Thursday, December 29, 2016


Hoot Owl Hoot is a kid's board game I played for the first time this holiday.  My three year old nephew can play, though his grasp of strategy is still questionable at best.  It is a good game for really young kids though, since strategy does play a serious role and it is a big step up from such trash as Candyland and Monopoly.

I have to give credit where credit is due.  The game is simple, cute, and actually has enough thinking that kids can grow into playing better.  The variable difficulty means they can go from trivial games to challenging ones.

The adults I played with were convinced the game was utterly trivial but I wasn't so sure.  Winning isn't hard, but finding the optimal move can be a challenge.  People didn't believe me, but then they mostly made terrible moves so it was clear there was a lot more to the game than they thought.  Sometimes people mistake complexity for challenge and I think this is one of those cases.

However, HOH has some problems.   The first one is that all cards are face up, leading to the alpha player problem.  One player (*cough* me *cough*) sees the correct move and tells other players what to do, which leaves them the unpalatable options of doing what I say or playing badly.  That is a poor situation.

The way the game is played is that each player has 3 cards in their hand, all of which are visible to all players.  This is fine for kids, but for adults who don't want the alpha player to make the game suck we need a better solution.  My idea was to have each player place one card face up, and after they play that card they can choose one other card to put in their face up slot.  This makes it impossible to alpha the table and means that players can try to figure out how to cooperate with one another.  Signalling seems tricky, but it should be possible to get better at it and have interesting choices.

The other problem is that each turn you play one card and draw one card.  If you draw a sun card, you must play the sun card on your next turn and you make no choices on your turn.  The sun card makes you progress towards losing, so it is just terrible.  It isn't fun to play a sun card and it sucks to draw one.  It is entirely possible to end up not being able to play for most of the game when you draw sun cards and that is a sad game indeed.  I would do things differently.  One option is just to play the sun card automatically when you draw it, rather than skipping your turn.  This does change play slightly though because you can plan many turns ahead, but for the kids version that doesn't matter.  It just means that everyone gets to play each turn and I like that a lot better.

For the  adult game where some cards are hidden this it is less of a big deal that you don't randomly skip turns sometimes.  However, if you really want randomness in turn order then you could simply have anyone who draws a sun play it immediately and then take yet another turn right after.  This throws off planning but doesn't cause specific people to end up not getting to play.

Somehow other people who play simple kids games just play them with the kids and then move on.  They don't analyze them and come up with alternate rulesets to extend them to other situations.  Other people are strange.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Moving on

A few years ago I joined a WOW raiding guild run by strangers.  It had been a long time since I raided with people who aren't my RL friends so I was a little bit unsure but it ended up being a good time.  I got along with the people pretty well and the game was fun.  It let me play WOW again in a way that worked for me.

During the current expansion I have been raiding with those same people but I think the end of that has come.  The real problem is timing because the guild raids from 8:30 to 11:30.  I need a bit of wind down time after a raid and that means I just can't get a reasonable night's sleep before my alarm goes at 7:30.  I have been doing a lot of napping during the day and was tired a lot for the past four months and that just isn't sustainable long run.

It is hard pulling the plug and running out on people.  I am one of the people who does the most damage in the guild so it feels like I am letting them down.  Even if that weren't true, there is a strong sense of loyalty that comes from playing with people for a long time.  At some point though loyalty must give way to logistics, and now is the time.

Timing isn't the only reason though.  This expansion is different from previous ones in that there is a huge amount of progress that you can get from running things outside of raids.  World quests, dungeons, even PVP reward really useful stuff.  People like me that can play during the day a lot are a *lot* more powerful than those that just log on for raids.  In previous expansions you could sometimes just raid and do little else and have that work - today that isn't true.  I mean, you CAN just raid, but your gear and artifact powers will be so much lower that your performance will be seriously compromised in comparison.

The guild I am in is a friends and family guild.  There are some people that aren't part of a RL web, but most are all linked outside the game.  This means you have a mix of people who play a lot and people who hardly play at all and everyone gets to raid.  In this expansion that means that some people are drastically behind and you can't do much to help them out.  Funnelling gear to them will only help a bit.

Those things together mean that performance in the guild varies wildly.  We are trying content that requires roughly 300k dps from each person, and we have only a handful of people who can make that benchmark.  Some are below 150k.  That isn't something we can make up, because the top end people can't do 500k to make up for those who are lower.

Of course that doesn't mean people are doing it wrong.  Everyone should play the way they want and have the fun they want!  But when the differences in performance are that stark it takes away from the fun for me.  I want to raid content that really pushes me, but in the current situation I massively outgear anything I am raiding by the time we beat it and I barely even need the gear from the bosses we down.  It just doesn't feel right.  Looking at our progression kills and realizing that their drop list doesn't matter to me is disheartening.

If the timing of raids was perfect I would be fine with the disparity in performance.  But that struggle with feeling like I am on the wrong content adds to the difficulty I have with times and together it means it is time for me to move on to find a guild that raids a bit earlier and a bit more aggressively.  I have a good candidate so far, so here's hoping it works out.

Moving time.  No regrets about the past, but I need a new place to live.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Go forth and conquer in my name!

I have been doing a bunch of pet battles in WOW this past week.  I wonder how this system got implemented in the first place, because a fantasy game where you run around and slay monsters for treasure doesn't instantly make you think of a turn based tactical game where you pit your squirrels, war robots, and baby dragons against your opponent's wolves, walking pumpkins, and zombies.

And yet pet battles made it into the game, and I think a lot of people are using that part of WOW.  For me it is a fun way to pass the time because it is an entertaining puzzle to solve without the normal click pressure that WOW entails.  My hands hurt if I play too hard or too long so the 1 click every ten seconds speed of pet battles is perfect as a way to rest.  The depth of the puzzle is quite large too, as there are hundreds of pets of ten types, with each pet having six different abilities to select from.  The abilities have types as well as a huge variety of effects, and when you combine the type bonuses and penalties with the effects the combinations boggle the mind.

However, pet battles are a lot like the rest of WOW in that you have to pour a ton of time into the game before the actual tactics portion begins.  Slaughtering low level pets in the wild is trivial, but you have to do that for awhile to get yourself going, in the same way that levelling up your character in WOW is boring but you have to do it in order to play the endgame.

It doesn't speak well of the genre that I characterize the levelling up process as boring and a chore, but that is where it is at these days.  I think Blizzard, and maybe the whole community, needs to figure out some way for this to be better.  Back in the beginning when the game was harder levelling up was actually a lot of fun for me, but the new systems where you just follow the quest trail and every monster is trivial just isn't gripping.

Pet battles are the same way.  You could just take a group of level 1 pets and level them up together against random monsters but honestly that game isn't much fun.  It is just a brainless grind.  Instead of doing that I wait until pet battle bonus week and then do all kinds of tricks to powerlevel pets like crazy.  (Plump Turkey to sleep level 25 enemies, rotate in level 1 pet, and then run WoD pet masters with 2 tanks and a pet to be carried.)

When I actually have a max level stable of pets though the game is quite enjoyable.  Lots of puzzles to figure out and things to test.  Unfortunately I usually end up looking for a particular ability on a particular pet type and then I realize that the pet I need is level 1, or that I don't have it yet.  So off I go to find that pet and level it up.

It is a bit hard to say that this is all bad.  I mean, finding interesting pets has led me to running old dungeons and raids and exploring much of the world that I had otherwise ignored.  That is actually pretty entertaining in itself and I am enjoying having reasons to revisit places long ignored.

However, I think that the model of tons of trivial content that people want to skip gating the good stuff isn't really ideal.  Rather than making levelling up easy but boring, I would opt for making it hard but interesting.  If Blizzard feels the need to increase experience gain so that you have to kill less stuff to gain levels but killing it is much harder I would happily sign up, even if it made levelling slower.

I want to do things that push me, and I don't mind gated content, but far better a gate I have to think about or practice on than one that just takes a long time to swing open.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The sweetest of spots

Blizzard is making a ton of adjustments to numbers in WOW in their upcoming patch.  Mostly I agree with their direction, though I admit I do question how they got some things so wrong in the first place.  Legendary items have been a real point of contention for the whole expansion so far, most especially because there has been such a monstrous difference in power level between them.

Some Legendaries were really godawful.  For example, Prydaz was a Legendary neck common to all classes and it was horrific.  It granted 15% of your health as a shield if you didn't take damage for 5 seconds.  On many fights this would never happen, and it usually meant that the shield happened at the worst possible time.  Best case this item is 2% of a healer's output, worse case it is nothing.

On the other hand we have good Legendaries that boost output directly.  The most absurd of these gave up to a 20% damage bonus, which is completely out of line.  The ones I could have gotten as a ret paladin were more like 7%, which is really powerful, but not quite as absurd.  Those numbers are simply too big.  Getting garbage Legendaries and being 15% behind other people means you are practically losing an entire tier of power.  Also if you have a single item doing 20%, what possible utility item could keep up?  Are you going to give someone 100% bonus movement speed?  Invulnerability?  These are the kinds of benefits you would need to toss around to compete, and they would obviously destroy encounters.

