Google+ ALT : ernative: 06/01/2014 - 06/08/2014

Saturday, June 07, 2014

ALPHA :: Mis-Shapes


This is not the change some were looking for...

The last week has been something of a revelation, not simply for the fact that being the owner of Alpha Client access has changed me, at least in the eyes of some people, into a pariah. I should point out that with excellent resources such as Wowhead and WoW Insider at people's disposal, it's very easy to be a part of the action without getting what many people complained of when everyone was part of the beta in Pandaria: pre-Expansion burnout. For instance, there will be those of you looking at the dungeon picture above and thinking 'hang on, that isn't Blackfathom Depths, is it?' Well actually, it is, and along with Razorfen Downs and Razorfen Krawl, it has received what I at least consider is a very welcome revamp. Needless to say, this use of 'time' by Blizzard developers isn't going to go down well in all quarters:


Unsurprising, on reflection.

I care, quite a bit as it happens. Lots of other people I know have been crying out for change in the Old World, and I assumed that when the insta-90's were introduced that levelling content would simply be left to rust into decay. Clearly I was wrong too, because WHY things change is as important as the fact they do so at all. Now, as to the reasons behind this having changed now... well, that's a different question altogether. This could mean there's data that these dungeons are ignored by players and need to be made more interesting. It could also indicate that every dungeon's being revamped so that there is consistency across the board. I could put my 'future Expansions' hat on here and speculate that these changes are being made in anticipation of the NEXT Expansion, when there'll be a new class and starting areas at L1 which means all low level dungeons will need to be revamped to accommodate the changes... The thing is, we just don't know unless Blizzard choose to tell us. However, there are historical precedents here. You only need to look at the Legendary Questline for evidence of that.


YES WE ALL HATED IT

Last night as we MADE PROGRESS IN FLEX \o/ (more on that tomorrow) someone complained that Malkorok didn't drop a Secret of the Empire [*] Then followed the inevitable conversation about making the Legendary Questline easier, before Mr Alt made what was, at least for him, a pretty forceful outburst. He reminded me that people forget that Legendary Questlines *are hard*, that if it had been like him farming his Thunderfury most people would be waiting 2-3 YEARS for the drops they need and perhaps everyone could stop complaining and be grateful that they have good friends to play with who make the grind all that more tolerable. As a member of the raid team reminded us, it is only pixels. However, these pixels make people do strange things, like complain that game design shouldn't involve anything other than absolutely new stuff all the time, and RIGHT NOW.

I've watched a lot of conversations along these lines in the last week, with everyone second guessing Blizzard's modus operandi: they only care about influencing cetain people, they're deliberately out to scupper other games' success, they don't want me as a tester and it's not fair, I should be testing because... the list does go on, and on. Then there was the conversation yesterday on Twitter about people complaining in Alpha that stuff is broken and it's not fun to play, or that its not finished. WELL, THAT'S ALPHA FOR YOU. I do find myself wondering about the person who whispered me Thursday morning asking how I'd got a L90 on the Test Server and who couldn't find the means to create a template character, though. Perhaps Blizzard need to be a bit more selective in their admissions policy, though saying that even the most adept of people can have moments of stupid. The thing is, Blizzard have their stupid moments too, they just don't make a fuss about them. That's our job ^^


Let sleeping peons lie. Then use the Booterang.

This Blog has made many, MANY references to the lead times on this game. It is also well aware that the people redesigning old dungeons are more than likely NOT the same people designing the stuff in Draenor, just as the people redesigning the 2D resources aren't the same as the 3D designers... there are specific tasks for particular people. After 10 years of serial complaining from some players, maybe it is time we all cut Blizzard a break and tried to understand a bit more of the process behind the end result. The fact is, and I can tell you this after only two days of playing the Alpha, THIS IS A DIFFERENT GAME. The problem comes then with anyone believing me to begin with, until they play the game themselves. No matter how much I try to convince people that this is clearly an effort to redesign EVERYTHING from a different perspective, that it looks and sounds remarkable, that it has an utterly different feel and tone to Pandaria... some people will only see what they wish to see and that will never change.

You have to trust me here. Even in one zone, for only one faction, there are signs of genuine revolution in game design for Blizzard. All we have to do now is be patient and wait.

==

[*] Pretty sure you only get them from the first 8 bosses in SoO but I'd need to go check if that changed ^^

Friday, June 06, 2014

ALPHA :: Letters from Draenor


YOINKS actual CONTENT.

