Thursday, April 28, 2016

The MMO That Abandoned Raiding

My SWTOR raid group called it quits tonight. A bit sad, because we had a good run of about three years or so. I think we were all getting a little burned out. But it also has sunk in that SWTOR has given up on raiding. It has been about 16 months since the last operation was released, and looks very unlikely that any future operations will ever be made.

Back in the first few years of WoW, there was a huge debate between raiders and casuals. Casuals pointed out that raiders were a small minority of the player base, and that the devs spent too many resources on them. Raiders felt that they were the dedicated players, who made guilds and a community, made an MMO an MMO as it were.

WoW, and FFXIV to lesser extent, followed the path of trying to make raiding more accessible to the broader player base. It's perhaps not quite as successful as people would like, but that path has preserved group content.

With the release of the Knights of the Fallen Empire, SWTOR has gone in the opposite direction. All new content has been aimed at the solo player. The main story content does not work well with groups, even duos. The new side content is again mostly aimed at solos or duos.

SWTOR did re-tune a lot of the existing group content for KotFE, but did not create any new group content.

I'm not saying this is the wrong decision. Focusing on single-player content might be the right call for SWTOR. Maybe the casuals were right all along, and the raiders are superfluous. Maybe the number of people who want group content is not enough to justify the cost of creating it.

It is a bit of a pity, as Bioware did make good operations and flashpoints back in the day. I especially liked all the puzzle bosses.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Vanilla Servers, Part II

A lot of replies to the last post felt that I do not understand what attracts people to the idea of vanilla WoW servers. I, of course, disagree with that.

People who clamor for vanilla servers generally want two things:
  1. Vanilla content - the quests, zones, and classes that existed at that time.
  2. Vanilla "feel" - a return to an era where server community was important, where guild and reputation mattered, where the difficulty was slightly higher and required groups to interact more.
Of these two, I think getting the first one is extraordinarily unlikely. Blizzard would essentially be launching and maintaining a completely separate game. I think that the risk is too high. So given that this is basically not going to happen, I don't see much point in expending energy over it.

The second item, however, I believe might be possible. It would be a variant on the current game, and would be a lot easier to maintain. Fixes for the current game would hit both server types. It might even be good for the game by segregating the audience a little bit. The people who insist on increased challenge would have a home.

Of course, even maintaining server variants is more effort. There's already two variants in PvP/PvE. Another orthogonal variant makes four possibilities. But I think it's still less risky and less effort than a full vanilla server.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

WoW Legends Server Idea

I think opening an actual Vanilla WoW server, with Vanilla quests, classes, talent trees, and other systems would be way too much work for too little reward.

However, I do think that, for a reasonably small amount of effort, Blizzard could make a version of the current game that reasonably approximated the original experience. I'll call such a server a "Legends" server.

A Legends server would have:
  • A constant Legends debuff which reduced health, damage done, healing done, and XP gained by about 50%.
  • Looking For Group/Raid disabled
  • Heirlooms disabled
  • No server transfers
  • No cross-realm zones
  • Battlegrounds/Arena disabled
  • One character per account per server
  • Pet Battle Queue disabled
  • No Starter Edition accounts
  • No Death Knights / Demon Hunters, classes which start at a higher level
  • Black Market Auction disabled
I think that would be enough to create a Vanilla-like experience. You'd still have the same quests, classes and talents as the regular game. But a lot of the elements which Vanilla champions say hurt communities would be disabled. I also think that the amount of work required to create such a server would be relatively low.

You'll note that the one thing I did not add was a level cap of 60, or disabling access to expansions. I think that will be very buggy, and end up eating a lot of QA and bugfixing resources. It would also require class design to be tuned for a cap of 60. Raids at 60 would have be tuned again. As well, there is gear from the expansions available at 60 that outstrips raid gear, and trying to keep that gear out of the hands of capped 60s might be a lot of work.

I think trying for a lower cap is simply unfeasible. Better to simply have the same game as the regular servers, just with some added restrictions. The Legends debuff could be reduced at the real maximum level too, if that turns out to be an issue.

I think a compromise like this could worthwhile for Blizzard to experiment with. Personally, I think a lot of people would roll on the server, but most would soon go back to the regular game.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Vanilla Servers and Paladins

Vanilla Servers

I gather there was a little tempest over one of the Vanilla WoW pirate servers. So much so that people are calling for Blizzard to officially support Vanilla servers. Personally, I think the demand for Vanilla servers is overrated. I think that if Blizzard opened one, a lot of people would join, and then the vast majority would quit within three months.

Not to mention that it would be a pretty expensive undertaking. Unlike pirate hobby servers, Blizzard has to pay the people working on their Vanilla servers. People are expensive.

Maybe I'm a little cynical about gamers, but if there is this pent-up demand for a Vanilla-like experience, why don't people go and play one of the current MMOs that offer a similar experience? Games like RIFT or EQ2 or FFXIV? I'm sure the potential audience will always  have a reason why the option you have to pay for is not good enough.

The Vanilla Paladin

Azuriel has declared that a lot of the Vanilla and TBC design was garbage. That may be so, but he has singled out the paladin class as an example. Thus I am forced to defend it.

The vanilla Paladin was not badly designed. Rather, it was designed for a game that soon became obsolete. The paladin was designed for 5-man groups, where the make up was [tank, healer,  2x dps, paladin]. The paladin would back up the tank and healer at the same time.

That's why the vanilla Paladin appears to be so passive. Its combat is very passive. But that's so you could run up to a mob, Judge, Seal and then focus on your group. You'd throw out heals, cleanses, and Blessings as appropriate. The UI was designed for this, so that you could throw spells on groupmates without losing your main target, even without mouseovers. You could tank one mob, or small adds, when the warrior took the rest of the group.

