Blizzard doesn't have an anti-fun team; they have a pointless change team

| Tuesday, May 31, 2011
I previously suggested that Blizzard had a team of developers devoted solely to removing fun from the game. Then I briefly considered that maybe it was actually an overly ambitious balance team, devoted to rooting out imbalances, no matter how trivial. But that team doesn't exist, since it's a fact that the Night Elf base is slightly harder to see the flag in than the Horde base, which clearly would have been fixed by making each flag glowing bright orange and green.

Now I think they have a team devoted to pointless changes.

Remember that super-awkward and cumbersome key ring? No? Okay try this: what is the most valuable real-estate on the screen? Can we all agree that it is a three millimeter square in the far lower right corner of the screen? No? Oh com on, that's prime space! Or maybe not.

But the crack Pointless Changes Team is on the case. Yep, key rings must go. Where will keys go? I don't know. Maybe back in our bags, because we all loved that system and really hated having the key ring. Wait no, no now that I remember it, the key ring was on par with the pet storage screen for changed that players loved.

Adam tried to figure it out too. He didn't seem to have much success.

There is only one reasonable explanation: The Pointless Changes Team is hard at work, making pointless changes.

Cataclysm should have been an expansion

Cataclysm was an expansion in name only. Whether we call the remade zones new content or not, they replace the old Azeroth, which means that they do not expand the world, merely change it (a lot). We did get a few entirely new zones for 80+, but in terms of quests, levels, and geography, the remade world was the big thing.

This caused some problems. Rohan pointed out a big one: the remade zones don't make a whole lot of sense to a new player. This may be a selective perception, but I felt like vanilla, and then eventually LK, did a good job of introducing the story, so that even without needing to play earlier Warcraft games or reading books, it all made some amount of sense. BC was a bit more disorienting, but some of that may have been merely the sudden influx of glowing purple crystals. But the remade Azeroth feels as if it's a huge reference to the old Azeroth, which is of course, gone.

This creates a worst of both worlds scenario. New players may wonder what the world was before, and have no good way to find out, since that content is all gone. As Rohan describes it, it's like if volume IV of a series came out, but they burned volume I. It's not much better for veterans who may miss the old content. Or even worse, since not everything is completely new, we can see what is new and what is old. The old feels lazy, or in the case of some tweaked quest chains (I'm looking at you, Darrowshire), butchered. Meanwhile new content can feel out of place in this almost the old place but not quite.

Then there's the time problem. Before WoW followed something almost like linear time: Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms (pre-60) came first, then Outland came next (60+), and finally Northrend (70+). Levels fit the timeline. There was the ability to go back to old zones or do them out of order, but that was a player action; the structure of the world made sense. The remake breaks that, with the 1-60 content taking place after the 60-80 content.

Cataclysm as a proper expansion would have fixed this, along with other problems. As an expansion the remade Azeroth would have come after Northrend, somewhere in the 80+ range. How exactly this would fit in, I'm not sure, but the simplest way seems to be a Caverns of Time portal that can switch us between new and old Azeroth, much as the Dark Portal moves us between Azeroth and Northrend.

Having only five more levels made the new content feel lacking, if only because people like more numbers, regardless of the actual content. But if the remade Azeroth started at 80, it could have easily added another five levels. At the least, it would have allowed the devs to speed up Uldum and Vash'jir, both of which dragged on a bit, despite having cool concepts.

In terms of story-telling, it would make the expansion more potent for new players. Sure, the scale is obvious, but it's all something that happened to someone else. Pre-Cataclysm players would instead know what used to be, remember questing there, have some attachment, good or bad, to what was destroyed, which gives the destruction that much more impact.

Compare this with the Caverns of Time instances, which do this, but in reverse, showing us what our world used to be, which can still draw on memory and attachment to give a greater sense of meaning. Players in the Culling of Stratholme can see the city before it is burning, filled with people, in its full splendor, all of which would be meaningless if they didn't yet know it as a burning city of the dead. Similarly, though in my experience, less strongly, the Escape from Durnhold let us see it before the Syndicate, and before Thrall blew it up with lightning (something which I don't think WoW mentions). It adds a little bit more meaning to the rotten state of Tarren Mill to see it before the Forsaken moved in, before it was decaying.

In short form: Cataclysm is more powerful if it is preceded by vanilla.

But remaking Azeroth, duplicating it for a single expansion, does have problems.

Right now leveling is too fast, despite using less than the full world for an entire 60 levels. The speed of all the new and remade zones compressed into only 10 levels would be terrible. We'd get a quarter of a level before leaving a zone, meaning either extremely short zones (few quests and done quickly) or unbearably slow leveling. Yes, even I, the advocate of slow leveling, do believe it can be too slow. This could be fixed up a bit by adding levels. With 20 levels I think a new Azeroth could be made to work as an expansion. However Blizzard would have to throw out their philosophy of maintaining a constant time to max level with each expansion (which I think they should do anyway).

Two Azeroths could feel repetitive, despite the separation of two expansions between them. This would only get worse with alts. Creating entirely fresh quests would help, but that would further increase the development work needed.

Instances would have been a huge problem, especially if heroics were mixed in. I have no good ideas for dealing with those.

Perhaps the solution would have been two Cataclysms, meaning to expansions, one after LK and another one after that. One expansion for Kalimdor (Horde bias!), using that continent remade for ten levels and the raids to go with. Then something triggers the same for the Eastern Kingdoms, for another ten levels. This would be more than a little bit contrived, but let's face it, "dragon who slept all the time suddenly wakes up right as we're looking for an excuse to add flying mounts to even more areas" isn't exactly a logical progression. Well okay, dev/marketing logic, but not normal person logic.

Now if only I had a time machine and a printout of the sub numbers for cata...

33% off, minus the exceptions, plus the exception

| Saturday, May 28, 2011
Steam presents: Ubisoft week. Woo hoo, alright, let's get this thing going with the sales and the stuff. And here we are with the ad.

33% off, that's pretty nice. Any exceptions?

Oh right yes, we can see it right there.: game I've never heard of and... Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Well of course, that's the new one, right? Obviously that wouldn't be on sale for 33% off.


I get that sometimes marketing and sales people get mixed messages, but I don't often see them expressed in the very same ad.

Alternate Immersion

Does immersion require a rich, detailed story? No! In fact, the opposite may be much better.

Does your average game of capture the flag in Warsong Gulch feel much like a war? Not to me. But why not? Surely we could see how two competing factions might stage some sort of tournaments to keep the other side defeated even if they cannot have open war. Right there, do you see it? I'm having to overthink it. That's bad. The problem is that there is too much lore, too much story. We know too much and from that too much information we can easily determine that Warsong Gulch makes no sense at all.

Team Fortress 2 doesn't mess around with all that nonsense. They just went for the simple point: two mercenary armies of coincidentally equal size, power, and technology, have been hired to do battle on behalf of a pair of greedy brothers. It's set in a silly world which embraces the absurdity of this sort of highly-staged combat.

Embracing the ridiculousness and making that the story gives tremendous wiggle-room when worrying about breaking immersion. Why is there an omniscient announcer at every battle? Why? We don't know! But of course she's there, how could she possibly not be? It just makes sense. Why does it make sense? Because there are no logical or story structures which would contradict the idea of the announcer. So of course she's there. We'd be surprised if she wasn't!

Valve doesn't try to create a deep, story-filled world rich in history to discover. Instead they create a silly world where we feel silly. The silliness is consistent. This works well with their item shop which mostly sells extremely silly-looking hats. While in a fantasy game you may be turned off by money buying a flashing-looking and otherwise inaccessible sword, when everything is silly, someone spending money on a silly hat only adds to the sense of immersion. Immersion in silliness.

This is alternative immersion. This is a different sort of world. A world where flamethrowers are doused with jars of pee, where spies escape notice with a simple paper mask, and where gigantic Russian men fire guns that cost $400,000 to fire for twelve seconds. And it all makes sense, in its own special way.

Anyone opposed to cash shops is an idiot

| Friday, May 27, 2011
Tobold thinks MMOs are Communist. Well you know what? I agree. I think it's time we started treating MMOs like the free market that they should be.

These days we've finally moved past the absurd notions of patience and so-called "experience". We know now that it's not the journey that matters, it's where you end up. We go for success. Who would go for failure? Idiots. Complete idiots.

And yet, when people oppose cash shops that give in-game advantage, that's exactly what they are: idiots. Cash shops should give advantages within the game. Not merely time-savers like XP potions or gold. Definitely not just cosmetic items. That's frivolous Communist feel-goody money-hating anti-market nonsense.

Imagine that you're starting a business. What do you do? I'm guessing you think up some great product or service. That's because you're stupid. The first thing to do is get money. Then use that money to generate hype and marketing advantage. The product, we can get to that later. First step: money. Only an idiot would say "but you're supposed to complete on the quality of the product and service, not advertising." That's an idiot talking. First thing to complete on: profits. Well you need money to make money, so if you want profits you'd be an idiot to not get some investment capital.

Similarly, if we're saying that our goal is to down a boss, why would we not use a cash shop? If an item helps kill the boss and the cost/benefit ratio is satisfactory, we should buy it and be glad to have the opportunity to do so.

If our goal is not to down the boss, then what the hell are you doing? Do you join raids just to waste time with friends? Ever heard of instant messaging? Phones?

Cash shops should give competitive advantage. If they don't, they're failing to help advance player goals. That makes them worthless.

