Dust Settles, Phoenix Rises

17 03 2009

(Yes, that’s a little play on the name of my server for those of you who haven’t managed to stalk me down yet)

Let’s start today with a quote from the glorious new official, Mythic-generated guide to Witch Hunters!

Witch Hunters don’t have big armour but it is possible to balance this weakness, at least a little bit, by increasing the ability with the weapons

delayed post = mild MMO burnout

delayed post = mild MMO burnout

I don’t know about you guys, but that answered all my questions.  OK, OK, I’ll stop; it could have been an EU player speaking outside their mother tongue and as a fairly well-educated linguist I know that English is arguably the hardest language to learn.

But then again, judging by the quality of text on the shiny new official Mythic forums, it wouldn’t surprise me if my ribbing is well-founded.  But Mythic are being good sports about the whole deal: most posters have proven unable either to write or read, as evidenced by the majority of discussion being outside the guidelines requested.  I’m still not certain why it was necessary to throw $$$ at official forums and not, say, developer salaries or server stability (or just more of them; WTB not sitting in a queue outside the Inevitable City while the other 23 members of my all-guild warband get phat lewt) BUT it does seem that some 1.2 changes are a direct product of Mythic reading and responding to feedback on their own forums, picking out valid topics of concern through rapidly expanding QQ cesspools, and for that I must commend them.

So with a quick nod to the title of this post and the wall of text it was threatening to become, thoughts on 1.2 now that everybody’s fairly well adjusted.

  • Witch Hunters are fine, even after the BAL nerf.  Killing tanks is MUCH harder than before, openers were gutted, but at least they didn’t screw stealth into the ground.  I’m killing things just fine, although I haven’t done much dueling against players of comparable gear (except to ambush high-RR Sorcs… mmmmngh yessss)  Pick Lock is amazingly fun, even if it mostly ends up a kamikaze tool with me dead and unrezzable.
  • Zone Domination is nice and in theory quite fair, but it’s definitely made zones (and fortresses!) on my server start flipping like hotcakes.
  • Choppas really hurt my alt Rune Priest and look too much like Black Orcs armor-wise, which is a bummer because that’s the biggest race in the game and should offer the most room for variation.  Not looking forward to facing them at 40, especially if tractor pull stays.
  • Made the mistake of taking up Cultivating to support my Apothecary skill, didn’t manage to get any/all BoP seeds solo farming in an hour as some people, so am apparently screwed.  Also spent lots of money levelling the skill, as I R DOIN IT WRONG
  • The Twisting Tower scenario, like Reikland Factory, was fantastic and ought to be brought back.  The Maw looks like it took about 10 minutes for a developer to toss together, and is just as boring as Reikland Hills.
  • Fuck the Windows key.

Copyright © 2009 Flintlocks R Fun; this Feed is for personal, non-commercial use only.

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Put the Role Back in Play

2 03 2009

I wanted this post to be some play experience and anecdotes from 1.2a testing on the PTS, figuring out how the new WH matches up against other careers’ revisions. Unfortunately this was not to be; I logged in to a seemingly abandoned world only to be slaughtered mercilesslyhumorously when what I had mistaken for Destro NPCs were in fact all template-cloned Choppas. So by now I know pretty well how WH stacks up against the (still rather bugged) Choppa, but I’m waiting on decent encounters with the other 11 opponent careers.

It's been said that the best "balance" an MMO can hope for is just an elaborate game of rock-paper-scissors

...and the key to rock-paper-scissors is avoiding redundancy

While I’m on the subject of numbers, let’s add the Choppa and Slayer for a total of 24 unique careers in Warhammer. You can argue about the mirror paradigm and hack it down to 12, but I would call you a fool and point out that Shadow Warriors’ stance mechanic is on Marauders (not their mirror), pets are given to Squig Herders and White Lions (not mirrors), and my Witch Hunter plays very differently from a Witch Elf even though we share stealth.

