In which we complain about solo quests in an MMO world

I realised last week that the most frustrating moments for me in MMOs are not losing in PvP, nor being yelled at in a PUG, or having a wipe night in a raid, or being beaten to a mob (in old school games in which that still is a thing). Nope. It is being forced to do a solo quest that I can’t do.

In all of those other situations you can take a break and come back and things will have changed – maybe you’ll get a better random group, or raid makeup, or find a quieter time. Maybe you could grab some friends/ willing strangers to help. But the solo quest is potentially going to block your progress forever. Plus just as it’s frustrating to be asked to find a group if you had been happily soloing, it is annoying to be forced to solo if you’d been duoing or playing with friends.

Mirkwood in LOTRO has issues with this design. It’s still one of my favourite zones, but the epic quest there does love its solo elements. Which can be fun and all when you can do them, and crazy frustrating when you are struggling. Especially if you had been duoing (or playing in a group) and now feel that everyone is waiting for you but no one can help. Arb and I have been enjoying playing our alts through Mirkwood lately, but some of those solo quests are pretty non obvious (yes I’m talking about the one where you have to help a dwarf escape from a prison via using barrels of poison to send some of the other inmates to sleep) – not hard once you know the trick, but non obvious in a frustrating way.  I’m not sure either of us were prepared for how failing a solo quest just makes you want to log off and never play the game again. (At least for awhile).

This is partly the specific quest design – a well designed piece of game will at least give you some clues as to why you failed one attempt and how you can improve next time. But it’s also because an MMO is not the same as an offline game. Most MMOs don’t optimise solo quests for specific classes (SWTOR is the exception) so the difficulty is probably not only fixed but also likely to feel unfair if it doesn’t favour your class strengths. Which is especially frustrating if you had been duoing with someone for whom that isn’t the case. It can make a huge difference if your character has strong AE, or heals, or a pet.

The legendary WoW quest

Speaking of frustrating, I’ve tried to complete the solo stage of the legendary WoW questline (Celestial Blessings) several times on my shadow priest, for both the healing and ranged dps versions. I can’t do it at all. I’ve read tactics. I’m not really interested in trying any more.

So what does this mean really? Aside from killing my enthusiasm (admittedly waning anyway) for this expansion, I guess I’m just not good enough.

I can live with this. I don’t like PvP and I’m not big on trying impressive soloing adventures. I’m a decent healer and dps on my priest but I’m not a great or talented soloer so maybe I don’t deserve cool epic things. What I find more frustrating is  feeling trailed along by this stupid questline all expansion to the point where I will have to give up. When they put in a PvP section to the legendary, people complained but it was actually very non-PvPer tolerant  (just had to win a couple of battlegrounds, which you can pretty much do by queueing repeatedly until random chance gives you a good set of team mates). So how come the solo section can’t be non-soloer tolerant too? Why is this the point where the game decides to get elitist?

I don’t know the answer to that because there is no reason. It makes me feel stupid (for assuming that the quest was aimed at the same level of player it had been from the start), as well as wanting to quit.

How do you feel about solo (I mean forced solo) quests in MMOs? Does anyone else get as frustrated as I do?

[Misc] EVE advertising, Flexi raids in WoW, E3 and the rush of FPS MMOs

Apologies for this being a bit of a mashup. I should probably post more often rather than waiting till I have a few items together.

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This banner was part of a banner ad for EVE Online on rpg.net. This is their advertising slogan. “Be the villain”. And they wonder why their community has a terrible reputation, and only 4% of the player base is female.

Just saying.

I’m still playing through my first month in EVE quietly, deliberately not getting involved in corps or PvP because I just wanted to get a feel for the flow of the game. By far the most compelling part so far is the Facebook-like skill training system. I don’t mean that as a knock to the awesome economic game, beautiful graphics or fairly dull PvE. But the skill training is surprisingly compelling (or perhaps not if you’re used to Farmville). So perhaps it is not surprising that the devs have introduced a new mini game in the recent update – I can’t personally comment on it since I haven’t really figured out probes in any case.

The immensely clever thing about this game is the gamification of boredom. PvE activities like mining are made deliberately dull to encourage player-ships to hang around while players are reading something in another window, making them easy prey for wannabee pirates. ie. the pirates are pretty much guaranteed easy player prey, whilst the miners/ distributers can still make enough credits to shrug off losing the odd ship every now and then.

And as long as everyone roughly gets what they want most of the time, no one will get pissed off enough to leave. It’s actually pretty clever, but still boring. Before anyone comments, I realise that the PvP game is where most of the fun is, just joining a corps is a massive hassle and my goal here was just to get a feel for the game.

One of the  main issues with EVE is always going to be how the devs can balance making the game accessible to newbies while allowing the longer term players to enjoy the advantages of lengthy playing time. For all I’m told that newbies can easily fly with PvP fleets (if in the right role), I still see a  lot of fleets in chat that have far more rigorous requirements.

Are you flexible?

One of the features coming to WoW in the next patch has been dubbed flexible raiding by the devs. In addition to LFR (25 man) and  normal mode (10 or 25 man) for raids, there is now going to be an inbetween version that lets you bring any number of players between 10 and 25 and scales based on how many you bring. The flexi raids also are on a separate lockout from either LFR or normal mode, and drop loot that is also between LFR and normal mode loot.

I’m cautiously hopeful about this new raid mechanic. At the beginning of Cataclysm, like many other people, I commented on how forcing 10 and 25 man raiding to the same lockout would impact on casual raid guilds. Back in the day, we used to run fairly chilled out 25 man raids and the more hardcore raiders could still go off and run their own 10 mans at weekends. After the lockout changed, we compacted into a casual 10 man guild where the more hardcore raiders could still raid with the main group and everyone else could come to alt runs or LFR.

