Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What matters more in WoW machinima? Production or Script

If you are like me and check forums and websites related to your favorite MMO then you've probably stumbled across more then your fair share of machinima videos. A few years ago these videos mostly consisted of people putting together clips of their greatest in-game kills while playing Linkin Park in the background. This has been slowly changing as series like Red vs. Blue showed that game engines could also be used to tell a decent story.

With the release of World of Warcraft many machinima enthusiasts made use of the extensive emote system to produce better quality videos. Instead of threatening lawsuits Blizzard embraced the use of their game engine and created several contests for machinima videos. This practice caught on quickly and now several different gaming companies sponsor machinima contents each year. All of this attention has been great for the budding art form and numerous new studios and individuals have gained Internet fame.

Studios tend to have many people to work on a machinima video and they split the work between puppeteering, voice acting, and special effects. Individuals tend to work on a funny and zany script while leaving most of the production work to a simple fraps capture. Both styles of making machinima have merit though studios tend to make videos nicer on the eyes and ears. Still, individual work often seems to capture a classic Space Ghost/Adult Swim feel to it that can make it beloved by many fans.

Now I'm going to stray from general comments and go into a specific example here of where the two styles can clash. Specifically I'm talking about a machinima video called Time Gnomes 2 where the director made fun of the studio Myndflame for spending an absurd amount of time on production for their Escape from Ogrimmar video. Perhaps one of the most popular WoW machinima series out there Illegal Danish: Escape from Ogrimmar has been in limbo for over a year. The studio founders have often been criticized for releasing very short but highly polished videos while fans wait for the release of a video originally promised more then a year ago.

Recently at Blizzcon sever members of Oblivious films, who release under Myndflame, criticized that the fast release of machinima like Time Gnomes without polish was in poor taste. Some people agree with this sentiment while others continue to stress that special effects and polish take a back seat to a original script and a fast release. One has to wonder though since over the last year the rough style of WoW machinima does seem to be getting rarer as more people join studios/groups.

So I'm ending this post with a question of what sort of WoW machinima do you favor?

Videos without much polish like Big Blue Dress and Jimmy a World of Warcraft Story
Semi-professional Studio work like The Grind and Snacky's Journal.

P.S. All films can be found on Google Video or

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Will Wrath of the Lich King hit the gear reset button again?

I've been hearing a lot of speculation about the future WoW expansion especially with the tidbits released by the developers over the last couple of gaming conventions. Most of the player discussion has revolved around the new hero class, the death knight, though some discussions on dungeon design have been making appearances as well. Still the one issue I haven't really heard brought up is how much more powerful the gear in Northend will be compared to that found in the Outlands.

In the Burning Crusade we saw a huge increased in the power of items. Randomly dropped greens from the first first zone were often on par with old world raiding gear. Quest rewards earned at 61 would replace epics that had required countless hours of raiding or grinding battlegrounds to attain. Blizzard developers had announced this jump in power in advance but it still came as a shock to many. Truthfully though the disparity between raiding and non-raiding gear had become so pronounced that it was impossible for non raiders to participate competitively in player vs. player combat. With the introduction of the arenas and more world PvP objectives it became imperative for Blizzard to balance the playing field. However, many players saw this as a blow to the amount of time they had invested in their characters.

Fast forward six months and most players now feel safe that the great gear reset of 2006 will never be repeated. After all casual players can now keep up with raiders by earning decent epics through arenas, heroic dungeons, and battlegrounds. So chances are high that the expansion will only have progressively better gear instead of the huge jump we saw with the release of the Burning Crusade. Yet this is based on the assumption that raiding and arena gear stays balanced as higher end zones are introduced.

What troubles this assumption is that some Blizzard developers are pushing for changes to the arena system to extend the time it takes to earn rewards. The original design for arenas called for a low time investment but a high degree of skill to earn rewards. However, with the introduction of daily quests developers forgot that the cost of forming a new arena team isn't really that high. Now what we have are a lot of players who simply reset their rating by forming a new team whenever it drops too low.

This is incredibly ironic because the majority of players who do this are mid range raiders who simply desire the arena weapons. Hopefully, the developers don't overdo the nerf to the arena system or we could see the same disparity in gear quality we saw back before the Burning Crusade. If a situation like this arose in the months before the WoW expansion then we could see another gear reset especially with Warhammer putting pressure on Blizzard to maintain the PvP side of the game. After all any real or perceived favoritism of raiding is going to make it hard for Blizzard to hold onto players against a shiny new MMO with the same style of artwork.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Top Ten Dangers of a 48 hour Server Maintenance

10) Your significant other mistakenly believes you have finally quit and un-installs WoW from your computer.

