most amusing thing about this is that it pretty much shuts up Eve Online partisans from now on. "Oh, the game that was bought out by a Korean publisher" is a leveller in any argument.

Though, honestly, I think this was more about CCP being unable to make a second successful game and grow as a company. Eve Online becomes a division of a larger company and the stockholders get to cash out.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Eve. Everyone fears more aggressive monetization, but I think if Eve is relatively stable in revenue, that won't happen. It's quite an old game now, so I don't think anyone is expecting it to suddenly spike in popularity.

It will also be interesting to see if Eve gets a Korean version. That market might be more receptive to a cutthroat PvP game like Eve.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Uldir First Impressions

The first raid of Battle For Azeroth, Uldir, has opened.

From the Alliance perspective, this raid is a little weird because it seems to be tied entirely to the Horde story line. The Alliance are basically tourists following Brann Bronzebeard on his eternal quest to release more Old Gods into the world. I guess this is one drawback of having two very different faction stories in the expansion.

My guild has decided to be a little more hardcore this expansion. We're looking at raiding 3 nights a week, and ultimately aiming to move into Mythic difficulty. I'm going along with it, but ultimately I am doubtful of things working out. I don't think we're really prepared for the roster management that Mythic requires. I also think we're pretty weak at time management, movement, and positioning. Attributes which Mythic will stress. But maybe attempting Mythic will force us to realise that and improve those weaknesses.

In any case, we tried Normal Uldir to start. We killed the first five bosses on Tuesday. They're all pretty decent.

The second boss, Mother, is particularly interesting because you have to slowly funnel raiders from one room to the next, while still handling mechanics and leaving enough dps on the boss in the previous room. It will be quite interesting to see pick-up groups handling this.

On Wednesday, we killed the sixth boss, Zul. This one took us quite a while, as it involves a lot of target switching. It's a pretty interesting fight overall, though. The boss takes control of people and forces them to jump off the platform. You have to cleanse them before they reach the edge. That creates adds which need to be purged/dispelled to be defeated. Interesting mechanics which I don't think we're really seen before.

The seventh boss, Mythrax, is funny because you have to jump down into his room, and that automatically starts the fight. We had an attempt or two which happened because someone overshot the edge and fell down too early.

For holy paladins, I have a feeling BfA is going to be a return to focused tank healing. Stand within 10 yards of your tank so you get full mastery and aura and keep them alive.

All in all, Uldir looks like like an excellent raid instance, and a great start to raiding in the expansion.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Mythics in BfA

I did several Mythics last week.

In general, they aren't that difficult with a tank that pulls safely. You know, pull back to the group so other groups don't get accidentally pulled, use crowd control occasionally, etc.

Trash can be difficult, especially if you get multiple packs at once. I would rotate cooldowns for the trash packs to make life easier. Avenging Wrath - Holy Avenger - Blessing of Sacrifice - Holy Avenger, one per trash pack, was a good pattern that made healing easier.

I strongly recommend Beacon of Virtue for Holy Paladins as well. There's a lot of group damage going out in heroics.

The only bosses that I found unusually difficult were the Triad in Waycrest Manor and the end boss of Shrine of the Storms. Triad you can jump instead of moving, and using Heroism on the second witch got us past that.

Most of the bosses are mechanics checks. Do the mechanics correctly and the fight is easy enough.

One trend I found is that a Brewmaster Monk tank is bad sign in a group. I don't know why, if they are underpowered, or if it's a difficult class to play, but all the dungeons where I had a Brewmaster tank were a lot more difficult than they needed to be. They also seemed a lot more resistant to pulling safely than the other tanks, for some reason.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Kul Tiras

I finally finished Kul Tiras story. It was a solid ending, and quite enjoyable. I really liked Siege of Boralus as well. Using the main city as the dungeon was lots of fun. I did it at i315 with a group in Party Finder who were looking to finish the quest as well.

All the Kul Tiras zones were good. I liked how there was a main story quest line through the zone, but it only took about 40-50% of the quests, with the remainder being side quests to flesh out the country.

I did Tirgaarde Sound first, which focused on the Ashvane company. Then Stormsong to find the fleet, and finally Drustvar. I would recommend switching Drustvar and Stormsong, and going Tirgaarde Sound to Drustvar to Stormsong.

Drustvar was really interesting as well. In many modern books and movies, it feels like witches are usually portrayed as misunderstood, and the prejudice and ignorance of the peasantry is the real evil. Also shades of feminism conflicting with an evil patriarchy, or men being threatened by women with power.

Drustvar played it straight. Witches exist and they are evil. Burn them in righteous fire. It actually felt quite refreshing, and oddly unique. And you get an "Inquisitor" title, excellent for paladins.

All in all, Kul Tiras is an excellent country for World of Warcraft. It actually feels kind of daunting to realize that I still have an entire second country still to do.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Warbringers: Azshara

Last week Blizzard released the final Warbringers video, this one focusing on Queen Azshara:


It's a great video, and does an excellent job of showcasing Azshara's arrogance, and how that trait is almost admirable. The portrayal of N'Zoth is also also very well done, creepy and effective.

I've mentioned before that one thing I enjoy in movies and other media is a good introduction of a villain. This dual introduction of Azshara and N'Zoth is one of the better ones I've seen, revealing both their characters and establishing their power with beautiful efficiency.

One criticism I've seen on the forums is that N'Zoth "outplayed" Azshara, and didn't actually give up anything of value. I think it's best to think of these magical bargains as binding on both parties. If Azshara had made the first bargain, she would have been a literal slave, unable to disobey N'Zoth. Instead she successfully bargained for both power and free will, a triumph indeed.

Ranking the Warbringers video, Jaina's is definitely the best. Azshara's comes in second, and Sylvanas's is last by a wide margin.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Dungeon, Island Expedition Impressions

Dungeons

I have almost finished the Kul Tiras story. I'm have to do the Siege of Boralus dungeon. It would have been nice if Blizzard had actually noted that Siege was a Mythic-only dungeon in the quest text. It was very confusing.

Actually, this is a bit of a general problem so far at max level. Blizzard isn't providing obvious directions that I think should be provided. For example, emissary turn-ins. I finished a Champions of Azeroth turn-in and I had no idea where Magni was. Apparently there's a portal to Silithus in Boralus? When did that happen? Same thing with the Tortollan emissary.

Dungeons so far are interesting. I finally got to i305 and started doing heroic dungeons.

It's kind of weird doing the Horde dungeons. Normally during an expansion, I've done all the quests beforehand and know the story for each dungeon. But now you enter a Horde dungeon, and there are trolls and gold and dinosaurs running around, and you have no idea why. Especially when a boss is talking smack to you.

If the tank pulls one pack at a time, heroic dungeons are pretty easy, even at minimum item level. If she pulls multiple packs, all bets are off.

I did get my item level up to 312 or so, thanks to a couple lucky drops. Perhaps that's enough to start tackling Mythics, at least with my guild.

Island Expeditions

I also did an island expedition on Normal difficulty. I'm not too sure what to think. The thing is that we were rushing to gather Azerite so fast that you couldn't really understand the nuances of the place. Apparently the opposing faction NPCs have really cool AI or something, but everything went by in a blur, so I'm not sure what really happened.

