Friday, February 27, 2015

What a chore

People are complaining about WOW.  This, it should be noted, is not new.  According to the forums WOW is over, done, awful, and abandoned by Blizzard... and this has been true since about 2005 if I recall correctly.  The current crop of complaints looks something like this post describes with people feeling like doing their garrison maintenance is a chore and there is nothing fun to do.  Let us consider these complaints.

First off, there is an issue that people feel like the garrison chores are... well... chores.  They are things you need to do regularly and you miss out if you don't log in.  In my case I need to buy ore and herbs to fuel my research, shops, and trading post.  I need to collect quests and do a heroic or two to actually complete those quests.  Then I need to constantly log in to send my followers off on missions.  This all takes at least an hour a day though I can easily spend a lot more than that.

Fundamentally though this isn't anything new when you compare it to old expansions and the daily quests that were rampant there, especially the rep grinds.  Every day that you do not do all the daily stuff you lose out but you can quite easily do all kinds of things without ever paying attention to those dailies.  There are definitely people out there who don't like the daily gating of things and who want to be able to grind up any one thing for 16 hours a day.  That way they never feel obligated to do any one thing on any one day.  That is fine and all but because there are so many things in the game you can grind to your heart's content I don't give this complaint much credit.  Sure, there are a few things you are limited in how much you can do them, and if that is all you have to whine about things seem pretty good.

However, I do think that there are some legit complaints out there.  Garrisons aren't all that customizable and it seems like it wouldn't have been all that hard to allow players to add in features themselves and have more control over the exact layout.  They don't need quite as much control as say The Sims allows but even if you could choose from a subset of layouts for various parts of the garrison that would be good.  Choosing banner colours, trees vs. rocks, chairs vs. couches, or fireplace appearances would have made people feel more like their garrison is their very own.

The other thing you can't deny is that it is lonely at the top.  While running a garrison and being a general is fantastic and all there aren't other players hanging around with you.  In the good ole days we sat around Ironforge chatting and kvetching and wasting time in piles.  Just like all player housing garrisons have the issue that you sit in your house alone because everybody else is in their house alone.  Unless you want to have a situation like the Spice Wars in Glitch where people battled over how communal space would be organized you just can't allow players to both have control over their environment and share environments with one another.  Battle is inevitable in such cases.

So if anyone complains that chores in WOW are too much like chores then I say just don't do them.  Set yourself free from the crushing oppression of yellow symbols on maps and just do what is fun.  If you don't find pet battles, dungeons, raiding, open pvp, competitive pvp, exploring, questing, running a garrison, collecting mounts, doing achievements, or any of the many other things available in WOW to be entertaining anymore then definitely the solution is to quit.

But you needn't go off about how WOW has nothing to do.  It has a bazillion things to do, you just don't want to do them.  Embrace it without assigning fault and move on.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Stop ignoring each other, dammit

Patch 6.1 has landed for WOW.  Unlike in the past it isn't a patch to put in another big raid but rather a big batch of random stuff.  I actually really prefer it that raids are added between patches rather than rushing to fight new bosses at the same time as trying to sort out new mechanics and content.  One thing that stands out is that Blizzard is determined to get us to play together while making it possible to totally ignore everybody else if we want to.  They want us to see that we *can* play solo, but to group up anyway.  I think this is a great idea from a marketing perspective because people stay in the game for their friends but they don't want to be "forced" to group up to do stuff.

One example of this is the addition of new ways to get heirloom gear.  You can get tokens to upgrade heirloom gear by doing daily heroic dungeons and this is a good way to leverage people back into the heroic grind.  The game is much smoother when the queue is jammed full of bodies so Blizzard needs to keep finding ways to make that happen.  I don't have proper stats yet, but by my guesstimates the new tokens you get for upgrading are worth 300g per run in a heroic.  That is a massive incentive for people to do a quick run even if they aren't getting relevant gear and for hardcore players who have a ton of heirloom gear for their alts it is an incentive that will last for months.  Also the new heirloom vendor must have been a ridiculous gold sink in the first day he was active... I spent maybe 40k gold immediately and I could easily have dropped another 100k to finish upgrading all of my heirloom gear.  I probably will spend that money over the course of this expansion and that is an enormous gold sink the likes of which has never been seen before.

