Friday, June 30, 2006

All Instances between 60-70 will be 5-man

I seem to be running on a World of Warcraft cycle of news lately but I stumbled across this interview and found a nice little tidbit of information. Rob Pardo the head of Blizzard let some more facts slip about the upcoming expansion. The main one I want to point attention to is that all dungeons between 60-70 will be 5-man instances. It can be reasoned then that all raid content will be designed for level 70s. I would like to throw some pros and cons out there to see if this would be good game design.

New 5-man instances that players can try out right away. This will most likely keep casual gamers busy and happy right away.

Will automatically provide loot so that non-raiders can start working on competing with level 60 epics in pvp. Chances are lvl60-70 blues will be better then tier-1 but not tier-3 epics. Thus non-raiders will see upgrades before raiders for the most part.

Raiders will skip 5-man instances for the most part since the gear will probably not be better then a complete set of tier-2 armor. This might cause raiders to rush to level 70.

Once raiders are level 70 and start doing the new raid instances we will begin to see a huge difference in raider vs non-raider gear.

Frankly unless Blizzard takes steps I see the raider vs non-raider arguments starting all over again three months after the expansion. One thing they might want to try is introducing rare epic drops off instances bosses. Stratholm and Scholomance main bosses both have a chance to drop a single epic item about 1% of the time. I don't think it would water down the epic population too much to allow every boss in the new instances to have a 1% chance to drop an epic.

Rob Pardo Interview

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Is Jeff Kaplan ruining WoW?

The lead designer of World of Warcraft for the last year has been Jeff Kaplan. Jeff migrated to Blizzard from Everquest back in the early days of development on WoW. He originally was a lead quest developer and is responsible for many of the quests found in Duskwood and Redridge. After World of Warcraft was released some key designers left and Jeff was moved up to being in charge of all development.

I believe this was around the time that Dire Maul was released. Most of those in the anti-kaplan kamp will point out that Dire Maul was the last non-raid instance introduced into the game. This coupled with Jeff's roots in Everquest has started a rumor that Jeff favors raiding as the main end-game content. This rumor has been denied often but its hard to believe it when interviews with Jeff seem to show him distant from the casual crowd.

Examples used against Jeff Kaplan:

A early interview with WoW has Jeff claiming that raiding would not be the only way to get the best items in the game. Instead he is quoted as saying raiding would only get players neat-o effects like particle glows. This was a pre-release interview so its only to be expected that some things have changed.

A video interview with Jeff at E3 this year has him saying certain things like "we know the pvp system is kind of a grind" which caused many a brain aneurysm among WoW players. This condition know as Tigole Terrors is caused when a casual WoW player thinks he might be playing the beta for Everquest 3. A band-aid for this horrible condition is being introduced in patch 1.12 with the widening of the pvp ranks.


Because of this and other reasons many people have started to blame Jeff Kaplan for everything they feel is wrong with Everquest 3 umm I mean WoW. Tigole can hardly post on the forums without being flamed like Eyonix at a Shaman Pep Rally. All this hatred directed at one game designer and I am not even sure he can really be blamed. World of Warcraft is no longer in its infancy, a majority of players are 60, and they need end-game content. Raiding requires coordination and dealing with elitist guilds but its been a standard form of end-game content for quite awhile.

However, most people new to the genre aren't going to understand this and will only get angrier as more content comes out that they cannot access. Unless Jeff Kaplan comes out with some way of showing that he does care about casual players I think he will continued to be blame. If he wasn't so busy with the expansion I would recommend him doing a blog that shows the steps he takes to be fair to both play styles. Heck he could have a intern do it and just proofread.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

New Casual Instance before The Burning Crusade?

Blizzard has assured us that casual friendly instances are coming down the pipeline in the next expansion. They explain rationally that very few raid instances existed in the game upon release and they wanted to even out the ratio a bit more. Yet its been noted that very few people actually make use of raid instances. Sure there may be a 1,000 people per server that go to the 20-40 man zones but that still leaves about 9,000 people who currently can't see that content. Yet for some reason Blizzard thinks there should be a more even distribution between the two. This is where people who don't raid start thinking Blizzard hates them.

