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Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Final Countdown (Day 27) :: View To A Kill

Thus far in our countdown we've covered the following:

  • Expansion Title
  • Possible major changes to external content
  • The level cap
  • Itemisation

We have, however, given very little thought to what instances may bring. I don't normally recycle content, but it's the weekend and I think this particular post deserves a re-air, because it deals with how I'd like to see 5 mans evolve, and it was written ALL THE WAY BACK IN MAY OMG THAT WAS YESTERDAY. So if you're reading this and think it's familiar... well it was, but I think the idea bears repeating in my 31 day countdown. Anyway, enough chat, let's get to it!

==

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

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.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Final Countdown (Day 28) :: Living By Numbers

Generated courtesy of wowitemcreator.com

You know what we're going to talk about today? See that large gray mammal over there?

Yup, that'll be the Item Stats 'issue.'

Back in August, Wow Insider got the best indication for some time that 'stat inflation' on gear is now enough of an issue that Blizzard will need to deal with it. Where TC is Game Director Tom Chilton and CS is lead Content Designer Cory Stockton, here from that article is the conversation in question:


TC: "If we don't do the item squish it's going to require a lot of re-engineering of our combat code to actually support bigger numbers. We're getting really close to the point where the code can't..."

CS: "Yeah, the code can't compile the numbers"

TC: "Yeah it can't compile the numbers, so we are testing the item squish internally with the expansion, and I think a good time to launch it would be right before the next expansion so people are already used to it by the time the expansion launches. So, that's the current plan, but we'll see how it works out. I hope we can."


That was the end of August, and we're now in October... and there is still no indicator that the 'issue' has either been addressed or not. It's not a surprise, if you think about it, because this one mechanic underpins any part of the game that focusses on combat (and that's pretty much everything.) Blizzard aren't exactly going to throw up their hands and have a hissy fit if they can't make things work... they have to, because if they don't, everything suffers and frankly, we have no game. That means this silence is (I'd suspect) both planned and deliberate. This is one thing I don't see us hearing anything about until Blizzcon either... and possibly for some time afterwards, depending on the severity of the problem. Remember, this won't just be the new expansion that's affected: every item, every mob, every instance is influenced by these numbers. Even if old content isn't being changed, it will need to be checked, and that's eight years plus worth of output to parse.

There are mutterings in the Community, of course there are, because the longer we hear nothing the bigger the Elephant grows. I'm aware of some people who've tried to work out a regression path back to smaller numbers but can't make the sums add up. There are various problems: knowing where Blizzard will pitch the rollback, because there's no indicator of how long the gaming environment will be used after this point, and the reaction of the community to the new numbers when they come. However, this was a problem Blizzard considered before Cataclysm. We even have a graph of what item inflation looked like back then from a Dev Watercooler:


Item level vs. character level. Brown = vanilla. Green = BC. Blue = LK. Red = Cat.


Ghostcrawler was even so good as to provide us with an item that we'd see in the new Expansion if this trend continued:


Yes, we get the point.


Blizzard knew this was coming, before Pandaria, but decided that 'squishing' the numbers was not the path they'd take. As Mr G. Crawler quite astutely points out in the linked article above, 'the big risk of this approach is that players will log into the new expansion and feel nerfed… even if all the other numbers are compressed as well.' Blizzard was aware enough of the problem an expansion ago and chose not to do it, and that is a key point to consider as we go forward. If the technology now becomes physically incapable of dealing with the computations required, that's going to involve some fairly major changes somewhere. However, stats are only part of this equation: gear itself has stopped being necessarily about what's on it. For many people, trying to enter instances and progress through the End Game, the iLevel of your item is far more important, and that's also an issue it might be time to address.


...and you thought the elephant was large...

If you get five minutes today, go look up the Wowpedia article on iLevel, and get utterly staggered at the complexity of the system. Every item of some use that you equip has a level, and that influences pretty much all content in some way or another. If you lived through the nightmare that was Gear Score you'll know that giving people a label is all well and good, but it can easily be used to hide a multitude of sins. 'Cheesing' your score even now is simply a case of stealing a few high level BoE's from the Guild Bank: this won't make you a better player or teach you what to do, but if the restriction to an instance is a number, that's all it takes. As I said yesterday, if you dangle carrots at people they'll find any way to eat them, even if they're not capable of digesting the reward successfully. If Blizzard are taking this opportunity to re-engineer the stats, I have to hope they'll be doing the same with the iLevels. That's likely to seem like even more of a nerf for some players for whom only one factor seems to matter.


