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Dry Watercooler

The latest Dev Watercooler is out concerning major changes in the upcoming WoW expansion, and yet it is one of the most content-free ones I have ever read. I’d say it was all bones and no meat, but you can usually suck some marrow out of bones. But this? This tells us nothing. And so we’re going to have to fill in the blanks with our own rampant speculation.

Stat Squish

There is but one new morsel concerning the Stat Squish (emphasis added):

It’s important to understand that this isn’t a nerf—in effect, you’ll still be just as powerful, but the numbers that you see will be easier to comprehend. This also won’t reduce your ability to solo old content. In fact, to provide some additional peace of mind, we’re implementing further scaling of your power against lower-level targets so that earlier content will be even more accessible than it is now.

That is just about the only possible concern there was with the Squish, so I’m glad it’s taken care of.

Racial Traits

To keep racials more in line with one another, we’ve decided to bring down the couple high outliers, then establish a fair baseline and bring everyone else up to that. We’re accomplishing this by improving old passives, replacing obsolete ones, and adding a few new ones where necessary. Ultimately, our goal is to achieve much better parity among races.

Know what would be really nice? What they consider a fair baseline.

I almost wonder though, if I am parsing that paragraph correctly: is anyone else getting the sense that perhaps activated racials are being left alone? Blizzard did mention Berserking (a Troll racial) as being “extremely powerful,” but I find it difficult to imagine how, say, Every Man for Himself could be redesigned to be equivalent. Unless maybe every race is getting some kind of PvP-ish active racial and then the passives will be the PvE knob. All I can say is that I’m happy this is getting looked at, as I have regretted rolling my paladin as a Draenei since pretty much the beginning – Gift of the Naaru has consistently been the most useless active racial in the game.

Ability Pruning

For Warlords of Draenor, we decided that we needed to pare down the number of abilities available to each class and spec in order to remove some of that unnecessary complexity. That means restricting some abilities to certain specs that really need them instead of being class-wide, and outright removing some other abilities. […]

One type of ability that we focused on removing is temporary power buffs (aka “cooldowns”). Removing these also helps achieve one of our other goals, which is to reduce the amount of cooldown stacking in the game. In cases where a class or spec has multiple cooldowns that typically end up getting used together (often in a single macro), we merged them, or removed some of them entirely.

Two interesting bits here. The first is a sort of roll-back of the “bring the class, not the spec” theme of the last two expansions. It’s possible that they’re not talking about the sort of active/passive raid buffs that made it easier to get a 10m raid together, but it’s a bit hard to imagine how else it would work in practice. I mean, are we talking about removing Heroic Strike? Slice N’ Dice? Only letting Frost DKs have Dark Simulacrum while Unholy DKs get Necrotic Strike? This is way too vague. But my point is that if these currently-class-wide abilities have any utility at all, only allowing one of the specs have them is going to create a demand for that specific spec. Which is fine in the abstract, I suppose, but it’s definitely a movement away from specs being more of a play-style decision than a mechanical one (outliers aside).

The second part about cooldowns is both welcome and terrifying simultaneously. Some cooldowns are simple macro-bait, but others… well. I hate to fall back on sacred cow terms like “iconic” and “class defining” but some actually are. I don’t think Blizzard would remove Avenging Wrath, for example, but that is almost always paired with Guardian of Ancient Kings. In fact, that’s pretty much the most classic (and visible) example of cooldown stacking I can think of. Perhaps both will stay in the game, but Ardent Defender/Divine Protection will be removed or rolled into Prot’s version of GoAK. What of the many Hand spells though? Lay on Hands? Could we see Devotion Aura go the way of the rest of the Aura spells? I could see Devotion Aura absorbing Divine Protection pretty easily…

At some point though, this is definitely something that can end up hurting.

Crowd Control and Diminishing Returns

The diminishing returns list up to this point has been a study in Rules Lawyering gone amok. “No, no, no. That’s not a Fear, that’s a Horror. And Controlled Stuns are nothing like Random Stuns.” All in all, there are 11 categories and 2 additional abilities that only DR with themselves. Which is not to say that the various categories didn’t serve an important function – making a wider variety of class/spec combinations viable in Arena – but the prospect of being locked in a CC chain almost indefinitely is a high price to pay.

