Category Archives: wow

Remarkable Foresight

If you roll a Worgen character in Cataclysm you start out as a human, but pretty early in the starter zone you get scratched and turn into a Worgen. I should possibly have put BIG SPOILER tags in there, but there are a couple of clues in the character creator, like the fact that you select “Worgen”, and get to tweak your fur colour and face-growliness.

You do start out human, though, an innocent defender of the town of Gilneas with no idea of what horrors are to come…

I say “no idea”, from the player names in the Worgen starter zone you’d think the NPCs might get ever so slightly suspicious. “Hello Blackfang, you completely normal human, help save us from these wolf-type-things! Lycanfury, greetings you entirely human townsperson, please come to our aid! Werewolf27? That’s an… unusual name for a human with no wolf-like tendencies at all, but the town needs all the defenders it can get! Yes, including you W0lfmannnBiteBiteGrrr, I presume that’s an old school nickname or something. Hello, TeamJacobOutOfTwilight, please help… hang on, no, we have some standards. GET OUT!”

Thought for the day.

Worgen Druids: the snooty over-achievers of werewolf school.

“Simpkins! Pay attention at the back, you think you have time to sit around and daydream? You can’t even turn into half a wolf and Jennings here can already turn into a bear, a cat, a hawk, an owlbear, a cheetah, and some sort of hideous monstrosity with flippers that I never want to see again in my life ever… understood Jennings? Jennings!”


Regulation 571.111

As m’colleague put it:

Objects In The Starter Area May Appear More/Less Awesome Than They Actually Are.

I hopped in to World of Warcraft last night and rolled up a new character along with m’colleague and our power armour bearded friend, for a quick blast around to get ourselves back into the swing of things, tweak UIs, try to remember how half the functionality of the game worked, remind ourselves how frustrating it is to only have sixteen bag slots, that sort of thing.

Watching xBevisx run around on his Cataclysmified Warrior was a bit of a revelation for me; I’d pretty much decided to play a Warrior come the launch of Cataclysm, but seeing him run around at level six, firing off his Victory Rush ability and healing himself to full at the start of each fight, with said mobs generally exploding in a misty cloud of blood after one massive swipe of his two-handed weapon, completely sold me on the idea. His non-stop gleeful chortling as he slaughtered the starter area wholesale added a certain weight to the idea that the class was pretty fun to play.

It’s an issue though: Blizzard have clearly tweaked classes to make them more appealing earlier in their careers – we hadn’t even reached level ten and picked up our defining abilities from our chosen talent tree – and it seems that the classes have been adjusted to give players core abilities very early on. M’colleague also pulled out a fine example to backup his quote mentioned at the start of this post. In City of Heroes the Blaster and the Controller were two classes that couldn’t be more separated in the fun stakes. In the early days of CoH the Blaster, archetypal DPS, could one shot most mobs from range, with perhaps a couple of shots being required for tougher opponents. The Controller, on the other hand, having the ability to lock down opponents and stop them from operating, was balanced by having little in the way of damage output. Thus the majority of game-play for a Controller involved holding a mob and then punch-punch-punch-hold-punch-punching your way to victory. It was a long, dull, painful process and not a lot of fun outside of a group, and not an epic amount of fun in one either. Eventually, however, come level thirty two, Controllers got their ultimate ability: pets. Once they had their pets the Controller could hold huge groups of mobs, and then using their secondary powerset to enhance their pets, use the pets to slaughter these massive mobs wholesale with absolute impunity. The Blaster, on the other hand, could still dish out huge amounts of damage, but they were left incredibly vulnerable if they didn’t take everything out in one giant alpha strike, which was often not possible in the more difficult areas of the game, especially where Boss level NPCs lived. Controllers became the end-game Gods, Blasters were relegated to a lesser position.

