Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's not you, it's... actually no, it is you.

As I have been progressing through Tier 4 in Warhammer and participating in some of the "end-game" battles for Keeps, I have slowly been coming to a disturbing conclusion:

Warhammer peaked for me back in Tier 3.

At the moment, Tier 4 definitely feels like a grind. On the surface, it's the PQs, PvE quests and Scenarios that I am finding tiresome. But if I look a bit beneath the surface, I think what is REALLY bothering me is that now that I am catching glimpses of the "end-game" I am finding it lame and unfufilling.

MMOs and the "end-game"
MMO bloggers and forum posters both talk a lot about the "end-game" of an MMO. We write about how long it takes to get to end-game and the quality of the "end-game" but we never really talk about why the "end-game" is important to us. An outside observer might even ask why MMOs even need to have an end-game?

The secret MMO players don't want to admit to is that we like to get "hooked" by a game. Whether you are playing a video game, watching a movie or reading a book -- we all love to become so enthralled with our entertainment that it gives us a sense of "being there" in the moment.

In fact, I would argue that, almost by definition, all entertainment is a form of escapism which allows us to immerse ourselves in diversions away from unpleasant realities.

Of course, the problem with reading a good book or watching a good movie is that eventually it ends. But MMOs are different.

Instead of an MMO ending, it just transitions us to something else. A new game that is only playable by people who have finished the original game. A game that allows us to continue what was started (albeit at a much slower pace).

It's like finishing a great book and instead of being sad the book is over, discovering that author wrote another trilogy about the same characters.

The true success of an MMO isn't measured by innovative gameplay but by the number of subscribers and longevity of their subscription. We write and talk about how we want to see all this nifty innovation but what we really want is something that is just fun to play over and over and over again.

My take on WAR "end-game"
In almost every way, the game you play at Tier 1 is the same game that you play at Tier 4. Oh sure, there is MORE of it, but the fundamentals of the gameplay are exactly the same. You can PvP in either open world RvR (oRvR) objectives or through Scenarios.

I'll ignore concerns about population balance and such in oRvR for the moment. I've been fortunate enough to land on a server where oRvR was not a ghost town. In fact, it's quite the opposite in Tier 4 in the evenings. There are certainly issues here, but let's presume for a moment that it's not the game breaker.

Scenarios are fun (and rewarding) but they lack much in the way of purpose beyond leveling Career and Renown Ranks. They might contribute to Zone control, but the result of a single Scenario win is not noticeable. Heck, the result of a dozen wins doesn't even seem noticable.

oRvR is noticeable. Taking keeps, and battle objectives is clearly shown on the zone map and is obvious. So OK -- the zone is controlled. And...? There is still no real purpose to any of it and certainly little in the way of personal rewards or sense of achievements.

In theory, if one side is really dominant over the other side, then they can attack a City and all this cool stuff happens. But uh.. the problem with that logic is that it means one side needs to get trounced. So either you a) have no opposition and can assault a City with little opposition, or b) you have good opposition and end up in some stalemate unable to get to the City "end-game".

So in reality, the only options left to you in Tier 4 are the same exact ones that are open to you at Tier 3. You can do Scenarios or you can attack/defend Keeps and Battlefield Objectives. Don't get me wrong, these are fun enough but they lack purpose.

I don't know what the solution is, but all I can say is that Mythic really needs to do something in order to make this "end-game" feel more meaningful. Or maybe it just would have felt more meaningful if Tier2 and Tier3 didn't have keeps too.

Crashes to Desktop
I crash at least once every hour of gameplay. With load-times and such, it can take me 5 to 6 minutes to load the game back up. If it happens during a PQ, I lose all my contribution points. if it happens during a Scenario, I am no longer in it when I log back in.

I would call these crashes "livable" but highly frustrating. Ironically, I had less of them in beta and a couple of weeks after launch.

Up until now, I have adopted a "well, it just launched" attitude to the crashes. But with the next major game update on it's way, I just don't think they are as focused on improving that part of the game.

Temporarily canceling Warhammer
My next billing cycle was 11/17 and I made the decision to play Wrath instead of WAR for a bit until they address some of these issues.

This is not a goodbye forever thing, just a goodbye for now thing. It's not a bad breakup, just a maybe we should start seeing other people breakup.

WAR is a good game, an innovative game, and a fun game. It's just not a game I feel like playing over and over and over at the moment.

I'll likely be posting some comparison thoughts between Wrath and WAR over the next few days. I have some good/bad thoughts about both games. And since I swore up and down I wouldn't play Wrath, perhaps I should mention start by talking about that first.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WAR: An incentive problem

Bloggers like to talk about the "incentive" or "reward" in an MMO because they have significant influence on player behavior.

At launch and during Open Beta, I commented several times that one of the things I really appreciated about Mythic's approach to incentives is that everything you do gives a reward. The theory being that if everything you do can provide a reward, then people will be more inclined to choose the "fun" thing over the "rewarding" thing.

The easiest path
Of course, MMO players also generally prefer the path of least resistance. So while the Mythic approach seems to help players avoid the "unfun" things, all things are not so perfectly balanced that the amount of effort required to achieve each reward is exactly equal.

We see the net result of these inequalities by player preferences. The most obvious one was that players were choosing Scenarios as the primary method of leveling. My take on this issue a month or so ago was that this was because Scenarios were the only activity that earned you both XP and Renown.

Mythic's answer to this problem was to increase the reward of World RvR objectives and World RvR player kills. This is a step in the right direction, but it also seems incomplete.

Renown Rank is more difficult
Syncaine noted today that his RR is nine levels lower than his Career Rank. As I pointed out in his comments, the problem is that he will likely outlevel the gear he wants that requires a higher Renown Rank by the time he achieves the required Renown level.

The issue for Syncaine is that he spent most of his time leveling in other ways, primarily PQs and quests. It seems asinine that he is effectively being PUNISHED for not leveling through Scenarios.

The Renown Rank cap
This is rarely talked about, but until you hit Rank 40, Renown Rank is actually capped and can't exceed your current Rank. In other words, if your Rank is 10 then you can't ding Renown Rank 11 until after you achieve Career Rank 11.

We don't ever talk about this cap because it's largely irrelevant after Tier 1. After all, if Renown Rank is more difficult to earn than Career Rank, how many people ever end up in a situation where this cap impacts them negatively.

And yet -- it does exist. We just don't care because we are never in a position where Renown is "wasted" because our Career Rank was too low.

This got me thinking: What would YOU do if your renown was capped?

If you were 99% into RR 21 and you were only 25% into Career Rank 21, what would you do knowing that earning additional rewnown is simply wasted?

Would you still play Scenarios?

I know I wouldn't play Scenarios. I would go quest or do PQs for gear until I dinged another level. A lot of the "incentive" for participating in the Scenario would simply disappear for me.

Lowering amount of Renown to level RR
I can absolutely understand why RR should go slow in T4. The pacing for RR should be slow, particularly after rank 40.

But when I think about Syncaine's situation and how my own behavior would change if I were RR capped, then I can't help but think that the best solution would be to lower the amount of Renown points required to level Renown Ranks 1 to 35.

If we reduce the amount of points, this means that players would need to participate in less Scenarios in order to rank Renown. This puts more players out in the world for PQs, dungeons and quests.

It also gives someone like Syncaine the opportunity to "catch up" his Renown Rank in a reasonable and timely manner.

World RvR
The counter argument is that this could dis-incentivize Keep Sieges and Battlefield Objectives.

I would disagree.

I actually think that people would be MORE inclined to take Keeps and BOs at the lower tiers if they knew that they could level Renown Rank that way fairly quickly.

In other words, right now it's pretty impractical to spend a night taking BOs and level up RR much. But if it were possible to gain a RR or two in a few hours of taking BOs -- then that becomes much more attractive.

Or at the very least, it's not less attractive than what currently exists.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Death of a WAR Server

There are a number of subjects I could write about today. I could write about WAR patch 1.05 and how it appears to be increasing the damage dealt by all classes across the board while simultaneously nerfing healing. Or I could write about the trials and tribulations of the server migration that took place for my guild earlier this week. In fact, I had a quite lengthy post planned on that subject for today except something else occurred last night that trumped pretty much any other subject for me.

Large scale RvR in Warhammer Online fails. It fails hard and it fails for exactly the reason you would think it would fail when several hundred people all show up in the same place. The server can’t handle it.

A little background information is required
On my old server, Eerie Downs, we were a low pop/med pop community. The interesting thing was that while Order was low pop, we owned everything in T3 and T4. In fact, it was actually a bit frustrating because our guild could never really form up a Warband to take anything because we owned everything – pretty much all the time.

I’d like to claim responsibility, but I can’t. The reason we owned everything was because of the Hate guild. These guys are organized and every single one of them is a vetted out player that goes through a lengthy application process. They are not a big guild, just a damn good guild. Formed back in the EQ days, they have stuck together through several MMOs.

