Category Archives: Game mechanics

Tidying up Ye Olde Glyph Shop

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Five weeks from now, the new expansion will drop, and that means that somewhere in between now and then, we will be getting the “pre-patch”, which will introduce the new expansion and stuff. More importantly, it will introduce the new game systems to all and sundry, whether you buy the expansion or not.

During Legion, I’ve been keeping afloat partially on sales of glyphs, but also some other stuff.  This expansion hasn’t been great for Scribes, so I’ve supplemented with enchantments as well, but the upshot is that on the strength of glyphs alone I can play the game entirely on in-game currency.  With additions, I can buy other things in the Blizz shop such as time for my sweetie if she’s in the mood to play. But it hasn’t been raining cash.  You gotta hustle.

  • Legion glyphs are the main money makers, to a limited extent.
  • Older glyphs sell fine, but don’t bring in much cash compared to the cost to make them.
  • Vantus runes and other sops that Blizz tossed to Scribes were worthless.  I fire-sale’d all but Antorus a while back and it looks like I’m going to eat them anyway.
  • One herb was by far the best for this business model – Dreamleaf, which also generated Nightmare Pods, which yielded great quantities of Sallow pigment.  The Argus herb, on the other hand, was worthless for Scribes.

Overall, fairly lackluster.  I think that applies to most professions, though.

On to new things.

New expansion, new inks

  • Crimson Pigment –> Crimson Ink
  • Ultramarine Pigment –> Ultramarine Ink
  • Viridescent Pigment –> Viridescent Ink – returning once again to a “rare” ink for certain items, such as Darkmoon cards, codices, Vantus runes, off-hands, etc.
  • All inks now require the use of Distilled Water.  All BfA inks thus have an additional 2s 50c tax.
  • Viridescent Ink also requires Acacia powder, an additional 2s 50c tax on that ink.

Yields, what herb gives what, and in what quantities, is not yet known.

New expansion, new herbs

  • Akunda’s Bite (Vol’dun)
  • Anchor Weed – appears to pop in all zones
  • Riverbud (Drustvar, Zuldazar, Tiragarde Sound) – found along rivers
  • Sea Stalk (Tiragarde Sound) – found along coastlines
  • Siren’s Pollen – found in trees in swampy areas.  In a way similar to Foxflower, picking one can create a swarm of them to pick up.
  • Star Blossom – found on the sides of buildings in Kul’Tiras and Zandalar.
  • Winter’s Kiss – found in snowy areas (Drustvar)

It should be noted that the locational information is far from accurate at this time.  Also, there are three levels for each herb for gathering, so similar to Legion in how it works this time.

There will also be three tiers to milling, and mass milling will become available for all herbs.

New Glyphs

Very few new glyphs have been added. In many ways this seems a lot like Cataclysm where we got one whole new glyph to use the pigments on – essentially, any pigments you grind will probably be exchanged for older inks or pigments at the ink trader, so find out who that is and go there.

The exceptions are, of course, the ones listed here.  These are all Druid glyphs.

  • The Dolphin – requires Revered with Tortollan Seekers
  • The Humble Flyer  – appears to be a discovery from Grumpy Grimble in Tiragarde Sound.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s what I got.
  • The Tideskipper – drop from Corrupted Tideskipper in Stormsong Valley

There don’t appear to be any research-oriented tasks associated with this expansion.

Removed Glyphs

A few glyphs have also been dropped, no doubt due to class changes.  In total, we end up with fewer glyphs than we had in Legion.

  • The Blood Wraith (DK)
  • The Bullseye (Hunter)
  • The Skullseye (Hunter)
  • The Unholy Wraith (DK)
  • The Wraith Walker (DK)

My advice on these is to hang on to them until after the pre-patch.

In my experience, dead glyphs are transformed into something like Charred Glyphs which are usually worth 50s.  Dump them now, and get 1s. It’s worth waiting to see.  Of course, if you can dump them for more than 50s now, go for it.

Vantus Runes

I’ve seen one – Uldir – and that’s it.  I’m not sure if we’re going to see more or not, but right now it looks like they’re attuned per-raid, not per-boss.  If the latter, I don’t think it’s worth the bother. If the former, it MIGHT be.  Start slow.

Other Wealth-Enhancing Features

Inscription has picked up a plethora of things that may or may not be of value in the days to come.  Test each carefully.

  • Codices – As before, we can make a Codex of the Clear Mind kind of thing that will allow you to change your talents outside of rest areas. This does require the rare ink.
  • Contracts – A contract is with a specific faction, and while it is in effect you gain reputation with that faction, similar to how tabards worked in Burning Crusade.  I do like this mechanic, and also suspect this will be a small but steady income stream. I assume only one can be in effect at a time.
  • Scrolls – Scrolls are back as “War Scrolls” that can buff an individual or group. The odd thing is the wording of the description indicates that, say, an Intellect scroll affects all team members, not just the int-using ones. I suspect only one can be in effect. So this is very confusing.   They’re not too costly to make, but they may have a limiting factor that makes them unpopular.
  • Ink Wells – This allows your champions to bring back ink from missions.  This isn’t really a money maker unless you sell it on the AH to other Scribes – which might be the case because the darned thing requires some mats that drop from mythic bosses only.  The mats are BoP, but the Ink Well is not.