If you're opposed to a cash shop, it means you're opposed to success. If you're opposed to success, then you're wasting everyone's time and should quit. Anyone opposed to cash shops that give competitive advantage is a cheap, lazy, time-wasting idiot. It's a good thing when you all cry about it and leave: no one wanted you anyway.

You're still useful as long as things don't change too much

Remember that Starcraft 2 game thingy that came out not recently? So I first played that recently. That's how I roll. Slow. If it helps, imagine that I pronounced roll more like roww, so then it rhymes with slow.

My friends bought it slightly less recently and I played with them a few times. It made me happy. Why? Because it's not so different from Starcraft 1. Oh sure, some new units, some strange tweaks, but more or less the same game. The Zerg got a disgusting upgrade (sound effects make me want to vomit), Terran got even more anti-ground capability (banshees ftw!), and Protoss require more vespene gas. Siege tanks, bunkers of marines, and a few turrets and we're good to go with the turtle.

I wasn't a Starcraft expert, master, or even decent player. I was the sort of person who would cheat to get through the campaigns because dammit, too hard! Then I'd cheat in me vs. AI matches. Wasted away a lot of weekends. Fun times. But I did learn a bit about it. I learned what units do and a bit of the rock-paper-scissors of it all.

The fundamentals were all the same. Harassing enemy gathering with hit-and-run attacks. Peace through superior firepower. High ground. Detectors. Spamming the crap out of gathering units.

So in the few games we've played, I won most of them. I'd surprise them with surprising tactics like vikings blowing up all their SCVs when they had no turrets, then running out when the marines arrived. Or dropships, sorry, medivacs, carrying siege tanks.

And of course as Protoss I still had it all figured out, and by figured out I mean figured out very poorly, since they use a much more dynamic sort of defense than the Terrans, which I'm not very good at. But at least they still have carriers.

And zerg are still disgusting. I did notice that the Ultralisk got majorly buffed, since it seemed to be a giant waste of everything before, whereas now it's like a giant death walker of death and doom.

As I write this I'm waiting for Starcraft to download, since even if it isn't the new one, I can at least get some of the fix.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

| Thursday, May 26, 2011
A blogger I've never heard of, Silverspar (apparently just started), has gotten into a tiny little tussle with a podcaster I've never heard of, TotalBiscuit (podcasts are for the illiterate, true story). I can't say I have much of an opinion on their fight, since I've never listened to him and have little incenti to do so. Apparently he quit WoW and as is the popular thing to do, blamed it on WoW being a gigantic pile of crap and noobs wrapped in noobish crap, to paraphrase the general claim.

So all that aside, I came across this comment on her post.

If your idea of raiding is whiping 50 times on a boss then you obviously aren't very good at the game and are probably part of the problem that in the new WoW community, players that lack skill and have to have the content nerfed into the ground so they can do it all the while not actually developing the skill that the rest of us had to do while in Vanilla and TBC, you are a disgrace to the game and you have no right to talk about this subject.

The classic damned if you do, damned if you don't. Let's leave aside the part that 50 is obviously a big, round number chosen for effect rather than accurate reflection of a raid experience. Instead, let's consider this: wh if she wiped once? Never? She'd probably have a much different perspective. And there it is, the classic issue in anything about balance, fairness, challenge, or whatever other word of the week you can think up: If you have difficulty you're a noob, but if you're successful you're proof that everything is fine.

Or as I phrased it three years ago (minus a few weeks):
If you're in Kara complaining about your class/spec, you're just a noob. Get better gear and see the real game, until then, shut up.
If you're in Sunwell, what is there to complain about? You're proof that your class/spec clearly does work, at least well enough to be in demand.
If you're 1400, you're a noob and shouldn't talk like you know real PvP.
If you're 2200, aren't you proof that it can be done, that your class/spec does work?

But wait, there's more! (of the other guy, not my old post)

Also to argue the teirs mean that raiding is about gear if absolutely ridiculous, apply to any raiding gear that's worth a damn and they'll require you to show logs so that they can till have efficiant you are with your performance to your gear level, you all around have no idea what you're talking about in this blog post and it sickens mean that there are some idiots out there that'll agree with your horrendously bad points of view.

So funny story, I seem to recall a whole lot of gear-checking for raids. Let's see, during Wrath when things were all flat. But also in BC. And vanilla. Hm. I wonder if maybe, just maybe, gear is something that people are always checking, because it's a hell of a lot easier to check gear than dig through logs.

Let's go back to this bit in the first block: "developing the skill that the rest of us had to do while in Vanilla and TBC... you have no right to talk about this subject."
So obviously we're looking at a bit of generic internet asshole, mixed in with an unhealthy dose of "I played vanilla so I'm better than you" (guilty). But the no right to talk part, that's something uh... okay even beside the censorship aspect of it, let's pretend that Silverspar is incredibly bad at WoW, ungodly bad, so bad that you'd weep to see her pitiful attempts at play. Does that mean she should shut up? Well perhaps we don't particularly want to listen to her noobish opinions, but silence is risky. Silence is an undiagnosed problem. Not with her, but with the game. Let's pretend that from Wrath onward no one (or a sufficiently large portion of the population) learned to play better. That would be a very strange situation! Would it be caused by some unusually concentrated influx of idiots? Or some sort of change in the game design?

Or am I reading far too much into just another jackass? Vanilla and BC grouped together? Hm, bit of a revision there. I remember more than a little bit of how vanilla was so much harder and better than BC and how back then people had to be better. Could we be looking at a bit of fuzzy history? No, perish the thought, we all know memory is a perfect record.

Heh, earth shock used to have a massive aggro component on it. Fun times.

You're only useful until everything changes

The other day I was googling myself in a vain attempt at vanity and I found that an old guide I wrote about paladin blessings is still around. At the time it was fairly handy, or at least I thought so. With the help of the paladin forums I'd managed to explain their uses and nuances. I was damn proud of it.

Now it serves as a reminder of times past. A time when hands were blessings, when blessings lasted ten minutes (you thought I was going to say five, but this was BC). Let's look into these dark ages. Or maybe dim ages. This isn't vanilla we're talking about here. Oh man, the dresses. Don't ask.

Blessings are the primary form of buffing for paladins. There are three general categories of blessings: short, regular, and greater. The short blessings are sacrifice, protection, and freedom. The regular blessings are wisdom, might, light, salvation, sanctuary, and kings. Greater blessings are longer versions of regular blessings.

Despite my categorizing, blessings are all considered to be the same type of buff, so without exception you can only have one blessing on you per paladin. They are magic buffs so they can be removed by many spells including purge, dispel, devour magic, and arcane shot. Both spellsteal and death have an effect on blessings.
In other words, hand of freedom would remove blessing of kings. This was super-convenient.

In regard to Blessing of Might: "The ret talent Improved Blessing of Might increases the effect of this talent by 20%. For 5 talent points that gives 44 additional attack power"
44 AP wasn't a bit deal then either, though more than it sounds like now. But consider the implications of talents like this and improved Blessing of Wisdow (Might didn't always give mana/5) "The holy talent Improved Blessing of Wisdom increases the effect of this by 20% (8mana/5)." These were marginal gains, but expensive to get, so we often coordinated talents to maximize the effect. Blessing required coordination as well to ensure that everyone got the best blessing they could. Between kings, wisdom, might, light, and salvation, this got complex.

What was Blessing of Light? Well duh, it buffed Holy Light and Flash of Light. DUH! "Places a Blessing on the friendly target, increasing the effects of Holy Light spells used on the target by up to 580 and the effects of Flash of Light spells used on the target by up to 185. Lasts 10 min." What class doesn't have an entire buff slot taken up by a buff that only affects one third of their possible three roles and is of no help whatsoever to other classes?

If you've ever thought "how dumb is it that blessing of kings is so gret but only paladins and drudis can cast it", then I offer you this: "Ten points in protection are needed to get BoK." That's right, not only did druids not have kings, instead having a strange weaker than every other buff buff in the form of Mark of the Wild, not all paladins could even use Kings. It was a 10 point talent!

"Hunter pets, voidwalkers, and felguards are counted as warriors while buffing so do not make the mistake of buffing the tank with kings, then giving the hunters’ pets might and overwriting the tank’s blessing. Succubi, imps,and felhunters are counted as warlocks."

I'm sure you can't even believe it, that I, the most useless blogger ever, who once apologized for accidentally giving useful advance (I have standards), was once upon a time useful. But dammit, I was. Then Blizzard went and ruined it by streamlining everything. Can you imagine a blessing guide these days? It would be too simple! Too easy! Dammit, I like pointless inconvenience and arbitrary mechanical restrictions. They are what separate the awesome detail-obsessed weirdos from the people are are just weird for pretending to be owls. I'm saying druids are weirdos.

Klepsacovic is not happy now

| Wednesday, May 25, 2011
You know what would be a great job? Try this: fresh air, talking to people, helping them out, getting good money by saving people money. No strings attached to anything. Perfect, right?

Sure. Of course. Assuming you don't utterly fail at sales and quickly learn to hate people.

I got that job. Trained. Learned a script. Learned what was behind the script. I understood this stuff.

But after the second dozen people who aren't interested [in saving money], who don't want to change [nothing beside saving money], and who refuse to even talk. Well fuck them. Fuck. Them. I cannot summon the will to care about our shared humanity. Just fuck them. Assholes and idiots.

