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Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Final Countdown (Day 20) :: All Bound for Mu Mu Land

STILL in an Alt's Quest Log. JUST IN CASE.

It has become something of a tradition around these parts to usher in a new Expansion with that, for the sake of this post, will now be referred to as a Pre-Patch Event. This has become de rigeur not simply to pave the way for new content, but in many cases to allow players vital time to adjust (or not, in my case) to new mechanics or changes to UI/Class abilities. This time around we have (potentially) a complete change to damage reporting and armour strength/ability 'squish' to deal with. On top of that, we're coming up for 10 Years of the Game. Anyone who think the pre-Expansion event this time around isn't going to be HONKING HUGE therefore is probably working on the assumption that Blizzard isn't working on getting as many people back into the game as possible: we're not just looking at new bums on seats either, this is squarely directed at you guys who are sitting there daily telling me how much you hate the game having unsubbed and how sad I am for being enthusiastic about it after nearly nine years.

YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

Anyway, there are a vast number of potential tools at the designer's disposal to make this event awesome... but you know what, I'm betting they won't need any of them, because if they just go back and re-create the 'classic' Scourge Invasion/Plague scenarios from years gone by, they're going to be onto a winner. Hang on, weren't people really upset about those back in the day? Yeah, but there wasn't The Walking Dead on TV then, was there? Zombies weren't A MASSIVE THING back then, were they? Having done a quick straw poll on Twitter back in the week, all we really need is Zombies plus Demons, especially Burning Legion ones, because The Burning Crusade really does shine very brightly in the hearts and minds of a good many players. Fortunate really, with all those portents from the Black Prince of the Legion on their way back. In fact, let's work on the theory that 'that name' that appeared in the Summer is on the money and that the details break down as follows:



THE DARK = INVASION FROM OUTER SPACE, LEGION INVASION
BELOW = UNDEAD RISE, NEW PLAGUE


Put it together and we have the means to utilise code from AGES ago, those who actually kept the Scourge Stones get a bonus for being really organised AND far-sighted [*], and everyone else gets to run around the World like a loon chasing down Zombies at their level range. Blizzard chuck a bone to everyone who can't get to the end of SoO in LFR and put some half-decent weapons up as rewards for some thematically-linked Scenarios, Lore Nerds rejoice as Queen Azshara arrives in her titular homeland hearing the Legion IS INCOMING and really gets nicked off at the Goblins for THAT mountain carving and starts a fight, and IT ALL GOES OFF. Don't tell me that isn't going to make everyone excited, because it did the moment all the speculation kicked off a few months ago. Blizzard know what you want, and how to get people back to their screens:

  • Tons of new 5 mans with levels of difficulty: Normal, Heroic (with Flex difficuty), Challenge Mode, plus items that change in iLevel each patch.
  • Scenarios that give Vanity Pet rewards/Crafting rewards.
  • Some kind of Quest line that will result in an UTTERLY COOL REWARD (mount, probably, or possibly a choice of mounts... actually...)

The standardisation of the Battle Chest to include Cataclysm and the rework of the Recruit-A-Friend system are significant in this context. Blizzard are making it a s simple as possible for people to play catch-up late. The Recruit-a-Friend system will now allow people to choose their rewards via a token system, and if that's going to happen then maybe those tokens will appear elsewhere, allowing people to decide what their reward is, rather than having to get what they're given. Freedom is choice, after all. Give people a great big place full of things they want but might have missed in patched gone by, then they have to MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS.

There's going to be a load of that in the next Expansion. Just you watch.

==

[*] I wouldn't put it past them. I really wouldn't.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Final Countdown (Day 21) :: That's My Name

'Upcoming Content', eh? ^^

It had to happen eventually. With three weeks to go, we have the convention itinerary for Blizzcon, and the first item after the opening ceremony? 'What's Next'

Yes, I reckon that's all we're getting.

This Expansion's already breaking the mould of previous expectation. Although there is still the possibility that we know the title, without any kind of official confirmation we won't have a clue until the 8th, and I'm betting that suits Blizzard just fine. After all, we have made a big thing in this Parish of how the wonder and amazement of new content has been pretty much savaged to death by data-mining. Making sure NOTHING gets given away before the Devs are good and ready is a genius move, however frustrating it might be for those of us WHO NEED ALL THE INFORMATION NOW!!11!!!!1!

[FX: Large bucket of water]

Oh, that's *much* better. Now, where were we?

There's about five and a half hours of Warcraft 'time' provisioned over the two days of the event, including an hour with Duncan Jones on the Warcraft movie (which will not be nearly long enough, that I'll tell you now) I think I'll be willing now to take a stab at how things will pan out over the two days...