One of the things I singularly failed at in the Pandaria beta was the giving of actual feedback. I'm trying to correct that this time around and this morning I posted my first 'Letter from Draenor' to the Feedback Forums. I'm trying to take my own advice and concentrate on what I'm good at, so no in depth bug reports or theorycrafting here. I'll let my first post to the EU Forums in about a year do the talking, and stick some screenies in for good measure:


As requested, I'm bringing a bunch of observations to the table on Garrisons. I hope what I present is useful and the kind of feedback you are looking for. I also realise this isn't in the form of bug reports or screenshots. It is apparent this is a 'work in progress' and I don't need to point out bugs I'm pretty certain you're already well aware of. This post therefore, is about feelings and aesthetics :D
I have played through the Establishment/Level One transition a few times and after initially thinking the amount of time spent on this was acceptable, I feel that perhaps it doesn't really explain the benefits of the feature enough in the early stages to the player. If the initial modus operandi of the Garrison is to encourage people to build an outpost in this new land, I feel that there ought to be a little more 'encouragement' to make that feel less rushed and more natural. This needn't equate to more quests or 'groundwork' per se, but could be reflected in external dialogue between NPC's ('this is a good strategic spot for a base', 'we've scouted the area, resources here look capable of sustaining a presence') 

Someone wake that Peon up STAT!

I also realise we're missing what would be a key transitional phase between piles of wood and the L1 framework, but I'd like to see other raw materials appearing between handins. Maybe have a phase between killing Gronn and cutting down trees where we see metal from the ship arriving. Right now, for what is an important phase of the operation in engaging players, it all seems a bit rushed. If we are prepared to accept the process of the Garrison and level with it rather than simply rush off and do dungeons instead, a bit of patience at the start might not be a bad idea.
When we have the Garrison, things get really rather exciting for me. I'm very impressed with the layout and the thought that's been given to positioning. However, again the place needs a bit more flavour, even if we'll only be here for a few levels. I am aware that many of the NPC's placed will not as yet 'activate' until quests go live, but I was disappointed that there were not more 'interactions' of the kind that were popular in TBC. I'm thinking Lower City Traders talking to each other when I look at the vendors, with maybe a subplot 'story' that could develop as the Garrison grows. Peons and soldiers are great walking about, but could we not find an excuse to stick a travel plot in of the ilk of Old Emma in Stormwind? If this new technology allows workers to move from place to place, can it not be extended for NPC enrichment?

MISSION COMPLETE.
Of course, I do realise much of this may well be de rigeur in the L3 Garrison. What I think would be great is if the same level of detail happens from the moment you step into the structure, even if L1 and L2 won't be your final home when you reach 100.
What is abundantly apparent from where I'm sitting is the obvious effort and thought that's going into this feature, and that you're building it pretty much as I type. I'm looking forward to reaching 92 at the weekend and finally unlocking the Alchemy lab. I got my world drop breadcrumb item last night and I hope that I'll be able to advance the process of a professions building.
Thank you for what is a feature I am really genuinely very enthusiastic about indeed :D

Freedom Someday


LOOK A NEW STARTING CONTINENT :O

Playing a new game from scratch is proving very useful, quite apart from the actual entertainment value derived. I'm still stuck at the arrow in Wildstar, and I'm making absolutely no effort to push forwards for the next zone, level 50 or indeed anything else. What my Granok Engineer has made me realise, in the time I have been playing, is that exploration for me is FAR more important as a tool for learning how to play than pushing myself headlong through levels. We have become so obsessed with End Game that it has become the be all and end all of many MMO player's existences, because that means Raiding and only through the playing of games in groups will we finally become at one with the Virtual Universe. Except, really, it doesn't have to be like that. Blizzard, believe it or not, have proven that levelling is now pretty much unnecessary to entice people to play. In fact, some would argue that not levelling netted them a million presales of Warlords. Of course, what this does now mean is that to ensure there's money to make the NEXT expansion, the Devs will need to provide something to keep players occupied from 90 to 100 so they can all end up at End Game again.

When you think about it: is there any point to having a levelling model at all in MMO's if all most people want to do is skip to the end?

Time to rethink the principle

Levelling serves as the ultimate gating mechanic. You can't just walk into a game and be at max level because that negates all the hard work and effort you need to grasp the mechanics of the character you've created to begin with, and experience shows that this remains by far and away the best way to 'learn to play.' That is why Blizzard will be introducing a levelling 'experience' for players who arrive at 90 in Warlords with a freshly boosted toon for the first time and haven't previously tackled the interface. You won't be able to leave the 'phased' starting experience of the Iron Horde until you've proven you're up to the task of playing your class and not looking like a chump. This conveniently skips the other 89 levels of content that have been  forgotten in all of this, where you didn't just learn about your combat abilities, there was all of the lore and exploration too. I realise my love of mapping the land puts me in a minority, but I don't care, because to me the levelling numbers are largely a means for other people to understand why you're playing the game. It's just like your iLevel or the number of alts you have. Max Level equals Endgame. Giving people a number to aim for at a cost therefore makes perfect sense, even if some of us may still be disapproving of Blizzard's choice to allow people to 'buy' that number and skip a large portion of game 'history.'

