Monday, March 24, 2008

The Vernal Equinox

The Vernal Equinox is defined in astronomy as the point in time at which the Sun is directly over Earth's Equator. Contrary to popular belief, this is actual a fixed point in time as opposed to an entire day. Nevertheless, the world celebrates the coming of the Spring Season. Beautiful purple lilacs with a soft, clean fragrance, the chirping of songbirds, long forgotten since the early Autumn days, ever growing daylight hours, more sunlight and a renewing of the land all mark the transition from Winter to Summer. However on this Vernal Equinox, the frenetic weather in a time of such planetary symmetry brought fourth a new and unexpected change to my 12-year-old step-daughter. That change was a nasty spring virus.

The virus was brutal causing a hacking cough and a blistering 104 degree fever for over two days. Needless to say, my weekend was full of hydrating, taking temperatures and trips to the doctor. This also was a major factor in the lack of content on the blog this week.

As a result, I was unable to generate a solid response to my last article, Time is Money, Friend. Rest assured that a clear and well thought out response will be provided in the days to come. I also have another article in the wings ready to write so more content will come soon. In the mean time, I wanted to provide a few quick observations regarding the upcoming 2.4 patch:

Warrior Changes: I have to admit, I can't say I'm thrilled with the upcoming changes. I appreciate Blizzard's intention with the Cleave changes but reducing the game to stacking Cleave on my white damage attacks with a mouse over Devastate macro seems like a simplistic solution to AOE tanking. This takes some of the limited challenge out of the game with regards to PVE. The rest of the changes are virtually all bug fixes from the Endless Rage change to the Flurry and Whirlwind changes. All in all very ho hum.

Druid Changes: By contrast, I was most happy to see the druid changes. The original change to Lifebloom undone and instead a 20% nerf to the final bloom effect was added. This will change the PVP game a fair amount but the PVE healing game will not be effected. Furthermore, a reduction in the cost of Regrowth actually buffs PVE druids quite a bit. I have gone from dreading the upcoming patch with my druid to really looking forward to it.

Shaman Changes: I really liked the original change to the fire totems with the Mortal Strike debuff added. Perhaps a bit overpowered but nonetheless, it would have provided Enhancement Shaman a serious niche in PVP arena combat. I must admit, I had an entire article ready for the 2.4 Shaman Mortal-Strikesque debuff but alas, it was beat down with the nerf stick.

Honor Changes: I am on the fence with this one. On one hand, I think that the volume of honor one could achieve with this change in Alterac Valley has seriously increased. By contrast, the amount of Turtling this change will instill will be mind boggling. Hell, the alliance already turtle most of the time and lose with zero honor on my battlegroup. At least with this change, honor kills will theoretically net some decent honor in rehash style battles like Stormpike Graveyard sieges. I guess only time will tell.

Overall, I really do look forward to the patch if for nothing else new content to explore. Regardless, the patch is well anticipated and promises to be fun. Until next time...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Time is Money, Friend.

Several months ago, while leveling my WoW druid, I managed to stop in the Gadgetzan area of Tanaris and complete the normal quest progression line, filled with easy experience, handfuls of mageweave cloth and the inevitable level 70 rogue ganker. After travelling throughout the zone in an effort to complete the quest content, I stumbled upon goblin vendor after vendor providing a greeting whenever clicked. The most common was the title of today's article. After spending several hours completing this quest grind, I got to thinking.

MMOs by nature are time sinks. Back in the late 90's, Everquest raiding was my hobby and just by the nature of the game, required a massive time investment. From hours of learning new encounters to leveling hundreds of levels of alternate experience, the game itself while fun, required the dedication of a second job. This is the reason I stopped playing. I simply couldn't justify 30+ hours a week playing the game. My predicament was not uncommon and many long standing Everquest players stopped playing in a similar manner.

As most gamers know, this is done by design. The primary reason for this is, of course, money. Game designers need to maintain subscription numbers and by making MMO's require large time investments, publishers and game design companies generate consistent revenue. This is nothing new and most gamers are well aware of this. However, like most business practices, there is an inevitable consequence and the company that cashes in on this consequence may have tapped into quite a lucrative market.

The primary consequence has to do with demographics. When Everquest was originally released, it was rather apparent that the demographic the game was targeted for was largely male ages 18-25. This was done intentionally to obtain as young a subscription base as possible. Younger players net longer returns on gaming as younger players will have less influences that effect their ability to play the game. Attracting an 18 year old to the gaming world could snare a customer for the next 10+ years versus the 30 year old gamer who has a wife and two kids and simply can't invest vehement volumes of time necessary to progress. The 30 year old has a significantly higher chance to quit the game entirely thus causing the company to lose the subscription. Fast forward 10 years and now those same gamers that were 18-20 years old are now 28-30 years old. Life should go on and if it does in a healthy manner, those same 18-20 year olds have full time jobs, potentially a steady significant other, wife, husband and or children. In all likelihood, their time is significantly less available for gaming. This brings me to my second question for the masses:

Is there a way to market an MMO that do not require an extensive time investment to progress?

