Sunday, December 14, 2014

Should Team Games Prevent Trash Talk?

These days, most competitive team games don't allow you to talk to the opposing team. Instead, you can really only communicate with your own team. The idea here is to prevent trash talk and make the game more civil.

But has this strategy really worked?

Sure, it has cut down on cross-team incivility, but sometimes it feels like that was replaced by incivility from fellow team members.

I think it feels a lot worse when people on your own team are berating you. There's a sense of betrayal when that happens. If the trash talk was coming from the other team, well, they're the enemy.

In fact, it might even be more helpful for team cohesiveness to be verbally attacked by the opposing team. It would strengthen the sense of "us versus them", instead of the enemy being faceless, robot-like opponents.

Obviously, the best case scenario would be for there to be no uncivil behavior at all. But from our common experience of random groups in online competitive play, that seems like an unrealistic fantasy. Given a choice between being taunted by the opposing team or being berated by a fellow teammate, I'd rather take the taunting.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Shadow of Revan

This post may contain spoilers for Shadow of Revan. I will try to avoid major ones though.

The Old Republic launched it's latest expansion, Shadow of Revan, last week. I've gone through the main story on my Imperial Agent. The servers were a little rocky and buggy, but overall the mechanical experience was decent. I did like the single player flashpoints that were part of the leveling experience.

However, the story was terrible.

First, the basic plot felt like something from the low level planets. Infiltrate a pirate gang, make nice with some natives. Really? The player is a Dark Council member, the Emperor's Wrath, the ghost of Intelligence, the Warden of the Jedi Order. And we're doing random pirate shenanigans? Then the standard "track down the big bad and kill him before he unleashes his superweapon" story to finish things.

It felt like a Chapter One story, not a Chapter Five.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that all the consequences are off-screen. In theory, Revan's plot has bad effects. In practice, they're happening somewhere out in space, while you are wandering around a paradise.

Compare to Makeb where the Imps are stealing valuable material from the Hutts, who are worthy villains. Then stabilizing and saving an entire planet. Meanwhile the consequences of not saving the planet are being visually demonstrated as the planet starts shaking apart with the ground quakes.

As well, every conversation in Shadow of Revan felt off to me. It was like they were each missing one or two lines, and overly abbreviated. The lines themselves were terribly cliche, especially anything Theron Shan said. To be honest, Darth Marr was the only character to redeem himself. I just don't think the dialogue was up to Bioware's previous standards.

The ending, while in theory should be exciting, didn't make much sense. The main villain was hoping for Event X to occur, and he has a plan to deal with it. Event X occurs anyways. The main villain does not execute his plan for Event X for no real reason that I could see.

Overall, I would hope that Shadow of Revan is an aberration for the TOR team, and that their future efforts return to their previous standards.

But then again, maybe the fate of F2P games is a spiral downwards as quality and effort slowly bleeds from real content to the fluff that people spend Cartel Coins on.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

10th Anniversary Molten Core

I ran the new version of Molten Core the other day. It was a lot of fun and rather nostalgic.

It was pretty funny how similar it was to MC back in the day. Herding 40 people, with about 20 being competent and carrying the rest. Wiping on trash. Pulling trash and bosses at the same time. Begging the mages to remove curses.

Our first wipe happened because we pulled 2 corehound packs together, and the got caught in an eternal resurrection cycle. Otherwise it wasn't too bad, I don't think there was any more outright wipes, though there were a lot of deaths.

The bosses were fairly easy, probably easier than the trash. It was good to see Ragnaros again. Plus you get a helm and a mount.

All in all, the new Molten Core was a fun experience. It's worth gettting to i615 and trying it out before Blizzard removes it.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Nagrand, Initial Dungeons

Nagrand

So the triumphant conclusion to the Alliance storyline was a cutscene featuring two orcs duking it out. Outstanding, Blizzard.

Aside from that Nagrand was a pretty good zone. Lots of varied quests. I'm not so sure that having several final bosses run away with "See you in Highmaul" was the best of ideas. But it does tie the first raid to the zone.

Initial Dungeons

I did Silver Proving Grounds and my first heroic dungeon. It was the Grim Depot with the railway. A clever dungeon design, really.

However, something just feels wrong with WoW's small group content. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but it hasn't felt right for a couple of expansions now.

I think it has to do with how the exact makeup of the trash doesn't matter anymore. It feels like every trash pack is the same--even if they are made up of different mobs--and is dealt with the same tactics.

Also, as a healer, it feels like I am lacking in control. Which is an odd thing to say, because healers never really controlled anything. But I can't really describe it any better than that.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Level 100, Spires of Arak

Level 100

I finally reached level 100 with Coriel. I also upgraded my garrison to level 3, though it took all my gold. I haven't touched the max level dungeons yet. My plan is to finish questing in Nagrand and then see what I want to do.

I did do the Bronze Proving Ground for healing to get a decent healing weapon. It was fairly easy. I haven't tried Silver yet.  I did also craft my first i640 epic: a healing ring. The secondary stats are terrible, but whatever. I'll fix it after I craft the i640 necklace.

Spires of Arak

I liked this zone a fair bit. It did seem like a little bit of a side-trip, focusing on the Arrakoa instead of the Iron Horde. But I liked the mythology behind the Arrakoa gods, and also the legend of Terrok. As well, the followers of the Raven Mother were hilarious.