However, there is no faulting that many just don't care about the back story or the immersive nature of the environment or secret places or jumping puzzles. They just crave max level. Maybe it is time designers grasped this and stopped worrying about keeping people grounded, or forcing them into situations where they think they should be entertained to take in a storyline, when all they want is to biff things and win prizes. After all, for some, this is what MMO Gaming is all about. Perhaps it is time to stop catering to the notion that the only way players can effectively be forced to digest content at a rate that designers can make it is by making it take X minutes to gain a level. Could it really is time to open the doors, let everyone at everything, and let players finally decide what matters most? The problem is, of course, that levelling creates structure and pathways, and without them there could undoubtedly be confusion and chaos. I don't think it has to be that way at all. I'm also beginning to realise that I'm not the only person thinking this way either.

Pay attention, 007!

Blizzard are already attempting to redefine levelling to be more engaging. The Garrisons feature, having now had a chance to begin to digest it 'live', is being deliberately tailored to present a unique and individual 'home' for players whilst they level, that adapts and expands as the player explores, becoming more immersive as the player opens up content and explores the new world around them. If I had my design hat on I'd say this might well be with an eye to future expansions, where a similar 'modular' system would allow Blizzard to reuse the technology in different places, and in other situations. It's the same design ethos that birthed the Scenario: if you look closely you'll grasp the fundamental mechanics are just the same, just as those 'new' creature models are simply re-skinned every time an expansion comes around. This saves vital design hours that can then be spent on innovation. Inevitably, this means that the fundamental levelling 'concept' for Warcraft has already begun to change.

Adding the 'instant' L90's to the mix is in a way not unlike the Death Knight 'experiment' back in Wrath, where you got a 57 level head start rather than having to plough through all the other gubbins. I suspect Pandaria will be the last time we see a starting zone at Level 1 too, that the days of new playable classes as linear progression being quietly consigned to history. Part of me can see any new race in the future simply beginning their life at 100, with their 'starting zone' lasting maybe a level at most, if the insistence on refusing to update old content persists. This is inevitably part of the process of making make levelling to End Game far more attractive, which could have consequences far beyond the bounds of Azeroth. Part of me though thinks that if designers simply took the levelling numbers away and allowed players to dictate what they wanted to do first (end game, exploration, PvP) a lot of the problems could simply go away. However, for many that might be roughly akin to being thrown onto a completely alien planet with absolutely no idea why they're there.


EXTRA POINTS FOR EXPLORING PLEASE.

With a game that's shiny and new like Wildstar, levelling is vital to keep people from outplaying content, getting bored and wandering off, because the idea isn't about just keeping you engaged for a month, it is for you to pay your subs for much, much longer. It is also rather important to make people feel comfortable and reassured, which is probably why when you play most MMO's (including being on Nexus) they'll remind you at least in part of Warcraft. There's a damn good reason other people's design borrows so heavily from Blizzard. It has almost become the 'universal language' for design in these situations. However, there's nothing stopping designers from rewarding five or ten levels to players for completing a certain set of criteria in a zone. It could be killing X mobs, or exploring a certain number of areas, picking up some items and never touching a mob. However, people are afraid of change. Fortunately for us, that isn't the case with Warcraft.

In fact, it could be that the Timeless Isle 'model' that Blizzard has been playing, plus what the Garrison may now begin to represent in the long term, that may be very significant indeed. However, both changes to the model still rely on the basic gathering of  XP and the understanding that the only way players can be restricted from consuming content too fast is at least some kind of physical gate. The only method of giving a sense of increasing power and progression is by having stuff you can't wear until you hit a certain level. That basic outlook will need to be readdressed. In fact, the same company are already experimenting with possible alternatives in other places. The concept of Paragon levels in Diablo 3 is one that many players have suggested would be a viable alternative to the 'traditional' model.

You may cap out at 70 in Diablo 3 but that won't stop you gaining Paragon 'levels' which count across most of your characters (Hardcore characters are considered separately) and add extra bonuses to specific attributes. However, it is still a means of tying effort to time to extend the lifespan of the game... except end game content does this for Warcraft. Each successive Patch that introduces a raid tier does exactly this task for players, it adds attributes and ability to their characters without the need to do anything else except take part in content. The biggest single problem, and this is undoubtedly historical, is that a L1 character is quite clearly less powerful than a L90 one, and that people assume that big is best, and that you need the bigger numbers. We've seen the love of huge things as justification before by Blizzard for not introducing the item squish in Cataclysm. So how do you deal with the issue if people crave the comfort of numbers to understand where they are in the linear progression of your MMO?