You would expect the Destro to hate an Order guild that was that good (and arrogant) but the surprising thing was how many other Order guilds disliked them. Partly out of jealousy, but also out of the type of frustration that comes from what amounts to a one-sided battle with no objectives to take.

Server transfer shatters Eerie Downs community
When the free transfer struck our realm, Eerie Downs players were faced with two choices: Praag or Hochland. But the bigger question for most guilds (Destro and Order both) was where was Hate going to go? Guild and players who disliked Hate wanted to transfer away from them and those that liked Hate wanted to follow. Once they made the decision, everything else fell into place like dominos.

Hate decided on Hochland. Almost without exception, every single Destro guild chose Praag and every Order guild who disliked Hate also left to Praag. Our guild was pro-Hate and the idea of an organized Destro and organized Order guild facing off against each other just had too much appeal to ignore. The potential for epic battles was just too good an opportunity to pass up and considering that we had some friends in Hate already it only made sense to transfer to Hochland.

The existing Hochland community was described as the polar opposite of Eerie Downs: Destruction owned everything and was dominated by one or two organized Destro guilds. The largest and most dominant of which was a Destro guild named Ruin. The Ruin guild was described as a Zerg guild because of the sheer number of members, but they put together a good argument for how they like strategy that convinced Hate there might be more to them than just a zerg. Ultimately, they threw down a challenge to Hate who ultimately accepted it.

The most surreal thing about the transfer is how much the Hochland players courted the Eerie Downs players for transfers. A good Order guild is a hot commodity and the large Destro guilds on Hochland were desperate for a guild that could offer some challenge. Likewise, the Order guilds on Hochland were also desperate for a good Order guild because they were tired of being constantly beaten down.

Hate meets Ruin
The first couple of encounters between Ruin and Hate were interesting. On Eerie Downs, Hate didn’t have an alliance. They didn’t need one. They are extremely organized, they scout, they flank, and they hit objectives fast and hard.

Whenever Hate ran across Ruin in 2:1 or lower numbers, they trounced them. They took and held most of the objectives they were after and then Ruin started overwhelming them. Hate has less than 100 members. Ruin has more than 300. Anything less than 2:1 odds and Hate whooped Ruin. But as the night went on, Ruin numbers started getting huge. Particularly as the other Destro guilds got into the act.

By night’s end, Destro had won the day and regained control of most of the lost objectives and keeps.

Epic fight brewing
The thing to remember is that unlike on Eerie Downs, almost every single Order guild on Hochland was thankful to have a guild like Hate as part of the community. Hate formed an alliance with several of the larger Order guilds. And those guilds told some other guilds. And those guilds told some other guilds.

Until last night – there were at least 200 to 300 Order players fighting for objectives. And an equal or greater number of Destruction. I didn’t play DAoC, but when I think large scale RvR – this was exactly the thing I am talking about.

And it wasn’t just a Zerg fest either – all very organized under Hate. Warbands (not parties – Warbands!) with assignments hitting multiple objectives, flanking, scouts positioned at intervals at various points of interest. All very very cool stuff, except for one little thing…

Epic failure
The forces of Order formed at the Dragonwake encampment. From there, some warbands attacked each of the two keeps. The largest force circled around the back of the second keep and waited for the outer doors to break down. Once they did, the remaining group stormed the inner doors and we quickly took the keep. Meanwhile, most of the destruction was defending the other keep.

After gaining control of the further away keep, we circled back to help finish taking the other keep. There was a massive group on both sides. All our forces converging on the doors – all their forces defending.

Sounds epic right?

Except it took me 20+ seconds to mount up when we left the taken keep. Oh and every spell I cast took that long to cast. No real way to tell how much health anyone had to heal either since that was also delayed. Oh – and then the server crashed as we approached the door of the second keep. And no one could log on for five minutes. And when we did log in, we were several minutes farther back then when the server crashed.

Epic failure part 2
And so we gave up on Dragonwake simply because that many people in a single location wouldn’t work. So we went to Praag and split up our forces into several groups. These mini-groups of 2-3 warbands each then proceeded to take objective after objective and keep after keep. Destruction also split up forces to counter the attacks but couldn’t keep up with our organization and multiple keep/objective attacks.

So Destruction regrouped back into a large single force and attacked the center objective in Praag (the Square). We remerged back into a big group and…

No not a server crash again. Just a complete inability to cast more than one spell every 10 seconds and roots that last four times longer than the intended durations. And not just me – everyone. And this is particularly problematic when people are trying to HEAL. Group heals were impossible on my Archmage.

The crazy thing is that it wasn’t animations or graphical lag as I would have expected. For example, I could move around fine – I would just see people who weren’t really there. Or after my casting animation would end, nothing would happen. I would summon my horse, see the casting bar end and then nothing. If I moved, I got an interrupted error. If I didn’t move, then 10 to 15 seconds AFTER the casting bar ended, I would mount up.

Pretty much the definition of server lag.

Biggest issue facing Warhammer
This is a huge problem that needs to be addressed. As it stands right now, RvR just isn’t intended for more than a couple of warbands fighting against each other. Age of Conan got a bunch of flak for similar complaints about their end-game and it was much deserved. And so is this.

In my mind, this trumps all other possible issues with Warhammer and they need to derive some type of solution. The sad thing is that there might not be a solution. As with all other problems in Warhammer, how do you control player behavior? I mean if word-of-mouth says that the fight is in Dragonhawk, how do you stop a 1000 people on each side from showing up?

The thing is – this is only going to get worse as this type of thing becomes the “end game” for Warhammer Online. Right now, lots of people are leveling and doing it primarily in instanced servers, PQs or solo quests. What happens when all these people show up for the WAR and the server crashes?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

LazyScript might be coming to a WAR near you.

Do you remember an addon called LazyScript for WoW? It was a framework that allowed players to create a "script" that would perform certain actions on a key press.

Basically, you would write or download a script and when you made a single key-press, it would evaluate all the rules in this script and choose the action that best suited the situation.

Decursive and several other healing addons performed similar functions, but I still believe that LazyScript was the real reason that Blizzard introduced the whole "taint" thing in WoW 2.0 that broke these addons.

Exploiting Warhammer Online
You might recall that back in August, I voiced some concerns about work-arounds. At that time, I had tinkered around a bit looking at some of the default interface code but really hadn't gotten my hands dirty.

My big suspicion was that it would be possible to swap out bindings as they are pressed and effectively allow you to bind several actions to a single button.

I was about 95% certain this was possible, but I didn't want to write a proof-of-concept to test it. It's my belief that Mythic would close this loophole at some point and I didn't want to cripple my playstyle into being dependent on an addon they would eventually break.

And so I waited... Becuase I knew it was only a matter of time until someone wrote it.

The first addon using the method I suspected of being exploitive is called HotbarFun. Right now, the purpose of this addon is to simply swap actions in/out of a single action bar button based on whether or not it is on cooldown.

Imagine if Action A had a 10 second cooldown and Action B had no cooldown. Basically, if Action A were off cooldown, it would take that button slot. Otherwise, Action B would take the slot.

The important thing to note here is not WHY it can change, but that it CAN be changed. In this case, the author is not really doing much that is terribly expoitive. In his mind, it's more a matter of reducing two button slots into one slot.

The issue is that there is no reason that the criteria couldn't be a lot more complex.

The real threat here is the potential abuse that can be had by automating actions. Imagine if the button swaps were based on other criteria besides cooldown.

Is your health too low and bubble is off cooldown? Don't worry, that next key press will be a bubble.

Getting damaged by your Target? Don't worry, we'll detaunt him for you on the next key press.

Since Detonate requires your target to be Hexxed, we'll make sure your target has that debuff before we Detonate or cast one for you instead.

Does your target already have that HoT or DoT you were going to cast? Don't worry, we'll cast the right spell for you.

Casting a heal but your target is dead? Don't worry, we'll resurrect instead.

Are you an Archmage with 5 points in High Magic that was going to cast a HoT? Bad idea, your target is low health. Let's cast the big heal as an instant cast instead.

Get the idea?

My point here is that there is NO reason that the logic behind deciding which action gets swapped into the action slot can't be far more complex than a simple cooldown.

Mythic needs to take action
Closing this loophole is something they need to fix in one of the upcoming patches. I'm not trying to be doom-and-gloomy, but all the things I just described WILL be written if they don't work to nip it in the bud now.

BTW, as I wrote to the author of HotbarFun in the comments, he shouldn't be condemned for writing such an addon. Mythic shouldn't let this type of thing be possible. UI addons are great, but as Blizzard learned the hard way, you need secure the functions that allow players to take actions.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Two things I would fix in WAR

Heartless_ wrote the three things that need to happen to keep him playing WAR:

1. Magus/Engineer "magnet" abilities removed from the game completely or limited to a single target only.

2. Open-world RvR zones populated with PvE content such as PQs and normal quest hubs.

3. Experience and renown gain reworked in scenarios. Scenarios should reward based on wins and losses ONLY, not upon how much damage or how many kills a player nets. Scenarios are fun, but due to how rewards are doled out, only the fastest-played and most-kills scenarios get played. This has to change.