The new standard seems to be Legendaries that do 4-5% bonus damage.  This is still powerful, but since Blizzard is intent on offering a variety of Legendaries that do this much damage nearly everyone will be able to have something good to use.  Both of the damage boosting Legendaries for ret paladins are being nerfed such that they are in this range, which doesn't affect me since I had neither of them.  I think 5% is a reasonable target.  It is big enough that you notice it in your dps numbers, relevant enough to mix up your rotation for, but you could offer utility that is a reasonable choice against it.  For example, I have boots that give me 16% movement speed.  That is a lot, and although it will rarely be worth it from a raw damage perspective, it will make dodging bad stuff a lot easier and that has value.  If I were running towards my target for 20% of the fight it would even be as much of a damage boost as a raw damage item.

There is a real balancing act here.  You want damage dealing Legendaries to be noticeable.  If they are 1% boosts then the benefit will be lost in normal variation and it won't be enough to actually impact the way people play.  At 20% they are mandatory and if you don't have them you are worthless for challenging content.  5% is the right point where you can see the difference, get excited about it, but not be a whole new character.

I suspect everyone is still going to be all about the damage Legendaries rather than utility.  However, the newest numbers on the utility items seem reasonable - the Prydaz example I mentioned earlier now heals for about 8% of a healer's output regardless of raid conditions.  That is good enough that you would really notice it, and you might even get your whole raid to wear them, drop a healer, and end up ahead.  I am not at all convinced people will do this, but since it actually seems like it might have advantages people shouldn't be too disappointed in defensive options like this.

On my last Xavius and Cenarius heroic kills if I had used the new Prydaz it would have prevented fully half of the damage I took during the fights.  That is serious healing and should not be ignored.  Of course people will ignore it because they want to dominate damage meters, but it *shouldn't* be ignored.

Blizzard is currently aiming for a sweet spot that I approve of.  Whether they will hit it with all the items is another question entirely.  At least they have a plan though, and it seems reasonably consistent, so that is a good start.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Won't that demon ever die?

There is talk about that Diablo 4 is in the works.  It might even be true!  While that likely means that launch day for such a project is about five years out, it is not too soon to start having opinions on what exactly Blizzard should do to make D4 a success.  Thankfully I have many opinions, and I am not too shy to share them.

I think the simplest approach is to take D2 and D3 and talk about which parts of each game worked.  I played a metric fuckton of D2 and a fair bit of D3 so I think I know what I am talking about here, particularly since I am not married to either game.  I thought D3 made some major missteps but had some things going for it, and obviously D2 was made a billion years ago and much of its shine is nostalgic in nature rather than objective.

The critical thing that D2 had going for it was exploration and story.  That is, the lack of a cohesive storyline and the ability of the player to wander this way and that while getting terribly lost was a huge plus.  There were things in D2 that you had to do, whether it be as simple as killing the boss of Act1 before going to Act2, or as complicated as building the flail in Act3 by clearing out a variety of huge dungeons.  The key thing though is that tons of the game was optional.  Don't like a boss?  You can probably skip em.  Quest not interesting or have terrible rewards?  Don't bother!  Want to kill Mephisto 60 times an hour?  Be my guest!

That freedom to do whatever the hell you want is *amazing*.  Random maps and quests you can ignore are the absolute basics.  D3 did the opposite of this and it SUCKED.  Every quest was mandatory, you had to do everything in order, you never made a damn choice at any point, and this led not to adventure but to tedium.

Let me also say that Blizzard needs to take the trope of a villain's face appearing on your screen to mock you when you complete objectives and burn it with fire.  It takes any sense of mystery away, ruins the feeling of sneaking up on the enemy, and makes a mockery of immersion.  It serves no mechanical purpose and feels like a punch to the gut.

The world needs to be *open*.  Fuck the script.  Just have a few gateway points that I have to get through somehow and then let me figure out how to get there.  Have a tower in the middle of nowhere that had a basement five levels deep.  At the bottom there can be a boss that drops a rune!  A useful reward, but one I can skip if I so choose.  Also add in caves that the locals need you to clear out, and have them grant you a reward when you do.

Make the game HUGE.  Have a town where the locals tell you where to go, and have a road you can follow.  Of course the road is infested with monsters, but that is the fun part!  But if you wander off the road, oh my, there should be forests with twisted trees and swamps and caves and monsters and everything.  HUGE.  Full of random stuff!  I want to run off into the wilderness murdering everything I see and discovering weird little nooks and crannies and bizarre dungeons.  Like Skyrim, but Diablo style.

This sounds like D2 is just the thing.  But I don't want difficulty to work like D2.  Running through three difficulty levels was ass.  Getting to endgame and then running just one zone over and over was also ass.  D3 had a great innovation in giving you more things to do after you have beaten the story and gotten to endgame grinding mode.  Scattering rewards throughout the world for players to hunt down is a great way to keep the world and the story relevant - sort of like world quests do for World of Warcraft right now.  Blizzard would probably want to keep people from spamming single events over and over so I think they might want to do something like they did in D3 to get people to do multiple things.  Perhaps ramping up rewards from events after each event is completed would do the trick, or giving rewards for doing many events in a single zone.

The numbers on abilities and gear need to be considered with care.  First, abilities need to be tuned so that they are all useful as you level through the game.  Second, gear needs to improve you, but not make you twice as tough and do twenty times as much damage as happens these days in D3.  People testing the game should actually be levelling through the game with every ability to figure out which ones are worthless so they can be made relevant.  Not every ability needs to be great, but there needs to be a big selection of top tier ones so that players have a range of reasonably optimal choices.

No damn trading.  Trading sucks.  The game should be about mowing down hordes of monsters, not fleecing noobs.  You want to fleece people?  Play poker.

There should be complexity in gearing.  Lots of gear types.  Lots of things like gems, runes, sockets, enchantments.  Huge numbers of ways to augment your character through gearing.  Path of Exile has some examples, but there are plenty of others.

Fast paced combat needs to be there.  D2 combat was, for many builds, super repetitive and boring.  D3 is often slicker and feels better.  Having a single button that you use for every situation and every monster is not great, and D2 often had that problem.

Levelling needs to be closer to D2.  The power increase from 90 to 99 wasn't much, but the time and prestige were immense.  Let's get back to that, rather than paragon level grinding.

Let me summarize:

Huge world.
Minimal plot, most quests can be ignored.
Many random events with rewards, mostly optional.
Variety of useful tasks at endgame.
Fast paced combat.
No trading.
Many ways to incrementally improve items.
Complex gearing at endgame.

There is your ticket to infinity dollars Blizzard.  Do with it what you will.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Blizzard is doing some really weird things to stat in WOW.  There are two problems they seem focused on.  One is that secondary stats (crit, haste, mastery, versatility) are in some cases being better than primary stats (strength, intelligence, dexterity).  The other issue is that the value of various secondary stats fluctuates wildly, and some specs basically only care about one stat because it is so good for them.

The solutions Blizzard is looking at are interesting, and to my mind, flawed.  Their plan is to reduce the effectiveness of secondary stats.  For example, crit is going to require 400 points to get 1% crit chance, whereas currently it requires 350.  This will certainly mean that people are less excited about secondary stats because they just don't do as much.  It will also overall nerf classes that have particular benefits from a specific stat.  For me as a Ret paladin this is irrelevant, as all stats are fairly similar, except mastery which is bad.

But wait!  Blizzard doesn't want to nerf people overall, so they are going to increase the amounts of primary stats on items to keep player power constant.  We will hit harder, but won't crit as much or go as fast.

This is, however, just a bandaid solution that will wear out fairly quickly.

See, it used to be that all the stats on an item scaled up at the same rate.  Gaining 15 item levels meant that all the stats on an item went up 15%.  But this had problems because people kept doing things like getting near 100% crit, and that was bad and messy.  Primary stats still scale like this, but secondary stats scale pretty close to linearly.  That means you can start at 25% crit and have your crit talents feel useful, but not end the expansion with 100% crit where nothing makes any sense.

The problem is that this won't work in the long run.

Imagine two tiers of content from now.  We will probably have gear 50 ilvls higher, which means that primary stats will be 60% higher than current.  However, secondary stats on gear will only be up enough to push us from 25% crit to 35% crit.  That means that even if primary stats are the best now, they will improve by 8%, while secondary stats improve by 60%.  This will put us back in exactly the same spot.

Even if Blizzard's changes manage to cement primary stats as 50% better than secondary stats right now, they definitely won't stay that way.

Personally I think that making secondary inferior just isn't worth the upheaval that these changes will create.  I can see that they thought primaries would be better - if you look at gems and enchants and such you can clearly see that the ones gated behind ingredients or high skill level are the primary stats.  The fact that they thought I would pay tons of money for a 200 str gem but I actually use a 150 haste gem because it is better is unintuitive, but not really a gamebreaking problem.  The difference between the two is miniscule, on the order of .1%, so it doesn't really matter much which players go for.  It feels weird that the system works this way, but when you make big sweeping changes you ought to have a pretty good reason for it and I don't think their reasoning justifies the alterations, especially because it won't even last the expansion before the problem reasserts itself.

