This extended maintenance has given me a chance to go through some of my link backlog on del.icio.us. While shifting through the links, I realized that I never checked out the galleries of Samwise & TwinCruiser on Sons of the Storm. I even found a bigger version of the gnome warrior I talked about earlier.
The Times has an article about virtual sweatshops, as they call goldfarming operations. Nothing new there. But they are also mentioning "virtual muggings", where someone's account is stolen via a keylogger, his gear and items sold and profits mailed to the goldfarmers.
Apparently, Blizzard has completely turned the current riding skill around. Learning to ride normal mounts now costs 90 gold, and learning to ride epic mounts costs 900 gold. Conversely, a normal mount costs only 10 gold, while epic mounts cost 100 gold. While this will practically have no effect on people who are just buying their first mounts, it will make having multiple mounts much easier. Because the riding skill is shared between all of your faction mounts, getting a different racial mount will be much cheaper. All you need is Exalted reputation and 100 gold per mount, not 1020 gold per mount (riding skill 20g, mount 1000g). However, the mounts are now bind-on-pickup, so you can't ask your friend with both the PvP and reputation discounts to buy the mount for you.
Update: Blizzard has now confirmed several times that the net effect will be the one that I described above. In addition, there will be a seamless transition for characters who already have mounts. Warlocks and Paladins will receive their appropiate riding skill when they finish their respective mount quests. AV and PvP mounts are a bit different, though. PvP mounts will only require the apprentice riding skill, despite being as fast as epic mounts. Alterac Valley mounts will require the journeyman skill. However, players who own either a PvP mount or an AV mount will receive the journeyman skill. All in all, it seems that this change should not cause any concerns for players that already have their mounts, and will help players who wish to own more mounts.
Relmstein is having some problems with one of my favourite bosses, Jin'do the Hexxer. He's got some of the tactics required right, but there's a few tidbits his guild hasn't noticed yet.
First of all, a feral druid tank. Bears can't get mind controlled. Secondly, DoTs are very effective on shades. They continue to tick even when the curse expires. Multishot and Chain Lightning also work. Finally, I think that they are not switching targets fast enough. Anyone who has the curse on him should DPS shades. If there's no shades in sight, then healing totems should go down ASAP. Then mind control totems. And only if there's nothing else to DPS, then the raid should DPS Jin'do. Thanks to the healing totem, you can't slack off even at 1%, because he'll quickly heal himself.
And to those who are wondering why I'm posting it here, the answer is simple. I have a Blogger Beta account, and those accounts can't currently post comments on normal Blogger blogs.
The Defias Messenger got new information on upcoming mage changes on the Burning Crusade. Apparently the Water Elemental is not on a timer, and won't despawn on his own. It's not intended as a tank, but as a source of extra ranged DPS. This makes the reagent cost much more tolerable. Ice Lance is currently underperforming, and will probably be changed as well. Invisibility will wipe aggro, but the post doesn't say whether it can be used on raid bosses.
Apparently there have been some.. differences in opinion at WoW Radio. KikiJiki, the former guild leader of Violent Noise and co-host of EPIC is leaving:
Just a small post to let any fans that I do have that [EPIC] shall not be airing again with it's original hosts. It's been made clear to me that the station doesn't want my input so I'm off.
There's no reply from TotalBiscuit yet, so I'm hedging my bets and waiting what he has to say.
TotalBiscuit has replied. Nothing on the reasons of the departure, but apparently if there is going to be a new show, it won't be called EPIC. He will tell more on Saturday.
He filled me in on de news of de world. De Strand was movin', and mutual threats were once again on de verge of bein' forgotten. To fix dis, he had a plan dat required my cooperation. An overly optimistic plan, ya. But perhaps a leetle charade would prove useful in odder ways.. I agreed.
Bot hitlists are once again a hot topic on Defias Brotherhood. And as always, I'm two minds about it. On one hand, interfering with bots can put a damper on their income. On the other hand, it's easy to slip into vigilantism and griefing of innocent players. In any case, there is a better place for bot sightings.
