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.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A WAR Healer's Manifesto

A common theme in Warhammer at the moment is that the DPS classes want to pigeon hole the healers into a “heal only” role. Or in other words, anyone who can heal should only focus on healing and leave the damage dealing to the careers that deal damage. To which my response is: Learn to play your own class first before you start telling other people how to play.

This is Warhammer, not Warcraft
It’s a different game, folks. This might be a shocker but despite similarities it has different class mechanics. Tanks play different, DPS plays different and oh ya – healers play different. The traditional pure healing class that exists in WoW and other games doesn’t exist in WAR. The closest equivalent is perhaps the Rune Priest / Zealot, but even those two classes aren’t exactly traditional.

This is a game whose focus is PvP. Therefore, the game is balanced around PvP. Big damage and big heals are uncommon and have long casts. Everyone is killable and no “healer” has some instant or near instant cast spell that is going to save your ass that is not on at least a 60 second cooldown and has other requirements (i.e morale). If you run around willy nilly expecting heals to save you – you are going to die. This is particularly true if you are a lightly armored class who draws the attention of several players.

It’s a slower game
This is a bit of a half truth. The game is slower in the respect that it takes longer to kill or be killed, but not in the action that happens while the killing is taking place. In other words, lots of stuff is happening and flying around but you rarely get insta-gibbed.

The slower pace is larger due to the fact that damage (and healing) is mostly dealt in smaller increments relative to the total pool of health. All the big damage/heals take a good chunk of time to prepare or cast. The game also has a lot more DoTs and HoTs than other MMOs. DoTs / HoTs are powerful, but take time to develop.

The point here is that heals largely only come in small increments. If you are taking damage, you may not even notice that you are getting healed.

You keep yourself alive by not playing stupid
First and foremost, your survival in WAR depends not on the actions of others – but on your actions. As I mentioned above, in a lot of cases you may not even notice the heals you are getting because you are also taking damage. Therefore, your responsibility is to (gasp!) try to take less damage.

Before you start bitching about heals, ask yourself if you used any of your abilities that prevent damage. Every single non-tank class gets some form of a Detaunt that reduces damage (usually 50%). Every single non-tank class gets other spells that prevent or reduce damage. Many classes get a root or movement impairing ability. These things keep you alive and give the small incremental heals/HoTs time to work. In other words, the healer helps – but you are the one who saves your own ass.

Tanks are in a bit of a different category because their abilities are more about preventing the damage to others. So if you DO die, ask yourself if you were using these abilities. Perhaps you didn’t get any heals because someone was busy trying to save that Witch Hunter next to you.

Detaunts and Taunts are perhaps the single biggest mechanic difference between Warhammer and other MMOs like Warcraft. In Warcraft, this type of thing really doesn’t exist and the burden of preventing damage largely falls entirely on the healer to heal you through it. In fact, the only thing I can think of that comes close is perhaps Evasion and Shield Wall which are both on long cooldowns (which Detaunts are not). However, in WAR, the burden of keeping you alive is shared between you, the healer and the tanks.

There are no save your ass heals
The Warrior Priest / Disciple of Khaine only get the powerups they need to cast healing spells if they are dealing melee damage in RvR. They have some great instant heals, but the melee damage requirement takes them some time to build up the healing energy. They literally can only save your ass when they are in the thick of things mixing it up with the baddies. Needless to say – if they are in the thick of things, they are getting targeted pretty heavily and require heals. Fortunately for them, they can heal themselves. The result is that WP/DoK are pretty similar to a tank class. They occupy the enemy and soak up attention. If the enemy stops paying attention to them, they punish them by healing other players.

The Archmage/Shaman doesn’t have an instant cast heal that immediately heals (other than a morale ability). The immediate heals require 1 to 3 seconds to cast and can be push backed, silenced or disrupted. The one second spell is part direct heal and part HoT. The big heals take three seconds. However, each damage dealing spell reduces the casting time of your next healing spell by 20%. It stacks 5 times, so a fully charged cast turns the big heal into an instant cast spell. In other words, the Archmage is most effective when they deal a combination of damage and healing. I've been playing an Archmage for a while now and I'll give you an interesting tidbit to think about: Whenever we win a scenario, my damage/healing ratio is about 40-60. Whenever I lose a scenario, the ratio is more like 10-90 in favor of healing.

The Rune Priest/Zealot is the king of instant cast heals. They get some nice instant HoTs and a direct heal that instantly gives you a small amount of health. They can quite literally running around in circles and never stop healing. The only issue is that the really big heals require a cast (just like the Archmage). This is problematic because while they have an instant cast that heals a small amount immediately, it also incurs the 1.4 second global cooldown. Simply spamming that heal isn’t going to save you unless they get the chance to give you a big heal. If you are near death, they might not ever get that time.

Healers need to heal, but damage is OK
Clearly, without any heals at all – your team is much more likely to lose if the other team is healing. Healers do have a responsibility to heal and if they are not healing at all or only healing themselves, then that is flawed. My Archmage deals decent damage (better than a tank) but it’s still maybe 65% of what my Bright Wizard is capable of dealing. If you strictly deal damage as a healer, then you are doing everyone a disservice.

That being said, healers also need to deal damage. As pointed out above, the mechanics of some healers either outright require it or makes it significantly more effective. In other cases, healing is well under control and what is really needed is to make a DPS push to knock a few enemy players off. The Archmage in particular is well suited to this role because switching back to heals as needed makes them that much more effective.

Unlike other MMOs, dealing damage is part of what healers need to do to help the group. If you suddenly get focus-fired and nuked, don’t blame the healer. Given the small incremental nature of the heals, it’s highly unlikely they could have saved you anyway. No healer (even a stationary one) can heal through two Bright Wizards focusing a single target without your help.

The Healer's Vow
A manifesto is a declaration of principles. To this end I make the following vow:

If you do your best to keep yourself alive, I will do my best to keep you alive.

Friday, September 26, 2008

WAR Herald promotes 3rd party addon

The WAR Herald had a recent update titled ”Spam Me Not: New Mod Available For WAR!” on the site promoting a 3rd party addon to help block spam messages.

Setting aside the actual purpose of the message (to help people avoid gold spam), I found the fact that they promoted such an addon on the official website very interesting.

On the one hand, you could make the argument that if they see the need for such an addon – why don’t they include something similar to it in the default UI?

Promoting such an addon is a bit of an admission that there a) is a problem and b) that what they are doing isn’t really fixing the issue. There are several such flavors of these addons in WoW, so it’s not much of a stretch to think that Mythic could have anticipated the need for such a thing instead of relying on users to develop it.

But on the other hand, kudos to Mythic for recognizing that there is a problem and promoting a way to fix it even if it’s not official.

