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The WoW 5.4 Roundtable Summary

(Edit: MMO-Champ basically just posted the same goddamn thing. For the record, I wrote the below first, but since I schedule posts to go live at 7am the next day… FML. I want those 28 minutes back.)

So there was a 5.4 Developer Roundtable released on Monday that I am going to sum up for you because, really, nobody should have to sit through those same 28 awkward minutes that I already threw in a hole. I mean, technically, it’s even longer than 28 minutes because I actually paused and rewound the video to take some notes inbetween the cringes. Whenever Ion Hazzikostas talks, I get flashbacks of that one guy in raids – you know the one – where when he speaks, you just want to punch him in the throat and/or yourself in the ears. “Just… fucking say it and stop filling up space with your rhetorical flourishes, Christ!” And he’s a raid leader. Those poor bastards.

Pay it forward, people, pay it forward.

0:00 – 12:25: Time in a hole.

12:26: Lead Encounter designs states that Wrath of the Lich King “arguably” had the best raiding environment at any point in the game. I concur.

15:27: Flex raiding has exceeded Blizzard’s expectations. Out of the Flex raids, over 50% changed in raid size within the duration of the raid itself, e.g. people actually took advantage of the ability to gain/drop people on the fly. More interestingly, the devs stated that in the last week, more people did Flex raiding in NA/EU than did Scenarios. So either Scenarios aren’t as popular as I thought, or Flex raiding is bringing in a lot of new raiding blood.

16:28: “Will there be more zones like the Timeless Isle in the next expansion?” Yes. Timeless Isle will serve as a general template for endgame open-world zones from now on, although there might be a little more structure with goals that evolve over the course of weeks. “We are moving away from the dailies that we done in the past.” Also, more discoverable stuff as people level up.

17:40: “Can we expect any real solutions to (bag/bank) storage problems?” Inventory management is gameplay. But… possibly a toy closet. Also, heirlooms will be like pets/mounts somehow.

19:50: “Do you think you can do better to prevent stacking ranged damage in raiding?” Yes… but not really. The problem is fundamental design: all the fun raid mechanics like movement and target switching are naturally easier done at range. We are looking at ways to make melee more valuable and more fun to play.

21:16: “When will gnomes appear in cinematics?” Funny story: gnomes were not in the original WoW cinematic because they were not even in the game until the cinematic already had a storyboard and was in full production mode. Beyond that, there simply hasn’t been a particularly good time to show them off; all the subsequent cinematics have been to develop bosses of the expansion.

22:20: “5.4.1?” Yes. Major feature of the patch is a rework of the Recruit-A-Friend system. Supposedly more of it will be done in-game instead of game/email/web interface switching. Also, the reward will be a token you can use to choose from a menu of old/brand new mounts/pets.

23:37 – ????: Drink heavily.

Don’t say I never did anything for you.

Whale Crash

A while ago I was hanging out on a rocky ledge in PlanetSide 2, watching my team farm the NC warp-gate. Then I thought: “Hey, I can kinda recreate that last scene from Saving Private Ryan!”

Little did I know that…

Unfair Impressions: Darkfall, Day 2

I felt like the screenshots were not enough to fully immerse you in the world of Darkfall. So here is a video of me attacking some spiders. Don’t forget to switch to 1080p quality!

In terms of the tutorial, I finally realized why I was stuck on the “skinning” portion. While you can loot leather from the glowing gravestones, if you have a skinning knife you can also skin… the gravestones. Because that makes sense. The failure rate seems ridiculously high, but eventually I loot one.

The next step is to hearth to your bindstone, which I did exactly two minutes later. Literally, guys, it’s a 120-second cast. I started it up and left to make my lunch for the next day.

This actually reminds me of another curious thing: AFK-farming seems encouraged in Darkfall. Much like in Guild Wars 2, you must buy a logging axe or herbing sickle in order to gather materials, and these items have charges (durability in this case) that deplete on use. The difference here is that you can start up the animation in Darkfall and walk away from the keyboard – your character will merrily continue chopping timber until (presumably) the axe is worn down to the nub or the tree runs out of wood. It reminds me of what I have heard about mining space rocks in EVE, insofar as gathering only requires button presses once every half-hour. Is that supposed to discourage people from farming, or a concession that farming is so boring the game will do it for you while you Tab out and play something more engaging?

At the Southern FFA border.

At the Southern FFA border.

In any event, the next stage of the tutorial was taking a 100kg (!) mount idol from the bank and summoning a mount. From there, you are tasked to running to the border of the protected area, sticking your toe over, and then coming back inside. Ah… so I was paranoid for no reason this entire time. Well, sorta. Apparently if you aren’t careful, people can actually steal your mount and ride away. After which I assume you are shit outta luck. Considering that unsummoning the mount takes a minimum of 2 seconds after dismounting, you’ll never want to actually be in town riding the thing.

