Thursday, 8 March 2012

Blizzard Hero

I am not a Blizzard fanboy, and most of posts have been very much in a negative vein, but Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street, WoW's lead systems designer is my Blizzard Hero. As the front for a company he is very articulate and incredibly knowledgeable about the game and the playing population. One can only imagine the number of blogs and forum posts he reads, on top of holding down a daytime and probably playing the game of an evening. His postings on forums was a joy to read and it was much sadness when the trolls forced him to take a less direct approach. The Dev Watercooler series as been utterly brilliant, the only criticism would be that there are not enough of them.

The recent 3 part Cataclysm post-mortem blog series has been very interesting with the possible exception of Scott “Daelo” Mercer who wrote about how wonderful the expansion has been. This is somebody who needs to take his head out of his arse and conduct a full scale SWOT analysis on the Cataclysm expansion. Ghostcrawler and Dave “Fargo” Kosak are both capable of seeing a funny side of some of the expansions failings. The following example from Kosak is a prime example,

"Overwhelmingly, players have told us that they want more quests where you have to flap a giant bird around a cave while targeting creatures in a 3D space."

The interviewer either didn't grasp Kosak's sarcasm, or has never attempted the achievement, The 'Unbeatable?' Pterodactyl: BEATEN. My wife nearly bashed me over the head with keyboard\monitor when I told how to fly the bird, without sinking like a gold brick. She never did work out the ability to change direction in midflight.

Cataclysm Successes

Ghostcrawler rightfully slaps himself and the team on the back for the work they did with the 1-60 revamp. I think everybody can agree that the game was old and tired and no longer held any interest for people leveling up. It is the main reason everybody has a Death Knight, do a short quest chain and then hop through the portal to the Outlands. Since the update it is the Outlands that is the main graveyard of alts, most of them suffering trenchfoot in Zangarmarsh.

The next item that Ghostcrawler highlights is the success of Looking For Raid. I know most of the raiding community likes to look down rather unfavourably on the ease of LFR, but in my opinion this was one of the great features introduced by Blizzard. This is likely to become de facto in all MMO's from this point onwards. My game time does not allow for set raid nights with strict start and finish times. With an army of Alts and in particular 3 healers I can queue and be in a raid in less than a minute most times of the night. Besides the limited amount of dancing they really are good training exercises for the normal modes. After doing the normal raid I now fully understand the fights that previously I was just able to wander through in LFR.

The other item highlighted by Ghostcrawler in a single paragraph was Transmogrification. Now this is not something I have made a great deal of use of, but I can certainly see its attraction. My Ret Pally is the only winner so far with this feature, and she now sports a tremendous 2 Hander which looks suspiciously like Sul'thraze the Lasher and this alone makes me very happy. Now if anyone can remember the clown suits we used to wear leveling through the Outlands, this feature makes perfect sense. Pit Helmet and Peach wellies on a Death Knight not any more. Now I just need to find something sensible to transmog my Spiritwalker's Mantle so my Shaman can stop walking around with two T-Rex skulls attached to his shoulders.

Cataclysm Failures

First up Ghostcrawler identifies that the new zones were disjointed feeling and existed mostly at the other end of a portal provided by your major city. Whilst being different than all the other expansions, I didn't see this as a huge problem. What is more of a problem is the death of the other Cities in the game. I never had any feelings towards Darnassus or Exodar, but it saddens my heart to see Ironforge empty of any players.

The following quote is worth a blog post on it's own.

"The difficulty at which we pegged our heroic dungeons and raids was controversial. They were designed to be about as tough as the dungeons were back in Burning Crusade, but the game has changed since then. Coming out of Lich King, we'd gotten the message loud and clear from players that they wanted tougher challenges. They liked the convenience of Dungeon Finder, but they missed using their crowd control and survival abilities and having to strategize about how to beat a given encounter. We designed the Cataclysm heroics with that in mind, and the players who wanted challenging content were thrilled."

