Saturday, June 15, 2013

Winter Trees

Yes, it's another LICENSE TO PRINT MONEY...

Yesterday, Blizzard stuck a new Battle Pet in their Store: the Blossoming Ancient. I'm not here to pass judgement on its skills or looks, you can decide that for yourself. What I am here to discuss is that the model is particularly interesting, and that this introduction might have a greater relevance in the game world.

The key to this pet's uniqueness is that it is, in essence, four different models with distinct animations. The skin 'changes' with every three months, coinciding with Azeroth's seasons. The timing of this pet's release is likely to have more than a little to do with an upcoming change (Spring to Summer) and the fact that an awful lot of Pet Collectors will be descending on Silithus on the 21st June as Summer arrives and the Qiraji Guardling appears. If this actually works (and there's a part of me that thinks it could go horribly wrong and break the game, but that's only coz I've been Here Since Vanilla [TM] and that's the kind of stuff that used to happen) this could mean that the game itself might start becoming a lot less static than it currently is.

Imagine, if you will, a world full of trees that changed with the seasons of the game.

Loch Moden, before the Sundering. Imagine Winter Trees...

If Blizzard is monkeying around with time-linked skins, the applications of this could be revolutionary. Every zone could have the ability to transform: not simply with the seasons, perhaps even with weather effects if everything works on a timer. When it rained, trees could sway more, perhaps even be struck by lightning. Fruit could fall from Autumn trees and form the basis of seasonal quests (perhaps linked to festivals like Pilgrim's Bounty) This could revolutionise the way Dailies worked as well, especially if you could expect a new set of instructions as Winter turned to Spring, all linked with the way the world evolved around you. Frankly, the terrain possibilities of this are limitless.

The only practical consideration I can muster against this is the amount of memory such a change to the game could demand, which might finally push some older graphics cards into the Twisting Nether. Needless to say, when we go into a new Expansion, inevitably some new graphics effects have that ability (I remember Wrath's fire effects consigning my old card to oblivion.) However, I'd say this would be a small price to pay if it meant that the game world around me became even more vibrant and alive than it is at present. I'm not even considering the possibilities for player and NPC models with this change, so feel free to go to town on what might be possible. The only limit as I can see is the game timers, and the imagination of the Devs... Most importantly of all, this would once and for all allow those people that complain that zones remain 'static' across Expansions to eat their words. With timed graphical effects, every zone could be moving and developing. This wouldn't necessarily have to be tied to seasons either, maybe a long-term 'event' could be played out over weeks, months or even years... as I said, the possibilites could be endless.

I am already getting the sense that the next Expansion is going to be something very different from what we've been previously used to. Garrosh's amended model is already generating unreasonable amount of excitement for the possibility of a completed and updated Orc skin, after all. Could this unassuming little tree be a portent of something far more exciting to come in the months that follow..?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Mambo No 5.4

River Song, she say NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

This is not the post I wanted to write, instead it is a post about a post I WILL write and another that I already have, plus why datamining and PTR's are inherently evil.

So yesterday I saw an image of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, posted via Twitter, that took my breath away. No I'm not going to post it here, not until that patch is current, despite the fact that I know many people have seen it, and many would not consider this an eponymous spoiler (thanks River, you're always here in a crisis.) We're still in the Barrens in our current chronology, and it isn't yet clear what part this 'version' of the Vale will play in events, but if the reaction yesterday is anything to go by, a lot of people are surprised at what has transpired. Don't ever say Blizzard don't listen when you say you don't like Daily Quests.

The dances we do when new patches appear are interesting, supposition-filled affairs. I notice Ghostcrawler deliberately posted a 'don't take this all as truth, it's subject to change' Tweet as if him saying this will stop people going above and away with their rants and speculation. Everyone has a theory, there's the glorious haze of uncertainty because anyone could be right, we just won't know until the patch passes into Lore. For me, yesterday created a rather interesting impact event in a part of my brain that has, for several weeks now, been struggling with the reactions I've seen from people across the Blogsphere to all manner of things. As a result, three thousand words popped out late last night that I sense I will end up sharing with you in at least one form or another. This is me giving you lots of warning, I reckon you'll need both cuppa and cake to digest that one.

