Monday, June 29, 2009

Starcraft 2: preview, beta soon!



Wanted to link you, my fair reader, to the results of a recent PR effort by Blizzard to bring a bunch of game journalists and Starcraft fan sites to their offices and let them play Starcraft 2, which puts them right at the top of the list of People I Want To Strangle Out Of Jealousy.



The interesting-est facts I gleaned:
  • SC2 is ready for beta. It's just that Battle.net isn't ready. We should see beta soon, and the game before the year is up. Given Blizzard's history, this is hard to believe. Might be that there's some Activision shareholders nervously staring at the company's financials while holding a candle under Blizzard's ass.
  • They expect a lot of crossover from casual WoW players. Dear god, now I suddenly understand while people talk about "WoW tourists". Starcraft was my first PC love! Get your grubby "I never played a PC game except the Sims until I found out you could make an Elf" mits off my game! Go away!
  • They are beefing up the matchmaking to accomodate those WoW players. This is great, because constantly facing off against very skilled opponents is one of the major weaknesses of Blizzard's previous online RTS titles. Qeueing up for a WC3 online match was like pulling down your pants, grabbing your ankles, and then getting launched out of a cannon backwards towards a wall made of spiked dicks.
  • Lots of tutorials, help, and convenience added to the game, and the replay system was heavily beefed up. This is awesome because I like it when online games have training for the actual online parts, and when there is a way to go back and easily learn from your own matches or the matches of others.
Go check out the previews at:

1up.com

Joystiq

Kotaku

And this summary of fansite responses at my favorite SC2 community site, SC2Pod

Transformers Review


Transformers 2: Revenge of the Nondescript Subtitle is the prettiest clusterfuck I have ever seen.

Every cent that hack/manchild Michael Bay got for making this movie should go directly to the computer animation department, which did a heckuva job. All the rest of the film's profit should get split amongst Megan Fox's lips and breasts.

The movie's plot is so jumbled that pointing out all of the plot holes doesn't work because (1) the plotholes themselves have holes, and (2) any criticism of the plot gets sucked into the swirling mass of the plot as though it were black hole. A black hole made up of dick jokes.

And that's the strangest thing about the ...ahem... "film". It can't decide whether it's a kids movie or an adult's movie, so it splits the difference in the worst possible way: everything about it is juvenile and childish, but laden with violence, sexuality, and bathroom/bedroom humor that goes lower than even American Pie. The content is hyper-adult, but delivered in a hyper-childish way. It was so discordant I felt a stroke coming on.

One of the Decepticons has giant balls, OK? And rather than just leave it at the sight gag for only the adults to catch, instead they have an adult (who himself has no purpose in the movie except to act like a clown for the children to laugh at) report to the military that he is, and I quote: "Directly below the enemy scrotum".

I'll let that sink in for a second.
.
.
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And the kicker? The thing doesn't have a damn scrotum! The balls are just hanging loose out in the air!

Hearing which gags got the biggest laughs in the theater (of at least 2/3 adults) made me fear for the future of America. Apparently, generic insults are HILARIOUS if delivered by a character in a snarky voice. Almost as hilarious as sexual assault. Which is aaalmost as knee-slappingly hysterical as racial stereotypes. Actual jokes? Barely a titter. (heh, heh, I said tit)


And I have never in my entire life witnessed any piece of work so obsessed with manliness and anxious adolescent male wish fulfillment. Someone get Michael Bay some male enhancement, pronto. Or at least a girlfriend who doesn't care about size or potency.

The lead is again hapless loser Sam Witwicky, played by Shaya LaDoof. Despite absolutely no capability or positive qualities, except perhaps the ability to run away and scream, he's set up as some Hero of Destiny with a Matrix of Leadership or some such crap. He's put in there so insecure males can identify with him, and then given importance for absolutely no reason. Everyone cares about him so much, and it just doesn't make any sense. Throughout the movie, literally thousands of soldiers die with almost no attention paid to them. Sam gets injured, and suddenly the battle comes to a complete stop so a full medical team can worry over this one useless kid after ignoring some dying soldiers. Pathetic wish-fulfillment and undeserved ego stroking: quite a recipe for box-office success.

You can actually see Megan Fox grimace when she has to kiss him. She may be quite a looker, but she's no actress, and her revulsion is almost physically palpable. She spends about 10 seconds of the movie with one of the supporting actors (a soldier) and has more chemistry with him than in the hour of screen time she's next to LaDouche.

Shots linger a bit too long on military hardware, until you can almost hear the strains of "America, Fuck Yeah" in the background. Speaking of Team America: in Transformers, a number of priceless Egyptian artifacts are destroyed, including one of the fucking pyramids. By a missile. The parallels are astounding.

There are dick jokes and phallic stand-ins everywhere (guns guns guns!), Optimus Prime has a voice so deep that there is no way you could question his masculinity. There aren't even any female soldiers, despite the fact that half the frames in the movie are full of soldiers. There are only two female transformers, and they each appear on camera just long enough to get killed. Transformers seems to have pretty much one goal: to reassure you that men are men and women are women and you have no reason to be anxious about your gender identity! And shlubby guys are important, too! Even if it's for no reason!

But such is the futility of criticising this movie. It's simply an unstoppable force of stupidity. It's like a core of idiocy that propels forward the fatty/sugary delicious spectacle of the film. Much like the second Matrix movie, it's much improved by simply editing together all of the fight scenes and just watching them.

It's a fun movie to watch, and it's not supposed to make sense. It's supposed to be a pure indulgence. But for all its prettines- oh, I'm sorry, rugged manly handsomeness- I'd rather just have a piece of cake.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Laziness: Aion



Based on all the buzz I've been hearing on Ye Olde Internetworke lately, and especially a preview from Ixobelle, I've pre-ordered a copy of Aion. Aion is an upcoming MMO in which, to oversimplify, you play an anime version of a winged angel in what looks like a gorgeous fantasy world. From the looks of the website, it has a great aesthetic, a standard MMO levelling experience, a mixed PvP and PvE endgame, and clones all of the WoW classes except for druids and shaman. I'm pretty confident it will be worth as much to me as a single-player game at that price even if I only play for the first month. And better yet, pre-ordering gives me access to the beta events, so hopefully I can give you some more in-depth impressions to decide if you are interested in the game as well.

Between this and Champions Online both releasing in September, I wonder if I'll be able to fit WoW in anymore?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Badge change unfriendly to people who are actually casual.


So, yeah, another post about the badge change. I promise I'll stop soon. I just find the various internet reactions to be riveting, and very revealing about what's actually going on behind the veil in many blogger's heads.

Let me preface this link to Gevlon's Greedy Goblin blog with this: I in no way endorse Gevlon's real life political views. I think he often has good points about in-game things, and at least offers an interesting perspective to read. But I think he is WAY off-base trying to apply his philosophies from wow to real life. Just ignore most of this post about welfare. Just take away this part, from one of his commentors, Gnomegeddon:

"Gnomegaddon found the real reason (/bow). As you know Blizzard will implement a welfare system, where you can get Naxx25-Ulduar25 gear for no effort, just by grinding 5 mans. Since WoW is a virtual world, Blizzard don't have to tax us to give welfare to the M&S. They can produce gear out of nothing at all. So the change have no effect on us, raiding people.

However it is devastating on beginner and handicapped (poor) people. Gnomegaddon is WoW-handicapped due to his playing schedule. He will be much less geared than the facerolling moron, who spend his infinite free time (unaffected by working or learning) on grinding 5-mans. If Gnomegaddon logs in, sees a "LFM 1 mage to Ulduar 10", he'll have practically 0 chance to get accepted against a completely useless facerolling M&S, due to much worse gear.

If some new player reaches level cap, he will be completely uncompetitive against the ilvl226 M&S. Normally, his ilvl200 blue/crafted epic would be enough to get into starter raids. I'm damn sure that you can clear the siege area with a full 200 group if they know what to do. It's proven that you can clear all T7 content in ilvl 160.