NO STILL LEVELLING IT EVEN SAYS SO.

That's a question I suspect many designers don't even want to even consider tackling, because it messes with such a basic tenet of MMO gaming it would be like suggesting people put chocolate sprinkles on broccoli to make it more attractive for people to eat. There is room for change, but it needs to be a brave company who'd stick their head on the block to be the first. I sense levelling has had its day, and I think numbers need to be removed from the equation, but I'm a realist and understand exactly why they remain in the first place. The bigger issue is the re-education process that I think designers believe would have to happen to allow this to come to pass, which at this stage is simply too insurmountable. As a result, no one is prepared to even try.

That's just rubbish.

That's like saying you don't have any female developers on your design teams because women don't want to make computer games. That's utter rubbish too. I'd make computer games in a heartbeat, but as that's not likely to happen the people who do actually design MMO's need to be prepared to take a few risks, perhaps considering content that could rock the boat... oh yeah. Look at all those franchise titles. Look at what the marketing people tell you gamers want to buy. It's safe recycling old ideas because you know people will keep playing. That's why there's only seven kinds of plot in modern storytelling. The problem isn't how those are spun, its the motivation for using them to begin with. That's why you need a company who is comfortable enough in it's own market position to take a risk or two. Then you have to hope they'd be smart enough to think outside the design box and try something really rather innovative to begin with. Revolution like that is a pretty big step in the dark unless you have a sizable reputation to march behind you.


Easy now Comrades.

There is hope on the horizon. Titles such as Landmark at least give the impression of being about personal progression without numbers mattering, where art and individual satisfaction are of greater significance than the level of gear you're wearing and how many bosses you've killed in Hard Mode. The problem with those however is that they too require a very specific skillset to be widely accepted by the playing public. There are hints in many places that design companies are beginning to grasp that the same stories can be told, but it is the control systems that are the issue. This isn't about being smart or clever, or even innovative in many cases. It all boils down to being simple. Just look at Tetris' massive popularity as an example: one control system, one aim. That's what MMO design should ascribe to, and I think it can be possible if designers understand that your journey is NEVER linear, it just boils down to what you want at any given moment. There are a million ways from A-B, and the more ways a game can offer to get there but with the minimum of thought, the more chance there is of people finding their own path and declaring your product a success.

Ironically, I think the Garrison feature for Warlords would work brilliantly if you totally removed XP gain from the equation. Now all I need to do is convince everyone else that levelling has had its day and it's time to just let everyone loose on new content...

Thursday, June 05, 2014

ALPHA :: Don't Believe the Hype


We start here.

I've just finished my first Twitch stream with voice, so today is a load of new experiences all at once. What is immediately apparent, in the two or so hours I played and the one level I gained, is that Warcraft is trying to evolve. Some will say it's neither sufficient or soon enough, but what is abundantly obvious in the first steps into Draenor 'proper' is the understanding your gameplay has changed. Frankly, most things have altered: whether it is the coloured glow around quest targets or interactive items, the random events scattered across the landscape or the Rares that appear to populate every cave or out of the way area. Lessons have been learnt from previous endeavours, and from the word go your Garrison becomes the metaphor for your new journey. It is the centre of all things, an instanced area where you move and work before being sent out to explore the land. Of course, you could just explore and ignore it, and because of the last couple of months of bad press many people just won't be starting the journey at all, which is actually a shame.

Personal bias aside, this really IS a good idea to reinvent the Questing mechanic.


It begins with a fire.

The first gathering quest you're presented with is to cut down the wood you'll use to make your Garrison. After that, things play out with a speed that might jar on some but that is just right for the process of establishing your outpost: everything I've seen in the Alpha files is in place, but only for the Horde at this point, and with a great many holes inside it as you would expect from an Alpha Client. However, and this is absolutely crucial, IT IS REALLY FUN TO PLAY. No, you're not visiting other people's houses and matching curtains with cushions in this version of 'housing' but there is the potential for a very great deal along those lines once the final model is done. For now, it really does evoke memories of W3 and building things in SimCity, with a very distinct Warcraft slant, which means people will fight each other. That's the point here: this is a war, and even though we don't have the Portal Event as backdrop just yet, the sense when you arrive in Frostfire is of a land that is anything but at peace. It also looks bang up to Blizzards exacting standards for polish and atmosphere, right down to the background music.