I personally don’t know about the Magus’ Chaotic Rift or Engineer’s Electromagnet. I’m generally against nerfs and would rather see other classes buffed to compensate for perceived imbalances.

It might be a better fix to simply increase the chance to resist these spells. I actually find the Zealot’s Breath of Tzeentch and Rune Priest’s Rune of Sundering more annoying. It basically amounts to a knockback that disrupts everything but instant cast spells.

I mainly wanted to comment on #2 and #3.

PvE content in RvR Lakes
One thing that has bugged me since beta is the lack of NPCs in the RvR Lakes. It just seems odd to be running around this world full of monsters and then suddenly – nothing. Just huge empty terrain areas with 3 to 4 small populated areas (the objectives). You don’t exactly feel like you are immersed in a WAR. In fact, Chapter 1 feels more like a WAR than the empty RvR Lakes.

There should be some static WAR fronts in RvR Lakes that have an RvR PQ or some type of activity. When I say “front” I am talking about things similar to what we already see in the game, like the shared Destro/Order PQs. A good example of this is the PQ in Barak Var between Dwarves/Greenskins.

I’m not saying that the entire RvR areas should have NPCs, just some areas around roads to make it feel a bit more populated and like there is an actual WAR going on besides just the battlefield objectives. These areas can also act as a bit of a haven for a player caught slightly outnumbered in RvR.

I’d also like to see the occasional monster in the woods and such. Easily avoided and much more sparse than in a PvE area, but at least SOMETHING to make it seem less empty. If I only saw one bear while running through a patch of woods, at least it wouldn’t feel so bloody barren.

Fixing Scenarios
As you know if you have been reading my blog: I am strongly against nerfing Scenarios so that you gain less XP/Renown. I continue to maintain that the fix to the larger RvR problem is to create more incentive to play in the RvR Lakes. My “fixes” are only intended to even out contribution and make some of the less played Scenarios more desirable.

I wouldn’t make the change that Heartless_ is suggesting, but I do think some changes need to be made in order to make every scenario popular based on how fun it is and not just the most rewarding. I believe the XP and Renown for kills is fine actually. My experience is that with a few exceptions, most matches net similar numbers of kills for the time played in the scenario.

No – the change I would make is to not award scenario points for kills. Every Scenario is a race to 500. A kill earns you points and the oddball/murderball matches that double-point for kills go the fastest. If kills weren’t worth points – only the objective – it would even the playing field considerably about which matches are “fast” and which are “slow”. You might need to tune the amount of points earned for the other scenario objectives, but this should be done in about ½ the scenarios anyway.

I distinctly recall the first few matches as my Archmage in Mourkain Temple. We got the artifact right away and I worked my ass off to keep that guy alive the entire match. I did and we never once lost control of the artifact. We lost something like 100-500. That’s just insane to me. We held onto the objective the entire game and lost. That’s when I really realized there was something wrong with the scoring system.

The best strategy in the Capture the Flag matches isn’t to cap the flag – it’s to hold onto the flag at your flag and force the enemy to try and take both objectives. Being closer to your spawn point than they are to theirs gives your team a decided advantage that leads to a huge victory as they trickle in and get trounced.

The only real benefit I can even see in that scoring system is that it prevents a much better team from XP/Renown farming for longer than it takes to kill 500 points worth of players. However, considering that they all have a 15 minute time limit and any player can easily leave the scenario, I don’t really see how that’s much of an advantage.

The other really important change is that XP/Renown should be awarded more evenly throughout the all scenario groups. A Bright Wizard sitting alone in a group shouldn’t be awarded two times the XP of the guy healing him simply because the BW got all the kills in a solo group.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Duality of My WAR

As I have mentioned in past posts, I’m simultaneously leveling up two characters at the same time. The primary reason I started leveling this way is because my good real life friends who play tend to play less than I do and I by spreading myself out, I can ensure that I am always in the same tier. As of this writing, I’ve hit Rank 28 on both my Archmage and my Bright Wizard.

Honestly, I wish I had done this in WoW. It’s technically taking me twice as long to level to 40, but I’m not missing much content and the change of pace when I switch toons is really refreshing. Of course, it’s not really taking twice as long as I get the benefit of rested XP pretty frequently. All in all, this is a really smart choice and I definitely think this will be my approach with future MMOS.

The Archmage
During preview weekend and open beta, my primarily goal was to find the class I would enjoy playing at release. I played every class (or the mirror) until Rank 8 or higher with the notable exception of the tank classes and the melee healers. The Archmage was by far my favorite class during this search.

As far as soloing goes, the Archmage might be the best class in the game. The ability to deal a moderate amount of damage from range and heal yourself is always a powerful combination in any MMO. The best WoW comparison would be a Boomkin Druid, but with a better range of damage spells. In my experience, few of the classes can easily solo Champion mobs of the same level, but the Archmage can solo anything short of a Hero as long as it doesn’t have a nasty knockdown.

This soloing ability holds true in PvP as well. Witch Elves eat Archmages alive, Disciple of Khaines/Marauders are beatable but difficult, Shamans/Zealots are a mostly a draw, and the others are easy to kill. Even a Sorceress is easy to kill if you realize that you are getting targeted by them before they deal too much damage. Even better, a series of long-range instant cast DoTs makes it hard to run from an Archmage and stay alive.

This is also a difference maker class in group PvP. The ability to heal (and more importantly resurrect) is powerful stuff. There is a reason why Healers get targeted first, so being good at what you do – staying alive and keeping others alive – is one of the major keys to success.

BUT – the impact you have on the group is more reactive. You don’t so much decide the outcome as prevent a negative outcome. If people do stupid stuff or won’t do the smart thing, then all the heals in the world aren’t going to help anyone. And really, as a healer, the fate of what the group does or doesn’t do is not really up to you but up to others. You are just there to make sure they stay alive to do it.

As I wrote a while back, that is particularly frustrating when healers get the blame for the group failing. I’m reminded of a few scenarios from this weekend in which we had a surprisingly large number of healers and little DPS. We didn’t die often or frequently, but we sure couldn’t get anything done either. A defensive game of constantly healing and never advancing is as sure a way to a defeat as an overly aggressive team that spreads itself thin.

Bright Wizard
If ever there was a game in which the term glass cannon was appropriate, it is the Bright Wizard in Warhammer. By comparison to the Archmage, the solo ability of a Bright Wizard is dismal and pathetic. Part of the issue is that Bright Wizards suffer from Combustion as a mechanic.

Basically, every damaging spell increases your combustion which increases your damage dealing output. However, as Combustion increases, so does the risk of an explosion that deals damage to you.

The Bright Wizard has incredible AoE damage output abilities. However, building these up on multiple mobs also means getting generating lots of Combustion. If you are solo, handling more than one (possibly two) normal mobs results in multiple Combustion explosions and lots of damage from the mob. Your survivability in that situation is really really low. In other words, you’ll die – a lot.

The same really holds true in PvP as well. If you are caught in a 1v1 situation, just about any class can kill a Bright Wizard. The only situation where that is not the case is when you catch someone by surprise and manage to hit them like a truck before they realize it. So yes – they do a ton of damage – but they also take a lot of damage from others and their own Combustion mechanic.

However, pair the Bright Wizard with a healer and they will unleash hell upon you. The Bright Wizard earns the reputation for being overpowered not because of their own abilities, but because other classes used with the Bright Wizard unlocks the full potential of the damage that they can deal.

One of my good friends is a Rune Priest. The other is an Ironbreaker. If the Ironbreaker places a grudge on me, and the Rune Priest is there for heals – the only thing limiting the amount of damage I can deal is the number of mobs or players within my AoE spells. Now it’s worth noting that it takes three classes to do this – two of which have little DPS on their own. It’s the synergy of the three that is powerful, not the Bright Wizard by himself.

This part of the equation is lost when people look at the Scenario scores and see Bright Wizards and Sorcerers at the top of the charts. They are simply realizing the damage output for a much larger group effort. That’s really the Bright Wizard’s job – to influence the fight by the sheer magnitude of the damage that they deal. Just like it’s the tank and healer’s job to keep the Bright Wizard alive long enough to secure victory.

Solo Players in Scenarios
One of my single biggest bitches at the moment is when a Bright Wizard, Witch Hunter or even Engineer goes into a group by themselves in a Scenario. The way XP/Renown contribution works, the most points are awarded to the PARTY that gets the killing blow. If a DPS player sits in a party by themselves, they don’t have to share the reward with the other group members when they get kills.

It really bugs the shit out of me when I see some selfish prick join a group by themselves to soak up the XP/Renown. The simple fact is that they can’t do their job without the support classes.

Even Shadow Warriors who do a moderate amount of damage have powerful support debuffs that enable the "group" to be more successful. In a Scenario, it’s never a solo effort and it’s complete bullshit that a Bright Wizard who is going to get 10+ death blows as a result of other players healing him and debuffing his targets won’t share the XP/Renown with that other player.