I’m a big advocate of addons in general because they allow users to fix issues they find annoying rather than waiting for an official fix that may never come. I sincerely hope such announcements continue to be a trend. AND… I hope that it doesn’t just stop with awareness but also continues into incorporating the really good ideas into the default UI.

The reality is that good ideas are not the exclusive property of the developer and addons allow the user community to contribute to making a better game.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Caution: Don’t Blog Angry

I have had a day to cool off about the honor situation and thought I would follow-up my emotion filled rant yesterday with a more intelligent explanation of my cancellation. If I have been consistent with one thing on this blog, then it is this idea:

Game devs should try to use foresight and planning to avoid pitfalls that invalidate the efforts of their players.

As to why I canceled my WoW account... The honor thing made me angry, but that’s not exactly why I quit. No – I quit because it’s become increasingly clear that there is a disconnect between Blizzard and its customers. I’ll stop short of saying that they don’t care about the customers, because I think all companies care about customers. However, I do think that they don’t RESPECT their customers.

I get no respect
I can certainly understand why they wouldn’t respect their customers. You just need to spend 30 minutes reading the official forums and you won’t respect them either. I think it would be hard to have a “pulse” on the real WoW community if your only real insight into it is through the official forums. It’s hard to know what is REALLY important to your consumer when everything appears to be the end of the world. Only the most vocal objectors are ever really heard, not the most sensible ones.

Instead, Blizzard devs have to try to make sense of what is important or not important on their own. Ultimately, this either leads to the arrogance that they “know better” or worse – they have absolutely no clue. The result is that Blizzard devs unintentionally end up abusing the player base by making mistakes that could have been prevented.

Cry more, nub
The worst part is that because they have this disconnect with players, they don’t understand how players will receive the changes. They believe it’s perfectly OK to change the rules of the game. “Oh sure, people will whine,” they think to themselves, “but players always whine. We know what is best.”

This is the lie that they tell themselves when they make dramatic changes.

It strikes me that Blizzard doesn’t bother planning to avoid pitfalls that invalidate content because they don’t care if they invalidate content. They either believe they “know better” or have no clue about how players will feel about changes, so they just do what they think is best. The issue is that “best” is not really “best” unless it takes into consideration the sum of all parts. One of those parts (perhaps the most important) is player expectations.

To re-use an already overused example, this is exactly the type of trouble that Sony got into when they introduced the NGE to Star Wars Galaxies. NGE was obviously on a much much larger scale, but the player complaint is similar to the one that I am leveling at Blizzard. It didn’t really matter that NGE might have been a better game, it changed the rules without considering how players would feel about such changes.

I’m done
I simply can’t get myself excited about playing a game in which I know that the devs feel this way. Why bother putting forth any effort towards anything if it changes on a mere developer whim? This really is no different than it ever was with Blizzard, I just think the illusion that they might have cared has been shattered for me.

Perhaps I was OK with the way things were because I believed in the necessity of it being that way. I no longer have that belief nor do I care to delude myself into thinking such player abuse is acceptable for some greater good.

It may be that WAR devs will be no different in this respect, but at least as-of-now that doesn’t feel like it is the case. Credits to Mark and the other WAR rockstars for at least keeping up the illusion that players matter in the grand scheme of things.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

No longer planning to play Wrath...

...and Warhammer Online has nothing to do with that decision.

This post announced that honor points and marks will be reset in Wrath.

I spent the last month in WoW before WAR release working at achieving honor cap and acquiring marks for the exact reason that they invalidated the content. All of that effort is gone and your damn right I am bitter about it.

I'm done. Blizzard has a long history of INVALIDATING player efforts and this is the straw that broke this camel's back. They have absolutely zero respect for the player base and just do whatever they want willy nilly. Well screw you, Blizzard. I'm not playing your game again. Ever.

You can argue the merits and reasons behind the decision -- even talk about why it was necessary and blah blah. However, the simple fact remains that they don't even care to try and design the game in a way that DOESN'T invalidate your previous efforts.


Friday, September 19, 2008

I want to be an Archmage when I grow up

I’m a little late to the game to give impressions about the different WAR classes, so I’m not really going to try. This entry is mostly about how I explored the different classes during beta and how I came to the conclusion that the Archmage was my favorite career.

I played all of these careers to at least level 8, most of them to level 12. And while I completely agree that level 12 is a far cry from level 40, I do believe that you can get a sense of whether you will enjoy playing the class. If after 10 levels you find yourself not enjoying it that much – well, chances are good that experience isn’t going to change much over the next 30 levels.

So with that little caveat being said, I thought I would provide my opinion about how these careers felt to me. Different strokes for different folks and all that...

Witch Hunter
Generally speaking, I have always played melee classes in MMOs. In particular, I am quite partial to Melee DPS. So—it should come as no surprise that the first class I played was the Witch Hunter. Both the Witch Hunter and Witch Elf have the reputation for being the “Rogue” class of WAR. This is largely because at level 10, they gain a stealth ability. This stealth is pretty limited when compared to other MMOS. It takes two seconds to cast and drains your Action Points while invisible.

I found that the class dealt excellent damage relative to other WAR careers. The issue is that unlike most of the other Melee classes, both the Witch Hunter and Witch Elf are pretty squishy and easily killed. This is problematic because the career is most effective when engaged with caster types behind the tanks. However, such placement almost ensures instant destruction. At level 8, they DO get an AOE detaunt that reduces damage against you by 50% for 15 seconds. This basically buys you enough time to kill one other player – then you die.

In the end, my main impression of the Witch Hunter was Sacrifice. Yes you get to kill stuff, but you don’t get to live afterwards. Maybe they should rename the career to Martyr.

Archmage and Shaman
These two careers are a DPS/Healer hybrid that you commonly hear described as “mirrors” of each other because they use the same career mechanic. And while that’s true, it’s not true that the available actions are exactly the same. While most are the same, some of them are vastly different. I played the Archmage in Preview and the choose the Shaman in Open Beta expecting them to play the same. I was mistaken.

I really enjoyed the Archmage. I am loosely calling this my main at the moment and will definitely level it to 40. I did not particularly enjoy the Shaman. At level 4, the Archmage gets a nice instant cast dot called Radiant Gaze. The Shaman gets a group buff that deals damage on next attack called ’Ere We Go.

This seemingly minor difference set the tone for how I played both careers. As an Archmage, I played more aggressively and did a pretty even mix of damage and healing. As the Shaman, I felt more like a traditional healer. Yes – Radiant Gaze is only one spell, but it’s also a spell that I found I cast very frequently.