Due to the welfare system he has no other option than join the welfare leech class, stay out of raiding for months to grind enough badges just to apply."


To summarize: this change completely screws over anyone with limited playtime. It increases the gap between hardcore and casual. All it does is bring "M&S" with lots of free time to the same level as the best raiders.

And this is my problem with things that reward only time spent, no matter how easy or monotonous the task done in that time. They aren't interesting to skill-oriented players, because they are easy. They aren't useful to people with little time to play, because those people don't have the time to grind out that reward. They are only advantageous to those with lots of free time to waste on a boring grind.

The holidays are disaster for casuals, even though it seems otherwise. Because when you only get a few hours a week to log into wow, you shouldn't be spending that time clicking eggs and flying all over the planet looking for elders or bonfires. You should be getting a chance to play the actual game. But when it's nearly impossible to get a title or mount or vanity pet from the regular game unless you are an uber-hardcore raider, casual players are given a giant carrot that draws them strongly toward a tedious, purposely time-wasting activity.

This is horrible design, Blizz! Don't make the rewards people really want (don't even pretend that people aren't motivated by titles and mounts and vanity pets and only care about loot, just look at the Argent Tournament) only available through the hardest core raiding or the most time wasted on tedious scavenger-hunt activities. Make it something you can get in the actual game through time spent well.

An idea off the top of my head: introduce a new set of achievements for heroics. Purposely make them have absolutely nothing to do with gear, but only on skill and brains. Break them into subsets that give pets and mounts, and give a title or two for completing big chunks of them. Hell, have completing each one give a bag with Emblems of Triumph and a BoE epic! Make it repeatable through a new daily quest that requires you complete the challenging achievement again for the same reward. Reward smarts and skill and effort, instead of purely time spent.

"Elitists" vs. "Casuals": Neither Has Moral Superiority. Period.



I just wanted to post a comment I made to a post by Ard the Paladin on the HolySh---ock blog. I think he makes a pretty level-headed post here, but I got fired up because Rorik of the WoW Street Journal started attacking elitists, and then linked to this post, which isn't really so much an attack as thoughts. Read the post to see what I'm responding to.


--------------

"You nailed it with this quote:

"It's down to expectation that is only measured compared to what you yourself are doing. I play many hours per week, I research gear, talents, abilties and strategy. When another player is benefitting from that, shouldn't they at least be doing the same?"

Why should someone else who hasn't bothered to put in the effort benefit equally with me for my effort? If you want to do that, that's totally fine. Play how you want. It just bites my nads when anyone paints someone as "elitist" (with of course a negative connotation) just for expecting other people to put in effort somewhat comparable to his own if they want the same chance at reward.

That said, people should play how they want to play! If you want to carry a friend, that's awesome for you! If your guild culture is such that everyone just likes to help everyone no matter how poorly they perform, more power to you! I wish you the best!

But please don't assume that people who are after results are necessarily having less fun than "friendly helpful people". It's just a different way of having fun, stemming from a different personality type and set of preferences. Both playstyles should coexist peacefully, instead of the "elitist vs casual" argument, which is really only about feelings getting hurt: "casuals" (overly broad and innacurate name for category, imo) are hurt because they feel rejected, while "elitists" are hurt because they feel like they are being taken advantage of (being a horse yoked to a raid to do all the work while other "lazier" players benefit). Yes, both sides have feelings and are humans! Both sides have reason to be mad, and neither side has moral superiority over the other. It's just a matter of preference."

-------------


My problem isn't that "casuals" can get awesome loot with the badge system, or any of that. I'm fine with it in general, though I've laid out my tangential objections in a recent post.

What I do have a problem with is either side claiming moral superiority over the other. My counterattack against Euripedes is about being mad at him for thinking he has moral superiority when I'm trying to show him and others why he doesn't. I don't believe for a second that I have moral superiority to tell other people they are bad people for their opinions on the badge change. I just want to let them go on their own way and have their own fun. I dont' want to carry people, but I couldn't give half a crap about whether or not you carry people in a raid I'm not in.

Not everyone thinks the same. Just because you don't want to, for instance, raid, doesn't mean I don't want to raid but force myself to do it out of some twisted need to show off how much better I think I am. I'm really tired of that assumption.

Just stop thinking other people are jerks for not wanting to carry others while sharing exactly the same rewards. I don't think Euri is a jerk because he thinks carrying is OK. I think he's a jerk because he very vocally and rudely tells people like me that we are jerks for reasons that seem less about right and wrong and more about his hurt feelings.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Be Special, and Proud of It!


WARNING: I am about to swear a lot. You have been warned.

You've never seen my angry. I hope you never do. What you are about to see is not me angry; I've calmed down quite a bit since reading the post in question. Let's just say I'm glad this guy wasn't physically in the same room as me while spouting this bullshit. Because, seriously? Them's fightin' words.

To summarize his post:
"My name is Euripedes, and I'm very insecure. It makes me very angry when other people think they are better than me. This is because I'm so afraid that I don't measure up, that I have to adopt a life philosophy that says everyone is equal. I never saw The Incredibles or read Ayn Rand, so I never realized that if 'everyone is special, then no one is.' I think that I, Euripedes, am so special that I have to tear down anyone else who thinks they might be special. I am so special that I am the only one who gets to be special! Also, I blow goats."
First off, the very idea of specialness being a bad thing that needs to be stomped out makes me physically ill. I'm a Humanist, and humanity shines its brightest when you let it shine. We advance as a species because of special people, not because of the writhing mass of consumption and conformity that they emerge from, the mass that Euripedes thinks they should be mashed back down into without hesitation.

Secondly, let's look at two quotes from his post side by side:
"Let’s get this straight here, Ulduar raiders. You worked hard for your epics. You raided long hours, painfully wiped, had triumphant wins and bitter defeats. You dropped Yogg-Saron before the nerfs, beat Hard Mode X before Y was nerfed. People being able to get the same level of loot from much easier content in no way diminishes that. "
and
"You can try to say you are, act like you are, but you aren’t. You may be better than the majority of other players, be able to clear the hard content better and faster than 90% of the guilds out there. How does that warrant your skills being worshiped? How does that warrant keeping the peasants in-line and the grand overlords (namely, you) in positions of, essentially, royalty?"

Euri, you fucking hypocrite. So which is it? You can't say "stop caring about loot, it's just perception, it's not important" out of one side of your mouth, while the other side says "loot is so important that it makes you ROYALTY IN MY EYES, and the only way to rectify that is to give me the same loot for free!"

Again, for emphasis: you fucking hypocrite.


And how about this quote:

"An elitist attitude means you want to deny the lesser mortals stuff on sole merit that you are better than they are. Frankly, this disgusts me on a level I didn’t even know was possible."

You can't possibly mean this, Euri. You're saying baseball pros are elitist assholes because they expect to be allowed to play on the Red Sox while you are stuck in your work softball league. You're saying that Donald Trump is a douche (ok, he IS a douche, but for other reasons) for daring to think that he deserves his millions while you don't. Why doesn't he just hand all his money to you!? I just. Can't. Figure. Out. Why. Can you? Why don't we hand out Olympic medals to everyone who watches the Olympics on TV, and give trophies to all the NASCAR spectators while tsk-tsking the drivers for being big enough assholes to think they deserved something for actually running the race?

What Euri is actually saying is that he thinks he is entitled to everything nice no matter how little he works, and seeing other people have things he wants makes him jealous. The jealousy is exacerbated when others believe they have actually earned what they have. He is so insecure about himself that he can't handle other people having anything he doesn't have, but can't reconcile this fact with his own self-image. He must make himself believe that cutting others down is noble, because otherwise he has to face the fact that he's being a bitter, petty douche.

So everyone: ignore bitter, petty douchebags like this and let your fucking freak flag fly. Be special. If it makes you happy to have the most minipets, then take pride in that! Do not, under any circumstances, take Euripedes's advice and actually feel ashamed that you dared think you might have some quality that is rare in others.