Small numbers ARE NOT OPTIMAL ^^

I think we can all agree that something, somewhere has to give in the Expansion. What that is, and how Blizzard deal with the numbers isn't probably nearly as important as how they dress up the PR *when* it happens, because there is a weight of expectation on gear that really shouldn't be there, but it is. It should NOT be about a constant treadmill of equip, outgrow and re-assess. We should not be forced to constantly review what we wear on often a daily basis, or need external third-party websites to do so. The expansion would be the perfect opportunity to clean a very confusing and dirty slate once and for all. The question then comes what people now consider as an acceptable number to represent their achievement.

Perhaps it is time for a different measurement system altogether.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Take Me To the River

There now follows an obligatory plug for an event that a bunch of good people I know have arranged and you may consider attending.



We approve of arrow use.


This is NOT Blizzcon, quite obviously, but it is a one-day event that has permission from Blizzard to use the relevant livestreams and stick them on a TV in a very nice Central London bar. So that means drinks, food and (hopefully) a lot of very entertaining individuals.

Oh yeah, and I plan to be there. YES THERE WILL BE LIVE FAFFING.

For all the details you need, you'll want to go to the following URL:


https://readycheck.eventbrite.co.uk/

We now return you to your scheduled afternoon browsing experience.

The Final Countdown (Day 29) :: You Only Live Twice

The First Indication of our Next Destination?

For the last two Expansions, we've only had five levels to negotiate in our headlong charge to cap. Is that about to change?

Certainly the requirement on the BoA weapons from Garrosh would appear to suggest we get to level to three figures this time around. After all, I doubt we'd be gifted an effective Heirloom item that lasted beyond the NEXT end game. This therefore allows us to think ahead to what ten levels of XP gain might grant us in terms of area and content. Pandaria mysteriously appeared as one large (and usefully self-contained) continent, as Outland and Northrend were, but not on nearly the same scale. There were obvious and often crippling issues with clogged starting areas at game launch, which I'm betting Blizzard will be consciously going out to avoid this time around. Therefore I am thinking we may see the staggered approach that Wrath gave us, with a choice of entrances for our journey. The follow-up question then becomes whether we will see existing content being re-purposed for questing, or if everything we're presented with is effectively unexplored country.

Then there is the issue of redrawing the map, which has become something of an in-joke, even for Blizzard.


Two continents, no waiting.

There was a pro ported leak of content a while back (my good friend Mr B.B. Butt has details) which suggested that The Dark Below (yeah, remember that?) would utilise a lot of existing zones with transport via underground tunnels. The current map would most definitely support the addition of new areas, as was the case in Cataclysm, but that would in itself cause additional issues, especially if the world 'changed' before the Expansion went live. I remember precisely manoeuvring myself before fishing from Tanaris into Uldum back in the weeks before Cataclysm, and I know I wasn't alone [*]. If you give people new things they can see, they're going to try and get there before you want them to to get a jump on everyone else, and that's bad. A self-contained new zone keeps everything under wraps, and stops the sneaky trying to make an early unscheduled entry. Take it from someone who knows ^^

So where would we put a new zone?

With phasing, Blizzard can kill many birds with one stone. Old areas can continue to exist before the transition happens, but without new items or areas actually showing up. This would allow any continent, every zone to potentially be part of the new experience... but we know that's unlikely to happen because traditionally expansion equals new art AND areas. Therefore I'd put some money on us going off-world again, because that means no additional space required on the map. A lot of the reason why the 'underground' aspect of The Dark Below were immediately so appealing was because it effectively circumnavigated the cartography issue: if we can spend an Expansion in space, below ground wouldn't have been a massive stretch either. The reality is probably getting a bit of everything, especially as that would tie in with the 10th Anniversary aspect of proceedings. Keeping everyone happy is, after all, what Blizzard is planning to do, and there is a distinct movement who are looking for an integration of the old and new into whatever is produced.





