[Rift] Trion was able to build this in a cave … with a box of scraps!

Another day, another set of Rift patch notes. Trion have been adding stuff to their game at a fairly spectacular pace, and the next patch promises a slew of new types of rift, cosmetic clothing, and a massive amount of tweaks to classes, zones, quests, and instances.

Further in the future will be the Rift random dungeon finder, of which screenshots are here. Yes, it’s looking remarkably like the WoW version although you’ll note there’s the option of a support role in addition to tank/heal/dps. (Wonder who would use that, maybe off-healers and buffing souls such as Bard and Archon.)

Whilst all this activity is deeply impressive and makes you wonder what else they have planned, it’s also easy to feel overwhelmed by changes to the game. I don’t know how exactly they will be able to introduce all this new stuff to players in future, but it feels right that their main priority right now is throwing in more stuff for the first wave of players, be it endgame or fluff. Later in the game’s life, they may have to choose between maintaining this level of new mechanics and supporting newer players.

Still, the release rate is astounding compared to other MMOs I have played. They knocked up a whole cosmetic clothing system very quickly there, something which WoW still hasn’t done (and there was a suggestion at one point that Blizzard would do something along those lines for Cataclysm, so it isn’t purely on game design issues that it doesn’t exist.)

The one reservation I do have is on trying to figure out which way the game is going. If LFG going to be good for Rift in the long term? I suspect the answer to this really comes down to the player base and the instance tuning more than the random group maker itself. If players build a social expectation that LFG groups will be friendly and co-operative then it could work fine.

However, what we can’t see from the screenie is whether there will be gear requirements for the higher tier dungeons. Or whether people will queue for the best rewards possible regardless of whether or not they’re able to contribute …

But what do I know, I’m still just level 34 on my main and trucking along happily. May have to ease off a bit due to upcoming exams, sadly, which means that Trion will probably have introduced at least 17 brand new dynamic game mechanics by the time I reach max level.

It came from the PUG: Sorry, missed the invite

invitedeclined

Anyone who has spent much time running level 80 instances in WoW with the dungeon finder will be familiar with this scenario.

  1. You join the dungeon finder.
  2. You wait for an amount of time based on your role (tank/heal/dps) and how many other people are queueing.
  3. The dungeon finder finds you a group (hurrah!!) and as soon as everyone in the group clicks ok to indicate that they are still interested, you’ll all be ported to your instance.
  4. But if one person either selects no or (more commonly) the finder times out because one person didn’t notice it and doesn’t click at all.
  5. return to 1.

So far, so good. The reason a lot of dps fail to click anything on the dungeon finder is that it just takes longer to find them an instance. Mostly this is fine, people can find something to do in the game to keep them occupied while they wait. But if you are all out of things to do, the temptation is to alt-tab out and catch up with twitter, go get a drink, browse forums, and so on. And when that happens, it’s quite likely that people just miss the dungeon finder when it comes up. (Although it is guaranteed to time out a millisecond before you tab back into WoW to check on it.)

It is however quite annoying for the rest of the group who were ready to go and now have to wait another minute or so (depending on who declined and how long they need to wait for a replacement.)

There’s no ideal answer to this one. If you don’t have anything much to do in WoW then staring at the screen for 20 minutes isn’t much fun as an option. As long as the holy trinity is required for instances, dps will also always have to queue longer than tanks and healers.

I do think it would help if there were more ways to spread the notification though. Maybe addons to control where it appears on the screen so that you could more easily bring up a browser window and still spot the notification. I did find one that plays a PING tone when the finder comes up.

Another way would be more minigames or even a browser within the game client. It’s dreadful for immersion, but at least means you can see the dungeon finder while playing bejewelled or flaming some noobs on your bboard of choice. Or maybe more immersively, how about some kind of instance or activity where players can only go while they are in the queue. ie. something to do while you are waiting.

What do you do when you are waiting for the dungeon finder?

It came from the PUG: Do I look like a registered childminder?

This is not actually something that happened to me in a PUG, but to Daraxxus.

He was plugging along in a PUG and getting annoyed at a dps player who was running around and picking up mobs, asking for loot to be set to free for all (so he could grab it all) and generally being a twit. The rest of the group let him know how they feel about this. And the kicker? Later on in the instance, the actual player gets back to the keyboard and tells them that he was letting his little brother play his character, and gets upset at how the group spoke to him.

This is not the first time I’ve heard of a similar occurrence. I’ve heard of parents letting their kids play their toon in an instance while they watched, unaccompanied 9 year olds wandering the landscape, and people generally treating the game as if it was childcare.

Now here is the thing: I’m not a childcare professional, neither are most other players, and even if we were, why would we do it for free? I also can’t be responsible for what anyone in the group says to a kid when they have no way to know it was a kid. (And some people would be gits and upset the kid anyway because they don’t believe them about their age; and to make it worse, there really are people who would pretend to be 9 year olds just to annoy everyone else.)

