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Posts Tagged ‘Blizzard’

I “tweeted” last week that I was going to take advantage of an offer from Blizzard (seven whole days of free game time, woot!) to go and take a look at Karazhan.  The venerable Big Bear Butt offered to show me around the joint.  So, I finally saw Karazhan.  And took almost 250 screenshots of the place.

…it’s way bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.  Oh, and in BBB’s son’s continuing quest to Control All the Things, he managed to grab control of one of Moroes‘ beefy melee henchmen.  That would have made a nice difference if we were running the place at level.  Also, Tinhead is creepy, but the Opera Event is pretty cool, and the Chess Event is awesome.  Yes, it’s not real chess, but it’s good fun anyway (and, like in real chess, knights are nicely useful).

Some highlights (in no particular order, because I’m short on time):

…and then, just because Blizzard finally got with the program and decided to allow anyone, even trial accounts, to play any race, I fired up a Pandaran Rogue.  The Pandaran starting area is really nice… even if I can’t fly around in it.  It’s the new shiny, and I like it, but I still like Gilneas and Mulgore about as much.  The Pandarans themselves are very well done.  I like the “Red Panda” look the females can access, even if the real world red pandas aren’t actually pandas.

So I guess I’m a Tauren/Worgen/Panda kinda guy.  Though I still say Blizzard missed a trick in not letting Pandarans be Druids.  Still, their starter area is open to pretty much anyone, so have at it!  There are plenty of photo opportunities and some fun character animations.

Google+ collection of Karazhan shots

Google+ collection of Pandaria shots

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OK, I caved and jumped back into World of Warcraft thanks to that absurd Scroll of Resurrection thing.  It’s kind of a big deal.  Sorta.  If the conspiracies are to be believed.  (I still say they should sell level capped characters.)

Me?  I just used it to make an insta-80 Shaman, a Dwarf I’m calling Rumblethump, so I could use Far Sight to take more esoteric screenshots.  We’ll see what I come up with.

…that’s probably not what Blizzard intended, but hey, I finally used one of my 30-day time codes from the VISA rewards card, so that’s less of a chance of me losing out on that value in the eventual shift to a glorious subscription-free WoW.  Anyone for buying my retail 60-day card?

In the meantime, I might get my “main” past level 78 and poke into Icecrown, then finally tame myself a Venomhide Raptor mount.  Yeah, tourist priorities.  Then I’ll take a lot of pictures.

So there.

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First the links:

MMO Melting Pot’s roundup (which includes a lot of other excellent articles, the following are just what caught my eye)

Elder Game on perfecting game design (instead of expanding it)

Panda reactions in the TAGN household (and an interesting generational divide)

Wolfshead called it?

The Grumpy Elf is… happy?

…and then there’s my reaction:

Pandaren don’t bother me any more than the other silly anthropomorphic races in the game.  I think there are more furries than human-like humanoids.  So, sure, why not more?  Beyond that, the game has never been all that serious.  Haris Pilton and Wowpo can coexist.

Monks?  Sure, why not.  I won’t play one.  I played without auto-attack in Allods Online, and I just didn’t like it.  I do like that Monks are full hybrids, though, able to fill any trinity role.  I’m not surprised they went that way.

Pokemon-ish minipet battles?  Seems like a silly thing to dev spend time on, but maybe it will work out for them.  I did love Pokemon back in the day when I had tons of free time, so it’s not like I’m opposed to it.  I’m just not in that “time rich” bracket any more, so it won’t do much for me.

Talent tree amputation is a little strange, but hey, if it results in a system where players can respec talents on the fly for free, that’s a step closer to what I’d like anyway (full respec on the fly, all the way down to class choice), so I’ll call that a cup half full.

No, all the big controversial stuff doesn’t matter much to me.  The part that bugs me far more than I expected is a little throwaway line:

“No flying until max level”

Yeah… I’m hoping that’s only in Pandaren territory.  If it’s worldwide, well… color me displeased.  Really displeased.  Flight is a marvelous tool for exploration, and I don’t want to have to buy the latest expansion to access flight.  I know, I know, some have argued that flight trivializes ground-based content, and there’s some truth to that.  Thing is, flight is freedom, flight is exploration.  Losing those don’t sit well with me.

