Saturday, May 18, 2013

How do you Solve a Problem like Maria?

For a couple of weeks now, there has been no desire to LFR.

quinn.anya @ flickr. Bad writing by me.

I know I can use both the points and the reputation, but the need to take part simply hasn't been there. I was beginning to wonder whether I was missing something obvious, and it looks like I was. Yesterday afternoon the clouds parted, a Terry Gilliam animation appeared in the sky above me, and the inevitability of the problem finally registered.

Terry Gilliam's God is an unforgiving git.

It all began when I started making lists.

Aware that 5.3 is due next week not far away, it occurred to me I should start planning what I'd like to do not simply before the patch hits, but afterwards. This means levelling a particular pet battle team so I can have a crack at the Beasts of Fable. There's a bunch of Achievements I'd like to finish on the Isle of Thunder (and in the old Dailies area, if truth be told.) Then there's that much-talked of list of Hunter pets I'm hoping to tame once my stable size increases... and then I stopped. I shouldn't be planning on stuff like this, I should queue for the last part of LFR. I've still not done the last boss. Why?

Then I understood.


The reality of the situation made sudden and perfect sense. Back when my Guild was raiding, 10 mans mattered to me a lot, but never at the expense of completing them. I'd sub myself out of fights if I knew there was someone else who wanted it more, in a heartbeat. The key to my love affair with progression content was WE AS A GUILD finished it. That's not happened with the Throne of Thunder, the first time since Karazhan that I've not 'done' a major instance 'properly.' And yes, LFR IS NOT PROPERLY, BLIZZARD. I get to see the boss, sure, but completing it, killing him is not the same as a 10 man or 25 man experience. I am forced to complete LFR with people I don't know and may never meet, and there is no affinity in this action, no empathy in the action. Suddenly doing it 'because it's current content' is no longer enough. I have no competitive desire to be the first person in the Guild to have done it in LFR. Most importantly of all, completing the content on my terms is what matters more, and I can't do that.

Sure, I could desert my Guild and jump server... but I don't want to. I want to do this with my friends, and I've known many of these people as long as I've played the game. Suddenly, the greatest strength the game possesses becomes its biggest drawback.

Not in the slighest bit ironic. Unlike my situation.

If I want points, I may as well run the Vaults repeatedly. The only real need to do ToT is for the Legendary quest, and I don't need to do the 'harder' parts of that at all. My luck with drops continues to be woeful, and gear isn't really an issue if I'm not doing anything other than raiding in LFR... so I have no need to complete the content now. I may as well wait until I outgear it, go back and muller it.

This is not what I think Blizzard had in mind.

What I don't want to be doing right now is wiping repeatedly on Lei Shen with a bunch of people who don't care about me or what I do. What I do want is to be planning things that give me a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. Suddenly, end game content is not part of that equation, at least for me.

I think this might take a bit of getting used to.

A return to faffing days of old. I can live with this.

I realise I am not a 'typical' player by any stretch of the imagination. I understand the need to keep running LFR for those people who believe that the iLevel of their gear is important (for whatever reason that may be, I'm not casting any aspersions here) and I really do grasp how LFR keeps people 'engaged' in content... except it doesn't. Raid content works in 10 and 25 man far better when the people playing have a tangible link to each other. They choose to play as a team, and are not thrown together by fate. There is a honking great big hole in the LFR plan which could explain why the Blizzard subscription ship's started to take on water. Those of you who are 10/25 manning away happily might not notice this sudden listing to one side, but I think anyone who spends a lot of time in LFR might want to take a look under their seat and make sure their flotation device is there. You know, just in case.

Frankly you can never be too careful.

For now, if you want me, I'll be over here faffing on anything I can find and, if I do go to LFR, it won't be for shiny rewards. In fact, now I come to think of it, I should be running Heroics for Justice Points to spend when the gear upgrading chaps reappear...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Just Another Day

Halfhill Quest Giver, by my 8 year old. Poor tracing by Mum, 46.5.

According to some people, this blue punctuation mark is the bane of our existence in game. For others it is a necessary evil. Like it or loathe it, the Daily Quest refuses to go away. There's a good reason for this: several as it happens, and they're all wrapped up in the basic business of How Blizzard Tell Stories (TM).