The post I wanted to write concerns the state of the Vale, and how consequences and actions are the very stuff that make this game so fascinating to both play and observe, but I won't do that until I can be sure we know exactly where our journey will end. For now, we exist in mambo limbo, a place where some really interesting boss mechanics are becoming apparent, where at least one major Horde stronghold could be reduced to rubble... where Pride is the least of your worries in a set of 5.4 raid encounters that look as if they could bring something rather special to the table. As the datamining continues to pull out nuggets of interest, and people arrive on the PTR to discover for themselves what lies in store, I find myself torn as to whether or not I'd want to join them. We've already established I make an awful tester, I don't want to spoil myself for things in one place I'll then have the chance to play out 'for real' later on. For now, I would like to do most of my observation at a distance. However, the practicalities of that whilst writing about said phenomena require a different approach.

The worst part of all of this, of course, is when I discover a piece of information I then think I'd have been better off not knowing until I reached that point in the game's chronology. That has happened this morning, as it transpires, but on reflection I realise that if you choose to write about an evolutionary process, getting annoyed at observing that is not the best way to conduct yourself. You have to shut up and take it all, like it or not, and so Spoilers only become as such when you grasp they are and that passing them on would have an adverse effect on the people you know won't read ANYTHING until they've seen it with their own eyes. I often bemoan people for not reading the Patch Notes because they will lack an advantage over those who have, but there's even a method to that madness. No point in worrying about something until it happens and you need to deal with it is just as valid an argument as the one that states preparation is everything. It just boils down to what side of the fence you decide to take, or if your skill is precariously balancing on a fencepost.

With this particular spoiler, unlike the new features, I think you have to decide for yourself what you learn ahead of time. I know one thing, this is going to make the lore developments in 5.4 extremely interesting indeed...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

When the Dust Settles

What real-time web updating looks like when you don't have one post a day...

This time yesterday, everyone got really excited. This morning, the Blogsphere has a distinctive post-announcement vibe to it. In fact, I'd suggest there might be a few 5.4 reveal hangovers after what was frankly a HUGE infodump. I have seen some people suggest that 5.4 might be just too much to cope with altogether. On reflection overnight, I can appreciate the merit of that statement.

There has been two key changes to the way patches have been deployed by Blizzard post-Cataclysm. One is the frequency at which they are being applied to the game, the other is the speed with which these new features are appearing. This has lead to people like me simply being unable to 'complete' content within the timeframe of it's application, and has forced a massive reassessment of how players use choice as a gaming tool. This excess of decision making has affected everyone in the game: whether you're a Hardcore raider who now has to decide whether to Flex or LFR (or both) or a more Casual player who's list of Battle Pets to capture is now so long you've had to completely re-write your 'To Capture' List. The biggest single problem to 'completing' the game is no longer what you're given, it is the way in which you organise the time you have to play. When WoW Insider provides a guide on Time Management, it's time to finally accept that things have changed.

I've been lamenting this pretty much constantly since we started this Expansion: lists have been made and discarded, I'm on my second pad full of random scribblings, of projects I was going to start but failed to complete, simply because they ceased to be current. However, just because the game has moved on, it does not mean relevance has diminished. Let's take yesterday as an example, in game with a Guildie (and regular reader of this Blog.) He's been trying to search for a Vial of the Sands for some time, and he was digging in the Old World to do so. Of course, there's no problem doing this (and some may argue it's actually quicker) but the fact remains that an entire mechanic was introduced in Pandaria to allow you to 'unearth' current content and still have access to Old World fragments via being Exalted with the Lorewalkers. My Guildie, by his own admission, was utterly clueless... however, I find myself thinking this isn't actually his fault. It's not like there's a Blizzard Guide on this he can easily access... and here's a big part of this accelerated content's 'problem.'

Things move so fast, it is often becoming impossible to remember what 'version' of events is current.