I’m not in the business of telling other people how to bring up their children, and it’s great when families can share their hobbies. But if you let your 5 year old play in my group, then you really need to sort out your priorities. I can see how it happens – oh, little Timmy wants to play with daddy’s computer game! Well, hey, wouldn’t it be cool if he could do that and *eyes light up* I could get my frost badges at the same time? No, it would not be cool because you are abusing the trust of other players who didn’t sign up for childminding.

That is even without considering privacy issues, or grooming issues, or any of the other really great reasons why just because your child is sitting safely in their room, it does not mean that they are actually safe.

I think it would be terribly easy for a precocious 9 year old to never be outed. And I’m quite sure that they could play the game competently. But  the rest of the playerbase can barely be civil to each other. Even if they were all nice people AND registered childminders, how can they moderate what they say to a kid when they don’t even know they are talking to a minor?

There are some pretty cool MMOs which are actually aimed at kids. Games like Free Realms, Wizard 101, Club Penguin et al have a lot more protection built in and also have a much better chance of the kid to be able to meet other kids. They also tend to be much cheaper than WoW. Think about it before you decide to bring little Timmy into a heroic instance group.

Thought of the Day: Effect of the dungeon finder on smaller servers

My server (Argent Dawn EU) has had regular login queues over the last few weeks. On several occasions, it has also been marked as locked which means no new characters can be created there. At the same time, the server has been the source of free transfers to other RP servers. Clearly that hasn’t been working.

And why is that? (Aside from my presence.)

Well, via the dungeon finder, characters can get geared up more quickly than ever before. And what will they do once they are geared? There’s a good chance that they will want to raid, and the easiest way for a more casual player to raid is to join a PUG. And the easiest way to find a PUG is to hang around a city in game, keeping an eye on the trade and LFG channels, and wait until someone announces that they are looking for more people to form a raid.

This happens more frequently on larger servers.

Being on a smaller server has never been less attractive for a casual player, and unless Blizzard can get some kind of cross-server raid function working, I think that further exodus is inevitable. It’s ironic, because one of the great benefits of the cross-server dungeon finder has been that players on smaller servers have much better access to group content. But it may yet be the death of those servers in the long run …

The Warcraft Alt Dilemma: Alts yesterday, alts tomorrow, but never alts today

Anyone else been intrigued to try the dungeon finder for lower level alts?

I haven’t had much time to play around with lower level instances myself but the few experiences I’ve had have been pretty positive.

I ran an old level 15 draenei  mage created at the beginning of TBC through Ragefire Chasm (previously rather inaccessible to alliance) – it was chaotic but polite and the group were vaguely respectful of the paladin tank who said at the start that it was his/her first time. I did notice immediately that my mage felt very useful. Whenever the pull got out of control, which happened a lot, I could drop a frost nova and run back to give the tank time to grab the mobs. I’m quite sure it was more fun than spamming AE-of-choice in level 80 heroics.

So the thought of levelling a new alt and making generous use of the dungeon finder at the same time is very alluring. There is a problem with this picture. The Cataclysm in the room. In only a few months time, there will be a host of new class/ race options in the game, and a whole new levelling experience to try out. Is there really much point levelling an alt right now just to mess around with the dungeon finder when that goblin rogue, worgen warrior, tauren paladin, dwarf shaman, troll druid and so on are just around the corner?

Plus there is the issue of limited character slots on servers.

This means I’m going to get my low level dungeoneering fix from existing alts, of which I have abandoned many along my current path to greatness. Looking through the list, I was reminded again of my old priest. The first character I ever raided on, her incarnation ended after a messy guild break-up at the beginning of TBC. After which I took a long break from WoW. I seem to also remember that this was an era where paladin healers were crazy overpowered and no one else could keep up with them, which broke my will to play at the time.

Anyway, that’s all in the past. I was curious to check out the Alliance Wrath questlines and the dungeon finder turns out to be just the motivation I need to bring my sole alliance level 70 out of dustballs.  Fortunately, she just about had enough cash on her still to cash in on dual specs.

One thing I realised immediately in instance runs. Lower level healers have very limited mana pools and mana regen compared to my comfortably overgeared resto druid. And you know what? I’m enjoying the challenge immensely. The lower level instances are everything that the zergfest 80 heroics are not.

So far I’ve somehow gotten my way through Utgarde Keep (which was actually really tough to heal, or maybe that was just the tank) and Nexus (which was much more manageable). Shadow is much improved since I last tried it, and priests still feel to me like the Rolls Royce of WoW healers to actually play. (ie. smooth, well engineered, runs like a dream once you get it onto the road.)