Back in Vanilla, the Quest was king. Time was also far more of a limiting factor 'back then': doing ANYTHING took longer, simply because the mechanics didn't exist to make the game easier to play. No flying mounts. No Guild Perks. It was the Golden Age for the add-on designers: the Wild West of player-built content, where anything was possible if you understood how things worked. The key here was making things easier because the Devs hadn't yet worked out this was an issue. Time acted as a natural gating agent: no need to hide anything behind anywhere. This worked really well until it was decided that the new AQ Dungeons needed something suitably Epic to accompany their opening. If you are researching the evolution of Dailies, you could argue the race to open the AQ Gates has a lot to answer for...

I'd suggest reading this excellent recap by Alex Ziebart on what happened with AQ if you're not aware of the back-story. The point is twofold here: gating was created by asking for hundreds of thousands of items the Devs knew would take some servers months to collect. A questline was deliberately created that would only be completable by the best, the brightest and the most time-rich players on each server. Only when the two elements came together would you get your gate open. This identifies a number of elements that contribute to the earliest evolution of the 'Daily' in game:

  • Having a deliberate time-frame for quest completion. The AQ 'lesson' showed that servers prepared to farm relentlessly could not be restricted by time if given an arbitrary number of items to collect. There needed to be a physical restriction on items gathered. Time is by far the best means to accomplish this in game.

  • Rewarding all players, regardless of their ability.  AQ gave one person per server a physical reward, and proved beyond a doubt that some people were never simply going to be satisfied with 'helping' that person to achieve their goal. Entitlement existed well before this, of course, but the Gates event made it abundantly clear that if certain people worked for things in game, they expected rewards.

  • Restricting flow of content, encouraging persistence. Stopping people from flagging whilst collecting 400,000 Runecloth bandages is not easy. Server 'pride' is all well and good, but even the most selfless of adventurers needs the occasional encouragement. AQ demonstrated that if you want to engage people, there needs to be at least some kind of regular payoff to make them come back. Yes, you're doing well, so have some reputation for completing this task, but you'll need to do this for 15 days if that's okay, but it'll be worth it, WE PROMISE...

It is easy in these terms to see how the past has influenced Azeroth's present environment. Similarly, reputation has now become intrinsically linked to the Daily process, which is logical in terms of evolutionary progression. If we again go back to Vanilla and look at the Timbermaw reputation 'grind' as another example of how time was used as a gating mechanic in Vanilla, it works in a very similar fashion to AQ. If you had the hours to kill thousands of mobs (and were able to do so uninterrupted without having to fight others doing the same thing) you could get enough rep for your rewards. However, on busy servers, or PvP environments, there were obvious pitfalls. It was only a matter of time before Blizzard linked reputation and dailies together. If you want an indicator on where the real problems started for the Daily Quest, I reckon that's the point where you should begin.

Some rep grinds are better consigned to history...

Reputation and Dailies make perfect partners: reputation is a form of gating to begin with, dailies use time as their restriction. Putting them together should be a match made in heaven. It's not like it hasn't happened before Pandaria either: look at the Firelands dailies. Go back to the Argent Crusade. This system is a great way to keep everyone on the same page in terms of progression, and allows the Devs a chance keep us occupied while they come up with new content to keep everyone happy. The major problem this Expansion was the decision to lock gear people needed to get into Dungeons and Raids into reputation you could only gather in one way, every 23 hours. Finally, using time as a gating mechanic lost some usefulness. It condemned many people to a path they didn't want, but had no choice but to follow if they wanted gear.

We were spoilt before in Cataclysm because a tabard worn in a dungeon would grant us bonus reputation for as long as we wore it. I think it is fair to say with two additional reputation mechanics introduced by Blizzard as a result of the outcry over gear (Tillers dailies and your weekly Faction Championing dungeon) the Devs know they made a mistake, but that doesn't detract from the real point. Using a 24 hour window to restrict content is dangerous, especially as attention spans reduce. You can no longer guarantee people will log on every day like they used to, because what you are rewarded with is not enough to maintain interest. The Daily has, like it or not, become an active hindrance to engagement.

