This Peeve of Mine: Blind Choices

It is amazing how many games you can work through when you aren’t playing an MMO. For example, I cleared through Metro: Last Light, StarCraft 2, Ori and the Blind Forest, The Swapper, Wolfenstein: the New Order, and am currently plowing through This War of Mine. All in the last two weeks. Granted, many of those all had completion times below ten hours, so perhaps that isn’t too surprising, but nevermind.

While I am not entirely done with This War of Mine yet, I did want to talk about it a bit. Specifically, about how the game has one of my least favorite “features”: blind choices. Or maybe “blind choices” is not entirely the correct term, but rather (unintentional?) obfuscation.

I first complained about blind choices nearly four year ago:

Perhaps I am simply too far down the metagame hole at this point, but how can anyone consider a choice with unknown consequences as meaningful? I mean, fine, all decisions and choices we make technically have unforeseen consequences. But these game designers are literally giving you nonsense to choose between on top of said unforeseen consequences. I don’t consider the choice between door #1 and door #2 to be meaningful at all – I may as well flip a coin or roll a die for as much thinking as it requires.

The game I was referring to at the time was the original Witcher, when the game asked me which quest reward I wanted to choose. While the game didn’t hide the the rewards themselves, the relative utility of each choice was very much in question. A book about vampires, your own hut, or the Wreath of immortelles? I chose the latter because italics, and it allowed me to easily bypass a long, involved quest.

Despite having chose the one with the most overall utility, I did not feel particularly clever because the choice itself had no real meaning. Do we praise the stopped clock for being right twice a day? Avoiding a designer trap only highlights the fact that the designers included a designer trap in their game in the first place, which automatically lowers my view of the overall design. It’s a cheap gimmick – one that is overcome only with knowledge that a player obtains after the choice is made. “Giving players the choice to fail” really just means the designers were unable to give players two or more good (or bad) options to choose between.

This concept get a bit murky when it comes to the roguelike genre though. Many roguelikes specifically include things like colored potions that have randomized effects on each playthrough. Sometimes you can minimize the mayhem such potions can cause, by being at full health and in a safe place before sampling the rainbow of colors you have collected. Such testing technically involves risk assessment and valuing the odds, which are pretty high-brow player skills. I was fine with The Bind of Isaac’s random pill effects, for example, largely because everything else about that game was so random it almost didn’t matter. When you could find out early which pills did what though? It sets you way ahead of the curve.

This War of Mine is more or less a roguelike. While the loot you can scavenge is random, it is also random which “scenario” you might encounter when going to a new location. This is generally fine. Roguelikes need randomness to maintain replayability in what otherwise would be short playthroughs. What I found less fine was when I realized that you didn’t need a lockpick to open locked doors, you simply needed a crowbar. That “makes sense” in a sort of logical way, but not always in a game logic way, especially not in a game that also features vegetables that grow to maturity in four days under a heat lamp.

Should the crowbar’s in-game description mention it opens locked doors? I would say yes. There is still a meaningful choice between crafting a lockpick over a crowbar (specifically the amount of noise it generates) when you know the full depth of information about the two. At the same time… well, Minecraft certainly doesn’t give you all the information you might need for a successful¹ run. I haven’t played it in a while, but the last time I did, I knew there was no way I would have ever guessed the correct configuration of materials necessary to craft a bow or shears.

Examining my discomfort in more detail, I suppose it comes down to wasting resources when outside knowledge is readily available. I had no problem playing Don’t Starve for hours and hours despite dying and losing all progress to the most mundane of causes. Murder Bees are serious business, after all. But chasing down the mats to build a blowgun and darts in what ended up being a nigh-useless tool? That pisses me off. I will happily fail in service to muscle memory, even if I lose progress along the way. I will not, however, be so keen to fail because I didn’t read the Wiki first.

There is a distinction between the two that I can feel, even if I cannot enunciate it clearly.

¹ With what constitutes success in Minecraft being left undefined.

Games as Services

If you have forgotten, Scrolls is that one card game from Mojang that no one ever played. And after July 2016, no one else ever will.

