October 24, 2011

I am in one of my phases where I write up some game mechanics, then delete them for being too derivative.  So while I am doing work on the “Xmas Game” I do not know if I will actually get one finished.  In the mean time, some notes on games I have been playing and games I am looking forward to playing.

Star Wars the Old Republic Beta

Not much I can say here due to the NDA. Bioware did a short beta test just for testing the Oceanic connections and I was lucky enough to get an invite.  I am not regretting my pre-order from Amazon.

Lord of the Rings Online

Over the last year I have slowly levelled up a level 30-ish Guardian character in LOTRO.  Its a free-to-play game, but I did spend some cash on a mount and opening some questing zones.  While the Lord of the Rings lore is good, its very, very grindy.  Two points stand out here: advanced combat abilities that are only learned after you have used a basic combat ability a few hundred/thousand times, and the crafting system, where you effectively have to relearn prior tiers of skill in order to master each new tier.  Tactically, the levelling game is more interesting the World of Warcraft, as failure is quite possible if you attack on elite mob or pull too many trash mobs.  I only tried an instance once, and the combination of inability to generate multi-target threat combined with rapid mob respawns turned me off trying again.  After playing the SWTOR Beta, I don’t think I’ll be spending more time in LOTRO.

Dragon Age (tabletop)

My once a fortnight tabletop campaign continues, with the players having reached Level Six.  In the last session, they ran into an interesting moral challenge and my amoral mage jumped a different way from that which I was expecting (he refused to take the Red Book of Monsters from the time-shifted Ebon Tower after a fragment of a God told the party the book could be used to summon monsters that could sunder the world).

Some quirks in the game engine are now becoming apparent.  By Level 10 a character will have at least doubled their health from Level 1, if not tripled it, as well as improving the ability to avoid being hit and to mitigate incoming damage … but their outgoing damage will only have increased by about 1d6 per round.  So against a similar group of “heroes” the chances are that a combat would take an entire game session to resolve.

The Rogue class is annoying, as in each and every combat round they have to make an opposed bluff check in order to gain an attack bonus and 1d6 damage.  Without the bonus damage the Rogue is not competitive in damage dealing.  The extra die roll each round is time consuming.

Mages are annoying, definitely glass cannons, which makes them either overpowered or vulnerable.  If an NPC mage uses a crowd control spell, they can eliminate a player character from an entire combat (which means a bored player), but in return solo enemy mages are not viable as foes – they simply cannot survive without a small horde of minions to intercept/disrupt the players.

My rough rule of thumb now, is that for an enemy to concern my players, it needs to do a minimum of 6d6 damage per combat round (after accounting for missed attacks and armour absorption), otherwise the fact that the party mages can pump out 6d6 healing per round means most combats end with the players on full health.  While I have given out the odd health/mana potion, I don’t think anyone has ever had to use one of them.

Still, the core engine still appeals to me and I am tinkering with reworking it into a SF setting – I am mucking around with ideas for Sidhe, Fomorians and Stargate style Egyptian monsters all turning Earth into a post-apocalyptic setting, with some bright ultra-tech human colonies out in space.

World of Tanks

This is an online “lobby” game, consisting of 15 minute player versus player matches in which each of the 30 players controls one World War II era tank.  Between matches you repair and research.  The tank capabilities and vulnerabilities seem faithful to history, although there are a few fantasy tanks in play which never got off the design board and onto the historical battle fields.  At the moment tanks are limited to US, Russian, and German designs, although I expect we will eventually see British and French designs as well.  The game has been sufficiently successful that we can expect to see World of Planes and World of Ships in a couple of years.

I chose to play Russian tanks, and have slowly worked my way up to my first heavy tank, the KV.  Unlike my previous tanks, its slow, really slow, and the turret is also a slow traverser.  Historically, it was a killer when it ran into German Panzer IIs and IIIs, but in WoT I am as likely to run into Tiger IIs and IS-4s, which I can’t really damage and which can one shot me in return.  Tactically, rather than moving constantly at max speed as you do with light tanks, the KV needs to work in formation with other tanks to avoid being flanked and also needs to skulk from bit of cover to bit of cover.  Out in the open its easily spotted and immobilised by artillery.

Overall, I find WoT to be a really good way to spend 30-60 minutes of spare time.  It also goes well with listening to some heavy metal music.

