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Legion Thoughts, follow-up

[Blaugust Day 8]

As pointed out by MaximGtB in the comments yesterday, there is a follow-up interview from Blizzard that answers some more questions, including the weapon one:

  • You obtain your Artifact early on in the Legion experience. This is the weapon you will use throughout the expansion. You will not get weapon drops in Legion. Something that wasn’t mentioned during the reveal is that each Artifact has a number of Relic slots, which will determine its raw item stats (DPS, ilvl, etc.) and modifiers to the traits you’ve chosen, so the Artifact’s stats will still improve as you defeat bosses.

This almost raises more questions than answers, honestly. Will these relics be like class armor tokens, e.g. a raid boss dropping the equivalent of a +Spirit relic that the healers roll on? Will the loot system be further taken over by Personal Loot instead?

Of course, there is also an elephant in the room: what about alts? Hell, what about off-specs?

If the Artifact system is the heart of the next expansion – and there is every reason to believe that it is intended to be – shit starts getting a bit ridiculous. If you are a DPS and a tank, are you going to be walking around with two Artifacts? Clearly yes, right? It wouldn’t make much sense for the Artifacts to share progression, so… do you need to split your Artifact Power? Relics? If we get Artifact Power from questing, does that mean someone can get screwed by funneling the Power into the spec they don’t end up being by the end of the level cap? What about healers who level as DPS?

I’m actually starting to wonder if the Artifacts won’t as big a deal as I’m thinking they’re supposed to be. By which I mean, the whole Artifact progression system is standing in for the leveling bonuses we got from hitting even-numbered levels in Warlords. Considering that classes are being redesigned again (melee hunters!), I’m not sure we would even notice the ability shuffle on top of the goodies the Artifact provides.

Anyway, while they’re mucking around with abilities, here’s to hoping that Ion and crew finally realize that making rotations boring on purpose is a really dumb idea.


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.


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.


“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.


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.

Bioshock Infinite DLC Cometh

I am not entirely sure how I feel about the news that Bioshock Infinite will be getting three DLC packs in the near future. Actually, I do: a distinct lack of fucks given.

Almost the definition of fan service.

Can this be considered fan service?

The first DLC is a story-less horde mode that will subject you to more of the banal combat system. The second and third are portions of a presumably expanded narrative, although who can really tell what is going on in a time-traveling alternate-dimension throw-everything-at-the-wall plot? But, hey! We’re going to see a pre-destruction Rapture! You know, a throwback to the games that were actually good.

To be fair, Bioshock Infinite did do some things right. The visuals were gorgeous, Elizabeth made the game feel more human, Columbia had brilliant imagery, the music was fantastic, and so on. It is just that Kotaku’s recent interview with Ken Levine boiled my residual bile concerning the plot back up into white-hot incandescent rage. I was fine all the way up until the final paragraph:

“I walked away from BioShock Infinite actually very, very satisfied mostly because of the debate that people were having, not just about what happens in the game, but about what the meaning of it was. That we gave something for people to argue about. We trusted the gamers enough to say, ‘You know what? There’s some room here for you.’ If people walk away frustrated that we didn’t explain everything to them, it probably wasn’t a game for them.”

That noise you just heard is the sound of an aneurysm.


No, Levine, you do not get to fucking say that. As I pointed out months ago, the plot of Infinite is complete garbage. The “room” left for gamers is for them to refuse to apply critical reasoning to their experience, thereby passively constructing a better ending which doesn’t exist inside the actual game.

I can get behind a narrative that explores the descent of a man’s soul to the point that he believes unmaking his existence would be better for everyone involved. We can all probably emphasize with that, regretting having done things or failing to do so. That was not Bioshock Infinite’s plot. The real plot was this:

Finally, let me kind of wrap all these various ingredients up into one complete shit sandwich. What exactly is the message being conveyed here in Bioshock Infinite? What is the theme, the moral of the story?

At the beginning, I almost felt like Booker was trying to make up for his sins, to seek forgiveness and redemption, to put things right. But what is Booker’s actual crime that he is repenting? To stop a person he never turned out to be from entrapping the person he is into a crime a third version must now stop? Booker choosing to be drowned seems a noble sacrifice until you realize what exactly he is undoing: choices he never made. Or, even worse, stopping a man (Comstock) he had no choice into becoming. There is never any “good Comstock” because apparently being bad is a constant. Fate. Predestination.

