Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Will issues from TBC repeat again in WotLK?

I'm excited that Wrath of the Lich King is just around the corner, but I'm tempering my enthusiasm with some memories of the Burning Crusade launch. In particular, the recent buffing and nerfing of paladins reminded me that Blizzard did the same sort of "fine tuning" on the class right before the last expansion. Now, this poor attempt at balancing one class can't really ruin an expansion, but it does serve as a reminder that Blizzard doesn't always learn from their mistakes. Still it looks like Blizzard has made a lot of improvements to avoid some of the issues that popped up in the Burning Crusade. I'm just hoping these improvements don't end up causing issues of their own.

Dynamic Spawn System Problems
The dynamic spawn system was supposed to be a way of helping players complete quests which required them to kill a certain amount of mobs in a small area. The more people in the area the faster the mobs were supposed to respawn. Of course the problem was that everyone on the server was crammed into Hellfire Peninsula and this caused the system to behave erratically. Often people found themselves being overwhelmed as mobs they just killed respawned right away. Blizzard is trying to get around the problem this time around by having two starting zones. Hopefully, they have also better optimized the code for the system since I think even more people will be playing this time.

Outdoor PvP Objectives
While the Bone Wastes and Halaa were both popular PvP objectives they were also very easy for the more numerous faction to control. This is always going to be a problem for open world PvP games, as Warhammer is finding out at the moment. However, it looks like Blizzard has an idea to offset the numbers advantage. Rather then giving more "dumb" NPCs to the outnumbered side they are going to give a buff called Tenacity which increases damage based on the imbalance. The more a faction is outnumbered the more powerful their attacks become. At the moment this buff is supposed to just be active in Lake Wintergrasp, but if it proves popular we might see it in other zones with PvP objectives.

Missing out on the Leveling Truce
This is something that is completely out of the control of Blizzard, but it was pretty devastating to anyone trying to level on a PvP server. Basically the first week after release the two sides had an uneasy truce where they mostly concentrated on leveling. However, by the time the first weekend rolled around both sides had max level people back in the starting zone trying out their new found gear and level advantage. Anyone who didn't start leveling right away in the new expansion had a hard time in the Hellfire Peninsula afterwards. I only hope that the distance between the two starting areas in WotLK discourages new level 80 players from immediately ganking.

Raid Blockage at Karazhan
Most people feel that Blizzard made a mistake by designing the entry level raid in the Burning Crusade for only 10 players. Overall it created a lot of problems gearing up average guilds for the next raid encounters and was indirectly responsible for a lot of guild break-ups. Of course in Wrath of the Lich King all raids can be played as either 10 man or 25 man versions and Blizzard is hoping this solves the issue. However, some people think this will end up discouraging all 25 man raiding as players automatically go for the easier encounter. I'm not so sure this will become a problem. However, a lot depends on Blizzard keeping the 10 man versions easier so casual guilds can actually finish them, while making sure the rewards for the 25 man versions are worth the extra effort.

Rewards for Heroic Dungeons
I was very disappointed to find out that a lot of the heroic dungeons in the Burning Crusade didn't have improved loot tables except for the final boss. Blizzard's reasoning was that dungeons designed for level 70s already had better quality loot and didn't need a new loot table for every boss. Unfortunately, this ended up not providing enough of an incentive for players to run heroics. It really wasn't until badges were added that people flocked to them. At first though players simply ran Mechannar over and over again until the heroic daily quests were added. This just goes to show you how difficult it was to tune heroic dungeon rewards. With WotLK Blizzard seems off to a better start since heroics will apparently have a different loot table for each boss and give the same badges as the 10 man version of Naxxramas. This should make them stay popular in the long run compared to the Burning Crusade heroics.

As you can see Blizzard has made some serious attempts to avoid a lot of the problems the Burning Crusade expansion had when it released. However, some of these ideas are untested and could have ironic and unintended consequences. I'm especially interested in seeing how Lake Wintergrasp works out and if the Tenacity buff actually makes it into the game. I've only heard about it from the PvP panel at Blizzcon and I'm not sure if its even in the Beta at the moment.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Zombie Plague goes bye-bye

Apparently, I picked the wrong weekend to move into my new place since I seemed to have missed all the fun zombie shenanigans. I had previously tinkered with the zombie plague last Thursday, but the 10 minute timer actually made it kind of boring. A friend and I had tried to start a zombie revolution in Stormwind and failed miserably because of magically spawning guards. Taking our disease ridden corpses on the road we tried taking over Goldshire, but were eventually thwarted by a few level 70s. We always managed to get reinfected by our minions, but the wait was simply too long to make the even any fun. I had no idea they were planning on reducing the infection timer and that it would cause mass chaos on some servers.