Update 1: Larisa has a very thoughtful post up on this subject, where she espouses a more healthy attitude:
"You [geared-out 'elitist' raiders] weren’t very much noticed in the first place. At least not by me. You were faceless before the next patch and you’ll stay faceless after the next one, unless you do something about it." I'm very cool with that. I just don't like it when people go out of their way to care about it while claiming others shouldn't care. If Euri actually doesn't think gear matters that much, then I encourage him to stop caring so much about it.

Larisa also talks about how, if you want to be really special and "sparkle", you can do something original and unusual for your server's community, like organize a cool event. Or even just wear items for their looks rather than stats. Or, best of all, just be such an all-around-cool-person that everyone knows your name. Sounds great to me. If you do something to earn your specialness, then you deserve it. :)


UPDATE 2: In case there is any doubt about Euri's intent, or that I misinterpreted him, here's his clarification in the comments of his own post:
"I take issue with those thousands of raiders who are against this change solely because they think they should be the only ones with access to gear of this quality.

If you’re against it because it ruins progression, or this or that or the other thing, that’s fine, that at least makes sense.

But being against it only because it grants gear to those less skilled than you are?

It’s that attitude this post was directed against."

So his "clarification" is to say, flat-out, that he thinks gear should be distributed with a complete disregard for skill. It's a major stretch to interpret it any other way. He doesn't seem interested in leaving us room to give him the benefit of the doubt.

And just for the record, I do think that skill should be a factor when rewards are given out. I do think that only the best players should have exclusive access to the top quality gear.

So am I an asshole for that?

I do think that allowing someone to grind faceroll heroics and receive exactly the same reward as a raider got through skill, practice, effort, and other expenses is offensive. I am NOT purely against the idea that 5-man players or time-limited players should be able to advance their characters. I like the idea of being able to get higher tier tokens in 5-mans. I just have a quibble with the way the execution of the change rewards purely time spent grinding a mundane and trivial task, when it should be rewarding an effortful application of skill.

UPDATE 3: Aaaaand things get more confusing! Quoting Euripedes' follow-up post on his blog:

"This… doesn’t make sense to me.

Awarding “last season” raiding gear for easy stuff makes sense. I’ve iterated why this post and last.

But awarding current season raiding gear for the same (relatively) easy content?

That, to me, is fundamentally wrong."

So why is it fundamentally wrong? How is this consistent with your other statements?

In the same post, he also tries to clarify who he was aiming the post at. Here's a summary:

"The post was directed at a specific set of people who have an issue with the change, an attitude that was summarized best by occam99:

Funnily enough, the people who have that attitude ARE the ones who feel that they should be worshipped for their gear…and that’s what this is all about. “Hey, I have T8.5. Obviously I’m a better person than you, which means that you don’t deserve what I have”.

It is ass-backwards, and supported by the fact that in WoW, we are all anonymous. If someone says to me, “I have a Jaguar and you don’t, therefore I am better than you, thus you don’t deserve the same things as me”, I’m gonna punch him in the throat.

It’s THAT kind of raider the last post was leveled at.

If you are NOT that kind of person, then that last post wasn’t directed at you.

Is that clearer now?"

Not much. He still doesn't come out and say what he means. From what I can gather, he's mad at people who are assholes. I can get behind that. But he keeps saying it wrong. He keeps attacking people who think they deserve things for being better at something. Apparently, he means to attack people who are rude enough to rub it in others' faces. Not once does he say this explicitly, though. Which just makes me think that he's actually mad that other people have nice things and dare to think they deserve them and he doesn't, and he's just looking for some rational way to couch his anger so he doesn't look petty. This is supported by how inconsistent his other views are. He needs to clearly parse out that he's mad at the "asshole-superiority" part, and not the "deserving" part.

I don't think there's anything wrong with someone thinking they deserve better rewards for doing better. Now if you meant "better person overall because I have epics" rather than "better at the game and therefore I have epics" then that's a different story. He does quote the phrase "better person", so I can only assume that it's THAT idea that he is so mad about. When other people have something nice and think that therefore they must be better people overall than you? That makes them an asshole. I'm with him on that. You just have different priorities or skills, and put them to use in different ways. Doesn't make either of you "better people".

BUT

There's nothing wrong with them thinking they deserve the reward and you don't. Why attack that idea when supposedly all your mad about is the fact that they think having something nice makes them a better person? Separate the two ideas instead of mashing them uncerimoniously together, and it would get rid of the confusion. Make a post attacking assholes specifically, instead of adding in the junk about who deserves what. That's where the confusion came from, and why my criticism still stands.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Badge Changes in 3.2: Surprise!


I want to respond to this doozy. This bombshell had to be ticking audibly as they prepared to release these patch notes.

  • Emblem System Changes
    • Both the 10 and 25 player instances of the Crusaders' Coliseum drop a new Emblem of Triumph.
    • Any dungeons that previously dropped Emblems of Heroism or Valor, such as Naxxramas or Heroic Halls of Stone, will now drop Emblems of Conquest instead. Emblems of Conquest can still be converted to Valor or Heroism.
    • The heroic dungeon daily quest will now reward 2 Emblems of Triumph and the normal daily dungeon quest will reward 1 Emblem of Triumph.
    • The existing achievements to collect 1, 25, 50, etc. Emblems of Heroism, Valor, and Conquest have been converted to Feats of Strength since Heroism and Valor Emblems are no longer attainable.
    • New achievements have been added to collect various amounts of any combination of emblems.
    In case you've somehow managed to keep your jaw off the floor, let me clarify: currently, Emblems of Conquest can be used to buy Tier 8.5 (ilevel 226) gear, and only drop in Ulduar 25 (and Uld 10 hard modes). Emblems of Triumph will purchase Tier 9 gear.

    And in 2 months when this patch hits, you'll be able to earn epics of that level from just running Violet Hold. Not. Even. On. Heroic.

    I may be a raider who is proud of his accomplishments (yes, I know, it's just a game, blah blah, you don't feel the need to constantly remind chess champions it's just a game, so shut up). I may constantly push to get better gear into the hands of the most skilled raiders rather than some scrub who got carried through a faceroll Naxx 25 or VoA. I may even privately advocate to my friends that half the players in WoW should cancel their accounts and go back to watching So You Think You Can Dance while drooling on themselves.

    But I'm in favor of this change. But not for the same reasons it was probably put in.

    I'm in favor of it because I've often found myself sitting around Dalaran, saying to myself:

    "Awesome dude, don't you wish there was some way to augment your character without being in a raid?"

    to which I respond:

    "But awesome self, my gear is so pimp that I can't upgrade it from anything but the hardest raids."

    Well, now there's a way for me to develop my gear and work toward my raid goals between raids. I've been wanting this for a while, and I'm happy to have it. I can run heroics, even with fail pugs, for badges that will actually buy me upgrades. I love not being so dependent on having X number of other people in my group.

    I just wish it hadn't been done this particular way.

    Obviously, one major reason this change was put in was to get people running heroics again. This is a noble goal, but doing it this way is massively stupid.

    I am sick and tired of the philosophy at Blizzard of using loot purely as an incentive to essentially strong-arm people into doing Blizzard's preferred activity. The patch notes did exactly the same thing by killing 2v2 (you can no longer buy the latest season's gear with your 2v2 rating). It's the exact same thing they've been doing with 25-mans. They put the gear where they want you to be. Not where you enjoy being (isn't this supposed to be a fun *game*!??!), and not where you overcame the most challenge.

    I come from the school of thought that gear should be a reward for overcoming a challenge. The harder the challenge, the better the loot. Period.

    If you want people to be excited about some part of content, then MAKE IT FUN AGAIN. Don't just make the rewards for alternatives irrelevent like you did with arenas, and don't just make the rewards ridiculously inviting like you are doing with heroics. If you want people to run heroics again and want them to drop better loot, then MAKE THEM HARDER, or at least MORE FUN.


