Thought of the Day: On cookie cutter specs

Imagine having the option in the MMO/ talent spec based game of your choice, to press a button that would automatically select the optimal spec for your class/role. Feel free to assume that this in game tool also provides a note or tutorial on rotation/ how to play the spec effectively. Would you press the button?

Does anyone still think that talent trees are actually a good design for MMOs? This is one of the areas where it’d actually be better if the designers decided how they wanted each class to play and hardwired it. Then leave any remaining talent choices to be a simple choice of playing style, and make them easy to comprehend.


28 thoughts on “Thought of the Day: On cookie cutter specs

  1. I wouldn’t push it. I’m always experimenting.

    I’m probably atypical.

    Still, this seems like the inevitable result of a class-based game that’s always streamlining itself. We already see a sort of soft version of this locking with the talent tree locks (can’t branch out until you max a tree).

    I don’t care for the straitjacket, m’self.

    • Schemes I think work better are the sort of LOTRO approach where you get a fairly clear basic class design with scope to customise via traits. (eg. my burglar can specialise in better crowd control vs more damage but it isn’t actually a talent tree), or Guild Wars where they take more of a deck of cards approach. My absolute favourite would be something like the Runekeeper or WAR Archmage where you actually specialise in combat based on how you play.

      Either of those also lets you experiment. I think what I dislike so much about talent trees is that it is truly not intuitive to a new player that going to the bottom of a tree is better than spreading points around. I know Blizzard is trying to provide more guidance in Cata which is a good thing. But I have basic issues with talent trees 🙂

  2. I like the idea behind the suggestion as many players don’t fully know the scope of their powers, the hand-holding guide would be ideal then.

    I have to agree with Tesh that it would feel too restrictive. I really feel it with LORTO’s predefined skill unlocks, it just made my character feel exactly the same as other character of that class and level.

    If it had given a “specialisation” route that I decided on, I would have been happier.

  3. Ooh! And then they could add a button called “DPS rotation” that did a full rotation for your class’ abilities!

    The problem, as I see it, with talent systems is that there’s often a lot of fluff that comes down to math that most players won’t be doing. Devs have often handed out too many points, and rather than giving them to players to make meaningful choices with, only about a half-dozen points are really up for grabs on any given talent specialization.

    I would prefer to see a system along the lines of, let’s say, Starcraft 2’s tech trees, where players make dichotomous or trichotomous choices about what areas they’d like to be better in. This could be either by unlocking new powers or enhancing old ones. Would you rather have an AoE DD or an AoE CC? Would you like your primary nuke to have lifesteal or slow? These sorts of choices could give players more of an ability to tailor their class to their playstyle and circumstances. Someone prepared to catch mistakes while running PUGs could have a very different build from a top-class progression raider.

    • Good thought and yes, that would be a more interesting sort of choice to make than ‘shall I put 2 points into shield block or 3?’

      The whole dps rotation schtick is another issue. For balance reasons, all dps should be roughly on par regardless of how simple or complex their playing style. So it’s really going to be a case of ‘well, how much do you like keeping an eye on several different dots and procs as you move out of the fire?’

      For me, dps is more interesting to play when you spend more time reacting to what’s going on around you than hammering out your optimal rotation. So I’d happily replace the rotation with a single button and give them more situational buffs and debuffs 😉

  4. I don’t like this idea.

    yes, we constantly hear people saying “oh i’m so sick of everyone who has the same talent spec and no one deviating from it, why even bother having talent trees”.

    the fact is that WoW, in its current design, pretty much requires some outside research to do well in it, and having a cookie cutter spec is one sign that you care enough about your performance to do the most basic things.

    When I see someone without an optimal talent spec (I’m not talking slight variations, I mean people with completely asinine specs), all that tells me is that they are treating WoW as less a hobby/activity and more of simply a way to kill time, because they obviously don’t care about maximising their performance.

    Then they somehow get angry at me when I refuse them gear because of their poor performance when I lead raids.

    The way I see it, if you don’t care enough about your performance to maximise it through proper gems, enchants, and talent speccing, why would you care about getting gear thats sole person is to increase your performance?

      • Before.

        I make a point of telling everyone in my raids I lead that if they do poor DPS (I define this differently depending on the raid, in most cases poor DPS = less than the tank) then I reserve the right to veto their roll in favour of a higher performer.

        People still don’t listen to me when I say this and complain, but that isn’t my problem.

        A proper DPS rotation and talent spec will increase your DPS exponentially more than a single gear upgrade, even if you were going from a green to a 277 epic. And if someone doesn’t care about performance enough to bother with the rotation and spec, they obviously won’t be too bothered about not getting gear.

        And if they are, they’re a walking idiot hypocrite and don’t deserve it anyway.

    • See, even if people had similar specs you’d still be able to check the ones who hadn’t used enchants or gems.

      It’d just take away one way in which inexperienced people can fail and might even give you a bigger pool of better players, because everyone would be more strongly encouraged to go with a solid spec and rotation.

  5. Isn’t the whole point of having trees and options that there should NOT be the optimal spec??
    it’s what I thought but clearly it’s not how it is in wow. but i’m not sure if thats really blizzard’s fault in how they designed it, or whether it isn’t the players obsessed with min/maxing when it isn’t even really needed?