I wonder how the class population of Warcraft will shift with these new changes in place, especially when the next influx of new characters arrives with the new races that are being released in Cataclysm. It’s fun to see how populations at level eighty change with the various patches, but I’d also be interested to know if there are ‘population clumps’ for characters that never reached the level cap. Are there certain level ranges where certain classes are regularly abandoned for one reason or another? Certainly the Warrior looks like a lot of fun in the early levels now, but will that continue, or will players become disheartened when they see Paladins being able to do equal DPS, but also being able to heal and buff and provide other utility skills? I wonder whether players these days even focus on what the character can do at the start of the game, or if they only focus on how the class is purported to play at the end-game.

I’m set to play my Warrior come Cataclysm, but I’m definitely more prepared, as long as I remember that Objects In The Starter Area May Appear More Awesome Than They Actually Are, my expectations should hopefully be set accordingly.

To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire. Would not we shatter it to bits.

Having spent a little bit of time in World of Warcraft last night, taking part in the beginnings of the Shattering – which primarily consists of a few quests to ‘go here, speak to him, speak to her, collect that, wear a dress, shout ‘DOOM’, kill a few of those’ in traditional MMO fashion – I’ve decided that I’m going to re-dub future January Sales as January Shatterings from now on.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen quite so many level-capped insanely-geared heroes of Azeroth running back and forth across Stormwind and Elwynn Forest, desperately making a grab for the various bargains on offer. Prophecies of Doom are particularly popular and selling like hotcakes, with a strong run on portents, conspiracies and doomsday cults too. Curiously, the hotcakes aren’t selling all that well. There’s a definite rush to get to Stormwind’s garden department, with people clearly looking to be the first to get their hands on a Deathwing Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Flame Grilling Machine.

All I can say is thank goodness for a lack of collision detection, otherwise the canals of Stormwind would be full of players throwing themselves out of the way of careening level eighty characters with armour spikes poking out of every conceivable appendage, with role-players and new players being the worst hit. Indeed, I picture bewildered newbies being trampled all the way back to the Spirit Healer, and indignant role-players being flung bodily into the canal, then having to pause for half an hour while they construct a detailed back-story of why they’re in the canal, what their motivation for being there is, and updating their description to describe how their dishevelled stranglekelp-strewn hair still beautifully accentuates their powerful, glowing, half-demon half-titan red eyes.

I’m still not entirely convinced that the Cataclysm won’t be caused by Blizzard telling players that Deathwing’s giant fiery wang is at a specific location and that they can get an achievement for riding it, then turning on collision detection as a thousand or more epic-laden characters descend upon it and all simultaneously smash into one another with the destructive power of several hundred hydrogen bombs, sundering the surrounding lands. Perhaps Deathwing won’t even make an appearance: like some Rock and Roll legend, just the mere mention of him has huge crowds of fans rampaging across the land trying to catch a glimpse, tearing their own hair out at the thought of getting close, screaming from faces clasped by shaking hands, tears rolling down between grimaced folds of fanaticism; the fans themselves destroying everything in their path until all the land has been razed and devastated. Deathwing will peer out from behind the curtain of his hotel window, despair at the sheer number of screaming fanatical heroes trying to claim a flame-forged autograph, and cancel his main concert, retiring to the comforts of an exclusive dungeon where a select crowd of ten to twenty five adoring fans will be allowed in to watch and worship him, while the world outside burns beneath the storm of rioting fans and frenzied shoppers.

This is the way the world ends: This is the way the world ends: This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a bit of a kafuffle.

I am a man of many talents. But I’m only allowed to use these ones.

So what purpose do talents serve in World of Warcraft these days? The recent patch preparing the game for the Cataclysm expansion has brought a revamped talent system that is simpler and more intuitive than ever, but at the same time, as darkeye pointed out in a comment, it drastically reduces the concept of choice and flexibility which talents were originally designed to provide. It seems now that talents have been boiled down to not much more than two choices: ‘Which sub-class do you wish to play?’ and ‘Do you intend to PvP or not?’.

For some classes there’s still some debate out there amongst bloggers as to which talents are definitely worth picking up; I’m certainly seeing varying opinions on protection warrior talents at the moment, but it’s mainly the difference between one or two talent points invested in one talent or another, nothing particularly class-defining, and most likely to be ironed into a perfectly flat raid t-shirt by the people at Elitist Jerks in short order, after which every protection tank will wear the same t-shirt, and woe betide you in a PuG if you have creases down the arms of your talent T.