However, it's anything but finished.


Yes, we get the idea :D

The thing about this Client is that I feel many people are expecting it to be far further forward than it is, just because we started talking about it in November. I even had some discussion yesterday about how I thought that we'd not see this for a few more weeks because so much Garrison shizzle is missing (it is, no Alliance questline at present, Alpha's only playing Horde) and this is a client that does everything you'd expect a work in progress to do and more, including being unable to capture screenies without a manual command line imput (which means I need to go and rescreenie a ton of stuff shortly.) However, the effort to make things easier is so apparent it's almost jarring in places: my bags are full of items with gold coin 'markers' which tell me what I can sell easily because its trash. Every Garrison menu screen already has explanation text in place. Quest mobs now show up as yellow dots on my map (which is confusing because my brain thinks that means they're a herb ^^)

Most importantly of all, I've seen one quest reward that I can equip in two hours. Every other reward gives me material for my Garrison's building efforts. If you didn't already grasp just how integrated the Questing experience has become to this building, you'll be left in absolutely no doubt by the end of your first level. The moment you land, you can ignore the idea, but I cannot urge you strongly enough to at least give the thing a try. Even at this early stage, the potential for this feature is immense. It all depends now on whether Blizzard can pull it off for a realistic launch window.


NEW MENUS FOR ALL :D

Ultimately, whatever anyone now writes about this game, there is going to be taint. Whether it be the complaints it's the Female Orc that stays behind in the Village to defend it while the men go to fight, or that the first time you actually see a female NPC she's a potential villain. Many have walked away knowing whatever Blizzard try and change, it won't ever be enough, because the damage is already done. I felt a real pang of sadness this morning knowing the discussions that forced these changes will be less rich than it was because many people have moved on, and whether that means that there will be no attempt to improve the way certain things are depicted and presented in game. There is change, however, and enough of it to give this Alpha the feel of something entirely different from what precedes it. Lessons have clearly been learnt, and mistakes are being addressed. For many, it will not be enough.

For me, this is a very encouraging start.




PS: Grammar Police are sadface :(

ALPHA :: New Shoes

I managed to play the Alpha for 15 minutes last night, and even in that short amount of time one thing became immediately apparent.

This really is a different game from the one I'm currently playing live.

Because of what I know exists in the Alpha Client, there is no Alliance questline to begin. You're restricted to premade characters too, the 4 I copied to the EU realm are currently inaccessible. However, Alternative the Tauren Hunter exists and will be deleted then reborn when I begin streaming later to make me easier to spot if you're lucky enough to be out and about. I won't be revealing any plot spoilers in these posts either, if they occur they'll be sent to my separate site.

There's a bug currently that's preventing screenies being taken, which means everything I documented last night has been lost forever, but I have a decent memory, and this means I can do a lovely bullet point post before we start the day of what immediately sprang out at me:


  • There's a Heroes Call as the first thing you see when you hit the starting point (screenie to come) I dunno if it will remain there, but there's a wonderful 'synopsis' of why you've been sent to this zone to begin with. Which is actually a really good idea. I'm betting I'm the only person who actually read it, though :P

  • ALL QUEST TARGETS are now colour coded, and by that I mean they have an aura around them which really does destroy the cinematic nature of your first few steps into the new land (look, follow Thrall with the Green Cross Man glow ^^) What is immediately apparent from this early 15 minutes is that everything, and I mean EVERY quest target has been made easier to locate. The minimap is now marked with yellow dots for the quest target trees you need, and the specific trees required to chop down have a transparent 'flag' in front of them so you know you're in the right place.

  • Being stat squished doesn't matter one iota if you can't see how much health you have to begin with. That's the advantage of the default UI, ladies and gentlemen.

  • The new models look really lovely.

  • I NEED A PROFESSIONS TRAINER STAT.

  • With the first tree you cut down, you start generating the Garrison's construction material. I cannot overstate this enough now, your Garrison 'experience' begins pretty much as the first quest you're involved in. I've seen the various screenies from the data mining sites that show we have at least a basic Interface to play with, and I'll be getting the Garrison as far as it can go today on Twitch to give people an idea of what to expect. You can come and learn with me :D

I'll populate this post with screenies later (as I now have a workaround to create them) and you'll hear when I go live on Twitch. For now, I won't lie: even with the more visually obvious nature of events, I'm already getting excited for what I'll find when I play today properly for the first time :D

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Alpha :: Go.


Right then :D

There appears to be an Alpha Client live.

I am downloading it now.

More news when I'm able to actually log in.