    Nonetheless, I can see where they are coming from with wanting to mix the new 80s with the experienced raiders again in heroic pugs. I can understand this change. It would be fine on its own, but taken together with the entire philosophy of using loot as a pure carrot instead of an earned reward, it stinks. And it's true that it devalues the very loot you are trying to build up as an incentive. It seems counter-productive. If you want to use loot as a lure, then you are reducing your own effectiveness at doing that by making the loot so readily available for non-accomplishments.

    I could see myself being furious if it were easier to get the best gear. Honestly, it will be too easy to get tier 8. It would have been better if everything were just bumped up a token tier: heroism replaced with valor, valor replaced with conquest, etc. I don't understand why a new 80 should be able to grind tier 8 in a day or two. Are they just expected to skip Naxx and most of Ulduar, except to get badges? Why would you want to make that content obsolete, and turn it into Kara Badge Farm 2.0: Now With More Noob?

    Tier 9, on the other hand, will take a non-raider months of doing heroics every single day just to get one piece. That's fine. It makes the new system work very well as a supplement for raiders rather than a freebie for entitled scrubs.


    I also dislike that it's so similar to What a Long Strange Trip it's Been: both offer a reward that is otherwise only available to the most successful raiders, and gives it out in return for someone spending giant gobs of time doing completely pointless tasks, like clicking fires, collecting eggs, or running faceroll heroics. Blizzard is sending the message that there are two paths to everything awesome in the game: either you kick major ass in a tiny timeframe, or you spend an entire year subscribed to the game, logging in for every holiday and spending hour after hour grinding something stupid and pointless. If you waste your life that way for long enough, you get the same stuff as the guy who busted his ass for a short amount of time.

    If you like that, then good for you. But that's not the kind of philosophy I want to play with. And the more WoW moves that way, the more likely I am to decide I'd rather spend my time in CO or Aion or APB of FF14.

    3.2 Death Knight Changes - Tanking


    First off, let me tell you a little story.

    My 10-man raiding guild doesn't do 25-man Uld, so we aren't running around in piles of 226 gear like other guilds that you see getting the 10-man hard mode achievements. So they are more of a challenge for us than they may seem to be for others.

    For a few weeks, we've been trying to do the Iron Council Hard Mode by killing Steelbreaker last. Since his damage keeps increasing and he's there the entire fight, you need a tank who can handle Fusion Punches for about 5-6 minutes straight with just one healer, while the Fusion Punches just get stronger and stronger. FP hits like a truck on its own, is nature damage (so not mitigated by block or armor), and puts on a debuff that must be dispelled the instant it is applied. It's taxing to heal.

    We tried this encounter dozens of times with a pair of uber-geared warrior tanks. We wiped over and over to tank death. Then we brought in one comparatively undergeared and inexperienced DK tank. We wiped once due to dps death, then completed the hard mode on the next attempt.

    Not only did we win, but while healing the warrior on Steelbreaker stressed our paladin, keeping the DK alive was a trivial joke.

    And I could give you a dozen other examples. DKs are completely broken against the current design of raid encounters, particularly hard modes. I would argue that this is almost entirely due to the fact that their cooldowns mitigate magic damage while blocking does not, and they have more cooldowns than druids. I don't really think that nerfing us across the board is the best idea. I think everything could be fixed if you just made blocking work against magic damage and gave Berserking a defensive benefit to bears.

    So DKs, don't be surprised about what you are about to read.

    Patch 3.2 PTR DK tanking changes:
    • Frost Presence: 10% bonus health reduced to 6% bonus stamina.
    • Icebound Fortitude: Cooldown increased to 2 minutes. [from 1]
    • Veteran of the Third War (Blood tree): Stamina bonus reduced to 1/2/3%. [from 2/4/6%]
    • Toughness (Frost Tree): This talent now grants 2/4/6/8/10% armor instead of 3/6/9/12/15%, placing it in line with similar abilities of other classes.
    • Priest and Druid talents that used to grant 25% armor on crit heals now grant 10% reduced physical damage.
    • The paladin ability Blessing of Sanctuary: This blessing now also increases stamina by 10%. This effect is not cumulative with Blessing of Kings.
    Cooldowns
    The doubled IBF cooldown is brutal. We've gone from cooldown chaining (I can pretty much always have one up against Steelbreaker) to only using them when we think we need some protection. Though it hurts, this is an understandable change, since our cooldowns are the key to our dominance in the tanking realm. Also, I'm sure the devs think planning your cooldowns is a more tactically fun playstyle. This is a comparative nerf to Frost, as one of its key talents increased the duration of IBF. There were also "stealth nerfs" to the other primary Blood and Frost tanking cooldowns, as I'll detail below.

    I really like the actively defensive playstyle of being the "cooldown tank". It's a lot more fun to me than the more passive defenses of other tank classes (I couldn't believe how comparatively simple druid tanking was when I tried it this weekend). But the cooldowns are really what make us overpowered, and particularly the fact that they protect us from magical damage. One thing many people overlook is that all 3 other tanking classes have a low-level "cooldown" active at all times in the form of block. As long as block is reasonably balanced, we should actually be the worst class to tank pure physical damage. Our real advantage comes from the combination of anti-magic cooldowns and high health. Since the new "crushing blow" is always high magical damage, such as Sarth's breath or Steelbreaker's Fusion Punch, we are far and away the best tank for challenging content. This clearly needs to change.

    However, I think a much better and more elegant solution is to buff block (as they are doing, except do it for druids too), and then - let me emphasize this - make block mitigate magic damage.

    Excuse me for a moment, but it's a fucking travesty that this isn't in the game already. If the facts show that DKs need an overall tanking nerf, that's fine. But don't nerf them to the ground just because they are the only tank you were smart enough to design without a giant blind spot for magic damage. Make the new "predictable magic crushing blows" a test of skill at using tank and healer cooldowns, not a test of whether you "won the character select screen" or massively overgear the content. Even if you keep nerfing cooldowns and health, DKs will still be the best tanks for those encounters because, as the cooldown and anti-magic tanks, they will be the ones best able to respond to those crushing blows. The best alternative is to buff magic mitigation for the other classes.

    Armor
    Plain and simple, Death Knights were in danger of hitting the armor cap. So we were going to take an armor hit no matter what. The priest and druid buffs to armor were about to become useless on us, so the change to the healers is a positive. This is also a "stealth" nerf to the frost tree, as Unbreakable Armor is modified by your armor value.

    HP
    The bonus from Frost Presence was more than cut in half. Blood DKs saw their health reduced even more, which in turn nerfs Vampiric Blood as well. I don't really think health nerfs were needed. Though HP is one of our strengths, we'll be more dependent on it than ever with the nerfs to our cooldowns.

    Dual-Wielding
    The new talent Threat of Thassarian should make Dual-wield tanking viable, if balanced correctly. My fear is that DW tanking will become the only viable option due to the availability of 1-handed weapons with tank stats versus the complete absence of 2-handers with tank stats. I've always been in favor of the current philosophy that DKs tank with "dps" weapons. It saves them from having to make bosses drop tanking 2-handers that no one else will use. The devs agree, because they stated that they would not be putting in tanking 2-handers for this reason. So now I'm afraid that the community will decide that dual wielding will be the only option for tanking going forward.

    However, this may not come to pass. For one thing, a pair of faster 2-handed weapons vastly increases the chances that you'll haste a boss's attack as a result of parrying you. Secondly, Rune Strike is noticeably absent from the ToT talent, meaning tanks with big honking 2-handers will have a strong threat advantage. Third is the fact that the reason dual-wielders have higher potential white damage is because DWing scales better than 2-handers with attack power and, in some ways, hit and expertise. Tanking DKs will have low values of all 3 of those. Finally, dual wielding locks us out from using the Rune of Stoneskin Gargoyle, and I know most DKs would prefer the health boost and big chunk of free defense over the parry offered by the alternative. Hopefully, these factors will combine to balance the two out, and I won't be forced to collect a pair of tanking 1-handers.