After realizing what I enjoyed most about the Archmage was damage dealing dots, I decided to give the Sorcerer a try (big damage/range DPS). The “mirror” of the Sorcerer is the Bright Wizard. My thought was that I could deal more damage and the ranged nature of the attacks would provide some measure of safety. After all I thought, if I’m not up close and personal – I’ll live a bit longer than the Witch Hunter.

By level 5, I learned that Sorcerers walk around with a big neon sign that says “kill me first.” Healers walk around with a similar sign but the difference is that they can do a decent job keeping themselves alive. The Sorcerer just gets to go “oh shit! they noticed me!” and then die. The net result is that if I wanted to be useful I needed to do a lot of lurking and sneaking.

For the most part, this went well and I more or less enjoyed the Sorcerer. The survivability was the only thing that bothered me and I swore that if I rolled a healer I would always toss them heals. The term “glass cannon” is a pretty accurate description of this career.

The Chosen doesn’t appear to have a “mirror” class. I guess the Ironbreaker is closest, but that really doesn’t seem accurate. Chosen are a Tank class that use a mechanic built around Auras/Curses. Ironbreakers use Grudges or some such. The curse/aura thing is pretty neat because it offers both a buff to you (and party members) and a debuff to enemy players. For example, +8 strength to you and -8 strength to them. It’s an AOE effect, so just being around you grants the buff/debuff. By endgame, you can have up to 3 of these active at the same time.

My big takeaway from the Chosen is that they are a good defensive class. Survivability (especially with a healer) might be unmatched, but I personally felt a bit ineffectual. In other words, my presence really didn’t seem to impact the outcome like the other classes I had played. I felt more like a moving wall. I didn’t play the Black Orc, but it sure seemed like they do more damage. Anyway – I decided that a Tank class was not for me.

The “mirror” for the Zealot is the Runepriest. A friend of mine is playing one now in Live and it appears they are nearly identical. The Zealot often gets labeled as a “true healer” but I think that’s a bit unfair. None of the healing careers are really traditional. One thing to understand about WAR combat is that you rarely need to spam heals to keep people alive. However, I will concede that the other healing careers can do a bit more damage and the Zealot is better equipped to heal.

The unique mechanic for the career is essentially a buff that provides a stat boost and also provides a Granted Ability. This granted ability can be used by the player receiving the buff. Using the ability doesn’t consume the buff, so you can recast it when the cooldown is over. The only crappy thing about the mechanic is that unlike the other healers, Zealots don’t get rewarded for doing damage as well.

Where Zealots REALLY shine is the instant casts. They seemingly have instant casts for everything which means you can do just about everything on the move. This was particularly nice when running away from someone trying to kill me. The really big heals and damage spells are longer casts, but that’s about it. I actually found that I preferred the Zealot over the Shaman.

The last class I tried was also my second favorite. I will almost certainly level an Engineer to endgame in addition to the Archmage. If my worst fears (healers should only heal) come true at endgame, the Engineer just might be the class I end up playing.

The best way to describe the Engineer is to cite an examples from different things. If you are familiar with First Person Shooters, then you will likely know that “gun turrets” are fairly common in a lot of FPS games. They are excellent for setting a defensive line. The first time I ever saw the turret idea was in the movie Aliens. There is a scene where they are trapped in the medical area and have two turrets setup in the hallways. This auto-guns unleash hell upon the Aliens who eventually give up.

Engineers get turrets. In fact, maybe 40% of their damage comes from the turrets. Just plop down a turret, back up – and kill stuff. Very cool.

My only complaint is that you don’t get your first turret until level 3 or so. Until then, you feel really gimped because you are lacking damage.

The Challenge

I'm going to break one of my rules for the blog and write something non-MMO related. Kirk over at Priestly Endeavors issued out a challenge to myself and four other blogger in the spirit of Banned Books Week. The condensed version of the challenge is that Kirk wants us to read through the list and note which books we've read. Then read one of the other books off the list and write a short entry about it.

Banned Books I have Read:

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
32. Blubber by Judy Blume
56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
62. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
71. Native Son by Richard Wright
77. Carrie by Stephen King
84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
87. Private Parts by Howard Stern
96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

None of these books are ones I have read recently. In fact, some of them (like Judy Blume, Mark Twain and Roald Dahl) are books I haven't read since I was a child. If I had to pick two books as recommended reading off the list it would be Lord of the Flies and Native Son. I'm certain that says something about me, but who knows?

OK. So the book I plan on reading during Banned Books Week is...

61. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras

Just kidding. The actual book is:

55. Cujo by Stephen King

How scary can a dog be? I mean seriously... a dog?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Review of some WAR addons

So I had a chance to download and test several Warhammer addons last night. I thought I would write a quick review of the ones I tested.

Recommended Addons
These are addons that I am currently using and finding stable enough to use without issues. They all serve a useful purpose.

Vertigo: An action bar addon which allows you to modify the shape of the action bars. You can hide the little background frame, the up/down page scroll, set # of buttons, and most importantly force the bars to a specific number of columns. If you have wanted to make a bar 3x4 instead of the default 1x12, this is the addon to use. You will want to enable the action bar view that shows (4) bars. Then by use this addon to set the desired shape and look of the bar. And then finally, use the Layout Editor to move/resize it. I found that I could make the bars do almost anything. The only frustrating thing is that it currently only functions by /slash commands. Also requires LibSlash (a common library for /slash commands several addons are using).

ActionBarColor: The default UI will change the text (usually a number) within a button to RED when it is unusable due to range or LOS for the selected target. This addon simply makes the entire button tint RED instead of just the text. Visually, this makes it really obvious that you can’t cast.

AutoLoot: A very simple addon that simply clicks the LOOT ALL button whenever the loot window becomes visible. I have no clue why Mythic doesn’t have something like this in the default UI.

Vanity Addons
Only one addon in this category, but I intend to write additional reviews following a similar format in the future. Vanity addons are ones that I consider neat or fun, but not something that actually improves the quality of play.

Killing Blow: This addon has no purpose other than to add a nice little notification when you deliver the killing blow on a target. It’s well done and very much in the style of the many of the default announcements you get while playing. My only complaint is that the text shows up as RED and being colorblind it makes it a bit difficult to read. When I get time, I’ll look into changing this to a blue or something.

Addons not Ready, But Worth Watching
These addons are damn good ideas, I just found the revision I tested to be buggy or difficult to use.

zBuffBars: This style of addon is pretty common in Warcraft. The basic idea being that a horizontal timer bar provides a visual display of the buffs / debuffs on your friendly target, self and hostile target. Relative position of these bars is adjustable in the Layout Editor and the font, size and so forth can be changed by using /slash commands. These are typically much more useful than trying to monitor the buff icons under the unit frames. The issue I had with this addon is that I encountered several bugs and the update felt sluggish when I switched targets. The types of bugs I encountered were things like bars not going away and duplicate bars for the same buff/debuff. Once the kinks get worked out, this will be a useful addon.