Alternative Chat :: Apology for Absence





I seem to have become quite adept at summarising stuff in my old age. As a result, this is just under five minutes that explains why I've been quiet for weeks, and why I'm going back to a scripted format until such time as there is no need to use it.






Next week, we'll aim for ten minutes. Be gentle with me as a result.

Winning


IT COULD BE YOU.

I have two Wildstar Guest Passes to give away as a result of purchasing the game (the third's going to the eldest son who is very keen to play) and because I have no friends IRL I decided I'd use them as giveaways. There's one up for grabs on my Facebook page (if you're comfortable selling yourself to the corporate devil) which is likely to get less publicity than this one, if you're mad keen to win a code, or if you're not a Twitter user. However, if you're just here for the Code, here's the lowdown:


TO WIN THE CODE:

1. Retweet This Tweet:


2. Leave a Comment on This Post.

3. Do the above by Midnight, BST, on Friday, June 6th.


That's all there is to it! Good Luck all!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

White Flag

Because the Apocalypse IS NOT PICKY.

There is a certain type of Doomsayer that appears to surface whenever an Expansion is being constructed. They are the ones who are CONVINCED that the latest iteration of the game is already destined for failure even before the Digital Copies have been sent to your PC. After all, there is (in their mind) a wealth of historical precedent to substantiate their claims. You only need to look at the disasters that are LFR, and Daily Quests, and Archaeology and the Tillers Farm AND simplifying Talents.. well, you get the point. This time around the Garrison feature is already being maligned before we even have a working version of affairs in our hands to consider. I've spent a lot of time analysing data on this feature since Blizzcon, and having had time to finally digest the first of the 'Official' Blogs from the company themselves... well, there are more questions than answers from what I've been presented. I know, there are three more weeks of data to come, but if this is to serve as an introduction and overview to the feature...? I can't help but think that the choice of language and tone of the piece isn't sending the kind of message I'd expected, even with everything I've observed since November.

What this post will now try and do is work out why its taken until Blizzard produced an Official Blog for me to become nervous about what I'm buying into.


I am confused. This does not bode well.

In the opening paragraph of the Blog, CM Bashiok makes the following statement:

We knew early on in development that this feature would strike a chord with long-time Warcraft players going back to the RTS days, as well as set the tone for the conflict with the Iron Horde.

I'll admit, I had to double-check that RTS in that sentence referred to real time strategy. I'm no stranger to games like this, in fact I have a love affair with SimCity going back to its first emergence on the Amiga in 1988. I'm also aware that more than one Blogger read this article and quite rightly concludes that this isn't the Player Housing approach many people thought it might be. I grasped pretty early on that what we were being presented wasn't the same as Wildstar's Housing, that I wasn't going to get a level of customisation of the scale I'd find in Landmark. Using RTS as a 'marker' in the opening paragraph has made me realise that, like it or not, there's (yet again) a lot of Blizzard history being wheeled in as context to the actions here. Many of your decisions may not permanently affect the long term consequences in your Garrison, and Blizzard are very much at pains to reiterate you don't have to do it all while levelling, or even not at all if you wish until you hit L100. However, with every assertion that you don't need to do any of this comes the counter that the mechanics are very much an intrinsic part of levelling. The problem is, as yet, we still don't have the faintest idea of what that is exactly going to entail.

Alpha continues to be unable to provide any answers either, seven months after the feature was announced.


We have Blueprint Icons but
NO WORKING Client... ^^

As I have discussed before, the key here is time. This feature is quite obviously being built from the ground upwards. Technology has had to be redesigned to accommodate it. Most importantly of all, Blizzard are in no real hurry to rush anything out until it's ready.This therefore presumably means that, as yet, the Garrison doesn't exist in a format Blizzard are happy being tested outside Irvine. All of this is perfectly acceptable and understandable, and this is not where my issue lies, because I have reconciled all of this as an inevitable consequence of the development process. The bare bones of the Missions system is clearly already in place, the files support it and I can see them. Followers exist in the game, the mechanics for buffs and assistance in associated questlines... the framework of the system is clearly apparent. The most significant sections of the jigsaw puzzle are already placed in the box marked 'Garrisons', it is just that the picture stuck to that box does not seem to fit the pieces I'm seeing presented.

I just can't work out how I'm supposed to make these two things look the same.


There are stairs. That bit I get.