World of Warcraft – Firelands

My guild has lost two DPS players (rogue/hunter) but continues to raid.  We managed 6/7 boss kills before the content was nerfed, then 7/7 shortly afterwards and are now 1/7 for hard modes.  I’m not sure the content nerf was good for us.  We do not have the throughput in DPS/HPS for many of the hard mode fights, but now the normal mode fights are so trivial as to be boring.

What we tend to do now, is spend two hours wiping on hard modes on Thursday night, then clear up to 5/7.  On Monday we go back and kill the last two, and as we get better at killing Ragnaros we use our remaining time on Tier 11 hard modes.  On Sundays I lead a casual raid, but it is struggling as several of the players there simply cannot meet the DPS requirements – we need 15k DPS and they do 10k – the fights take too long and our healers run out of mana, or the time delay makes the wheels fall off and the fight becomes a train wreck.

I am happy with my Holy Paladin healing, I managed to rank sixth in class in World of Logs for healing the fat fire spider Beth’tilac in the second week of Firelands.  Considering how Paladins 1-6 were all in Tier 11 Hard Mode gear I was pretty chuffed with the accomplishment.  My Retibution Paladin DPS though … it sucks, hovering around 12k for most fights, although on a static tank and spank it can reach 18k.  Part of the reason the DPs is low is that because I do not enjoy it, I don’t practice it.  I’m not sure why I don’t enjoy it but there are two bits of the play style I struggle with: use of cooldowns and proc dependence.

It’s hard for me not to agree with Gevlon over at the Greedy Goblin, that the sheer complexity of the “Boss Dance” in fights is making raiding less fun.  This is especially the case for melee damage dealers in any fight with significant movement, as the loss of contact time on the boss reduces DPS.  It is a never-ending race, in which Blizzard alternates between buffing classes with new abilities, then upping the difficulty of new fights.  In patch 4.3 we are being promised a buff to melee DPS … but I have to say as a raid leader, I have no desire to recruit more melee DPS into the raid group because unless their player skill is exceptional.

Over at Blessing of Kings, a comparison of a Wrath era fight and a Cataclysm era was posted to illustrate this point:(http://blessingofkings.blogspot.com/2011/09/firelands-nerfs-and-difficulty.html)

Marrowgar:

  • One mob
  • Tanks stack on each other to split damage
  • Avoid fire
  • Dodge bonestorm
  • Kill bonespikes

Shannox:

  • Three mobs
  • Dodge traps
  • Burst one add with large spells
  • Heal one random target who takes high damage
  • Trap and kite one add until a stacking debuff wears off, failing this increases tank damage
  • Avoid aoe spear damage
  • Damage increases significantly as fight progresses

What I would prefer, is a few more fights that stretch my ability to play my class well, as opposed to how well I have memorised the exact dance steps for the special mechanics on a boss fight.  My own feedback on class design for the next expansion was “less is more”.

On the whole though, I think Blizzard made a serious mistake in Cataclysm by making two of the tier end bosses be recycled bosses from Vanilla WoW (Nefarian & Onyxia, and Ragnaros).  Yes, the fight mechanics are different … but it still felt like a failure of imagination to me by the Blizzard design team.

Upcoming Games

Games I am looking forward to include: Star Wars the Old Republic (December), Guild Wars 2 (2012), Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (11 November), and the Mists of Pandaria expansion for World of Warcraft (2012).

For information on SWTOR I recommend the http://torwars.com/ fan site.  My Sith PvE guild is now part of the Oceanic “daisychain”, a collaborative effort to ensure as many ANZAC players as possible all end up on the same starting server.

Guild Wars 2 is attempting to eliminate the holy trinity, so all characters will have heal/dps options.  Defences will include active dodging by the players, and if you “die” you actually get a different set of combat options while knocked down.  Could be a quality of life improvement, but it might be a much stronger evolution of the genre than SWTOR is shaping up to be (several press reviews describe SWTOR as WoW with lightsabres).

I preordered Skyrim after watching some gameplay videos, especially of combat versus dragons.  It looks like combat is very sandbox, many different ways to solve each tactical problem.  I enjoyed the other Elder Scrolls games, so this will fill the gap until SWTOR is released.

Mists of Pandaria will be an oriental themed expansion for WoW.  I know a few people have gone “WTF! Panda!”  but last time I looked WoW had already jumped the shark (the Goblin starter area has a quest involving sharks with laser beams mounted on them).  I’ll be happy with MOP if I can dress my virtual dolls in Samurai armour.