I actually had a Beta review up of Scrolls nearly two years ago, and that more or less marked the last time I spent any serious amount of time with it. I did pick it up again for a hot minute last year (I think), but the structural problems I already talked about were still present, so I stopped again. Probably because of Hearthstone. But, the CCG genre is not a genre one can go in half-assed anyway- it is strictly full-ass or bust.

While Scrolls getting an expiration date is not even remotely similar of an impact as an MMO shutting down, it is example #1765783 of the dangers of Games as Services. This is a game that I paid $20 for (two years ago, admittedly) that I will not be allowed to play in another year. Do you know what I played last month? Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines, an RPG that came out in 2004. And while it certainly costs money to keep an MMO server running each month, Scrolls had a perfectly fine single-player experience against the AI. Hell, I’m not even sure what the cost of running Scrolls matchmaking software would even be. Surely not that much?

Alas, it is not meant to be. While we can question whether it was Microsoft swinging the ax or normal market forces, the fact remains that the ax was always there. A veritable Sword of Damocles hanging over every game-turned-service, not threatening mere removal, but extinction. Will there even be a museum where these games could be played in the future? Or will these orphaned blog posts be all that exists, a Google search result that becomes less relevant with each passing year?

Nothing is permanent. But clearly some things are more impermanent than others.

PR Disaster Watch: Destiny Edition

June has not been a good month for game company PR departments. Or maybe it has been an excellent month in demonstrating the necessity of their existence in the face of designers with a bad case of verbal diarrhea. But while I have been focused on ArenaNet and Blizzards’ debacles, the true disaster that is Destiny’s expansion, The Taken King, has slipped me by. Until now.

The story is more or less the same, as if ripped from an identical playbook: an expensive expansion, and an even more expensive version with includes content that the player already owns. The deal this time is with Destiny’s Collector Edition, which includes the base game and prior expansions along with emotes exclusive to this package. There is no way to purchase these emotes individually, and no value whatsoever added if you already own everything already released to this point. So, basically, Heart of Thorns 2.0.

What elevates this to another whole level was this interview with Luke Smith, Bungie’s creative director for the expansion. I highly, highly recommend you read the entire thing because it is comedy gold. Or you can simply read this exchange, and despair:

Eurogamer: I get that it is big but it is also the same price as the base game. That had four areas rather than one and more missions than the Taken King. Why is it the same price?

Luke Smith: All I can do is answer that with the same thing I just gave you… We’re really comfortable with the value we’re giving to players this autumn. I believe that once we begin to share more, players will be even more excited. And for existing players it also comes with the Founder’s pack with a new Sparrow, shader and emblem.

Eurogamer: Just not the emotes.

Luke Smith: It doesn’t because they come with the Collector’s Edition.

Eurogamer: Final question on prices –

Luke Smith: Is it also the final question on the emotes?

Eurogamer: I’m not going to mention them again. I can’t get them.

Luke Smith: But you can if you buy the Collector’s Edition.

Eurogamer: I’m not going to buy the game and the two DLCs all over again.

Luke Smith: Okay, but first I want to poke at you on this a little bit.

Eurogamer: Poke at me?

Luke Smith: You’re feeling anxious because you want this exclusive content but you don’t know yet how much you want it. The notion of spending this money is making you anxious, I can see it –

Eurogamer: I do want them. I would buy them –

Luke Smith: If I fired up a video right now and showed you the emotes you would throw money at the screen.

Eurogamer: What I’m saying is that fan frustration is not because they don’t understand the proposition. It comes regardless of how cool the exclusive content is. The frustration – and mine as a fan – is that the method of acquiring it requires me to re-buy content I bought a year ago.

Luke Smith: [Long pause] It’s about value. The player’s assessment of the value of the content.

I would like to imagine that the “long pause” moment included a return to sanity for Luke Smith, the awakening from a fugue state. Or just a realization for how unconscionably stupid he was just moments prior. I say this because he would finish the interview with a somewhat rational approach to the nature of time-sensitive content and the noting that one cannot go home again.