Now the changes that they are making to even out the value of some stats do make sense to me.  Obviously based on spec and talents stats should shift in value, but they shouldn't be three times as valuable as one another, that is too much.  Making some changes to fix those extreme inequalities is a good idea, to my mind.  Individual specs should not say "Oh, I would never use an item without crit.  Doesn't matter what other stuff it has, only crit matters."  That is too much.  (Fire mages!)  If crit is 50% better than mastery, that is all well and good, and you will hunt down crit gear.  But if you find a much higher level item you will still put it on, which is pretty much what we want.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Getting the numbers right

Blizzard is doing a bunch of talent tuning in the next patch for WOW, 7.1.5.  I have been looking at the ret paladin changes and so far I am impressed with them.  There were some real problems with ret paladin choices up to this point but Blizzard seems intent on fixing them.

The obvious example of this is the first talent tier.  Currently the choices are

1.  Final Verdict:  20% bonus to my best single target attack, and 10% bonus to my best AOE attack.

2.  Execution Sentence:  A new single target attack that has a cooldown but does a lot of damage.

3.  Consecration:  A new AOE attack that has a cooldown but does a small amount of damage.

The problem with these talents was not the theme or base design, since they are completely fine that way.  The problem was the numbers.  It was almost as though the designers forgot that adding in new spells comes at a huge cost.  If I want to cast a new spell I have to make room for it in my rotation, and that means losing out on damage on my other spells.

Both Execution Sentence and Consecration were fine spells to have, but if you actually looked carefully at what you would have to skip casting to get them in they suddenly looked really terrible.  ES does 350k on a 20 second cooldown, but you have to skip a 275k attack to cast it.  Consecration does 100k on a 10 second cooldown, but you have to skip a 70k attack to cast it.  Final Verdict though, it just does 55k every five seconds no matter what.  All the talents have similar damage benefits, but the two that grant new spells have a punishing cost that doesn't seem to be accounted for at all.

It wasn't like there was a choice.  Both of the new spells simply weren't good enough to ever make the cut.  If you managed to sneak them in without any cost at all they would have been fantastic, but since my rotation is already really full that is just a pipe dream.

The telling point is this:  There was *no* situation in which Execution Sentence or Consecration was right.  None.  It is completely fine to have niche talents, but when you can't come up with a situation in which you would take a talent it needs to be changed.

Blizzard noticed that nobody was ever taking Execution Sentence and Consecration and changed them.  Execution Sentence is getting a 55% buff and Consecration is getting a 100% buff in the upcoming patch, and now we have a real choice!  Raiders tend to focus almost exclusively on single target damage and for those people Execution Sentence will be the superior choice.  Only by a small amount, but it will be the best.  Consecration will be the best for heavy AOE.  Both will be usable outside their niche, but won't be great.  Final Verdict will straddle the two, being second place in pretty much all situations but having the benefit of not needing to think about an additional spell.

That last point is real.  Simpler rotations and less thinking about cooldowns, areas, etc. makes you play better.  It gives you more brain cycles to work with for the rest of the game.  Anyone struggling with information overload will be well advised to take the passive talent, and that is fine.  It is no problem to have passive talents that players can take if they don't want to think as much.  The goal is to have real choices that change based on circumstance, and Blizzard has achieved this with the current build.

That isn't to say the patch is perfect now.  There are still issues, mostly with my level 100 talent row that has one automatic choice, one inferior choice, and one joke.  However, Blizzard is clearly moving in the right direction and making good choices so I have real hope that they will get things sorted out by the time the patch launches.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A flood of ideas

My Heroes By Trade campaign came to a crashing halt last night.  To no one's great surprise it happened because there was finally a showdown between my character, Po, a paladin type with a penchant for smashing objects (or smashing people) when things went sideways, and Gnarr, a gnome who never ran into a bad idea he didn't test out.

Gnarr had 'accidentally' smashed much of a city.  He 'accidentally' invited a powerful and dangerous creature from below the earth to come and visit the surface, and the city was significantly damaged and had to be evacuated.  This was a disaster because we desperately needed the city's housing and infrastructure to cope with a large number of orks that needed a place to live, and they were going to take it by force if negotiations failed.

Then Gnarr decided to try to coax even more of the powerful and dangerous creatures from below to the surface and they listened, causing a volcanic eruption and annihilating the remains of the city.  The first time it was reckless and foolish, but Gnarr didn't know that his actions would be nearly as destructive as they were.  The second time was, in Po's humble opinion, pure evil.  He destroyed a city just to watch it burn.

Following this Po decided to tell Gnarr that he was out of the group and demanded he hand over his powerful magic items so he could do no more damage with them.  Gnarr refused, and tried to flee.  Our merry band was on Po's side, so the merry band prevented Gnarr running away.  Gnarr, backed into a tough spot, decided to use one of our powerful magical items to immediately kill the merry band.  This also destroyed Gnarr's spirit, but since he already had a demon riding around inside his head this didn't stop his body.  (The demon rider was a previous extremely bad idea of Gnarr's.)  Po and Gnarr's body (piloted now by a demon) fought to the death and Po was victorious, finally going through on her endless litany of threats against Gnarr for his recklessness.  Po wouldn't have killed Gnarr otherwise, but because he murdered the merry band she murdered Gnarr in turn.

Po, filled with grief, gathered all the items of power and embarked on a magical quest that was certain to kill her.

And so it ended.

Sort of.

I mean, I am curious as to what will happen with the world now that the heroes who were trying to save it murdered each other.  Probably it is catastrophic.

But Gnarr is dead, and although he is likely less destructive than the demons the party was aiming to kill, that isn't certain.  The world might be better off with the demons than the gnome.

Now I have to get the next version of the game ready.  I have been sitting on it for a year now, occasionally tinkering, but mostly just waiting for an opportunity.  I don't know if every writer is this way, but as soon as I have a deadline like this I am suddenly flush with ideas. I need to fix everything, change everything, make everything better!  I could have been doing this stuff a week ago, or a month ago, but now I actually have to put the next version in people's hands, and that gets my creativity juiced up like nothing else.

I really work to deadlines and my hobbies are no different than my actual work in this way.  I just have to convince people to give me another 24 hours to push all of my stuff into the document in a big pile now that things are coming fast and furious.

Time to begin testing out all the mechanics I have been carefully massaging for so long and see if they are as beautiful out in the wild as they were in my head.  Also to test some half baked notions I just now came up with in a flurry of last minute pressure.

So excited!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

No one wants to see that

There was an interesting letter to Blizzard and WOW players in general written recently by a top raiding guild called Exorsus.  They have been banned because they used an exploit to beat Mythic Helya and they wanted to explain the exploit and make some complaints about the game otherwise.  This is one of those exploits that you can totally understand a top guild using, because they had a strat that was reasonable and not an exploit in phase 1, but when they tried to do it in phase 3 of the fight it broke the fight.  Programming error, for sure, but they used it to get a kill and Blizzard punished them for it.

I am not here to argue about that exploit today though.  What I wanted to address was some of the other stuff in the letter, particularly the bits where the author asked for more support for the PVE dragonslaying part of WOW, namely big cash prizes for beating bosses first.  Along with that they want Blizzard to actually show off those races and make it more of a prestige thing.

This is an example of a person who has no clue about how entertainment works.

Imagine a tennis program on TV.  Roger Federer hits the ball, and gets an ace.  Then he hits it again, and gets an ace.  Then he hits it a third time, and does not get an ace.  But there is no opponent, just a computer and a camera checking to see if it is an ace.  When Federer misses he starts again, and he keeps restarting until he hits 20 aces in a row.  So hour after hour Federer hits the ball, checks to see if it is an ace, and his count gets higher and higher, but doesn't quite hit 20 for the victory.

Eventually Federer goes off to sleep, and then eight hours later he is back at it.  At some point within a three day span he will hit his 20 aces, celebrate like mad, and walk off the court.  Compelling TV, right?

That is what some PVE WOW players think people should want to watch.  It is fun to practice and get better at raid encounters but it is absolute shit as entertainment for the masses.  We want to watch Federer play against Nadal because we know someone will win within a few hours and the activity is varied and unpredictable, in as far as tennis can be such a thing.  Federer hitting aces and the computer verifying them is awful.  In just the same way watching a guild die to an encounter making incremental progress for 14 hours a day until they win is not entertainment.  PVP WOW actually has some followers, though not a great number by any means, because it is a far better viewer experience.

Which is why nobody is going to put up big prize money for it.  Nobody wants to see it.  What possible reason could Blizzard have for throwing enormous wads of cash at hardcore players?

They have a great reason not to though, and I don't mean "We want to keep all the money".

If you think players cheating, exploiting, and doing outrageous things to try to get world first kills is bad now, imagine how it would be if they were playing for a million dollars.  The pressure to break the rules becomes absurd when someone's rent depends on killing the boss, and the problem is that with a lot of these exploits you actually have no idea if pursuing them will get you banned or get you victory and accolades.  Sometimes people know they are cheating, but it would end up being a constant issue where players would get a kill and then Blizzard employees would have to decide if a thing was legal or not and who to give the million dollars to.

That can't end well.

In most sports they get the rules down pat pretty well because they do the same thing over and over again.  In WOW things constantly change.  Raids are new, classes shift, and the preparation part of the game is ever changing.  Coming up with a really robust set of rules under those circumstances isn't practical.

