Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Warhammer Online Delayed: Picking Sides

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR) has been delayed yet again. Now, for most MMORPGs, the vapourware police would be bouncing off the walls right about now. Fortunately, that isn't the case here. Unfortunately, the "WAR will suck" haters have taken their place. I don't care. I'm dead set on playing WAR, whether it is complete trash or not, and damn the players breaking the NDA (I will post about them soon enough).

With that said, I want to take some time to talk about picking sides in WAR. Literally, what side are you going to play? Destruction or Order? Race? Class?

I've struggled with this decision since I started looking into WAR. Having played a fair bit on the "evil side" for the last few MMORPGs, I figured I would just fall in line with Destruction (Greenskins, Chaos, and Dark Elves). However, I didn't want to constrain myself. I sat down and thought about what would be important to me in choosing a side.

Overwhelmingly, visual style WILL play a huge role in my choice of sides for WAR.

In Dark Ages of Camelot, I rolled Midgard with my guild. Ironically, I caught myself staring at Albion's buildings, cities, and castles. They had working doors! Also, I found myself envious of the fairly human looking races offered on the Albion side, especially considering that my Kobold Runemaster was blue and furry. To me, Albions looked the part of Epic Fantasy Hero, plate armor and sword at hand, but most importantly human.

Then, I started as a Troll Shaman of the Horde in World of Warcraft to roll with a new guild and there I have remained ever since. Aside from Thunder Bluff, the Tauren's home, there wasn't a single visual aspect of the Horde that I enjoy. The races are ugly, the main cities are depressingly drab, and not until The Burning Crusade launched, and with it Silvermoon City, did the Horde even know colors other than brown and rust existed.

Moving back to my topic, picking a side for WAR, visual style will guide me more than any other aspect. Screw class and population balance, they will be sorted out regardless of the side I choose. If a side has a class and race combo that interests me with the visual intrigue I am looking for, I am taking it.

So far, that looks like the Empire, the relative good guys of WAR. They have a very old-world European look to their world. Plus, they are humans and not since Ultima Online have I played something with a normal skin tone.

I completely accept that as the "human" faction, the Empire will attract a lot of newbs, because the human sides in MMOs usually do for some reason. I don't care, WAR is going to be about FUN for me and FUN starts with what I'm looking at as I play the game. So far, the Empire screen shots look amazing.

No, I will not be playing a Witch Hunter, probably the most hyped class for WAR.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

World of Warcraft Patch 2.4

Today is the day! Patch 2.4 is on the Blizzard downloader and sometime this afternoon World of Warcraft players around the world will be romping through Sunwell Isle. See the excitement in my typing? See it!?

The basics of the patch for me are: Druid's Cyclone gets nerfed, Shamans get slightly buffed, but Shamans still suck and Cycloning Druids will continue to be crazy-popular in PvP. The status quo remains unchanged.

There will be some new loot to achieve as players cash in Badges of Justice, PvE currency, for PvP rewards. Sorry, there is no way to pay honor, PvP currency, for PvE gear. Blizzard doesn't like PvP to lead to PvE. However, PvE that leads to PvP is awesome in their eyes, because PvE takes like coordination and skillz and stuff. PvP takes no skill, especially for the AFKers and Warlocks.

Yes, I said I was quitting WoW, but I just can't do it. Blizzard is buffing Shamans! Even if it is just a little bit, I've waited too long for instant Ghost Wolf to quit now!!!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bad News Bears

It has been hell since I've upgraded my computer. First, a mother board. Now, my video card. My EVGA 7800GTX took a dump on me this morning, and in the interest of time, I had to shop locally to find a replacement. Nothing sucks worse than Spring Break without a PC, not only for gaming, but the mountain of homework I need to catch up on.

Good news is that the local computer store had an MSI 9600 GT for close to $200. So, I picked one up and I'm back online. Now about that homework...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Shamans Hit Bottom

It's official: of the top 100 Arena Players in World of Warcraft, 0% are now Shamans. I guess it wasn't bad enough that Shamans were the least played class in game.