Defias Brotherhood, the server I play on, is almost 1 year old. To celebrate it, there are several World PvP events planned, ranging from normal town raids to capital city assaults. All of it is roleplayed, of course.
Tempers are flaring due to renewed fighting in Silithus and the Plaguelands. Old hatreds fester beneath the calm surface. Agents of chaos will try to assassinate a well-known and respected voice of peace. The resulting blame game will send both sides into a frenzy. Retaliation after retaliation fans the flames of war, driving all towards the brink of destruction. Meanwhile, guilds and individuals on both sides are trying to find the real perpetrators before all hope of peace is lost. And hope that there is still someone alive on the other side to talk to.
And of course, I won't be able to attend any of this.
Jennie Lees of WoW Insider recently talked about hardcore raiding. I've been doing endgame raids for a few months now. I first started raiding in a roleplaying guild that was part of a raiding alliance, then moved to a mixed RP/PvP/PvE guild, and then moved into a PvE guild. I'll probably qualify as a casual raider. My current guild raids 5 days a week. 3 days on 40-mans (mostly BWL) and 2 days on 20-mans (Zul'Gurub, Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj and Onyxia).
Looking back at all that, raiding was most stressing in the beginning. Raid encounters have less room for error, and coordinating 20 or 40 people is a challenge in itself. We started in Zul'Gurub and eventually proceeded up to Hakkar. In the beginning, the most difficult thing to understand was cause-and-effect on bosses. Once you saw all their attacks in action and wiped due to them, the tactics started to be obvious. But that took a lot of wiping and a lot of bitter moments acknowledging that a certain boss wouldn't go down that night.
At the same time, I got my introduction in the so-called purple fever and the drama it can cause on guilds. Especially on bosses that you can down only rarely, seeing that once piece of loot you want drop can induce the "me me me"-syndrome in the best of people. If you don't know when you'll get another chance, you'll want to make the most of the chance you have now.
With the second guild, I got a taste of an another frustration in raiding: Not being able to kill a boss solely because of bad class balance or poor attendance. On day 2 in the new guild, half of the members left and founded a new guild. They were killing Majordomo Executus when I joined, and couldn't even get a Zul'Gurub group up at the worst.
So, on to guild number three. Jackpot. A casual guild that was close to killing Ragnaros when I joined. While being able to breeze through those encounters that were a headache before was certainly a bonus, the best thing was the atmosphere. Raids were not all-serious, nor required intense blame games after wipes. They were places to joke around and chat while getting nice loot.
In my opinion, there were two major reasons contributing to the atmosphere. First of all, it was a PvE guild, pure and simple. Everyone knew that PvE was why everyone was there for. Raids were not a distraction or something you did to keep existing members. It was the primary purpose of the guild, so people actually did prepare for raids. People did read tactics and discuss about what they needed to do. People who didn't know some details, were instructed without judging. People prepared their gear and consumables. And when the fight started, everyone was focused. Knowing that people next to you were doing their best was very reassuring.
The second major contributing factor was the loot system. Unlike the DKP system we used on the other guilds, this one uses a loot council. Because the councilors do reward sportsmanship, good attitude and generousity in addition to the usual metrics, boss kills ceased to be bloody fights about loot. Allowing someone else to get loot meant that you had better chances of getting loot later.
Sure, we wipe. Sure, sometimes tempers do flare afterwards. But day-to-day raiding is mostly hassle-free. We go in, have fun and kill bosses and get nice loot while doing it. We do focus just enough to take farmable bosses down. We're the kind of people who run to Garr's adds to get a free flight across the room. We have healers that moonfire Mandokir down. Our rogues tank Vaelastraz if the tanks are down. Our warlocks tank Onyxia. But we do have full focus on progress raids. We might not be the fastest guild progressing in endgame, but we do have loads of fun on the way.
Burning Crusade models have been dug out from the Alpha with the WoW Model Viewer. Some of them are untextured, but look quite interesting nevertheless. For example, the Naaru do look the same as they did in the early pictures. Apparently being an energy being gives you some liberties when it comes to body shapes.