The place many people would send Dailies to. Sound effects: optional.

However, solving this problem is not as simple as it first appears. The Daily has become as synonymous with storytelling and gating as the five man has for gearing and the raid has for end game. Redesigning this particular system has the potential to fundamentally change the entire fabric of the game, because of the impact it could (potentially) have on so many other areas of the game experience. I sense with the Thunder Island 'grind' that Blizzard have tried really hard to try and make each day's experience as varied as possible, with the use of Scenarios at set intervals to build a cohesive and engaging experience. Still, once you've hit Exalted, there is no compulsion to go back, and perhaps this combination of Reputation and Dailies has made things better and not worse.

I have my own theories on how things could improve (as I did with 5 mans) and if you hang around until early next week, I'll be happy to share them with you.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Boys are Back

Not mine, merely related.

My good dear friend Mr Big Bear Butt enjoys regaling his readers with tales of his son in The Cub Report (latest episode can be found here.) My son has recently returned to the game: this is his Death Knight. He's twelve, and in his first year of Grammar School, and that's pretty much all the information I'm happy giving about him. We're a private family, and its always been this way, and I work on the theory that if he wants to tell anyone that he plays Warcraft, that's his job at his age and not mine. I wanted to use him as a basis of a quite specific blog post, and as a result if you're reading this it will be because he's said he's okay with me highlighting him an as example of the type of player Warcraft could do with right now.

Yes, I said the game needs more twelve year olds, with some very specific caveats.

Our son's watched a lot of game-time in eight years, in one form or another. He understands the basic mechanics of Warcraft not simply by playing himself, but often by osmosis. He has had impressed upon him the need for a mature outlook when communicating with other people. Most importantly of all, he grasps that this is a game, and not a badge of honour or a means to impress. Entitlement is a non-starter too: he knew he'd have to earn the money for Epic Flying, that we wouldn't help him by giving him the cash he craved [*]. There are basic principles in game that reflect life lessons I am perfectly happy for my son to learn in Azeroth. I feel however that there are some key differences between his game time and many other children of his age, and that these are as much an issue in fostering mature gameplay as understanding the way things work.

Our computers in the house are all in one place. Neither of our children have a TV or computer in their room (though occasionally a handheld device or tablet sneaks in at bedtime and is removed unless permission for it has been asked.) This is how it has been since both my kids began to play, and although supervision becomes less and less of an issue as time goes on, I want to try and impress on both kids the 'social' side of gaming isn't just about how they play, but what happens when they're not. Gaming NEVER comes at the expense of doing more important activities: being outside, drawing, playing games and NEVER HOMEWORK (yeah, sorry about that.) Interacting with the Real World is vastly more important, but I cannot escape that the Future, at least in some part, happens on screen. My son has a healthy interest in Minecraft (he loves to mod), most strategy and puzzle games, and I know that his future could well wrap itself around the computing industry. For that reason alone I want to encourage him to not discount anything, but to learn the value of knowing when to stop and walk away.

When my son does play, I feel it is VITAL to teach him what is acceptable by having him in the same room for at least some of the time. There is is of course, an undoubted need for him to explore and learn on his own, but this I think should be tempered with a responsible adult available to him should he need one. Consequences and actions are often discussed, and I like to try and make him think about the people on the other side of the screen as just that, people who can be just as friendly or devious as the classmates he has to deal with every day. He's building his own experiences of LFD (and has no problems doing randoms because he sees them simply as a way to earn points for gear) and the fact he's not accompanied by eight years of baggage like I am makes for an interesting counter-perspective on a lot of issues. It is easy to forget that having played something for so long can have its pitfalls as well as advantages.

What has become obvious in the time since he restarted playing is that the lessons he has learnt in life all contribute to making him a better player. There are areas to work on (getting him to say hello to people, remembering to say goodbye when he logs needs work) and I hope fostering more social time as a family 'playing together' will help with those shortcomings. I hope those parents/carers who are happy to leave kids alone late at night on consoles or computers realise there are consequences for these actions, that the only way to ensure your children get the best chance in life they can is to be involved at every step of their journey. No, I'm not expecting you to wrap your kids in cotton wool, neither am I advocating the opportunity for them to be left to their own devices. Every child has a different balance point, just as every adult does. If you're lucky, you might hit that once a day.