Conclusions, such as they are

We may see 8.0.x this Tuesday, or three weeks from now (I can’t believe they’d cut it any closer). Now is the time to prepare, because once the patch drops, in my experience, you run out of options to keep things operating.  For example, the ink trader usually stops accepting the previous expansion’s inks or pigments (i.e. Roseate and Sallow) and instead requires the new expansion’s stuff (Crimson and Ultramarine Inks or Pigments). At which point you will have to go flower picking all over the place to keep making glyphs.

The good news is that glyphs that sell now will probably continue to sell.  The bad news is that the ones that aren’t selling will still probably not sell.

Hope you did well this time around, it looks like more of the same, alas.

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How to Fail at Being a Weapon

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The lady has a very fine post on WoW Insider about how cookie cutter builds suppress individuality – or words to that effect. I won’t gainsay her observations, but I do have some additional comments to make on the topic.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room.  The concept being that players are going to optimize their characters for maximum effect. If Vee’s laments are to be taken patently, then that means that every frost mage looks just like the next, and ever Afflock is pretty much taking the exact same spec. You have probably figured out for yourself at this point that that is not the case. Does this mean that Vee is full of shit?  Not at all!

Please be mindful that Vee’s field of view is extremely limited by the data she has to work with.  And in this case, the data she has to work with is from raiders doing raider things.

Instantly, without taking a breath, we have an automatic bias.

This bias is, strictly speaking, limited to people that (a) raid and (b) upload their combat logs to AskMrRobot’s combat log analyzer.

So, again strictly speaking, Vee’s article ONLY applies to raiders that like AMR over other log analyzers.

Those that do not raid – i.e., a lot of people plus PvPers – are not included in this equation.

If one were to take blog post titles literally – which I discourage – then Vee’s article should be more accurately entitled “How cookie cutter builds discourage player customization in raids“. Because that is one of the only two places (the other being PvP) where this statement is even remotely accurate.

Let me take a moment to be completely honest with you. What you choose as a spec and how you glyph and how you select talents are completely irrelevant if you are not a raider or PvPer.

Pretty much any build will work if you’re just questing, or bumming around Tanaan gathering Fel Blight or whatever that green shit is called, or grinding stupidity points in the Garrison, or, well, most activities in WoW. Talents and Glyphs are mostly meaningless if you are not raiding or PvPing.

Raiding and PvPing are special corner cases where all the rules of Sanity go out the window. In these cases, you must spec for maximum effectiveness. There is no other way. Failing to do so will result in less than optimum contribution from yourself to the effort at hand, be it a raid or battleground.

Yes. Yes, a thousand times. I am categorizing Raiding and PvP as corner cases in the WoW spectrum of builds. Because, when you compare the requirements of these efforts to everything else, they require specific- may I say, perverse – configurations in order for any one character to contribute effectively.

Former WoW lead designer GhostCrawler once confessed that he was surprised that users would optimize on efficiency. I as well would agree. But what he was actually commenting on was our tenancy to optimize on effectiveness, which includes but is not limited to efficiency. GC was wrong and the world may never be the same.

Let’s circle back on Vee’s core conceit here, though. In my mind,she’s late to the party, and I’ll tell you why.

For years we’ve known that raiding and PvP require specific skills. Optimization. Focus on what is required of you, the contributor to the team.

These are very specific environments, and nobody should be surprised that, given a known optimized build, top players would gravitate to the ones that yield the best results for others.   Once you have let the information genie out of the bottle, there is no going back.

Blizz have given us the tools to do this, in the form of combat logs, threat meters, DPS meters, and so forth. Given a source of information, geeks will mine it for all that it is worth, and that means that we’ll arrive at specific recommendations for specific situations.

Up to now I’ve restricted my observations to Raiding/PvP. For raiding, there’s an extra-exotic layer in which one tunes one’s spec PER BOSS. And why the hell not? For the cost of a reagent, one can switch talents and glyphs around like they were backdrops on a Windows PC.

So here are my fundamental observations on all this.

  1. The cookie cutter thing only applies to raiders and PvPers. Regardless of your opinion of what percentage of the playerbase that is, I guarantee it’s not over 70%.,
  2. Optimization is both normal; and EXPECTED for raiders and PvPers.
  3. Optimizing for maximum effectiveness is a normal behavior for anyone that is informed and trying to do the best they can in their role, whatever it may be.
  4. Whoever is not raiding or PvPing may be doing their own thing, but the AMR data does not support any conclusions either way, because AMR does not collect realtime data on non raiders.

I will point out that one major point of Vee’s article is that 3% of the top raiders are different than everyone else, and that may be significant. I totally agree with her premise in that regard. The cookie cutter thing gets you so far – i.e. somebody did the hard work of discovering what works and what doesn’t for you. But the truly excellent players find their own ways of doing things. That 3% isn’t a benchmark. It’s a challenge., It’s a challenge to the number crunchers and theory crafters to do  better.

And after all that, all I can say is: here’s to the 3-percenters.  Keep us on our toes. /respect.

Failed Design

If you’ve spent much time around me, you know that few things piss me off more than game elements created to deliberately waste my time.  In that regard, the Garrison as a whole, and the Lunarfall Excavation in particular really set me off on a rant when certain things come up.

But there’s more.

There are far fewer things that piss me off than things that are done to deliberately waste my time, but which contain self-defeating mechanisms to lessen or nullify their effects because the game designer was unwilling to hold the line  on the decision to go with that design, and wimped out rather than admit s/he was wrong.

