August 28, 2009

Scarlet Commander Garrous

The Scarlet Sanctuary... sitting at the heart of Scarlet Harbor, this fortress is a bastion of safety and strength for the unsucessful Scarlet Onslaught assault on Northrend. It is a beacon of hope to them... and it is for that very reason that the heroes of Azeroth are being sent to besiege it. You have assassinated their leaders, crushed their aerial forces, and turned their own men against them... now, it is time to destroy the head of the beast.

SS is designed to be a very large building, like a cathedral- an extremely tall ceiling, smooth marble floors, and columns all around. It's basically so big that there are no walls within the building- it's all one huge room with walkways and stairs leading to balconies and things, very gothic architecture. Okay, I'm no environment designer- I would have to rely on artists to nail this one, I have an idea in my head but that's about it. No real specifics. Let's stop pretending I can design a building and move on.

Okay, let's move on to our first boss... Scarlet Commander Garrous. On your way to him, you'll fight mostly infantry- plate-wearing troops with spears, sword and shield, or bow and arrow. Just basic, noncomplicated soldiers of the Scarlet Onslaught. When you arrive at the boss room, two soldiers are standing in an arena in the middle of the room, fighting each other, and there are crowds of mobs- hostile, but they do not attack and cannot be attacked- watching the two fight. It's like a little tournament among the men, and Garrous is there to watch the fight in an official capacity, basically. You enter the room on the south side of the arena- the crowds of soldiers are to the west and east, and Garrous is to the north, along with his two elite guards. The only mob on the south side is the person referreeing the fight in the arena- he is how you start the fight. You pull, and very quickly kill him- he's nonelite, he's merely there to die.

The Commander is actually pleased at this interruption- watching a bunch of noskills flail at each other has bored him, he wants to see a real fight. He orders his men to stand back, and they do, lining up against the walls. Throughout the fight, they come in waves at the players, until the fight is ended. When the Commander dies, the terrified soldiers flee the building- and yes, if you're so inclinded, you can kill them as they try to run. If the soldiers run out before the fight is through... the Commander enrages. This encounter may have a hard mode, I'm not sure- I like the idea of this instance basically feeling like a 5 man raid.

The Commander himself does not directly attack the party. Instead, he will randomly select one party member at a time, and challenges them to a one-on-one duel in the arena. I say "challenge", but you aren't given much of a choice- you are magically disarmed, and pulled into the arena, which is, itself, surrounded by an anti-magic barrier. Unless you plan on punching this guy out, you gotta play along. He tosses you three weapons, letting you take your pick- a broadsword, a longsword, and a rapier. When you pick one, it switches to a vehicle-style interface- each weapon has its own unique attacks and abilities, and it's impossible to access your regular ones. In addition, your health is buffed to a set level. So DPS, tank, or heals, any of them would do equally well in the arena. There is also an achievement for having beaten the Commander after having used each weapon- in seperate runs, of course.

While the Commander and the random party member are fighting, the rest of the part has to handle the adds- three waves while the party member is dueling, one wave with everyone there, and then three with the next party member in. No one will duel twice- the random generator that picks the duelist will exclude you if you've gone already. There are 11 waves of adds- just the exact number so that if your last party member can't kill the Commander in time, he enrages.

Of course, it may seem like there is far too much opportunity for failure. What if a tank gets chosen, or a healer? That is where the weapons come in. Depending on what weapon you pick, you get a special effect that occurs to the group outside fighting the adds every time they kill an add. If you pick the broadsword, the adds will cause a little AoE damage to all other adds in a set radius when they die- this makes up for lost DPS somewhat. If you pick the longsword, the first person on that mob's aggro list when the mob dies gets a damage absorbing shield, to make up for the lack of tank. And if you pick the rapier, the mob does an AoE heal to party members when it dies. A neat little thing to keep you from being screwed when suddenly your healer has to take up arms.

So that's the jist of the fight. Duelling, fighting waves of adds. I think, if done right, it could be a really fun fight. If I think of a hard mode I really like, I'll add that- something to do with those personal guards of Commander Garrous's, likely. Will add another two bosses tomorrow, enjoy!