Of course I can't quite blame them. Some company had come through with a similar thing earlier, but ended up burning a lot of people. So fuck them too for making everyone paranoid. Hell, I was paranoid. I wasn't willing to do any door to door until I'd determined for myself that there were no catches. There are none. But damn, try to explain that to someone who got fucked over a couple months back.

I guess I'm just not a people person. I like talking with people, socializing, fun stuff. But playing the manipulative game, even though it isn't a scam, just doesn't feel right. Before writing this I was talking with my parents and suddenly realized that I felt insincere just in normal conversation, like I couldn't just talk, I had to be driving a sale.

I wonder how many days it would have been before I started throwing rocks at houses that didn't sign up. Maybe two at most. Two more days I mean. Two rocks would just be lazy.

So long story short, I had a job for two days, only got one sale (really three, but the verification call got fucked up, so they don't count), realized I was terrible and it and hated it, so I quit.

This is doing wonders for my self-esteem and mood.

My first day I briefly tried to relate it to gaming. I thought back to pickpocketing for Insane in the Membrane, for the books that never dropped, for all the impossible materials. But then I realized, that achievement was saner than this job. When I loot something, I have a certain percent chance of that mob having it, and that is constant. But people don't work quite the same way. If one in ten people sign up, it's not as if each person is a ten percent chance. They're all unrelated, not using a quantifiable drop table. In other words, an MMO grind lets me take advantage of large counts and probabilities. People aren't so logical.

Even worse, killing a mob is killing a mob. Technique only matters in terms of efficiency. People aren't so straightforward. The slightest hesitation and they shut the door in your face. The slightest bit of paranoia and all the time is wasted.

I guess I'm stretching it a bit. Oh well. I tried.

So, anyone have any job openings they need filled?

What's the point of a historical game if I can't break history?

| Tuesday, May 24, 2011
I noticed that Civilization has, obviously, a fairly big and extensive WWII mod. I mean, what game doesn't? Did you know Cataclysm was originally going to revolve around Caverns of Time sending us to fight Hitler? Yep. All that got watered down to a few quests in Uldum.

So anyway, the mod has three historical options. One is to directly follow the war declarations, so no war until the game says so, but same with peace. Then there is a similar system, but the dates are slightly randomized: think error bars around the actual date. Finally there's open play: do whatever you want.

I went for the third option. Initially I tried Norway, then Sweden, in failed attempts to create a unified Scandanavia. But then the Soviets and Germans did they best to pretend I was Poland. I put up a good fight, but I knew it was a doomed battle.

I tried again with Italy. It was all going okay, spreading east across southern Europe to gain some space to work with. All great. I totally did better than the real Italy. Then I made the mistake of picking a fight with Poland, who in this alternate history had not gotten steamrolled by Germany and the USSR, leaving it capable of causing a whole lot of trouble.

Finally I found the solution: Germany. Specifically, Germany that converts to democracy, a system of government I learned from the subjugated Czechs. Or maybe the Slovaks. Then I became friends with the French by working together to invade Belgium.

But for the most part we're focused on peaceful scientific development.


You know who led Germany on a massive world war?


Solo content is too hard

| Monday, May 23, 2011
Do we want trivial content? I think not. Maybe sometimes. But it's not an evil elitist conspiracy that causes games to have difficulty parts. It's fun. I mean the difficult parts are fun, not to suggest that evil elitist conspiracies are not.

But sometimes it's hard to find other people. Or we don't want other people. Maybe today I want to do ICC and I don't want to be around other people. Not a problem! I'll just pull out my raid size menu and click down a few notches to... there we go, solo mode Icecrown Citadel.

Okay, not trivial, so how hard? Wrong question. How do we make solo content hard? We could go off reflexes, but that is going to create wide variation in individual difficulty.

We could call for interesting tactical decisions, but balancing those across classes will be pretty hard. So some might be easy, others ways too hard. Heals could trivialize it or be mandatory. A pet might make an otherwise challenging gauntlet into a cakewalk. As much as there has been sharing of abilities and crying of homogenization (guilty), the classes are still different enough that they are not balanced for specific solo situations.

This is the value of a group and of the holy trinity. Together, they give developers some sense of what players can do, what capabilities they will have. Imbalances can be smudged over a bit with a group. So can variation in skill. While the term "carrying" gets so much hate, it's not such an awful thing to be able to boost someone up a bit, to get groups where they could not go otherwise.

I'm not eager to see a solo end-game. Balance would be on a knife-edge. Except more like the head of a needle. Like dancing angels. Given that the Rapture didn't happen, maybe it's all bunk. My point is that balancing a challenging, but not impossible, solo end-game is asking for trouble. Too much trouble to justify what I think would be a fairly small payoff.

In general I think we should be wary of soloing. It's not going to destroy a game. But it's not going to save it either. Instead we should figure out what we can do to help players to play together. That includes figuring out why they wouldn't want to, and fixing that. Maybe it's the toxic culture (not fixed). Maybe groups are too hard to form (fixed). Maybe we can't play with friends (bad idea, but fix in progress). Maybe there's just no one out there to play with, as I lamented in Hello, person I met in the middle of nowhere.

Blizzard announces new "realism" patch

| Friday, May 20, 2011
Responding to years of complaints from paying subscribers, Blizzard has finally taken action. Patch 4.3 is being internally, and thanks to my big mouth, externally, labeled as the "realism" patch.

The circulating memo about the patch, which is for the most part incredibly boring, includes this interesting tidbit:
It is our initiative as innovators in this important and growing field to take the opportunity to tap into new customer bases and secure existing customers by means of henceforth adopting the initiative known as Realism, in which we try to more accurately model the interactions of real life through this groundbreaking virtual setting.
Okay, I admit it, that part was still boring. Something about memos makes everything sound boring.

Essentially what they are aiming for is realism. You know, that word I keep using. Realism. Not to be confused with Real Sim, a life-size replica of a Sim of your choice, made by my sponsor Real Sims Inc. Yes, that's the company who runs giant banner ads along the sides of my blog, which you cheap jerks have been blocking with your fancy adblocks and popupblocks and buildingblocks. I'd be rich by now if you'd just click the damn links. Did you know my commission per sale is actually more than the sale cost of the model? It's true. They are pretty damn desperate for customers.

But to get to the point: mages, get ready to cry. First off, you're no longer vending machines. No really, you should be crying, because if you at least could conjure food, you'd still be useful. All your spells are gone. Including your many highly-desirable buffs. I'm kidding about the buffs part; they're still being removed, they're just not "highly desirable." If it's any consolation, warlocks are pretty much entirely screwed. Not only do you lose all spells and demons, but you will never hold elected office in the United States. That goes double for you foreigners.

On a similar line, priests can no longer heal, buff, or shield. And the armor benefit of your robes is now zero. Also, shaman totems no longer have any effect. Druids cannot shapeshift. Death knights are being removed as an available class. Paladins will be merged with warriors, who will no longer be able to use rage as a power source for damage and will instead slowly run around, heavily encumbered by their armor.

Rogues cannot stealth within line of sight of targets.

Hunters will no longer have autoshot or combat pets. However players might as well figure it out now: they're going to be the only worthwhile class anymore. So huntards, rejoice. Everyone else, welcome to the planet of the apes.

I try to avoid these sorts of predictions, but I predict that this patch is going to kill WoW. That earlier something-hundred-thousand figure from Cataclysm? Drop in the bucket compared to this. Folks, we're seeing history in the making. This is on par with IBM ignoring software to sell computers or Napolean being a great military leader/demagogue and joining France, when as a Coriscan he had options, OPTIONS! And he threw it all away. He could have led Italy! Okay no, bad plan, they make France look like Germany. Spain! Spain conquered South America with nothing but a few greedy sociopaths and an entire continent of natives for whom they were the perceived lesser of two evils compared to the Aztecs. Or maybe Incas. Mayans? No, they were gone long before. Right? Who cares, the point is, Napolean should have joined Spain. They knew how to do the ruthless empire thing.

My point is this: I forgot my point.

In unrelated news, Blizzard announces a "realism" patch.

Players should see content

| Thursday, May 19, 2011
But how much?

For $15 a month you have access to all content in WoW. With a catch. There are barriers. These take three general forms: time, skill, and organization.

Time barriers mean needing more time for content than you have. These can take the form of needing large blocks of time during the content, such as multi-hour heroics or raids which take even longer, which was a serious problem before raids could be saved week to week. Or the barrier can be not one of continuous blocks of time, but just time overall. Consumables can be major material sinks, meaning time sinks, as best symbolized by the original Naxxramas where the consumable requirements were so bad that a few high-end guilds became notorious for gold-buying (to buy pots) and eventually alchemy was er, tweaked (heavily nerfed) which is where the battle/guardian elixir system came from. Repair costs are somewhere between the two categories, being incurred by the raiding but using time outside the raids to compensate.

The ideal spot for a time barrier isn't simple to figure out. While no barrier at all sounds ideal, this can instead deprive players of a sense of investment. It can also act as a filtering mechanism. While it's hard to say that farming flask materials indicates skill, it does indicate some level of dedication, a quality which is frequently as necessary as skill. It's like a guild application: the actual answers are frequently pointless, but the guy who cannot even fill out an app is probably not the person you want around for serious content.

I'll keep this short: If someone isn't skilled enough for content, they aren't going to beat it. Let's just ignore the carrying/overgearing bits because those are beside the actual point. Skill is a barrier to seeing content. No, I'm not going to define skill. Pretend I did.

