Sunday, August 25, 2013

Raid Lockouts and "Free Loot"

I've previously talked a bit about some of the problems with LFR and now Flex - particularly as it relates to normal or heroic raiders being compelled to run these modes for gear upgrades (tier and trinkets being the prime culprits).

It's particularly interesting when you consider the problem Blizzard faces when it comes to lockouts.  If someone is doing LFR and wants to try Flex raiding, Blizzard wants to encourage this - it'll keep the player engaged and hopefully develop some social bonds.  So LFR cannot share a lockout with Flex.  Likewise, if someone is doing Flex and wants to try normal raiding, Blizzard wants to encourage this - it'll keep the player engaged and hopefully develop more social bonds.  So Flex cannot share a lockout with normal.  And if LFR can't share a lockout with Flex and Flex can't share a lockout with normal, LFR can't share a lockout with normal either.

Quite a pretty pickle.  And, of course, the people suffering from this are people going in reverse.  What do I mean by that?

No one is worried about LFR players being compelled to do Flex or Flex players to do normal/heroic.  People are worried about normal/heroic being compelled to do Flex and/or LFR.  In other words, the problem is when we start at the top and go down, not start at the bottom and go up.

So can we find a solution?  It seems difficult, but there was a very interesting idea proposed by someone named Thels that I ran across while reading this post (relevant section quoted but the whole article is good):

"The idea I’ve liked the most so far is one proposed by Thels.  For lack of a better term, I’d call it the “Cumulative Loot System.”  In short, when you kill a normal or heroic boss, you also automatically get your personal loot rolls for LFR and/or Flex.  You could imagine various permutations of how this would work; maybe a normal kill gives you your LFR roll, while a heroic kill gives you both LFR and Flex rolls.  But the simplest case is just that you get both rolls on any normal or heroic kill.

What I like about this solution is that it directly addresses the problem at the source.  The problem is that players clearing normal and heroic feel compelled to run LFR and Flex for additional chances at marginal upgrades.  The complaint isn’t that the LFR and Flex loot is “too good,” or “more than LFR deserves,” strictly speaking, though I’m sure we could find a small subset of players who would argue those points.  The problem is that the extra LFR and Flex clears require more time on top of an already demanding heroic raiding schedule, and that a player with the skill to do heroic modes doesn’t find these watered-down difficulty levels fun.

Rather than trying to take anything away from LFR or Flex raiders, this solution instead just gives “extra” or “free” loot to heroic raiders to remove the additional time sink.  And I think that’s a much wiser move at this point in the game’s life than trying to impose more restrictions on the LFR and Flex raid population, which even now accounts for the vast majority of raiders."

To make this explicit, the following would happen:

If you kill a boss in LFR, you get your LFR loot.

If you kill a boss in Flex, you get your Flex loot.  If you have NOT killed the boss in LFR, you also get your LFR loot.

If you kill a boss in normal/heroic, the boss drops his or her items.  If you have NOT killed the boss in Flex, you also get your Flex loot.  Additionally, if you have NOT killed the boss in LFR, you also get your LFR loot.

This means that as long as you'd kill a given boss on normal or heroic each week, you have no incentive to do Flex or LFR.  The more I think about it, the more I like it - and it can be summed up like this:

There is always an incentive to move up and never an incentive to move down.

It is the perfect carrot - if you can kill the boss on a higher difficulty, you get those benefits plus all of the benefits from the lower difficulties.

Now, this solution isn't perfect.  If Bob needs tier shoulders but needs to sit on the boss during the week, he would still need to go do Flex for that boss.  But even when he does Flex, he'll get the LFR chance too.

Best of all, none of this should effectively change what a player chooses to do each week.  People who were going to do Flex and LFR will get that loot as long as they do normal - so it does nothing but save them some time.  And since they're already investing time in normal/heroic raiding, those aren't the players who need extra time sinks.

It is an extreme incentive to do higher difficulties without taking anything away from the lower difficulties.  And that seems to be Blizzard's desired type of solution right now.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Return of the "Want a Free Game?"

Neverwinter Nights is on sale again for the next 60 hours!  That means it's time to offer more free copies of the game to those who are interested in trying it and getting hooked on it.  The following is effectively a repeat of my previous "Want a Free Game?" post from April, so if you already got NWN from me feel free to pass the information on to a friend so you can play with them!


