Archive for April, 2011

Blizzard Wieghs in on WoW’s Difficulty

A lot of people have a bone to pick when it comes to the overall difficulty of World of Warcraft – many of them go right out and say that they think the game has become easier over time, that Wrath of the Lich King was probably a low-point in the simplicity of the game and the changes made during that period made the game so simple that you could play without paying attention. Those same people are generally grateful that Cataclysm has seen the pendulum swing back in favor of a more difficult game overall.

At the same time, there are plenty of people who think that the game was fine early on in Vanilla WoW, and hit a pretty broken and difficult period in The Burning Crusade. They’ll say that the balance and difficulty were adjusted in Wrath of the Lich King, and the game found its sweet spot during that expansion, and that the changes in Cataclysm to make the game more challenging were unwarranted and the game now has just too steep a learning curve to really be accessible to anyone but people who play all of the time.

I’m curious what you think, but before we get to that point, Bashiok – one of the blue posters at the official forums – had a few things to say on the matter, and they’re worth reading:

I understand and respect gaming masochism. But, I think that changing mechanics to be more reasonable and less punishing is an improvement, not a detriment, to games in general. Many of us Original Gamers pine for the days of D&D-based yore when games were seemingly intended to break us down into sobbing masses created by an uncaring necromancer of pain and suffering, or at least didn’t try to avoid it. Overcoming all of the obstacles (I CHOOSE NOT TO SHOOT HER WITH THE SILVER ARROW… NOOOOO) was a big part of what gaming (I HAVE 1 LIFE!?), and especially PC gaming (HOW DO I LOAD MOUSE DRIVERS?), were about. But, I feel we’re lucky to now be in an age where those ideals (intended or not) are giving way to actual fun, actual challenge, and not fabricating it through high-reach requirements (I NEED A FAIRY MONK WITH A MAGIC LOCKPICK?).

What we’ve always been trying to do, what WoW has always been about (and to which much of its success is due) is to make an accessible MMO. Anyone that looks back at the game at launch and wishes it was as challenging now as it was then is not aware of the painstaking effort put into making this game accessible as compared to its predecessors. Since release we’ve refined that intent, eventually evolving the very few masochistic designs WoW actually ever started with, but ideally still offering those same prestige goals that give that feeling of achieving something great if you’re able to pull it off. We’ve made a lot of progress toward striking that balance and continuing to evolve the game, but it’s not something we’re ever likely to perfect, and we’ll be constantly working to hit that elusive goal. Hopefully it’s to the benefit of everyone playing and enjoying the game, and they’ll continue to enjoy the journey that a living, breathing, persistent universe will take us on.

I have to hand it to Bashiok partially for slamming so many old school gaming references into such a tiny addition to the thread, but he has some good points too: there’s a sense of nostalgia among people who have been playing video games – especially PC games – for a long time and remember the days when games were still fun and exciting, but far more punishing and difficult. But he does pose the question: does difficulty and punishment for making the wrong decisions make a bad game? Does a strict game with rigid gameplay styles automatically equate a GOOD game, or does it just make it a game that some of the most dedicated and determined gamers will love but no one else will ever play?

It’s a difficult line to walk, I have to admit, and while I have no real complaints about the difficulty level in Cataclysm (while I will be one of the people to say things in Wrath of the Lich King were a little on the easy side, and I thought Burning Crusade was a good place, especially with some of the changes Blizzard made at the tail end) I can see how difficult it is for them to walk it. At the same time, I think it’s clear that Blizzard isn’t fooling themselves: they know they can’t make everyone happy, and they shouldn’t try to – stick to their principles and their guns, and the game will continue to be successful.

What do you think? Is Cataclysm just too damned hard, or are people complaining about nothing? Sound off in the comments!

Blizzard Unveils Dungeon Finder: Call to Arms

If you needed a reason to queue up and join the dungeon finder, well…now you have one. Alternatively, if you’ve bemoaned the lack of people in queues and the time required to get a decent group, get ready for some relief. In patch 4.1 Blizzard is poised to unveil the Dungeon Finder: A Call to Arms.

Here’s the lowdown from Blizzard:

In patch 4.1 we’ll be introducing Dungeon Finder: Call to Arms, a new system intended to lower queue times. Call to Arms will automatically detect which class role is currently the least represented in the queue, and offer them additional rewards for entering the Dungeon Finder queue and completing a random level-85 Heroic dungeon.