I hate to quote Arena numbers as much as the next WoW blogger, but I can't help but notice how EVERY CLASS, OTHER THAN SHAMANS, GETS BUFFED TO COMPETE IN ARENAS. I hate the idea that Blizzard is balancing classes based on Arena gameplay, but it is fairly evident that they are leaning that way currently.

Personally, I think WoW is about as lost as it can get in terms of PvP and class balance. I just want to know when it will be my turn, as an Enhancement Shaman, to be on the top of the OP stack. Actually, I would settle for anything other than the bottom.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What I Really Did This Weekend

If you've been following along, I had some spare time to game this weekend. Here is what I played:

Bioschock demo - Downloaded via Steam. Great graphics, killer atmosphere, and exceptional game play. However, I can't help but admit that my first person gaming skills have passed me by. I just could not get a decent grip on my aim to hit any of the mask-wearing freaks in this demo. After finishing the demo, I definitely have thoughts about buying the game.

ET:QW demo 2.0 - I don't know if it was just an error or something, but the demo would not allow me to play online due to "Punkbuster not being installed". Every other Punkbuster game I own works fine and Punkbuster is most definitely installed. Doing a bit of research it turns out that demo 2.0 clients can only connect to Punkbuster disabled servers. I don't have enough time to fuck around with a demo, so I canned it before even trying.

Pirates of the Burning Seas trial - Oops, they don't have a open trial offer. The only trial is through a buddy key program and unfortunately nobody I know bought the game. Well thats a lie, I did find one person who offered to send me a key, but never actually sent it. If I do get the key I will probably give it a go.

Peggle Extreme and Peggle Deluxe Demo - Peggle simply rocks, and not just because it is available via Steam. Peggle Extreme comes packaged with The Orange Box, but I had never paid much attention to it. Due to some no-Internet time (bad storms this weekend), I played a good bit of Peggle. I was thoroughly enthralled with the game and downloaded the Peggle Deluxe Demo as well.

The game is very casual at heart, but definitely hits on some hardcore gaming tendencies (high scores, replays, combos). I found myself alt-tabbing into Peggle repeatedly while playing World of Warcraft and Portal, but often not alt-tabbing back! The actual game costs only $9.95 through Steam and should the wife approve the purchase order, I will own it soon.

Portal - Also part of The Orange Box, Portal is an award winning puzzle game. I admittedly have never finished this spectacular game. I am actually still sort of stuck on a certain level, but I forget which one. If it wasn't for Peggle I would of probably beat the game and downloaded some fan-made bonus levels.

World of Warcraft - Sadly I must admit that I played an unhealthy dose of World of Warcraft on top of everything else. I deleted my warrior alt and started a new warrior alt. Why? Because Undead are cooler than Trolls.

I also spent a good amount of time running battlegrounds on my main, Tanglefoot the Troll Shaman. I earned enough honor for a new piece of Vindicator's gear and am halfway to another piece.

I also got around to grinding honored reputation with every faction needed to gain access to all the Heroic Mode dungeons in The Burning Crusade. Now, I haven't actually tried a Heroic Mode dungeon, but at least now I can if I so choose.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Smedley Says

I like to play a game, sort of like Simon Says, called Smedley Says. However, in Smedley Says, players don't perform any action when it is prefixed by Smedley Says.

For example: "Smedley Says PS3 MMO set to rival Warcraft!"

Any player that believes that, is eliminated from the game and may be subject to being tagged as an oxygen thief.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I Hate My Glasses

The damn lens just popped out of my glasses. Tiny screw which none of my screw drivers fit. Also, the damn lenses are impossible to clean. I have glass cleaning solution, but I swear it just streaks a filmy mess all over them. Water and soap isn't much better.

Sigh, lose some great gaming hours to get this fixed. My wife will probably laugh it up, since she is out this weekend and gave me permission to game away my time.

Fixed for $2.48, price of screwdriver and extra screws for future incidents.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Talk Is Cheap

Drysc, Blizzard poster, dumped a wall of blue on an "I quit!" post. I've captured the post for posterity below:
It happens, but I'll try to touch upon each of your points and maybe give some small amount of insight and reassurance that they're all points we're either aware of or actively working to resolve.

