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Ian O'Rourke
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The New Guild Landscape

So, in the beginning there was one guild, The Dungeoneers, one of the oldest guilds on the server due to being formed when the game was first released. Then we met the Hex Spammers, and the two guilds became one. Then we split, and The Dungeoneers became: The Dungeoneers, Hex Spammers and Scum and Villainy. It would seem this is how the dust is going to settle.

Since I wouldn't have joined Hex Spammers even if someone had paid me to do it, and that would never have happened as I suspect I wasn't one of The Dungeoneers with a place saved for me, my choice was between sticking with The Dungeoneers and helping a friend run it who has taken it over, joining a new guild created by the majority of the original Dungeoneers or stopping playing the game, at least for a while. Ultimately, I decided to look at everything afresh. Look at the game afresh, which can easily be done due to the imminent approach of The Burning Crusade, which does make it feel almost like a new game, and look at the guild situation afresh.

The result is I'm now a founding member of Scum and Villainy, complete with a soon to be available website called The Wretched Hive. If you don't get the link, you're obviously too young, or haven't watched enough Star Wars or both.

The final laugh on the Dungeoneer guild drama came yesterday when I was told the story of the first Hex Spammer's trip to Zul'Gurub as a guild. The individual who left The Dungeoneers, which triggered the collapse, left after an alt character got the Heart of Hakkar from the final boss, which is a cool item that can get turned in for a very good item for spellcasters. It wasn't just that instance, it was the whole idea that alt characters had equal access to gear with main characters, but it was the final straw. This is despite the fact he rarely went into Zul'Gurub during the hard times of mastering it, and only really showed up consistently when we could beat Hakkar, and then moaned constantly about making sure he was on the Hakkar kill if the raid happend to take place over two days (because he was there on the first day). The fact he was rarely there when the whole instance was mastered, was obviously forgotten.

Anyway, the Hex Spammers go to Zul'Gurub, trash the place and get to the final boss, and the Heart of Hakkar drops as it does every time (it has a 100% drop rate). Guess what the guild does: they give the Heart of Hakkar to their new leader as a gift? I have to say, this is going to make me smile for a good number of days. He accepted it of course, after all, the Moses that lead them to the new promised land obviously deserved a reward? Or is it more the people's revolutionary leader?

Whatever, it was hilarious either way.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 05/10/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
96 Hours And It's All Over

The last 96 hours has been a bit depressing. Not depressing in a ring the Samaritans sort of way, but certainly a bit of a downer. As I've already mentioned, a key person in The Dungeoneers, left to reform his old guild, the Hex Spammers, because he wasn't happy with certain elements of The Dungeoneers. What happened then, over the course of last weekend, 96 hours in total, was the death of The Dungeoneers as a concept. The guild may actually go on, but as a guild representing a concept, creation and idea of a group of people it's over as they are all going their separate ways. As you can imagine, a lot of them are going to Hex Spammers.

So, what happened?

Well, it seemed to me to be a quintessential and classic story of an organisation not changing to reflect its membership, and as a result being cast aside as a relic (The Dungeoneers), in favour of the new and vibrant regime (Hex Spammers). In a way it was all a bit viva la revolution. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't easy, people had friends split across the guilds, and had to make serious decisions, but broadly speaking, painting it with a big brush from above, that's pretty much what happened. I'm sure, in time, the glorious new regime will have it's problems, as some of the same elements are present just waiting to raise their heads again, but I wish them luck in the future.

So, what went wrong?