  • You'll get the Expansion Name in the Opening Ceremony. You're gonna get a dance music video montage of all those redesigned models too, trust me on this.
  • Don't expect a lot of detail. This is going to be about telling people what they want to hear, and not bogging them down with too much to remember.
  • I'd expect a date for the Expansion release as well, because if you want to saturate social media it's not just the name the filters are going to pick up. Twitter loves dates, too.
  • It will be pretty. It is going to combine old and new. There will be at least one thing you've wanted since you started playing and one thing you've complained about a lot will be fixed, once and for all (BAG SPACE FOR ME) because Blizzard know that to make this work there's going to need to be some concessions that THEY DON'T LIKE.
  • There will be a CLEAR PATH TO THE Expansion. In fact (and we'll discuss this in more detail tomorrow) I'd expect the MOTHER OF ALL PATCH TRANSITION EVENTS. It's going to make the Scourge Invasion look like Christmas. In fact, at the rate things are moving and with dates coming up, that Leper Gnome/Rotten Helper Christmas Battle Pet becomes spookly prophetic... ^^

So, three weeks from now, we'll almost know.


ZOMG THREE WEEKS :O 

Seriously, are we there yet?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Final Countdown (Day 22) :: Save a Prayer

No. Just NO.

Yesterday, I asked Twitter if it thought we could expect playable version of the Beta to be available at Blizzcon. This elicited a number of interesting responses, including some thoughts on what we might expect that I'd not considered in this week's slew of posts. One struck a particular chord, especially considering the potential content we discussed last week:


Mail wearing class, you say? ^^


I've always said that this game needs more hunters, but DEMON Hunters? How's that going to work, then? When someone mentions Demon Hunter in game my first thought is the guys pictured above in Shadowmoon Valley, all bare chests and double glaives which I'm sorry is NEVER going to be practical in the rough and tumble world of Modern Adventuring. Then there are the ones in Diablo 3 who wield double one-handed Crossbows and if they get that there's going to be trouble from us normal Hunters AND NO MISTAKE.

Can the game realistically support another class, even one with hunter in it's name, especially considering the current issues with class balance?

Yesterday also saw an interesting move on Blizzard's part: Cataclysm has become part of the 'Battle Chest' purchase if you're buying into the game for the first time, which is certainly a step forward from previous years. If we didn't know it already people are being actively encouraged to return to the game, and the re-tool of the Recruit a Friend feature will further prompt those methods to restart their gaming lives. It won't just be to challenge Garrosh either, this has been engineered with the longer term firmly in mind: laying the foundations for what's to come. However, will these people want a new class to play?

Certainly not from level one, when we could have potentially 100 levels to pile through to cap, but maybe it is time for another Hero Class to step forward. With Cataclysm added to the War Chest I'd suspect 78 might be a good point for them to start their journeys, with a means if they're used to bring Northrend back to the fore as a site for potential new Expansion shenanigans. If it's demons we're talking about we've already seen Warlocks going back to the Black Temple in Pandaria: what's to say that storyline isn't opening the floodgates for other Outland-based adventures... in fact, the potential for New Stuff (TM) linked into Demon Hunters could be set up across every expansion... phasing and scenarios means re-purposing old sites, whilst keeping their original design intact for levellers. Think patch 5.3 transposed across multiple expansions, including Cataclysm. That would mean making sure everyone was up on the same page to begin with, thus explaining the changes to the Battle Chest.


You know what this means...

Once you defeat Garrosh, the King of Stormwind mentions Sylvanas' actions as a cause of concern now that the Warchief has been subdued. It's been quite quiet on the Undead front since Northrend, and when you remember that the outbreak of the Undead plague tied in with the Legion's invasion of Azeroth... well, anything could happen. The biggest single indicator of what we have to come won't be laid out first in the Expansion, however, that will come in the transition patch that has historically bridged the gap between old and new now for many years. Tomorrow we'll be considering what we might see when that patch is deployed, and that the PTR for said patch really should not be long in coming now all wings of LFR are open for the Siege...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Final Countdown (Day 23) :: Wishing (If I had a Photograph of You)


Question from Wow Insider's The Queue, October 13th 2013. Mike Sacco is your host...