Whenever talking about MMO marketing, one should likely start with the king of all marketed MMOs, World of Warcraft. In many columns, I have stated that WoW is much more a product of marketing genius versus MMO innovation. From a business standpoint, it is easy to see why this viewpoint is one of the minority. The current model has been so successful, particularly for Blizzard, why change? As it stands now, Blizzard has a massive subscription base. In an effort to maintain longevity, Blizzard has already made minor changes to the leveling curve, the proposed 2.4 badge of justice rewards and daily quests for easy gold. It is plausible that such changes will continue in the future. However, it is likely that this issue will effect WoW just the same at some point in the future. It's cut from the same business model as Everquest.

To better illustrate the issue, consider the following:

Let's assume a 32 year old male who has two kids wants to relax in the evening with WoW. He is new to the game but reads how solo friendly warlocks are and starts there. He has 1 hour, three times a week to play the game. How long will it take him to level from 1 to 70?

  • 24 hours x 6 = 144 hours

  • 144 hours/3 hours per week = 48 Weeks.

Assuming this individual continues to play, it will take him 48 weeks at this pace to level from 1 to 70. To me, this seems like an awful long time to grind out one toon. This is a very low leveling time as well. A newer player, a player who wishes to explore various extra content and a player on a PVP server will almost certainly have a longer leveling time. This could result over a year of time just invested in the leveling process. From a subscription standpoint, it's great but this is dependant on the player staying interested that long with such little weekly progress.

An immature subsection of the WoW populous will provide the dribble that "Casuals don't deserve gear" and this attitude is held primarily by the opposing demographic. While players that invest more time should have more options available within the game, this line of thinking is flawed in that, the most stable and financially secure members of the gaming community are the older, casual gamers. This is also the largest demographic of players. Alienating this group doesn't lend itself to good business practices and WoW in particular has watered down the game to make it more practical for these players. Despite all these changes, the fact remains that the game is designed for moderate term character advancement followed by long term character enhancement through gear until the next expansion is produced at which point, the cycle virtually resets and repeats. This has been the business model for most MMOs in the last 10 years and for the most part, has been successful. The question remains; Is there a more time efficient way?

The phrase "time is money" is undoubtedly a cultural platitude. Nevertheless, the concept holds true and resonates through the current world and MMO landscape. The challenge to the readers is to decide if there is a business model for an MMO that doesn't require massive time sinks to progress yet can still maintain monthly subscriptions. I will provide some thoughts and ideas in an upcoming post. Until next time...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

WoW Perspectives: Volume #2 - Redundancy Breeds Contempt

The title of this weeks WoW perspectives is something that a college writing professor preached regarding the overuse of ancillary words in college level writing. This included prepositional phrases, persistent use of second person pronouns and so forth. His message was that this flaw in writing was repetitive and convoluted the message. He felt readers would grow tired of filtering through the unnecessary verbiage to discern the writer's message and become disinterested with end result being the reader would stop reading. After yesterday's run through Karazhan, it became readily apparent that this concept rings true in more aspects of life then just writing. WoW has hit a point where redundancy has begun to breed contempt in players caused by a noticeable lack of new game content.

This flaw first came to light during Tuesday's run through Karazhan but blossomed completely last night. I should preface this by stating that yesterday's run through Karazhan was perhaps the sloppiest and least organized run through Karazhan we have had in months. Mindlessly wiping to mobs we have had on "farm status" for months. Brain-numbing mistakes such as breaking Flame Wreaths on Shade of Aran and fumbling tank switches on Netherspite. Ironically, the roulette wheel known as Prince Malchezzar was one-shot, a boss that is as much luck as it is skill. Regardless, it was apparent that our guild members have become complacent and that complacency has settled into not taking the same redundant encounters seriously. It is the results stemming from repeating these same encounters for months on end.

With the promise of tier 6 quality gear for Badges of Justice, most casual players like myself find themselves in a position where the best way to better their toons is to farm as many badges as possible. For most players, this means grinding Karazhan or the same old heroic instances repeatedly. Perhaps I am in the minority but while easy to obtain badges may appeal to some, I would prefer some new content to experience in conjunction with obtaining badges as opposed to obliterating Heroic Slave Pens for the 100th time or clearing Karazhan repeatedly. It takes the dynamic element of a persistent world and relegates it to a static grind.

The PVP experience is much the same. Exactly how many times does one have to grind Battlegrounds for gear? Here is just a rough estimate:

  • Let's assume we receive 300 points of honor from each BG we complete. This could be a relatively high estimate but if one focuses on AV, this is not entirely out of the question.
  • If saving honor points for an item that costs 14,500 honor, it would roughly take 48 1/3 trips to Alterac Valley to accumulate this amount of honor.
  • If each match takes roughly 20 minutes then it would take 960 minutes to accrue this value of honor or roughly 16 hours of game time.

Sure, there is the daily quest for honor but 300 honor per match is a fairly high estimate if the player does Warsong Gulch persistently. This estimate is not unrealistic. This kind of repetitive game play will inevitably result in burnout sooner or later.

This concept rings true even more for the leveling experience from 1 to 60 as most players have done the newbie areas, westfall, barrens, or other instances countless times. The lack of new content in these areas is staggering, with only a revamped Duskwallow Marsh and the two newbie areas from Burning Crusade being implemented since release. One could argue that the Duskwallow Marsh changes were done sheerly to alleviate the massive population congregated in STV from levels 32 to 40 as the zone is one of the few options available for characters in this demographic. It would have been refreshing to see Blizzard add some more content to Northrend in an effort to revitalize the leveling experience.

