Tuesday, August 26, 2008

WAR balance conspiracy theory

For some time now I've been pondering how exactly Mythic is going to solve the faction imbalance problem on their WAR servers. Today whilst reading an article on "Runes or Rituals" by Anonymous Defender, it dawned it me how they are going to do it. The answer is so simple that even if my theory is wrong, it would be worth it for Mythic to actually use this strategy as it would definitely solve the problem.

The easiest way to even a fight when the numbers on opposing teams are different, is to buff the smaller team. It doesn't have to be much, just enough to make the battle fair.

I've read many blog reports about the WAR beta stating that the Order Rune Priest and Warrior Priest are somewhat overpowered. Friends of mine who are playing the beta have also confirmed this. Since Destruction is the faction of choice at the moment, and hence have the greater numbers, it would make sense for Mythic to buff the Order classes. The extra buffs would appeal to many gamers and hence cause a migration (however small) toward Order. In the mean time, it would also balance out the battles. Naturally once the factions are evened out in numbers, Mythic will simply bring out a 'skill balance' update removing the extra buffs to the Order classes.

This is just a theory, but it seems to fit what I've been hearing in the blogosphere and on forums, plus I definately think it would solve the balance problem.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Guild Wars: The Revolution

Guild Wars has brought some truly revolutional ideas to the MMO space. Sadly, not many of them are being adopted in upcoming MMO's, but, if I was making an MMO I would certainly learn from all of the following (in rough order of importance):

1) PvP characters. In Guild Wars, you can create a PvE character and play normally, but it takes a while to get "decked out" to be competitive in PvP (as with any MMO). So, there's also the option of creating a "PvP Only" character, who essentially has access to all skills and items, but who can't engage in PvE content.

Basically, it lets you be competitive with everyone else in PvP without investing all the time do so. If you feel like dabbling in a particular class, trying out a build here and there, you can do it in 2 minutes, as opposed to the months of playtime it would take in most other games.

2) Grind for looks, not power. Guild Wars makes every effort not to be a massive grindfest timesink. They do this by:

i) Making it take very little time to hit max level. You might think it would be boring because there's nowhere to develop your character once hitting the level cap. Not true! You'll only have just started to unlock all the skills available to your class (and all the useful secondary class skills), and if you want to be able to re-spec your character to play a variety of builds, it will take a good amount of time to do so.

Plus, there's all the end game content, levelling up titles (read, achievements), etc. Most people who PvE for a little while in Guild Wars will have several "maxed out" characters to experience end game content with. That's right, you can actually play an MMO and get to try out all the classes at max level! Contrast this to WoW where it takes most people months and months to get to the level cap for just one character.

ii) Weapons/armor of max power are cheap to buy. But the downside: they don't look very "leet". If you want the cool stuff, then you put in the grinding. I you just wanna get kitted out with max gear and not fuss around for months trying to get uber lewt so you can join some hardcore raiding guild, you can do so and you'll be just as competitive in every way (just a bit less attractive :p)

3) Easy respec. In Guild Wars, you can respec while in any town. Completely. Costs nothing. 'Nuff said.

4) The combat system. Most MMO's have healers to mop up damage, ie "make red bars go up". This is traditional, and boring.

Guild Wars introduced the concept of "Protection" skills, which are cast on allies before damage is inflicted on them, with the goal of avoiding said damage. These types of skills are much more efficient than healing skills, and are really good for the game because they add an extra layer of depth and skill in terms of reading the play of the other team.

5) Observer mode. Every single top 100 team PvP match and battles in the "Hall of Heroes" are replayed on a kind of in-game TV called observer mode. Pushing "B" while in any town brings up a list of all the games you can watch. You can see what all the skills both teams use are, when they use them, what their movements are around the map, etc.

