Serve Blizzard a Slice of Humble Pie

EvE Online has made a number of controversial business decisions lately that were rumoured to be causing a drop in subscription rates. Yesterday the CEO of CCP (the company behind the game) posted a pretty unflinching mea culpa in regards to those decisions. I don’t play EvE myself, but as a general online game consumer I was impressed by the humility evident in this letter. It was nice to see a game company admit they could be fallible and say, “We got cocky and didn’t listen to you guys and it screwed us up.”

Could Blizzard benefit from making a similar apology? That’s kind of the hot topic in MMO blog circles this morning, and my answer is: “Heck yes they could!”. In fact, the first thing I said to a friend upon reading the EvE apology was, “Man, I wish Blizzard had written something similar.” (Of course the apologetic CEO thing has been done now, but perhaps they could just take the EvE Online post and recolor it. *rimshot*)

One of the wonderful things about WoW in its heyday was the feeling that Blizzard loved us and wanted us to be happy. Sure, they were a company and companies want to make money, but there seemed to be an almost universal sense that their top priority was making a kickass game. The dollars would come after that. Nowadays, however, me and a lot of the people I talk to feel as though we’ve become dollar signs with pointy elf ears. Blizzard’s main goal is no longer making a great game that people love, but maximizing their profits.

Would a public apology convince me to resubscribe to WoW? Nah. But it would go a long way towards making amends with their playerbase. It would prove that they are paying attention, that they do care about making a fun game. It would almost instantly turn me from someone who has sworn off all Blizzard games to someone who is cautiously paying attention to what they have coming down the pipe. Yes, words would eventually have to be backed up by action, but it’s certainly a start.

Will EvE Online back up their words with action? The letter seemed suspiciously clear of actual solid declarations of change, but honestly I’m not a player so it’s hard for me to tell. I hope so — the MMO landscape is much, much more interesting with a successful EvE around.

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I’ve also seen a lot of disparaging talk lately about the Firelands bosses and how they require “dancing” or “dexterity”. I quit WoW shortly before Firelands appeared, but perhaps someone can explain to me the difference between the current bosses and, say, heroic Mimiron as far as movement goes? Heroic Mimiron was incredibly movement intensive, but it was — and possibly still is — the most fun boss fight in the whole damn game.

I feel like I’m missing something, because some otherwise perfectly sensible people have been put off by these new “dance bosses” and declared them to be part of the nail in the raiding coffin, and I’m not sure how it’s any different from earlier content.

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Speaking of pie: Happy Thanksgiving weekend, my fellow Canadians. :)

Mo’ Games, Mo’ Problems
Sep28

Mo’ Games, Mo’ Problems

Just a few quick notes today as both work and play are kicking my butt this week.

  • tyrande 165x300 Mo Games, Mo ProblemsTyrande Whisperwind finally got a makeover! I think most if not all of the other female major lore figures in WoW have been freshened up before now, and Tyrande and her Mooncloth Robe were certainly overdue. Blizzard is typically pretty bad at powerful armor for women, and this is no exception. (Seriously, check out Azshara’s pasties.) One of my friends said that Tyrande is rockin’ the “Victorian Stripper” look, and that seems about right. Her skirt was caught in a lawnmower — perhaps the same one that ate her left sleeve. She has one shoulder pad and .. greaves with 3″ heels? Did she raid Beyonce’s closet? “Just call me Tyrande Fierce!”

  • Glitch launched yesterday! What happens when some of the brains behind Flickr and GameNeverending and the creator of Katamari Damacy get together and make a browser-based MMO? Whimsical fun, that’s what. Glitch has no combat and no gear. There is “just” exploring, crafting, building, and changing your world. You can also pet trees. I’m going to do a more thorough write-up in a couple of weeks, but my initial impression is that this game is soothing and delightful. Support the indie developers and folks with unique ideas, and go give it a shot!

  • t13head Mo Games, Mo ProblemsNew hats! In better-than-Tyrande Blizzard armor design news, T13 for priests was finally released and even though I don’t play WoW anymore I gotta say: that’s a great hat.

  • RIFT’s patch 1.5 is released today! This is a huge patch even by Trion’s standards, with a total rogue class overhaul, a new warfront, planar advancement points, 1-2 person skirmishes, and of course an impending new event. This video implies there is a giant spider mount somewhere and as an arachnaphobe I am a little displeased about that. I’m still figuring out all the rogue DPS changes, although according to this chart my preferred build is played by someone who lives in their parents’ basement and lost most of their fingers in a lawnmower accident. Seriously.