    Threat:
    See DPS patch notes. The short summary: Blood threat remains largely the same. Frost is nerfed (Frost Strike and perhaps dual-wielding causing weakened rune strikes), but may be able to compensate a bit thanks to 2 points being freed up from Blood of the North. Unholy loses its AoE threat crown with the change to Unholy Blight (RIP, oh how I loved thee), but should see a single-target threat increase from its new form: a stacking DoT added to Unholy's Death Coils. Scourge Strike was nerfed, but Blood Strike was augmented and a new Unholy talent causes it to buff your other attacks, so these should balance out.

    Conclusions
    Overall, we just saw a devastating, but mostly justified, nerf to our survivability. It remains to be seen just how squishy we've become, but we may drop straight from the best tanks to the worst, especially since Paladins just got a massive tanking buff on top of everyone's block being increased. Our threat has been a little high, and once we see the numbers I think our threat will end up in a decent place. Unholy just dropped from best aoe spec to average (it remains competitive thanks to Wandering Plague and more convenient access to the reduced DnD cooldown).

    The most important thing to remember right now is: don't panic. We have no idea how this is all going to pan out, and I would not be surprised at all to see some of these changes be reverted or tweaked. If you are worried about it, get on the PTR and test it!

    Friday, June 19, 2009

    Friday Laziness: Simulated Homelessness


    This is a great idea, and tells a touching and thought-provoking story.

    It's not a book, not a movie, but simply a photo diary of the lives of two homeless people in the Sims 3.

    Came across it via Bio Break; I highly recommend Syp's blog as well.

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    10-mans Can Be Heroic Too: WoW Patch 3.2


    Stop me if I'm getting predictable here . . .

    Blizzard has been leaking patch 3.2 information for a while now, and this week the trickle became a torrent. Shaman buffs (much needed!), new totem interface and druid forms (probably the two longest-requested things in the game's history; with the totem interface being promised from LAUNCH), and info about the new dungeons. There were some huge bombs dropped in a Blue post about the upcoming Tier 9 raid encounter, Crusader's Coliseum (hopefully some of the trash will require CC so the acronym doesn't become an in-joke):

    In the next major content patch, the construction of the Crusaders’ Coliseum on the Argent Tournament grounds will be complete, and it will hold new challenges for players. We’d like to share some details on the new dungeon, which represents the next tier of content for the game, but keep in mind that this is still in development and subject to change. The Crusaders’ Coliseum will include:

      • New epic 10- and 25-player raid dungeon with five encounters, with each encounter being unlocked one week at a time

      So they are bringing back the old Sunwell mechanic to keep people from just charging through the place the first week. Sounds fine to me. But isn't 5 encounters a bit light? Especially given the next item, which makes it appear like hard modes will be their own separate instance

      • A more intuitive structure for harder encounters. This raid dungeon will have four different versions: 10-player, 25-player, 10-player Heroic, and 25-player Heroic, with each one using a separate lockout.

      BOMBSHELL, with the potential to upgrade to !NUCLEAR!. 10-mans can be "heroic" too! We still need more details, but it appears that this will be how "hard modes" will be implemented for this dungeon. What I really wonder about is: what level of gear is each lockout tuned to, and what ilevel gear does it drop? Yes, I know I sound like a gear whore, but the quality of gear really plays a big part int he perception of how worthwhile a raid is, and the gear requirement difference makes it easier to dismiss 10-mans and creates the problem of 25-man-geared guilds blowing through 10-man content that the devs were forced (by their own design) to tune a tier lower.

      I will be sorely dissapointed if the tuning and drops continue to follow the Ulduar mold after this revamp. Here's what they should do:

      Normal modes of BOTH SIZES should be tuned for exactly the same thing: raids with an average ilevel of 222. Yes, this makes them a tiny bit of a pushover for 25-man guilds (in 226 gear), and a tiny bit of an extra challenge to 10-man groups (in mostly 219 gear, but who at this point will be able to craft/buy at least a few 226 pieces to go with their KT weapons, and hopefully able to do the easier hard modes and get Conquest tokens). But since it's "normal" rather than "heroic", the fights will be tuned to be EASY for an ilevel 222 group once you learn the mechanics. Since this new raid is "tier 9", I assume that the drops in normal mode will be ilevel 239, ie the traditional 13-ilevels over Uld 25 loot that would constitute a tier. Yes, this means that 10-man groups get to make an extra half-tier jump. You have to balance both raid sizes' gear at this point, and it's better to give the group you have been discriminating against a freebie rather than making the gear completely undesirable to the 25-man group. Also, consider that 10-man raids already got a half-tier jump in Ulduar, from 200 to 219.

      Now that everyone would have the same gear available to them (both instances should share the same loot table, with 25-man bosses simply dropping 3-4 times more items), tune both sizes of the Heroic raid for raids at least half-outfitted in that normal-mode CC gear, so at an average ilevel around 232. 10-man groups starting in 219s just have to spend a bit more time gearing up to get to that point, but the key is that it's not out of their reach by any stretch of the imagination.

      I have very high hopes for the possibilities of this announcement. I just hope they don't screw it up by retaining the gear quality disparity between 10s and 25s. Just make it a quantity disparity, please.

      • Introduction of the Crusaders’ Tribute! Each of the Heroic mode instances has a new tribute system that will limit players on the number of attempts they get in the Coliseum each week to present a greater challenge for the most battle-hardened heroes. Additional rewards can be earned depending on the number of attempts left in the tribute run each week when the final boss is defeated.

      I have mixed feelings about this. I like the extra challenge, but it also seems a bit too hardcore even for my taste. It's really unforgiving of mistakes. Right now, if you screw up and cause a wipe in Ulduar, all your raid loses is 10 minutes and a few gold. Imagine how annoyed they will be with you once you actually cost them epics for that week because you made one small mistake? It's much better if you get the same loot for winning regardless of how many times you wipe. It just seems like a recipe for drama. I think it puts too much pressure on a group, for very little gain in enjoyment or rewarding-ness. It reminds me of the old Undying achievement from Naxx that they didn't repeat for Ulduar because it was too frustrating (my guild had a single unlucky death on KT that denied us Undying after hours of perfection and PRESSURE, and that story is very common). Overall, I think some aspect of this might see a change before going live.

      • New 5-player dungeon with three encounters that will include Champion’s Seals as each one is defeated

      I've been hoping for new 5-player content. I hope it's just like Magister's Terrace was: normal mode was as hard as other heroics, and heroic mode was actually a minor challenge for people in raid gear. And in return, the items that dropped were much better than other 5-man dungeons. I have high hopes for this one.

      • New tier of armor and weapons that are modeled with Alliance- or Horde-specific themes

      Even though that earlier note was the biggest RAIDING R SRS BZNZZ news, this is actually the most surprising and exciting part of the announcement to me. Faction-specific themed tier sets and weapons?! I'm loving the race- and faction-imbued aspects of the tournament, such as the excellent weapon models (look better than raid gear) and the perfectly skinned mounts, and all the other stuff that brings that part back into the game in a big way. I'm psyched to see what the new gear will look like. I'm choosing WoW over other MMO's partly because of the art direction and flavor, after all.


      Taken as a whole, this was a great announcement. It still remains to be seen how the execution will go, and whether 5 bosses will really be enough. Patch 3.2 is shaping up to be one of the best gameplay and quality-of-life patches I can remember. I just hope that it also addresses Splink's story complaints. I, too, would like to see the expansion's story move forward a bit before we actually fight Arthas in 3.3.

      Tuesday, June 16, 2009

      Nasty Explody Guild Drama of Doom


      I'm preoccupied with some massive guild drama (yes, it only takes 10 to Dramatize, apparently), so I don't think I'll be able to write anything about games that doesn't end up being an angry, un-fun rant. So posting will be a bit sparse here until it clears up. If you don't like it, feel free to take it up with the National Association of Girls Who Can't Play But Whine To Be Carried, and their sibling association, the White Knighting Alliance of Guys with Terrible Judgement.

