That Michael Ironside AMA
If you are not familiar with Reddit, it’s… well, let’s just say it’s a thing. A thing that occasionally has “Ask Me Anything” threads from famous people, like Michael Ironside. You might be familiar with him from his work on Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars. Or, you know, any of the hundreds of classic movies he’s been in, including Total Recall, Starship Troopers, and Free Willy.
In any case, in his AMA he related had a rather interesting story about Splinter Cell:
Q: Hello, Mr. Ironside! I have to say that I liked your voice work as Sam Fisher in the Splinter Cell series. How do you feel about Ubisoft’s decision to not use you in the newest game? Also, any stories about your work on the games?
I think it’s a great idea for Ubisoft. They’ve gone to motion capture, and this spring I will be 65 years old. I don’t think anyone wants to pay money seeing a 65 year old Sam Fisher bounce around on set, killing and stumbling while he kills people. I wish them all the luck. I hope that franchise has a long and storied future.
I have to confess I’m not a gamer. And when they sent me the contract for the very first game, it was quite lucrative, and I said “absolutely, I will do this.” I thought it was going to be like PONG, and I would just have to introduce it.
My wife, actually, went out and bought a brand new SUV with some of the money.
When I got the script, it was very stiff, very inflexible, and very blood and violent.
And I didn’t want to do it. And told them I was going to give them back their money. They asked me what would it take to keep me on the project, and i said we would have to change the character, and give him some type of humanity. To their credit, they sat me down with the game creators, and we came up with the present Sam Fisher, who had an empathy and was not just a 2 dimensional killing machine. And we got as much humanity, I think that that format will allow.
And my wife didn’t have to give back her SUV.
ALso, what happened is, when you’re doing games, usually it’s one person in a booth doing their work, creating their character, and then the next person goes in, you usually never get to work or meet anybody. On the first 2 games, we brought the cast in, and we all did it together, so we had a sense of humanity. That was one of my stipulations.
I said “Working is like making love, if i do it by myself, it’s just masturbation. I’d rather have the other cast around.” And I think the proof is in the pudding, the game has had a pretty good set of legs on it.
I confess that I have never actually played any of the Splinter Cell games, which I realize makes highlighting this anecdote a little weird. Still, it is a bit encouraging to hear that by virtue of a single person, a group of developers were able to come together and change what would have (undoubtedly) been a more one-dimensional experience into one with a lot more texture. Somewhat less encouraging was the fact that Ubisoft felt like the killing machine script was good enough at the beginning, but I’ll give them a pass here.
In any case, this is still one of the best AMAs I have ever read. This Christian Bale story, this Starship Troopers trivia, these Highlander 2 moments with Sean Connery. Way good.
How Hardcore Will Wildstar Actually Be?
Keen brought up an interesting perspective last week in regards to Wildstar:
I keep hearing/reading that WildStar is going to be such a hardcore game not for the casual, console, [insert something with a core not hard enough] audience. Yes, there are inaccessible 40-man raids. You’re delusional if you think that WildStar is now or will ever be hardcore. Even compared to Vanilla WoW (like WildStar often is) it’s ridiculously accessible and easy to level. People were hitting 40+ in 3-4 days or less.
All it will take is a few exit surveys for NCSoft to step in and force accessibility. “We’re losing subscribers because they can’t experience the content they want to play.” It will never, ever, be more inaccessible than WoW.
It’s an interesting perspective to me because I was (and still am) prepared to take Carbine and the Wildstar devs on face value. There was another Reddit AMA last week that sort of doubled-down on the hardcoreness. You can read a much cleaner, more condensed version here. This rather epic deconstruction sums up a lot of miscellaneous things:
Q: When it becomes apparent in the next year that hardcore 40 man’s aren’t going to work because it’s not what people like to do anymore, what other ideas are you going to try?
CRB_Gaffer: This is a “gotcha” question, but I’ll answer it anyways since some variant of it comes up reasonably often.
Little aside here: Why is this “gotcha”? Well, let’s examine possible answers:
1) Say “yes, 40 mans won’t work in a year, we’ll roll to another system” – well obviously we don’t believe that, or we wouldn’t have done them. And if early testing were pointing that way, we would have already converted them.
2) Say “no, they’ll never change, even if no one plays them!” – well, obviously, we’d be idiots to not respond to player feedback; it’s what we do. They’re fun enough that they’ll get played, we’re confident.