Here is the shakedown according to the post:

  • Removed Silence effects from interrupts. Silence effects still exist, but are never attached to an interrupt.
  • Removed all Disarms.
  • Reduced the number of Diminishing Returns (DR) categories.
  • All Roots now share the same DR category.
    • Exception: Roots on Charge-type abilities have no DR category, but have a very short duration instead.
  • All Stuns now share the same DR category.
  • All Incapacitate (sometimes called “mesmerize”) effects now share the same DR category and have been merged with the Horror DR category.
  • Removed the ability to make cast-time CC spells instant with a cooldown.
  • Removed many CC spells entirely, and increased the cooldowns and restrictions on others.
    • Pet-cast CC is more limited, and in many cases has been removed.
    • Cyclone can now be dispelled by immunities and Mass Dispel.
    • PvP trinkets now grant immunity to reapplication of an effect from the same spell cast when they break abilities with persistent effects, like Solar Beam.
    • Long fears are now shorter in PvP due to the added benefit of a fear changing the players position.

It’s difficult to get a read on how the DR merge will play out right now, especially considering we’ll supposedly see CC get cut altogether from certain classes/specs. At a glance, I can say that melee classes are likely getting the bigger end of the stick here with the removal of Disarm effects + ranged class CC nerfs. The Druid vs Paladin match-up won’t be so one-sided now that we can bubble out of Cyclone. Hunters are getting screwed with Scatter Shot + Freezing Trap being on the same DR. Warlocks are getting especially hosed with their panic-button instant-cast Horror effects diminishing the follow-up Fear, which is itself getting nerfed again anyway. What is that, 10 years of Fear nerfs in a row?

In any case, that’s about all the blood I could squeeze out of that Dev Watercooler stone. I appreciate birds-eye dev articles as much as the next guy (and probably a bit more), but I felt this one was really lacking in specifics. I suppose we’ll start connecting the dots once everything is data-mined on MMO Champ, although by then it’s likely everything will have changed again.


Words cannot describe my disappointment.

Design Notes I Like to See

From the latest Dev Blog:

That said, we also wanted to let you know we’re keeping a close eye on Inferno. The intent of incoming damage is that it should be a very consistent drain on your health, and mitigating that drain is a major part of what makes Inferno mode difficult. Right now, there’s a lot more damage “spikiness” occurring than feels right, and that’s one major area we’re looking to adjust in patch 1.0.3. While we don’t have any specifics yet, our design goals are to support and promote build diversity; continue to ensure that a mix of champion packs, rare packs, and boss fights are the most efficient way to acquire the best items in the game; and ensure that all classes are viable in Inferno.


We’ve also seen some people saying our intention with Inferno is just one-shot you to make it difficult. While damage is a bit spikier than we’d like, we’re actually seeing a pretty significant number of people attempting Inferno without sufficient gear. There’s a good chance that returning to the previous Act to farm upgrades will do the most to help you survive. That said, we’d like to shift some of the focus away from survival and more toward using a variety of offensive tactics to succeed. Survival will still be important, but finding ways to maximize your damage while staying alive is more exciting. We’re not particularly concerned with whether or not a boss is “beatable,” though it should feel epic and challenging to defeat it. We’re more concerned with ensuring that acquiring 5 stacks of Nephalem Valor and taking on as many Champions and Rares as you can remains the most challenging and rewarding way to play.

And then there is this bit about the crafting:

Other areas of concern have been both the gem combination system and Blacksmith leveling and crafting costs. The intent, especially with the Blacksmith, is that he’s leveling with you, you’re able to use him as an alternate source for upgrades. Our design goal is that once you get to level 60, his recipes are actually good enough to help fill a character’s potential itemization gaps. To correct these issues, we’re looking to adjust the Blacksmith costs for training (gold and pages) and crafting from levels 1-59, and reduce the cost of combining gems so that it only requires two gems instead of three (up to Flawless Square). Both of these changes are scheduled for patch 1.0.3.

I had been avoiding crafting altogether because A) what’s the point when you have access to the AH, and B) what’s the point when vendoring magic items is more profitable than Salvaging them? Then again, the Commodities portion of the AH has been down since launch (I believe) and I am somewhat convinced it was precisely to get people to do their own crafting/salvaging.

In any case, after hearing the news that maybe the endgame isn’t supposed to be about endlessly kiting mobs around, I leveled up the Monk up to 17 to get Seven-Sided Strike. Decently fun ability. While I was moving talents around, I decided to give Crippling Wave another try as my left-click ability now that I unlocked a Rune for it. As soon as I did this, I ran into a pack of the flying wasp creatures and proceeded to get kited the fuck around. I cannot imagine a worse feeling than getting kited around by a mob in a hack-n-slash game.

So I logged back onto the Witch Doctor, looking for that cave with the first piece of the sword. As I was walking around, I encountered one of those bull-like creatures with the charge attack. That one move by an otherwise unremarkable mob one-shot my Zombie Dogs.