Thing is, WOW makes money off of casual players.  Blizzard wants some hardcore players out there so the casuals have something to check out on websites and addons to put into the game but trying to keep every hardcore player working their asses off has no payoff at all.  You play WOW PVE hardcore for the love of the game or you don't play.  I am not saying that is how it *ought* to be, just saying that this is how it is, like it or not.

Nobody wants to watch you slay dragons.

So slay the dragons, or not.  Cheat, or not.  But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that us doing this is entertainment for the masses, or that we are going to make big money doing it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

To infinity

I saw an interesting discussion today about the way Mythic+ dungeons have worked out in WOW's latest expansion.  Basically the way it works is each week you get a key, which can be used to do a specific dungeon at a specific difficulty.  If you complete it in time, you get a key for a harder dungeon, and you can do that until you fail the timer.

In theory this means that players doing 5 person content can do it for a little while until they hit their difficulty cap and then they stop.  Just like raiding, there is a finite amount of stuff you can do in a week.  In theory.

In practice once people get done with their own keys they just split off into 4 person groups and advertise for noobs with keys that still work.  The noob gets hauled through the dungeon and everybody gets loot.  The supply of noobs with keys who are willing to be hauled through dungeons by geared players is huge, so people can effectively run Mythic+ dungeons all day every day if they feel like it.

If you happen to be a tank or healer with good gear you don't even need a group to do this, as your services will always be in demand and you can just run whatever dungeon you like forever using other people's keys.

Some people really don't like this, and I can see why.  If you are in the position where you can always be doing something to advance your character and you are a competitive person you will often feel obligated to do those things.  People feel guilty about not being as good as they could be, and mad at people who play 24/7 and are further advanced.

I am the type who isn't bothered by other people playing all day and being better.  I am old and my arms hurt if I play too much.  I have responsibilities that are more important to me than tiny marginal increases to my WOW character.  If someone else doesn't have those things, then they are welcome to be better than me.  I won't be that far behind, in any case, and I am not doing anything where being a tiny bit better is necessary.

It does sometimes get difficult to know when enough is enough though.  How do I decide when I have done all I should do for the day?  In older times in WOW I could just be done raiding and it was over.  Nothing productive to do.  I remember back in Burning Crusade when my best gear came from PVP so I 'had' to PVP all day, and raid all night, rarely getting gear from raids because it wasn't good for me.  That sucked.  Now it is similar because I can run Mythic+ all day if I want to and there isn't a good, clear boundary for when I am done.

I don't like entrepreneurship at least in part because I like having clear boundaries.  I like being able to walk away from my job at the end of the day and be done with it.  WOW is similar in that I like to be able to log off from the raid and know that I have enough gold to buy my potions and I have done the other maintenance required and the rest is just about fun.  With the current design that never happens.  I can always be hunting for better gear and more artifact power without any end in sight.

I like Legion a lot.  There are so many things to do!  But there are challenges with establishing boundaries on play for the good of the players, and you can't please everyone no matter how you do it.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The next big thing

Blizzard is making a bunch of balance changes to WOW in the next patch and I am excited to guess what they will do.  The main thing I am thinking about is how they will change retribution paladins.  They have said that they want to fix the screwy scaling people have with their various secondary stats and so I expect to see changes to ret paladins mastery in particular.  Right now ret paladins have a situation where all of our stats are pretty boring.  Haste just makes everything in the rotation happen faster in a predictable way.  Crit just increases our damage.  Versatility is never interesting, though it is perfectly effective.  The last stat is mastery, and our mastery is just bad.

I don't think the numbers are off, but I do think that something ought to be done to make things overall more interesting.  Other classes have special effects that happen when they crit or mastery that actually works or even haste that does good things for them, but ret has little of that.  In terms of stat scaling I would really like at least one stat that is more interesting / powerful than versatility, which just offers pure, flat damage benefits.

The other issue with ret is that it has one totally dominant talent.  Crusade replaces Avenging Wrath as a powerful 20 second cooldown.  However, Avenging Wrath is a flat bonus and Crusade stacks up to outrageous levels, eventually offering a 2.3x damage multiplier.  Artifact traits let you extend the duration of Crusade, which is absurd because you extend not the mean benefit, but only the massively stacked portion of the effect.  This is a problem because the traits that extend Avenging Wrath are reasonable, but when they are extending Crusade they become absolutely dominant to the exclusion of all else.  I suspect Crusade is so broken because Blizzard just didn't realize how powerful the traits that extend it would be because they are decently deep into the tree.

Baseline Avenging Wrath is worth about 10% more damage.  The other decent talent choice aside from Crusade is worth something like 9% damage.  Crusade is worth 30% more damage, so even when you lose the base 10% damage of Avenging Wrath and forgo the 9% it is still totally dominant.  I don't think that this talent being so completely mandatory is a good thing.  It also grants so much haste that it makes it really hard to hit buttons reasonably during it and I dislike the gameplay a lot.  I want an alternative, but the other two options are so crap that I am stuck taking it.

In one build during the last patch cycle Blizzard removed Crusade, so it is clear they aren't happy with it.  That build didn't go to live though, but I expect some changes will be incoming.

What I would do is scrap Crusade completely.  Build something new and exciting, and make sure it is worth about 9% damage so it is worth taking but other options feel worthwhile.  Of course this would be a 10% nerf to ret paladins, so something else would have to happen.

I think that thing should be a doubling of the damage done by Judgement.  Judgement does about 10% of our damage now, so this would make up for the Crusade nerf in terms of damage, but it would add a lot of value to our mastery.  Mastery would, at that point, come close to other stats in value, and could be pushed a lot higher by taking talents that boost Judgement like Greater Judgement and the new version of Crusade that we saw weeks ago.  When Blizzard had Crusade changed on that previous version of the PTR they had it boosting Judgement a ton, and I think this would be a fine sort of replacement assuming the numbers were right.

This set of changes would accomplish a few things.  With the boost in Judgement damage Mastery would be a solid but slightly subpar stat.  However, should you take the two Judgement boosting talents then Mastery would end up becoming quite powerful indeed, probably jumping up to best stat status.  The way Greater Judgement works it would also devalue crit to some extent.  This would leave ret paladins some interesting choices.  They could stack mastery and take the appropriate talents, stack crit and take other talents, or stack haste and hedge their bets.  It leaves multiple gearing and spec paths open, and means that every talent row would have some interesting choices to be made.

That is the crux of it really.  Make sure there are multiple ways to play, multiple spec options on each row, and lots of thinking and planning to do.  There would still be a bazillion ways to play badly, of course, but it would open up a lot more in terms of possible optimal loadouts.

If I am permitted to ask for absolutely anything I would also get rid of Holy Wrath.  I just don't see how it is ever going to ride the edge between total garbage and overpowered.  It should be replaced with something that preserves the current ret paladin style that focuses around a extremely powerful and long Avenging Wrath setup.  Maybe just something that increases crit damage by 100% during Avenging Wrath.  It would turn Avenging Wrath into a really powerful cooldown to sync with other abilities, not push up against haste limits of the UI, and also change the value of crit a lot for a build that wants to do that.  Plus if you love the huge cooldown type build you can stack Avenging Wrath duration and crit and have a blast with it.

Now to see if any of my suggestions have any legs!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A place for everything

Blizzard is updating Legendary items in their next World of Warcraft patch.  On live servers right now there is a problem that some Legendaries are extremely effective and others are ... really bad.  They have decided that the gap should be closer, and I quite agree.  It isn't that they should all be the same, but just that there should be a real argument for using each one depending on your situation and priorities.  Each character can only use 2 Legendaries so the balance between them is very important.

For example, as a Retribution Paladin I currently have 2 Legendaries that give me a 5% dps increase.  (I don't own either of them, but they exist.)  There are also a couple of Legendaries that give decent utility, and then a couple that are absolutely garbage.  Generally the people who are really competitive, top tier players all say that the 2 Legendaries that increase dps are good and everything else is irrelevant and has no use.  I tend to disagree with that stance because not everyone is pushing the hardest content with barely enough gear.

As an example, there is a Legendary that saves you when you die and gives you a big damage shield.  This is excellent in any situation where dying is the problem.  However, if you are trying to do a boss that requires 105 dps to beat and you only do 100 dps, then you simply have to take the Legendary that gives 5 dps.  You can't take the Legendary that saves you from death because you just have to not die.  This is the situation a lot of top raiders are in.  They can't win if anyone screws up and they play like crazy so they are doing bosses that their gear is just barely adequate for and that extra 5% is what will let them win.

In my guild though we are doing much easier content.  We have a lot of casual players.  Most of our kills happen with tons of raiders dead, especially first kills.  We don't play over and over until nobody makes a mistake - we just play until we make few enough mistakes overall that we win.  In that environment the Legendary that saves you from death is *amazing*.  We don't need 105 dps to win.  We just need 85, so if you live throughout the entire fight you have done your 100 dps and easily beaten the benchmark.  This is a fine scenario.  I don't need 10 Legendary options that are competitive for the hardcore raiders, I just need 10 Legendaries that do something useful and have their niche.  While using a Legendary like the one that saves you from death you might get mocked by the hardcore types it is still useful for them and great for people in my situation.