  • Some little game announced its release date over the weekend! Who has two thumbs and already booked the week between Christmas and New Years off? Aw yeah, this bounty hunter. While I’m still not sure how good SWTOR is actually going to be in the long run, I do feel absolutely confident that it will be fun as hell in the short term and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it. I love the first few weeks of an MMO: everyone is happy, everything is a surprise, and there is a real sense of server-wide camaraderie. So: will you be there when SWTOR opens?

  • Finishing up The Wonderful End of the World on Sunday made me realize how many little indie games I’ve bought for Steam, and how few of them I’ve finished. It inspired me to make a serious effort to clear out my backlog, made all the easier thanks to Backloggery and this tool to import your Steam list into Backloggery. (Requires LUA for Windows, then run steam2backloggery.lua.) Last night I finally knocked out the last few points for Atom Zombie Smasher, which if you like tower defense games is an absolute must-buy.
    sig Mo Games, Mo Problems

So many games, so little time.. and it’s only going to get worse between now and the new year!

Questing is dumb, or why Liore levels slowly

For the first time in my MMO career, I’m behind the guild pack in levels. I mean, everyone in the Cats knows I’m a legendarily slow leveller, but usually it’s alts that dawdle while my main buckles down and gets to cap ASAP. I took a break from RIFT (and all games, really) for a month or two, though, and the result is that my main is definitely behind the times.

I know that some people get a kick out of questing and having 18,000 different characters at cap and loving them all equally, but those people are not me. There was one brief glorious moment in the last weeks of TBC where I had three characters at cap, but honestly all I can sustain is one well-loved main and one slightly irregular alt.

Even with the best design intentions I find questing to be repetitive. Both RIFT and WoW have quests on rails: get to town, do a half dozen quests for the area, turn them in, get one more quest to kill a big baddie, kill him… on to the next zone! Not to belittle a designer’s work, but after the millionth small-town farmer asks me to kill 12 bandits, my brain starts to rebel. (I will give props to WoW for making leveling through PvP viable — I love that stuff.)

I also get bored with the zones themselves after a while. I do about 50 quests in a winter area and I start craving sunshine, and vice versa.

The biggest problem I have with leveling through quests, though, is really the concept itself. It feels like the game has given me a big “honeydo” list: “Oh hi, Liore, I see you have some spare time today so could you please find my missing necklace and start up six goblin generators and.. oh yeah, kill 12 bandits? Thanks! xoxo”

A pox on that! I love the open-ended feeling of being at level cap. Maybe I’ll go finish the quests in a zone, but only because I want to. It’s equally possible that I’ll do some raid rifts or craft or do whatever a T2 is or play the AH or just jump around in circles in Meridian because I’m 50 and the game can’t tell me what to do by god!!!!

The end is in sight now for me at level 46, and I have to admit that upon this second round of playing RIFT I’ve really come to appreciate the game a lot more. The development team at Trion are terrifying — they’ve released four major content patches since the game launched six months ago. It’s not the next generation of MMOs or anything, but it’s a polished, well-designed game even with questing-on-rails.

Seriously, game designers, there has to be a happy medium between “go to this quest hub and do quests to unlock next quest hub” and early WoW’s “oh hey you’re out of quests so kill these tigers for 2 levels okay?”. I’m not sure what it is, but I hope you find it soon.

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Anyone who has wondered about the viability of SW:TOR may want to consider this: I started officially recruiting for the game today, and it doesn’t even have a release date yet. To be honest, recruiting for a game this far out struck me as being a little precious until I stumbled across a “looking for guild” thread on the official forums. The thread is only for August (so, 10 days old) and was already 19 pages long this morning. That’s a lot of people, particularly considering we’re at LEAST two months out from anyone playing the darn thing!

twinkle twinkle little priest
Jun27

twinkle twinkle little priest

I had intended to have a gaming weekend, complete with snacks and shunning the outside world, but it instead turned into a flu weekend, complete with naps and shunning the outside world. Fortunately by Sunday I was well enough to sit up but not well enough to do anything, so I had the perfect excuse to spend the whole day propped up in front of my monitor. I clearly needed… a project. Something not too demanding, and that preferrably didn’t involve level cap PvE. (I am so over level 85.) It seemed my mission was clear: it was time to make a twink.

Creating the monster

I chose to make a Worgen character because I hadn’t played the opening zones yet. Levels 1-6 or so were relatively fun and quick, although the matching goblin zones are better (duh). Upon hitting the first mailbox I collected a couple of heirlooms from alts (note: WoW really needs a “where the hell are my BoAs” button), bought the cloak and hat from the guild vendor, and snagged a guild invite.