I find myself looking at that statement with a measure of incredulity: I can remember being highly critical in the past of things NOT moving fast, of having to sit and metaphorically tap my foot while I waited for Blizzard to bring the content. Now we have this pace, I can't cope. I know I'm not the only one either. Does this mean however that I'm atypical? Is everyone else sitting around bored, waiting for new stuff, or is the pace just right? Whatever your speed is, however, are you clear on where you need to go when 5.4 hits?

As if by magic, a Quote appears :D Shouldn't this be Blizzard's job?

I remember reading a lot of stuff by Kurn, after she announced her retirement from raiding. One of her arguments, which still rings true even now, is that it should be Blizzard's job to educate people on how things work and not the task of the players themselves. It's always been a delicate balance: when Blizzard will, as above, arbitrarily point people to web resources, you might think that's to help alleviate their CS Ticket queue times with people asking the obvious. The fact is there is often only the time before a patch transition to give people the most basic direction they need (points, gear) and if you mess that up, the consequences can be catastrophic (remember Blizzard giving us an extra three weeks to gather points when they stuffed up the VP/JP conversions and told everyone they were free to spend?) The flurry of VERY DELIBERATELY WORDED blog posts pre-5.3 I suspect will already mean Blizzard CM's are frantically drafting similar documents for every key feature in 5.4, with deliberate lead-time for Mr Street and anyone else with a Twitter account to field questions right the way across the Summer. If you thought being a CM was a thankless task already, I suspect the next three months will have EVERYONE earning their gold.

This inevitably means a lot of features simply don't get the time devoted to them. Professions, Archaeology, Rare Spawns, Treasure Hunting... all those 'minority' areas are covered by Fan Sites. Blizzard I suspect will never find the time to thank enough those people who provide these services, apart from perhaps immortalising as many of them as possible in game. The fact remains, that the more 'stuff' Blizzard packs in, the more difficult it becomes to be able to know how you do them all without some kind of map. 5.4 desperately needs a better map than the patches that have preceded it. That fact cannot be emphasised enough, because a lot of people are coming close to losing the plot completely, and I'd count myself in that number. As a result I think I know what I'll be doing this summer, and that's making some Guides myself to the parts of the game in Pandaria that I've had trouble grasping.

There really is a lot to take in, especially on days like yesterday, and it can be easy to forget how daunting that can be in a wider context.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Magic Bus


As if I'd predicted it (*cough*) I wake up this morning (DUH DUUUH DUH DUH) and what do I find all over my twitter feed? It's the 5.4 PTR Patch notes! What a surprise! Actually, that's something of an understatement, because there is so much stuff to pick and choose from in this data dump it is quite easy to see why Ghostcrawler had trouble choosing a favourite. Quite apart from a Corrupted Garrosh (no surprises) and what looks like a double decker bus-load of new pet and mount models (see that graphic is relevant!) we have lots to think on. Let's do the contentious one first.

If you want the full patch notes, they're here.

New Feature: Virtual Realms

Virtual Realms are sets of realms that are fused together, and will behave exactly as if they were one cohesive realm. Players on the same Virtual Realm will be able to join guilds, access a single Auction House, join arena teams and raids, as well run dungeons or group up to complete quests.

Players belonging to the same Virtual Realm will have a (#) symbol next to their name.

Coming as this does so soon on the back of the 50% Server Transfers 'offer', there's going to a few people cynically raising their eyebrows at this announcement (someone on MMO even speculated a feature like this could be coming well before it did.) The fact remains, the 'problem' of low population Realms was something that needed to be addressed in a robust manner. I know there'll be many who'll bemoan this, that low population realms have their advantages, but in purely practical terms this game isn't single player. What will be making many Gold Farmers either celebrate or hang up their Auctionator 9000's is the merging of AH's. I'd expect the AH's to go absolutely mental in the next few weeks as a result. You have been warned.

Next up:

New Feature: Proving Grounds

Proving Grounds is a new feature for individual players to test and improve their combat skills.

At the Proving Grounds, players may undertake trials, designed for Damage, Tank, or Healer roles.

It provides a great opportunity to learn how to Tank or Heal, without the need of a group.

