Sunday, August 17, 2014

Warlords Cinematic

World of Orcraft recently unveiled the cinematic for the Warlords of Draenor expansion:

Still not as good as the Lich King cinematic:

(Whoops, wrong video. Real trailer is is here.)

In some respects, I wish Blizzard had not switched styles for the Lich King trailer. The next few expansion cinematics have all attempted to do the same thing and reach the same heights, and they have all failed.

Technically, the Warlords trailer is superb, as always. The graphics are outstanding.

The problem comes in the content. First, this is a very lore-heavy trailer. It shows the point where the timeline splits, when Grom, guided by Garrosh, chooses not to drink the demon blood. As well, a lot of the imagery is a direct reference to the death of Mannoroth in Warcraft III, only with Garrosh saving Grom. I really wonder how much someone who is not super-familiar with the Warcraft lore will understand.

The second problem can be explained with the question: Who are the heroes, and who are the villains, in this trailer? The trailer very heavily pushes Grom and Garrosh as the heroes. After all, they choose freedom over slavery, and are the ones who kill the demons. And indeed, if you go back to the original video in Warcraft III, Grom and Thrall are the heroes in that video.

But Grom and Garrosh are the villains of the expansion. The ones the heroes will be pitted against and ultimately defeat. Anyone who is heavily into the lore will know that. So you have a trailer which can only be understood by Warcraft fans, and at the same time pushes an emotional arc which contradicts what those fans know. That dissonance significantly weakens the trailer for the hardcore fans.

As for the non-hardcore people, the dissonance doesn't occur now, but will when they start playing the expansion. I think that will cause issues, unless Blizzard is setting up some crazy twist where we bring Grom and Garrosh back to the good side.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Hunts in FFXIV

For a very long time Blizzard has not allowed ordinary quests to be done in a raid group. When asked, they've always said that they feared everyone always joining large raids to steam roll content. In a lot of ways, it looks like FFXIV is proving this stance correct.

In the last patch, FFXIV introduced Hunts. Throughout the world, there are named monsters running around. The monsters have different difficulties: Rank B is roughly tuned for a 4-person group. Rank A is an 8-man group target, and Rank S are rare and require multiple groups.

However, SE did not include tagging with these mobs. Anyone who gets a few hits in gets credit for the kill and the reward.

So the etiquette that has developed is that if you find a Hunt mob, you announce it to the zone, wait for everyone to assemble, and then zerg it down. Doing this has made Hunts into the optimum method of getting endgame rewards, which has pushed even more people into doing them. You can actually see the effect on queues for instances and dungeons, as they are much longer than before.

Of course, since so many people are gathered in the zerg, there is no challenge. Interestingly enough, people who play late at night or early in the morning report that Hunts are a lot more fun when done in small groups, closer to how SE intended them to be done.

The obvious solution is to enforce tagging. Yet that might lead to uncooperative gameplay. I joined a guild group that was going after a Rank A in one zone a couple nights ago. We advertised in zone chat, and ended up with a full 8-man group and 2 others. It was nice that those two others could still participate and get rewards, rather than be left out.

SE could also greatly reduce the rewards. But then doing Hunts "as intended" is no longer a decent experience.

The other idea I've seen is to make Hunt rewards a "once a week" thing. You can only get rewards from a given named mob once per week. This is probably the best solution. It doesn't stop the zerg entirely, but it does thin it out.

All in all, FFXIV's Hunts are a cautionary tale for MMO devs looking to make world content for small groups.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

10 Years :: 10 Questions

Alternative Chat is running a survey in advance of WoW's upcoming 10th anniversary. Here are my answers.

1. Why did you start playing Warcraft?

I was always interested in the idea of MMOs, though I hadn't really started playing any. Since Blizzard made WoW, I decided to try it out. However, it was actually sold out in stores, so I didn't get it until a few months after launch.

2. What was the first ever character you rolled?

My university roommate and I rolled characters on a PvP server. I made a Male Undead Warrior, and he made a priest. He stopped playing after a few months, but I kept going. I remember being a terrible warrior, because I didn't really understand the concept of threat, and so had a very hard time tanking.

I made it to about level 42 with that warrior. Then Blizzard introduced the PvP honour system. At that time, you got honour points for killing enemy players within a certain range of your level. At 42ish, I was just in range of the level 50s. The next couple of weeks were a constant barrage of ganks from level 50s.

I deleted that warrior in a fit of rage. I then created Coriel, my Female Human Paladin, on a PvE server. I think I made her because I had recently read Elizabeth Moon's Paksennarion and was inspired by the best and most hardcore paladin in all of fantasy! She's been my main ever since.