The other thing that is an obvious kludge to get people to talk to other people is the rotating vendors.  Each day there are five random vendors that are chosen and each garrison gets one of the five.  You can visit friends' garrisons though so it is easy to get access to all five as long as you talk to some people.  What this means is that people are going to be looking at each other's homes, seeing the monuments, looking at the great stuff other people have, and wanting it.  It is a combination of building social bonds and giving people something they can work towards (or be envious about, if you are being cynical).  It is a bit silly to have this set up instead of just having all five random vendors appear in each person's garrison but it will get people connected to some extent and that means cash in Blizzard's pocket.

It *works*.  I talked to some random folks to give them the quest giver I had and got their stuff and had perfectly pleasant interactions.  I am currently sitting in a pretty much dead guild so making a few connections and getting me into someone else's guild where I can collect some friends and start doing things with people is definitely going to extend my subscription.  Blizzard's obvious tactics to keep me engaged are working.  Which I don't mind, really, because the game is being a lot of fun.  The semi casual experience where I grind up gear over a variety of low commitment techniques like cash, professions, Looking For Raid, dailies, and followers has tons to keep me occupied at all times and I don't even have to do progression raiding to fill my days.

Have I mentioned how much I love being a general who organizes missions for my followers, sets up their gear, and manages resources and priorities for an army?  I love it.  Instead of killing ten rats, I send my dorks out to kill ten rats.  They level up, find cool stuff, get gear, and I feel like a commander instead of a peon.  Well done Blizzard, well done.

Also I am looking for a guild that wants a middle aged former hardcore raider who probably wants to do some raiding again but who totally isn't in for four nights a week of committed hardcore raiding.  More like I will show up sometimes and not stand in fire and hopefully my guild mates won't stand in fire either and we can beat up some enemies and gear up and have a good time.  Also flexible raiding means that nobody has to be there all the time to make it work.  Anyone on Vek'nilash server think that sounds like a good deal?  If so, email me or reply to my recruiting post on the forums.  Please be the sort of guild that isn't full of teenagers, religious fundamentalists, or drama between guild leaders.  I would say been there, done that, but I haven't been there because I never want to do that.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The danger of sims

People put way too much stock in simulators.  Or, perhaps more accurately, they refuse to acknowledge how often simulators are incredibly bad at modelling the way things actually work.  My example today is WOW Paladin talents for Retribution, the dps role.  The two talents that I am comparing are Execution Sentence, which is the one I see all the geared ret paladins using, and Holy Prism, which is what I use and which I feel is drastically superior.

Execution Sentence is a 10 second debuff that does 40k damage, with most of that damage coming at the end.  It has a 1 minute cooldown.

Holy Prism is an instant cast that either does 13k damage to a single enemy and a 14k heal to 5 nearby allies, or an 19k heal to a single ally and 10k damage to 5 nearby enemies.  It has a 20 second cooldown.

Simulators tend to think that Execution Sentence is the best for a few reasons.  It comes out of the gate better and has a very high damage per cast time value.  This is relevant because although Holy Prism also does 40k/minute it does so over 3 casts and that has the potential to interfere with other ability uses.  So if you build a simulator that models a stationary boss that just stands there for 5 minutes while the paladin beats on them then Execution Sentence looks better.  This, however, is a wretched way to model actual fights.

First off, fights often have lots of opponents to defeat.  The ability of Holy Prism to blast 5 mobs at once is hugely useful.  This is especially true because it is instant and so it makes it easier to quickly blow up dangerous enemies.  Execution Sentence is only useful when the target will live 10 seconds and often that isn't the case.  Execution Sentence also requires planning around times that the boss will go invincible, vanish, or otherwise render damage over time effects null.  It may seem like Execution Sentence goes off once a minute but because it actually has to sit there for a full 10 seconds there are going to be many times when it won't be usable or will have terrible performance.  Holy Prism never suffers from this problem.

