Monday, May 02, 2016

Yet Another Look At Garrisons

With all the various controversies in WoW over the last couple weeks, I decided to play it again for a little bit. My plan is to at least finish the Legendary ring on my character in preparation for Legion.

I mixed up my playing style a bit, and came to an interesting realization: Garrisons are really enjoyable as "winding down" content.

Basically, you log in and do whatever your main goal is. Join a raid, do a heroic dungeon, hit up Tanaan, whatever. You defer the Garrison stuff to the end of the play session. After you're done your main content and are thinking about logging out, you spend the last 5 or 10 minutes taking care of your Garrison.

I find this works really well. Garrisons don't take much effort, and there's a nice sense of tidying up before you log. It's perfect for the end of a play session. You log out while seeing your followers off on their adventures. As well, being at the end, I find myself more willing to ignore the parts of the garrison which are completely unnecessary. Like the herb garden, since I have no need for herbs.

A player named Torvald had an excellent post where he postulated that doing garrison stuff up front drains a player's "stamina" and enthusiasm for other content. I find that simply moving the garrison to the end of the play session eliminates that entirely. Maybe it still drains your stamina, but you were planning to log off anyways.

There are a couple problems with this style of play though. First, it's sub-optimal. Since missions are timed, you lose out on the time during your play session. Second, it requires you to defer some easy gratification, some easy rewards. And as we all know from various experiments involving children and marshmallows, deferred gratification is not an easy thing.

The thing, though, is that incentivizing the player to do the garrison stuff at the end seems very hard. They could remove some of the time pressure by making missions based on days, rather than timed, where they all finish at the same time at night.

But you're still faced with the deferred gratification problem. The marshmallow dangling in front of your face when you first log in. You can't put a timer on it, because the player might be logging in quickly just to do garrison tasks.

The only idea I had was that while your followers are hanging around your garrison, they give you a stacking buff which increases gold, xp, and valor gained by 1-2% per follower, up to 50% when you have a full complement of 25. That way you want to delay sending your followers on missions while you are doing content, but you're perfectly happy to send them off while you are logged off.

In conclusion, I think that garrisons are much more enjoyable when moved to the end of a play session. But I think actually nudging players into that playstyle will be hard sell.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Overwatch Open Beta Tips From a Bad Player

The Overwatch open beta starts this week. Early access is May 2 if you pre-ordered, and it fully opens up a couple of days later.

Overwatch is an amazingly fun game, and I'm a terrible FPS player. I wasn't in Closed Beta, but I was in the stress tests. So here are some tips from someone who is probably worse than you are.

1. Don't be afraid to solo queue.

Obviously, if you have friends, queue with them. But the solo queue is surprisingly balanced. It seems to quickly find your skill level. As well, matches aren't independent of each other. The players from the last match will be the same players in the next match. Only the teams are shuffled. So maybe there was an awesome enemy Pharah last game that kept killing you. This game, you might end up on the same team as her. This goes a long way to keeping the matches even and popping quickly.

2. Don't bother with AI games.

Maybe play one match to get the hang of things, but I would recommend jumping directly into matches with other players. Playing against the AI just isn't the same as playing against humans. If you want to figure out a hero's abilities, use the training room to see how they work, but then fling yourself against other players.

3. Try to focus on one hero from each category.

There are four categories of heroes: Offensive, Defensive, Tanks, and Support. You generally want a mixed squad, so if you're capable of playing at least one hero of each type, you can fill in for any missing element. Also, tanks and support can be a little more newbie-friendly as they are less reliant on aim and are often a little less fragile than the others.

4. Don't switch heroes too much.

You can switch heroes every time you die, but I recommend playing the entire match as the same hero, at least at the start. They do take some time to get used to, so they might feel frustrating at first until they click for you.

5. Stick with your team.

If you're all alone, it's better to retreat for a few seconds and meet up with the rest of your team, rather than throwing yourself at the enemy. Also remember that the game is about objectives, not a death-match, so emphasize pushing the objective.

6. Use ultimates aggressively.

Ultimate abilities charge quite quickly, so don't hesitate on using them. You have to fail with them a few times to figure out how to use them best.