What is the message here about personal responsibility, free will, and choice? You have none because Constants and Variables. And suddenly, infinite universes means you are implicitly responsible to consequences [of actions] that you never chose and never happened in your own universe. Do you remember when you donated to charity instead of setting a baby on fire? Well, you should feel real bad anyway because the not-you baby-arsonist is running amok and it’s up to you to stop yourself like you already did by not setting the baby on fire in the first place. GUYZ, DEEPEST PLOT EVAR.

There is no route from Infinite’s plot to a good story. None. The “grand redemption” is paying for mistakes you explicitly did not commit in this universe. Even in my most charitable reading of the game – that Booker acknowledges the potential darkness in his soul – leads to the same asinine moral conclusions. Because Booker can choose evil, and did so in an alternate universe, it’s better to kill all possible versions of himself before he can make that potential choice. O… kay? All of us have darkness inside; quite literally who we are is determined by how we manage that darkness. Simply choosing to have it never happen in the first place is an easy, childish fantasy.

And don’t get me started on how moral responsibility can possibly exist in a deterministic universe.

Remember to feel guilty for killing them in an alternate universe you weren't a part of.

Remember to feel guilty for killing them in an alternate universe you weren’t a part of.

But you know what? This is not even about Infinite anymore. This is about the hubris of an artist to paint his/her deficiencies as strengths, thereby negating any difference between good or bad works. It is me telling you that if you do not find this argument convincing, it is your fault. “If you don’t like this thing I made, it must not have been for you, and thus you’re an idiot for having bought it.” That’s not how this shit works! And besides, Levine, you already told us everything relevant in the game proper: namely, that you’re the next M. Night Shamalanananon. A couple of great works, followed by a more crappy one, and all of a sudden (spoiler alert) the trees are killing everyone.

The tragedy in all this is that we already know who ultimately wins the historical narrative. It has been four months since the debacle started, and all the comment sections in the DLC posts are filled with those gushing over the “deep” ending. And why not? Those who were disgusted as I am have long since stopped caring, or are embarrassed to silence that they still do, leaving the uncouth Philistines to drown in their Confirmation Bias echo chambers. And that is how this whole thing will play out: a great game with a good plot that sold millions of copies. Just like 50 Shades of Grey, Diablo 3, and EA’s Sim City.

Constant and variables, amirite? Christ, how depressing.

Well, There is Always That

Remember that real-life interview I had back in February?

The selection process for the 2012 JET Program has now concluded. We regret to inform you that we are not able to offer you a position on the program this year. Please know that this decision is not a reflection on your personal qualifications, but on the nature of the JET Program selection process. As it is ever year, competition was stiff and the available positions were few, and unfortunately, many qualified applicants had to be turned down.

We hope you will reapply for the JET Program in the future and we wish you the best of luck.

So… yeah. Japan is a no-go.

I was a little ashamed that the realities of MMO gaming was a (small) thing I had thought about throughout the whole application process. People clearly play WoW from Australia and endure the cross-Pacific lag and whatnot, but it was a bit daunting to realize the likelihood that you would ever game with the same people again was effectively zero by the time differences alone.

Sure, there is always the chance that someone you hang out with in WoW or wherever can suddenly evaporate. There are dimensions to leaving the country though, that gave me some pause. Would Guild Wars 2 be playable over there? Could I even play Diablo 3’s single-player without lag? In a strange bit of coincidence, EVE was just localized in Japanese a week ago; perhaps it was would have been a sign?

Given those questions, I had not been thinking about upcoming MMO releases or even the current ones all that much. Would you even want to play a new MMO if you knew – for sure – you’d have to give it up in 2 months? Now that I know I will be sticking around, I suppose it is time to start looking towards a much more predictable future. A future that includes a lot more gaming than I necessarily expected.

And alcohol. Lots of alcohol.