You should never let just one time be enough.

I hope, if you're playing on the EU realms and you run into my son on your travels, you are as proud of him as I am. He is living proof that age on a computer is no guarantee of what you'll get, for all the good and bad connotations that entails. I'd like to think he can stand as an example to players far older than himself too, that being a decent person is far more important than the dps you bring or the utility you provide. As it stands he's got that covered too, but you get the point. Judge the person fairly and objectively, and treat everyone you meet with the respect they deserve.

He is a lesson to me in that regard, and I will always be grateful.

[*] Once he'd done it I refunded him the money plus a bonus for hard work. Incentives work, people.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Five Get Over Excited

I fail at Infographics, but it's all there...

I decided it was high time I put some money where my mouth is.

I've had a fair few ideas floating around in my head since Blizzard told me I'd get no new dungeons until the next Expansion. I found this disappointing, especially as the dungeons we have are, in essence, duplicates of places in the gaming world. Just how hard would it be to make a real basic change to dungeon design, working on the eight years worth of 'experience' I have with this to begin with?

Hence, the 'Temple of the Next Expansion's Big Bad' 5 Man Dungeon was born.

You're going to have to help me here, because I'm no artist and my Photoshop skills are basic at best (don't even own the program ^^) but I have the ideas, and that is what matters. So, imagine if you will we're fifteen minutes into the next Expansion and you plus four of your mates want to see what Blizzard have to offer you in terms of small group entertainment. I'll be your Dev for the evening, so press the Random Dungeon Button and away we go...

Now loading, your latest five man experience.

Once you arrive, you'll see some dialogue playing out. It explains what's going on in this dungeon and why you are here. After a couple of trips you'll ignore it, but for now it tells you two important things:

1. There is a Quest Giver here whose objective changes every time you run the dungeon in a 24 hour window. Yes, that's a Dungeon Daily for every 5 man, one of half a dozen to complete (and when you do, there's that Just Achieved Ding for your troubles.) Once you've completed that quest, the Daily Dwarf (Melgrew Ironstout) conveniently becomes a repair vendor, because you will have forgotten to do that and not everyone carries a Jeeves.

2. Melgrew's mate is a haughty Bloodelf inexplicably called Collin who has been sent here on a mission of great importance, and he'll take any help he can find. This is the one-time quest chain you receive on first arriving here: not simply at the start of this Expansion, BUT EVERY PATCH FROM THEREON IN. Here's my first big suggested change: each time a new patch hits, this Dungeon Quest evolves too.

Collin's in love with a Dwarven lassie called Stella Goldenhair, but she's quite a demanding girl. He's been sent in here to find an item that drops from the third boss, and if he returns it to her she's promised to take him out for a night in Dalaran. You'll pick that up in patch 6.0 but by the time 6.1's rolled around Collin will be back, because Stella's decided one item isn't enough and actually she needs something from the second boss as well. Theoretically Collin might turn up in other dungeons too, it really depends how much in love he is with this woman to begin with....

That's my first point. Dungeons have the potential to be evolutionary places, just as much as the 'Real' World is outside them. Give us more variety, and make that change every patch so that the dungeon experience is never the same twice. With each new patch, these 'standard' dungeon quests change too. If you make it to 6.4 and do the set you get the 'reward' of a one person scenario that rewards you something awesome for sticking with it. You know, like the Legendary quest but less orange.

Questgivers. Just add adventurers!

Armed with your quests you clear a few packs of mobs and save an NPC, who introduces herself to you. It transpires she is the vendor for this Instance. Yes, every Instance has it's own rep, after a fashion. You can choose at this point whose Faction you'll be earning your reputation for, but running the dungeon itself also has benefits. Ooh look, that's a Battle Pet she's selling you, and she only needs 100 Crystal Shard Fragments for it. 'Hmm, where do they come from?' you wonder, until you realise you picked up one from the mobs you had to kill to reach her. 5-10 drop per instance, meaning that you'll need probably 10 runs though here to pick it up. Those shards also buy useful items to help you complete some of the puzzles in the instance faster, for achievements once you've learnt the ropes. It was a good idea to have saved her, but you could just as easily ignore her if you want.