There is a feeling from what I've read in the last few months via Twitter that there is some resistance to redrawing the existing map, but when we see a patch like Escalation where an entire zone is taken and in part repurposed for current content, there is some hope. Pandaria really raised the bar for new and beautiful landscapes, and I'm not sure how Blizzard will better that if they stay confined within the auspices of the existing world. There are a lot of problems to address in what the game looks like, and that new must equal not recycled, but I'd have to argue at this point that the number of models we see reused has never seemed to be a problem for people over the years. There's almost a de-facto acceptance that SOMETHING needs to remain the feeling of familiarity. What Blizzard have never successfully managed to pull off is blending the old back in with the new to create something seamless, which doesn't look or feel deserted when the content expires.

Maybe that could finally represent their finest hour.

==

[*] I also skinned the sharks in Menethil for AGES before they nerfed them. It's a fair kop, guv.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Final Countdown (Day 30) :: Call Me


  • Over 50% of Flex Raids last week had two or more raid sizes, so people are really making use of the flexible size feature.


  • Roughly the same amount of people did a flex raid last week as the number that did scenarios.


  • The Timeless Isle is somewhat of a template for endgame world content going forward. There might be some more structure in the future, but the general style of content that avoids pure daily quests worked well.


  • Adding things in the world to discover while levelling will also be a goal moving forward.




We have made rather a big deal in this Parish of the numbers Blizzard have at their disposal, and how those numbers drive production choices. On Day Two of our Blizzard Countdown let us now consider what the new expansion might contain, and how information such as the Dev 5.4 Round Table Blizzard released last week can point us towards important clues to the future. Let's take these starting points from MMO's summary and see if they can't give us some indicator in what we'll see happening in the general game framework Blizzard will be announcing next month.
Bendy is the new Rigid: Discuss!


Flex Is Here to Stay, Baby.


If you didn't know it already, Flex IS the new Black, and the numbers are obviously confirming it's popularity. My surprise is that Scenarios are still pulling in the punters, especially when you consider you'll need to manually make a group if you want to run a Daily Heroic. However, with programmes like oQueue making doing the job LFR would be doing but with actual personal decision making in the mix, making choices like this might well be something Blizzard also factor into the mix for the next Expansion. In fact, I'd expect to see some far more robust use of your Battle.net ID for making such decisions, especially in tandem with the Battle.net launcher which is currently in open beta.

Flex's obvious popularity will be linked to it being not simply End Game content, but a level of gear that beats just about everywhere else currently in-game, and this draw should not be overlooked, especially for the Casual playerbase. We have been promised new 5 mans for the Expansion, but these as time goes on have limited usefulness, as will also be the case with starting Scenarios. Perhaps it is time for a re-assessment of loot priorities in smaller dungeons, maybe even having items whose iLevel changes on a patch by patch basis, to allow greater flexibility in terms of gearing choices (more on that later in the week.) There are many issues tied up with gear (not least the anticipated item squish coming) but the key to Flex has undoubtedly been its accessibility and inclusiveness.

If Blizzard wants more people playing in the Expansion, Flex 'abilities' are likely to come front and centre. I'd expect therefore to see more mobs which can be tagged in the real world regardless of faction, and whose health scale with the number of people attacking (which we've seen on the Timeless Isle.) I'd also hope we'll see less redundancy in older patch content as has been traditionally the case in previous expansions.


Use them, then THROW THEM AWAY :O


No More Dailies, Anymore

Even if yours truly is yearning for a return to a little more rigidity in her Patch Hubs, it should come as no surprise to most people that the Timeless Isle 'template' is probably here for the long haul. One hopes therefore that making mobs that any role or spec can fight is on the table: as Olivia Grace details in her op-ed on Lootistics Island, it's not all fun and games for certain classes, and I'd argue there are lessons to be learnt still from the experience. The positives however are there: I'd expect to see more use for visual indicators (skulls and crossed swords on minimaps are the way forward) and less reliance on rigid 'collect X to do Y' formats. The problem however will come if we're given a range of 'paths' to follow and some prove more popular than others, especially if these end up being tied to the same mobs for completion. We also have no real idea how Connected Realms may affect this change to questing 'mechanics.'