So, if you haven’t leveled with all the new perks and heirlooms and gathering bonuses, let me just say now that +45% to XP is stupid fast. Literally. You level so quickly that it borders on idiotic.

cerna twinkle twinkle little priest

not a warlock!

Combine this ludicrous leveling speed with the fact that new worgens are trapped in Gilneas until completing a healthy chunk of quests, and the zone starts to feel pretty confining. I know Blizzard took time to create an epic background story and I should appreciate the cockney slang and wide cinematics, but after a certain point I just wanted to cash in my racial top hat bonus and get to an auction house.

I did some research on ideal classes for twinking, but in the end I just did what we all knew I was going to do and rolled another priest. (I may, arguably, get a little fixated on classes. My player note in RIFT right now is “STOP MAKING BARDS”.) My newest priest is disc and named Cerna, the Czech word for black. (Black! Like Death! Because I’m evil, man.) The worgen character model grew on me, although I’m still a little unnerved by wolf cleavage.

Time to kill

By level 15 I was free at last, spit out from Gilneas onto the shores of Teldrassil with a bunch of heirlooms on my back and a desire to kill some dudes in my heart. First things first, though: I quickly bought the BoA PVP trinket with honor on another character, because CC is da poop.

I know people love to hate Warsong Gultch, and I even understand why. It’s been around unchanged forever, it encourages cruddy turtles and graveyeard farming, and having to kill a heavily geared flagbearer can really highlight gear disparity. All these things are true, and yet it’s the one battleground where I feel a good healer can actually have an impact on whether the team wins or loses. I love using all my tricks and getting my bloody flag carrier alive to his or her destination. I like to imagine the Hordie DPS clutching their heads as they stare at their monitor and shout, “My god, man, why won’t you DIE?!”.

This feeling exists in 15-19 WSG too. It certainly helps that I’m still in the leveling bracket (at 15) with gobs of heirlooms and Flash Heal hits for about half of a player’s health. But I also really enjoyed the zen of only having a half dozen spells to work with at any moment. When you have fewer buttons to hit, you can focus on hitting them really well.

My plan for now is to level via PvP until 29, and then hang out there for a bit. I kind of suspect that true, xp-halted, twink BG groups will eat me alive — oh god, why didn’t I roll a rogue — but until then at least I’m enjoying the back to basics style of battle priesting.

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I don’t want to jinx it, y’all, but every time the Guild Wars 2 team releases new information my heart does a little pitter patter. Last week it was dungeon details. I don’t know how much of all this talk will make it to the screen, but on the theory front, anyway, these guys seem to have a killer MMO in the works. (Or maybe Tigerfeet’s enthusiasm for the game is infectious!)

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Attribution success! The story about the player who shunned raiding from my last post was from this interesting post on the casual response to raiding from Stabbed Up.

Blizzard’s Double-Edged Swords (a semi-return)

Sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo… hi.

First off: I am not playing WoW again! I mean, I am a little bit, a few hours a week, but I’m not progression raiding or anything. I have a level 10 goblin! And I know where my bubble key is! That’s pretty much it.

Second off (what?): I miss writing here. I know I was a WoW blogger in my previous incarnation, but let this serve as official notice to anyone still following me that I intend to write about whatever game strikes my fancy.

(Oh, if you happened to get the last issue of the World of Warcraft magazine, I wrote the healing column. I am totally bragging about that because it’s pretty cool. Right now I’m working on an article for a future issue about going from “zero to hero” in Arenas that I think will be a fun read. Keep an eye out for it!)

My time away from the game has given me some perspective on it, I think. It’s amazing how quickly one adapts into ‘civilian’ life and things that seemed routine back in the day suddenly become strange and outlandish. My taste for progression raiding is certainly over. There are times when I can feel a twinge for it, but that’s mostly abstract competitiveness and not any real yen for raid content. In my natural habitat I have become truly casual, and the idea of spending even six hours a week in obligated game-playing gives me pause. That’s not to say that competitive raiding isn’t good, but at the end of the day I think it is no longer for me.

So here I am, fresh from the sunny elf-less void, and I have a few observations on the double-edged swords of WoW.

1. Too many numbers. I can imagine back in the day when Blizzard was developing WoW that making so much of the math available to the public seemed like a radical geek idea. And really, it was. I know plenty of folks — myself included — who deeply enjoyed burning the midnight oil calculating the exact efficiency increase between offhands. Heck, the Elitist Jerks community wouldn’t exist without mathcrafting! The problem is that by making those calculations available, they suddenly became mandatory.