The new flexi raids mean that if people want, we could return to the old Wrath raid pattern. I expect to see a lot more public flexi raids being run also, where raiders and their alts can chill with other raiders from their realm in a non guild exclusive environment. Given that more choice is good, I’m going to welcome the new raid type.

What it means to 10 man normal raid groups, I’m not sure. If like us they raid successfully but at a cost of rarely being able to include less hardcore raiders (I realise I am using hardcore in a different way to heroic groups Smile ) and often having a couple of people on the bench, it will be tempting to just shift to flexi raids and throw in the odd normal mode as an extra if players want.

Blizzard are also releasing more information about the next patch, which looks as though it will be rather more interesting than the current one. The Godmother has a quick summary of some of the new upcoming  features.  I actually applaud them for releasing the current quieter patch over the summer period, because players don’t really want to feel stressed to play MMOs when the weather is nice (I live in hope).

What E3 brought

I’m not really sold yet on either XBone or the PS4 as a next gen console, my PS3 is still looking pretty good and PC gaming has rarely been better*. However, I’m going to bow to Sony’s PR guys this week because their video on how the PS4 lets you share games is a winner; at least it makes them look as though they understand gamers rather better than Microsoft. I wouldn’t write the XBone off though, MSoft have a very clear vision of their customer – someone who loves watching sport, playing ‘core’ video games online with friends, and isn’t that price sensitive. We should just call the console the XBROne and have done with it. Imagine my surprise that the Microsoft E3 presentation a) showed no games with female protagonists and b) involved a scripted rapey joke at the expense of a female presenter. Like I say, they know exactly who their target audience are. And yes I do enjoy watching them get mocked for it in the national press.

* I will probably eventually pick up a PS4 to play whichever version of Final Fantasy we are up to now (15 I think) because old habits are hard to break.

I am also seeing (finally) a rush of FPS MMOs lined up for the next gen consoles. Between Destiny and The Division, along with Planetside 2 and whatever MMOlike features are planned for CoD et al, it will be interesting to see how both the monetisation strategies and gameplay catch on with console players.

And the game that most intrigued me was the Plants vs Zombies shooter. Like Liore, I think this is an interesting way of opening up the genre to a different audience. I kind of want to play a Sunflower that spits sunbeams, even though I’m not big on shooters.

[WoW] The raiding dropoff in MoP

I think it’s approaching that time in the expansion where I get a bit burned out on raiding, notwithstanding having a great guild and raid team. I can tell this because I was getting quite frustrated at being the nominated turtle kicker (I promise this makes sense if you know the encounter) on Tortos this week. (Fortunately we’re taking a week or two off due to people being on holiday and then we have a guild meet coming up so I’ll probably be back to normal after that.)

Or maybe it’s just a frustrating role that no one really likes. Who knows?

Well actually, Zellviren has been collecting stats on normal-mode raid participation and has put up a long and detailed post on MMO-Champion about it. To summarise: raid participation in normal mode 10 man instances has been steadily dropping off since Wrath. Even with the surge in subscriptions that came with MoP, fewer guilds killed the first boss in Mogushan Vaults than the last boss in Dragon Soul (last raid in Cataclysm) in normal mode 10 man. He also collected data on a boss by boss basis to show which have been the main roadblock bosses in MoP for these raiders.

I know the main roadblocks for us were Elegon and Garalon so it’s no surprise to see large drop offs associated with both of them, but the numbers also show that after hitting those walls, a lot of guilds seem to have given up on raiding. He concludes:

“1) This is the first time we start to see massive jumps and “brick walls” appear in normal mode raiding. Elegon himself puts paid to more guilds than the entirety of tier 13.
2) The Heart of Fear is a one-instance wrecking crew. Of the guilds that started the expansion by managing to defeat the Stone Guard, it’s managed to kill over 58% of them.
3) The ‘attunement’ for Heart of Fear is bypassed, allowing more guilds to kill the Sha of Fear than killed Grand Empress Shek’zeer.
4) 75% of the final tier instance was less punishing than Amber-Shaper Un’sok; the Heart of Fear accounts for an average mortality rate of over 7.6%.”

In Throne of Thunder, only 25k 10 man guilds have taken out the first boss in normal mode. Ghostcrawler did comment that counting the number of guilds wasn’t a great way to measure progress (I interpret this the opposite way he does and wonder if it’s because hardcore players might have multiple alts in different raid guilds) but agrees that fewer players have made an attempt on Jin’rock 10 m normal than on Stone Guard in the earlier tier.

Then Horridan (which admittedly took us several weeks of attempts) filtered out another 5k, that’s 20% guilds which killed the first boss still haven’t killed the second.

Well, it makes me feel better about our current progress, even though we’re not one of the elite 7k who killed Lei Shen on normal. I was tempted to put elite in ‘’ but really what else can you call it?

Basically, the current endgame model doesn’t seem to be working. Yes LFR will have soaked up all of those raiders but does LFR have the stickability of raid encounters which each might require a month or more of effort from a guild to clear?

Catching up: Neverwinter, WoW Raiding, Diablo

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“I got eaten by a gelatinous cube!!!” she said, “This is the best day of my life!”

I feel late to the party so going to link to a few other people’s experiences with the Neverwinter open beta. I haven’t really seen any bad reviews, it’s a solid game and if you like that sort of thing, it’s F2P so you can go try it. For me I get strong vibes of a mixture of Diablo and standard hotbar MMO play, and it mostly works. Also my character has a really cool devil tail that waves around.