There is a plan in the apparent madness though. The real reason Blizzard wants to introduce more raid instances is that they believe as new levels are introduced the person requirements will go down. Eventually they see level 70s in blue gear being able to run Zulgurub and AQ20 in groups of ten or less. Molten Core will be run by casual guilds who only have about 15 people on at a time. It seems as if this strategy should pay off in the long run. Add content for the hardcore now which will be opened to casual players later. Yet one tiny thing is throwing a hitch in this plan. CASUALS WANT SOMETHING NEW NOW!

Its been since Dire Maul that any instances have been put in that required less then twenty people. The changes to Stratholm and Scholomance were poorly thought out and the only reason they were done at all was to make it look like there was more single group instances. It might have even held back the tide a bit along with the tier 0.5 armor. However, I think most players were only expecting it as a temporary covering until a new 5-man instance was implemented.

Now that the new 40-man instance is out that cover has been blown away. Casuals now know that they are not going to get any new content until the expansion. Sure the new outdoor pvp objectives are coming out but at the moment a single tier-2 armor player can hold his own against three tier-0 armored players. Since most pvp initially occurs with only 1-3 people on both factions the tier 2 will always win. Those that claim skill is involved are right to a certain degree. However, as long as the tier-2 is more intelligent then your average toddler he is going to win.

I am tired of hearing that the expansion is going to be the cure all for casual's gripes against World of Warcraft. What is to prevent this from happening again with all the patches after the expansion being oriented to raiders. The truth of the matter is casuals need some reassurances to stick around until Winter 2006. Thus I make a challenge to the developers of World of Warcraft:

Implement a new 5-man instance that does not require epic equipment to complete before The Burning Crusade Expansion.

Please show us that you are still devoted to all of your playerbase. We love the game and realize you have your reasons but seeing zone after zone of content introduced that we cannot access is slow starting to turn us into raving lunatics. Winter 2006 is still half a year away and I believe a lot of us are on the edge of walking away disgusted much sooner then that.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Everquest Progression Servers open Tomorrow

The demand for Original Everquest has been so high that SOE decided to open two servers with the progression ruleset. The high number of name reservations eventually caused SOE to decide that they needed more then one progression server. Expect both The Sleeper and The Combine to open Wednesday, June 28th. Estimates put the population on the two servers anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 players.

Developers expect the newness of the progression servers to wear off over time and that the population might fall enough to warrant a merge. Thus be warned that if you create a character on The Sleeper that naming preference will be given to The Combine in the case of a merge. Despite that fact they're still a lot of reasons to make The Sleeper your home. Most name reservations have been done on The Combine thus the chances are high you can get your favorite character's name on The Sleeper. Also the population is being estimated to be a lot lower on The Sleeper so expect less lag and fighting for good camps.

Either way I expect both servers to be a lot of fun and a trip down memory lane to most MMOG players.

Monday, June 26, 2006

New Bosses in Scourge Instances

One of the undocumented changes in patch 1.11 was the addition of new bosses for the scourge dungeons in the game. Reports confirm the addition of new bosses in any instance with undead in it. It's believe that these additions are directly related to the scourge invasion event and will be removed from the game afterwards.

Shadow Fang Keep
Abomination named Sever in the back of the Castle behind the kitchen

Razor Fen Downs
Banshee name Lady Falther'ess in the Holding Pens disguised as a human woman

Scarlet Monestary
Undead named Scorn who spawns after killing the Blood Mage in the Graveyard Crypt

Giant Skeleton named Lord Blackwood who wanders in the third room of Scholomance

Lich named Balzaphon near the gates where The Unforgiven boss is triggered.

Keep on the look out for more new additions to undead dungeons since I might have missed a couple. Most of these bosses have loot which is on par with the best drops in that zone. In particular I want to point out that Lord Blackwood has a very fast 1h sword which is a must have for fury warriors.

Friday, June 23, 2006

NCSoft Support Staff downsized

It seems as if the subscription numbers of City of Heroes has fallen to a point where NCSoft started to cut back on support staff in Austin, TX. A official post has put the number to about 70 people being cut from the 300 person workforce for City of Heroes. Most of these probably game masters and forum managers.