I kind of wish it wasn't a race, and there was more room to slow down or be strategic. But I don't really know how you would accomplish that. Maybe increase the damage and disallow resurrecting when you die.

The only thing I noticed about the Horde NPCs (a blood elf mage team, I think) was that they jumped an awful lot while fighting. So kudos to Blizzard for successfully imitating human PvPers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Battle for Azeroth: First Impressions

It's pretty late for a first impressions post, but I played a lot on launch week (though I didn't take time off or anything). Then I went on vacation for a week and didn't play at all. So now I'm back, and currently behind everyone in my guild. Oh well, they can carry me for the first couple weeks of raiding.

Some scattered impressions:
  • There is a ton of content. I'm still not finished with Kul Tiras on Coriel, though I'm close. Then there's the whole Horde side to go. It really feels like two expansions in one.
  • There seems to be a lot of angst about level-scaling. Honestly, I didn't really notice any real change from 115 onwards. Before 115, Coriel out-geared the mobs, so it was a bit faster.
  • Azerite gear and mechanics seem okay to me. I do think that Azerite gear makes a bad first impression, especially compared to the artifact weapons in Legion. Maybe I'll expand on this later.
  • I actually like the talent setup a lot, at least for Retribution. I've been playing around with the options, and they all play slightly differently. Inquisition, no Inquisition, Wake of Ashes, no Wake, more or less Art of War procs, faster Crusader Strikes, Divine Purpose procs. You can tailor your rotation to just how you like it. I use faster Crusader Strikes, Wake of Ashes, and no Inquisition. Fairly straightforward, with a small amount of procs to make life interesting.
  • At least, you can tailor your rotation if you don't care about absolute max damage. For raiding, you'll probably get stuck with the cookie cutter build. But for levelling and solo play, it's quite good.
  • There are a lot more cutscenes than I expected, and it's nice to see that a lot of them feature your character.
  • Normal mode dungeons are pretty solid, though best with a steady tank instead of one who pulls everything. For some reason, out of all the tanks, Brewmaster monks seem the most impatient to me. Which is rather ironic.
  • Professions are pretty good. I really like having a separate rating for each expansion, rather than one giant bar. It also looks like Blizzard has made the ranks easier to get. In Legion, it kind of felt like Blizzard expected Rank 2 to be the standard, and then Rank 3 was a bonus that a given character might or might not have. However, everyone got upset when they didn't get Rank 3.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Siege of Lordaeron

The introductory scenario for Battle for Azeroth is the Siege of Lordaeron. The Alliance attacks the Undercity. This scenario was very well done, presenting the battle from both the Horde and Alliance perspectives.

The Horde portion of the scenario even has a small moral choice. Sylvanas uses the Blight, and the  Horde players can either attack the Alliance with a blight-sprayer, or just rescue their own soldiers. Despite a lot of the forum anguish, the vast majority of people in my raid gleefully blighted the Alliance. Though one person said he regretted it afterwards.


The Alliance gets to battle Saurfang, and then Anduin echos Arthas in Warcraft III with his entrance into the throne.


Horde-side, the conversation (not in the video) between Sylvanas and Saurfang was spicy. It drew gasps in raid chat.


Ah, there's the Sylvanas we know and love. Arrogant and snarky. I bet these videos greatly restored her status among Horde players.

For the most part, these scenarios are excellent. Putting major content into the game instead of novels or other secondary media. Blizzard also interleaved game-play and cut-scenes very well.

About the only criticism I have is that the Alliance seems curiously unprepared for the Blight. Here's how I imagine the planning session went down:
King Anduin Wrynn: Our siege towers and armies are ready. Let us march on Lordaeron! Any final concerns? 
Sky Admiral Rogers: Sir, what about the Blight? Do we have a plan to deal with it? 
Anduin: I don't think Sylvanas will use the Blight
Rogers: The Forsaken used the Blight at the Wrathgate. They used it at Gilneas and Southshore. Why would the Forsaken avoid using the Blight now? 
Anduin: You know, Sky Admiral, I don't think we will need a flying ship in this battle. I'm leaving you behind to guard Stormwind.
And that's why our beloved Sky Admiral Rogers wasn't at the Siege of Lordaeron.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Cinematic: Old Soldier

Blizzard released a coda to the War of Thorns: "Old Soldier"


This cinematic focuses on Saurfang's reaction to the Burning of Teldrassil. It also features a young troll nicknamed "Zappy Boi", who first appeared in the Battle For Azeroth trailer.

The cinematic is quite well done. Technically excellent and a nice look at the Horde. It's somewhat surprising that they went for a full cinematic here, as those are usually reserved for trailers.

If there is any problem here, it really harkens back to an old post I wrote, Alliance vs Horde Storyline Favoritism. In that post, I wrote:
That sets up two stories: a civil war within the Horde, and the Alliance attempts to finish Garrosh. Of those two stories, the civil war is always going to be the more interesting story.
You can see the same pattern repeating. The civil war story is more interesting, and has more focus than the other story. We will see what Blizzard does with the Alliance though. If they will introduce an internal conflict for that faction.

A lot of people are predicting a repeat of Pandaria. At the end of the expansion, Sylvanas will become a raid boss and new Warchief will be chosen.

My prediction, however, is that Sylvanas stays Warchief throughout the expansion. The Horde rallies behind her, and unlike Garrosh, she does not turn on them. I think Blizzard will keep the faction war "hot" for the next few years, and the best way to accomplish that is to leave Sylvanas as the Horde leader.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

War of Thorns: Conclusion

Last week, Blizzard released the second part of the War of Thorns, including the Warbringers: Sylvanas cinematic. They started off quite well in the first week, but did they manage to stick the landing?


And the answer is "No!" It's been a while since we've seen a game writing team face-plant so spectacularly. Not since Mass Effect 3, in fact.

In my opinion, the problem is the writers' use of emotion. Emotion must be anchored in reason. If emotion is divorced from reason, the character is irrational. And no one likes following irrational leaders. It's especially bad for Sylvanas, who's basic character is the cool, calculating, ruthless archetype. A night elf talks smack to Sylvanas, she gets mad, and burns the tree in a fit of anger? That's so far out of character that it's just senseless.

I'm not objecting to Sylvanas burning the tree, by the way. It was almost totally what I hoped for. (A pity the Horde did not have a quest to light the torches and fire the catapults!) If only Sylvanas had said something to the night elf like:
I am not wasting a Horde army in a pointless occupation. Nor will I watch them be bled by your sentinel "resistance". Burn the tree.
That sort of attitude would have been totally in line with the existing characterization of Sylvanas, and lead to the same result.

Other than the cinematic, the conclusion to the War of Thorns was short but decent. The final Alliance quest, where you try to save as many night elves as possible before being overcome by the fire, was excellent. A great use of standard quest mechanics to drive home the point.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

War of Thorns: Alliance Part 1

A quick post on the first part of the Alliance pre-patch quest.

The Alliance story was okay. It was very reactive to what the Horde was doing though. As such, it didn't feel as purposeful or as forceful as the Horde story was.

