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Dilemmas, Part 1

Time will tell whether or not that one remaining New Years prediction will come true, but…

WoW_Reactivate

…yeah.

What pushed me over the edge were all the reports about the Legion pre-expansion event XP. I haven’t actually experienced a good expansion event since the lead up to Wrath, so it’s actually surprising that Blizzard hasn’t tried the ole “easy XP” route before. Then again, perhaps they really needed the scaling level tech in place before they were able to. Regardless, since I only ever got one character up to 100 in Warlords, this provided a nice opportunity to boost some of the alts.

Then came the dilemmas.

My primary dilemma is this: I’m still stuck on the low-pop wasteland of Auchindoun-US. The one remaining friend I have who has been playing WoW all this time has server hopped a few times until landing on Sargeras-US in a Mythic-level raiding guild. So… what do I do?

  • A) Choose a new main, pay $25 blood price to transfer, use level 90 & 100 boosts for alts.
  • B) Choose new main, but use level 90 & 100 boosts to create one and an alt.
  • C) Do nothing.

A) is annoying and I don’t want to do it; $25 is absurd, and has always been absurd. Of course, I have 335k gold locked on Auchindoun, so I’d have to start from scratch otherwise. Or take up my friend’s offer of some seed money on Sargeras – he apparently accumulated 1.7 million gold via Garrison farming over the course of the expansion. While I am relatively confident in my ability to pay him back via AH shenanigans, I disliking owing people anything.

B) makes for an interesting situation. Getting an instant 90 and then farming Invasions will quickly get me fully geared and ready for Legion, probably with time to spare to level professions. Or create a level 58 Death Knight, and get that guy boosted via Invasions. The instant 90 will also unlock the ability to get a Demon Hunter, which of course starts at level 98. So between the level boosts and Invasions, it’s entirely possible to get four new max-level characters on an entirely different server with minimum fuss. Minus the gold situation.

C) is actually what I am leaning towards at the moment. Cross-realm tech means I can technically group/dungeon/raid with my friend no matter what server we are on. Mythic raiding is still disabled from what I recall, but the chances I buckle down for the hardcore raiding I swore off of three expansions ago are between zero and Nope. Of course, this means I can’t be in their guild, meaning I miss the chatter and social aspects that (usually) make MMOs worth playing in the first place.

The one wrinkle that bears examining is that Sargareas-US is one of the largest servers in WoW, and it is PvP too. Auchindoun is also PvP, but even with cross-realm activated, the place is generally sparse. In both a A) and B) scenario, I would likely have to contend with queue times near launch and potential ganking 24/7. Something I am not exactly looking forward to.

Hmm. I shall have to ponder some more.

Artifact Concerns

As the release of Legion inches closer, my implicit worries have begun to mount.

Technically, the concerns I have currently are the same ones I brought up a year ago. Namely: artifacts and alts. Having one weapon that you channel all of your power into is conceptually neat. But WoW has long ceased to be about one character and spec; the structure of the game since around Wrath has seemed to hinge on the assumption of alts, or at least dual specs. Just think about all the Account-Bound items and other technology changes that have occurred in the past five years.

So how is Legion going to interact with everyone’s alts?

Based on the Wowhead research I have been doing… it’s hit or miss. My first concern was being stuck with a single Artifact for a single spec out of the gate. What if I’m a healer and want to level as DPS? You are indeed stuck with a single Artifact until level 102, at which point you can unlock the others. However, you are not stuck stuck – there is a sort of gear workaround for alt specs:

What if I chose the wrong Artifact Weapon, vendored my old weapons and want to level in a different spec before level 102?

Your class Order Hall Quartermaster sells item level 740 weapons/off-hands/shields for 100g each. These can serve as replacements if you need them before you unlock all of your class Artifact Weapons at level 102.

So technically you should be able to have a backup set of gear to use if you want to tank/heal/DPS with an off-spec. Obviously it won’t be as ideal as with your Artifact, but it’s something.

Okay… what about gaining Artifact Power (AP)? During questing, dungeons, etc, you end up receiving consumable items that fill an AP meter for your currently equipped Artifact when used. So, it seems like you should be able to quest as DPS and funnel all of these consumables into your healing Artifact later on. That’s pretty good. Indeed, later on you unlock the Artifact Knowledge ability that will increase the AP gained from future consumables. I thought it was a nice touch that these gains aren’t retroactive to your currently obtained consumables, so there is no reason to hoard them for later.