Interview Overload

Ever read about an hour’s worth of interview transcripts about a game you’re not even technically playing anymore? I have! [emphasis added throughout]

  • “However, mounts are sacred–one of the only things left that’s visual prestige. So we do want to make sure we give them out for the right things, like the Challenge Mode achievements Tom spoke about.”
  • Re: Guild Leveling. Blizzard isn’t sure they will be increasing the level cap; they may just be swapping out abilities (i.e. Have Group, Will Travel is getting axed). Other big news here is that no daily/weekly XP or Reputation caps anymore.
  • “LFR has been huge for us–one of the most successful features in the game, similar to when we implemented the Dungeon Finder. We can watch the numbers exponentially grow–the number of people that are raiding now, compared to before 4.3, is incredibly dramatic–it’s so much more. We can’t tell you the exact percentage, but it’s massively larger. And not only that, they’ve continued to raid, and these are players that have never raided before.”
  • Re: Firelands dailies: “What didn’t work is that it’s staged out to take too long for the number of quests you need to do. I think that to get all the marks you needed to get was excessive amount of time.”
  • Blizzard doesn’t actually seem to know how the Beta will actually pan out, given that over 1 million people will be getting in.
  • You can (i.e. will) farm tokens to buy a consumable item that gives you, personally, an extra shot at getting gear from a boss. It works in LFR, Normal, and Heroic versions of raids. Yes, an extra shot at heroic raid loot. Yes, every heroic raiding guild will require it.
  • Blizzard nixed the whole “monks don’t auto-attack” thing. Called that one.

File under Missing the Point:

Q: In addition to the linear nature of Cataclysm questing zones, many players felt that it was hard to feel completely engaged in a zone due to heirloom/guild xp bonuses. They’d outlevel a zone before completing a lot of the major plot arcs. The revamped 1-60 content is complete, but was there anything to learn from this in designing future zones? Especially now that Pandaria has more zones than we first heard about at BlizzCon.

A: Well, actually, we are very deliberately trying to set it up so you can skip some amount of content on the way to 90. We feel those decisions make the World of Warcraft seem like a world. If you look back to original WoW, we had Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor, for players to quest in at any given time. There was an amount of choice in what you did–sometimes that choice diminished somewhat, but generally speaking, there were different options.

We’d like to capture that as much as possible, so not only is the quest flow itself a bit less linear, but also your zone choices is a bit less linear. That inherently means you won’t get to do all the quests on the way to 90, but it does mean that if you play the game on an alt, you have an option to do something new.

I think the problems you’ve described with heirlooms or guild xp bonuses and everything stacking becomes worse when it’s linear, because when you end that linear experience before you’re supposed to, it’s a lot more noticeable.

Actually… is Tom Chilton missing the point at all? Reading the response over again, it seems to me he wants WoW questing to get away from zones even having “major plot arcs” for heirlooms and leveling bonuses to trivialize. After all, isn’t the complaint that a person out-levels, say, Duskwood before finishing all the quests in the area? That is only a “problem” if one views the zone as something to be completed. If the zone is instead looked upon as a playground with different equipment – Raven Hill as a Merry-Go-Round, Darkshire as the swing-set, the southern portion as a series of muddy sandboxes – then “out-leveling” it does not make a whole lot of sense.

On the other hand, Chilton cannot have it both ways, right? Players are funneled into Duskwood from Westfall, and thus they encounter Raven Hill first; Darkshire’s issues are as much a part of Raven Hill as the other parts of the zone. Less linear is fine in theory, but there is a meta-narrative that has to glue these quests together in some way. And what about the people who come to enjoy a given zone’s zeitgeist? I love the idea of being able to skip entire zones (Wetlands and Arathi Basin are terrible for Alliance), but the issue at hand is not being able to stick with the zones you actually like. Non-linearity does not fix the issue of quests going gray.


With Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub, they got a worse reputation than they deserved. A big mistake was going from a tier of content that had 9 instances to run, down to a tier of content where you only have 2 instances to run and no raids. If you run people through the grinder of the same two instances over and over, it ends up feeling much worse. If you take any instance and say ‘these are the only two instances you get to run for many months,’ then that ends up feeling pretty bad.

Re: Community

Q: Last question–about community in WoW. There’s been a lot of changes with people coming back and playing together, and using tools like Real ID and Looking for Raid across servers. How do you balance player-created communities across servers with pre-existing raiding guilds, that are facing challenges now like downsizing from 25s to 10s or dealing with real life and scheduling conflicts among older members?

A: I think that is an important balance to try to achieve. Over time, we’ve gone in the direction of making the game accessible to a lot of different people, such as queueing up for dungeons and raids with friends–which have impacted these guild ties and such. So I think that for us, one thing we’re hoping to do is get guild community back with challenge modes, without excluding your average player from content. Certainly with challenge modes, we don’t plan for you to queue up. We feel that if you queued for a challenge mode in Dungeon Finder, that would cause a lot of problems. That guy being yelled at by his wife for 15 seconds will make everyone else pull their hair out and panic that they’re going to miss a medal. It’s an interesting opportunity for us to really emphasize both playing with your guild and friends without it feeling like the average player is missing out on seeing an instance.