I did also try some World PvP in Darkshore. I joined an Alliance raid which ran around the zone a lot. Unfortunately, I think we were in an instance that did not have an opposing Horde raid. So all the kills were isolated overrunning of individuals or small groups. Not really that exciting.

In any case, the next part of the story releases today. We'll see how things turn out and find out who really burns Teldrassil.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

War of Thorns: Horde Part 1

I did the first part of the pre-expansion questline, the War of Thorns, on my Horde character last night.

My first reaction:
Picture found through Google
I wrote two posts long ago which are worth revisiting in light of this questline:
I said that one side has to be the aggressor, and thus in the wrong in the modern view of war. In the War of Thorns, Blizzard has embraced this. The Horde is unequivocally the aggressor. Sylvannas is driven by the old vision of war as a strategic tool.

I think this is the only correct way to do faction warfare, but there are a number of Horde players who are deeply unhappy over this turn of events. Especially the Horde druids who don't want to attack Malfurion. (I, on the other hand, am looking forward to dispatching him.)

The other part is that the Horde players have their fingerprints all over this conflict. Unlike Theramore, their characters are involved from the very beginning. (And there isn't even a Kitten of the Horde to motivate them.) Blizzard finally put the major event into the game, rather than having it in a book.

I quite applaud Blizzard for taking these decisions. If you're going to do faction warfare, commit 100%.

The questline is quite good as well. It's about 45 min to 1 hour or so. Given that there's another questline on the Alliance side, I think that's a solid amount of content for a pre-expansion event.

There are also several World Quests in Darkshore after the quest finishes. Apparently Darkshore is hilarious if you have War Mode enabled, with lots of PvP going on. I haven't tried that yet, though.

I'm looking forward to seeing the resolution of the War of Thorns. I hope Blizzard sticks to their guns. Even up to having the player being the one who burns the World Tree. That would set the forums aflame.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Warbringers: Jaina

Blizzard released a new short in advance of Battle For Azeroth. It's titled Warbringers: Jaina, and it is excellent.


I really like what Blizzard is doing with Jaina Proudmoore so far. I was expecting that they would end up disgracing her character like they did with Fandral Staghelm.

Layering Jaina's anger with guilt, and having her question the choices she made in her youth, is the pitch-perfect way to handle her character. I'm greatly looking forward to seeing how her story unfolds in the expansion.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Mage Tower Challenges

I finally completed the Mage Tower for my Holy Paladin, buoyed mostly by the capped Artifact Power.

Actually, having the Mage Tower be active full-time was probably the biggest benefit. Previously, whenever I thought about doing the Mage Tower, it was never up. And when it was up, I didn't feel like doing it.

In any case, here's the Holy Paladin skin:


The healer challenge was pretty interesting. The hardest part was probably the section where you had to heal the ghosts, and it was challenging mostly because it didn't use the UI. So it felt like a completely new skill you had to learn.

The final section was rather annoying. The Ignite Soul mechanic, where your allies take damage equal to your health when the debuff expires, is supremely nerve-wracking. Especially when I realized--in the middle of the fight--that I was wearing [Highfather's Machination], which heals you when you drop below 50%:

"Alright, I'm standing in the bad, my health is dropping. I'm not healing myself. I'm down to 30%, good. Debuff expires in 3, 2, ... Wait,why did my health just jump back over 50%? OMG, everyone's dying! Heal, heal, heal!"

Ah well, it was a fun experience.

I also did the Retribution Paladin Mage Tower, fighting Sigryn's council. I think this challenge must have been very sensitive to gear level, and got significantly easier with better gear. With the level of gear I had, it was fairly straightforward once you understood the mechanics. Here's the Ret Paladin skin:


I also tried the tank challenge. It looks fairly doable. My problem is that everything is going fine, and then I get punted off the edge. That happened a couple of times, and I gave up for the night.

I think the Mage Tower Challenges were an excellent part of Legion, and I have mad respect for those people who completed them when they first came out. I also like the way Blizzard let increasing iLevel decrease the difficulty while still preserving a lot of the challenge. You still have to do mechanics correctly, even if you have more room for error. The Dev team did an outstanding job here.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

WoW Classic Dev Watercooler

A couple of weeks ago, Blizzard released a Dev Watercooler for WoW Classic, talking about where the project is and some decisions that have been made.

Some thoughts:

  • Blizzard has decided on 1.12 as the baseline version for WoW Classic. As much as we will all regret missing out on the days of 5 minute paladin blessings, 1.12 is a good choice. Far enough in so that a lot of the really wonky stuff got ironed out, but still with the classic feel. I understand that most of the private servers use 1.12 as well, so it is in line with community expectations.
  • The team has the 1.12 code and 1.12 data. Important, because it means that team doesn't have to recreate it from old memories.
  • The team has a 1.12 build running internally. This means that they have a "source of truth" for the project. No matter what path they go, they can always compare their latest version with the 1.12 build and know that they are faithfully recreating the classic feel.
  • Blizzard has decided to go with the modern WoW engine, but use the 1.12 data. This is mostly good, because the modern WoW engine has all the bugfixes and is tuned for today's computers. For example, the 1.12 was 32-bit, if I recall correctly, but modern WoW is 64-bit. The only issue might be if the older data trips the modern anti-cheat measures.
There's also some details on the different formats of data. Old WoW data is apparently "de-normalized" in many ways, probably for peformance. Meanwhile modern WoW uses a more normalized form.

All in all, WoW Classic appears to be pretty far along. I wonder if Blizzard will surprise us with an early 2019 release.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

This post contains significant spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story recently. It was enjoyable enough, but somewhat mediocre. However, it wasn't that far away from being a good movie.

The main actor playing the young Solo was good. He's not Harrison Ford, but it's hard to fault him for not being on that level. Danny Glover's Lando Calrissian was excellent. The other characters were okay. The new droid introduced was terrible, though.

The very beginning, Solo as Oliver Twist, was laughable. It was an interesting decision to portray young Solo as a good guy with heart of gold, who becomes disillusioned and jaded. I am not certain it was the correct decision, though. A more amoral Han, in line with his character at the start of A New Hope, might have been more interesting.

There are lots of good scenes, the sabacc games in particular were great. There were even a few good quiet scenes, which is a great rarity in action movies these days. However, I think there were a touch too many action sequences. A more rigorous edit that cut 15 minutes or so all over the place, would probably have improved the movie greatly.

One problem all the new Star Wars films have is their villains. They just aren't good villains at all. I'm not sure why Disney has such a problem writing villains in these films. SWTOR has a lot of issues, but their villains are leagues ahead of the modern movies.

The villain of this movie, Dryden Vos, is actually a great character, right up until you realize that he never actually did anything villainous. (Well, outside of shanking that governor. But then it's an Imperial governor, so maybe shanking him was a good deed.)

Seriously, Solo and his crew screw up the first job, and he gives them a second chance. He even loans them his best lieutenant to help them out. Then at the end, Solo betrays him first. Vos is really only a bad guy because the marauder chief turns out to be a young girl with a sob story. Solo allies with her despite the fact that she is responsible for the deaths of two of his first crew. It's such a blatant violation of "show, don't tell" that it seriously damages the movie.