That sort of thing doesn't describe all the Legendaries though.  For example, one of ones I have is called Chain of Thrayn.  It heals anyone I cast a Blessing on for 15% of their health.  I have a Blessing to use with it which I can cast about every 30 seconds, so I heal about .5% of a person's health/sec using this ability.  A healer heals about 15% of a person's health per second, so this is worth about 3% of a healer.  It doesn't sound so bad thus far, but there are a ton of downsides.  First off is the problem that I need to take time to cast the blessing, and doing so costs me about 3% of my damage.  Then I need to pay attention to other people's health and figure out who I am targetting and that costs me time I could be thinking about other things.  It ends up shifting damage to healing in a way that isn't profitable and it costs me brain cycles to do it.  Plus if I do this I lose access to that Blessing for other utility.  On the flip side it means that if I use that Blessing randomly (which I do, at times) then it is helpful without cost.

The net assessment of this Legendary is that it is absolutely wretched.  It provides a modest sized heal very rarely and not when I want it.  Compared to 5% bonus damage it is a joke.  There simply isn't any circumstance in which this Legendary is actually a solid choice.  If they increased the heal to 50% instead of 15% then we would be looking at an item I would actually be excited about.

Blizzard noticed this and is changing Chain of Thrayn to improve my damage by 25% and healing by 70% during Avenging Wrath, which is up about 25% of the time.  The new functionality is really interesting and while most people will just use it for damage I think there are a lot of powerful healing applications too.  In any case it will be competitive and I won't be sad to own it anymore.

Overall I really approve of the direction they are taking.  There are still Legendaries that are kind of niche, and ones that have utility I don't think a lot of people are looking for.  However, all the absolutely trash ones are being buffed, and instead of 2 Legendaries standing head and shoulders above the rest there are going to be a bunch of options.  I like that, because it means once you have a few Legendaries you will have some good stuff.  Nobody will end up with 3 Legendaries and not have a single one that is decent for them.  It isn't a great feeling to know that you are doing 10% less damage than you could be and that nothing you can do will change it until you get the perfect drop.

We don't need all Legendaries to be the same.  Having some that do wacky but useful things is great.  We just need a selection of choices in the top tier so people can do different stuff and be ok, and some fun things for those who really want to branch out.  The first iteration of Legendaries failed at this, but the new set actually looks really good.

So far, so good.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Failure to be instant, penalty card

The WOW group finder is having some real issues.  The way is works in theory is that people sign up for one or more roles - damage, healer, or tank.  Then the system groups up 3 damage, 1 healer, 1 tank, and sends them off to do dungeons.  Practically speaking there are a lot more than 3 damage folks for each healer or tank so the damage types have to wait in line.  What *should* happen is that damage folks wait a long time and there are a few healers or tanks in line, but not both, because as soon as there is at least 1 of each a new group should launch immediately.  Blizzard makes this clear to people by offering bonuses to the role that is most needed to get them to queue up, and this works, to a degree.  Many people, myself included, sign up for whichever role has the bonus attached.

Recently this has not been happening at all.  I have been signing up mostly as a tank when it has the bonus attached and then nothing happens.  Obviously since tanks are in demand I should have a group instantly but instead I wait.  I go do some quests, chat, run around the city, and then 10 or 15 minutes later I finally get in to a dungeon.  This is a complete failure on Blizzard's part.  That is 10 or 15 minutes that the healer and 3 damage folks are waiting in line for absolutely no reason.  It irritates me, and I am sure it irritates them, and there is no rationale for why this should be.

There are other weird bugs too.  Sometimes it tries to assemble a group for me as a healer or tank, and the group fails because one of the damage types is afk and doesn't click YES.  Then the system tries again, but this time signing me up as a damage type.  This is obviously contrary to the goal of the system, and it usually offers me the damage role without the bonus stuff.  I signed up just because I wanted the bonus stuff, so previously I would just decline, which would boot me out of the system and force me to requeue.  It turns out though that when I accept the invitation it lets me do damage but still gives me the bonus stuff despite the fact that it said it wouldn't and I didn't perform the role I was supposed to.

They really need to get their asses in gear and fix this.  Part of the appeal of signing up as a tank or healer is that I get an instant queue.  I can just go do my dungeon without waiting, huzzah!  When I have to wait around for a long time for no reason I often just give up, log off, or miss the queue when it pops and then instead of a tank filling out a group Blizzard now has 4 irritated people still waiting.

Waiting isn't fun.

The thing I like about the dungeon finder is the FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT feeling.  I just hit a button and then FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT for twenty minutes solid and then leave.  I don't have to be social, I just play as hard as I can without screwing around.  I am happy to do whatever role is required to make that happen, and Blizzard really should set up the game so people like me can help other people who are from the bad classes that can't do everything.  FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT is fun, waiting is unfun.

I don't know what has caused this screwup but it has lasted for a month at least and it is really putting the hurt on the dungeon experience.  People like the dungeon finder and it is a big draw for casual players.  When it works it is tuned well enough to get overgeared people like me queuing up to help the undergeared and casual players do stuff.  When it doesn't work they sit and wait and get grumpy.

Blizzard, you have been put on notice:  Fix this.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


My character in my current DnD campaign just hit fifth level.  This is the big one because I am a wizard and now I get to cast Fireball.  Fireball is so much better than my previous best spell it is staggering.  My best spell at level four was usually Thunderwave, which hit 9 squares for 14.5 damage.  Fireball hits 48 squares for 28 damage.  Also instead of being close range it has a massive range.  (Thunderwave pushes enemies back, which I have found usually isn't helpful, but it could matter.)

In any case, Fireball does twice the damage over more than five times the area.  It is absolutely devastating.  There are encounters that almost wiped the group at level four that I could handily win with a single casting of Fireball now that I am level five.  The enormous range is also something simply cannot ignore because being able to hit an enemy at 150 feet means I can rain destruction on them for a half dozen rounds before they can get to me, and that is assuming they have a nice flat stretch of ground to work with.

I also have access to Counterspell which lets me simply negate a spell entirely on my opponent's turn.  This is a whole new kind of power, one which lets me totally dominate another caster in a battle where it is a single enemy caster as the threat.

It isn't just me that got better at level five though.  Many melee characters get a second attack at level five, allowing them to do twice as much damage.  That isn't as good as 'twice as much damage and hit five times as many targets' but it is still an immense improvement.

This all makes encounter design a bit nutty.  When I think of the fights that were insanely dangerous over the last few sessions all of them would be halfway defeated by a single Fireball, and if the monsters get unlucky it could easily wipe them right out.  When I look at the theory behind monsters though they don't assume that fifth level characters are that much more powerful at all.  The XP and challenge rating system assumes relatively smooth power increases for the characters but the actual game doesn't work like that at all.  It isn't as though you can just put twice as many monsters into encounters and call it done either - they all die to Fireball.

I think this crazy step up in power for our party is just an artifact of the design choices of 5e DnD.  They chose to have bounded accuracy so your bonus to hit goes from +6 at level 1 to +13 at level 20.  It doesn't go up much, so they can't inflate character power by increasing that.  They could continually give big damage bonuses, but instead they chose to give more and more attacks and have the attacks do similar damage.  I don't like that solution because the jump between one and two attacks is so enormous and because it leads to longer and longer turns as the game progresses.  Having high level characters just drag out combats is not a good design.

They really ought to give people more damage instead.  It would mean that you don't have the incredible power jumps that lead to level four being super hard and level five being a cakewalk, and it would prevent drag on high level combat.  For example, let people add their stat bonus to their attacks (not with offhand attacks) an additional time at various levels, or double their weapon damage roll.  That increases their power but it does it in small chunks and doesn't add clutter in terms of extra dice and added resolution time.

Perhaps the best solution is to simply start characters at level five.  That way you avoid the ridiculously dangerous low level time and everyone has lots of dice to roll.  You do get more predictability that way, and that is a good way to avoid some of the swinginess (and constant deaths or wipes) that occur in low level play.

Also I am so going to yell FIREBALL constantly now.  It will be wonderful.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Overly attached

In the current version of Heroes By Trade I have a system that controls how people use magical items called Vessels.  Characters can attune to Vessels to gain access to their abilities and benefits.  This Attunement process is different from Vessel to Vessel - an executioner's axe might require you to chop off the heads of people guilty of treason, a jewel might require you to wear it in your necklace for a year while signing a song to it every day, and a roc's feather might require you to save birds from danger.  In this way characters have quests and stories that unfold as they get access to greater abilities.

How many Vessels you can Attune to is regulated by the Presence stat.  Presence functions much like Charisma does in DnD but I like the name better because this stat also determines how powerful your influence on the world is, and thus how many Vessels you can control.  This all worked well, as far as I am concerned.

A couple days ago In The Hat emailed me to suggest that this system might be used to allow people to have familiars by using their Attunement slots on the familiar instead of a Vessel.  Wizards having magical pets or rangers having animals that follow them around is a constant trope in fantasy, so it seems quite reasonable to allow this in some fashion.  I haven't so far though because as a class function pets are a real problem.  They never end up balanced in combat and always end up being broken one way or another.  Sometimes they just die to AOE effects and then are useless, other times they are invincible and end up being able to block hallways and doors in ways that just shouldn't be.  In extreme cases they end up more powerful than other characters.

