Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Erase and Rewind

Either you do, or you don't.

Lots of people have started talking as if Pandaria's time is almost at an end, which is strange in the days before the last scheduled content patch. However, there is an unmistakable vibe in the air, no doubt on the back of the fact that we are less than three months away from Blizzcon, and many people expect that to be where we find out where the game is going next. If we assume that we already know the title of said Expansion (thanks to last weeks trademark shenanigans) we have very little else to go on in terms of expectation, and only historical precedent to fall back on. There's already tons of speculation on what we might expect from the next episode in terms of races, classes and locations, but my single biggest concern is to do not with the content, but the architecture.

Are we about to find, as has been the case for two previous expansions, that major parts of the tools that dictate our play-style are to undergo a mandatory reset?

PC Gamer predict the future. Or do they?

It has become a standing joke in this house that the 'transition'' content that inevitably appears before one Expansion finishes and the next one arrives has become Blizzard's 'Training Wheels' Patch: where people like yours truly desperately try and relearn their class and adjust to what the developers have altered to move the game forward. It is often where pre-baked long term alterations are introduced to allow a players an opportunity to adjust to what can be expected of us once the new expansion begins. The problem comes, especially with those of us toting multiple alts when you don't simply have one thing to learn, but several. Last time around the changes were so brutal I'm only just coming back to my alts to relearn. This time around I suspect more is the least of my problems. I can see 'less' as being the watchword for development.

I think it is fair that the game needs some kind of reward for leveling -- that you miss that now, that talents used to provide. At the same time, this is just one of those areas where WoW has been a victim of its own success, and now that we're looking at 90 levels of character advancement -- there's just no reasonable way to provide a cool reward every single level for 90 levels. I mean, nobody wants 90 buttons on their bar. That's just crazy. We need to think of other ways to make leveling feel cool or to reward it that aren't tied into a new button that has to be managed.

There is a very clear and decisive tone in a lot of recent developer interviews, and the use of buzz phrases like 'button bloat' and a focus on the perception of utility make it easy to grasp that the last thing Blizzard want to do is make things any more complicated than they actually are. Inevitably, there are very good reasons why giving us more things to do is bad (if you've not read this article by Cynwise as to why you really should do right now) but what that leaves the developers with is a basic problem, wrapped up in the terror of expectation. It's the understanding that people pretty much demand new content, not a recycling of what has come before. It is the desire to be presented with something for our efforts. It is the ever-present spectre of Entitlement.

What can you give us to make us want to play this Expansion?

In this case I suspect the carrot won't be to entice the sitting population, the static player base. I can see that being thrown at the feet of those who Blizzard hopes will return to the game, and that's going to mean explosions, fights, and the quickest way possible to get yourself from 1-100 (if we assume this is the goal we'll be aiming for via the 5.4 BoA's.) Inevitably, things are going to be sacrificed, and I suspect skills and talents will be at the top of this list. Part of me is already resigning myself to the fact that I'm not going to be spending my Training Wheels Patch working out what the new stuff does. I think I'm going to be lamenting what stuff's been left behind.

Recently Ghostcrawler has mentioned that most classes have too many skills, but removing some would risk upsetting players who really like certain skills. Do you have any abilities that are already on the chopping block for when you are ready to address this issue?

We have a variety of different abilities that we have talked about, but I am not going to name any. We still have to wait and see if we can actually pull it off. There are certainly a lot of abilities that any given player has that they probably feel obligated to have on their action bar but almost never use. Those are the buttons that we want to try and do away with, especially if a player feels obligated to have a keybind for it. That is where it really starts to get nasty. We will be looking into that, but I can't really commit to if and how much

The problem if I look at Hunters as an example is the distinctions that need to be made with pure DPS classes. Because there are no obvious hybrid utilities as separators (as is the case with Druids, for instance) the same basic shot/spell 'palette' is used to paint all three specs: we all get some traps, we all have (roughly) the same pets to choose from. The only definition comes from speciality abilities baked into the Talent Trees. If we look at Warlocks as an example of how to more clearly delineate abilities from each other, each 'tree' has a signature style with accompanying abilities that give every spec a distinct colour 'tone'. The key is how those are introduced from the first time you pick up a weapon, at L1, and I feel that if Blizzard want to make sure problematic classes have adequate distinction they'll need to do a lot more than simply lose the occasional ability that we keybind for convenience. I sense this will need the introduction of new spells at the sacrifice of others, that we could end up with major changes for some talent trees and not others.