  • Dusty Monk – “… when you first log on, you’ll be presented with a Home Page of the various kinds of content available and how to get to them.   And for most of that content, a robust LFG queuing tool is available, and works really well.  So whether for skirmishes, dungeons, or PvP matches, you can queue up, and typically within less than 20 minutes or so, be whisked away to the instance of your choice.”
  • Tipa at West Karana – “I play the game, I like the game, but I don’t know why. Game just _confuses_ me.”
  • The Jester, a blogger at wizards.com (blogging for a pen and paper audience) – “The static world reflects a style of MMO design on the way out. It’s very much a third-generation MMO despite every MMO in the last three or four years trying to become an early fourth-generation MMO. There’s not a whole lot of innovation. Excluding the Foundry, it’s an unremarkable game I would have not looked twice at had it not been using the D&D licence (and even then, only because it’s free). There’s also only enough official content for a single playthrough.”

Like many of the other bloggers I follow, I’m finding a lot more fun in the game than I had expected. It is, as The Jester says, a very static world design but I don’t entirely agree with him about the third-generation MMO. Cryptic have been looking at more recent developments in other games, so Neverwinter features companion NPCs and crafting based on facebook style games/ SWTOR, LFG queues for all the group content in the game, a web interface where you can check your crafting/ auctions/ etc., and a more active combat style than typical MMOs. I find the dodging works better here than in GW2, for example. The game does default to mouse look, and binds your two main attacks to the mouse buttons for that classic Diablo feel. This didn’t annoy me as much as I was expecting although it feels awkward when you want to drop out of mouse look mode so that  you can click on some other part of your screen. All in all, it feels like a modern take on an oldschool genre, which is pretty appropriate for a game based on Dungeons and Dragons.

And Arb and I do get a kick from the oldschool D&D references that are studded through the game, especially when we remember the monsters showing up in tabletop games that we ran as teenagers.  The gelatinous cube shown above was an old GMing favourite, as were the illusory walls that have featured in other dungeons in the game. Fortunately this particular cube was not immune to cold and lightning damage, given that my wizard has a lot of ice spells. And that shows up one of the downsides of Neverwinter – it’s not actually as tactically interesting as a D&D game probably should be. Monsters are supposed to have strengths and vulnerabilities, but that doesn’t really work with this type of MMO where players don’t want to be told “You should really bring someone with fire spells if you are going to fight gelatinous cubes.”

It’s a dilemma. In any case, we’re having fun with the game at the moment. I don’t know if it really has long lasting stickability but Cryptic have played to their strengths by including The Foundry for player generated scenarios and that is something I am curious to try out.

Raiding in the Throne of Thunder

Kadomi has written a much more colourful description of our raiding progress over at her blog (I love being in a guild with other bloggers, I can just link to what they wrote and say “just read this.”)

Short form: We got council down last week in normal mode for the first time. So we’re making slow but steady progress through the raid. I have had more fun raiding in MoP than in any aspect of WoW since Wrath, although the encounters are sometimes overtuned in normal, they’re pretty well designed. I don’t know what other people consider good encounter design but for me, I don’t mind a complex boss fight that takes us a long time to learn as long as we can feel we are learning on every pull.

Encounters like Elegon and Council have been incredibly rewarding fights for our guild to master, I think. So I don’t much care that we’re not on heroic modes, the raids we are doing are at a really good difficulty for us I think. But I’m pretty tolerant of slow progression if the company is good and fun is being had.

At the same time, LFR being available helps a lot with keeping the general good mood in a casual raid guild. I think back to Burning Crusade and just how darned important it felt to be in progression raids because it was the only way you could be in with a shot at the gear you’d need to be included in the next progression raid. Now you can keep up reasonably well with gear levels by running LFR and collecting rep gear so it’s not the end of the world if you miss a week or two. Plus if we don’t have enough people on a raid night, we can take a guild group to LFR and still have the opportunity to hang out together.

As anyone who has been reading gaming news recently will know, WoW posted a drop in accounts over the last quarter. This can’t be surprising given general trends in the genre and doesn’t really reflect on MoP – anyone who quit because there were too many dailies probably wasn’t going to be in it for the long run anyway.

Diablo III

Since the new patch, I have been tentatively trying out my old Barbarian in Inferno level and … this is probably not surprising but now that several nerfs have been applied to the mobs and buffs to the characters, I am quite enjoying it. The original difficulty just wasn’t fun for me, this is.

I have enjoyed all the Diablo-esque games that I have played recently, Torchlight 2 is a lot of fun also, but Diablo 3 does have some very moreish design factors to it. I love silly things like the increasingly outlandish types of arms and armour you pick up (what is a Schynbald? Heck if I know!), which brings me back to original Dungeons and Dragons with it’s lovingly illustrated pages of exotic polearms.

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[WoW] Thoughts on 5.2 – Everybody walk the dinosaur

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Sadly, dinosaur jousting is not (yet) in the game

Somewhere along the line, it stopped being acceptable for patches to be referred to just by their numbers (probably because it’s obscure, hard to remember, and vaguely techy), so patch 5.2 should more properly be known as The Thunder King. (Amusing comparison: in Jewish custom, books of the bible are traditionally known by the name of the first word in  that book. This has the advantage of not being stuck with names like “Deuteronomy.”  In WoW, we know our patches by the name of the last endboss.)

This is the big content patch of the expansion, involving a couple of new zones, a big new raid, bunch of progressive daily quests (ie. they are in phases) with associated scenarios as the phase advances, more crafting recipes, open world raid bosses, new pets and mounts, and new reputations. In particular, there are a lot of dinosaurs because REASONS.

I’m having fun hanging out with my guild, getting on with the daily quests, running some raids in normal mode with guildies and LFR, and unlocking the next phase of the Isle of Thunder, of which we are about to unlock the last part. I am starting to feel worn down by it though and I want to talk a little about why that is, and other impressions of the patch.

We got dailies in your dailies

I think the daily quest part of the patch has been really well done. I like the mechanic of having some randomly selected dailies every day, and of unlocking the next phase of the zone after enough have been (collectively) done. It’s pretty cool. This isn’t an “I’m burning out on dailies!” complaint, I quite enjoy them. But the effect of all these extra tiers of dailies on top of the daily heavy MoP endgame and the daily heavy last patch is a ponderous feel of “same old, same old.”