In this case, I am referring to the two little treats you can find in the Lunarfall Excavation – the Preserved Mining Pick and the Miner’s Coffee.  These two items drop from Mine Carts that you find throughout the mine, and they nullify a bit of the time-sink that the mine represents – the picks by halving the time it takes to mine a node, and the coffee by speeding up your movement speed between nodes.  While neither completely nullify the time or distance required to travel around in a Level 3 mine, they go a long way towards diminishing it.  And that’s what annoys me.

When you’ve completed the design of a thing and submitted it to alpha testing, there are two ways of dealing with any shortcomings that the testers might find.  The first is, you take their feedback and make adjustments to the thing to make things better.  The other is, you pretend the testers don’t “get” your creation, and hold that line until someone else – say, the senior game designer – gets wind of it and there’s no time to actual redesign the thing, so little, stupid, workarounds have to be created to compensate for the failure of the thing.

Is this what actually happened with the Lunarfall Excavation?   Honestly, I’ll probably never know. But the design is so crappy, it really looks like those two “buff” items were added as a compensatory afterthought to somehow mollify the throngs of torch-bearing beta testers that wanted someone’s ass.

Compare the design to the herb garden. The garden is compact, organized, and takes less than five minutes to fully clean out even at Level 3.  Sure, it doesn’t render up the same quantity of resources or Primal Spirits, but it is just a far better design than the mine is.

This would not annoy me nearly as much if it weren’t for two things.  The first thing I’ve already hit on – Blizz, having elected to have this huge, sprawling complex that took at least a quarter of an hour to fully clean out, seemingly decided to wimp out on the level of commitment needed to clean it out. They apparently decided to soften the blow with a rather wimpy solution that showed commitment to nothing.

The second thing that amps up the annoyance here is that the mine is artificially mandatory for anyone that has a garrison.  Either you have to mine it for mats for your crafting – and many of these crafts are not blacksmithing or jewelcrafting – or you have to mine it for primal spirits used to upgrade your crafted armor.

Sure, you few Mythic raiders are going to get the good stuff off of Archy, but us mere mortals are going to have to deal with collecting resources to make our stuff, and unfortunately that includes mandatory mining for most things – Savage Blood, for example, requires Blackrock Ore for alchemists to use, and you need 60 of them to get a crafted item to its 4/6 level.

(Aside: it feels like they did levels 5 and 6 better, requiring you to be out in the world to find the primary mats for those upgrade, at least. So they can possibly be taught.)

In the film “Ruthless People” (A film I highly recommend, by the way), Danny DeVito’s character, Sam Stone, shares some power-negotiator advice with a hapless cop.

Never let the seller know you’re hot to trot. Tell him you haven’t got the money. […] tell ’em you don’t have the money, that it’s all tied up in investments or some crap. […] A bad salesman will automatically drop his price. Bad salesmen make me sick.

With regards to the Lunarfall Excavation, Blizzard plays the role of the Bad Salesman.

Bad salesmen make me sick.

Everything Old is New Again

Though I am loathe to link them, wowdb has a pretty decent Artifact Calculator up. This is our first glimpse at the progression of our new main weapons in Legion, as well as some spells and abilities associated with specific specs.

Without chewing too long on any particular weapon, I do notice one big thing, which is this.

Old-school WoW players that enjoyed the pre-Cata talent trees (such as, me!) will probably like the look and feel of this new feature.

To wit:

If you go over there and click around a little bit, you’ll see what I mean. All talents Artifact traits are constructed in a very familiar way: start out here, which enables you go go here or here, possibly after you select this many of this talent artifact trait. They usually (as far as I can tell) offer two specific paths to follow, so you can emphasize in what area you like, or homogenize as pleases you.

Let’s look at the Frost Mage artifact, Ebonchill, as an example. You’ll see that two fairly distinct paths are offered – one heavier on defensive, one heavier on offensive, with some common traits and crossover paths between them. This is a very familiar mechanism to us old-schoolers.

And I kinda like it.

Given, these are all very early beta / late alpha stuff, i.e. datamined stuff and some speculation, which the underwriters of WoWDB excel at (the speculation that is). So take with a grain of salt. But the overarching way that the Artifact traits will be implemented and/or controlled.

It implies that there are realistic choices to be made, and that those choices will be dictated by your toon’s chosen lifestyle. For example, I can see a Questing toon go for the higher defensive path and later emphasizing offensive / DPS. \

I’m also assuming that there will be a respec / reset feature at some point available.

What’s interesting is that we’re losing a lot of “choices” in our glyphs – Major glyphs are going away, for example – while gaining many choices here.  It’s apparent to me that character modification is moving into an area that is more blatantly relevant to the player, without providing the endless mini-game that was the WotLK talent trees.

I personally liked that mini-game, in that it gave me a lot of flexibility. But Blizz’s contention was that for most specs, there was one, and only one, true build for maximum raiding performance, so they normalized those non-choices out and left behind only “real” choices in the three-lane talent … trees we have today.  Mind  you, I’m not sure I agree with the terminology they use, as I continue to see cookie-cutter specs take over raiding and PvP as applies to the user, with the only real “choices” being between talents that nobody cares about anyway.

Normalizing to irrelevancy is not, IMO, a good thing, which is why I’m both excited to see the new Artifact designs, and apprehensive about the ultimate outcome.

