The Ivory Tower of Vertical Content

I was recently listening to episode 7 of No Prisoners, No Mercy, and the hosts talked about the difficulties in making a pickup group for Karazhan and the attitudes of players that made the group fall apart. The hosts asked players who have visited Hyjal to comment, so here it is. I was initially planning on posting this as a comment on the episode page itself, but I felt that my reply was long enough to warrant a separate post. 

Basically, there's two basic ways of arranging content in a game. Horizontal means that you have a lot of variety, but little progression. Vertical is the opposite. Levels are vertical. You need to reach level 2 before you can reach level 3, and most of the raid content in WoW is vertical. You won't have a snowball's chance in Hell to get anything done in Hyjal if you don't have high-end Karazhan/Serpentshrine Cavern/Tempest Keep quality gear, and the knowledge and skills to match. Conversely, the pre-raid PvE dungeons in WoW are mostly horizontal content. Dire Maul was about as hard as Scholomance, and Shadow Labyrinth is about as hard as Arcatraz or Shattered Halls.

In my opinion, games need to have both, and maintaining a balance is one of the factors that makes game design hard. Variety is always good, but there also needs to be the next challenge in the horizon. As your knowledge, gear and skills improve, content that kept you at the edge of your seat before becomes trivial and boring. At that point it doesn't matter whether you're killing elves or demons or orcs if they all die within seconds. Likewise, if you know by heart that every enemy orc does X, Y and Z in that order, doing A, B and C to counter those moves becomes second nature and killing orcs becomes boring, even if doing A, B and C was appropriately challenging for you.

Arguably, Blizzard is vastly more focused on vertical content than horizontal, which is not that surprising considering that their lead game designers are former Everquest raiders, and they're making a game that they themselves like to play. Illidan's often-quoted one-liner "You are not prepared!" actually describes WoW pretty well. :-) Both the players and the designers know this, and expect everyone else to know this as well. And that's why people were concerned about raid composition, gear and experience (read: knowledge) in that Karazhan raid. Karazhan is not designed to be the starting point of the endgame PvE experience, the non-heroic instances are. I admit that I would also have concerns about a 600 spell damage warlock making a Karazhan group, because you can go much higher with nonheroic and heroic gear before even stepping into Karazhan. Especially if I don't know the player. Skill and knowledge are harder to measure than gear, and you can't always compensate one with one of the others, especially if there's a "gear check" encounter (like Curator) that you have to complete. The vertical progression in WoW goes so far that in some encounters your raid literally has to function like a well-oiled machine in order to succeed. And that is exactly what players wanted.

But what's wrong about giving players what they have been asking since Molten Core? That not everyone wanted it. Some people liked the less-demanding MC raids where you could chat, goof off and generally have fun with 39 of your friends. I have a good enough view from my ivory tower to see how that could be fun. My playstyle is not the One True playstyle for everyone. In my opinion, one of the major factors that made WoW the market leader was that it catered to different playstyles. That allowed Blizzard to get the most out of the network effect. If Blizzard undoes their good decisions and allows the balance to be swung too far in one direction (no matter what that direction may be), then they do deserve to lose market share. And Warhammer may be the game that all of those disillusioned players start playing. And that's good. Complacency kills, and even if I never end up playing WAR, the competition will help keep both Blizzard and Mythic on their toes, resulting in both games improving and thus benefiting fans of both games.


Jump-shotting tanks

Ebon Hold was somewhat better than Northrend. But not by much. Combat was tolerable, but I can't say that there was any tactics involved, just button-mashing. Fortunately you have a permanent buff that makes you feel overpowered compared to anything you encounter. Also, you get a run speed buff that works only inside Ebon Hold. That should make later visits to reforge your weapon much more tolerable.

There was also a sneak peek of the mount mechanics in the form of the Death Knight epic mount quest. In the quest, you have to steal a horse and ride it back to the quest giver. You mount the horse by right-clicking it and your action bar changes accordingly. If you turn while riding the horse, it turns appropiately in a wide arc. Well.. unless you're using a mouse to turn. Hopefully we don't see steamtanks doing jump shots in Lake Wintergrasp.

