Thought of the Day: How we define challenge

I’ve read a few bloggers recently commenting about how challenges change in MMOs. Tobold joked that hunters were changing to FPS gameplay, as a way of talking about how WoW is tending towards twitch based challenge and away from knowledge/ puzzle solving — granted it wasn’t ever very puzzle based but it’s clear that designers now assume everyone will look the strategies up and are trying to find other ways to challenge players.

Gevlon has been thinking about why hardcore players complain about nerfs. Looking at the marathon example, the hardcore don’t ever have to be in contact with the casuals so why would it matter what they do? Again, it’s to do with the perception of the challenge and people being concerned that their previous achievements will be less ‘valuable,’ especially in a game where people often define their self-worth by what challenges they have beaten. (Sure, there are other reasons to complain about nerfs, I remember being sad when Ulduar was first nerfed because I was enjoying the original difficulty.)

This all reminded me of a wise comment I read recently on a bboard. From an rpg.net post by David J Prokopetz:

The ready availability of strategy guides and online FAQs seems to have lead many hardcore gamers to conclude that the only “real” challenges are those that test your reflexes, and those that test your patience.

Exploration-based challenges are deemed worthless because you can just look up where to go next; likewise reasoning-based challenges, because you can look up the solution; resource-based challenges are out because you can look up the optimal distributions; strategy and tactics disdained because you can look up an algorithm and apply it by rote; and so forth.

Ultimately, any challenge that doesn’t boil down to pure twitch or interminable grind will be dismissed out of hand.

So maybe it all does come down to spoilers in the end. But it speaks to something in player mentality where someone who levels naked (in game) or beats Ulduar in blue gear will be widely respected, whereas a group who go into a raid instance ‘blind’ so that they can figure out the strategy themselves will be mocked for not looking it up like everyone else. The player base values some challenges more than others.

It doesn’t look good for the non-achievers or people who prefer puzzle based play to twitch. But at least we still have single player games. And of course social players face the biggest challenges of all: running a successful guild or raid group.

And because it’s still being great, here’s the obligatory Torchlight screenie. My vanquisher at level 12 with a new gun. Why is it that I hate the thigh boots and miniskirt look in Aion but really like it here, I wonder?

Vanquisher with gun

Finding the game to suit your mood

Over the last couple of weeks, my patterns of game playing have changed. I’m still playing the same games as before we had a death in the family, but I have noticed that I am playing them in different ways.

I’m enjoying the social contact and escapism in my MMOs, but I also have a lot of other things to do in real life. I find that I’m reluctant to spend too long in game. Sometimes I solo — more than usual. I’ve started low level alts with sisters and friends, on a very no-strings-attached understanding.

I’ve also been avoiding in game stress. I’m looking for a more peaceful and less challenging experience right now. Maybe it’s part of the grieving process, or a way of escaping from real life upheavals. I’m not entirely sure. Either way, I’m not enjoying progression raiding in the way I had in the past. I can live with it — we have such a light raid schedule that one night a week isn’t going to hurt — but right now I can’t honestly say that it’s fun for me.

I would normally stop doing things if I decided that they weren’t fun. But in this case it’s only one night a week, and I enjoy the company and being able to keep my hand in. I’m hoping this phase will pass soon and I’ll be back to gleefully comparing my repair costs with the other tanks as usual. (In case anyone was wondering what we discuss in the tank channels.)

I also find myself retreating towards familiar things. I would love to spend more time with EQ2 but somehow in spare moments I still drift back to WoW. I think this is down to the low barriers of entry to a game you know very well. Also, I already have a couple of characters who are geared for endgame there and a social circle,  and I’m familiar with most of the current content. It’s very low stress for me to hop into WoW, run a couple of instances with friends or PUGs, and hop out again. A large part of this is because the heroics are easy, I’m overgeared, and I probably could run them blindfold.

EQ2 isn’t high stress by any means, but it takes more time and energy to go and learn a new game, explore, make new friends, and figure out new content and mechanics. And energy, as much as anything, is what I’m trying to recharge at the moment. For the same reason, I bowed out of trying any of the new releases this month. It’s not the right time, and I’m not in the right mood.

Back on the DS, Galactrix has been seeing a lot of play, probably because I’ve spent a lot of time on trains.