It will be interesting to see where this is going, but for the time being it looks like it will take a predictable path, different from Vanilla in only the form which it takes. By the first week of beta, there will be just a few optimized configurations that render the maximum effect for each spec.

One last thing.

Datamining has revealed a Fishing Pole Artifact. Ain’t that a hoot.

 

The Sound of Silence

A certain gaming website recently ran an article in which it noted that a LOT of people were piling on the pro-flight side of the scale with regard to The Great Grounding. Notable here was a complete absence if the pro-grounding camp.  Why? 

Well, the obvious and probably intended conclusion you could draw was that there weren’t any.

But given that I know for a fact that that’s not true, I’m entertaining another theory.

See, people that are basically okay with the status quo rarely speak up. Why would they? Everything’s fine! What is there to blog about? 

I am thoroughly content with the pace of content patches.

Or

I can’t find the words to express how perfect I find Garrisons as they are.

Nobody blogs how they think that the weather is perfect, or their soup was just the right temperature last night. Contentment isn’t interesting.

Bloggers, if we wish to aggrandize ourselves a little bit, are basically story-tellers.  And one of the core features of a story is conflict. Nobody wants to read how Frodo got to Mordor without incident, or how Harry caught Voldemort flat-footed before he had any real power, or how Kirk raised shields when the Reliant failed to respond to hails and Khan got clapped into irons right off the bat.  Nobody gives two shits about a story with no tension in it.

So my theory is – and I hasten to point out, it’s a theory – is that people that are okay with this aren’t really moved to express that they are, and thus it’s kind of hard to count them. 

But I suspect the number of people that this describes is somewhere north of where you think it is.

Point of View

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My adventures in Elite: Dangerous and Eve Online ((Not shown.)) have highlighted some things that have come out, albeit peripherally, in  research.  Namely, that third person perspective and first person perspective have profound effects on the immersion that one experiences when playing a game – and how one approaches playing that game.

A while back a guy did an experiment with a VR harness coupled with a camera and a shoulder-mounted scaffold that gave people the viewpoint they would have in an MMO in third-party – say, for example, WoW ((Alas, I’m missing the link to the actual research video – it was before the Oculus, I can say that for sure.)).

You may be familiar with this in WoW.  You’re sitting at the mailbox, going through the daily hate mail from Arthas and Deathwing, when some tool runs up to you, plants his pixlelly ass in between you and the mailbox, and proceeds to jump up and down.

And jump up and down.

And jump up and down.

And jump up and down.

And jump up and down.

And … well, you get the idea.

Turns out, a VR+Camera rig that gives you the same viewpoint on real life … makes you act exactly the same way you would in an MMO in which you play from the third party viewpoint. 

Now, I hasten to emphasize that the experimenter did not indicate whether hir test subjects were frequent gamers, which would tend to skew the behavior a bit ((After all, a familiar environment makes you act in familiar ways.)), but I have to say this: even if the only place you do that sort of thing is in an MMO, you’re still … kind of an asshole. Sorry.

Now, getting in someone’s face and jumping up and down is small potatoes compared to other things that people playing in 3PP ((Third Party Perspective – my keyboard is old.)) frequently do.  They tend to – apparently – not believe that the people they are interacting with are real, and thus they treat those people as if they are not people.  Now, personally, I tend to not treat non-people like shit just because I can because I’m not an asshole ((At least, not that kind of asshole.)) but there seems to be a lot of people that treat abstract entities online badly if they can, because they can.

And here, at last, I get to the point of contrast between Eve Online and Elite: Dangerous.

Eve plays constantly in a third party mode, even when docked. You’re actually viewing your SHIP in 3PP, not even yourself, in that game.

Elite, on the other hand, sticks you in the cockpit and leaves you there.  To view your ship in 3PP, in fact, is a DEBUG control. And you can’t do much of anything in debug mode.

If you follow Eve’s politics and drama even peripherally, you’ll know that in 0sec space, no one’s safe unless you have some sort of protection from the “corps” ((“Corporations”, or, to place it in familiar terms, the Eve analog to WoW guilds.)), you’ll probably end up podded ((Doing the monochrome marathon, in WoW parlance.)).  At the upper levels, there is constant backstabbing and outright crimes against fellow corp-mates, sometimes taking down entire corps.  Basically, everything goes, and while the game’s creators may not encourage this sort of behavior, they don’t discourage it, either.  Honestly, they don’t really appear to care.

In Elite, the same lack of constraints on one’s behavior exist, but running into this sort of situation is extremely rare.  I’ve been attacked by other players for no real reason from time to time, but it’s rarely malevolent in nature – i.e., just a pirate, doing his job. They’ve even offered to help me out before shooting me up for non-response.

The best example of this is the Goonswarm.  In Eve, the Goonswarm is a force to be reckoned with. They have taken over entire corps, terrorize 0sec space, and generally specialize in griefing.

Goonswarm exists in Elite, as well, but they are oddly ineffective.  They have all the tools they need to effect a system-wide shutdown – which they attempted – except, of course, the whole ‘corp’ framework, which can be replaced by an external framework like Mumble – but as it turns out, lowly CMDRs like me just skooched along and took care of business.  Eventually, the lack of dread and loathing from the general population caused the Goonies to lose interest.  When nobody reacts to trolls, they go elsewhere looking for attention.