As my Bright Wizard, I make a point of staying in the default group or even joining the group with the healers. It makes their job easier and they get to share in part of the reward. As my Archmage, I pointedly DO NOT heal anyone who goes solo. I would rather lose than give that prick more reward than he deserves.

I actually wrote an addon yesterday for that exact purpose. I’m calling it Asshat and it allows you to mark players with a custom note. It will work for friendly or hostile players and the note shows up in big bold text in the target frame whenever you target them. While the purpose of it is for Asshats, you could actually use it to note exceptional players or enemy targets that you want to focus on.

Note: Asshat has been posted to Curse, but hasn't syndicated to the site yet. This will happen whenever the admin approves the file upload.

Monday, October 27, 2008

MMOs and Player Free Will

Imagine if you got 10 of your friends together in a room and you all brainstormed some really cool MMO ideas. Anything someone would like to see in the next major MMO game is written down on the list.

What would this list look like?

The first thing you would realize is that not all ideas are mutually exclusive. Some ideas simply wouldn’t work with other ideas. For example, it would be pretty difficult to have both a fantasy MMO and a sci-fi space exploration MMO in the same game.

The other thing is that some ideas are just plain bad ideas. After all, just because someone can think of an idea, doesn’t mean that it is a good idea. There are good chances that 1 out of the 10 would like the idea of perma-death while most would think that is insane.

From ideas to a plan
If such a game were to become a reality, it would be necessary to figure out which ideas are good ones and which ideas don’t work with other ideas. You would also want the group to rank the ideas to get a sense of which concepts are the most popular or desired.

Once you have a consensus on the core ideas, you would then work to create a raw plan with some basic structure. Of course, once that was all drawn up, you would quickly realize that there were lots of things that the group missed or didn’t even think about.

So you go back to the group with your list of needs and ask them for some more cool ideas – only this time they are more specific. And then you get good ones, bad ones, ones that don’t work together and so on. And… you sort all that out, get consensus on the best ideas again and update your project plan.

And so on and so on.

All the best planning…
The problem is that even with all the best planning in the world, it’s impossible to predict how players will adapt to your creation. And they WILL adapt to it.

Let’s say that instead of planning an MMO, you were making Ice Cream flavors. Your team didn’t come up with a bunch of MMO ideas, they came up with a bunch of Ice Cream flavors. And while all of them are good, some are definitely more popular than others.

The double chocolate fudge, in particular, is really popular. In fact, it’s so popular that no one even wants to try any of the other flavors any longer. For an Ice Cream maker, that’s not a huge problem. If anything, only needing to produce the most popular Ice Creams simplifies the manufacturing process considerably.

MMOs are not Ice Cream
For MMOs, it’s not just about how individuals adapt to your creation – but how groups of individuals adapt to the creation. In other words, an individual decision by one player affects the outcome of other players. Ten people choosing to play a DPS class and none of them deciding to play a Tank or Healer limits the overall ability of the group and the individuals in the group to do specific things.

The problem gets worse when we start to talk about the snow-ball effect that arises when the popular choice starts to influence the future decisions made by others. As individual players exercise free will in an MMO, a pattern emerges that acts as a guidebook for helping other players make decisions about the choices they will make in an MMO.

A game designer can build the toybox and fill it with toys, but he can’t control who plays with which toy or how they decide to play with them. It’s very possible, if not probable, that the game played is not the one the game designer originally envisioned.

MMO bloggers like to talk about incentives. The reason these are important is that they are seen as ways to create an artificial popularity that will steer the population back to the vision the designer originally intended. The theory being that by altering the reward, you alter the perception of what is most beneficial to the player and steer them to the desired behavior.

My biggest issue with incentives is that it encourages players not to do what is most fun, but what is most rewarding. I’m of the opinion that the “reward” should be in having fun playing the game, not the carrot I get if I perform the desired behavior.

It’s completely possible that the problem with your MMO is not the incentive, but the poor design of the activity you want to promote. Increasing the reward in that situation is the worst thing you can do. Why would anyone want to encourage their players to do something unfun merely for the reward?

I’m often critical of WoW because this is exactly how they choose to fix design problems. You don’t need to look any further than the “honor grind” in WoW to see this in action. It takes what could otherwise be an incredibly fun experience and turns it into something boring that needs to be endured for gear.

Easiest path
Players are interesting in that they all desire some challenge, but will inevitably gravitate towards the easiest path to accomplish the goal. It’s like having an easy, medium, and hard mode and then having all the players who choose easy complain that it was too easy.

Despite the contradiction, this complaint is very valid when the reward is the exact same for the easy route as it is for the hard route. After all, why make things harder for yourself when the reward is the exactly the same either way. Without even the additional reward of being able to have some bragging right, there is no real incentive to choose the more difficult path.

Ah…and there it is again. Incentives. The crown jewel of MMO design. Unfortunately, most players don’t do things without some form of incentive. Even if it’s simply in the form of we won and you didn’t, players are almost entirely motivated by the rewards activities give them.

Incentive balance
In order to achieve what I perceive to be the Holy Grail of MMO design, all desired activities should net an equal amount of reward for the amount of effort expended to get that reward. If choosing the difficult path is 20% harder, the reward should be 20% greater.

If Activity A takes 15 minutes and nets 1000XP, then Activity B which takes 30 minutes should net you 2000XP. One thing that is noteworthy here is that I’m talking about time investment as a measure of difficulty. That’s one measure, but it could just as easily be an activity that was made more difficult because it required a skilled group.

This is the Holy Grail because it’s damn near impossible to achieve and even if it is in balance, the player perception of such balance is just as important (if not more important) than the reality.

A great example of how these two can differ is the Kill X foozles quest versus the Loot X foozle ears quest. Both might take the same time investment and offer the same reward, but the foozle ear quest can appear to be more time consuming if the loot drop for ears appears to be random.

The problem with Warhammer
Almost every single problem that exists in Warhammer at the moment is player created. The devs at Warhammer sat down and thought up some really cool ideas. They put all the ideas in the toybox and now the issue is that some of the toys are really really popular and others are not popular enough.

Some people love the double-fudge chocolate and others are frustrated that's the only flavor that they can buy. In some cases, the issue is that the reward doesn’t justify the amount of effort invested. In other cases, it’s just not nearly as fun as something else in the game.

The most obvious issue is the over-popularity of certain Scenarios is problematic for other parts of the game. The main problem this causes is a lack of players in the world zones, particularly for players trying to do World RvR.

While I agree this is an issue, the constant call to nerf scenarios by other bloggers has really been bugging me. There is an issue here, but let’s try solving the effort-reward problem with PQs and World RvR before nerfing the one thing that is actually popular.

Don't force all the players who like double-fudge chocolate to eat something else just because your sick and tired of eating it.

No – I think Mythic is taking the right approach by trying to increase the XP rewards of World RvR. They DO need to take it a step further and award XP on capturing objectives and greater renown, but the solution here is in making the effort-reward ratio expended in RvR the same (or greater) as it is in Scenarios.

PQs also need to be addressed. Most of the PQs have some type of quest associated with them that is good for one turn-in. This quest needs to be made repeatable to increase the effort-reward incentive of participating in PQs. I rarely do these myself because I’m of the opinion that gear rewards alone are trivial when you outlevel them. If there was more XP gain in addition to the gear reward, I would happily do them more frequently.

The other issue facing Scenarios is that some of them are much more popular than others. This results in more people going to that zone in order to complete the scenario quests when exiting the Scenario.

In Tier 3, that can be an extra 6K of experience in quest turnins for each scenario (or an extra 40%). That’s huge and the main reason why many players only queue for one particularly popular scenario.

Part of the solution here is to offer these quests in all zones of the Tier. That way, it wouldn’t matter if you joined Tor Anroc or Doomfist Crator – either way, you could still turn in the quest easily after leaving the scenario.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bah! Humbug!

My disatisfaction with Blizzard as a company has been slowly growing for several months. This really is less of an indictment of WoW than it is of how I feel about Blizzard executives and developers.

This really culminated with the honor reset debacle. And while that decision has since been reversed, it really shined a light on the lack of respect that Blizzard in general has for players.

It's become increasingly clear that we are cattle, to be herded around and milked.

Perhaps this has always been true, but some part of me always believed that Blizzard was more interested in making the game fun than in simply making a profit. The whole "when it's done" idea seemed to support that concept.

2004 Blizzard is not 2008 Blizzard
Somewhere along the line, Blizzard seemed to lose sight of this idea and has became more in interested in retaining customers. Surely that was always a goal, but when your game is the only worthwhile thing on the market, you can afford to hold onto your ideals.

Now that real competition has shown up, we are seeing how Blizzard responds to threats.

There is perhaps no better indictment of this philosophical change than in the decision to allow PvE transfers to PvP servers. Argue the merits of that decision as much as you like, but the fact remains that it was a 180-degree reversal motivated solely by the desire to retain customers.