Any time the Dungeon Finder queue is longer than a few minutes for level-85 Heroics, the Call to Arms system kicks in and determines which role is the least represented. In the case of tanking being the least represented role, the “Call to Arms: Tanks” icon will display in the Dungeon Finder UI menu where class roles are selected, and will also display on the UI when the queue pops and you are selected to enter a dungeon. Regardless of your role, you’ll always be able to see which role currently has been Called to Arms, if any.

Call to Arms is meant to lower wait times by offering additional rewards for queuing as the currently least represented role. To be eligible for the additional rewards you must solo queue for a random level-85 Heroic in the role that is currently being Called to Arms, and complete the dungeon by killing the final boss. Every time you hit these requirements (there is no daily limit) you’ll receive a goodie bag that will contain some gold, a chance at a rare gem, a chance at a flask/elixir (determined by spec), a good chance of receiving a non-combat pet (including cross faction pets), and a very rare chance at receiving a mount. The pets offered come from a wide variety of sources, and include companions like the Razzashi Hatchling, Cockatiel, and Tiny Sporebat, but the mounts are those specifically only available through dungeons (not raids), like the Reins of the Raven Lord from Sethekk Halls, Swift White Hawkstrider from Magister’s Terrace, and Deathcharger’s Reins from Stratholme.

Allow me to use this YouTube video to express my reaction:

Moving on:

This system is meant to address the unacceptable queue times currently being experienced by those that queue for the DPS role at max level. The long queue times are, of course, caused by a very simple lack of representation in the Dungeon Finder by tanks, and to some extent healers. We don’t feel the tanking and healing roles have any inherent issues that are causing the representation disparity, except that fulfilling them carries more responsibility. Understandably, players prefer to take on that responsibility in more organized situations than what the Dungeon Finder offers, but perhaps we can bribe them a little. While this system gives tanks and healers something extra, the incentive is being provided so that we can help players in the DPS role get into more dungeons, get better gear, and continue progressing.

While the gold, gems, flasks, and elixirs are OK incentives, we knew we needed something more substantial. We had briefly considered Valor Points and epics, but decided that wouldn’t be working toward the goal of helping DPS players progress, and ultimately wouldn’t keep tanks and healers in the Dungeon Finder system for very long. We settled on pets and dungeon-found mounts as they’re cosmetic/achievement items that players tend to try to get on their own, so why not change that up and offer them a chance to get some of those elusive pets and mounts in a way that also helps other players? Even if they don’t get a pet or mount, or get one they already have, the gold and other goodies still feel rewarding enough that it won’t feel like a waste of effort.

We think it’s a pretty solid incentive to get tanks and healers queuing, give max-level players another way to collect the pets and mounts they so desire, and above all, to improve wait times for DPS players sitting in queues. In the case of lower level dungeons, it’s actually not uncommon for DPS to be the least represented role, and so if this new system works out and we’re pleased with the results, we may consider applying this same mechanic to lower level dungeons as well.

Wow. Color me impressed. That’s really something, and personally I think the lure of loot just may work. After all, it worked during Wrath to get people to actually stay and finish The Oculus, why won’t it work here?

World of Warcraft Remote Updates, Adds Guild Chat

If you haven’t been using the WoW Remote apps for iOS and Android, you’ve been missing out. Not only do the apps give you full access to The Armory and the Auction House, but they now allow you to send whispers and messages to guild members, provided you and they are both signed up. You can even join officer chat while you’re using your phone, all without having to log in to the game from your computer. Talk about a way to find out who’s online in the game just by looking at your phone.

Here’s the scoop from Blizzard’s announcement:

We recently updated the World of Warcraft Remote page with new screenshots and information about the upcoming mobile guild chat feature, currently in development for iPhone®, iPod touch®, and Android™. This new feature will allow World of Warcraft Remote subscribers to participate in guild chat, send whispers to their guildmates, and more through their phone or mobile device. We’ll have more information on the availability of this fanciful feat of gnomish engineering soon, so keep your goggles glued to the official World of Warcraft website.