In particular the PvE servers were crying bloody murder as they were.... well.... murdered bloodily by the zombies. I had forgotten that some people react violently to being killed by other players. While I'm not a hardcore PvP fan, I do like the danger that comes with the territory. I still curse violently and often when I get ganked, but pure PvE servers bore me now. When I first heard about the zombie plague I thought it would be a great event which would be fun in the short-term. I'm sure Blizzard thought it would be popular especially since players still talk about the corrupted blood plague. Anyways I haven't been on in the last few days so I'm not sure how bad the zombie problem became. I did hear it became pretty hard to quest over the weekend.

However, most NPCs respawn within a couple minutes and it's not really that hard to wait. I know in Shattrath the battlemasters kept getting infected and I had to fly to Nagrand to queue up my team. It was annoying, but nothing to make me want to log onto the forums to complain. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of players disagreed with me on this point and Blizzard is being forced to end the event today. I'm not sure if the plague could have been designed better so it didn't interfere with people trying to level. In my opinion a lot of its charm was because it was so chaotic and destructive. Then again I'm a bored player with multiple level 70s counting down the time until Wrath of the Lich King. I'm sure someone who was just trying to level over the weekend had a different opinion.

I just hope this doesn't discourage Blizzard from designing future events that are more dynamic in scope.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ten ways to make the most of Hallow's End

1. Vomit all over your group mates by eating too much candy.
The trick is to position yourself so it hits them right in the face while they are eating/drinking.

2. Continuously keep all group members in leper gnome form.
Make sure to keep yourself in human form and continually shout "Humans are superior"

3. Make your own poems to summon the headless horseman.
Horseman rise ... Your fate is set... We'll keep killing you... Until, you drop that pet!

4. Give free candy to new characters at the stating areas.
Ask if they want to see your van. Link the shortbus ascii art if they say yes.

5. Make Ash proud by killing a thousand zombies from Arthas's plague.
Make sure to say things like "Groovy" and "Come get some" or else it doesn't count.

6. Shout "The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire" when the Headless Horseman attacks the local towns.
Act like you don't know what people are talking about when they start saying LOL.

7. Wearing a Tauren Female mask walk into an auction house and ask people "So come here often?"
Avoid male gnomes though, based on several machinimas they have the "bovine fever"

8. Modify the Horseman's death cry for PvP.
So eager you are, for my blood to spill. Yet to vanquish me, 'tis my nearby main you must kill!

9. Organize a quidditch match using flying brooms and a leather ball in an arena.
I know its not possible atm, but really Blizzard should go ahead start working on it.

10. Use the zombie plague to raise an army of undead, but instead of attacking Stormwind reenact the Thriller video.

P.S. Not my best top ten, but I've been getting ready for a move.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

WoW achievements: Less rewarding, but funnier names

I'm still enjoying the WoW achievements and using them as an excuse to hunt down hard to find quests. When I get tired of footing it through the less populated portions of Azeroth I take a break and do some leveling in Warhammer. Switching back and forth between the two games keeps things interesting though it also makes some things stick out. In particular. the Tome of Knowledge seems a bit more rewarding then the achievement system in World of Warcraft. There's no doubt that Mythic put more effort into their system, just look at all the unlockable journal entries. If you want that kind of detailed lore about World of Warcraft then you have to visit the nerds at WoWInsider. However, even if you exclude the lack of lore tracking it seems like that there is just less achievement in the WoW achievement system.

I guess it makes sense if you look at some of the differences between the two games. As Rohan was talking about earlier the unlocks for the Tome of Knowledge are largely hidden from the player. There are some hints in there, but it doesn't just come right out and give you a list of all available titles, tactics, and trophies. I guess it makes sense that Warhammer has more fluff rewards in their achievement system since it's slightly harder to earn them. Not that all the rewards are cosmetic since apparently there are some tactics and ability rewards which make you more powerful against other races. World of Warcraft on the other hand just seems to have titles and a few other rewards. And a lot of those can only be partly earned until Wrath of the Lich King come out.

Over all it seems that the WoW achievement system was an idea that was implemented half way. You can kind of tell just by the fact that achievements give points. Why give points if there's no rewards you can buy with them? There's already a tracking counter for how many achievements you have completed overall. I find the point system suspicious and think it hints that the original intention was to have purchasable rewards. Whether the idea was changed because of design constraints or lack of developer hours, I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if developers were yanked off the achievement system to finish the expansion on time. I mean who knew that achievements would be so popular that they would cause the instance servers to crash?

If you want my conspiracy theory the achievement points were probably planned for the character customization feature. Maybe instead of paying gold at the barbershop you would be charge achievement points or required to have earned a certain amount of them. The other darker thought was that the future paid character customization feature was going to run on achievement points until Blizzard decided to go micro-transaction. Either way the blues are coming across strong that achievement points are just for tracking purposes. It's too bad since it really detracts from the overall value of the achievement systeml. If there was a system for spending the points then maybe it could maintain it's popularity with the players. As it is now I can't help but think that most players will forget about them once the expansion comes out.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Did WoW Achievements overload the instance servers?

