Saturday, April 26, 2014

Let's Get Serious

I hope everyone can agree, regardless of personal opinion toward flight vs. non-flight, that flying fundamentally alters how content is approached in a world where the gameplay exists wholly on the ground.

The PR exercise of 'making non-flight attractive' continues apace, in anticipation of Warlords.

Even the Marketing Department got the memo this time around.


Look closely and yes, this steed that got everyone excited HAS NO WINGS. It's a Mechanical two person mount if I am to believe the cryptic accompanying text and that means Refer a Friend's going to get a not unsurprising reboot in the next few months... the question then becomes what you'll *actually* get as incentive. Oh, and I have no doubt you'll be able to fly on this. Just don't expect to be able to to in Draenor in 6.1. Anyone want to bet there might well be the promise of free 90's attached to this deal along the way?

Yeah, didn't think so.

However, what this should now indicate to anyone paying more than scant attention to the way Warlords is being handled is that, like it or not, this is on Blizzard's terms. They are not going to back down on the no-fly, they are not going to be rushed on development timescales, it really will be ready when its ready, and it is not as if there is no historical precedent for either. There are bucketloads of both, and if the plan is as it appears to return us to TBC with a modern twist but to do it without the seeming convenience of circumnavigating content by just flying into it and flying away, there may be more to this move than simply reinforcing the desire that flying is now not an option. In fact, there's a paragraph of explanatory text I think everyone really needs to read:

In Draenor we’re designing max-level content, portions of zones or zones in their entirety that will be dedicated to max-level gameplay—and not just the top of a cliffside, or some dailies in the Vale. There’s a harsh change in how the game plays between leveling, and when you hit max level. Hitting 100 and instantly switching everything you do to raiding or Arenas is pretty abrupt, and we want to try to keep that questing experience available at max level with something more robust than daily quests. We don’t think having all of that content inside buildings, or constantly challenged by sky cannons, or with magical no-flying smoke, or within some kind of dismount bubble is the most straightforward or best solution to the ultimate issue in that World of Warcraft is not a flight sim, and that's just not what the content of the game is about. Even at level 100 there will be no small portions of the game world intended to provide relevant content even to max-level players. These zones may even unlock over the course of the expansion, or the content in them will progress in story and scope throughout content patches. Content has to be designed with the expectation that there either is or is not flight, and approaching ground-level content from the ground offers more compelling gameplay. Raids, dungeons, and PvP continue to disallow flying for this same reason.

That last statement is the killer in all of this: it may not just be your Garrison that has an intrinsic relationship with your progress in game this time around, it could be ALL the content in the ENTIRE expansion, and if that is the case then keeping people on the ground isn't just a convenience, its a part of the progression mechanic. That's a fairly big admission by Bashiok, even though he is quite careful not to confirm anything concrete because, as we know, that's not how Blizzard ever operate. However, if this *were* the way forward for content it will encourage people to start from Step One and not think they can turn up late and simply pick up at the end. At least part of the incentive here seems to be that if you start this journey there is now the real possibility it will feel far more cohesive than it did in previous expansions. There is, of course, another possibility which might actually benefit the player that turns up at patch 6.3 and starts from scratch: if the content doesn't unlock and then remain static, and you do that by travelling, then that's a HUGE step forward in keeping the game current. In fact, that might be part of the Holy Grail for Warcraft rediscovered right there.

Isle of Thunder. Hints of what was to come?

The Isle of Thunder was an exercise in unlocking progression for this who turned up first, but anyone who turned up late didn't get nearly as an immersive experience as the rest of us. If I read Bashiok's comments correctly, what if Warlords was being designed to unlock content ON AN INDIVIDUAL BASIS? That means that it wouldn't matter when you started a zone, you'd always be there at the beginning and wouldn't turn up late and find everything just in place without explanation. So, when you arrive for the first time you'll unlock the content even if half the server's already done so, and the game will remember your individual progress for EVERYTHING and not simply the quest areas. There's a massive downside to this however, and that's that there'll be no more getting your high level mates to drag you through a zone, because it could mean that everyone is phased to everyone else, regardless of their progress. However this would finally put pay to zone desolation like we see in Blades Edge with the Ogri'la. You could be in a zone and have people in different phases, unaware of other people playing until everyone's relative 'position' matches up.

It would certainly have the effect of making the game feel fresh to the solo player.

Extinct marketing material.

However, and this is crucial, there will be those who will not see any benefit in what is being suggested, and won't look at the long term consequences of this action. All they will continue to see is what the removal of flying prevents them from doing. I'd urge everyone to read Bashiok's complete statement at least once, if only to understand that the guys who make the game really do grasp the issues, but this is not negotiable. The choice then comes down to players. If you can't understand what's being asked of you, or you just don't care and think this is a way to make more money out of players, time to unsubscribe. Seriously, stop letting these guys take your money and go do something else. If you do this and then continue to complain about it, don't be surprised if the people still playing stop listening and move on.