All of them.

Translation: Fuck this game.

While on the level 6 Wizard, it occurred to me that I have no particular desire to kite things. If a bunch of zombie torsos leap (!) out of the bushes, I do not want my first instinct to be to Frost Nova and left-click myself away. Nor do I want to wait for however many levels it takes to get the spells necessary to actually deal what feels like some legitimate damage.

So I did the only thing left of me. I uninstalled rolled Barbarian.

Two Lords A-Leaping~

Now, this? This feels good.

P.S. And this doesn’t look bad either.

WoW Should Lose Millions of Subscriptions More Often

Ever have that moment in your academic career, usually right after midterms, when you sort of wake up and realize “Oh, yeah, this might actually be important enough to take seriously”? I am getting the distinct impression Blizzard is going through that right now, as evidenced by their refreshingly direct Dev Blogs lately. The most recent was about the new direction they are taking the Mists of Pandaria loot system. One section reads:

Here is a model I’ve seen some people say they want:

  •     The boss dies.
  •     I get the exact item or items I want.
  •     I never have to come back and kill this boss again.
  •     I politely ask Blizzard when there will be new content for me to run.

I added that, somewhat tongue in cheek, to point out that the intent of the new system is not to make killing bosses or getting loot more efficient, or to let you choose buffet-style which items you get. We like random loot being random, as long as it isn’t so frustratingly random that you stop enjoying the experience. The intent of the new loot system is really to relieve social pressure on a group of random and anonymous strangers. We think it is reasonable for groups of friends, such as the typical raiding guild, to have a discussion about how to divvy up loot. That discussion is a tried and true RPG tradition going back to D&D or earlier. We don’t think that is a reasonable expectation for Raid Finder, though.

This is such a frank representation of the very essence of MMO gameplay (e.g. random loot creates content), that it honestly shocked me to see it written so casually. The explicit admission of the (warped) social dynamics of LFR is similarly amazing. It is one thing to see these issues examined in blogs and on forums; it is entirely another for a developer, in an age of David Reid-esque bullshit, to treat the audience like adults.

It feels like when the carnie game operator lets you in on the trick.

Another sample section:

Bonus Roll

We have one other new system that will use part of the personal loot model. This is what we’re calling the bonus roll.

Once upon a time, raiders had to invest a lot of time and effort every week preparing for a raid. This felt kind of cool in the abstract because it built anticipation, rewarded players who prepared for raid night, and otherwise just added a little more ceremony to the act of entering the dragon’s lair to seek glory and treasure. The reality is that you spent your time killing mobs to farm flask materials or gathering Whipper Root Tubers. The reality didn’t match the fantasy and we eventually greatly minimized the need to farm consumables altogether. Of course, that led to another problem, as raiders would log on for raid nights, finish, and then have nothing to do the rest of the week. The bonus roll is intended to give those players something to do that is hopefully more enjoyable than grinding elementals or Blasted Lands boars. We want to see players out in the world doing stuff, and we want that stuff to be a little more interesting (if not downright fun) than farming mats.

This is one of those things that, intellectually, shouldn’t be true. But it is.

I am (still) playing Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer and loving it. Is it fun in of itself? I… guess so? Would it still be fun if I had 100% of the guns unlocked, max ranks, infinite consumables, etc? I can tell you right now with a completely straight face: no, it would cease being fun. I derive pleasure from both the act of playing, and the feeling of increase that comes from progression (the accumulation of credits to unlock random weapons, in this case). The only sort of rationalization I can give you to explain this phenomenon is that I can both have fun and experience progression in any number of other games, which puts “just fun” games at a disadvantage.

Game designers undoubtedly realized this years ago, which is why you see “RPG elements” in damn near everything these days.

Back to the Dev Blog (emphasis added):

Area of Effect Looting

Yes, we are doing area looting. After killing a group of enemies, you may have a bunch of corpses lying around (perhaps because you went all Bladestorm on a bunch of hozen).  If you loot one of the corpses, the loot window will include items from all of the nearby corpses for which you have loot rights. Some recent games have incorporated a similar feature, and it’s one of those things that players just want in their MMO these days. It’s already in and it works fine.

Does this sound like the Blizzard of WotLK, or TBC or Cataclysm for that matter?

I am not entirely sold on the concept of Valor Points being turned into gear upgrade fuel, for exactly the reason Ghostcrawler mentions: “There will be a bit of a game in trying to decide when to upgrade your gear versus hoping for a new piece to drop from a raid boss […].”