It's probably not really possible to pin it down to one major thing, but a big element of it was we failed to change as the membership numbers increased. It's a complex issue and brings in all sorts of things like democracy versus leadership and truth versus perception. The guild had always held the view it wasn't a democracy, just like a project or a company isn't a democracy. Yes you listen to your membership and change for their benefit, but the change is undertaken by those leading the guild. Could this have worked? Possibly, but if you are going to run things this way you have make sure everything is as transparent as possible, you have rules and process and apply them equally. It was all too easy for a perception versus truth issue to come into being due to us communicating decisions badly, if at all (and it was something some of us constantly raised as an issue). Then you had the issue of people being Officers of the guild who didn't do anything, apart from acting as general advisers, and I include myself in that, and it became obvious this was untenable. I'm also sure that the guild was also confused in terms of how decisions got made, as it had the Officers forum supposedly for this purpose, but I'm pretty sure the main stuff got sorted at the weekly pub get together a core of the Newcastle Officers went to. Confused and badly communicated at all levels, and relatively indecisive leadership.

The Dungeoneers could have actually been saved if we'd changed leaders just a week earlier, as the new leader wanted to set-up The Dungeoneers in exactly the same way as the Hex Spammers has been set-up. Indeed, myself, the new guild leader and the guy who left discussed it at the Dungeoneer Assembly. While this change in itself would have been painful, as it would have meant ditching a lot of the membership for the core members only, focusing the guild around levelling and then hitting the new 25-man endgame at level 70 . It did seem to be what 95% of the core founders and the people we wanted to keep wanted. If this changed had been made a week ago, The Dungeoneers would have still existed, the friends would not have gone their different virtual paths, and it would have been leaner, more efficient, flatter in terms of organisation, more democratic and easier to manage. Ironically, the model on which the Hex Spammers has been set-up, though there relatively open membership to Dungeoneers over the last 96 hours may provide them some problems down the road.

If I use the analogy of a project for a second: it was certainly going of the rails, and needed a leadership change and a clean out to save it. I knew that, but it's hard to just say that when people are your friends and you've only got the Internet to do it. Everything is always easier with hindsight though, we'd just got ourselves into a position in which serious, meaningful and hard decisions couldn't be made and time ran out.

At the same time, some of the reasons aren't our doing at all, as The Burning Crusade is slowly killing off guilds left, right and centre. While it's easy to see The Dungeoneers became a bit of a relic due to its leadership method and system breaking down, it also became a bit of a relic when faced with The Burning Crusade as a guild to support 40-man raid instances isn't needed any more. As The Dungeoneers was going through its pain another of the endgame raiding guilds on our server, Henchmen, fell apart as well. I'm pretty sure smaller and leaner guilds are rising up in their place, which is a good thing in the long term I believe, but it sure is causing some pain in the process.

The main issue now is the people that came to play World of Warcraft together, the vehicle coming to be The Dungeoneers, now seem to be splitting off and taking numerous paths for their virtual experience. A number have joined the Hex Spammers, some are contemplating if they are still going to play, others are remaining without a guild and considering their options as the new endgame approaches at level 70. This is the main issue that leaves a bit of a hollow feeling.

What am I going to do? At the moment I think my time with the game is at an end, as it always was intrinsically linked to The Dungeoneers. We shall see, as it will probably take another week for the new landscape to fall into place, everyone to find their path and for whatever The Dungoneers becomes after the exodus to take shape.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/10/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
All Change At The Dungeoneers

I remember, a while back now, when The Dungeoneers stood on the precipice of Molten Core, the guild had not merged that long ago with The Hex Spammers, and as well as dealing with that cultural clash we also had to deal with all the changes needed to jump into the raiding big league. It was an interesting time, a tense time, it caused a willing change in leadership of the guild and it ultimately caused me take a break from the game. Now, The Dungeoneers stand at the precipice of Blackwing Lair, the next big raiding challenge, and it's happening all over again.

It's all been building for a while really, starting around the time we hit Ragnoros, until then the guild was relatively stable, coming out of the last period of great change to challenge the new content. As I pointed out in The Journey to Hardcore, when we hit Ragnoros things changed due to the need to take a different approach to this boss, and come prepared with potions and other supplies, and not only that people should be shamed into bringing them or the guild should have rules to make sure anyone raiding on Ragnoros day had a minimum number of potions. We've also had numerous flash points over Zul'Gurub, which people have started calling Drama'Gurub, due to the number of guild dramas it's caused (mostly based over people trying to relate effort to gear rights). Then, if you throw in the fact people started looking towards Blackwing Lair as soon as they got a sniff of Ragnoros and the changes they believed the guild needed for that, it was getting frustrating.