Finally, you reach Boss One.

RAR! Scary!

He never changes, regardless of what patch you happen to be on. He's the warmup guy, who's a real challenge 15 minutes after the expansion but you'll breeze through in 6.3. He knows you're not interested in what he drops after three months, but when 6.4 comes you'd better watch out because he'll have a chance to spawn a 'secondary' boss who'll hand you your behinds if you're not paying attention. He'll consider it worthy recompense for the people who didn't read the Patch Notes :p

Then there's the first Puzzle Section of the Dungeon. Each five man will have at least one, the more challenging will have two. It might be jumping (I'm doomed if it is) or it might be working out some codes. It could be a mini-game all in itself. You'll swear and curse when you have to do it the first few times but by 6.1 you'll just want to skip it and so and so, rather conveniently, a Quest will appear. Your reward?

Binds on Pickup, One Hour Cooldown. PRESS TO RESET.

Your [Big Friendly Button] allows you to cancel any puzzle in ANY DUNGEON, but you can only use it once per hour. Better make sure everyone's got one! Oh, and don't expect the grind for that to be a five minute job either... ^^
Remember to stack the trash on this boss...

Ohh, look, more trash and here comes Boss Two... except she's not here yet. She will be, but not straight away. You know his boss exists because you've seen the datamined information, but it's going to take two patches for that to happen, so for now you clear the trash and try and pick up clues as to how Boss Two will finally manifest. Fortunately the trash itself drops items you can't get anywhere else for crafting as is the case with all mobs who are, in effect, Boss placeholders. These drops have a value of their own, which makes clearing the mobs preferable to skipping. Once the boss arrives she'll drop those items too, but in greater numbers.

Here's my second point: Mobs don't have to remain standard. Change the Boss/trash composition on a patch by patch basis for more variety. Loot can remain static,but fights will be different challenges. Give an incentive for people to clear trash rather than skipping it, unless you're doing a Challenge Mode (but more on that later.) For now this Dungeon has another Puzzle Section and no-one's yet got a Button to reset it...

The minions in this fight are particularly annoying.

Oh and here we are at Boss Three, whose going to only be here for two patches and then he's gone, off into the World somewhere, doing the bidding of the Big Bad in their nefarious Scheme 'o' DOOM [TM] He'll end up as a Special Elite then and drop you a cool Vanity item, but for now he's here, making your life difficult until you've got better gear. Once you get to 6.3 you'll want to speed through here anyway, so he'll vanish when things need to get a bit easier. For now don't forget Collin's Quest item and off you go on the last section. There's some tricky trash here with a cool signature mechanic that will teach you how to do the last boss, if you're paying attention.

Then, you're at the End Boss.

Admit it. YOU'RE AFRAID :O

It's three bosses, actually, but they'll all die once you work out the mechanics, and when you do a Mole Machine will appear, courtesy of Melgrew Ironstout, to take you back to the Instance Entrance so you can hand in your quests and be on your way. You'll be satisfied with a Job Well Done, at least until 6.3 rolls around. This time there'll be no datamined forewarning, however, you'll kill the boss and suddenly you'll find he's left you a key. Then and only then will you notice the door carved into the wall behind the bosses smouldering remains and realise that you've opened a completely new section of dungeon...

This is my final point: design dungeons so they can be evolutionary places in themselves. Halfway through the expansion your dungeon gets a 'secondary' area that opens up and gives players an extension of the original experience. Allow 'secret' rooms to be accessed that give players more than one route to complete the trip. Find a way to return the 'WoW' Factor to a game that was more than capable of bringing the goods in the past, but seems to have become (in places) sadly predictable in its outcomes. We need some jaw-dropping moments. It needs to be just more than playing the game for loot.

We probably also need someone who's better at artwork than I am.