Have you ever felt that no matter you do, nothing changes? How many times have the town criers proclaimed victory against some for or another, only to do so again tomorrow? Congratulations, you have figured out that you have been living the groundhog day.
In World of Warcraft, the world is static. Anything you kill will be back sooner or later, even players. Why? Because a dynamic world would need an army of content developers and gamemasters to maintain. Let's deal with PvE first, because it's easier.
The current method allows the content to be re-used. Let's say that we start with a new server, and everyone starts at level 1. Eventually people are going to level up enough to clear the Deadmines and kill Edwin Van Cleef. Now what? Since he's dead, nobody else can kill him. The content designers will have to design something else for players to do. Now imagine that you have a few hundred other servers full of players as well. Even if you had an army of developers and gamemasters inventing new quests, you still wouldn't have enough. You'd always have more customers than staff.
The sad truth is that content is consumed faster than it's created. This is even clearer when dealing with endgame content. Let's look at Naxxramas, for example. It had been under production for months, maybe even years. Only bugs are holding the leading guilds back from completing it. Static PvE content is all about reusability. Players that have just recently started playing World of Warcraft have a huge amount of content for them to explore. Even players who have played WoW from the beginning still can enjoy a nice instance run or a guild raid. And if they start a new character, they have as much content as a newbie at their disposal. If they have played on just one faction, they have almost half of the game's content still unexplored.
PvP content is a bit trickier. A common complaint about PvP in World of Warcraft is that it doesn't change a thing. No matter how overwhelming you are in Warsong Gulch, Arathi Basin or Alterac Valley, the next match is basically the same as previous one. The effect is even more apparent in World PvP, especially town raiding. Any guards you kill will be back in a few minutes. Even faction leaders will respawn in few hours. Even the skeletons disappear in a day.
But what would dynamic World PvP look like? We now have a glimpse of it in the form of Eastern Plaguelands towers. These can be captured, and the faction controlling them receive zonewide buffs. So far, so good. The buff's effect is minor enough not to unbalance the factions. No important NPCs are near the towers, so PvE content is not disrupted. The frequent killing of NPCs and the resulting impact on opposite faction PvE was the reason why dishonorable kills were implemented in the first place.
Those who were playing World of Warcraft at the time the honor system was introduced probably remember the Tarren Mill battles. While Blizzard did design the Hillsbrad Foothills as a hotspot, I doubt they anticipated the effect the introduction of the honor system had. Because Alliance had the majority on many servers, the Forsaken town of Tarren Mill was frequently sieged and all inhabitants killed. Combined with the major latency caused by several hundred combatants, the whole zone was practically unhabitable for Horde. Even if you could reach Tarren Mill before dying, all questgivers, vendors, innkeepers and even flight masters were dead, so there was nothing you could do there.
Due to the latency issues and resulting server instabilities, Blizzard had to intervene. They implemented two new features to discourage these crippling town raids. First, there was the concept of dishonorable kills. If a player killed a low-level important NPC, he would be penalized immediately with loss of honor. Somewhat paradoxically these civilians were also given a new skill: calling for backup. Civilians could yell for help and spawn some guards. At first these guard spawns were just a mere distraction, but then Blizzard changed it that guards would spawn for every player that wandered too close to a civilian. That meant that a 20-man raid group would spawn 20 guards per every civilian they passed. Even with a full level 60 raid, that is a significant hindrance. Pass a few civilians and you suddenly have hundreds of guards upon you. Thus, if you wanted to survive, either you stayed well away from the civilians or killed them very quickly.
The introduction of instanced Battlegrounds solved many problems. They offered lag-free combat among willing participants with no risk of dishonorable kills. The queuing system tried to ensure even teams. However, this PvP heaven came with a cost. Because it was simply faster to gain honor (and thus tangible rewards) with Battlegrounds, World PvP simply withered away on many servers.
In all it's flaws, World PvP had something that Battlegrounds have been unable to achieve: immersion. Defending the free orcs of Hammerfall against the human enslavers is completely different than chasing a piece of cloth in Warsong Gulch. Fighting on the blood-covered streets of Stormwind is different from spending a few hours fighting on an icy lake.