9) You log into the forums and pass out from exposure to high doses of stupidity.

8) You call your friends on the phone only to discover that their servers are still up and running. You spend the entire next day answering questions for the police.

7) You emerge from your room only to find out that you have been declared legally dead and your younger siblings now own all of your stuff. You are really pissed about it for about 2 days.

6) You attempt to organize a raid in real life but are thwarted by the federal government. Oh well its not like Canada would have had any good loot.

5) In the off time you make the tragic discovery that you now suck at arm wrestling because of muscle atrophy. You spend the next two days hiding from your sister who just won't let it die.

4) You get drunk and make a naked, level-1 gnome named "Shortnsexe" on one of the few realms that is up and running. You wake up the next morning with 400 gp, a severe hangover, and a dirty feeling that even the shower won't clean away.

3) You go outside and are mistakenly attacked by a Vampire Hunter since you now have no pigment in your skin. Fortunately, for you the Van Helsing wannabe notices your "Rogues do it from Behind" t-shirt and figures you for a WoW player.

2) World of Warcraft terms start to sneak into your normal everyday conversations at work during the 48 hours. Luckily the boss laughs his ass off when you accidentally suggest "It melts faces" as a new product slogan.

1) Bored to tears, you log into your blog and post a top ten list.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Would SOE misuse Micro-Transactions?

While Blizzard was holding its ritual display of product teases and developer roasts called Blizzcon another major MMO publisher was doing the same. I speak of course of SOE's Fan Faire which has been an annual tradition since the early Everquest days. But while Blizzard focused on actual products, SOE introduced yet another method to show how devoted they are to getting your money. Their new plan involves a virtual card game where players can buy booster packs online and compete in a game which sounds a lot like Magic the Gathering.

For those of you who never experienced the money sink that was Magic the Gathering, I'll go ahead and explain the basic premise. Basically players could buy a 15 card package that was guaranteed to have a ratio around 1 rare, 3 uncommon, and 11 uncommon cards. Rare cards were needed if a player wished to have a competitive deck since they tended to be overly convoluted and powerful with effects that often modified the basic rules of the game. If you've every flipped to FOX in the afternoon think of the last card that spikey haired brat, Yugioh, always pulls out at the last second.

Unfortunately for most players half the rare cards in these types of games tend to be useless or only useful in a very specific and unlikely scenario. Thus players are forced to buy more packs or try to trade with other players until they can get the collection of rares they need. Companies have perfected this formula into a science over the years as Magic, Pokemon, Yugioh, and others have robbed players of their cash in 3$ intervals. What makes SOE's online card game one step worse is that players won't even be able to trade cards with each other only buy them in virtual packs from SOE.

The truth of the matter is that if you look closely enough at collectible card games you see the father of the micro-transaction. Anyone can start playing a collectible card game at almost no cost but to actually compete you need to spend a lot of money in small transactions to raise your chances at winning. This is the exact type of payment plan that some MMO publishers would love to push on us if they could get away with it. I see this virtual collectible card game being hosted inside a MMO as SOE testing the waters for a micro-transaction market.

Now I can see some areas where micro-transactions might be a useful payment method. Twitch based MMO's like Auto Assault and probably Tabula Rasa would definitely benefit more from a hourly subscription rate then a standard monthly fee. Other games like Second Life seem to make a decent living by selling virtual land (piece of the golden gate bridge anyone?) and cosmetic changes to their avatars (genitalia anyone?) by using micro-transactions. It works well for games that are based on players only spending a small amount of time in the game each week.

However, the incorporation of micro-transactions into a long term MMO where most players put at least 12 hours a week into the game is only going to result in people having to pay more money to get the same amount of entertainment they get now. They are a million ways a smart and greedy publisher could incorporate micro-transactions into a game without seeming to give an advantage to the rich. Imagine having to pay a quarter every time you killed a boss who dropped loot. You're of course guaranteed one rare item but who knows if its a pair of leather pants of the Bandit or Spirit. One's useless but the other would start a fight to the death between the rogue and feral druid. Sounds a lot like opening a booster pack doesn't it?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Changes Down the Road for WoW PvP

I've been reading several articles and posts coming from people who attended the different Blizzcon panels. Most of the the discussions seem like they were insightful and provided a multitude of facts on how Blizzard approached class design, dungeons, lore, and future content. My eyes caught several nice tidbits about upcoming changes for the different PvP systems in the game. With such a wealth of information out there I thought I would draw attention to these tidbits since some of them will probably be introduced much sooner then the expansion.

Just like any other list of changes in a MMO there are some negative and some positive.