    • Yes, I think you’re right, but with millions of players analysing the specs it just hasn’t seemed possible with the current design.

      I don’t think you can stop some players minmaxing obsessively, and the rest following the cookie cutter because they just want to play the game and not to do the number crunching themselves.

      Arguably, Blizzard hasn’t made the gameplay of experimenting with different specs fun enough.

  6. The way current talent trees work in WoW gives you a fair amount of choice at first glance. But once you take into account having to do certain amounts of points per tier or having to take one talent to get to another improved version or similar, choices are less. As a holy priest I could probably come up with 3 different specs – but they would be identical apart from something like 5-7 points out of 70+. But at the same time I can really see how it would be difficult for someone that is new to the game / class to know which talents would really add to your healing and which are on the verge of pointless or situational.

    I had a play around with the new priest trees for Cataclysm the other day both for holy and shadow and there are very few real choices in either. In Shadow there are 2 or 3 talents that you don’t want if you only play PvE, but all the rest you definitely want – so no need to really think about it.

    Whatever their plan was – I don’t think it worked out.

  7. There is always going to be one thing that is better than the other most of the time. It’s realizing when you need that ‘not always the best’ option that matters.

    Cataclysm has a lot of fewer of these and just about no ‘never worth it’ talents. They’ve streamlined things but also force you into one tree, mainly.

  8. “Does ya prefer big, slower weapons or smaller, faster weapons?” is a choice. “Does ya want ta be optimal or less than optimal?” ain’t a choice, it’s a design flaw.

    Ya know what I likes? Minor glyphs fer shammies. They gots four useful ones: no reagent fer self-rez, no reagent fer walk on water, no reagent fer breath under the water, and a 7 1/2 minute cooldown on hearthings. All useful at times, none essential. And they can only pick three. That be a real choice.

    • This is a good point. A real choice is going to be between abilities/ specs which are all useful in their own way, and where you have enough information to decide which is most fun or most useful for the way you play. A fake choice is where there’s a right solution and a wrong one, and the right one is all over the internet.

      I know some people have said that the talent choice is meaningful precisely because it’s possible to screw it up. But I’m with you, that’s not meaningful. And it also encourages people to think that the game is all about designing your own playing style or unique spec when really doing that will make it difficult for you to group since it’s less effective.

  9. using WoW as an example… this is basically what WoW is doing in cataclysm… at the lvl cap you’ll have enough points to put in every talent except like 2 or 3… and those 2 or 3 won’t really make much of a difference…

    basically i look at WoW as if it has 24 classes instead of 8… it’s to the point now where each spec plays quite differently from the other specs available to a particular class, and the difference between players with the same spec is very minimal.

    i find it easier to think of it as if there are 24 classes… and you can switch between 3 of them at your leisure.

    the button already exists and once cataclysm releases, everyone will be pushing it whether they know it or not, because there are simply not enough options to royally screw up a build.

  10. I think the primary problem with WoW’s talents is that the explanations are poorly written, which reflects the fairly poor design.

    Push this button for PvP, or this button for PvE, however, is a bit over the top.

    How about more clearly written talents, and easier to comprehend abilities?

    It can’t be that hard, can it?

    Take for example Hit Rating and the talents that affect it. The ability itself is confusing at best and the talents that affect it are worse. Can you imagine a normal player being able to figure out hit cap on their own just using the game? If you are over your hit cap, the talent becomes totally useless.

    Understanding hit rating and knowing your caps against players or mobs is fundamental to maximizing DPS.

    That’s bad design. An important, yet potentially useless talent that is impossible to assess on your own without someone using calculus to figure out your hit cap.

  11. Pingback: Roundup: Talent Specs, Bad Design… Are They The Same Thing? | MMO Melting Pot

  12. I think Ghostcrawler actually said that the WoW dev team actually considered that for a short time. He said:

    “We talked about an even more radical overhaul where choosing a spec was a bigger deal and you had maybe 3 talents after that, but ultimately we understood the risk of changing too much a game that some players have stuck with for over 5 years.”

    Maybe it wasn’t exactly what you’re talking about, but pretty close. I think there would be some benefits of having an optimal build hardwired, it would cut down on the stress a person might feel to be WRONG (according to the masses). If the only talents available to a person were truly fun and did nothing to increase the character’s power or create imbalances, it just might take away the stress of some people. Of course others would be upset because they couldn’t customize.

    • Interesting, I didn’t know that. But it doesn’t surprise me that they were discussing that, you can see it a bit in the way the talent tree redesign has been done.

    • Technically they’re offering more choices than that, but I’m not sure that the end result isn’t similar. It’s usually pretty obvious where you should spend the majority of your points in the new trees because there flat out aren’t as many points.

  13. Calculus… to figure out hit caps?

    The only complication I’ve ever seen is hit talents not registering on the paperdoll screen, which they really should remedy.

