Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Food For Thought

Standing on books = Genius. Hat on hat, not so good ^^

The Noodle Cart.

This is the pinnacle of Cooking Excellence in game and (it occurred to me yesterday after a comment from my good Twitter friend @kurnmogh) everything that's bad right now about Professions wrapped up in one beautifully neat and accurate package. This is a great example of how a silk purse out of a sow's ear may deceive from a distance, but up close it remains the same. As the Expansion release date rumbles ever closer will Blizzard finally attempt to fix a part of the game that some people will tell you isn't broken to begin with, but which has suffered more than perhaps any other aspect of gameplay since Warcraft began?

We can all agree to begin with that Professions are useful, but some are clearly better coin purses than others.

Never a truer word was spoken.

There is an inherent problem with setting your expectations high: what happens when you don't hit them. With this expansion Blizzard have proved that with thought, application and a dedicated quest zone, yes you CAN make something like Cookery attractive enough that people will spend more time in a place no-one else sees in game except them, just to keep up with their Raiding requirements. We may not be running around Felwood any more for Whipper Root Tubers, but this way of gathering consumables is every much as time-dependent as gating equipment via rep or requiring 4 hours of fishing when every cast has a 22 second timer. However elegant you make your quest lines, however self-referencing you might be with the leanness of your meat, this is just food. It's one stat of many that need dealing with, and once upon a time with gear this meant a real competitive edge that pushed people into grinding specific professions for raiding.

Even that business has changed now, professions being eroded away as vendor and gathered gear becomes more and more important to create the damage outputs required to stay alive, and Blizzard appears to be less and less willing to provide it for individual manufacture unless people have access to Raids or a sizeable stash of cash and and an accomodating AH. Locking key crafting items into 10/25 mans or almost monthly transmute cycles might keep markets from being flooded but it does the game no favours. Have we not learnt anything from the Legendary Questline? Just making an item take longer to make doesn't make it special, and it certainly doesn't guarantee a decent selling price when its done. The best way to create a market is on a level playing field, not gifting deliberate advantage to those who can afford the time to play not just the AH, but the End Game too. How you do that is place all the materials on the same level, and make people choose what matters most. That has been Cookery's biggest single success, when all is said and done. Players had to make the choices of what to grow, the game didn't do it for them. How you succeeded from that point depended on no-one but yourself.

The best ideas often get left by the wayside :(

Then there is the question of WHY you have a profession: is it simply to make money? Is it because of the benefits the title bestows upon you (yes we know, Goblin Gliders ^^)  or do you have it because it has benefits that extend not simply to raiding, but to the quality of life that gives? If you are making something how important does it then come that you can re-use these things, or pass them on to other alts? Should the path to gaining maximum level be as simple as possible and all the benefits sit at End Game (as is the case with content) or should your profession evolve with your levelling journey? What proportion of recipes should have a practical application, what others should not, and how many should allow you to dress as a Noodle Chef... and you see, this is where it hit me. That was the moment when, however funny and clever it might be that you become the Chef and people buy your wares, I could see the person behind the curtain, frantically spinning the wheels, trying to distract me with the reminder that when this is done, there is nowhere else to go. This vehicle shouldn't have been summat you stick in at the end of an Expansion, this should have been what we started with next time. How do you better this?

I mention Craftman's Writs at this point because I remember August 2006 not because I was in Original Naxx fighting off invaders, I was in the Plaguelands and across the world, hunting the Undead Invasion that accompanied it. Suddenly, my Professions mattered because not only could I make gear with them, but I could make lesser items that I turned in using Writs and then, with enough tokens and effort, I got gear I couldn't make. As had been the case with the AQ gates, my skills as a Leatherworker and Skinner meant I had access to other parts of the game, that EVERYTHING I made potentially had a value. If you asked me what one thing needs to change about Professions right now I'd say that this is it: make them matter. Give them value outside just acting as buff enhancers: give us questlines like the Noodle Cart for EVERY profession, so that each one is its own journey, and conclusion. However, that is never likely to happen, because if it were then there'd be no-one left to design the 5 mans and the raids and the Quest levelling... and here's why I wish we'd never got the Cart to begin with.

The Noodle Cart is now the example of what COULD be done with professions if Blizzard decide to take the leap of faith: time, effort, useful and entertaining quest-lines, fun results, everyone happy and you in a hat that sits on your own hat. However, to do that with every profession would require such a massive, fundamental rethink and rebuild of the system that I'm not sure it's actually practical in the time-frames we're talking about, because if it had been, we'd have seen it done already. We've heard the complaints, the half-hearted attempt at making Blacksmithing more accessible without actually attacking the key issues. What they are, and how I'd redesign the system from the bottom upwards you'll have to wait for until the end of the week. For now, enjoy your Noodle Carts while they're current, and remember that this is what happens when farming becomes as popular as fishing. That made Nat Pagle an alcoholic.

I'm not sure I want to know the long-term consequences of a noodle based diet ^^

1 comment:

Grimmtooth said...

I'm not sure I'm down with the whole concept of the noodle cart, but seeing that I haven't even started down that path, I won't pass judgement other than to say that my bags overfloweth with feasts of all sorts, so WHAT will I ever do with them now?

I really feel that all the manufactured buffage in the game is suffering. Alchemy got a huge nerf in this xpac, with respect to durations. And does anyone use scrolls? Maybe they can implement scaling similar to what they have for enchants. What's happening with gems? Sounds as if the legendary gems are it; are there any epic gems now? I dropped leatherworking a while back but I also don't recall seeing LW leg enchants this xpac.

And that's the next piece of the puzzle - continuity and relevancy.

Continuity figures into how each profession carries forth from one xpac to the next. Look at inscription as an example - there is a giant hole in progression between Wrath and MoP that we all call Cataclysm, a tier in which there is one and only one glyph that can be made with that xpac's herbage. If you're leveling your herbing through cata, you better hope that alchemists are in dire need of what you got.

Continuity fails in so many places along the way, we have so many items that we kill ourselves for that have no use beyond that.

And that's relevancy. When a new xpac releases, all the old end-game stuff is still every bit as ridiculously hard to craft as it was the day it became available. There is no viable reason at all to require, for example, Kara-only token drops to get particular items. The same applies for crafting recipes that only drop from raid mobs. That stuff should be on the vendor's shelves, ready to ship the moment the xpac goes live.

I've talked before of how developers loathe the whole concept of reworking old code when there's shiny new stuff to work on. I work in a nest of those creatures myself, and they're all pretty much intent on the sleek new hottness, writing off old stuff our customers are stuck with as old and busted and unworthy of their attention.

But that's what is needed to (a) improve the quality of life in the leveling experience, not to mention show that they have the attention to detail that we used to expect from Blizzard, rather than the cavalier attitude of the current company.

It's quite simple. New guys need to get their feet wet. Old bugs and incremental legacy improvements are just the thing for them to learn how the code is managed, structured, and shipped.

(Nobody likes to do that either, but "You're the new guy. Go pay your dues.")