Perhaps the greatest area that rings true for WoW in this area is the concept of daily quests. I personally find daily quests incredibly boring. While it does provide the casual player some easy to access gold, it rehashes the same ridiculous quests over and over and over again. At this point, I never want to see Skettis again for any reason. Sure, occasionally I still drag my toons there for gold but I do it not because I enjoy the content but it allows me to better my toon from the gold that results. It is no secret that daily quests were implemented with the notion of running gold farmers out of business more so then providing the player base with more content. It is just more evidence that lends itself to prove that WoW really is a product of marketing versus a truly innovative MMO experience.

Is there a nostalgic feel to WoW? Sure. I still enjoy Deadmines, Shadowfang Keep, Scarlet Monastary, Scholo and many of the original dungeons. Nevertheless, I would still like to see new and exciting places to explore not only with my level 70 toons but my lower level toons as well. And the bottom line is, at this time, one can make the statement that WoW's biggest flaw is its redundancy. After all these years, I'm sure that college English professor would agree.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rebuttal to Devil's Advocate

I was handling my six month old daughter this morning, reading some e-mail when I stumbled across this article, linked from MSN's website:

This is a column written by Erik Sofge regarding the passing and the legacy of Gary Gygax. After reading this article's contents, I felt it necessary to respond. Here is the thesis statement to the article:

"But it has to be said: Gary Gygax wasn't a visionary to all of us. The real geeks out there—my homies—know the awkward truth: When you cut through the nostalgia, Dungeons & Dragons isn't a good role-playing game; in fact, it's one of the worst on the market. Sadly, Gygax's creation defines our strange corner of the entertainment world and drowns out all the more innovative and sophisticated games that have made D&D obsolete for decades. (As a game designer, Gygax is far outclassed by contemporaries such as
Steve Jackson and Greg Stafford.) It's the reason that tabletop gaming is not only stuck in the pop culture gutter but considered pathetic even by the standards of mouth-breathing Star Trek conventioneers. And with the entire industry continuing to collapse in the face of online gaming, this might be the last chance to see Gygax for what he was—an unrepentant hack, more Michael Bay than Ingmar Bergman."

Mr. Sofge's justification for claiming Gygax was an "unrepentant hack" lies completely on his qualification of himself and "his homies" as "real geeks". Perhaps I missed the segment where he qualifies himself as a "real geek" or what this even means but there is nothing in this article that lends me to that conclusion. To the contrary, his statements and position in this article lead me to believe the opposite. Here are some examples:

"What's wrong with Dungeons & Dragons? It plays like a video game. A good role-playing game provides the framework for a unique kind of narrative, a collaborative thought experiment crossed with improvisational theater. But D&D, particularly the first edition that Gygax co-wrote in 1975, makes this sort of creative play an afterthought. The problem is most apparent in one of Gygax's central (and celebrated) innovations: "
experience points." To become a more powerful wizard, a sneakier thief, or an elfier elf (being an elf was its own profession in early editions, which is kind of like saying being Chinese is a full-time job), you need to gain "levels," which requires experience points. And the best way to get experience points is to kill stuff. Every monster, from an ankle-biting goblin to a massive fire-spewing dragon, has a specific number of points associated with it—your reward for hacking it to pieces. So while it's one player's job—the so-called Dungeon Master—to come up with the plot for each gaming session and play the parts of the various enemies and supporting characters, in practice that putative storyteller merely referees one imagined slaughter after another. This is not Tolkien's Middle-Earth, with its anti-fascist political commentary and yearning for an end to glory and the triumph of peace. This is violence without pretense, an endless hobgoblin holocaust."

Something I commented on in a previous article was the death of creativity. It is thinking such as the above that persistently qualifies that line of thinking. Let's start with the fact that D&D is a game. This means that whatever the group of people playing the game enjoy should be its focus. This might be a hack and slash fest or it could be five hours of roleplaying with not a single combat sequence, or a mix of both. The game was what the players made it. A good Dungeon Master would recognize this and tailor the game play session to the group. In many instances, I can recall numerous game play sessions where we had massive plot twists and developed characters. It may not have been to the depth of Tolkien, but I personally would not want to play a D&D campaign tailored to that degree of detail (I'd just read Tolkien, instead). To claim that since the game has structure and an advancement system means that the progression through the game must be as linear as the above is ridiculous. D&D provided a frame work and it was the creativity of the players within that frame work that lends itself to Gygax's vision.

"Here's the narrative arithmetic that Gygax came up with: You come across a family of sleeping orcs, huddled around their overflowing chest of gold coins and magical weapons. Why do orcs and other monsters horde gold when they can't buy anything from the local "shoppes," or share a jug of mead in the tavern, or do anything but gnash their teeth in the darkness and wait for someone to show up and fight them? Who knows, but there they are, and you now have a choice. You can let sleeping orcs lie and get on with the task at hand—saving a damsel, recovering some ancient scepter, whatever. Or you can start slitting throats—after all, mercy doesn't have an experience point value in D&D. It's the kind of atrocity that commits itself."