For all that, once you have all the rep and loot you want from the local rep vendors, it does at least give plenty of choice in how you’d like to earn your weekly valor points. I don’t see that as a bad thing at all.

The loot problem with large raids

When I say large raids, I mean raids with lots of bosses. In Throne of Thunder, there are 12 bosses. Not all wings are open yet for LFR so Blizzard have staggered the release of the raid in a similar way to what happened with Icecrown.

The loot problem is that if each boss can drop several items that might be relevant for your class/ spec, that is going to add up to a lot of duplication. I counted about seven different robes that my shadow priest could potentially get from ToT LFR, all of the same item level. (Which happens to be 2 iLevels lower than the robe I had upgraded from the last patch.) Getting loot is great! It’s always nice when the game gives you something. But it’s going to be very hard for me to be even mildly excited about any of those drops.

I know, transmogrification and cosmetic clothing. I should get excited because they all have different looks. But it’s still just a robe and my goblin is a shadow priest (ie. spends most of the time in shadow form where you can’t really make out the gear) so the lure of loot isn’t really pulling at me yet. And this is even before the last wing has unlocked in LFR. I shouldn’t be this blase about drops already.

So imagine most pieces of armour will be present in multiple varieties also. I wonder if it might have been better to be a bit stingier with the drops.

In any case, clearly it’s in normal/heroic mode and rep gear from the raid rep vendor that the more useful upgrades for me will come. This isn’t doing a great deal to motivate me into LFR unless my friends are around, and as soon as I have the few LFR upgrades that I want, I may get my valor points via the easier raids and heroics instead.

Difficulty and LFR

The conversation about difficulty is focussed at the moment on Durumu, the beholder boss. LFR groups fall like flies to this guy, three full wipes is the fewest I’ve ever had before we got him down. This is way out of line with how bosses usually fall to LFR groups.

And the reason is not because the mechanics are especially hard, it’s because there are some very key elements which are just hard to see. If you set up a purple foggy maze on a dark background where the safe area moves around and kill off anyone who accidentally strays into the (hard to see) maze for too long, it’s not a recipe for an easy boss kill. This type of difficulty is a mixture between punishing (if you don’t get it right, you will probably die and no one in the raid can save you), and needlessly visually obscured. It is the second part that is the problem.

On the bright side, having to figure out how to get past an annoyingly hard boss can sometimes bring out the best in LFR groups. After a couple of wipes, people tend to focus more on getting organised, marking the person/people who claim to be good at seeing the maze and getting everyone else to stack on them. And after managing the boss, the raid has tended to feel  more cohesive for the rest of the run – there is a sense of achievement. I think it’s interesting to observe. Even annoying difficulty isn’t always bad.

But Blizzard do still need to fix it because it’s annoying to die to stuff you can barely even see.

Getting the community to interact

In this patch, Blizzard have put a few new elements in to try to encourage more interaction. The Isle of Thunder has some rare elite mobs which drop desirable items (including a key to the new solo loot-grab scenario), and which need a few people to kill. You also don’t need to be in a group or raid to get loot if you have helped with the kill  I find that general chat on the isle is often used to report when one of these mobs is up, as a general invitation to people to come and pile in. So it seems to be working as a way to get players to communicate and invite random others to help. What they don’t tend to do is tell you where the rare mob is, so you’ll have to learn those locations on your own (or with the help of a handy website).

There are also a couple of new world bosses which need huge numbers of players (ie. more than one full raid) to kill. These also have been pretty successful in encouraging interaction. Word tends to get round when one of them is up via guild chat, trade chat, general chat in cities and everyone is welcome to come and pile in. Because you need that many warm bodies.

So do I like to see this kind of thing in the game. I think it’s worthwhile to have bosses with fairly simple mechanics but that require large numbers of players to kill, alongside content that is more difficult, more solo friendly, or favours elite groups. How busy/ popular those mobs will be when people no longer need the loot is hard to say. I see far fewer Sha of Anger (world boss from the start of MoP) groups being formed now than I used to, for example.

Do we expect every patch to be a mini expansion now?

There are some real bonuses to having patches that involve self contained zones and reputations and  easy stepping on points for players who had taken a break. Mostly because you can draw players back in who had previously gotten bored with the expansion  to see and play the new content.

The downside is that more of the things you had done previously in the expansion will feel deprecated. The rep and loot from the last patch will soon be replaced by the rep and loot from the current one. Keen had a good point I think where he argues that he wants time spend in MMOs to feel like an investment.

I see Blizzard trying to find a balance in which your achievements from the beginning of the expansion still feel valid and useful later on. For example, time spent maxing out the farm is still useful – you can still grow useful stuff on it. Mounts and pets are still useful and valid if you want to use them. Knowing the heroic instances and earlier LFR raids is still useful, they are good sources of valor points and knowing the fights will make it easier for you to shine/ your raid to kill them.

This balance between valid current content and deprecated old content has always been a point of contention in themepark style MMOs. In some ways, the games always feel purer a few months  after release — after the worst of the release bugs have been fixed but before the first expansion is released, because it simply isn’t a concern and all the content is current.

I wonder whether other MMOs find a better balance than WoW does.  I know in LOTRO I always used to feel that the older content felt more valid than old WoW raids, for example. I’m not sure if that is still the case.

[WoW] Ghost Iron is the new black

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jurvetson@flickr

I wrote a post about my adventures with blacksmithing in Pandaria a few months back.

Executive summary:

  • Wow, there’s a lot of ghost iron about.
  • As well as the base material for blacksmithing and jewelcrafting, you can also transmute it into other stuff (like trillium, living steel, etc)
  • Hey, crafted PvP gear sells really well. Who would have thought?