ISMoCasts: If you are like me, you have been a bit annoyed that the default UI doesn’t allow casting on a Mouseover target. This addon is intended to provide that functionality by automatically switching your target to whatever you are mousing over when you press the action button. Right now, this only works with Friendly players but the author intends to add support for Hostile players as well. The issue is that it’s not a true mouseover target – what it does is SWITCH your target to what you are mousing over when you press the action button. This part of the addon works fine. What doesn’t work that well is the part where it is supposed to remember the previous target. This glitch was horrible in RvR last night as I found that I couldn’t permanently switch targets. I could cast if I moused over a unit – and that was it. Not good. Still, this is one to watch and gives me hope for mouseover casting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Server Angst

Seemingly, 9 out of 10 bloggers started playing the “live” version of WAR on Sunday because they purchased the Collector’s Edition (CE) of Warhammer Online. Not me. I didn’t pre-order the CE addition; I pre-ordered the Standard Edition (SE).

No – for me, Sunday and Monday were mildly frustrating. I spent the better part of Saturday sorting out which were my favorite careers and logged a good six or seven hours on the last day of the beta. Then – I was cut off.

Instead, I spent a couple of days trying to decide on a server and enviously reading the WAR reports from other bloggers. I’m not really making this server decision on my own since I have a couple of good real life (non-blogger) friends that I intend to play with frequently.

Core vs Open
I have really been struggling with this decision. In the end, we decided on a Core ruleset. There are things I don’t like about either ruleset, but ultimately it was decided that Core is a more well thought out design.

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.

It’s rather pointless to travel to the other faction unless your purpose is to stir up trouble. Quests and RvR objectives are not going to take you to those areas. Don’t get me wrong, I like stirring up trouble – I just think the Open ruleset was designed as an afterthought and seems more problematic than the Core ruleset.

Server populations
The oldest servers in an MMO almost always have the largest populations. The reason is pretty simple. If Player A is on a server and recruits a friend to play – that friend is going to join Player A’s server. If that friend, in turn, recruits another friend to play – the new friend is also most likely to join that server. And so on and so on.

I understood that there was something like only 15 servers available on Sunday’s CE launch. Any established guild that had officers with the CE edition almost assuredly decided to settle on one of those 15 servers.

This means that any guild member not in the CE will join that server. Moreover, any FRIEND of any of those guild members will also join those servers. And so on.

I don’t think it’s any stretch to say that those 15 original servers will be among the most heavily populated in WAR.

And while heavy populations are good for PvP, they are bad for...

Server queues
There has been a bit of confusion about the reason the server queues existed on Sunday and Monday. This post by Mark Jacobs explains it best.

The condensed version is that when a SERVER is introduced, it has a population cap of 1/3 of the actual maximum population. The day after it has been introduced, it increases to 2/3 of the max population. And on the third day, there is no artificial cap and the max is the actual maximum.

In addition, each faction is allocated ½ of the population cap. This means that on the first day, no more than a sixth of the max population is allowed onto a single faction.

These artificial limits are purposefully designed to encourage people to spread out amongst the servers AND the factions.

The importance of balance
We may not like the spreading out, but this is actually very important for several balance issues. The most obvious is realm balance. If queue times are artificially high for one faction early on, then players with little preference will naturally choose the faction with the lower queue time.

There is no better time to make this decision than at launch when players have no existing investment. In other words, the artificial cap is useful in encouraging people to make the switch BEFORE they level a character to 40 and THEN experience horrible queue times as the server population inevitable grows.

From a short-term perspective, the artificial launch cap is also useful in preventing too many players in the starting zone at launch. You simply can’t have EVERYONE in the first chapters at the same time or you’ll ruin everyone’s launch experience.

From a longer-term perspective, the artificial cap prevents everyone from playing on a single server. If we could – most of us would all love to play in one single shared world instead of being broken apart into different servers. Of course, this just simply isn’t possible and something needed to be done to force people to spread out.

Because even though there were only 60,000 people who purchased the CE, these 60,000 people have friends. And all those friends will want to play with them.

Short queues might be desirable
In my mind, the ideal situation would be a scenario in which you had a very short queue time. Wait... what? How can any queue be good?

Simple. If your faction has a queue, then that means it is at FULL population. This means that you need not worry about realm imbalance because your faction is outnumbered.

It’s actually to your benefit for the server to be as FULL as possible for your faction. Therefore, having a queue (in a weird way) is a bit of a good thing.

As long as it’s short.

A long queue is clearly not desirable. But a 1 minute queue? Hmm. Maybe that’s not a horrible thing.

Resolving my Server Angst
We decided last night to roll on one of the servers launched today. We get a better selection of names and a “fresh” start. We also decided to start with Order. If we hate it, we might switch. But at least to start, we will hopefully be avoiding ugly queue times.

However, I still believe (since this is still a head start server) that it will become one of the more heavily populated servers. I don’t think it will be anywhere near as popular as the those first 15, but I am hopeful that it will be popular enough to have plenty of people on the Order side.

I can’t help but think that those first 15 servers will be terribly overpopulated for both factions. A mere 15 servers at launch seems – well, entirely too few. In this regard, I agree with Heartless_ that headstarts do not work.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Warhammer Addons

I wrote a bit about LUA addons a few weeks ago and I wanted to follow-up on that article briefly.

As I mentioned previously, Warhammer uses the same programming language (LUA) that World of Warcraft uses for its addons. This basically means that WAR addons will use the same syntax or structure as WoW addons.

However, don’t expect anyone to easily port over your favorite addons since the game specific API commands are quite a bit different between the two games. It’s a bit like taking two people who speak english, but one is a chemist and the other is a surgeon. They can easily communicate with each other, but the chemist, for example, couldn’t perform surgery.

Addons in Beta
Thus far, I have avoided most of the WAR addons in development. The game has enough bugs on it’s own without introducing new ones that Mythic devs are not responsible for fixing. I think the simple addons might be fine, but the more complex ones are a bit premature.

Another reason to be cautious is that things can change pretty quickly in beta. Most addons are about interacting with the UI and this is one area that Mythic continues to improve with each patch. Needless to say, if Mythic is still fiddling with it, the odds of them making a change that breaks an addon is a lot higher.

Despite the LUA similarities, WAR addons will be more limited
This is a bit tricky to explain, but almost all meaningful addons are somehow derived from the API commands that game developers provide addon authors. If there is no command to provide the desired information or effect, then the addon author is either prevented from being able to do it or needs to figure out a way to work around the limitation.