      Friday, June 12, 2009

      Champions Online: Beta Impressions


      Champions Online is an upcoming superhero MMO developed by Cryptic, the same company that originally designed City of Heroes, and has since split off from the CoH team (now part of the game's publisher, NCSoft). So it's no surprise that the game looks and feels like a sequel to City of Heroes. Essentially, it is. But it also used to be a Marvel MMO before the House of Ideas pulled out and left Cryptic with a half-finished game and no license. They picked up the rights to the Champions tabletop RPG universe to replace Spidey and friends.

      I was granted access to the beta by pure luck, so I have no special treatment as press. They didn't give me a free account so I could write about their game. In fact, if not for this implied consent (still no further response as of 6/12/09), I'd be bound by an NDA to not even reveal I am in the beta, let alone provide my impressions. As it stands, I am only allowed to talk about what the press has seen: the character creator, the tutorial levels, and bit of content beyond. I'm not allowed to talk about the promised features from the later levels, such as the Millenium City zone or the Nemesis system (which lets you design a personalized nemesis NPC for your hero to fight throughout your career).

      As you'd expect from a CoH sequel, the character creator is a cut above the rest. It's not even yet fully implemented, and still it blows everything else currently available out of the water. You can choose from an overwhelming number of sliders to change the size of everything on your character's body, from hand-width to brow-depth. There are an unbelievable number of options for every body part. It builds on the CoH creator by adding even more options, including the highly-requested capes, trench coats, and wings (right from the start!) and convenience by allowing you to choose "key" colors at the start and remembering which colors you have previously chosen, making the entire process of color-coordinating more user friendly.

      The coolest addition to the character creator is the use of "stances", which change your hero's posture and demeanor, and each come with their own full suite of separate animation sets. For example, you can choose "heroic" to have your character walk around with his chest puffed out, legs spread, and hands in fists. Or you can go for a more casual look, or choose "bestial" to have your hero run around on all fours.

      Once your look is to your liking, you get to move on and choose powers. These are also unfinished at time of writing, with the promised "custom" templates not yet available, and the power descriptions confusing and incomplete. What is there looks very promising, however. There are nearly 2 dozen power sets, ranging from Telepathy to Dual Blades to an Iron-man style Power Suit.

      There are no classes in CO. Instead, you select whichever powers you think fit your character. The power sets are arranged into tiers, with the more powerful abilities at the top. You can stay in one tree and climb the tiers faster, but you can also climb the tiers, albeit more slowly, by taking powers from other trees. It's entirely possible to make a force-fielded character who breaths fire and swings a giant sword, if that's the kind of thing you want. You are left with the choice of either specializing to reach that tier faster, or picking from a broad range of powers to be versatile, but get your uber-moves more slowly. This could turn out to be a beauty or a disaster, depending on the balance, but it looks like a great idea on the surface.

      Every hero starts out as a simple damage-dealer, which at first glance seems like a poor recipe for MMO teamwork. This is where another nice innovation comes in: dual spec (well, multi-spec) is essentially built-in. As you level, you naturally gain the ability to change your role amongst offensive, defensive, balanced, and support with the click of a button. So if you join a group that needs a tank, you just pop into defensive mode and tank it. There are no simple "healers", and no power set that focuses on healing or defense the way CoH's Empathy tree did. Instead, each power set has a few support abilities, such as group buffs, minor heals, or force-fields. Any player can pick up a few of these while leveling up, and play a support role in any group that needs it. It remains to be seen how this will hold up in the long run, as I didn't really get to test it.

      The other thing you do before creating a character is pick a type for your character, such as "the professor" or "the intimidator". These allow you to select which stats your character is strong in, and thus which you should focus on. To make a simplified analogy: in WoW, a rogue wants Agility and Attack Power, while a DK wants Strength and Critical Strike Rating. The stats you want in WoWare determined by your class/spec. In CO, you can choose to focus on Dexterity and Constitution if you want, or Ego and Strength, or any combination, regardless of what type of character you play. You can use the brute-force "Might" powerset but choose to focus on the Intelligence stat, if you want. This is very confusing at first blush, though I suspect that they simply haven't yet integrated the final explanation into the game yet. CO also does a neat twist on each stat in that they all provide some secondary benefit, like making you harder to put in CC or increasing your potential knockback. This adds a nice extra dimension to picking which stats to focus on, and keeps non-focused stats from being useless.

      As you level, you'll alternate between stat boosts, new powers, and Advantages. Advantage Points can be invested in any powers to augment them in much the same way a glyph in WoW or an enhancement in CoH would. For instance, you can use 2 Advantage Points to increase your main nuke by a rank, upping its damage and effects. Or you could spend one point to give it a 10% chance to return endurance on use, and the other point to slightly increase your flight speed. This ends up working a lot like talent points, as a way to customize your character toward your playstyle. You can sink your Advantage points into offensive, defensive, or support powers to make yourself better at your preferred role, or take a more balanced approach.

      After finally completing your character (honestly, my beta sessions tended to involve more time in the character creator than out, and I never even noticed the time passing), you're dropped into a tutorial zone. Insectoid aliens have invaded a small section of Millenium City, and there has been a forcefield conveniently erected around the area to contain them (another concept taken directly from CoH).

      Visually, the game uses a cell-shaded comic book style (which you can turn off in the options menu if you don't like it). It can be a little blocky or plain at times, but overall it's up to par with what you would expect in this day and age. The animations are where the game really shines. They all look great and have a ton of personality. I was especially impressed with the martial arts and sword animations, which are far from the boring swings you see in WoW. Instead, each strike is lightning-fast and dynamic, with your character leaping, twisting, and spinning. The powers are visually exciting and look quite cool. Though the art style itself is plain, the animations have so much personality that they help the game stand out, just as Blizzard's unique art style helped make WoW a success. And in a praiseworthy move, you can customize the color of every single ability, as well as it's emanation point. For instance, I can shoot a laser beam from my eyes, chest, palms, or fists, and that beam can be any color of the rainbow.

      Cryptic has said that they aim for a more action-oriented approach to MMOs with CO. The entire game can be played on a control pad, and an eventual Xbox 360 port is expected.

      The game controls much like CoH or WoW before it. I found the transition between my daily WoW playing and this new environment to be very smooth.

      Combat is simultaneous simpler and more interesting than CoH or WoW. Since the game is meant to be played on a control pad, your action bar and hotkeys are limited to just 9 abilities. CO's heroes don't have mana bars. Instead, they all have an "endurance" bar that starts out empty. Every powerset starts with a low-damage auto attack called an "endurance builder". Using this ability fills up your end bar, which you can then spend on other, more powerful abilities. It reminded me a lot of playing a Death Knight, where you use abilities to build up runic power for other moves.

      Many of moves that use end are chargeable, meaning you can decide, by holding down the button, how much damage you want it to do and how much end you want to spend. For instance, my energy character could fire off a quick force blast for 20 damage and 10 end, or he could charge it up for 3 seconds and deal 55 damage for 20 end and have a better chance at a knockback. This system also works for holds, as I found I could encase my foes in a force field for a longer time if I held down the button first. This adds a fun little tactical element to what would otherwise be button-mashing.

      A system like this has some nice balancing mechanisms baked-in. You prevent the Paladin alpha-strike syndrome that plagues WoW pvp at the moment (just like rogues must build combo points, or DKs RP and set up their diseases, before unleashing their strongest attacks). It also helps reduce downtime, since you don't need to drink to refill mana. Health regeneration is also streamlined, requiring only that you stand still out of combat for a few seconds to wait for your health bar to refill. Don't even need to purchase or click on food.

      Combat is further enlivened by a natural "block" ability bound to the Shift key. You can use it to strategically reduce damage of incoming attacks. It adds a nice action-gamey element to the combat, and raises the skill cap considerably. It's especially helpful when you see a stronger foe have a Batman-style bubble appear over their head with the word "POW" or some such in it, signifying that they are about to unleash a big attack (another aspect that adds depth and tactical interest to the combat).