Each trial is available in four separate difficulties: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Endless. Harder difficulties include more difficult and varied enemies.

Endless mode allows you to test your mettle against increasingly difficult enemies. Compare your best scores to friends and guildmates!

This feature's been floating around for a while, and (with my Dev hat on) I suspect utilises a lot of the same tech that the Brawler's Guild currently employs. The decision to scale difficulties and award ranks to them is a very shrewd move. Consider this something to add to your Guild Application, it's like GCSE's in Tanking and Healing, folks! You can have a physical representation of your ability to perform a specific role, and people can see how good you are at doing that. DPS... you're all DOOMED. Re-roll actual utility and forget those meters, you're old news...

There's also another fairly significant change, hidden right down the bottom of the patch notes.


All permanent item enhancements provided by Enchanting, Engineering, Leatherworking, Tailoring, and various vendors and quests are now able to be applied to items of any level. This means all enchantments can now be applied to heirloom items.

High level enhancements applied to items equipped by low level players have their power scaled down to be similar to enhancements intended for that level range.

Low level enhancements applied to items equipped by high level players do not grow further in power beyond their intended level range.

This one, frankly, is HUGE. Scaling isn't just happening to instances, folks, items are going that way too, and part of me thinks this could have a hugely significant effect on future Expansions. It will be Great News (TM) to all the people I know who've been pushing for this change (some for years) but it is going to mean a fairly massive market in old enchants could well go the way of the Dodo. Yet another reason for Gold Makers to not bother sleeping (if they're US-based) and get all those items up for sale ASAP... ^^

There's a ton of other stuff coming out of the data-miners websites, quite apart from the PTR details. I'll do a separate post on that later, but for now here's the rest of the highlights, quite apart from the already sizable changes to certain classes (Druids, looking at you, crying quietly about Hunter changes...)

  • Flex raiding, but you knew that. WE DID THAT LAST WEEK.

  • New area called the Timeless Isle. TITAN TECH INCOMING.

  • Vengeance gains from being critically hit have been halved (start the QQ now.)

  • 'Players that don’t have a coin or elect to not use a Bonus Roll when defeating one of the world bosses (Sha of Anger, Galleon, Nalak, and Oondasta) can come back later that same week to use the Bonus Roll. The limit has not changed and remains one attempt and one bonus roll per boss, per week.' Yes, you can choose to COLLECT YOUR GOLD ANY TIME.

  • NEW PET BATTLE TOURNAMENT OMG I've not done the last one yet DAMMIT.

  • Many Battle Pet ability changes. Many, many changes that make my brain melt.

  • MOAR GOLD BAG CHANCES in Instances (hooray! *cough*) In good news, bags should start dropping Haunting Spirits in 5.4 so those 5.3 patterns will finally be of use \o/

  • New temporary titles for Challenge Modes, so people on your Virtual server know how awesome you are.

  • 'The vestigial Use Hardware sound option has been removed.' Sorry :(

Blimey, so much stuff. I need a cuppa after all that... ^^

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Future is Now

Rel and I make it easier for Ghostcrawler to plan his summer vacation...

The future is a great subject for blog discussion: anything is fair game, and if you're lucky you'll hit predictive gold. It's cheaper than buying a Container on the BMAH and more fun when people play along with you. So, let's put on our Tinfoil Hats and 'GC STILL owes me a Moose' T-shirts and think about what is likely to happen in the next six months of this year, especially when related to the business of future development. As you can see @ReliqEU have already done some of the hard work for you. How much of this is simply idle speculation and what could really be the path ahead for Warcraft in 2013?

Flex Raiding is causing a lot of buzz right now, and it's encouraging people on my Twitter list to resub to the game. If that trend pans out across the entire model, Blizzard will want Flex ready to go as soon as humanly possible, and as it will only available with 5.4 content, they'll want to get that ready to go sharpish. It is not unreasonable therefore (imo) to expect to see a PTR up *soon* [TM] and to have 5.4 ready to go when the kids go back to school in September. If that is the case, and with Blizzcon in November, part of me (and clearly Rel's brane as well) thinks we should see some major Expansion action at Blizzcon, which COULD mean that we'll know some juicy new game details before that happens (new game smell !!1!11!1!11!!.) They key to all this, of course, is not repeating the mistakes made with the last expansion of Cataclysm, which left people without anything significant to do for nearly a year after 4.4 dropped.