I think it would be fair to put quite a lot of significance next to the 'redesign' of character models in game. So much so, I can see it as being a replacement not simply for a new class, but a new race to boot once Blizzcon begins. Certainly using visuals of each new race (in some kind of dance music video, don't tell me you're not going to Blizzard because I KNOW YOU BETTER) as a way to start proceedings would, I think, whip the assembled masses up into a suitable frenzy, especially as Blizzcon is famed for its Dance Contest. You wanna know where all those people they pulled off Titan production went to? I reckon they're frantically putting the finishing touches to the animations. That figure of 25% complete that was wafted around in August? DELIBERATE SMOKESCREEN.

Either that, or they really are pushing the boat out.

In all seriousness, the redesign of not simply characters but the character screen was already begun in Cataclysm, and I can expect that as part of the game EVERY SINGLE PLAYER will be given the chance to re-customise not simply their look, but quite possibly new features to boot as part of their Expansion package. What else could we expect when that happens? How about body shapes?


The possibilities are, of course, endless. The only restriction is TIME...

Although some of us would love to see more diversification in body shapes, there are those people for whom Blizzard knows change could have the opposite effect. In fact, the cautiousness with which designers have addressed these changes makes me think that they're going to be VERY careful when they introduce the new models. A dwarf, for instance, will initially have to look pretty much identical to an existing dwarf, just with more detail. After that, if we use the Garrosh 'model' as an example. you could theoretically give us a choice of a couple of Orc templates for whom the animations scale. The male models are, I will say, of little importance to me. The female models are of significantly more interest, and I find myself hoping Blizzard don't do anything stupid in the redesign process... and by that... well, I reckon you know what I mean without going off on a tirade. That could be a major problem, and I hope someone's borne all the (potential) body shape issues in mind whilst the redesign has taken place.


No Dwarf Druids. WELL DUH.

There's also the possibility Blizzard could pull a few unexpected moves from the Great Big Bag of Surprises this time around. Many people fancy Gnome Hunters with a mechanical pet for starters... how about removing class restrictions from everyone so you could have a Dwarven Druid if you so desired? The game could allow a Dwarf to specify starting in the Draenai Starting Area for variety too... there are a number of possibilities to mix up the 'traditional' character creation experience. The icing on the cake of course would be to allow people not simply to change their appearance but also their sex, which is part of currently-offered paid services at present, so you could feel as if you're being given something for nothing, which is always a bonus.

I've said it before and I'll say it again here: I think people would be prepared to forgo not simply a new race but a new class if Blizzard get this part of the game experience retooled, and part of me thinks this is a big selling point the the designers are betting on for success. The bigger question then becomes, will it be finished in time?

We don't have long now to wait to find out... ^^

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Final Countdown (Day 24) :: Adult Education

A starting point already established in game.

Back in August I made a suggestion to use the Heroes Call boards in every major city as reference points for players. As they already exist in-game you'd not need too much work for this: when you clicked on the board you'd get a selection of items you could interact with including one which would provide you with the following:


You get the general idea...


What is sorely lacking in game right now is a general level of helpful information that only comes from having played Warcraft for QUITE SOME TIME. It is extremely easy to forget until you have to explain to someone who's never been here before... like your eight year old daughter, for instance, who's started a Draenai Mage this week. This is an INCREDIBLY complicated game to pick up cold, even with the large number of 'helpful' starting hints. It can be confusing even for those at level, especially with the massive amount of different options available to you: Scenarios, Instances, Proving Grounds, Pet Battles, the Timeless Isle... although the fan community can be very helpful in providing guides, I'm not sure it is entirely up to us to cover the shortfall, especially when it comes to the more basic aspects of gameplay. What other information could the game benefit from in having at it's disposal?

One of the biggest issues that immediately spring to mind refers to what you can and can't do in terms of having items available across multiple servers. Bind to Account is misleading, especially in reference to heirlooms (WHY can these still NOT be sent across servers?) There are also a number of achievements that you'd think should be cross-server but they're not, and what counts for a person and an account could do with some clearing up. What can and can't go in Void Storage is also not clearly defined (though we might have an end to a lot of issues if the changes to vanity items and tabards comes to fruition.) In the main however it is having easily referencable items in game for game handicaps like iLevel, and we could go either the Heroes Call Board route or possibly an in-game help guide similar to that used for boss abilities, organised by expansion.

What also needs to be clear and isn't is where people need to aim for when returning to the game after an absence, and what has changed on a patch by patch basis. That doesn't just mean what's been added, more significantly that often means explaining what's been taken away.