Re: Raiding

Q: So you are in discussions about possibly changing how the raid lockouts work?

A: Sure. I think we’re gonna look at how the 10/25 person lockout worked as a shared cooldown. Was that the right decision, or do we want to do something different? I don’t really know what the right answer is yet. We haven’t decided.

And then we get to the Ghostcrawler interview…

Q: So I was playing the Monk a little bit, and I noticed a couple things that were different from Blizzcon. There’s no more dark Chi.

A: <some debate about how to actually pronounce “Chi”>

Q: So there’s no more dark Chi…

A: Dark balls.

Q: There’s no more dark balls, yeah. What prompted that sort of change?

A: [snip]

I am not sure if I mentioned it before, but I genuinely enjoy having Ghostcrawler around. He may be the face of the B Team, he may be a straight-up design troll in some respects, but hey… at least he has a face, yeah? In a world of Bobby Koticks and David Reids and faceless community managers, I am all for more Greg Streets and Curt Schillings, even if they get things wrong.

Q: […] Glyphs was one system I was looking at and trying to wrap my head around the changes. I think you guys had said something about this somewhere, but prime glyphs are basically gone now.

A: Yeah. We apologize for prime glyphs. They were a bad idea. At the time, we were worried that, say, a Paladin who didn’t have a glyph for Crusader Strike would be like, “What the hell? This is my most important ability! I need to glyph Crusader Strike! I don’t want to glyph… I don’t know, Turn Evil or something like that, because I want a glyph for Crusader Strike.” So we did that, and it ended up just complicating everything because now we have to imagine that, “Oh yeah, everyone has stupid prime glyphs that give them 5% damage or crit or something like that.”

See? After talking about a new glyph for Prot paladins that lets you aim Consecration (ala Death & Decay, but shut up), the followup is:

Q: <grinning> See the grin on my face?

A: <laughs> The Glyph of Divine Plea, which Divine Plea is Holy only now, changes it from a “for the next X seconds you’re a bad healer” to a cast time, and then at the end of that cast time you get all the mana right away. So you have to pay the cast time, and while you’re casting you’re not doing anything, but at the end of the cast time you get all the mana and there’s no self Mortal Strike that a lot of Paladins hate.

Want some more? Here was a show-stopper of an admission, from the answer to the problems with Legendaries:

I think part of that is because almost every raiding Rogue had an expectation of getting a legendary. That’s something I’ve talked about a little bit recently. So, one dark secret that players have probably all figured out by now is that Blizzard designers tend to careen from one extreme to the other, and so, when we decide something doesn’t work out, we go to the complete opposite, illogical extreme, and then we reel it back in a little bit. So, we were kind of reacting against the Warglaives model where, “You have a tiny percent chance of getting a legendary! Congrats!” to trying to make it a little more predictable, and the way we did that was with the style where you need so many parts, and the parts have a fairly predictable droprate, and eventually you’ll have your legendary, which then led to the opposite problem of they’re super predictable, people could point to a calendar day and say, “April 20th! That’s when I get my legendary!”

What sort of designer admits that? Bad ones? Good ones? Final quote:

Q: Interesting. So you did a blog post a while ago about the “Great Item Squish (Or Not) of Mists of Pandaria.” I noticed that the combat text was popping up and saying things like “14K” instead of 14,000 or whatever. Is that the route you decided to go with, like the “mega damage” approach?

A: Yeah, we went with the “not.” Mega Damage, here to stay. So we had this all in and working. We squished everything, and it was working. We had the whole thing implemented, and we sat down and tried it out, and, you know, Mortal Strike hit for 200, and Fireball hit for 150, and we were like, “This feels wrong.” We knew exactly how it would feel like, and we knew that our damage as a percentage didn’t go down, but it felt terrible. And we were like, “Okay, this is now super risky”, because we’re going to change talent trees on players, and even though we think it’s a great design, and we think players will love it, it’s a hard sell. And to do that, and have them hit really wimpy, I think even if players understood why we did it, deep down they wouldn’t like it.