In any case, Bungie’s now-existent PR department rang up Eurogamer at 9am the next day to update everyone that there will be nameless Veteran rewards forthcoming with the expansion, that will be “even better” than the ones found in the Collector’s Edition. Which really makes you wonder about all those Veterans who already “threw money at the screen” over exclusive emotes, and if they can get refunds of said Collector’s Edition.

Or not, at least according to Bungie community manager David “Deej” Dague, who says in the updated post:

“The Collector’s Edition is mostly sold out, so the people who found that stuff valuable jumped at the chance,” Deej added in a separate post. “You’ll likely see it sold on eBay for much more than what we’re asking. But that’s not the point. Right?

Right.

I suppose the takeaway here, besides the entertainment value of all these high-profile face-plants, is that players are going to likely (successfully) call bullshit when they see it going forward. And a large part of that is going to be any expansion being released without some sort of added value given to the very people that made a game or franchise successful enough to warrant an expansion in the first place.

Is that player entitlement? Or is it a renegotiated business transaction with more favorable terms? I dunno, maybe haggling indicates a deep, moral failure on the part of the buyer. What I do know is that all current and future Destiny players are better off today than they were two days ago. And that’s enough for me.

Edit: Also, apparently you get an exclusive quest in the expansion if you buy a can of Redbull. You can’t make this shit up.

Changing Hearts (of Thorns) and Minds

Remember when I said MMOs are like relationships? ArenaNet just put on the Barry White:

Veteran Player Appreciation

For our long-standing fans and loyal players, we would like to say thank you and show our appreciation. For all players who registered the core Guild Wars 2® game prior to January 23, 2015 and who upgrade their account by prepurchasing and registering any Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns edition before Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns‘ launch, we will add one additional character slot to your Guild Wars 2 account.

But wait, that’s not all!

For all players who purchased the Guild Wars 2 core game from our website and registered it between January 23, 2015 and June 16, 2015 in anticipation of Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, we will automatically refund what you paid for the core game should you decide to pre-purchaseGuild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns from our website or in-game store any time through July 31, 2015. If you take advantage of this refund and pre-purchase Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, all of your current account progress will be kept intact. We’ll provide further details on when refunds will be processed in the next couple weeks as we set up this process.

ArenaNet then went even further by explaining the business model moving forward: each new expansion will include all prior content. So we got the character slot for veterans, refunds¹ for the people who bought the base game during the miscommunication period, and concrete details on how things will work in the future. You literally could not get a more reasonable response from a company. I am completely impressed.

Not impressed enough to reinstalled GW2 and pay $50 for an expansion, of course. But impressed nonetheless.

¹ I believe this is limited to those who bought direct from ArenaNet, and not those who bought from Amazon, etc.

Players and Relationships

If you have not been following the latest high-profile MMO PR disaster, the short version is that ArenaNet is selling their latest expansion for $50, and bundling in the base game.

That’s it. There is no long-version.

While Tobold (as always) decries player entitlement and Ravious wants us to think of the children, what is lost in the shuffle is perhaps why the “Don’t preorder the expansion” became the top-rated thread in the GW2 reddit forum (indeed, the top 3 are currently about this issue). Specifically, because ArenaNet failed Relationship Rule #1: it isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it.”

In many ways, MMOs are relationships between players and the developers. It is a business transaction first and foremost, of course, but rarely are MMOs successful without fostering a sense of familiarity and engagement over the long-term. There are feelings of investment, especially considering the game you are playing continues to be in active development. “The devs are listening,” and hey, they sometimes do in fact change things based on feedback. You as the player feel in the loop.

That is why feelings run so high over “betrayals,” real or imagined.

Objectively, there isn’t anything wrong with ArenaNet’s actions. The expansion was going to cost X amount, they chose $50 as the baseline, and that was that. The decision to bundle in the base game was obviously made at the financial level, as there are likely some costs incurred in stocking store shelves with two boxed products, one of which requires the other to function anyway. Plus, there might not be a way to purchase just the base game anymore, basically upselling new players who might not even play long enough to get into expansion content. All very straight-forward business decisions.