As poor beleagured Ghostcrawler said in a recent post: “I’d love to have the discussion some time about how close two similar specs need to be before players will play the one that is most fun for them and not the one that does theoretical higher damage. Is it 5%? 1%? 0%?” It’s hard to defend playing the fun spec when the raw math is staring you in the face. In retrospect I wish WoW had held back some of the information to create a little fuzziness around that 5%.

2.Too many choices. WoW revolutionized the idea that an MMO can suit any lifestyle, and honestly now I think that was a critical mistake from the design perspective. Cross-server LFD? To hell with server community, or any community for that matter. Respecs whenever you want? No excuse not to be have a “perfect” spec in your back pocket. Addons to customize your UI? Gearscore!

To be fair, I feel a little silly demanding that MMO developers stop giving us so many options. And I am certainly not saying that progression raid guilds shouldn’t emphasize individual performance, although in all honesty I think most guilds that seriously raid make themselves crazy over that 5% damage difference when in fact it really only matters to Paragon and Premonition. Are we just not able to accept the great responsibility that comes with the great power of having a company attempt to cater to our every gameplay whim?

3. Too many people. So I have a confession to make. I didn’t reappear here entirely because of a love of writing. Recently someone I trusted as a person and as a guildie not only left our community (which is always sad but understandable) but attempted to pull the whole thing down with them on the way out. I will spare you the dramatic details, but suffice to say my retirement became “semi-” because I’ll be damned if I let the bad guy win. MMOs and other group games give us the opportunity to meet new people, make friends, and feel like part of something larger than ourselves. They also, occasionally, remind us that people can be dicks.

I guess really that’s my point for this whole piece, such as it is: perhaps Blizzard gave us the tools to be dicks to each other, but we’re the ones who use them.

The New Zul’Gurub: a mini review
Mar17

The New Zul’Gurub: a mini review

zgshot The New ZulGurub: a mini review

Last night myself and two other guildies decided to head to the PTR and check out the new troll instances. The executive summary of our trip: while I’m still kind of meh on more recycled content, Zul’Gurub is a pretty fun little instance with some mechanics we haven’t seen before.

The PTR
PTRs are strange little clusters of the WoW universe. Everything is selling for 10 gabillion gold on the AH, and uber angry hardcore kids end up mingling with windowlicking premades who can’t figure out how they blinked into a corner. The PTR, anyway, has a queue option for “any random Zandalarian heroic”. Terrifyingly, it took ~3 minutes to get two DPS for our team. Not many people were queueing for the new instances, but there were a whole ton of people LFM for ICC which makes no sense at all. After sloughing off the first two lame puggies we got a warrior and warlock who knew their stuff, and we were off!

New ZG vs. Old ZG
There are a few areas from old ZG that are blocked off now, like what was once Jeklik’s room (bat boss) and Mar’li’s cave (spider boss). tigerboss 300x173 The New ZulGurub: a mini reviewYou can’t get into Mandokir’s old area, but both he and his raptor are out front for you to fight. The tiger boss is no longer present but instead somewhat surprisingly replaced with a giant void miniboss. There are still fights in the  panther room and Jin’do’s corner, but they are with different characters. The old alchemy boss is now an archaeology boss. Hakkar’s ghost is on his platform, but the actual final boss is.. someone else you’ll recognize. I didn’t have a chance to check the old fishing knoll, but I was eaten by a “Spawn of Gahzranka” at one point so he may still be around.

Frogger and Other Gameplay Elements
There are a few tank and spank fights in Zul’Gurub, but there are equally a lot of neat new concepts. There are at least two moments where trash has “Frogger”-like elements, requiring players to weave around obstacles on the fly.

Sprinkled through out the whole instance are cauldrons that imbue the players with a particular helpful power for 30 seconds. These are, if I recall, nature resist, a freezing stun, and an AoE fire nova. These are always extremely helpful if not downright mandatory for certain trash pulls, and one of the bosses requires you to run around clicking the right cauldron at the right time.

Gear
It’s the PTR so I didn’t really pay that much attention to gear, but the new panther boss did drop shoulders that will be my next upgrade unless Cho’gall stops holding out on me. Each boss dropped one epic, except for the last one who dropped two.

Difficulty Level
So my party all had good gear with a number of raid epics. Three of us had not run the new ZG before, but the same three were also on Mumble with each other. It’s hard to say how much my group reflected an “average” group, but I can say that this instance was pretty tough! I was often very low on mana, and there are a number of things that cause a great deal of damage to the entire party at once.

My opinion is that as of last night’s PTR build, Zul’Gurub is going to be quite difficult for your average LFD user upon launch. My guildies and I found it to be a really fun challenge, though, and we’re all looking forward to trying Zul’Aman out soon.

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