The bigger thing to note here, even if you’re not addicted to your guild chat channel and you don’t want a way to keep up with them and talk to them at all times, (ugh – I know some guildies who’ll be in gchat all. of. the. time. thanks to this….) is that this means Blizzard is and has been actively working on the World of Warcraft Remote app for a while now, ever since they introduced the Auction House features. That means there are likely more good things coming soon for the app.

Notes from the Blizzard Developer Q&A, No. 4

The fourth round of questions and answers with the Blizzard developers on the official forums just wrapped up: this time the theme was centered around topics including weapons, armor, and overall gear and goodies. As with the last three, you can find the full thread here.

Weapons and armor tend to be pretty controversial topics, so the questions this time around are…uniquely interesting, although the devs picked some good ones to answer. Some of the ones I thought were specifically interesting:

Q: Is there any chance we could have caster weapons involved in casting animations? It would look cool to be holding a staff and casting a spell through it, at least as a customization option. – Dromanthis (NA/ANZ)

A: This is something we would dearly love to do. We agree that melee specs get to see their weapons a lot more often in combat while it’s easy for casters to forget about them. It’s definitely on the list, but understand that we have so many races now (and two sexes for all existing races) that the animations take more time to do right/well.

Okay, I know this one was the first question, but it’s one that I absolutely adore. Clearly one of the things that a lot of people love about other MMOs like Guild Wars, Rift, and even one of the things that less notable free-to-play games like to tout is their beautifully animated casting graphics. In some of those other games, you’ll see runes and symbols appear around the caster while they cast a spell, you’ll see their wand actually glow based on the spec they have or the spell they’re casting, you’ll see different looking spells emerge from their weapons – it can be pretty amazing and jealous-making.

Even so, in almost all cases, it’s one of those things that you love seeing but doesn’t really bring you anything new and interesting to the game. Still, it would be nice to have, and clearly the devs have it on their “want to do” list.

Q: Would it be possible for city quartermasters to sell the same equipment that guards wear? Stats wouldn’t matter. – Pokemonmasta (EU|English), Tajit (NA/ANZ)

A: Cool idea. We’ll talk about it.

Methinks someone just wanted a Night Elf wearing sentinel gear. Seriously – the sentinels were all over the marketing for Vanilla WoW, but that three-bladed weapon they’re seen with just doesn’t exist in the game!

Q: Will enchanters be getting back the ability to make wands? – Trustybee (Taiwan)

A: We have been discussing what role in the game wands are supposed to fill. We generally consider it a failure these days if a caster ever wants to wand for dps instead of using their spells. Working the wand into the cast animation (as in the question above) is one idea. In any event, we want to figure out what we want wands to do before we give them any more prominence.

Now THIS is interesting. While they stopped short of just saying that wands were failure, they did point out that it’s a failure if a caster has to resort to using a wand. That implies that there’s a “wrong way to play” a caster class, and that generally involves running out of mana to the point where you’re out of options to regenerate enough to remain effective. Yeah, that sounds like a pretty solid failure, but not necessarily on the dev side.

Even so, it’s almost like they’re saying wands are pretty much stat sticks that you use early in the game when they’re still effective per level and then afterward you’re so busy using your actual spells and abilities that they’re worthless for anything but a stat boost. I agree – that’s not a good place to be. Let’s see what they choose to do though: it looks like they want to rework how wands factor into the game before doing too much else with them.

Q: Do you have plans to make is so that the tabards don’t suddenly cut off whenever we wear long vestments? – Hôwl (Latin America)

A: This is a technical issue that’s fairly nasty to fix and ultimately trimming the tabard ended up looking better, at least as a short-term solution.

Hah! I used to explain to guildies that I was very sure this was technical and not a design decision – a tabard just moves and waves differently than robes and kilts do – if they tried to layer them on top of one another right now, you’d see – depending on the race, gender, and stance of the character, a tabard sticking out from under robes, or a corner of a kilt sticking out over a tabard while you run. It could be pretty nasty.

Q: Can we see gear won via need rolls become soulbound? – Lorinall (NA/ANZ)

A: Yes. We plan on implementing a system where winning an item via Need (when using the Dungeon Finder Need Before Greed loot system) will make a BoE item soulbound. We hope to have this working for the 4.2 patch.

