All Aboard the Failboat!

08/17/2012

There’s been a whole lot of discussion on the WoW forums over the last couple of months concerning the consistent nerfing of content that has become Blizzard’s design model. The response from Blizzard has been the usual cocktail of logical fallacies, pandering, and outright lies. I understand that not everyone at Blizzard actually believes their own propaganda, but are simply forced to espouse it by their boss. RIFT has adopted a similar model, and it’s likely many other MMOs will join the parade. Businesses follow the money, not good gameplay, and at this time the MMO market believes spoon-feeding content to people will net them the greatest profit. I wanted to take the time to remove money making from the equation and discuss what the perpetual bar-lowering does for that quality of a game; namely, that it hurts it.

I’m actually going to pull a metaphor that Fake-GC used in an attempt to debunk the ‘constant nerfs destroy the quality of content’ argument, because it was such a perfect example of the exact opposite of the point he was trying to make. He said that un-nerfed content is like climbing Everest without survival gear (which makes a poor starting point since that’s just impossible to being with, but I digress). Nerfed content is like climbing Everest with tons of training and survival gear (ie, how everyone who has ever climbed Everest and lived has done it). The point that followed was the you can’t complain that someone that climbed Everest doesn’t deserve recognition just because they were less hardcore about it. This is, of course, a complete strawman. Defeating a hard mode raid at content level, unnerfed, is like climbing Everest. It’s hard, you put a ton of time into preparing for it. You climb many lesser mountains in training. You use every tool available to you, and even then you may not succeed. It is a static goal against which you pitch all of your accumulated skill and training. 

Now imagine if Everest got nerfed. 5% height deducted every two weeks, like clockwork. At the end of a few months, Everest is 30% shorter than it used to be. 30% less climbing required, 30% less deadly-thin atmosphere at the top, 30% less frozen rock and ice. Everyone claiming “Hey, I climbed Everest!” would piss the hell out of those that had climbed Everest pre-nerf, as it should. If you climbed 30% nerf Everest and it was super hard, congratulations. Sincerely. That was undoubtedly a huge accomplishment into which you poured all of your efforts. You still didn’t fucking climb Everest. You climbed a lesser mountain. A smaller, less challenging pile of rocks. However great a personal victory it was, it still is not the victory actual scalers of Everest achieved. To equate the two, much less value and reward you the same is an insult to the more accomplished party.

The mistake being made here is that relative accomplishment infinitely trumps absolute accomplishment. Reality is somewhere in the middle. Imagine a highschool basketball team being national champions, along side a NBA team winning the national title. Both have put blood, sweat, and tears into reach the pinnacle of their game, but the latters’ accomplishment was objectively harder. You cheer and congratulate the high-schoolers for their very impressive accomplishment, because they deserve it. You don’t, however, tell them they just won the NBA finals. You let them have their victory, and then you tell them to practice more. So they can move on to college ball, and maybe eventually win the NBA for real. 

The reason this kind of thinking degrades the quality of a game is twofold: first, as I hope the above has made abundantly clear, is that it diminishes the accomplishment of those that put the considerable time and effort in to mastering the game and the encounters. (Again, consider how you would feel if you won the gold medal in the 50m dash, and I then won the same gold medal for running 35m.) This is not to say there is no value in simply knowing you accomplished the greater task, but it is certainly cheapened by being commonplace.

The second, and far worse reason, is that it removes the impetus for improvement. If a challenge is going to reduced in difficulty to the point of being trivial, then there is not reason to improve in order to overcome it; just wait a few weeks and you will be rewarded. “Ah-ha!” says ever PR rep ever “But you can turn the buff off! The challenge is still there if you want it, so stop being so butthurt over other people getting it easily. It’s not about them, it’s about you!” WRONG. Again, let me put this to you: at your job, would you rather get a promotion for working 100+ hour weeks, much of it unpaid, kissing tons of ass, studying in your free time, and taking all the worst tasks for yourself, or would you rather wait 6 months and get the same promotion for showing up to work on time? If you chose option A, you are either a liar, completely insane, or both. It is fantastically irrational to choose the harder option when the reward is exactly the same.

This is coming from someone who loves a challenge, who always plays on the hardest mode, who operates best when things are right at the edge of my abilities. Many, many people enjoy needless, arbitrarily challenges. But they enjoy them because they push you to do things that others can or will not. And you expect to be distinguished from those that did not. The drive behind improvement is the reward, tangible or intangible that comes with it. It would be insane to do something for no reason at all. If I could get girls by dropping my pants and belching loudly, I sure as fuck would. No reward for being better = no drive to get better. It’s as simple as that.