Subjectively, though? I agree with subtext many players are reading into the situation, if for no other reason than a corporation (and the developers) should know better by now. First was the (intentionally?) misleading statements that the expansion would require the base game to play, a subsequent sale of the base game, and now the base game is bundled with expansion for free. Then the introduction of a new class without a free increase in the character slots available. Are players entitled to free character slots with a MSRP of $10 apiece? No. Does it look suspicious as hell to not include them? Yes. I would feel the same way if SWTOR’s expansion included five new buttons to push when they already charge money for additional hotbars.

Tobold suggests you cannot win with the kind of players that complain about these things. This is incorrect. In fact, it is very easy to win in this scenario: either sell the expansion as a standalone for $40, or include a free character slot for anyone who purchases Heart of Thorns and already has a GW2 license. Bam! You win the moral high ground. Hell, if ArenaNet is worried about losing all the extra money their current scheme generates, they could tie these elements to the preorder prepurchase prepay only – they would likely recoup their costs on the interest generated between now and whenever the expansion will actually be released.

MMOs are social games, and companies need to manage social expectations in the same way you would in relationships. Or choose not to, I suppose. In which case all your carefully spent millions of dollars in advertising will run directly against a bunch of jilted lovers who will trash talk you in public for weeks for free. And while there will always be some people you cannot please, you damn better make sure that the narrative they present is as crazy as they are.

Because if they have a point? You’ll never hear the end of it.

Hyper Hype

I can’t remember the last time that E3 felt relevant or interesting. But now? I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt as hyped up as I do right now. Like holy shit whoa. All of these news items could turn out to be soul-crushingly disappointing, but… I choose to believe. I’m officially abandoning all rational arguments against the following and reveling in the ecstasy of fanboyism in its purest form.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

ItsHappening.gif

Just knowing that this is a real, actual thing that will exist at some indeterminable point in the future brings me unbridled joy. I have talked about FF7 many a time over the years, and it has maintained its position in my Top 3 games of all time ever since I first played it in high school. Does the original hold up to modern RPG standards? Probably not. Am I tiny bit worried that “remake” will entail removing everything recognizable about the base game? Yeah, I am – that trailer narration was quite bizarre.

But in many ways, it doesn’t matter. A Final Fantasy 7 remake is going to exist. And by existing, it validates all those feelings I had damn near twenty years ago and have remembered ever since. The game was a cultural milestone that marked the turning point in gaming when RPGs went mainstream. And I was on the ground floor for that.

God, I still remember playing it Christmas Day and my father quipping “Oh, they’re showcasing interracial marriage now?” when he saw Tifa and Barret talking with Marlene in the bar. That… was a different time.

So yeah, you are either as excited about this as I am, or… well, I’m sorry. Hopefully you can warm your cold, dark heart vicariously through my joy. Or, you know, by envisioning my reaction when/if Square Enix buckles under the collective nostalgia of ten million people and fucks it up. There will be plenty of heat to go around in either case.

Fallout 4

Everyone knew this was coming. I don’t think many people imagined this coming out November 10th. At least not me.

This is honestly another one of those games in which the designers would have to go way out of their way to screw up before I would even notice. Fallout 3 was such a home run for me on so many levels. First, as someone who played Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics, I had a measure of extreme skepticism that the franchise could make the transition into the third dimension. I mean, maybe I should have learned from Metroid Prime that such magic was possible, but that moment when you first emerge from the Vault, blinded by the sun… yes. Yes, the world is fundamentally good and just.

New Vegas is often praised for being the better of the two, but I still disagree in a rather fundamental way. Simply put, you were on rails for a not-insignificant amount of time in New Vegas, funneled down a highway arbitrarily surrounded by level 20 Radscorpians and Super Ghouls. Compare that to Fallout 3, where you can explore every non-D.C. corner of the map starting from the Vault entrance. And that’s what I did, in every playthrough: striking out into the wasteland, investigating any landmark that caught my eye.

And hoarding all the things. So, so many things.

So seeing that video showcasing the insane level of customization for every weapon, utilizing every random piece of trash you have squirreled away? I’m already there. I’m sold. Not preorder sold – that would just be silly – but “Day 1 sold even though the game will be unplayable until the first patch two weeks later” sold. The base-building is cool, of course, and I’m looking forward for the zany Fallout plot as well. But I would pretty much play any post-apocalypse game where I could scavenge and hoard trash, and Bethesda certainly has my (credit card) number in this respect.