So I made a ton on crafting and selling PvP gear until I got bored of it because I had more gold than I needed. (Which is the entire story of my ventures into the economy on any game, I can never feel motivated after I have enough.) Living steel is fairly cheap on the auction house so it’s still easier to sell crafted PvP gear and use the profits to buy anything else you might need. Life is good.

And then comes patch 5.2, which continues on the whole “hey guys, our entire economy is based on Ghost Iron these days” theme by adding a bunch of entirely new demand for the stuff.

1. A new PvP/ Arena season. This means that the PvP crafted gear gets a bump in iLvL to help starting players (not a huge bump: its going from 450 to 458). Typically what Blizzard have done in the past is leave the recipes alone but have them produce higher iLvL gear with a slightly different name. So as a blacksmith, you don’t actually have to do much to take advantage of this. However, you really don’t want to be left with old stock when the recipe is upgraded.

Often there is a surge of demand for crafted gear when a new season starts. I don’t know if that will be the case this time, it hasn’t really been improved much. But best to assume this might happen again.

2. Large demand for trillium as part of the Wrathion legendary questline. The next stages of this quest are rumoured to require people to hand in 40 trillium bars. Blizzard have been known to tweak files in between the test server and a live patch drop to encourage people not to hoard, but if this is true then there is about to be a huge demand on trillium. Which means a demand for Ghost Iron by alchemists queueing up to turn the stuff into trillium.

(I personally feel the cheapest way to get your trillium is to buy white/black trillium on the cheap and make up the spares by spending Spirits of Harmony at the vendor because a lot of people do not have miners and don’t know how to combine black/white ore to get trillium bars. Also white trillium has been cheap for ages.)

3. Blizzard are tweaking Blacksmithing, and making it possible to level the tradeskills from scratch in Pandaria, using only Ghost Iron as a material. Players have realised for awhile that tradeskills haven’t really been in synch with the new levelling curve – it takes a bit of effort and going out of your way to keep tradeskills up to date while you level now. So it may not really be surprising if Blizzard decided to provide shortcuts, in the same way that they did with cooking. As a crafter, this makes me a bit sad; I quite liked that there was an advantage to knowing where to gather all the materials you might need to level a tradeskill. Although I imagine more hardcore players on large servers just buy it all from the AH.

As a miner, it makes me think that the price of Ghost Iron is going to go through the roof.

4. And you’ll also need a bunch of Ghost Iron to make the new Lightning Steel material that is going to be used to craft new blacksmithing recipes in the next patch.  I’m not all that excited by any recipes that I have seen, as it’s mostly iLvL 463 (blue) weapons that can be transmogged to look like Burning Crusade weapons. I never thought that BC was really the weapons high point of the game, but your mileage may vary.

This isn’t really a gold guide, and if I need more in game gold I’ll probably just keep selling crafted PvP gear. But it’s intriguing to see Blizzard deliberately driving the economy like this. I can only imagine what will happen when they eventually bring in legendary gems (these recipes usually appear a few patches into an expansion) which are bound to be based on Ghost Iron too.

[General Gaming Links] Events, ‘I quit’ posts, TESO, Wildstar, and more

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harlequeen @ flickr (Brought to you by otters)

So this is the second links post of the year so far, and unlike the gaming news links of last week, what I’m aiming to do with the regular general links posts is simply to highlight blog posts and articles that have grabbed me. Because I’m aiming to save up a month’s worth of tagged content, some of these blog posts won’t be ultra recent but I like to think the better ones improve with time.  Let’s see how we go!

Omali at MMO Fallout talks about Random Events in Runescape and how he thinks Jagex have evolved them over the years.

Overly Positive is a community mod blog, and in this post Frank discusses how mods deal with “I quit!” posts. Anyone ever written an “I quit” post on a public forum? I know I never have. I generally just quit without a fuss.

Community people are always interested in why people decide to leave a game they represent, which is why all the people who inevitably respond to “I quit” posts with the notion that they should somehow shut up, go away, go back to WoW or whatever else, doesn’t really help us.

Terra Silverspar is cautious about The Elder Scrolls Online, and explains what Zenimax would have to do to change this to optimism.

The Pensive Harpy begs for an end of cinematic  CGI trailers for MMOs.

Sure, they look really cool, and can thrill the imagination. But they have ZERO bearing on the actual game, and they show nothing of significance about the gameplay (you know, the bit that actually matters?). The more slick and impressive one is the more I think "How much money was wasted on making this rather than being invested in something useful for the game?"

Green Armadillo has been playing SWTOR and TSW recently, among other games, and weighs in on how he thinks the monetisation schemes are working out. I personally do struggle to write about monetisation at the moment, and it is partly because I know that SWTOR and GW2 are making a lot of money from selling random lootboxes, but I cannot understand the motivation of players to spend upwards of $100 per month on random loot boxes! I just don’t get it. How is that fun? But there are a large number of players who do this, enough to keep games viable.

I have new theories about both games… neither of which would be good news for me as a customer of both products.  I get the impression that SWTOR is heavily dependent on its cosmetic item gambling packs and that TSW appears to be running a fire sale to keep the lights on for a few more months before going under.

He has had a blistering good blogging month, and another blog I want to pick out is his takedown of Marvel Heroes and the decision not to pre purchase.

smakendahed is struggling with GW2, he plays characters up to the mid 20s-30s but can’t seem to stick at it any longer than that. Here is his discussion of his experiences and  a plea for others to explain what motivates them in the game. (For me, it was the people I was playing with.)

I have no motivation to advance to the cap or continue playing once I’ve gotten far enough to see how a class plays and gain most of the abilities that interest me.

j3w3l is also musing on the state of GW2.

For a game claiming to be the evolution of the genre I’m not actual very sure as to the way it did. They abandoned ideals that were working well, and created solutions to problems no one was having.

Psychochild writes about the grind in MMOs, and particularly with reference to GW2. He ponders how things can turn from new/fun into dull grind from a player perspective and thinks about what Arenanet could to do perk things up.