3. Which factors determined your faction choice in game?

My friend wanted to play Horde, so that's where we started. My second character was Alliance to see the other side.

As well, I love the Alliance paladins and their lore, so that's why I've stuck with that faction.

4. What has been your most memorable moment in Warcraft and why?

Doing Scarlet Monastery for the first time with a group of complete newbies. We were utterly shocked by Whitemane's "Arise, my champion!"

5. What is your favourite aspect of the game and has this always been the case?

I like questing and large-group raiding. I like seeing all the stories that Blizzard comes up, and I generally prefer to have done every quest before starting on endgame.

For raiding, I much prefer the larger raids, the 20-40 man ones. I like having specific responsibilities for different parts of the fight, and then seeing the entire team come together to accomplish a goal.

6. Do you have an area in game that you always return to?

No, I tend to move with the flow of the game and the expansions.

7. How long have you /played and has that been continuous?

I'm not currently subscribed, so I don't know my /played. Until now, I've been subscribed pretty much since the beginning, maybe with lapses of one or two months. However, I unsubscribed at the end of 2013, and haven't resubscribed since then.

8. Admit it: do you read quest text or not?

I read quest text. In fact, when expansions came out, I would turn Scrolling Quest Text back on to prevent the temptation of skipping it. I rather miss that option.

9. Are there any regrets from your time in game?

Yes. No. Maybe.

I wonder about this question a lot. Perhaps there's a universe where I didn't play MMOs and did something useful instead. But in reality, I probably would have just ended up playing other games or watching TV.

10. What effect has Warcraft had on your life outside gaming?

In some ways, not a lot. I do have this blog, and I've really enjoyed writing and thinking about things in more detail.

However, I do think it has affected me politically and philosophically though. I think that I am a lot more conservative because of my experiences in WoW. WoW is, for the most part, a level playing field. You can be anyone, you can be anything. And yet so many of us choose to behave badly when the restraints of normal society are lifted. I have come to a far more Hobbesian view of the world since I started playing MMOs.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sandbox PvP: What to do with the Losers?

Last week, I posted a story from the Mittani detailing how Goonswarm  beat Test, not specifically on the battlefield, but by breaking them as an institution.

While it's a clever and effective tactic, one has to wonder if it is a good tactic for the game at large. One thing I've noticed is that when a guild or group breaks from drama, a significant percentage of players just quit the game outright. I would imagine that something similar happens in Eve when a guild breaks because of meta-game tactics.

Even generally, though, what should a PvP sandbox do with the losers of a PvP war? For the sandbox to be meaningful, they must lose. But for the long term health of the game, they should not be pushed to quit.

Perhaps the winning side should have an incentive to absorb the losers. There's a lot to be said for this approach. For one thing, it pushes the winning side to be more "gentle" in their tactics. If you pursue warfare by any means necessary, the losers won't join you after the fight is done, and that weakens your long term position.

For example, maybe in Eve there could be something where every planet has a governor. Only one planet per account, and the governor has to continue to keep the planet in health. So if an alliance conquers more planets than it has members, it needs people to maintain those planets. Simply absorbing the current governors into the winning alliance structure gives you people.

For the losing side, well, you lost the war. But now you are on the winning side, so maybe you keep playing with new people.

Of course, the issue with this is that it's a case of the "rich getting richer". An alliance which wins a war due to superior numbers has even more numbers after the conflict finishes. That could set up a positive feedback loop which pushes the alliance to dominate the game.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Spycraft in Eve Online

I came across this story from the Mittani (leader of Goons in Eve):

Two interesting comments popped up on my Update Dance piece:  
One of the greatest troubles TEST faced during the war was information overload. There was so much to organize and so many channels of communication were dead as people went afk. 
Night after night it was a hairpull trying to find structures to bash. Just from alliance chat, we'd get 40-ish people in bombers with blops easy; getting someone in recon to provide the location of an SBU was the hard part. 
I was in White Van during that war. The number of early mistakes the CFC made in not IHUBing captured systems, or letting me follow folks SBUing... After week three I gave up, my reports and scouting went nowhere... asked for jobs, got none. 
This was because the GIA had compromised the spreadsheet that TEST Recon used to record all their scout information on. We wouldn't alter the spreadsheet in a flagrant way, just adding slight errors throughout it which were always written off as user error or incompetence. POS locations would remain on the right planet, but slip a moon or two to the left; key tower reinforcement timers would be adjusted by an hour too soon or too late. Because we were subtle, this 'incompetence' resulted in a ton of redundant and replicated work as the same targets had to be scanned and rescanned. Eventually the whole org collapsed under the strain, and without functional recon you cannot win - or even stay afloat - in a bloc war. 