This is where Mr. Sofge qualifies that he simply doesn't get it. The DM should come up with a reason the players are in this situation. Perhaps the orcs are under the control of an evil wizard or are stealing gold to build their own city or have evolved and wish to take over the current human settlement. No matter what the reason, the players are responsible for the continuity of their game. Each group is different and each group should have fun with their decisions. At least he get something right; the players should play how their character would react to the scenario. It's the quintessential example of the freedom and game play decisions characters have throughout the D&D experience. This is what made the game so different.

"For decades, gamers have argued that since D&D came first, its lame, morally repulsive experience system can be forgiven. But the damage is still being done: New generations of players are introduced to RPGs as little more than a collective fantasy of massacre and greed. If the multiplayer online game
World of Warcraft is the direct descendant of D&D, then what, exactly, has Gygax bequeathed to us unwashed, nerdy masses? The notion that emotionally complex story lines are window dressing for an endless series of hack-and-slash encounters? There's a reason so many players are turned off after a brush with D&D. It promises something great—a lively (if dorky) bit of performance art—but delivers a small-minded and ignorant fantasy of rage, distilled to a bunch of arcane charts and die rolls. Dungeons & Dragons strips the "role-playing" out of RPGs; it's a videogame without the graphics, and a pretty boring one, at that."

At this point, I truly question if this individual is qualified to write this article. First, let's get something straight; WoW was not the direct descendant of D&D, Wow was the direct descendant of Everquest. Without the success of Everquest, Blizzard may never go forward with WoW as it is more a product of marketing success than gaming experience. And Everquest, DAoC and Ultima were the descendants of countless MUDs and perhaps the MUDs were indirect descendants of D&D as they are different mediums. So at best, WoW is a fourth or maybe fifth generation descendant to D&D. Regardless, comparing WoW to D&D in this example is out of context. Players do not control anything in WoW other then their character with Blizzard supplying the content (or in D&D terms, playing the role of Dungeon Master). The closest online experience to D&D is D&D Online or Neverwinter Nights 3 while having one player create an adventure for the others. WoW is what it is; a simplified, polished version of Everquest with various game play options designed to appeal to a mass market. D&D is a pen and paper roleplaying game that started the process. In essence, this is apples and oranges.

"There is a way to wring real creativity, and possibly even artistic merit, from this bizarre medium—and it has nothing to do with Gygax and his tradition of sociopathic storytelling. In the mid-1980s, right around the time that Gygax was selling off his company, Steve Jackson began publishing the
Generic Universal Roleplaying System, or GURPS. Jackson's goal was to provide the rules to play games in any genre. More importantly, characters in this new system could be fleshed out down to the smallest detail, from a crippling phobia of snakes to a severe food allergy. And when it came to experience points, characters got whatever the "gamemaster" decided. They might earn points for succeeding at a given task or simply for playing their character in a compelling way. Of course, players could still take out their real-life bitterness in a fictional killing spree, and the game master might end up with a bumbling and incoherent story line. But GURPS created the potential for so much more."

I regret to inform the masses but this is what Julie Whitefeather from Virginworlds would classify has Hutzpa. How can one justify that since a game published in the mid 1980's has better structured gameplay then a game published in the mid 1970's then that means the creator of the older game was a "hack"? That's like saying, "Wow, Dell sucks because the graphics card in my laptop in 2008 has more ram then my entire laptop did in 1998." Are you joking me? According to this article, Mr Sofge is a "contributing editor to Popular Mechanics" so under that pretense one would believe he is familiar with the progression of technological advancement. The same applies in virtually every aspect of life. Cars have 40 gig hard drives, Cell phones have GPS trackers and Internet access, and roleplaying games have evolved into online games. It's not so much that Gygax's game didn't have flaws, of course it did. It's the fact that his game was creative, innovative and is largely responsible for the success of tabletop and online gaming. To classify Mr Gygax as a hack using this feeble of a supporting argument is highly questionable.

"There are other complex, challenging games out there, and GURPS is still in print. But the bloodthirsty Dungeons & Dragons franchise remains a bestseller. If it seems overly harsh to fault Gygax for his seminal work, keep in mind that in 1987 he helped create the gaming equivalent of
Plan 9 From Outer Space. In the now-infamous Cyborg Commando, you play a man-bot battling an invasion of alien insects. Unfortunately, you seem to have been built for comedic effect, with lasers that shoot out of your knuckles and your brain inexplicably transferred to your torso. That frees up cranial space so you can suck liquids through your nose for further analysis. Not that there are any rules for said chemical analysis, or for much of anything, really. Gygax wasn't much for the details. In the end, his games are a lot like his legacy: goofy, malformed, and fodder for a self-deprecating joke or two—before being shoved in the closet for good."

Why do we need complex rules for chemical analysis if we are playing a game? People play games to relax and to escape, not chart the chemical breakdown of polysaccharides. The bottom line is that if the players are enjoying the game then who cares about a specific set of rules to deal with such trivial situations? Most players of D&D will tell you countless rules lawyering ruins the D&D experience. And to mock the creative nature of any game is misguided. The fact that there is a game that lets people shoot lasers out of their fingers and analyze chemicals lends itself to creativity, which in my mind is a good thing. In the end, this author appears to be attempting to play devil's advocate on a subject he isn't qualified to write about in a situation where such a position is neither necessary or plausible. I for one will place Mr. Sofge's article where it belongs; in the closet for good.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Preparation or Progression

Earlier this week, I watched Brett Favre retire from the game of football. For many, this announcement came as a bit of a surprise. His team made it to the NFC Championship Game, losing to the eventually champion, New York Giants. From a progression standpoint, his team made it to the "final four" of the NFL season, which for most teams, is solid progression. One may have felt that this kind of showing would entice Brett to return for another season, seeing how close he was to another Super Bowl. However, Brett decided that the mental preparation for another season was too much. He felt that the preparation was not worth the progression, even though the progression was clearly visible. Oddly enough, This led to a rather odd segue into my current scenario with my WoW guild on Twisting Nether.