The Last Guardian survives

Much like a FF7 remake, The Last Guardian has become somewhat of a running joke at E3 and elsewhere. As the article notes, it was originally announced back in 2009 for the PS3. As the article also notes, however, it’s coming out 2016. For real this time™. Hopefully. Please.

While not on the full caliber as FF7, I have long considered ICO to be one of those games that best exemplifies Games as Art. Not just in aesthetics, but in the purity of its design. You were a little boy who used a stick to chase away the shadows of an impossibly large castle. Everything about that game was great. And Team Ico has been working on this game ever since Shadow of the Colossus (which I am still working my way through).

Some people on the internet have been complaining about the dated graphics, or at least pointed out that it looks like a game designed on the PS3. Which is likely the case, honestly. But you know what? I’m not going to criticize those uncouth Philistines for being incapable appreciating the finer things in life. Given their miserable condition – the rote, listless way they carry themselves in life – the only proper response to their proclamations is pity. If this game was merely ICO 2, same graphics and all, I would still play it, and have my life enriched thereby.

…and more

I’m pretty happy that Mirror’s Edge is getting a sequel, or prequel, or reboot, or whatever. It was one of those games whose fingerprints you can still see being left on game design today. Horizon looks pretty keen too. Oh, and I guess Mass Effect 4 is a thing. Although in regards to that, I feel no particular sensation of hype because Mass Effect is Shepard, and the Commander’s story is over. Whomever is wearing that N7 uniform has some mighty large boots to fill. Unless that person is actually Shepard and Liara’s (or Tali, or hell, Garrus’) child, in which case, game on.

In any event, I’m feeling kinda spent right now. The only thing that could possibly have made things better would have been… I dunno. Cold fusion and world peace? A Xenogears remake? I don’t want to get too greedy though.

Unfiltered

While I missed it Live, I managed to watch that Warlords Q&A over the weekend. You can watch it yourself on Youtube, and I recommend doing so. It was simultaneously the most raw, unfiltered interview I’ve ever seen, and the most baffling and ultimately a little demoralizing.

Before I get into the details though, here’s how I did on the BINGO front:

So close...

So close…

If you can’t bring yourself to watch the full hour of video, MMO-Champion has an extremely abbreviated synopsis and Wowhead has an interpretative transcript. What neither of them really gets across is the otherwise unbelievable number of times that Ion Hazzikostas comes right out and says “We screwed up” on a large number of topics. Like, I started getting a little embarrassed watching it, even though I felt Blizzard needed called on all of them.

Let’s start this in order though.

Flying

Although Ion stated that he “didn’t like speaking for the group,” by the time the Polygon interview went out stating flying was no more, that decision did represent a majority of the design team at the time. I have talked about this enough so I won’t belabor the point, other than to say how incredibly disheartening it is to hear that more than half of the design team are insane coming from such a bizarre different worldview. I mean, I would feel a little bit better if the argument was “flying takes too many resources” or something. In the absence of any explanation though, I must accept a reality in which the design team is either incompetent or are aligned with a completely different entertainment paradigm than myself. If they do not know how or why this game is fun to me, how can I expect them to continue delivering a fun game in the future? Or me to expect one to be delivered?

I’m glad that the majority of the design team ended up finding a compromise palatable to their alien sensibilities. But it’s getting pretty clear that any entertainment derived from this MMO will be in spite of the design instead of because of it.

Reputations

“I’m really not going to defend [the 6.0 reputations] and say that they’re awesome and fun and engaging. They are completely mob grinds.” No, really, Ion said exactly that. The explanation is that Blizzard wasn’t going to do reputations at all this expansion, but decided to throw some shit together at the last minute because of the Trading Post and “other hooks.”

Apexis Dailies

“Clear failure on our part.” Ion mentioned that Blizzard did the whole “thing Blizzard routinely does” in lurching from one extreme to another, in this case a reaction to the “World of Dailycraft” theme of Mists of Pandaria. The idea was that instead of doing 5 different quests in an area, you can do the equivalent of five different quests worth of miscellaneous stuff in that same area. Only this time, the rewards were shit and the lack of narrative makes the entire enterprise more nakedly grindy. That’s not even commentary on my part, that is what Ion basically said.