I keep wanting to write about The Walking Dead, and keep telling myself I should wait until I’ve finished the game first. (Short version: it’s amazing.)  Currently I am about to start Chapter 3, and I find I need a break between chapters as it’s quite traumatic. Syp describes his experiences with the game and in particular how the choices  made in game have affected him.

Nick Dinicola explains why he thinks driving games and open worlds shouldn’t mix, in the process discussing what he thinks the core themes of an open world game really are.

A good open world will get you to stop at least once to admire the environment. There’s always one spot from which we can see the whole world, and it is in this moment that it hits us that this is all open to us, that we can go anywhere. An open world should give us a sense of majesty and wonder while providing lots of gameplay options.

Vixsin is impressed by how many goals she still has in MoP after reaching the end of Tier 14 progression. (She wrote this last month so may have run out of goals since then Winking smile ). She’s not completely uncritical, but pretty positive about the experience so far.

Stormy at Scribblings on the Asylum Wall is angry at feeling pressured by Blizzard into doing PvP. There are two battlegrounds that you need to win as part of the legendary questline, plus various encouragements to PvP as part of the Domination Point questlines. I can sympathise with this, I don’t hate PvP as much as s/he does but that’s purely because I could get my battleground wins and then never go back again.

The Godmother ponders how people are going to gear new characters and alts in the next WoW patch.

Once LFR as it currently stands is relegated to ‘old content’ I’d expect no-one with a desire to competitively gear to want to set foot in one again, especially if you’ll need rep from the new instance to keep up with the Joneses. This means MSV, ToES and HoF will become ‘The Alt 25 Mans’, full of people wanting to gear their secondary characters: I’d suspect an increase in wipes and a decrease in decent group quality as a result.

Ted A. suggests a few possible improvements to LFR loot mechanics in WoW.

Keen argues that PvP isn’t necessary in MMOs. Which is interesting as it still seems fairly core on the feature list of most upcoming games.

I think a game designed solely around capturing people in the moment by creating a really rich PvE world is a something I can really enjoy.  What does that mean?  I guess I envision myself packing a bag full of resources, and setting off in a direction with friends to see what we can find.  I like the idea of not knowing what’s out there, or not knowing when I’ll be back to town because the game — the world — is letting me go off and truly make the “player vs. environment” a reality. ((…)) Maybe that’s why I wish PvP was seen as less of a requirement.  PvE has the ability to create a much better experience for me, and I wish those types of experiences would be developed further even with the risk.

Pete at Dragonchasers, a self described ‘casual shooter fan,’ finds that F2P games can keep him happily amused. But he wonders what kind of an impact they will have in the long term, and how devs will lure casual players to pay for what they can currently get for free.

I wonder if there are enough serious shooter fans to support many big budget $60 games. It is my understanding (and I may be wrong) that game publishers need casual gamers to purchase their titles in order to thrive.

So in the future, how will these publishers lure in casuals like me? What are they going to offer me that I can’t get for free?

Jester is a really good EVE blogger, and to my mind he is at his strongest when writing about the big picture (and not so much about minor political disagreements between various EVE personas). This is a really good post where he ponders the three main goals for CCP this year. These are for Dust to launch successfully, attract new players to EVE, and keep the old EVE players happy. (A cynical reader might assume that the last two would be running goals anyway). Obviously CCP could have timed Dust better since it looks as though the PS4 is about to be announced …

The Angry Dwarf wonders what would be so awful if every game had a super easy mode.

Syncaine looks back on WAR (Warhammer Online) and remembers the good things about the game. I was and still am fond of the game, although I haven’t played it for ages. Plenty of commenters also chime in.

…if you look at what WAR brought to the genre, and compare it to SW:TOR or the ‘genre fixing’ GW2, WAR win’s in a landslide in terms of contribution. Public quests, evolving cities, how they did instanced PvP, the Tome of Knowledge, map functionality, etc. Yes, at the end of the day the game did not work enough to succeed, but many of its parts were brilliant and the blueprint going forward.

Syp lists 40 things he is looking forwards to with Wildstar. The astonishing thing to me is how negative most of the comments are. I get not agreeing with blog posts, but wow that’s some anti hype right there. Maybe it’s just the list posts people don’t like.

[WoW] How I learned to stop worrying and love pet battles

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Observe the amazing acrobatic maggot!

Readers, I was not the greatest fan of pet battles in Mists of Pandaria. Oh, I had completed the opening questline in Orgrimmar and gone out and caught a few low level wild pets locally, tried out a couple of my favourite existing pets in battle to see what powers they got, battled a couple of the low level NPC trainers. It was cool, I thought. It reminded me of Pokemon, which is one of the more solid game designs in gaming history. It was a good idea, reasonably well implemented, I thought. I could see how it would appeal to other players. Then I got distracted by Pandaria and all the other shinies and dailies and crafting and auction house, and so on.

I was wrong to dismiss pet battles; the system is rather good, entertaining and engrossing.  The WoW dev team have successfully added a solid standalone separate gamestyle to their flagship MMO.And they have done it via  adding depth to the popular pastime of collecting minipets, and it’s all totally optional.

This is the story of how I discovered pets, or perhaps of how pets discovered me.

So there I was, quietly levelling a new alt …

Sister Incarnadine, the undead monk, was gingerly exploring  the Eastern Plaguelands – we could call it a pilgrimage through traditional forsaken domains. A journey through the history of her own folk. The Plaguelands were still dead and withered, no druids had reinvented them as they had with the Western Plaguelands. The orange-brown environment melted the eyes, along with the remnants of scourge invasion from pre-Cataclysm times that even Deathwing’s fire had not purged.

Hooking up with a travelling caravan, and two young paladins who were also on a pilgrimage to join the Argent Crusade, the monk silently faced her own private demons. It was a literal as well as meditative silence, her vows hanging heavily upon her. She silently accepted the lucky charm that the caravan driver cheerfully bestowed upon her and set about making the route safe for travellers.