But then we get into the sort of nitty gritty details of World of Altcraft. The amount of AP that you need to get from level 13 to level 14 is more than the total amount you need from 1-13. This makes a nice, conceptual breakpoint at which you can decide whether to hedge your bets or double-down on one spec or not.

That said, there are two problems with this.

First, you don’t always have any control over your circumstances in the game. Your guild might need a healer now, after you have already hit AP14, setting you a painful distance behind in your ability to fulfill the need. Second, there are numerous specs who can actually unlock their 2nd Elite Traits as soon as AP16. Now, “as soon as AP16” really means 33,450 total AP gained, more than 2.5 times as much as was needed to hit even AP14, but still. I haven’t seen all the math amongst all the specs in this regard, but I don’t believe it to be a trivial increase.

Finally, and most critically: what happens when Blizzard nerfs a spec?

If you were an Assassination rogue and got hit by the nerf-bat, it was always technically possible to switch to Subtlety rogue and keep going. Maybe your Best-in-Slot items change based on whether Mastery or Haste is king. But now? At AP18, you are two times further away from even AP16 farmed from scratch. Unless the Artifacts are front-loaded as all hell, you are basically staring down an entirely new endgame, minus all the easy AP gained via leveling. I suppose Artifact Knowledge is supposed to bridge the gap there, but I’m not entirely convinced Blizzard won’t be requiring us to grind dailies for, erm, days or weeks.

[Fake Edit]: A new interview just came out addressing this:

Artifact Weapons
The team will avoid nerfing a spec from being a little too good to the worst so that you don’t feel that all of your Artifact progression was a waste

Time will tell regarding on the Blizzard dev’s team ability to actually do this.

[/Fake Edit]

And don’t get me started on, you know, an actual alternate character. Artifact Knowledge is not Account-Wide, which means you are back to grinding from zero on every other character on your account.

For someone planning on coming back for Legion, I’m a little nonplussed as to what I’m actually going to do. My namesake paladin is right out – Retribution is garbage again from everything I have heard, and I have no interest in Protection tanking. So… what? I haven’t experienced the post-7.0 classes, and now must make a decision on a new main (probably on a new server at that) with a new main spec that I have to invest in at the expense of every other possible alternative.

Analysis Paralysis is a real thing, which often leads to doing nothing at all. Which is still an option.

Class Fantasy

Now that my move has more or less been completed, my attention has shifted to Legion.

…sorta.

Remember when Ghostcrawler mentioned that Blizzard didn’t like to change things too much between expansions since change can be overwhelming? I laughed then. I’m not laughing now. Seriously, I actually played in the current expansion (about a year ago), and my eyes glaze over just at the thought of looking at Wowhead again.

Some of that will likely go away if I just, you know, jump back into WoW. But I don’t enjoy blind jumps. I need to have some kind of idea first. I enjoy research. Legion research though? Jesus. It’s not even as though you can ignore the Artifact stuff either, as that will be mission-critical in a few months.

After spending considerable time looking over things, the classes and specs that piqued my interest the most were Rogue, Death Knight, and… basically that’s it. Maybe Enhancement Shaman and Affliction Warlock also. My namesake Paladin? Not so much.

I do know that Blizzard spent a lot of time focusing on the “fantasy” of the various specs, and it shows in the talent choices and such. For example, I do get the impression that Destruction Warlocks are all about chaos, fire, and… ripping holes in dimensions. Okay, that one might be a bit weak, but still a massive improvement over the prior fantasy of “Fire Mage.” Shadow Priests seem pretty cool with the Cthulhu business. Rogues have more flavor than which DPS cooldown you want to use now. I especially like how Assassination is poisons and bleeds whereas Sublety is more mystical shadow damage-esque.

Indeed, the flavor thing is really bringing me down when I think about my former main, which spent most of her time as Retribution. What’s the fantasy of Retribution? There isn’t much, you know, retribution going on. Eye for an Eye is neat, I guess. And, whatever, there’s Retribution, but you know what I mean.

You can’t even really say “holy damage” because Exorcism is gone, along with Hammer of Wrath, and basically Execution Sentence (now a talent) and Consecration (mutually exclusive). I thought it was bad last year, but now it’s even worse; I expected nothing, and was still disappointed. The spec seems entirely reliant on Ashbringer for its whole fantasy.

For as flavorful as paladins can be conceptually, the amount of squandered possibility is sad.