What would dynamic World PvP look like, then? In the early days, Blizzard promised plenty of World PvP, even siege engines. There are ballistas and catapults scattered around the world, but they are simply props. They serve no functional purpose whatsoever. Even if we stay at the level of Warcraft 3 and allow siege engines to destroy only trees, buildings and units, implementing them will be quite difficult. The concept of destroyable buildings is already in the game. The World of Warcraft engine is not capable of true structural damage (like in Red Faction or Silent Storm), so buildings would have hitpoints. Even controlling siege engines and designating firing zones would not be a problem. Mind Control and various devices already allow players to control other units. The details have been already solved by several real-time strategy games (including Blizzard's own).
However, the whole concept of destroyable buildings is troublesome. But what does this have to do with a static world? The sheer scale of World of Warcraft continues to be a problem. Even in it's miniature from, Azeroth is large. If destroyable buildings were implemented, the world servers would not only have to keep track of every mob and player in the world, but also the buildings. It also has reprecussions on client side. A common trick in many 3D engines is to include only those parts of the world in the calculations that the player can see. Because these visibility calculations can be costly, they are usually done beforehand. World of Warcraft also uses such visibility calculations. In addition to terrain, static objects like buildings, bridges and tunnels block visibility. But if those objects can be destroyed, the calculations cannot be done beforehand and thus the game cannot take advantage of them. Imagine how slow Stormwind would be if you could see the whole city from the Trade District.
But enough about mechanics. Let's get to the true killer of a persistent world: Lack of faction balance in numbers, attendance, levels, gear, skill and organization. Eventually, one faction will gain the upper hand. In a persistent world, they will be able to press that advantage, further skewing the balance. And eventually, they will capture or destroy all enemy settlements and defeat the racial leaders. A miniature version of this happens every day in Alterac Valley. So once the racial leaders have been killed and the capitals are in flames, now what?
While the war up to the final victory/defeat might be fun, it is also anticlimatic. And unless you want to run into the same problems in PvP as in PvE (running out of content), the world would have to be reset after every conclusion of the war. Or the ultimate victory/defeat would have to be prevented by a GM. Both distrupt immersion. Which is more immersion-breaking? Moving from one nondescript day to an another, or having a continent in ruins miraclously restored?
More serious problems arise after a few rounds of the war. Due to human nature, we prefer to be on the winning side. So if one faction starts to dominate, they will attract more people. The faction balance will only get worse. The winners will be bored of easy victories, and the losers are frustrated with fighting against impossible odds. They will switch factions, servers or quit altogether. Eventually, there will be nobody to fight. New players will shun the losing faction, because leveling up when the enemy controls 90% the world will be quite difficult. There are already servers where the faction balance is 90-10.
There are of course games which try to have a persistent PvP world. But they have once advantage over World of Warcraft: Multiple factions, or even player-created factions. A three-way struggle for power is more likely to end in a stalemate. Warcraft, on the other hand, has always been about two warring factions, only deviating slightly in Warcraft 3. The only currently possible candidates for the third faction would be either the Goblin Cartels, or Illidan's servants. With the inclusion of Blood Elves in the Horde and the Draenei in the Alliance, Illidan's possible faction lost a lot of the uniqueness, leaving only the Naga as an unique race. And the goblins currently have a very cushy position as a neutral faction, with an income flow from both factions. Open warfare would be quite costly. So it is very doubtful that there will be a third faction anytime soon, and thus no persistent game world for PvP.
Apparently alchemists can now get specializations, and engineers are deputized to help in potionmaking. Enchanters get a bunch of new enchants, including a +12 spell damage ring enchant. Judging from the engineering item names, the new metals will be Fel Iron (probably minable near Hellfire Citadel), Khorium, Adamantite and Eternium. There's one thing that caught my eye, though. A portable mailbox. Great, now I have two things I can make for raids.
Shiro got her hands on some Draenei and Blood Elf voice emotes. While the Blood Elves seem to be able to make friends among their new allies quite quickly, I think that the real winners are the Draenei. Any race that beats gnomes and uses goblin jumper cables in their mating rituals can't be that bad.