Will this change to questing also overspill to the levelling process? I think there is a good chance that will become the case, as we saw far more fluidity in Pandaria. There is a distinct path that can also be drawn between the first time you level and each subsequent time: the Pandarian questing 'journey' can be refined to include the quickest way to not simply level but gear optimally to boot. Blizzard do seem to grasp that to maintain interest it isn't simply about immersion but also practicality, especially for those whom the journey is only part of the equation, and end game is the ultimate aim. Will this mean that we'll see quests changing for each subsequent new alt you level, linked to our Account status? Can we expect 'intelligent' quests which act in the same way Proving Grounds do, which provide a challenge based on the particular spec you're wearing at the time? Is there any innovation left to be had in what is still the staple of progression gating?

This is an area I'll be particuarly interested in watching at Blizzcon. Questing is like Marmite, after all, and if Blizzard can crack a way for everyone to enjoy yeast-based products, they're laughing.


YARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.


Look Around You, YES YOU.


This little nugget made me smile, and makes me think that even my thoughts are relevant to the progression of this game. Yes, discovery will become an ACTUAL THING: maybe we can dissuade Blizzard linking discovery this time to a mount that makes people produce guides that trivialise the content (Lorewalkers scrolls, looking at you ^^) Ideally I'd like to see discovery linked into professions (ARCHAEOLOGY COME ON) but the basic premise that was used in the One Man's Treasure/Lost and Found/Bounty of Pandaria is really very sound. Give people the OPTION to collect stuff, however, don't make it a pre-requisite for anything, so that discovery can be at the individual's discretion. I think this is the most important factor: the joy of not knowing, and then finding out is something the game has been sorely missing for far too long.

The linking factor in most of the issues Blizzard have encountered this expansion has been time: giving people so many options forces time management skills on players who may simply walk away all together rather than sort out what needs to be accomplished. As a result, there needs to be strong frameworks for any new 'discovery' mechanics: explain at the outset what's going on, and the benefits to the player BEFORE you leave them to work out the rest out their own. That way individuals can pick and choose which paths they decide to take, and place their own priority value on things that matter to them (items for endgame, cosmetic and vanity, mounts and pets.) Whatever happens however, make sure that instructions are available.

Whether the game gives those or the player base provides them via Beta testing...? That's an interesting question, and yet another we will be looking at later in the countdown.

==

We can, as you can see, already make some fairly informed decisions about what we might be about to see in terms of content. Tomorrow, we'll take this discussion a bit further and consider the possible Level Cap, and what basic mechanics we might see changing.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Final Countdown (Day 31) :: You Know My Name



Desperately grabbing anything as potential news? CHECK.


Item One on our Blizzcon Checklist? FIND OUT THE NEW EXPANSION'S NAME.

Last time around, we already knew, because some bright spark had grabbed the copyright information, but not so much this time. Yes, there have been various registrations, a fair number of shenanigans related to a particular mark's significance, but nothing solid has emerged regarding the name of our next destination. Some people have speculated this is because we might not have an expansion at all, others (like me) think we might just end up getting an old name rebranded. Without any potential information on the table, Tin Hat Speculation [TM] is likely to be come rife in the weeks leading up to the event. Little nuggets like this from @Loreology, for instance... why would Dave Kosak NOT want people to know about when Lei Shen was in power?

Is this something to do with the Titan Technology that the Mogu seem so inextricably linked to and why is the timeframe suddenly so important?

I reckon I know the answer to this, and I'm thinking all the speculation in the last few months has been in reference to one significant event in Azeroth's history which links past and present together, an event that would make absolutely THE MOST PERFECT BACKDROP for the 10th Anniversary Edition of the game. Oh, and you remember that Movie that we now have a release date for? All of this gets finally tied together in 2015 in with elegantly bound reels of cinematic magnificence.


PRECIDENT STANDING BY.

The Great Sundering, also known as simply the Sundering or the Cataclysm,[1] was a world event which reshaped Azeroth approximately 10,000 years ago at the end of the War of the Ancients. This was caused by the Well of Eternity imploding, due to it being too weak when Sargeras tried to enter through a portal fueled by the Well's energies. The implosion of the Well created a vortex that began to consume the central landmass of Kalimdor, and by the time it stopped, the continent had been split in four.