Vanilla Challenge: Levels 1-5

And so it begins.

To start with, let me just confirm that the process of pirating Blizzard’s IP by joining a private vanilla server is remarkably easy. I posted the instructions elsewhere, but the steps I followed were:

  1. Find website.
  2. Click the torrent link they helpfully provide.
  3. Wait for 5GB torrent to download.
  4. Create an account on a linked website in the meantime.
  5. Copy & Paste 1 line of text in the Realm.wtf file.
  6. Double-click the WoW icon.

That’s it. There isn’t even an “installation” of vanilla WoW; the torrent has the folders already unpacked for you. So when people were stating that private servers are easier than getting into retail WoW, they were correct.

All that set up, I was in.

VanillaWoW_01

Someone apparently took my name already.

I went with a human paladin because that seems to be the experience that most people can relate to. Plus, if I recall correctly from my TBC experience, the Dwarven starting area is even worse in terms of running around aimlessly. Maybe some other time. Probably not.

The general paladin experience was pretty much as bad as I remembered. You start with two buttons: Seal of Righteousness and Holy Light. Combat consists of casting Seal and auto-attacking. For around 12-28 seconds. Per mob. I’m not joking:

For the full vanilla experience, you should watch the entire video. It’s exactly like playing!

Aside from the Time-To-Kill metrics and general pants-on-head asinine class design, I was also struck by smaller design issues that were blasts from the past. For example, the first quest you get is to kill Kobold Vermin behind the church. The steady stream of new players/alts ensured a general sort of Kobold holocaust, but it wasn’t until about the third dead Kobold that I realized I was killing the wrong ones. There were, in fact, three different layers of Kobolds: Vermin, Workers, and Laborers. Not to be racist, but they kinda all looked the same.

The other issue was boomerang quests, which is perhaps one of the more annoying quest designs in gaming to me. Specifically, a quest giver asking you to go to an area to kill mobs, then asking you to go back to the same area again and killing mobs slightly further in, and so on. The “Christmas tree” effect (getting to a new quest area and seeing dozens of “?”s) is kind of the result of bypassing the boomerang, but it is a far preferable state of affairs, IMO.

VanillaWoW_02

Also super important.

Then again, there weren’t any Christmas trees in vanilla or a portion of TBC, as quest givers did not appear on the minimap unless you were ready to turn something in. Indeed, that was my first exposure to absurd design Luddittes – post after post in the TBC forums crying about how much the game is diminished by having quests show up in the minimap. But I digress.

Upon hitting level 3, I decided to travel over to the dreaded Defias Vineyard. This was WoW’s “The Butcher” experience, introducing millions of players to a hostile, uncaring universe of pain and suffering in the form of rapidly respawning, high aggro-radius having mobs. The Vineyard was as advertised: hostile and uncaring. Well… mostly.

(Video starting from 6:06 from the prior one.)

I was invited to a group by a warlock who was also hunting for Defias bandannas and we aggroed in tandem for quite some time. Having been a solo player for so long, I almost felt uncomfortable being “confined” to a group, as if we were sitting next to each other on a bus with plenty of empty seats. Anyway, he DoT’d the enemies up, and I uselessly auto-attacked and tried to keep aggro. There were always other people running around the area, being chased by their gray-tagged mobs and occasionally stealing our own. It made me think about MMOs like GW2 where anyone can help anyone at any time, and still get credit for kills and the like even if you just dealt one blow. There is more cooperation there, but less socialization.

Not that I and the warlock talked much anyway.

Turning in the bandanna quest unlocked two more quests that required going to the exact same area and, by consequence, killing the same mobs. Classic boomerang. One of the quest mobs was named, but I don’t believe he was marked as an Elite or anything. Still, three mobs at once is a bit tough to handle when it takes you 20 seconds of auto-attacking to bring down a single dude, so I started inviting everyone who showed up near the mob respawn. There were three of us, and two more sauntered in, not accepting my invite. They ended up stealing the tag right from under us, because of course they did. Three to four minutes later, we collected four heads from one body and I dinged level 5.

Total time played: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

VanillaWoW_03

—————

For the sake of science and amusement, I went ahead and rolled another human paladin, this time via the F2P Starter account in retail WoW. The differences, as you might imagine, are quite stark:

Time-to-Kill is sometimes 0.0 seconds, with mobs dying in the press of Crusader Strike and simultaneous melee auto-attack. Crusader Strike’s cooldown is 4.5 seconds, so we can just say 0-4.5 seconds TTK. And do note that I did not have any heirlooms or anything of the sort – the Starter account is not associated with my actual (lapsed) account at all.