So what do talents provide? Well, they still provide sub-class defining abilities: each talent tree, while locking you in for the first thirty one points and not letting you dabble in other trees at all until then (this is a local talent tree, for local people), will provide some major ability that once would have been a mid-to-top tier talent in the old system. More importantly they provide a levelling incentive. With talent points having been switched to every odd level, it now means that Blizzard can smooth out the number of abilities they have to dish out each level. With the heavy pollarding of the talent tree all the juicy abilities look that much closer now, even though the player is receiving talents at a slower rate than before and will therefore technically receive major talents in the same level range as before. The spell book is much the same, with all abilities your character will earn being listed in each of the sub-class pages along with which level they will be gained at. The whole thing is geared towards tempting the player on and giving them further impetus to grab that next level and get a new ability; pull the lever, get a pellet.

Essentially then, it seems that talents have been transformed into a mini-spell book, in which you pick one path to define your character and then you follow that for specific abilities to help you in your precisely defined role. Interestingly, however, it appears that glyphs might be fast becoming the customisation option that talents once were – as much as you ever get to customise your character to your liking in a game that has more analysis and stringent regulations on How You Shall Do Things than the Great Firewall of China. With the fundamental changes to glyphs – once you learn a glyph it is permanently available to you, and glyphs can be changed easily through the use of cheaply vendor purchasable vanishing powder – it’s easy to customise your character in fairly useful ways without much expense or hassle. This seems most unBlizzardlike, however, and I expect vanishing powder to be changed to a rare raid drop costing 4000 gold on the AH and requiring a twenty seven part quest chain to be completed before it can be used, by the time the expansion is released. Admittedly the range and usefulness of glyphs varies wildly from class to class at the moment, with some classes having a wealth of options and others being rather limited in what they can make use of, especially when you factor in the narrowing of specialisation that each sub-class presents – there’s probably no point in using tanking glyphs on a Fury warrior, for example. However, the important point is that the glyph system is far more open to expansion than the old talent tree system, so where additions to the talent trees only came with major patches and expansions, new glyphs can be added to the Inscription profession without having to majorly rework part of a class’s levelling mechanic. I think it’s this flexibility-in-expansion that might see glyphs become the customisation option that players have always been hankering for since the first paladin tried to create a hybrid melee healer talent build and was laughed out of their raid. It’s certainly easier for Blizzard to experiment with glyphs than with talents from a mechanics standpoint, at least.

I would say that it’s a fun time at the moment to experiment with builds, Spinks has posted her protection warrior build of the moment, and although it differs from other builds that I’ve read about (and those builds differ from yet others) none of them are drastically changed from one another, it’s mostly personal opinion on one or two borderline talents, which may or may not be useful depending on your play style and situation. However, as Tam recently related, it’s not necessarily all fun and games trying to get people to understand how your new talents and abilities work in this brave new world, especially when that world doesn’t seem entirely sure what it wants you to do either. Eventually I imagine things will even out, the raiding scene will settle in to their usual work ethic, and talent specs will once again assume their traditional cookie-cutter form, but I hope that glyphs (with further tweaks and additions on Blizzard’s part) might still allow for some expression of individuality in an otherwise generic end-game of Tier <unsigned int> geared, cookie-cutter talented, Stepford Wipes. Wives, even.

The other night I tripped a nice continental drift divide.

Podcast evidence to the contrary, it didn’t actually take too much deliberation for me to subscribe to World of Warcraft again. I came to the opinion that if one has ever been invested in WoW at any point in time it would be a shame to miss out on the forthcoming cataclysm. The release of patch 4.0.1 was the catalyst for my return, and I was resolved to revisit my account and use my credit card to awaken it from its catatonic state. The next great WoW expansion is not due for another couple of months, but the forthcoming catastrophic world events are already being felt across the lands of Azeroth: the world trembling at its very foundation from time to time.