I didn't get to play as much as I wanted to this weekend, but I did manage to get into World of Warcraft for a bit. I really enjoy the achievement system they put into the game even if it's a bit harder then Warhammer's system. I've made up my mind to get the Loremaster achievement which requires tracking down and completely a huge number of quests in every zone in the game. It's been a lot of fun so far since every zone has a counter and I basically fly around looking for quest icons to show up on my mini-map. I really wish this feature was in the game when I first leveled my characters through the Outlands. I've found a ton of quests I've never done before, including quite a few escort missions I missed. Anyways, while in the middle of my quest-a-thon a couple of friends invited me to run some of the old world dungeons.

Its seems that another popular achievement added to World of Warcraft involves finishing all the dungeons and raids in the game. The new talents are making this very easy and I think most of the old world dungeons are now soloable by any class. I know my group of three easily did both sides of Stratholm in little over a half hour with no problems. What really surprised me though was that number of pick-up-raids I saw forming for the old world instances. I saw people forming raids for AQ40, ZG, BWL, and even the classic Molten Core. A lot of this content has never been seen by newer players and the achievement system seems to have drummed up the necessary support. I know I really want to do the C'thun fight after hearing one of my friends describe the giant eyeball boss.

The only negative aspect of the achievement system is that it looks like it encouraged enough people to visit the old world that it caused some technical problems. Anyone familiar with raiding knows that each raid instance is on a separate server from the main overworld. Also I believe instances work across game servers. Thus if an instance goes down for one server, it probably means it went down for several. Over the weekend it would seem that the high amount of traffic from achievement junkies kept crashing instances. Part of the problem was probably that most old world instances were running on old world hardware. I know the Scarlet Monastery had few problems over the weekend and I assume Blizzard had previously updated the hardware because of the Headless Horseman. However, I bet everything else from Dire Maul to Zul'gurub was on something a lot older.

Blizzard really is a victim of their own success sometimes. It looks like they had no idea achievements would actually motivate a large amount of players to do old content. Now there could have been other bugs in the patch that caused the instance crashes. The battlegrounds did go down repeatedly over the weekend and I know they are running on top of the line hardware. Still just based on observations it does look like old hardware was simply overwhelmed by player traffic. It's yet another example of the unintended consequences which continues to plague Blizzard's game design. I'll admit that achievements are a very poor reward and shouldn't really motivate players like gear or money. However, Blizzard forgot that most players have maxed out everything else and achievements were the only "improvement" they could make on their characters. Looks like even a small carrot on a stick can cause a stampede.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Warhammer's numbers in the face of WotLK

Just how much will the the release of Wraith of the Lich King effect Warhammer's subscription numbers? Well if you follow the press releases then you know that Mythic just recently announced 750,000 accounts registered for their game. That's around the same number Age of Conan announced after three months. I have to give kudus to Mythic for getting those numbers within the first month of release though now the competition gets tough. World of Warcraft is the better PvE game and you can expect any raid and dungeon fans to probably migrate back during the upcoming month. Still no one really knows just how many of the current Warhammer players prefer the path of PvE content.

There have already been recent claims from Paul Sams the COO of Blizzard that half of the players who left for Warhammer have come back. This is probably true, but it's not as bad as it sounds. A lot of the current players in Warhammer are probably players who quit World of Warcraft quite awhile ago or came from other games. The numbers Paul Sams is quoting is probably just the accounts that were closed in mid-September. I sincerely doubt that all those 750,000 accounts were all people who recently quit World of Warcraft. You also have to count in the trend of World of Warcraft expansions attracting back players who have been absent from the game for quite awhile. As we have seen the WoW expansions usually only have enough content to keep people interested in the game for about 4 months, but they tend to take two years to develop. This results in a lot of people who come back to the game around expansion time.

So in a worst case scenario where everyone playing Warhammer came from World of Warcraft and half of them have now returned. Warhammer would still have 375,000 players.

A more accurate scenario of Warhammer's numbers are probably

300,000 players who didn't come directly from WoW
450,000 players who came from Wow
750,000 players

If half the players who came from WoW have returned then that would mean that 225,000 players have come back to the world of Azeroth. But since the WoW expansions generally attract a lot of returning players who have stopped playing the game, I would predict a portion of those returning players are not actually coming back from Warhammer. Now if World of Warcraft didn't have an expansion coming out then I would say most of those returning players would be coming back from Warhammer. Also you have to count in the players like me who are probably going to play both games for awhile. Just because someone decided to re-open their WoW account doesn't mean they are canceling their Warhammer one. This is probably a small number of players, but it could still account for 25-75k players.