That’s about double or even triple what most character class-based MMOs have had in their first few months. And while balance is a concern, of course, another valid worry is beginning to surface on the forums with the new twin MDPS coming.

/WALLOFTEXT ON

Role definition. Perhaps the first people to spot this were the White Lions and Marauders suddenly feeling outclassed by the powerful new careers sporting the same medium armor and similar – but arguably better – skillsets. Some back-line healers are also starting to wonder as their healing power, survivability, and throughput all seem lacking compared to their front-line counterparts; wasn’t there supposed to be a trade-off? And yes, obviously there needs to be flexibility within careers (i.e. mastery/specialization) for variety, fun, and flavor, but there also needs to be a difference between, say, a Salvation WP and Isha AM – aside from one being invincible and the other a wet paper bag.

I don’t do this often, but I think it’s time. Discussion time. If the Choppa isn’t supposed to obsolesce Marauders, if Warrior Priests aren’t supposed to outheal and outlive Archmages, what are the roles? I’ll take a stab:

HEALERS:

  • WP/DoK – “the first aid expert” – high survivability; front-line; spreadheals and group heals; limited burst or single-target healing.
  • RP/Zeal – “the one who always saves your rear” – moderate survivability; mid-line; best burst/emergency/single target healing potential
  • AM/Sham – “the beacon of hope” – low survivability; rear-line; zerg-oriented big heals, buffs, and debuffs; support/amplified healing

TANKS:

  • IB/BO – “the wall” – high survivability (for a tank, mind you); high CC; low damage
  • Knight/Chosen – “the commander” – moderate survivability; area-effect buffs/debuffs; moderate-to-low CC; moderate damage
  • SM/BG – “the linebreaker” – low survivability (they love those 2handers); high damage; boosted mobility; anti-magic & crippling debuffs

RDPS:

  • SW/SH – “the skirmisher” – high survivability; focused fire, physical damage; low utility (I think the physical damage is the big deal here)
  • Engi/Magus – “the tactician” – moderate survivability; area/strategic/siege defense; moderate CC; high utility
  • BW/Sorc – “the glass cannon” low survivability; zerg-style AE/chain damage; moderate utility; low CC

MDPS:

  • WL/Mara – “the common threat” – high survivability; all-rounder, can spec to hunt anything; “main assist;” moderate CC/utility
  • Slay/Choppa – “the tank spanker” – moderate survivability; debuffs, armor negation, “tank killing;” low CC/utility
  • WH/WE – “the assassin” – low survivability; escape tools; squishy bane; best burst damage; high CC/utility

I’d say most careers are pretty close to this right now and could only use some sharpening to really hit the nail, but a couple would need overhauls to fit. Mostly I’m fond of the Slayer/Choppa being a sword-and-board tank killer (a lot of their abilities suggest this) because those guys need to fear something and it’s a shame to see the poor WLs/Maras become useless.

Copyright © 2009 Flintlocks R Fun; this Feed is for personal, non-commercial use only.





To Zerg or Not to Zerg?

12 02 2009

When you’re low renown rank, doing pretty much anything is awesomely rewarding.  When you need ORvR influence for those frustratingly buggedlucrative item rewards, you kill two birds with one stone, reaping renown out in the lakes as well.

But the curve hits sharply.  Let me take a moment to say that I’m not trying to toot my horn, wave my epeen, or boast about the glorious virtual existence I enjoy alongside real life unemployment (although I got called in to work yesterday, woohoo!).  I’m not in the top 10 of anything for Witch Hunters on my server, nor do I particularly care to be.

Why?  Because the “best” simply zerg.

Whatever that Ironbreaker was smoking, I want some.

Whatever that Ironbreaker was smoking, I want some.