For those of us who remain, this is the right choice overall for the game.


Arcadius said...

At the risk of sounding creepy, this is a brilliant post. This brought out ramifications of the no-flying debate that range far beyond player convenience. Particularly the smoothing of the leveling/endgame inflection point.

That quote from Bashiok is also a gem.

Thanks for re-kindling the faith.

Alternative Chat said...

Any time Arcadius, and welcome to the Blogroll :D

NetherLands said...

I don't see this ending well.

One reason is that the whole 'immersive Questing while at Cap'-thing is probably not going to work, simply because of Instanced content. Instead of slogging it through Zone X-Y-Z to get some outdated Start-Of-Expac Gear, people will grind BG's and/or Dungeons to get kit. The AH will also provide Gear.

The other is that your average subscriber is NOT following the Patch notes, NOT following the various Blogs and NOT interested in the 'big carrot that makes it all worth it' (Raid content).

All he is going to notice when he logs in come WoD is that his Stats are lowered, his Gear has lost Stats, his Skill bar depleted, his Flying Mount won't budge, his Toys and Quest Items disappeared, his Professions de-facto removed, and his very face has been re-arranged in some oft-twisted way that makes everybody look the same apart from some hair styles and - coloration.

That will likely be a very hard pill to swallow, especially if the gameplay then continues to dump him into a RTS-style game with a mandatory Campaign Mode he didn't sign up for.

Frankly, WoD reeks of NGE.

R said...

Have to admit, I'm starting to worry about my place in the game in WoD.

One comment that Bashiok made earlier in the same post got me thinking:
"How many of us have become furious when we actually have to fight something!?"

Happens to me all the time, there are times I want to just get somewhere and there are other times I'd be interested in fighting my way there. Those are two completely separate things. He's implying that it's unreasonable for me to want to get somewhere without having to fight my way there. I'm thinking that I'll just end up in MORE situations where I'm cursing out something for pulling me into combat. If he thinks that's going to make me more invested in the gameplay... he's wrong. I already DESPISE having to get anywhere on Timeless Isle on any toons not on my overly busy server where everything is dead... extend that out to the WHOLE FREAKIN' WORLD and I'm facing a wee bit of a crisis in the making. I can see why they're making Garrisons such a focus... none of us are going to want to leave them.

There's content that I run where I give it my full attention... basically, anything that involves group activities, including scenarios, dungeons, raids, etc.

Anything else I tend to multi-task... right now, I *can* multi-task because I can fly from A to B, not to trivialize the content but so I don't have to constantly be on alert (and when I may get distracted and die of exhaustion, I just grab a flight path). In WoD, maybe I can't multi-task and I decide that the other activities I've been doing while playing are more important and the game gets put down. Perhaps it isn't picked back up.

I absolutely understand what they're trying to do here but to me it smacks of killing a fly with a wrecking ball. Flight is in the game, most/all of us have tailored our playstyle to having flight. Removing it will force us to change our playstyles... and unless the vast majority of players are single focused on the game when they're logged in, I'm not sure the change is going to go over well.

The stupid thing is that, as he even points out, they already have ways of keeping players from doing the swoop 'n' snatch... put things indoors, no fly zones, etc. Why don't they put a bit of effort into designing quests and environments where, when flight would legitimately trivialize it, flight isn't allowed? Isn't the problem really more about quests to swoop 'n' snatch when they can simply require us to kill 10 of the mobs protecting the item as well, negating the benefit of the swoop? Or allow us to swoop in but fight our way out? What's wrong with those?

I'm absolutely going to give the new paradigm a try... probably a few. But it had better WORK, and WORK WELL and possibly even BE BETTER, I'm coming into this from a position of annoyance so my bar may be unusually high. If I can't play while watching TV or doing housework or reading or anything else that I do, the game is going to lose to those... simple as that. And I'm going to be ridiculously depressed to see all of my impressive, expensive flying mounts shambling around on the ground. I'll just end up going back to a tiger mount and never breaking out the interesting ones again. Working as intended, I suppose.

Alternative Chat said...

This is the key R. This *has* to work, this gamble is considerable.

There is, as you and I both know, an awful lot at stake here.

Ross F. said...

Great post, and great comment by R.

"But it had better WORK, and WORK WELL and possibly even BE BETTER, I'm coming into this from a position of annoyance so my bar may be unusually high."

I agree whole-heartedly; though I'm not annoyed by the change just yet, I know that it's going to have to be done in such a way...while I don't exactly know how that would look, I believe I do know how it should FEEL. Time will tell.