This is the task of assembling the required number of competent players, with competent being a theoretical mix of skill and gear which matches the minimum required for the content. This is closely linked with skill and time, since it's harder to find players if skill matters and time constraints get ever more difficult as you add people. Think of organizing five people for an hour. Now make that forty for three hours. See why there weren't a ton of raiders in vanilla? Now add a bit of skill requirement and it's a wonder anyone even got past BWL. A big server population will help, just by giving more chances of sufficient numbers of sufficiently skilled players being on at convenient times.

At this extreme content requires little to no skill, not much time, and is easy to organize, or done for you. Think LK heroics. Weren't those a blast? And there we go: why a "everyone sees all content" ideology isn't so great. Or as I said yesterday: "Get rid of all this “we want players to see content” crap. It’s not working out so well. It’s fundamentally incompatible with challenging content and good community." In retrospect, I could have phrased that less in a less combative manner, but I still think it's true.

The problem with this extreme is that everything ends up meaningless. There is no challenge overcome. No sense of investment. Nothing at all to inflate an ego, and if an MMO isn't inflating an ego, what is it doing? Oh sure, there's that social angle, but if the organization part is trivialized, that's going to take with a lot of the social binding.

Time, skill, and organization requirements are tuned such that you, whoever you are, will not have the combination of time, skill, and personal connections to even attune yourself for the Raid of Doom. This is the second job type thing, but working overtime, with a side job to pay the gold costs. Anyone who cannot do this is free to prance around the world at level 5, hoping the Doomboars doesn't kill them forever.

This is clearly the opposite of the All ideology. In both causes and effects. Sure, you cannot possibly get anywhere in this game. But if you did, oh man, would it feel awesome. If you beat the Raid of Doom you'd have the courage to do anything, like expose your by now translucent skin the the sky-bound nuclear ball known as the sun, protected by only some wisps of assorted gases known as the sky.

Sure, it's great that the few winners feel awesome, but so few people will possibly feel awesome that no one is going to play for long. Even the winners will have no one to gloat to. Trust me, that girl over there has no clue how awesome you are for killing Doomlord of the Doom Council on heroic mode in the Raid of Doom. Or that guy. Or that guy and girl. Two guys. I don't know, whatever you're into. Beside the point.

Ah yes, the theoretical happy middle. In this magical land there are time sinks to keep us busy and feeling invested. We need a bit of skill, not so much that we're hopeless, but we're pretty sure that someday with practice we can go to the Raid of Significant But Not Overwhelming Challenges. Meanwhile the Raid of Puppy Flowers is fun enough. And man will it be cool to see the Raid of Doom! Organization isn't too bad, with raids which aren't gigantic, but we're still always eager for another person to play with.

But how much content do we actually see in this magical world?

Barriers should be such that players feel confident that they can progress, eventually. Enough content should be available to keep them entertained. But there must also be content that they cannot yet reach. Maybe some that they will never reach. But they can strive for it and not feel that it is in vain. Or another way to see it is that content should block players enough to feel meaningful to overcome, but not so much that it is unable to be overcome.

This still doesn't quite answer what to do with the amazing player and the garbage player. Can they play in the same world? To challenge the better player will mean blocking the lesser player, and likely the majority of players. Content creation must be profitable, attracting/retaining players to at least cover the cost of developing it. However the simple math of "this many players saw X content that cost ~Y" is not the full story. We also have to know how exclusive content affects the rest of the players. Is it something to strive for or is it a frustration? The attitude of the game company and how it communicates will affect this. Do they create the content as something to strive for or as an exclusive gift to their favorite players?

These are the killer.

In vanilla I did three raids: MC, ZG, and AQ20. I never even saw Naxx or AQ40 and BWL killed me on the first boss. I have mixed memories of this. On one hand I wanted to see more content, and I did feel that there was a bit too much catering to the highest tier of play, but it wasn't a game-ruiner for me. I thought that someday I'd clear BWL and maybe even make some progress into AQ40. Someday.

I also did every 5-man, and the UBRS 10-man, many times. And some of the now-gone dungeon 2 upgrade chain, a set of quests which turned my blue set into a slightly better mix of blues and epics. This chain was long and for the time, expensive, but told an interesting story and even gave some more content in the form of additional bosses that I could resummon. This was the attempt, or impression of, alternative content.

In BC I had higher hopes. I really wanted to clear through Tempest Keep. I didn't. But I did do Kara (best raid ever), Gruul's Lair, Magtheridon's Giant Room, Zul'token'trollraid, and a little bit of SSC. I'd also hoped to clear SSC. Alas, BC introduced a stupid problem: the 10-25 man transition in raiding, with kara being the starter raid with 10 people and then every raid but ZA (which was released very late) needing 25 people. This created an organizational problem that constantly tore apart guilds and were generally a huge headache. If not for that, I think things might have gone better. So that may be my first time when I felt I should have gone further than I did and the devs were to blame. That is not a good thing.

I don't remember what I'd hoped for in LK. Honestly, I think by then I was starting to burn out. But I was disappointed at not clearing Ulduar. Very. But next thing badge inflation set in and I was progressively pushed into an incredibly shitty excuse for a raid called ToC (I refuse to even look up or remember what the stands for, trial of the crusader? Tournament? Who fucking cares?) and then the overhyped depressing place known as Icecrown Citadel. Sure, I killed the Lich King. Didn't really care. I wanted to get going on Shadowmourne. In this way Blizzard managed to combine the depressing power of trivializing content with the depressing power of excluding players from expected rewards. These go together.

As I see it, I should have barely even seen ICC. Ulduar, sure thing, all dead. ToC, yes, but in this theoretical space it is a raid worth caring about, not a buggy (no pun intended) gimmick festival to distract us from the lack of content. In this imaginary version of LK raiding, I'd not think that I in any way deserved the last legendary in the game. But because everything was made easy easy easy have this have that and that as well, and then suddenly something is help back: not fun.

Cataclysm piggy-backed on the LK expansion to take this to a whole new level. Maybe that's why six hundred thousand people left. There's the take-away lesson from this post: do not create expectations in players that you will not fulfill.

P.S. I expect that I won't have any more super-long posts like this for a while.
P.P.S. I wonder if I can fit more tags on here.
P.P.P.S. Woo, Blogger gave me the post back!

How to save the Story: Kill ten thousand foozles

| Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Why do we have quests?

Quests tell stories. They can do this well, or poorly. Most do it poorly. So we skip some text and load addons to tell us where to go. Having those, we can skip even more text. Next thing we're missing the truly good stories.

It isn't entirely the fault of the quests. They are little bits of literature, but are not in a literary context. It reminds me of how I have trouble finding the poetry in music because it's not in a poetic context. On the other hand, I'm not much of a fan of poetry anyway, so maybe that's my fault.

Where do I go?
In a game, such as WoW, where level and power are tightly linked, we can't just go wandering off to find something to kill. Well, we can, but trial and error involving lots of death is usually reserved for raiding, rather than getting past level one. Quests are all breadcrumbs and pointers. They say "that over there is something you can be reasonably expected to kill." And so off we go to kill zhevras, wondering where the hooves went.

Before Cataclysm, quests were pretty good at this. Talk to the first exclamation point in the Valley of Honor and keep following those until you're 60, 70, or 80, and you're going to mostly do yellow, maybe some green. It was tuned. Quite an impressive feat, I think.

Cataclysm ruined everything
Cataclysm is my new scapegoat for everything, replacing Lich King, which of course replaced Burning Crusade. Before that I blamed raiders, the Alliance, and EQ.

In cataclysm leveling changed, a lot. It sped up a lot. Too much. This created the problem that quests didn't breadcrumb properly. You might get halfway in and they go all green rather than yellow, like backward bananas, and then where do you go? It also seemed as if the devs really got into the story aspect. Fourth pillar! Screw that, fifth pillar! That's two added pillars to hold up all the story. Or gaming. I'm not really remembering the analogy, but the point is that story became important.

So what?
Wow head suggests something short of ten thousand quests in WoW, 9884 to be exact (what's something short of 120 between friends?), and the first page is dominated by non-quest quests: candy buckets and desecrating fires. Hm. Trying to tell us something?

It's hard to write ten thousand interesting stories. Or five thousand. Or even a few hundred. So we end up with very short bits. Fragments. In theory they can be put together to create an overall narrative or at least a sense of place and history. Or, we skim it for what to kill and move on. Part of this is because we're just trying to level up and part of it is because after five hundred quests that add up to "kill twenty foozles", with barely a story to go with it, who cares anymore?

Embrace your hate
It's time for devs to turn to the dark side. Embrace the foozles. Admit it, quests tell us to kill foozles and that's about it, so don't even bother. In fact, don't waste our time with multiple quests or NPCs. Just give us a wide field of foozles and tell us to kill ten thousand of them. All the grinding with none of the wasted writing talent. There could be a hundreth as many quests

But wait, there's more!
With so many fewer quests, each one becomes individually more important. It's like how diamonds are really just really hard to burn coal, but with enough marketing and artificial rarity, we start to think they're pretty. Pretty ugly, imo. If a game only had a hundred quests, and we knew that three-quarters of those would be "go here" and "kill ten thousand foozles", that only leaves twenty-five ques for real writing. Can a game have twenty five good stories? Or five good stories in five parts each? I think so.

So there it is, separate the grind and the story, purify each, and I think we might even enjoy each one a bit more. After all, I like mindless grinds, and in theory we like good stories, if we had them.

Playing with friends is overrated

| Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Why do we assume that we want to, and must be able to, play with friends? That's just asking for trouble. I think it's an unreasonable expectation. I don't do everything with all of my friends. Why should WoW, or any other game, be special?