The entire Elite community has, at least in-game, been extremely polite and helpful.  The worst behavior I’ve seen has been in system-wide chat, which is a newly implemented feature, and the behavior is consistent with the 3PP theory – people in a chat window aren’t people, so you can treat them like shit without repercussions.  ((Frontier hasn’t really addressed anything about chat channel terrorism at this point, and, given their track record, they likely never will.  Not on the roadmap.)).

There are dozens of potential causes for this disparity between the two games that are otherwise very similar, so I won’t draw a conclusion as to cause. All I want to do here is point out that research that I’ve mentioned before, and note that what we see in the skew between Eve and Elite tracks very well with those conclusions.

The message you get in Elite is that piloting a starship is a very personal thing. It isn’t an abstract thing involving armadas and ‘swarms’. It’s just you, your starship, and the Big Black.

Does this mean I would switch to FPP in WoW to try to replicate this experience?  Not likely. WoW is designed around a different paradigm than Elite is, and doesn’t enforce the other players playing the same way, so I don’t see any point to it.  Though, I will note, that it does suggest an interesting thing.

To wit: What if everyone in WoW was forced to first person perspective? Would the social dynamics of the game shift significantly?

Talk amongst yourselves.

This is WoW

One of the oldest chestnuts in WoW gameplay discussions is between the various content “factions” – for example, raiders, casuals, PvPers, RPers, and so forth. There are at least four points of tension listed here, and there are probably more than that in reality.

Raiding has always been criticized as taking entirely too much development resources for the number of players that partake of it.  Even with LFR now a thing, I suspect we’re looking at a maximum of 20% participation at all levels.  Take away LFR and we’re probably closer to 10, or maybe, 5 percent of the entire game’s population.

And that of course is the crux of the critics’ argument – massive resources are being directed at something that only one out of five players actually experiences. While we don’t have head counts here, the critic will point to Blizz’s recent refrain of “that would cost a raid tier” as the reason they didn’t get around to doing the things other “factions” wanted to do.

Blood elf models? Raid tier.

Armor dyes? Raid tier ((Or possibly being saved for the F2P game. Not that that will ever happen if you talk to anyone director level or above.)).

New player class? Raid tier.

New player race? Raid tier.

Revamped professions? Raid tier.

Dance studio? Two raid tiers. Or maybe an expansion. Dancing’s hard, y’all.

At any rate, the thing we come away with is that raiding’s a Big F!cking Deal to the game designers and around 20% of the player base.

But I’m okay with that.

Watch this video.  I’ll meet you on the other side.

Okay, ask the average Eve player and they’ll tell you that the images you saw in that video are atypical of the average game experience. Most of the time is spent micromanaging a plethora of skills, bots, build jobs, and other administrivia ((The terms “Spreadsheets in spaaaace” and “Spreadsheet Simulator” are often bandied about with varying levels of humor and pain and pathos.)).  But the fact remains, these epic battles between huge fleets exist. They exist so hard that when they happen, the Web usually takes notice. It is not unusual for one of these massive battles – which I emphasize, often include ships worth tens of thousands of real-world dollars – to make the cut on cnn.com or other mainstream news site, even if it’s just to mock us geeks and our pathetic ways.

Here’s the thing. Raid-level encounters in Eve are not scripted or in any way influenced by CCP, the parent company of Eve. These encounters are completely organic, entirely generated by the goals and needs of the players, in the truest sandboxxiness sense.

And yet the parallels between these battles and WoW raiding, especially outside of LFR, are pretty stark ((As my term “Raid-level encounters” probably illustrated.)). And it illustrates why raiding in WoW is a thing that needs to keep happening, even if only one out of a hundred of us does it.

Because epic tales are important. They are part of our DNA as fantasy/scifi RPG players. Even if we can’t be part of the epic battles, even if we don’t make the cut for the realm’s greatest raiding guild, we can hear the stories and dream. This is the essential nature of gaming, in a way.

A new player class or race, updated professions, or even the Dance Studio are nowhere near as, well, “sexy” as an epic raid, even when experienced viscerally via youtube video or forum post or even word of mouth on the guild forums. Tales of great deeds are inspirational. Tales of blown opportunities in the skill-up grind for Engineering … not so much.

I imagine the average Eve player resents the hell out of the big Corps out there and their iron grip on Big Fleet Battles. But I suspect every dedicated Eve player that is NOT in one of those big Corps would probably jump at the chance to play even the smallest part in one of those gigantic space battles.  To paraphrase Dave Scott, the commander of Apollo 15, I believe there’s something to be said for grandeur. At the end of the day, regardless of our place in the grand scheme of things, we all need something aspirational to drive us, to inspire us, to provide us with something a little bit out of reach that we might be able to grasp, if we play our cards right.

In game theory terms, it is a huge carrot for us to chase. Eve’s players drive both ends of that equation. If raiding was removed in WoW completely, I suspect something similar would happen here.

The question is, is it worth it for Blizz to sink resources into something like this?  I suspect it depends on what the end result is, and I don’t mean boss drops.  Just what is it that Blizz gets from raiding?

My main gripe with raiding has always been, it removes something from the average player’s personal experience. It’s not gear, but the story of the raid design itself. More than anything else, each raid provides a distinct tic mark in the lore of Azeroth. MC provided us with a limited understanding of Ragneros; Kara gave us much lore about Medivh; ICC was the capstone on Arthas’ arc; Deathwing was destroyed in one of those raids. Something something Pandaria.  Garrosh has a plan. You get the picture. The raid endpoints of a content patch and/or expansion have been rather lore-heavy. Thanks to LFR, these have become potentially accessible to every player in the game willing to achieve a specific gearscore.