In addition to WoW I'm quite fond of a game called Neverwinter Nights.  It's an RPG that came out a few years before WoW which is completely amazing because it is immensely customizable.  You can play solo campaigns, you can play multiplayer campaigns, and you can play online on what are effectively MMOs (abet with playerbases in the dozens to hundreds instead of tens of thousands).

It has a complete toolset that can be used to tweak almost every mechanic and create custom content - the original "official" Bioware campaigns make up like 0.1% of what's available for the game, and a ton of the user made content blows the original campaigns out of the water.  Users can also add new content in the form of ".hak" files, which add new creature models, new tilesets, new weapons, new feats (like talents), etc.

And all of this is free except for the original purchase.  It's available to buy on a site called Good Old Games for $9.99 normally - which includes the original campaign, both expansions (so two more campaigns), and an additional "premium" module - but it's on sale right now for $5.99.

Except I'll sweeten the pot even further - if you send me an email at balkothwarcraft at gmail dot com before by 11:59 PM on Monday night, I'll buy the game for you and send it to you as a gift.  Absolutely free.  Because I think the game deserves to be promoted.

I also made a module of my own earlier.  There was a "building challenge" where participants had one month to create a module (the game is separated into modules, which can range from being a single testing zone to a MMO-like Persistent World which spans hundreds of areas and offers hundreds of hours of playtime - you just load the module you want to play or join it if it's already being hosted).  I created a solo adventure for max level characters called Siege of the Heavens, which is an action adventure focused on scripted boss fights, similar to what you'd find in WoW raids and dungeons (or Brawler's Guild if you've done that).  The Heavens are under attack by devils and demons and the celestials enlist the help of mortals heroes like yourself to help lift the siege.

It's not something you should immediately play - you'll want to familiarize yourself with the basic mechanics of the game before trying my module.  It's also only technically halfway finished since I only had a month to build it - which is still 3-4 or so hours of playtime, and once it's done you'll be able to pick up where you left off and play the remaining 3-4 hours that are planned.

Speaking of familiarizing yourself with the game, I would be happy to play through the official campaigns (or some custom campaigns, I'd strongly recommend the Aielund Saga at a minimum - among many other custom campaigns - which is much better than the official campaigns but again somewhat expects a familiarity with the game) with anyone interested, provided we can arrange suitable times.  The first official campaign probably takes about 40 hours to play through, the second two both take about 20 hours each.

You will need to request a unique multiplayer key once you claim your game or else you will be unable to sign into some multiplayer modules for security reasons.  There are instructions on how to do so on the GOG site.

Also, some of the old multiplayer services (like game listings provided by Gamespy) are no longer active - but members of the community have recreated replacements that are just as good (or better in some cases) as the originals.  More information can be found here.  Feel free to contact me (via email or private message on the boards - this is my profile there) or post on those boards for help if you need it.

Again, email me at balkothwarcraft at gmail dot com if you want a copy of the game, want to find out more about the game, want to try to play the game with me, or whatever.

Monday, August 12, 2013

World of Warcraft is Not Legend of Zelda (On Ammunition)

It's not Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries either.

(Quick note: I only played Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask for Legend of Zelda, so if gameplay has changed significantly since then I apologize in advance).

Legend of Zelda
In Legend of Zelda, you control a character named Link who has access to a bunch of different equipment.  Two staples are a sword and shield combo and a bow and arrows.

The bow and arrows are extremely powerful - they deal a lot of damage from distance (more than the sword, I believe), can pierce through tougher foes (spiders that normally have to be hit in their vulnerable belly can just be one shot anywhere with an arrow), and keep Link well away from danger.  There's a major drawback, though - you have limited ammunition.  The default typically was 30 arrows (and you can fire an arrow every second) which could be upgraded to 40 or 50 arrows with quests.

Ammunition wasn't easy to acquire, either.  Sometimes you could buy them from a store, but that meant leaving the dungeon and returning.  Sometimes you'd find a cache of them from destroying objects, but it wasn't a guaranteed source by any means.  In short, you used arrows sparingly in situations where you really needed them.  They were a trump card, an ace in the hole - not something to be casually spent.