To expand on that idea in case it’s not obvious, we don’t think players should be able to claim certain loot drops based on their class if their only intent is to sell the item. If you want to use the item yourself, awesome, go ahead and roll Need on it and you’ll get preference over players who can’t use that armor type. But if all you want to do is run to the Auction House, then everyone should have equal dibs.

Finally, finally, finally – a fix for people who roll on epic BoE items just to be able to sell them at inflated AH prices. It’s clear that Blizzard has heard the players loud and clear on this one, now let’s see how well its implemented. At the same time, this will put a dent in some of the high-end profits that some AH fans adore (go raiding with friends who are overgeared, pick up all of the BoE epics, auction them all, deposit profits into guild bank) and some lazy raiders (I have more gold than time, let’s see what purples are on the AH) but overall it’ll be a good change.

And there we have it! This one was a long one, and there were a number of other questions addressed in other Q&As or that yielded very “we want to do this someday” kinds of answers, but it’s clear that the Blizzard devs also play the game the same way we do, and want to see the game improve the same way we do. It’s really refreshing to see.

Patch 4.1.11 Preview Notes

Blizzard posted a note over at the official forums about what changes we’ll see in patch 4.1.11; the one that will contain the Tomb of Immortal Darkness. They don’t normally go to such lengths to tell us what’s going on behind the scenes way before a patch like this, but I’m glad they’re being open and honest with us.

All in all though, the changes look good! They’re finally taking Dance Studio out of the game – no one used that anyway, and adding a Random Guild Finder! Awesome!

Also, to encourage people to get out of capital cities, they’re adding a new debuff:

Players in capital cities will receive a 2-hour debuff “Homebody” that increases damage taken and reduces damage and healing given by 10% for every 10 minutes they’re within city limits. We hope this encourages something.

Oh snap! And look, class improvements too! For example:

Druid forms are now considered vehicles, allowing one player to ride on the druid’s back while in any form, even their humanoid form.

and for Hunters:

Ettin’s Grip (new talent) allows the hunter to equip two ranged weapons simultaneously.

(ooc: that would actually be badass. seriously.)

And a few others worth noting:

* Invisible walls have been added around all harmful ground effects.

* All dungeon & raid bosses now have legs. If they already had legs, they got more legs.

* In order to make the Cataclysm expansion appeal to all players’ sense of nostalgia, shaman, druids and paladins may now only queue as healers when using the Dungeon Finder.

* Tank Stimulus: Successfully completing 25 Dungeon Finder runs as a tank will grant you a $400 Federal tax credit. (Requires Form 8863)

Woot! A tax credit! Time to respec my Paladin! And honestly, who doesn’t appreciate more legs? I know I do. I can’t wait for this patch to land!

Blizzard Introduces Crabby, the Dungeon Helper!

What a helpful little guy he’ll be!

Have you ever felt alone while soloing? Wish you had someone to chat with about what you were doing, or sick of alt-tabbing out to do extensive research about the tasks at hand and wish there were more help in-game available to you at all times?

Well say hello to Crabby, the Dungeon Helper! He’s here to make sure that you’re all set for whatever tasks you may encounter in the World of Warcraft, and is here to help you when you need it!

He’ll occasionally pop up and offer you bits of advice that can be especially useful, and help guide you when you get lost. Check it out:

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a helpful friend at your side, ready to provide you with tips and hints when you’re stuck? A friend who’s there to provide encouragement, who will help you pick yourself up off the floor after the fifteenth wipe of the night? Someone who will stick with you — no matter what?

Everyone can use a friend like that… a friend like Crabby!

You’re a hero. An adventurer. A sword-swinger or spell-slinger for hire. Whatever your character’s motivation may be, if trouble doesn’t find you, it’s because you found trouble first. But what do you do when Asaad throws down a grounding field? How do you respond when the Faceless Corruptors enter Erudax’s room? Eventually, you’ll be thrown a curve ball that you can’t catch. When that happens, you’ll be glad to have Crabby at your side!

Crabby uses a complex and extensive set of context-sensitive situational heuristics to analyze your current status in real-time; that’s tech talk for “Crabby always knows what’s up.” He watches your every move with his all-seeing eyes. Nothing escapes his unwavering gaze; not even the slightest nuance of your play style goes unnoticed. Before long, Crabby will know what you’re going to do before you even do it. And he will use this knowledge to help.