After attaining a certain renown rank, killing other players rewards poorly; the only renown gains that don’t plummet sharply as you advance are ORvR captures: keeps and battlefield objectives.  So rather than spend 15 minutes in a scenario watching both sides blindly rush the middle of the map despite the explanation on the loading screen moments before entering…

  1. Fly to contested zone
  2. Find and join open warband
  3. Kill NPCs
  4. AFK for 3 minutes
  5. profit!

And pretty soon renown rank boils down to who has more playtime, not skill in RvR.  I’ve seen some of the “best” get their faces pounded in by level 35s in quest reward gear.

So now my strategy is (although I don’t degroup and solo; perhaps I should): find the player on the enemy team worth the most and assassinate them at least once for more renown than the entire scenario or capture would be worth otherwise.

Which is actually pretty fun.  I’m making a lot of enemies, naturally, but that only makes things more interesting.  After all, if the top 10% of your players only stand to gain from slaughtering one another, it’ll weed out the keyboard turners eventually.

…I hope.

Copyright © 2009 Flintlocks R Fun; this Feed is for personal, non-commercial use only.





Mod Job

9 02 2009

A few MMOs ago I started playing with simple modifications – UI skins (not texture skins, mind you; that’s a bannable offense in most games and lost me a Gladiator title when my partner got the boot for giving himself warglaives), editing some better songs in for the battle music in FFXI, etc.

Then, as I was sitting in half lotus sipping matcha and contemplating the nature of the virtual world, it dawned on me: none of this “default UI” stuff ever neatly or efficiently presents the information I need for my playstyle.  Who started this trend with the player’s health and status window in the far upper-right corner, hiding on the edge of the screen like an abuse victim?  Certainly not a PvPer or a healer, I’d wager.

clean/combat; note the large yellow text in the bottom frame now eliminated by AlertFilter

clean/combat; note the large yellow text in the bottom frame to be eliminated by AlertFilter

Long story short: I mod, and I like it.  I take a fairly minimalist approach, and my focus is on efficiency (i.e. I don’t care if a BW happened to tab-DOT my target, but I need to know if my CC runs out or snare needs to be reapplied).  Now I don’t want to become WARAR, but I thought I’d share a nifty few I’ve found with you all and hopefully inspire some to start modding.  While WAR’s API isn’t as friendly as WoW’s (yet!), there are some fantastic addon developers leading the fight for us.

AlertFilter: Maybe it’s because I’m a button masher, but whoever decided to stick virtually every kind of error message into huge size 72 font across your UI’s forehead needs to be reassigned.  AlertFilter redirects “out of range,” “not yet ready,” “cannot see your target,” etc. spam into your combat log.

MoraleSet: Creates morale setups like tactics’, and swaps amongst them alongside tactics.  Just plain handy.

Phantom: Hides all that ugly default UI stuff that the built-in Layout Editor won’t let you; sometimes a necessity e.g. you already have another mod managing player/target status that doesn’t disable the Mythic frames, or you need to get rid of that pesky empty actionbar.

zMiniMap (AKA Minmap, zmm): What happens when you try to put a round peg into a square box?  Wasted space.  A circular minimap is cute and all, minus the myriad of buttons and sliders hanging off it like some 2D Katamari Damacy experiment, but it’s not very efficient.  Cleans everything up into a nice square frame.

Copyright © 2009 Flintlocks R Fun; this Feed is for personal, non-commercial use only.





Hip, Hip, Hurrah! Hip, Hip… huuuh?

4 02 2009

Witch Hunter morale abilities have for some time now fallen into the category of “things that make you go hmm” (or in some cases, the simple “wtf?” will suffice); our career-specific tricks are especially lackluster.  For the confused Witch Hunter in all of us I hereby present: Morale 101.

somewhere there is an entire industry for staging photos of happy office workers

somewhere there is an entire industry for staging photos of happy office workers

Rank 1 morales: quick to build, possible even in a duel if long enough (30+ secs for me, roughly)

Sever Nerve:  In my anti-caster setup.  Best coordinated with other burst damage.  Lackluster in PvE, only 20 DPS if spammed and may interfere with using other morales.  I pass over it in favor of…

Confusing Movements: Five stars.  In my anti-melee lineup.  Fantastic when dueling a melee class or Squig Herder; combine with REPEL BLASPHEMY for 12+ seconds of 100% parry.  Great in PvE for evade tanking e.g. (1) tank dies, you buy healer time to rez (2) trash on the squishies, smack ’em around and buy time until a tank can pick them up.