In the end I would expect the active subscription numbers for Warhammer to grow, especially considering how effective they have been at patching. Age of Conan had a horrible patch history and often broke more things then they fixed. This was probably a key factor in Funcom not being able to hold onto the massive number of people who tried out their game. In the case of Warhammer, you don't have to worry about developer incompetence driving away players. Warhammer is really only competing with the content in World of Warcraft. And while I've seen some impressive things in the WotLK expansion, I haven't seen anything that would cause a mass exodus. In the end I expect Warhammer to hold onto at least 500,000 subscribers throughout the month of December and then continue to grow as people start finishing the content of WotLK.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Warhammer: Casual but not User Friendly atm

I've noticed that several bloggers are impressed with the speed that Mythic has reacted to complaints and bugs. Their recent patch is very solid and it addresses a variety of issues that I've seen brought up. In particular I was glad to see that it's now impossible to roll need on items that you cannot use on your current character. The open grouping system in Warhammer is great, but it means that you're often grouping with complete strangers. No one seems to trust anyone in these situations and I saw a lot of people simply rolling "Need" all the time. Scenarios could get really ugly especially when a blue item for a class dropped and someone who couldn't use it won the roll. I was hoping for scenarios to eventually use a loot system more in line with the public quests, but this is still a good fix.

I also noticed another fix involving scenarios which allows you to queue up for all of the ones in the same tier at once. It's just a quick time saving change to the game, but then again Mythic really needs all the help they can get in that area. There seems to be a lot of time wasting mechanisms build into the game at the moment that need to be polished out. Right from the start, the process for logging into Warhammer is unwieldy and requires you to watch multiple logo screens and then click on a EULA agreement. I've got my fingers crossed that Mythic eventually takes that out of the game. Also I was sadden to see that the mail system still requires a ridiculous amount of clicks to take an item from the mailbox. I'm trying to work on my cultivating skill at the moment and my friends are sending me all the seeds they find. It's very tedious to extract them from the mailbox.

The quest tracking system is another feature which is still unfriendly compared to other games out there. I probably find it annoying just because I tend to quest more then I do scenarios. Still, I think I should be able to abandon a quest or simply turn off the tracking feature from the quest tracking window on my screen. Instead I'm constantly referred back to the Tome of Knowledge which covers up the majority of my screen and magically summons an enemy player out of nowhere. It reminds me a lot of the early days of Everquest where casters were forced to look at their spell book if they wanted to meditate and regain mana. It's very annoying especially since from what I've seen of their scripting and customizable UI windows it's an easy fix. In fact I'm pretty sure someone has an add-on out there at the moment that does just that. However, as popular as add-ons are in MMOs I'm sure a lot of people don't like using them. I hated with a passion having to update mine in World of Warcraft after every patch.

Also I realize now that as much as I disliked the official World of Warcraft forums they did give me a place to sniff around about future changes. I feel the fan forums of Warhammer are more of a one way street for information. Mythic can get an idea about our opinions on the game, but we really have no idea what they are planning. The announcements they do drop throughout the different fan forums tend to be short term news updates. I'm not sure such a lopsided communication channel can support a large MMO community. As Lum the Mad mentions the Warhammer Alliance is the primary fan forum site, but it seems to have a low amount of traffic for such a large game. I think its because a lot of casual players have no idea which fan forums are actually checked by Mythic. It's all rather confusing and since they have no assurance their voice will be heard they simply decide not to bother.

Luckily, for Warhammer none of the things that makes their game non-user friendly are that hard to change. In fact, I expect a lot to be fixed within the next couple months. If you're worried that this is too long and it will give Wrath of the Lich King an advantage then I wouldn't worry too much. While Blizzard has had four years to polish its UI and game mechanics to be extremely user friendly, they still can't compete with some of the class design that Mythic has implemented. Warhammer's classes are just better suited for PvP and Blizzard can't rework theirs without alienating a lot of players. Blizzard is looking into a dual spec system, but it won't be out until after the expansion. Plus as some bloggers like Rohan have pointed out, the dual spec system could easily backfire. Warhammer needs very little time to bring its UI up to par and I don't see WoW stealing many PvP fans back in that time. Then again it remains to be seen just how much of the current Warhammer population are PvE fans trying out new content.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blizzcon /Silly Contest

I'm not sure how to rate this new contest since humor is so subjective. Also I think jokes dealing with World of Warcraft had the advantage since fans of the game definitely outnumbered fans of the other franchises. In particular there were a couple Deckard Cain impersonations/jokes which I don't think the audience understood. There were also like a hundred applicants and to save time Joy Mohr was told he could yank the micro-phone if the contestants got too long winded. Jay being the man of the people told the audience that we could boo the contests off the stage. This proved useful since some people just used the /silly contest as an opportunity to do shout-outs to friends or even try to recruit for their guild.