The economics of a lost subscription
I've read several articles that assert Blizzard doesn't even notice the loss of subscriptions. The theory being that if they lose 200,000 subs to a competitor, they barely even notice because they have 10,000,000 customers. Heck! That's only 2% of the customer base!

This is a false assumption.

First, most of those 10 million subs are in Asia and are hourly accounts worth significantly less than a US or Euro account. A loss of 200,000 Euro and US accounts more impactful and represents 8% of the more lucrative subs.

Second, each lost subscription directly impacts PROFIT. In a traditional company, if you sell a $15 product that cost you $10 to manufacture, then losing a sale is the equivalent of losing $15 in revenue, but only $5 in profit. In Blizzard's case, the per unit cost of the subscription is negligible, so losing a $15 subscription means losing $15 of profit.

None of Blizzard's other "costs" go down (like development & server infrastructure), so that subscription loss is hard felt on the bottom line. So losing 200,000 units is a loss of $3 million in PROFIT every month, or $36 million per year. When you consider that is PROFIT lost, rather than REVENUE lost, the impact is pretty damn significant.

Lightning in a Bottle
One thing that I absolutely believe is that Blizzard themselves really have no idea what made their game so good. It's like chocolate and peanut-butter. No one really knows WHY it works, it just does.

There are two major reasons that lead me to this conclusion. The first is their willingness to break the game on every patch. Nerf this, nerf that, change this, change that. I mean -- explain to me why they feel it's necessary to reinvent entire Talent trees because they lack the foresight to think beyond one or two patches?

The other reason is that almost every truly innovative idea added to the game in the last several years was borrowed from another game. In other words, they don't know what is good themselves -- so they take what appears to be working in other games and make it thier own.

Borrowing by itself is not a bad thing. However, borrowing when you don't understand what made it good in the first place leads to a poor implementation of the feature. Mark my words, Lake Wintergrind will be a great example of a really bad implementation of a good idea.

WoW is still a good game
It's not without flaws, but it is still a pretty good game. The strong points are the (now) polished UI, the questing, and the instance runs (both raids and dungeons). It still does these things better than any other game on the market.

In other words, the chocolate and the peanut butter.

What the game doesn't do well (and never will) are the PvP elements of the game. Namely, because it's reward driven and culminates in a gear grind. Good PvP isn't about grinding out tokens, it's about competing or making an impact.

The only reason Arena is even mildly successful is because it offers competition as a way of differentiating yourself. However, tying rewards to it that increase your performance (i.e. better gear) simply puts the emphasis more on gear and less on actual skill. Rewarding the skilled with a bigger advantage simply widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

I could go on and on, but the simple fact is this: Blizzard doesn't understand what makes good PvP. It's not chocolate and peanut-butter, it's chocolate and peppermint. And as we all know -- chocolate + peanut butter + peppermint is just plain gross.

Jeff Kaplan
The catalyst for this anti-Blizzard entry is this interview with Jeff Kaplan and his thoughts about Warhammer.

The thing that struck me about this article wasn't the comments themselves, but that he seemed disingenous. As he states in the article, he only leveled to 13, but all his observations and criticisms are those of someone who was much more progressed in the game.

I am skeptical that his "observations" are inspired by his actual observations and not the criticism he has read. The comments struck me more as a reaction to a competitor than as an honest appraisal of what he thought about the game.

Secondly, while the observations are warranted, I found the source to be incredibly hypocritical. I couldn't help but think it was similar to a bank robber pointing out that a pick pocket was dishonest because they steal. Nevermind that while they steal wallets, you still millions at gunpoint.

WAR might have some flaws at the moment, but they are nothing compared to the flaws in the WoW PvP game. Kaplan's comments just struck me as exactly the type of thing I am finding so irritating about Blizzard.

NOTE: If it wasn't clear from the above, I am becoming increasingly anti-Blizzard rather than anti-WoW. Criticism of Blizzard is not necessarily criticism of WoW.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fixing Warhammer Performance

So I haven't written about it, but certain situations in Warhammer Online have been practically unplayable for me. Altdorf, in particular, would just kill my computer. Not always, but often. The main culprit appeared to be the number of players, npcs and terrain models in my immediate area.

For Scenarios and Questing, I was having few issues. I also avoided Altdorf during peak hours or simply struggled through the occassional crash (or getting stuck in a wall). Needless to say, I have been a bit concerned about how the game will play at endgame when 300 people are all in the same region.

Last night, during a massive keep siege in Tier 3, my concerns proved well-founded. The realization struck me hard and I realized that unless I took dramatic steps, I wouldn't really be able to partipate in any truly epic RvR.

The Problem
Generally speaking, this particular issue is symptamatic of either not having enough memory, not having a fast enough CPU or video card, or not having a fast enough internet connection. Or in other words, it could be any number of things.

I do use a laptop and they are notoriously difficult to setup for games. CPU is not an issue for me. I'm well above the minimum recommended settings. Internet connection shouldn't be an issue since it's not a problem in other games. That leaves memory or the video card.

Unfortunately for me, I'm at the maximum 2GB of memory allowed for my computer and my onboard nVidia Gefore 7600 Go can't be upgraded or replaced. I'm not in the market for a new computer, so if that's my issue then I'm stuck with the problem.

If you have ever had a graphics problem in any game, the first thing anyone recommends is getting the most up-to-date driver. With most vid cards, you can simply go to the chipset manufacturer to download the latest drivers. But for laptops, driver support must come from the manufacturer.

This means that unless HP, Acer, Toshiba or whoever made your laptop decides to provide an updated driver, you can't update it. In some cases, this means that the most up-to-date driver is the one provided by Windows Update. To say that video drivers are poorly supported by laptop manufacturers is a bit of an understatement.

Luckily, as with most things on the internet, enough people with the same problem breeds third party solutions. Enter -- a site whose sole purpose is to modify the most up-to-date drivers so that they work with the mobile chipsets.

nVidia low/choppy FPS fix
I'd like to tell you that an updated driver solved my issue, but alas... no. I still recommend it (it did help) but it wasn't the magic cure. This was actually one of the first steps I took several weeks ago.

Then I read a post by Syp about an nVidia FPS fix and decided to give that a try. The interesting thing about this "fix" is that it is simply about setting up a specific 3D profile for Warhammer Online by selecting WAR.EXE from the "add" option. Even if you leave the 3D profile on all the defaults, you still see a performance increase.

And while this still wasn't my magic cure, it helped tremendously -- particularly with my alt-tabbing issues. I highly recommend it to anyone using an nVidia card. I also tried a lot of changes with the 3D settings for WAR.exe, but outside of simply setting up the individual profile, none of the other changes helped much.

Is it Vista?
So while I made the problem significantly better by addressing the video card software, I still experienced severe unplayability issues in any situation where there were a large number of players, NPCs or buildings.

A few days ago I came across a forum post that indicated the problem might be with Windows Vista. The forum poster listed the specs of their computer and they matched mine almost exactly (Core2 Duo 1.73GHz, 2GB RAM, nVidia 7600 Go). He wrote that played on Vista it was almost unplayable at times. When he played on XP, he had no issues.

Believe it or not, this makes A LOT of sense. Minimum memory requirements for Warhammer in Vista is 2GB, while minimum requirements for XP is only 1GB. Vista uses quite a bit more system memory than XP (~700mb), so all other things being equal, there is less available memory for Warhammer in Vista than in XP.

This would most certainly explain the issues I was experiencing. I had commiserated in vent with a few guildies experiencing issues and started asking them which OS they were using. Every single one of them said Vista. So then I started asking people I knew didn't have issues and guess which OS they said? That's right, XP. Not terribly scientific, but certainly further evidence that XP instead of Vista might solve my problem.

Now it's worth pointing out that I suspected the problem wasn't Vista itself, but the amount of memory Vista was consuming versus the amount that XP consumes. The easiest and simplest solution would be to add additional system memory (from 2GB to 4GB). However, as I mentioned above, my laptop is maxxed at 2GB and that wasn't an option.

Dual-Booting Vista & XP
That left me with either outright replacing Vista or Dual-Booting XP. Say what you will about Vista, but it is the better operating system and I wasn't really all that keen on replacing it simply to play a game. That leaves Dual-Booting.

Now picture this situation: There I am, hundreds of players/defending the T3 keep in Avelorn, and I can barely move or cast. Meanwhile, I have everyone in vent talking about "how awesome" it is and "how cool"it is and "how fun" the siege is with that many players participating on both sides.

So at 9:00 at night, I logged off and started configuring my computer for a Dual-Boot. By 6am, I had WAR running in Windows XP on my now Dual-Boot system. It would have taken me a lot significantly less time, but I ran into some pitfalls that I'll warn you about it in a moment.

So did it work?
Yes. so far, so good.

After logging into WAR, I performed my now standard "Altdorf" test in which I mount up and run around the populated areas of town. There were no really noticible hitches and thus far, I am inclined to think this was a pretty significant fix.