The Scarlet Sanctuary

So, we're gonna take a (very short) time travelling trip, okay? Back... back before the latest WoW patch, patch 3.2, was released... back before we even knew the details of it, just vague comments. We knew it was going to have a new five-man instance. That turned out to be the Trial of the Champion... but we didn't know that for quite some time. There were whispers, but I hoped against hope for something else. I hoped for a new Scarlet Crusade instance.

The Scarlet Monastery, from back in vanilla WoW, is one of the most beloved old world dungeons. Interesting, cool bosses, great gear, cool looks, and divided into little bitesized chunks, so that you could do the parts that appealed to you, and not bother with the rest. And really, the Scarlets are great antagonists. Psychoes that have gone off the deep end about purity and holiness, they think everyone but them needs to be killed to make the world holy. Perhaps it shouldn't surprise you, then, that over the years, various demons have manipulated these toolbags to great effect. Logic is not their strong suit. Killing you, and being cool while doing it... well, hang on. Actually, they aren't that great at doing that either, cause you're a hero. Well... they're good at providing interesting fights, cool architecture, and all the hallmarks of a great instance.

And in Wrath of the Lich King, the Scarlets are anything but dead. They are no longer the Scarlet Crusade... they are the Scarlet Onslaught, and they have abandoned all pretense of being innocent. They still want to purge the world... but now, they are wholly willing to use evil powers to do it. Wrath introduced us to Scarlet Death Knights, which are pretty much just as cool as all Death Knights (except for the ones that name themselves Arthasscourge and think Corpse Explosion is just the funniest thing ever, nothing cool about those guys), and the Raven Priests... basically regular Priests, only with the ability to use magic to conjure and attack with ethereal ravens. I know, on paper, doesn't sound that cool, but I assure you, the beautiful spell effects totally sell the concept.

So I thought, since the Scarlets are around, since they are, in fact, trying to invade Icecrown... why not let us rip them up once more? Mix new and old, nostalgia and badassery. Of course, it was not to be. And yes, the Trial of the Champion is a pretty cool instance, though it's certainly not my favorite- its short length and lack of actual dungeon make it feel kind of hollow to me. But the other day, I said to myself... "Hang on. I have this blog, where I can pretty much rant about any game related thing I find cool... and apparently, some people actually read it. So why not give this idea a full, proper writeup?" And I started writing. In the middle of math, and my teacher got annoyed when I obviously had no idea what the class was up to... but totally worth it. Besides, factorals are old bloody news, I thought this was college math not junior high.

I'll give you a basic preview in this post, and then go into greater detail in another post (or two, we'll see how long it is) later today. This post is pretty long already just giving context for this idea.

Okay, so the basic premise is a Scarlet Onslaught building... a huge temple of sorts, called the Scarlet Sanctuary (SS for short, don't confuse it with Soul Stone). This building, unlike Scarlet Monastery, isn't divided into mini-instances... it's five boss fights in one instance. Long for a heroic? A little. The gear and fights are worth it, but we'll get to that. The basic setup is pretty simple- there is a long, single straight path, that near the end, branches into three. Along the path is trash, varying based on the boss that you're on your way to confront. You fight the first boss, then the second. The second boss you do not kill- he ports away, and you must kill bosses three and four, not necessarily in that order, to open the gates to reach him. He then becomes boss five... and boy, is he a doozy.

Our bosses can be summed up like this- the first boss is a commander of Scarlet troops, and he will challenge party members to duel with him one-on-one in an arena while the other four party members fight waves of soldiers. The second boss plays on the mean name people call DKs- warlocks in plate. This guy... is a warlock who died, and was raised as a Death Knight... and he combines the powers of both to great effect. Trust me, this is actually the boss that I think is the coolest. With a little creativity, the synergy between Lock and DK abilities becomes truly awesome. At least stick around for the undead Doomguard. The third boss is a raven priestess, the fourth is a rogue- one who actually plays like a rogue, stealthing, sapping, backstabbing, and more. None of these fights are tank and spank- they all have unique, fun mechanics for the basis of the fight.

