It is all about the time sink

The time sink game is all I’m playing at the moment. It has many levels and challenges.

I have three writing mini-projects going at once, a few games to try to play, and a family to look after. The three writing projects have deadlines which are looming so I really should be doing those with all my spare time, but I find them difficult to write them without spending large blocks of time. When I write I need a good 1-2 hours of time to get anything new written. I can review my own work in much smaller time blocks, but there is only so much review that can be done before it is called procrastination. New text needs thinking time.

A pc game however can be 30 minutes to 1 hour if I know what I’m doing (like WoW), or need a heap more (like 2-3 hours) if it is a game which is new to me like Elder Scrolls, EvE, Star Wars. I guess I could go play D3 too if I wanted some hack and slash fun, and D3 is the game I’ll fall back to when all else fails.

The writing is all based around pen and paper role-playing games (for a Deathwatch mini-module and a fan made Ars Magica supplement), and I’m enjoying the process of trying to create something for a critical audience. Writing for your own sake is easy, writing for an audience who will read, review, editorialise, and point out incongruity is much harder. That could be part of my hesitation too. The projects are not commercial things, so I’m not targeting a commercial level quality, but still thinking it has to be better than my typical notepad scrawl.

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As far as computer games go, WoW is still interesting to me. I have some gripes which will come out below, but as I write this I’m really just mouthing off about an errant kid who I like, but pissed me off recently.

I think it is interesting that WoW Insider has announced cut-backs to their blog staff across all games, and wow is significantly affected. That would not happen if the revenue was flowing well, and that is telling about the users of these games, and the market in general. Even though the subscription rate is ok-ish the players themselves are not putting up with any kind of silly or boring content anymore. I think repetition will be the next thing that MMOs have to have less of to keep their audiences, and that will be a huge problem for almost all the theme park style games. Players want more content, more often, with no drop in quality or they go elsewhere. They might return when the new content drops, but almost all the players I speak to are not willing to wait. They go elsewhere. And they should too.

WoW and Guilds

Well there is a doozy here to tell. Many of our raiders either left for greener pastures, were removed for being painful, or left for life reasons. That then caused another round of departures, as others had to ponder leaving too. Then some of those greener pastures were not as good as advertised, so those people began looking around again. Because I’m fed up with being treated like a revolving door, and fed up with the whinging, a few were told they were not welcome back. I think most people would support a player making the “right” call for themselves, and forgive a lot of how that was communicated or made. We’re all human. I think a Guild has to also make the “right” choices too, and that means sometimes enough is enough.

This was not a great time for our guild, but also not unexpected at this stage in the game. The downtime between expansions is always crappy for guilds, with only the strongest ones staying focused. Add in some continued drama, a few people who think they are special snowflakes, and you’re left with very little to do. There is no lever by which a player can be controlled (such as an employment contract for compensation) so “managing” difficult people is next to impossible for any prolonged period.

That leaves us with a guild of social players and no “serious progression” raids happening. Frankly I’m glad that some of the pains-in-the-arse players are gone. I’m sad that we lost great people too, and even more so that it might lead to others leaving. At this point though it is not something to fight, but something to accept. I want players to be having fun, and that is far more important than rubbish about which guild you belong to, or she-said-he-said malarkey. I am glad it is “over”. I’m glad that the people who are staying will not have to wonder why such stupidity is tolerated. It is not tolerated anymore.

I can now login without having to think about somebody getting shitty about some illusory problem. Finally, no dramas from World of Warcraft. Yeehaw! I do not even understand why in hell some people require the input that they do; it is like they are not adults at all.

I’m even happy that the people who left are getting what they like from their game time. It is good to think that people can go somewhere and be happy, and it is very possible (and even a certainty in one case) that a problem only existed because of the people involved. Dissolve the problem relationship permanently, and the fun comes back. More power to them. I hope they’re all killing digital monsters, and looting wonderful pixels.

I’m really not having a go, just talking through what happened. I’m sure the choices were not perfect, nobody makes perfect choices all the time.

Bygones are bygones. – TyphoonAndrew.