7. The Kill Cam is your best teacher.

Whenever you die (and you will die a lot) a kill cam will come up showing your death from the opponent's point of view. This is the best way to learn. You can see what you did wrong, and see what your opponent did right.

I think Overwatch is an amazing game, and I strongly recommend that you all try it out. There are lots of different heroes with different playstyles, so I'm sure you'll find at least a couple you enjoy.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The MMO That Abandoned Raiding

My SWTOR raid group called it quits tonight. A bit sad, because we had a good run of about three years or so. I think we were all getting a little burned out. But it also has sunk in that SWTOR has given up on raiding. It has been about 16 months since the last operation was released, and looks very unlikely that any future operations will ever be made.

Back in the first few years of WoW, there was a huge debate between raiders and casuals. Casuals pointed out that raiders were a small minority of the player base, and that the devs spent too many resources on them. Raiders felt that they were the dedicated players, who made guilds and a community, made an MMO an MMO as it were.

WoW, and FFXIV to lesser extent, followed the path of trying to make raiding more accessible to the broader player base. It's perhaps not quite as successful as people would like, but that path has preserved group content.

With the release of the Knights of the Fallen Empire, SWTOR has gone in the opposite direction. All new content has been aimed at the solo player. The main story content does not work well with groups, even duos. The new side content is again mostly aimed at solos or duos.

SWTOR did re-tune a lot of the existing group content for KotFE, but did not create any new group content.

I'm not saying this is the wrong decision. Focusing on single-player content might be the right call for SWTOR. Maybe the casuals were right all along, and the raiders are superfluous. Maybe the number of people who want group content is not enough to justify the cost of creating it.

It is a bit of a pity, as Bioware did make good operations and flashpoints back in the day. I especially liked all the puzzle bosses.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Vanilla Servers, Part II

A lot of replies to the last post felt that I do not understand what attracts people to the idea of vanilla WoW servers. I, of course, disagree with that.

People who clamor for vanilla servers generally want two things:
  1. Vanilla content - the quests, zones, and classes that existed at that time.
  2. Vanilla "feel" - a return to an era where server community was important, where guild and reputation mattered, where the difficulty was slightly higher and required groups to interact more.
Of these two, I think getting the first one is extraordinarily unlikely. Blizzard would essentially be launching and maintaining a completely separate game. I think that the risk is too high. So given that this is basically not going to happen, I don't see much point in expending energy over it.

The second item, however, I believe might be possible. It would be a variant on the current game, and would be a lot easier to maintain. Fixes for the current game would hit both server types. It might even be good for the game by segregating the audience a little bit. The people who insist on increased challenge would have a home.

Of course, even maintaining server variants is more effort. There's already two variants in PvP/PvE. Another orthogonal variant makes four possibilities. But I think it's still less risky and less effort than a full vanilla server.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

WoW Legends Server Idea

I think opening an actual Vanilla WoW server, with Vanilla quests, classes, talent trees, and other systems would be way too much work for too little reward.

However, I do think that, for a reasonably small amount of effort, Blizzard could make a version of the current game that reasonably approximated the original experience. I'll call such a server a "Legends" server.

A Legends server would have:
  • A constant Legends debuff which reduced health, damage done, healing done, and XP gained by about 50%.
  • Looking For Group/Raid disabled
  • Heirlooms disabled
  • No server transfers
  • No cross-realm zones
  • Battlegrounds/Arena disabled
  • One character per account per server
  • Pet Battle Queue disabled
  • No Starter Edition accounts
  • No Death Knights / Demon Hunters, classes which start at a higher level
  • Black Market Auction disabled
I think that would be enough to create a Vanilla-like experience. You'd still have the same quests, classes and talents as the regular game. But a lot of the elements which Vanilla champions say hurt communities would be disabled. I also think that the amount of work required to create such a server would be relatively low.

You'll note that the one thing I did not add was a level cap of 60, or disabling access to expansions. I think that will be very buggy, and end up eating a lot of QA and bugfixing resources. It would also require class design to be tuned for a cap of 60. Raids at 60 would have be tuned again. As well, there is gear from the expansions available at 60 that outstrips raid gear, and trying to keep that gear out of the hands of capped 60s might be a lot of work.

I think trying for a lower cap is simply unfeasible. Better to simply have the same game as the regular servers, just with some added restrictions. The Legends debuff could be reduced at the real maximum level too, if that turns out to be an issue.

