Monday, October 29, 2018

Game Details and Fight Difficulty

Syncaine suggests that increased difficulty forces players to learn fights in greater detail:
In short, difficulty is what forces you to actually learn a game, and the absence of it is the absence of that motivation. 
For example, if you are playing an MMO and a boss puts down red circles of fire, with the mechanic being to step out of them, that mechanic only really works if you must step out. If you can beat the boss while still standing in the fire, or getting out slowly, because the difficulty is that low, you aren’t motivated to learn the mechanic. In a vacuum that might not be a huge issue, but if the overall design of the game hinges on players learning and appreciating the mechanics, the difficulty being too low ruins that entire design, regardless of how good the actual mechanic is. Responsive controls so getting out of the fire feels skillful, interesting abilities to assist in moving out, gearing up correctly so you buy yourself more response time, etc, none of that will matter or feel important if the game doesn’t punish you enough for ignore said fire.
I think this is partially correct, and partially incorrect. It's certainly true that a lot of mechanics at LFR level are totally ignored, and thus the level of play is very low. But a similar phenomenon also happens at the very highest level of difficulty.

For example, in the Mythic M.O.T.H.E.R fight this tier, there are three types of adds, each with a special mechanic. I have no idea what those mechanics are, because we send the entire group through the field at once, survive with major defensive cooldowns, and blow up all the adds instantly with a full raid's AoE.

Similarly, on Mythic Taloc, there's some sort of "stack on the tank" mechanic. We have a paladin cheese it with bubble and Spellwarding. On Heroic Zul, we have a tank suicide off the edge in Phase 2 (and then battle-res) instead of dealing with the blood on the floor. Heroic G'huun is one long exercise in using movement abilities to avoid having to throw the orb and clear paths.

This happens in other games too. There's a host of high end fights in FFXIV where you can ignore specific phases if your DPS is high enough ("skip soar"), and the community goes to great lengths to increase DPS so that they don't have to learn those phases. (This may be the NA/EU community only. My understanding is that the Japanese community actually creates and learns strategies for those phases.)

In some respects, high end gameplay is all about figuring out which fight details can be safely ignored. If you really want to learn all the small details in a fight, the sweet spot is probably around late Normal or early Heroic mode, when your players aren't good enough to brute force mechanics.

Monday, October 22, 2018

"All-left" Talents in Battle For Azeroth

I've been playing a few alts and secondary specs recently. One interesting thing is all specializations appear to have a baseline build where you just take the left-hand side talents. These talents are all passives, and the resulting builds are actually really fun.

They are all focused on the core elements of the specialization. This type of build may not be the highest performing build, but they're simple and easy to use.  They're probably a little too simple for someone's main spec, but I think they're perfect for alts or specs that you rarely play. Or even for weaker players.

For example, I was in a group for timewalking, and we needed a tank. Tanking is my least-played specialization. I hadn't actually tanked anything yet this expansion, though I had been picking up Azerite pieces and weapons. But I grabbed all the left talents and gave tanking timewalking dungeons a whirl. And it worked very well. That build was easy to play, and did a good enough job.

I did a similar experiment with my tank-spec demon hunter that I've started to level in BfA. The "all-left" build is quite fun. Fast leaps with flame crashes automatically adding Sigils is quite good while levelling.

Once again, though, these builds generally have one or two main buttons less than a regular build. This is good for weaker players, or less played classes/specs, because you don't have to remember how everything works. However, they're only "good enough", and are probably not strong enough for heroic raiding or mythic+.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Ahead of the Curve: G'huun

My guild is still steadily progressing. We actually killed Heroic Mythrax a couple of weeks ago. This week we took out Heroic G'huun for our Ahead of the Curve achievement, and then killed Mythic M.O.T.H.E.R for good measure.

Heroic Mythrax

Not a lot to say about this fight, it's very much like Normal Mythrax, just more difficult.

I had an idea for technique for the add phases, but we didn't try it, so I have no idea if it will actually work in practice.  Basically, whenever Mythrax starts casting the beam, both tanks pull their add about 10 yards counter-clockwise. The groups, which are usually stacked on the adds, move with them.

The idea here is to pretend a beam is coming towards both groups, and both groups move to avoid it. That way, you don't have to check and see if a beam is coming, which is sometimes hard to tell, and then move. You just always move.

Heroic G'huun

We wiped a lot on this boss last week, learning the different phases. We ended up getting to phase 3 a fair bit, but kept dying to spacing and malignant growth. This week we sorted that out, and got our kill.

It's been a while since we've seen a fight with specialised teams, and orb-running is kind of fun.