Two months may seem like a long time to have to wait before the actual release of the expansion, but when you consider that I need to apply numerous AddOn cataplasms to my UI before I am able to play happily, it seems like no time at all. I am a fool for UI twiddling, and with the expansiveness of WoW’s aftermarket AddOns being legendary, it is ripe for abuse by someone such as myself, a feedback catabolic: one who breaks down complex UI elements into simpler systems, and thus releases the energy otherwise used in fixed concentration to be diverted to more important areas, such as hat selection and the timing of fart emotes during boss fights. A catalogue of my AddOns would rival the indexes of the Ancient Library of Alexandria in scope, and as such I won’t bore you with them here.

In fact, that’s pretty much the extent of my return thus far, a small part of the inevitable migration of catadromous players who, having been living a quiet life in the fresh waters of other MMOs, now return to WoW’s oceanic population for a fresh orgy of spawning, with new life being breathed once more into Azeroth as players are catapulted into a world which is both familiar and unfamiliar. Thus far the changes have been pleasing in the main, with numerous systems in place to hold the hand of those who merely want to dabble in the game: the talent interface requires you to press a button to learn the talents you have selected, and gently reminds you that you have untrained talents if you close the window without doing so; the level-up experience is streamlined, with a message across the display telling you your new level and then announcing any new abilities or talent points you have earned, although a trip to the trainer is still required to gain them, something that Everquest II still does better, in my opinion.

That really was the extent of my experience so far. Having spent several days downloading patches overnight, then the odd hour here and there over another couple of days devoted to downloading AddOns and configuring them to my liking, and then further time setting up keyboard and gameboard key-binds, I’ve done little other than wander around on a couple of low level characters, trying to get a feel for what class I’d like to play when I roll my Worgen. I’m thinking of taking a step outside of my comfort zone, thanks in part to great experiences with my Warden in Lord of the Rings Online, and picking up a class that I don’t usually consider playing. In the meantime it’s a matter of picking an existing level eighty character and familiarising myself with the class so that I can enjoy the events leading up to the impending cataclysm.

There’s not that long to prepare; the earthquakes have already begun.

If the Prophets of Rem are to be believed, next it will be birds and snakes.

Followed by an aeroplane.

Then it’s the end of the world as we know it.

Not to be covetous, is money; not to be acquisitive, is revenue.

Last night, having passed through the tutorial turnstile at the entrance, I pushed my head through the heavy curtains draped across the doorway leading to Runes of Magic’s circus tent and peered around at the main show. Runes of Magic is definitely its own game, from the intriguing dual-class system to its pick’n’mix revenue model, there is enough here to make it stand out from the obvious point of comparison, the everyman’s point of comparison: World of Warcraft. Runes of Magic, and games like it, are always going to have a great deal of difficulty standing out against WoW, they are but small carnivals pitched on the borders of a vast amusement park, corporation concrete and polished chrome, whose rows of streamlined rides, safe but sterile, stretch all the way to the horizon.

As such, the smaller carnival games need to put on a grand display, to draw-in their customers, convince them to roll up, roll up and witness the wonders of their world, to see the bearded ladies and lizard men and midgets, to show them that lion tamers and trapeze artists can still hold sway and bring joy in this age of homogenous techno-marvels.

But it’s the danger that any entity risks when it becomes so large that it has difficulty defining its own boundaries: in presenting a clean, clinical, wart-free experience World of Warcraft risks losing any sense of character, with nothing to really challenge players the game becomes a processing facility, paying customers are injected at one end, and desensitised burnt-out husks are ejected at the other. I think Wrath of the Lich King came dangerously close to this with the relative trivialising of heroics and raiding; their error being, I believe, in confusing accessibility with difficulty. But Blizzard is in the process of renovating the amusement park, rejuvenating old rides to get people interested in them again as well attracting new customers, and at the same time they’re probably reviewing the layout of the park in a strange inverse reflection of the process that real life amusement parks go through. Disney World and the like are optimised to keep the flow of people moving between rides so that no one ride becomes overwhelmed, exits from rides will lead people to other rides or, more likely, shops where they can spend even more money with the park. World of Warcraft currently has this down to an art, and it turns out that it’s actually the wrong philosophy for a subscription-based MMO. What they need to be doing is keeping people on the same ride for as long as possible before sending them off to the next. As evidence, very few players come even close to getting the World Explorer achievement by the time they reach the end of the game because the streamlined system carries them on a rapid current that encourages them to not explore the banks of the river, but instead stay in the fast running waters, until the sudden and unexpected plunge over the waterfall of progress into the churning pool of raiding at its end.