The highlight of the contest was definitely seeing some people desperately fail at being funny. One comic duo obviously thought they were giving the audience comedic gold and yet got boo'd off the stage after a few seconds. Towards the end of the contest you could tell the audience was tired of bad jokes and started booing sooner and sooner. This made one girl so nervous she completely froze up and forgot her joke. Later on in the evening when she walked up for the dance contest Jay asked "Do you remember what dance your doing for us?" There were a couple nuggets of gold in the contest though only one actually placed. I don't know who the judges were, but their sense of humor didn't quite match mine.

My favorites from the /silly contest

Joke 1: (This one actually won 2nd place)
What is the favorite class of the ladies of Azeroth?
"Male Enhancement" Shamans

Joke 2:
What's the difference between a resto druid and Superman?
Superman has a weakness

Joke 3:
How many murlocs does it take to bring down the blizzard store?
Just One, (the Failoc)

Joke 4:
A Tauren and a Gnome walked into Deadwind Pass and the Gnome says "Man this zone is scary" and the Tauren says "You're telling me, I have to walk out of here by myself."

I'm paraphrasing some of these jokes and apologize for messing up any of the punchlines. The first place winner was a guy from England who no one but the judges could understand because of his accent. If anyone has the text feel free to post it in a comment. I think it involved a comparison between an ex-wife and curse of agony.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Blizzcon 2008 Dance Contest

I actually managed to get a seat with a decent view of one of the screens and was able to shoot some video of the dance contest. I posted the winners and some of the other contestants that I thought were in the running. Overall I was much more impressed with the dance contest then the bad humor of the /silly contest.

The Contest Winners

1st Place Winner - Undead Female

2nd Place Winner - Troll Male

3rd Place Winner - Ogre/Moonkin

Some of the Runner-Ups:

Gnome Female

Orc Male

Orc Female

News from Blizzcon

Well I'm back home and must say that Blizzcon went really well this year. I was amazed at how everything was put together and the level of detail into promoting all three of their franchises. I spent a majority of my time at the panels and was actually surprised a couple of times. I also managed to get information on some of the topics I came up with before leaving.

1) More Offensive abilities for Healing and Tanking classes
It looks like Blizzard isn't going to redesign any classes and take advantage of some of Mythic's ideas regarding healers and tanks. However, it does look like they are adding more base abilities for these classes so they can do damage despite being heavy into the holy or protection trees. In particular they mentioned cleaning up the protection tree for warriors so that more points could be spent in Arms or Fury. They also mentioned the new damage spell for priests called mind sear and how the changes to spell power would make it effective.

2) Assurances that 10-man raids will be more accessible
Nothing specific on how the ten man raids would be structured in comparison to the 25 man versions. However, the itemization developer for dungeons did cover that the 10-man versions of raids would use different badges then the 25-man version. This assures me that the developers are making sure that rewards are separate for both versions and not interdependent. This should allow the developers to more easily balance the 10-man raids for pick-up-raids.

3) Progress on the Warcraft movie
Nothing at all about the movie. I'm starting to suspect that it has been canceled or put on the back burner. Then again the addition and expansion of the Cinematics team at Blizzard has made me suspect that they might be considering doing the movie themselves as a pure CGI affair. I know Starcraft 2 is going to be split into three products and that each one will come with a lot of cinematics so that could also be the reason for the team's expansion.

4) Hint at their next MMO in development
Nothing concrete except the development style of Starcraft 2 which is going to heavily depend on introducing new characters and storylines for each campaign. This is remarkable similar to what Blizzard did with Warcraft 3 and I think is a pre-cursor to the Starcraft lore being prepared for a MMO.

5) The roll-out plans for additional Hero Classes
Nothing at all about additional Hero Classes. I can't even infer anything since Blizzard really is watching closely what happens with the Death Knight before making any more hero classes. I do like the Witch Doctor a lot from the playable Diablo 3 demo and I'm crossing my fingers they adapt it for World of Warcraft.

6) Starcraft 2 release date
Starcraft 2 will be released in three separate games, with each one having a different single player campaign. The first campaign about the Terrans will be called Wings of Liberty and was hinted at being ready for 2009. If you only care about the multi-player aspects of the game then don't worry, all three races will be playable in they first campaign. Blizzard is hoping the cinematics and challenge of the different single player campaigns can sell each separate product. I think they might have some luck in this regard as long as they approach the Zerg and Protoss games as expansions and don't try to charge 50$ for each game.

7) Other Diablo 3 classes
The Wizard was announced and given her own gameplay trailer at Blizzcon. She had a lot of spells which are new to the Diablo universe including a disintegration ray and the ability to create bubbles of slowed time. Also interesting was the ability to create multiple copies of herself which is an ability I think mages in World of Warcraft might be getting.