Finally, then, you get to fight the DK Lock again... only this time, he's not playing around... honestly, the reason you fight him again was because he was so cool, and I came up with so many awesome abilities for him... if he used them all in one fight, he would be outrageously difficult. Two fights, more chance to show off his awesome powers. So, does that sound cool? I hope so, because before the day is done, you will learn all about these bosses... and their awesome abilities.

August 26, 2009

Doing It Wrong

Apologies for the lack of updates. Real life has been busy, but I made a commiment to keep this blog updated, and my ass has been slack. Sorry. I'll get back on track.

So... I was playing WoW the other day, with a friend of mine, and we were both playing our low level rogues- mine was 25, his was 21. He decided that we should do the Shadowfang Keep instance- designed for people 18-22, in a group of 5. That sounded fine to me, but these days, finding groups for a low level instance is a nightmare. So I said... "Hang on. We're both rogues, the kings of utility and soloing. Why don't we try to two man it?" And so we did.

And you know, we didn't finish, we died a fair few times, and we ran for our lives more often than that... but it was a blast. Seriously, at LEAST top 10 best runs I've ever had, and that's competing with things like the time I won 3 pieces of Tier Gear in one go. It was incredibly, incredibly fun. With the rogue's vast arsenal of tools, we literally could handle any situation... as long as we played near perfectly. And after the first 5 or so pulls... we were. Throw a distract, double sap, ambush, eviserate, feint... it was an amazing flow, we were in the zone. It wasn't like a regular instance, it wasn't "what button combinations will kill them the fastest". It was part action game, part tactics... you had to minimize the number of enemies you were handling at once, and reduce their abilities, then try to kill them while taking blows bigger than your class is meant to take.

This is all to illustrate a point, of course- that's not how the game is supposed to be played. The game is very definitely designed for a five man party, and certainly we made horribly slow progress. But there is a certain joy to doing things in a way the game developers never expected you to... in doing something they didn't plan for, and didn't balance your class to succeed at. You feel the elation of being good at what you're doing, about playing smart and skillfully... you have to think fast, because all your previous experience is invalidated. You cannot assume they will react the same way... because you are not doing what they want you to do.

And this does not just mean MMOs, far from it. Many's the time where a game told me to run like hell, and I instead gunned down my assailants, and then took my time getting to the exit, and it felt great. I remember in Enter the Matrix (crap game, but some fun moments), your first encounter with an Agent, they tell you that you cannot win, and that you must run. Being who I am, I took that as a personal challenge. I unleashed a flurry of martial arts, all of which he perfectly evaded... and then at the end of the assault, I hit the throw button. As the agent is still bent over backwards dodging, my character leans forward, grabs him by the shoulder and leg, and tosses him off the rooftop. It was a WONDERFUL feeling.

Some games, like GTA, are designed to create these moments, and of course they are pretty awesome in that manner. But really, it's just so much more awesome to actually best the game, to have it tell you exactly what you need to do to win... and win by doing something else entirely. Really, if you haven't... try it. It is a singular feeling.

August 19, 2009

Like Achievements... Only Not

I want a hat. Not in real life, of course. This is a vidja game blog, and besides, I already have a sweet fedora in real life. No, I mean in Team Fortress 2. The hats in Team Fortress 2 are unlockables, and they don't affect gameplay in any way, except for being awesome looking and maddening. Maddening because there is no set way to get them. It's random. You gotta hope the slots are on your side... and they never are. Otherwise, you end up like me- no hats, 7 pairs of boxing gloves. Awesome.

The reason I mention this is because I wanted to talk about unlockables- the good, the bad, and the pull-your-hair-out evil. Unlockables are an old tradition for gaming- ever since games started being designed for home play instead of just for arcades, they've left their mark. Unlockables are, in my opinion, a wonderful feature- they can give a linear, story-based game replayability due to fun new toys, they can demonstrate that your dev team does, in fact, have a sense of humor- good for games where that could be mistaken (I'm not saying any names here, Gears of War... oh, wait.). They can give a game playability at all- fighting games without unlockable characters are wonderful candidates for "Worst Single Player Experience Ever". And rarely, they can make for some of the best memories in the game... it is with great fondness that I recall unlocking the Solar Gun in Metal Gear Solid 4 (as a fan of the Boktai series, the shout-out was very much appreciated), but even more than that, the first time I saw Snake raise the toy-esque weapon aloft, and shout out "Sunlight!" I had such a big dopey grin on my face... awesome, awesome times. Actually, Kojima is rather a modern hero of unlockables, but we'll get to that.