      I can't help but think the combat system took a few pages from the excellent Penny Arcade: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (if you haven't played it, download both episodes NOW!), which made extensive use of blocking and mini-game-based attacks to liven up the tired old Final Fantasy-style JRPG turn-based combat.

      I've only just started, and I already can say that I think I prefer this combat style to that of WoW. Cryptic has obviously taken as many lessons as they can from WoW and built upon them.

      And though that's a great strength of what I've seen so far, it's also where the game gets derivative.

      From the very start, you are taking "missions" from NPCs with yellow "!" over their heads. The questing is fun enough, but still mostly of the "defeat 10 aliens" or "collect 5 first aid kits" variety. You pick up gear from quests and from random drops that you can equip for stats. Enemies still stand off in small groups waiting for you to come beat them up. It plays like a super-streamlined version of WoW with superheroes.

      Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. CO's greatest leap may be the level to which they've borrowed ideas from other MMOs and combined and streamlined them. Beyond quests and gear from WoW, you'll see public quests in the WAR style, and your quest objectives will automatically be marked on your minimap with big orange circles signifying the area you need to be in to do the quest (I think this came from WAR as well?). All of this is done automatically, and much of the complication is taken out. You have only a few gear slots (3 primary, 6 secondary), and each piece of gear only has few stats. You have relatively few powers. You get your travel power as soon as you complete the tutorial, at level 6 (HURRAH!!!!). The death penalty is as minor as WoW's (begone, XP debt from CoH!). And yet, those parts of the game are still no less fun, and in fact you can get to the fun more easily because there are fewer impediments in your way.

      Welcome to the enlightened next generation of MMOs, where the failed Everquest "vision" of tedious, unrewarding grinding in an unforgiving environment is thrown away, and only the fun kernel in the center is left. I, for one, am a fan so far.


      -----------------------

      Champions Online is both a sequel to City of Heroes, and a complete reinvention. It's not yoked to the name or the expectations of the CoH fanbase, and thus is free to make choices and take the game in a new direction, while also finally providing many of the fan-favorite improvements that CoH still hasn't seen.

      If we were to sketch a rough history of MMOs, starting from MuDs, we'd see a few generations. To oversimplify, Gen 1 was Ultima Online, Gen 2 was Everquest and its ilk (I'd include CoH in this generation, and possibly one of the last of its generation), Gen 3 was WoW, WAR, and others, and CO (as well as KOTOR, Free Realms, and others) constitute the new Gen 4. Each generation took the lessons from the previous ones, integrated their best ideas as a base, and then shed things that weren't working and built something new.

      But it's difficult to call CO "something new". In my limited experience with the beta, I encountered countless game mechanics and features that were clearly ripped wholesale from other games. But this may actually be a good thing, because they were all good ideas. Isn't it better to combine them all in one place, instead of leaving some out because they aren't "original"?

      The thing that really heartens me about the CO beta is seeing that even though many of the ideas are borrowed, they are all well-executed and pleasantly streamlined. And isn't that a lot of what WoW did? Just steal EQ while making it more fun, and doing everything well and with a big coat of polish?

      The beta is making me even more excited for the game, and I can't wait to see what it looks like when it releases in September. Hopefully the new release date gives the team plenty of time to up the presentation and make the systems more understandable. It has the potential to be a great MMO, but there are still a lot of places where things could go wrong.

      Thursday, June 11, 2009

      A note from the Shaman Q & A


      • Q. When itemizing for the shaman class, what are the aspects that are looked at, and are there plans to make additional improvements to the way itemization is done for the class or for specific talent specs?
      • A: One of the problems we have with dropping one-handed weapons is the overlap. If we drop axes, rogues can't use them. If we drop swords, shamans can't use them. If we drop fists, death knights can't use them. We are looking at changing one of these restrictions in 3.2, though it likely won't be for shamans to use swords.
      It will be Axes for Rogues. Matthew Rossi, you are wrongity-wrong-wrong-wrong.

      They'll integrate axes into the mace talent too.

      Wednesday Laziness?


      Work has been a bitch the past few days, and I've been working on a beta impressions piece that is turning out quite long. So instead of the usual Wednesday post, you get a double-big post on Friday. See ya then.

      Monday, June 8, 2009

      APB


      A few posts ago I mentioned All Points Bulletin (APB) as one of the upcoming MMOs that I am most excited about. It takes a bit to get me excited about an MMO. I've slept through articles about WAR (oh hey, it's WoW only with all of the sense of humor sucked out), trying to play Eve Online actually conjures visible Z's over my head, and just can't bring myself to get excited about Free Realms (even as I applaud their courage in letting you play a fairy). But APB got my attention but good when it was announced last year, and after reading some previews about it from last week's E3, I'm getting genuinely excited.

      At first glance, it looks like Grand Theft Auto: the MMO. Player characters roam a cityscape, armed and dangerous, having gang gunfights and carjacking everything in sight. But it's becoming more and more clear that the GTA similarities are just the tip of the iceberg: they share a setting, and maybe an aesthetic, but little else.

      The first thing that's striking about this game, and makes me think it will be a runaway success, is the character creator. No, scratch that, the entire creativity suite. You don't just create a character. You control their physical features, clothing, and other accoutrements so completely that it puts the CoX creator to shame. There was a video from last year's E3 where the demonstrators used the character creator to make startlingly-accurate likenesses of famous game developers, such as Mario's daddy Shigeru Miyamoto.



      It takes every detail to the next level: in CoX, you could put a lightning design on your legs, and change the color. In APB, you'll be able to resize the lightning, move it to and location on your body or clothing, and overlap it with other designs. I didn't really understand just how good this thing was until I watched this other video from last week.

      I call it a "creativity suite" not just because of the overwhelming number of options, or the level of control (you can click and drag to change the length of different segments of your avatar's hair!), but because you can create your own tatoos or designs in a tool that appears to rival photoshop in its control, and then place it anywhere on your body or clothes or your car, and it will fit wherever you want, at any size and angle. Once you are done with that, why don't you follow it up by - I shit you not - composing a brief musical riff that your opponents will hear whenever you kill them.

      The level of customizability makes me wonder if this is just a developer tool, or we'll actually see this thing go live. I actually think it will make release this way, mainly because the developers have said they intend to allow a community to build around using these tools better than other people do. The devs want every player to be "famous for something", and for some people that will be tatoo design or music composition. "Sure, xXK1ll3rXx may have the most headshots on the server, but everyone buys my tatoos."

      And the customization feeds into the game itself. Servers will be limited to 100 players at a time, leaving room for everyone to be a celebrity, and everyone to be recognizable. Everyone's avatar should, in theory at least, look so unique that the game won't even bother displaying names over the player's heads. You should know on sight what player you are looking at. What remains to be seen is how they'll avoid having an entire server full of Neos chatting with half-naked Angelina Jolies.


      The gameplay itself sounds pretty fun as well, with a very interesting organic matchmaking system driving PvP encounters. Players can choose to be Enforcers or Criminals. The example mission being batted around: as an Enforcer, you accept a job to guard an armored car full of cash. However, a few groups of Criminals in the area also hear about the car. They'll show up and try to steal the money, while you attempt to fend them off.

      The key to making this work is a sort or ranked matchmaking algorithm for who gets notified. Maybe you have a ton of individual combat skill and a high-level character. Maybe it will send one or two other skilled players at you, or maybe it will notify a dozen lower-level characters, or a gang of 4-5 people who aren't very good players.

      The whole thing sounds awesome, and the devs seem to have their hands on the pulse of what makes MMO's exciting for some audiences: being able to show off to other people how special/good/powerful you are. The game is all about creating a unique look and identity, and becoming notorious for something. It taps into a lot of common needs to feel special and recognized in front of others, and concentrates that experience. And to top it all off, it's undeniably cool. No Dungeons & Dragons references or geeky comic books here. Just good, old fashioned, mass-marketable crime and mayhem. More than anything else, I'd liken it to the Sims, and I think it will take off with aggressive people (mostly males) in the same stratspheric level that the Sims achieved with women.