Lack of Endgame World Content

The design team was so caught up in making sure Garrisons as a system was worth doing, a lot of the activities you would normally do outside are instead done in your own little instance.

Professions

See above. Don’t worry though, Felblight will fix it.™

Alt Burnout due to Garrisons

Blizzard will nerf gold gains (Account-wide diminishing returns) to save you from yourself. In fact, they don’t like alts serving to enhance a single main character either. Which is another one of those “do you even play your own game?!” moments to me.

Dungeons Being Pointless

“That’s another one of our regrets.” Ion believes that Mythic dungeons will “salvage” the situation a little bit, before launching back into his whole “doing dungeons for Valor doesn’t make sense” tirade. Which is itself utterly bizarre given the fact that A) new reputation factions do this all the time, and B) Tanaan Jungle will be raining ilevel 650+ gear from the sky. Like literally what the fuck? Unless you are trying to actively “discourage the use” of the LFD tool – which I would not put it past them at this point – I don’t understand why else he or anyone would discourage group content in this way. Even if the dungeons are faceroll, it is at least social facerolling.

Why Are Demo Locks Being Nerfed?

“Because we’d rather you not play demonology.” That is a direct quote – look at Lore’s eyes when Ion says it. Hilarious. Less hilarious is the elaboration, which essentially boils down to Blizzard not liking how the spec plays out mechanically, but don’t want to actually fix it within an expansion, so they’d rather not have people playing the spec in the meantime. Which is… well, one way of doing it, I guess.

Ability Pruning

“We’re not trying to design rotations that feel engaging fighting a target dummy.” Again, direct quote. On the one hand, I can understand where they are coming from. If you are able to stand still and belt out your rotation with no downtime, chances are that the raid encounter itself is boring, e.g. you are not needing to move out of the fire, click the box, collapse for a meteor effect, etc. On the other hand… what? If your rotation isn’t engaging under perfect circumstances, when is it ever going to be engaging? So for all those hundreds of hours of clunky Retribution gameplay where you are desperately waiting for auto-attack procs to play your class, it was intended? Never going to be fixed?

Flabbergasted is the only way I can describe my reaction.

Absorbs Dominating the Healing Game

It’s better than it was in Mists, but every raid should have a Disc Priest, yes. Sorry.

_______________

Just to recap, Ion admitted to Blizzard screwing up Reputations, Apexis Dailies, endgame content in general, Professions, Garrisons, Dungeons, Demo Warlocks, requiring Disc Priests for serious raids, and that unfun ability rotations are intended.

Guys, I don’t even know any more. Maybe the developers have always been this way behind the scenes, and we just never saw them like this. Maybe the huge influx of interns have diluted the talent pool. Or perhaps we are just all trapped in an incomprehensible universe, devoid of meaning but otherwise working as intended.

I just… I dunno. I’m just going to play some videogames instead of thinking about this anymore.

All the World a Dungeon

In his collated recap of the recent flying controversy, Wilhelm casually asks a question that completely redefines the debate for me and explains Blizzard’s behavior up to now:

For me, the great unanswered question in all of this remains how much control over their game should a developer be allowed, whether or not the dev’s view of how their game should be played should trump the player’s view, whether MMO studios be dictating a “right way” to play and should players accept that or not?

Mind. Blown. If you aren’t already having the same epiphany as me, buckle up.

See, I realize now that this entire flying debate hasn’t been able flying per se, it has been about the tension between the content creators and the content consumers. The Blizzard team doesn’t just want a curated experience anymore, they want a directed experience. Your questing on Draenor isn’t just grounded, it’s on rails. When was the last time you actually found a shortcut up to that cave in the mountains? For me this expansion, it was never – I was stymied by invisible walls and frictionless slopes at every turn. Clearly, the desire is a linear path between A & B, no deviation or skipping game mechanics allowed.