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Ratcheted Subscription

Considering the little ways that Blizzard is content to ratchet up the pricing of their flagship World of Warcraft, perhaps it’s time again to float my Five Dollar Vanilla article, or a new variant: the Ratcheted Subscription model.  (Note, expansions will still need to be bought separately from the main game, and all other optional services for a charge will continue to operate as at present.  I might add a new Battle Chest SKU, though, where the original game and the now-three expansions are sold in one box for $50.)

Baseline  Perpetual Free Trials.  Take the existing ten day trial and extend it to an indefinite time.  Keep the restrictions on level, chat and money if you must, but know that other games do it better, and that free players are more of an asset than a liability.

$5/month  Choose one: PvE, PvP or raiding.

$10/month  Choose two: PvE, PvP or raiding.

$15/month  PvE, PvP and raiding.

$20/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding

$25/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change

$30/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing

$35/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month)

$40/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month), epic purple poster name on forums

$45/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month), epic purple poster name on forums, exclusive emote (“Heroic Hero” pose; all other players within 15 yards immediately bow toward player and grovel)

$50/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month), epic purple poster name on forums, exclusive emote (“Heroic Hero” pose; all other players within 15 yards immediately bow toward player and grovel), gold-plated WoW-specific keyboard, mouse and authenticator (will be reclaimed by Blizzard enforcers in the case of a change to a lower subscription rate)

$70/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month), epic purple poster name on forums, exclusive emote (“Heroic Hero” pose; all other players within 15 yards immediately bow toward player and grovel), gold-plated WoW-specific keyboard, mouse and authenticator (will be reclaimed by Blizzard enforcers in the case of a change to a lower subscription rate), RealID immunity

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I’ve suggested it in a few comments recently on other blogs, and I’ve argued it for a while in one form or another, but I wanted to put a fine point on it for posterity.  Let’s not call this a prediction, since I don’t think Blizzard will do this (it’s potentially a lot of work and has a few wrinkles to iron out), but I’d recommend it.

The Cataclysm expansion is a perfect time for Blizzard to jump into the wider MMO market by diversifying their business model.  The recent trend of formerly subscription-only MMOs converting to item shop microtransaction business models isn’t a surprise, nor is it a move of desperation.  It’s realization that the MMO market is diversifying and maturing, and that the old ways of doing business aren’t going to work forever.

World of Warcraft is a bastion of subscription gaming, a behemoth that operates by its own rules, seemingly independant of the overall market.  Be that as it may, ignoring customers served by the so-called “free to play” or F2P games is effectively conceding strategic ground in the larger market.  It’s often suggested that converting WoW to one of these F2P critters may well not be more profitable for Blizzard, so it’s not likely.  I’m not convinced of that, but even conceding that as a given, as someone recently noted (Bhagpuss, I think, but please forgive me for remembering incorrectly if not), companies don’t always make moves for immediate profit.  Sometimes it’s about claiming market share or positioning themselves for future projects. *

* This is one counterpoint to my recommendation, actually.  Blizzard might be angling for the wider market with their next big MMO project.  Since that’s likely not imminent, though, I’m setting that aside, because the market is changing now, and Blizzard is oddly reticent to keep pace.

With that in mind, the release of Cataclysm provides a perfect excuse both in lore and in business to make a significant change to the WoW business plan.  What better time to break up the world than when a dragon is doing it for you?

Specifically, I would recommend that they take the Old World of Warcraft (the content from level 1 to 60, sometimes called “vanilla” WoW) and break it off into its own product, literally breaking the game into pieces.  They should then sell this like Guild Wars, as a single purchase that can then be played in perpetuity.  They should then keep the “live” Cataclysm-era world going for subscribers.  Players can upgrade from the Old World to the Live World, but not migrate backwards (maybe with some restrictions to keep gold sellers down, like no money migration).

This could neatly corner the F2P market by outflanking the other big movers in the field, including EQ2X, LOTRO, DDO and even GW and GW2, while still providing the subscriber experience that current users are accustomed to.