8) Information on the new Battle.Net
Nothing in the panels about their plans to update Battle.Net. Most likely it will have to be up and running before the beta test for Starcraft 2 starts. Since beta keys for the game were included in the Blizzcon goodie bag I'm assuming we should hear more about it soon.

9) Plans for additional character/item customization
There are plans for additional "paid" character customization. Most people are theorizing that this will be a micro-transaction system that allows you to customize your character's avatar even more so then the barbershop. No details were given by the developers and I'm not even sure if this involves paying real money or in-game money for customization options. article

10) Any tools for player created content in the pipeline
Nothing on housing or more advanced forms of crafting were announced.

P.S. I'll be doing several posts on additional information from Blizzcon in the future including some stuff on their contests.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What I hope to see at Blizzcon 2008

I'll be at Blizzcon this year as I got lucky enough to have a friend win a couple of tickets in the raffle. Even though I'm not playing World of Warcraft at the moment I'm very interested in how they respond to some of the ideas Mythic has recently introduce in Warhammer. As a lot of bloggers have already noted, there are a couple of ideas which Blizzard seems more then happy to just directly copy. In particular the ability to queue up anywhere for a battleground is supposed to be coming soon to World of Warcraft. I don't know how technically difficult it was for Mythic to do this in Warhammer, but I'm glad they did. For the longest time Blizzard has had very little real competition and hasn't really had to look at improving basic game functionality.

Now I'm not saying every idea Mythic has come up with has been a winner. There are multiple problems with their User Interface including the touted Tome of Knowledge. Quest tracking is also a bit non-intuitive and often requires players to go through unnecessary sub-screens. Still a lot of the basic game design of Warhammer Online is going to challenge World of Warcraft to do a better job. In particular I'm hoping that Blizzard will re-examine how healing classes are played in World of Warcraft. I've been following several beta reports and it looks like pure healers are still some of the more boring classes to play in the game. Warhammer Online has shown that healing and tanking classes don't have to be impotent in PvP combat and I'm sure Blizzard has taken notice.

I will be closely following the class discussions at Blizzcon and see what kind of improvements they have planned for tanking and healing classes. I'm also interested in just how accessible the future raid content will be to the casual gamer. It doesn't matter if raids have a smaller version if they are still filled with class required encounters and annoying trash respawns. A pick-up-raid should have a decent chance of clearing the first 10 man raid. I'm also hoping that Blizzard keeps the same level of quality for it's single group dungeons. I've heard a little bit about the dungeon done while flying on dragonback and I'm hoping to see it in action. The quality of the Altdorf Sewers dungeon in Warhammer was disappointing and I must admit I do miss the dungeon crawling of World of Warcraft.

If I talked about everything I'm hoping to find out at Blizzcon I would probably fill a textbooks. So in the interest of not becoming a wall of text I'll go with my favorite weapon of choice: the list.

1) More Offensive abilities for Healing and Tanking classes
2) Assurances that 10-man raids will be more accessible
3) Progress on the Warcraft movie
4) Hint at their next MMO in development
5) The roll-out plans for additional Hero Classes
6) Starcraft 2 release date
7) Other Diablo 3 classes
8) Information on the new Battle.Net
9) Plans for additional character/item customization
10) Any tools for player created content in the pipeline

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Age of Conan on the Big Bang Theory

I don't know why Monday night television is so crowded with good shows but I've been constantly keeping my DVR busy by recording shows on CBS, FOX, and NBC. Last night I decided to watch the CBS sitcoms live since with the way the economy has been going I needed a good laugh. Much to my surprise the very nerdy Big Bang Theory had an episode oriented entirely on Age of Conan. They have used MMOs before on the show for punchlines, but this was something different. The episode actually explored some of the underlying causes of game addiction without being overly preachy. It was also hilarious which is probably one of the reasons the Big Bang Theory is one of the better performing comedies this year.

It didn't have as much in-game footage as the touted "Make Love, Not Warcraft" episode of South Park. Still there were a couple good scenes involving in-game footage which were quite funny. At one point the neighbor Penny cuts off the head of a friend who was attempting to coax her out of the game. It didn't look like they used any special tools for the Machinima, but the graphics were still quite nice. I couldn't help, but wonder what kind of computer they had which could play Conan that well. Anyways, I'm sure this episode was filmed earlier in the summer when Age of Conan was still going through it's growth spurt. Despite it no longer being the most popular game it's still nice to see a MMO get some screen time on television.

I was a bit worried at first when the show went the MMO addiction route, but the writers didn't overly exaggerate the dangers of it. In fact if you compare it to the standard Dr. Phil drivel, they were pretty fair on the subject. Of course the fact they got most of the terminology and game mechanics correct probably means the writers are MMO players themselves. They pretty much nailed the common cause of MMO addiction being that it gives people a false sense of achievement. In the episode the neighbor Penny was depressed from getting booted from an audition and was feeling like she hadn't done anything with her life. It's a fair portrayal of something that might cause a person to fall into online gaming addiction. And I thought the humorous slant and the fact Penny quickly recovered kept it from being offensive to gamers.