There are some caveats to this, of course. There's an awful lot more to do this time around, but part of me doesn't think Blizzard's expecting everyone to level 75 Battle Pets to L25 while they wait for the Expansion (done mine, what's your excuse? :p) I can easily see four months of 5.4 'uninterrupted' until we start seeing pre-preparation for 6.0, but the key to this will not simply depend on the success of Flex Raiding. A lot of this will be wrapped around the difficulty of Garrosh and his raid boss mates... and there's a part of me that knows what's coming. This boss will have to match Deathwing for complexity and fiendishness, but at the same time will have to posses mechanics that allow any number of players from 11-24 to complete it as well as the other two tiers of difficulty. That means I reckon this is going to go one of two ways: we're either getting an end boss SO HARD they'll end up having to nerf him after release for everybody, or he'll be dead within a fortnight for the Hardcore.

In other words, pretty much the same as every other end boss we've had thus far.

What has changed since Cataclysm, of course, is the notion of timescales. Nine months between 5.4 and 6.0 seems really far too long to maintain interest on current progression. That will now be key is what Blizzard have in store for Blizzcon (remember there's already Hearthstone, a D3 expansion PLUS the console port of D3 to present) and what we're going to look forward to for the next six months. Part of me really feels we'll see something Expansion-related BEFORE Blizzcon so that everyone has a chance to get their questions ready to ask in plenty of time... As was pointed out on my Twitter feed yesterday, maybe this is one of the reasons lots of people got taken off Project Titan and diverted to other Blizzard games earlier last month. That's a heck of a lot of stuff to get done before November...

I would expect a fair few of my regulars to have a say on this, so let's be having you, guys. What do you think is the current timetable for Blizzard and the announcement of the next Expansion?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Making Your Mind Up

This appears in a crafting discussion. Go figure.

The problems with Twitter as a long-form discussion tool are manyfold, quite apart from the fact that 140 characters really won't cut it for those who have trouble streamlining their points. As a result, often picking up one salient nugget to spotlight from a discussion misses something else more significant 'down the line.' Hence why this morning I highlight this trio of responses from Mr Street which appears, believe it or not, in the middle of of a discussion about which three systems GC would change if he had yesterday's magic lamp ('Professions, end-game gearing direction, ability bloat' (Source) are his responses.) However, I reckon this direction's more interesting, considering the current climate.

If you asked people what was wrong with Cataclysm, most people would respond that, in the end, there was very little to engage outside of 5 Mans and Raids. GC sums that up rather nicely in the first tweet of the trio, that the Devs acknowledge that the game stopped being about choice (which we know is a Thing after the weekend) and instead focussed solely on being inside stuff: raids, heroics for rep, gear that could only be gained by treading a very specific and streamlined path. Although this made things a lot simpler in terms of knowing what to do and where to go, it meant we all got really grumpy. The solution, as we have seen, was to go 'the other way' with Pandaria, but as is often the case when you're balancing something, it's easy to overcompensate. Tweet two admits we're in a 'crazy quilt' right now, which actually is a fairly good description of what this Expansion would look like if you could stare at it from a long way away.

chatirygirl @ flickr. Can you tell what it is yet?

That was why we ended up with some very specific Blog posts when 5.3 launched, because it became apparent people weren't clear on what they could do to gear quickly if coming in 'behind the curve.' If this was Cata you'd just stick on a tabard and run Heroics until your eyes bled and you had the Valor. Now there are choices, some might say too many, but it isn't simply about the path most travelled to get what you want. Later in this conversation GC re-iterates that the game simply hasn't given the players what they need to make the correct choices this time around:

Please note the use of MoP IN THE PAST TENSE.

