Friday, May 25, 2012

No soulbibnding?

Diablo III's auction house has a few changes compared to the one in Warcraft. One that I am hung up on is the lack of soulbinding. In Diablo III, if you don't want the gear that drops from a boss, you can sell it; to contrast, in Warcraft, you either use it or shard it. Even weirder, you can buy an item from the auction house, use it for a week, and then, once you have a better upgrade, sell it to someone else on the auction house. Curious and curiouser.

I really like this change from the perspective of immersion. Most RPGs do not soulbind items, and when I started playing Warcraft, soulbinding felt pretty heavy handed. I mean, I can see a tattoo being soulbound. But a sword? A pair of boots? Why can't I hand it to someone else when I am done with it? This game has "world" in the title, but I can't even hand half the items from one player to another?

On the other hand, how will Diablo III handle the resulting crash in market prices? As things stand right now, the best way to gear up is to buy items on the auction house. Most drops you find in game are only for sharding, and the few that aren't are going to have sub-optimal stats, so you'll sell them. A large chunk of the game is thus nearly irrelevant. In the early game, you can buy ridiculously powerful items for cheap, so a large part of the game--drops and crafting--are just not important.

The best solutions I can think of involve making the price of low-level items higher when bought off the auction house. Either raise the auction house fees, or raise the vendor-selling prices for low-level items. As things stand, I like the mechanics of the auction house, but the prices seem bad for generating the best game experience.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Dpsing on easy content

I've long been a fan of letting healers and tanks switch to dpsing when they are going through easy content. Easy content is a fact of life for playing Warcraft, whether it be because you are working through a raid to get to your progression boss, or because you are running in dungeon finder and raid finder to farm tokens. For dps, they can still have some fun by trying to juke their dps numbers ever higher. For tanking and healing, you just don't have anything to do.

Blizzard seems to be thinking about this for tanks. Here is how they explain the way protection warriors can expend rage in Pandaria:
One of the changes for old time Prot warriors is getting used to not spamming Heroic Strike. Think of HS (and Cleave) as an alternative to Shield Block for times when you don't need to worry about blocking, such as when you are soloing, off-tanking or doing easy content. If you use too many Heroic Strikes, you won't have rage for Shield Block as well. Your other attacks, Devastate, Revenge, Shield Slam and Thunder Clap, should fill in most of the holes in your rotation and should be sufficient for holding threat without HS spam.

Sounds juicy. Will they do something similar for healers, too?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Individual loot rolls improve the social dynamic

There has been a lot of talk about the new rolling system. For example, I just read Theck on Sacred Duty working out the probabilities and showing that it doesn't necessarily improve or decrease your individual chances:
In the new system, your chance of winning is the chance you roll high enough divided by the number of useful items that boss drops for your class. Now, they could set “chance_of_rolling_high_enough” to an arbitrary value, like 10%. That’s what I did in my example. Then you’re truly independent of other players, because you could all win one item, or nobody could, or anything in-between.

It's true that individual rolls don't affect your chance to get loot. Blizzard can already juke various constants to change the rate you get loot, and that will be no different in Pandaria.

What individual rolls give us is a much improved social dynamic around loot awarding. Ever see people in LFD complaining about each other's sack of helpful goods? No? It's a much less dramatic system, isn't it!

One of the ways individual rolls improve things is that it removes raid makeup as a factor in whether you get loot. You can't improve your chances by kicking people who use the same gear as you, and you can't improve your chances by stacking a raid with friendly guildies. If you've played any in LFR (and who hasn't?), both of these kinds of behavior are rather annoying. It's not the way it is supposed to work.

Assuming Blizzard also removes the ability to trade looted items, thus making it a truly individual award, players won't be hounded by after-roll swap negations. When these happen in a guild run, I find it draws us closer together. Both participants will give an honest assessment of how much they need the item, and if one gives the item to the other, they have some expectation that the loot karma will come back around later. In an LFR run, it's almost always fun-sapping. I don't enjoy comparing gear with someone to decide if they really do need something massively more than I do. Also, nobody who asks to buy an item ever asks a reasonable price; I think a thousand gold is the bare minimum for raid gear that you buy instead of win, but people seem to expect to buy items from me from more like a few hundred. I only recall once having a good experience with tradable loot in LFR; otherwise it's been a drag.