So we decided to back off of that. We’re trying the solution with commas, and K’s, and M’s, and to be honest, it helps a lot, and our hope is, by 6.0 or 7.0, players are demanding the item squish, and by then it’s not controversial at all. It’s like a celebration when we finally do it.

Okay, so that is a lot to digest.

Instead, I think I’m going to play some more Mass Effect 3 multiplayer.

What’s In a Name?

As a general rule, I try and remain as aloof as possible. It’s partly a defense mechanism against the eldritch machinations of an uncaring, absurd universe. But it is also somewhat necessary in an age wherein marketing departments have weaponized hype and doublespeak like “value-added” as if they are doing consumers any favors. In other words: wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which fills up first.

Enter Guild Wars 2.

I signed up for the Beta like everyone else, with a current disposition of extreme skepticism. And I still am extremely skeptical. Will it “save” MMOs? Doubt it… assuming MMOs need saving at all. Is the holy trinity dead? As this BFF Report clearly shows, no, not in the sense that there will not be a guy who primarily tanks, someone who heals, etc. Even the whole “freeform” questing bit (which you can also see earlier in the BFF Report) does not necessarily move the needle, as a gamer who responds to ostensive purpose, no matter how flimsy said purpose may be in the abstract. Cave full of kobolds? Who cares? Oh, farmer Joe cares, because the kobolds are stealing the pumpkins? Let me go solve that for you.

That being said, I have been keeping up with the game, reading interviews, and so on. And what I am finding is that the little things are moving the needle all over the damn place. For example, here is Mike Ferguson’s Q&A response on a Reddit AMA interview:

Q: We all saw that enemy players are currently listed as generic invaders, and some are turned off by that. Will there be a toggle option for showing our name if we want to?

A: There’s been a lot of discussion about seeing enemy names in WvW. While I certainly understand the reasoning behind the request to see enemy names, we are fairly firm about not showing names of the opposing teams. I think of it this way, in a war people dont introduce themselves before trying to kill each other. When you are fighting in the mists for your world, you are in the middle of a giant war against two opposing forces who want nothing more than to take everything you own and kill you as many times as they possibly can. That guy who just shot you is not Bob the Engineer, he’s the enemy.

Not showing enemy names in WvW also helps players that are less pvp-oriented feel less threatened about venturing into the battle because seeing enemies as anonymous ‘invaders’ creates a sense that opponents won’t be able to recognize them and pick on them because of their lack of skill in a fight, so they in turn feel more embolded to go out and fight in the first place. Not showing names also makes it so people can feel as if they can ‘hide’ in a fight if need be, but still be around to help out. That’s a pretty critical part of making WvW feel more inviting for people that would normally never think about playing PvP in any other game.

We’ve heard “I usually dont PvP, but I love WvW” again and again from people in our beta, so even though showing names might make for a more competitive pvp environment, we’d much rather create a game that is more welcoming for people that don’t normally play the more hardcore PvP games. If you want to see enemy names and get to know the community of people you are fighting against, competitive PvP is the place to get that sort of thing in Guild Wars 2. WvW is the place where you fight with your friends and show your might against a faceless never-ending horde of enemies. It’s not about taking names, it’s about taking back that tower and claiming it for your guild so it can wave your flag right in the enemies face!

…now that is interesting.

A lot of blogging space has been dedicated to examining the effects of, say, LFG on community culture. For the record, I believe the LFG culture (such as it is) in WoW is merely the natural expression of difficult, group-based daily activities minus the desperation.

But it is fascinating to think about the possible effects of a struggle against an intentionally nameless enemy in GW2. Would people really feel “safer” being anonymous in a wider war? I think Mike Ferguson is onto something. Imagine you are trying to take a tower from a single defender, but he keeps killing you. In my own WoW experience, I feel the standard shame of defeat, but I also feel worse knowing that the defender can put a name to the face, so to speak. If we meet up somewhere else on the battlefield, he might recognize the fail paladin he defeated with ease earlier and go after me first. In my mind, that second possibility is worse than the initial defeat(s).

I know this happens because I did it all the time in WoW BGs. “Hey, there is that Boomkin made out of wet paper. Ha! Look at him run!” Inspiring dread ended up being a lot more entertaining than most of the BGs themselves. Indeed, one of the biggest draws of having a rogue was following someone around and Sapping them repeatedly, then watching their panicked, futile AoE dance afterwards. After they felt themselves safe, that’s when you kill them in a stunlock. Repeat until they just abandon their keyboard after the first Sap.