If you didn't know already, GC's not thinking about this Expansion any more, good people. As soon as 5.4 appears on the PTR this Crab's all about the next one, where one can assume that we'll get a lot more direction when we hit 95. There'll still be tons of stuff to do, but that stuff will be simplified, and more fun, and yes I can already hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth already at the use of those two words. Those people who bemoan the fact that 'everything is too easy' will no doubt be sharpening their keyboard skills to start pouring fire onto anything that helps players understand what to do without a Degree in Mechanical Engineering. The fact remains that if new players are going to pick this game up, and they do, there needs to be a way to make them understand how things work. Right now, a 'crazy quilt' of random and seemingly unconnected activities isn't going to do that. We need at least to know what the pattern's supposed to look like when it's done, or if it is random, which path we should navigate to get to the things we want to do.

Yet again, we are faced with choice as the key to wealth and happiness. Mr Street and the team are well aware that this Expansion may have scored highly in the entertainment stakes for many, but that won't be enough if it isn't tempered with some clarity and focus next time around.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Wishing I was Lucky

Maybe if I rub this steaming lamp... ^^

It's okay, this isn't going to be another post about RNG fail.

While we're all hanging about, hoping the 5.4 PTR's going to pop up so we can get all excited about a bunch of new features, there are more than a few pairs of eyes looking forward to The Next Expansion [TM] I've already pointed Blizzard to the ways I reckon Dailies and Five Mans could be changed, so now it's the time to consider my Wishlist for 'Everything Else.' Let us imagine that the lamp above's just been rubbed, and that a Draenei-looking Genie's gonna pop out and grant me the proverbial three wishes. If I had carte blanche to change anything in-game, what would I choose?

Believe it or not, I wouldn't use one to remove the RNG. I still maintain that a /roll is the fairest way to decide who gets what in game, far more than Loot Councils or DKP. Everyone's on the same field, and it then simply down to luck. What I have a problem with is how, when you're not in control of situations, the RNG is often a hindrance to enjoyment. I think too many 'rare' items are controlled this way (looking at you, mounts) and that it might just be nicer all round if something like the BMAH existed, but you didn't need to be at Gold Cap to use it. I think of all those grey items with flavour text that I 'found' in the Beta, hoping I might be able to farm a ton and hand them in for summat cool. I'd like a way to be able to do that with older content, similar to the way you farm beads for the Kurenai to make them like you, or the Dinosaur Bones now. Let me farm 1000 Cenarion Salves and then exchange them for Anzu. Let me hand in 1000 Vrykul Ritual Spears and get a Blue Proto Drake. Surely it can't be impossible to drop them into the loot tables.

Yeah, so for Wish #1, give me a simpler way to get rare stuff that doesn't involve gold sinks but allows me to work for a goal I can actually see, and not just hope happens.

Wish #2's linked to this, and laments the loss of Have Group, Will Travel. It also appeared as one of the features I'd like to see in 5.4 so apologies for repeating myself, but this is something I'd dearly love the ability to do as a quality of life change. Give me the ability to personally teleport to any Summoning Stone in Azeroth. I'm cool if you make it a questline and I gotta beat a dude/collect stuff/scenario/kill another dude to get it. If there's work involved that's not a problem, because the time I'd save by owning this item and having it in my inventory would simply be immense. I wouldn't even mind if you had to have visited the Stone once to input its co-ordinates into your device, and that the device only worked for L90's and above. It wouldn't redundify the Stones, and would restrict the number of people Gold Farming (though there's never gonna be a way to stop it.)

Wish #3's for the OCD part of me that would love to FINALLY be able to collect every pattern for my crafters. I'd like to be able to have a system that rewards you when you make a certain number of something, that will grant you access to older patterns, similar to the 'Discovery' system that happens with Alchemy. That would mean that every time I make an item or craft for a random person there's a chance of something awesome I'm missing from the past suddenly popping up in my discovery window. Is it really that difficult to programme this back into the game? Well, if it's a wish I assume that those considerations won't matter anyway, it'll just magically happen anyway. Maybe Activision should be ploughing some of those massive profits into Antiquity Acquisition...