Prior to the Sundering, there was only one continent on Azeroth, referred to as Kalimdor.

In the catastrophic explosion, eighty percent of the land mass was destroyed[2] leaving behind the major continents and scattered islands that are known today: Northrend, Kezan, Pandaria, the Eastern Kingdoms, and the remnant still referred to as Kalimdor.

The site of the Well of Eternity became a swirling vortex of power known as the Maelstrom.



We've had the remaining 'active' Dragon Aspect with a more than vested interest in our actions this time around in Pandaria. Let us not forget his Dad was instrumental in the events of the Sundering (we even got sent back there in Cataclysm to make sure things actually happened the way they should.) Bear in mind that when you first meet him to pick up your Legendary questline, he tells you the war between Alliance and Horde will pale into insignificance with what he knows is coming next. Then follows an animation of large fireballs hurling their way towards Azeroth... but we don't know exactly WHO is hurling them. As it happens it could be any number of unspeakable horrors we've previously encountered. The Legion might be the least of our problems: this could be the Titans on their way back to finally re-engineer the planet, once and for all. Don't start me on the Old Gods either. You know, for a bunch of developers who don't like going back and amending old content, there's a ridiculous amount of recycling that does go on here...

The fact remains, we now have a movie adaptation that will effectively bookend this Expansion, which could be one of two things: either it's a triumphant last act on the journey that brought Blizzard back up in subs and prominence, or it's the final part of the game, the triumphant conclusion to events, the end of 10 years of the game. Although many people have been quietly predicting the End of All Things for some time, the numbers tell their own story. Subs have been on the decline for some time, and there are those of use who can see Blizzard wanting to go out on a high rather than letting the game die in a slow and lingering demise. If that's the plan, then you'll want a plot in that film that is pretty much fundamental to everything that the game is and becomes, and the Sundering is pretty much that point in the chronology. How Mr Jones then links in all the disparate aspects of the game to that conclusion... we wait to see. Needless to say I'll confidently predict this time around that the tie-in game won't suck royally.


Old Gods. LEAST OF OUR PROBLEMS.

I'm still holding onto 10th Anniversary Edition or Anniversary Edition as the name that pays this time around. What this game actually contains will be our subject for discussion in the next few days, but I think the old and the new might be far harder to distinguish than they have been at any point in the last eight years...

The Final Countdown :: 31 Days Until Blizzcon



Planning your Life, One Month in Advance.


Today is exactly 31 days before Blizzcon begins. I'm not going to be there in person, but I am more aware than at any point in the past that what transpires there will have a significant bearing on what happens in my gaming life. I could spend a month pretending its not going to happen, but it occurred to me late yesterday that actually it's probably a great excuse to tailor content. I don't normally set myself such rigid boundaries, fully grasping the realisation that in itself might cause a problem three weeks down the line... but I like a challenge, me, and so I'll be intending to write 31 articles in the next 31 days on what I hope Blizzcon will bring, the challenges Blizzard face with this upcoming expansion, and what I'd like to see front and centre in terms of changes to Warcraft.

It might be too big an ask, but I won't know until I try.

I'm also going to try this month to give Hearthstone a proper once over, and to deliver a review of the game currently in Beta. As this game is also likely to feature as part of the Blizzcon experience I don't think it will be too far off the beaten track for most of you, but I am aware some of you aren't interested, so I will be marking all posts with the [HS BETA] tag not simply here but also on Twitter, so you'll know what to skip. Needless to say I wasn't utterly impressed after my first play, but it seems only fair to give the game another chance. After all, lots of people continue to rave about it which means there must be SOMETHING about it that's making those individuals excited... so it's time to give the experience another chance. There have to be some noobs like me out there, right?

Finally, there's going to be another couple of Podcast Addendums this month: one about How I Play Warcraft, and another which will coincide with Blizzcon's Launch which will (hopefully) sum up the month's ramblings in a clear and concise format. If all that works out and there's still people here at the start of November I think I'm going to consider this a job well done. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support and encouragement, and I appreciate every single person who takes the time to e-mail me (there have been several and no-one's yet complained or criticised, so I can't be doing that badly.) Anyone who has asked a question or suggested something should see their requests granted this month. I hope.