The best example of this in WoW is the distance between two units. No Warcraft addon that can tell you EXACTLY how far away you are from another Player or NPC. Blizzard simply doesn’t provide a range value for the distance between two units in any API command. Clearly, this information exists – it’s just not in the form of a LUA command that authors can use in an addon.

Now, what WoW authors CAN do is work around this problem by using a command that returns true/false if a spell is or is not usable. The work around being that if you know this spell works at 5 yards, then testing if it is usable will tell you if you are within 5 yards of the other unit. By using several spells with varying ranges, you can get a good estimate about distance.

OK, that make sense? Good, because here comes the important part:

From what I can tell about the Warhammer API, they have purposely left out quite a bit of information. I say purposefully, because it’s obvious that Mythic wants people to play the game the way they intended without any perceived unfair advantages coming from using addons.

The most notable limitation is specific unit information. You may have noticed that the default unit frames lack quite a bit of information. I expect some work arounds to this by addons, but by-and-large you shouldn’t expect unit frames to provide nearly as much detail as WoW.

With the slightly slower game play that WAR offers, I certainly think this is a good thing. The emphasis is more on watching the action than watching health bars and unit frames.

Expect a bunch of work arounds
Based on my experience with other games, I highly suspect that the Combat Log is going to become the primary source for filling in the missing information. While it will never provide the level of detail that WoW addons can provide, I do believe it will fill in the blanks.

For example, simply parsing the log for attacks by enemy units might provide the detail needed to learn the target of your target. Which is something that (by default) is not an option currently. Similarly, it might also be used to tell what party or warband members are targeting to allow more focus firing.

I’m also not an entirely certain about this yet, but I also believe that it may be possible to swap out bindings as they are pressed. This would effectively allow you to bind several actions to a single button. So while macro sequencing isn’t currently allowed, I do see a way that this might potentially be implemented. Combined with what I wrote above about Combat Log parsing and it may be possible to make some things moderately intelligent (i.e. automated).

Current Addons:
Garthilk over at Warhammer Alliance put up a quick post with some of the currently available addons. I took his list and added some brief descriptions for each. Nothing game breaking (good or bad) yet.

zBuffBars: Creates Simple Buff Bars for your buffs and debuffs.

CleanUnitFrames: CleanUnitFrames is a replacement for the standard EA unit frames for WAR. It attempts to provide the useful data in a streamlined format, while getting rid of some of the "fluff" or other annoying things in the default UI.

Metahud Unit Frames: Metahud is a replacement set of Unit Frames for the Player, Target, and Pet windows. This mod focuses on placing vital character and target info directly beside the character, in a fashion similar to the MetaHud mod from WoW.

AutoLoot: Automatically uses 'Loot All' when looting a corpse, even when the modifier key is not held.

XpStatus: This addon keeps track of your experience and renown earnings during a game session. Do a right click on the window to change the display modus.

MoveTip: MoveTip is a very simple addon that lets you force all tooltips to be displayed at a specific anchor point.

Chat Alert!: Very simple AddOn that plays a sound when you have incoming text from tell, guild, guild officer, warbands and other important texts. Each type of text has it's own sound so you will learn just by the alert-sound where the message is from.

ActionPoints: Provides a simple (and movable via the Layout Editor) frame that displays your current action points

Mechanic: Provides a simple movable+scalable numeric display for the current value of a class' mechanic (as long as it uses a simple numeric mechanic - support for the more complex ones like Tranquility/Force or Mork/Gork may come later).

zChatWindow: zChatWindow is designed to give you a little more control over the default chat frame. InputBox is movable from top to bottom. Channel Selection Icon is hidden. Looking for group icon is hidden.

Yabber: Yabber allows you to customize the chat bubbles that appear above characters' heads when they speak. Are they too big for you? Make them smaller. Don't like the color of the text? Change it. Don't want bubbles at all? Change the display to just single text items above heads, or turn floating chat off completely. It's up to you.

WhinySpellTimer: Track buffs/debuffs you cast on yourself and your offensive and defensive targets.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Apples are better than Oranges

Tobold has a review up of WAR. It’s fair and pretty accurate review in my opinion. As I pointed out in his comments, it’s a bit premature to make a full blown WoW comparison when you have only played the first dozen levels. After all, he’s played at level cap in WoW and obviously very few have done that in WAR. Still – you can’t expect someone to level all the way to cap before writing a review or giving their impressions of a game. You can fully understand 80% of what any game is like in the first twenty hours of play.

WoW is better than WAR,
Tobold remarked that WAR is better than any other major released title with the notable exception that it’s not better than World of Warcraft. I agree.

WAR is not better than Warcraft.

I’ve been playing Warcraft for four years and I have a ton of attachment to that game. WAR is not going to replace that experience. I have friends in Warcraft and I have an intimacy and care for the game that can only be gained after hundreds and hundreds of hours played.

Needless to say, there is a bias. I can look over my hundreds of hours of WoW game experience and point out dozens and dozens of incredible moments. I know how much fun I’ve had in WoW. I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun and 30 hours of playing WAR is not going to make me forget that.

Except WAR is better than WoW
BUT – if I stop for a moment and think about my similar points of progress in the game, then I realize that WAR offers you more to do in the first few levels than WoW does in the first twenty.

If I take my collective WoW experience and compare it to my collective WAR experience, there is no comparison. WoW is a better game. However, if I just think about my first 30 hours of WAR versus my first 30 hours of WoW... well, WAR simply offers me so much more than WoW.

In WoW, the most exciting thing I have done by the time I hit level 20 is Wailing Caverns. For the most part, all I have done is quest and explore. I get that in WAR, but also so much more...

By level 5, I have not only done all the normal questing and exploring but also experienced Public Quests that feel like spontaneous mini-Raids. AND – I’ve been PvPing in Scenarios (like battlegrounds) for both XP and Renown Rank. By level 10, I have participated in a significant chunk of objective based World PvP against similarly leveled players.

Comparing WAR Rank 10 to WoW Level 70
The issue here is that we are comparing apples to oranges. Most, if not all, of us have spent a good chunk of time at the WoW endgame. It’s only natural to compare that experience to our first few moments in WAR.

But is that fair? Not really. I can guarantee that ANYONE would find rolling a brand new WAR character more refreshing and fun than rolling a second WoW character. In fact, I would argue that first time players would find WAR more enjoyable than WoW as well.

Of course, fair or not, we are going to make the comparison based on our most recent WoW experience at level 70. After all, WAR’s real competition is Wrath of the Lich King. We will be starting Wrath with our 70s, so WAR is competing against a character well past the early level grinds. So WAR is NOT competing with another WoW alt, it’s competing against a fully mature and developed game offering an expansion with new content for max level characters.