The Defias are gone from the Vineyard, which is now aflame and overrun by orcs. It still teaches new players about aggro mobs, but there is essentially zero danger when mobs die in 2-3 hits. There was a quest to kill a specific named orc ala X, but he too went down in a manner that makes you question the robustness of the Horde’s espionage program.

Experiencing this new paradigm for the first time in years, sans the heirlooms which I had hitherto believed caused it, I am willing to make some concessions.

Nils has described the vanilla way as giving players the time and opportunity to keep their mind busy without actually being busy. I think I can appreciate this sentiment now, but not quite for the same reason as he. When it takes 20+ seconds to kill a mob, you are pretty much forced to “settle in” to an area. It will, after all, be where you will be questing for the next 10+ minutes. There is ample time to smell the roses, as you conspicuously not press buttons.

Conversely, when you are all but one-shotting mobs in retail, you are on the fast track. Move to blue area, kill 10 mobs, run back. Your focus is on the UI rather than the screen because that’s all you have time for. Pushing buttons is still always better than not pushing buttons, in my opinion, but you can’t exactly just stretch out the TTK numbers and insert button presses in all the empty beats. Which, now that I think about it, might be why I didn’t exactly enjoy the FF14 or Wildstar gameplay experience.

In any case, I hit level 5 with 15 minutes /played.

The funny/sad thing is that the speed is both too fast and not fast enough. If leveling is easy because the designers want more people to be in the current expansion endgame, well… put people in the current expansion endgame. The first couple of zones in every expansion are more or less tutorial zones for returning players already, so it should accommodate re-rollers just fine. Conversely, if the leveling still exists as some kind of nod to new WoW players or nostalgia junkies, it’s much too fast to satisfy anyone.

This split baby needs thrown out with the bathwater.

—————

The challenge continues. I have little to no interest actually hitting 60 in vanilla, especially given the number of hours it supposedly takes, but I will play for a while longer. My next goal is to unlock the talent system, which traditionally started at 10, I believe. Can’t wait to start unlocking +2% damage for the next dozen levels thereafter.

Vanilla Challenge

With all the talk about private vanilla servers and the ease in which they are logged onto, I had an idea for some gonzo journalism. “I’ll join one and document my experiences!” Then I remembered something: a whole lot of the vanilla (and TBC) experience was utter garbage. Take paladins, for example. Just… the entire class.

SynCaine doesn’t see this as a possible problem:

I know you didn’t play WoW in vanilla, but do you honestly think some minor class issues (you are talking to someone who did the plaguelands rep grind using a raid spec tank) would have that big an impact on what is overall far superior content and design?

Uh… yes? The paladin experience was unremitting garbage on into TBC when I started, and by all accounts vanilla was worse. But, hey, that is clearly not going to impact the amazing 2004 design. Despite, you know, having to interact with everything through the prism of said garbage class design and moment-to-moment gameplay.

Amusingly, what we know from Nostalrius is that almost 25% of all characters on their two servers were Warriors. The Warrior/Rogue/Mage trifecta was nearly half. Three guesses as to which classes were on top back in the day.

Classes.JPG

Hmm.

But why speculate on these vanilla issues when we can pontificate? Put your money time where your mouth is, and roll a paladin on a private server now! Or a druid. Or a shaman. And don’t heal in dungeons or at the endgame. Nobody cares what sort of nonsense you put up with in 2004, what matters is the nonsense you are willing to put up with (and potentially pay $15/month for) today.

I’m thinking about doing so myself, despite my New Year’s resolution, and despite the fact that we all know what is going to happen. It will be awful because it is objectively awful if you are not zen meditating inbetween mob pulls. Vanilla was probably popular back in the day because it was the least painful entry into a nascent, virtual world filled with co-dependency mechanics to ensure you made internet friends. Which was great if you needed some, but I’m full up these days, thanks.

You know what, though? Fuck it. Let’s wreck this train.

VanillaWoW.JPG

Don’t say I never did anything for you.

 

Pirate Communities

Another aspect of the Nostalrius news that caught my interest was the non-stop mentioning of the tight-knit community. “I made so many friends in the span of a month than i did in retail over 2 years” I have no doubt that this was a true experience for this random internet denizen, but perhaps not for the reasons he/she thinks.