That’s not the point.

The point is, the primary lore delivery mechanism for WoW is, has been, and will continue to be, the raid. So as long as that remains the case, raids are extremely important to the health of the game, regardless of whether you participate directly or not. From a lore perspective, this matters. From a, er, spiritual perspective, it also matters.

Basically, the moment that someone decides that raids are no longer relevant to WoW is when WoW begins to die.

Unless an equally valid source of lore and epic content is identified.

But that’s another show.

The Zen of Warcraft

There seems to be a deep divide between those that think that our classes’ rotations have become too complicated ((AKA “Button Bloat”))  – and thus welcome the upcoming changes to our rotations in WoD, and those that think that reducing the count of abilities is somehow “dumbing down” the game ((AKA “elitist jerks”)) and thus are very annoyed at the upcoming changes.

This is not a topic with simple answers. I’ve tried, multiple times, to explain my thoughts on this topic in a venue in which I feel is ill designed for such discussions – that being Twitter. In fact, I have in the past unfollowed people that absolutely refuse to take long, wandering Twitter diatribes and put them in a blog post where they can actually sound semi-intelligent ((Every one of them being people with mostly neglected WoW blogs, by the way.)). Since I can’t unfollow myself, I have no choice but to go the blog route, or never speak to myself again.

Anyhoo.

Part of my day job is being a programmer. I am, when I program, primarily a Python programmer. Python is a beautiful, productive, and exceptionally fun to work with programming language that has, at its core, a set of principles that all programmers should heed, even if they aren’t programming in Python. To wit:

>> import this ((Yes, if you open the Python interpreter and type “import this” you will get exactly that output.))

The Zen of Python, by Tim Peters

Beautiful is better than ugly.
Explicit is better than implicit.
Simple is better than complex.
Complex is better than complicated.
Flat is better than nested.
Sparse is better than dense.
Readability counts.
Special cases aren’t special enough to break the rules.
Although practicality beats purity.
Errors should never pass silently.
Unless explicitly silenced.
In the face of ambiguity, refuse the temptation to guess.
There should be one– and preferably only one –obvious way to do it.
Although that way may not be obvious at first unless you’re Dutch. ((The inventor of Python, Guido von Rossum, is Dutch. He’s kinda our Linus Torvalds.))
Now is better than never.
Although never is often better than *right* now.
If the implementation is hard to explain, it’s a bad idea.
If the implementation is easy to explain, it may be a good idea.
Namespaces are one honking great idea — let’s do more of those! ((Yeah, that one’s hard to explain if  you’re not a programmer, and if you are, you probably already get it.))

Okay, the part I want to draw your attention to is this.

Simple is better than complex.
Complex is better than complicated.

The idea here is, simple code is easier to maintain than complex code, and maintainability is everything in the software world. You may not be the next person to work on this code, for example, so think of the next programmer in line.  And, as a famous saying goes, “any code that you haven’t seen in six months might as well have been written by somebody else.”   In this case, the next person might be YOU.

Of course, there are times that complexity can’t be avoided.  If your web server wants to support multiple web browsers, for example, you need to bake a little bit of complexity in to cater to specific requirements of various browsers.  You can do complexity and still uphold maintainability if you do your job right.

But complicated … well, there we lose the thread.  Maintainability goes out of the window. You need a roadmap to even keep track of your own code. Often, you end up guessing because keeping track of it all just wears you out. Want a good example of complicated? Log in to Facebook using any browser you can get access to, including obsolete ones that nobody else supports.  They’ve baked more than complexity into Facebook, and it shows, every time you use it.  Often it even corrupts modern browsers to keep it open too long. It’s so complicated that it even damages the internet – not intentionally, mind you – because there are parts of it that are just harmful and broken.

How’s this pertain to WoW?  Well, it’s all about the difference between simple, complex and complicated.

Let’s shift gears for a moment.  One thing I was taken to task for was expressing that I missed the old, pre-Cata talent trees.  I was called on this, “You claim you want to reduce the number of abilities but you want the more complicated talent trees! Hypocrite! LIIIIIAAAAR!!!!1”

But that’s just not comparing things fairly.

talent tree

You’re gonna point and laugh at talent calculators, aren’t you? AREN’T YOU?

The old talent trees, for all their complexity, gave flexibility.  You could put together a Holy Hybrid priest that was 3/4 Disco and 1/4 Holy that pretty much was indestructible and pretty good at healing, to boot. You could create a “Shockadin” that utilized elements of Holy and Ret Paladins ((See here for more good examples if you care to read it. I think you should.)).  You could do a lot with a complex talent tree that was useful and functional.

Button bloat, however, offers none of that.

First of all, unless you get really clever and complicated in your keybinds, you have around twelve abilities that are easily available – or if you’re like me, maybe sixteen ((I cheated.)).  The rest are going to always be a stretch to find and use.  Adding more abilities just makes this worse. You weed out those that  have no immediate purpose, and maybe don’t bind them at all. Maybe they stay in the spellbook.

too many buttons

KAAAAAAAAAAAAAHN

What’s the difference between twenty unused talents and twenty unused abilities?  Probably that the unused talents have the potential to actually be USED. But chances are, if your spec has twenty abilities that you don’t use, they’ll NEVER be used.