Where the bad comes into play... is when you get game developers withholding things that should be in the game to be unlockables. I can't for the life of me remember what game it was, but I do have quite bitter memories of being informed, on completion of a game, that I had unlocked subtitles. Subtitles. Yeah, fuck you guys. That shit belongs in the main game, like right fucking now. You don't use unlockables to give the player the experience they should have had the first time around. That's bullshit.

And then, of course, there's the hair-tearing variety. Like what? Well, besides the cursed hats, there are actually worse examples. Say... Super Smash Brothers Brawl. So, I have to do 450 matches before I can unlock Wolf? Seriously, that's torture. Pure and simple. And I'm saying that as someone who likes the game, and hasn't gotten tired of it. That's probably because I never went out of my way to unlock Wolf. And Melee was even worse... things that are a grind to unlock, are not cool. Things that you have to strive to unlock are fine.

So, who are the champions of modern unlockables? Well, Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance gave me good reason to play through it many times to try for its unlockables, which were challenging but obtainable, and totally worth it. The series hasn't disappointed since- both 3 and 4 were excellent for unlockables, and thus Hideo Kojima ranks as a pretty solid promoter of unlockables. The boys at Infinity Ward added a whole new dimension to unlockables with Call of Duty's massive arsenal of multiplayer unlockables, which people have been copying ever since. But beyond that... unlockables have been lying low. They aren't really a big feature anymore... and it makes me sad. Maybe we'll see them coming back, toward the end of this generation, or maybe they will die. Who knows? All I know is, they gave me a lot of good times, and I wish to do them tribute.

August 17, 2009

Making Sense of It

So, I picked up Mirror's Edge the other day, gave it a shot. I like it a lot, it's good gameplay and great art design. The story is meh, but I'm not super worried about that. The important thing is that it's beautiful, fun, and relatively intuitive thanks to clever game design. Everyone says it, I'm sure, but the use of color is really clever. I think they didn't nail everything, and that a sequel (standalone would be better than direct) is well justified. There is one thing, though, that the game does really wrong... and it raises an interesting problem.

See, the game plays in first person. This is a good thing overall- in third person, you wouldn't get that same sense of speed, motion, and of being the character. The problem with it, though, is the same problem many other first person games have- there is no sense of your body. For example, if you hold your arms at your side, in real life, you know where they are. You can feel them, and you don't have to see or hear them to know where they are. Video games, of course, cannot replicate this- they have no way of actually making you feel like the character on screen is your body. It's not so much a problem of bad game design, as it is an inherent flaw in the medium. How can you become someone only using two senses? To be yourself is to feel, and smell, and taste, not just see and hear.

And it's a big problem for Mirror's Edge, because the game is all about positioning. You have to be in the right spot for a jump, you have to know if your feet are actually running on the wall, and within that, you have to be able to tell when you're about to lose traction, and more. But most importantly is for fighting. When you are going to have a melee combat system, in first person, where the camera actually leans into the punch, and twists with the kick... you have a mess on your hands. Every punch or kick because a brief "where the hell am I" until your head rights itself. It's a fundemental problem, a lack of sense of position. And really, I don't know how to solve it. That's not my purpose. My purpose is just to understand the problem to the best of my ability.

That's where you find yourself so often in Mirror's Edge... uncertain as to what will work and what won't, because you can't feel yourself. You walk along a narrow ledge, and you don't know if you're about to slip until the world slides away. You sidekick, and you don't know if it connects. There are solutions to this that games have used over the years- meters for balance, little flashes or glows around the screen to indicate hits, and the like... but I challenge Mirror's Edge 2 (don't call it that, come up with a better name) to come up with a more... organic solution. Hard? Yes. But I wouldn't offer the challenge if I didn't think you up to it. Good luck, gentlemen of DICE.