That's the kind of thing that happens in the first few weeks of a war with the CFC, when our enemies are usually yowling to anyone who will listen about how we're 'not winning fast enough' or otherwise completely stalemated: we assault the people and the institutions of a hostile org first, and the actual sov is an afterthought. Watching your foes tear each other apart as they blame one another for errors your agents seeded is an added bonus. 

I don't know if this really happened, or if the Mittani is just sowing dissension and playing head games with his current enemies. The comments on the post seem to indicate that it really happened.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

DPS Feedback Idea - Historical Meter

As you know, I am of the opinion that the reason of lot of DPS players play badly is not because they don't care, or are innately bad. Instead it is because they lack the required feedback necessary to improve.

Currently, the best tool for feedback is DPS meters. But while DPS meters work, they are a very blunt instrument. They don't account for differences in gear, or fights, or even tell what number you should be aiming for.

I think a better DPS meter could be made, but it would probably require the game developers to implement.

Currently, DPS meters compare you to the other players in the current fight. It would be better if the DPS meter compared you to the overall historical performance of people with your item level.

Let's start by recording everyone's performance on individual boss fights. Note the boss, DPS done, and the item level of the player. Once you aggregate all the records, you can tell for a given boss and item level, what the top DPS was, or what the median DPS was.

That gives you a target number. If the top DPS on Boss A at i500 is 10k, you can tell the player after Boss A: "You did 6k damage. The top DPS was 10k." That is concrete feedback. The player can't blame her gear or the fight mechanics.

Of course, using the top DPS mark is probably bad, because it would be a very lucky parse and probably individuals doing something excessive to hit that mark. A better target number would be something like one standard deviation above the median. Or possibly target the range between the median and one standard deviation.

The advantage of using this mechanism, which looks back at the history of all the people doing the fight is that it nullifies variables and fight mechanics. Because the amount of data collected is large, a few lucky parses or exceptional players do not skew the results. It provides a viable target number that people know for a fact is within the capabilities of the class and gear.

As well, this doesn't necessarily involve the entire raid. You aren't being compared to other people you know, but to the entirety of the WoW community.

If feedback is vague, you can always make excuses as to why you don't need to improve. For the DPS to improve, they first need unequivocal proof that improvement is necessary. This Historical DPS Meter would provide that feedback.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Subsystem Depth

I was thinking over how I currently play MMOs, and how I used to play MMOs. I noticed a small and unusual pattern.

Back in Vanilla, I used to PvP. Not a whole lot, and not with any great degree of skill. But I did battlegrounds and eventually got Knight-Captain rank in the old PvP system [1]. Then in later expansions, Blizzard expanded on PvP, adding ratings, PvP gear, arena teams, etc. PvP used to be pretty shallow, and Blizzard made it deeper. I tried the new system for a little bit, but ultimately my response was to stop playing PvP.

Before Mists, I used to collect minipets. Again, not hardcore, but I liked trying to get minipets and seeing my collection expand. Then Blizzard added Pet Battles, a deep system that greatly expanded gameplay around minipets. I tried Pet Battles for a little bit, but ultimately my response was to stop bothering with minipets.

In WoW, I used to craft a bit. I got my professions to max, and liked collecting recipes. FFXIV has a much deeper and more complex crafting system. I tried the FFXIV crafting system for a little bit, but ultimately my response is not to touch crafting at all.

I'm not sure if there are other examples (perhaps Challenge Mode dungeons, or maybe Galactic Starfighter in SWTOR). But in each case, the developers added depth to the subsystem, made it a more interesting and deeper experience. But my response to that increased depth was to stop bothering with that subsystem, even if I enjoyed it before.

Paradoxically, as more developer effort was put into all these different facets of the game, the "area" of the game that I participated in grew smaller and smaller.

I would say that adding depth also increased the barrier to participation at a decent level for these subsystems. My focus was on raiding and PvE, and I was perfectly happy to play with these other shallow subsytems. To PvP a little bit, to collect a few minipets, to craft a little bit. In the current game, all I do is the raiding and PvE, and that is a lesser experience than it was before.

Of course, the flip side is that for people who want to focus on PvP, or on Pet Battles, or on crafting, the new deep subsystems are a lot more fun for them.

Is it better for an MMO to have several equally deep facets, or is it better to have one or two deep facets and several shallow ones?

1. I maintain that I stopped at Knight-Captain because it was clearly the best named rank for paladins.