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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.

Class Q&A Highlights

There were 11,786 words in the latest Class Q&A. Here are the more interesting 668 of them.

Q: A lot of warriors feel like the stance mechanic is a bit outdated. Are there any plans to make changes to warrior stances in MoP such as giving the passive stance bonuses to each spec or allowing all of the warrior abilities to be usable in all stances? I say the latter because I know a lot of Arms warriors would love the 10% damage boost over the 5% damage boost and 5% damage reduction. Thank you.

A: At the moment, we are considering Berserker as a +AE damage stance and removing all stance penalties and restrictions. Just use Battle for single-target and Zerk for AE. That isn’t set in stone of course.

The funny thing about answers like this is how many people would leap about with their cries of “Dumbing down!” and “Homogenization!” without examining the actual value of the original design. I do not have a warrior main, but I did have a warrior that I played long enough to be completely baffled as to how the Stance system survived for so long. Simply put: how in god’s name did the designers intend the class to play out? I specifically bought a new mouse with buttons on the side solely for playing my warrior, and it amazes me that there is not an in-game tutorial on macros when warriors essentially require them to function even on a basic level.

Maybe the argument is that Blizzard did not intend for skills like Spell Reflection and Shield Wall to be usable as an Arms warrior in PvP – they are certainly impossible to use effectively (if at all) without macros and addons “out of the box.” Then again… stance dancing to avoid fears as a Prot tank has been in the game since Day 1, and PvP has to be balanced around what happens, regardless of the intention. It just seems like bad design odd to me for a class’s skill gap to actually include completely “new” buttons.

I was waiting for a new talent to make Spell Reflection no longer require a shield, for example. It’s tough enough to gauge the optimal moment to utilize the skill, let alone make the determination far enough in advance for your weapon-switching/SR macro to work. Compare that to using, say, Grounding Totem, a spell interrupt, or even “Vanishing the Death Coil.”

Q: Class homogenization has been problematic in the eyes of the player base. How are you planning to make classes feel unique while still maintaining the “bring the player, not the class” ethic?

A: Homogenization is one of *the* hardest challenges we face. Players become upset if they feel like they are losing what is uniquely theirs, but then they get just as frustrated when they lack e.g. self-healing or mobility or a cool toy that another class gets. With 11 classes and parties, (some) raids and PvP teams much smaller than that, we can’t make every class mandatory and we don’t think it’s reasonable to have 11 (or even 34 if you include specs) spells, buffs and mechanics that are unique but completely equal. We just try to keep the pulse on the community and see when players think we have gone too far or not far enough.

This next bit might start a firestorm of controversy, but we heard from a lot of 10-player raiders who asked “Why make a rogue legendary? We don’t have a rogue.” When we asked why, they said ‘Rogues don’t bring anything we need, so we don’t want them.” That’s not cool. I’m not saying the legendary is the answer for why bring rogues, but you should feel like you have room for rogues without sacrificing something else and that rogues should bring something that makes you happy they are there.

I think the biggest benefit of Ghostcrawler’s more open communication model is to highlight how much of game design is wild-ass guessing. And I do not mean that to be snarky. A designer could be “correct” in saying that change X isn’t increasing homogenization, but if the players feel differently… what does it matter? If a good design leads to decreased revenues, then can we really say it’s good? I would like to think so – what is Good and Right is not necessarily popular in politics and philosophy, for example – but then again games exist to be played.

As for the nonsense about rogues, a better answer to “Why don’t you have a rogue?” would have been “No one picked one/they aren’t fun to play.” Bring the Player is a design model centered around playing with people you enjoy playing with. So to suggest that we should “feel like we have room for rogues” is asinine if everyone you want to play with independently decided not to use one as their main. And it is asinine to make an entire legendary quest-line for a single class anyway, whether it was rogues, paladins, shaman, or whatever.

Q: I’m glad to see you guys are still interested in making the talent system as unique as possible, but it seems like by giving so few choices that cookie cutter specs will be even MORE easy to come up with then now. i know there will always be “the best choice”. but if you guys do all this redesigning just to have the same outcome, what do you have in store to try and fix it from there? and are you concerned the new talent trees might not offer the unique build options players want to have?

A: Since so many of the talents focus on survivability, movement, and utility we are skeptical that there will ever be a talent build that is the perfect build for every PvE fight in the game. It is likely that as players learn specific encounters, each spec finds an ideal set of talents for that encounter. Those will be the “cookie cutter” builds. However, that will mean that players are interacting with the system and picking a unique set of customizations on a frequent basis. This is a vast improvement over a system that is solved once by a dps spreadhseet and then everyone copies that build once and ignores their talents for the rest of the expansion. In addition, there will be likely disagreement over which talents are best for which encounters.

This, to me, is one of the best possible answers they can make in response to a lot of the talent criticisms.

Q: Some of the MoP talents seem really “OP”, is this intended?

A: One of our core design philosophies is “Make it Overpowered”. As much as possible, we like to start with abilities being very strong, and then correct problems as they occur.

I don’t know if this is more amusing as a joke, or if they were serious. Well played.

Q: How will low level balance be fixed in Mists of Pandaria.Right now you can one shot a lot of npcs or players at low levels.

A: We plan to put some additional careful effort into balancing low level combat for MoP.

Balancing the leveling game will be Big News to a lot of bloggers, should it actually occur. We’ll see, although it will likely be much too late for a lot of people who actually care about the fidelity of the leveling experience.