Oh, and by the way, I still haven't forgotten about the shit you pulled with Desert Combat, that was a real dick move, but I can at least let it go for now

August 14, 2009


The cataclysm has cracked open the Greymane Wall, finally revealing what has happened to the kingdom of Gilneas and its citizens. With the Worgen curse taken hold, they have found a partial cure, allowing them to retain their Human minds even when transformed. Venturing forth from Gilneas and seeking help from the Alliance, they have decided to join them, to combat the new threats of Cataclysm.

Gilneas will make extensive use of the phasing system (much like the Death Knight starting area), to show what happened while the kingdom was cut off from the rest of the world and lead up to present day."

WHO FREAKIN' CALLED IT?! Yeah, everyone else too, but still.

Will get updates back on track next week, sorry, it's been a crazy week.

EDIT: Increasing evidence suggests that the leaked information I reference here is really quite fake. Ah well. It was fun for a minute there.

EDIT 2: Well, it's been more than a week since I posted this... and okay, I really DO get to say who called it. Actually, my Worgen curse epidemic scenario turned out to be extremely accurate, even down to the terrified Gilneans trying to barracade themselves from their own converted countrymen. Sure, an easy call to make, but I'm still proud I was right.

August 10, 2009

Nothing Artificial About It

Artificial intelligence. That which dictates the actions of the NPCs that fill our games. It makes them seem human, clever... or, more often, fails to do so. AI is almost as often called artificial stupidity for this reason, and some people venture that the only good AI is the AI that you don't notice. I disagree. I think if you were new to games, this would be true, but an experienced player's gamer sense automatically compares to both previous experiences with AI, and reasonable expectation, and thus a veteran can certainly be stunned and wowed by AI.

I might, at some later time, talk about the difficulties of AI, about how it's a bitch to code and test, and about the weird promises developers make that they can't follow through on (ask yourself how many times you've heard a developer say that their AI will "flank you"). But today, I'd rather talk about two stories of AI that really just blew me away. Two moments, from my gaming experience, where I just said "Wow."

The first of these is from FEAR, a first person shooter that was noted for its above-average AI, among other things. It quite specifically wasn't noted for its sad attempts at horror- usually the equivalent of someone jumping out and shouting "Oooga booga booga"- but I digress. The AI was surprisingly human at times- ironic, considering that they are clone soldiers who've never known anything but battle. However, they did use realistic, competent tactics on you, while also being properly baffled by yours- one time, I leapt through a window and gunned down a squad, then leapt back through the window, and came out the front door. The other squad, running toward where I had just leapt from, had a moment of chaos as they figured out what was going on, in which time I managed to kill two of their members. That's not the amazing story, though. The amazing story is the complete version of one I told in my gamer sense explanation.

I'd just blasted my way straight through a little barracade these troops had set up to stop me- a little chokepoint that would have worked, were I not A), the player, and thus hardy/skilled/crazy fast, and B) wanting to try out a trick with my shotgun. That trick is very simple- shoot them in the gut from like three feet away. If you do it right, you blow them completely in half. And I did it right quite a few times. So it was a very, very messy battlefield. I'd cleared the place out, so I was taking a moment to look around for any supplies- medkits, ammo, armor, all that jazz. So, I was searching through cubicles, when suddenly my gamer sense kinda pricks up, and I spin around. And there, stumbling backwards through the hall, is a lone soldier. He's walking backward, toward me, and he stares at each of the mangled corpses as he passes. At one of the ones I blew in half, I hear him whisper, "Oh, God...." And then, right as he's about to bump into me, he begins to turn around, and I hit slow-mo just in time to turn his terrified "Shit!" into "Shhiiiiiiiiiiiiit". And then I blow him in half. Of course.

Truly, an awesome moment for realistic AI. But what could top that? Well, in my opinion, a moment I had from Far Cry 2. The AI is Far Cry 2 is very spotty- sometimes, it's amazing, like when a man's dirty AK jams, and he swears and pounds on it frantically as you draw nearer... and sometimes it's just retarded, like when a man half a mile away spins on his heel randomly and delivers a perfectly accurate burst of lead to your face, which is hidden in a bush on a hill next to a tree. At night. I mean, come on. But one moment... one moment made me forgive all that. Far Cry 2 remains one of my favorite shooters of this generation, not in some small part due to this random, wonderous event.