I'm not really a fan of the way the second malignant growths start spawning before the first ones have popped. It does make it hard to see the "edges" of the danger zones. But I guess that's part of the challenge.

It was also amusing that we emphasized that healers should heal with their backs to the boss. Kind of like Yogg-Saron, way back in Ulduar. On the next attempt, I followed that plan, then tried to cast Judgement of Light and Light of Dawn, and went, "wait a second...". I never realized that Holy paladins cannot really use that technique anymore.

Mythic M.O.T.H.E.R

We use this cheesy strategy where we send 15 people through the barrier at once, and then pretty much everyone through the second barrier 3 minutes later. We pop a lot of defensives like Spirit Link, Devo Aura, Disc Priest barriers, Darkness, etc, as well as personal defensive cooldowns.  As long as you stay in the Spirit Link, you're likely to survive.

It took a few attempts to get that settled, and then a few more to get the hang of the "wall beam, ceiling beam, fire" pattern. One tip is to avoid running diagonally to the safe spot. Run to the gap for the wall beam, then turn 90 degrees, run to the safe spot. Like the sides of a right-angled triangle.

Mythic+ Shrine of Storms +10

On Tuesday after raid, I was asked to heal a Shrine +10. How bad could it be, I naively thought.

Three hours and 179 deaths later, we finally killed the last boss. I hate the Grievous affix. It's especially annoying on the last boss. Grievous stacks on you when your health is below 90%. The healer power buff won't allow you to heal higher than 90%. So that buff must be dispelled immediately and is a non-factor in the fight.

You can cheese the last boss a little. His Sunken City cast is very long, so you can heal up and wait for cooldowns to come back up before interrupting it. Of course, you'll kill the timer doing that, but we had already blown past that.

Most of our deaths were on the second boss, though. The aoe damage from wind slices combined with Grevious were not fun, and it took us a while to figure it out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Is Gearing a Solved Problem?

In reading all the discussion about Azerite gear, a thought occurred to me: is gearing in WoW a solved problem?

It feels like in Legion and BfA, Blizzard thought gearing up was a little too bland, and sought to "spice" it up a little. And then the playerbase gets upset with the mechanisms like Legendaries and Azerite gear which add the spice.

So is the following gear situation ideal:
  • Has Str, Int, and Agi, so they're useful for multiple specializations
  • Armor has plate, mail, leather, cloth types
  • About four secondary stats
  • One or two secondaries are clearly best for a given specialization, but the others aren't far behind
  • 15 ilvls per raid tier
  • 5 ilvls per mythic dungeon level
  • Warforging and titanforging
  • Sockets and tertiary stats are randomly gained
  • Neck and trinkets don't have a primary stat, just secondaries
  • Weapons and trinkets are role-specific
That's pretty much the baseline Legion and BfA gear system. 

It's a pretty solid core. You can use most of your armour for alternate specializations. You just need a weapon and trinkets. But if you're truly hardcore, you have to have correct secondaries, so you'll maintain a second full or partial set.

There are different axes of competition. For example, a Holy Paladin competes with other plate-wearers for armor; with other critical strike users for jewellery; and with other healers for trinkets and weapons.

Warforging adds some randomness and doesn't make weaker content a total waste of time. Determining if an item is better is not strictly ilvl, but mostly ilvl + correct secondaries. This gives you some gear to chase, but doesn't make replacing gear a trivial decision. A simple heuristic like "go with higher ilvl if the increase is 15 or more ilvls, otherwise pick the better secondaries" will give you good enough results. But people can always use stat weight addons like Pawn or sim their character if they really want to.


The one thing this system is missing is a replacement for class sets. Some sort of collectible that players chase. But class sets don't really work well with the rest of the system. Getting a new titanforged piece and having to choose between it and your 4-piece bonus is annoying.

Perhaps something like guarantee that the major armor pieces (head, shoulders, body, legs) have a gem socket. Then the bosses drop "class trophies" which can go into sockets. Then the trophies, which are all unique-equipped, have the set bonuses. You can use regular gems until you get the class trophies you need. 

(I feel like I'm describing a system I've seen before, but I don't remember where. Maybe Diablo 3 legendary gems? Or the set bonus system used in Rift?)

The one problem with this is replacing gear with trophies when you don't have another copy.  Perhaps the trophy follows the Heirloom model, where getting one unlocks the ability to make more soulbound copies.

End Tangent

In any case, maybe the core gear system of Legion and BfA is strong enough, and doesn't need improvements. Perhaps Blizzard should treat it as a "solved problem" and put their design efforts into non-gear systems.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

An Alternate Azerite Design

I've been musing over ways that Azerite gear could have been improved. As I've said before, it falls a bit short, but doesn't seem like it is that far from a good system.