I think the movie also suffers a bit from trying to set up a sequel. I think Han's girlfriend, Qi'ra, would have been handled in a better manner if there had been no hope of a second movie. It felt like they were trying too hard to keep her being a good person, even though it is necessary for her to betray Han to complete his character arc.

So that's what I thought of Solo. It's decent enough, with several good moments. But you can see the places where it could have been improved, and thus it's somewhat disappointing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Redemption in Knights of the Eternal Throne

This post contains significant spoilers for Star Wars: The Old Republic: Knights of the Eternal Throne.

In Knights of the Eternal Throne, I found the way Bioware handled redemption to be very intriguing.

There are two main villains in the Zakuul saga: Arcann and Vaylin. Both are children of Valkorion and your enemies for most of the game. Arcann is Emperor of Zakuul first, until the player defeats him at the end of Knights of the Fallen Empire, at which point Vaylin becomes Empress.

In KotET, Arcann can be redeemed, brought back to the Light and becomes a companion for the player if the player desires. Vaylin cannot. However, Vaylin arguably is more worthy of being redeemed.

Here is Arcann's trailer:


And here is Vaylin's trailer:


Arcann chooses to become a villain. He makes his choice in anger and rage, but it's still his choice. Vaylin, on the other hand, is conditioned into villainy as a child. She doesn't really have a choice. Even though she probably commits greater evils.

KotET goes to significant length to lay this out for the player, including an excellent chapter on Nathema where it goes into detail about Vaylin's imprisonment on Nathema, and the experiments conducted on her there.

Yet in the end, Vaylin cannot be redeemed. This lends a small sense of unfairness to Arcann's redemption. He is perhaps less deserving than Vaylin, but gets a better end.

I'm not saying this is a negative for KotET. Quite the opposite. It was an excellent move on Bioware's part. It adds a touch of bittersweet-ness to the ending, makes it not quite so perfect and shiny. In fact, I even found myself slightly regretting redeeming Arcann because of that unfairness.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Leveling Dungeons are Fun Again!

The last time I dipped into leveling dungeons in WoW, it was a terrible experience. People in heirloom gear completely overpowered the instance, making it the zergiest of zergs. You didn't even have enough time to hand in quests.

In the leveling revamp of the last patch, heirlooms were reined in. They're still quite good, especially with the experience bonus, but they're comparable to dungeon blues.

Low level dungeons are actually a great deal of fun now. I've even rolled a newbie tank just to do instances. It's not excessively difficult, but the game rewards steady killing of group by group. Sometimes you can handle two groups, but it can be a bit stressful.

I healed a Stratholme run and we wiped a couple times due to accidentally pulling extra packs. The group even spontaneously started using crowd control to make life easier!

If you haven't tried a low-level instance in a while, I strongly recommend giving them a shot. Create an Allied Race character, and you'll start at level 20, making you eligible for instances right away. Queue times are pretty good, too. I'm seeing around 8 minutes for a DPS, 1-2 minutes for a healer, and instantaneous for a tank, of course.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Reconciling Vitiate and Valkorion

The main flaw of SWTOR's Knights of the Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne storyline is that Valkorion, the Emperor of Zakuul, turns out to be same entity as Vitiate, the Sith Emperor. This despite the fact that they have quite different personalities and contradictory goals.

The thing though, is that it almost works. It's almost convincing. I think that Bioware had taken a slightly different tack, the story would have worked much better.

First, have an expansion where Vitiate is defeated once and for all. Or if a full expansion is too much, a patch where Vitiate is banished or locked away, after the Ziost patch. As part of the story, have the player be aided by a mysterious Knight of Zakuul, maybe even Senya.

Then have KotFE happen much like it did. Only Valkorion is not Vitiate, but a Force spirit like Vitiate. Have it turn out that Vitiate possessed Tenebrae on Nathema. Having Valkorion be different than Vitiate, but knowing about him, gives Valkorion an excuse for hiding Zakuul. He was hiding Zakuul from Vitiate, but as soon as Vitiate is out of the picture, Valkorion makes his move.

In all other aspects, the story can remain much the same. I think that one change, simply having Valkorion be like Vitiate, but a different entity who was observing Vitiate, makes KotFE and KotET much stronger and more logical.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void


I finally finished StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void. I bought it a long time ago, but got distracted and never actually started the game until a month or so ago.

I pretty much just played though the campaign on Casual difficulty, just to see the story. So the missions were pretty easy for the most part. Though the final mission of the Epilogue gave me a bit of trouble, because I completely forgot how the Zerg worked.

I really like how the basic building mechanics vary between the three races, and reinforce the style of that race as well as the gameplay. From the very first second of gameplay, that makes playing each race a different experience. An outstanding example of top-down game mechanic design.

The story was quite good. I didn't realize how much I just wanted something triumphant and heroic, and Legacy of the Void delivered in spades. Artanis was a paragon, but Blizzard did a really good job keeping him admirable. I think a lot of it had to do with how they portrayed him as an inspiring leader, making his subordinates greater, rather than having him do things himself.

I think Warcraft could stand to take a look at what Starcraft II did here. Though part of it may be that the player is playing as Artanis, rather than a separate character.

I was also reminded of the Mass Effect series. Like Mass Effect 3, Legacy of the Void is the capstone for a seminal series of games. But where ME3 stumbled (to put it politely) at the finish line, Legacy of the Void stuck the landing. Mostly, I think, by avoiding the temptation to be clever. Instead Blizzard delivered a solid, satisfying ending for one of the greatest game series of all time.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Mark Rosewater Defines A Game

Mark Rosewater is the head designer for Magic: the Gathering. He's been writing a weekly column on M:tG and game design for the last decade or so. In his latest column, What Is a Game?, he sets out his definition of a "game":
MARK'S DEFINITION OF A GAME 
A game is a thing with a goal (or goals), restrictions, agency, and a lack of real-world relevance. 
Let me walk through each part of this definition. 
A goal (or goals) 
There needs to be a point to a game. What exactly are the players trying to do? If there's a way to win the game, how do you win? If there's a way it ends, how does it end? Players in a game need motivation, they need something to direct their actions. That comes from having a goal or goals. Now the goals can be active (defeat the enemy) or passive (don't die), but they must give the players some idea of what they're supposed to be doing. 
Restrictions 
Games are about obstacles. The players have a goal, but something keeps them from simply accomplishing it. A game needs to have some challenge to it because the fun of a game comes from figuring out how to overcome those challenges. 
Agency 
A game needs to have decisions, and those decisions must matter. Having a choice where the proper way to play is always making the same choice is not really a decision, and as such is not giving the player agency. Player involvement in the game and its outcome is core to the experience of a game. 
Lacks real-world relevance 
A game is something that you opt into doing because you want the experience of playing it. Labeling every obstacle you run into in life, a game quickly robs the term of any meaning. We use the expression "play a game" because it's an activity we opt into for some gain (usually entertainment and/or education, but there are many reasons one can chose to play).
In the rest of the article, Rosewater goes through what happens if you have three of the elements, but not the fourth.  It's a creative way of examining the issue, and is very revealing.