I was just roaming the countryside, looking for collectables, when I spotted a car with a mounted gun parked off the side of the road, and two soldiers standing by it, chatting. This was not at all an uncommon experience, though I was pleased that they didn't immediately spot me like they sometimes do. So I aim with my bolt action sniper, and shoot one in the gut. The victim collapses to the ground, and his partner bolts for cover. I aim, and shoot the runner down... but wait, I've forgotten to cycle the bolt again, so pulling the trigger does nothing. Ah, bolt action... so stylish, so annoying. By the time I remember, and am ready to shoot again, the runner has gotten behind cover. So I wait. And, after a bit, the man cautiously steps out from behind cover, pointing in all directions with his gun. Now, I confess- I really don't know why I didn't shoot him right then. I think I was impressed by his animation, but I can't really say- I just don't remember. Anyway, I don't fire, and he determines that the coast is clear, and runs over to his friend.

Anyone that knows about gunshot wounds- or, heck, even has watched a few war movies, knows that a gut shot is lethal, but very slowly so. You have to patch it up right away... or no matter what, the individual is going to die a very slow, very painful death. And this is Africa, in the middle of nowhere. There is no way that this guy is going to get the medical treatment he needs. So after a few long moments of staring at his dying friend, he- you're going to think I made this up, I swear to god I didn't- pulls out his pistol, and finishes him off. Shoots him in the head. Then he gets in his car, and drives away.

That blew my mind, right there. It's a feature in the game that you can finish off your friends when they are wounded beyond saving, but I was pretty astonished to see the AI use it. What moments in games have you marvelled at the AI? It doesn't have to be shooters, those are just the ones that stood out for me.

August 5, 2009


So, I post a big, bitchy rant about how Blizzard doesn't know how to make their own game, on the day before a big patch release. And the day of that patch release, there is no post. Hmmm. Coincedence? No, folks- just a big foot-in-mouth. I am sorry I missed my update yesterday. Quite frankly, it's because WoW patch 3.2 kicked me in the teeth, and said, "What now, Blogger McBloggerson?!" Well, like that, only not totally lame. Anyway.

So yeah. I stand by my comments that Blizzard is messing up class balance somewhat, and should listen to the community more. But the hinting that they didn't know how to design the rest of the game either? Consider mine an embarassed silence on that subject. 3.2 is awesome. Really, truly, genuinely amazing. Okay. Statements like that must be both explained and supported, and fortunately I am prepared to do both. For starters... what is so great about it? I think the main points are the emblem changes, and the battlegrounds changes. Beyond that, there are also a bunch of small changes that are significant when taken as a whole. The emblem changes make level 80 that much better, and the BG changes make all the lower level stuff much better.

First, the emblem changes. With this patch, everything that drops an emblem, other than the newest raid, drops the second best emblem type. So heroics drop the same as Ulduar. A lot of people were unhappy about this idea- they think that it makes raids without value. Thankfully... they are quite wrong. Raids are still fun (I did a few), still have unique content, are still worth experiencing. They also still, you know, have a lot of great gear. Just because heroics have good emblems doesn't change that- heck, it takes 58 (weird number, I know) Emblems to get ONE piece of Tier 8 gear, but you can get that same piece of gear with one drop in Ulduar. Raids aren't pointless now, it's just less of a bitch to get geared up when you hit 80. I'm all for that- I didn't raid for most of Ulduar, and now the game of catchup I have to play is not going to be such a nightmare. I'm also about to get my Warrior to 80, and when I do... it would blow pretty hard to have to do 80 instances, then heroics, then Naxx, then Ulduar, all just to get geared up. Now, I don't have to.

And of course, there's a part to it beyond the gearing up part... it makes heroics something people do again! Before the patch, a lot of raiders didn't even bother with heroics... and the players that did bother with them? Horribly geared and horribly unskilled. I honestly thought heroics were harder to heal than raids for a long time, until I realized I was just dealing with god awful tanks. No more! People in full Ulduar gear are doing heroics again, and it's marvelous! Amazing! And most importantly... fun! There's something we could stand to have more of.