      If they can pull it off, that is. The game is still over a year out at least, so there's no telling how much of what we see now will actually make release. But here's hoping they keep going in this direction.

      Friday, June 5, 2009

      Friday Laziness: Itemization Philosophy


      Itemization in Ulduar is wonky. It's so off that it's led many players to think the devs don't know their own game, or at least that the itemization people don't talk to the class design or raid design people. For example, our Holy Paladin hasn't taken a single plate piece because they are loaded with mp5, which is functionally useless to him (because crit and int are better regen stats for him aside from also increasing healing throughput). Every 2-handed weapon in Uld 10, including hard modes, is itemized the same, with either arPen or Hit on top of Strength and Crit. Don't even get me started on caster leather, elemental shaman gear, the lack of MP5 on resto shaman offset gear, or all the spirit on every piece of caster cloth. I recently respecced Blood from Unholy on my DK because there are virtually no upgrades in Ulduar without Armor Penetration (which is awesome for Blood and terrible for Unholy).

      What I'm saying is, there are no choices. Every piece is equally poorly itemized. So the devs say they want us to play a "game" with our gear where we make interesting choices about what's an upgrade and what's not. But they don't offer interesting choices, just bad stat after bad stat. Things in Ulduar, despite higher ilevels, are turning out to not be upgrades over Naxx pieces because of how poorly itemized Ulduar gear is. And it's not just a few bad pieces, it's virtually every piece in every slot. Like I said: no choice. Where's the fun in that?

      It's a real problem because 1) gear is a part of the "fun" of raiding, and 2) the hard modes were tuned for a raid wearing upgrades over our Naxx gear (upgrades we can't find for many slots in Ulduar). The hard modes were tested with shirts of uber, and I seriously doubt the drops in Ulduar constitute a full 8% increase in stats and 130 increase in all ratings, especially when we are DEing most of these ilevel "upgrades".

      And the explanation, as you can see in this thread (I recommend you read every post GC makes in that thread by clicking the "Blizz" icon at the top of each post to go to the next one), is that they made the gear shitty on purpose so they could make the next tier more attractive than this one without raising it's ilevel very much.

      Seriously. That is insulting. The thread specifically tries to avoid insulting the devs, and they turn around and insult us. If you are going to reduce the fun by taking choice away, the least you could do is not reduce the fun further by making the items we don't have a choice about suck.

      I was going to write something about how, you know, it's really OK if we are excited about gear in Ulduar and actually know we are getting upgrades. But BBB just summed it up so perfectly that you should just read his post on it. :)

      But enough angry ranting. The bottom line is that I am very happy with Ulduar, just like BBB is. This is more a nitpick. The devs deserve a lot of credit for delivering an awesome instance. I am thankful for what I have, but I also feel compelled to point out problems when I see them. I just don't want people to get the impression that I'm a total Negative Nancy. I am having a lot of fun in Ulduar.

      And anyway, cheer up, it's the weekend! Viva la alcoholism!

      Wednesday, June 3, 2009

      My Server is Down - Rediscovering WoW


      Yesterday, in the midst of the summer slowdown, the 4-year itch, raid burnout, and daily quest fatigue ad infinitum, we looked at WoW with fresh wonder and joy once again.

      And all it took was the End of the World (of warcraft).

      In the "real world" something went very, very wrong at Blizzard's server farms. Perhaps they were trying a new system of powering the servers with Mountain Dew Game Fuel instead of the hamster wheel they had been using. Regardless, the upshot was that the virtual world of Azeroth ceased to be for nearly an entire day yesterday. At least for the most part.

      Small fragments of the universe still existed, in the form of parallel versions of the world. With the vast majority of the servers down, my guild's main tank found solace by rolling a level 1 gnome warrior on one of the few remaining servers. He posted his location and new name on the guild forums, and as we all returned from school and work, one by one we joined his merry band of under-equipped, height-challenged adventurers through the snows of Dun Morough, both in-game and in-Vent.

      It started as a simple goof, but quickly escalated into a bigger and grander goof. Our enthusiasm reflected off of each other and amplified. Soon, our dwarf hunter was pulling everything in sight so his four "pets" could more easily kill them. We were all working together to help our warlock learn to summon a simple imp, and facing down level 10 rare spawns with delirious determination. We were trading our meager findings - tattered rags, bits of leather and chain mail, old, rusted hammers - to try to put together some rudimentary kits to protect us from the elements and the vicious Winnebagos. I mean, Wendigos.

      A white (much better than grey!) cape dropped from a treasure chest, sporting an as-yet-unheard-of armor value of 8! What a sense of adventure there was, exploring a new cave and discovering a treasure hidden deep within! The warrior asked if anyone wanted it, and our hunter ruined the moment by asking us to hold on while he "checked his spreadsheet to see if it's an upgrade".

      We formed a guild called My Server Is Down(not very original, I know, not my idea), and wiled away the evening cracking jokes and killing ice trolls and gathering bear spleens. I refused to equip a mail chestpiece, exclaiming that "Paladins don't deserve to wear pants!" while keeping on my grey tattered cloth robe. I learned Hammer of Justice, challenged my guildies to duels, and then danced in front of them while they were stunned saying "ha ha I just stunned you from ranged and I wear plate" and then when it wore off, I would bubble and start dancing again.

      I had forgotten how much more you appreciate a beautiful vista and an artfully-positioned reveal of a new area when you have to hike to it rather than flying past it at 280 miles per hour. I had forgotten how fun it was to wear whatever you found in a pig's belly, and just shoot the shit with your friends while you quested together and goofed off. No epics or strats or hard modes or calendar invites to AH or enchants to worry about. It made the game fresh for me, and reminded me why we started playing in the first place.

      When our server came back up, we all promised to come back here between raids, to our tranquil little pool of fun. But I know from experience it's unlikely. Those epics and raids and dailies attracted us in the first place for a reason. But I hope we don't let go of the sense of wonder, joy and (OK cheesiness overload here) friendship that we got from it.

      Maybe temporary armageddons aren't so bad after all.

      Tuesday, June 2, 2009

      Champions Online Beta


      I've begun to frequent an MMO blog called "Bio Break".

      The author, known as Syp, recently posted his thoughts on the Champions Online Beta. Champions Online is a superhero MMO set to be released this fall (think and updated City of Heroes with more action and features). It's the upcoming MMO that I am most excited about, being a big superhero fan and a former CoH player. Now, the beta is under an NDA that forbids beta players from even acknowledging that there is a beta and/or that they are in said alleged beta. Syp got around this by writing a letter to Cryptic (CO's developer) and gaining permission to write, as he posted about here.

      Seeing this post, I decided to write a story here about something that theoretically could happen if I were in the CO beta, [ATTENTION LAWYERS] NOT THAT I AM.

      In this fictional story, I wrote a similar letter to the CO team using 2 different official email addresses that seemed like likely candidates. All I got was auto replies. I even referenced Syp's letter and told them I wanted to give them free publicity. Still no response. A few weeks later, I, FICTIONALLY, finally get the following response:


      "Hi Hatch!

      Just making sure you've heard back about blogging Champions Online. Let us know
      if there's anything else you need!

      The Champions Online Team"


      That's it.

      To which I, FICTIONALLY, replied,


      "Hi CO Team!

      I have not heard back on this subject, save for the below email checking to see if I've heard back.

      I'm going to take this response as permission to blog about the beta using the same guidelines that you put Syp of Bio Break under: only writing about what was available to the press.

      I'll put up a preview in the next few days. Thanks for checking to see if I had heard back!

      -Hatch"


      We'll see in a few days just how fictional the above story is, I guess.

      Monday, June 1, 2009

      Still around...


      ...missed my post today because we spent the entire day in work appointments. Will try to make it up tomorrow.

      Oh, btw...

      Yogg down!!!!

      Me make bigga happy in mah pants