COH was a really great experience for me and kept me greatly entertained between the Everquest: Omens of War fiasco and the release of World of Warcraft. It seems as if a lot of other people also used it for a stepping stone between the two events. City of Heroes grew from 100k subscriptions to almost 200k before the release of WoW. Then it fell down to a around 150k until the release of City of Villians which jumped it around to previous 200k numbers. You can clearly see that most people renewed their accounts to try the new companion game. Now due to several reasons the game has fallen to their lowest post-WoW numbers yet.

City of Heroes broke the mold in avatar creation. They offered so many options and customizations that most players could create very unique characters. Even if most people simply copied the look of their favorite comic book hero. However, the same uniqueness that made everyone's avatar so interesting was missing in any of the instances in the game. City of Heroes randomly generated instances for missions by using an AI to make selections from several thousand dungeon options. Thus each dungeon was never quite the same but you would often spot similarities from previous ones. By the time a player was mid-level he felt like he was visiting alternative realities instead of new instances. Add in the fact that there was no real "loot" or equipment for heroes and you could understand why people would shortly get bored with the game.

The game still has some saving graces and some very unique ideas. PvP zones automatically make everyone the same level to try to cut down on ganking. Leveling with a friend is easy since he can sidekick you up to his level for a mission. Guilds and LFG functions are very well designed and are way better then anything implemented in World of Warcraft. Most likely City of Heroes will be here for awhile yet and I expect it to hang onto at least 90k subscriptions for the next 2 years. Add in another expansion or some more loot options and who knows how much they might come back.

City of Heroes Post on the Downsizing

F13 Info on the Downsize

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Warcraft Statistics - Starting Cities

A question recently came on Terra Nova whether virtual worlds like World of Warcraft could be a useful environment for social experiments. Sounds rather boring like a lot of topics that come from Terra Nova. However, behind this question which most gamers couldn't care less about comes some interesting knowledge. It seems since auction houses were introduced in patch 1.9 that player populations have started to rise in the other starting cities.

Thus Stormwind and Darnassus are starting to have more and more people in them. This is important since I remember creating a night elf character once and traveling to Darnassus before the patch to find the city entirely empty. Ever try to find your trainer in a new city with no one to give directions? Its not fun. Anyways a big factor in the popularity of MMO games is the inclusion of other people. Anything that distributes the players across a wider area is good. After all look how player concentration in Everquest made it hard for any interaction (grouping/trading) except in a few popular zones.

Also I would like encourage visiting the Terra Nova website. A lot of gamers might be turned off or intimidated by their language but their articles often contain insights into the games we love.

PlayOn (Starting City Stats)

Terra Nova

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

EA Buys Mythic Entertainment

Mythic Entertainment is a smaller company based out of Virginia best known for its pvp centric MMOG, Dark Age of Camelot. Often described as having the best pvp in existence, the game's popularity was only offset by a couple of bad decisions by management. If your interested in the specifics just google "DAOC" and "buffbots". More recently Mythic has decided to use some of their popular pvp ideas on a new project based on the classic Warhammer universe.

Within the last 9 months they had completed an amazing amount of development and already had a very nice game to show off at this year's E3 trade show. It looks like they showed off a little too much though because they caught the interest of Electronic Arts. EA has some experience in the MMOG market with one of the original forefathers of the genre under their wing. However, the Ultima Online franchise is slowly dying as EA canceled its much anticipated sequel.

EA is on the lookout for a new MMOG flagship and most people believe that they has found one in acquiring Mythic. With other companies like THQ being scared by Blizzard's success with World of Warcraft, EA wants to compete against them. If they do pump Mythic with a bigger budget one has to wonder how much better this will make Warhammer Online. This could be the beginning of the big "WoW" killer that everyone has been predicting.

Mythic Press Release

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Everquest (EQLive) Progression Server

It seems as if not a day goes by in MMOG community without someone remarking upon the good ole days of Classic Everquest. They always say "Everquest" too, not that bullshit EQLive term that popped up later. Anyways it looks like SOE heard about all the nostalgia for their most prized possession and decided to allow everyone to repeat the good ole Everquest experience. Thus the first progression server for Everquest is being born June 28th, 2006. I say first because I fully expect another one to be released soon if "The Combine" gets filled up as fast as I think it will.