TL;DR blanket nerfs are awful because they both invalidate accomplishments and remove any reason to improve.

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You Are The Worst.

07/08/2012

I play a lot of video games. Some might even say too many (haters). A lot of these games are MMOs. I’ve been surprised lately with how many titles have come out lacking one or more of what I would consider mandatory features, so I’ve decided to provide a list; a cheat-sheet, if you will, for prospective MMO developers. I’m not going to tell you what I want in a game, because there are many, many different views on that topic and I’m not quite foolish enough to think my opinion is the “right” one. However, excluding obvious things like “not buggy as all hell”, “at least trying to be balanced”,  and “a map”, what follows is a list of things that you should probably have in your game before it launches:

  • A jump key. Seriously, we got that shit down decades ago. I don’t even understand why I have to include this. Maybe I should list “a map”.
  • The ability to swim. This is a bit more complex, but honestly, at this point there’s no excuse for not giving players the ability to cross bodies of water in some fashion. Even if they have to just swim on the surface.
  • AoE looting. Do you enjoy wasting your players’ time? No? Do your programmers have five minutes? Yes? Excellent, we’re all done here.
  • Multispeccing. Obviously excluding games without specs, but for those that have them, this is a must.
  • LFG and Battleground queues. The bread and butter of PvE and PvP respectively, launching a game without these at this point is just dickish.
  • Quest tracking. Because nothing says “fun” like searching for hours to find one guy.
  • A fully customizable UI with at least partial addon support. Because hitting the “average” for a UI just means  everyone is going to be slightly dissatisfied. Also data collection is a thing good players like to be able to do.
  • Endgame. For PvE, this means a large, fully functional raid. PvP means some sort of reward/ranking system for battlegrounds. This is the one that most developers fail to do, and is the most heinously irresponsible to lack at this point. Most of us don’t enjoy leveling endless alts, guys.
  • Modifier keys. Another one I didn’t think I would need to include, but ArenaNet sure showed me. If I can’t Shift+2 an ability I either need fewer abilities, or giant 20-fingered hands.
  • Shared/importable UI settings. Because making a player recreate their UI every time they roll a new character is just asinine.
  • Appearance customization. Both at character creation (hint: sliders are no longer optional, as hardware has improved since 1998), and in game. FiOS and quad core processors aren’t going anywhere, and your game should visually reflect that fact.

So there you have it. Things that I, as a hypothetical MMO publisher would be embarrassed to launch my game without. Yet someone’s done each and every one of these in a modern MMO. How about you, dear reader? What do you demand of your games?


Save or Die.

06/19/2012

Before I even begin, I’d like to clarify a few things: first, all of the vitriol in the following paragraphs is based in the world of mechanics. If your edition choice is based on finances, a long running campaign, or other ‘real-world’ factors, then I respect your decision and we can still be friends. Second, I am not at all claiming 4e is without faults. It has them. Large ones. That’s what I am so concerned that the next edition be better than the current. Third, 5e (no, I am not calling it “Nexus”) already has plenty of great ideas. I just want to remove the bad ones and ensure no more sneak their way in.

I never really got into the edition wars of D&D; not because I didn’t think there was a clear winner, but because the other side wasn’t really hurting me. If they wanted to play an older edition it didn’t affect me in any way. Now it is, though. 5e is looking backwards for inspiration, not only to 3/3.5, but to even 2 and 1e, and while there’s nothing wrong with examining your past products, a lot of people seem to think this means they should be rolling back the rules to these editions.  Here the devs discuss the reasons behind this in a more or less neutral environment;  it looks like they are attempting to distill the essence of D&D from previous editions which is just fine.

But then there’s articles like this, and I start to really worry. There are players that think this way, and if the devs hear too much of this, they might design a game to appease the view.  Let me put this bluntly: if you disliked 4e because you thought it was too much like a video game (hint: what you actually mean is “has actual rules”), if you thought the rules got in the way you are doing it wrong. The only purpose of a rules set is provide an (hopefully) balanced set of mechanics to determine the outcome of challenges. It is not to get involved in your story, roleplay, or imagination in any way, either positive or negative. Time and again I see people complain about square fireballs, minis, and Stealth. If you don’t want rules to dictate what you can do, then go play a freeform RPG. You picked D&D, which means you must want rules. Yes, D&D rules have become lengthier and more cumbersome with each edition, in the same way that cars have become more intricate and heavier: because we’re better at making them, and have to include airbags and ABS.

