Thursday, April 22, 2010

Blizzard Learns

Blizzard learns. Rob Pardo learns. And they admit mistakes. Openly. Honestly.
Seems like, after all, my posts on the WoW forums weren't for nothing :)

If I was going to pick on a game design thing that I look back on and think was a mistake? We really never designed WoW to be a competitive e-sports game; it was something that we decided to start tackling because there was such a desire and demand to evolve it in that direction, to introduce competitive arenas. I'm not sure that that was the right thing to do with the game.

We didn't engineer the game and classes and balance around it, we just added it on, so it continues to be very difficult to balance. Is WoW a PvE cooperative game, or a competitive PvP game? There's constant pressure on the class balance team, there's pressure on the game itself, and a lot of times players who don't PvP don't understand why their classes are changing. I don't think we ever foresaw how much tuning and tweaking we'd have to do to balance it in that direction. Either I'd go back in time to before WoW ever shipped and change the rules to make the basic game more conductive for being an e-sport, or if not that, just say it doesn't make sense. Right now, WoW has a bit of a schizophrenic philosophy behind it, and we're trying to figure out how to guide it.

It's tricky, now that we've gone down that road, because we have a passionate, large audience that enjoys it - the Arena, the e-sport - so we can't just chop off that head. We can't just say, "We fouled up and will go back to how it used to be before," because we have a really passionate audience that wants it in the game.

If I could go back in time before we shipped WoW, I would have either made serious changes to basic class balance to facilitate that type of play, or if I went back to when we had the idea two years later, I would have said, "Maybe we shouldn't go there."

Please note that I love PvE and PvP in WoW.

Tanking Legends

There's the legend of healing and tanking being more difficult and more responsible than dps. Now, having played every role in many raids I never shared that opinion.

In fact, except for a few bosses that need to be moved intelligently, tanking always was easiest.
Healing also was easy since BC. You just mash your buttons. Mana is irrelevant. Every GCD you change the targets of your heals with your mouse on grid. Paladins don't even do the latter. It is rediculously easy.

Damage Dealers, on the other hand, need to do max dps and can be compared very easily. Max dps often means following a complex rotation or 'If-Then' rules. If they don't do enough dps they get sorted out. If the tank has threat problems they need to be careful, while still doing max dps.

Damage dealers need to look out for procs, available cooldowns and cooldown stacking. Some of them even need to care about mana. They need to target the correct add and if they do pull aggro they need to use escape mechanisms to prevent dying. They need to interupt spells, slow enemies, manage ressources.

Now, the reason I post this is that Ghostcrawler just partly agreed with me.
I'm just reading a lot of "tanking is so hard" threads, and A) we don't really agree, and B) if it's any less challenging I fear a lot of tanks may get bored and move on to other classes. There are some annoying parts of tanking we need to fix, and we definitely want to fix the threat scaling problem and any major disparities in AE tanking. But if you're looking for an experience even easier than tanking Naxx, I'm not quite sure how to provide that given my A and B above.

He's right.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How to make every player see all the content

How to make every player see all the content?

This question has been around since Black Wing Lair. It was all so much fun, but only a few players did it. Blizzard spent millions on it, but only a handful of players visited the original Naxxramas.

Now, you could argue that that is not necessarily bad and I sympathize with that opinion. But the truck is driving the other way. So, let's think about the least harmful method that allows everybody to see all the content.

Blizzard recently tried badges. With the introduction of a new raid dungeon, everybody can get the badges of the prior dungeon by doing any raid dungeon or heroic 5-man dungeons.

Unfortunately that doesn't solve the problem. A player who just reached level 80 might be able to visit Ice Crown Citadel within a week now, but firstly that week is spent with an extraordinary grind in heroic dungeon speed runs. That's fun at first, but inherently unfun later. The very definition of a grind and AoE fest.
Secondly, even worse, players cannot find groups to visit the prior raid dungeons. So, the problem is not solved. Without badges all late players, who like to raid, see only the first raid dungeon (MC/Karazhan) and with badges they only see the last one (ICC).