Shamans were the opposite. Shaman support was passive, through totems mainly, but their damage was active. Paladins had active support, but passive damage.

The thing is that this system does not scale into raids. [3x tanks, 3x healers] is stronger than [2x tanks, 2x healers, 2x paladins]. And obviously solo play is fairly boring. Though honestly, I kind of liked it. It was very steady and relentless.

But the Vanilla paladin in 5-man groups is still my favorite MMO playstyle, across all the MMOs I've tried.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

FFXIV Beast Tribes

Lately I've been working on the Beast Tribe quests in FFXIV.

The Beast tribes are an interesting part of FFXIV. They're sort-of monstrous, but generally the "civilized" people of Eorzea have been pushing into their territory, in some cases outright violating treaties. In response, the beast tribes summoned their gods as Primals. But exposure to Primals "tempers' a normal being, brainwashing them into slaves of the Primal. The beast tribe quests are handed out by a splintered faction of the tribe, who have avoided being tempered, and need your help to defeat or survive the remainder of their tribe.

It's an interesting dynamic, combined with the very different personalities of each tribe. For example, the Amalj'aa are a warrior tribe revering strength, the slyphs are playful and like to play tricks, the Vath are a breakaway sect of an insect hive mind who are now just discovering individuality.

So far, I've finished the Amalj'aa and Vanu Vanu stories. The Amalj'aa was a typical story of gaining strength to take revenge. The Vanu Vanu was ... kind of weird, really. It ended in an epic dance-off.

Here's a video of the ending from YouTube:

   

Mechanically, the Beast tribe quests are kind of like faction dailies in WoW. It's aimed at the solo player, and you earn reputation with the tribe. As your reputation increases more of the story is unlocked, as are new quests. Rewards-wise, you earn a little bit of endgame currency, pets, and a mount at max level. The beast tribe quests are also a way to progress on the Relic weapon quest.

The big mechanical difference between WoW's factions and the FFXIV beast tribes is that FFXIV has a very low daily cap on quests. You can do a maximum of 12 dailies each day. The tribes effectively only offer 3 quests per day (the original tribes offer more, but only 3 that give max rewards).

I actually like this low cap a lot. It's pretty easy to finish your dailies in about 30 minutes. If you can play for longer, you can then do a dungeon or whatever. But if you only have half an hour to play, you can still feel like you got everything done. Beast tribes are aimed at the solo, casual player, and they feel like they hit the perfect spot for that audience.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Diablo 3 Builds and Fun

I've been playing a bit more of Diablo 3 lately. I've been playing my regular Crusader and Wizard, rather than a seasonal character.

One thing I've found is that I'm not too happy with my Crusader. I cannot seem to find a build I enjoy. I'm currently running a 6-piece Akarat's Champion set with Blessed Hammer. It's good enough, but it's just not fun enough. It's a little hard to explain, but it doesn't really feel "melee" enough for me.

Meanwhile I'm running this Fire/Lightning Arcane Torrent with Hydras build on my Wizard and I find it hilarious. Stunning, fire, electricity, I really enjoy playing it, even if it's much lower power than my Crusader.

Any D3 players out there have suggestions for an interesting melee-ish Crusader build that's still reasonably effective? I did try a Thorns-build with the Invoker set, but this was before Blizzard revamped Thorns. I remember that it was decent, but annoying because I couldn't kill Treasure Goblins.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

The Missing Element in Competitive Seasons

Overwatch has released its current plans for competitive ranked play.  Basically, it will have "seasons" that are one month long, as in Hearthstone. Everyone starts at the bottom rank, and you try to play your way up through the various divisions. At the end of the month, prizes or bragging rights are handed out, and the ranks are all reset.

The immediate reaction from the community is that the seasons are too short. That they would much prefer a season which was 3 or 6 months long, giving people time to come to their true rankings.

I am not entirely in agreement with this view. In an odd way, I think that the current season length is both too short and too long. The real problem, in my view, is that the competitive structure of many games is missing a crucial element.

The missing element is tournaments.

As an analogy, let's look at a sport like tennis. Tennis has matches between two players or teams. Tennis has a 52-week season where the entire pro community is ranked. But tennis also has intermediate structure of tournaments.

A tournament is different from a season, and has a lot of desirable properties. The time frame is much shorter. Only a subset of the community participates. Most players don't attend every tournament. Each tournament usually produces different winners and different results. Prizes handed out at the tournament level end up going to wider variety of players.

Overwatch wants a lot of these properties for its seasons. But a month is too long for a tournament. It's long enough that most players cannot skip it if they want. But it's too short to act like a true season does and produce definitive rankings.

My suggestion for Overwatch would be to actually break the current "season' into a tournament which runs weekly and a longer season of 3,6, or 12 months which aggregates the weekly tournament results. This way players have less pressure to participate in every tournament. There are more changes at the top, with different players placing in the Top 100 each week.

I do think that many games have this same hole in their structures. They have individual matches, and they have long seasons, but they don't do anything with the medium time-frame. The only games I can think of that significantly utilize this time-frame are Path of Exile and Magic Online.

For example, imagine that Overwatch you could join a league. Leagues start every hour and run for four hours. You are only matched with people in your league. When you get two losses, you are knocked out of the league. At the end of the time, the person who won the most matches without getting two losses wins the league.

I think that there's a lot of room for fun game play in this medium time-frame. Obviously, the time frame is long enough that not everyone will participate. It can't be the only option to play. But it could stand to be used a lot more than it is currently.