I’m quite sure that it is the challenge of the lower level instances on a non-overgeared toon which is making them interesting to me at the moment. It will be interesting to see how long that lasts. Also, thumbs up to the Howling Fjord quests for Alliance, they’ve been good fun so far.

Blast from the Past

blastfromthepast

Speaking of my old priestess, I dug out this ancient screenshot.

I’m sure any old hands won’t have any trouble identifying where she is, what she’s doing, and … maybe even what robe and staff she is using. They were iconic in their day.

You can even see that I have friendly nameplates turned on to help with healing since I wasn’t in a group or raid at the time. Ah, those were the days.

The growing rift in WoW between hybrids and non-hybrids

The ideal with character classes in MMOs is that there should be a wide enough choice that every player can find one that they like, and then use that character to pursue all of the in-game goals which appeal to them. They might involve different mechanics, different lore, a different look and feel, different levels of complexity, or different roles, but there should be something for everyone.

But what happens when some choices start to seem objectively better than others? Well, those should get fixed in some kind of balance patch. But what if the advantage is so core to the game design that it’s never going to be changed?

With the dungeon finder tool, players are finding (to no ones surprise) that if they queue as tanks or healers, they get into instances much more quickly. It’s widely held that the main shortage is on the tanking side, and that fits with my experience also. So the pure dps classes will have a longer wait, and hybrids can choose whether they prefer a dps role with a longer wait, or the hassle of gearing and learning to play a different role that will get them into instances more quickly.

The game isn’t just dungeons (and once everyone is geared up, it won’t really matter how long they have to wait), but they are at the forefront of people’s minds at the moment. So I’ll be surprised if the majority of new alts created right now are not druids and paladins (the two classes which can have options to tank, or heal, or dps). Suddenly, role flexibility is the new black. Then there will probably be a lot of other new hybrids, less flexible than the paladins and druids, but still able to either heal or tank as well as dps.

This is not only a good thing but also the only real solution to dps queue times. When these new alts come down the levelling pipeline, it will inject a bunch of new tanks and healers into the dungeon finder. But still, now that role flexibility has become so useful and marketable, it isn’t fair that some classes are restricted to one role.

One thing to bear in mind though, when you’re done being jealous of non-existant tanking queue times  – there has always been an oversupply of tanks who wanted to raid. That’s going to get worse, when everyone and their dog has a geared up tanking alt. Established groups will discover that if they lose a tank, it’s easier to ask an existing member to hop onto an alt or offspec rather than recruit a stranger to a role that traditionally required a strong commitment to the raid group.

What do you think? If you are considering a new alt, would you pick a non-hybrid right now?

The long distinguished roll of pick up group disasters

This post marks the end of a long week of posts about WoW and particularly about the new random dungeon finder that came in with patch 3.3. What can I say? It’s been a jolt in the arm for an aging game. It’s been a reminder that the instanced content was always WoW’s strongest selling point. And it’s reminded a lot of people who thought they disliked grouping that what they mostly disliked was all the associated hassle in getting the group together.

The most brilliant thing about the dungeon finder from Blizzard’s point of view is that no one else running current gen games can copy it. In order to work, a tool like this needs a massive user base. For example, I woke up at 2am this morning and tried to get a group on my death knight out of morbid curiousity. 10 minutes later *BAM* smooth as silk Forge of Souls Heroic run. Now think about how many players you need active in order for there to be a 50% chance for any single person to only have to wait 10 mins to get a group at two in the morning.

My new Death Knight who conveniently hit 80 the day before the patch is also looking rather sleek in her new gear, thanks to some lucky drops.

In any case, we’ve all been running a lot more instances, and getting to grip with a lot more PUGs. I feel as though I’ve been in a permanent sugar rush when logged on. And it’s also not all perfect – what’s more, even those of us who are usually paragons of perfection occasionally make (say it in whispers) minor mistakes.

Here’s a list of some of the dumb things I have done this week:

  1. Ran a whole instance with my Death Knight in the wrong presence. I didn’t realise until right at the end when the tank asked why I kept getting aggro.
  2. While manoeuvring a mob in Forge of Souls, I fell off the platform.
  3. Told a death knight that it was fine for him to use Army of Souls on Loken, following which we immediately wiped.
  4. While trying an experimental short cut in The Nexus, I fell off the platform (incidentally, EVERYONE who has ever run Nexus has fallen off that platform at some point but it don’t half make you feel like a noob when it isn’t your first run.)
  5. Let far too many people die while healing on my druid because of being a bit out of practice.

By the way, every single one of those runs was actually successful (except for the Loken one because my friends logged on and I left the group). The only one that even caused a wipe was when I fell off Forge of Souls, because I was tanking at the time.

The oddest complaint I have had from another player was that I killed the bosses in the Nexus in the ‘wrong order.’ I told him I hadn’t received that memo.

I’m not the only person who has been cataloguing personal PUG failures (aka “I was THAT guy.”)