Take away the name, though? People could probably figure out that the Norn Elementalist who keeps trying to take the tower is the same player. I might even be wary of the nameless Mesmer defending said tower. But at the same time, perhaps we would care less. Perhaps it would make people more inclined to group with their own faction, since that this the only avenue of social recognition – you cannot be known and feared by your enemies, so you seek out the accolades of your server. Only your own team will ever know your name.

It is such a subtle, brilliant change that I cannot wait to see how it works. Not “if,” how.

Post-Interview, and Diablo 3

The interview went… more or less okay.

For the curious, my interview in Chicago was for the JET Program; basically applying to teach English in Japan for a year (or more). I spent a semester in Japan during college, I want to go back, and we will all have to wait to see how it shakes out because results aren’t announced until April. If selected, I’d be in Japan by August. If not, it will be business as usual. In fact, considering this blog (and commenting on other blogs) is my only outlet for gaming discussion, it’d be business as usual anyway.

…okay, maybe business as usual. Let’s jump off that bridge when we come to it.

In other news, in catching up on Diablo 3 blue posts, I wanted to highlight two things:

In the near future, we’ll be implementing several changes to the posting limits and fees related to the beta version of the Diablo III auction house. Here’s a quick summary of what’s in store:

  • Listing fee is being removed.
  • Transaction fee is being increased to 1.25 Beta Bucks.
  • Minimum listing price is being raised to 1.50 Beta Bucks.
  • You will be limited to 10 active auctions per auction house.

With the removal of the listing fee, players will no longer need to worry about whether they’re going to run out of free listings for the week. In addition, introducing a limit on the number of active auctions means players won’t feel as though they should be trying to sell everything they find, potentially flooding the auction house with unwanted items. Under this new system, players will only pay an auction house fee if and when an item actually sells. This has the main advantage of allowing players to try to sell their items risk-free. In addition, because the transaction fee is already baked into the price when an item is listed (as part of the minimum listing price), it’s no longer possible to be in a situation where you don’t have enough Balance to list an item, forcing you to have to charge up your Balance just to attempt a sale. We think this will be a much cleaner process for selling items and will ultimately lead to a better experience when using the currency-based auction house. (source)

What I am finding curious is A) such fairly radical RMAH changes are being iterated on so late in development, and B) how there is now an effective floor price of (presumably) $1.50 for any given item, and C) holy shit, an 83% Blizzard cut of the profits on said floor prices. Even if you sell things at $5 or $10 a pop, that’s still 25% and 12.5% respectively.

I am beginning to wonder if these margins won’t start creating a space for the gray markets to move in – if you broker a “10 items for $10” outside the game, the customer saves $5 and the seller gets $7.50 more than they would have. Perhaps Blizzard doesn’t feel like people would bother with small sales? Easy typically trumps cheap, so who knows.

The other bit was this… unfortunate analogy by Cashiok Bashiok:

On a more serious note, I too worry that we won’t be able to meet the expectations people have built up for themselves. Part of my job is managing people’s expectations, so… eh… stop it. Stop thinking about how awesome this game could be. Just imagine it’s a new M. Night Shyamalan movie. Sure Sixth Sense was amazing and Unbreakable had it’s moments, but this right here is the sequel to The Village … or The Happening … or Signs … or any of the movies besides the two I first mentioned. So just like, lower those expectations, but still definitely buy the game please, and everything will be just fine. K? (source)

Now, there is certainly a tongue-in-cheek context to the quote and the thread it was responding to. Is Blizzard seriously trying to lower expectations as they scramble with radical 11th hour changes? I guess we will know for sure when it releases.

What is unfortunate is that I use Sixth Sense as a go-to example of why developer/director/artist worship is a bad idea. You see, Sixth Sense was a brilliant, brilliant film. It was also, based on the movies that proceeded it, a complete fluke. There simply is no reason to believe that a beloved whatever will continue creating quality content. I read bloggers casually throwing out “We will have to wait on Titan to move the genre forward” and arch an eyebrow. What makes you think Blizzard even knows why WoW was so popular? There isn’t some secret formula for quality gaming, and even if there were, what worked in 2004 doesn’t work the same in 2012.

Just ask Nintendo and the company that sold me Chess on my flip-phone for $5.99 how mobile gaming is treating them these days. Oh how things change.