This dungeon design, ultimately, should be flexible above everything else. It can be run in Normal mode as a 'basic' experience, and a Heroic Mode with changes to the Quests, better rewards and two tiers of experience gains. Challenge Mode simply removes the NPC's and Quests. The emphasis is shifted away from Dungeons being simply an experience in gearing or point gathering and moved squarely back to the immersive experience they were to begin with. What should matter, more than gearing for raids, or indeed gearing at all, is enjoying the journey to get to the the gear. If we can fix that 'problem' I think it would be a fabulous first step in finding a way back to the great days of the game.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In and Out of Love

I'd love to have your opinion on the way to bring back Raid Attunements

We've talked about them a lot. Like many features, we went from one extreme to another. Might be a sweet spot. 

Once upon a time, one did not simply walk into Mordor a sub L60 dungeon. They took considerably more than five random people and a piece of client side UI to complete. In Vanilla they were real adventures, and were most definitely not for the feint hearted.

Happy Hour in the Temple could have used some karaoke...

The Sunken Temple always held a fond place in my heart, despite the groundwork you'd have to do before even stepping into the place. Actually, if I'm honest, it was that faffing beforehand that made the place so special in retrospect, tied with the hoops you'd need to jump through to make sure you'd only need one evening to complete it. Yes, that's right, ONE WHOLE EVENING. Not 20 minutes and back in the queue, Mr Entitlement Slacker. This stuff took finesse:

  • You'd need to make sure you had all the relevant quests (no quest giver in the entrance for us!) which often meant a huge amount of travelling, back before flying mounts were even invented. The Egg of Hakkar, for instance, required you to kill mobs in Ferelas, and Hand-in in Tanaris.

  • Quests were scattered all over the shop for Alliance players: one in the Dwarven District, two in Aerie Peak, that one at Steamweedle. Without quest sharing you needed to ensure everyone in your group had them before you began.

  • If you weren't a Hordie, there was no flight point in the Swamp either. That meant a trip through Deadwind Pass BY GROUND MOUNT from Duskwood. Yeah, flying mounts are for wimps :p

  • The dungeon itself was on three levels. To summon Jammal'an the Prophet required the death of six mini-bosses on the upper level, or else the shield that protected this boss could not be lowered. You couldn't skip any dragons on the middle floor either, because if you did once you engaged Eranikus every one left alive would come and attack you. That never happened twice.

  • There was also one boss that you couldn't complete without activating six Snake statues IN A SPECIFIC ORDER, which required you to clear not simply the lower floor, but another boss.

All this was in a FIVE MAN DUNGEON.A walkthrough of the place, Old Skool stylee, is here.

We had trouble finding five people to do this, let alone ten... ^^

When 'those people' say that stuff used to be hard back in the day, perhaps this is actually what they mean: however, I'd not say this was difficult per se. What you needed was an understanding of where everything was, which was the most efficient way of obtaining it, and a way to disseminate this information to the rest of your group in a clear and understandable fashion. This is one of the reason Atlas Loot was invented as an addon, for instance: a map like the one above and a list of the gear you'd get from each instance, so you could work out whether it was worth the effort. For a hunter this instance was a must-have (I remember the mail head as a reward for this that got upgraded when the Epic Helm of Narv dropped in the Plaguelands) plus this was the first Instance that rewarded a trinket (Chained Essence of Eranikus) and left a questline hanging, one I believe was never properly completed. Yes, even back then, stuff didn't get finished.

All of the above was, inevitably, why no-one went there after TBC launched.

The place is now a shadow of it's former self, all on the middle floor, and stupidly simple to complete. Part of me regrets Blizzard's decision on this, perhaps more so than in any other dungeon that was 'simplified' in the Sundering changes. What I then have to remind myself is that the context of this place has changed: when Vanilla was current, that level of immersion was necessary. As soon as TBC launched, everyone looked forward and only a few looked back. Blizzard however have, in many cases, remained true to the spirit of this dungeon. There are nods to Sunken Temple in the Throne of Thunder, and the Thunder dailies, that much is obvious. However, and this is where our GC tweet above becomes relevant, there is still something missing.