A quick overview can show you why this server might experience such high demand. It opens up with only the original Everquest and the newest UI/Model changes. Then the players have to use what content is available to them to kill the dragons Lady Vox and Lord Nagafen. This opens up the Kunark expansion and the races and items originally available in it. Each expansion requires the beating of its bosses to open up the next one. The idea being that this will allow anyone who missed parts of Everquest to experience the full evolution of the game.

I've debated downloading Everquest again to try this server out and finally made a decision to do it. I am working a full time job now and I do not have the free time to play more then one MMO but I can't pass up a chance to relive my first MMO. Eventually I am sure that hardcore players will be in the Plane of Time while some of us are struggling with the Temple of Veeshan. However, the fact that every boss has to be beaten for each expansion to be unlocked should slow the catassing down.

Everquest Forums for "The Combine"

Gu Comics Discussion on Progression Server

WoW Patch 1.11 Live

Looks like Patch 1.11 is being pushed today as hinted at by Tigole. Most of the masses of Azeroth have completed the download and it looks as if the realms are up. Expect it to go live in Europe on Wednesday.

Monday, June 19, 2006

No More Class Reviews in WoW

It seems as the complaining and public outcry by shamans that they didn't get enough love in the upcoming 1.11 patch has caused some decisions to be made. The developers have decided to simply implement class changes slowly over each patch and not have any more class specific reviews in patches. The rogue review in patch 1.12 will likely be the last one.

I tend to agree with this kinda of thinking since classes seem to have gotten into the habit of expecting new goodies in their review instead of being balanced. Thus a class like hunters that were really the most underpowered in the game recieved a lot of new spells and improvements in their class review. However shamans and mages which are good at pvp and raiding recieved noticeably less tinkering with.

While developers are in the habit of throwing down nerfs to slow down content consumption I think this is simply a case of trying to balance the classes better.

Orignal Quote from WoW Forums by Drysc
"We will likely never do "class reviews", in the way we all know and love, again past 1.12 and the rogue review. We will however continue to evaluate and implement changes for each class as we see necessary."

Patch 1.11 Stew

There's a long list of nice improvements in the next patch. Unfortunately the meat and potatoes of the patch, Naraxxamas, is really only for the top 3% of players. The new caster legendary weapon can also be put into this category. However, there are still some nice left-over vegetables in the 1.11 stew that normal players can chew on. After all veggies may not taste as good as the meat but it will keep you from starving.

Thank God. A lot of people have to have about 7-12 slots in their banks tied up with keys. If your anything like me you never threw away another key after you went to Live Stratholm and tried to figure out what the hell you did with your Scarlet Key.

Item Stackage
A lot of stacking items that used to only stack up to 5 or 10 are being expanded to 20. This patch definitely seems to want to clear up some bag space for population of Azeroth.

CtRaid Interface
A lot of the functionality of the ctraid interface has been added into WoW. Not only will this effect serious raiders but also anyone who pvps in any of the battlegrounds. Not to mention that clearing ZG can be fit into a 3 hour timeframe, umm sometimes (5 hours last Sunday). This change just shows the smart decision Blizzard made in allowing their UI to be so easily modified by users. It seems as if the add-on community is improving WoW's interface each patch, for free.

Mages are getting their talents modified.
Overall word seems to be positive with some talent points being free up as abilities were give 3 ranks to go through instead of 5. It seems as there might actually be fire/ice build mages now that the best arcane talent is now a spell.

Shamans are getting their talents modified.
Some abilities were improved but the Shamans did not get any help with large scale buffing. It seems to be Blizzard's desire to keep Shamans superior in pvp with only moderate raid support. The shaman forums at were aflame with insults and complaints but official blue word is that its not changing anything in the patch.