Crabby is able to tell you exactly what’s going on and what you should do. His many useful tips will appear in the bottom right corner of your screen, where he hangs out, ever patiently, waiting for you to need his help. Of course, whether you follow his advice or not is entirely up to you; Crabby may possess an advanced level of artificial intelligence, but we’re reasonably sure he doesn’t have any feelings you could hurt. Reasonably sure. But just in case, the ability to remove Crabby has been disabled for now.

Good! I mean, who wouldn’t want Crabby around to help? Check out the images over at his information page – look how much he loves to help! He’s a helper crab, yes he is.

(psst. By the way. He appears on all World of Warcraft sites, too. Browse around and enjoy! He’s such a helper.)

Blizzard Unveils the Tomb of Immortal Darkness: New 5 Man Dungeon!

Wow, Blizzard is really intent on bringing new and interesting 5-man content to the game. Today they announced the Tomb of Immortal Darkness, a new 5-player dungeon that will blow your mind. Here’s their description:

Deep beneath the crumbling tombstones of Duskwood’s Raven Hill Cemetery, a dark and mysterious power is emerging. Drawing strength from the blackest night and fiercely jealous of the sighted, a once-devoted follower of Leotheras the Blind is spreading his shadowy tendrils across the land. Heroes of Azeroth must delve into his pitch black lair to face Omgsogoth, Dark Lord of Twilight, before the world is plunged into eternal night.

Making use of cutting-edge Deep Dark® technology, the Tomb of Immortal Darkness is a new five-player normal and heroic dungeon that will be introduced in patch 4.1.11. Three new bosses, with unique features and mechanics, will put your group to the test: Omgsogoth, Dark Lord of Twilight; the maniacal Twisted Spiral Fool; and Duc Ulah, The Winged Keeper. Featuring new daily quests, updated monster models, and all-new unique loot, you’ll find you really can’t believe your eyes…

Face your greatest fears in the paralysing dark of the Tomb. Tremble as you stumble blindly towards Omgsogoth’s chamber. Panic at the claustrophobic atmosphere, and feel terror cloud your senses. Will you find your way, or will you be lost, never to return?

Check out the gameplay videos there too – the dungeon looks incredible! So much depth of field, and so much to explore! You could literally go over it a thousand times and never see the same details twice!

I cast magic missle!

Blizzard’s Horadric Cube App Transmutes Anything!

In Diablo, the Horadric Cube allows you to transmute items into new, more powerful ones! Add a little of one element to a little of another, bam – something incredible! Now you can do the same with the apps on your smartphone, thanks to Blizzard and their new Horadric Cube iPhone App!

Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds? Ninja Birds! Skype and Facebook? FaceSkype! You get the idea. Here’s what Blizzard has to say:

Using this app, you can transform and recombine any number of other apps you drag into it. Use the Cube’s transmute power, and the Cube’s Horadric magic will change the existing apps into a new, potentially more powerful app. But beware! A terrible fate awaits those who do not heed the warnings contained within the ancient scrolls. You must not attempt to drag the cube into itself! No good can come of it! Seek out the disclaimer (section 2) for further information.

Wow! And that say that while transmutation is available in the current version, future versions will also feature translocation, which will allow you to open dimensional portals and summon the horrors of hell onto earth and doom us all! How’s THAT for “one more thing,” iPhone users?

Here’s hoping Blizzard is planning an Android version soon!

Blizzard Returns to Consoles with Starcraft Motion Overdrive!

This can only be seen to be believed – Blizzard is planning an epic return to consoles by bringing Starcraft II to the XBox 360, using your body as the controller, thanks to Microsoft’s Kinect!

Check out it, and be amazed!

Here’s what Blizzard had to say:

Ever since its inception, the real-time strategy genre has been missing one crucial gameplay element: You. Generations of players have commanded their forces from afar, making tactical decisions and planning their strategies at a safe distance from the front lines. But now, we finally have the technology to put you at the center of the battlefield. Welcome to StarCraft: Motion Overdrive!

Read more about it here at the Motion Overdrive information page!

Awesome! Now I can get in shape and pwn noobs! Terran fo’ lyfe!

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