For me the problem with Runes of Magic was that it tried so hard to pull me in that I found myself overwhelmed by the experience, and as a consequence it teetered on the edge of driving me away. I couldn’t help but compare my first levels in the game with those of WoW because the two games share similarities that have been pointed out by numerous other commentators already. Graphically and mechanically Runes of Magic is like looking at WoW through a hall of mirrors, everything is brighter, louder and more in your face, while being twisted into strange caricatures of the original. At best amusing, at worst confusing. It’s not that Runes of Magic is particularly difficult to get to grips with, it’s more like culture shock. Like a naive tourist from the West, comfortable with their cavernous shopping malls – those sanitised glass and tile cathedrals to the Gods of consumerism – visiting a heaving Arabian bazaar, totally unprepared for the personal, intimate, rustic, ritualistic orgy of acquisition. Neither shopping experience being right or wrong, you understand, just a matter of local culture or religion. Everything in Runes of Magic seemed to pull at me and attempt to barter for my attention. The system messages were perhaps the most stark, so long were they that they couldn’t simply be flashed up on your screen and then left in your chat log should you wish to review them again at your convenience, instead a scrolling stock-market-style ticker bar appears towards the top of the screen, and the full message is scrolled slowly along, thus giving the game time and space to present the hard sell for the item you ‘need’ to buy in the store to participate in the latest seasonal event.

In a way, what we are experiencing is The Cathedral and the Bazaar for MMO revenue streams, the Amusement Park and the Carnival, as it were.

The carnival is growing in popularity, and even the bigger developers such as Turbine are packing up their shows and taking them on the road, opening themselves up to a much wider audience that couldn’t otherwise have justified the expense of travelling to them. The show in the main tent is free to all, but doesn’t last long. You can go back as many times as you like, but it starts to get repetitive after a while. However you can experience the vast array of mad and magnificent side shows, for a price. The problem for the carnivals up until now is that they had to be brash, shout loudly, and flaunt young girls in their chainmail underwear, just to get the attention of the people taking their regular vacation to Warcraft World, and this can often be enough to put off those potential new customers, unaccustomed as they are to the in-your-face tactics of the ringmaster or bazaar shopkeeper. With Turbine moving into the arena things are perhaps set to change. They have an established name behind their travelling show, and they don’t need to be quite as brazen with their sales technique, it’s a more subtle sell than other games in the market, and although you should have no doubt that they are constantly trying to sell you things, a game like Lord of the Rings Online does not beat you around the head with it from the very moment you set foot in there. There’s a fine line to be trod when it comes to the pick’n’mix model of MMO revenue, convincing people to take in the main show and not driving them off is the first part of this, and it’s an area where I think games such as Runes of Magic struggle, but where established games that convert to this new revenue model can excel. The outcome of this is potentially a samurai-like double cut on Turbine’s part, where they introduce a large population of comfortable subscribers to the ideas of a pick’n’mix model, while at the same time introducing the pick’n’mixers to the idea that an accomplished top tier game can exist comfortably within their sphere of the MMO market, thus forcing other developers in the free to play market to raise their game.

Have I Got MMOnews For You

Slashdot reports on Panasonic’s sixteen-finger hair-washing robot:

“Panasonic has developed a hair-washing robot that uses 16 electronically controlled fingers to give a perfect wash and rinse. The robot, images of which were distributed by Panasonic, appears to be about the size of a washing machine. Users sit in a reclining chair and lean back to place their head in the machine’s open top. Two robot arms guide the 16 fingers, which have the same dexterity as human fingers, the company claims.”