I'm not going to list the changes people wanted, as most of them are listed in The Journey to Hardcore, but it's suffice to say that one of the key members of the ex-Hex Spammers, and an Officer of The Dungeoneers, left the guild to reform The Hex Spammers as he did not agree with the choices the guild was making. He did have a number of good points, but the guild for whatever reason seemed unable to change under the current structure. To be honest, his approach to the game was never really in synch with The Dungeoneers. I'm not even sure his general background, overall philosophy and approach to many things was in synch with most of the rest of the people who run the guild. In my opinion, after meeting face-to-face when The Dungeoneers Assembled, I thought this clash was inevitable, it was just a matter of when. What remains to be seen is whether the change, which is inevitable post-clash, results in something good.

Obviously, the new Hex Spammers is acting as a refuge for all those who have any grievance with The Dungeoneers. The grass is greener and all that. Since he was also the poster boy for a more hardcore approach he's also attracting that crowd. As far as I'm concerned, if people leave, and some have, because they find the culture of that guild and the rules they adopt more to their liking, then I'm fine with them leaving, it'll maybe allow us to see an to the undercurrent of moaning? When will people realise they should stop moaning and just find a guild more to their liking? The only unfortunate situation is the people who naturally find themselves torn between Hex Spammer and Dungeoneer allegiances, as that isn't a nice place to be in I suspect.

Overall, I think this minor split is a good thing. The guild has been too big for a while, and in the post-Ragnoros environment the guild has felt increasingly uncomfortable trying to match the culture of the core guild members with a more hardcore element. Personally, I believe The Dungeoneers, as an idea, starts to break down once the guild gets to a certain size. It's just like any project or group of people trying to achieve something, you can have certain cultures, management processes and leadership styles for a small project that you can't have for a large project, and the same is true the opposite way around. Whether we like it or not The Dungeoneers has to survive largely on the basis of bonds of trust, friendship and people largely being on the same wavelength, and this means a smaller guild. Thankfully, The Burning Crusade comes along at a fortuitous time, as the new endgame at level 70 only demands a raiding team of 25. This looks like it might afford The Dungeoneers the opportunity to concentrate on being a smaller guild with the attitudes we had while levelling originally (which we can do to 70 again), merged with a more focused and less populace endgame at a later stage. In short, we may finally gain the best of both worlds. Since the new leader of the guild, yes, the precipice of another raid instance has brought about another willing change of leadership, has this philosophy in mind, I think the future looks good.

While this entry isn't largely about this, I will say this again, the risky decision Blizzard has taken to focus the endgame around 25-man raids is pure genius.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 29/09/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
The Journey to Hardcore

What is a hardcore raiding guild? Some in The Dungeoneers insist we are already a hardcore raiding guild because, by and large, a raid goes on most nights of the week, even though my time investment is much lower than that. I question that really, as I think being a hardcore raiding guild is more to do with the attitude and approach to raiding and the rules that support the activity than frequency of raids. As an example, every raid we do is a surprisingly casual affair, with loose class requirements and no talent specifications demanded of those classes. The only raid that has started to have unofficial requirements demands in terms of supplies is the second Molten Core raid due to tackling Ragnoros. As a result, I would hardly call The Dungeoneers hardcore, as a hardcore raiding guild is signified by a number of things: strict kit requirements before raiding, bringing certain supplies before being allowed in any particular raid, having certain set talent specifications, hierarchical leadership structures involving class leaders, a mandatory number of evenings raiding (and even farming) or you're kicked from the guild, silence on comms and raid chat, identifying your main and alternate characters for gear purposes and more complex points systems to support activities outside of the raid and probably a number of other things that The Dungeoneers don't do. The important distinction is, while The Dungeoneers are a guild that raids, we don't demand every single member dedicate their life to it, or for raiding to be the entire focus of their World of Warcraft playing experience.

