Engineering will get this, and much, much more!

Just kidding. Apparently the Engineering patch got turned into an Alchemy patch, and Ommra picked the short straw to deliver the news. The major Engineering overhaul is as follows:

  • 11 goggles, which you may or may not be able to use.
  • Engineering bags can now contain some Engineering items.
  • 1 new grenade.
  • Engineering bags can now contain some Engineering items (just in case you missed it the first time).
  • When skilling up Engineering, you now have more than 2 items you can craft at any time.
  • Craftable Fused Wiring, because not every raid instance comes built-in with repair NPCs.
  • Next rank of Seaforium Charges, which can now actually open locks. You have to farm rep for it, though.
  • An item that sells for 50g might now cost less than 1.5k to craft.
  • Nigh-Invulnerablity Belt kills you less often now.
  • Gnomish Poultryizer makes your opponent /lol less.
  • Goblin Rocket Launcher can actually help you catch someone instead of giving them a head start.
  • New icons for mana and health injectors (Ya rly).
That's all folks.


Professions preview and the trouble with Engineering

Nethaera has come forward with a professions preview, and I have to say.. it's not much.

First, let's get the obvious out of the way. Limiting elixirs to one per type is going to hurt raiding a lot. I'm not even near Serpentshrine or Magtheridon and I'm routinely using at least two elixirs. On paper this is doing exactly what Blizzard promised it would do: reduce the money needed for consumables in raiding. However, if the encounters are not balanced accordingly, it will just mean that the cost is transferred from consumables to repair costs. It's not the end, however. It will simply slow down raiding progress on gear-dependant encounters.

Next up is enchanting. The changes are nothing to write home about, simply some slight tuning. Making the spell damage bracer enchant cheaper is always useful, and changing spell damage enchants to both spell damage and healing will help healers in soloing stuff, and is in line with previous changes.

Fishing buffs are always welcome. Starting up fishing with 300 fishing and +25 skill fishing pole in Zangar Marsh was a pain. Since cooked fish are actually useful nowadays, this will hopefully inspire more people to take up fishing.

Jewelcrafting got the UI changes it needed, and got a few of the gaps filled out. I'll be ordering some spell hit gems as soon as possible. I'm also stockpiling ores for the improved Prospecting.

Leatherworking got a few cosmetic changes, so I won't comment on those. But I'll comment on my profession, Engineering.

The listed changes miss whatever feedback that has been given to Blizzard. 11 goggles? With any luck, they'd all require Engineering and/or are Bind-on-Pickup. Nobody's going to pick Engineering because they can craft 9 goggles that are useless to them, even if they are epic. If you pick Blacksmithing, you are a melee class, most likely a warrior or a paladin. If you pick Tailoring, you are a clothie. Rogues, druids, hunters and shamans pick Leatherworking. Everyone can use Alchemy potions, and you can always sell them. Ditto with Jewelcrafting. Now compare all of the other crafting professions to Engineering.

90% of the Engineering items require Engineering to use, and only a handful require a specialization to craft. This means that the market for Engineering items is nonexistent, especially when the guns are substandard. Currently, the only classes that get the most out of Engineering are Hunters and Warriors, and even then there's some clothie items left.

IMHO, Blizzard has to do some soul-searching with Engineering. What do they want it to be? Do they want to limit it by class like Tailoring, Blacksmithing and Leatherworking are now? Or do they want it to be a general-purpose profession like Alchemy or Jewelcrafting? Or just a novelty profession with some minor benefit on very limited circumstances? Because that's what it is now, a novelty. And if this is the best that Blizzard can do, it isn't going to be enough to make Engineering viable anywhere.


The mechanics of Death

The debate about death mechanics in WoW has continued for a while, and recent nerfs in Vanguard's death mechanics sparked my interest, since their system is relatively close to an another Blizzard game I used to play.

Diablo 2, the previous Blizzard net hack n' slash had a very similar death mechanic to Vanguard. You lost experience and gold upon death, and your character would spawn at a friendly city naked (figuratively speaking). If you successfully made your way back to your corpse, you'd retrieve all your gear and regain some lost experience. At no point you would lose a level through experience loss, though.

Interestingly enough, this death mechanic scaled throughout the game. Dying at low levels was relatively harmless, since the amount of experience and gold lost was small. But after you went past level 85 or so, a single death could set you back significantly. At level 90+, going to a dangerous situation was simply stupid.

How did it affect the game? Obviously, risk-taking decreased when you progressed in the game. High-level characters would not even go near hazardous situations, like Iron Maiden-casting Deathknights in Chaos Sanctuary, Nilthalak's Corpse Explosions, Arreat Summit's Barbarians or Lister's deadly loading lag. A high-level player would pick a risk-free spot and farm it. While the death mechanic did instill a healthy aversion to death upon characters, it also made the game boring, since increased risk was very rarely met with an appropriate increase in rewards. It was much more worthwhile to farm Mephisto than to risk dying without even reaching Baal.