2004 WoW is not 2008 WoW
One thing that gets overlooked in all these comparisons is that WoW is NOT the same game it was at release in 2004. The “polish” didn’t stop at release.

Animations have been updated, the graphic engine slowly improved, battlegrounds introduced, new quest types (and mechanics), new dungeons (and designs), a major UI overall in patches 2.1 and 2.4, and oh yeah – a major expansion. Needless to say, the WoW endgame has evolved into something a bit more than just a 10-man raid called Upper Blackrock Spire.

None of these improvements individually are all that great, but taken collectively as a whole the game has been progressed and polished quite a bit since 2004. Why is this important?

Because WAR will receive the same level of attention during its product life. The starting point is FAR more advanced than where WoW was at release. In fact, it’s at a point where you CAN make the comparisons to 2008 WoW and say that it’s almost as good (even with your bias). It’s fair to say that over the course of the next few years that WAR has the potential to become a much better game than WoW.

Maximum fun by maximum variety
To me, this is the single most important improvement that WAR offers the genre. I’ve written about this several times, but just about everything you do in WAR is worthwhile and rewarding. The game is purposely designed so that you don’t need to seek out the most rewarding thing, but the most fun thing.

I think WAR will a better fit for someone who is time constrained. If you only have an hour or two to play a day, you can easily jump in and find fun things to do in WAR. In WoW, that's usually not enough time to do anything meaningful unless it was pre-planned.

If for no other reason than this one, WAR deserves a chance. Because it IS fun to play even at level 5. Check your ‘leveling grind’ compulsion that Warcraft has instilled in you at the door because it’s not about hurrying through levels to get to the “real game”. Sit back and just enjoy the experience. You don’t need to race through it.

Appeals to the time constrained
You log into WoW. You got an hour and a half to play and you want to do something, but that’s not really enough time to do anything meaningful. It’s not really enough time for a full instance run unless you get a group together like RIGHT NOW. You certainly aren’t going to be raiding. Your choices are pretty much limited to: a) surf the Auction House, b) grind some gold or reputation, c) level an alt or d) play some arena or battlegrounds.

The fact that you have time to PvP but not time to PvE instance or raid is an important one for the time constrained player. WoW’s best parts are in the PvE instances and raids, so if you don’t do those things – well, the end-game sucks. It’s a big reason why so many people get altitis.

In WAR, the game is built on PvP. There are LOTS of different types of PvP with LOTS of different things to do on short notice. For a time constrained player who just wants to jump in and contribute, then leave when they run out of time – this is really really appealing. If you only have an hour or two to play a day, you can easily jump in and find fun things to do.

Does this make the game less appealing for the player with hours and hours of free time? I don’t know. Perhaps. But I also think that question can’t really be answered until those players DO hit the endgame. And at least right now, neither Tobold or I or almost anyone can answer that question.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mark Jacobs pays the price for Blogging

The GOA Shitstorm
There is a lot of talk about the GOA fiasco and it's turning into a PR nightmare for Mythic. The short version is that EU players couldn't participate in Open Beta because the EU partner (GOA) screwed up the account website launch. It certainly didn't help that EU players predicted the problem in advance and GOA tsked tsked the dire predictions.

Mark Jacobs felt compelled to chime in on forums and his new blog. If you followed Mark's posts spread across various websites, he first appears as a problem solver with his "fix-it-hat" on, later scolds people a bit for being abusive and most recently offers some "clarification" about his scolding and throws GOA under the bus. Scott Jennings thinks Mark just forget about the #1 rule of the internet: Anonymity breeds sociopathic assholes.

My take is that GOA problems aside, it's just bad business to infer your customers are assholes. As I wrote on Tobold's blog: "Mark and Ian should either keep these remarks to themselves or at least do a better job clarifying which posts they found offensive. It’s not that they are wrong, it’s that people misinterpret who they are calling flaky biscuits. While they may be directing the chill out comments to the worst offenders, it’s interpreted by everyone who voiced any negative sentiment that they are talking about them. It’s like hearing someone say “those people make me sick” and then wondering if you are one of those people. Such ambiguity only leads to misinterpretation and it’s no wonder people are pissed off about it – they think it’s directed at them."

The price of Blogging
This whole shitstorm is indicative of a bigger problem that Mark is creating for himself. Amber Night explains it best on Scott's blog:

"This is what happens when the CEO thinks he can do community management. I don’t mean that unkindly…mostly. But Mark Jacobs should not be blogging this shit. Mythic community managers have got to be tearing their eyelids off in frustration, because anything they say is going to have to be carefully vetted against Mark’s latest post, and holychristonacrutch let’s pray to god it jibes with what he said last week, and what he’s going to say next week. And as a customer, why engage with the community managers when you can just leap on over to Mark’s blog and engage directly with the guy writing the paychecks?

Mark…hon…you are not paid to do community management. You are paid to pay your community managers to do community management. At the very least turn your comments off. Wax poetic on game industry trends, post Youtubes and cute pictures of kittens, but stop cock-blocking your community managers."

This type of thing is exactly why I was incredulous that Mark Jacob's had a blog. It's unimaginable to me that Mark would be THIS reactionary to his customers.

How open is too open?
One thing I really admire about Mythic is how open they are with their community. If they screw up, Mark won't hesitate to take ownership of the problem and talk about how they are going to fix the problem. Unlike other big MMOs (cough..Blizzard), they don't have a bunch of community managers with no authority running around making promises they can't keep.

I've been very critical of Blizzard that CMs are horrible at setting customer expectations. In my opinion, Blizzard would be better off with silent CMs that never posted anything instead of the morons that constantly stir up trouble. I've said in the past that the "blue" tag should be limited to people with authority and the other CMs should be "orange" to designate that they are basically peons in the grand scheme of the MMO hierarchy.

Mythic doesn't have that problem. They communicate and are very engaged with the community. They don't hide from issues. When players are vocal about something they face it head on. From a game development standpoint, they have great open communication. The in-game surveys in particular seem to be really nice tools for getting "good" community feedback about the game.

However, I would also say that Mark is TOO close to the community. It's one thing to be interacting to get feedback, it's another thing when you start making justifications.

As soon as you start finding yourself at a point where you need to explain yourself or others that work for you -- STOP. Don't just REACT to what people are writing. Take a moment and think about how your words will be interpreted. Let other people in your company think about what you are writing. You can't afford to write knee-jerk reactions and then clarify them after the fact.

We all say/write things in the heat of the moment. Too often, those things are not as well thought out as we would like them to be. A blog is a wonderful forum for expressing your opinion and ideas, but when your opinion and ideas represent not just yourself but YOUR COMPANY then you have the added responsibility to consider the greater impact of your words. You can't simply write whatever you want. You have a responsibility not just to your financial stakeholders, but the employees who work for you to blog responsibly.