Perhaps the most interesting section is agency. Rosewater asserts that what is important is that you believe you have agency, not if you actually have it in reality. For example, he says that Tic-Tac-Toe is a game if you believe you can win. Once you realize that you can't win, it ceases being a game for you!

In any case, it's one of Rosewater's best articles, and I strongly encourage everyone to read it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Most Difficult Boss Mechanic Yet

From /u/Crimsonsette on Reddit, a description of a mechanic in Construct 7, a boss in FFXIV's latest 24-man raid:
Super quick and dirty guide on math for Construct 7. 
When he casts 'Subtract', he'll bring your HP down to a single digit - make a note of what this number is. He'll also spawn 4 puddles on the ground in a line that are denoted with either 1, 2, 3 or 4 dots. Going into the puddle area will ADD that the dot amount to your HP. The main mechanic is to math and make sure that your HP will match the mechanic he's doing. 
'Divide by 3'. You need to make sure that your HP is divisible by 3, so 3, 6, 9 or 12. Go into the puddle that will add points to your HP to hit one of those numbers. 
'Divide by 4' - Your HP needs to be an even number, 4, 8, 12, 16 etc. 
'Divide by 5' Your HP needs to end in a 5 or 0. 
If you do it correctly, you'll see the check mark on your head and you'll get a damage up buff. 
After the cyclone, you'll be doing advanced math. He'll cast 'Indivisible', which means your HP needs to be a number that cannot be divided (aka a prime number). 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13.
The FFXIV playerbase does not hold out much hope for this fight. It's amusing that this is a mechanic which would be completely ineffective in WoW. An add-on would be immediately made which gives you the correct answer right away.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Knights of the Eternal Throne

This post contains significant spoilers for The Old Republic.

I played through the latest expansion of Star Wars: The Old Republic, Knights of the Eternal Throne. Actually, apparently I left halfway through the previous expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, so first I finished that off.

I feel the same way about KotET as I about The Last Jedi. The initial setting is absurd, and is a drag on the entire story. Vitiate and Valkorion being the same entity and having two empires doesn't really fit in with the rest of the game, or the way Vitiate has been presented previously. But if you just accept that premise, the rest of the story is pretty decent.

I liked a lot of the small touches, the way SCORPIO gave the Gemini droids free will, and how Vaylin took it away from them. The ending was quite strong as well, being a family affair just as the entire story had been. Bioware made a good attempt at reconciling Vitiate and Valkorion, invoking Nathema.

It was also interesting the way the Empire, under Acina, was the faction willing to ally with you, while the Republic chose to stand aside. At first glance, it looks a little odd, but it actually fits well that the Sith would chafe more under Zakuul's rule.

The "Virmire" choice between two companions was done well. It was obvious that the companion you didn't chose was going to die, but they delayed and faked it out to create enough doubt that it was still a bit of a shock.

I did play it through on my Agent, and it was decent enough. It still felt like it would have been a better story for a force user though. Of the non-force users, though, I think the Agent is the best option, as much of that story revolves around mind control.

Speaking of the Agent, I loved the reunion with Vector. Vector was my companion of choice up until companions were taken away at the start of KotFE. The reunion was done perfectly, and it's so good to have him back.

The Traitor story that came after was a little obvious and silly (Theron's haircut!) but it was done well, and did a pretty good of resetting the setting closer to the Republic vs Empire state. It was insightful of Bioware to see that the Eternal Fleet was the only element which needed to be removed to restore the balance.

I did like how the instances had a story mode tuned for you and a companion. It's much better than the instances with the "Jesus" droid.

All in all, Knights of the Eternal Throne was a good expansion for the TOR. The story ended quite well. The real problem, though, is that I played through it in two weeks, going relatively slowly. I'm not sure there was enough content for a steady subscriber. It will be interesting to see what Bioware is going to do next.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Rift Prime

I've been playing Rift Prime for the last month or so.  I originally tried Rift back when first launched, and a lot of what I posted then still applies:

Some things have changed. Rift now has a Dungeon Finder, which makes doing dungeons a lot easier. As well, Rift got rid of spell ranks, which makes leveling much smoother. They also give you several optional "automatic" builds, which you can choose and the game will guide you where the points in the build goes.

Level 20 Eth Ranger in Stonefield
A lot of things are the same as well. Warrior armor is still sketchy, the macro system is still excessive, and that third soul still does not feel quite right. I still think that Rift builds should have been two souls only.

Requires People

Rift is a game which really needs a lot of people. When Invasions pop and there are many groups running around, it's a lot of fun. But as you level, the number of people drop off, and higher level zones are a lot less interesting and lack the same energy that the lower zones have. Rift tries to encourage people to go back to old zones, and there is some level scaling, but it feels less and less effective as you level.

It's also possible that the large wave of people has gone ahead of me and has already reached the level cap.

I kind of wonder if Rift could have worked without instanced dungeons and raids. If everything was in the main world, and better gear and armor were earned through doing rifts and invasions, would that have been better in the end?

Story

Rift's story is really lackluster. It's odd, because it does feel like they put a lot of effort into it. Named NPCs pop up from zone to zone, plotlines generally make sense. It's kind of hard to put a finger on just what is wrong with the story.

I think the main problem are the villains. They're elemental invaders from another plane, as such, they're very faceless, interchangeable, and have very surface-level motivations. They just don't seem to lend themselves to good stories.

I do think there's a few missed opportunities. For example, if you character is a Defiant, you come from a future where the bad guys have won. The major villain then is a sorceress named Alsabeth. However, when go back to the past, Alsabeth is already a villain. I think there's a lot which could have been done if Alsabeth had started as a hero, as you'd be constantly waiting for her to fall.

Wardrobe

There is one system in Rift which is best-in-class. That is the game's wardrobe system.

Wardrobe system on my warrior
The wardrobe is simple and intuitive. It is extremely easy to understand and use, but it is also thorough. Every option is available, you can easily show or hide items, choose a new look, or dye gear. You can store many sets (though you have to pay to unlock them).

It's also built into the character pane, so it's always available, which is especially useful when you get a new piece of gear. You can put it on, and fix your looks right away, rather than having to go back to a vendor.

Rift also has armor "sets" for every piece in the game, from the very first pieces you wear. That adds to the whole collection aspect.

If I was making a cosmetic armor system for an MMO, I would use Rift's system as a model.

Final thoughts

I'm probably going to stop playing Rift Prime when my current time runs out. It just hasn't grabbed me. Rift isn't a bad game. It's just a "decent, not great" game. Unfortunately, that really isn't enough in this genre. To survive, I think an MMO has to offer at least one "special" thing, something it does best, and something worth falling in love with, even if other elements are subpar. Sadly, Rift lacks that one unique "special" element.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Updates

This is probably the longest I've gone between posts. I really should just sit down and write, instead of thinking about writing.

Warcraft

We're clearing Antorus every week. I guess now we're just waiting for the next expansion. The officers are trying to get a taste of Mythic, but we just don't have the numbers.  Even our heroic runs usually only have around 18 people.

Rift Prime

I finally got Trion's website to work. The adblocker I run was interfering with their payment provider. I signed up for a package, and have been leveling a Guardian Warrior. Hopefully I will go into it in more detail in a future post. But by and large, pretty much everything I said when I first tried Rift still holds. 