Probably the most significant announcement was a complete rebuild of the talent system, rather than spending points every few levels to boost power and access new abilities, many abilities will be granted with class spec, and talents will be a choice of one of three options every 15 levels.  When you hit 30, you can’t go back and choose a second Level 15 option, as each set of options will compare like with like, you are unlikely to be forced to choose between utility or survival or throughput.  I like the sound of this new system … fits with my “less is more” preference.

Wowhead already has a talent calculator preview available at: http://www.wowhead.com/mists-of-pandaria-talent-calculator

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How I made 1,000,000 gold in World of Warcraft

June 27, 2011

Actually, this is more of a look back at Tier 11, but don’t worry, I will cover the gold making enterprise towards the end.

Playing a paladin healer in Cataclysm has felt like a constant race with the nerf bat.  At launch, Paladins were just too damn good, so over the course of a few weeks our healing model got changed just about every week.  In that sense it was good that I hit 85 within 2 days, and was chain running heroic 5 mans on the 3rd day, because getting some gear early made the later nerfs mcuh easier to live with.  Usually through a tier of content you watch your mana pool increasing, I had a time when it was decreasing with every patch and hotfix.  Coming in with Tier 12 is another raft of changes, which will mean that once again I will have to retune all my reflexes and change rotation priorities.

Tier 11 gear sucked: I often /inspect other Holy Paladins when idling in downtown Orgrimmar and I have not seen a single holy paladin in tier gear.  It is embarrassing when your secondary spec is fully equipped first. And what is it with placing all the healing maces on end zone bosses?

 The new zones

Mt Hyjal remains a favourite for levelling … because the underwater zone of Vashj’ir is painful.  While Vash has its moments, the 3D environment is painful to maneuver around, and its just too big.  I think they would have done better to have taken half the ideas and saved them for a future patch/expansion.  Deepholm was fine, although its frustrating with alts in that you outlevel the zone well before you actually unlock the faction vendor there.  Uldum was a disaster with pretty scenerey, the Harrison Jones joke is a bit old, the none-too-subtle nazi references were lame, and it was slow death by a thousand cut scenes.  Twilight Highlands was good the first time through, but as my alts ding 85 I run out of enthusiasm to finish the zone, and they retire to watch the fires outside the Auction House.

Content difficulty

5 mans: much, much harder than Wrath. Guild groups vastly preferable to pugging.  I have not pugged since patch 4.1 (the Call to Arms random loot satchel does not tempt me).  My gut feeling, is that even in close to full raid gear, its much harder to heal a random group of strangers than the Wrath instances were.

Most-hated new instance: Stonecore.  Even post-nerf I still hate it.

Most-liked  new instance: Deadmines.  A little long, but a lot of thought went into making the fights interesting.

Raids: pretty good for 2 nights per week in the casual scene, but only if you have a solid team. As an introductory raid, much harder than Tier 7.  It would have been pretty hard to have gone 12/12 hard modes on two nights a week.  If half of my guild’s raid group had not quit in February, resetting our progress for almost two months, I think we would have reached 4-5 hard modes.  As it is, getting all 14 raiders a full 12/12 clear in the last month still felt like a good achievement for us.

Most-hated Encounter: Lip Boss in the Nefarian fight.  If I wanted to play a platform game, I’d play a platform game.

Most-liked encounter: Atramedes, once you got the hang of the sound mechanic, it was quite a fun fight for a healer.

Epic Fail: Throne of the Four Winds, random loot is random, and unloved.  I think we sharded almost everything bar the tier drops from Al’Akir.

Levelling: trivial, and very much a solitary experience now that pvp/instancing via LFG/randoms exists and most of the non-instanced group quests were eliminated.  Even without heirloom gear’s boosted xp, its very hard to actually complete all of a zone’s quests before you outlevel the zones.  Some of the old zones had a great makeover, and the new stories were fun, but I am not really tempted to go back through them all again.

Cancelling the rift sub

I canceled over something relatively trivial.  My Level 34 character was unable to buy water to recover from damage quickly, because all the vendors in zone only sold water that worked for Level 35+ characters.  But I also quit because the game was too much like WoW, in that in order to access the end game content I would have had to have devoted 500+ hours to grinding reputations/gear.  bad enough to do that in WoW, I’m not really tempted by doing it in a second fantasy theme park game.

If this had been my first MMORPG, I probably would have continued to Level 50.  After all, when I started WoW I levelled a Holy spec paladin to Level 60 thinking I was playing a DPS class!  But five years later, I am simply not willing to continue in frustrating play, when I have more rewarding experiences available elsewhere.  No one else in my WoW guild managed to make it past Level 20-25 before the sameness of the content got to them, and they too cancelled their subscriptions.