Regarding spec viability we would definitely like to see every spec at least partially viable, that doesn't mean however that each spec will be equal in a very cutthroat PvP environment like the arenas. A prot warrior or shadow priest or what have you should though be able to jump into a battleground or arena and be able to do something with some small amount of success. How much success that should be is really the question, but our general philosophy is that we're ok with some specs not being as viable as others, we sort of have to be.

There's a synergy within the classes for PvP, as well as PvE, that doesn't lend itself to a model where every spec is exactly the same, exactly as viable as the other, in every situation. At that point we start watering down classes, watering down abilities, copy and pasting, the focus of the game is lost, dogs and cats are living together... mass hysteria.

Moving on to battlegrounds I don't believe we've ever stated that we have fewer maps to keep queue times short, that's not an issue. The issue is the amount of time it takes to create a battleground, and balancing that work time with other areas of the game. Battlegrounds are very labor intensive, Warsong Gulch which is probably the smallest of the battleground maps still has some terrain issues here and there. Playtesting, balancing, making edits, all require a very large amount of resources to ensure a successful battleground.

Now, that's not to say we aren't willing to put in the time, only that we have an entire game to put resources into, and those resources have to be delegated appropriately. The entire team is now working full force on Wrath of the Lich King, and the new battleground it also includes. Hopefully there will be some time to get additional battleground maps into the mix even after it ships. Personally though I think I'm most excited about Lake Wintergrasp just to see how it turns out.

In any case I'm sure the people you've been playing with have appreciated your time with them in the game, and I think you'll be pretty excited with the stuff going on in Wrath once we get a bit closer and can start revealing more and more.
But I hope you had fun, and see you around maybe.
Talk is cheap and I'm just going to come out and call bullshit on this entire post.

First, the idea that Blizzard can't make all specs viable in PvP. I guess he wasn't around when Warlocks, Warriors, Druids, Hunters, and Rogues all were turned into PvP powerhouses. I think what he is meaning to say is "... not all specs will be viable in Arenas."

Secondly, the idea that battlegrounds are too tough to develop alongside expansion packs. I don't see any problems with them pumping out new PvE zones, instanced or not. I don't see any problems with them adding new Arena maps. I don't see any problems with them rebuilding Alterac Valley a dozen times over.

It is well documented that other battlegrounds were in development at some point, but dropped for whatever reason. Fact is, Blizzard dropped the extra battlegrounds to develop Arenas. Blizzard does not care about battlegrounds. They are in it for Arenas and the e-Sport now.

Lastly, I just had to laugh at the Lake Wintergrasp comment. Lake Wintergrasp will be a world PvP objective that will feature siege warfare and procurable objectives. Looking at the history of world PvP objectives it will end one of two ways.

1. The rewards will be extremely popular and everyone will flood the zone. Non-Alterac Valley battlegrounds will pretty much end up at a stand still, until Arena Season 2 gear hits the honor vendors.

2. It will be forgotten after the initial rush of levelers have passed the zone by, just like nearly every single world PvP objective in The Burning Crusade.

I do not see Blizzard toning down the Arena rewards and therefore the majority of PvP rewards will center around Arenas. This eliminates almost any chance that Lake Wintergrasp can fit into the end-game reward structure. Lake Wintergraps will be another epic PvP fail for Blizzard.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gaming Impasse

I've found myself at a gaming impasse. My wife, bless her heart, is out of town all weekend. That leaves me (plus the dog, cat, and rabbit) alone to game. Unfortunately, I don't know what the hell to play!

World of Warcraft has once again brought out the true Heartless. I spend more time cussing, bitching, and griping than I do playing. I could probably bypass the pain by avoiding battlegrounds and PvP all together, but then what would I do? I don't really enjoy PvE and I'm not really ready to sign up for any raids. My gear would probably get me laughed out of the room anyways.