I think a compromise like this could worthwhile for Blizzard to experiment with. Personally, I think a lot of people would roll on the server, but most would soon go back to the regular game.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Vanilla Servers and Paladins

Vanilla Servers

I gather there was a little tempest over one of the Vanilla WoW pirate servers. So much so that people are calling for Blizzard to officially support Vanilla servers. Personally, I think the demand for Vanilla servers is overrated. I think that if Blizzard opened one, a lot of people would join, and then the vast majority would quit within three months.

Not to mention that it would be a pretty expensive undertaking. Unlike pirate hobby servers, Blizzard has to pay the people working on their Vanilla servers. People are expensive.

Maybe I'm a little cynical about gamers, but if there is this pent-up demand for a Vanilla-like experience, why don't people go and play one of the current MMOs that offer a similar experience? Games like RIFT or EQ2 or FFXIV? I'm sure the potential audience will always  have a reason why the option you have to pay for is not good enough.

The Vanilla Paladin

Azuriel has declared that a lot of the Vanilla and TBC design was garbage. That may be so, but he has singled out the paladin class as an example. Thus I am forced to defend it.

The vanilla Paladin was not badly designed. Rather, it was designed for a game that soon became obsolete. The paladin was designed for 5-man groups, where the make up was [tank, healer,  2x dps, paladin]. The paladin would back up the tank and healer at the same time.

That's why the vanilla Paladin appears to be so passive. Its combat is very passive. But that's so you could run up to a mob, Judge, Seal and then focus on your group. You'd throw out heals, cleanses, and Blessings as appropriate. The UI was designed for this, so that you could throw spells on groupmates without losing your main target, even without mouseovers. You could tank one mob, or small adds, when the warrior took the rest of the group.

Shamans were the opposite. Shaman support was passive, through totems mainly, but their damage was active. Paladins had active support, but passive damage.

The thing is that this system does not scale into raids. [3x tanks, 3x healers] is stronger than [2x tanks, 2x healers, 2x paladins]. And obviously solo play is fairly boring. Though honestly, I kind of liked it. It was very steady and relentless.

But the Vanilla paladin in 5-man groups is still my favorite MMO playstyle, across all the MMOs I've tried.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

FFXIV Beast Tribes

Lately I've been working on the Beast Tribe quests in FFXIV.

The Beast tribes are an interesting part of FFXIV. They're sort-of monstrous, but generally the "civilized" people of Eorzea have been pushing into their territory, in some cases outright violating treaties. In response, the beast tribes summoned their gods as Primals. But exposure to Primals "tempers' a normal being, brainwashing them into slaves of the Primal. The beast tribe quests are handed out by a splintered faction of the tribe, who have avoided being tempered, and need your help to defeat or survive the remainder of their tribe.

It's an interesting dynamic, combined with the very different personalities of each tribe. For example, the Amalj'aa are a warrior tribe revering strength, the slyphs are playful and like to play tricks, the Vath are a breakaway sect of an insect hive mind who are now just discovering individuality.

So far, I've finished the Amalj'aa and Vanu Vanu stories. The Amalj'aa was a typical story of gaining strength to take revenge. The Vanu Vanu was ... kind of weird, really. It ended in an epic dance-off.

Here's a video of the ending from YouTube:


Mechanically, the Beast tribe quests are kind of like faction dailies in WoW. It's aimed at the solo player, and you earn reputation with the tribe. As your reputation increases more of the story is unlocked, as are new quests. Rewards-wise, you earn a little bit of endgame currency, pets, and a mount at max level. The beast tribe quests are also a way to progress on the Relic weapon quest.

The big mechanical difference between WoW's factions and the FFXIV beast tribes is that FFXIV has a very low daily cap on quests. You can do a maximum of 12 dailies each day. The tribes effectively only offer 3 quests per day (the original tribes offer more, but only 3 that give max rewards).

I actually like this low cap a lot. It's pretty easy to finish your dailies in about 30 minutes. If you can play for longer, you can then do a dungeon or whatever. But if you only have half an hour to play, you can still feel like you got everything done. Beast tribes are aimed at the solo, casual player, and they feel like they hit the perfect spot for that audience.