I love it more and more with every session, despite the game’s  huge sucking flaws. Yes it spends a freaking aeon saving and loading itself all the time — it has more load screens than EQ2 in open beta. Yes the screen manages to be sensitive when you want it to be forgiving, and vice versa. For all that, I love how it plays and I love what they were trying to do. I’m finally discovering the main storyline, and trekking around the galaxy unlocking stargates, fighting baddies, discovering rumours, making new items, mining, trading, and unlocking my latent psychic powers. I am also impressed at how many variations there are on a simple “match three colours” game.

Raid Update: Is this what the hardcore feel like?

Have you noticed how bloggers always write “We’re not hardcore but …’” before they relate recent guild activities which sound unbelievably hardcore to the reader? There’s a lot of truth in the saying that hardcore is anyone who plays more than you, and casual is anyone who plays less.

Or in other words, players  actually have no idea how hardcore we are. And only a vague idea what that means anyway.

This came home to me over the last couple of weeks. The last time I wrote about our alliance’s raid progress, I said that I thought Ulduar was tuned perfectly for us. And then they nerfed it.

Everyone who expressed an opinion on the private forums was disappointed. This was an unusual situation for us, we’re not usually in a position to be complaining that raids aren’t hard enough. I had a pang of empathy for the hardcore (I mean the real hardcore obviously, not me) who complained when Sunwell was nerfed.

We haven’t cleared the place yet and there’s plenty of challenges left. Plus when we do there are still hard modes. But I think we’d all shared that feeling that the place was perfect the way it was.

Were Blizzard right to nerf Ulduar?

They were absolutely right.

Whatever else it is, Ulduar needs to be accessible. And that means accessible to irregular raiders, raids with a few sub-par dps, and people who found Naxx challenging but will soon be finished with it.

The new paradigm says that the extra optional difficulty will be in the hard modes, and in a sop to the hardcore there’s an extra boss that requires completing all those hard modes to unlock.

Optional is a very key word here. With Wrath, difficulty became optional and we haven’t yet seen the results play out. How many players, if given the choice between raiding 4 nights a week and 1 night a week would decide that they’d rather have the extra free time than the hard mode achievements?

There will be inevitable jibes about people being poor players (I’m being kind here because I detest the retarded jibes — it’s neither retarded nor fair to the mentally disabled to plonk people in that category because they want to play less) if they decide that hard modes don’t motivate them.

Also the only real reward for being hardcore in the current environment is that you get to power through the content, possibly get boasting rights that a lot of people don’t care about any more, and then be bored for longer than the more casual raids.

Expect to see a lot more pressure on hardcore guilds to keep recruiting, because it’s going to be harder than it ever has been before. Give it a couple of months or so, I think a lot of them will be breaking apart. The game simply no longer provides the sort of content that they were created to beat.

Two more bosses down

My alliance usually runs 2-3 raids per week of three hours duration each. Two weekly raids is more common, and that’s what we did this week.

So we got the Iron Council and Kologarn for the first time, as well as all the previous bosses, and had some good attempts on Auriaya (nicknamed Maiden of Biscuits by the raid and I’m still not entirely sure why). Another achievement for us because it was the first week in ages that our main raid leader was away and I think it was good for confidence (and I’m sure he’ll be delighted also) that we still got stuck in there and made good progress.

Despite all this, although there was a third raid scheduled for Sunday we didn’t make the numbers. And we’re starting to see people drift away. One friend transferred to a PvP server, and another decided that he wanted a break (he says until the next expansion).

I don’t think this is specific to my alliance, it’s more illustrative of a general malaise. Also MMOs always lose numbers during the summer, I don’t think I have ever played a game that didn’t.

We also pulled a 10 man raid together last week and waltzed through the outer and antechamber bosses, picking up achievements on Razorscale and Flame Leviathan on the way. I’m not able to run them on weekends at the moment which severely limits the time we have in the instance (3 hours per week). So we really have to pick our goals so as to maximise the time available. I’ll probably write more about that later this week.

11 Reasons to Run Ten Mans

One of the quirky tweaks/ features about raiding in Wrath is that every raid instance now has both a 25 man version (heroic mode) and a 10 man version (normal mode), and the raid leader picks a mode before anyone zones in.