The sword and shield, however, were unlimited in use.  They were your default form of gameplay.  Situations where you DIDN'T use the sword and shield were unusual.  Thus, situations where you could go wild with arrows were extremely fun because you got to be brokenly overpowered for a short amount of time if you were smart about it (like if you knew more arrows were available soon or something).

So the paradigm was to use the sword and shield as your default attack and pull out the bow in special situations to unleash the fury.

Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries
First of all, Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries is an awesome game.  The Mechwarrior universe revolves around Battlemechs - giant war robots that you pilot around in missions doing anything from assaulting an enemy stronghold to defending factories against aggressors to raiding convoys to ritual combat in a duel-like fashion and more.

My guess that you probably aren't playing this game right now.  Which is incredibly stupid, because you should be playing it.  Best of all, it was released for free in the last few years, here's a current location where you can download it: Click Me 

Note: you'll want to use a joystick to get the most out of the game, though I suppose it might be playable without one.  But why would you want to do that?

But I did have a point.  In Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries, there are three main types of weapons: missile, ballistic, and energy.

Missile weapons typically do very high damage for their weight at the cost of limited ammunition.  You can slap a missile pack onto a Battlemech when you only have a few tons to spare and you want some extra firepower fairly easily.

Ballistic weapons are heavy and still have limited ammunition, but it is less of an issue.  They also offer better returns on loading extra ammunition that missiles so they tend to be primary weapons while missiles are used when that extra punch is needed.

Energy weapons have unlimited uses but produce large amounts of heat.  If your Battlemech gets too hot it will overheat and shut down, so you can't use too many energy weapons.

In short, you can use energy weapons on weaker targets, fire up the ballistics as well for more difficult enemies, and launch your missiles on top of those when it gets really hairy.  If you launch missiles at every weak enemy you see you're going to run out extremely quickly.  There are tradeoffs between the different types of attacks and you use the weapons appropriate to the situation.

World of Warcraft
Now let's look at World of Warcraft - specifically from the viewpoint of a Hunter.  Let's try a Legend of Zelda approach first...

An enemy approaches!  Do you

A: charge into melee with a weapon to conserve your ammunition
B: shoot it

Hint: the answer is B.  In fact, the answer is NEVER A.  There is no reason for a Hunter to EVER attempt to melee an enemy instead of shooting it and players who did so were relentlessly mocked.

Hmm...okay, so the Zelda approach doesn't seem to make sense.  Let's try a Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries approach...

An enemy approaches!  Do you

A: Use just your attacks with unlimited uses because it's a weak enemy
B: Use most of your attacks while conserving the strongest ones with limited uses because it's a medium enemy
C: Use all of the attacks available, spending ammunition like water because that's a tough mother that needs to be dropped fast

...wait a second, that doesn't even make sense for a Hunter.  ALL of a hunter's attacks require the exact same ammunition.  The analogy in this case would be better suited for cooldown usage.


So we've established two important facts:

1. A hunter ALWAYS shoots his enemies
2. All of a hunter's shots require ammunition

Now let's add in an additional fact - unlike Legend of Zelda or Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries where your ammunition is definitely very limited and needs to be used wisely, Hunters often stock up on thousands of arrows/bullets/etc.   In fact, while you're in a raid or dungeon, you don't even notice you are using ammunition unless you run low before you got to restock.

There was no tactical decision making when it comes to ammunition in World of Warcraft.  It was not an alternative to attacks which weren't limited in use.  There was no special ammunition that you'd switch to in a hairy situation to maximize your performance - you simply used the same ammunition every fight (and no, the engineering ammo was not an exception).

Throw Away Those Rose-Tinted Goggles
So why, then, are some people obsessed over the removal of ammunition in World of Warcraft?  It served no useful purpose - you simply brought several thousand to a raid and forgot about it for a few hours.  There was no decision making process.  Nor was it intended as punishment like durability loss and needing to repair.  It wasn't even immersive - people don't carry thousands of arrows in a quiver in stacks of 200.

There's a reason ammunition was removed.  It was pointless.  Let's get rid of our nostalgia goggles and stop lamenting the loss of ammunition in WoW.