If you played on Nostalrius, you automatically had a whole lot in common with everyone you happened to encounter. One, you’re all filthy pirates. Two, you’re capable and willing to download cracked versions of MMOs and play them. Three, you are extremely invested in the vanilla WoW experience. And fourth, you are a member of a self-perceived persecuted group: one that Blizzard doesn’t cater to any longer.

There was a brief, dumb period of my life where I was a smoker. I’m an unabashed introvert, but there was literally nowhere I could go and not have a pleasant smoke-break conversation with whomever was outside the back door of whatever establishment I was visiting. “Do you have a light?” “How about that weather, eh?” “Hear about that new anti-smoking bill?” There was an instant connection due to shared circumstances with someone I would likely have nothing else in common with. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Two random people playing WoW have one thing in common: they play WoW. That’s not much more to go on than encountering a random stranger walking around your city of residence. Private servers though? You are practically co-conspirators just for logging in. There is an instant sense of camaraderie which facilitates connections.

A lot of the “community” discussion focuses on all the missteps that Blizzard took in destroying said communities. Cross-server BGs. LFD. Phasing. And so on. Well… okay, fine. But my question to you would be this: do you think an MMO with nearly 100 times more players than Nostalrius would have had the same community feeling in 2016 as it was back in pre-Facebook 2005, minus the subterfuge?

I suppose my point here is that while the “Nostalrius effect” is real, it is not as particularly a damning indictment of current WoW as it is being trotted out. WoW has significant problems for sure, but just wait a while. The more people unsubscribe, the more of a community will develop amongst the remainder. Because population is the antithesis to community.

Goose and Gander

In a surprisingly hot-topic twist, the internet was awash in reactions last week to Blizzard shutting down a vanilla private server. While the bloggers had the right idea, various random commenters had a much different reaction. The mental gymnastics are on point:

I don’t think you quite understand how this works. nothing is being stolen, absolutely nothing. Vanilla WoW cannot be purchased or played anymore.

here’s another scenario for you. lets say for instance you want to play one of the old Battlefield games like 1942 or Battlefield 2. you can’t though. you know why you can’t? the Gamespy servers got shut down. so if you wanted to play one of those games online how would you do it? well you could organize a LAN party but you’d need atleast 16 people with 16 gaming PCs all in the same place but good luck trying to make that happen.

the other way to do it would be to find a dedicated group of fans that are modders. they reverse engineer the code, they write new code that allows anybody to host servers for the game in question. put that code out on the internet as a mod. then people start hosting servers for this 14 year old game. EA loses nothing in this process because they aren’t supporting the game anyway.

this is what this group was doing with WoW. Activision wasn’t losing anything by these people playing Vanilla WoW.

I mean, let’s be real here. Blizzard/EA/whoever owns the IP, and gets final legal say with how it is utilized. That’s what copyright means. If they want to sit on an unsupported franchise and let it rot, that is their right. You can make some sort of moral “abandonware” or “historical preservation” argument, but again, the law is pretty clear here. Whether or not Blizzard is losing anything by letting others pirate their material is besides the point.

Now, if you’re fine with being a pirate, that’s all right with me.

The owners/employees of Nostalrius had an AMA on Reddit earlier, and they described the costs involved with running the server: $500-$1000/month for server/bandwidth costs. For ~150,000 active accounts (defined by at least one log-in event in the last 10 days). Which really confirms how and why there are so many zombie MMOs still shambling about, i.e. it’s apparently super cheap to run. You know, minus the employee wages, of which none were paid in this scenario, even though they apparently committed 20-30 hours a week on top of their day jobs.

It is debatable how much money Blizzard is “leaving on the table” in this scenario though. 150,000 active users on a private WoW server is larger than most actual MMOs on the market currently. Crucially, however, these were all F2P users – how many would convert to $15/month customers is a matter of debate. If 10% converted, that’d still be roughly a quarter million a month. That’s enough to pay 44 people’s $60k salaries per year with some left over. Assuming that they even needed 44 full-time people to shepherd over legacy code.

The problem is opportunity cost. And marketing/messaging. Blizzard could probably make money off of legacy servers… but would it be more money than they could by spending that human capital elsewhere? As someone with less than zero interest in vanilla WoW, I know that I would prefer those 44 full-time people doing something more useful, like staunching the +150k subscriber bleeding every quarter from WoW Prime. When was the last time new content was released again?