There are problems, to be sure.  There’s the possible need for two dev teams and consequent potential for divergent evolution.  There’s the need for new servers and the potential to confuse customers (who apparently don’t know how to spend their own money, the filthy proletariats).  There’s the likelihood of subbers just playing around in the Single Purchase Old World and losing some part of the WoW money pump.  There’s the banshee chorus of haters and fanboys who would proclaim the doom of Blizzard for deigning to let those people play the game.  There’s the work necessary to make things actually work.  There’s the question of what to let current players do.  (I’d suggest that anyone wanting to go to the Old World can do so, but it would be a complete reboot; everyone starts from scratch.  Current subbers who want to sidegrade can start new characters on the Old World servers like anyone else, without needing to purchase the game again.  They would have to pay a sub to play in the CAT era on CAT servers, but could play in the Old World without a hiccup, just starting over on the new servers.)  There is risk involved, as even WoW may not be able to function in its own shadow.  (But that’s a concern for their new MMO, too.)

Still, the timing is right for such a move, a grab at owning the best of both worlds.  In retrospect, perhaps, this will be obviously wrong, depending on whatever they do with their next MMO, but for now, looking at the market and the state of WoW, I’d say it’s an obvious move, and a smart one.  (This is, of course, totally ignoring the larger question of whether or not more WoW domination of the market is good for the players.  I think that could be argued either way, though, so maybe I’ll save that for an exercise later.)  There’s even room for more mutations, like true “classic” servers and private, gated communities for discerning customers, but one step at a time…

Of course details would need to be ironed out, and suits would need to be convinced.  Kotick would need to be bribed or something.  I’m convinced it’s not an intractible problem, though, and this may be the best time for such an earth-shattering, industry-shaking… cataclysmic business move.

…though I must admit, if it didn’t prove to sell well, just like if Blizzard’s new MMO doesn’t do well, leaving WoW as the clear aberration that I think it is, well… I’d laugh.

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…in Dalaran, do Blizzard devs notice?

Shintar’s The Day That Tree Form Died

Larisa’s Yet Another Angry Post From A Disappointed Ex-Tree

Ardol’s It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye: Tree of Life and a nice set of screenshots as a Photo Tribute

I’ll just sound another voice, saddened for the loss.  I do play in cat/bear form most often (if I’m playing WoW at all, anyway), but this always struck me as an odd choice by Blizzard.  The new forms are a bit strange, too, though they do feel more like the traditional Ancients that the Night Elves revere so much, albeit with a slightly… bovine facial structure.  Think “buffaloak“, perhaps.

Of course, you’re not supposed to listen to the players, so no sweat, Blizzard.  (My snark aside, that’s a good article from Scrusi… and it looks like Blizzard is throwing sad Druids an olive branch anyway, see Ghostcrawler’s post in this thread.)

One more voice:  Lara’s Fare Thee Well

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I really enjoyed StarCraft.  My brother in law and I would often fire up LAN parties that were a blast, and I had a lot of fun with the single player game.  I like the Jim Raynor character and the Protoss, and it was just a lot of fun splattering a pack of Zerg with a Siege Tank or Templar lightning storm.  I didn’t like the Kerrigan story and the way that Blizzard seems to think that the Zerg are the most interesting (or at least the best race to sweep into a cliffhanger with), but I can at least understand what might make them think that way.  I enjoyed the map maker, though I never did quite get it to do what I wanted it to.

All in all, I spent probably hundreds of hours playing with StarCraft in one form or another.  It scratched my itch for game development with the editor, and my itch for some good post-WarCraft gaming.  (I really liked WarCraft and WarCraft2.)

So… why not play SC2?  First and foremost, I have other games that I’d rather play more, and I have less time to play overall.  Second, I don’t feel like spending $60 on it.  (I may yet get it on a deep sale, though.)  Third, I don’t like battle.net, have no use for online multiplayer, and detest the lack of LAN play.  (OK, OK, the company can be greedy and get rid of spawning games, but to excise LAN where everyone has their own copy?  Lame.)

In short, I have no particularly strong antipathy toward the game, just little use for it, so it’s not a priority.