However, if a pet or familiar comes into the game using this system it isn't going to be a powerful combatant.  It might provide combat bonuses to the character, but mostly it would act as a scout, have magical abilities, give access to skill bonuses, or something like that.  It could be really interesting and it would be easy to figure out how good the pet should be by looking at the guidelines for Vessel power.  I really like this idea.

I think the idea can be further expanded though.  Rather than Attunements being about Vessels with an exception for familiars I think they should be much more broad.  For example, if there is a battlefield where a horrible magical battle took place and the battlefield is magical and/or haunted, a character could Attune themselves to that very place.  This could grant them substantial powers that are related to the battlefield and which mostly apply only if the character is there.  Think of a druid in a sacred grove, a paladin in a holy chapel where a desperate defence against undead took place, or a warlock defending their tower.  In these places these characters often manifest special abilities and are much stronger than they would be otherwise.

I wouldn't necessarily expect a lot of players to choose this option because players usually move around a lot.  However, having that be a thing would make it possible for the GM to build opponents that truly are terrifyingly dangerous in their lair and not have it wreck the game world otherwise.

Probably the best way to approach it would be to have players Attuned to places gain a small benefit that goes with them, perhaps half of the normal benefit of a Vessel in power, but have a massive benefit worth double what a Vessel normally is that only applies when in the area that the character is Attuned to.  This way it doesn't feel worthless under most circumstances but it is truly amazing when that character is in their home base.

This also opens up the possibility of having characters Attune to other things.  Rather than pitch Attunement as being about controlling Vessels I could simply say that it gives you power over the world and make controlling Vessels, places with special magic, and familiars as three examples.  That gives the GM freedom to decide what other possibilities might exist and a framework for figuring out how powerful those possibilities should be.

I find this especially appealing because it makes Presence awesome.  I love the idea of people having this gravitas, this potency, that others can detect and having that be part of the world.  For all of Naked Man's criticism of Presence I don't think even he could resist stacking a lot of it if he could see all kinds of really cool stuff you can do with it.

Possibly I should also change the way I do Attunements.  Right now they are set up so that you get one Attunement at 3 Presence, 2 Attunements at 7 Presence, 3 Attunements at 11 Presence, and 4 Attunements at 15 Presence.  However, instead I could just assign each Vessel, familiar, or magical place a value and say that it takes that much Presence to Attune to it.  All current Vessels would convert to taking 4 Presence points to control, but I could easily create new ones that are extremely powerful and require a lot of Presence, or relatively trivial ones that take less.

So many grand new ideas to play with!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Heal me

Years ago I got myself in a lot of hot water fighting about healing in raids.  At the time I was a retribution paladin in WOW and the fight was about whether or not I should reduce my damage dealt in order to provide healing to the raid.    I was advocating for the use of Glyph of Divine Storm that randomly spewed healing onto the raid to the tune of about 3% of a healer's output, which required me to give up Glyph of Exorcism which increased my damage by about .5%.  There was much disagreement and shouting and gnashing of teeth.

That debate has come again.

This time it isn't even close.  I am totally right.  But people don't seem to believe it, even still.

The details are the talent choice for Retribution paladins at level 75.  One choice is a really piss poor attack that is basically only useful for levelling early on and solo world content.  The other choice is a spell that is only good when you are being attacked in melee... so really only useful for levelling and solo world content.  The third choice is Word of Glory, a very powerful heal that is comparable to big healing cooldowns like Tranquility or Healing Tide Totem.

And the professionals basically all say you can just take whatever because none of them are any good.

The thing is, Word of Glory requires that you give up damage to use it.  You replace a usage of your best finishing move with a Word of Glory cast.  To evaluate how good this is, I figured out over the course of a raid how much each ability would do.  If I use Word of Glory as often as possible I will output about 18% of a healer's total output.  Each usage is about half as powerful as a major healing cooldown, but I can use it a lot more often and I can use it twice in a row if I want.

Doing this costs me about 4.5% of my damage.  That isn't nothing, but it means that I am actually outputting a serious amount of healing that can potentially change the course of the encounter.  In the original debate years ago I was getting a better ROI - I got six times as much healing per dps (3% from .5%) whereas now it is only about four times as much healing per dps (18% from 4.5%).  The big difference this time though is that the healing is controllable.  Word of Glory has a 1 minute cooldown and can accumulate up to 2 charges so I don't just spew out healing randomly, I save it for when something terrible happens and then pump it out.  This is basically the best kind of healing because I let the healers do their thing for most of the raid but when disaster happens or the one really awful ability hits I can step up and deliver a really serious amount of help.

This to me seems like a no brainer.  You don't have to cast Word of Glory on any given boss if it isn't going to be helpful, so taking it has little cost.  If healing is being solid, you can just keep on doing damage.  However, the ability to pound out a really big chunk of healing on demand when the situation calls for it is extremely powerful and raids really ought to be taking advantage of it.

The fact that Holy paladins don't have a good big healing cooldown like this is a real factor, but people don't seem to have noticed that you can just get a Ret paladin to do that in many circumstances.  If a healer didn't bother to talent for a great healing cooldown (especially when the alternative is pratically irrelevant) they would be pilloried, but apparently Ret paladins aren't expected to.

This all goes back to arguments about raid slots years ago.  Hybrids like paladins were often brought on raids for their utility and they had lower damage to compensate.  Eventually Blizzard decided that this was a poor design and they decided to give everyone comparable damage and utility instead.  Getting there took a lot of crying from hybrid damage dealers, and there was a huge pushback against the idea that they should sacrifice damage for defence or buffs.  I get that.  It sucks to be a damage dealer and to see everyone else dominate you on the meters.  It feels good to look at your numbers and see that you are keeping up.  Some people can feel good about protecting and buffing, others not so much.

But this mindset of 'damage dealers should ignore healing' is not ideal for pushing the hardest content.  At some point you absolutely have to figure out how to squeeze the absolute most out of your raiders and when you have the option to bring some really powerful stuff to the table at a cost of damage you have to consider it.  Sometimes it is the wrong move, certainly, but other times you give up a single offensive cast to have someone in your raid live instead of die and then it is a massive win.  People are just letting themselves get too locked into the idea that healers do healing and dps do damage instead of thinking that there is damage to be done and healing to be done and you just have to figure out the best way to cope with that.

Yes, it sucks to give up damage and lose your spot on the damage meter.  Yes, noticing when the raid takes damage is annoying because you only want to focus on dps.  But at some point you need to realize that you win when the boss is dead, not when you are on top of the meter, and this means that you absolutely need to use tools like Word of Glory.  It isn't a small thing, it is really powerful, and ignoring it is a real waste.

Monday, October 10, 2016

More damage

Last night I was playing WOW and ended up in a guild group going to do Mythic Court of Stars Rank 4.  I was not optimistic about our group's ability to beat the timer, but I figured we would at least pick up some loot.  This was largely because the dps requirement to beat this dungeon is fairly high and we didn't have enough people who really crank it out.  Nonetheless we finally found a healer after sitting around for quite some time and off we went.

It was messy.  We made it through the first chunks of trash but there were some wipes, largely due to accidentally getting two groups at a time.  The healing was a mess and our healer was constantly out of mana so I ended up healing the group up a lot between pulls even though I was specced for damage.  I was amazed at how hard the trash hit, because people were just dying too much.

We downed the first boss without that much difficulty and moved on through the dungeon.  A few pulls after the first boss we wiped again and somebody asked

"uh, wait, who is healing?"

So we all looked at the party and realized that the 'healer' we had added in as our fifth was in fact specced for damage and hadn't been healing at all.  He thought *I* was healing.  Then I looked at the damage meters and realized that yes, there are clearly five people attacking and nobody healing.

You might think that at this point since we had three people in the group with healer offspecs we would be fine.  You would be wrong.

Unfortunately all three damage dealers who had that option had no practice and no gear for their healer setup.  I am set up as dps/tank and the other two only dps.  Undoubtedly it would have been easier to do the dungeon with a bad healer than no healer, but not much, since all the enemies would die slower.

We all laughed at ourselves a lot.  "These enemies hit hard" we had said.  "This dungeon is brutal" we had said.  But nobody wondered why they dipped down to 10% health and then just sat there!

We ended up just giving up.  I feel okay with this because it was hilarious and silly and it made me laugh a lot.  How can you be bitter about such an absurd outcome?

So to everyone out there - You can do difficult dungeons without a healer.  People will die a lot.  It might be really fun.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


I have been playing a lot of Castles of Mad King Ludwig lately.  Most of my games have been with people who don't know the game and so there has been a lot of teaching.  Castles has a lot of complexity to it so I find that teaching the entire ruleset ends up being too much for people and they suffer from analysis paralysis.

The trick for me was to figure if it made sense to teach the entire game to new players or if instead I should cut corners to make it simpler.  I don't want to teach them bad habits or strategy by cutting out rules, and I don't want to make the game trivial.  I am hunting for a way to teach the game to people so that they understand how it plays without having so much to think about.