Nobody messes with Walter :p

It's a standing joke in certain sectors of the community, that however much information Blizzard provides there are those who will just never read it regardless of its usefulness. Then there is the plaintiff  'boss strats please' wails I'm hearing more and more from players in LFR: there are those that just expect to be provided with answers and won't ever go looking for them, even if the data is easily to hand. Even if this is the case, I think that providing at least more visual indicators is a way forward: look at the new markers we see on the map at Lootistics Island, which have been translated across the world. Two new symbols:


SKULL = RARE
CROSSED SWORDS = INTERACTIVE EVENT


I'd expect to see more of these in the Expansion, as Blizzard literally puts the markers down on the Minimap so people have no excuse: there's something here for you to do, now try and work out what that is. I'd hope, that when  we adopt the heroes Call Interactive Board idea that there'll be a Glossary of all the symbols and what they mean.

Visual has become a big deal in this game, especially after eight years of pretty much static character models... which is probably one of the biggest game changers we could anticipate. We'll take a look at that concept in more detail tomorrow.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Final Countdown (Day 25) :: You Get What You Give

Gear Normalisation, you say? BRING IT!

Challenge Modes have been the unsung success story of this Expansion.

Even if you're not doing them I'll guarantee you know someone who is, and the 'challenge' of running what are considered for many as 'dead' 5 mans for a static set of pretty much cosmetic rewards... well, they're certainly not everyone's cup of tea. The entertainment of course is the timer, and the knowledge you're NOT attempting to better a run set by people with superior equipment to yours... The only issue here is your ability to get from A to B in as quick a time as possible having killed a specific set of mobs. This is the state of affairs that many people wish we had not simply in this part of the game but everywhere, that the constant treadmill of gearing is ultimately detrimental to the longevity of the game.

Should the designers be making more use of such mechanics in the next Expansion?

One of the biggest single reasons I hear for game burnout is the 'repetition' aspect of gameplay: whether it is a rep grind or gearing related, people are not big fans of having to do anything for hours on end... which is odd, because a great many of those same individuals were more than happy to do this at previous points in the game's life. This is where individual perception comes into play: if you are no longer in a position (for whatever reason) to put in the time required to complete something, it won't matter what the designers do, you're still not taking the challenge. I think the reason so many people haven't been enamoured with Challenge Modes is that even though it is a shorter 'run' per se, the amount of organisation beforehand is considerably more focussed on the skill of players and far less reliant on what you're able to gather beforehand (with the exception of Invisibility potions.) There is a pretty delicate balance that is struck in this situation where one person's mistakes can make or break a run, especially as it's only five of you 'playing.' Plus, there is no loot. The only reward is your time, because the cosmetic 'incentives' only show people you're capable, and don't give you any physical advantage over anyone else outside of the Challenge Mode.

Okay... the mount reward's pretty sweet too.


Yes, I'm being silly now. YOU'RE SURPRISED?

If everything was like this in game, if Challenge Modes were the yardstick... there'd be no Warcraft. Basing progression purely on skill might be the Holy Grail for many players but the overriding reason for Warcraft's continued success is the ability to play however you wish, which yes includes badly or as a douche. The problem with using ability as a gate to progression is you will never accurately find a method to exclude 'bad' players, because skill remains only one of a myriad of factors in driving progress forward, and even the best of individuals can have their 'red mist' moments. Like it or not, the game needs to cater to the lowest common denominator as well as the cutting edge. The overriding advantage with Challenge Modes therefore is to give one group of players a greater choice in what they do with their time in game without the need to focus on gear as a priority. That's the part of this that interests me the most, because when the major gripe is the time it takes to be gear capable of running End Game content, this is an issue that could be addressed on a wider stage.

In fact, if we look at Lootistics Island, we see a possible solution to the problem already being used in-game. Here's a zone that simply drops one iLevel of gear, and via a currency that drops whilst farming for said items gives you access to buy weapons. Yes, some of it is harder to find than others (helms, necks, looking at you) but the fact remains that if you hang around long enough, you'll be at a level where all current content is accessible to you. Then it's up to you to make the next step, and in an ideal world that's probably as good as we can expect under the circumstances, short of giving people a pre-made 496-geared character to buy off the shelf. The problem, if there is one, is being able to play the class you're gearing to begin with, and I'm seeing many people admit that having the armour is only ever half the battle. At some point, like it or not, the responsibility devolves to the individual to learn how to play. Blizzard can only be expected to provide so much.


From theguardian.co.uk. It's a fair kop, guv.