Anyway, I'm delaying the inevitable. The first pre-Blizzcon post will be up later today, and we'll see where we go from here...

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Test

OH SO NOW WE GET TO IT

It appears I'm annoying Ghostcrawler. Should I be concerned?

==

People are very good at adaptation. Give them a system that's rigid and inflexible, and more often than not their ingenuity will find a way to alter it to suit their needs. Similarly, if you give people items that improve their particular situation, and impose no restriction on their use, people will find a way to utilise them all. Hence the Professions Mules were born, because as it stands these alts act as a vital method of not simply improving every character you play, but help use extra resources to make money, which is in itself another part of the game. Without knowing what's going on inside Mr Crawler's head I'd guess his annoyance at alts is directed at the people with X assigned just to Transmutes and Y for prospecting, and I can understand that, but the fact remains that unless professions are limited, there's nothing that can be done. Because so much of what Professions have become are wrapped up in and revolve around gold making, I think Blizzard would be quite reticent to make major change, unless it was something blindingly brilliant... or utterly brutal.

It would depend in the main on looking at numbers, and ascertaining exactly how many people are 'exploiting' the system in this way. Any changes that might cause sub cancellation would also be an issue, because many people who are playing the professions 'game' like this are running multiple accounts to do so, and that's sub money that means Mr Crawler and his associates remain in gainful employment. So if the aim on the table here is to find a way to reduce the number of actual characters playing the making game, the logical next step isn't to look to the old sub base as something to be appeased, but the new sub base to be attracted. If that were the case, then there's going to have to be a pretty substantive make-over of the entire system. Fortunately I've already done one of those. The key then is making professions significance less about end game use and more about cosmetic, about reducing the reliance on patches and gems and threads and additions to key stats... and that means diverting man hours away from producing new content to amend the systems.

I'm pretty certain we'd established that was never going to happen.


See, this is what happens when you make one Profession TOO GOOD.

What we can (mostly) all agree on is that professions are pretty much limping along, suffering from various ailments, all of which together aren't an easy solve. We've had our strongest indication yet that bagspace is going to get it's much needed do-over: however, this isn't changing anything, this is removing stuff from bags and putting it somewhere else. That's a really important point to grasp: yes, you get more bag space, but bags themselves don't change, because as has been pointed out in various places, bags fall under the auspices of resource management. Professions similarly are resource management, and any changes that would happen there would be significant and far-reaching. Ideally, as the noodle cart now shows, you need to stop making things MORE complicated, and start making them LESS, and I have to say I think that means reducing material contents. In fact, I think that's going to mean that a complete retool of every recipe is the only way that we can return to a system that not only makes sense, but is easily graspable by not simply the returning player, but the existing one.

However, as long as you insist on a limit to the number of professions per character, the alt problem never goes away.

If we assume we're looking for a quick solution, a 'bolt on attachment' and not a full retool, there are a lot of options, which we can easily address for the TL;DR crowd:


  • Gathering allows you to gather everything, but it costs gold to switch from one profession to another

  • Professions are Account Wide, but everything that provides a stat boost becomes BoA.

  • All Professions materials are grossly simplified, thus removing value for most old items and disparging 'hoarding'

  • Remove strict levelling paths completely and replace with Nat Pagle style +50 to skills books


A little bit of me dies inside every time I think about this future, but when it becomes clear that developers really don't want to go back and change things and are only interested in looking forward,  you accept the real possibility that getting anything altered might be simply asking too much. We're almost a month before the expected announcement of a new Expansion: if these guys don't have an idea on the table now, what are the realistic chances of making such a major change happen in what is a ridiculously short time scale on current form?

I've said my piece on this, and I'll continue to advocate the base up change I think this side of the game needs, but I think the practicalities and actual game structure just may not support such a change. Ghostcrawler may have to put up with my alts as a result...

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Beaten Generation

Mrs Wembley was not best pleased at hearing the level cap was increasing to 70...

The past in Warcraft has a limited value. It's really about time that a large proportion of the long-term player base accepted this and moved on. It's been discussed to death in so many places (including this parish) but yet people persist in the notion that somehow the only good stuff happened in Vanilla, and as soon as we moved to TBC everything broke... or was it Wrath? No, actually everything was great and then Cataclysm came along and finally...