This simple feature has had a ridiculously powerful effect on the skill level of players playing the game. If someone comes up with a new team build that dominates, you can be sure they'll get to observer mode, and the build will spread like wildfire. This helps the game to be less about who's teched out with some secret build that the other team wasn't aware of, and more about who's got the best tactics to win.

6) Map travel. Oh, how I love thee. You open your map, click on the town you want to go to, and you're there. Don't get me wrong, I know some people love cruising around on their mounts in WoW, taking in the sights. I just get really bored of this sort of thing, really fast. Don't see much reason why there can't be both map travel AND nice scenery/mounts, and people can get to wherever they want to go in whichever way they please.

The remaining points are more minor, but only because the above points are so major:

7) The skill system - instead of pumping up individual skills, your points pump up the entire tree, which both seems to make more sense "realistically" speaking, and makes it easier to try out/incorporate new skills in your chosen skill tree as you come across them.

8) Short cooldowns on skills, with appropriate balance. Games like WoW are full of skills with massively broken effects, that are "balanced" by putting them on very long cooldown timers. I don't like this style of play, because you always feel like you're waiting on your favourite skills. In Guild Wars nothing has a cooldown longer than 60 seconds, and the vast majority of skills recharge in 20 seconds or less. Using skills is fun, remember?

9) No monthly fee. I've been playing Guild Wars for ~3 years now, and buying the game plus all the expansions etc cost me ~ $250 (Australian) total. If I was on a WoW-style subscription, I'd be looking at $540 from monthly fees alone, let alone the cost of the game boxes! The cost factor aside, it's also nice to know I can take a week or 2 off without feeling like I'm wasting my money.

Think of anything else that this game, or any other, has added that you think should become the 'gold standard' in fresh MMO's on the market? Think my ideas are crazy B.S. and want to rip me to shreds for mildly bashing WoW? Share your thoughts.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Survivor Title upset...

It finally happened... I died. My quest for rank 3 survivor on my Guild Wars Warrior has come to an unexpected end. Falling short of the target 1,337,500 XP mark by 538,500 XP or so. The strangest thing about this whole predicament is that I have no idea how I died. No joke, I never actually died while playing the character. For some strange and seriously disappointing reason, I just logged in one day and found I had 1 death registered against my character. I'm not making this up, my character had literally died whilst I was logged out. When I first realized, I felt like crying. I had been working so hard not to die, and the game had somehow killed me without me even knowing about it.

The possible scenarios that could have caused this strange phenomenon are:
  • Some kind of bug in the game designed to piss me off (I've encountered them before).
  • A connection error or lag.
  • Someone else has been playing my account (no other signs point to this).
  • Ninja-pirate-aliens
I think the most likely cause would have been lag (my greatest nemesis). In which case, I will be hiring some ninja-pirate-aliens to pay Mr Lag a visit, because I am seriously pissed off. So much hard work down the drain...

Why Balthazar...why????

If I had of died legitimately I would have accepted it with honor. This is just upsetting. Nothing I can do now except curse ArenaNet, my ISP and my bad luck.

Not happy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Guild Wars - Nice to haves:

I've been playing Guild Wars for a very long time and although I absolutely love the game, there are I few changes and additions I can think of that would make it better. These ideas are in no way trying to convert GW into WoW or WAR or any other MMORPG. I've also tried to think as ArenaNet would, so that there would be a high chance of these changes actually happening. Here they are:

  • More storage tabs: Scott even suggested ArenaNet provide purchasable tabs for the Xunlai Storage Chest. I would happily pay for more, as long as the price was right ;)
  • Stackable inscriptions / insignias / runes / mods etc: This would also help out toward the storage problem.
  • Party formations: It would be great if you could choose the formation of your party when soloing with heroes and henchies. It would allow you to keep the squishier types at the back or in the center of a circle or something. Similar to how it was done in Baldur's Gate 2.
  • Hero AI script editor: This would allow you to write the AI for your heroes. It would make them ideal team mates and stop them from doing a lot of stupid things.
  • Hyperlink items in the trade chat: I've given up hope of an Auction House, but it would be handy if you could ctrl + click the item you want to sell and it place a hyperlink to itself in the trade channel. When a buyer clicks the hyperlink, it shows them the item. There would then be an immediate option to buy it from the seller without needing to run up and trade with them. This would definitely improve the current trading system.
  • More than one pet: Allow Rangers to keep more than one pet. They can swap them around by talking to an animal tamer or something.
  • Even out the amount of skills: Not all classes have the same amount of skills. The Dervish and Paragon have the least of them all. ArenaNet should throw in a few new boss types to the old Prophecies Campaign so that the newer classes have the same amount of elites as the older ones. It's only fair.
  • Hair-cuts: I'd love to be able to go to a hairdresser or barber in-game and change my character's hair colour and style. There is nothing worse than being stuck with the same hair-do for all eternity - lol ;)
  • Smart RA pairing: There needs to be some smarts that works out your current PvP skill level (based of your gladiator rank or something) and pairs you with and against others of the same skill level. It would also be nice if each team was given one healer.
  • PvP item registration: PvE characters should be made to register their weapons for PvP before being able to take them into the arena. You would only need to register them once (unless you changed the mods). It would stop people from bringing sub-par weapons and armour into PvP arenas. It would also open up the possibility of PvE only weapons and armour.
  • Statistics table: I'd like to be able to look at a table of statistics for the PvP game that I'm playing and see exactly who is doing the most damage / kills / healing etc. There could even be a stat for damage prevented and energy lost / stolen.
  • More game types: It would be nice to have more variety in the PvP game types. Things like 'capture the flag' and 'king of the kill'.
  • Mini-pet battles: This would be nuts! No idea how it would work, but I'm sure ArenaNet could think of some kind of mini-game that would involve fighting with your mini-pets. You could even train them against some of your other mini-pets.
Some of these are minor changes and some major. I definitely think they would all be doable. Since I don't know anyone from ArenaNet that reads my blog, the chances of these changes actually happening are almost zero, but it's nice to dream =P

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Questions for when the WAR NDA drops:

Although I'm not a huge fan of playing beta's, I have to admit that I have been rather jealous of the few who have been in the closed beta for WAR. I haven't actually played the game, but I just know that it is going to be awesome (its the hype talking now). Since I won't be playing in the open beta, I have a few questions to anyone that can answer them once the NDA drops (supposedly in a few hours):
  1. Can you respec your character cheaply and often? Do you even need to?
  2. How does in game trading happen? Is there an auction house thingy, or do you have to spam the trade channel?
  3. Can players from opposing factions communicate with each other? (e.g you couldn't in WoW because text was obfuscated between factions)
  4. How fast can you reach the level cap? Was it achievable during the beta period?
  5. What sort of mini-games are there?
  6. I know that there is RvR, but is there any small scale PvP arenas? (ie. 2v2, 4v4, 6v6 etc..)
  7. How do you move around the map quickly? Are there portals (or similar) or is it another World of Walk-a-lot?
  8. When you add someone to your friends list, does it show them online for all their characters or just the one you added to the list? (Guild Wars vs WoW friends lists)
  9. Is ganking a problem in PvP areas, or can I actually complete a quest without have my ass handed to me?
  10. Were there any problems with frame rates or lag during the big RvR battles?
Thank you to anyone who can answer these questions for me. If I find the answers myself, I'll post them in the comments.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

We need a new Guild Wars campaign!

It has been over three and a half years since Guild Wars was released and personally I still enjoy playing it. When ArenaNet released the 'Eye of the North' expansion (almost a year ago) they said it would be the last piece of new content for GW before the release of Guild Wars 2. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed at first, but I was also excited at the prospect that GW2 was in the works. Now I'm craving a new campaign to GW because I know that GW2 is still a long way off. I definitely think there would be a market for a new campaign, even with the advent of WAR and WotLK only months away. Since GW uses a pay upfront pricing model, it has an advantage over the subscription type MMOs, because you can keep going back to it over and over without having to re-sign up. This is ideal for the casual gamer.

