Friday, May 27, 2011

Cynwise on what makes content replayable

I highly enjoyed reading Cynwise's long post on what makes content in WoW replayable, or even appealing at all. For example, he points out that PVP activities endlessly grow due to the presence of other people in them, whereas most PVE content is pretty much the same the second and third time around.

I enjoyed reading such a good analysis of the tradeoffs, but I do come to different conclusions about what I like to spend time on.
  • I prefer the new zone-wide quest lines to the old style of having a five or more clusters of small quests in a zone. There are only so many kinds of individual quests that Blizzard has thought up, so what really makes them interesting is when they are put into an arc.

  • I still prefer raiding to PVP. I enjoy the camaraderie, and I like that a broader group of people is able to learn the dances than are able to learn to think competitively with other humans. For that matter, I really enjoy kicking my brain down a notch. I like to relax when playing Warcraft.
I agree about Tol Barad being boring. On defense, there's little hope of saving the towers, so you end up lasting out the siege. Twenty minutes is a lot of time to wait out. On offense, you have to somehow magically capture all three flags at once, which is rather difficult to do. I also agree that the current raids are tuned too hard for my liking. As Cyn writes:
I was willing to spend months wiping on the Lich King. There’s a sense of completion there, a huge amount of motivation there, to do it at least once. But wiping for months on a raid at the beginning of an expansion? Really?
Indeed. In the end, Warcraft is a game, and 10 hours a week is a lot of time to put into a game. I wish the game were balanced so that 10 hours a week were enough to make an enormous amount of progress in the normal modes. Hard modes, fine. Leave those to the guys who spend more time in Warcraft than doing a job.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Moving information into the game

A game is better when it has a clean, self-evident user interface. It's better when the only time you don't understand something, it's an intentional mystery put in by the game designers. Blizzard has done two things in Cataclysm to really help with that.

One is to clean up the ability tooltips. They used to include very precise numbers about healing or damage down that were completely inaccurate, because they didn't include buffs. The tooltip would say heals for 1021, and the actual heal would be more like 5000. In Cataclysm, they've removed the numbers and instead they say things like "heals for a large amount". Additionally, they've added a sentence to the most important abilities to say when you should use them. For example, "Use this on a player whose health is very low".

A second way is the inclusion of much of wowhead into the game. Already they include a quest helper, meaning crucial locations for quests show up right on the map. In 4.2 they are adding the Dungeon Journal, so it won't be necessary to go to wowhead just to remember which abilities this particular boss has.

Some people are complaining that these changes make the game too easy, but that's a crude way to look at them. The things that are being made easy are things that should have been easy to begin with. They are the basic game mechanics. Count me in as not wanting to have to go to a separate resource to figure out basics of the game. That's wonderful that the Internet allows such information sources to gather, but I'd rather the game designers put the information into the game to begin with.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Micro-charging for cross-realm groups

The excellent MMO Melting pot has links to five bloggers talking about Blizzard's decision to charge a fee for anyone who wants to use the ability to build cross-realm parties.

Count me in with the camp that prefers a monthly subscription to being micro-charged for every little thing in the game. Even worse, naturally, is to both pay a monthly subscription and also to have micro-charges on top of that. I wouldn't mind WoW costing a little more; it's currently very inexpensive given the number of hours I play it. However, I definitely mind having to pick different subsets of the game off a menu.

More fundamentally, I'm still bothered that RealID is based off of email addresses. Even though it's not necessary, cross-realm invites will be based on RealID. I can't see myself using it, anyway, without careful research into whether RealID can be used without, in fact, leaking any personally identifiable information.

Overall, it's saddening to read this sort of thing. In two different ways -- micro-charging and privacy violation -- Warcraft is changing from a game where everything just works right, to a game where I have to be very careful which parts of it I use.

