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Unabated

My WoW playing continues unabated.

I have reached Exalted with Anglers and Klaxxi most recently, and the Tillers/Cloud Serpent weeks ago. I am a step away from Honored with Shado-pan, and stopped at Revered with Shieldwall and Golden Lotus (may whomever is responsible for Golden Lotus dailies burn forever). Since I am neutral with the August Celestials and they have nothing of interest for my paladin, I have not bothered doing any quests for them.

Of my 10 alts, the highest remains stagnant at level 88; dailies and/or LFR consumes all of the WoW time I permit among my other diversions. With me hitting so many reputation milestones though, this may change.

My (high) opinion of LFR has not changed, although I did have a few bad experiences. During the first fight of Vault of Mysteries, we had a AFK warlock leecher, who stood by the stairs during the encounter. While it was annoying knowing that he/she could possibly get rewarded for doing so, the greater issue was how the encounter was reset TWICE when he was targeted by one of the bosses’ abilities. The reason why it took two resets to kick the warlock was because it was not immediately obvious why the encounter reset.

The luck I experienced with my first run of LFR has not held up to repetition. Two weeks ago I received nothing, maybe 1-2 of those coins, and this past week I received naught but a tier helm. I will agree that the “failbags” do indeed start to feel worse than not winning rolls under the traditional model… although that is more a psychological artifact than reason to go back. I think it is easier to believe you pessimistically expect nothing to drop, when you are not immediately reminded that you had a discreet chance via the roll. The difference between Blackjack and slot machines goes much further than the mere odds.

For the second week in a row, I have also cleared out Black Temple solo. I am not entirely certain that every class can do it, but my Retribution paladin with 474 ilevel does not have much trouble with a full clear in 50 minutes. The 2nd phase of Reliquary of Souls is the only time things get truly dicey – Council also requires frequent Word of Glories while kiting – but beyond that it is fairly easy at this level and gear. I got the T6 pants and shoulders on my first run, and picked up some other Transmog-worthy pieces along the way.

Unfortunately, both the T6 chest and Bulwark drop off Illidan and he has yet to drop anything useful for the 3rd week running; clearing the place is easy, but 50 minutes is still 50 minutes. I could probably “cut my losses” and spend a ridiculous amount of honor for the Season 3 off-color chest (seriously, 1000 honor vs 175 honor for the S4 chest), as I grow increasingly weary about the odds that one of the legendary blades will drop. In many ways, getting one of those on the paladin, an item I could not even equip let alone Transmog (…yet), would almost be worse than never getting anything from Illidan.

Gaming psychology. Such a twisted thing.

LFR is a Better LFD

A few days after my friend ran me through some of the MoP heroics, he asked what I thought about them. To be honest, I did not think about them much at all. They are much easier than Cataclysm heroics, of course, which should be a reason to like them as much as I did the Wrath heroics; I am solidly in the “random pug content should be easy” category. At the same time… something felt off about them. It was not until I queued for LFR that I realized what it was.

LFR is everything that LFD strives to be. It is the final evolution of the LFD process, if you will.

Like many people, I was annoyed to find out that Blizzard backslid on reputation gains with MoP, removing the two-expansion precedent of running heroics with tabards. On one level, their argument makes sense: daily quest hubs are one guaranteed way to get people back out into the world. And while Blizzard has a long way to go with their stubborn “strangers are competition” design – Guild Wars 2 fixed it so thoroughly that anything less feels archaic – the daily quests became a quasi-guild event for my group for at least two weeks.

But there is a longer con going on here, and Blizzard is being a bit more clever than I thought. Put simply: Blizzard is intentionally marginalizing heroic dungeon content. The decreased difficulty is irrelevant compared to the fact that there isn’t really ever a reason to run heroics anymore. When tabards gave reputation, you always had a reason to run X number of dungeons far beyond the possibility of upgrades. When (BoP) Chaos Orbs only dropped from bosses, crafters had a reason to run dungeons. When Valor was only easily capped from heroics, you had a reason to run them every day (or at least 7x/week). None of those things are true or relevant anymore.