Ideally I could play with friends, but in my experience the thing preventing that is not skill or server divides, but divergent interests. The friends I did play with were friends I had made through WoW, friends with whom I have common interests: raiding and arguing. I have a few friends I first met in real life who play/played and I wouldn't want to play with them. We don't want to do the same things in the game. It would be as ridiculous as saying "let's play sports together!" and then I want to go running and they want to play football. Or we both run, but at different paces, so someone ends up left behind or dragged along and what fun is that?

It's not necessarily that my real life friends are bad. I mean, maybe they are, or maybe not. I don't know and it doesn't even matter. But when two are RPers, another is bowing down to the cookie-cutter gods, and I'm searching for creative ways to die, it's not really a compatible experience.

I do actually want to play with friends, not the friends that I dragged into a game, but the friends that I met in the game. Those are the friends that I know want to play it and play it as I would. I wonder how much happier people would be finding more friends who share interests rather than trying to push friends into unwanted 'fun'.

Resistance Gear as an Alternative to Badges

| Monday, May 16, 2011
It's pretty clear that one of the reasons for badges slowly giving the top tier of loot* is to encourage raiders to go back to heroics. The fear is that without them there won't be enough people to fill groups and queue times will be even worse. I suspect cross-server grouping has fixed that problem, but let's say it hasn't.

Is it a good idea to have heroics handing out top-tier loot? I don't think so. The problem is causes is that if/when the people in heroics get to raids, the loot is that much less impressive. It's a smaller step up. Or possibly none at all. Raids can end up looking like a whole lot of trouble for more badges. Somehow I doubt non-raiders will cease running heroics just because they aren't being given a slow drip of abnormally powerful gear.

But back to the "let's have raiders run heroics" concept. Why not bring back resistance gear? I know raiders ran many of the later instances a lot during vanilla, for the resistance items. Due to the oddities of the implementa of resistance, this got them all the way back into level 40 content in Maraudon. They were often running in guild groups for the really low stuff, but it wasn't so unusual for them to join a PUG to get to it.

Then there was the crafted gear. That was a big part of the economy at some times. Crafters could be in high demand. Materials as well. Farmed materials. Which brings up another potential benefit: more farming. Some mindless grinding can be good. It can get people out of cities and seeing the world. It can diversify the economy, adding materials rather than more and more inflationary daily gold.

But didn't we all hate resistance sets?
There sure were a lot of problems.

Bag space was a big part of it. Even if a resist set wasn't filling every slot, it still added up to a lot. Fire and nature resist sets were big, BC saw shadow, and LK had a tiny tiny tiny bit of frost (frozen blows?). This isn't a problem for non-collectors, but if you're already saving all your tiers, plus some neat trinkets, and the sapta from your totem quests (guilty), adding even more to that is a lot to ask. I think adding a resistance slot to the bank would fix that. It wouldn't take away any existing capacity, only add to it, but only for this one specific type of gear: items with a resistance stat.

In terms of getting raiders into heroics, it is also imperfect. If the gear drops from anything but the last boss you run the risk of them dropping right after that boss or forming guild runs to do that boss only and reset after. Putting all resistance items on the last bosses of instances would work, but I have an irrational feeling that loot sources should be diverse, meaning not all the good stuff drops off the last boss.

It's an arbitrary gate. There you are going along killing and oh, next boss needs resistance gear. Guess we should take a week off from progression to farm that. In theory this could be done ahead of time, in anticipation of the fight, so the gear never actually blocks progress. But I think it's a bit much to expect most players to be preparing for a fight they might not see for weeks. That could lead to guild drama when some people are prepared, some aren't, and progress generally slows or stops as people race around to catch up.

I guess they were right
Adding it all up, I don't think resistance gear is a good alternative to badges. Still, I think it's worth looking for alternative ways to encourage raiders to run heroics (assuming we think this is a good idea). My early point out top-tier loot from heroics still stands and should be addressed. Or should have been anticipated and fixed long before Cataclysm came out. It's just another carryover mechanic from Lich King that Cataclysm is cursed with.

As usual, Green Armadillo has an interesting perspective on whatever is wrong this week (or always).
Developers are in a tough spot here. The majority of the co needs to be aimed at the majority of the customers - which means solo and maybe easy group content - because those customers have plenty of options to take their money elsewhere. However, taking the very top end of customers and letting them skip the 95% of content that is below their expertise is a good recipe for having those players run out of things to do exceptionally quickly. The result is what we have now - players forced to do things that they do not enjoy as a pre-requisite for things they would like to do, because that's the way the developers are getting paid.

With this in mind, it seems as if resistance gear might not actually be any worse than badges, but could at least serve to provide a different unwanted grind, stringing along raiders to buy time. The alternative would be for them to quit and go spend their time on something fun, which obviously is unacceptable.

* I mean loot from the latest raid, not necessarily the highest possible quality, since yes, heroic raid loot will be better.

Raid Entry and Population

| Saturday, May 14, 2011
Thank you, Google Reader for saving this post. No thanks to Google Blogger from destroying it.

For ease of writing, assume that "skill" refers to some mix of time and skill.

That triangle is a rough representation of a theoretical population. It is a skill distribution, tipped vertically. In this form what it represents is the skill requirement that players will get stuck at. You might notice that it has a slight positive skew, that is because I am bad at drawing. This is supposed to be a bell curve, but it doesn't really matter.

The lines represent the entry barrier to raiding. Or more accurately, they represent a first boss kill, with the idea being, if players get past this, they are now active raiders with raid guilds, but they may fail to get past the second boss, or the last in the last raid at the highest end. This does not indicate how much content there is at each skill level, but it is easiest to visualize, and the most straightforward, if we view it as a chain of bosses of steadily increasing difficulty, which the players will then kill or fail to kill. To be clear, anything above a line is raiding. Anything below the line is not raiding. Incidentally this means that Line 4 shows a really, really hard non-raiding game, but that's not the subject of this post. Let's assume that anything below the line just doesn't exist (devs didn't make the content).

Line 1 means that the lowest raids are really easy. It also means that players will tend to cluster further up along the distribution. This makes it top-light and bottom-light and is a perfect setup for a "left behind" scenario. This is due to most players being able to get well past the entry content. In fact, it is so easy that only a small portion of the population is bad enough to not get past the entry content. New players may find that there are not enough player to play with.

Line 2 is a system in which there are a lot of players clustered near the bottom. If we pretend that the triangle means anything at all, there are 3-4 times as many players in the bottom content, which will reduce the prevalence of left behind syndrome. There are, however, more players excluded from the higher tiers. Take note of this: excluding more players from higher up content makes it easier for those who have the skill to advance.

Line 3 is an exclusive system in which most players are not getting past the entry tier.

Line 4 is a more extreme version of line 3. And it probably represents a game that barely anyone plays. Don't make a line 4 game.

Note that no matter what system you choose you will have a dwindling pyramid at the top. This means that top guilds will always have more recruitment difficulty than the rest since they are in content that most people cannot do. There are two ways to fix this. One is to get a bigger triangle: have a larger population. The other is to crush or chop off the top tier, causing the highest guilds to be doing content below their skill levels. This is inevitable in practice, since I doubt any dev team could create content of exactly the right skill level for that very very top of the pyramid (meaning almost, but not quite, impossible, since impossible isn't very hard to make). We see this in WoW, where top guilds aren't necessarily doing harder content, but the same content as players a few steps down, a lot faster.

This model has some limitations. Such as being an ugly drawing. But also that it models a perfectly linear progression system, which does not exist, since this assumes very exact rewards from previous bosses, such that killing boss A once means you have the gear for boss B, but maybe not the skill, and killing boss A again won't make boss B any easier. Despite that, I think this is a useful visual tool. If it wasn't so damn ugly.

Does anyone have Thursday's post?

It was the one with the ugly triangle about population and raid difficulty. If anyone happens to have it laying around somewhere, maybe in a reader, please send me a copy. Or copy-paste a gigantic comment. Speaking of which, if you somehow have the comments too (I think there were only two), those would be nice as well.


P.S. If you're somehow magical and have Friday's post about seeing content, that would be magical. Since it seems to have gotten deleted while sitting in the schedule queue.

[edit] Never mind on Thursday. I decided to follow my own blog as a sort of back up plan, and there it was. Sweet. Still wondering where Friday's went.

It's all about managing expectations

| Wednesday, May 11, 2011
I'm not suggesting that non-raiders are dirty hobos, but maybe they should want to be.

Don't forget to go to the actual site and check the red button! It's the button bonus.

The problems of linear progression

Yesterday I advocated returning to something closer to linear progression for raiding and heroics: raid X, then raid Y, then raid Z. The goal, and hopefully the effect of it, is to separate players out by skill and experience, so that if we are in a certain tier of content, we are with similarly skilled and geared players. Contrast this with heroics which throw everyone into the same group and raids which divide only into normal and heroic.

There are some major problems with a linear progression design.


One problem is the bottleneck guild-killer boss. Blackwing Lair was notorious for these. One boss that players just could not get down. After months of no progress players would quit, sometimes the guild, sometimes WoW altogether. Beside this, getting stuck with one boss as the only new one to try isn't fun at all. Variety is important and you can only wipe on Razorgore for so long before you get sick of the sight of eggs.