When clearing bodies away from the path, she found a … curiously perky maggot feasting on one of the corpses. Picking the little fellow up (because no forsaken has a fear of maggots, and many are quite proud of the number that their rotting bodies can support, not to mention the weekly Undercity maggot racing contests), she put it in on her shoulder and forgot about it. Until “What the hell was that?!!!” she choked, as the maggot did a perky backflip over her head, landing neatly on her shoulder again.

The maggot looked innocent. No, actually, it looked pretty feisty, for a maggot.

‘Maybe I have an entry for the annual Brill maggot fighting competition after all’, thought Sister Incarnadine. ‘But first he’ll need – a training montage.’

How to get a somersaulting maggot of your own

1. Go to Fiona’s Caravan in the Eastern Plaguelands. If you haven’t started the zone yet, it will be located just across the zone borders from Western Plaguelands.

2. Do Fiona’s quests until you have progressed enough that you are invited to join the caravan in travelling to the first tower.

3. After arriving at a tower, you can click on the caravan to be offered a buff. Pick Fiona’s luck buff.

4. Go slaughter creatures in Eastern Plaguelands. Occasionally you will loot an extra lucky bag. That bag has a chance to contain Mr. Grubbs.

Life with the Thrill Kill Maggot

So the tipping point that got me back into pet battles was acquiring a bizarro blue quality pet (Mr. Grubbs) completely … out of the blue. It was then a short step towards thinking “I wonder how good this new pet is at pet battles,” and then “I’d better go train it a bit,” and then, “I could train some of my favourite pets at the same time, I always had a soft spot for the Crimson Whelpling that Arb gave me back in Vanilla.”

Then before you know it, you’re checking what other cool pets are around, reading blogs about pet battles, figuring out how to get some of the other cool pets, running the pet battle quests and dailies, trying out new pet battle teams, downloading addons, showing your pets off to other guild members in raids …

So then I found out that there was a robot cat, and had to plot to capture one. I was wandered down to Karazhan to fight the battle trainer and saw another pet I’d never seen before, turns out it only spawns in the early morning! There are pets that only spawn during the Summer/Winter, pets that only spawn when it is raining, pets that spawn rarely or in very narrowly defined areas, pets that can drop off raid bosses. Once you catch the bug (sic), there’s no going back.

For me, the combination of finding cool, unusual pets as I wander around and being able to go hunt down cool pets that I have heard about or read about somewhere else is a real winner. I would love to say I was good at pet battling but have never actually tried a PvP match yet. Still, Sister Incarnadine and her travelling menagerie are making their way through Outland with some success, and I find that wandering off to capture new pets livens up the levelling experience no end.

So: feel free to add any links to cool pet battle blogs in comments and I’ll add them to the blogroll. And if anyone talented feels like helping me come up with a winning pet battle combo that includes Mr. Grubbs, I’d love to hear it.

Does easier content make for friendlier MMO communities?

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A pretty WoW screenshot, being able to fly does give you a good choice for perspectives

It has become a truism in MMOs that behaviour in random pick up groups can be really atrocious. There will be elitist jerks urging everyone to gogogo, pulling extra packs of trash mobs themselves if they think the group isn’t moving fast enough, there will be people acting like idiots purely to annoy the rest of the group, there will be insults, aggression, rage quits,  intolerance towards newbies. It’s like a war out there, put on your kneepads and body armour before venturing into LFG!

It’s also widely held that smaller, more coherent communities tend to be nicer to each other. I’m not so sure this is always true, but guild groups certainly tend to be nicer and more successful because of being willing to work together.

And yet, while I’ve been running at least one heroic a day in WoW, and LFR raids every week too, I just haven’t seen much of the horrible behaviour that gives PUGs such a bad name. The worst I’ve really seen is people leaving the group mid-instance, possibly even mid-pull (which is bad behaviour, yes), and a bit of frustration on raid/party chat which is as often countered by people telling the speaker to chill. It isn’t just that I’m on a more chilled out RP server because LFG/LFR is cross server. Although the world boss groups (Sha of Anger et al) on my server have tended to be particularly chilled out and willing to welcome any warm body who is able to help, even when people are annoyed at being beaten to the pull by Alliance – which happens reasonably often because they outnumber us on the server.

So while it’s not possible to change human nature, I think PUGs have become nicer in MoP than they were in Cataclysm. While this isn’t great for having funny ‘it came from the PUG’ stories to relate in blog posts, it probably does mean that the player base in general is having more fun (where being in aggressive LFGs counts as less fun). The only factors I can put this down to are:

  • People who left because they didn’t like pandas were some of the really annoying folks so the game is nicer without them (I don’t really see why this would be the case but you never know)
  • The instances and LFR are generally easier in MoP and less dependent on every individual performing well. Easier content means that there’s less stress on a group. If people just settle down, chances are they’ll get through it in reasonable time.
  • Less odd trash pulls which need specific tactics (Shado-Pan excepted). If you are looking up instance tactics, they tend to focus on boss fights so making these the main content in instances means there is less for new players to learn.
  • The more hardcore players are still motivated to do regular LFG/ LFR for the tokens, but less gated by inexperienced/ bad players. ie. If you are a decent dps player, chances are you can pull a group through a heroic even if the other two dps get themselves locked out of fights, die in the fires, etc.

I also think Blizzard has done a good job of making the boss fights generally fun, even though the group difficulty is a bit lower. There’s lots of movement, add switching, things to dodge, and all the other stuff that generally switches games up from pure tank and spank fights.