Releasing and maintaining legacy servers would be the equivalent of Blizzard rooting around in the couch for spare change while the house burns down around them. Which it is.

Small Changes, Big Effects

I was thinking the other day about small changes in a game’s design that end up radically changing the entire approach I take with the game, either mechanically or just emotionally.

For example, many moons ago I was playing Candy Crush Saga on my phone, and reaching the limits of my patience with the game. I still had a few of the free special abilities left (e.g. your first free hit of crack), and was realizing that losing the level by one move was dumb when it often took extraordinary luck to even to get to that point – it doesn’t matter how skillful you are when success relies on clearing a row or column and having some helpful color replacements drop in. So, I used the free stuff, and then basically stopped playing the game.

A few weeks or so after that, the next time I booted the app up, King had introduced some sort of daily roulette wheel where your first spin is free. One of the prizes? A random special ability. Not all of them were as powerful as the Lollipop Hammer, but they were something. And knowing that I could accumulate these advantages by logging in every day provided an incentive to do so, and continue my progress through the game knowing I could use the special abilities should I need them. The move might have been a cynical cash grab considering you could buy additional roulette spins, but getting one free chance at nabbing a special ability enormously extended my interest in the game.

There have been similar changes going on in Clash of Clans in the past month or two, although cumulatively they might not be able to be described as small anymore. Originally, I was feeling like I had reached the natural end of my progression curve, as I was losing more resources to raids than I was gaining from raiding others. My alternatives seemed to be either spending money, or committing to playing more than 3-4 times a day. Then things started to change:

  • Town Halls started containing many resources themselves, invalidating the old strategy of keeping them outside your base and hoping someone destroyed just that building to give you a 12-hour shield.
  • Only lose your shield if you actually commit to an attack, rather than simply browsing bases to attack.
  • Attacking only reduces your current shield by 3-4 hours, instead of removing it entirely.
  • Added a daily quest to earn 5 stars via attacking, gaining bonus resources based on rank.
  • Reloading traps is cheaper.
  • There is a broken “loot cart” after you get attacked, which refunds a percentage of what was stolen.

The approach I am taking with the game is completely different now. The bonus rewards you get for winning a raid (getting at least one star) was often not worth it if you could fail but still nab most of your target’s resources. Now that I’m in Crystal 1 Master League 3 though? 70k 110k bonus is nearly a 100% increase in what I can usually acquire, so now I’m pushing for full-clears. I also attack more often now, since there is less of a penalty for doing so (losing shield), and even more of an incentive (the daily). The end result is that not only am I more actively engaged with the game, I am still actually progressing at the same time. That these changes might actually end up squeezing more money out of F2Pers in the process – by encouraging buying boosters to speed up attack frequency – is good for Supercell, but ultimately irrelevant to me. Technically, it’s win-win.

In terms of MMOs though, I am mostly drawing a blank. Perhaps the introduction of dual-spec in WoW? Or that one glorious period of time where dailies were weeklies and you ended up burning yourself out running 21 dungeons across three alts on reset day?

…okay. Maybe not all little improvements are good.

Spell It Out

I was playing GTA 5 this weekend, and one of the missions really reminded me of why I prefer game devs to just spell out what they expect you to do as a player.

The mission was technically a “side-quest” of a heist the main characters were setting up. This particular branch was to acquire a getaway vehicle, take it to a discreet location, then call Michael and let him know where it is. Not just any vehicle will do, but there are a million carjack opportunities in the game, so it didn’t take long to find one the game was satisfied with.

What did take an annoyingly long amount of time was figuring out A) where a “discreet” area was, and B) phoning the location in. Back alley? Not discreet. Docks? Not discreet. Area marked in green? Whoops, that’s an entirely different mission area. I tried calling Michael half a dozen times, but never got the option to “Mark the Location.” And I never knew whether that was because I wasn’t in a discreet location, or if I was but I had to be outside the vehicle to make the call, or if the quest was just fucking bugged.

There are a lot of challenges I enjoy in gaming. The one challenge type conspicuously absent from the list is being a goddamn mind reader. Or, more specifically, trying to figure out what the designers wanted players to do. Sometimes the issue is that I missed what would otherwise have been an obvious clue. Hey, it happens. Doesn’t change the fact that I’m not going to wander around cluelessly for 15 minutes not playing the game. Give me a puzzle, and I’ll try to solve it. But I’m not going to fucking hunt for the puzzle, because I have zero faith in my ability to divine whether all the proper programming flags were set.