Don't have a single raid at each tier. Have two at least. Early Lich King had three different raids at the first tier, which while two were single-boss raids, they still served to give someplace different to wipe in, a needed change of scenery. These may also allow players to gear up a little more, reducing the relative difficulty of the boss they're stuck on and allowing for more progress. The extend to which one raid can make the other easier is important to consider, since the purpose of the other raids are not to let players skip difficulty content, but to give variety and some ability to self-determine the difficulty, without trivializing encounters.

Another way to bypass the bottleneck boss is to have a "one free kill" mechanic. Each week you get one free boss dead. It gives no loot, no achievement or meta-achievement progress, no quest progress, cannot be skinned, mined, or engineered. It's just not in your way anymore. Go on and die to something else. I'm not as enamored this fix, but I think it's worth thinking about, if only for the value in finding why it's bad.

Ideally every boss would be harder than the one before it, so that bottleneck bosses would be a measure of the skill of the guild/raid, with progress and skill being exactly linked. But skill isn't a number to be easily expressed as greater or less than a threshold. This means that there will always be earlier bosses which for particular raids are harder than later bosses, meaning that there will always be bottlenecks.

Left Behind

New players may find that the majority of the players have moved on past their tier. If they cannot find anyone to play with, they cannot advance, and so are stuck in limbo: lacking the gear and experience to progress, but unable to get the gear and experience if they're alone. We saw with in Lich King heroics when players had briefly gotten plenty of badge gear and had long outgrown heroic level gear, leaving alts and new players with very few people to play with. Blizzard's solution was badge loot inflation, driving raiders back into heroics, with what I believe were negative social consequences, mixing players with radically different expectations of performance and behavior. Now WoW has cross-server group formation, which I believe may increase the pool enough to address this concern.

There remains the rerolling problem. Switching classes can put an otherwise experienced player right back at the bottom for gear. While cross-server can help with the population problem, there are other problems. First off, being left behind means repeating all their previous gearing up, repeating content which may already be old. This process can be very slow, particularly if the gearing process means finding raids, meaning guilds, which the rerolling player intends to leave the moment they can. Possibly worse is that thus process means being unable to play with friends and guild members, which presumably was the reason for the reroll in the first place. For this problem I suggest a retirement system which would allow a character to be converted to another class, with some form of hastened leveling and gear conversion. Retirement would be a serious matter due to the cost of a character, but would allow much faster catch-up without making class something to change on a whim.

There is a third group: the players whose guilds exploded. They're not new players, so slogging through again may not be fun. They're not alts with a guild to catch up to, so the retirement system doesn't make sense, beside that they're not necessarily undergeared, just out of the system. These should be highly-desirable players: experienced, geared, and the last to give up (as opposed to those who quit after the first week of wiping), but they're not easy to find. A tool to help these players better find guilds, and guilds to find them, could help. Maybe it even already exists and is underutilized, but an armory tie-in would obviously be part of it.

Players Missing Content

There's an ongoing debate between "I pay $15 a month I should get to see content" vs. "why should noobs get everything?"

Vanilla used the solution which I will refer to as "lolwut?" Essentially no one did anything to fix it and maybe didn't see any problem. Burning Crusade used PvP and badge gear to help boost players up, which might have worked if not for the guild-wrecking 10 to 25 player raid transition. On the other hand, we ended up with "welfare epics". Despite being a retarded name, it somehow stuck. Lich King expanded the badge system further to give pieces of tier sets as well as badge rewards being upgraded with each new raid. This resulted in a whole lot of players in strangely high gear relative to their experience and skill, a recipe for disaster. This model also resulted in the opposite problem of new players missing the old raids as they became obsolete.

For this I have no good solution. Making the content easier ruins the fun of those already in it. Adding gear can ruin the focus of the game, turning it from experience-driven (meaning player experience, not experience points) to loot-driven, which can ruin it as badly as not seeing content. Flattening all raids to the same gear level would cause rapid burning of content, followed by a whole lot of bored raiders, and then the next raids may be too easy. Exclusive content sounds great, but often the excluded don't like it much.

I probably missed some problems, but those are the biggest three.

Segregation is Good

| Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I can see the marketing now: "A world rich with interaction between new players and veterans sharing their knowledge!" This sounds great, of course. Up to a point.

Have you ever noticed how high school physics classes rarely take place at Fermilab? Or how rarely you see brilliant physicists sitting in high schools listening to the teacher stumble his way through the concept of an equal and opposite force? This is segregation. Self-segregation. There are distinct areas and groups and people separate themselves among them. Veterans go here, students go here.

At this time I think that's the greatest weakness of WoW. It mixes the players too much. We cannot easily self-segregate into appropriate groups. This leads to problems. What problems?

The noob in your heroic. Or, the eltist jackass in your heroic.

People in groups should be of about the same experience level, of about the same skill, with about the same gear, and about the same goals. In this situation no one is being carried and everyone is inclined to work together because they have shared goals, or at least compatible goals. Anyone still learning is not wasting time because they're all still learning, and can learn from the mistakes of the others.

Leveling instances do a decent job of this. While they do mix veteran alts and new players, they are at least of similar gear and level. At lower levels veteran players may be more inclined to be patient, being able to believe that they are playing with new players who are 'allowed' to be still learning, rather than noobs who have been 85 for who knows how long and are still awful so let's call them noobs and call it day. You won't see many level 85 characters in your Stockades run berating you for being carried.

How would we get this player segregation? Well, let's look at what leveling is: linear. Linear content naturally separates players. A level 10 has played less than a level 20, unless the level 20 is a speed-leveled alt, in which case he's probably still played more, just not on that character, so it still works.

Get rid of all this "we want players to see content" crap. It's not working out so well. It's fundamentally incompatible with challenging content and good community. If player misses raid Z, but they are able to actually enjoy raids X and Y, I think that's better than stumbling through raids X, Y, and Z half-seeing the content and getting blamed for everything.

Bring back linear raiding.

While we're at it, bring back linear heroics. Linear heroics? Well sure. Let's not pretend that Mechanar and Arcatraz were of the same difficulty. Were they perfectly linear? Not at all. But there was some known gradient of difficulty. There is in Cataclysm, and there was in LK heroics as well, but those have the random dungeon problem. If people are not picking their instance, they're also not picking their difficulty level. Someone who queues for Mechanar is there for easy quick badges while someone who queues for Arcatraz is there for harder badges and maybe a raid attunement.

Linear content naturally separates players. This isn't a bad thing. It puts players with their peers. When people know they are more or less equal, they're not such dicks about everything. Contrast that with the current system which vaguely pretend we're all equal, when we're clearly not, so conflict arises.

This also means that heroics cannot be the elevator that they are now. That use of them pushes players who have long outgeared them back in, and int conflict with the newer players, or players who aren't good enough to play past heroics.

I expect that merely by putting players with others of the same experience and power level, many of the LFD problems could be reduced. I see the ideal tool as a mix of the BC system, pick a few and people can see you, and the LK system, randomly random with randoms. We'd pick the heroics that we think are suitable for us and then be put in a random one of those. But no random dungeon bonus reward. I think a system where people are doing appropriate level content, in terms of challenge and reward, could lead to a better community, even with cross-server. In fact, since this is likely to reduce the pool slightly, by removing the more advanced players and slightly separating the rest, the cross-server function may be necessary.

To clarify, I don't think we should return to the almost perfectly linear raid structure of vanilla. That was a problem. For starters, I'd have two raids per tier, at least, so that there are no gatekeeper, guild-killer bosses. Major challenges are great, but when a guild is stuck one one single boss for months, with no real alternative content, that's a great way to make people not want to play. Even if the alternative content won't help get past the gatekeeper, it can at least offer an alternative activity to break up the potential monotony.

I'm sure this won't be a popular idea. And I'm sure "come back and do it in a higher level group next expansion" isn't much consolation, since it won't be the same. But consider this: if you're playing trivialized content endlessly with players who are sick of being there, it also won't be the same. Or, perhaps it will be the same. Even worse, while the progressive badge/point structure gets people into the last raids, it also means newcomers miss the first raids, since everyone has moved past them. Wouldn't it make more sense to have veterans in the latest raids with other veterans, new players in the older raids with other new players, and not have the constant conflict between skill and dedication levels?

There will, of course, still be the alts and rerolls going through, veterans in with new players, but that will be the exception rather than the rule.

So if you're sick of playing with noobs, give this idea try. And if you're sick of playing with elitists, give it a try as well.

P.S. Do not relate this to real-life segregation, beyond the example I used.

Time for another installment of Back In My Day!

| Monday, May 9, 2011
Hell, everyone! Today I want to talk to you about rogues and some historical context. Also, the funny thing that I like to call "the pain and suffering of other people".

Let's pretend I have special effects like sparkles and a vortex that takes us to another screen with me sitting in a different pose.

Hi! This is a rogue spell called Sap. Today we know it as a useful and most importantly, safe, form of crowd control. While it can be difficult to apply, since the rogue has to get very very close to enemies and it doesn't work during combat, it also has the advantage that enemies don't really notice it. In fact, it was often useful for breaking apart patrolling groups. Sap one and his friends will just leave him behind. It's just like the Marines, but the complete opposite!

But Sap wasn't always so safe. In fact, it used to break stealth. That's right, if a rogue wanted to sap one mob, all the others would see him and get very angry. He is a rogue after all! Who doesn't want to kill a helpless rogue? That's where the expression "having the tables turned" came from, but now we mostly use it for talking about gambling. How interesting!