An aside – Wow characters can only belong to a single guild at a time, and therefore changing guilds is also inevitable. Why can’t WoW have more than one formal method to organise players. Cal them battle units, corps, whatever, but allow a way that players can stay in a guild they like, but also advance and be managed in another set of organisations. It might help players who have dual loyalties. We can cross-server raid all sorts of junk, but cannot organise characters in the same way in-game. I think that is a functional gap.

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ESO Beta

This weekend I was given a ticket into Elder Scrolls Online Beta (thanks T!) and it looks like a reasonable game. As my friend told me “think of it as a good single player story, not as an MMO” and its a great game. There was an NDA which I briefly skimmed while downloading the game so rather than say anything questionable, I’ll just say that it is similar enough that I knew what to do, but was a little different. Graphically it will challenge some computers. This is not a game which will run well on a low spec machine.

Where is the value?

If I were to think about value for money when playing time sinks I not subscribe to Wow, Eve, ESO, or any other subscription game. I’d get back into Star Wars, or something like it. It’s free and has plenty of content I’ve not played. Or many of the other games out there that are free to play. I do like the idea of not having a wow subscription for a while to save up for something else. Perhaps it is time to pause my membership for a few months.

I’ve also got a 7 day trial of EvE sitting waiting, but I cannot bring myself to login just yet. It looks fantastic, and honestly I’d be playing more just to look at the pretty space pictures than actually want to do space battles. I don’t think that alone is worth a subscription cost. In fact a video of beautiful space scenes rolling in the background would almost be as appealing.

That’s not weird. Is it? Happy killing, TyphoonAndrew

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Once again, the sky isn’t falling for World of Warcraft

The earnings call by Blizzard indicates that the subscriber numbers are apparently up slightly from 7.6 to 7.8 million players (reported by wowinsider). Honestly I am surprised it wasn’t a decrease, but also very pleased. In a rough economic climate for game developers and entertainment companies WoW as a game is still doing well.

Consider too that a game charging around USD$15 per month with 7 million players is doing exceedingly well. If another game had that revenue rate for a year the owning company would have very powerful options for what they did next, and what direction they chose to move.

Blizzard have had almost 10 years of good subscriber numbers. Think about that seriously for a minute, how much revenue? And then join me in the hope that they are reinvesting heavily in their next set of games. It was not chance that the Hearthstone Beta was as good as a polished game when the beta started (yes the card balance wasn’t there, but the quality was darn high).

How are the subscriber numbers generated?

No idea, but I’d bet that whatever sneaky formulas the paranoid types tell us they use to limit the perceived drop were already in use when the last few earnings calls were announced with the decreases, so that means this is a legit increase. Or at worst it a stable period in subscribers.

Either way, the sky is not falling on World of Warcraft. I know that some folks like to think that WoW will die any season now, but I really think that it can decrease for a while before it is really dying, and this recent rise means that it might be a little further away than we thought.

Good. I’ve still got heaps to do. Happy Killing.

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What will be the Legendary in Warlords of Draenor?

I’m curious what will be the Legendary in Warlords of Draenor. Not if there will be one, but what item. I’ve already seen rumours that there might be two items up for grabs, and much discussion – perhaps one which will be like the People’s Cloak of Everybody is LeetSauce, and another as a much harder to get item, or an item which requires dedicated effort in Heroic or better raids.

Lets just push the us vs them, casuals vs hardcore, its not fair, and waste of dev hours discussions to the side for this post and enjoy some speculation. I’ve bloged some snarks about the Legendary before, but I’m holding that as an aside now. This is about what will work going forward.

The opinions of the Mists of Pandaria legendary quest chain has mostly been positive, and those who liked it tended to really like it. With that in mind I think the designers will again seek to tell a lore heavy story as the background to a Legendary item and achievement. I’m all in favour of that. It worked for me as a roleplayer and as a gamer.

Please make it link to both the history of the realm and the current story which is unfolding. Add some hooks which are quasi-role specific, like altering the challenges for the roles the characters might take (dos vs tank vs heals doing different things). And despite the fact I hated it the link into repeat raids and grinding drops is something that I think needs to stay too.