Should we continue to attempt 25 man progression in Burning Crusade or should we prepare to gear up through other means for WoTLK?

At first, it seems like a silly question. Most of us want to see the other zones and areas in BC just to experience the content. From that standpoint, it seems like a good enough reason to keep plugging away. Yet the main challenge we face night in and night out is a lack of players that play during our time frame (12am - 4am EDT). We constantly have issues fielding more then 25 players on at any one time to really begin pushing 25 man content. If we had the numbers, it would be a no brainer. The question I have to ask myself at this point is "Is it really worth it now?

We could be content doing 10 man content. Zul'Aman is not bad and has fairly decent RvR for its content. But even that zone has caused us headaches with having the right mix of players to attack the zone. Not having AOE for the gauntlet before Akil'zon causes major issues to a degree where we have made virtually no progress in months. Proactive efforts to recruit have now been ongoing for a nearly equivalent time frame with marginal results thus far. We are ever so close to being at the point where we have the right class balance. Yet it may be too late for it to matter. There is a storm coming and the game is evolving around that storm.

The cloud that hangs over our head is the cloud named Wrath of the Lich King. Yes, it is likely several months away, maybe even as late as November-December 2008 but my guess is more like 5-6 months away. This sounds like a significantly long time but without more raiders in our guild, we will find ourselves in Kara/ZA until the expansion, whenever it rolls out. The question then becomes do we progress through ZA or do we find other means to prepare for the expansion.

Math time...

The BG option

Currently I have 3 piece of season 1 pvp gear. Assuming I complete the set along with the vindicator accents and necessary weapons, I am looking at around 165,000 honor and many tokens from all battlegrounds. At 2,000 honor a day, this would take roughly 82 days to achieve. This takes us to about the end of May to grind out a comparable PVP set in a rather casual amount of time. This seems fairly reasonable to grind out and would net some solid gear to use for the upcoming level grind. There is also the chance that season 4 will start and the season 2 gear would be available for honor purchases,making this reasonable.

The Arena Option

There is also the Arena option. First and foremost, this forces me to spec arms, which I am not terribly well geared to do. As such, I would almost certainly grind out the belt, bracers, boots, rings and necklaces before doing BGs. There is no way to upgrade the gear otherwise. This in and of itself would net 45 days of BGs. After that, grinding roughly 300 arena points a week would take several weeks just to get one piece. I currently have around 1400 arena points saved up. Assuming 300 points a week, this takes roughly 22.5 weeks to get the entire season 3 set minus the shoulders. That's nearly 6 months. Unless I stumble into a team that can carry me and grind out significantly more then 300 points a week, this is not a viable option.

The Stagnant Option

Then there is the stagnant option; continue to farm Karazhan and Heroic Badges for the upcoming Patch. Karazhan has long been on farm status and the guild as a whole is rather sick of clearing it. However, Blizzard has placed new incentive to obliterating the zone week in and week out. I'm going to go on record and guess that patch 2.4 to be live by April 2nd. Assuming this is the case, this leaves roughly four weeks to farm badges of justice before the patch goes live. Then there is the wait for the content to be opened to the masses. Twisting Nether is a rather retarded server in terms of progression with only one Illidan farming guild on the server and none really close to following. Let's give ourselves five weeks just for posterity. A full clear of Karazhan is 22 badges of justice. If we do the daily heroic three times a week, this nets 2 badges per day while the instance we run could net anywhere from 3-5 badges itself. We also could grind heroics on downtime with most being easy mode and completed in very short time frames these days. Let's assume three dailies a week and a full Karazhan clear:

5 X 3 = 15 + 22 = 37

37 X 5 = 185 Badges of Honor in five weeks.

This could be more if I grinded more badges of justice via non daily instances or played more. 185 Badges can purchase a fair amount of gear. Granted, there is some limitations to what gear can be purchased but the bottom line is that this is seemingly the easiest way to gear up in the current format. This clearly seems the most time friendly option from a preparation standpoint, but this really does nothing for progression.

So in the end, the question remains; Progression or Preparation. At this point, the only option seems to be preparation as we don't have the numbers to grind out 25 man content and this relegates a tank obsolete. Sure, if the opportunity presents itself, 25 man content would prevail but this isn't the case with little change in sight. From a risk versus reward standpoint, the math is clearly favoring skipping tier 5 content entirely. The gear obtainable via badges is just as good or better. Yet knowing the gunslinger that Favre was, I know where his heart would lie....

Thursday, March 6, 2008

WoW Perspectives: Volume #1 - Introduction

Welcome to the first weekly installment to WoW Perspectives. Each week, I will delve into some personal rants, raves and experiences through the game of WoW. This could be a myriad of topics from theorycraft to suggestions for game improvement to editorials to recent raid results but the recurring theme will revolve around the game of World of Warcraft. This weeks article will deal with an introduction to my personal experience through the game to give readers a sense of the circumstances behind the perspectives to come.