I could try a new game, but I don't really want to spend the money. Looking at some demos and trials that are out, I have some choices to make. So, I put them in a nice little list.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars Demo 2.0 - I played the original demo, but felt the game was a bit messy. Supposedly, the developers have heeded the call and updated the demo to reflect recent changes to make the game more accessible. I guess it's worth giving a try. Bonus: its available through Steam.

Bioshock demo - Game is supposedly great, so hopefully the demo will be as well. Bonus: its available through Steam.

Pirates of the Burning Seas trial - This was supposed to be my next MMOG, but the delay and SOE publishing announcement fizzled my enthusiasm. Lackluster reviews have kept me away since. My worry with the trial is that I will not have enough time to actually enjoy the game. I don't want to spend a couple days grinding for nothing.

Anyways, anyone have some thoughts to spare? I may end up just vegetating in front of World of Warcraft. I'm sure my wife will love this when she gets around to reading my blog again :P

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Blizzard: Another Reason To Dump Arenas

Another reason has surfaced that convinces me that Arenas are having a horrible effect on World of Warcarft. It seems that every month a new exploit is unveiled regarding Arenas, the latest being queue dodging, which allows teams to pick and choose whether or not to fight a match and in turn wasting their opponent's time. I have no doubt Blizzard will remedy the situation, but it doesn't matter.

Arenas, and the rewards gained from them, are destroying the game.

It is simple to understand why the Arenas are booming in popularity. The rewards are awesome, gained from one single activity, and for the most part fairly easy to attain (if you are willing to put in the time). The top-end rewards are now being restricted, but Personal and Team Ratings (along with Arena points) are just a few thousand gold pieces away these days.

I've crusaded my entire WoW career for balanced rewards in PvE and PvP. Some would say that is where Arena rewards currently stand, but that does not justify how exploitive the system has become where people are more likely to abuse or buy their way to the top rather than earn it themselves.

The question that comes to my mind is whether these exploits would exist if there was no rewards, aside from bragging rights, to be gained in Arenas. I'm sure some of them would exist, as people still hate to lose, but the widespread exploitation that we currently see would not. There simply wouldn't be the drive to exploit the system for essentially no gain.

Without the gear rewards, arenas would also be far less popular and end up pushing out a lot of the lower skilled teams as there would be fewer equally ranked teams to match them with.

Personally, I think that may be the way to go, as Blizzard preps Arenas for a more professional e-sport presentation which naturally pushes out the lower skilled teams. Blizzard has proven that PvE is their strong point and as a die hard PvPer, I can live with that.

Move the PvP focus back to battlegrounds and world objectives. Vary the rewards across each battleground and world PvP objective, instead of bottling all the great rewards into a single system (ala Arenas currently). Spread the PvP population out instead of forcing everyone into queues to line up for their next Professor Plum.

As a side note, as I leveled up through the Outlands, I couldn't help but feel disgusted at what a waste the world PvP objectives have become. I ignored pretty much every single one, as there was rarely an enemy to fight or challenge and I knew that the real rewards (Season 1 Arena gear) were at 70 and easily gained through the honor grind. Honestly Blizzard, why waste the development time on the world PvP objectives if their rewards are going to be made obsolete?

Oh and did I mention I'm debating quitting WoW again? Guess I did now :P

Monday, March 10, 2008

Unmake That Game

The question, "What game would you unmake?", is floating around the gaming blogosphere currently, and in true form I'm here to chime in with my opinion. As I am fairly narrow minded at times, I'm going to look at the MMOG genre by default.

The game I would unmake? Everquest.

Everything I despise and loathe about MMOGs is epitomized in Everquest. Grinding? Check. Leveling? Check. Harsh death penalty? Check. l33tn3ss? Check. Housing? No. Role-playing? Limited. Player cities? No. Anything other than just playing whack-a-mole? Not really.

Don't get me wrong, Everquest is not the first game to use these mechanics or commit these sins, but it was truly the first large-scale commercial success of the graphical MMOGs. Which in turn spawned the Everquest-clone syndrome that has doomed a hundred projects since. Every developer thought Everquest had it all figured out and subsequently tried to cash in with a game just like Everquest.