I welcome the new individual rolls for LFR. I prefer raiding with a guild, and I really like my guild's loot system, and I like after-raid trading when in a guild run. When I'm in LFR, though, there's no social context outside the raid. We're all strangers when we start, and we'll all be strangers again afterwards. It's fun downing a boss with strangers; that much has worked well. It's not fun sharing loot rewards with them, and I'm glad that part of the system is being redone.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cataclysm Final Grades

Tzufit has posted a poll on what different players think about their classes. Here's my take for restoration druids.

Do you feel that your class is better (in that it is more fun to play, more effective, etc.) now than it was at the end of Wrath? Do you feel that your class is better now than it was at the beginning of Cataclysm?

Overall, yes to both. At the beginning of Cataclysm, I enjoyed the new emphasis on direct heals and the return of mana as a meaningful limiter. At the end of Cataclysm, I much preferred the way mastery works. I also quite like tree of life being a cooldown rather than a constant shape shift.

On the negative side, I preferred the emphasis on hots in Wrath. It is still there in Cataclysm, but Blizzard seems to be constantly trying to avoid the old rejuvenate blanketing in Wrath. I feel they should consider the new mastery and the new efflorescence enough that they don't need to keep fighting that fight. Instead, concentrate more on making the hots themselves interesting. In particular, I would find it more fun for rejuvenate to be twice the mana cost but to cause twice the healing.

How much have you enjoyed or found uses for your class’ level 81, 83, and 85 abilities? Given the chance, what would you have changed about them?

Efflorescence is the bomb. I don't remember if that was new for Cataclysm or not.

Did you switch mains during Cataclysm? If so, why did you make that choice?

No. I love nature-loving shape shifters, and I love healing. I'm in for the ride no matter what they do.

What were your class’/spec’s strengths throughout Cataclysm? What were its weaknesses?

Resto druids are amazing at any fight with slow, sustained damage, for example Ultraxion. We also have quite the save-the-day spell in tranquility. However, we're weak if there is burst damage more frequently. Tranquility for one of them, and then what?

Did you enjoy the addition of the mastery stat? What did you like about it, or, what would you change?

The final version of the mastery is quite good. It forces us to cast a direct heal once in a while, which in many cases I otherwise would not. I really hated the earlier version that made us cast hots on top of hots. We should be hotting players that are at low health, and then we should leave them alone and let the hot tick.

How, if at all, did Cataclysm’s revamp of the talent trees affect your class? Did you feel that these were changes for the better or for worse?

I remember liking the changes on the whole. Really, though, I still feel like the talent choices aren't very meaningful. I haven't revisited my talent choices in well over a month. There are only a handful of optional talents, and they don't make much difference.

Did your class experience any significant changes or additions to its lore during this expansion? If so, how did you feel about those changes?

Firelands expanded the lore of druids., and I quite liked it I did the druid half of the Firelands dailies every day for over a month, and I enjoyed doing the druid-related quests that you unlock when partially through Firelands. I hope they do more with Firelands.

Is your class easier or harder for a fresh 85 to learn now than it was at the end of Wrath? Is this a good or a bad thing?

It's much harder. It used to be that you could just blanket rejuvenate everywhere. Now you have to keep harmony up and manage your mana to some extent.

What aspects of your class’ gameplay do you think the designers really got right in this expansion? What aspects were clear misses?

I really wish they'd add partial hot ticks. Haste thresholds are a big pain, especially in 10-man raids where the buffs change around from week to week.

The final version of efflorescence is quite good. It is just powerful enough, and it is just smart enough.

On the negative side, the game designers have had a terrible time with wild growth and with rejuvenation. They keep buffing and then crashing them with no clear direction to it. Personally, I wish they make us back into hot specialists. To prevent mindless blanketing of these spells, they could double both the cost and the healing of them.

The new tree of life is a mixed bag. I love the overall organization of having the new cooldown. However, I always feel awkward using it. I'd find this easier if they dropped the tree-of-life version of lifebloom. Have casters keep casting approximately the same way in tree of life as outside it, so we'll know what to do. It's still quite interesting to try and decide when to cast the thing.