Expectation is a harsh mistress. I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to hyping things beyond reasonable expectation, but the promise of Garrisons continues to remain, if it works, a significant game changer. That's the key here, those three words. We can only assume it does work somewhere, already, and the only reason that we can't see that in action is that the Powers That Be have decided that we won't get the feature 'live' until they're convinced we'll not be able to live without it once we've played it once. Because ultimately that has to be the plan: one million pre-sales in 2014 isn't what Blizzard were working towards. The long term plan has to be to exceed six million subs (and possibly more) for 2016 to tie in with the MASSIVE investment made by a great many people in the Warcraft Movie, simply because of the amount of publicity a successful movie event could conceivably generate. Does it even matter if Garrisons fail to deliver to begin with, because it could easily be consigned it to the bin of failed ideas as the Devs look forward to the NEXT Expansion?

Just how important is this feature to Blizzard, and how significant is it in long-term planning for the game?


Thinking ahead is becoming a dangerous precedent.

I realised late last night what it is that bothers me about the picture on the Garrisons Jigsaw Box. I can still see the faded photograph of the Golden Lotus Daily Quest hub that it's stuck on top of, the realisation that that the same container's being used to house the pieces as it always has been. It doesn't matter how much Blizzard assert this is new, that opening sentence from the Blog means I'm already judging the product as something the company used to make and that has generated in my mind a very specific set of criteria: complicated, difficult to grasp, with a reliance on an understanding of both mathematics and logistics to help guide me. Of course, for many people, these possibilities will be greeted with great enthusiasm, but for many others they have the potential to simply send them away. Blizzard clearly understand the stakes however, or we wouldn't see this as part of the Blog to begin with:

We recognize that there’s a fine line between introducing a system that provides cool bonuses and adding “chores” that feel necessary for cutting-edge endgame progression.

However, what I think Blizzard may have failed to adequately grasp is that, for the vast majority of people who will be excited to play Garrisons, cutting-edge endgame progression is actually the LAST thing they care about. Blizzard will be wrapping up most things that the CASUAL PLAYER gravitate towards: professions, questing and solo play into an experience that they will have very little chance to opt out of. In fact, if the next Garrisons Blog Post plays out the way I suspect it will, players will be penalised in Professions if they don't take a Garrison as standard. It is still largely unclear if the entire 90-100 path is so wrapped around the Garrison that it is possible to not enter it at all whist still using Quests in the manner most people will be used to. We have established that Blizzard consider it not 'mandatory' for those who wish to use Battlegrounds or Dungeons to advance themselves. However, what about the people who decide they simply don't like the feature they're being presented with. Is there an alternative for those of us who don't raid at the cutting edge or want to take part in PvP?

Are those people simply presented with the Garrison as a fait accompli?


I want this feature to work. For everybody.

If you ask me why I think Warcraft as entertainment has endured for as long as it has, my first answer is always the same: it is capable of being so many different things to vast numbers of players simultaneously. This is why a Warcraft movie about simply lore and nothing else bothers me, because it represents only a fraction of what the entire experience ultimately means for the people who play it. The same is undoubtedly true for a feature I am excited about, because that very fact means other people won't be. I can already tell you why, list off an entire slew of reasons, and that the Doomsayers really might have a point. There's a great deal of historical precedent, after all. The game is littered with failed ideas and redundant systems, most of which remain because Blizzard refuse to go back and update the World any more. That's probably an issue for another post.

Needless to say, if the Official Blog was supposed to make me feel excited for what was to come, I'm not sure in my case it really did the job as well as it could have. In fact, I'm beginning to get a little nervous about what I'll finally be presented with...

Monday, June 02, 2014

This Week I Will Be Mostly :: Lazy


I feel a massive disturbance in the Force...

The next two weeks will be important for many, many things.

Personally speaking, I can see a lot going on around me. Quite apart from a renewed interest in Hearthstone, Diablo 3, Wildstar AND Sim City there is plenty to do in Warcraft now that we have a game-wide 'We're Not Trying to Encourage You To Play HONEST' buff. Then there's the massive non-gaming overhaul of stuff I could do with instigating on the Website and elsewhere. In fact, if I let it I could be easily overwhelmed with a bunch of stuffs but there is frankly no time for anything other than a bunch of PROPER ORGANISATION because coming back from Holiday means I am refreshed, recharged and READY TO GET STUFF DONE.

Let's start with the easy things, shall we?

And THIS is why we love Hunters :D

I have decided, having played some Hearthstone on holiday, that I would like to experiment with something *other* than just a Hunter deck. As a result I'll be levelling the rest of my heroes in the next few weeks and doing some digging for ideas. Paladin and Shaman look interesting currently but I will be exploring all options. Needless to say, considering how anti I was of the entire exercise to begin with this demonstrates a significant about-face for me, but the fact remains I enjoy the concept from a Warcraft standpoint. A lot of the comprehension comes from the fact I'm playing a 'version' of Warcraft in another format, something Blizzard are doing their best to exploit all over the shop. I don't have a problem with this, quite the opposite. I am even considering using some real money for cards, for the first time ever. Needless to say, I'll tell you how it goes.