After much squinting at the abysmal UI, I finally found and dabbled with the Prowess system. Essentially, you earn Prowess doing things, doing a certain number of things (Feats), and presumably other ways too. Prowess essentially act as skill points you use to upgrade skills, increase your ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, etc), and so on. Most skills start a 1 and can be increased up to 100 with an increasingly harsh cost ratio (1:1 up to ~25, then 2:1, etc); each upgrade level typically improves cast speed plus some miscellaneous qualities by some percentage. As an example, putting points into Archery lets me fire faster and deal more damage per arrow, whereas Mining let’s me increase my AFK-yield.

That all makes sense, but I was taken aback a bit from the “Boosts”. At first, I was thinking they were F2P-esque boosts, but that does not appear to be the case.

Ha ha, we got you good.

Ha ha, we got you good.

Instead, they are… err. Well, you can buy the first rank of “the Agile” boost for 200 Prowess, and it increases Dexterity by +10 and the Stamina by +37. Considering that manually boosting Dexterity by +1 costs 30 Prowess, I don’t actually know the point of boosts in this context other than a designer “Gotcha!” moment. I mean, I suppose that it is a way to quickly achieve your class’s optimum stats while still offering a Prowess sink for long-term players (e.g. Warrior dumping extra Prowess into Intelligence once everything warrior-y is bought).

If there is a third day of playing Darkfall in my future, my goal is to figure out the crafting side of things. I understand the basics, but I’m a little uncertain about how one actually goes about getting hard currency; considering that crafting consumes gold as well as mats, you have to have a baseline of income from somewhere. None of the mobs I have killed dropped gold thus far. Does it all come from vendoring goods? There are no “quests” of course, and there doesn’t appear to be an AH either.

So… yeah. Darkfall.

Bioshock Infinite

I was not going to purchase Bioshock Infinite on Day 1, for a variety of reasons. Between the delays, the abortive multiplayer aspirations, and the high profile resignations, the deck was stacked against an early purchase in my mind. Plus, I already have dozens and dozens of games I have yet to play/install, so why get a brand new one when I can instead wait for the price drop in 2-3 months? Also, First World Problem alert, I already owned all of the games being offered as bonuses for preordering.

And then… I watched this review by Adam Sessler:

I bought my “preorder” at 1am through Green Man Gaming, whose cash-back promotion technically means I got it for $45 (plus some Steam keys for games I already have).

By the way, “Infinite” might be referring to the amount of hard drive space required to run the game: 17 gigs. That is nearly 3 times the size of Skyrim, and almost as big as WoW by itself. I have some games still installed that I probably should clear out from lack of use, like Guild Wars 2 and Fallout: New Vegas, but it’s still a lot of hard drive real estate.

The City of Steam Alpha Preview for the Rest of Us

If your own blogroll is remotely similar to mine, you have probably heard quite enough about that City of Steam game. The alpha test was wrapping up this past weekend so the devs started handing out codes to just anyone… which would explain how I got one. The beta test will not start for another ~3 months give or take, and there isn’t even a target release date, so the question undoubtedly on your mind – as was on mine every time I read about the game elsewhere – is simple: why should I care about City of Steam?

Well, do you have a few minutes? If so, watch this:

Feel free to expand that into 1080p full-screen, which is the resolution I played at.

In case you were not aware, City of Steam is a browser-based F2P indie MMO. And the above was from its alpha state.

With the exception of Glitch and Kingdom of Loathing, I tend to stay away from browser-based games for… well, no particular reason. I suppose I never thought of them being “for me,” where that is defined by nebulous double-standards like a willingness to pay for a discrete product as long as I don’t have to use a cash shop or spam my friends. Then there is the soft-spot in my cold, black heart for games with character progression deep enough to optimize the fun out it, as one might squeeze whey from cheese. Except, in this disgusting analogy, I eat the whey.

What were we talking about again? Ah, City of Steam.

I have read some descriptions comparing it to Diablo, but the gameplay is more akin to, well, a typical MMO. All the dungeons are instanced, there are some dungeons within dungeons (Dunception!), you can form traditional MMO parties of up to 5-people, guilds exist, the hub areas act as lobbies of sorts, there are daily and story quests, extensive crafting/modding system that alter actual weapon/armor appearance on your avatar, and… let’s stop here. It’s alpha.

While I had an indie MMO developer’s attention though, I just had to ask some (perhaps impertinent) questions:

Me: This is kind of a Bigger question, but… why browser based instead of stand-alone game? Was it easier to go with browser, or more accessible?
Me: I know I can’t be the first one amazed with the graphics. They are very, very well done and came at a complete surprise. Which is kind of why I ask.
Gabriel V. Laforge: It made it more accessible; we wanted to go on the idea that it’s a lightweight game that almost anyone can just jump on and play
GL: hence the short loading times and no massive client downloads
GL: Unity 3D and loads of our own in-house tools really helped optimize that, without sacrificing all that much in terms of graphics or content

Me: Have the more high-profile MMO news – like 38 Studios collapse, SWTOR going F2P, Funcom stock crashes – affected how you build or design the game? Has it complicated the seeking of outside investors (assuming you need any)?
GL: Yes and no…. the game started out as being something we just really wanted to do. Our lead designer, David Lindsay, wrote a series of Roleplaying books, (The New Epoch), upon which the game is based
GL: as for competitors, well, those are large downloads to play, so we don’t necessarily consider ourselves in the same league
GL: we have nowhere near the team or budget they do ;)
GL: as for investment, we have had funding from an investor who helped us get this far, so we’re set on that end
GL: from here, we still have to decide whether we’ll publish independently, or sign on with a publisher (we’ll only go with one who can share the same vision of making this game with integrity…. we REALLY don’t want to go with a pay-to-win model or any crap like that)