Key Play Decisions

I was offered a position in one of the hardcore raiding guilds on my server.  I turned it down.  Carpe Jugulum is a guild on my level

No pugging.  I have stuck largely with guild raids, bar a few Baradin Hold runs for the Loot Pinata Boss.

Only gearing one character (for raids, 5 mans, reputation, achievements, etc) not 2-5 characters.

Stepping up to be Raid Leader after the mass guild quit was worth it.  I helped recruit replacements, and then led the Guild to virtual glory.  Good times.  For my next trick, making sure they can do the same without me.

A Million Gold

I started with around 300,000 gold.  I spent about 100,000 gold levelling professions after launch.  In the next six months I made 900,000 gold.  This took about two hours a day of AFK/AH time.  Sorry if you are looking for an “I Win” button, but my success came as a result of:

First, having invested the time to get five characters with fully developed professions in Mining, Herbing, Enchanting, Blacksmith, Tailoring, Alchemy, Inscription and Jewelcrafting. Thats about a thousand hour investment.

Second, identifying niche markets that were profitable.  Reading Gold Blogs was helpful, but not necessary.  The most important tool here is actually the add-on “Auctionator”, which saves time by compressing price/quantity information displays for rapid viewing, and having quick AH list/cancel functions.

Third, relentlessly pushing those markets every day.

My most profitable market was JC, where I went long and purchased all the 5 token meta-gem cuts, ignoring the rings altogether and only later buying the 3 token gem cuts.  I also spent around 10k gold on each rare BOE meta-gem pattern or enchanting formulae that turne dup on the AH.  When the mats cost me 45 gold, and the gem sold for 299g I made a lot of money – anywhere up to 10,000 per day.

My second market was enchanting scrolls.  Slow steady earnings.  A few coins from rare enchants for BOA gear, but not a big earner.  However, because I have all the patterns, I don’t bleed money here.  Disenchanting has been curiously profitable too.

My third market was BOE shields, which was a good earner due to the BOP nature of Chaos orbs.  When other smiths were selling their orbs for 100g in trade chat, I was making 1,000 gold off them on the AH.  The smith also makes looose change from enchanting rods.

The silly earner is Primal Might, which takes me about ten minutes to farm, and sells for 500 gold on my server.  Not bad for something from two expansions back.

The Tailor makes spare change from making bags and spellthread.  I don’t use the scribe much, the inscription market is broken (it has prohibitive entry costs, and its impossible to make gold without addons, a small army of alts and a willingness to cancel and relist thosands of auctions a day).  I switched the scribe’s herbing profession to JC, and I’m making a long bet that epic gems will require daily mission tokens, so I have 58 of those stockpiled.

Things I don’t do for gold:

1) spam trade chat

2) snatch vanity items, hoping to flip them, everything I sell is something I make

3) farm and sell raw materials, I leave that to the bots

4) sell anything where I am making less than a 10 gold profit per sale.

Looking Ahead to 4.2 ‘the Firelands’

I will gear a second character for heroic 5 mans, purely for the farming efficency to get the iLevel 378 BoEs.  The lower weekly VP cap creates a strong incentive to reduce playing time of main characters by about 25%, but it will be much harder for hybrid gear sets to be completed.

Will the new tier work with just seven bosses?  Most of the ones I have raided in have had 12.  A lot of things are still frustratingly unclear.  With only seven bosses is the loot table larger or just more random?  Its also not clear how some of the crafting materials are acquired, although 25 man raids will get more of them than 10 man raids.  Maybe its a signal that the bosses will all be significantly harder than in Tier 11.

T12 gear for holy paladins is an improvement, mostly.  Well, it would have been hard for it to be worse.  Kurn has a pretty good breakdown at: http://kurn.apotheosis-now.com/?cat=90

At some stage I will try healing Cataclysm 5 mans in Tier 2 gear.  I’ll post screenshots!

The new healing paradigm gets some discussion here: http://wow.joystiq.com/2011/06/26/the-light-and-how-to-swing-it-balancing-holys-heals/#continued, and some number crunching takes place here: http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/2593008994.  While I’m not thrilled about the changes, I expect I’ll adjust after a week or two.

The guild goal for Tier 12, is to do some hard modes, and make sure at least one of our RDPS gets the legendary staff.  Thats going to require some work…