Oh, and this has always bugged me:

Terran standard...ish human

Compare that to this, an iconic Terran Marine:

Tychus Findlay, the man with the tiny head

Now, if we’re to believe that the Terran Marines are just guys in suits, normal humans with some super special armor slapped on, I’m not buying it.  I can handle a RoboTech Cyclone being pitched as power armor, but not a Terran Marine.  If we were to take the seminal Vitruvian Man‘s proportions (a pretty decent standard, really) and try to map dear ol’ Tychus using his head as a baseline, we might see this as his “human” shape within the suit:

Vitruvian Findlay

The proportions are all wrong.  (Note, Iron Monger in the Iron Man film had the same problem.  Either Stane stretched his limbs, or, um… he was controlling the arms of the supersized suit from within the torso cavity.  Iron Man himself was pretty good, but the Big Bad guy… not so much.)

So either Tychus had his head shrunk to get into his gear, or his body has been painfully reconfigured to match the articulation of the suit.  Either way, that sounds rather horrific.  No wonder they don’t take the suits off.

I know, I know, some will blame Warhammer 40K for this (since obviously everything Blizzard does is a ripoff of Games Workshop), but look here, their Space Marines are closer to what I’d expect; armor on a well proportioned human that looks vaguely plausible.  Blizzard’s “shoulder envy” is in full force in both WarCraft and StarCraft, but when it means rejiggering the humans inside the suits, well… that just seems painful to me.

Is that enough to make me not want to play the game?  No… but it still bugs me, just like it bugs me when I watch Iron Man.  Sure, the Terran Marines read well as bipedal, vaguely humanoid machines of war… but if I really want that, I want BattleTech.  Even their Elementals maintain better armor/pilot proportions.  (Though in the cross-section, that pilot’s shoulder does look a little disjointed.)

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It’s a perpetual dance in game design.  Give the players freedom to go do crazy things, or put them on rails so they don’t break your game (or play it the “wrong” way)?  It’s a fine line that “live” games (MMOs, MTG, Warhammer, even) are especially wary of, since they are constantly on the edge between broken and brilliant… especially since that line is different for different players.

So, while the RealID kerfluffle is also stirring troubled waters between freedom and control, the game design of WoW is also testing the waters in the “control” side of the (kiddie?) pool.  I fall squarely on the side of freedom, exploration and experimentation in games.  To me, that’s the point of playing a game; to try something I can’t do in real life, and tinker in new and unusual ways.  That’s my “theory of fun“; messing around, looking around, taking control as a player and seeing what happens.  That’s why my articles on game design are more about giving the player control, not controlling the player.  (It’s also why I consider failure itself punishment enough, and don’t particularly care for “death penalties” and other punishment mechanics.  Just let me play the game, already!)

So, Blizzard wants to take the reins and make class talent trees more like immutable pillars or mini-classes, less like… guidelines.  The goal seems to be to make the newbie experience better, and give class trees their own (dev-defined) identity and playstyle earlier in the leveling curve.

OK, the goal of improving the leveling game and newbie experience sounds good to me so far, and entirely in-theme for the renovated world we’re getting in Cataclysm.  The newbie experience is crucial to getting the game to “stick”, and letting players have a taste of what they can do later is a great idea.  (It’s played differently in things like Metroid Prime… which I’d actually prefer, but that’s not terribly likely here.  Pity.)  The sooner a Warrior can feel like a Warrior, or a Hunter can feel like a Hunter, the better (which is why pets at character creation is a Good Idea, while we’re talking class identity).  It might even make grouping pre-endgame better, as players learn their roles earlier… if you care about that sort of thing.

Thing is, I’d have done it by making the trees more synergistic, rather than locking players into one progression path.  (The very least that I’d do is make respeccing free and easy like Guild Wars, if we’re going to be stuck maxxing a tree before experimenting, and make Dual Spec very cheap and offer it early, say level 20 at the latest.)  Rather than lock players into a choice of one of thirty subclasses and telling them to get used to it, I’d give them more choices and make them all interesting and useful, letting player playstyle dictate direction.  I know, I know, that’s more work, but hey, it’s not like Blizzard’s a charity, hm?  That sort of experimental playstyle also pretty much requires frequent respecs.