Me: A lot of us in the blog world are speculating on whether the MMO genre in general is contracting. Some have suggested that its widespread popularity was just a “fad.” Is that something you worry about as an indie developer? Or are you simply happy to be able to do a job you love? :P
GL: personally, I’m just happy making games
GL: as a company, we’re trying to present something different, and if it works, all the better
GL: if not, we gave it our best
GL: so far though, we’ve been having very positive feedback and reviews, so we’re optimistic

Me: Are there multiple instances of the hub world? If so, how many people can there generally be?
GL: Instances are private for now, for solo and groups of up to 5
GL: we plan to have publick instances for a lot more players later on (we were limited by the endgine before, but now we can make it)
Me: I mean The Refuge [ed: the first main area].
Me: I see a bunch of people running around, but I imagine there is some kind of cap, right?
GL: We havent’ reached (broken) it yet, and have gone up to 600 PCU so far
Me: haha
Me: I’m pretty sure that’s more than I’ve seen in WoW ;)
GL: Really…? Lucky us! :D

Me: I noticed the Mount slot… this is a vague question, but how big of a world will CoS be at launch?
GL: Pretty darn big; Nexus, the City of Steam, it a massive metropolis
GL: there will be enough places to explore to keep people very busy ;)
GL: right now, Alpha has about 150 difference levels
GL: at launch, we plan to have more like something in the upper hundreds, maybe a thousand or so, with more added with future updates
GL: might not be open world, but it will have plenty of flavour
Me: have you settled on a max level yet?
GL: 30 for Alpha, 40 for Beta, and from there, beyond :) (once higher level content is added)
Me: For my audience (such as it is), I have to ask: will there be a Looking-For-Group feature to facilitate grouping for the 5-player content?
GL: We plan to, given engine limitations on whether we can pull it off, but yes, is planned :)

Assuming you are still with me at this point, you might be wondering why I am devoting all this space to a browser-based indie MMO in its alpha state. The answer is quite simple: this may be the future of the genre.

Perhaps not City of Steam specifically, but here is an indie developer doing its best to craft an MMO on a shoestring budget in a world of AAA companies getting 38 Studio’d. And what is impressing me here is that the “nightmare scenarios” we tell ourselves in the blog world might not actually be that bleak. I no longer feel that it has to be $50+ million budgets or bust. Whether it is City of Steam or another indie offering, I am now convinced the possibility exists.

Exploitgate 2012

If you haven’t already heard, there was an exploit discovered in Diablo 3 that allowed Wizards to become invincible, permanently. By “discovered,” I mean formally discovered, since there was a Youtube video uploaded June 22nd ostensively showing the same thing. As in, this exploit has been active for at least a full month.

And it was not even something super-complicated. From the Kotaku article:

Step 1: Select Teleport – Fracture. Bind it to a key
Step 2: Select Archon, tested with Improved Archon
Step 3: Hover your mouse over or near your charcter
Step 4: Press Teleport
Step 5: QUICKLY(!) Press Archon

Blizzard has since pushed a hotfix to plug the hole, complete with rolling restarts, yadda yadda. Of course, the Wizard hotfix did not fix the Barbarian exploit that allowed them to gain +8% of their HP with every attack. That process is pretty simple too:

1. Have Furious Charge with Dreadnought Rune
2. Charge into opening cinematic (before it begins)

Now, if you are like me and played with/as a Barbarian, you might be wondering how that sort of life gain is even considered an exploit – Barbarians gaining insane amounts of life back and breezing through Inferno has always appeared to be the class Working As Intended™. But then, Kripparrian made a Youtube video that was all “Yo dawg, I heard you like exploits, so I put an exploit in your exploit.”

Honestly, his Jay Wilson joke is probably better than mine. And so are these.

There are a lot of different directions the resulting narrative can go – should we start postulating about the economic damage generated by these exploits, or what happens to one’s balance when banned? – but beyond the delicious embarrassment of it all, what can honestly be said that was not already predicted months before the game was even released? Everyone knew there would be exploits. Everyone knew the existence of a cash-shop makes exploits worse. And here we are.

It does make me slightly nostalgic for WoW, though. Remember when exploits were more whimsical? You had your cutting-edge hardcore raiding guilds with their Saronite Bombs and trash mob buffs from other boss rooms. You had have your Mining bots teleporting under the ground and dumping 400+ stacks of ore on the AH with 12-hour auctions nearly below vendor price. Maybe some people sneaking through the Arathi Basin gates before the start put a damper on things, but it was only really terrible if AB was the random daily that day.

This Diablo 3 thing, though? Good lord. Nothing like knowing someone else probably made off with $1000 in drops by trivializing the content you are smashing your face into, to take the wind out of your sails. Hell, any one of us might have bought an item from them. If I hadn’t already stopped playing, I would at this sort of news.