To extend the car metaphor, I am going to pick on 3.5 and 4e as those are the biggest warriors, and also the freshest in most peoples’ mind. 3.5e is a car. It is a pretty good car, much better than the older models because the manufacturer has learned a lot about both what makes a good car and how to deliver said car since the previous model. However, there are still some issues. The tires will usually lose grip if you go over 45 and crash you into a tree. Also the seatbelts will strangle anyone under 5’8″. 4e is the latest model of the car, and the manufacturer has fixed those issues. The tiers can still lose traction, but only if it’s wet and you’re going 80. Seatbelts no longer strangle people during the course of normal use. Then someone comes along and says “Hey, but I liked being able to crash in to trees, how dare you take this away from me?”. Well, A) why? and B) you can still crash in to trees if you want. The steering wheel is right there. The only thing that’s happened is that people that don’t want to crash in to trees and strangle themselves don’t have to.

4e in no way, shape, or form curtails your ability to RP your character or immerse yourself in the world. The rules are not there to tell you what you can do, they are there to tell you what you can’t. If you are now thinking “Ah, you’ve played right into my hand!” allow me to clarify: rules restrict the upper limit of what you can accomplish. They represent your maximum performance. What you choose to do with this, the freeform RP within a rules skeleton, the very essence of Dungeons & Dragons, remains unchanged. If you want to play a soft footed but fat man, don’t complain about Hide in Shadows and Move Silently being rolled into Stealth, use your imagination. RP it out. If you want your character to be bad at concealing himself, just play him that way. Use the “theatre of the mind” that anti-4e warriors constantly reference.

4e is better. Thousands of forums, millions of players all attest that 4e is much more balanced, much more difficult to break, which is the metric by which mechanics should be judged. I’m not providing links for this because I don’t have a week. Go look it up. I will say this: I never, not once, not for a second felt 4e rules got in the way of my play, and to the best of my knowledge, no one I’ve played with did either. If you can’t separate rules from your story, if you can’t unshackle yourself from what the mechanics say you can do and simply do whatever they don’t say you can’t, if your wizard uses square fireballs because that’s what some miniature uses, then it’s not the rules that need work: it’s your imagination.


The Whenever WTF.

02/21/2011

Okay, seriously Blizzard, hire someone that passed second grade math. I don’t even. The latest patch brought, among other things, this little gem:

“#In addition to its current effects, the Body and Soul talent now grants 12.5%/25% reduction to the base mana cost of Power Word: Shield.”

For anyone unaware, B&S is a deep holy talent; it’s the one that gives you a sprint whenever the priest casts PW:S on you. What this change did was make PW:S more efficient for Holy than Disc, and simultaneously make it a better heal than GHeal. Seriously. They gave holy priests an efficient, instant absorb mechanic with a built-in speed boost. Surprise, it was the greatest thing ever.

This isn’t “we didn’t consider that scenario”. This isn’t even “whoops we programmed the lander in meters instead of yards”. This is you adding grainy white stuff to your cake batter without bothering to check if it’s salt, sugar, or Edward dandruff. Five minutes with a calculator and a napkin would have told anyone that this was a terribly overpowered and unnecessary idea and that it shouldn’t be included, but apparently no one could be bothered.

I can only imagine the meeting that lead to this change:

“Hey Mike, you know, I feel that Holy priests need more incentive to cast Power Word: Shield. You know, besides that amazing and mandatory talent already in their talent tree.”

“You know Greg, you’re right! I think we should make it cost less mana for them. That way, they can boost peoples’ speed with even less regard for the cost to their mana pool.”

“But Mike, don’t you think that greatly increasing the efficiency, while we simultaneously boost the power of the shield, might lead to a situation wherein this becomes somewhat overpowered? Maybe I should have one of those many, many QA people we have on staff spend the three seconds it would take to divide one number by another number to check that we’re not making any really obvious mistakes.”

“Don’t worry about it Greg. We’re game designers, and we have game intuition. I’ve got a good feeling about this one.”

“Oh, you’re right Mike, my bad buddy. Let’s be sure to push this through last minute. Meeting adjourned, let’s go get some sodas and take another money bath!”

Seriously, this is the only was I can see the entire fucking Blizzard staff missing this. Hire someone to check this shit. It’s not hard, you just have to stop doing lines of coke long enough to actually do some work. I’ll do it. Hire me. I can forgive strange and unexpected interactions leading to results that need fixing, but this was not that. This was a very simple math problem that got through because checking yourself before putting something in a service you provide to millions of paying customers is apparently beneath you.