The rumour that when a keyboard was placed in the open top the unmodified machine put out 5.5k DPS in most World of Warcraft raid dungeons is unfounded at this time. Observers did admit that the rinse cycle meant that the keys were surprisingly free from the usual residual levels of Cheetos, Mountain Dew and omnifarious bodily fluids, however.

To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization, and at present very few people have reached this level.

Age of Conan has a bonus levelling system where you earn levels while your account has an active subscription. This pool of levels can then be spent on any character over level thirty to increase their overall level. You accrue levels at a rate which is comparative to the amount of time you would have otherwise had to spend actually levelling the character, and, as mentioned, it can also only be applied to a character that has already reached level thirty, something which doesn’t take a huge amount of time but is a suitable barrier to people rolling up a level one character and then boosting it up to the end game without any experience of the class whatsoever.

I was indifferent to this scheme, where some bloggers and forumites had railed against it I couldn’t see the problem; other players using it wouldn’t affect my game in any way – by the time it was released there were already enough level-capped characters to mean that the PvP game would be unaffected – and if I chose to skip content and get to the end game it was exactly that: my choice.

Now I’m actually starting to see that it could be quite a good thing in a mature game where players have already reached the level cap, perhaps multiple times. I’m currently in the middle of an alt dilemma in LotRO, having three characters that I really want to play but finding myself having a hard time playing any one of them, knowing that if I play one of them then that is time that I’m not playing the other two. Playing alt roulette and investing small amounts of time in each character is not an option either as I will be constantly repeating the same content (since they’re all close in level) and thus the sense of character progress – one of the primary factors for playing MMOs in the first place – will be greatly diminished, to the point where it’s very easy to burn out.

I’m also seeing quite a few posts amongst World of Warcraft blogs concerning people taking the time to level alts in the pre-Cataclysm lull, but with their hearts not really being in it and a vast majority of them discussing whether the levelling game in WoW is really relevant any more, and even worse, pondering whether they want to bother with the levelling game in Cataclysm, something that I would imagine Blizzard is banking on players wanting to do in order to keep subscription numbers ticking over while they get on with implementing the level eighty five end-game properly (you’re not expecting a comprehensive end-game on release, are you? Really?).

Would a levelling pool such as the one Age of Conan has implemented benefit World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online veterans? If you could spend the first thirty levels getting the hang of the basics of a class, making sure it suits you, and then spend levels to skip to the end game, would you? For me, I like the journey as much as the end game, if not more, but sometimes I just want to skip to the end. If I had a limited pool of levels to use then the choice would need to be made with some consideration and not just on a wanton whim; tie those levels in to an active subscription as Age of Conan does and you have a rudimentary system of offline levelling akin (on a basic level) to EVE’s skill system which rewards veterans who have kept their subscription active. Would that be a bad thing? The system is much more finite than EVE’s incredibly expansive skill system, and so the idea of simply “playing offline” to level shouldn’t be a problem, after all, once you’ve hit the level cap you’ve not a lot of options other than to start playing or quit. It shouldn’t affect skill too much either: as many WoW raiders bemoan, most players reach the end game at the moment without having much group experience at all, and the end game in many of the current crop of MMOs seems to be where people start to actually learn their class with respect to team play. If nothing else it can be used as a method to smooth over the levelling run where it becomes too steep, allowing you to nudge your character through the pain barrier and give yourself a second wind before the lactic acid of the grind causes your MMO muscles to burn out; rather than driving players away, it could help keep players in the game where they otherwise might have burnt out and left. Certainly there will be that group of players who blow their entire pool of levels on boosting arbitrary abandoned alts to the level cap, still finding themselves bored and quitting, but I put it to you that these people would have quit anyway and would not represent the norm or majority.

The levelling game of mature MMOs is often seen as nothing more than a one or two month subscription extension before the real game starts for its loyal player base, many of whom already have characters at the level cap. Perhaps it’s worth rewarding those players by giving them a little freedom and choice in which characters they play and how.

Freedom and choice in an MMO? I must be new around here.