Which does make sense, as it is a Prime server. But that also means that the reasons I stopped playing Rift before are going to cause me to stop playing Rift now.

Other

Otherwise I'm not really playing anything. I guess Bless Online is coming out shortly, maybe I will give that a whirl.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ahead of the Curve: Argus the Unmaker!

Yes, my screenshot skills are very rusty. This is better than the shots where I have my back to the camera.
My guild downed Heroic Argus the Unmaker this weekend!  We spent an hour trying to get our fifth kill on Aggramar, so it wasn't looking very promising.  However, our first attempt was a heart-breaking 0% wipe, so we knew it was in our grasp.

The next couple of pulls were odd wipes, including one where Argus decided to walk away from the tanks, turn around, and Cone of Death them. Finally we got a good pull where everything went well, went into the last phase, got Titanforging early, and everyone stayed alive longer than normal.

Argus is an interesting fight in that the last phase completely resets the board. Everyone who's dead comes back to life with the rest of the group and you start again cleanly. In some ways it's kind of nice, because once you've mastered the first phases, you don't have to do them perfectly while learning the last phase. A death or two here or there is perfectly survivable, and you can save battle resses for the last phase.

Now we just have to fix our issues with Aggramar. I'm not sure what's going on. I think we made some small changes which is making the fight more fragile for us.

Still, that's Legion pretty much done and dusted for us. I doubt we will try Mythic, just due to avoiding the roster hassle.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Paystyles

Imagine that there are two MMO players: Sally and Lucy. Both of them regularly play the same four MMOs: Game A, B, C, and D. However, they don't play each game equally, but for different amounts of time. Sally and Lucy spend 50% of their time in A, 25% in B, 15% in C, and 10% in D.

Both players have the same entertainment budget of $60 per month.  However, how each spends that budget is different.  Sally prefers to spend $15 on each game. Lucy, on the other hand, spends all $60 on game A, and $0 in the other three games.

GameTime SpentSallyLucy
A
50%
$15
$60
B
25%
$15
$0
C
15%
$15
$0
D
10%
$15
$0

My contention is that Lucy is a more accurate model of how most gamers want to spend their money. She doesn't mind spending a significant amount of money on her hobby. However, there is a threshold which a game has to surpass to be considered worth spending money, and all the money goes to those games which surpass the threshold (usually only one game). Even though Lucy spends 50% of her time in other games, they don't get any money at all.

Of course, if next month Lucy spends most of her time in game B, she will spend the $60 in game B.

There is a minority of gamers who are like Sally, though. Who prefer subscriptions and spreading the spending around.

I think the reason lockboxes are so popular is that they more closely match how Lucy wants to pay for her games. I think the game companies would prefer Sally and subscriptions. Witness how many games attempt to start with subscriptions but have to convert to F2P and lockboxes. The game companies are stuck with a audience of Lucys.

The common refrain in the community lately is that lockboxes are evil and predatory. The vocal community, though, tends to be Sallys. Perhaps lockboxes are empowering for Lucy instead, allowing her to spend her money exactly as she would prefer, even if Sally thinks that way is illogical and foolish.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Updates

I haven't posted in a while, so here's an update on how things are going.

Rift Prime

There's a fair amount of hype and nostalgia going around for Rift Prime. I decided to give it a whirl and downloaded the Glyph launcher again.

Unfortunately Trion's website won't let me add my credit card as a payment method for some reason. It just stalls with no errors or response. So that's the end of that plan.

World of Warcraft

My guild has cleaned up our act on Coven, even one-shotting it a week ago. Unfortunately, this has also been accompanied by serious regression on Aggrammar in the last two weeks. We've been wiping much more than we did on our first two kills, making it very hard to actually get attempts in on Argus.

We did finally get a chance to make three or four serious attempts on Argus last raid. We even had a 1% wipe.  We just have to clean up that last phase and reliably get the Titanforging buff early.  Hopefully Coven and Aggrammar will go well next week, and give us enough time to down Argus.

I also got the Lightbringer title from Argus (the zone) last week. For some reason, I could not get the hang of the goblin glider, as this was the first time I've really used it. Normally I just bubble when I need to fall a long distance. I fell off the edges of Argus and died numerous times while trying to get the hidden treasures. I finally got them all, and got a nice title for my paladin.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Neat Ranged Paladin Idea

I came across this Reddit post describing ideas for additional class specialisations. One was for a ranged paladin, and I thought it was particularly interesting.

Normally ranged paladin variants play up the idea of paladin as holy spellcaster, the "shockadin". In the past we've even had spells like Denounce which allowed Holy paladins to try this playstyle. And it worked reasonably well for questing, but was never raid-viable. In Legion, Blizzard moved Holy paladin dps back to a melee-style, which I've found quite fun for questing. (Still not raid-viable, though.)

In any case, this ranged paladin variant isn't a spellcaster, but instead uses a two-handed crossbow. It fuses elements of a "witchfinder", inquisitor, or Van Helsing-style vampire hunter into the paladin. Having the paladin focus on a weapon reinforces the martial aspect, and witchfinders reinforce the religious overtones of the class.

Though crossbows would be the signature weapon, I imagine these paladins could also use bows and guns. It would also be nice for ranged weapons to be used by a class other than hunters. Though Blizzard would have to add Strength to ranged weapons.

A witchfinder might be an interesting idea for a new non-caster ranged class well, maybe wearing leather instead of plate. However, I wonder what specialisation options it would have. A paladin variant would be simpler.

All in all, this was a neat paladin variant, and one I'd love to see in-game.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Heroic Aggramar Defeated!

Heroic Aggramar fell surprisingly quickly.

We spent over an hour trying to get our second kill on Heroic Coven. We finally got them down and reached Aggramar with about 50 minutes left in the raid. I think we resigned ourselves to going over the basic strategy and then pulling it a few times to see the fight.

Instead we killed Aggramar in five pulls.

I think that part of it was that we use a lot of assigned CC on Coven, so it was pretty easy to do the same thing on Aggramar. Then the rest of the fight is straightforward.

I think our guild's major weaknesses are movement and spacing. If a fight doesn't require precise movement and positioning, we're decent enough. I'm not really sure how we can get better at movement and spacing. From previous guilds, it's not something which is really discussed, but more something which is done naturally.

In particular, I sometimes think that many players have a "home" position in a given fight. That's where they stand, and where they return to after a given mechanic ends. I feel that there are several players in our raid who don't do this naturally. They don't go back to a standard position, instead moving to new positions, often based on the position of different mechanics, all the time. It's not like this is wrong, exactly, but it does make their movement unpredictable. This ends up hurting us in fights where predictable movement is more useful.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Allied Races

With 7.3.5, Blizzard released four allied races if you pre-order the next expansion, Battle For Azeroth. There are two races for the Alliance: Void Elves and Lightforged Draenei; and two races for the Horde: Nightborne, and Highmountain Tauren.

Each of these races played a part in the Legion storyline, and recruiting them is a very organic development in the story. Each race requires a certain amount of reputation and achievements, which you basically have if you've been playing Legion.