3) Say “it’s entirely up to player feedback!” – that’s hardly giving a strong direction, and we know this one will be contentious – there’s not likely to be a consensus. Every interesting game design decision is a mix of having a vision and being willing to intelligently and rationally assess when to swerve from it if reality and vision collide.
4) If we say that contingently we’ll push other fallback ideas, then of course the player base will potentially rapidly become divided to say “DO THAT NOW!!!” or assume that our plan all along is to go that route, when in practice, anything we do in terms of long-term planning is to an extent contingency based. We’ll be MUCH more knowledgeable about the health of the systems in the long terms six months post-launch.
So, that’s kinda the definition of a gotcha question – there’s no simple answer that actually addresses the question.
There’s another issue; the phrasing “when it becomes apparent” that implies that you’re asking the question to people you think aren’t that smart to begin with.
One assumes that’s intentional; it creates the added issue that responding to the question potentially Pavlovian conditions folks asking us questions to be snarky, when generally we try to focus answers on intelligent, well-phrased questions (even contentious ones) to make sure we’re doing our best to improve the quality of dialogue. No offense intended if that phrasing was just unintentional and through poor communication skills! Anyways, a good policy in TL;DR form: “Don’t feed the trolls”
But what the heck! To answer concisely after the extended parenthetical:
If it turns out that gamers are no longer capable of enjoying large-scale raiding, at that time our cross-discipline group of folks will have a series of debates on what works, what doesn’t work, base it on the data we’ve pulled from the systems and talking with our fans, and either double down on the parts of the systems that work well, or innovate some new directions to move forward in.
But early feedback is that that’s a pretty hypothetical situation. Cause, hell, they’re pretty fun, and we think the added fun of the deeper gameplay we get out of those fights outweighs the social overhead of maintaining large groups. But folks will prove us wrong or not.
There are enough Ins and Outs in that response to construct a burger franchise, but there you go. Vague PR bullshit or nuanced game design? While I find myself more inclined to wait and see, I must confess that the following responses seems a bit contradictory:
Q: Are you committed to keeping a natural progression of content? […] Do you plan on adding shortcuts to previous tiers of raids when new ones come out? Removal of attunements, nerfing fights, adding equivalent gear from casual and easy to obtain sources (see WoW patch 2.4)?
CRB_TimeTravel: This is a great question for four months from now. Our post-launch balancing plans will depend heavily upon the speed with which players consume the content and the # of players doing the consuming.
However, we definitely don’t want to simply invalidate our previous content when we release new stuff.
Q: I know this is far into the future, but I’m hoping you guys keep old content relevant. I think it would be a great way to get the more casual players to raid in older/easier raid instances and have the new raids maintain the benchmark for hardcore players.
CRB_TimeTravel: We definitely don’t want to make our older content irrelevant, so will be looking for ways to have an intelligent progression forward with gear and ability as the game matures post-launch.
Q: What are your plans for longterm raid progression in terms of gear? Will you be taking the WoW model of trivializing the oldest raid instances when new ones are released? or the EverQuest model of a strict progression system, or somewhere in between?
CRB_TimeTravel: Somewhere in between.
We do not want to trivialize our content, nor force players to do all of it before seeing anything new.
What “middle way” is there between “not invalidate older content” and “not force players to do all of it”? You can either skip tiers or you can’t. The fact that the last boss of any given raid tier is always harder than the first (few) boss(es) of the next tier is one of the reasons I have always considered things like attunements and the justifications for them to be asinine. “Linear progression” is never linear progression, at least not for the first half of the next instance. If the hardcore raiders get a handful of gimmie bosses, why not everyone else? What good is preserved by putting a hard, game-ending limit to a given guild’s progression when you’ve specifically crafted new bosses that that guild could defeat if you but got out of the way?
Ugh. I think “attunements” and “linear progression” are trigger words for me.
That being said, I am not entirely sure whether I share Keen’s “optimism” regarding raiding in Wildstar becoming more accessible. As mentioned, there is enough wiggle-room in the posts by Carbine devs to allow them to nerf the content based on low participation. More problematic is how exactly they plan on nerfing it. Many of the gameplay videos I have seen paint most of the bosses as “bullet hell” dances, even in the 5m dungeons. In a world in which something as simple as the Heigan Dance threatened to break guilds apart, I’m skeptical these devs will be able to thread that needle. Maybe the attacks will 3-shot you instead of 1-shot? Maybe there will be less “bullets?” As any PUG raid leader can tell you though, moving out of the fire and dodging the fire are two entirely different things.
In any case, I suppose we’ll see how things shake out a few weeks from now.