I have to admit, I think the fact The Dungeoneers can approach and succeed at raiding without a lot of these draconian rules is excellent, and while we consider our approach at each stage, I think it is one of the guilds main strengths that we don't just accept commonly accepted, draconian wisdom like sheep. We find our own way, and I believe it has worked. The issue is the looming presence of Blackwing Lair seems to be putting that approach under stress again and taking The Dungeoneers a few steps closer to being a hardcore raiding guild.

The issue arises from the commonly accepted wisdom that Blackwing Lair is a totally different ball game to Molten Core, in that every boss is like Ragnoros on steroids, so you need the gear, you need to put in the time and you need the supplies to defeat each and every boss. This may well be true, but then I'm also aware a lot of such bollocks was said about Molten Core before we started as well and until Ragnoros came along the much vaunted fire resistance gear, potions requirements and whatever else was complete bollocks (especially for ranged classes).

As a result, the guild is currently discussing the need to bring in rules to ensure people bring a set amount of supplies or they will not be allowed to raid and to have a certain level of gear before they'll be allowed to enter Blackwing Lair. A few other rules are also up for discussion, such as whether we should have class leaders, adopt a position of players having a clear main character to focus loot acquisition and how we handle the various talent specifications as some are seen as more advantageous than others. It all sounds very hardcore to me, as these things raise other questions. If we have a mandatory equipment requirement we have to have mechanisms in place to get people to that kit requirement otherwise we will naturally form an elite raiding team and leave everyone else in the dirt unable to get the numbers to visit places to get gear. If we adopt a system of identifying main characters this does influence the policy of the guild as being a guild that raids rather than a raiding guild as it will further limit the acquisition of gear on any other character but a player's main raiding character. In short, the decisions can't be taken without looking at the influence they will have on the culture of the guild, it's not as easy as just saying let's have these rules to stop people taking the piss as there is potentially more at stake than 'ruling out' the activities of a relatively minor group of people.

The most dangerous issue is how these changes filter down to influencing the overall change in attitude in the guild. This can be seen already, over the course of the guilds progress through Molten Core a harder edge has materialised, and this has come into focus around Ragnoros. This harder edge is all for stricter requirements on guild raiding, and being very dismissive and relatively quick to judge the activities of others and getting rid of the 'dead wood' as they call it. No time to maybe coach people a bit any more first, despite the fact this has produced a number of solid guild members in the past. At times it can sound very aggressive, harsh and just not that much of a positive experience. I have to admit to also being a bit annoyed with the whole monitoring culture that is going on. I don't understand how some people play the game with the amount of knowledge they seem to have on what other players are doing or aren't doing. As for the whole culture of checking up on players with monitoring tools to check their fire resistance gear and what potions they have brought? It sometimes makes me want to just tell whoever does that, usually one particular person, to fuck right off and not bring your job in real life (monitoring calls at a call centre) into my raiding. It's starting to feel like being at school or something.

As a result, the longer-term issue is whether, once everything has been discussed and decided, assuming that ever happens, the actual deciding bit, it remains to be seen whether Blackwing Lair will actually be a fun experience. That's the only criteria for me at the end of the day, other people might be willing to waste their time doing something they don't enjoy for virtual rewards (such as people mind numbingly bored in the Battlegrounds every night of the week), but I'm not. If Blackwing Lair proves to be a fun and challenging experience I'll happily continue to play. If it proves to be a largely negative and soulless experience and the only 'reward' is the gear to progress Zoltis than I'll be taking my leave.