For me, the biggest flaw is the link between the Azerite item and the Azerite necklace. It seems kind of awkward that your necklace level determines the power of the item you just got. I suppose it makes sense as a catch-up mechanic, but it still seems not quite right.

Here's my proposal for a different, but similar, design:
  • Azerite gear has the current ring and trait structure.
  • The first ring is always unlocked.
  • Each Azerite piece has an independent AP bar and levels.
  • When you earn AP, each piece you are wearing gains the same amount of AP separately.
  • When a piece's AP hits the next level, the next ring unlocks.
  • The weekly AP requirement for level reduction applies to the gear pieces.
  • The amount of AP required to level an item might vary with the tier. I.e. i325 gear would level up faster than i355.
Basically, Azerite items have levels, and they level up as you earn AP while wearing them. They always start at level 1, and you always have to level them up. At some point, though, they will hit max level.

I think this mechanism, having to level up Azerite items separately, is more obvious and intuitive. It fits in with all the fantasies of levelling up and improving gear. It kills the awkward tie in between the necklace level and the gear level, which behaves oddly when the two are not in sync.

It also gives you many smaller goals, as you try and level up specific items.

There are three problems I see. First, having to wear the item might be harder for specs you don't play a lot. Personally, I'm not too fussed about it. I don't think it's wrong for you to have to tank to improve your tanking items. You could always reforge the piece to your main spec, level it up, and then reforge it back.

The second problem is that this does require more data. Each Azerite piece needs to store the current AP, as well as a level scheme. I don't know if requiring this extra data would have performance implications. This may have been the reason that Azerite gear levels were tied to the necklace in the first place.

The final problem is that the hardcore might insist on having every Azerite piece and levelling them all up. My inclination is to let them. Stopping the hardcore from being hardcore is not worth the effort.

I think this scheme preserves a lot of what is good about Azerite gear, but makes it work in a more consistent and intuitive fashion.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Genres and Types of Skill

Gevlon posted this idea about a month ago in the middle of a post on Wildstar. It's somewhat provocative (in a gaming sense) and I have not seen it before:
Each genre of gaming focuses on one kind of “skill”. Those who like to hone this skill, find it fun to do so will be attracted to the genre. They are attracted exactly because they want to hone that skill. Everything that distract them from it (besides random, progression-irrelevant flavor stuff) hurt their fun. 
For example FPS fans value the skill of quickly moving the mouse to the head pixels of the enemy. It’s a senso-motoric skill. The FPS games are purposefully bend everything for this one skill. The characters can turn back at infinite speed which is completely impossible for soldiers that the games formally simulate. Because the game is not simulating soldiers, the combat setting is just a lore-background, you are not roleplaying a soldier trying to stop terrorist, you are playing a “move cross to pixel faster” game, and if character turn speed was limited, it would put an artificial ceiling to your “skill”. The maps are fixed and few, because the players don’t want to be distracted by having to find their way or map the place when they focus on moving that cross. Any FPS which isn’t about moving the cross for the win will either fail – or like PUBG – the community ignores the other parts and just plays for headshots anyway. 
The “skill” in MMORPGs is long-term planning and disciplined execution. Players collect items, reputation points, currencies, quest counters for progression that takes place over thousands of hours. While many games have thousands of hours of play by enthusiasts, those hours take place in thousands of independent short matches. In MMOs, it takes place in the same “round”, today session starts with all the advantages you collected in the previous days. You have more “stuff” than a newbie and players support that. Otherwise, they wouldn’t play. 
The core MMO player values discipline (think of raiders with schedules and leaders), planning, “effort” and dependability. This is the setting they want to play in. Everything else distracts them. Putting action combat in an MMO is like putting year-long character progression into an FPS. Imagine that [Counterstrike] would announce that you’ll have a persistent character that will get traits over time and a 2000-hours character will have 10x HP, 5x damage, 2x speed than a new player. The game would die in an hour, because players would be outraged that the combat isn’t won by the “skilled” (the one who moves crosshair to head faster), but the “lowly nolifer” who “grinded” out the upgrades. 
An MMORPG must be very light on twitch-skill and heavy on planning, disciplined and organized play to succeed.
I've been contemplating this for a while. It's certainly true that the most successful games in the MMO space aren't mechanically difficult.

And if you consider MMO FPS games like The Division, the most common complaint is that enemies are "bullet sponges". This can be seen as the game violating the core skill of FPS games.

Of course, if a game strays far enough from the core skill, and yet is successful, we often consider a new genre entirely. For example, "sneaking" games like Thief versus traditional FPS games. Or a strategy game like Rainbow Six, where the majority of the game might be the planning stage.  Most of the time, though, these games aren't super successful compared to the baseline traditional game.