In the fall of 2004, I was playing Everquest 2 primarily but the game was disappointing me horribly and many of my real life friends were running with WoW. As a result, I made the move shortly after WoW's release. It was difficult to leave EQ2 behind, as many of my EQ1 friends were giving EQ2 a run but after 34 levels on my troubadour, I just couldn't stomach the game as it was. Severe gameplay changes kept taking place to a degree where I didn't really know my role as a Troubadour. In EQ1, the role of the bard was to provide support to the raid and make everyone else in the group more effective. After a major change in which agility was adjusted and my primary song for melee characters was effectively nerfed into uselessness, I couldn't find groups and had to solo to level. Even with a PGT (Polished Granite Tomahawk, a heritage quest item with roots from EQ1, ahhh...Highpass Hold) which at the time was the best melee weapon I could use, soloing was painstaking. I eventually saw others dropping like flies and going back to EQ1 or quitting altogether. I decided to shelf EQ2 at that point, and focused on WoW exclusively.

Fast forward to today and my WoW character progression reads as follows:
  • Started with a Night Elf Druid - got to level 34 and stopped playing the druid. At the time, the feral and balance tree were god awful.
  • Switched servers and rolled an undead priest. Leveled to 60. Played primarily a healer role as I did in EQ1 (my main EQ1 toon was a cleric).
  • Rolled an alt on that same server and leveled a tauren druid to 60. Once again, I played the healer role for a group of real life friends. At the time, druid healers were much different then they are today. I recall having to spec resto to really heal effectively early on (Wailing Caverns comes to mine). Nevertheless, I always enjoyed the druid class quite a bit in WoW.
  • We did some raiding with the guild but I switched shifts at my job and found myself working primarily 2nd shift. As a result, I would always come home too late to do much of anything. The group of real life friends I had played with also migrated to other games or interest so I found myself solo frequently. I ran my priest as a disc/holy healbot for a while (GoGo power infusion version 1.0). I made many a warrior and mage happy but never really found a stable to play consistently. I contemplated quitting but I still enjoyed the game, I just didn't have people to enjoy the game with anymore.
  • After several months of searching, I found a guild on a new server that was playing the game in my time frame. I asked what the guild needed and the response was a warrior. Thus, my current main toon was born. After several weeks, I was level 60 and this toon is now level 70.
  • This fall, I caught the druid itch again and leveled a druid from 1 to 70 as well. What a difference a few years make! Mangle is just incredible and the balance tree is just a ton of fun. As it stands now, my druid is resto but come expansion time, I will revert back to feral for the level grind.
  • Just recently, I rolled a mage. Our guild is very short on main mages so the next best thing is alt mages. She is only level 14 at the moment but with the new quest rewards, hopefully the leveling process will be short. I enjoy the content but at this point, we need mages badly.

I currently play a level 70 protection warrior, 70 restoration druid and a level 14 mage who has yet to spend any talent points. I am unsure as to how I wish to level her but I must admit, I am leaning toward frost. Frost seems more tactical and I find myself gravitating to that kind of gameplay frequently. By admission, I am a very numbers oriented player in most respects. I enjoy reading the theorycraft and will often experiment with builds and read some of the information the raiding community provides. Most mage boards seem to advocate leveling fire up to 40 and then respecing to deep frost for the elemental. Others just stick with the "Three minute mage" variants or a deep fire build. At any rate, I will start with the frost build and go forward and see if I enjoy the style or not.

My warrior is currently epicced out in mostly Karazhan gear. She sits at 15k hp unbuffed with around 505 defense. I am a bit concerned as her static dodge rate is nearly 24%, which will become a liability later in progression (See strats on Zul'Jin for specifics). As such, I will begin the process of waning some of the dodge gear out. Her current tanking spec is 12/5/44, which is an efficiency style build. It is designed for maximum rage efficiency at the expense of some mitigation and utility. There are positives and negatives to all builds and this particular build has served me very well throughout Karazhan although I am leaning toward 8/5/48 for ZA soon. 8/5/48 is the "cookie-cutter" tanking build in the game but there are different variations to it. Some choose Improved Defense Stance while others choose Improved Shield Wall. I personally see little difference with Improved Defense Stance this early in progression. 3 talent points for 6% seems like a stretch. To qualify, a 5,000 aoe attack with improved defensive would only mitigate 300 damage. This seems useless to me at least for three talent points. Further along in progression, 6% spell damage may make a difference; currently it does not. So, until the need arises, I'll stick with my 12/5/44 and maximize threat per rage.

My druid currently sits with a mish mash of Karazhan epics, quest items, PVP gear and green junk. Nevertheless, she sits at around +1150 healing and wakes in fear of the upcoming Lifebloom healing coefficient nerf. I am not looking forward to this as it basically relegates druids a distant fourth for PVE healing. There may even be questions as to exactly how useful a druid healer may be post patch to a degree where we see fewer druid healers and more druid tanks. There is supposedly a tank shortage serverwide. This seems like a rather nasty way to increase tank population. Again, this is speculation but if the PTR changes go through, it will be interesting to see how much this change hurts.