I'm really happy that Blizzard chose to make playable scenarios about recruiting each of these races. A long time ago, I complained about Theramore, wishing its destruction had happened in game, rather than in an associated novel. It's heartening to see Blizzard put important story events in game, and give the player a role to play in those events. It feels like the Blizzard of a couple expansions ago would have just made the Allied races available to play, and put the story of how they joined in a novel or story online, or a cutscene.

Perhaps this change was prompted by competition with FFXIV, which is all in on the storyline occurring in game. Regardless, it's a good change. Hopefully the same thing will happen with the scenarios for Battle for Azeroth, especially the triggers for the war. I hope players have their bloody hand prints all over the burning of Teldrassil or the attack on Undercity, or whatever other events happen.

In any case, I created a Void Elf shadow priest, and have been very slowly levelling her up. She's currently level 35. I really like the scaling changes made to levelling, as well as having zone completion tied to the story lines. I've been levelling in Kalimdor, as I have not seen most of the post-Cataclysm stories there. The new levelling is very enjoyable.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Heroic Coven of Shivarra Defeated!

Coven of Shivarra was bidding to become our fight with the most wipes so far in this expansion. We finally got it down this week, only a few wipes short of our Heroic Avatar count.

Heroic Coven is an interesting fight in that the individual mechanics are not very hard, but dealing with the combinations can be very difficult. Some mechanics push you to spread out, some mechanics push you to collapse, and there's some randomness as to which mechanics happen when which makes it hard to learn the fight. You may see a certain combo only a few times a night.

For us, our big change was how we handled the marching adds. We switched to a strategy where we tried to lock down all the marching adds. This delays running behind them as long as possible, and makes it a lot easier to find safe spots during darkness.

It took us a little bit of practice, including several attempts where we got fairly close. But something always happened in the last 20% and the attempt fell apart. The final kill was fairly smooth. Hopefully we will be able to repeat this next week.

This is the one fight this tier that has really tested my mana. I was running on fumes for much of the last bit of the fight.

The only other thing to note is that the Legendary Prydaz makes a large difference this fight. It's well worth bringing it out for this fight if you have it.

Monday, February 05, 2018

The Problem of One-Tricks

The current major cause of angst in Overwatch are "one-trick" players. These are players who play almost entirely with a single character and refuse to play other characters. The problem is that Overwatch is a game where you can swap characters to better match different situations.

Add to that the fact that some characters are seen as weak, or specialized, and a lot of people become unhappy when another player chooses a character that seems sub-optimal.

The other problem here is that generally, if you play a lot on one character, you become better at that one character than you are at the others. A Torbjorn main can rightfully feel that she plays best on Torbjorn, and would be worse on the character her teammates want her to play.

Of course, no one complains if you one-trick a character who is in demand and who people don't play. Mercy players or tank players come to mind.

Not to mention that if you play in regular team, each teammate often gravitates to the same roles. Dave is the support, Sally is the tank. From an outside point-of-view, this is one-tricking, but the big difference is that everyone on the team is comfortable with it.

So far, Blizzard's stance is that--as long as you try to win--playing one specific character is acceptable. But there are signs that resolve may be cracking. One-tricks are often reported by other players, and can get caught in the automated banning systems.

I wonder what a purely mechanical solution would look like. Imagine that, in competitive, any hero who's playtime this season is more than one standard deviation away from your average playtime per hero is locked out. So your hero pool would be limited at the start of a game, and you'd be forced to play on a wider variety of heroes.

It would make matchmaking more difficult, as you'd now have to account for available heroes when assembling a group. It wouldn't do to make a group where everyone is locked out of the healers (as unlikely as that is).

On the other hand, perhaps your rating in Competitive would be more representative of your ability in the game as a whole, and not just with one hero.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Overwatch League

You have to hand it to Blizzard. They went full-bore into eSports with the Overwatch League. Paid rosters, teams associated with cities, branding, professional sportscasting, even allowing fans to purchase team skins. They're really treating Overwatch League as a true professional sport.

The question, of course, is if this will work out. So far, it looks to be doing okay. I think they had 400,000 viewers for the first matches, and future matches seem to be about the 110,000 viewers mark. The real test is if they can attract significant advertisers and sponsors. That is what will make OWL profitable.

I've only seen part of one match: the last three games of the Los Angeles Gladiators versus the Philadelphia Fusion. LAG came back from being down 2 games, and won the last 3 games to win the match. It was reasonably interesting, more or less like watching regular sports on television. Blizzard integrating the stream into the Battle.net app was an excellent decision, as it made it very easy to check out.

The only issue I had with the actual broadcast is that it was sometimes hard to keep track when the camera switched to a different player. Adding a fast wipe or transition there would be really nice.

The structure of a match is pretty interesting. It's technically best-of-five games, but teams play at least 4 games. This gives it a similar feel to halves and quarters of a football or basketball game, with one possible period of overtime.

One thing I noticed is that OWL really validated Blizzard's decision to allow hero swapping in Overwatch. On the last game, LAG started with an unorthodox 3-damage lineup including a Widowmaker. They then switched to a 3-tank lineup when the Fusion reacted. It reminded me of matching lines in hockey. I was impressed by that, and am considering using my free currency on an LAG skin.

(Everyone gets some free OWL currency, enough for a skin for one character.)

I'm unlikely to really follow OWL, but it's definitely an intriguing experiment. I hope it proves successful for Blizzard. If you haven't seen a match, it's worth catching one just to see the league in action.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Patch 7.3.5 Tomorrow

Patch 7.3.5 comes out tomorrow. I've been really impressed with Blizzard's release discipline this expansion. Each patch has come out like clockwork 11 weeks apart.  Amazing job by the team, especially the project managers.

Now hopefully they can bring Battle for Azeroth in with the same discipline.

Patch notes for 7.3.5 can be found here.

From the notes, it looks like this patch is all about revamping the mechanics of the leveling game. Level scaling is being introduced everywhere, and there look to be lots of changes to improve that part of the game. I think it's about time. Out-leveling a zone while you're still questing in it is annoying.

The other part of the patch looks to continue to the story in Silithus. It will be interesting to see how the denouement of the Legion story plays out.

There's no mention of the Allied Races, so I imagine that they are saving them for BfA, or possibly as a pre-order unlock.

Finally, if you have authenticator, 4 extra bag slots! Blizzard CS even got in on the latest meme:

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Heroic Kin'garoth and Varimathras Defeated

In this week's raid, we continued advancing, this time getting Heroic Kin'garoth and Varimathras down.

Kin'garoth

Here we made a couple of adjustments to our strategy. We aimed to kill an Annihilator robot first. We were having problems with having Ruiner targeting the people who were soaking the annihilation pools. The other change was to split the dps into 3 groups, and each group go after a different robot. The group going after Annihilator was weighted with more of the top dps players, to guarantee that robot died before the end.

It worked pretty well, as it minimized a lot of movement in that phase, and we got a kill a few attempts later.

Varimathras

This is kind of an easy fight, really only a challenge for the healers to keep everyone topped off before they have to run out of the group. It was really just a matter of getting everyone to recognize the two debuffs, and to stay in for Marked Prey, and run out for the Necrotic Embrace.