Stop Apologizing
The game hasn't even been released yet and Mark is already pushing my personal threshold for apology tolerance. There is a point at which you want someone to stop apologizing for mistakes and just get the damn thing right. You can only say "we screwed up, folks" so many times before it starts wearing thin.

No one ever stops making mistakes, they happen all the time and life is simply about fixing them. The problem with apologizing for EVERY mistake is that when the BIG mistakes come, no one cares that you apologized. They care about the mistake. You used up all your get-out-of-jail free cards on stuff that didn't really need an apology.

Explanations do NOT have to be an apology. The very best explanation frame the context of the problem AND provide a description of the solution. In most cases, what people really want to know is that a) you understood the problem and b) you have a solution.

Stop running all over the Internet
One downside in not having an official forum is that there is no central place to find all this information. This is frustrating to people trying to follow it. It also gives the impression that Mark and Mythic are running around scanning blogs and forums trying to put out community fires rather than address real problems with the game.

On one hand it’s neat to see MJ respond in the comments of a blog you read. On the other hand, it gives an appearance that he is trying to be a little TOO convincing.

In some ways, I feel like he’s a salesman trying to overcome any possible objection. Sometimes you just need to let people rant, Mark. Try convincing them with your ACTIONS rather than your words.

All this running around seems to defeat any purpose in not having a community forum. You can’t avoid the internet trolls when you troll the internet yourself.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mistaken Identity: WAR servers are not WoW servers

Overly Positive had a humorous read earlier this week titled “A Fireside Chat With WAR Server Types” in which the two server types argue with each other about which one is superior. It’s a fun read and I recommend taking a look when you get a chance.

The topic got me pondering what kind of actual differences we can expect in the server types once Warhammer: Online goes live. This is actually a pretty serious topic since the server type you choose might be a decision you live with for a long time.

A quick search at the TheWarWiki offered up these descriptions:

Core: Players are only able to attack other players when flagged in special RvR areas, contested zones, or by manually flagging themselves.

Open: Players are able to attack other players anywhere they may encounter them. (except chapter 1 hubs and capital cities)

In either ruleset, you are flagged RvR if you travel to the enemy faction. In a Core ruleset, you are flagged until you return to your faction. During this time, you are fair game for the opposite side to kill. However, while they can kill you, you can’t kill them unless attacked. In an Open ruleset, you CAN kill them. That’s the difference.

At first glance, the Core ruleset appears very similar to PvE servers in Warcraft. Likewise, the Open ruleset draws comparison to PvP servers. On closer examination, it struck me that making such a comparison is a really drastic mistake.

It’s the PvP, stupid!
WAR is a PvP based game that places a heavy emphasis on open world RvR. The PvP conflict is an integral part to not just the end-game, but the entire leveling experience. By contrast, the World of Warcraft PvP system is largely non-existent in the open world and most PvP is of the instanced variety found in battlegrounds and arenas.

Now from what I understand, all zones in Warhammer are divided into two factions that are separated by an area flagged RvR. In the highest tiers, upwards of 80% of the zone is flagged RvR.

In other words, on a Core server, all high level zones have a small area (10%) that is faction specific to you where you can’t be killed and a small area (10%) where the enemy faction is safe. The remaining 80% of the zone is flagged for open world PvP. Does that description of a Core ruleset sound even remotely like a WoW PvE server?

Applied to the WoW zones, this would best be described as all of Outland being flagged PvP, except for towns and a couple of quest hubs. Umm... Which server type does that sound like to you? Because it sure as hell doesn’t sound like a PvE server.

In fact, the Core server ruleset is far more similar to the WoW PvP server ruleset – with one very notable exception: If you enter a zone you outrank, you are turned into a chicken.

The Open ruleset
The Open ruleset just takes it step further by allowing you to initiate an attack in the small areas where such attacks are not normally allowed. The chicken thing doesn’t go away (perhaps it should), so it’s not like you can travel to a lowbie zone on a ganking spree even if you wanted.

So why an Open ruleset? Three simple reasons: Mayhem. Anarchy. Grief.

The Open ruleset will attract players who purposefully want to attack you in areas that are deemed “off-limits” under the rules of Core ruleset. Players whose joy is not necessarily in the brawl, but in the mayhem, anarchy and grief they can cause in the process.

This isn’t an entirely bad thing.

Before you get all judgmental, remember that you have a choice. You CHOOSE to play on an Open ruleset server. If you choose not to – well then, don’t pass judgment on how other people seek enjoyment. The important thing to remember is that the people experiencing the things you see as negatives also chose to play by those rules. If it helps, think of it like “Escape from New York” where all the criminals are thrown in together to make their own society and world (except the criminals volunteered).

My choice
On a more personal note, I am still struggling with which server type is best for me. A part of me is certainly attracted to mayhem and chaos, but another part of me thinks the Core ruleset is simply a more enjoyable design. In the end, I think I’ll choose a Core ruleset for no other reason than because I believe it will attract a more mature player.

Snafzg raised an excellent point on Keen's blog in favor of Open ruleset. I'm back to 50-50 and solidly in the undecided column.

Snafzg's point is that being flagged 100% of the time means that someone who is not flagged can't just wait until the best opportunity to gank you. Syncaine actually wrote an article about similar situations in WoW PvE servers. His point was more-or-less that PvE server players make the worst kind of griefers.

I still stand by my earlier statement about Open ruleset attracting players who enjoy Mayhem, Anarachy and Grief. After all, any player willing to risk traveling into those zones is looking for a little mayhem. Perhaps not grief, but certainly mischief ;>

Thursday, September 4, 2008

[generic blog title]

I’m so excited for [game title]! My favorite part is the [new widget] because of the [latest hype]. Unlike [other game], the [standard feature] provides a [meaningful experience]. I have to give [game company] a lot of credit by including [non-standard feature] at release. I can only compare it to [feature copied from other MMO game] mixed with [feature borrowed from non-MMO game].

One thing I am a little worried about is [crappy beta experience]. I was doing this [cool thing] when this [unexpected crappy thing] happened. I’m not going to be happy if [unexpected crappy things] keep happening at release.

One thing I am NOT worried about is [what everyone else is worried about]. I have a lot of faith that [game company] will get this right. [Game executive] talked about it specifically in this [interview link]. He said, “[Worrisome things] are not going to be an issue. We received a lot of feedback during [event] and we will [address the problem].”

I’m counting down the [days/weeks/months]... Only [x] left to go!