I ended up making two changes to the game and I think they are the right ones.  The first change is to bonus cards.  Normally at the beginning of the game you get three bonus cards and keep two of them, and then sometimes during the game you gain two more of them and keep one of the two.  I decided to just deal out the cards to people without choice - instead of three choose two, you just get two.  Instead of two choose one, you just get one.

This basically keeps the gameplay the same but means that players don't have to start picking cards and making choices before they have any idea at all what those choices mean.  It also means that I don't have to explain all the cards to everyone ahead of time - they can just muddle through and get their points at the end.  It does make the game more random but since they are playing against *cough* the second best player in the world *cough* that is good for them.

The other change I made is the random ranked bonuses that happen at game end.  In the base game four tiles are chosen randomly, each of which gives a particular type of thing that will grant bonus points at game end based on which player has the most of them.  What I did with my training version of the game is simply keep those ranked bonuses hidden.  At the end of the game we flip them over and lots of people get bonus points but people can't actually work towards them during the game.

This also pushes rules explanations to the end of the game which is a thing I like.  I often find that games that start with an enormous rules speech are frustrating for everyone when people really just want to get in there and start doing things.

Again the game gets more random with this change, but I think it helps make things simpler for the newbs and gets them into the fun of building a castle without quite so much calculation.  In their second game of course I would play by the standard rules.

If anyone has other ideas for teaching Castles or any other game please do feel free to comment, as is is a thing I am curious about.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Reduce, Recycle, and

Legion, the newest WOW expansion, does something that the game really has never done particularly well before - reusing content.  It used to be that you killed some mobs in Westfall, finished the zone, and then basically never went back unless you really wanted some obscure achievement.  In doing so you also levelled past multiple other zones at the same level so there was always a huge amount of content that you never really got to experience unless you played multiple characters.

In essence the things that Blizzard created were usually really limited in use.  It is far simpler to create content this way because it requires little planning and design can be clunky and inelegant.  However, you spend a lot of effort making big zones that see limited use.  Sloppy, but simple.

Legion is quite different.  Blizzard is working really hard on making the content reusable to a large degree.  One way is the way that the zones all scale with your level so that max level players have a large area they can usefully be in.  Blizzard also added tons of world quests with important rewards so players spend a lot of time running into each other on the map instead of chilling in town or doing instances.  This is all really quite good, to my mind, and definitely lets them get a lot of content in without building more areas.

The other thing they have become good at is stuffing more things into a space by using three dimensions.  Legion is chock full of caves and cliffs and reasons to go up and down.  In Suramar city they level this up even more by having lots of encounters on ledges and rooftops, and there is plenty of hopping from beam to beam to trying to collect treasures and mana bits.  You run around the city a bunch, then eventually realize there is another whole level above you that you need to pay attention to.

It must have been a pain in the butt designing all of that!  Figuring out which things are part of quests and which things are also being used for end game content and fitting it all into the world is a challenge.  So many puzzles pieces going together means you really need good communication on the design team.

It feels a lot like the way I was taught to code back in the day.  You can build a new piece of code for every situation, but it is generally far better to build it in reusable pieces instead.  That way you can be a lot more efficient overall.  It requires you to plan ahead more but in the long run building reusable code saves you a huge amount of time and is so much easier to work with.

Building worlds is complicated.  I think Blizzard has taken a lot of their lessons from the old days and really put them to good use, and it shows.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Walkin' it back

When I heard about the changes coming to WOW with the new Legion expansion I was hesitant about one thing in particlar:  Zone scaling.  The newer zones change based on your level so that they keep pace with you as you level up and as such you can do them in any order you like.  Also they scale with each player's level independently so even if there is a big disparity in levels between two players they can play together easily.  It turns out I was wrong in my initial impressions - these changes are great.

I was worried that this would lead to things feeling wrong somehow - monsters immediately scaling up in power when you level seems like it should erase any sense of progress and impede immersion.  I think those effects exist to some extent, but they are dwarfed by the benefits of this change.  While it is nice to feel monsters getting easier, that makes combat feel trivial and silly.  It is good at points to really get a sense of character progression but I think there is an optimal difficulty while levelling that you lose when monsters fall behind.

Plus it is just so great to be able to play with other people who aren't at your level!

Wendy and I played together despite there being a five level difference and it was totally smooth and seamless.  Normally we can't play together at all because I always end up rushing ahead of her in progression so this change was most welcome.

That isn't all though.  This change means that the world continues to be relevant after levelling.  Legion does a fantastic job integrating the zones you level in with the endgame content and that is wonderful.  Endgame in WOW has in the past mostly been about instances for a long time and I really love the new change in philosophy.  Having tons of quests scattered throughout the world that constantly change and refresh (and those quests being very relevant) anchors the endgame in the world that you explored while levelling up.

In short, while there is something lost by having zones scale, the gains are so much greater.

You can't just make every zone scale from 1-110 though.  Much of the content and quest lore makes no sense under that system.  You basically have two choices here.  First is to make all vanilla zones scale from 1-110 so any characters can play together, but keep the higher level stuff that came with expansions gated behind the levels that they have currently.  Under this system Elwynn Forest, a starter zone, would be 1-110 but Northrend, the second expansion, would be available for 68-110 characters.

That system makes playing together easy for basically any characters, but it does mean that high level people don't have trivial zones they can ignore.  Maybe that is a good thing though.

The other option is a small amount of scaling that makes questing and grouping easier in general but lets high level characters have their absurd power level.  Under this system you would make Elwynn Forest scale from 1-30, for example, and Northrend would scale from 68-80.  You still get to outlevel zones but you won't outlevel them while playing through them, and you can play with anyone close to your level.

It is hard to say exactly which would produce the best overall experience but I suspect the first would.  I didn't like the scaling in theory but I love it in practice.  I would be all for trying this new system in a big way and seeing if it made the world a better place to be.

And by world I mean the world of warcraft.  Which, right now, is better than ever.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A good fix?

Hearthstone Arena drafting is getting some changes.  They are good changes, aimed toward a goal I approve of, but without knowing exact mechanics it is hard to say just how effective they will be.

The problem in Arena that they are trying to solve is that some classes are so much better than others.  Mage and Rogue in particular are absolutely a tier above everything else and that is frustrating.  I would like to play other classes regularly, but I hate selecting a class knowing it seriously penalizes my chances of winning and my card acquisition rate as a consequence.

There are two reasons for Mage/Rogue dominance.  First off in Arena there is a real lack of AOE and other control resets.  This means that the game revolves around minions beating each other up.  Against most classes the ideal situation is you smash minions together so that the opponent's minion dies and yours is left with 1 health.  This doesn't work well against Mage and Rogue, because they have by far the best hero powers for doing 1 damage.  Against these two classes you can't effectively make awesome trades and they can, so they dominate the 'minion trading' part of the game, which is most of the game in Arena.

The second reason for Mage/Rogue dominance is just card quality.  I think Mages in particular have it so good in this department - they have tons of common removal spells that are absolutely top tier.  They have both multiple common AOE spells but also single target removal.  Rogues get worse cards generally than mages but they still have a fantastic selection, better than other classes do.

Changing the first problem is a massive undertaking at the least.  It would require a total overhaul of how Arena works, or a serious game redesign, both of which are things I think are not happening.  However, changing card quality isn't actually that hard and doesn't need to do anything that would confuse a new or returning player.

Blizzard has decided that they want to move forward with this, so they are banning several top cards for Mage and Rogue and also banning a ton of terrible cards from weak classes.  They correctly chose which classes were underperforming, and honestly the cards they are set to remove are mostly so terrible they saw little play anyway, so I think this is a good direction to go in.  They can't get rid of the overpowered hero powers that Rogue and Mage have, but they can use careful banning to try to narrow the gap.

There is a real trick to this though.  If those cards just vanish, then all the weak classes will end up with less cards to work with, and as such will be stuck more often with neutral cards.  Neutral cards are weaker and less thematic so this is not ideal.  It is still an improvement, but it isn't all it could be.  If instead of just getting rid of the bad cards Blizzard added on an extra multiplier to the remaining class cards they could really make things better.  So imagine that of 20 Priest cards 5 were removed.  If they increased the occurrence rate of the remaining 15 cards by 33% then Priests would still get class cards at the same rate, but they would all be good ones instead of 1/4 of them being rubbish.  This is a much more powerful change that would help maintain theme and increase the buffing effect of the banning.

However, given that Blizzard has said that right now they can only do on/off for cards, and can't subtly alter their rate of appearance, I suspect that they are stuck with the basic option which isn't as good.  It will still help, but hopefully their tech improves over the next while and they can help even more.

I don't ask that classes be perfectly balanced in terms of win rate.  These things shift with new releases and depend on who is playing, but right now it is so obvious that Mage/Rogue are the best that it feels sad to play other things.  I don't want everything perfect, but I do want them in the same ballpark.  It is a weird bit of balance - I don't mind individual drafts being wildly unbalanced, but I do mind class choice being that way.  I think it is because I like to make all of my choices optimally, and if I play optimally right now I see only a small fraction of the cards and decks that are possible.  If the classes were balanced I would win the same amount, but I would have much greater variety of decks and experiences while getting those wins, and that is highly appealing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Good stuff, but not enough

Today I finally got around to finishing up the Heroic modes in the new Hearthstone adventure One Night in Karazhan.  I complained before that the Heroic modes had good aesthetics but weak difficulty, and my conclusion is that this is a pretty good summary of the adventure.