UPDATE: Elunamakata in the comments on World of Matticus has found a quote from a Blizzard designer explainign the idea of a subscription model:

“We chose to go with the subscription-based model instead of that approach. We’ve taken the approach that we want players to feel like it’s a level playing field once they’re in WoW. Outside resources don’t play into it — no gold buying, etc. We take a hard line stance against it. What you get out of microtransactions is kind of the same thing and I think our player base would feel betrayed by it. I think that’s something else you have to decide on up-front instead of implementing later.
–Rob Pardo, Blizzard’s Senior Vice President of Game Design (2/20/2008)”

Quite. I wonder if Rob Pardo is still there, and/or if we are witnessing the marketing department overriding the game designers.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why archaeology > fishing

Alas has a post up on the best part of archaeology:
I haven’t paid much attention to minute details of terrain at all in years.... Until Archaeology. Until I zoomed in and realized for the first time that Un’Goro is carpeted not with short grass but ferns with great fronds that stand as high as my human mage does. Then I glimpsed the stark beauty of the tangled and naked trees in Dustwallow Marsh that stand against a pale pink and vanilla sky and the rich autumnal colors of the tall grasses that move there. The vibrant jungle flowers scattered across Stranglethorn remind me of the flowers my sister received from her mother in law in Hawaii for her birthday.

A great thing about Warcraft is that there are a number of different things you can do depending on your mood. Sometimes you just want to chill and slowly work on some sort of goal or achievement. I used to fish all the time, but now I would be more likely to go dig in the dirt. It's quite enjoyable flying around Azeroth and taking in the scenery.

Warcraft for casuals

Casuals dominate the World of Warcraft. It's a game that's set up for people to burn away excess time they have watching pretty graphics and sound effects. Anyone who really wants a serious game and doesn't care about the fluff is better off playing Go or Bridge. As such, the bulk of the Warcraft population simply is not going to raid 6+ hours a week, nor are they going to make a significant dent into the heroic-mode raids.

Blizzard has recognized that casuals are their main customers since at least Wrath, and I'm guessing The Burning Crusades. They often toss statistics around about how RidiculouslySmall % of players ever even saw Ragnarok at level. So what are they trying, and how are they doing? MMO Melting Pot asks, and here is my answer. Here are the ways I see to burn time casually, and how they are working for me.

Leveling alts. This is my favorite thing to do once my main character is maxed out. In addition to there being three different roles of play (damage, healing, tanking), there are several different styles of resource mechanics (energy, mana, runes, cooldowns) and different styles of priority management (procs, synergistic spells, long cooldowns). Playing with different classes and specs keeps me amused for so long that there's not much else I expect to spend time on in Warcraft.

Experiencing more content. The new low-level zones are quite fun. However, I don't spend much time on them so far. The main reason is that it's very difficult to keep a toon at just the right level to experience the content. It's a little too brainless to walk through a zone with tiny little enemies that die when I breath on them. This could be fixed if there was some simply way to intentionally weaken a character when entering a zone. I'd love it if I could play a zone and set my character's effective level to that of the zone.

Dailies. There have been some compelling clusters of dailies, but they are the exception. The best I've seen were the tier-9 dailies, the ones that went with the jousting tournament. While the tier-9 dungeon was the pits, I thought the dailes were well done, and I did a lot of them. Ever before and since, however, I haven't gotten into them. The Tol Barad ones I am finding to be particularly grindy and boring, especially the ones on the northern island.

Crafting, and secondary professions. I find the professions themselves okay. Blizzard has done a good job of making all umpteen crafting professions different and useful. However, leveling them is a total bore. Going through 524 iterations of looking up a recipe, finding out the mats, buying them on the AH, is just not fun. I wish they could come up with something like fishing, where higher skill is important but not overwhelmingly so. For example, they could let you craft anything, but with a lower skill require you to add some extra components.