There has been some debate about whether 10 mans are easier than 25 mans. Some encounters scale better than others, and the hardest raid encounter currently in game (Sarth+3) is hardest in 10 man mode precisely because it doesn’t scale down well.

Blizzard’s original goal was that they should be of similar difficulty, but the 10 mans would be more accessible because of it being easier to get 10 people together than 25.

What this means is that if you have the time and the raid group available, you can run all the raid content twice every week. You could argue that this is a cheap way to make an additional 10 man track — in TBC Blizzard created 10 man raid instances that were designed from the start for 10 man groups. You could also argue that the requirement that every encounter needs to scale for both 10 and 25 man groups puts too many restrictions on encounter designers; some of the intricate 25 man raid encounters from TBC might never have been invented if designers had to make them scale down.

But I have a lot of fun in our 10 man raids. I think it’s been a boon for the 25 man raid group also. Oddly enough, even though I’m kind of bored of the current raid content, I don’t think having run it in 10 mans as well as 25 mans made that boredom happen faster.

I’m looking forwards to running more 10 man nights in Ulduar, and here are 11 reasons why.

1. Keep the keener raiders busy on off-nights. Some people just like the game and want to play more often than their raid group’s 25 man schedule.

2. Learn the encounters more quickly. Especially for a technical encounter, it can take a few attempts before people really ‘get’ it. If you have the opportunity to run 10 mans alongside 25 man progression raids, you get twice the chance every week to learn the raids.

It means that everyone has more chances to practice taking different tanking/healing/dps roles in an encounter that provides them (eg. tanking adds vs tanking the boss, healing the tank vs special healing assignments, kiting/ crowd control vs killing adds vs any special role).

I know our 10 man raid killed both Kel’Thuzad and Malygos before the 25 man raid did. And as a result of that, at least 10 people in the 25 man raid knew those encounters well before we got to them.

It also means that people get a chance to practice other raid roles, like raid leading and tank/healer assignments. Both of those are easier to practice  in 10 man raids, especially if you are with friends and in a less stressful atmosphere.

3. Get to see different encounters. This is probably more applicable to casual raid groups like mine but in any fixed schedule, some people can’t make some days. For example, I don’t raid on Thursdays because I meet some friends at a pub quiz.

Via 10 man raids, people get a chance to see and learn content they might miss on 25 man raids. And vice versa.

4. Quicker Gearing. On first stepping into a new tier, raiders who run both 10 and 25 man every week will be able to gear up more quickly. It’s not guaranteed that 10 man Ulduar loot will be any better than 25 man Naxx loot – in fact it probably won’t. But if people do have any gaps in gearing, they’ll fill them faster if they have the option of using either.

From what we have seen of the loot tables, it looks as though drops from hardmode 10 man Ulduar encounters will be superior to non-hardmode 25 man. This is another reason to encourage the 10 mans to go gear themselves up and learn those hard mode fights.

5. Gearing for off-specs. Because of all the extra loot that you can get from running the instances on both 10 and 25 mode, it’s likely that people will be able to snag 10 man loot for their off-specs. This is more of a perk for hybrids, but it is good for everyone if raids never stall for lack of geared tanks or healers.

6. People can bring alts. 10 man raids very quickly shift to ‘alt nights’ after people’s main characters have all the loot that they wanted.

7. More accessible for smaller guilds or groups of friends. Not everyone has a 25 man raid group to hand, and it is easier to get a 10 man group together. Assuming you have a few friends who raid, it’s very quick and easy to get the core of a 10 man group together.

8. Profit! There’s cash, badges, and maybe even rare crafting recipes in them thar 10 mans. Once the raid is on farm (ie. lower repair costs), a weekly 10 man run can be a fun way to earn gold to cover 25 man raiding expenses.

9. Challenge. Usually the 25 man raids are harder than the 10 man equivalents. But that doesn’t mean that 10 man raids don’t pose a challenge, and the hard modes are likely to give even progression guilds a run for their money.

10. Practice playing off-specs. In the new dual spec world, 10 mans offer an opportunity to practice playing different specs.

11. Friendlier environment. A 10 man raid will usually be a lot less regimented than the 25 man equivalent. People tend to be chattier on voice chat because there are fewer people to interrupt. It’s a smaller group, and that usually means a friendlier, more relaxed feel. For some people, that’s just more fun!