There is a better option:
ICC-like auras.
It might be no surprise that when Blizzard thought about how to solve the problem they thought about items first, because Blizzard always thinks about items first, just like the player base their game has attracted and formed.
But an ICC-like aura is superior to items.

My suggestion:
When players visit an early raid dungeon, they can choose to play with an aura that makes the raid easier. They are able to select several levels of the effect. The less powerful the aura, the more items drop. But that should be a minor effect, like one random loot item, more per raid ID. This is just so that players don't always choose the easiest aura, but the one that fits their abilities best.

Additional levels of the aura are added over time.
The aura can be changed during the raid, but the most powerful aura chosen determines the bonus loot.

If the aura effect can be chosen strong enough, everybody can do any raid dungeon, so even cross server random groups could do any dungeon that way. The aura cannot be so strong (or the penalty so weak) that it makes more sense to visit the next dungeon at a much lower difficulty too early. Since the next raid dungeon has available less aura levels, it should be possible to find a sweet spot.

I'd also change the aura. It should not increase healing, damage and stamina of the raid, but reduce the damage and stamina of the mobs. That way players do not get used to 'imba crits' at one raid dungeon and have to 'suffer' of lesser crits in the outside world or the next dungeon. Healers and damage dealers alike like their crits. Don't mess with them :)

So, you start late in WotLK. You look for a group of people who also started late, didn't find the time to raid so far or play twinks. You visit Naxxramas and select an appropriate difficulty. You farm Naxxramas, like most raids did already and you are quite successful because of the aura. After that you visit Ulduar etc.

You see all the content and eventually reach Ice Crown Citadel. Due to the aura you also are considerably faster than the original raiders. You didn't spent wiping for days or weeks. Indeed, if you started to wipe you just lowered the difficulty. Heroic 5-man dungeons do not have that aura, so they do not become a stupid grind at all, but can indeed be used to prepare for the first raid.

Problem solved.