...OK, OK... Just a few friendly shots at my fellow bloggers. No offense intended and—no, I am not writing about you. I’m also highly anticipating WAR, Spore and Wrath and it just seems like I am reading more and more blog entries like this generic template. My own inspiration for writing this parody was actually because I caught myself starting to write a similar one. If you can't laugh at yourself...

Mark Jacobs has a blog?

All I can say is that I think this guy is full of shit. Not because of the words, but because of who the author claims to be...

Scott Jennings thinks it’s him. In fairness to Scott, he’s met the man – I haven’t. However, you will have to forgive my extreme skepticism that this is legitimate.

First of all, the blog just appears as-if Mark one day decided to throw together a Wordpress blog. And while a great many bloggers (including myself) have taken just that approach, I am skeptical that the General Manager of a major “about-to-be-release” MMO would have either the time or inclination to create such a blog.

Secondly, other than the “about” page there is no affiliation with Mythic or Warhammer. No Mythic logo, No Warhammer graphics, no trademark usage at all. In fact, it uses a very generic template. I have to believe that if the GENERAL MANAGER of Mythic wanted to start a blog, it would be closely tied to the look/feel of the Mythic brand. At the very least, he would take the time to make it pretty enough for the massive amount of traffic such a blog would generate.

Thirdly, why isn’t it hosted on Mythic’s website? In the rare instances that executives do have such blogs, these are almost always part of the official website. Everything he says (on his personal blog or not) is taken with the same authority as-if he were conducting an interview. It makes no sense to have such a blog squirreled away on a private site. He runs the company for crying out loud! If he wants a blog, all he has to say is – webmaster, I want a blog and “poof” he has a blog.

Fourth, if you made the decision not to offer “official” forums then why would you run a site that had comments? On a site that doesn’t even have the infrastructure or moderators to handle all the trolls that will flock to a legitimate blog.

Fifth, why now? Why during the crunch-time in the mere weeks leading up to a major product release? Why not months ago during development? Does he just happen to have a bunch more free time in the immediate weeks leading up to release?

Sorry, Scott. I know you met him, but this just doesn’t make any sense. I have to believe this guy is a fraud. Maybe I’ll eat crow, but I doubt it.

Edit: Eating crow. OMG! Did I just say that Mark Jacobs is full of shit?! It is him. Now I just think he’s being foolish. (thanks to Ruur for the link)

All the questions I just stated above are all still correct:
- why now?
- why no trademark or logo affiliation with Mythic or Warhammer?
- why isn’t it hosted on Mythic’s website?
- why allow comments here but no official forums?

I can appreciate the desire to communicate but it does seem like this blog is badly planned and ill-conceived. Good luck, but it strikes me as a disaster in the making.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Ethics of MMO Addiction

This is not a new topic: MMOs are addictive. So are lots of other things – food, drugs, sex, alcohol, TV and so on. All addictions start for a seemingly benign reason: It’s something the person enjoys doing. Who are we to deny them the pleasures of the things they enjoy?

The defining characteristic of what forms addiction is when it begins inducing irrational behavior, cravings, irritability, and disorders like insomnia. Addiction is most notable when it leads to horrible decision making in both our personal and professional lives.

The prevailing theory for why such addiction occurs is that the reward stimulates or conditions us to repeat the behavior for another reward. This is called positive reinforcement and the reward itself is called a reinforcer.

A reinforcer to one person may be stronger, lesser or even non-existent in another person. After all, not all people enjoy things equally, so the amount of perceived reward is different for all of us. This is one reason why people get into arguments about what is and is not addicting.

By design, games are intended to be fun. Like any other form of entertainment, it’s important for them to tap into our pleasure center and provide a rewarding experience. No one would play a game that they didn’t think was fun.

Prior to subscription games, the expectation when a player bought a game for $50 is that the more fun we got out of the game, the better we felt about that $50. If we liked it enough, we would spend another $50 on that developer’s next game. A game developer only needed to be concerned about making that game experience the most fun possible.

With the introduction of subscription-based MMOs, that dynamic changed. Now it wasn’t simply about making a fun game, but making a game that would induce prolonged play. A good game design therefore protracts the fun over as long a time as possible without losing the player. String out the fun too much, and it’s not fun enough to play. Bunch up all the fun early, and the player will have exhausted all the fun too quickly. The better you can balance these two things, the longer your players will continue to pay the subscription fee.

While it’s possible to become addicted to the more traditional non-subscription games, it’s unlikely any such addiction would be severe due to the fun eventually wearing out. You might become addicted to games in general, but not consumed with a specific title. There are exceptions of course, but these games don’t have the addictive power of MMOs because they lack the same longevity.

MMOs by contrast, are purposefully designed to offer a reward system at intervals that induce continued play. I’ll stop short of claiming MMOs are actively seeking addicts, but it’s not much of a stretch to say that the design conditions players to perform tasks they would otherwise avoid for reward incentives. This environment, intentionally or not, is ripe with positive reinforcers that are ideally suited to encourage addictive behavior.

The ethical dilemma that MMO developers face is a simple one. Do they have an ethical responsibility to act in the best interest of their players?

Many recovering alcoholics will tell you that there are no degrees to alcoholism, you either are or are not an alcoholic. I’ve never believed it’s that black and white. It’s important for ex-alcoholics to take that stance because it eliminates the possibility of rationalization. If you either are or are not, there is no room for the gray and ambiguous “one drink won’t kill me” thinking that leads to relapse. However, I would argue that addiction is really gray if for no other reason than we all don’t share the same reinforcers or psychological conditioning.

I have always believed that MMO developers try and cater to this gray area. They want their players “hooked” but not to the degree that they exhibit a lot of irrational behavior (like losing their jobs or family). It’s a thorny issue because each individual exhibits different reinforcers, so what’s highly addictive to one person may not be remotely addictive to another. In some degree all of us are MMO addicts. I am. And if you are reading this blog, so are you. We may not be junkies willing to sell our soul for a fix, but we have certainly devoted an incredible amount of leisure time to MMO games.

Many of us have struck some kind of life balance around MMOs. We know they are addicting, we know perhaps we spend too much time playing them, but we also know that we enjoy playing them. At some subconscious level we have come to terms with the nature of MMOs and found that despite getting stringed along, we still find it an enjoyable enough experience to keep playing.

The issue I raised in my last article was that I felt Achievements are blatant exploitation. I have always believed that Blizzard devs are at least a little concerned about the best interest of their players. That while they live in this gray area, they also understand they have a moral obligation to treat their players ethically.

The reason the Achievements pissed me off is because it made me realize that this was just an illusion. Introducing Achievements with no new content is entirely unethical and motivated by greed. They don’t have any such ethical consideration for their players. The motivation is profit and keeping you hooked. Am I bitter about that? You bet I am.