Overall, do you enjoy the playstyle of your class more now, at the end of Cataclysm, than you did prior to patch 4.0 at the end of Wrath? Why or why not?

Same answer as the first question.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

4.3 impressions

I'm loving 4.3. Here are a few notes about it from the top of my head.

The new raid, Dragon Soul, is tuned much better than the other Cataclysm tiers. I like that in normal, a casual guild can figure out and down a new boss in about two hours. That's exactly the level of difficulty I've been looking for. As far as I know, the heroic bosses are as hard as ever, but we haven't had opportunity yet to try.

Looking for Raid is a blast! I don't care if the fights are cheasified. It's fun running through them and seeing the bosses go down. It's borderline required in my guild that everyone run Dragon Soul in LFR before they run it with the guild on normal mode. You really get a feel for how the fight works, and it's a low-stress environment.

The new five-mans are really fun! They remind me greatly of the ICC 5-mans at the end of Lich King. They have a coherent and interesting storyline that is fun to play through. However, the difficulty is much less. They seem like the easiest 5-mans so far, given the level of gear most people going into them will have. That's fine with me, really.

Many people are using transmogrification to deck out their character with a really cool-looking gear set. That sounds fun, but I haven't had the time in my life to look into that so far. Instead, I've just been replacing the looks of certain gear with certain other gear I happen to have around. The worst offender on Ohken was the tier-11 blue-feather shoulders. I really hate those things! I changed them to PVP shoulders, which is not a terrific fit for Ohken's character, but they look a whole lot better. He's a brown cow of nature. Now he looks like one.

There are several valor point changes that I'm quite enjoying. Here is the new valor point setup:

  • You get 150 valor for running a new 5-man.
  • You get 150 valor for running an old 5-man on heroic. Note this is exactly the same; you can farm your valor points whichever way you feel like.
  • They've significantly nerfed the troll dungeons so that they now run pretty quickly. Even post-nerf, they are possibly the hardest 5-man dungeons in the game, though, in my opinion.
  • You get 500 valor points if you do a full clear on Looking for Raid.
  • The weekly valor cap is about the same: 1000 VP instead of the old 980.
  • You get 100 VP per boss on normal 10-man mode.
  • You don't buy tier pieces with valor.

These changes have a number of positive effects on valor points that I had not realized until I played with it a little. One effect is that you have no min-max reason to prefer one kind of 5-man over the others. This was sort of true before, because the troll dungeons were slower, but the troll dungeons were still usually the best use of time. Now it's a no brainer. You can queue for either dungeon and expect to spend the same amount of time getting your 150 VP. I will be running the old 5-mans quite a bit, I expect, just for the extra variety.

Most impressively, valor point farming is now optional for normal-mode raiders. If you are raiding enough that you see gear drops in raid, then you don't really need to get VP gear at all. You'll get tier gear in the raid, and you'll get reasonable gear for other slots even if not best-in-slot. Valor points thus work like Blizzard always wanted for emblems: you can use them as a crutch if you aren't raiding with regularity.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Partial ticks

I don't find haste thresholds very fun. Hit capping is already a little bit annoying; whenever I get new gear on a caster class I have to reforge everything to deal with the cap. At least I can manage the hit cap, though, without needing to refer to external sites. I just reforge to get enough hit and then change the rest to something else.

Haste thresholds are like hit caps but far more complicated. There are multiple haste thresholds that apply under different buff scenarios, and you have to decide with haste threshold you want to aim for. Then, again, every time you get new gear, you have to reforge like crazy to get yourself right back at the correct haste threshold. In practice, I'm hardly bothering. As a result, Ohken has a significant amount of haste right now that I should really get around to reforging off.

It doesn't help that the mechanic doesn't exactly feel polished. There have been a lot of questions posted over where the exact thresholds are. Many people are grabbing 10 or more extra haste just to be on the safe side. It also doesn't mesh well with the warlock spell Dark Intent. If you cast it on someone who is just above a haste threshold, they get minimal benefit from it. However, if they want to reforge so as to take advantage of it, they are severely gimped whenever they don't end up with Dark Intent. Overall, it feels like I'm doing a lot of work around haste thresholds for something that, from Blizzard's point of view, is more of an accident than something they prepared for a gamer to experience.