Monday, April 12, 2010

66 wishes for WoW

  1. A story for PvP.
  2. Focus at BGs, instead of arena.
  3. A revamp of the entire level-experience. Incentives for leveling players to visit old (raid)dungeons. Especially BC and WotLK (raid)dungeons.
  4. Drastically decreased item replacement rate.
  5. No badges. I never had a problem with the RNG.
  6. Less item-centric gameplay. Recognition of the fact that WoW core gameplay is fun. Recognition of the fact that this is why WoW is superior to other games.
  7. No resilience. Comparable equip for PvE/PvP which can be attained by high-end raiding or high-end PvP.
  8. More focus on the economic game.
  9. Necessity to have watched a dungeon at least once from the outside, before you can teleport there with the Dungeon Finder.
  10. Small quest chains that need to be completed before you can enter a dungeon for the first time. This way players at least have some rough idea what they are actually doing in the dungeon.
  11. No thunder-clap snap aggro and subsequent coffee drinking.
  12. Necessity of sporadic crowd control.
  13. Much less focus on AoE in Dungeons.
  14. More focus on (fast) decision making, less focus on reaction time.
  15. No crit rates of 40% or higher.
  16. Much less scaling of character power between 'green' and 'high end epic'. Ignore the whining.
  17. Recognition that items are one pillar of WoW, not the only one.
  18. Modest consequences of PvP on the outside world *dreaming*.
  19. Not every raid drop is epic. Most should be of blue quality.
  20. Complete voice output *dreaming*.
  21. More movie sequences. In-game graphic is quite ok.
  22. Much better presentation of the story. In contrast to Bioware, Bizzard actually has epic and good stories. However, they present them so badly (if at all), that 95% of the players have no idea why they actually killed the boss they just loot. (Well - except for the loot ..).
  23. Dialogue with quest givers.
  24. No really evil, completely overpowered enemies who can only be defeated, because they act like an idiot.
  25. Less side quests, more main quests. Let me work towards a goal step-by-step.
  26. The Dungeon Finder made dungeons even more accessible than the open world. Itemlevel difference between dungeon drops and open world quest rewards must therefore be adjusted.
  27. OOM instead of enrage timers. If enrage timers, please credible ones (Lady Vashj).
  28. Healers, who need to try to kill in a duell, because otherwise they die oom. Healers who have good chances winning such a duel.
  29. Unpredictable dungeons (RNG, player generated) *dreaming*.
  30. Much more stamina and much less powerful healing.
  31. More exploration, less 'achieving'.
  32. At least one BG that lasts for several hours and can be joined/dropped at any time.
  33. Quest chains that lead you to dungeons, instead of dungeons that lead you to quest chains for that dungeon (to max. exp).
  34. Ignore E-Sports !
  35. Less boss fights, more difficult trash.
  36. Bossfights which don't resemble a scripted choreography, but feel like a bloody fight.
  37. Collision control that can be enabled/disabled instead of threat.
  38. Raid dungeons which have not been designed for giants or knowing that they will be raided by 25 players.
  39. Dungeons that feel narrow and still don't cause too much problems with the camera.
  40. A book-collection for every player where all the lore books that are available in game are brought in the proper order and can be re-read. Achievment for completing that collection.
  41. In addition to small 'streamlined' dungeons, some confusing and huge dungeons which can keep you busy for an entire evening. Black Rock Deeps !
  42. Recognition of the fact that death penalty at some point becomes the more annoying the weaker it is. Employ a psychologist if necessary.
  43. Patrols in dungeons.
  44. Mobs who can see/hear you, if you can see/hear them. *dreaming*.
  45. If dps grows exponentialy with item_lvl, stamina should, too.
  46. Balancing of the classes regarding BG-PvP. Subsequent balancing of PvE-Encounters. It is not possible to do it the other way round.
  47. No 50% Mortal Strike. That isn't, and never was, possible to balance.
  48. More meaningful crafting.
  49. Valuable resources in dangerous parts of the world that only become bearable (solo) after you reached some level of power.
  50. Less powerful (=necessary) group buffs.
  51. Dramatically difficult 5-man dungeons in addition to easy ones.
  52. Only fun vehicle combat. Vehicles are not inherently bad, but need deeper developer thoughts.
  53. Bosses and Mobs that drop reasonable. E.g. bosses that obviously wear plate, drop plate.
  54. Recognition of the fact that WoW only stays successful, if it attracts new players who level for the first time.
  55. Not just a delocalised auction house/mail economy, but meaningful trade *dreaming*.
  56. No heirlooms. I don't want to get angry, because my heirloom weapon is better than the cool drop I just got.
  57. I don't want to play my main to equip my alt.
  58. Special lore sections in dungeons that open up when the dungeon is completed. The player is asked wether he wants to have a look when he tries to teleport out.
  59. My hotbars are full. All my hotkeys have a function. I don't need no further IMBA-skills. Certainly no imba-instant-AoE skills.
  60. Abjuration of the idea that I need to kill enemies ever faster to feel more powerful. I feel powerful, because my enemies are powerful. The best way to convince me of that is if they take some time to kill. If they can be one-hitted I don't feel powerful, but like wasting my time.
  61. Much more slow leveling. As a rule of thumb: If even rich players don't enchant their equip during leveling, it is too easy and too fast.
  62. Diminishing returns as a tool to balance casual and hardcore gameplay. Consequently, less gating.
  63. No (item)shops !!! Less pets !!
  64. Don't kid me. I know that I am not the only powerful hero around. Why do those NPCs treat me like that?
  65. Recognition of the fact that I am 30 years old, not 6.
  66. Dedication on developing the best MMO of all time. The money follows. It always does.