Rogues weren't entirely helpless though. Oh no, they had this great talent called Improved Sap. They could put as many as three points in it and every point made them 30% less likely to lose stealth when using sap. With all three points they would only lose stealth 10% of the time. This was fun an exciting for everyone! Just think of the anticipation. A rogue sneaks in very carefully and he's approaching the target. You know he's about to use sap. What will happen? Oh you hope, hope hope hope, even if the odds are against you, but maybe, maybe that 10%! Oh boy boy boy 10% chance to see him get totally flattened. Just imagine a handful of elite enemies suddenly notice him and just POW! Oh let me tell you, it was great. Of course the rogues liked it to, because there was nothing they loved more than risk-taking and chances. That's why they picked the class.

In fact, some rogues who'd had a bit too much to drink would play a game call Sap Roulette. Pick a pack and go in a circle sapping them! Of course it wasn't quite as thrilling as Russian Roulette, unless you somehow have a revolver with 10 shots. Now that would be a hefty gun. But on the other hand, if you shoot yourself in the head there's no durability loss on equipment, so those rogues were risking their pocketbooks too.

So everyone, next time you're thinking "gee, I'd love to sheep that mob, but it might attack me!", just think of the daring rogue.

Playing WoW is not Gaming

My tags are consistent on two points: first, they are inconsistent; second, WoW posts are not tagged as either WoW or gaming. Isn't WoW gaming?

For a while I actually thought not. It's WoW. It's this thing unto itself. An anomaly. Everyone plays it and if they don't play it they must at least know of it, know someone who plays it. To call WoW gaming would be like calling oxygen an inhalant.

This led to some bouts of self-doubt. I sort of thought of myself as a gamer, but I didn't play much beside WoW. It was a monopolizer. I wasn't a gamer, I was a WoW-player. But that has a sad sound to me. Gamer sounds sorta cool in a not-quite-cool way (but on the other hand, cool people are assholes).

Sometimes I'd play other games. Sometimes. I'd not play WoW at all for days or weeks at a time (not many weeks, one or two), but then they'd go on the shelf and right back to WoW. Figuratively speaking, since I have no shelf, so "back on the shelf" is closer to "delete local content on Steam."

But I was wrong. Playing WoW is gaming. Not the same as a FPS or RTS, but there are other forms of gaming. It was silly of me to think otherwise.

P.S. This post has nothing to do with the recent chatter about optimization and moronic comparisons to chess. Except the title. That's meant to confuse you. Because that's how I roll. With a t in front.

Happy Mother's Day

| Sunday, May 8, 2011
At risk of being possibly intentionally offensive, I submit to you this theory: lesbians should not be allowed to adopt. It is simply not mentally healthy for their children. Can you imagine the difficulty of trying to figure out two different Mother's Day gifts, in the same year? Year to year variation is bad enough, but on the same day, just not plausible. You have to figure out how to make the gifts separate but equal, which if we can draw on the lessons of history, doesn't work. My point is this: historical discrimination against black people proves that we must discriminate against lesbians.

In contrast, gay parents are just fine, since if you can sneak into the store at age 8 to buy one dad a 6-pack for Father's Day, you can do the same for a second dad.

P.S. Gay people are not at all like golf clubs, though I'm sure Freud would love your analogies, Mr. I'm Only Rich Because My Dad Gave Me a Ton of Money and a Name.

Civilization could use bigger rooms

| Friday, May 6, 2011
Any time I try to do anything diplomatic, such as negotiating the surrender of my enemies, I can only talk to one at a time, clearly due to the small size of the room. This leads to inconvenient problems. Such as Babylon refusing to capitulate because they are afraid of my Russian enemies. Meanwhile Russia refuses to capitulate because they are afraid of my Babylonian enemies. If only I could sit them down and calmly explain that I will crush both of them, so they don't need to be afraid of each other.

This is of course secondary to the reasoning of "we won't surrender to the guy who is currently wrecking our empire because someone else whose empire you are also wrecking might attack us." While I accept that "devil you know" is sometimes a useful concept, when one devil is actively demonstrating his ability to completely flatten you and the other is also being flattened, well let's try math:

Me > Russia
Me > Babylon

Therefore Russia cannot be any more powerful relative to Babylon than I am relative to Babylon, and the reverse. Or to put it another way, if I will kill you and I will kill him, wouldn't you rather take your chances that maybe he won't kill you?

To make it even worse, by the time they accept defeat, they are so badly crushed that there's barely any point in having them as an ally, so I might as well finish them off. Such a waste of time. Don't they understand that my Ottomans are clearly the master race and it is improper to waste the time of the superiors? Which reminds me, why doesn't Civilization have more racism? That could add a whole new level of strategy. Similar to how religion was a great way to pretend to be pious in order to better manipulate people. You know, realism.

If we slowed down music by 1/10, would we still want to listen?

Thought experiment: If you slowed down the execution part of a game down by a factor of 10, would it still be fun?

That's a rather stupid concept, trying to do 1/10 time fun measurement. Games have a certain speed for a reason: that's the speed that fits them. FPS cannot be slowed down much because the quick aiming reactions are part of the game. In contrast, I think real-time civilization would be terrible unless it was slowed down to be nearly indistinguishable from turn-based.

This will, of course, vary with the player. I'd like Starcraft more if it was slower, since I'm just not quick enough for very serious play. That wouldn't fix the fact that I am just generally awful at it. But other players like the speed, for them the clicks per minute is an important element.

Does WoW raiding have a lot of interesting decisions? Not really. So what? I don't make many interesting decisions in a FPS. Pick a target and duck under cover. Wow, that was crazy brilliant right there! I'm being sarcastic about the brilliance, something which may need pointing out if you're reading this post at the wrong speed. WoW raiding is about speed and the dances.

I don't like that WoW raiding is about the speed and the dances. Unfortunately, many people do. Majority? Maybe not. But perhaps enough people to keep WoW going. I did my wallet voting thing and clearly I've lost that election.

Tobold, I really don't like to make this connection, but you're sounding a bit like Gevlon, essentially saying, "I don't like X so X must be bad." Now I will say that for the majority of things, if I don't like it it's probably because it's bad (I have excellent taste, did you know?). But there can be things that I do not like but are not bad.

So I'll try this: WoW raiding is not fun for me, but that does not make it objectively bad. It sounds like we both want raiding with more interesting decisions and choices: talents, stats, and tactics. The lack of those choices does not make raiding objectively bad, just not much fun for us. Maybe someone will make the game that has those raids (and meet all the other criteria, a list which is endless) and then we can play that and not question whether 1/10 speed raiding would be any fun, because it would be, and then we could sing happy songs about having multiple useful talent choices.

I still maintain that cilantro is something that I do not like and anyone who does like it is a sub-human freak who must be culled to ensure that their despicable genes are not carried on. Alas, that includes both of my brothers. Forgive me, it is for a better tomorrow. Though admittedly I doubt we'll see the benefit of a cilantro-free world that soon. It may take many years.

P.S. Sorry about the late post. I was busy killing people. Thankfully Tobold was kind enough to give me something to disagree with.

Lol at elitist whiners who can't read

| Thursday, May 5, 2011
Person A: Copy-pasting optimal talents that someone else has figured out isn' much fun.

Person B: Why do you insist on playing badly? You must be a pedophile.

Person A: That's not at all what I said.

Person B: Then why is your 23rd talent point spent wrong? GO BURN IN HELL, NOOB.

Person A: This is why we can't have nice things.


Person A: Maybe the devs could change some things to encourage experimentation...

Person B: Experimenting with children, pedophile!

Optimization of Location

A few months back I noted that the teleportation system, along with other mechanics, have made location meaningless in WoW. I ended with this:
Do you care where your character is? Does it make any difference? These days, probably not. Just pick your main city and take the portals where they go.
What I didn't realize is that I'd contradicted myself.

Location still matters. So do talents, stat choices, and enchants. But we don't make many choices anymore.

I mistakenly thought that WoW was losing a sense of location. Quite the opposite. Location had become more important, and optimized. Just as theorycrafters have found the best stats, the best talents, and the best enchants, so have we also found the best location: capitol cities.

Being 'out in the field' just isn't a very good choice anymore and we know this. Unless you're gathering from resource nodes, you're probably wasting time outside the cities. Just as if you're running a PvP spec outside of PvP, you're probably wasting time.

What has happened is that the devs have followed the players. We seek efficiency. This isn't a bad thing. What can be bad is if the devs follow us. We go to a city and they follow us there, placing portals everywhere, teleports, and making outdoor farming obsolete. And so we never leave because we have found efficiency and it has become the only efficiency.

One might hope that hearth location could be a last bit of player choice, but no.

P.S. The dungeon post is coming soon*. It got a bit sidetracked so I spun off Monday's post. Then it got sidetracked again with recent uh... outpourings of elitism over video games.
* For a given definition of soon.

WoW is not Chess

| Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Or basketball.

Chess and basketball are both very clearly defined games*. The area of play, number of players, legal moves, and winning conditions are all clearly defined. There are definite beginning and end states, endings which cover win, lose, and draw.
* Don't argue about minor house variations, they are not official and are extremely minor compared to the openness of WoW.

WoW has none of these beside a starting point. We start somewhere, but what is the end of the game? What is the victory condition? There is no explicitly defined definition of winning. There are also a wider variety of legal moves.

With no defined win condition, there is also no defined way to win. This means that winning in WoW can only be decided individually. It could be a certain arena score, defeating the last boss, maxing out every rep, getting every pet, or being very (un)popular in trade chat. None of these are defined by the devs, the ones who make the rules, as wins. Nor as losses.