The Interview

I have perhaps the biggest interview of my life tomorrow – the kind of interview you spend $300 flying up to Chicago wearing a suit to attend – so it may be a few days before I get back to armchair game development. In commemoration of my finally “beating” Skyrim at 117 hours /played, please enjoy these Photoshops I threw together in the meantime.

Just another round of dailies in Whiterun.

Introducing Gourmet Chef Leonidas.

I had intended to post Leonidas’ daily adventures when I first started, but that turned out to require spending time writing/’shoping when I could have been playing.

I still may put Leonidas to bed, so to speak, and there will be a formal review, of course. Beyond that though, I want need to wash my hands of Skyrim and move on with my life. Mass Effect 3 is coming, and I want to play ME2 before the spoilers get too ubiquitous.

John LaGrave Interview

At the tail end of the Instance’s #250 podcast (The Panda Reality Distortion Field), there was an interview of Blizzard’s John LaGrave, Senior Game Producer, with Scott Johnson and Veronica Belmont. Much like I have done in the past, I extracted that particular interview and posted the full 23-minutes on Youtube for posterity.

Some of the more interesting questions/responses:

Q: […] So what do you say to those just seeing the Kung-Fu Panda style of it right now and not getting the nitty-gritty details that we are all hearing at the conference? What do you say to ease their fears of …

A. Sure, sure, sure. Of course we rely on you guys to give your impressions of what you’re seeing here at the conference, and let them know the starting experience isn’t particularly one… [of that] overly-influencing movie, if you will. What I say is “give us a shot.” Look at what the press is going to say, look at what we’re going to do, look at what we’re going to do through the beta and evaluate on your own.

I mean, what we try to do in Blizzard development is take something we think is going to be awesome, something fun, and make it our own. Make it cool. And that’s our goal here. We’re not trying to make that movie. We’re not trying to make Drunken Master. We’re not trying to do that. What we’re trying is to take elements we like from that, improve upon those and make them our own. And that’s it.

So I would say look at what the press has to say about it overall, and know that if there are aspects that you don’t like… honestly, it’s probably going to change.

Q: […] This [new expansion] feels like we can breathe a little bit. A little bit of “ahhh, I can take some green tea.” […] From a development side, did you guys see it as a way to shift tone in a way that is significant but still shifting tone that way?

A: […] It gets back to what we did and what was awesome about Classic, which was: when you walked into a world you didn’t know about. All you really knew was if you played some of the original Warcraft; you had some notion of Orcs vs Humans, and it’s Horde vs Alliance. And we’re getting back to that theme. […]

Q: Is there any kind of imperative [concerning mods/websites] of wanting to reign them in, or is it more of an inspiration? (paraphrasing)

A: We’ve looked a mods and went “That’s a great mod, why aren’t we doing that?” […] Quest Helper and Outfitter […] we literally looked at that stuff and went “Yeah, we’re retarded for not doing this. We got to do this; this is a great thing.”

There was a rather large, but interesting section about pet battles I didn’t want to transcribe because, well, it’s a lot of text. It starts around the 16 minute mark and it is described as “one of the most complex things we’re ever putting into the game.” Towards the end, John mentions he’s a huge Civ nut, if that makes you feel any better.

Q: […] Is it to the point now where you guys say “Yeah, 90 levels, yeah you probably seen a lot of this content before, but it has been a while now for a lot of you so 1-90 isn’t going to seem like the work you think it is. You’re actually going to enjoy yourselves.” Was there that thought, maybe?

A: It’s an interesting thought… I must say that we don’t have that thought. But totally valid. One of the things we like about having that neutral race and making that decision is…

When we first made WoW, you know, there was an expectation that you were a pretty savvy MMO player, like that you had played EverQuest, or you played Ultima Online, that you were really familiar with that notion of what an MMO was. And we were also expecting that you mostly knew a Blizzard game.

As we have gotten into a broader and broader spectrum of appeal, yeah, there are a lot of people coming fairly naive into it. And they don’t know Horde and Alliance, what those are and what those mean. And literally being able to play that experience and then as you play through you get more and more information about Horde and Alliance, and making that decision informed as opposed to blind. Yeah, we think that will be a more interesting and better playstyle too.