So, in a nutshell (or in this case a blog) that is how I ended up playing WoW and now provide the masses with some insights to my gaming. Any suggestions regarding how to spec a baby mage are more then welcome as my knowledge of the classes is marginal. Until next time...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Spark that Starts the Inferno

In the onset of this blog, I described how I personally became acquainted with online gaming. It seemed like a proper way to establish an MMO Blog. Yet with the news of this morning, I can't help but provide an even greater background.

Perhaps twenty years ago, a group of friends introduced me to a game called "Dungeons and Dragons". It was unlike anything I personally had ever experienced with an emphasis on personality and critical thinking. It encouraged reading, tactics and it encouraged imagination more than television and definitely more then Atari and Nintendo. Hours and hours of exploring dungeons, disarming traps, speaking to locals, entertaining crowds and saving the world are great memories of my childhood. In most respects, this was truly the introduction to the RPG world for myself. And many of us gamers who now play any fantasy MMO can look to the late Gary Gygax for providing the spark that set the current MMO Inferno.

Without D&D, one can make a strong case that MMOs in their current format may never exist. First person shooters could easily have been the focal point for the MMO genre. Sure, we may have had an early version of Planetside but very possibly we would have had no DAoC, no Everquest and without Everquest, there most likely would be no WoW. Sure, MMO games may have evolved, but would MMO games thrive the way they thrive today? The fantasy genre appeals to so many demographics it's hard to imagine a more successful medium.

Every person on Earth has the opportunity to set a positive foundation for those who come after their time has expired. If the legacy of a man's life is measured by the volume of positive influence he has had on his fellow man, Mr Gygax can rest peacefully knowing he has left a positive influence on millions of people worldwide and millions more to come.

RIP Gary Gygax; the world would be a different place without your vision.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Creativity's Revivication

In the last post, I posed the following question to the readers:

If given all financial resources required, what type of MMO would you create?

After giving some thought to the question, here are the results:

  • Setting: Outer Space

Whatever setting chosen had to be fun and interesting. Fictional settings lend themselves better then historical settings because historical settings have boundaries where non fictional settings can be molded without thought. One setting that really stood out to me were 19Th Century America, with a wide open western frontier, various Indian tribes and the Civil War. There are a multitude of possibilities with this theme. The second theme was outer space, most notably our most local solar system. There are 8 planets and a host of dwarf planets to visit with moons, asteroids, comets and the like. The scale of such a world would have to be immense to capture a realistic feel and this can lead to issues if done poorly so I was a bit leery of this setting although if done well, it could be breath-taking. The third setting that seemed good for potential use was a totally fictional world from scratch. This world would need to have a high degree of verisimilitude yet also have some defining characteristics that will make it interesting. No one wants to play a game in a boring world. The sky would be the limit with this kind of undertaking. While all three settings appealed to me, I chose outer space for this example. In reality, all of them could work in the right scenario.

  • Story

It is the year 2777 and Earth is in peril. Virtually all the natural resources remaining on the planet has been consumed. For the sake of survival, human kind must begin cultivating resources from other, non life sustaining worlds. Unfortunately, other species on other planets have also evolved and begun the process of harvesting raw materials from other worlds. It is only a matter of time until the evolved races inevitably collide. The competition for survival has begun!

  • Races

I personally would include a diverse amount of races although the more races, the more difficult the balance issues become. I believe five seems optimal. Here is a template of some possible race options:

  • Humans - Humankind of the future. Humans have evolved past their petty differences and bonded together for survival. Faithful and resilient, humans strive to maintain society on Earth by harvesting natural resources from nearby planets and star systems. Peaceful by nature, humankind has strong grasps of physics and can be a deadly adversary if provoked.

Above Average Technology Scores, Average Physical scores, Above Average Faith Scores, No Magic Scores. Bonuses learning new skills as humans are resilient and learn quickly, Bonuses to faith based skills.

  • Elysians - Stereotypical aliens seen in movies and in abduction accounts. Elysians are now nomadic by nature, roaming from system to system consuming all natural resources encountered. Elitist and malicious, Elysians feel no race in the universe can outmatch their technology and are unconcerned how many species die in their wake.

Exceedingly High Technology Scores, Exceedingly weak physical scores, No Faith Score, Below Average Magic Scores. Bonuses to doing anything using technology, bonuses to learning new skills.

  • Kord - Super Evolved Insects resembling earth bees. Kord are hive mentality creatures, surviving on their incredible ability to harvest resources throughout space. While possessing little in the way of technology, Kord are powerful creatures, able to naturally survive the vacuum of space. Stories have been told of entire space vessels being obliterated by a swarm of Kord in deep space.

Low Technology Scores, Above average physical scores, Above Average Faith Scores, No Magic Scores. Bonuses to resources gathering, Space Survival, Flight

  • Vhorses - Vhorses were once similar to humans until their home planet was changed when their home star captured a binary partner. In this event, the Vhorses home planet was pulled closer to its host star; a blue giant that began pouring new radiation into the planet. This initiated a genetic change in the Vhorses, distorting physical appearance while activating genetic dispositions to magical abilities. Vhorses are evil creatures by nature, scolding races that believe in deities and looking to use other races as slaves for the Vhorses advancement.

Average Technology Scores, Average Physical Scores, No Faith Scores, Exceedingly High Magic Scores. Bonuses to Magic, Resistant to radiation, fire.