The final boss is actually quite difficult as these things go, and although it only took me five tries to beat it I nearly lost several times and I doubt I could beat it consistently at all.  The trick to the final boss, Malchezzar, is that it is two fights.  The first is against a decent warrior deck with a hero power that produces a 3/3 minion with Charge.  This is extremely powerful obviously, but when you tune your deck defeating that power winning isn't difficult.

The problem is that as soon as you beat the warrior your turn ends and Malchezzar takes over.  As soon as he does he immediately casts Twisting Nether and kills all of your minions, then plays two 6/6 minions, and has a hero power to make two more 6/6 minions a turn.  This is actually a really challenging situation to beat because you start off with nothing, usually badly hurt from fighting the warrior deck, and are immediately facing down an opponent with two big minions and a ton of health.

My strategy was to set up a crazy turn using Kel'thuzad and Moat Lurker.  I got out Kel to keep my taunt minions invincible, Moat Lurkered Kel, and then activated Malchezzar and let him blow up all my minions including Moat Lurker.  This brought back Kel, who then resurrected all my other stuff.  In theory this should make me nearly invincible, but in practice I didn't have a lot of stuff left in my deck or on board when I pulled this off, and winning was tight.

I also lost four times, generally really badly, trying to make it work.  That of course is exactly how heroic modes are supposed to go!

I feel like this heroic was a proper one.  I got my ass kicked a fair number of times, barely held it together for the win when I did win, and had to do some thinking and unorthodox deck building to get a victory.  I call this appropriately difficult for an end boss.

However, when we consider the boss two before the end, it is all disappointment and sadness.  The Shade of Aran has the special power "All players have +3 Spell Damage" in normal.  Beating it is not hard - fill your deck with spells that scale well with spell damage and play well.  I would expect most decent players to 1 shot that encounter.  I figured on Heroic it would be something really exciting like "Shade of Aran has +5 Spell Damage".  That would have been interesting!  Take away the player benefit and crank it up.  I don't know off hand what deck I would take to such a duel, but it would feel like a real challenge.

Instead Shade of Aran has the power "Both players have +5 Spell Damage".  What?  So all I have to do is fill a deck with burn and healing and cruise to victory?  Yep, that's exactly what I needed to do.   I 1 shotted the encounter effortlessly.  It seems like a waste to have heroic modes that aren't any more difficult than normal modes and which a half assed deck can easily beat.

I want to have to practice.  I want a challenge.  I want the thrill of defeating something interesting.  Trivial encounters like Shade of Aran utterly fail at that.  We don't need trivial encounters that you can beat with whatever deck you want - that is what normal is for!  Heroic can fill the niche of players wanting a PVE challenge, something to test them.

In conclusion I can say that there were a couple of good heroic encounters in One Night in Karazhan, but only a couple.  Most were a joke and far too easy.  It wasn't a total waste, but it definitely didn't live up to my expectations.  Creativity was good, the cards get a thumbs up, but the heroics... not so much.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

It takes me back

World of Warcraft:  Legion is out and I am playing.

The short story is this:  Blizzard apparently knows what they are doing by this point and built a good product.

The longer story is that I was concerned that Blizzard was going to shift back towards the ugly Cataclysm style of game design where players just watch cinematics and follow singular quest trails through the story.  No choice, no optimization, just a crappy movie.

When I started out in Legion it seemed like that was the case.  The quests were well done, and the cinematics were pretty, but everything was lined up in a row and it felt awful.  I just don't have time for that crap anymore, and several hours in I had simply done the quests stuck in front of me in order with no variation and I was really getting frustrated with it.

However, it turns out that after you slog (or joyfully play through, I guess) the introductory segments and then get started on your first zone things actually seem pretty great.  I began in Stormheim which apparently is the zone with the least choices and the most railroading, and while it was annoying in the beginning it has worked out well.

Blizzard brought back things that I loved, like treasures scattered throughout the land in tiny caves, hidey holes, and on top of remote rocks.  There are all kinds of random bosses everywhere and they have a nice variety of tactics and abilities and seem well tuned.  I have to pay attention and play correctly against them, and if I do something dumb I can easily get myself killed.  It is great to have little bits of neat stuff to stumble upon and it really makes the main questline's linearity much more tolerable.

I also wandered into multiple small quest hubs and ended up doing stuff for ravenbears, Sir Finley Mrrrrglton, and even some light fingered goblins.

As usual Blizzard polish is really there and the servers had only a couple minor hiccups, which is pretty good for a major launch like this.  The product looks slick and pretty and there are plenty of beautiful vistas to feast your eyes upon.

The new mechanics of the order halls where individual classes go to congregate strike me as well done and I like getting a legendary weapon to cart around and tinker with.  I get to wield Ashbringer itself!  Hearing Tirion whisper for the strength to break his bonds while I was completing the quest to get Ashbringer made my heart pound, no denying it.  /salute for the Lich King fight, all the way.

One thing that really struck me was just how powerful it was to go back to having Dalaran as my home city.  The music there brought back a huge rush of memories, dragging me forcibly down memory lane to the days of Wrath of the Lich King.  I played so much WOW then, and was so deeply involved, that hearing it made me react powerfully every time I entered Dalaran again.  It reminds me of how much this game was a part of my life back then.

I miss that, so much.

But you can't go home again.  Those days of running a tight ten man guild with my university crowd are gone, never to return.  The shiny rainbows of the past are unreachable, and honestly weren't as shiny as all that when I was there in the first place.

But oh, the music!  The remembering!

So it is clear that Blizzard made a good product.  They are trying some new things that strike me as solid attempts, though who knows how they will be long term.  They appear to have cobbled together the best of their old strategies and left the things that worked in place too, which is just as important.

The game can't ever be what it once was to me.  Not anymore.  But what is there is well wrought, and I will play it.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Reality PC

The new warcraft expansion is coming out and it has one particular new feature I have been thinking about - zone scaling.  This new tech allows a zone to scale with player level so you can tackle the zones in the new area in any order you like.  You won't outlevel the zones, and you can do the harder ones first if you want.  The upside is that you aren't restricted in how you play, and you can also go back to do things afterwards without them being silly and trivial.

But I wonder if this is really the best way to go about it.  One of the real problems with the game right now is that you level so quickly it is easy to end up halfway through the quests in a zone and gain so many levels that you cannot gain experience anymore.  You have the choice of abandoning the zone halfway through the story or doing the story against trivial opponents that give you nothing in the way of rewards.  Hardly a stellar set of options.

I think Blizzard should instead have taken a tack that helps with the problems they are trying to solve with the new zones but also helps with the older stuff.  The real issue I see with the solution they are bringing in is that the game no longer would feel real.  For one, gaining levels and being more powerful wouldn't actually make you better.  It just isn't as much fun to realize that these rewards you are getting in the form of experience and levels actually make things harder, and sometimes that is going to be true.  Also there is the real issue that the world no longer feels like a place you explore to find out what is there, but rather just an amusement park built for your convenience.  If you go to Zone A at level 20 and kill a monster, then leave, and come back at level 60 and the monsters there suddenly do 20 times as much damage and have 20 times as much health it seems ridiculous to me.  Just tell me how tough a gnoll in Westfall is, don't just ratchet it up as I level!

I think a far better solution would be to flatten the power progression and get rid of level influences on combat and experience.  The game has always had this weird thing in it where monsters that are significantly above your level not only do a lot of damage and have a lot of health, but they start to randomly ignore your attacks.  Get up to about 10 levels difference and you simply can't affect them at all.  Also you can't get experience from low level monsters so you absolutely have to fight things right near your level.  I think the world would feel a lot better if that wasn't the case anymore.  If you could get experience for low level monsters you could at least finish zones where you were much higher level.  It wouldn't be hard but at least it wouldn't feel pointless.  If you could kill high level monsters you would have much more freedom to explore and test yourself, and the hardcore players could have fun trying to fight things that should be way out of their league.

Right now the game forces the player to do content in a very tight band based on their level.  Rather than simply make every zone suddenly be the same level as the player, I think the better solution is to just widen that band.  If you are level 45 right now, you can basically fight monsters from level 43 to 47.  I would suggest that the experience penalty for fighting low level things be removed so you can fight really low level stuff if you like - sure, that level 30 monster isn't much of a challenge but you can still do it and get something.  And that level 60 monster is quite the menace, but it isn't impossible, so if you can do it the rewards are quite something!

Doing it this way makes the world feel more real to me.  The challenges stay there, ready for you to attempt, and you have a lot of freedom to do what you want within that world.  Sure, top players in heirloom gear will happily slay monsters 20 levels above them and level up really fast - but so what?  It will at least give them the chance to push their skills, rather than grind utterly trivial enemies instead.  It will also mean that noobs or bots can just grind away on pathetic challenges if they choose to - but that isn't likely to be efficient, and who cares if they do?  It is far more important to make levelling fun than it is to try to corral those edge cases that don't hurt anybody else anyway.