Think about that again: WoW has no defined win or lose in the overall game. A wipe or a lost BG/arena are losses, but neither are losses to the game as a whole. They would better be described as setbacks, the equivalent of the other team scoring, failures which are not actually defeat.

This does not mean that there are no wrong ways to play. There are some rules regarding cheating, abuse, and that sort of thing. But if your goal is to kill a kobold every ten seconds for an hour each day and you do that, you have won, by your own arbitrary definition of winning. Someone else may have a different definition and obviously they will take different actions.

Personal definitions will define action as well. Kobold Guy should not waste time in heroics, due to the lack of kobolds. That is, unless he has goals related to heroics (for simplicity, let us assume he does not). So in this way there are wrong actions or steps, but they are only those actions which do not advance a goal.

Personal definitions are not a free pass for anti-social behavior or an endorsement of nihilism. Kobold Guy should not be in your heroic searching for kobolds to kill, not only because he is wasting his time, but yours as well. Instead he should play either alone or with other kobold killers. Similarly, you should not bother him and his kobolds unless you have kobold-related goals.

Keep in mind that this doesn't mean there are no ways to compare players. If two guilds want to kill the Big Bad first, whoever kills it first is better (in some overall way, perhaps including luck or scheduling, but that's nitpicking). This means that if your goal is ego inflation, Kobold Guy is a valid comparison, if you wish to go kill kobolds faster and therefore think you're better. Go for it, I bet you can beat Kobold Guy's kobold kill record. That doesn't mean his goal is wrong, though it may mean that he's bad at killing kobolds.

A person cannot be bad at WoW, but they can be bad at what they attempt in WoW. Take note of the difference the next time you're looking to tell someone they're doing it wrong.

P.S. This isn't a justification for playing badly or for screwing with other players. When goals and actions do not align, figure out a solution, even if that means going to another place. Elitist whining about how they're doing it wrong fixes nothing.

Testing Twitter

Don't mind me, just seeing if Twitter is now linking my posts.

*crosses fingers*

*begins whacking intertubes with wrench*

I think we're taking the pedophilia a bit out of context

| Tuesday, May 3, 2011
My favorite social has gotten a tiny bit of criticism for comparing gamers who don't share his goals with pedophiles.
I call him a moron because of his priorities. Because he finds that fun. With an easily understandable example: if you find a guy jerking off to pictures of children, you don't find him disgusting (and in many countries a felon), because of his action. Actually his action is totally harmless. You resent him because his action revealed his sexual priority: he is a pedophile. If he would never do the action and just told you his priorities, you would still resent him.

We shouldn't assume this is the classic internet idiot tactic of comparing something to the extreme bad. Gevlon clearly isn't stupid, since if he was he'd surely not be so critical of stupidity. Instead I think we're putting our own cultural values on him, which would of course be stupid, since as he knows, cultural values are stupid.

What I'm trying to say is that his comparison is totally okay if we assume that Gevlon doesn't think pedophilia is all that bad. After all, what's so great about kids? They're just short adults with no marketable skills. Any rational (self-interested) individual will have no interest having and especially raising kids, since despite being necessary for the long-term survival of the economy and humanity, they are a drain on any individual.

While you can obviously believe and stand up for the idea that "collecting status symbols is good", but "everyone has different priorities" is nihilism as it claims that every idea is equal and good.

Exactly, we cannot just have everyone running around doing whatever they feel like. Instead we need rules and standards. Only an idiot would ever suggest otherwise.

"Dangerous", "counterproductive" are measurable. "Moral" is not. It's merely a rephrasing of "my mum/teacher/priest thought it's right and told me when I was a kid and I never had the brains or time to question it".

Never mind.

I'm not suggesting that Gevlon is a pedophile. What I am suggesting is that he is a delusional moron. One cannot simultaneously claim that people should do what is best for them, regardless of the harm to others, while also assigning any special value to children. He is in fact the social that he so hates, the slave to ape subroutines that he finds so disgusting.

And finally:

This isn't an argument. Actually it's a total misunderstanding of the post. It is obvious that the guy farming for rare minipet #187 has priorities on minipet collection. However I did not call his action (the farming) moronic. If the most effective (or only available) way to get minipet #187 is to farm them, then farming it is completely rational.

Also, wrong. If the goal itself is irrational, then the process of achieving that goal, even if it is perfectly optimized, will also be irrational. Means do not justify ends (or the reverse). So if you're going to call the goal moronic, then you should call the action moronic as well.

And in case there is any confusion: there is a difference between choices and chaos, between individual priorities and nihilism.

Or we could ask, what makes Gevlon's goals objectively better than those of anyone else?

Rewards are not rewarding by their own

Let's distill current WoW dungeon-running down to its essenence.

The activity consists of pressing buttons in response to more or less arbitrary visual stimuli in which failure may occur despite the correct button-pressing response. Success will cause the incremental increase in the Score, which is a number. Increasing the Score will reduce the random failure rate, but cannot eliminate it entirely. One session of the activity will last between one and three hours, based on the frequency of failure.

Only an idiot would ever play that game. That would possibly be the worst game ever. Incidentally I may have described many arcade games, but let's pretend I didn't because I didn't mean to. So let's just say that beside some quarter-gobbling piece of 80s machinery, no game with this model would ever succeed. Not even WoW.

Skinner boxes will give a reward we like. If we don't care about the reward, it won't work. This still applies in WoW. The rewards we get are not inherently desirable. Let's try this: would you be excited if I gave you a free Titan in EVE? Probably not. Odds are you don't play EVE. You may not even know what a Titan is. It is meaningless. It would not be a reward for you. What if I offered you a full set of whatever tier we're at? That might be of more interest. Why? Because odds are, if you read this blog, you play WoW, so that reward has meaning.

It is all just pixels. Meaningless and worthless except for the meaning and worth that we give to it. This is more than just answering the question, "what is a Titan?" You can probably tell from context that it is something really awesome in EVE. And yet you still don't care about getting a free one. That's because EVE itself carries little meaning to you. Maybe you never played it, maybe you played it and didn't find it to be much fun, maybe you do play it and cannot actually use a Titan yet. In contrast, WoW is a world in which you are probably immersed. You know stories, both personal and lore, and so the world itself has meaning. From this meaning the items in it, the attempted rewards in it, gain meaning.

What this boils down to is this: virtual rewards cannot have any more value than the virtual worlds which give them. This does not mean the rewards must all gain that value the same way. One person might value the appearance. Another might value the memory of how they got them. For a third person they are bragging rights. Note that the second and third person require some aspect beyond the reward itself. The second person needs an experience, perhaps social. The third person needs a challenge, perceived or real (virtually).

In other words, rewards in WoW (or any other game) are weak rewards, but powerful symbols. On their own they are pixels, but they act as symbols of how you got those pixels. As analogy, a medal of honor is what? A few bits of metal and cloth. But it symbolizes something (about the earner) far beyond those physical characteristics.

This raises the important question: What are rewards in WoW symbolizing? If they symbolize challenge overcome, social experiences, or perseverance, then they may retain their value as symbolic rewards. But if they are symbolic of a long time spent failing with strangers without quite being challenged or entertained, that might not be a very effective symbolic reward.

So there I was...

| Monday, May 2, 2011
Twitter was starting to get antsy. Looting and raiding jokes were popping up. Some jokes about how Trump was getting bumped again, this time for Obama's announcement. What? WHAT!? Actually I wasn't all that worked up, it just seemed weird to have an announcement late on Sunday. Surely Monday morning isn't so far away for what cannot possibly be anything Americans would care about.

I went back to leading my Buddhist theocracy in world domination. I'd moved on to the stage of fighting other Buddhists because they weren't quite my type of Buddhists (refused to vote for me as world leader). This was after crushing the Jews, most notably those of Isabella's Spain, one of many historical ironies produced by the alternative histories of Civ 4.

Huh, Twitter seems to think Osama bin Laden is dead. That's interesting. Nothing on the news sites yet. Twitter still thinks he's dead. Now the news sites think he's dead. So that's what the announcement is.

I turned on the radio to listen to it. Apparently at this time WBEZ (Chicago NPR station) has some sort of BBC broadcast which is aimed at Africa. That got interrupted. I'm sure there's some symbolic meaning in Britain getting interrupted by America when trying to talk to Africa.

As stupid as it sounds, the whole operation just sounded cool. I was imagining some badass special forces bursting in, shooting all the bad people, and being out 15 seconds later. My imagination was confirmed by reports that they had in fact used a helicopter, which always make an operation cooler. And Obama said something like "no Americans were harmed", which to me translates as "we kicked their asses." I bet that pirate ship they boarded a year or so back was just practice for this: practice in being totally badass.

With the uprisings in the Middle East and places that aren't in the Middle East but geographically challenged/lazy people lump in with it, there were clearly a lot of implications for the US. Who would we pretend to be friends with? Where would we put our navy? Who would sell us cheap oil? But ultimately it wasn't about us. We weren't the ones putting our lives on the line for freedom. But now this, this is us. Now this is an American story with implications for the rest of the world. I like that. Maybe we were feeling ignored.

Sadly, the War on Terror, or overseas contingency operations, is are not over. Soldiers will still die in Afghanistan at the hands of violent extremists (or people who don't like foreigners meddling). Terrorists will still plot. People will still die. But dammit, this is symbolically awesome and that makes me feel pretty good.
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