Konachan.com---100777-blue_eyes-blue_hair-elf-green_hair-long_hair-short_hair-weapon-world_of_warcraft-yao_renIn terms of gear slot the Necklaces, Rings, and Trinkets look to me to be an obvious next step, but any slot really could be used given that there were many versions of the final legendary in MoP to suit every spec. I think a trinket could be something really special. The lore aspects of many other games in having an uber-powerful-widget that enhances the characters matches a trinket very well. Say the a Ever-burning-vial-of-demon-blood which was going to be the thing which corrupted the Orcs, but instead is re-purposed into a trinket for our hero to use against the Warlords.

I saw a suggestion for a Helm but matching a helm to look right to all the other armour styles will be a bitch, and I cannot see that happening.

Another suggestion was for a Shield and as it would be useless for all the non-shield users I think that gets shot down quickly. Likewise I don’t think we will see another range weapon as it is too class specific. I’d love to see a weapon again, but I agree with many folks who have said that we have had many weapons before.

Happy hunting, and may all your legendary grinds be quick and uneventful.

(A few previous posts on mine on the Legendary items)

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Quick Impressions on Warlords of Draenor

Aside

Quick little re-post of my thoughts when asked on the Guild’s forums. Overall there is a lot of material in WoW Warlords of Draenor which could be wonderful (WoD is about as great as MoP for an expansion abbreviation).

Likes:

  • I’m pleased with the item stat squish, and the associated HP value changes, etc.
  • separate raid lockouts
  • added flex style to normal mode
  • stat / gear use simplification. Pally Plate’s often DE needs to stop, this addresses that issue.
  • reduced gear-sets. The gear model means that one item may serve multiple roles. Brilliant. The negative on this system is not as large as the negatives we already have in game with the current system.
  • removal of reforge, etc. It was a way to “fix” shitty complex itemisation, or the wrong stats on gear. It was also a gold sink. I won’t miss it at all. i.e. I think I reforged manually about three times in the expansion, otherwise I used a mod. If I am seeking to automate a function then why bloody have it. Just fix the itemisation.
  • free level 90 toon. Cool, more powerful bank alts.

Too soon to tell:

  • How much sense does Garrosh escaping into the time machine really make?
  • Garrisons might be cool, or might be the “farm” of MoP. Great at first, a grind, and then pointless.
  • 20 man Epic mode. Might cause issues. Might be the same problem we have now but a different number as the target. Moot.
  • character models. Increased polygon complexity is fine and good, hopefully we see more. What about a thin human male model which has actual fingers?
  • followers akin to Star Wars. Good system.
  • craft from your bank mats. Great.

Not fussed:

  • +10 levels vs 5
  • Orc vs ?? Lore. Frankly the lore is never going to be cohesive and congruent to what came before.
  • no flying. It was ok when we could, it was ok when we couldn’t.
  • time travel stories

Dislike:

  • the renaming of the raid types is confusing at the moment because of the re-use of the same words. It’ll be fine later.
  • why scrap “the blood” corruption of the orcs totally? It was a cool lore.
  • the trailer was meh, but I’m thinking we’ll get a better one when the launch the actual expansion.

I want:

  • more/better Archy information, & Profession changes to suit actual raid benefits

Hmm. Does itemisation count for adding new WoW classes?

Another happy random topic out on WowInsider – What classes would you like to see come to WoW? I wrote:

I think they got the monk very right, except that the Monk wears leather as implemented in WoW. The game’s presentation of monks before this (via Scarlet Mon and others) was as cloth wearers and it would have been interesting to see them as cloth wearers.

So hmm, on reflection my comment was not especially on topic, but I felt it needed to be said.

Itemisation in the game wold have to change a lot to add cloth which is agility based from level 2 upward, and it would also have not helped that only a small range of uses are out there for leather with intellect and spirit. So perhaps the leather wearing monks were an easier path to introduce.

(…note: I’ll say as a lead in to this post that I liked the amalgamation of armour type with stats that was performed. Having some classes gain Hit from Spirit to reduce the range of stat combos which needed to be supplied by boss kills was clever.

I’ll say too that I am mostly for leaving the classes as they are. This is more a post about options, rather than an actual wishlist. I got the Monk class I said I wanted, but now that I have it I’m not keen as it was implemented. That is all my problem, as I accept the choices that Blizzard made happily.