But really, random groups need easier content to make up for the fact that they won’t have as much experience at working together, are less likely to communicate, and are likely to contain players of widely differing skill and experience levels. We’ve seen this in the GW2 dynamic events also – they’re easy, and there’s no group size limits, so any warm body is welcome. I am glad Blizzard have twigged this, because their group content is one of the strong points of WoW and making PUGs more fun for everyone (newbies and hardcore alike) is a huge win for the game.

Bashiok actually says as much on the official forums:

While you may go in with a ((random)) group and all learn something, that a specific mob needs to be CC’d, or a certain boss behavior to avoid a wipe, those lessons are more than likely out the window with the next group you’re matched with ((…)) and most people don’t want to spend every run waiting for everyone else to learn all those same lessons. That can just be a frustrating experience. So instead of trying to force a group of strangers to be so heavily coordinated (maybe even having to jump into voice chat) just to complete the first steps of progression, we reduce the complexity to a point where the random groups that are being put together can most of the time be successful without needing to be hyper-organized or educated on each pull. Instead, that organization is far more important for the organized content where random people aren’t matched together: normal and Heroic raids.

Do you think the WoW community has become more pleasant in PUGs in this expansion?

[WoW] The mastery curve, holidays, and it came from the PUG

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Hallow’s End is my favourite of the WoW holiday events. This isn’t just because the Headless Horseman talks in rhyme like a pantomine villain, but because it’s the only event which feels more meaningful in the game world than in real life.

In real life, Halloween in the UK is a  hodge podge which is currently drawing hugely on American customs. It is kind of taking off, but I think we have a much softer spot for the home grown Guy Fawkes Day with its fireworks, anti government themes and politically incorrect  history. It may not be the world’s greatest festival but it’s all ours, dammit.  In game, Hallow’s End is the holiday on which the Forsaken celebrate their freedom from the Scourge. (A fairly brilliant concept from Blizzard which keeps the spooky feel but fits nicely with the lore.) So as my main is Forsaken, it is quite meaningful to me. This screenshot shows the daily ceremony in the Undercity where Sylvanas walks out and gives a speech/ pep talk in front of the Wicker Man. You can see that there are a few other players standing around, even though I don’t think you get any buffs from watching the event. They just wanted to come and see.

As players, we are probably all used to seeing thinly veiled lore-based excuses for having Xmas events. Players like them. But I much prefer the approach that imagines what type of holidays the in game races might have, what events might they celebrate? LOTRO does a good job with these, tying their holidays to the seasons and harvests. Anyone else have favourite events with game-specific lore that just really works for you?

Yesterday you were the noob, today you are the master

In any MMO, you can imagine a kind of learning curve where you begin as an inexperienced player and end up achieving the sort  of mastery where random strangers ask you for tips about your gear/ playing style in PUGs. OK, in my dreams maybe, but every player takes a journey from feeling new and awkward and unconfident to feeling comfortable with the content, confident, and capable in their role. This includes collecting gear, exploring the zones and instances, learning the fights and learning the class.

In particular if you want to take part in group content at max level, there is a trial by fire where you start queuing for PUGs as a nervous, barely geared level 90. Then as you get more experience and better gear, you don’t feel so nervous any more. Your tanking/healing/dps is fine and you know it.

That learning curve seems to get shorter with each expansion, but I suspect that is partly my being generally familiar with the game. It is, however, one of my absolute most favourite parts of WoW. That sense that every dungeon run is exciting because you can still make daft mistakes, help your group narrowly avoid a wipe, or just barely heal a fight and keep everyone alive. And more than that, the sense that you are still learning something with every run, still hoping for that cool drop, still engaged with the content.

I know not everyone likes excitement or that skin of the teeth feeling, but I do enjoy the learning curve. I feel that with Spinks I’m pretty much at the end of it now, she’s geared for the next LFR when it turns up, is generally top dps in instances, and I have most of the gear I really wanted.  When I run heroics now, I feel far more laid back about it. DPS warriors hinge on the very basic fun of hitting stuff with big weapons and putting up big numbers and that never really pales.

The main alt this expansion is a priest and I’ve ended up taking her down the Holy (healing) path. This was initially because queue times were so short, but I also really enjoy it as a spec. It feels like a spec with a lot of depth, and though I can heal competently, I still feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface which is pretty cool.

Undergeared healers can be challenging to play because they tend to run out of mana very fast. I think the priest has particular issues with this, but since I don’t plan on raiding with her, I am reflecting that this actually makes the instance learning curve rather more fun for me. Or rather, it’s more fun because sometimes I have really struggled with healing an encounter, which makes it so much more rewarding when I can go back later to the same instance with better gear/more experience/better group and see that I’ve improved. I will almost be sad to be over geared on her.

But there are still Challenge modes ahead. I look forwards to more exciting razor edge victories/failures.

It came from the PUG

A couple of positive examples this week, both from instances where I was healing.

I had struggled to heal Shado-Pan Heroic, there are encounters where the group can end up taking a lot of damage without much warning. But I am getting better with practice, and also noticing how much of a difference it makes when players can keep out of the avoidable damage. This is something Blizzard are really pushing with the MoP heroics, and I think healers are in a good place to notice it. I realised I was getting more confident as a healer when after one of the boss fights in Shado-Pan, one of the dps who had died during the fight said “pay attention healer.”  And my kneejerk response was to say “no, you pay attention and keep out of the bad stuff.” And no one in the group complained, I like to think this was because I was right.

Another, similar, healing moment was in Jade Temple Heroic. One of the (dead) dps said to me “where were the heals” and I said “you need to keep yourself out of the bad stuff”. There was a pause, and he said “yeah sorry.” THIS NEVER HAPPENS (i.e. people apologising), BUT IT HAPPENED IN MY GROUP!! Cognitive dissonance follows.

I imagine that once I am overgeared I’ll be better able to heal people who stand in the fire, but I quite like the playing style where it’s just not possible to do that and  healing decisions have to be made based on keeping enough people alive to beat the boss, which means triage on people who just take too much damage.