Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ghostcrawler leaves Blizzard!

Yes, I do feel that heading deserves an exclamation mark.

Ghostcrawler is someone I've respected for a long time. As Lead Systems Designer, he was the front-man, so to speak, for all the fantastic gameplay innovations that World of Warcraft introduced over the past few years. Of course, this also made him the target for any complaints that dedicated players had about the state of the game, the common meme being to claim that "Ghostcrawler must play a blank", with blank being whichever class ended up more powerful in the current patch.

The obvious question is of course: did angry fans finally cause this man to give up?

No, I really doubt that. Ghostcrawler's a pro. And he's been doing this for years, so I have to assume he's developed a hell of a thick skin when it comes to ridiculous complaints.

The explanation provided on GC's Facebook announcement was that he has "a great opportunity for something new and exciting". So in other words, the same bullshit reason any well-known executive leaves any big company.

So, speculation time! Now, the explanation which immediately occurs to me is: perhaps Activision Blizzard isn't as awesome a place to work as Blizzard once was. We've all heard stories about how cutthroat the video games industry is and Activision has been an obvious villain for quite some time.

Or, perhaps the WoW development environment has become too iterative. The upcoming expansion doesn't have any new classes to throw a wrench into the balance mix... maybe the core World of Warcraft gameplay is now as close to "complete" as it is possible to get, and there just aren't many systems left to design.

Or maybe he's telling the truth. Maybe Mr Street has found a job which is somehow more exciting than being at the forefront of designing one of the most influential video games in the industry.

We'll all find out soon enough. I have to assume the MMO Champion guy is actively chasing and/or confirming the information as I type this.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Doctor Who trained me for this

Okay. Okay. I totally get it now.

Bear with me. The Dark Portal links the two worlds of Draenor and Azeroth, but because the timestreams of these worlds are completely seperate, the point in time that one arrives in when stepping through the Dark Portal to Outland is and always has been "arbitrary", so to speak.

So what Garrosh actually does is something like recalibrating the Dark Portal so that it points at a different "place" in time on Draenor. The reason it's not technically time travel is because relative time between the two worlds isn't a thing.

Garrosh's new portal leads into Draenor's "past" only in the sense that we consider Outland as the "present", neither is technically relevant outside of the world in question. From our perspective, we're only stepping from one place to another.

I mean I suppose if a person originated in Outland, exited through the old Dark Portal to Azeroth, then took Garrosh's New Dark Portal back to Draenor, then that person would have effectively time traveled to the past... y'know, by way of two interdimensional jumps. One might argue that time travel alone would be less interesting.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Interface ruins my immersion.

Am I supposed to believe that in my fantasy world my hero is constantly followed around by a huge chunk of metal with gryphon bookends, containing what appear to be a collection of icons representing her various spells and abilities. Give me a break.

And for some reason whenever I move into a geographically distinct area floating words appear in the air which name the area that I just entered. You want to talk about immersion-breaking?

A man walked up to me and said "greetings". I was about to reply when a perfectly round white cloud materialised above his head with the words "hey there" mysteriously inscribed there on, while he only mouthed silently and gestured at me. What is this bullshit in my MMO?

What's more, every time I look at an enemy a weird red circle appears magically on the ground around it. I've found I can't even cast a single offensive spell unless my vision is targeted precisely at an enemy so I don't even have any way of getting around or turning off this awful horrible immersion-breaking laser circle.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Last week I finally received a Hearthstone beta invitation. I've been cautiously optimistic about the game since the announcement, maintaining a deliberate aloofness to Blizzard's attempts at building excitement for this game within a demographic that doesn't seem sure whether to care about online TCGs. But I also have a very clear understanding that Blizzard does not make bad games, and also that I'm the kind of person who really enjoys that specific kind of game.

Hearthstone is a clone of Magic The Gathering (or whichever game invented that genre) but with much better rules. While Magic is a really great game, there are just so many counterintuitive or obtuse rules, like responding on other players' turns that, with the benefit of hindsight, Hearthstone has been able to design around.

The behaviourist vibe I get from this game is powerful. Hearthstone's interface and art style feels like every "social" game I've ever played. Opening a booster pack stands out as a very deliberate ritual; you drag the the leather-bound wallet into the centre of your screen, where it explodes into fireworks to reveal five floating face-down cards, which you then need to click one by one to reveal.

They're already accepting real money for these booster packs, with the promise that although all beta cards will be wiped, the value of any money you spend in beta will be refunded as in-game currency when the game is properly released. To me that seems like pretty good value, since you'll get twice as much card-opening (which I now understand is the important part) for your money.