There was an AMA by Jeremy Gaffney (Executive Producer) regarding Wildstar on Friday. Here were some of the interesting notes:
As someone who has left the MMO scene for quite some time now, do you think WildStar could pull me back in? (ex WoW player)
Our #1 market is probably ex-MMO players, truth be told. That’s many of us as well :) (source)
Subtle and straight-forward. I like it.
Your stand on “catch-up gear” content? Like if I want to get into raiding say about year after release and I of course need to get proper gear to get into raiding. So are you planning to do 5man dungeons with some godly gear or other catch-up mechanics?
We’ll want some catch-up mechanics that are also fair to the long-term raiders; I know the econ guys have thought but thank heavens that’s a ways out yet. (source)
Given the Wildstar team’s commitment to to anachronisms like attunements, I have to wonder about how exactly “catch-up gear mechanics” would even work. Blizzard is heading towards making all of Warlord’s LFR gear be non-tier, so I could see “ghetto-tier” gear as a means to help newer players catch up… but what about those attunements? Is it “fair to long-term raiders” for attunements to be relaxed after the content is no longer current? How is that any different than the traditional cry that content is being obsoleted?
By the way, attunements were dumb, are dumb, and will always be dumb.
Will it be possible to purchase high end gear or tier equivalent gear via the Auction House? In other words, given the existence of the CREDD system, will it be possible to buy power in this game with cash?
In general, nope. In practice, there may be a few BOE pieces of appropriate rarity/difficulty to acquire that spice up the mix, but buying power is a dangerous thing to systemize. (source)
The questing experience levels 1-6 is terrible (especially on Dominion side), why do your tutorials areas have so many quests that are not interactive for the player?
Mostly through focus testing with players of a variety of experience levels; you’ve probably played too many MMOs to want your hand held for long and don’t value the world and character introductions we do there (and why should you? You don’t know if those will pay off later and just want to check out the gameplay, which is rational).
We will likely add an option down the road for you to opt out. (source)
This is a subject that could almost be an entire series of blog posts by itself. Namely, the tension between clearly going after competitor’s subscribers (e.g. “Not in Azeroth anymore!”) and needing to be accessible for first-time MMO players. Because let’s be honest, the only real way you’re going to build word-of-mouth is by exciting the already-existing base, unless your base is already established via IP. Quite frankly, I’m a bit surprised that we haven’t seen more MMO companies come out with mid-range or even end-game gameplay in their beta right from the start. I mean, I guess even veterans will need a little bit of time to acclimate to the new environment, but you need them to be excited about the long-term future, not forcing them to spam-run tutorials every beta weekend.
Many people have had a really bad first impression of the game (usually first few hours of play), what would you say to these people to sway them into trying the game again?
Getting people back into the game is tricky (you form an impression and stick with it) – we change so much month to month that I don’t expect to re-earn the eyeballs of many folks who played in the past and left (even if we fixed some of what bothered them).
My plan personally is that you play what your friends are playing; the one thing more than any other email/ad/PR campaign we can do is get people liking the game itself and convincing their friends to come back in – thus Friend Passes, etc. (source)
That… is astonishingly honest and straight-forward. I have a few friends that pre-ordered Wildstar already, and they will pretty much be the only reason I purchase the game given my previous beta impressions.
Class balance is on going but their seems to be a mostly agreed tier list, with Spellslingers and Medics at the bottom in terms of DPS, and by a fair margin. What approach are you taking to get classes more in line with each other? Nerfing the top classes, or buffing the lower ones?
We err on the side of buffing rather than nerfing, but not to the point of insane mudflation. We’ll pretty regularly rebalance classes so that none is too gimped or OP (some drops are slated around this directly, while some will happen in each drop for higher priority stuff). (source)
I would say that erring on the side of buffing is the opposite of the WoW approach, but I don’t think classes ever got OP when someone else got nerfed, so… yeah.
Currently WildStars PVE Group Content ins linear, like in vanilla wow or tbc (the good times). With Wotlk and multilayer-content, problems like content skipping occured. Are you aware of that and are your gonna stick with the linear system? How will you ensure, that the linear system will work successfull on longterm for all different kind of raidguilds (casual, average, hardcore).
Adventures are intended to be heavily NON-linear, and raids are intended to have a fair amount of weekly variation (room ordering, sub-bosses, etc.) for just such reasons – if what we have is well received at launch, we’ll add more. (source)
I’m pretty sure they were talking about two different things here. I’m not sure about anyone else’s guild, but I absolutely hated the random variables in boss ordering (e.g. which drakes were in the cage, which bosses activated first, etc) as it required explaining the entire fight and every variation every time to everyone.