I don't think there would be a problem finding new class types for a new GW campaign as the forums have flooded with ideas for years. My two favorite choices being the Druid and the Weapon Master. The Druid would be a shape changer with healing and beast skills (similar to a Ranger). The Weapon Master would be a melee class capable using using any weapon, and would specialize in turning melee attacks back on the attacker. Awesome!

ArenaNet made a mistake when they took development effort off GW and moved it all to GW2. They should have expanded their staff, not moved it off one project and on to another. There was still 2 years worth of new GW campaigns and expansions that they could use as a cash cow.

Hopefully ArenaNet will hear my plea, and begin work on a new campaign right away, so that I can have something to play over the Christmas holidays ;)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Is it efficient to be honorable?

Time is money, and in the end it all comes down to money. Is it okay to step on a few toes in order to advance your MMORPG character in the shortest time possible? Is it okay to use game exploits if it means saving a few weeks of hard grinding? Should gamers chose the honorable path by playing the game by the rules and putting in the hard yards even if their is a known exploitable short-cuts? This is a difficult question to answer and I believe the answer depends on the situation, but where exactly does the line sit?

Not so long ago, I had a discussion with Scott from pumpingirony.net in the comments of this blog about farming Zaishen Keys (z-keys) in Guild Wars. Traditionally z-keys are obtained by trading in Balthazar faction earned through PvP. They are used to open the Zaishen Chest and advance your Zaishen title rank. The z-keys aren't cheap and in most cases one z-key will cost you up to and over an hour's worth of PvPing (depends on how many wins you have). Naturally there is a second method of obtaining z-keys, which requires no PvPing. You can purchase a z-key with gold from another player (who most likely earned it through PvPing). So in theory, if you can earn gold in PvE faster than Balthazar faction in PvP, then wouldn't the wisest course of action be to buy the z-keys with gold? After all, nobody cares how you got the z-key and it would save precious gaming time...

Scott and I both had differing opinions on the issue. Scott's comment was:

"I know it doesn't matter to anyone else, but how I get the z-keys (or anything in any game) matters very much to me. I am a firm believer in earning everything legitimately, so I don't mind (well, I mind grinding but whatever) putting in the time so I feel better about it."

Since we weren't breaking any game rules or hurting anyone else, my opinion was to simply buy the z-keys if it was the easiest option. I don't think there is a right answer in this particular scenario, but if Scott wanted to be efficient it would have meant breaking his own code of honor.

I'm sure all MMORPG players have been faced with an efficiency versus honor scenario, as exploits are everywhere in online games. If everyone chose the honorable path when faced with such decisions, I think the MMO gaming world would be a lot more equitable and enjoyable to play in. Since this is never going to happen, I'm inclined to lean toward the path of efficiency if it means reducing the grind. Just as long as no other player's online experience is ruined as a result.

In answer to the question, no I don't think it is efficient to be honorable, but only the player can decide the best course of action when faced with such a scenario.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Been watching Carnivale

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, I've been watching Season 1 and 2 of Carnivale. With the MMO world being in somewhat of a state of flux at the moment, I thought it would be a good time to earn some brownie points with the girlfriend in preparation for the launch of WAR.

For those who haven't seen Carnivale, I highly recommend doing so, it was one of the best TV series I have ever seen. When my girlfriend first told me about it I was very skeptic and convinced that it definitely wasn't up my alley, but I was wrong... very wrong.

The series is set in the US during the Great Depression (a nice change from my usual sci-fi) and explores the concept of good and evil via walking avatars of God and the Devil. The story is based on a combination of Christian theology, gnosticism and Masonic lore (the Knights Templar). Very very cool...

Worth a watch if you haven't seen it already.