Gating via Dailies was Blizzard's new Black for Pandaria, and depending on who you talk to, was either a massive success or an unmitigated disaster. It remains a love or hate relationship: most raiders accommodated it as another of a long line of necessary evils to get to the good stuff. Back when TBC launched the Karazhan attunement was as huge an undertaking as Sunken Temple was: keys from three different Heroic instances, a one on one with Medivh in a key moment of Azeroth's history, which ties you back to an instance with it's own nasty rep-related questlines. People complained, of course they did, but I doubt anyone now would argue that the storytelling element was as compelling as any of the Pandarian storylines, that getting wrapped up in attunements that spanned the past and present of Azeroth's history and that sent you in and out of countless dungeons and raids wasn't a truly epic experience.

I wonder why more people don't wear the Hand of A'dal achievement. I reckon that's at least one title you could feel you really did earn.

THIS is an Attunement Schedule. There's a good reason this never happened again.

    When Ghostcrawler talks about the 'sweet spot', I understand his thinking. Ideally what you want is an engaging experience which could (realistically) last an entire expansion, that ties in both dungeons and raids, that would require you to run them all to get to the end-game but not feel like a millstone around your neck as you do. Something like Sunken Temple without the need for a Degree in Geography, akin to the TBC Attunement cycle but without the need to hire Christopher Nolan to make a movie about it so it made more sense. There has undoubtedly been a move away from complexity to the more simplistic model (YES OKAY EVEN I ADMIT WE NEED AN ALTERNATIVE TO DAILIES) which, inevitably means that something is missing from the Pandarian model that did exist before, just not in the right form.

    The game lost 14% of it's player base in the last three months of this year. Those in my Guild who have departed have been posting their unhappiness in various places. Apparently the game has stopped being 'engaging', whatever that means to them (horribly subjective terminology ftl.) I'm still engaged, I have tons of stuff 'to do' that I've not yet got around to completing but even I am prepared to admit at this point that giving someone new things to do is not the same as giving them things that make them think. Perhaps it is time to grasp that being involved in a storyline is all well and good, but without some kind of education process to boot you're going to start losing people to boredom. I'm not asking for a massive return to the Sunken Temple days, but as Blizzard design the new dungeons for the Expansion (because they already are) it might be an idea to make them more engaging for the long term, which could well involve an attunement tie-in.

    If you're wondering what I'd put in five mans to make them more interesting, you'll want to read my post on that very subject tomorrow.

    Monday, May 13, 2013

    All Change

    Spot the Hunter [Hint: look for the pet]

    I like plenty of warning when stuff's gonna change.

    You have been warned.

    Top news to start this week is that Hunters may well be filing into Blizzard HQ for a rework (along with rogues, one assumes) 'at some point' (my quote, not Mr Street's) which, on the general scale of progression looks like it could happen for the next Expansion. In fact, in the very next reply to the above Tweet GC qualifies his thoughts: 'It (the change) would not be at the warlock level. Are there things we can do? Yes.' Does this mean we could see this happen before 6.0? Who knows.

    Then the question becomes: what actually changes?

    Even though I'm quite happy with the place my primary class is right now, there are a lot of people who aren't. Frank above is looking for a complete re-tool of Marks (see the full discussion here) There's already been a recent discussion in this parish about how certain people feel we could do with less buttons to press. As Ghostcrawler states here we wouldn't be getting a Warlock-style redesign, I think its a safe bet that there's not going to be a Hunter Tanking Spec on the table (more's the pity.) However, making these three specs more 'distinctive' is going to be a pretty tall order without some fairly fundamental changes to the architecture. How do I think this change could be accomplished without complete ripping up the Hunter Book and starting again?

    I'd say this could happen in a couple of ways. The main one that springs to mind, believe it or not, is a trap redesign.

    Mr Alt has started levelling his Hunter, and yesterday I was asked the question: 'As a Beast Master, what trap do I use?' This actually stopped me in my tracks: if he was Survival, of course, he'd be using/working around Explosive in a rotation. As BM, I tend to stick Explosive and Snake down whenever they are off CD for more damage. There is no 'set' trap on a per spec basis: making that happen would be a possibility. In fact, giving each Spec a different trap configuration that boosted dps in particular situations would be a great way to introduce some variety whilst at the same time hanging onto that distinct Hunter vibe.