Thankfully, the change has been reverted, so Disc is no longer an invalid spec, Holy itemization is not totally screwed, fights are not totally trivialized, and I don’t have to buy a gun. This is not the first time something like this has happened though, and I suspect it won’t be the last. Take some pride in your work Blizzard, and check your shit.


The Wednesday WTF.

01/05/2011

Adds. Those guys that spawn during fights, that do stuff and things. Dealing with them (usually by stabbing them in the face) is not a polite suggestion, as many players seem to think it is. Even during Wrath, I think most players got that adds = kill, but the time frame in which they needed to be dealt with was much more lax. It was okay if you finished your rotation before swapping, finished eating that last bite of pizza before taunting, or ran in circles crying about healgro for a few seconds. It’s not okay anymore. When they exist in a Cataclysm fight, dealing with the adds is almost always crucial to success. Taking care of them, be it via stabbing, sheeping, or some other mechanic is neither optional, nor something you can do at your own pace.

Just going through heroic bosses: Commander Springvale, ignoring adds will wipe you. Drahga Shadowburner, ignoring adds will wipe you. Erudax, ignoring adds will wipe you. Lord Obsidius, Corla, Lockmaw… you get the idea. Even the easiest adds, which don’t have a wiping mechanic directly tied to them like Rom’ogg Bonecrusher or Baron Silverlaine need to be delt with. If left unchecked, they significantly increase damage intake, which in turn drains more mana from the healer which will, you guessed it: wipe you.

Most fights exist somewhere between these extremes, in that a couple of slip ups will probably be recoverable, but they have nasty effects that will push the fight outside the realm of doable if left to run rampant. Again, this is not to say that most players will ignore adds (though plenty do), but rather that they don’t have enough respect for them. Don’t finish that cast, don’t get that last strike in, don’t wait for them to spawn/come to you, don’t unnecessarily pull aggro on them, and most importantly don’t assume someone else will handle it. Whatever it is you’re doing, dealing with the adds is very likely more important. So… deal with them. You’ll win more and get yelled at less.


The Wednesday WTF.

12/30/2010

I was worried that I was going to run out of stupid things to talk about. Then Cataclysm came along, and now I have a list as long as my arm. This one… I don’t even. Corla, Herald of Twilight is just about as easy as fights get. Yet I have seen dozens of groups, dozens of non-PuG groups fail. So, here it is. My extremely in depth guide that is everything you need to master and defeat this encounter. I do it for you guys.

Congratulations, you are now an expert at this fight. Seriously, I can see maybe wiping once because everyone fell asleep at their keyboard, but beyond that, how?! Up next week: the elusive “W” key and how to locate it.


The Wednesday WTF.

12/16/2010

DKs are terrible. Seriously. According to one guy who is definitely not me’s totally not subjective experiences, DKs suck 10-15% more than any other class. You want more proof? Okay, take a look at this totally legit pie chart:

 

This clearly shows that DKs overwhelmingly do not know how to play. What are they doing wrong, you ask? Well, for the most part they face-rolled their way to 85 and still think they’re playing Wrath. Not in the “Oh, sorry, I mistargetted that sheep” kind of way, but the “That carefully CC’d mob isn’t in the AoE. I could be doing more DPS if there were more mobs to AoE. Let me Death Grip it over here and then tank is as a DPS” way.

Over the past week I have seen around a dozen DKs try this exact thing in heroics. I want to make this perfectly clear: nothing about that is okay. An irritation and easy way for your group to tell how bad you were in Wrath, this is now a potential group-wiping move, and most definitely more headache than the rest of you group, especially the poor healer that now has to try to keep you alive, needs.

The above I think is pretty obvious to all but the worst WoW players by this point. However, a surprising number of them still think similarly silly things are okay. It is very, very common for DPS to take incidental damage they could have avoided, not interrupt a cast they could, or refuse to run out of a potentially lethal zone for the sake of doing more DPS. Healers and tanks have their own problems, but I’m picking on DPS right now.

Even good players that I’ve grouped up with sometimes do this. Sometimes you really need to just stop DPSing and get to safety. Even if you’re not necessarily doing anything wrong, it’s entirely possible that your healer has his or her hands full just trying to keep the tank alive. Staying in is just going to result in your death, which prolongs the fight, making the situation worse. Run out. Bandage if you can. Wait for the healer to have a moment to toss a heal your way. Maybe self heal if you possess the ability. Being mindful of what’s going on in the rest of your party really can be the difference between life and death. Don’t worry, we’re not far off from being able to power through heroics without CC, but smart play never goes out of style. And right now, it is more important than ever.