Raid Finder as a solution to the endgame problem is goddamn genius. The biggest problem with the raid scene in WoW was with how low participation has been; no matter how awesome raids like Ulduar are, it gets hard to justify the expense when less than 25% of your players see the first boss. Solution: LFR. No matter how much they bribe tanks to queue for heroics, I do not think I have seen a DPS queue less than 40 minutes long. Solution: LFR. Seriously, I had an 8 minute DPS queue for LFR the other day to possibly get gear 20 ilevels higher than heroics. Random jerks that you can’t kick harshing your vibes in heroics? Solution: LFR. People Need-whoring your drops? Solution: LFR. If there was ever a clearer indication that LFR is in and LFD is out, it would be how LFR has the new looting system and LFD is stuck with “mage won the healer trinket.” Once they start letting you win off-spec gear in LFR, there won’t be a reason to do anything else.

Oh, and how many new 5-mans are coming out in 5.2? Exactly.

So if you are wondering what I think about the Raid Finder system, I think it is fantastic. LFR is not perfect by any means, but it is probably the biggest improvement in WoW’s endgame structure since LFD. It provides practice for the “real” raids; it provides complexity in a somewhat more forgiving environment; it provides something more substantial than endless heroic runs; there are/will be enough of them to take up a good chunk of your playtime if you wish it; better loot with less grinding; and, finally, LFR offers an elegant solution to DPS over-representation.

I sometimes question the decisions they make over in Blizzard HQ, but whoever designed the integration of LFR into the game proper deserves a raise.

Reinventing the Wheel

Other games have pretty much killed my attempt to slog through Guild War 2′s storyline, but I still rubberneck around the forums and dev posts with a sick sort of fascination. Some of their decisions make you wonder if they have been living under a rock for the last fifteen years of game design.

Hey everyone.

We are looking into an additional reward system to add to bosses so that killing a single boss feels a lot more rewarding than it does right now. We are gathering data internally on it and will release information on it as it gets closer to being implemented.

Being stuck at the last boss and unable to finish the dungeon thus receiving now reward is a terrible feeling for any player, hardcore or casual. We are looking to remedy this.

Iteration is the name of the game (source)

Hello, William Fairfield, Game Designer. Maybe bosses should, I dunno, have some loot associated with them instead of a chest filled with vendor trash to complement the same vendor trash we have been collecting from the hundred mobs we slaughtered on the way in? I think that worked in every MMO prior to this one.

We’re very aware our LFG system is lacking, an it’s high on our list of things to rework. We have some other very pressing issues to handle first, but as someone who built/runs dungeons, and often PUG them, I dislike our current obscure and non-informative system, and re-building it is high on my list of things-to-flail-my-arms-about-to-talented-people-who-can-do-something-about-it, so that they do something about it. (source)

Thank you, Robert Hrouda, Content Designer. You get 50 points for honesty. And lose 50 points for letting the game go Live with a LFG tool actually worse than the one WoW had six years ago.

[Nobody running Story modes anymore] is absolutely an issue as the game matures and we are working on ways to make running story mode with someone worthwhile even if you have already run it so players just reaching these dungeons can more easily find groups to play with. It will probably take some experimentation before we find the right motivator.

Jon (source)

Hello, Jon Peters, Game Designer. Perhaps if you did not nerf subsequent Story mode runs into the fucking ground, more people would do them? Your anti-botting protocols should already handle multiple playthroughs back-to-back, so… what was the point in such a huge reduction?

That last one really gets me. Think about it for a second. The pool of available players who have not yet ran the Story mode for a dungeon is always decreasing. That is a fact even if GW2 has increasing sales because, even ignoring server differentiation, the magnitude of new players coming in is unlikely to be higher than it was immediately after launch. The pool is always getting more shallow.

“No big deal,” I hear you say. “WoW dungeons have planned obsolescence the same way.” “Nein!” I say to you. GW2 auto-levels you down to match the dungeon mobs, which means you’ll always need a group; the longer you wait to start doing dungeons the less likely any such run will actually take place. Conversely, if I have some morbid curiosity about the story of Auchindoun Crypts in WoW after all these years, I could stroll in there with a max-level character and solo the place (barring any weird mechanics). And even if you manage to guilt four guild-mates into running a GW2 Story-mode for a second time, they are getting absolutely hosed for no goddamn reason.

Seriously, why? Oh, that’s right, there is some ridiculous fear about “farming.”