P.S. Most likely CBS will make it available on their online site soon.

Episode: The Barbarian Sublimation

Monday, October 06, 2008

Order limited by lack of Tanks

When I first heard that Mythic was cutting some of the classes in Warhammer I didn't really think it would have that much of an effect on the game. After all, each faction had multiple classes which could fulfill the same purpose in the game's PvP or PvE content. There shouldn't have been any problems. Of course I forgot to factor in the popularity of human races in fantasy games. They're almost always the majority in any game since people are more comfortable using humans as avatars then misshapen fantasy races. This seems to be holding true in Warhammer and it looks like Mythic has greatly lowered the overall number of tanks for Order by cutting the Empire tank class.

At first I thought the tank shortage would be limited to only the Chaos vs Empire scenarios. Nordenwatch in particular suffers from a lack of tanks which can make it hard to take chokepoints (that damn bridge). However, problems remain in the scenario even after cross server queues were added to the game. There simply aren't enough players trying out the other tanking classes for Order to have a balanced fight against Destruction. It also doesn't help that a lot of the scenarios are specifically balanced around having a tank for flag holding. No other class has the survivability necessary for running a flag between objectives while taking damage.

It's not just scenarios either as I ran into problems gathering tanks for a Keep Raid in Troll Country. It might not be as bad in the other racial areas, but in the Empire/Chaos zones its very rare to see any tanks. I had always thought that the lower tier Keeps would be a goal that a pick up raid could accomplish. The other battlefield objectives in the zone had easily been captured and over time Order players gathered at the keep. It was nice to see how the mechanics of the keep raids work and someone even brought a battering ram. That's as far as it went though since we only had one tank who was even close to being appropriate level for tanking a Keep Lord.

So far in the game I've only seen Order capture keeps in the Elven and Dwarven areas. I am not sure if these were captured by a pick-up-raid who could get tanks or if it was the result of a guild raid. Either way the tier two keeps aren't that hard to capture, though fighting a Keep Lord and five Champions can be rough. It was really only the lack of tanks that kept us from winning. Thankfully, healers aren't that hard to find since the Warrior-Priest in particular seems to be popular. I'm hoping as more people switch to Order to take advantage of the shorter queues the tank issue will slowly resolve itself. Still it would go much quicker if Mythic quickly introduced the missing Empire tank class.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Wow, WhistleBlowerZero was actually right.

I normally like to focus my ramblings on MMOs, but every once and awhile I'll dig into an issue that I think will have a broad effect on the entire gaming market. Notice my obsessive following of the DRM debacle for Spore. Still I try to limit myself from doing these kind of posts too often and boring everyone. If you follow any of the regular gaming news sites then you probably remember the story about the disgruntled ex-GameStop employee. After getting a new job he decided to make a series of YouTube videos which highlight the way GameStop stores are run. It's a fascinating series of videos that grabs the attention in much the same way as a brutal car accident. Several practices he described were downright immoral and a couple were probably illegal in some states.

The videos are done in the same style as Zero Punctuation and used photoshop images to successfully be entertaining while highlighting questionable GameStop practices. The one that most stuck in my mind was that employees were encouraged not to ask questions when people came in with multiple sealed copies of a new game. It was obvious that they were stolen, but the store made a huge profit reselling them since the "sellers" always wanted cash. You see GameStop buys games at two different price points. You get a bad deal if you just want store credit, but you get a really horrible deal if you actually want cash. Some of the descriptions of these "sellers" from the ex-GameStop employee were quite vivid. I especially like the point where he said there was just something wrong about a crackhead selling stolen goods in a store filled with 14 year old kids.

Anyways either someone was watching those videos or the world just loves big coincidences. By way of Kotaku I came across a story about a police sting on GameStop stores in Memphis. Undercover officers had no problems selling video games to clerks even after they made it clear they were stolen. It apparently happened enough that the police arrested eight different clerks. The regional GameStop VP had to suspend the practice of buying used games in Memphis area stores and I wouldn't be surprised if there was some sort of investigation. Still if the videos of WhistleBlowerZero are to believed then dealing in stolen property is only the tip of the iceberg.

So how does this affect MMOs in any way whatsoever? Well it's a long convoluted chain of thought but the basic premise is that MMOs alone can't keep the PC market afloat. It's great news that MMOs are immune to piracy and a company will never try to slap restrictive DRM on one. However, the massive amounts of money that used game stores make are the main driving factor for invasive DRM schemes. It's not that piracy is an issue as much as sharing and trading software. Companies like EA hate the used game market in a manner very similar to how MMO publishers hate gold farmers. They both see the practice as someone making a lot of easy money off a product they developed. Stories like the one about the GameStop sting operation probably encourage tougher and more draconian types of DRM for both console and PC games.