The other critical thing is that even in the situation of a stationary boss with no extra targets Holy Prism adds a really considerable amount of healing.  The numbers above are my unbuffed values and given that a healer is probably putting out about 15k healing/sec.  (All numbers will rise drastically with gear and/or raid buffs.)  A single Holy Prism will heal 5 targets for 14k, for 70k healing.  That is nearly 5 seconds of healing, and it happens every 20 seconds!  It clearly isn't replacing a healer but randomly splashing 20% of a healer's output onto the tanks and melee is a serious benefit.  When using the version that heals a single ally and damages 5 enemies it would obviously be targetted on a tank and 19k into a tank is a nice side benefit to a strong AOE ability.

The fact is that simulators are good at modeling simple encounters but rubbish at figuring out the value of flexibility.  They also don't have any good valuation of healing output for a dps class and default to only worrying about damage dealt.  That doesn't mean that the simulation is wrong but it does mean that you have to actually think rather than just rely on what excel spits out.

I have gotten into fights over this in the past with people who insisted that the value of healing delivered by a dps class was zero.  I didn't buy that argument then and I don't buy it now.  In this case though you don't even need to accept that to believe that Holy Prism is just superior because its instant cast nature and AOE capabilities make it a better choice even if it didn't output a useful chunk of healing as a byproduct.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Switching teams

Tanking in WOW used to be about dpsing.  That is, much of the time the job of the tank was to push the threat ceiling as high as possible so that the actual dpsers could deliver maximum damage without having to throttle themselves.  When a tank was hitting buttons most of those buttons had nothing to do with being tough but were generally there to enable damage.  Those buttons that were about being tough were usually just hit on cooldown with no thought required.  If Holy Shield is available, you hit it!  Tanks did have to worry about not dying but most of that was relegated to gearing - once you have gemmed Stamina in every socket to maximize your HP it was up to the healers to keep you going.

Tanking these days in WOW is different and I like the change a lot.  My gearing has very little to do with being tougher and has a lot to do with improving my mitigation and healing buttons.  I am tougher than other folks but not nearly as much tougher as back in the early days.  The damage prevention focus has shifted from gearing to playing and I like that change a lot.  I have a lot of choice in which buttons I use and when I use them as I have a range of cooldowns and heals at my disposal.  It used to be that a really well geared tank could be completely clueless and it wouldn't matter much for many of the fights - once you pick up the mob the healers handle the rest.  Now though my play has a massive impact on how much damage I take.  Dropping my 33% mitigation cooldown just when the huge hit is coming is crucial, and knowing when to do a big heal instead of mitigation is important.  What it comes down to is that my gearing will not save me from the monsters but my skill can.

Part of this change is ability design and part of it is monster design.  I appreciate how they have made monsters cast big damage abilities on random intervals to keep tanks on their toes.  I have to know which abilities I should use specific cooldowns for and make sure I manage my holy power and other buffs to deal with them properly.  If monsters just stood there and autoattacked for a ton of damage there really isn't much a tank could do but their abilities feel very much designed to force tanks to plan ahead and react effectively.

Instead of feeling like a part of the dps team I now feel like I am part of the defence team.  The new massive bonuses to tank threat mean that my job is to mitigate damage rather than worry about losing aggro so I really am focusing on being as tough as possible and using my skill to defend my team instead of using it to kill the monsters.  I can see how that is more of a value judgement because some people probably like the old way but for me the sense that I am using my talents to get tough feels much more appropriate for tanking.

The problem is that although I do like tanking a lot now I am way behind the curve on gear.  I am slowly assembling a decent set but you really don't want your main tank to be the drastically undergeared one.  Skill is important, but some of the bosses just stand there and lay into the tanks like crazy and you need a certain gear level to deal with that.  I am certainly good enough for casual raiding but actually main tanking for a guild at this point would be difficult at best.

Of course I have no idea where I would get the time needed to be a main tank again, but the desire is certainly building!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Former Captain Of Industry

The economy of WOW is no longer favourable to me the way it was.  In previous expansions I was a Captain of Industry, making vast fortunes in manufacturing.  Many people just buy cheap things on the AH and resell them for a profit but I was never much interested in that as it felt like I was just skimming off the top and bringing no value.  What attracted me was finding ways to make huge sums actually doing things.  I used to have a battalion of alchemists to transmute one thing into another and every day I would log in to turn life into air, earth into fire, or whatever the thing was at the time.  This was actually a good thing for the server in general because whatever I was making was the rarest thing and turning common resources into rare ones is valuable.  I also turned uncut gems into cut ones, mass produced crafted gear, and did the ore - gems - jewelry - dust - scrolls shuffle.  If I happened to acquire a gigantic fortune along the way, more's the better.