WoWScrnShot_041314_103659

Once you go Warlock, you’ll never go back.

It would be a whole different story if you had twenty extra abilities or spells that you might use as effectively as the twelve you have bound currently, but those twelve are bound and those twenty are not for a reason. Those twenty unused talents, however, have probably some chance of being used at some point if you want change your build.  But no matter how hard you want, you won’t change the effectiveness of those ineffective abilities.

There’s an obvious fallacy here, though.

The astute reader might realize that I’m not exactly comparing equals.  I’m comparing twenty potentially useful talents to twenty mostly useless abilities. That’s because of the source of what I’m comparing – I’m comparing the state of talents at the end of WotLK to the state of abilities at the end of MoP.  That’s not entirely fair, but it is the hand I’ve been dealt for this discussion.

Obviously, the answer to the twenty useless abilities is to get rid of them and replace them with twenty useful abilities, right?

But here’s the one glaring difference between abilities and talents.  Abilities are in your face, on your ability bars, and used in real time. Talents are not, except when they actually “produce” an ability.  But for the most part, you choose your talents, you adjust your rotation appropriately, and for the rest of the expansion, they’re out of your face.

In the end, I stand by this.  Lots of talents ((And/or glyphs, and/or stats, and/or gem sockets, and/or weapons, and/or armor.))  gives you the ability to fine-tune and individualize your character without necessarily causing your contribution in (raiding | PvP | cooking) to suffer overtly. But too many abilities can get in the way, make your life more complicated, make it more difficult to contribute to your favorite activities.

Well, naw, that’s pretty much a fallacy, too.

Let’s be honest. Your rotation will be whatever you see on Icy Veins.

And what will they tell you?  Of those 50 abilities you have, here are the handful that you must use.  And those others?  Use them at the ren faire. Maybe somebody will applaud.

For the most part, the same applied to talents back in the day, except that instead of one true way to use them, there were multitudes, often dependent on levels and gear and what you wanted to do with your character.  In terms of abilities, however, you have one of three tasks, now – DPS, heal, tank.  And there will be probably two rotations – single target vs multi. And that’s pretty much as you’ll ever get from abilities now.

I fail to see the virtue of twenty good extra abilities when there is zero chance that they will be used.  Twenty extra good talents, however, have potential to be used, without getting in the way.

The difference between the two is the difference between complex and complicated, and it’s all the difference in the world to me.

Your keybinds, your ability setup, your macros, that all amounts to the same sort of package as the average software project. You have to set it up, maintain it, use it.  If it’s an unpalatable glop of buttons and half-hidden macros, I doubt the author is performing to her or his potential. Unlike a complex talent tree, you don’t have the time in the midst of battle to go looking for stuff or reading up on Noxxic when you forget just what the proper set of mostly unused actions are that you need for this particular situation (whatever that is).  The more towards simplicity we go with this, the more towards goodness.  Let’s move the complexity where it belongs, which is to say, not in the real-time aspect of the game.

So, no, I’m not talking out of both sides of my mouth on this topic. I see a substantial difference between a rich talent tree and button bloat. I’m not a big fan of the current talent system, but even less of a fan of having a dozen abilities I’ll never use.

Maybe I can’t bring other people to see that difference, but at least I didn’t leave it in Twitter.

And the Zen of Python?  Maybe Anaheim should think about adopting it as a core principle as well.  The Python runtime achieved a Coverity defect density of .005 this past year ((I know, you’re thinking “This means what to me, exactly?”  Trust me, from a software engineering perspective, it’s a very good thing!)).  A culture that eschews complexity – while still allowing for it when necessary – seems to work out to high-quality software, something that impacts anyone that uses it.

They Killed Flappy Bird, Didst Thou not Hear?

Summary: Flying was a mistake. It was a design flaw in TBC.  Blizzard lacked the vision to realize the game would last beyond one expansion ((I’m really not making that up, they didn’t expect it to be so popular.)) and so they painted themselves into a corner at the end of TBC by giving everyone the ability to fly, and it went from neat end of game feature to automatic entitlement in the next.

When WotLK came along, the "reason" we couldn’t fly in Northrend at first was so thin, so lame, that we actually mocked them, and for good reason.  And thus has it ever been for the following expansions, as they continue to come up with lame, stupid "reasoning" ((Hint: no actual reasoning to be found.)) to "justify" ((To them, not us.)) keeping us on the ground until we’ve narfled the Garthok ((Def. #2 slays me.)), just because they don’t want us ignoring all that beautiful artwork and masterful questlining they’ve done.

A further unintended side-effect is that they’ve never learned how to create a zone with flying in it.  You may have noticed, Blizz uses the landscape to push you where it wants you to go. Impassable mountain ranges, big tree trunks, bloodthirsty troll guards, etc.  You avoid that which is impassable or inconvenient, and end up in an area that they want you to be. Flying mounts negate all that, you violate every control they put in place, children are left unattended, dogs and cats cohabitate, and other terrible things happen as an effect.

I don’t know if they’ve even tried, but I have yet to see a zone where flying was properly factored in to the flow of the zone’s "experience", and, as such, it looks to anyone that’s looking as if they don’t have a clue how to design a zone, period. Twilight Highlands – who remembers how unpleasant it was to slog through the first time versus the second time, when you got flying for the whole tribe and your alts just skidded around in the sky without a care in the world?  That’s the difference in how the zone comes across with and without flying.