Update: WhistleBlowerZero's account has since been suspended by YouTube and all 9 videos he made removed. Will look for another place where they are linked. Copyright is not an issue here, though a defamation lawsuit by GameStop could be.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Altdorf Sewers

So I have been mostly sticking to public quests and scenarios so far in Warhammer, but last night a couple friends suggested trying out the first PvE dungeon. We're lucky that we planned out our characters ahead of time and had great class balance. Warhammer may be oriented on PvP, but it still depends heavily on the trinity of healer, tank and dps. Since I got to the Altdorf sewers first I thought I would explore a little. I've gotten used to being a little bit immortal with my Warrior Priests and thought I could easily tank a level 15 champion mob. Unfortunately, fighting three of them at the same time quickly overwhelmed my divine strike healing and made me realize that tanks were still very necessary.

The Altdorf Sewers are divided into three very small wings which are located in the Slums area near the Bright Wizard college. All of them are filled with varying types of Rat Men who usually come in packs of three. Some of the wings do include priests who will stand back and heal their allies and nuke you with nasty poison attacks. In general the bosses will drop two green items with one of them being part of a class set. The items were generally an upgrade over the public quest gear I found between rank 15-17. Unfortunately, a lot of the gear was for classes we didn't have in the group though our tank did get a set breastplate.

Altdorf Wing 1:
This is the instance furthest away from the flight master and has two guards standing outside. Its filled with level 13-14 rat mobs, but without any of the annoying casters that appear in later wings. They do come in groups of three and can probably overwhelm none tank classes. We actually four manned this wing later in the evening with classes between rank 15-18. The one boss in this wing is a giant Rat Man, whom one of my friends described as Splinter on steroids. He will quite often do a ground pound attack which does a decent amount of AOE damage. If you don't have your resistances through the roof then you really need to run back as soon as you see the dust start to rise off the ground. Other then that its an easy fight as long as you have a tank and a long range healers. Healers who have to deal melee damage might have problems.

Altdorf Wing 2:
We actually ran this instance first since its the easiest one to find. The mobs are slightly higher around rank 15-16 and you'll start to see those annoying priests I mentioned earlier. Always take out the priests first since they have less hitpoints and I think their attack spell is AOE based. This wing is slightly larger and actually has two bosses. The first is a Chaos Mutant called the Bulbous One and is basic tank and spank fight. At the end he did get a couple high hitting crits off on our tank so he might have some sort of enrage ability. Just make sure your healers are awake and you'll win.

The last boss fight is actually the hardest one in my experience. It's two Rat Men commanders who can't be tanked since they constantly aggro dump. To make matters worse whenever they aggro dump they drop puddles of nasty poison on the ground which deal a lot of damage. You need to keep moving and make sure you are not standing on those puddles. Unfortunately, this can be hard since several people in my group reported not being able to see them on their screen. Also annoying is that the bosses also easily get stuck on the terrain and reset back to full life. Make sure you fight on even ground and that should reduce the chance of a reset. The one good thing about this fight is that they don't respawn if you wipe. So you can kill one, wipe, then come back for revenge.

Altdorf Wing 3
This one is actually very similar to the first wing except the mobs are now rank 17 champions at a minimum. They also come in groups of three like the previous wings. I'm assuming that three is the magic number that makes a tank class required for a dungeon run and I wouldn't be surprised to see it in the next set of dungeons. I actually haven't fully run wing 3 yet, since our group broke up before finishing it. Apparently it only has one boss and he's just like the Steroid Splinter you fight in the first wing. Based on popular opinion this wing is easy as long as your group is rank 17.

I'm not sure if the Altdorf sewers is worth the effort of gathering a group together to run it. The experience and money drops was very small throughout all the wings. The loot off the bosses would have been fine except out of the eight pieces that dropped only two were usable by classes in our group. Also the wings looked similar and nothing in particular stood out to make the dungeon cool or interesting to crawl through. I'm hoping this is Warhammer's equivalent of the Stockades and the higher tier dungeons are better designed and look cooler. The twin commander fight in wing 2 is challenging enough to be fun, but is bugged by random resets and certain players not being able to see the poison puddles.

I'd recommend the sewers for maybe a one time run just to stay in practice for future dungeon crawls. I do hear the 20-30 dungeons drop blue items, but the green items from the sewers aren't necessarily bad. The problem is that most of it might not be usable by anyone in the group. I would like to see some changes that reduces the randomness a bit and maybe have the loot tables use repairable items. They seem to change into different items based on whatever class wins them. Also the experience and money drops should probably be adjusted to be a bit more competitive with public quest, scenarios, and soloing. As a finishing touch a dramatic encounter would be nice, something like a Rat Man summoning a giant crocodile.