Lastly I know that opening all the classes to all the races is an option, and it is another option that I’d like to see never happen. The story reason for adding anything to the game should be profound and strong. A Pandaren Death Knight is just not likely, especially in the numbers of players who would do it. Saying no to that spread of class race mixes is not a bad thing.

The ideas below conflict with that. Sorry.)

So then now we could see (but probably won’t) a cloth wearing class added? Not so sure. We have 34 specs in play at the moment, with 3x wearing plate, 3x wearing leather, 3x cloth and only 2x wearing mail.

spirit-healer

We’ve had Monks and Death Knights as new classes, so having more plate and leather conflict is going to be disruptive. We still have a single class using Plate with Intellect (caster plate) though, and the same problem in Mail caster gear. Perhaps that is a major force in what class style is introduced – add something which has less major rework required at the low end, and can give diversity to the gear spread at the high end.

So if a class was to be added it could be added to the mail category wearing Agi based and Intellect based armour. Hmm, what classes might use intellect based mail armour?

  • Demon Hunter? Uhh blarg. Too much like hunter.
  • Warmage? Or call it a Warden. A dps caster, a healer, plus melee, plus Tank who wears heavier armour than cloth, but still not a plate wearing, weapon wielding melee guy. Mail suits that concept a lot. It might have 4x spec options to keep adding breadth of choice into the game. It makes for a further mess in the spec line-up.

And now onto even stranger thoughts…

Or perhaps a class is added where their armour sub-type changes according to their active spec? Just because we have the alignment to date does not mean it actually needs to be maintained. We’ve always seen classes change their choice in weapons to suit a role, so why not their choice of armour?

Or perhaps we might see every class which has current specs which are very similar redone? i.e. Fire mage vs Frost mage, vs Arcane mage is essentially a range caster dps with a flavour and play-style. Good on them. Same kind of thing with Rogues, and certainly same kind of thing with Death Knight unholy and frost. A disc priest and holy priest also both heal, but do so in very different ways.

What if those differences were rolled into the Talent choices in the early talent trees and new and very different spec choices were added? Such as:

  • Unholy DK becomes a range caster and summoner. It suits a nice little angle of on the lore which has always been present and I do not think it would hurt greatly. It also has the advantage of adding Plate Int a new use, although also makes itemisation in the class more painful. Perhaps they also use staves and such of the casters too. The cross-itemisation might make the fight for gear more prolific, but it would also widen the range of use.
  • One of Disc & Holy is subsumed and Priests get a melee “pugilist” spec. Friar tuck with a staff, maces, or some such? (very close to what I thought a Monk would be like)
  • Hunters get a spec where they have no pet at all, but instead move into melee mode. I know that “melee hunter” is a great meme, but it would finally make my Hunter playable o suit my style.
  • I don’t know what to do with Mages and Rogues, except to make their alt-odd-spec something which changes their mode of play. How do you alter a Rogue to be either range or a heal/tank? I don’t think it can be done well. Perhaps these guys are the real straight dps in their role.

And finally what other classes might we see have a go?

  • A summoner type. Ala the Witch Doctor in D3? Hmm a clothie. It makes a sort of sense except it feels overtly niche. What is the Warcraft lore reference?
  • An engineer-ish Tinker? Very odd cross-over with the Engineering skill, and it would make an overly bold steam/magic-punk addition for my taste.
  • Bloody Bards. As healers and damage they make sense, they could provide the cross range of buffs. Armor type for bards feels like Mail as well.

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Happy hunting.

Obscure gear

Aside

WowInsider asked – What the most obscure item in the characters bank was? A good light question.

EyeOfShadowI have an Eye of Shadow on my Priest which was never used to create benediction.

I think I actually had the Eye of Divinity too, but didn’t get to completing the quest in time. Darn shame. It leaves me with a strange little memento of the pre-Cata game.

Why I am still playing, and loving it

Written first for the WoW Hammer website, re-posting here some time later. Please forgive the fact it has not been reedited for the past weeks. It’s been busy.

 

I’ve also not been playing much since then, but always endeavour to do so. I might need a “am I still playing” post soon. Grumble.