For the longest time, I could not understand why all the posts on the GW2 forums were talking about farming, diminishing returns, botting, anti-farm code, and so on. Why is this such a uniquely critical problem to GW2? Then it hit me. “You have entered too many instances lately.” Blizzard has instance caps and lockouts. PROBLEM SOLVED. Maybe I should be giving ArenaNet some credit for letting people run the same Farmable Explorable Mode as many times as they want in a day… but honestly? All this backhanded DR and anti-farm mechanics cheapens the lipstick on the pig.

I have never truly appreciated Blizzard’s methodology of instance design until seeing the alternative. People can complain about Reputation and daily quests as chores, but it is better than the wink-n-nod alternative of “we KNOW you are going to grind your face off, so let’s treat you like the little farming bots you are.” The equivalent would be for Blizzard to have removed the 25 daily quest cap (like they already did) but mathed out a decreasing reward slope to “enforce” a 25-daily limit. I do not feel that is actually any more humane, and it comes across as patronizing as well. It is the Skinner Box without the box; just some dude in a lab coat fondling your nucleus accumbens until you collapse.

If limits are necessary – and there are good arguments that limits are indeed necessary to save us from ourselves – then just give us the goddamn limits and call it a day. You can do A once per day, and B once per week. Done. This whole “do whatever you want… except that, and that too, and maybe you should go outside for a while, eh?” is just dumb. It all ends up making more rules, not less.

More Blizzard Heart to Heart

Remember last time when WoW lost a bunch of folks? It appears that we have another data point on the graph indicating that subscription totals and surprisingly frank design discussion are inversely related, at least as far as Ghostcrawler is concerned.

Spinks already pointed out this gem, but I will do so again for mine own posterity:

No developer wants to hear “I want to play your game, but there’s nothing to do.” For Mists, we are going out of our way to give players lots to do. We don’t want it to be overwhelming, but we do want it to be engaging. We want you to have the option of sitting down to an evening of World of Warcraft rather than running your daily dungeon in 30 minutes and then logging out. We understand we have many players (certainly the majority in fact) who can’t or aren’t interested in making huge commitments to the game every week and we hope we have structured things so that you don’t fall very far behind. The trick is to let players who want to play make some progress without leaving everyone else in the dust. (source)

Now, actually, I found an earlier line item from the list preceding the above paragraph to be more interesting:

– In Mists, we want to provide players alternative content to running dungeons. The dungeons are still there, but even with 6 new and 3 redone dungeons, you’re ready for something else after a while.

That is… kind of a big deal. I could maybe see an argument that things were different in TBC, but dungeons being default endgame for the majority of the playerbase (i.e. the 80% non-raiders) has been Blizzard’s modus operandi for the last two expansions. For, by all appearances, good reasons! How else do you get someone to log on every day? Dailies alone were not that compelling, precisely due to the factors Ghostcrawler points out: reputation grinds were undermined by tabard’d dungeon runs, as were Exalted faction rewards by dungeon loot.

De-emphasizing dungeons is a paradigm shift and Grand Social Experiment all rolled into one. Think about it. Who are the individuals most likely to exhibit anti-social, anti-noob behavior in a dungeon setting? The people who don’t want to be there, but feel they have to be there. Well, now they don’t. Go run Scenarios with your two dickish DPS cohorts and never haunt the halls of LFD again. Alternatively, just as Children’s Week floods BGs with players who never cared for PvP, perhaps allowing normal daily quests to adequately satisfy one’s need for gear progression means there will be less noobs looking to be carried by raider alts through LFD.

Most people would agree that the friendliest LFD “community” is generally in endgame normal dungeons. Why? Because it is filled with players who actually want to be there. They could be getting better gear in heroics, but choose not to. Maybe not at first, but over time do you think we could gradually see LFD populated only with people who enjoy that experience?

Of course, I can see this whole thing going down in the flames too. Although LFD and LFR has minimized the necessity of forming social relationships in the endgame, this sort of re-emphasis on flying solo could not come at a worse time, e.g. as 2+ million players snap social ties. Or maybe this is a catering to the audience as it exists now, instead of the hypothetical historical. Or perhaps I should believe what I said before vis-a-vis seeing all the new opportunities to be social via running dailies/Scenarios in small groups with people I actually care about.

I mean… this is Guild Wars 2′s entire model, right?