After all, despite all this, the whole landscape changes when The Burning Crusade comes out, so if the culture and attitude to raiding changes to something I don't like I can quite easily exit stage left, let them get on with it and enjoy the new experience with The Burning Crusade as it offers new levels and new dungeons, changes the current endgame raids due to being a higher level (reducing the importance of all the current discussions) and worry about the new endgame at level 70 when I reach it.

As usual though, these periods of change are always interesting.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 16/09/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
Flashpoint Zul'Gurub: Indications of the Future?
One of the interesting things about The Dungeoneers is, sorting out the points system for loot aside, the penetration of Molten Core has been relatively drama free, the instance that has caused the most dramas has been Zul'Gurub. It's interesting to note this is a 20-man instance and The Dungeoneers don't use the point system for it as I think both these facts are important.

The first drama was over the Zul'Gurub enchant, a fancy enchant that requires an idol from one of the bosses, but the boss drops that idol every time he is killed but you obviously only have a 1 in 20 chance of getting the idol, modified by the number of people who've had it already. A drama erupted around all sorts of advanced pre-requisites to limit who could roll on the idol, based on who already had the other requirement, despite the fact you could buy that very easily, and who had a piece of equipment worthy enough to put it on. The last one was pointless, of course, as The Dungeoneers are a guild that raids, not a raiding guild, as the whole idea of limiting it to people with Tier 2 equipment to put it on was pointless. As an example, some people have characters who are largely PvP only, and as such they'd not have a Tier 2 item, but a PvP equivalent. It was proved again, that the best rule is the simplest rule, and any sort of pre-requirement system is pointless, prone to argument and just causes stress. In the end it was decided the only rule is you can't have a second while someone is the on the raid who hasn't had one which, ironically, should have always been the rule but people tried to hedge their bets on a particular trip and caused a drama bomb.

The more recent drama has erupted since we downed Hakkar, since he has the best gear. In fact, a number of people are now very interested in Zul'Gurub, now we can take Hakkar, thus coming in on the effort of others to sweep in for the high return boss. The main problem has come up when the raid spreads across 2 days rather than one, as the people who cleared the instance, as you have to kill all the bosses before taking on Hakkar, feel they have a right to be the ones to take down Hakkar. Ironically, some of the most vocal on this issue were some of the people who hadn't been in Zul'Gurub much until Hakkar was downed, which was a bit cynical. I don't entirely disagree with this, and in a perfect world this would be true, but getting 20 people together at one time is awkward, never mind exactly the same 20 people before the instance resets. It's inevitable some people will lose out. Also, it's a bit strange, as we've been doing Molten Core over 2-3 days for months, and the fact someone might be on day 1 and 2 and not 3 hasn't bother people at all. I suspect this is because Molten Core uses points, so they feel they did get a reward for their efforts, and also because the Molten Core loot is a bit better distributed, while Zul'Gurub does quickly get weighted towards Hakkar.

You also can't take the 20-man raid limit out of the equation, as while we are over subscribed for Molten Core, the fact 40 people are needed means the feeling of being left out isn't as great due to quite often having to go to reserves to fill the 40 people and also because it's scheduled on the calendar and people can sign up via an impartial system. Zul'Gurub is different, as not only is there less places to go around, due to the numbers the classes have to be a bit more finely balanced and also it's not scheduled on the calendar so the raids spring up and who gets invited is often chosen by a select few organising the raid. Obviously, under this criteria, there is a core of people who are more likely to get invited than others, due to bonds of friendship, a perception they are better players or will stay the distance and put in the effort.

As a result of all this, Zul'Gurub continues to be the source of The Dungeoneers minor, and I do mean minor, dramas. You read the forums of other guilds and The Dungeoneers don't really have dramas as such, but Zul'Gurub is one of our flashpoints nonetheless. Now, what's interesting about Zul'Gurub is does it allow The Dungeoneers to see into the future and get a picture of what The Burning Crusade is going to introduce when all endgame raids are reduced to 25-man raids? It's quite possible it might.