Another situation might be the difference between League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm. LoL has "last-hitting", HotS does not. Is the micro-management of your hero to that degree a "core skill" for that genre? If so, maybe that explains why HotS never managed the success of LoL, in a rare miss for Blizzard.

I think Gevlon's formulation is a very interesting idea, and worth examining in more detail.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Lockboxes and Secondary Markets

Shintar at Going Commando makes a really interesting observation about lockboxes and secondary markets in a post about how SWTOR appears to phasing out cartel packs in favour of direct sales:
It's a win for those who just want to buy things from the Cartel Market directly - less so for those who preferred to buy new items for in-game credits for other players. For the latter group, people opening Cartel packs full of items they didn't necessarily want for themselves provided a constant supply of new goodies. Even when it came to the rarest of rare items, there were always spares to go around, and if you weren't only after whatever people considered the latest "must-have", you could snatch up some other decent-looking and more common items at incredible prices. 
With everything new being direct sale, there is much less of that. Sure, there'll continue to be a very small influx of random drops through the Ultimate Pack, but aside from those the only new things being put up for sale on the GTN will be those purchased from the store with the specific intent to re-sell, which makes for a much smaller number than when players were constantly opening new packs in search of the newest drops and thereby stacking up on goods to sell on the GTN more or less "by accident".
That's a very insightful point about how the randomness of a lootbox or pack promotes a thriving secondary market. And how losing that randomness dries up the secondary market.

You trade the items you don't want, so if you get exactly what you want, you have nothing to trade.

Of course, this only applies to games which allow trading or selling of items in the first place. SWTOR was somewhat unique in that pretty much everything on the Cartel Market could be sold for in-game currency.

It also devalues subscribing. One of the perks of subscribing to SWTOR is that you can hold unlimited currency (non-subscribers have 350k cap), and SWTOR is fairly generous with that currency. So it was very common for subscribers to use the currency they were swimming in to pick up cartel market items on the auction house. But now, subscribers will have all that currency, and nothing to really spend it on.

If a subscriber wants a special item, she will have to spend real money to acquire it. The option to spend in-game currency is effectively gone. I wonder if Bioware will end up having to increase the Cartel Coin stipend given to subscribers to compensate. When I played, I subscribed, and my only interaction with the Cartel Market was through the auction house.

Personally, I thought SWTOR's model of lockboxes was pretty decent. Most people are cheering the move away from lockboxes, but Shintar's post is a reminder that there may be less palatable second-order effects.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Upcoming Azerite Changes

Blizzard announced some upcoming Azerite changes:
We need to make Azerite Armor more available, for all types of players, through a method everyone can utilize. So we’re actually looking at Emissary rewards for that. The plan is to make Azerite Armor rewards from Emissary quests scale all the way up to 370 (based on your item level), which gives everyone a new, reliable source for appropriate gear. Further on, we’re looking at making some further improvements to the ways Emissaries reward gear, but getting more Azerite Armor in your hands is the higher priority for the immediate future.  
When we add new Azerite Armor in what we’re calling “BfA Season 2” (starting with Siege of Zuldazar and its corresponding Mythic+ and PvP seasons), we’re going to add another outer ring to those pieces of gear that has two spec-specific trait options for each spec. This effectively means that your favorite traits will be available on a lot more items, while also opening up a lot more options across the scope of all of your Azerite pieces (and thus, we hope, create more interesting decisions). 
We’re also going to continue to work on the individual traits themselves. We’ve done some basic tuning so far, but we’re taking the lessons we’ve learned from these first iterations forward, and Tides of Vengeance will bring new traits into the pool that reflect that. Our goal is to make the more generic traits be decent middle-of-the-road options for when you want to use a single piece for multiple situations or specs, but make sure the spec-specific options (which are generally the more interesting traits) win out in their respective environments.
The first change is interesting. I had assumed that raiding was giving out enough Azerite pieces, but apparently it isn't. So Azerite gear is getting tied to Emissaries, and getting given out to every one. The downside of using Emissaries, though, is that you can't target specific pieces.

The second change makes it more likely that you'll get your "best" trait, as each piece will have 3 different specialisation traits in total. Though I foresee a lot of complaining from the people who have unlocked only one outer ring.

The final change is a good one as well. I like the general traits for leveling, because you can use one set of Azerite armor and swap specs. But it is kind of a letdown to use a general trait on your spec-specific Azerite gear.

I do wonder how this will interact with the Uldir-specific traits like Archive of the Titans, which enable the stacking Uldir buff. Will the next raid tier not have this catch up mechanism?