Just STOP IT, take a step back and think long and hard about what the real problem is. The issue isn't so much the game, as the people desperately holding onto the persistent vision of a past that may well have existed in the format they recall, but is now very much gone. However, that view may now be having an adverse affect on the game, because of the way social media amplifies issues.


I'm in your Twitters, dissing ur Expansions.

In fact, if we're up front honest here, this is a form of entitlement that makes the Fountain of Lootistics hardly sufficient to fill the gap. The problem comes of course when enough noise gets made and it appears that this has a direct influence on altering actual gaming mechanics. For instance, one could reasonably argue that 5.4 never started off as an Island of Boundless Riches but became so when it was apparent that no-one was playing alts except those with time as the one resource they didn't need to farm. Blizzard simply reacted to community pressure and caved, and hence the Hub of Instagearing was born. I've already argued the contrary but there certainly appears to be a sense from talking to people that this is simply a reaction and not a plan. Flex is certainly the exact anti-LFR solution that you might expect to emerge when its clear that the Community isn't happy about the options it has available to it. Who exactly is driving the bus here?



Another chance to use the 5.4 bus graphic? Marvellous!


I don't think making a noise is going to get you anywhere, especially if it's tinged with bile or vitriol as so many of the Tweets I see about 'bad' things in game ultimately are. However, if you didn't know already, Blizzard really are in your Blogroll, reading your posts. Infact, you might be surprised who else is reading your words: site stats only tell part of the story. There are plenty of ways for Blizzard to gather their intel, after all. If we go back to LFR as an example, everything Flex covers is pretty much all the stuff that LFR lacks, and that has to not simply come from Mr G. Crawler sitting in his palatial office suite and suddenly having the obligatory Eureka Moment [TM] That imput is from social media, websites, podcasts... and not simply from the usual subjects. There are the Devs you don't see giving the interviews who read the Internets too. It's a big world out here.

The problem with people like me, and yes I know very well I'm under the spotlight here as being EXACTLY the kind of person that Blizzard's having to deal with isn't simply the notion of the Past as being better. It is the way parts of the past have been discarded, seemingly without explanation, even when the mechanic or idea worked well. It is the fact that the Lore's significance has often been forgotten or amended for the sake of expediency. It's that things seem to be getting progressively easier in some places when there is no apparent concession in others. These are all horribly subjective issues to boot, and it should not be a surprise that these aren't areas that the game spends too much time focussing on. Blizzard, more than anyone, will know you can't please everybody, so the default will be to focus on areas like Quality of Life improvements, and cosmetic 'carrots' like Transmog where it knows that it can hit the most number of targets in the quickest way possible. It's also apparent that it has learnt the lesson regarding in-game transactions, at least for now. The Giant Parrot that's just been leaked as a 'reward' in game...? I think that might be Blizzard's 9th Anniversary gift to us, a reminder of it's generosity and that without us, there would be no game. We will see.

I'd even go so far to say that the Bird might be in it's Autumnal hues. I reckon this one might change with the seasons, just like the Blossoming Ancient.


Yes, it's a Giant Parrot.

What could we expect to see therefore to appease the Vanilla Generation? What changes would be acceptable and be greeted with universal approval? I think we can stick bagspace and character models right up the top of that list (at least one of which is being addressed) I suspect having everything with a Flex option will come as standard too, and the possibility that 5 mans might become more flexible too as well as the Challenge Mode option. More mogging options have to be on the table somewhere, because as many people have as yet failed to grasp, if they're redoing character models they'll need to redo the armour too... and you know what, I reckon we might get thrown some curves. How about a 25 man you can Flex up to 40 for the Classic Raids? Yeah, what about MC (that will be the second reboot if you count the model changes in Cataclysm) that allows you to run it the way it was originally intended? That might shut a few people up, and would be hugely entertaining to organise... and don't tell people wouldn't do 40's again, because it would utterly happen. Make it as an option, not the default, seems to be the key to success for a lot of things. I for one am now getting quite impatient for November to arrive...


Is it Blizzcon yet?