I disliked the goblin quests, but that's because I dislike WoW's whole take on goblins that appeared in Cataclysm. It's too anachronistic for my tastes. Gnomes are kind of similar, but they lean more to the steampunk vibe instead of modern corporatism.

I'm also not super-thrilled at what they did with Admiral Taylor. It feels like Blizzard saw the various complaints that Nazgrim was killed while Taylor was left alive, so they decided to balance it in the most ham-handed manner possible. At least Nazgrim got a good death, and sparked a fair bit of discussion and debate. Meanwhile Taylor gets killed off-screen by some random warlock. (And then becomes a ghost follower? Really?)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Cutscenes and Characters

I'm currently playing three story-based MMOs: WoW, SWTOR, and FFXIV. I've noticed one major difference between WoW and the two other games. In WoW, a lot of the time the NPCs dominate or overshadow the player in the story.  Take the intro to Warlords of Draenor, or as I like to call it, the Khadgar Show.

There is no real equivalent to anything like that in TOR or FFXIV. WoW wasn't always be like this, too. The NPCs really only came into prominence in Wrath and later expansions.

My theory is that it has to do with how each game handles cutscenes. In TOR and FFXIV, cutscenes are done within the game engine, and the player character is always in the scene. That allows TOR and FFXIV to make the player character the focus of the cutscene. Even in FFXIV, when two NPCs are talking to each other, the camera often cuts to the player character to get a reaction shot.

Doing this ensures that the player character is the center of storyline [1], and is not overshadowed by NPCs.

In WoW, though, the player character is not in the cutscenes. I'm not sure if this a deliberate choice, a limitation of the engine, or because the cutscenes are pre-rendered. But because the player character is not in the cutscene, an NPC must become the focal point. Thus all the final, pivotal moments in WoW are rapidly becoming the province of NPCs. Tirion and Arthas. Thrall and the Dragon Aspects at the end of Dragon Soul. Vol'jin and Varian at Ogrimmar. Compare that to endings of the class stories in TOR.

To be honest, I find WoW's practice here dissatisfying.

In some ways, I think Blizzard learned the wrong lesson from the Wrathgate. That was the first major use of an in-game cutscene. Despite the player not being in the cutscene, it was a huge success. But I think the Wrathgate was an exception to the general rule. The Wrathgate was a tragedy, and as such the player's role was witness, not participant. That is what made that cutscene work.

But in every other event after that, the player is a central participant, and should have equal billing with the NPCs. Instead the cutscenes, and then the game lore, diminishes the player's role.

This didn't happen in Vanilla and TBC, mostly because there were no cutscenes and everything was done in game. Take The Great Masquerade, for instance. If that event had been implemented in modern WoW, I think it would have been a cutscene focusing on Bolvar and Windsor. The player would be "offscreen". Because that option wasn't available, it was implemented in game, and the player was just as much a part of the event as the NPCs.

1. Well, maybe not in FFXIV's Hildibrand questlines. There the player's role is not so much main character as it is horrified spectator.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Talador, Leveling Dungeons, Tarren Mill vs Southshore

Talador

A welcome return to form after Gorgorond. This was a solid zone with some interesting quests and lore. It was very nice to see the contrast between WoD and TBC here. I'm up to level 98 now.

Heh, about a year ago I asked what happened to the Alliance paladins? It seemed to me that the Alliance story had lost a lot of its identity when the major paladins dropped out of sight during Wrath. This expansion we got a new Alliance paladin in Yrel, and the story picks back up. Coincidence? I think not.

Leveling Dungeons

I've done the first three leveling dungeons as Holy. They're okay. Short, quick dungeons with reasonably interesting bosses.

However, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that--as a healer--I strongly dislike active mitigation. My job is to keep the tank up, and active mitigation makes healing a weaker (lower-skill) tank a much harder job than it really should be. All three tanks seemed very squishy to me, and I had to chain cooldowns constantly to keep them up.

You could tell it was playstyle, because after a wipe the tank suddenly becomes much easier to heal. Why they didn't play like that in the first place, or why they are chain-pulling like crazy, I don't know. It's incredibly annoying to see a tank's health falling rapidly and to know it's because the tank is playing improperly rather than anything I'm doing.

Honestly, I think Blizz is cruising for a Cataclysm-style unhappiness effect, at least from the healer perspective. The environment doesn't have the one-shots of Cataclysm, but I think healing will turn out to be unreasonably hard for random groups, and will need to be buffed. How they're going to do that without damaging the balance of pre-made groups will be interesting.

Tarren Mill vs Southshore

This is a temporary battleground for the 10th Anniversary. I've played it twice, and I think it's a lot of fun. It's very simple, just a straightforward zerg between the two towns. No unique mechanics to learn, which is very refreshing. I've won once, and lost once. The loss was very close, about 5 points.

The first time I played as Retribution, because I didn't realize you can't switch specs inside the battleground. Melee is at a bit of a disadvantage in these types of zergs, but I tried to pick off stragglers and run in, do some damage and throw a stun, and run and back out. The second time I healed.

I really like the catch-up mechanic. You start as a Private when you respawn, and every 10 kills you rank up and get a tiny buff to damage and healing. However, killing high ranked players nets you more points. The team in the lead usually has more higher-ranked players. This makes it easier for the team behind to catch up to them. It's an elegant, natural system. It's also a very nice nod to the old PvP ranks from Vanilla.