So flying’s broken the game, and they won’t or can’t adjust the game to make flying work out as a part of the game ((Well, every now and then they try flying mobs that will knock you out of the sky, but as soon as the expansion moves far enough along, they remove that. Say hello to the birdies over Halfhill for me.  If they pay you any attention.)), therefore all we get is "U No Fly Heer" zones and collective years of wasted effort on their parts as entire zones turn into flat, two-dimensional tabletop adventures that have a scattering of completely avoidable mobs.

Clearly, flying must die.

There are three possible paths, as I see it.

  • They can remove flying from the game completely, admit it was a mistake, soak up the abuse ((For the kind of money they’re getting, they can manage to soak up a LOT of abuse and be just fine.)), and move on.
  • They can remove flying from the current content, allowing it in all previous expansion areas, but controlling it in the current.
  • They can bloody well learn how to put together a zone with flying taken fully into account.

As a gaming purist, I am in favor of the "nuke it from orbit" approach, mostly (a) because I have seen no evidence that option #3 is even possible. I’d rather they spent scarce resources on something that they have a reasonable chance to accomplish, meaning (b) I also have my doubts as to whether they can pick up all the loose ends in the case of option 2.

I’m not in favor of removing flying simply because I have the blackest of evil hearts and enjoy seeing others suffer ((I might, but it’s not germane to the situation.)), I’m in favor of it because it makes for a better game.

  • They spend less time trying to account for ((And failing, and giving up on.)) people flying around whatever feature they’re working on.
  • They spend less time trying to negotiate the precise moment in the expansion or player’s life that the ban gets lifted.
  • They spend less time tracking down bugs that might crop up because someone found a niche where they CAN fly in ((A feature not implemented won’t cause bugs in its own right.)).
  • Players play the game, rather than ignore it on the way to whatever corner-cased endgame feature they need to twink on ((And maybe players leave the game over this. I’m not concerned over the quality of people that lets something like this put them over the top. I just aren’t.)).
  • The designers put more thought and interest into game features because they realize that there are far fewer ways for players to blow them off.
  • You actually "accomplish" something yourself.

It amazes me that people can’t keep things civil on this.  A friend of mine has been getting abuse over her opinion on this.  Listen here, cheeto-breath.  When all you have to fall back to is abuse, you lose. You’ve already lost.  Everyone can see it, you have added nothing relevant to the argument.  You’re nothing but a hater, and we all know about haters.

haters

That’s right, J. D.  ((Doing selfies Old Skool.)) 

You’d know better than most.

And the only way to deal with the haters is to let them go hate on the only person that loves them – themselves.  So, any person they unfollow is, really, better off for it – though blocking the haters is better, since that whey they can’t sleaze back into your life later without your permission.

I’ve not said much about this before, because others have done a much better job of getting the point across. But it seems as if some people don’t do "points." 

Or something.

A solution in search of a problem

If you were awake this past weekend, you probably saw the news that in WoD, there are a few design changes that will ultimately culminate in the requirement of a silver medal in the Proving Grounds before you can randomly queue for a Heroic 5-man instance.

That is an outstanding solution for a problem that we don’t actually have.

Let me quantify this with a pie chart. 

Japan

I think I’m turning Japanese

 

Let’s let the blue part of that chart represent the number of times I have had difficulty in a random Heroic5 because somebody in the group was incapable of playing his or her class. Let the red part represent the number of times I have had difficulty in a random Heroic5 because somebody in the group was an asshole.

I think you’re starting to get the picture.

Now, I immediately point out that data is not the plural of anecdote, so my personal experience is not by definition the experience others have. But I will also point out that no man is an island ((Also, no man is a woman. Whatever either of those mean.)), and we all share an experience here, so what I hear from other players can be used as a guide to help determine if I’m whistling in the dark here ((To continue the folksy idioms – I got a case of ’em on sale!)).

Well, the majority of what I see people complaining about online – other than the forums ((Don’t’ read the forums if you wish to retain your soul.)) is assholes.  Or, rather, if they’re complaining about the person not performing, it’s because that person is being an asshole. Or otherwise coupled with the person being an asshole, in some way.

Well, assume Blizz is starting small. Let’s have a look at how the poor performers break down.

Japan

Domo Arigato

The red part is people that are complaining about poor performers as an excuse for their groups’ failures.  The blue part is those people which would see improvement in their Heroic5 experience if only a silver medal was required for entry into a random Heroic5.

Okay, I’m full of shit and making those numbers up out of whole cloth, because I really don’t need a formal survey of the forums to form an opinion on this.

Of all the people having problems with randoms of any sort now, performance is rarely given as the cause of the failure. More times than not I’m reading about the seven healers that are left after all the DPS prima donnas left because they felt like effort was something they would like to avoid, and the tanks left out of disgust at that, and the healers are busy discussing who gets to be the biggest martyr this time ((I play all three roles, so I don’t wanna hear any sass.)).  It wasn’t performance. It was personality.

I really don’t care at the meta level. I’m not running random Heroic 5s, not because I don’t think people know how to play, but because I’m fed up with assholes.  And nothing Blizz is doing here is going to change an asshole’s opportunity to make LFD an unholy shithole of gaming society ((Still better than forums.)).

When Blizz comes up with social controls on trollish behavior, I’ll be more interested. 

Meanwhile, Blizz is wasting time and resources on something that won’t make any difference.  They could have done that on the dance studio and at least made people genuinely happy.