I like that a leveling Warrior can pick up a few Arms talents and a few Fury talents and go to town.  As time goes on, generalization tends to be less powerful than specialization, but more flexible.  I love that balance, and much prefer the option to sacrifice some power for flexibility.  That’s why I play a Druid.  (Insert rant about how hybrids are as good as two or three “pure” classes all rolled into one, if you so desire; I think there’s a good argument to be made for making “pure” classes undeniably best at what they do, while still keeping hybrids viable.  I know, I know, in a world where 3% improved crit rate is worth investing three talent points, even a hybrid at 95% potential is going to feel like it’s nerfed… that’s one of the problems with only having three combat roles and 10 classes…)

So yeah, I’m a bit ambivalent about this talent tree overhaul.  All in all, I can’t really find much but personal preference to base complaints in, and I do strongly believe that options are the heart of games.  I don’t like the straitjacketing that the changes represent because I tend to explore and tinker rather than just go with the flow, and yet… the streamlining is probably a Good Thing overall, since it may well make learning the trinity easier earlier, and learning your class more entertaining (rather than only coming to fruition at the endgame).

As long as WoW is stuck in that class-trinity rut, they may as well teach it well.

For now, I’m going to say:

“OK, Blizzard, I detest your business practices with the deepest, hottest fire of a grumpy dragon, and this Game Design thing you do, well, I think it needs work, too, but since you’re dedicated to a path I’d not choose, you may as well do it right, and this change, well… that’ll do.”

…and yes, I think it’s important to draw a distinction between the game design and the business design.  They do affect each other in unhealthy ways, but credit where credit is due, after all.  The WoW devs do have a few good ideas here and there.  I do not agree with their apparent core philosophy of control over freedom, but they are at least making a few good changes to make their game better… even if I’d have made a very different game.

It’s like the Cataclysm on the whole; I think it’s a good idea (and I called for “old world” renovation a year before they announced it), but I’d have made the game world more dynamic from the start.  They are doing decent design for their goals and within the box they put themselves in.  Perhaps that’s a bit of “condemning with praise”, but so be it.  I do think they do good game design, but it’s increasingly a game that I don’t particularly like.

A few other thoughts from bloggers with a bit more… class:  BBB, Larisa, SpinksChastity, PvD, Copra

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How Many of Me?

One of the tangential thoughts I’ve seen a few times about this RealID thing is that people with unique names will be easier to stalk.  Even though it’s not all that hard to track [RandomDude719], unique names make the heavy lifting easier.

So, I wandered over to HowManyofMe.com to see just how unique I am.  Y’know, just in case.   The Twitter, XBox Live and WordPress accounts may not cement my fame.

…or maybe I’m just looking for validation.  Anyway…

Turns out I’m the only one of me.  309,633,291 people in the U.S. according to the site, and I’m the only one with my first and last name.  In either order.

I’m a pretty, pretty snowflake.

Tish Tosh Tesh Flake

Too bad I’m already famous.  Otherwise, I might be concerned.

OK, OK, Ysh, here’s the nondoily version:

Tish Tosh Tesh Nondoily Flake

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So… kiss and make up, or is the honeymoon over?

I’m no psychologist, but I can’t help but wonder how this might parallel an abusive relationship.

Party A:  *pulls stupid stunt*

Party B:  Forget it, we’re through!

Party A:  I’m so sowwy, I didn’t mean it!

Party B:  OK, you’re so hot I can overlook the stupid crap you pull time and again, here’s my credit card, let’s go party!

Repeat as necessary.

When do the blinders come off, or do inertia and sex appeal perpetuate the cycle?

***

Hattip to Sev over at Ysharros’ place

Oh, and I love the escape clause:  “at this time”

Party A:  Don’t worry baby, it won’t happen again

OK, OK, silver lining, they are responsive to complaints.  Granted.

That said, may I take a moment and remind people that this was still a stupid jerk move in the first place, and recanting after people get pissed doesn’t tell us that they have changed, or that they are sorry, just that they dance well.  They never should have done this in the first place, and their claim that they have been thinking about this for a long time should tell us that they are still either incompetent or arrogant.  That doesn’t change with a slap on the proverbial wrist.  They aren’t sorry that they tried this, they are sorry they got called on it and that their revenue was threatened.  There’s a world of difference.

Oh, and this was a textbook example of goodwill withdrawal.  They might yet staunch the blood flow, but the point remains that this was a totally unnecessary and avoidable self-inflicted wound.

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