These days though manufacturing isn't what it used to be.  Cutting gems isn't going to make anybody rich because there are only a few cuts available so everybody can do everything.  Finding rare cuts and making sure they are on the AH isn't feasible.  Transmuting seems to have entirely vanished so my army of alchemists is bored with nothing worthwhile to do.  What happened is that the economy became much simpler than it used to be and that got rid of all the angles and inefficiencies I could step in and fill.  There are ways to make money certainly but mostly it seems like they don't scale.  My ability to product things for profit is extremely limited and mostly I am reduced to waiting for real time to pass.

It feels like a chunk of the game has vanished.  For most people I bet this is a good thing because I don't think they enjoyed funnelling money to me so I would produce the obscure items they wanted.  I was adding value but the rest of the WOW population likely prefers the situation where I don't add value because that value add is unnecessary.  The number of folks who really want an incredibly complex item optimization game is very small compared to the number of folks who just want to buy their stuff and get back to bashing so this is a good move on Blizzard's part I think.  The challenge of the game in terms of beating actual enemies is the same, but the logistical issues are much less.

All of which means that instead of spending an enormous stack of gold at the start of an expansion and earning it all back via manufacturing I just buy what I need and keep my hoard intact.  Thankfully I have enough saved up that unless I go crazy I will have tons of money for a half dozen expansions down the line.  I won't be broke... but some part of me misses playing the economics game.

I have traded my game of money for a game of running a garrison.  Overall for the whole playerbase this is a good thing and I approve of it from an objective design standpoint.  It is a little bit sad that I couldn't have all the games to play at once though.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Clear the board

In my recent games of Camp Nightmare I have found an issue with complexity overwhelming new players.  Generally speaking the complexity of the game is all right, but at sometimes the sheer number of current effects in play becomes a problem to handle.  The culprit behind this is Disasters that sit in play and continue to modify the game, like these below:

Rabid Fox

No one may take the Forage Action.  Pay 2 Food to trash Rabid Fox.

Poor Planning

No one may draw cards.  Trash Poor Planning when all players have 1 or 0 cards in hand.

Scary Noises

When morning comes, lose 1 Fun.  1 Player may pay 7 Energy to trash Scary Noises and gain 1 Fun.

Heat Wave - Weather

All player Energy gains are reduced by 1.  Trash this when another Weather card comes into play.

Each turn a Disaster occurs and most of them do their thing and then vanish.  The trouble is that it is entirely possible to have as many as six Disasters like those above sitting in play modifying the game.  Keeping track of all of the things that those Disasters are doing became a real issue for people and obviously I was taxing their memory rather than their strategic thinking.

My theory now is that I should clear the board and only have things in play that really need to be there.  I love the Weather mechanic where each new Weather card cancels the previous one because that isn't too tedious to keep track of and managing the weather is a big part of the game.  The other cards can be rewritten to have one off effects like most of the rest of the deck so they don't clutter up the surface so much.  This also has the nice side effect that the game will take up less space because there are fewer things to put down on the board.  For example, the Scary Noises card above now looks like this:

Scary Noises

Either 1 player pays 7 Energy 
lose 3 Fun.

However, there are some small exceptions to the rule that I kept in because I like them so.  Poor Planning, seen above, is still in the game but has an extra line added to it that really improves the card.

Poor Planning

Place this card on top of the Gear deck.  No one may draw Gear cards.  Trash Poor Planning when all players have 1 or 0 cards in hand.

The other exception is a couple of cards that last until the end of the day/night.  This means that they do need to be kept track of but they go away quickly and often immediately because people usually pick them right before a day/night switch for obvious reasons.

Wolf Howls

Until morning comes no one may Forage or Gather Wood.