Some people will try and argue that World of Warcraft copied Everquest and is now the king of the MMOG hill. Therefore Everquest obviously did something right. But I would argue that WoW took it's ideas from the Diku text-MUDs that inspired Everquest, not from Everquest directly.

In my jaded-gamer view, Everquest also copied the Diku style, but did it in an absolutely horrible way. Everquest was complete and utter trash in comparison to the original Diku style. It added inordinate tedium and frustration to a system that truly worked best in text form over an infant Internet.

Not until WoW launched was the Diku style actually realized properly in a graphical MMOG, and even then it is fairly limited to the leveling portion of the game. The one concession I will ever make for WoW as an EQ-clone, is in the end-game raiding which was heavily lifted whole-sale from EQ (Blizzard just executed it better) and has been fairly directed at the EQ-type of player. However, that is Blizzard's fault for not controlling the former EQers on the WoW development team.

Erase Everquest from the history books and the MMOG genre might actually be at an innovation flood instead of an innovation standstill. Ultima Online, The Realm, Meridian 59, all had better approaches to the online space. All have been ignored.

Don't like my opinion? Comment.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: Blizzard Hates Shamans

BREAKING NEWS: Shaman's Flame Tongue Weapon buff and Warlock's Life Tap nerf have been reverted on World of Warcraft's public test realm. Show no signs of return. Blizzard cites Arena participation numbers as key determinant. Details at noon.

Ok, I'm not that surprised by the rollback. Blizzard is notorious for announcing big changes, only to baulk on implementation and pull them before patches go live. It is just a bit irritating to see Blizzard quoting "Arena participation numbers", of the top few percent of players, as their reason.

Just a cursory glance at the numbers they provided clearly shows some issues for certain classes. Not to mention, an easily noticed abundance of Warlocks in all brackets. However, I am not going to take the time to poke all the obvious holes in the data provided. I'll just hope Blizzard has someone with a brain looking at more than just what was posted.

I truly hope that Arenas are not the deciding factor in everything that is class balance in WoW.

If anything is true of Patch 2.4, it's been a hell of a roller coaster for Shamans! The patch notes started off quiet, but then Blizzard spilled the beans on their plans to "progressively patch the test realm". Instead of releasing a big list of changes, they decided to slowly roll out various changes to the test realm, announcing them as the test realm updated.

I have to admit, the "progressive" approach is turning out to be one hell of a soap opera. One second Warlocks are finally getting nerfed, the next, its another sad joke on the part of Enhancement Shamans everywhere!

Patch 2.4 isn't as bad as I'm squealing about right now for Shamans. Shamans still receive meaningful updates to Ghost Wolf, Totem cooldown, and the Toughness talent. Shamans only lost an anti-healing buff to Flame Tongue weapon, which would have forced Shamans to lose some burst damage in favor of some anti-heal. Sadly, there is no real change to make non-Restoration (healing) Shamans viable in Arenas.

Oh well, at least Blizzard built the Shamans up a bit this time, before crushing them. At least now, I don't have to get a new offhand weapon for my Shaman, and I can stick with the status quo: WINDFURY OR DIE!!!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Favre Retires

Thanks Brett. As a Green Bay Packers fan, born and raised in the heart of Wisconsin, there is not a more iconic character than Brett Favre. He was a superhero, someone I thought I would find in one of my favorite comic books, not on the football field. There he was though, every Football Sunday for the past sixteen years, his #4 hovering over center, poised to strike at any moment.

He set records, won games, lost games, made big plays, but most of all, he played the game the way it was meant to be played. He defined toughness and perseverance, while reminding us that yes, he was still human.

Packers fans lived and died by Brett Favre, watching him match brilliant plays with bad. However, Favre always seemed to come up on top. Broken thumb? Give him a band aid. Bloody puke? Its time for him to throw a touchdown pass. Interception on one of the biggest stages in sports? He's thrown more of them than anyone else, but he's also played more consecutive games, thrown for more touchdowns, won more games, and the list goes on.