Q: In most MMO’s the crafted gear/items don’t have any real impact on endgame… What’s WildStar’s stance on this?
Our goal is that crafted items are competitive with the best items, but usually need to be earned through those same activities (either by the wearer or by the crafter) to keep things balanced. (source)
I have a difficult time trying to determine if this sort of thing would work for me. If I can’t craft the epic sword before being able to kill the guy who drops an epic sword, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to crafting (beyond playing the AH). On the other hand, I could sorta see this working if the raid boss had a much higher chance to drop the crafting component necessary to craft the epic sword, such that my profession had value in reducing the randomness of drops. This would require the crafting component to be personal loot though, I think.
I currently play GW2. what’s one good reason I should stop and start playing your game?
Don’t! Guild Wars 2 is an excellent game as well; respect to MO and the other arena.net devs. (source)
If I was less of a cynical bastard, I would be pretty impressed with this response. Alas, both MMOs are from NCSoft, so…
Beta for Azeroth
Posted by Azuriel
The expansion honeymoon phase is over for the WoW playerbase, and the rabble is’a rousing. To which I say, “about goddamn time.” The latest fuel on the fire? Ion Hazzikostas himself went into a Reddit AMA and basically said shit is broken on purpose. Which then led to this amusing exchange:
In case something happens to the picture, the specific line from Ion was:
While it might not have quite the meme potential of EA’s “sense of pride and accomplishment” disaster, it remains one of those insidious bits of accidental truth that rusts out the suspension of disbelief. And lest you extend any sort of doubting benefits to Ion, just read his response to a question about the sad state of Resto Shaman thus far:
In other words, the design team knew that the spec was weak at launch, but felt like gear would fix the problem later, so they decided to do nothing. Did they end up buffing Shaman? Yes… “measurely,” with trepidation. But why wait for a hotfix if you already knew the interim was going to be bad? And more importantly: why make your players wait for the game to fix itself?
Look, I understand the delicate balance the devs are trying to make here. If Blizzard made Resto Shaman competitive in PvE from the beginning, they would have to nerf them in the future to ensure that the Mastery scaling (or whatever) didn’t make them clearly better than any of the other healers. Nerfing always feels bad. But do you know what else feels bad? Being gimped on purpose because there’s some master plan in which you become adequate later.
This perverse philosophy really explains everything that we have been seeing in Battle for Azeroth thus far. The wonky Warfront timing, for example, will “fix itself” later on when there are 3-4 of them running consecutively. Some Professions not having any use for some dungeon/raid crafting materials, is another exa…
Just kidding, none of the devs put any thought into Professions at all.
Or maybe they did, and they are just waiting to introduce the Expulsom Trader, ala the Blood of Sargeras Trader, into patch 8.1. That would certainly maintain the consistency of “reuse every aspect of the game’s design” method, which more and more seems like it’s done out fear of fucking up the formula than intentional design. But again, why wait? You know the solution, so just do it. Or be bold and make Expulsom/Sanguicell Bound-on-Account.
This entire fiasco reminds me of the advice I gave new bloggers six years ago: don’t “save” your best stuff. In the most charitable, optimistic scenario Blizzard is planning for the final months of the expansion to be fantastic. By then, everyone will have the appropriate Azerite Levels to use the outer rings of any gear drops right away, and there will be hundreds of new Azerite traits, and so on. It even jives with the way Blizzard has handled PvP gear looks for a long time – the first tier looks pretty generic, but by the end you are a proper badass.
The problem is… why should someone play during the broken part? I already used a WoW Token a few days ago, so I feel kinda stuck already, but if I had read this AMA before renewing, then I wouldn’t have. Everything that people praise about the expansion – the music, the questing, the general environment – is still going to be there after 8.1, or six months later, or whenever. I’m not suggesting that you go full Gevlon and essentially wait for the next expansion – which at this point, may end up having the same exact issues again – but waiting for 8.1 or 8.2 seems pretty ideal.
If you ever wondered what the deal was with people complaining about Destiny versus Destiny 2, this was precisely it. Or the Complete Edition of Civilization 5 versus Civilization 6 without expansions. Designers make mistakes, and that is okay. It means they are trying something new. What is not okay are designers who make mistakes, fix those mistakes, and then come out with a new product with the old mistakes baked in so they can sell you the solution all over again.
Posted in Commentary, WoW
Tags: AMA, Battle for Azeroth, Broken, Game Design, Ion Hazzikostas, WoW