All that said, the game is spectacular. Blizzard has once again proven that you don't need complex rules to create gameplay depth. I feel like I need to dedicate more words to expressing how good it is, but I just don't think superlatives are that useful past the first one. You either have played it, and know exactly what I mean; or you haven't played it, in which case you now have my highest recommendation. is the link to register for beta access.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Player versus player

Dealing with poor teammates in PvP is something I still have trouble with. A few weeks ago I had a particularly nasty experience in a BG that made me reflect on what causes people to act poorly and how to deal with it.

My team had a decent lead in our Eye of the Storm game, and I was holding the flag at Mage Tower waiting for a third node to cap when I was ambushed. I eventually survived the attack but afterwards noticed that in the chat box my teammates were calling me names and accusing me of being afk. Apparently while I was fighting for my life I missed a completely obvious opportunity to cap while my teammates held the centre. And the only conclusion my teammates could think of for why I would do this is that I am a fagot and/or afk.

In fact a short time later I was informed by a debuff that I was in fact AFK and if I did not engage in combat within 60 seconds I would be removed from the battleground. The insults didn't faze me but my team-mates had turned on me, invoking the sacred rite of battleground afk to try and rid themselves of me.

I snapped. I told them that because they reported me afk I needed to get into combat RIGHT NOW to not be removed and ran off with the flag into the nearest battle, which hadn't even resolved before I found myself on a loading screen back to town.

I didn't even know it was possible to directly boot people from random BGs. I felt like the game had lied to me. I thought I was following the extremely stern and specific instructions that the game itself had given me. Get into combat or get out! Not "cap the flag or get out!", not "help your team or get out!", it gave me a specific fucking instruction. GET INTO COMBAT.

Not "convince your team not to boot you because oh didn't we tell you that debuff is just for show and they can still boot you just because they don't like you. And get out!"

Were I thinking logically I would have capped the flag before going into combat, despite it being a dumb move, but I just couldn't capitulate to the people who were actively attacking me with every weapon they had.

It took me a while to come to terms with what had happened. All I felt afterwards was anger. Twice I wrote a support ticket to complain about the occurrence, cancelling each a short time later. I wanted to blame someone, but frustratingly there was nobody to blame. It was a misunderstanding that turned into an angry mob. People love righteous indignation. My team had turned on me because they didn't question the logic of the first idiot who called out my error as being deliberate and malicious and afk. He misunderstood a situation and acted poorly, then others acted poorly, then I acted poorly. Humans being humans-- in retrospect how could anyone expect anything else.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Blizzard apologist

I noticed I've been doing way more writing than posting, so I might see if I can finish what I can of the random things I've felt compelled to write about and put it in this post.

I also noticed that the last post I (accidentally) made brought my total "Published" posts to 200. Yay. Over four years or so that's about one post per week on average.

The WoW dev team seems increasingly enamoured with the idea of self-directed gameplay recently, with the upcoming patch continuing the trend of the past two patches of offering even more choice and less structure in how players approach the new single-player content. I've been saying for a while now that WoW needs more free-form gameplay and exploration.

Self-direction is the difference between yard work and a yard work simulator. Players of this game and many many others have demonstrated time and again that they are willing to put up with insane amounts of repetition to achieve in-game success, as long as it's something they choose to do, that it's done as an expression of individuality. This is why it matters so much whether an in-game task "feels mandatory"-- it robs the player of the sense of following their individual path, and even a video game becomes work when you have to do it.

I find it slightly unnerving that as ridiculously successful as Blizzard already is as a company, with every release they are getting even better at making games. They so regularly make the stuff they produced last time look like crap that it's easy to forget that that crap was considered one of the greatest things ever made when it first appeared.

In my continued adventures with the titular spec of the current expansion, Kiddow's diligence with daily heroic scenarios has earned her nearly a full set of i516 "Ale-Boiled" random enchant gear, which is looking more and more like a gear plateau point-- Kiddow's overall item level is exactly 516 as I write this.

I've been raiding with a fairly casual guild, which is fun without being too stressful. I walked into that raid on my most recent 90 and was immediately at the head of the healing meters, so at worst I'm a useful contribution to the group-- no chance of feeling like I can't affect the outcome here. On my second week with them, we downed Ji-Kun and managed a couple of attempts on Durumu where it became apparent that I need to review my technique for divining where in the mass of swirling purple the safe spot is.

I'm sorry, I really need to rant about this for a moment.

I know video games are still a new medium compared to things like statues and coliseums, but are we still at this point? For god's sake do we need to make the deadly effect as deliberately hard to see as possible? That's not gameplay, it's a fucking eye test. I can only assume the devs who designed it are the kind of people who take eye tests recreationally and so they thought not being able to see the vitally important thing you need to be able to see was an awesome gameplay challenge.

Okay, QQ over. I'll put some time into learning how to "see" the safe spots in Raid Finder before next week, and hopefully we wont have too much trouble.