Brett Favre, described often as a grizzled gunslinger, never passed up an opportunity at glory. Even in the depths of a losing season, he came to play and fight. In his mind, a win was never more than a gunshot away.

Favre steps down after a year of surprises. The Packers were supposed to be on the bottom this year, they came out a step away from the Super Bowl. Just as opposing defenses often looked on in amazement as Favre threw into triple coverage, the 2007 Packer season amazed everyone that watched.

In my opinion, it is fitting that Favre's last pass, possibly, at Lambeau Field was an interception that cost the 2007 Packers a trip to the Super Bowl. After all, he is only human and was playing in a game that NO ONE expected him to be in. Maybe that is why it is so easy for Favre fans to question whether this really is the end.

Update: 15 July, 2008 - Edited labels and last paragraph in anticiaption of Brett Favre potentially making a comeback.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

WINDFURY OR DIE!!! World of Warcraft's PvE-PvP Break

A post over at WoWInsider details a bit of frustration coming from World of Warcraft players recently in regards to class changes made by Blizzard in an attempt to balance Arena matches.
Are we really ready to split the game into World of Warcraft and Warcraft Arena? There will no doubt be a lot of players who want to continue to play their characters in both PvE and PvP, balance be damned. But if Blizzard is as committed as they seem to be to balance Arena as precisely as it needs to be balanced to turn it into a real e-sport, they may have to eventually make the jump and separate the two games completely.
I couldn't agree more. Blizzard has reworked classes, rebuilt talent trees, and tweaked classes in the past. Minor changes were often held back and packaged with other changes to ensure a more comprehensive change for the intended class. Also, past changes had a much broader focus intended to fix problems in PvE and PvP. Most of all, they were never aimed at fixing one specific problem in one specific instance.

Unfortunately, this policy has changed as Blizzard begins a series of directed class and game changes with Patch 2.4 that are aimed squarely at fixing specific Arena problems with little regard to the game as a whole. Enhancement Shamans are getting a semi-overhaul aimed at making them competitive in 3vs3 arenas (quote from dev needed). Drinking is getting nerfed, but only while in an Arena. The Warlock ability life tap, is being significantly scaled back since it is a bit overpowering in Arena matches.

I want to focus on the Shaman changes, because I have played an Enhancement Shaman since late beta. The Shaman changes to the Ghost Wolf, Totem global cooldown, and Toughness help give a little more utility to skills that sparingly see use in PvP and normal play. The totem change will assist greatly in boosting PvE for all Shamans.

One of the main Enhancement Shaman changes, the addition of an anti-healing de-buff to the Flame-Tongue weapon skill, is pin-pointed at improving Enhancement Shamans in only a very specific instance: 3vs3 arenas. In my honest opinion, that is an asinine move on Blizzard's part.

Three out of the four weapon buffs available to Shamans have been all but useless since the game was released. Shamans have pleaded for changes to make them more equally balanced instead of the current standard of WINDFURY OR DIE!!! Instead of admitting that there might be an issue, Blizzard simply tacks on an unneeded addition to Flame Tongue to fix a very specific problem in a very specific instance for a very specific spec.

This just drives me mad. The Enhancement spec is completely pigeon-holed to start with, and now Blizzard makes changes to pigeon-hole them even further in a specific role. I'm not a game designer, but it makes sense to me that class design changes should be aimed at the overall experience of the class, not just a specific instanced problem. For whatever reason, Blizzard has abandoned this approach.

Which brings me to the whole point of this post. World of Warcraft needs to be divided into World of Warcraft: The Game Everyone Enjoys and World of Warcraft Arenas: Serious Business Only. This would allow Blizzard to take far more drastic measures to balance classes for e-Sport competitiveness. Also, it eliminates the gear inflation occurring with the current Arena system. Most of all, it allows those of us who actually enjoy the other aspects of WoW without the hindrance of class changes meant to fix Arenas only (which in turn screws the rest of the game over).

Maybe then, Blizzard could get around to fixing the other weapon buffs for Shamans.