How-to Dual-Boot XP & Vista
I had never Dual-Booted a system and by 9:05, I had learned the recommended way to setup a Dual-Boot is to install XP first and then install Vista.

Of course, I already had Vista installed and had no interest in reformatting my drive.

By 9:10, I had found this website with a step-by-step guide for Dual-Booting with Vista already installed. Alternately, I also found this site which also had great instructions. If you plan to try this, I highly recommend reading both of those sites before beginning the process.

I also thought I would note a couple of issues that I ran into during the process:

No Vista Install DVD
It was immediately obvious upon reading both those tutorials that you need a "Vista Install DvD" in order to complete the process. If you are like me, Vista came pre-loaded on the computer and I didn't recieve an install disk. All I have is an "HP Recovery Disk" that I made off a partioned hard drive and that isn't the same thing.

The reason this disk is important is because it repairs the boot record for Vista after XP is installed. Without it, you can't get Vista running again. Luckily, I found this site which allows you to download a Vista Recovery Disk. It comes in the form of an ISO image, which is easily burned to a CD or DVD.

XP Disc is older than XP SP2
My XP installation disc was much older and dated back to the original release. It turns out there is an issue with old XP install discs not recognizing Vista partitions or unallocated space on newer hard drives. If you have a 120GB or bigger hard drive and an install disk that dates back prior to SP2, then you need to take some extra steps to prepare a new installation disk.

To create a new XP install disk, you need to "slipstream" it to SP2 or SP3. Slipstreaming the install disk allows you to put apply service packs and hotfixes directly to the install files (among other things) and create a NEW install disk. I used a really nice program that helps with this process located here.

SATA drives
If you have a newer computer, then chances are you have a SATA enabled hard drive. XP installs don't recognize SATA drives without drivers.

You can disable SATA in the BIOS, or look to your laptop manufacturer for a tool to create a floppy disk that has drivers, or look up the drivers and slipstream them into the install disk along with the Service Pack.

Friday, October 17, 2008

WAR Addons

I mentioned a while back that I wrote Chatter: Text Alerts and Last Listed. I have been posting quite as frequently because a lot of the time I normally would use to write blog entries has been going towards writing WAR addons.

So... I wanted to share which addons I have written that are available on Curse.

About a week and a half ago I started working on some Tome unlocks with my Archmage. Unlike the "real" quests, these Tome unlocks are more like easter eggs and you need get the coords for the locations off the forums. It didn't take me long before I got real frustrated with the default MAP coords and so SimpleXY was born.

The short version is that it provides simple xx,yy coords on your minimap and zonemap.

CareerText and LibCareerDB
I really struggled with whether or not I wanted to publicly release these addons. Anytime something is purposefully left out of the default API, it feels like cheating to work around it.

LibCareerDB is the main offender. By default, the WAR API doesn't provide any information about enemy classes. You get name, level, pvp flag and such but not a class/career.

However, when you enter a scenario -- this information is provided in order to populate the Summary window with class details. You actually see this in the form of the icon next to the player's name.

LibCareerDB snags that information and stores it between sessions. This makes it available not only in Scenarios, but anytime you encounter that player again.

In other words, if you have ever played against someone in a scenario -- you will forever know the class of that character.

CareerText was written as the proof-of-concept for LibCareerDB, but it's also the one people will want. It displays the stored career info in the hostile (or friendly) target frame.

So why release it? A few reasons -- 1) another addon with less functionality but similar purpose already existed, 2) this type of addon was inevitable, and 3) Mythic is adding Target Of Target.

I wrote it well over a week ago but didn't release it until I learned about the Target of Target. I don't know why that makes a difference but it just seemed to me like this addon is not any worse than the Target of Target information.

Ethical Dilemma

The whole thing raises a pretty interesting ethical dilemma into how much responsibility addon authors should have for the games they play.

My take is that if I don't do it, someone else will. So why handicap myself because I am being noble?

It's a bit irksome because even if I like the game as-is (i.e. without career information), I feel compelled to write the addon (exploit?) in order to be on an even playing field with anyone else who knows how to write such an addon.

So once such an addon is written, is it better to keep such a thing to myself or to release it to others? Certainly it's in my best interest to keep it to myself, but that doesn't seem fair to others who can't write such a thing.

On the other hand, the time I took to write it should be worth something. After all, while others were leveling away -- I was working on that project. Keeping it to myself and enjoying the fruits of that labor seems the more sensible choice.

Anyway... that type of back/forth thinking is the type of internal debate I always struggle with when I write these things.

Other Addons
I've also written a few that I haven't publicly released. One is to assist with recruiting Guild members. This is raw and won't be released.

Another is called Spotter. This is the one most likely to be released next. It checks for spell range and puts "NR" inside the target frame if they are out-of-range. Combined with the above CareerText addon, this is pretty powerful stuff for my Bright Wizard.

I've also written one called TinyText that is designed to resize/recolor all the alerts you receive. It's only half finished at the moment because I have yet to bother writing all the slash commands. I set the defaults the way I liked them and haven't felt compelled to write the rest of it yet. Another author released somethng similar the other day, so I don't know if I'll bother getting TinyText up and running for the public.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The problem with Scenarios...

Courtesy of Syp, it seems that Mark Jacobs is concerned about complaints players are having about scenarios and is asking the community about preferences for a few hypothetical server types. Mark posed the question in the form of a poll on the VN Boards. As of this writing, the results were:
  • 64.2% - No more server types, I like what you have!
  • 24.5% - No scenarios whatsoever
  • 10.4% - Diminishing numbers of scenarios as Tiers increase
  • 0.9% - Scenarios only for Tier 1
35.8% of those polled dissatisfied with Scenarios
I’m a glass half-empty type of guy, so while the far majority of players polled preferred the status quo, a really really large chunk of those polled were upset about scenarios. I personally really enjoy the scenarios as an alternate form of leveling, so I am definitely with the majority.

So why the scenario hate?

At first glance, I would guess this has to do with some similarity to WoW battlegrounds. People sick of grinding battlegrounds don’t want to grind scenarios.

At second glance, I don’t see this as the issue. First of all, there are LOTS of different scenarios. Tier 1 and 2 have three each, Tier 3 has 6. (I’m not in Tier 4, but I assume more). By the time you start to get sick of one, you’ve leveled past it. Second, WAR scenarios offer immediate rewards rather than a long grind that takes 10+ hours to earn a single piece of gear.

No. I think the issue goes a bit deeper than just another WoW versus WAR comparison.

Renown vs. XP Problem
The biggest single issue I am finding with leveling by doing PQs and PVE Quests is that I get zero renown. I’ve done quite a bit of those on my Archmage and his actual Rank is 5 levels higher than his Renown Rank.

You can gain renown at a really nice clip if you do the World RvR objectives, but you don’t gain any XP. So my choices outside a Scenario are to PvE Quest and get XP or do World RvR and get Renown.

HOWEVER-- a scenario will earn you both renown and experience. Therefore leveling within scenarios offers a pretty decided advantage of accomplishing both things at once instead of choosing one or the other by Questing or World RvR.

It’s not hard to imagine that some people who want to Quest/World RvR will feel more compelled to do Scenarios simply because they are more rewarding overall. If I were one of those people, I might start to resent Scenarios as well.

The logical solution would be to make Questing + World RvR the faster alternative despite the fact that you need to do two activities rather than just one.

Mark, in the remote chance you just read that, that doesn’t mean you should nerf XP gain/renown gain in Scenarios. It means that you should INCREASE the XP gain and Renown gain for World RvR and Quests. (Don’t nerf me, please...)

The real population imbalance problem
I wrote last week that part of the problem with scenarios is that they make the population imbalance problem much worse in World RvR. The basic idea is that they take people out of the world population and put it into an instanced population that is balanced.

If you have 80 Order and 100 Destruction and 60 of each side join a Scenario – the world population imbalance changes to 20 Order and 40 Destruction. It remains a 20 person gap, but where Order was previously outnumbered by 20%, they are now outnumbered by a force twice their remaining size. You might be able to overcome a 20% delta, but a 2:1 ratio is severely problematic.

The issue is that players are being pulled into an instanced scenario in equal parts which leaves the remaining population in an even more imbalanced state. There is really no solution to this problem other than not having scenarios at all. (Interestingly, that option came in at 24.5% of the poll).

How many people are seeing the full game?
I mentioned my Archmage is five levels above my Renown Rank. I’ve been to every zone for all the Tiers lower than my level and done some questing in each of them. I’ve completed all quests for at least one of the WAR stories in each tier (T1 – High Elf/Dark Elf, T2 – Dwarf/Greenskin).

On my Bright Wizard, I have leveled almost exclusively by doing Scenarios. I’m almost done with T2 and my Renown Rank is almost the same as my actual level. I have yet to see/complete any of the other T2 content outside of a few quests in Chapter 6.