Exoneration: Worthless. 133 health per second and (at best) 80% AP regen for 9 seconds shouldn’t make a difference in any situation, and Confusing Movements’ damage avoidance is probably superior unless you’re being nuked by casters.  If anything, socket Sever Nerve to kill your target more quickly and make your escape before you ‘need’ this pitiful trash.

Rank 2 morales: also quick to build, probably our most useful

Force of Will: Nice against most careers if used properly; hit it early in a fight and/or when you’re low on AP to cripple your opponent and get the most benefit.  Great start to any fight against a tank because it limits their options (if you’re using Judgment bullets also you just made their life hell) and nice for draining a Zealot/Shaman so they can’t spam heal themselves.

Relentless Assault: Eeeeh, meh.  Strictly PvE, of course, and lately I’ve been getting more use out of a morale3 I’ll discuss shortly.  More for your group than yourself (you could get twice as much from Force of Will)

Reversal of Fortune: The disarm probably won’t land if you’re dueling one other player because you’ll have already given them Unstoppable, but in skirmishes and medium-to-large battles it can save squishies – including yourself – and the damage is gravy.  Our only decent AE without speccing deep Confession, slotting weird tactics and such.  I pop this constantly.

Rank 3 morales: diminishing returns kick in here; they take significantly longer to reach

Broad Swings: Why, Mythic, why?  At best it’s 6 attacks that become slightly AE (seems like a very small radius); I’ve only ever heard of it being novel when combined with Trial By Pain (procs on each half-second bullet) and Dragon Gun.

Witchfinder’s Protection: A lot of people are sour on this, and understandably so – it’s another PvE-only, seemingly lackluster ability.  Recently, though, I’ve been getting a lot of love out of this one.  It helps the rear-line squishies when they get aggro from trash, and tanks by being a quasi-Shield Wall.  For example, last night my LV group was attempting Sechar (and beat him without a Warrior Priest spamming groupheal, much to the surprise of elder guilds) and for his 30-second pleasure aura – the tougher for us to deal with – we rotated Shield Walls and this morale.  As I don’t use ranks 2, 4, or usually even 1 during PvE, this has become my staple “O SH*T” button to sit on.

Rank 4 morales: probably restricted to sieges; as a disclaimer, I haven’t fiddled with all of these extensively

Frenzied Slaughter: After factoring in global cooldown, this ends up applying to only four abilities used immdiately afterward.  Unless you got all the way to rank 4 morale just for a big Exit Wound or Absolution crit, this isn’t going to make much of a difference.  At all.  In practice: the AP reduction = minor, damage = mediocre, cooldown reduction = moot.

Divine Blast: Keep/fortress siege; aim at choke point, profit.

Excommunicate: Fortress siege – pop it on their main tank and watch him die.  Or you could blow an entire bar of hard-earned morale to kill any 1 player that might be receiving heals.  The damage is a bonus.

Expurgation: Another anti-zerg ability.  Hope you can make it out alive afterward.  Double the damage of Excommunicate, and a handsome snare component.

Copyright © 2009 Flintlocks R Fun; this Feed is for personal, non-commercial use only.





Lost Vale Wins ‘Most Scenic MMO Corpse Run’

3 02 2009

Sunday night I was asked to help an alliance group with an MIA DPS and simultaneously be initiated into the hardest dungeon currently in the game, Lost Vale.  I’ll not go into too much detail about the buggy boss fights or what-were-they-smoking-when-they-coded-this loot because – if the ubiquitous leaked 1.2 patch notes* are genuine – those will hopefully be addressed soon.  We finished the first two wings and will be going back later tonight for the third; so far I’ve picked up two weapons (one very odd and one total crap; still no sign of the third, moderately useful one) and an inspired awe for WAR’s graphics engine when my processor can handle it.