ZulGurub loot becomes a little more powerful
Class armor quests in ZulGurub won't require coins and bijous anymore just reputation. Also bosses will now drop 2 items and one class specific armor token. It seems as the rewards for the armor tokens will now be epic. Though from what I have heard from quest the stat boosts are small and they mainly just changed the text to purple.

It looks like the patch will go live either tomorrow or next Tuesday according to hints from Tigole.

Friday, June 16, 2006

A Good Deal of Grief

Online games have a reputation for requiring huge amounts of cooperation and networking for their players to beat them. Most advanced goals in massive multiplayer games require the careful teamwork of anywhere from 2-80 people. It has become a staple of such games to have harder goals require more teamwork. Such organization and gathering of human resources can be the cause of much frustration especially when you have enemies working against your efforts.

For MMOs also have a reputation for containing some of the worst griefers in the history of gaming. A griefer is a player who makes it their goal to hinder other players in advancing in the game. This might involve scaming online currency, spreading falsified information, or the more direct method of just killing a player repeatedly. Such actions usually dip in and out of the gray areas of a game's "Terms of Service" agreement. I am going to mention two examples of extreme greifing that managed to hinder player advancement/enjoyment without breaking the "Terms of Service" of their games.

Guiding Hand Social Club
This is a mercenary group of griefers who likes to pretend to be a group of assassins in the game EVE Online. They take out contracts on players or groups of players called corporations. Then they will kill their target and take whatever online assets they may have. They gained a lot of fame from a PC Gamer article done on one of their most successful contracts. Apparently this group of griefers managed to place enough of their members into one of the richest corporations in the game. Then on a codeword, they killed the CEO and looted almost every asset the online corporation had. The PC article estimated the loss at 30 million ISK which translates to about 16,500$ U.S. dollars through websites like eBay or Agnew.

The Funeral Assassination
A group of players in World of Warcraft decided to hold a in game funeral for a member of their guild that had recently passed away. It may seem tacky or weird to those of you who don't play a MMO but guilds often develop strong real world ties between players. Halfway through the funeral a large confederation of griefers that belonged to a rival guild attacked and managed to cancel the event by repeatedly killing all attendees. However, since the funeral was held in a combat area the attackers managed to avoid any banning. The eventually made a video and posted the slaughter on the net.

Such large scale displays of asinine or asshat behavior just goes to show how MMOs earned their reputation for greifers. Some players claim that the danger added by such events makes their online worlds seem more real. Yet others claim that these games are supposed to be an escape from the stresses of human competition and cruelty. Either way, by the very nature of the words "massive multiplayer" you are going to get some bad players along with the good.

Guiding Hand Article @ The Escapist

Funeral Massacre in WoW @ Shoutwire

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More Blizzard MMOs?

There was a rumour going around for the past few days that the parent company of Blizzard was pushing for them to turn all of their game products into MMOs. The source of the rumour was a presentation given to wallstreet by Vivendi in which they basically showed off their money hats to investors. They also seemed to be promising that a World of Diablo or World of Starcraft would mean more hats for everyone. Whiles its scary when parent companies start making, gasp, decisions this seems to be just a speech for drumming up more investment capital. Seems as slides of the presentation can be viewed at The Cesspit.

Why Vivendi might be making such claims in a official wallstree presentation is easy to guess at. If you google for their financial records you can see a huge jump out of the red and into the black corresponding to the launch date of World of Warcraft. I hate to use the common metaphor but it really does seem as Vivendi is printing money with this game. Not that I can blame them it is entertaining as hell.

Vivendi Presentation Slide @The Cesspit

One of Original Rumour Hints @ WoWinsider

Friday, June 02, 2006

Its a Start

In the beginning the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. ~Douglas Adams

The Douglas Adams quote is funny on a lot of different levels and remarks on the basic tendency of human beings to never be satisfied with the Universe. Just as humans are never satisfied wtih the Universe, gamers are never satisfied with their games. Developers are always pushing the envelope to make a more complex, realistic, and fun game world. The epitome of this trend is the massive multiplayer online world.

In this blog I am going to try to cover the news, development, and creation of massive multiplayer online games until some time in the future a game developer creates the perfect game world. This makes almost everyone happy and is generally regarded as best thing since l337 speak was outlawed in 2012.