Contrast this with WoW, which has one of the most forgiving death mechanics ever used in an MMORPG. The only penalties are a monetary penalty in the form of repair costs and a time penalty for corpserunning. You only lose experience if you really want to. Death in PvP only incurs a time penalty with no lasting effects. The difference in player mindset when compared to Diablo 2 is striking. WoW players are much more receptive to the idea of trying something different and quite likely fatal. Like attempting a raid encounter that could even be untested and completely unbeatable. This in turn is both a blessing and a curse. It lets players try to perform at the very edge of their gear and abilities and thus provide them that much-needed challenge. On the other hand, many players do get an optimal performance out from their characters, which sometimes results in players finishing off content at a faster pace than Blizzard would like. This results in bored players. To keep them interested, Blizzard has to keep making more and more content and new encounters.

A harsher death mechanic is not really a solution, and it could even backfire. One of the things that keeps the so-called casuals playing is that even short sessions benefit them. A short grind session, a quest or two, a bit of PvP, an instance run. Even though the benefits might be neglible, you always gain something, be it a bit of honor, some reputation, some gold or a sliver of experience. You never lose anything that would take hours upon hours to reacquire. That's currently reserved for bleeding-edge raiders.

Speaking of raiders.. A raider can currently burn several hundreds of gold in consumables when trying to down a new boss. If they also had to regrind experience and reacquire lost gear, raiding progress speed would grind to a halt. A few dedicated guilds would keep trying the new content, the rest would stick to farming easy encounters. Blizzard's current focus on new content development would most likely be a waste, since only a handful of people would even try to reach it. Raid encounters would stay bugged for months and months until Blizzard would eventually give in and nerf them enough for safe farming. If you think that having to clear trash mobs after a few wipes and farming 500g worth of consumables for a night of raiding is bad, you haven't seen anything yet. It could be much, much worse.


Dynamic music and World of Warcraft

Melmoth is annoyed by the randomness of WoW's music and wants it to change according to the situation. While I agree that dynamic music would add a lot to immersion, there are several significant hurdles that make dynamic music hard to implement.

First of all, time and cost. If you want appropriate music for every situation, someone has to compose, arrange and perform all of it. When we are talking about a game with dozens of zones, thousands of subzones and an incalculable amount of different situations, that's a whole lot of music. A lot of video game music, including WoW's, is composed for a full symphony orchestra and a choir. Hiring an orchestra, a choir and managing the logistics of getting them all into the same place to perform your music before the deadline is a lot of work.

However, there have been some instances where games have used dynamic music successfully. Probably the most well-known is LucasArts' iMuse. The reason why iMuse worked was that games of that era used MIDI. The music was stored as notes, not raw sound. This allowed iMuse to rearrange and remix the human-created soundtrack on-the-fly. Nowadays many of the soundtracks undergo extensive post-processing and use vocals. A home computer would have a hard time redoing the post-processing in real time, and adjusting and replicating vocals would be very hard.

So, now we have to settle for the next-best alternative. WoW uses around 3-4 different themes for each of the capital cities, and 6-8 (one set for daytime, and one set for the night) for every type of zone. Each theme lasts less than a minute, and has manually created transition points. Normally the capitals have an intro theme that is used whenever the player enters them, and then the game plays the other themes randomly. In addition, there are some themes that are triggered whenever a player enters a specific sub-zone or activates an event. For example, demon- or Scourge-infested areas have a specific theme. Certain NPCs, like Jin'do and Gul'dan have their own themes. In theory, WoW's system could be extended to include more triggers, like combat, population density, type of enemies and so on. However, there's still the question of time and cost. Currently, Blizzard has introduced more music only when a new raid instance was released. AQ, Naxxramas and Karazhan were accompanied by their own soundtracks. Creating more music for a raid instance is relatively straightforward, since you have a specific theme every individual piece of music revolves around. Adding triggered themes that would not sound out-of-place in any of the zones currently in game is much harder and much more time-consuming, because you have to create a lot of new music.

In the end, the issue boils down to a more generic question: Given the resources Blizzard currently has at their disposal, should they use those resources on creating new content or improving the old? Remember that for most of WoW's history, Blizzard has simply been working on the backlog of content they wanted to have ready for the release, but couldn't finish. When the game was released, some of the zones were blatantly unfinished, like Silithus or Searing Gorge. Blackwing Lair, Ahn'Qiraj, Zul'Gurub, Naxxramas, Caverns of Time, Maraudon, Dire Maul and Karazhan were eventually implemented. Gilneas, Kul Tiras, most of Timbermaw Hold, Grim Batol, Uldum and present-day Hyjal are still missing. Nazjatar and the Emerald Dream are somewhere deep in the backlog (although parts of them are in the game files), with the Black Temple currently occupying the top spot. After the Black Temple is implemented, Blizzard will hopefully finish some more of the backlog and improve Azeroth before setting their sights on the next expansion. Although I do roleplay an ice troll, I'm not in a rush to see Northrend.