Technically, my Archmage has “done more” than my Bright Wizard and yet they are fairly close to the same level of progression. The BW has less Tome unlocks, but the importance of the unlocks still remains to be seen. I have done a ton of unlocks on my AM and only have a couple of tome tactics unlocked that are only useful for PvE questing that my BW doesn’t even do.

If I am Mythic, I might be a bit concerned that some players aren’t actually playing my game – just the scenarios.

Trust the polls?
One issue with trusting polls is that they rarely represent a random sample. This is particularly true of internet polls that are pretty easy to game by voting multiple times (clear cookies & revote).

More often, a few interested parties simply go out and tell all his like-minded friends about the poll to go vote. The result is that you get a sample that is heavily populated with parties particularly interested in the topic being polled.

In other words, anyone upset or irritated about scenarios is more likely to vote in a poll about concerning scenarios than someone who is perfectly happy about it. It’s really another form of the squeaky wheel gets the grease attention that is for prevalent on forums (official or unofficial).

Clearly there is an issue, but 35.8% is certainly an exaggeration. How would you fix it?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Healers need thick skin

I’m questioning my decision to play an Archmage in WAR. Not because I don’t like the class or suck at playing it – but because playing a healer requires a thick skin. This is my first healing class in an MMO. While it’s not a “true” healer, it’s certainly a healer and clearly the major role for the class.

I’ve read other people write about how healers get blamed for everything, but I guess it never really sunk in. I mean, I knew healers got more than the fair share of the blame – I just never really empathized with it. It’s one thing to know they are unfairly blamed and another thing to get unfairly blamed.

I was bitching about it to a friend the other day on vent and as a former Holy Paladin in WoW, he welcomed me to the club. As he said, “Tank dies and everyone asks why he didn’t get healed. Tank lives and everyone says ‘great job tanking!’ It comes with the territory.” And with those words it suddenly dawned on me why he’s playing a Tank in WAR.

Frustrating and Thankless Job
I think what is most mind boggling is that people expect you to keep them alive even when they do stupid shit.

In WAR, you can rez while in combat but the player comes back with 20% health. If you have 2500 health, you are going to come back with 500 health. My best heal at that level does +800 and takes three seconds to cast. So after three seconds, I can get you to 50% health at best if you take no damage. Give me oh… 6 or 7 seconds, I can get a couple of HoTs on you and full health no problem.

If you run into combat right away – there is a damn good chance you are going to die again. Please don’t do it. The guy who just rezzed you KNOWS you are at 20% health and intends to heal you. I promise. Just give him the chance.

When I played DPS, I didn’t do stupid crap like that and if I did – I knew the only person to blame was myself. The fact that the far majority of people are self centered and oblivious to their own actions has caught me a bit by surprise. I mean – I *knew* this but I really didn’t *KNOW* it until I started healing.

I played a Tank for a long time in WoW, so I’m used to people doing stupid things. I’m just not used to getting the blame when THEY do the stupid thing.

I’ve healed you for 3000 in the last X seconds.
Reply with Thank You to stop receiving Heal Reports.

The other mind boggling thing is the guy who complains he’s not getting any heals when – you were healing them! I’m tempted to write an addon for the sole purpose of sending people tells about how much my heal does to them. The basic idea being that you send them Heal Reports about your exploits and they don’t stop until you get a Thank You. Heal Reports would only be sent to non-Healers.

I’d release such a thing on Curse for all other pissed off healers everywhere. I would call it Annoying Heal Reports or some such. What do you think? Should I write it?

A part of me knows this would likely only inflame the situation, but I’m sorely tempted to piss people off anyway. Alternately, I might write an “anti-heal” addon which actually works to prevents you from healing players on your blacklist. Someone complains? Add them to your list and you get a notification if you accidently target them and/or it auto-cancels a heal and retargets someone else.

I realize I’m QQing here, but all I can say is that I was unprepared for it. I’m going to level this Archmage up to 40, but I remain undecided about whether or not I will be playing this class or my Bright Wizard at the end-game. Likely both, but I can already tell that for my own sanity I will need the option of playing the Bright Wizard occasionally.

Either way, I have a healthy respect for the bitching and moaning that Healers get all the time. More than that, I really respect the players who continue to play healers despite the constant bitching and complaining about lack of healing.

I enjoy the Archmage because I enjoy helping the team win. However, I’m also realizing that at least part of me also wants the recognition for helping the team win. Healing is ironically perhaps the most important part of the equation and gets the least amount of respect or glory.

So which do I like more? The glory or the winning? Sadly, I’m leaning towards the glory…

New Addon: Last Listed

OK. I said I wasn't going to do it, but it was driving me nuts. I wrote another addon called Last Listed for the Auction House.

The short version is that it helps you sells stuff by remembering the last price you listed an item and performing an auto-search to view what other people's auctions for similar or exactly the same items. You don't do anything special, just drop the item in the normal Create Auction spot.

Per the latest patch notes, Mythic appears to have possibly made my next addon idea unnecessary. Basically, I was going to write an addon that auto-greeded anything that wasn't usable by you.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Tobold WAR challenge

Tobold’s WAR challenge:
If you want your heroic deeds to count, you'll have to do them while playing Order. Burning down Altdorf is too easy, it's burning down the Inevitable City that is the real challenge. Everyone can win by playing on the stronger side, so if you want to stand out, go Order!

Great challenge, Tobold! I agree 100%. Taking world objectives as Destruction IS too easy. If you want the elite credit for owning a keep or taking down a city, you need to do it on Order. After all, how hard is it to take world objectives when you constantly outnumber your opponent or only face NPCs?

No easy mode for Order
As was sagely predicted by countless bloggers prior to WAR launch, realm imbalance is problematic in WAR. Arguably, the impact of the problem is perhaps less than the expected dire consequences, but it is certainly a problem.

On my server, it is rare that Order controls more than one keep at any given time in the Tier 2 zones. Truth be told, we often don’t even have one keep at all. Without a fairly organized guild or group, you don’t stand much chance in World RvR. If you roll Order, you WILL face an uphill battle in the Realm War.

Slippery Slope of quick Scenario Queues
As Tobold points out, a lot of Order players are choosing Scenarios (which are fairly balanced) over the World RvR objectives. He theorizes that Order is choosing to pick Scenarios over World RvR as a result of being outnumbered by Destruction in World RvR.

I would posit having such quick queues actually makes the Realm Imbalance that much worse. After all, if Order players can get Renown and Experience more quickly through Scenarios, why do the World RvR?

Let’s say that Order has 15 players and Destruction has 20. Everyone queues for a Scenario. A group of 10 from each side hops into a Scenario. It finishes and they all re-queue for the next Scenario.

Everyone who didn’t get into the first one (5 Order, 10 Destruction) gets the queue for the second. However, since 5 more Order are stilled needed, the first five to queue from the first group get instantly into the second Scenario.

The result is that Order gets to participate in 50% more Scenarios than Destruction and has much shorter queues. Unfortunately, that just makes the problem in World RvR that much worse.

At any given time in my example, only five Order and 10 Destruction are left over for World RvR. Instead of being outnumbered 15 to 20 (which is only 3:4 ) they are outnumbered 2:1. In this example, the actual World RvR is 50% more imbalanced than it otherwise would be due to the availability of the SCENARIO.

The problem is even worse if we add more players. If there were 35 Order to 50 Destruction and everyone queued for a Scenario, then 30 Order/30 Destruction leave to fight in three Scenarios. This would leave FIVE players to fight the TWENTY remaining. The World RvR imbalance drops from being outnumbered by 30% to being outnumbered by 400%!

In other words, the Scenario situation makes the World RvR situation significantly worse.

For Order, WAR is Everywhere
One complaint I have heard from Destruction players is that there is no one to fight. Order doesn’t have this problem. Scenario queues are fairly quick, so your nearest Destruction player is simply a click away.

Moreover, so many Destuction are itching for a fight, taking world objectives is like a beacon to every Destruction player on the server. Taking a keep? Better do it quick or you will have every Destro player in the Tier at the front door in 10 minutes. Defending a keep? Better be prepared to stay all night or lose it.

There is even more challenge for Order on the Open ruleset. On Core ruleset, Destruction players complain about not having anyone to fight. On an Open ruleset, they come and FIND you. Open ruleset is an open invitation to getting ganked. At peak hours, some of the PQs are impossible to complete due to Destruction interference.

Renown Gear? You don’t need no stinking Renown Gear!
If you roll Order, be prepared to fight not only larger teams – but to do it with worse gear! This is because outside of Tier 1, you can only purchase Renown gear in RvR objectives like Keeps. On my server, Order rarely owns more than one keep.

Thankfully, the gear that drops off enemy players in Scenarios can be pretty good. Most of it is higher level, so it’s not terribly useful at the lower ranks in the tier (this is where the Renown stuff would be good) but it does provide some decent gearing options.

The point, however, is that Destruction players can take Renown gear for granted. Order players need to actively think about how/when/where they will have the opportunity to buy such gear and even buy it in advance of actual levels (by turning off filters).