The content in the recent patch is excellent, and it will very likely hold the player base in thrall until Blizzcon where my guess is we will see another announcement to keep the WoWers wowed. Continue reading

Ordos is a funny encounter

I like the Ordos fight because it is simple. I dislike it sometimes because that simplicity makes people take the fight less seriously, which in turn make the encounter difficult. Essentially if Ordos’s mechanics were added into a traditional raid instance I think the fight would be considered easy.

Ordos requires one of your characters to have gained the Legendary cloak, run your way past a few fire creatures, and then dps him quickly, while moving the boss away from the huge pools of fire he drops, and having the Living Bombs applied to your raid members moved away from the rest of the people.

ordos-wide

It is in concept exceedingly simple. It is made difficult by being a primarily PuG fight where the quality of players is determined randomly. The fact that getting that Legendary cloak is required is not at all an indication that the player knows anything about what they are doing, and/or might be using a totally different character.

Last night for example I took my Druid as Boomkin to the Ordos fight. Now as a Death Knight in melee I know this fight is terrible because the Tanks don’t move and generally the living bombs go off amid the raid group. It is a cluster of fail. But hey, apparently we just run back and repeat wipe until it dies. That is PuG open world raiding (apparently).

As a Boomkin I was able to stand well back, stay away from everyone else, and dps. Twice I was selected as the bomb, but healed my way through the damage so I could keep fighting. It was easy.

It was so much easier as range dps that I cannot think why (if given a choice) anyone would do anything except stay back as range. That is what is so “funny” – the encounter is a repeated death run for melee but range get to sit back and ping and only stress about a single fight mechanic? Funny. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there wasn’t that post from Blizzard about melee friendly stuff. Or maybe they were not at all talking about Ordos. The kill grants huge ilevel gear (thunderforged 559!) so every PvE person will be trying to do this, and that the barrier to entry is so blistering low that we can expect all sorts of casual attitudes.

Good. Funny. I’m going to be a slacker now in Ordos too. The game wants a slack approach, then by golly I’ll live up to that challenge. Bring on the Alt Army of Noob.

I’ve parked that Druid right at the top of the stairs in front of Ordos, so I can switch, tag, kill, and loot whenever it pops each week. I’m going to park my noobie Warrior there soon too, and perhaps get a small bit of Thunderforged gear which will be great for transmog.

Grumble. Funny.

HearthStone, Impressions so far

A week ago I downloaded and started playing HearthStone. For a beta it is solid.There were no graphical glitches, error 37s, or other strange config things going on to hamper getting in straight away to play.

Overall – I’ve now been reminded why I hate “Draw a Card” based games and why I just stayed away from MtG when it was repeatedly offered at game stores and roleplaying tables. The degree of “random” in what powers can be used when is a key issue for how the game plays. That might be a cornerstone of this style of game and a known factor to many players, but for me it is farcical.

The darn game could be renamed “The Frustration of RNG”.

hstoneBannerKnowing that a deck contains a few handy abilities to your current situation and not getting them for turn after turn is way too frustrating. Twelve or so games into the normal Practice modes where you try to unlock the other classes and I was almost screaming at the screen. I certainly thumped the table. I am also consistently frustrated by how often the NPCs is able to pull the “right” move. Kill a taunt empowered card and the NPC drops another straight down. For pity’s sake. The NPCs seem to always have the right card as follow-up. Screw this.

One battle my “Heroic” Mage drew no extra minion cards for 5x rounds – in a game based upon using minions and specials to win! In another game which came down to both heroes being on less that 5 HP at the last turn I’d never seen a Fireball card (4pts cost inflicting 6 damage). ON A MAGE!

I also noticed that there is a certain strategy in not just using cards because you can deploy them. The NPCs in Practice mode seem to hold cards early and then swamp the board later. The NPCs in the tutorial games are softer and seem to have worse luck with cards. I’d like to know if the NPCs are at the same “level” as my hero or am I being challenged by level 10 opponents while tooling around on a level 1-3.