    Hunter Trap Mounts? Hmm, perhaps not...

    The other major complaint from Mr Alt in his 85 state was focus regen: it isn't something I've found myself worrying about at 90 too much, but it makes me think that as our primary 'resource' to manage this might be a good way to push people to play better by having to deal with it it in different ways, dependant on spec. What strikes me however, if I were the one designing a facelift, is the Mage model as an example. There is another 'pure' dps class, with no hybridity: assuming you don't want to make your Hunter capable of anything else, the task then becomes to make the three damage specs easy enough to swap between so that a min/maxxer can always be doing the best damage possible (for the sake of their raid, not for themself) whilst the casual player can have a spec they can stick with because it's their favourite and not feel they're being disadvantaged by not picking the other two. That's actually a pretty tall order.

    I am sure the more serious Hunter commentators are already writing their wish lists. Sitting very much in Casual Corner, my main concern is losing the ability to play comfortably in Hunter v World situation. I love the fact myself and my pet can solo pretty much anything that exists in the current Environment, and I'd hope this factor in gameplay doesn't get lost in any potential 'refit.' I am going to assume that, at the end of all this, I'll have less buttons to press but I'll have something that's more interesting, if the Warlock model is being used as an example even if it is simply in passing. This means that somewhere, deep in the bowels of Blizzard HQ, it is very likely someone's job right now to be planning the next big thing for the class that I love.

    I don't envy their job one bit.

    Sunday, May 12, 2013

    Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard

    Goodbye to Rosie (not real name), Queen of Dire Maul.

    I'm not going back to LFD to level my Monk.

    The bad has finally outweighed the good. The abuse as a healer if I do anything wrong, or don't keep up with the group, or heal the tank ahead of the dps pretending to be the tank has actively discouraged me levelling. The Satchel of Helpful Goods is anything but. If I want to get to 85 it would be via questing and Pet Battles and, at this point, I don't have the time. 85-90 will happen during 5.3 and will be via Guild because I know so many other people are going to wait. For now, therefore, I need a way to level on my own that includes Dungeons where I can choose the loot I want, and do it on my own terms.

    Therefore yesterday I began to Dual Box myself to 85.

    Having two accounts is a must, of course. The Monk is on follow behind the Hunter, who comes with a Mass Rez and a defibrillator if things get hairy... and off we went. I used my Two Person Rocket to fly us from Stormwind to Ferelas (with only two DC's and no deaths) and we started in the Warpwood Quarter. I looted everything, and with the Hunter's Mailbox capacity could send it away to various alts to 'process' later. Of the three instances in Dire Maul I could quest in two for extra XP: being King (WTB Queen option PST) I had no quests but enough for three levels. For the time it took and what I got, it was well worth the extra 'effort'.. and there was just NO STRESS AT ALL.

    I think that fact alone made the entire experience worth doing.

    Bolstered by this, I went to Razorfen Kraul (Goldthorn Tea still gettable \o/). Mr Alt, watching this, offered a run through Strat Live Side as soon as I'd reached the level, which then turned into the Undead side (need to do that again for quests once I'm older) and was then swiftly followed by a once through BRD (again, quests are there to do.) However, next up on my eligibility list is Zul'Farrak, which I LOVE even after all this time (the Prisoners on the Temple steps event better still be there!) I went from 38 to 45 yesterday, which I'm sure I could have done faster if I'd been in LFD but frankly, I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun with random people.

    Sorry, randoms.

    Dire Maul and Razorfen also provided some top opportunities for herbalism skilling which will translate into a massive Inscription push when I next log. In fact, the faffing possibilities on the bankalts with all the attendant gubbins there is to sort ( some lovely mog items, mucho cloth which is selling very well) makes this a game the entire Alt family can play along with. Of course, its not getting me any gear upgrades or earning me Valor but, actually, I think I've had enough of that side of things for a while anyway. It's not going anywhere, but I can happily say that yesterday was a great deal more enjoyable than I thought would be possible with a task most people consider a chore, and with good reason.