Other than that? I am very impressed by what I have seen thus far. Female Pandaren are in a much better place than female Worgen ever were, the MMO-Champ emote videos really highlights how far animations have came since I started playing in TBC, no major feature has been Dance Studio’d yet, and Blizzard overall seems to be operating at a level of humility and industry not hitherto seen. I mean, hell, Blizzard has already started work on the sixth expansion, i.e. the expansion after the expansion after Mists.

Seems to me that WoW should lose a few million subscriptions more often.

Factionally Imbalanced

I typically feel assuaged when reading the Dev Watercoolers, because they represent both that players have a legitimate grievance, and that the designers are on the case. With the latest Dev Watercooler entitled Faction Favoritism though, not only am I appalled by the lack of understanding, but I am beginning to lose faith in Blizzard’s ability to craft narratives worth experiencing.

So when it comes to the game’s ongoing story developments, it’s no surprise that Alliance and Horde fans are “keeping score.” Maps and charts of territory gained and lost started showing up around the time the Cataclysm shook the world to its foundations. Southshore plagued? Taurajo burned? Oh no they didn’t!

Implicit amidst most of the grumbling from either side is the assumption that Blizzard should be fairly treating both factions. Then there’s the more explicit assumption: if one faction is losing ground, then Blizzard must be biased.

Are we?

What is this I don’t even

Dave “Fargo” Kosak painfully goes on to talk about how it is precisely because of unfairness that “Hero Factories” get built. In the process of the explanation, it fully dawned on me how much Blizzard has no goddamn idea what the problem even is.

The Widening Narrative Gap

Claims about faction favoritism have never been (or should not have ever been) about the lack of tit-for-tat in territory gains/losses. Perfectly even exchanges are formulaic, boring, and have no place in stories worth experiencing. For Blizzard to address the fact that Horde gained more territory than Alliance in Cataclysm – or even to try and justify it with events that took place in the RTS games – is to miss the point entirely.

The fundamental issue vis-a-vis Horde bias is that Horde have the lion’s share of inter-faction narrative drama. Sylvannas is pulling a Lich King, the Tauren are reeling from the inadvertent loss of their beloved leader in a duel, there is deep divisions amongst the trolls, the orcs are going xenophobic, and the goblin starting experience cements the fact that your own faction leader betrayed you for profit. Meanwhile… what? Malfurion woke up, Audiun grew up, Gnomergan is still irradiated, Magni turned to diamond, and Prophet Velan has neither made any prophecies nor repaired the Naaru ship since it crash landed “two months ago.”

If the two factions represented two different creative writing papers for English 101, which would receive the higher grade? Where is the conflict between gnomes, dwarves, elves, humans, and draenei? Why aren’t the Night Elves complaining about humans cutting down trees to fuel war machines? Or Draenei starting to distrust the growing number of Alliance warlocks? Perhaps the new dwarven council decides it would be better to go isolationist, especially after a particularly disastrous gnome experiment caves-in part of Ironforge?

Bottom line: the Horde interaction is multifaceted with many conflicting goals and desires among the groups. Alliance interaction is one-dimensional, for basically no reason. Horde has Wheel of Time meets Dune whereas Alliance has goddamn Jack and Jill meets See Spot Run.

And so when Fargo says:

In the midst of this crisis, the Alliance is going to need to pull together like never before. At the BlizzCon lore panel we promised that key Alliance characters are going to get more time in the spotlight throughout Mists and the subsequent patches, and I wanted to reiterate that here. They’re going to come out of this stronger than ever, but the road ahead won’t be easy.

…I die a little on the inside. Alliance “pulling together” presumes a division that doesn’t exist, leaving the implication that Alliance will simply see some territory gains and some more Jaina/Varian screen-time. Wrathgate was the closest the Alliance has ever come in actually being angry with each other, and it was simply between Varian and Jaina, the latter of which has never been presented as even being part of the Alliance in any meaningful way.

All the while Horde will continue getting all the interesting narrative, what with Garrosh’s overreach, the growing problem with Silvannis’ blatant disregard for the use of plague and desecration of the dead, and the brilliantly implicit tension from the widening gulf between the Horde that Tauren and the Trolls pledged to so many years ago and the monster it has become. If Baine Bloodhoof doesn’t liken Garrosh’s militaristic Horde with the violent centaurs that Thrall helped Cairen defeat so many years prior, Blizzard will have left the ripest, low-hanging fruit in the history of narrative fiction to wither on the tree.

I wish I could say I have faith in Blizzard’s ability to do a narrative course correction. And I would… if I thought they understood why the present heading was wrong in the first place. Instead, the best any Alliance player can hope out of the lore team is summed up in the Alliance battlecry:

We’ll Keep Trying!