In fact, Ion Hazzicostas said exactly this when talking about introducing more Flight Paths as a flight consolation prize:

The goal is to maximize convenience in getting from point a to point [b] but retaining as much of the gameplay and depth as possible once you do get to that point.

Something kept bothering me about this reasoning though. Flying apparently breaks immersion, but Ion doesn’t seem to give two shits about adding more and more Flight Paths to the world to maximize convenience, despite them being the most immersion-breaking thing imaginable. Seriously, who doesn’t Alt-Tab out of the game on a Flight Path? Getting on one might as well be a 1-2 minute loading screen for a dungeon.

Wait a second. Dungeon. Dungeon. Ion Hazzikostas. It all makes sense!

Cue the flashback montage.

Cue the flashback montage.

Ion Hazzikostas is designing the world (of Warcraft) as a series of instanced dungeons. Not literally, of course. But as a lead designer who specifically worked on all the dungeons and raids introduced since Wrath, his reasoning up to this point makes total and complete sense in this context.

Dungeons are extremely directed experiences. You have to kill these mobs in this way in this order to face the boss. Dungeon mobs are dangerous and patrols can wipe the group, unlike any outdoor mob since, say, the Fel Reaver. You cannot mount in most dungeons, and even in the ones you can, there isn’t any flying (Oculus notwithstanding). Hell, even ground mounts can’t save you because dungeon mobs don’t leash.

Dungeons are everything that Ion wants outdoor questing in Draenor to be, because that is all that Ion knows how to design.

So there it is. We don’t have Scenarios in Draenor because quests are our Scenarios. Apexis dailies are our dungeons. And the actual dungeons? Unrewarding afterthoughts thrown in out of habit. Or perhaps more simply, the result of a drained lead designer who had just finished crafting a dungeon the size of the world.

It is hard to even be mad at Ion. Creating instanced, on-rails experiences is his whole job, and one that he is good at. When you hammer stuff all day, it makes perfect sense that every problem starts looking nail-like. The struggle comes from the unanswered questions Wilhelm presented earlier. Should outdoor questing content be treated like instanced, directed content?

I believe the answer is clearly “No.” Instanced content has its place, as do the limitations that make it more challenging. Outdoor content, by it’s very nature, resists and rejects those limitations. Enemy encampments aren’t “more dangerous” when grounded, by any stretch of the imagination. I could run through any one of them a dozen times while mounted and be fine. Preventing an aerial assault just makes the task of killing trivial mobs take a minute or two longer.

It is for these reasons that I believe Ion and whomever else is taking his side on the development team are going about this the wrong way. I enjoy story quests as much as the next guy, but the direction should come from the tasks, not the manner in which I complete them. If you want players sticking around an enemy encampment instead of clicking on a cage and flying away, how about making the quest more involved than clicking on a cage? Or, hell, maybe they could implement a system in which it would matter how I completed it. There is already bonus quest objective tech in place, so add something in there like “completed without flying.” More carrot and less stick.

Especially given how I can already mount and ride past the stick at any time.

A Flight Far Enough

Well then. Turns out we’ll be returning to the skies in 6.2.x after all:

In an upcoming Public Test Realm build, we will be introducing a new meta-achievement called Draenor Pathfinder. You’ll earn this achievement in Patch 6.2 by mastering the outdoor environment of Draenor—exploring Draenor’s zones, collecting 100 treasures in Draenor, completing the Draenor Loremaster and Securing Draenor achievements, and raising the three new Tanaan Jungle reputations to Revered. Initially, this achievement will award a rylak mount: the Soaring Skyterror, one of the native beasts that roam Draenor’s skies. Players will remain ground-bound on Draenor until a small follow-up patch (6.2.x), when all players who have earned Draenor Pathfinder on at least one character will unlock the ability to fly in Draenor on all their level 90+ characters.

The general mood surrounding this announcement, at least where I have looked, has been one of almost manic joyousness. And I largely share it. This is Blizzard returning to sanity, smartly pivoting around a smoldering crisis with some clever design. Even though my first thought was “hey, attunements 2.0,” I can’t even be mad. My long-standing opposition to attunements doesn’t apply to this particular implementation of them, even if I do feel like Blizzard just kinda threw every achievement they could think of into the unlock.