Let me describe a way haste thresholds could be removed from the game. First, consider the background. Up through most of Wrath, haste didn't help HOTs and DOTs at all, and thus it tended to be weak for classes that rely on HOTs and DOTs. In Cataclysm, all HOTs and DOTs now scale with haste. The way it works is that haste improves the ticking speed but does not change the duration of the spell. If you have a spell that, at baseline, does 5 ticks in 10 seconds, and you get 100% haste, then the spell will do 10 ticks in 10 seconds.

The only problem is that now we have to deal with haste thresholds. If you have anywhere between 80% haste and 99% haste in the above example, the spell will do 9 ticks in 10 seconds. Thus, the haste from 80% to 99% isn't improving your character in the slightest. That's a large gap for a stat to be doing absolutely nothing!

To eliminate these gaps, all it would take is to add a partial tick whenever a HOT or DOT is about to fall off. Continuing the example, if a player has 90% haste, then the spell would do 9 ticks at full effectiveness and then a partial tick at half effectiveness. With 81% haste, there would still be a partial tick at the end, but it would be a tiny one. With 99% haste, the partial tick would be almost as strong as a full tick.

One rule of game design, one I think is widely held, is that you want to control the kinds of decisions players are faced with. You want those choices to be fun. As an example, deciding whether to cast a big heal or a small heal is a fun decision. Each decision takes about 100 ms to work out during a single battle, it's not punishing if you make a mistake on some of these decisions, and in a gaming session you make a long string of these simple decisions.

I think haste thresholds fail the fun test. The only way to even know what the thresholds are is to do extensive theorycrafting and play testing. Hardly any player has time to do this themselves, so what they do is consult sites like Elitist Jerks that have a complicated chart of thresholds and a guide on which ones to aim for under what circumstances. It reminds me of the cookie cutter talent builds that we all currently use. Like with cookie cutter builds, reading up on haste thresholds are something you have to do and then, like a monkey, replicate in the game. There's no real choice in it, and it's tedious going through the exercise.

I think haste thresholds should go, and I think I see a way to do it. WTB partial ticks.

Make spell costs scale with gear

It's long been a problem that Blizzard can't balance mana limits for healers across all the tiers in an expansion. As healers get more gear, they inevitably get more mana, but the cost of spells never increases. Eventually healers get to a point where they have plenty of mana, and they become only interested in increasing the size of their heals. Ghostcrawler sometimes calls this "graduating" from mana concerns.

To see how this has played out in Cataclysm, consider druid healers as the expansion has progressed. Beginning healers use nourish almost exclusively, considering healing touch ridiculously expensive. Firelands raiders, meanwhile, use healing touch almost exclusively, and have little reason to bother with nourish. Additionally, I can attest that in quest gear, the level 85 heroics are nearly impossible to heal without running out of mana. Yet, again, in Firelands, mana just isn't a concern. You can't be stupid about it, but I no longer feel like I have to wait to refresh lifebloom, or that I need to switch to nourish whenever possible, or that I should bother cancelling a heal if I see someone else landed a heal ahead of mine. I just take it easy and worry about other things than mana.

There are a number of ways to fix this situation. One of them is to stop giving more mana with more gear, but I think that would take away a lot of the character of a mana-based class. Assuming they don't make that change, the only alternative is to make the cost of spells continue to increase at higher gear levels.

There are a number of ways to make spells cost more. Here is a simple one: Intellect increases both the power and the cost of spells. Intuitively, the idea is that intellect allows healers to use more mana at once. It's like using both barrels of a double-barreled shotgun: it does twice the damage and uses twice the ammo. From a balance perspective, as healers gear up, they would observe not just their regen improving, but also their rate of resource usage. They'd have to balance these increases with their gear choices.

Blizzard has already decided that in Panderia, intellect will no longer increase the size of the mana pool. That change matches well with the one I describe. I wonder if they will take a try at it? Throughput versus regen is one of the more fun itemization choices in Warcraft, and right now you only have much of a choice at certain particular gear levels.