We are already well aware that a gear 'problem' exists because of item stat inflation. Blizzard have started not simply tailoring quest rewards on a class by class basis, but placing special vendors in levelling zones who provide a complete set of iLevelled gear appropriate to the area in which you find yourself. The path to accessibility has already been laid, but the problem remains the education of players to know where to find these things easily, and to understand what level of gear is needed for each challenge that is placed before them. This is one area in which Warcraft sorely lacks, and we'll look tomorrow at the process of re-education that needs to begin at every level of the game, from the first time you roll a character to begin your journey.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Alternative Chat :: Episode 4

It's been pretty much a technical nightmare from the word go on this one, but we have done our best and although sound quality is not great, we're going there anyway, chalking this one up to experience and moving on. Enough wittering, you'll get that in the Podcast, let us present Alternative Chat Episode 4:






This week, I will be mostly chatting about:

  • Things being very quiet
  • What might be coming up in Blizzcon
  • Why Followers are not everything
  • Getting excited for Barcraft-on-Thames (see below)
  • Meeting me IN PERSON
  • Farming for mount materials
  • Getting annoyed again about professions




Any thoughts or comments, or submissions for my new feature which we will not speak of again should no-one take any notice:

alternativegodmother (all one word) AT gmail DOT com

==

NOTES.

The webpage for Barcraft-on-Thames can be found here.


==

Hopefully next week will be less technical issues and MOAR PODCAST AWESOME. See you there!

The Final Countdown (Day 26) :: Two Becomes One

Not just one kind of game... ^^

There is one aspect of any new Expansion that tends to get overlooked by many commentators when it is announced: PvP is hardly the poor relation of the game, but as Blizzard did not launch Pandaria with a regular PvP 'zone' regardless of gamestyle choice (as had been the case with Wintergrasp and Tol Barad in previous expansions) one might be forgiven for thinking that encouraging combat is something Blizzard is not now interested in promoting. However, what is becoming increasingly apparent in the last few months is that PvP balance is important enough for PvE to have to bow to its demands. PvP is not going anywhere, and with the next expansion it will be expected to provide the dedicated and pretty much constant portion of the playerbase with something new to biff. Looking at Holinka's comments yesterday, I'd like to take a guess at what the reduction and frequency of Crowd Control means on the wider stage, and why understanding and simplicity are two words that are likely to affect everybody in the next couple of months.

We've spoken in the last few months about phrases such as 'ability bloat', generic terms that certain commentators like to throw about in relation to having too many buttons to press when we want to do damage. There are those who read this blog (hello Chris!) who'll tell you that the basic mechanics of their class are simply broken, and have been for some time. Then we have factors like the staggering list of crowd control abilities currently available in game, which affects every class and which covers the following:

  • Roots
  • Stuns
  • Mesmerizes
  • Fears and Horrors
  • Silences
  • Disarms
  • Knockbacks
  • Other Effects

This list is going to be pretty significant I suspect as time goes on. There are signature abilities (Roots, Polymorph, Sap) which I'd put good money on not losing any time soon, but I can see a cull coming at Expansion time, which will see a vast number of the less significant abilities vanishing forever... and not simply to appease the Combat Crowd. Reducing both the amount makes sense to keep PvE simple, and frequency will allow PvP to balance itself and not give bias to classes who come loaded with more CC abilities. I'd suspect from a Hunter perspective this will mean pet abilities are going to suffer considerably, with a move away from roots and snares and a shift towards pets as buffers (that's having buffs, not standing between you and the mobs ^^) If this makes things easier for people to grasp when learning a class from scratch, so much the better. However, there are still caveats.

Blacksmithing's version of Crowd Control was met by a distinct lack of enthusiasm...

We have seen at least one instance in recent memory of a PvP 'change' (see, I didn't use the N-Word) having a detrimental impact on PvE, to the point where the ability was re-instated in PvE as a result. However, that in itself is a significant step forward: the fact that abilities can now be programmed to react differently when applied to a player and not to a mob (or in arenas and not in instances) shows that Blizzard know they cannot disadvantage one side of the game at the expense of the other. What is clear however, ON BOTH SIDES OF THE GAMEPLAY FENCE, is that we can expect a reduction of abilities when the Expansion hits. If we're going to be handed ten levels of new content, by the old token of levelling that could mean between 3-5 new abilities to learn on top of everything else, and that just isn't going to happen. In fact, if you wanted a mantra for what's coming in November, I reckon I can give you a pretty certain one even at this distance:


WITH ADDED PERSPECTIVE :D


If you're not doing so already, it's time to make a list of the abilities you think you could do with losing, or you simply don't utilise enough. Blizzard have all that data, and I'm sure someone is crunching the numbers even as I type on what's about to stay and what's on the way out. Once that's all sorted, then we have to discuss what's coming in, and next week we'll be suggesting some of the new features we think might be introduced to the next Expansion in an attempt not to re-invent the game, but to put a new spin on an old idea. After all, Blizzard have enormous amount of raw materials with which to work from...