Fishing and archaeology. I used to really like fishing. Archaeology, in my opinion, is like fishing but better done, because you end up moving around and seeing different locations. However, despite having the Salty title, I've dropped out of both of these in Cataclysm. Partially this is because the dungeon finder is so good. Partially, though, the new bloated fish are just too hard to catch, and archaeology is a bit too slow to level for my taste. I can't see myself really going back to these any time soon; there are enough specs and zones that I will have plenty of things to do between raids.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The horror of the School of Hard Knocks

I skipped the School of Hard Knocks last year because it looked miserable, and I didn't think I'd ever get the holiday meta-achievement anyway. Sure enough, this year rolls around and it is the only achievement I am missing. It took about 8 hours of play, but now I have it.

First, let me agree that this is really a horrible achievement. To get it, you have to play a battleground badly. I love battlegrounds, so it's not because I'm a pure PVEer that I hate this achievement. I hate it because they make you play battlegrounds badly, thus making all your teammates angry at you. I hate it because it's hard to do on your own, and it's also hard to get a group together to do it as a group.

Second, let me point to the excellent guide on Cynwise's Battlefield Manual. It's a great guide to how to get the achievement.

Here's how the achievement went for me.

Eye of the Storm. This was the hardest. It's only possible to capture a flag if your group controls the middle, and many teams don't try too hard to control the middle. Controlling three bases is better than making a bunch of flag runs. Basically I just persevered until finding a random group that zerged and held the middle. Then I could wait at the flagpole and click wildly whenever the flag was about to respawn.

Alterac Valley. I found this one pretty easy. I just ran up and down the set of towers until I found one that was held by the enemy but under contest. While other people finished off the enemy, I wildly clicked on the flag so as to get credit for it.

Arathi Basin. This one was pretty tough. The people playing to win want to hold the flags they have rather than trading them around. With no trades, however, there are no possible flags to convert. The final strategy that sort of worked for me was to follow around any zerg I could find, and try to be the first one to click the flag. It took many tries, though, and the other players were not really happy about this behavior.

Warsong Gulch. This one I thought would be easy, but was not. My original plan was to wait by the flag and simply kill anyone who tried to take it. However, I saw surprisingly few solo attempts on the flag, so it wasn't realistic for me to kill them. The only way I got this in the end was when some nice person from the opposite faction came and started picking up our flag and immediately dropping it. Despite about half the population of all the battlegrounds going for the achievement, this was the only player I saw doing that sort of thing.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

4.2 changes long time coming

Most of the druid changes in 4.2 strike me as things that seemed likely to eventually happen, so long as Blizzard is actively paying attention to class design making sense. I didn't know how much Blizzard really does, and I didn't know when they'd happen, but either they had to happen eventually or Blizzard needed to come up with some sort of fundamental redesign of the class. In much the same way, I've thought for a looong time that hunter pet happiness was not a good place to put complexity in the game. Thus I'm happy overall to see Blizzard taking on these issues.

Good descriptions of the changes can be found at Gray Matter and at Rank 4 Healing Touch.

My takes on why most of these changes are good and inevitable:
  • The damage from entangling roots has never been a useful source of damage but has always been a source of concern that they would end up doing enough damage to break the crowd control. I'm happy to see the damage just dropped. Complexity in the game should make it more interesting in some way, and the damage from entangling roots is just one more random thing to think about.
  • Dots moving the Eclipse bar seemed somewhat likely, given that dotting as an AOE technique is frankly lame. It's the sort of thing that just doesn't seem like what Blizzard is going for. However, it sounds like the new design is also problematic, as is described at the above two links.
  • Innervating being able to help other players is a huge ability that no other class has. I've always wondered how they could ever balance that with what other classes can do, and now it looks like they are throwing in the towel. I agree with others that it would be better to have self-innervate only than to have it technically work on other players but not very usefully. Alternatively, I wish it could be cast on other players but on a much longer cooldown, like it was in Wrath.
Finally, while I didn't foresee the crowd-control thread issue being addressed, it's welcome. Figuring out which CC to apply first is one of those many little problems that tanks have to worry about in instances. It's somewhat fun, but it is also requires knowing all the other classes fairly well. This is a welcome simplification.