Yo, homies.
Then there is Wildstar. I will be levelling this week, if only to get my character to a level where I can access my Housing because I'd like to be able to do a C&C between this and Garrisons when Warcraft finally gets its arse in gear is ready for testing. Also, I really like the questing. It isn't because its new or I am relatively OP as a Tank (and can pull 3 or 4 things at once), it is because, actually, the game is really rather enjoyable. I've seen people complaining that levelling to 50 is a pain, that it is too much work to get to the 'good stuff'. Odd, I thought the entire point of games was to actually *PLAY* them which involves going on a JOURNEY from one point to another and not just turning up and expecting everything to be there for you. There appears to be a widening gulf between those who think the Console Mentality is *all that* and those of us prepared to invest ourselves in an endeavour. I'm suspecting these people also think this bike is attractive:


I'm sorry, but this isn't a bike, its ridiculous. I'm really glad this entire 'competition' thing is over, but I am well aware that certain arguments rumble onwards, as well they should. Needless to say, some of us have VERY long memories. We are watching with interest to see what happens next, and I'm not just talking about this bike being available in digital form for the winning faction. Yeah, and I'm sorry for being negative when so many people clearly enjoyed the thing but wouldn't have the time and money been better used doing something.. you know, actually worthwhile?

Having upset a section of my readership, I suspect it is high time to go and get started with the week. Needless to say, expect a lot of words :D

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Reflektor


Capped in 20 minutes.

When I heard that Blizzard was applying a ten day Valor buff, game wide, late last week, I can't say I was particularly surprised (even if many of us had assumed this buff was for the Black Prince's Legendary Questline.) Irvine may persist with the notion that their operating focus does not rotate around other games and releases, but *really* we were all expecting something this weekend, because if I'm playing Wildstar then I'm certainly not alone in deflecting focus away from Azeroth. I'd kind of hoped for a working Alpha client, but the patch on Thursday made it abundantly clear the game still is not ready. There's too much missing from Garrisons for them to stick it out for testing, though this is closer than we've been at any point since March and the initial release of data. I'll be updating the Garrisons Blog later today with what we received not simply from the dedicated post last week but the Alpha push. Ironically I picked up only one thing of note from that entire article (Garrisons will have an Outpost in every zone) so it is this week's Blog which, at least for me, is the one I'm looking forward to the most.

That is, assuming we get one this week, and that is hardly a given.


So, what's the point in choosing the Sparring Arena? :P

There will be a To Build a Home feature tomorrow, because I have a fair few questions to ask, and for a blog that's supposed to be explaining rationale behind the feature, it's not really doing the job as well as it could.In fact, the longer we go on without the ability to robustly break repeatedly test this part of the plan, the more I'll have questions instead of answers. This might, of course, be part of the greater scheme of things, its still too early to tell. Yes, I know. PATIENCE.

Honestly, are we there yet?

WILDSTAR :: Start


Are we there yet?

Yesterday, at least in my Twitter feed, everyone went to Nexus.

Although the game's not open to the 'public' yet, those of us with Early Access to Wildstar were allowed in for a Head Start. As there's pretty much nothing going on in Warcraft (more on that later) of real note it seemed like a good idea to jump in and get myself started on my Granok Exile. I'm going to tank eventually, but for now I'll take any piece of gear I can find. Fortunately for me the game I played in Beta is considerably different from the one I saw last night, and that includes gear drops from mobs. I'm not *quite* sure why I picked the Explorer path (I *hate* jumping) but no matter, it is all good in these early days. The game itself seems considerably more polished than it was in many regards, and I'm now quite keen to roll a Dominion character to see the other starting area experience for balance. Having the same two areas for every faction clearly saves a lot of time and effort on content creation, but I suspect if I roll more than a few characters it is going to get wearing quite fast.


I need a stat guide, STAT!

Last night I made it to level 5 before I logged off. I should apologise to anyone who was in the Circle that @decodingdragons made and I joined, because there was perilously little chatting going on and an awful lot of learning on my part. New systems are still new, even though I've played this part once already, and I am conscious of may things not being natural as yet. I've not even looked at my free perks or the 44 Boom Boxes I have in my Inventory as yet, it's all about learning how to play and not feel like an utter idiot. That is going to take some time, because if there's one thing I'm very particular about, it is learning how to do things well. Don't say I didn't warn you in advance.

As a result of Wildstar's arrival, I'll be doing a weekly update  of my progress in *this* game every Sunday. If it ends up as being *more* than once a week, then Warcraft has something to worry about... ^^