The 25-man raid count instantly raises the spectre of the raids causing the same problem as Zul'Gurub in terms of congestion for spaces. It's easy to say that the calendar sign-up system will stop that being an issue, but if you look at it from a wider perspective, unless The Dungeoneers downsize then a 25-man raid will be just as easy to pull off on the spot as a 20-man one raising the spectre of not all of them being scheduled and as such approached on a more casual basis thus raising the issue of the two tier invite system. If this then links into any points system being used, those people getting in more raids due to being seen as more favourable invites, due to it not be an impartial process, will earn more points.

In order to deal with the 25-man raid cap The Dungeoneers are going to either have to downsize to be an efficient raiding guild for 25-man content, or increase their membership so that they can actually do two full raids. The trouble is, the idea of doing two full raids is easier said than done. As the same issue that causes certain people to get invited over others will be the same issue that influence who wants to raid with who, and to a certain extent, the core of the guild who speak on comms, know each other in real life and whatever not wanting to be split across raids. I know if I was split off from the core I'd be frustrated. Also, what happens when one raiding team progresses faster than another? Or if one team instantly notices they have been left with people they perceive as weaker members?

So, don't have two teams, rotate people? Simple. Is it though? How do you rotate without it still looking like having a team A and a team B? You could rotate by class, but this would seem to get quite complicated fast. What happens about people with radically different talent specifications? What happens if someone misses his rotation? Does the next guy slot in? But then what happens to his next, true slot? Then you have raids that by a combination of odds are seen as weaker raids because people see a lot of the people they see as weaker members in that rotation so they attempt to play 'drop out games' fearing it will be a wasted effort. Then you have the issue of Raid Leaders, they'd have to be on a separate rotation to ensure one was always 'on rotation' for a particular raid. I have to admit, I was sceptical when some of the hardcore raiding guilds said the level cap drop would cause problems, and I still think they are over stressing it, but I am starting to see some of where they are coming from.

The good thing is the new endgame is a while away, as The Burning Crusade has to come out, and the majority of the guild has to get to level 70, so there is plenty of time to ponder it all. At the same time, it does raise some interesting questions and I think, to some extent, Zul'Gurub is showing a few early warning signs of the type of thing that may well come up.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 09/09/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
The Lack of Appeal in Sandbox Games
Keywords: Video Games.

It's as if everyone wants their gaming to be sandbox orientated these days. I'm not sure what really started it, but what put it all on the agenda was surely Grand Theft Auto, with the whole idea that you can be a minor criminal given a city to play around in. Some of the latest games on the Xbox 360 are similar, for example Saints Row and Dead Rising. If we take Dead Rising as an example, apparently it offers only seven hours of focused, story-based play, and the rest amounts to just 'roam around the mall and find interesting things to do'. I find that ridiculous, I want the story and the missions. I'm afraid playing in the sandbox for hours only to find I can kill a zombie with a heated up frying pan doesn't fill me with excitement. I really was looking forward to Dead Rising, but I don't want to spend 40 GBP wondering around the mall making my own entertainment and taking photographs.

This whole sandbox thing opens up another dilemma when it comes to the game Just Cause. The core idea behind Just Cause is inspired, take the whole Grand Theft Auto sort of approach but instead of making it about a criminal in a city, make it about a James Bond-style super spy trying to take over a fake country based on a series of islands. I want epic missions, cool CIA vehicles and all sorts of betrayals and action, but if the game sort of fails to deliver on the mission side of things all your left with is roaming around the island causing trouble. The graphics may be great but I absolutely loath wondering around without a purpose, just to try and find something or do something no one else has done, or to get some obscure achievement. I've played the demo of Just Cause, which provides one mission, and while the game looks fantastic I didn't really get a great feel from the game in terms of the action I was involved in.