I thought we could pay Chinese warehouses to do monotonous tasks

I thought we could pay Chinese warehouses to do monotonous tasks

No, really.  The place is absolutely gorgeous; major kudos to the art and design team that showered it with their attention.

…but did they let anybody else know that they were planning this place?

Sure, the Everqueen’s disembodied spirit teabagging every boss’ corpse doubles as both quest-advancer and healer, but why?  Any wipe without a prepared Rune Priest is going to send the entire team back to the shores of Avelorn, ten feet from a warcamp healer, and then back on a 5-15 minute retread before catching up with Her Ghostliness.

Hopefully Mythic will take a page from WoW and implement intra-instance dungeon teleports a la Karazhan, Black Temple, etc.  I haven’t read anything explicitly yet about this, but there’s something frustrating as a player when your first five hours of exposure to new content is 30% slack-jawed zombie jog back whence you came, or taking a much-needed pee break while another groupmate suffers their turn at driving the /follow taxi (hopefully he can figure out how to get around that tricky debris-ridden stair landing this time).

Verdant groves and picturesque ruins notwithstanding, it will get old quickly.

*OK, that’s mostly the combat & careers stuff; I had been thinking about the ‘second half’ of 1.2 patch notes – dealing explicitly with lots of LV and itemization issues – that my guildmaster posted on our forums this past week, but I can’t seem to find a persistent link to them elsewhere so I suppose you’ll just have to take my word… and I’ll have to start wondering about my guildmates’ connections!

Copyright © 2009 Flintlocks R Fun; this Feed is for personal, non-commercial use only.





Horizontal is the New Vertical

30 01 2009
I have rotated this image ninety degrees

I have rotated this image ninety degrees

Call it a content update, a “live expansion,” a major patch, whatever.  I see a pattern in the development of the game so far, and I’m gonna call Mythic out on it: horizontalism.

Vertical and horizontal are different ways to expand a MMORPG.  In a nutshell vertical expansion encompasses things that raise some cap, introduce higher level or more difficult content, or generally appease the current subscription base and have very little appeal to potential customers or less advanced players.  Horizontal expansion is about choices: more classes, more races, more skills, more ways to enhance your character; everybody benefits… probably.  Each method has its advantages and inherent disadvantages.

Vertical expansion‘s hallmark would have to be the classic forumula: raise level cap + new content = profit.  I won’t cite examples because that would read like Wikipdia’s “List of Major MMORPGs.”  Typically the new lands to be explored, however, are only accessible by those players who’ve already hit the top, killed and done everything there was to do, and have been getting bored lately.  You can add a fresh newbie/starter zone for kicks, maybe, but the likelihood of recreating a whole new slew of start-to-endgame content on a new continent (unless you’re sci-fi, and then it’s a planet I guess)  is slim.

How does vertical expansion help your game?  First, it’s a great way to hold onto your core players.  The hardcores, the fanboys, the perfectionists who refrain from passing judgment until they’ve played things out will give you the benefit of a doubt – and their next few months’ subscription fees – until they’ve hit the new ceiling and played around in the Lair of Ultimate Evil No Really This Time.  By raising caps you oblige players to perform whatever reward-driven grind you give them to be at the top of the heap once again, which as most MMORPGamers know is where one finds all the action.  Vertical expansion is absolutely vital to MMORPGs in the sense that you cannot expect people to continue playing a game if you do not produce increasingly more challenging content; it would be like asking a friend to pay you $15 a month so he could hammer away at Safer Sephiroth’s less dangerous extremities for perpetuity.  The exception to this is when your game builds itself around PvP, such as Guild Wars (which I’ll touch on in just a bit).