Always an objective to take!
One thing Order doesn’t lack is places to attack! If you have a team put together to take an objective, you can take your pick about what to attack. There’s no waiting for the other side to take them – that will happen the instant it’s open again for attack.

Of course, stay in any one area for a period of time and you will get swarmed. Keep one step ahead and you can do well – just don’t expect to hold onto any one thing for any length of time.

All joking aside…
I’m pretty convinced that well organized Order guilds will have a much better time in WAR than Destruction guilds. The reason is pretty simple – quicker queues and no lack of people to fight. A well organized team can beat a lot of “zergs” where they might otherwise be outnumbered.

WAR is a PvP game and if you are itching for a fight or wondering where all the enemy players are at – come join Order. It will be harder, make no doubt about it – but you may also find it’s a lot more fun. Now if only the stupid high elves didn’t look so dumb...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Chatter: Text Alerts

I mentioned a while back that I’ve written a few WoW addons, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I released one for WAR yesterday. I’m still considering it beta, but I’ve been using it for a couple of days and haven’t had any issues.

The addon is called Chatter: Text Alerts and it simple sends your incoming chat messages (Tells, Guild, Party) to the scrolling alert notification area. As with all addons I write, it starts for a selfish purpose: To make MY life easier.

One thing I am bad about is watching my chat box for party/guild/tell messages. I hate feeling like I am missed part of the conversation and constantly find myself scrolling back to see what the hell someone is talking about. Chatter basically makes these messages much more noticeable.

I actually wrote a very similar addon for WoW called ChatAlertsFu. There is another WAR addon going by the name ChatAlert, so I chose a different name for this project.

In fact, when I saw the ChatAlert addon for WAR, I was hopeful that it provided this type of functionality. If someone already has a mousetrap or builds a better one, I’ll happily use it. Unfortunately, all that one did is play different sound alerts for different messages.

My addon plays a sound, but it’s a short fairly unobtrusive sound (which can be turned off) rather than a different sound for each message. It’s possible to use both if you turned sound for mine off (/chatter sound off).

The thing I love about addon writing is that it allows you to make small game improvements like this one to improve your personal game experience. What I don’t like about writing addons is the tech support that is expected to come when you release something publically.

In WoW, there were some projects I never released simply because I never felt like supporting them. These things are free and there are a LOT of people who don’t appreciate that fact.

My biggest gripe about the WAR UI at the moment is the Auction House. It is horrible. I’m sorely tempted to write some improvements, but I have to think that Mythic knows how bad it is and is going to make some changes. I’d rather not spend the time improving the Auction UI only to have it broken in a week because Mythic implemented their own improvements.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Server Switch: From Core to Open

You may recall that when WAR launched, I wrote a brief entry about my server angst. Basically, I was conflicted about which server type to roll (Core or Open) and whether or not we should choose one of the high population CE Head Start servers or start on a fresh server. In the end, we decided to choose Core Ruleset and one of the recently launched servers.

My mistake.

Core Ruleset
One thing I never noticed in the WAR preview or Open Beta is that some PQs are shared between factions.

The best example of this is in Chapter 3 of the Dwarf/Greenskin area. Both sides compete for Stage 1 and the “winning” side gets to move on to Stage 2. We joined a guild on the server fairly early on while doing some RvR in Tier 1 and while doing the PQs later that night – that’s when I noticed nearby enemy faction that were invulnerable due to the server setting.

I completely missed the boat on this because my understanding was that it was impossible to get to the same area without at least one of us flagging RvR. Unfortunately, that’s not true and our guild ended up in a “kill faster” competition with another guild to complete the PQ. Neat – but it certainly was pretty far removed from the brawl I would have expected in a PvP based game.

I wrote the following in my prior article: ” A big part of what I enjoy about “ganking” is coming across my prey by chance. It’s my belief the only areas where I would “chance” upon enemy players in an Open ruleset would be in areas that are already deemed RvR in the Core ruleset.”

So here I am – coming across players by chance – and they aren’t flagged RvR. Even worse, this was becoming increasingly more common. You should have heard the grumbling I received from my friends in Vent.

Fresh Server or just a Bad Server Name
The only thing worse than not being able to kill people is having no one to play with at all. I was lucky enough to be in a moderately active guild, but whenever I was alone…I was really really alone.

We rolled Order on a fresh server in anticipation of avoiding queues and we found a mostly empty world. We even chose a server name that would seem less popular. I think that part had as much to play in the debacle as anything else. Ironfist, which opened at the same time, has a decidedly cool sounding name and was at “full” capacity during prime time on the first day.

Either way, these so-called short scenario queues for Order didn’t exist. If you only have a handful of people in the zone in the first place, it doesn’t really matter that the Destruction side is brimming with people ready to play. More often than not, we were waiting for more players ON OUR SIDE to queue for the scenario.

The Re-Roll
And so we decided it was better to re-roll now than waiting until we hit Rank 40. A big debate ensued about Order vs. Destruction. I continued to lobby hard for Order – only this time on a much more populated server. My theory being that if we can get a server that is mostly full than population imbalance would eventually become a non-issue.

We also decided on an Open ruleset server. This server type is not without it’s challenges and flaws, but I am already finding it to be the more enjoyable server type.

Spur of the moment PvP
Core ruleset is clearly in the opt-in PvP camp. I never ran into one situation in the Core ruleset where I had to fight for my life when I didn’t want (or at least expect) to be fighting for my life. This is wonderful when you are trying to get things done but it also lacks the element of spontaneity and surprise. It’s a good ruleset for someone who likes to minimize distractions or interference with how they play the game. This ruleset is certainly an important one for the game because it allows players who only want to opt-into PvP to—well, opt-in into it.

I fall into the camp where parts of open world PvP are just more fun when they are unexpected. The chaos that ensues when you are just trying to get something done and it erupts into a mini-war is incredibly enjoyable to me. It’s not always about winning – sometimes, it’s just about the brawl. Good or bad, this just doesn’t exist in the Core ruleset.

There are some pretty noticeable challenges with the Open ruleset. It’s not perfect and it is certainly flawed in several ways. For me, it’s better than Core but is still noticeably broken.

Open ruleset and population imbalance
The most obvious flaw results from population imbalance. As most people have read, Destruction outnumbers Order. Scenario queues (like WoW battlegrounds) are short for Order and long for Destruction. Destruction owns many of the World RvR objectives, but Order can take any objective with a bit of organization. Order is also seemingly winning a lot more Scenarios.

On a Core ruleset, Destruction players complain about not having anyone to fight. On an Open ruleset, they come and FIND you. Order PQs that are close to roads and Destruction Warcamps are popular places for Destruction players itching to kill some Order.

There is one PQ in Tier 2 Empire that is just brutally assaulted on a regular basis. Destruction can set themselves up there and basically act almost as a roadblock. I actually end up circumventing the area by going into the RvR area because it’s safer. This is a bit frustrating at times, but they are avoidable.

The chicken problem
A number of people were concerned about being locked out of content in an Open ruleset server because of the so-called chicken problem. The basic idea being that since Open ruleset is RvR everywhere, there are no areas where you wouldn’t be an easily killable chicken once you out-leveled the Tier.

Mythic put the question up for feedback during Open Beta. The problem was that there was no Open ruleset servers in Open Beta, so the feedback gathered was really only based on what people expected rather than directly experienced. Moreover, everyone got to voice an opinion on the matter not just the ones who actually intended to join the ruleset.

Mythic “listened” to the feedback and adjusted the ruleset so that players one tier above can drop down to the previous tier without turning into a chicken.

The Result: Many (if not most) players fight one Tier lower than the intended Tier that they should be fighting on. This is pretty ugly with Level 20 players on Horses and mounts capturing objectives intended for levels 8-11. And you can’t fault them – because they don’t really stand a chance when the Tier 2 zones have players several levels above them.

This change either shouldn’t have been implemented or restricted to 5 levels. In other words, a level 11 player might be able to kill a level 16 but stands no chance at killing a level 20. Five extra levels would have been enough to allow a player to go back and do content as needed. I largely blame this problem on the fact that no one had an opportunity to even play on an Open server until after release. Big mistake.

So with such flaws, why bother with Open ruleset?
Remember that shared PQ I described earlier? The one where we ended up “racing for kills” in order to finish Stage 1 first? Now, let me paint a similar situation I experienced on the Open ruleset.

My buddies and I are over in Chapter 7 of the Dwarf lands when we run across another one of these shared PQs. When we started, Order was down 12 kills to 60 kills and I believe around 100 were needed to start Stage 2.

We manage to kill a few PQ mobs and then we ran across the group of Destruction who had gotten it to 60. We got slaughtered. We kept at it for a bit and slowly a few more Order players joined us. After a bit, we were slaughtering the Destruction. We ended up holding them to 76 kills and unlocked Stage 2.

It was Pure Win and one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences in WAR I have had. Annoying asshats aside, this type of thing is exactly the reason why I think I finally found a server home on an Open ruleset server.