There are those who would argue that persistently tinkering with the game is now as much a part of the way things are as the changes themselves, that Blizzard live in a 'three year prototype' situation, at the end of which they simply cherry-pick what they think has worked best and ignore the bad, instead preferring to move on to something new. Although some of that thinking is undoubtedly accurate, the constant retraining of your player-base is inevitably going to become a detriment over time. I can recall many players whose reason for leaving was a change too far, the last time their class or spec was 'nerfed' or changed to a state that the individual found unplayable. That may be a subjective response, but the fact remains that balancing has become as much of a contention in game as the game-play itself (as is attested by yesterday's post.) When so many variables are involved, it is no surprise. A wise designer is not going to make a class harder to play if he wants a wider range of players to sample the experience. That's just counter-intuitive, and won't do anyone any favours.

Inevitably, that's not going to mean things getting more complicated.

Durumu's maze had perhaps been made a little *too* simplistic...

Whatever your position, I think it is fair to say there will be New Things (TM) in the next expansion appertaining to talents and abilities, because there is change coming. It is inevitable. Understanding WHY something happens is perhaps more important than accepting it has happened to begin with, so I confidently predict that the wave of explanations we've seen from the Devs on 5.4 Class Alterations is going to become very much the norm as opposed to the exception. You're going to get plenty of warning, so strap yourselves in and prepare yourselves for whatever is coming... because for some people, it will not be pleasant.

For those of you who asked, who complained there was too much to do, there were those of us who knew how good we are when you realise that our DPS is only part of a far more complicated equation. I hope the vocally persistent entitlement brigade are ready for what they are given in 6.0 and beyond, because I'm really not sure they grasp the consequences of what they've been pushing for all this time.


Andy said...

I don't mind complexity per se, but it has to be worth it.

Even on my disc priest, which is relatively simple to play, I have upwards of 20 keybinds, and even that is with use of several mouseover macros that change what the button does depending on whether I'm targetting an ally or enemy.

The thing is, they can still reduce the number of buttons we need to press whilst still offering some degree of complexity for those who want to really push their skills – stuff like how abilities interact, either within a class or with the abilities of other classes (like GW2's combo triggers/fields). Or maybe like how paladins used to have to optimise the timing of their abilities based on cooldowns. That sort of thing.

Heck, they could even expand the 'stance' idea to all classes, where you have different skills available depending on your stance/aspect/seal/presence. That way you have lots of abilities, but not all at once, and each stance could be set up for different kinds of situations; on my priest, for example, I might have one stance for group healing, one for single-target, and maybe one for mana regeneration.

Grimmtooth said...

In the Python programming language, there is a series of statements we call "the Zen of Python". A sampling:

Simple is better than complex.
But complex is better than complicated.

I think WoW passed the "complex" line looooong ago, and so the quest to reduce the complexity of each class without dumbing it down is ongoing.

Since you brought up Warlocks, let's look at that, specifically Demonology. They have a secondary resource, Demonic Fury, first of all, because I guess managing Mana and Health was too easy. Then you have a whole SECONDARY ROTATION to use in Demon form, a couple which really feel like filler material while others feel mandatory. And Hand of Gul'dan has two charges that can be layered or stacked depending on how you want to go about it. Is this complex? Or complicated? I'm voting the latter, though I'm pretty sure Warlocks aren't getting reworked any time soon since they JUST DID THAT.

My feeling is that the major reset won't happen across the board, as otherwise there would be no need to do the major changes they're doing in 5.4, considering we are getting the final boss in this patch - no more raids, as @Blizzards have said. Hard to say what might be in 5.5 in that respect, but I wouldn't rule there being a 5.5 out.

Other games like Neverwinter have attacked the problem in a way similar to Diablo III. You have a limited number of action buttons, and a huge number of abilities to deploy, so you have to make a hard choice. And NW seems to have stymied the cookie-cutter clan; no two "cookie cutter" builds have been the same, and almost all of them are at least marginally viable.

(the fact that you have to pay real world money to reset your action tweaks and "feats" might have something to do with it too. They need to fix that, or people that like to theorycraft are going to wander off to something else, like maybe WoW :) )

I am always amused at a player base that claims to be 'bored' with the game as-is turn into the same people that complain about changes when they happen. I'm not sure that's the change they wanted, sure, but when your class is totally reworked, is learning how to drive the new car, so to speak, not enjoyable?

Anonymous said...

Hehe, I've been thinking of utility, what hunters bring versus what locks bring, and wouldn't it be nice if hunters could have a portal ability, that drops five wolves in a pen, you click on one, and it shoots you across the floor to another location determined by the hunter. Just an idea.

But yes, us hunters are screaming for change, and I suspect we are going to be walloped by it at some stage.

Jaf- Hyjal US