[Blizzard] Plan B in patch 4.3, and Diablo 3 trailer

Happy Sunday!

Let’s start with a link to the new D3 trailer that was premiered last night (this is an RPS link since the Spike TV one is inaccessible to people in my region. )

If you want to compare with previous ones:

Maybe I’m jaded from awesome computer game trailers these days. It looks fine. I just want to know the release date.

Of greater interest to prospective players, Blizzard also released some more details around how the auction house/ battlenet/ money thing is going to work. So you’ll be able to ‘charge up’ your battle.net balance via paying money into your account, but you cannot withdraw money from it – this isn’t a bank. Proceeds of a D3 cash auction can either go into the battle.net balance (ie. if you want to use the money to pay future subs or something), or they can be cashed out if you pay a cashout fee. What this basically means is that you cannot store auction profits on battle.net until you have a decent amount and then cash all of it out for a single cashout fee. You’ll have to pay a fee on every individual auction you want to cash out.

Or as Mike@MMOCrunch puts it, quadruple dipping. This rather makes the cash AH  useful only if you either want to ‘earn’ money for your WoW subs/future D3 expansions or intend to sell rather large/ high value items. I suspect gold selling/ buying for Diablo 3 in large amounts will be the dominant model on the real money AH, and people will just use the gold AH for selling most gear.

What does a successful patch look like anyway?

Earlier this week I asked readers how they had found the difficulty of WoW’s latest patch, 4.3. Thanks to everyone who responded! The main impression I get is that people are enjoying the content, so that’s definitely a win for Blizzard.

But still, I see concerns around how difficult or challenging the raids and instances are (or more accurately, around how difficult they aren’t). I see this as very much tied into longevity. Ideally every player would like to spend their time working towards clear short and medium term goals, and seeing actual progress towards those goals with every session. (The goals don’t have to be gear related, maybe you’re making gold, making friends, or learning how to play your class/spec better.) So there’s an idea that “Well yes, this is really fun now. But what happens next? It won’t stay this fun for long …” It’s like a protestant work ethic – we cannot admit that we are having fun with the new content because dammit, we didn’t have to work hard enough. And it feels as though admitting that a patch is fun right now is like saying that it won’t be fun next week, or maybe the week after.

So–  when a player meets their medium term goals quickly, what happens then? Either they make new goals, or take a break until new goals present themselves. Some people are better than others at thinking up interesting personal goals, and some goals appeal more to some people than others (eg. I’m not motivated by achievements, personally.) And after you have played a game for long enough, maybe you’ve run out of potential medium term goals that can still hold your interest. There are only so many times you need to get the Loremaster or Crusader achievements, after all.

Blizzard is aiming to offer heroic modes as future goals for people who complete the content on normal modes, AND a much larger proportion of the player base will complete the content on normal or LFD mode than previously. Will the player base buy it, and will people then want to spend time working on the harder modes? If so, it’s a good model for Blizz. Lots of fun things for everyone to do and see when a new patch drops, as they check out the content on LFR/ normal mode. And then when they have completed that, extra challenge on heroic. Plus the new PvP season, and any other new content/ daily quest Blizzard can drop in (Darkmoon Faire in this case.)

And all that is required for that to work is for people to really care about repeating content they have already seen in normal mode in a harder heroic mode.  Let’s see how that pans out. I’d also have concerns about how LFR will affect turnout to casual raid guilds. Again, if people are motivated by seeing the content, how keen will they be to turn up to weekly raids to see it again in a harder form?

Still, it’s undoubtedly a good deal for players who wanted to see the cool lore stuff from patch 4.3 and be done with it (assuming they don’t care about harder modes) when SWTOR is released.

[SWTOR] How classes get designed these days

Anyone remember playing old MMOs where balance was an afterthought, and classes were designed based on what someone thought looked cool? And then of course the rapid nerfs after players figured out smart ways to game the system?

Times have changed, as SWTOR’s developer blog on class design shows. Georg Zoeller discusses how characters will gain skills in the game (which is a mixture of buying base skills from trainers and assigning talent points) and then goes through every class to discuss how player feedback from beta changed the design.

There’s also a super little map showing locations where members of one testing group moved and died in one sub area. This reminds me powerfully of techniques used by a friend of mine who helps plan out passenger terminals and train stations – they also model movement and behaviour before they throw a few million pounds into bricks and mortar.

My explorers heart also beats a little faster on reading:

We also use these heatmaps to <…> identify potential locations for special content such as datacrons or unique enemies, which are specifically designed to reward explorers that go off the beaten path.

But really, the big question is going to be whether a game that’s been so carefully, scientifically tuned is going to lose any of the fun factor. Or in other words, will it feel too slick? In a world where polish is so revered, is it the unpolished rough edges that prove the most memorable?

Only one way to find out and that’s to play the thing. I don’t think anyone really enjoys playing underpowered classes, especially if other classes can fill all the same roles, and it’s an interesting insight to how designers can try to make sure that doesn’t happen.

If you want to play around with the advanced classes, Bioware are also showing off parts of the skill trees and individual talents that will be available. A lot of the abilities shown seem to be passive, make of that what you will. Also, anyone want to see their E3 trailer for SWTOR? Of course you do.

Personally, I worry that after Cataclysm (which still has big issues with melee vs ranged balance) I’ve just been put off playing melee characters. Why pick a melee healer or dps if you could pick a ranged one instead? The smuggler/ scrapper reminds me a lot of the burglar in LOTRO which is good because melee utility classes are fun, and bad because omg the burglar is so incredibly disappointing in raids. (Still, a healer with stealth has always been one of my dream combos.)

I don’t think it’s really a good thing to be so influenced in class choice by how other games in the past have been balanced. Does anyone else find that they do that?

And ultimately, the biggest sell for SWTOR is going to be the storytelling for each class. No amount of advanced skill talent trees is going to give much information on that.

The eternal dance of melee vs ranged

I’m trying to focus on my dps spec at the moment so I’ve been running quite a few instances as an Arms warrior. I’m enjoying the spec a lot, and finding it fun to play at the moment.

But there are times when you wonder if it’s really necessary that ranged classes can do more damage, bring more crowd control, don’t have to deal with fights getting harder when you bring more ranged, and have a lot more room to move around. And they have interrupts too. (This is nothing to do with hybrid classes, incidentally. There are ranged hybrids who are just as good as the rest.) Is that balance?

Muckbeast has been wondering about this too, from a more general perspective. Instead he asks why it’s always so hard to balance melee vs ranged.

He thinks that being able to do damage from range is a huge advantage and that developers pander to ranged classes who don’t think that should come with a drawback.

I think a lot of the problem here stems from too much listening to ranged players who want to do as much damage as melee, also do it from range, AND have tons of escape mechanisms.

I only know that I’ve heard a few people ponder recently whether to switch from a melee warrior or death knight to a ranged class. And I cannot really blame them. I like playing melee but I don’t feel there’s much balance right now. I’m not sure if it’s a particular issue with WoW in Cataclysm at the moment, but there’s a reason our raid group is heavily oversubscribed with mages ….

Cataclysm Screenshot of the Day

cata_daypic10

I’m a sucker for sunsets. These two shots were taken from the air in old Azeroth (being able to fly around the old world is a feature which came in with Cataclysm) – I think the zones are Azshara and the Badlands respectively.