Hopefully this new design will be more fun, particularly for people learning the game.  One of my goals in every game I build is to maximize strategic depth while minimizing complexity and usually there is some sort of tradeoff that has to be made there.  In this case I think I am losing almost nothing in terms of strategy but I am lowering the complexity substantially.  Victory!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Still impressed

I am still levelling up through the new content in Warlords of Draenor.  I am pleased with the way things have been going and I continue to believe that this is the best WOW expansion pack so far.  Whether or not there will be a raid to rival Ulduar (best raid ever, imho) I am not in a position to evaluate yet, but it is clear that the rest of the things are great fun, and the subscriber numbers appear to show that other people agree with me.

One thing I have been thinking about a lot is the way that quests are integrated with the map now.  Instead of having the text "Go southwest towards the forest to find Uragg" you now are told "Go find Uragg" and your map has Uragg's location highlighted.  In some ways it takes away from the exploration element because instead of wandering about trying to find something you just go straight to the goal.  On the other hand it gets away from the issue of quests with extremely vague instructions being really frustrating.  I remember times gone by when I would curse at the game because "Go a little ways southwest" meant "Go across the entire zone, around a mountain range, almost exactly south."

Filling quest text with a long and detailed description of how to get to a place is a little bit silly when presumably your character has a map of the world and the person asking you to do a thing could just, you know, point to a spot on the map to be helpful.  Sometimes this does lead to just following the map icons and ignoring the scenery but it does avoid the frustration of hours spent grinding mobs uselessly because they are in the wrong camp and you had no good way to tell.

So while it does feel kind of like cheating to have the map light up with the locations I need to visit I think that is a reasonable tradeoff.  The WOW devs have done a good job giving other reasons to wander and explore and I like this new system overall much better.  I don't *need* to go climbing mountains trying to figure out how to get to that random boss monster but I am obviously going to!  Also the additions of random quests that are accessed just by showing up, and boxes, crates, and other random containers scattered about with good stuff inside are decent incentives.  While of course I could explore just for funzies it is much more enjoyable when there are specific things I am trying to get to and it is great that so many of them are in very hard to reach places.  Nobody has to get to those places but we want to get there and that is the right way to have it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Its Good!

I bought Warlords of Draenor, the newest WOW expansion.  For the first time ever I was not in the group of people ready to log in at midnight to rush to level cap and start raiding.  A few months after launch day Wendy told me that she wanted me to buy Warlords because she wanted to see what all of the new stuff was about.  She doesn't have time to play the game herself really, but watching here and there is a thing she enjoys.  So I bought it and I am glad I did.

Warlords is a very well executed addition to WOW.  It sticks to the formula in the ways it needs to and adds one big new thing that I like a lot.  Garrisons are the major new addition, which is essentially Farmville in WOW.  Having your own little instanced headquarters that you can customize is a fantastic idea and I enjoy it a lot.  They didn't just shove it in there and hope though, but rather did a good job integrating it with the rest of the game.  I love it that when I save an NPC from danger or do them a huge favour they join my cause instead of just handing me a trivial sum of gold and then ignoring me going forward.  Collecting followers that have a wide variety of abilities is great and although I am sure I will eventually forget where most of them came from it is a great time finding new shiny stuff.  "Oooh, a follower with a jewelcrafting benefit.  Now I have someone to stuff in my jewelcrafting shed!"

The dungeons are fine so far, with simple layouts and bosses that have abilities that are nicely thematic and reasonably powerful.  I need to pay attention and play properly but if I do things go easily enough, which is exactly the challenge level that basic dungeons need.  Questing is excellent with lots of little quest hubs all over the place, random boss monsters with unique and interesting drops scattered about the landscape, and a good mix of linear plot quests and one off simple quests.  Basically they found a middle ground between Kill Ten Rats and Epic Story that is enjoyable for me, especially because I really love exploring about and finding new and unexpected things in nooks and crannies.

I can't yet comment on the changes to tradeskills and raiding as I really haven't delved deeply enough into those at this point but they seem fine.  Regardless of any balance concerns I am definitely having fun learning all the new mechanics and figuring things out and that is a good place to be.

From where I sit (still 7 levels from the cap) Blizzard really delivered.  This expansion is polished, brings new and fun things to do that improve the experience, and kept the best things of expansions past that I enjoyed back then and enjoy again now.  I am feeling that old itch again, though who knows if I will want to get back into playing hardcore the way I used to.