Coven of Shivarra

This is the fight we're working on. It's pretty crazy, with lots of abilities overlapping and coming in a random order. I think it will be our Avatar for this tier, as it hits a lot of our weaknesses with movement, positioning and dealing with multiple abilities simultaneously.

Loot-wise, I really need a helm, as I'm still using an i915 tier piece from Tomb of Sargeras. Other than that, everything is going well.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Last Jedi

This post contains significant spoilers for The Last Jedi. Seriously, I don't think there's anything that I do not spoil.

When the DVDs for The Last Jedi come out, someone will immediately make an abridged version where pretty much every scene of Finn's is cut. And that version will be superior to the theater version.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Darth Jadus

I saw The Last Jedi tonight. I'll try to have a full post on it tomorrow.

But every time I see one of these movies, I wonder why we can't get a villain like Darth Jadus. Here's a clip from Chaper 1 of the Imperial Agent story of The Old Republic.


Now this is a Sith Lord. Truly scary, almost reasonable until you realize that he's insane, and powerful enough to make his insanity real.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Defensive Passive Talents in Path of Exile

A friend of mine sent me some advice on Path of Exile:
I played for years with terrible defenses and a lot of deaths. Always took offensive passives and built glass cannons that always hit a wall. The passive tree really needs to be more depth than breadth first, as you seek out life nodes in other starting areas, only taking some offensive passives along the way. I think the general rule is something like 400 life per act with capped resistances (preferably from gear, but temporarily from passives if necessary). Offensive power generally comes more from appropriate support gems in linked gear, with some relatively few on the passive tree. Game became way more fun when I built defensively on the passive tree, even though it seems weird bypassing so many offensive nodes related to your skills (at least early on). 
My favorite defensive base for a Ranger (Raider) is taking the life nodes and rushing Phase Acrobatics, Arrow Dancing, and then stretching across the bottom to the Marauder and up to the Scion Life nodes. “Cast When Damage Taken + Immortal Call” helps a lot too even if you lack endurance charges. At least one point of energy shield for stun avoidance, and a little bit of armour (diminishing returns) from armour-evasion hybrid gear. It’s very solid. Same idea for other classes, I’m sure. 
I do wish there were an easier way to respec, but fortunately it doesn’t take long to rush the first several acts (no need to full-clear zones or really focus too heavily on gear early on). Especially if you saved some leveling uniques/rares from your first run.
I ended up deleting my existing characters and starting again, this time focusing solely on defensives. I'm playing a Scion, so we'll see how that goes.

It is a little weird ignoring most of the tree. There are lots and lots of offensive talents, and they're often the interesting talents, the ones you "want" to take. However, it is very nice to take much less damage and survive more.

One of the interesting things about a defensive build is that it gives you a lot more options for play style. Offensive talents often "lock" you into a build. For example, taking talents which boost your Fire damage makes you dependent on Fire.  But if you only take defensive talents, your attacks depend solely on your gear and gems. You can switch styles and abilities freely.

In that respect, defensive builds are really good for new players, as they give a lot more room for experimentation during the game.

The current structure is a bit of trap for new players. I rather wonder if the skill tree in Path of Exile would benefit from a different structure. Perhaps something where the inner ring of talents are all defensives, while all offensives are in the outer ring. This would nudge new players into taking defensives early, while they are still learning the game.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Fishing Legendary!

I got the Fishing Legendary Artifact Weapon, the Underlight Angler, today!

Coriel with the Underlight Angler at the Fountain in Dalaran
It wasn't that hard to get. I got 20 Arcane Lures from Conjuror Margoss (in the pool near Dalaran) and then went from zone to zone, fishing in the pools until I got all the rare fish. It didn't really take that long.

After that you fish up a Pearl from a pool, and then eventually get a quick scenario from Nat Pagle. Kill some murlocs, fish in some pools, kill a giant murloc, and then the skeleton gets fashioned into a fishing pole. Now that I think about it, it's kind of creepy.

I also found a useful macro for fishing:
#showtooltip
/cast [nomod] Fishing
/equip [noequipped:Fishing Poles, mod] Underlight Angler;[spec:1, mod] The Silver Hand;[spec:2, mod] Truthguard;[spec:3, mod] Ashbringer;
Normally, it acts as the fishing cast. But if you hold down a modifier button like Shift or Alt, it switches weapons between your fishing pole and the correct weapon for your specialization (substitute different weapons for different classes, the spec order is as listed in the specialization window).

I have to say that this took a lot less time than I was expecting. Perhaps there's a lesson there.

Edit: Just realized I made a mistake. It's not a Legendary, it's an Artifact Weapon with a talent tree. You have to fish up rare fish to get Artifact Power.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Progress in Heroic Antorus

With the holidays over, my guild has returned to Heroic Antorus. We've moved Normal Antorus off to an optional or with alts weeknight. We did leave Normal Argus alive, and killed him first, so that all of our heroic raiders would get the Argus trinket upgrade item.

This week was a pretty good week. We got first kills on Heroic Antoran High Command, Essence of Eonar, Portal Keeper Hasabel, and Imonar the Soulhunter.

Antoran High Command

I rather like this fight. It's not so bad once people get the hang of the pods. The only thing is that a guild coming from Normal might have only one or two people who regularly do pods. And now you suddenly need six, so it's possible to have a learning curve. Especially for the first guy into the Engineer's pod who has to drop a shield device asap.

I'm the healer who gets to activate the shields, which I find very fun for some reason. Wait for the voice line, activate the device, shield comes up and protects everyone.

Essence of Eonar

We actually had more trouble with this fight than with Antoran High Command, mostly because we kept getting mixed up where to go. Once we get the activation sequence down, it should become a lot smoother.

This fight is kind of annoying as a healer because everyone is taking constant damage, but people are in and out of range and line-of-sight all the time.

Portal Keeper Hasabel

Not much to say about this fight. I was the healer who went up with the portals. The first two portals were pretty easy, but the third one was very confusing with all the debuffs. To be honest, I don't really understand why our kill attempt was so much smoother than the preceding wipes. We must have fixed some mistake, but I have no clue what the mistake was.

Imonar the Soulhunter

This fight was pretty amusing. After working out the P1 and P2 kinks, we made several good attempts.  But after phase 2, as we were roughly in the middle of the bridge, Imonar would suddenly appear and start attacking. In the confusion, we kept losing half the raid. We were wondering if we weren't going fast enough, or if tripping one of the traps caused him to come after us, or even if it was bugged.

We were leaning towards bugged, because on some of our earlier attempts with a lot of early deaths people could get across the bridge fine. After looking through logs, the cause was finally tracked down. Our feral druid was wearing a mythic+ Ember of Nullification, which has:
Equip: Taking magic damage has a chance to apply Choking Flames to the attacker, silencing them for 2 sec.
So taking incidental damage while crossing the bridge triggered the trinket, and it interrupted Imonar from very far away. On the early attempts, the druid had died, so the trinket didn't come into play. Once the trinket was removed, Imonar died in short order.

All in all, a pretty good week. Hopefully next week we can get everything down quickly and get some decent attempts in on Kin'garoth.