While trying to figure out what John’s job title was, I found a bevy of other interviews from BlizzCons past. Here’s John a few months before Cataclym’s launch when they undoubtedly knew Pandaren were coming. Here’s an interesting video interview during BlizzCon 2010, but again before Cataclysm – he talks about how raiding was designed for the hardcore in Classic, then how it was made easier via training and equiping players better, and then about how Cataclysm will be much more difficult. Kinda funny given how that played out, eh? Finally, another pre-Cata print interview that has this bit in it:

Gameplanet: And you’ll be going for that “bite-sized raiding” philosophy? We can expect it to be smaller?

Lagrave: Yeah, certainly. In the past with things like Naxxaramas back in patch 1.12 – way, way back then – we were all about making enormous dungeons, right? And the idea was to spend a lot of time going through it, and we “winged” them so that it would be easier to do. You could go through one after the other. Now we want to acknowledge – and we recognise the fact – that raiding styles have changed. People want to go through about three hours of content in a night, maybe even call it quits for the week. So yes, definitely, it is more “bite sized” and that’s just the way the MMO genre has changed.

Just thought a lot of this was somewhat topical given all the recent blog discussion about WoW getting more casual vs more hardcore vs whatever else.

I think listening to these designers definitely gives you a different impression of the process of game design going on than perhaps you get just from internet debates. For example, I think there is no doubt WoW 1.0 was made for a different audience than WoW 3.0 – LaGrave came out and talked about how, essentially, WoW was originally designed as a niche title for people already familiar with EverQuest and Blizzard games.

That being said, I absolutely do not get the impression that these designers approach the WoW as we know it as “catering to the lowest common denominator” or “dumbing down the game” or anything like that. The impression that I get is that these designers would have launched the game as we know it today with its breezy leveling and integrated Quest Helper and so on if they had the technology and knowledge back in 2004 that WoW was going to be as successful as it was. In other words, the game in 2004 was shaped by whose population they were trying to lure away (EverQuest/Ultima), and not what they imagined WoW to be necessarily.


As you may or may not have seen on MMO-Champ, there was an interview with J. Allen Brack, Lead Producer of World of Warcraft, in which he dropped a Legendary bomb:

Brack: There’s one more piece which is an announcement that we’re releasing a rogue legendary weapon. Specific for rogues, so it will be a dagger. There will be some sort of quest, traditionally we’ve done these quests that players need to participate in order to create the legendary weapon in this case we’ll be focusing on rogues that will try to make that happen. […]

We haven’t decided on the name and how it’s going to work, we just know that we really want a legendary weapon to come out of this tier and we really want it to be a rogue dagger. That’s really all we know at this point. As time goes on we get a lot more lore, a lot more story, an “in” to the creation of all the legendary weapons. We really did a lot with the legendary axe that you got out of Lich King and then we’ve had other legendaries with the Cataclysm tiers that have had these storylines, we’re hoping this one’s going to be the most exciting, the most epic legendary quest line.

what is this I don’t even

Where do I start?

  • Did no one in the design meeting raise their hand and question how “the most exciting, most epic legendary quest line” can even happen if you don’t have the least-played class in WoW in your raid team? Hey, Brack, you know that cool quest line you did for Shadowmourne? People saw and participated in that because THREE HUGELY POPULAR CLASSES were capable of taking it. Same deal Dragonswrath, same deal with Val’anyr, same deal with every single crafted legendary¹.
  • At what point was it decided that legendary weapon quests were good uses of design time while class quests were not? Is the idea that legendary quests are like class quests that only a handful of classes even have access to?
  • Legendary quest lines never really made any sense to me in an MMO setting to begin with. Is the collection of fragments of an ancient weapon cool? Yes. Is infusing them with the souls of your fallen foes awesome? Yes. Is a quest line that takes dozens of people weeks to accomplish epic? Yes! Er… unless you aren’t the guy getting the legendary. Don’t get me wrong, it feels great being part of something bigger than yourself. Problem is that an item to just one person is NOT something bigger than yourself. Legendaries in WoW, aside from one brief flirt with sanity in TBC, are designed for RPGs, not MMORPGs. If it has “worked” in vanilla and Wrath and Cataclysm thus far, it is working in spite of the terrible design.

I get that it was forewarned (in the tank Q&A of all places) that the 4.3 legendary “will have much more narrow appeal.” But… really? Remember the blue post back in June that speculated about why rogues are the least-played class? I am almost wondering if this legendary dagger is a cynical attempt at rectifying that discrepancy.

¹ Meaning more than one class could use it, not that all of them had 3 popular classes or whatever.