Being the min-maxer that I am, I compulsively collect any offspec gear which is available to me (passing to anyone who needs it of course), and having this unspent resource of agility gear on my Monk was weighing on me. I had previously tried the DPS spec, Windwalker, but found that the combined difference in both skill and gear meant that I was actually putting out less damage, while at the same time being acutely squishy because that damage was no longer automatically healing me. So Kiddow now moonlights as a drunken master.

The good news is Brewmaster is a spectacular tanking spec. This class was clearly designed in a post-damage-smoothing world because the extent to which a Brewmaster can mitigate physical damage spikes blows my god damn mind.

Coming from a Warrior, the Stagger mechanic seems like a shield block that you can keep up 100% of the time. It absorbs 45% (plus mastery) of the physical damage you take into a damage-over-time debuff lasting ten seconds, ticking once per second, which you have the option to spend a single Chi to completely remove at any time.

Or the way I think about it: you get to choose whether to take the full hit of damage, after you have taken the hit. I've yet to play this class in a progression setting so I'm not sure if the mechanic is less effective at higher levels of damage intake, but my impression of it so far is that it's ridiculously overpowered.

Elusive Brew is a bit of a wild card... I always thought that having an active ability (or trinket) that only increased the chance of taking less damage was a bit weak-- whenever I had these I would usually just macro them to a similar ability to semi-automate them. After some playing around I eventually decided to macro Elusive Brew to the same button as clearing my Stagger, so it will go up as soon as I feel like I'm taking significant damage. I'm not terribly concerned with wasting stacks because dodge doesn't do much in a low damage phase (when all the hots are overhealing anyway), but in a dangerous phase it's a fine bonus to have, especially considering it has no resource cost.

Monks also have a 100%-uptime, self-focused, instant-cast AoEand no-cooldown, floor-targeted AoE bonus-threat move. As a Warrior tank I find that insulting. It's like baby-mode tanking. Point and shoot.

I've made the comment before that I like Warrior tanking because it feels very active, aggressive, instant feedback, careful eye on rage bar and ready to react to what happens next. The Monk's ability to stack Shuffle feels just a bit too comfortable, too much like resting on your laurels. Not that that's necessarily bad. Being able to focus less on keeping my resource generation stable allows for more headspace to be devoted to fight mechanics. Easier is not necessarily less fun. Not to mention having an easy-to-learn offspec is far from something to complain about.

Several bloggers have been talking about a game which might come out in the next couple of years, Everquest Next, which if I understand correctly is a MMORPG like World of Warcraft. It looks pretty awesome but I'm not sure it will be as good as WoW. Speaking of WoW did you hear it now has over a million subscribers... I guess that's what happens when you have no serious competition.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Revival nerf!

At this stage it looks like Revival will be 30% less ridiculous in patch 5.4. I'm not saying it was poor design to have up to a third of your total healing numbers over an eight minute boss fight to come from three GCDs... but it's probably still worse design than only a quarter of your total healing numbers coming from three GCDs.

Before this week I had only an abstract interest in that conversation about healing cooldowns being too important, but now I fully understand the frustration. Unless you're doing content which is on the high end of your abilities as a player, these tools are superfluous and are used either as cheap ways to boost healing numbers, or to remove the need to heal efficiently.

Maybe I just need to be doing harder content.

I read about the tank Vengeance change-- they are nerfing the raw amount and removing the incentive for tanks to take unnecessary damage to increase their damage output, ie by "standing in the fire". I can understand the overall nerf-- we can't let our precious damage roles feel like they're subpar to tanks in the one area they're supposed to specialise in. The standing in fire thing I can understand too; we don't want to reward people for playing badly. But they have also gone out of their way to "target cap" Vengeance gained tanking large groups of mobs. Honestly, that feels like being punished for doing something awesome, not to mention emergent by definition (if they meant to do it why are they "fixing" it).

How about a similar change for healers where healing done by the major cooldowns doesn't count towards healing meters? Are those things not equivalent? It's giving me an incentive to play badly (use CD when it will provide the most healing, instead of to deal with encounter mechanics or stop a death) to increase my healing output.

Have you tried the Mistweaver Monk class yet? The class has a pretty revolutionary healing style for WoW, with all kind of location-specific healing, between statues, Spinning Crane Kick (used similarly to the original incarnation of Holy Radiance), Chi Torpedo, Chi Wave and Healing Spheres-- a floor-targeted smart heal. Spheres are ridiculously strong and not too mana inefficient. I get the feeling that the only reason they have stayed so strong is because few people understand how to use them effectively so it has yet to develop a reputation for being OP. For example, the most efficient way for a Monk to go from zero to tank saving is to drop Spheres on the tank's physical location.

I call it "teabagging".