  • Wulgar - Wulgar are half feline half humanoid creatures, evolving slowly through a lush jungle ridden planet. Wulgar are hunters by nature and have only recently begun the exploration of space. Wulgar care little for space combat but are amongst the most formidable melee combatants in all of space. Wulgar have a nutrient rich planet and are forced to defend it frequently. Wulgar have currently begun space travel to better understand why their home planet has been the target of invasions.

Below Average Technology Scores, Exceedingly High Physical Scores, High Faith Scores, No Magic Scores. Bonuses to physical combat, bonuses to physical speed

  • Classes

Without creating a combat system or what not, here are some general ideas for some classes:

Engineers - Fix technology items, create bombs, weapons, traps and create robots to fight for them

Pilots - Fly both transport ships, battle ships and fighters. Make modifications to ships as they see fit.

Brawler - Ground combat unit - Strength: Melee Combat

Infantry - Ground combat unit - Strength: Ranged Combat

Skirmishers - Ground combat unit - Strength: Versatility

Scout - Fly scout ships for recon, Ground combat unit - Strength: Subterfuge

Certain races would have very different classes. Vhorses would have spell casters while the Kord would have insect subtypes such as Workers and Solders.

Kord Soldier - Insect Soldier specializing in melee combat - able to survive in space and in planetary systems. Able to fly in planetary systems

Vhorses Shadowcaster - Ranged combat specialist focused on dark energy attacks doing significant damage.

  • Gameplay

Imagine a space combat sequence with traditional flying saucers fighting giant space insects fighting in a huge crab nebula. Or a ground combat sequence on the frigid snow plains of Enceladus during a cryovolcanic eruption. These are the kinds of things that would make a game such as this interesting. Combat should be more then button mashing but not plotting three dimensional spaces. I don't have too many specifics with it but, it should be engaging and not brain numbing or uninteresting.

In conclusion, it is important to note this took about an hour or so to just toss out on paper. With more planning and thought, I'm sure more detail and information could be provided. While there are obvious holes and issues, this is simply an exercise in brainstorming. Feel free to provide other ideas and concepts. Who knows, in five years, we all could be battling Vhorses Shadowcasters on the molten peaks of Io.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Death of Creativity

Something that truly drives me crazy is the amount of hideous rehash the Entertainment industry provides the American consumer each year. Exactly how many Batman movies do we really need? Please take Rocky whatever and destroy it. While I am a fan of the Indiana Jones series, I can't help but question if a 65 year old Harrison Ford can really sell the role of Indiana Jones 19 years after his last trip to find the Holy Grail. And for those who might have missed the bus on this one, Coolio's most memorable song, "Gangsta's Paradise" was formerly a Stevie Wonder song entitled "Pastime Paradise". The lyrics are different, but the music is nearly identical.

So, exactly why does this occur? Well, the answer is perhaps a universal answer to more questions then anything on Earth. The answer is money.

To get a movie funding, a producer has to sell it to someone who has the money to invest for its production. These could be anyone from venture capital firms, private investors or a large studio. By simply choosing rehash, the producer gains an advantage because the individual who has to be sold on the concept is probably already familiar with it.

Another huge factor is marketability. It isn't difficult to sell Batman or The Lord of The Rings to the American public. People are familiar with these titles and that familiarity may sell tickets regardless of how bad a movie may be.

Perhaps the largest consequence this practice has is that in many respects, creativity dies. What I mean by that is it is significantly easier to simply find a Intellectual Property and run with it versus creating new intellectual properties. Every year more and more movies fall into this trap and every year I personally find myself going to fewer movies.

This trend has already begun in the land of MMOs. Matrix Online, LoTRO, and SWG to name a few. Games such as this already have movie and literary fan bases and those fan bases are critical for marketability. It means that no matter how bad a game may be, people will play just to be a part of the lore.

There is one clear beacon of brilliance in the MMO realm and that beacon is EVE Online. There really isn't anything like it and it is unlikely that there ever will be. The depth and technical complexity provide a creative niche in the world of MMOs. It is a credit to CCP for its innovation. It is thinking such as this that needs more credit for its approach.

While I do play World of Warcraft, I can't help but admit it's simply a product of marketing. Blizzard carefully examined the landscape of the MMO world, what players enjoyed, what players did not enjoy and engineered a game that would above anything else, sell boxes out of stores. In terms of MMO depth, WoW is rather average as the fantasy MMO has been done and done well in the past; in the realm of MMO Marketing, it's the quintessential example of how to tailor a product to a consumer base. In other words, its a product of creative marketing and in a sense, should be provided credit at least in that respect, given it's overwhelming success.

So, now to my point. I provide the readers my first question for the masses:

If given all financial resources required, what type of MMO would you create?

The only rule with this is that it cannot be a current Intellectual Property. As with most things in life, the higher degree of detail, the better. This doesn't mean source code is required but a good understanding of the background, setting, characters, classes and the general driving force behind the game should be provided. The purpose of this exercise in thought is just that; to think and create. Being stagnant is the first step to death. A process that has long begun for the motion picture industry and one that has nearly consumed commercial music.

I look forward to any and all responses. Next post, I will provide my feedback and thoughts of an MMO idea of my own. Until then, stay warm as I toss another copy of Spiderman 3 into the campfire.