But oh, the downsides.  First, vertical expansion is a love or hate thing; while most people will gladly hop back aboard the grind train, those less inclined to do so will notice that you just knocked their characters down another X levels (practically speaking), so why the hell should they bother trying again?  Vertical expansion also has a nasty habit of effectively nullifying all the content your developers poured so much blood, sweat, and tears into as everybody races past yesteryear’s rune-forged battlearmor of demigodliness to get to the randomized quest rewards that are suddenly superior (to say nothing of the lore implications).

Moreover, vertical philosophy tends to make your game world a very lonely and daunting place for new players.  If all the stuff you’ve been hyping is heaped on top or tacked onto the end of your game, there’s nothing really enticing to a prospective subscriber – unless of course they expect to reach endgame quickly.  But that becomes more difficult as well.  Let’s say you released, and it took about a year before the majority of your playerbase had a maximum-level character.  You want to get a few more months’ rent and keep them interested, so your expand, lifting the level cap so they play their characters for another 3 months.  Your game survives, you make money, and you churn out a couple more expansions like any good MMORPG.  Suddenly your new content is two years beyond the reach of a potential buyer, which they might come to realize as they progress through a ghost world because everybody else is either at the top or powerleveling alts with their guildies.  Hardly what’s on the box.

FFXI loves choices. And 18 hour boss fights.

FFXI loves choices. And 18 hour boss fights.

Horizontal expansion‘s strengths are that it gives players more to do without invalidating their prior accomplishments; if vertical expansion raises the bar, horizontal expansion adds more rules to the game (but you can still be a good jumper).  Guild Wars, perhaps the first major advocate of a horizontal approach, adds new classes to create more potential combination and strategies in PvP (and to a lesser extent PvE).  UO started the holiday/live event trend that provided priceless one-time items that wouldn’t necessarily overshadow other elements of the game, and special veteran rewards for longtime subscribers.  Another advantage is that developers don’t have to work on gigantic projects, creating a new game world to replace the old; instead their former work is augmented by more options, rules, and content.

But the developer stress is of a different kind; when introducing new elements to an existing structure you have to find a way to harmonize them.  Guild Wars needs to ensure that the new professions they add with each expansion won’t imbalance the contemporary PvP scene, and we all know how difficult balance is.  DAoC’s 44 character classes were incredibly rough for Mythic to calibrate, and although I think they did a better job than other games with fewer archetypes there will almost inevitably be bumps in the road.  And even if your development team doesn’t have to create a new land to explore, expanding a game horizontally may not keep the hardcore players as challenged as raising a level cap and introducing tougher monsters, so a plethora of smaller projects are needed to keep subscribers interested.

Turning an eye again to the future gamer, perhaps the biggest problem with horizontal expansion is its tendency to drown a game in minutiae and complexity.  WoW chose character enhancement originally with enchantments, then gem socketing, and now glyphs; DAoC had artifacts and mythirians; AO had – on top of its original byzantine myriad of advancement options – perks (think talent/mastery/specialization), alien technology that required special training, and a method of researching and pursuing skill enhancements via guild progression.  The newbie at character select might soon be confronted with a mind-boggling array of options that confuse and slow formerly fluid and user-friendly gameplay.

Most major MMORPGs to date have embraced a little of both e.g. level cap raise + new lands/dungeons + a couple races/classes + new skills or enhancements.

What surprises me about WAR is how heavily slanted it seems toward horizontal content development (so far): four new classes, the addition of ORvR influence, PQ difficulty settings, and a steady flow of live events with no level cap raise in sight.  My beloved Darkness Falls 2.0 is the only sign of a straight difficulty increase – presumably.  Personally, I’m a fan of horizontal expansion, have enjoyed it thus far, and look forward to more.

Copyright © 2009 Flintlocks R Fun; this Feed is for personal, non-commercial use only.