Frozen Solid

After the money SNAFU was sorted out, I stopped by at Vengance Landing for some sightseeing. A guildmate had warned about lag, and as soon as I arrived I saw what he meant.
The lag-o-meter says it's a mere 800 ms, but the real delay is around 2-5 seconds. I did a few standard-issue gathering quests. Thankfully, most of the mobs could be two-shotted so the lag wasn't really hazardous. The rewards were somewhat odd, though. Stamina, spirit and spellpower on gloves? I couldn't make heads or tails whether that was intended for mages, priests or warlocks, because that combination isn't optimal or even okay for any of those. The first quests in Netherstorm and Shadowmoon Valley net you much better loot for about the same effort.

Here's a few screenshots of the new Forsaken design. I particularly liked how the ships are modified versions of the Orcish Juggernauts.
Forsaken ships
Forsaken Architecture

My bank alt spotted some NPCs in Orgrimmar screaming whenever a Death Knight arrived. Nice touch, but I bet it gets old when there's a dozen deathknights present at any time. So, next up is a spin on the instanced Death Knight starting zone.

I Am Not Prepared

After a half a day of patching, I finally got my WotLK up to speed and logged on.. only to realize that all of my gold is on my bank alt. Drat.

Melee vs Ranged Zerg

Tobold wonders whether the group dynamics in unorganized large-scale PvP are a result in players being stupider than the AI.

To answer his question: No, that's just how things work when there is no commander.

Here's what I observed during the Southshore vs Tarren Mill battles:

When it's every man for himself, even in a large group, people tend to attack the closest hostile target. If a melee enemy attacks a group, he's the closest target to everyone in that group. He gets zerged. When it's ranged vs ranged, everyone picks different targets according to their positioning within the group. They do favor targets on low health to finish them off, but attentive healers can prevent that from ever happening.

In both RTS games and in EvE Online, one of the most important tasks of a commander is to designate targets as "primary". You focus your firepower to one target to overwhelm the enemies' damage mitigation and healers. No such thing as a commander exists in unorganized large-scale PvP by definition.

However, Starship Troopers the movie shows something that could be used to make melee more useful in unorganized large-scale PvP: Directed throws. In the Klendathu battle, one of the bugs charges a group of marines, grabs a marine and throws him into the swarm of bugs. Naturally, the marine gets torn into pieces. The charging bug, although it's life expectancy is very low, can use the numbers of his allies to his advantage.

Currently, melee in MMORPGs cannot do that. Unless the whole friendly group charges, he's alone. And the friendly group won't do that unless they are certain of victory. That certainty can be achieved by either superior numbers or morale, and the lack of a commander makes achieving the second more difficult.

However, the Death Grip ability of the Death Knights in WotLK could achieve the same end result as the bug's charge+throw. But as always, the devil is in the details. In this particular case, it boils down to range. Can the Death Knight get close enough to Death Grip someone without getting zerged by the hostile ranged attackers?


Taking It Slow

Because I've been using the Only Spec for quite some time, I think I'll start with a fairly conservative 0/60/11. It has all of the oldies and the new fire goodies as well. Also, I currently don't have the mats for a Soulfrost on my Tempest of Chaos.

What is this WotLK I keep hearing about?

I guess I might have to start writing stuff again.


Death by Leech

Zubon has a disturbing insight about a recent lawsuit in China, RMT and US gambling legislature.

In the lawsuit, a judge ordered Blizzard/The9 to restore everything they took from a gold farmer, citing property laws. If anything virtual in game can be classified as property because RMT allows it to have a real value, then any game that relies on randomness is gambling, because you may lose or gain something of real value according to luck. And according to US law, it's illegal to transfer funds for online gambling. In other words, it would be illegal to pay to play an MMO where randomness dictates whether you win or lose. And that definition covers.. almost every MMO out there. RMT could end up killing the very industry it leeches from.

The most boneheaded thing about the whole issue is that Blizzard's Terms of Use were irrelevant in the lawsuit. They can't ban people for cheating. Granted, for Zubon's nightmare scenario to become reality, there would have to be a precedent in the US establishing the same principles as in the Chinese lawsuit. But the lawsuit in itself is bad enough. It's like taking your stuff back from a thief and then being convicted of theft yourself. Or being a victim of a can flipper in EvE. It's life imitating art.