That aside…

  • Too many “click to proceed” things from the time you open the app to the time you are actually about to play. Animations are slow (on my laptop). I think that is by design in HearthStone as WoW plays fine on the same laptop and it cannot be using much in the way of a 3d engine.
  • Overall I’d like it to “play quicker”. Show cards quicker, etc.
  • The initial training fights have the odd “Grom Dar!”, “You will burn”, and other character based emotes and actions, and its funny now but after a few games I started wondering how old that will get.

After the training five or so fights, the player is tasked with defeating the other classes. Some classes seem already freaking cool, and others disadvantaged.

The Mage (starter) has a 2pt special power which delivers 1x damage, and it can be used every turn if you wish. By contrast the Hunter has a 2pt ability which inflicts 2x damage. Why? I note that the Mage can always ping 1pt, but the hunter can sometimes not, but that is a trivial limitation on a game where we usually have other uses for those points.

So far I’ve unlocked the Warrior, Shaman, and Priest so far, and find the Warlocks, Hunters, and Druids darn tough to beat. I’ve heard that Rogues are tough to content with, but both my matches have been down to the wire although I’ve lost both too.

The Warlock’s draw a card power is fantastic, and I am repeatedly fighting and getting trounced by the Warlock because I think that ability will suit how I like to play. Sure it might cost a few health, but a Card per 2pts is trivial if you have only a few cards left in your hand. The Druid being able to directly attack is great. It might only be useful periodically, but it seems hardy and appropriate to the class.

The Monk and Death Knight are not present as classes and I can forgive that given how much diversity there is already in the class mix.

Melee friendly raids, ah, cool, pardon, come again?

Ah, such wonderful flame-bait, blogger-bait, and diversive material; how-do-we-define-melee-friendly from WoW Insider’s post and the related interview from Blizzard. I’m blogging it as it is an ongoing joke amongst some of the melee folks I regularly chat with. I love it when I hear a fight is melee friendly, especially when it comes from a non-melee (really healer, its not easy up the backside of this giant ogre). The WI blog is a long post, and worth a read if you have not looked.

Then join me here as I meander through my thoughts a bit…

Q. How do you know if a fight is melee friendly?

A. If the dps contribution on excellent attempts or a range of kills does not have melee behind in the overall damage done then the fight is probably not unfriendly to melee or range.

Any other measure is not based on what the players are doing, and should be questioned. It is overly melee friendly if the range dps cannot keep up with the melee, and vice-versa.

Q. How do you design for melee (or range) friendly?

A. At a high level view, not in a minute by minute breakdown.

I think it is ok for fights to have bias. The balance should be across the raid instance content, and also hopefully across the phases; but not stress about within one phase, or even one fight.

I love a good melee fight. Primarily that is because a lot of my time over the years has been played on a Death Knight. Before that I played on a Warlock or a Paladin, but only rarely did dps as the Paladin because early days the Pallys were not so hot in dps. So at the time that Wrath came out I switched to a DK and have only hooched around on a Boomkin, Warlock, or Shadow Priest as range dps since.

Secondly I’ll add to that I’m a little lazy these days in fights, or said another way I prefer fights that have mechanics that make sense, and that when combined form complexity in the encounter.

A principal example is Lei-Shen from Throne of Thunder. I think it is a great fight because:

  • As an end boss it is unforgiving of mistakes. Good. It frustrates the absolute crap out of me that a player can grief his team by repeatedly making mistakes, and sometimes even dedicated players make mistakes (that might feel like griefing), but it is worse when a fight is too easy, and I support end bosses being tough.
  • Almost every attack or mechanic has been used before on the raiders in trash, pve areas, or a previous boss. Bloody excellent. No excuse for not understanding the basics. The complexity comes when responding to multiples at the same time.
  • With the exception of the “blue swirls of ephemeral bad” near the boss, the bad poo on the floor is blisteringly obvious. When one quarter of the floor space lights up and sparkles just after the lightning reactors overload…yes, you, you’re standing in bad stuff. MOVE. B-res pls lol.
  • If done well, both Range Dps and Melee Dps have roles to do which means that no style is significantly disadvantaged. In LFR and Normal that is, I never saw Heroic mode, but can imagine it is as much fun, expect with razor blade thick-shakes and booster rockets.

Continue reading