"The problem was that we had this whole group of players who felt like they couldn't make any progress on their characters. Even if they wanted to end up raiding with their friends, they couldn't earn the gear they needed to get into those raids (especially in the absence of Raid Finder). I don't believe that the instances were too hard; it's obvious there are players who enjoy that content. I believe the problem was that there were no alternatives. "

The Burning Crusade Heroics came in two distinct varieties, the reasonably difficult, but very doable, and the very bloody hard. The level 70 Dungeons with an heroic version were absolute stinkers. The mojority of people stuck to doing heroic Underbog and heroic Ramparts. Nobody enjoyed Heroic Shattered Halls, it was just too damn long and too difficult. There is no way you would do more than one heroic a night, there was no LFG in those days and most people would only venture in with a handpick team of guildies. So open up the need for CC with a random group of strangers and introduce a method requiring carefully crafted heals designed to keep the team just above dying. This was a recipe for disaster, and disaster is exactly what we got. The hate coming from the DPS to the healers was enough to stop me and probably some others from healing 5 mans until the ethos changed and epics became the norm. Is it any wonder why the LFR's are desperately short of healers.

Maybe there is a problem with distribution of roles:

5 Man Heroic - 1 Tank, 1 Healer, 3 DPS

10 Man - 2 Tanks, 2-3 Healers, 5-6 DPS

25 Man - 2 Tanks, 5-6 Healers, 17-18 DPS

So a shortage of Tanks at 5 Man LFG and a shortage of Healers at 25 Man LFR. Let's hope for some more slots per server and loads of new baby healing Monks for the next expansion.

Another major issue with the Heroic 5 Mans, was the duration to complete. I did Heroic Deadmines on only one occasion, which was an instance I was looking forward to. After battling our way to the ship for 60 minutes, you then get ported back halfway through the dungeon to do it again. Thanks for the memory Blizz, the next time I see the early Cataclysm Heroics will be when I can solo them midway through the next expansion.

Even worse than that was the Troll Heroics. The Zul' Gurub abomination says it all, and Zul' Amman was half decent but I am afraid that if I had not discovered PvP or else I would have stopped subscribing during Patches 4.1 and 4.2.

As always Blizzard know when something is wrong and they normally go full tilt in the other direction and eventually get the right course by zig zagging a course through an expansion. Quick heroics, LFR are the future for the majority of players. The elite can bang their heads against heroic Raids, and the rest of the playing population, with more stable playing time can do normal mode raiding. Of course the Rogues, Death Knights and Frost Mages can continue to pwn each other in the BG's and Arenas.

Ghostcrawler's personal loss at the absence of Abyssal Maw, is probably a huge sigh of relief from the playing population. Anybody who had the misfortune to quest through the 130+ quests under the sea in Vashj'ir will be more than happy. The zone was was probably the most beautiful created by Blizzard, but 3D swimming, fighting and trying to find bloody cave entrances is just way too much.

The new Cataclysm profession Archeology gets a special mention.

"Archaeology had too much travel time. It could be punishingly random, especially for players who imagined that it would be a guaranteed delivery mechanism for Zin'rokh (which was never the intention). Players missed a lot of the lore, which was delivered in the Archaeology journal and not as part of the survey or digging experience. We think the Mists of Pandaria expansion will be really good for Archaeology. "

Archeology was long and very boring, in my experience the only sensible way to do it was when you had other things to do and could spare 5 minutes every 20 minutes or so. Fly to digsite, find three items, fly to nearest flight point, go and clean bathroom. Repeat and peel potatoes. I would suggest browsing the internet as an alternative but my version crashes out if I am not 100% loyal to WoW especially if I am flying, I am sure it sense my flirtation with over things social like e-mail or Facebook.

The only other useful aspect about archeology was the huge amount of xp available, especially if you had a character with Herbing and Mining. Why skinners got such a rough ride in cata I am not sure, especially with the terrible droprate of Pristine Hide. Why no xp for skinners?

Mists of Pandaria and beyond

The general gist for the expansion is progression by doing what you want to do. It’s your game, play solo, play in a random group, play with your guild, kill monsters, kill other players. Get rewards your way and have fun whilst doing it. If Blizzard gets this right, we are in for a treat and maybe just maybe those subscriber numbers might  go creeping back up again

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