    Outside of that, you simply need to look at the hit rating and % hit gained from that much rating (both available on the paperdoll). Division, if I remember, is included in elementary curricula these days: divide current hit rating by current % hit, and you see how much hit rating you need for 1% more hit. Then, all you need is to know how much % hit you need to hit a boss – a value that Blizzard has added to the paperdoll come Cataclysm.

    Please don’t mis-apply math terms – it makes me worry that we’re destroying one of the few remaining pure things in this world. Division, multiplication, and maybe a little algebra are everything that this game calls for, and anyone who isn’t comfortable performing the operations on his own can look to the internet for help. Blizzard has let things like this persist BECAUSE the internet has become such a prevalent source of 3rd party information.

    There are, of course, examples of fairly confusing talents. Talents that directly interface with existing stats (+% crit, +% hit), however, are some of the most straight-forward. The relative value of each one? Sure, those can fluctuate and change, but in near-all cases, all DPS-oriented talents will offer some benefit to your DPS throughput.

    On-Topic: People undervalue utility far too much these days. The theory-crafters are tearing their hair out trying to figure out which “optional” talents will offer more DPS, which honestly makes me sad. I always enjoy taking fun talents that, while not directly bolstering DPS or healing throughput, give me something handy for tricky situations. Attaching a silence to kick, for instance, is exceedingly handy as a combat rogue on trash (H HoR mages, anyone?). It won’t do squat on a boss, and maybe putting those points in +2% stam or +2% parry would have simmed to increase my survivability more, but the meager benefit just seems too ineffectual to warrant losing something I genuinely enjoy.

    I guess it’s also worth noting that I like the XOR-style of choosing talents: You can take utility A, or utility B, but not both. Otherwise, the “button” could simply have utility and damage (or healing or survivability) built into it for everyone. SC2 does have the right of it in the research trees, I believe, and maybe a few more iterations (expansions) down the line, we can see a more streamlined system that genuinely reflects the vision of “your DPS is already handled – choose some fun utility tricks from the lists to flesh out your character as more than a simple cannon.”

    • Yes, just to be clear, we aren’t really talking about doing Fourier Transforms by hand as part of the +hit calculations 😉

      I do agree with you about utility and tbh I think focussing on dps over all else takes away from the fun of the dps classes. One of the standout things about WoW when it launched was how varied and fun the dps classes were to play. They each had some crowd control and many had buffs or debuffs. This was pretty much unheard of at the time.

  14. Bbbut then what would I go “oh woot I have X now that I have levelled again, now where can I put it to make me be better?” about?

  15. “Schemes I think work better are the sort of LOTRO approach where you get a fairly clear basic class design with scope to customise via traits. ”

    This is what I thought of when I read your post. I see so many of the new people asking what virtues they should have slotted for this or that class in the LotRO forums. I was like this as well initially and searched and searched for the answer. The answer I constantly got was “this group of virtues is best for classX” and there would be about 10 virtues listed, but only 5 slots available. It is pretty much up to the person to decide what they want out of their character and go from there.

    The other thing I like about LotRO’s design is if I’m going into turtle with my kin, I can replace an AOE class trait or two by just dropping another in it’s place. I don’t have to worry about wiping them all first.

    @Chris: sorry, but I agree with Klep here. If you ALLOWED a poorly spec’d person into your raid (a “shockadin” lets say), then I think you are the hypocrit.

  16. “Arguably, Blizzard hasn’t made the gameplay of experimenting with different specs fun enough.”

    I think the fun of it is sapped by critical players. I’m not sure if it’s the fault of game design or social pressure from players in the game, in their blogs, or popular forums. The chicken or egg thing, y’know.

    I know I would love to replace the time I spend on researching how to play certain specs with time spent actually playing the game! However, I doubt it would do away with the online experts, resources, guides, etc. They may look different and talk about different things… the math will most likely be discussed. For some reason, the majority of players are compelled to know the best way to play their character(s). They don’t want to do it wrong! And then there are those who think they’ve figured it out and are compelled to share what they discovered. For them, discovering the undisclosed math – how it all works – is as much part of the game, if not more. That’s how they win an unwinnable game.

    I think how class abilities, generally speaking, are handled in any game entirely depends on the game, it’s direction, and playerbase. Spending hours researching how to play works for some games (Shadowbane), not so much for others (Farmville). It seems that this “simplication process” Blizz is putting WoW through is demonstrating a shift in direction – giving players the ability to log on and just play.

    I only play with a few friends and family now. They range from the BiS seeker to the one specced for dealing magic dmg, but wearing melee stat gear. The latter will greatly benefit from the cookie cutter style come Cata.

  17. Like others have said, the problems become apparent when “talents” affect your core role. If you’re a healer, talents which increase your ability to heal will never be optional. If you’re DPS, talents which increase your damage are mandatory. If you’re tanking, talents which make you more resilient just can’t be overlooked.

    If you have those sorts of talents in a tree, you create traps for the players who don’t understand the game as well as others. Identifying and avoiding those traps becomes a meta game. If you make those talents required (as in, you can’t get to the next tier without taking them), they might as well be baked into the baseline class abilities because they’re not actually choices.

    This leaves us with ‘fun’, ‘utility’ talents as the only good candidates if the game designer wants to avoid cookie cutter specs.

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