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Uldir Progress and Holy Paladin Build Thoughts

My guild has continued to push deeper into Heroic Uldir (and get our feet wet in Mythic Uldir).

Heroic Vectis

We finally got a good strat down. We use 3 groups, 2 ranged and 1 melee, and split up the three vectors. It's ironic, because this was more or less the strat we started with, but then discarded and went through two or three other strats before coming full circle back to this one.

Heroic Zek'voz

This fight doesn't feel too much different from normal, at least for healers. The pattern of rings you have to run out of is different, but that's about it. I think there's some nuance with how the adds have to be killed, but I don't really worry about it.

Mythic Taloc

We killed it for the first time last week. I stepped out as we were at 21 people and had 5 healers. I got a kill this week, though.

Mythic Taloc is very similar to Heroic Taloc. There's two new mechanics, one where some players have to spread out, and one where the players who don't need to spread stack on the tank. We cheese the second mechanic with a paladin tank and Blessing of Spellwarding, though. With that and bubble, the paladin can solo two casts, so the raid only has to stack for one or two.  There's also more lasers on the elevator ride down.

All in all, it's not too difficult. We one-shot it this week.

Heroic Zul

Last week we wiped and wiped on Zul. Last night, we had 15 minutes left after Zek'voz, so we cleared the trash in the hope of BoEs. No BoEs dropped, but we had 5 minutes left in the raid when it was clear. So we did a pull for fun.

And we killed Zul! I think the key was that our dps went up a bit, and we didn't try to time the transition. Last week, we were trying to time the transition perfectly, but it never lined up and Zul kept gaining stacks as we delayed. At the end, we'd have 15 stacks of the DoT, and still transition poorly. This time we just transitioned and cleaned up and kept going, and we only had 10 stacks.

So now we're looking at Heroic Mythrax or Mythic Mother. I'm not sure what our target will be.

Holy Paladin

Last night I tried a new build focused on tank-healing. I took Awakening and Divine Purpose, and Beacon'd one tank and focused the other. I am not really sure how it did. By the meters, it seemed worse than last week. But we one-shot pretty much everything last night. We did have five healers, so maybe they carried me.

Last week I was using the standard two-beacons and heal non-tanks strategy. But I ended up direct-healing the tanks a fair bit. So this week I tried to lean into that. Maybe I'll see how the new build performs on the new progression fights.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Proposed Changes for Azerite Armor

As you know, I don't think Azerite Armor is a bad system. But a lot of the community seems to disagree. Here are some ideas for tweaks to smooth down the worst of the rough spots:
  • Reduce the Azerite level requirement of the first ring to 1. 
This would mean that the first ring is always unlocked. Since the majority of the Azerite armor's power is in the stats and first ring, it's pretty much always an upgrade. The inner rings can fill in as you upgrade your necklace, and give you small improvements as you play.
    • Set the reforge cost to a flat 100g. 
    Right now, the reforge cost starts at 5 gold, and doubles whenever you reforge. It goes back down after 3 days of not reforging. The intent is clearly to allow you to correct mistakes fairly easily, but dissuade you from constantly flipping the same piece of gear between specs.

    However, I think the hardcore are simply eating the cost of reforging, flipping between specs anyways, and then complaining about the costs on the forums. Setting the cost to 100g discourages casual reforging, but lets the hardcore be hardcore if they really want. 100g is cheap enough that an extra World Quest will cover the cost. This also simplifies reforging.
    • Add a chance to get Azerite Armor when doing a Mythic+ of a given level for the first time each week. 
    The way I envision this working is an extra loot roll, where you can only get Azerite armor. You get one loot roll for each "level" of Mythic+. For example, the first time you do a +7, you have a chance to get a normal Mythic 7 piece of gear, and you have an independent chance to get an i370 Azerite Armor. The second time you do a +7, even if it is a different instance, you only have the chance to get regular Mythic 7 gear.

    So this basically gives you 3 chances per week to get Azerite Armor of a given tier. For example, do a +7,  a +8, and a +9 to get i370 Azerite Armor. That's roughly comparable to a heroic raider's chance of getting a piece of Azerite Armor in a raid. But it keeps Azerite gear from being completely farmable and making Mythic+ mandatory. And since this is a separate roll on top of the current system, it doesn't reduce the amount of gear you get running Mythic+.

    It also minorly encourages doing a few different levels of keys, which I think is probably a good thing for the Mythic+ system.

    Those are the three changes I would have Blizzard implement. I don't think they help people who fundamentally oppose Azerite gear, but I do think they smooth out the most serious rough spots.