If the emblem changes made the day for your 80, then the battleground changes are gonna make your alt flip out. No. More. Twinks. MAN. Well, that's not entirely true. It's more accurate to say that Blizzard came up with a system to keep twinks seperate from everyone else, so that normal people, like me, who just wanna do a BG as they level, can do so without being chain ganked. Now, if you pop into a BG at level 26... you'll do fine! Because the BG will be filled with people like you, people just wanting a little variety and fun as they level. Not people dedicated to making everyone else in their level range miserable. You can even level from a BG! How awesome is that?

And, of course, there were other changes with this patch. Holy Paladins were made into something human, rather than single target gods that failed at AoE healing. Score! More dailies, an excellent (and well scripted) new instance, a new raid, Engineering buffs (Yessssss!), and lots of other tweaks to the game. Really, any WoW player should love this patch- and if you don't, you're either way too conservative, or a twink, and therefore a bad person.

August 3, 2009

Q&A Woes

So, the official Blizzard forums have been doing their WoW Class Q&As for a while now. Each class, getting its own little question and answer session. That's a really good idea. The reality has been less than what most of us were hoping, though. Disappointment is kind of inevitable- it's hard to imagine what would be enough to satisfy the hardcore... but you've also got to ask yourself, "What is the point of having the community ask any questions they want, and then only asking ones that (mostly) already have answers?" So, so many of the Q&As consist most of "Q: Many of our class are dissatisfied with X ability. Do you have any plans to change it? A: BWA HA HA! Cry some more!" I exaggerate, of course, but telling people that there's no problem, and that their complaint is a "class feature" rings a little hollow. Really, you guys? That my priest is the squishiest, easiest thing to kill around is by design? Boy, I feel much better now.

There HAVE been some genuinely interesting bits of information that have come out of these, but all too often, it feels like Blizzard is just telling us that we're whiners who don't know how to play our classes. I can respect that, as the creators of the game, they do likely know a lot more about it. What I know is that my priest dies more than other healers, my warrior doesn't get invited to groups because they don't want someone who can't buff, and my paladin is overpowered, no matter how you try to excuse it. Frankly, this is a pretty classic dev problem- they work too much in the realm of the theoretical and abstract. It's taken them this long to even respond to complaints like "this isn't fun to play" because I honestly think they just didn't understand what we meant. Yes, most of the staff at Blizz plays WoW in their free time. But you know what? I write fiction, and I guarantee you when I read my own fiction, I do not get at all the same experience as someone else reading my fiction.

There is an old expression, not being able to find the forest for the trees. You're too close, Blizzard. You're so close to your own game that you can't see the bigger picture. I'm not trying to insult you, or call you close-minded. It's not because you're bad. It's something EVERY dev struggles with. That's why you have betas, for instance- so people on the outside, people who've never even been to the metaphorical forest can tell you what they think. Can tell you how it looks from further away. And frankly, you're not listening to us like you should. You've decided that because you're so close, you know it better than anyone else, and thus we should just shut up and accept your decisions. Here's a thought, though- even if you were right, and you do have the right ideas about game balance? We're still the ones paying your salary. Even if you're right, if you don't work with us, we will stop playing. And yes, WoW is a cash cow. It makes a lot of goddamn money. But when it crashes down from its high hill, and someday it will... when WoW dies, it will be a quiet, terrible sight to behold, and Blizzard will never be the same.

We've seen MMOs die before, seen what a long, painful, drawn-out process it is. MMOs can have been dead for years before they ever actually close. It's a miserable thing to watch. Blizzard is working on a new MMO, and they've said that they hope that it will be the one to topple WoW. I think it's entirely possible... but if they don't wisen up, and listen to us now, WoW will die before their new MMO makes it to the table. This is Blizzard we're talking about- the "when it's done" guys. Their new MMO will not be out for a long time. And plenty of aspiring new MMOs have made it very clear that they intend to listen to their player bases. Follow their lead, Blizz. Stop telling us that we don't know how to play our classes, and actually address our concerns.