So, I looked the quest up. Turns out they wanted the car in a neighborhood area. Drove there, parked, and the option to Mark the Location came right up. Fantastic. If they could have just dropped some markers down on the map like they do with everything else in the game, I would have been done with this vanilla quest more than 20 minutes ago instead of it completely breaking the flow of my gaming session.

And looking at my experience with MMOs? Same sort of thing applies. I played WoW when it didn’t have quest givers on the minimap, when quest items didn’t sparkle, before addons highlighted quest areas, and when Thottbot was breaking new ground over Allakhazam (I think). You know what? I’ll say it: it sucked. Killing mobs and not knowing whether you were just unlucky with quest drops or if you were killing the wrong specie of bear sucks. Get lost in a cave sucks. The item you need to click on being the basement as you scour the other three floors fruitlessly sucks.

I’m not saying there can’t or shouldn’t be mysteries in a game. But it should never be a mystery that you are in a mystery. The difference between hunting for clues and being clueless is immense. It is the difference between playing a game and not.

Again, I have empathy for the players for whom their primary enjoyment is figuring shit out on their own. I hope there are addons or options for you to turn off all the quest tracking overlays. But if the designers want me to collect ten bear asses to complete a quest, that is my quest, not exploring the taxonomy of virtual Ursidae and/or their habitat. If you want me to stash a car somewhere “discreet,” you either tell me where that is, or allow me to stash it somewhere I think is discreet enough. Which was apparently 100 feet away from where GTA 5 said I couldn’t make the call.

That Old Difficulty Bugbear

Another MMO difficulty discussion has appeared!

Both Keen and Bhagpuss have posts up, with the former talking about being praised for running his healer over to the tank during aggro, and the latter missing:

Having to look around, pay attention, evaluate the situation, review options, compare current circumstances with previous experience. I miss the need to know, in detail, what tools I have in the box and which ones I need to pull out when. Crucially, I miss having the time to do all that and enjoy it.

This discussion is a bit different than the usual “good ole days” ones though. For one thing, Burning Crusade was relevant up into the end of 2008, and I distinctly remember entire heroic dungeon stratagems revolving around face-pulling with the paladin tank and then hiding in a door corner Consecrating and hoping for the best. Wrath shifted things a year later, of course, but the raids brought them back. Then there was Cataclysm for a minute. A minute too long IMO, but nevermind.

Point being, it’s been less than a decade. And potentially zero difference in coordination required, depending on the content you are doing. I’m not sure what the “Unrest Fireplace” deal is, but if it requires 6+ people with crazy pulls and such, that almost sounds raid-ish. Or Challenge Mode-ish. Sure, it might also be “open-world” content, but let’s be serious: there isn’t much difference.

The Bhagpuss angle is also interesting, as he admits that it isn’t a lack of challenge per se, but rather a changing in what the challenge consists of:

Players and developers alike have come to expect overt, clear signals in the form of ground markers, circles, cones, colors and written or spoken instructions. We’ve gone from improvisational theater to an on-book recital with cue-cards and a prompt.

What Bhagpuss misses is the “local knowledge,” which dictated which mobs were easy and which were not, which guards would protect you, where the safest farming spots were, and so on. And… that’s okay, I guess. It is indeed a challenge type that has been entirely supplanted by modern games with mods and Wikis and crowdsourced and datamined knowledge, often weeks before the content even goes Live.

On the other hand… if you had time to improv, was the content really that difficult?

And what does it say about the difficulty itself, if it were dependent on the slow accretion of experience? I do not consider trial and error particularly challenging. Nor memory games, for that matter. Which really just leaves… execution. The eponymous Raid Dance. I don’t know any people who are seriously thrilled about a difficulty that revolves around playing voidzone Guitar Hero for 12 full minutes, but a challenge that can be defeated via YouTube isn’t much of a challenge either, IMO.

There really isn’t one answer here. Everyone wants content tailored to their skill level, which means we all end up wanting different things. I will say though that many MMOs actually do have what Keen and Bhagpuss are probably looking for, in at least token amounts. If you want an entire game revolving around that though, sorry, you are going to have to stick with the niche titles. Because for however many amazing experiences you had, twenty other people died for what seemed like no reason, their group fell apart, and they lost hours of their life.

These days, you will know why you failed: you stood in the fire.

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