But just as you would with someone who has just returned from a psychotic break, I remain leery. Some very serious men¹ made some very serious decisions and those decisions almost stuck. In fact, Lore confirmed via Twitter that the “final decision” on this flying matter was the cause of the BINGO Live Q&A delay:

In fact, the conversation continues with the following revelations:

In other words, all these changes were decided on in just the last week.

Is it comforting knowing that Blizzard can make decisions with this degree of nimbleness? Or is it vexing that it took them until now to solve this “problem?” I don’t think anyone could argue that the proposed implementation to unlock flying is especially onerous². Arbitrary, yes, but so is paying a few thousand gold when you hit the level cap. But why was this design not the one at the start of the expansion? If this is a compromise, what were we compromising out of, and why was that believed to be better than this?

To an extent, I recognize this is me seeing a silver lining and looking for the cloud. The crisis is averted, and Blizzard conjured content out of thin air without even having to change anything else. Hell, it’s even going to drag damn near everyone outside of their Garrisons for the first time since they hit level cap. It is a clever designer Hat Trick in every respect.

Still… goddamn. I would have felt a lot better about the overall design direction for WoW had they came up with this plan before it became necessary.

¹ I was going to say “people,” but as far as I can tell, all the lead designers are dudes.

² One of the 6.2 reputations is a straight-up mob grind, and a second one is basically the same thing except killing rares. This deal is getting worse all the time.

Prisoner’s (Gaming) Dilemma

BINGO was postponed for a week, but I’m not even mad. Seeing the shit Blizzard is getting on the forums every time they introduce another flying mount is payment enough. For now.

Let us set that aside for a moment.

So I was presented with two hypothetical scenarios over the weekend which I found interesting for reasons. The first one was this: you’re going to jail for ten years, but it’s a minimum security prison that will allow you to take one offline game (any DLC included) with you. But that will be the only game you get for those ten years. Which game do you pick?

The second scenario is similar, but this time it’s life in prison. For some insane reason, the Warden will allow you to take any three games and allow an internet connection. The parameters did not specify whether future DLC or microtransactions will be free for you, but let’s assume you can make enough money stamping licence plates to cover, say, $30/month. Which games do you pick?

The answer to the first scenario was pretty much unanimous amongst my fellow hypothetical jail mates: Minecraft. There was a Skyrim holdout in there, but ten years is a long time and I don’t think mods could extend the attention of even the staunchest Skyrim fan that long.

The second scenario answer was more diverse, with my friend solidly in the Destiny camp (which is his current console mini-MMO game of choice). Mine was more blunt: World of Warcraft. Yes, even with bile I feel towards Flightgate, I have to admit that WoW is a game A) most likely to still be around and supported for decades to come, and B) one offering the most diverse playing experiences. In other words, you could spend a lot of time getting real good at raiding, master it, and then set off to roll the boulder up the PvP hill and feel a difference.

I found my own responses interesting primarily because I don’t particularly like playing either of them. The last time I seriously played Minecraft was before they introduced the Hunger meter; it may not have even been out of beta yet. I am still “playing” WoW currently, but it’s in the same way I play Clash of Clans: short bursts of activity to kill time, because apparently I’m going to live forever and have no standards. Or perhaps it’s because if I devoted the whole of my free time to one game, I’d probably clear three games a week, and the corresponding post-game depression phase three times. No thanks.

Still, what does that really say about me, and presumably us, that we aren’t simply playing these games full-time? That we could conceivably be playing them for 10+ years, but would rather not to? Obviously the intensity of a novel experience is higher with new games, so it makes sense that we enjoy playing the newer ones more (at least for a while). But here are these other games which clearly are mechanically superior in a replayability sense and we, or I, don’t seem to care. Until we’re in jail, anyway.

In any case, I’d be interested to hear other peoples’ choices in these two scenarios. For me, it’s Minecraft for the first, then Minecraft, WoW, and Counter-Strike for the second. I thought about swapping Magic Online with Minecraft in the second set, but the $30/month limit, while arbitrary, still wouldn’t cover hardly any reasonable amount of gametime.