The Good

1) First Tier of Arena gear will be available through the honor system in Arena Season 3

2) An Alterac Valley Anti-AFK buff. Will use a method similar to the spam report option. Once enough players have reported a person as AFK, a short debuff appears on that person. If that person doesn't move during that time (perhaps a minute) then they gain a very long debuff which prevents honor gain.

3) Looking at making battlegrounds playable at 15v15 or 20v20 brackets.

4) Honor Distribution changes: Battleground objectives will start rewarding more honor towards the end of a battleground. Developers hope this will encourage players to finish battlegrounds.

5) The option to join Alterac Valley as a group will be put back into the game.

6) Developers are looking at putting in a guild versus guild battleground option and perhaps some system to track each guild's wins/losses.

7) Siege Engines are coming to the new Outdoor PvP zone in the next expansion. Developers are also looking at reworking old battlegrounds so siege engines can play a role.

8) Some Arena Class Balancing. Rogue's viability and mobility in Arenas are being examined by the developers. Expect something to help them deal with range dps. Prot Warriors and Ret Paladins told that Arenas are still not for them. Mana regeneration (Spirit) will eventually be improved which should help the offensive casters who aren't Warlocks.

The Bad

1) Developers think Arena loot is easier to get then Raiding loot and that is bad. Instead of increasing the amount of drops per raid boss they are going to be looking at the rate at which arena points are gained. In the future look for an increase in the cost of Arena gear or a reduction in the amount of points earned per week.

2) The developers feel that too many raiders are simply saving up points just for the Arena weapons and this is also bad. I guess they feel that they are not actively participating in Arenas if they are just getting their 10 games a week for one item. Whatever the reason expect a minimum rating requirement for purchasing Arena Weapons in the near future.

Thanks again to WoWInsider whose Live Blogging provide a majority of the information here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Guesses About the next WoW Expansion

The excitement players experience when a MMO expansion is announced can sometimes start a chain reaction of speculation which can easily get out of control. With World of Warcraft the announcement for the next expansion hasn't even been made yet and already every MMO site is guessing on what title, races, and classes will be in the game. Rumours are flying around the Internet at light speed and some have already traveled so far they've become facts. The amazing thing is that this feeding frenzy of gossip and bad investigation was sparked by just the vague assumption that an expansion will be revealed at Blizzcon this year.

True this assumption makes so much sense that its 99% likely that Blizzard will unveil the next chapter in Warcraft this weekend. But some of the other rumours making their rounds through the Internet are considerably less certain. Still its fun to gossip and add your own opinions to the melting pot of the rumour mill. Since I'm not one to control my impulse to have fun I guess I'll join in. I've divided the most common guesses about the expansion into the three categories and given reasons why I think they are likely to be implemented or not.

1) Likely to be Included in the Expansion

- At least one new class
Probably the most desired feature by players. The sales numbers for the expansion would suffer horribly if no new classes were included.
- Level cap raised to 80
I'm afraid raising the level cap by 10 each expansion is now part of the formula. Blizzard has stated before that they have a formula for increasing the power of gear for several hundred levels.
- Takes place in Northend
Hints about the Northend continent have been appearing for the last 8 months.
- Death Knight as a new class
This class has a relation to Arthas and the Scourge plus it might provide an outlet to the scorned retribution paladins out there.
- 3 month extension on the announced release date
Its Blizzard.

2) Might be Included in the Expansion

- New races
A new race would require a new starting zone. This was done in the last expansion but home cities take up a decent amount of development time so Blizzard might not want to repeat the same process.
- Multiple new classes
Blizzard might try to achieve class balance by introducing multiple classes to counter balance one another. God knows they have enough class ideas to pull upon.
- Necromancer as a new class
Fits with the Northend and Arthas theme but might play too much like a warlock. Then again most players would simply appreciate the newness factor.
- New content for the mid-levels
Very desired by players and necessary for once again leveling up new characters without going crazy in Stranglethorn Vale.

3) Playable Murlocs more likely to be Included then

- Blizzard stops making raid zones only 2 guilds per server can do
Jeff Kaplan still works there, right? Unfair to Jeff but the upper raid zones are a waste of development hours when only 2 out of 100 of your players can ever see it.
- The Expansion releasing this year
The time tables would probably make the expansion available February 2008 at the earliest. Plus Blizzard might want to time the expansion to compete with the Warhammer release.
- Hero classes making an appearance
The balance necessary for allowing a class to transform into another would probably be overpowering and give an advantage to long term players. Eventually I suspects Hero classes from Warcraft 3 might come into the game as entirely new classes.
- 40 man raids making a come back
Blizzard can be stubborn and the breaking of almost every major guild on the shores of Karazhan is still recent. Since development of this expansion probably started before the release of TBC, I'm guess that Blizzard hasn't made a decision to bring back the larger raid size yet.