The slight irony about all this is while these essentially single-player games are going down the sandbox route, and the market seems to be hankering for them and lauding their sandbox credentials, the MMO market seems to be heading away from the sandbox sort of approach despite the fact you'd think it would be more appropriate in a format that has thousands of players available to interact with. World of Warcraft is completely static, and considering its success it stands a chance of being used as a model for the foreseeable future on how people approach MMO games. One of the few games that uses the MMO format to provide an enhanced sandbox experience is Eve On-line, but it is a relatively refined experience and has about 100,000 subscribers I think compared to World of Warcraft's 7 million.

All I know is I'm yet to be convinced of the model, and I think the reason for this is the differences between how I think compared to how the average gamer thinks. It comes down to the whole Xbox Live Achievements model again, while many gamers are obsessed with getting these achievements I'm not. It's the same approach to gaming that pulls them into the sandbox, as they want to find new things, hidden items, say they've done something someone else hasn't. It's cool for them to discover they can melt a zombie's face with a heated up frying pan or figure out they can make a drink that restores their health in the coffee shop, especially if most people don't realise you can.

I also think it is linked to some degree with the younger generation of gamers, as I've watched how a number of teenagers play games and they rarely focus on them with the intention on completing them. They buy games and they just muck about with them, they have no intention of actually challenging the game to beat the level or finish it. I don't know if this is driven by the severe lack of any sort of attention span in the youth of today or what, but anecdotal evidence points to the fact that a game that lets you just muck around and discover stuff, get bored and do a bit more later works for them. The simple reason this works for them is this is invariably what they do in any game, so the game might as well be focused on that.

Personally, I don't care about all that, I want an experience, I want to be inspired and feel like I've been told an epic tale, and these sandbox games move away from that. A perfect example is Tomb Raider: Legend, the game I'm currently playing on the Xbox 360. It's great, as it's an epic action and adventure tale that you get drawn into involving lost tombs, flashbacks, grand Yakuza parties, infiltrating into Yakuza headquarters, jumping between skyscrapers on a motorbike and facing off against a Yakuza boss with a magical artefact and that's only the first three levels. Now, that's a game. The counter argument to this is apparently Tomb Raider only has 10 hours of game play in it, which is only 3 hours more than Dead Rising, but then Dead Rising has all the sandbox stuff. I'm sure as the consoles get more powerful we are paying more for less, part of me thinks some of the Commodore 64 and Atari ST games were bigger, and they cost 10-20 GBP.

I remember affording Commodore 64 games with my pocket money. The sad thing is, I realise this is making me sound really old.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 06/09/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
The Words of a PvP Die Hard
Keywords: Video Games.

You ever wonder what runs through the mind of a PvP die hard? Someone who plays FPS games for the thrill of the kill and 'owning' someone else? Who will then go on to berate you with his trash talk? Someone who plays MMO games for the PvP aspect and killing other characters at every opportunity? The sort of person who believes on killing another character he should be able to loot the body for all their worldly goods? Then read on...

PVP isn't a type of game.

It is a fight club mindset. A personal protest against pussification.

I don't need a PVP game to PVP, I can PVP with a phone, a message board, in a car when I race someone on the highway.

I don't care what the consequences are. I don't live by your rules. The customer service rep is nobody to me. I will tell him "Yes GM, I will stop my behaviour immediately" and go right back to doing it, my cooperation was simply an act of social engineering.

Avoiding punishment is a PVP game in itself, between those who enforce the rules and those who break them.

I'll tell you guys a secret.

Eve isn't that great a game. It's aright, but fairly mediocre. I play it, because it keeps me sharp. it's like a whetstone for your brain, keeps you razor sharp and on your toes, you learn very quickly about the greedy nature of humans, and what makes people tick. You learn to spot spies and conmen. You learn never to take anyone at face value. EVERYBODY has an angle, EVERYBODY.

If you find an honest soul in this life that you connect with, treat them like GOLD because that's what they are. When I say honest soul, I don't mean they're gullible IE honest with everybody. No. Honest with each other. Partners in crime.

A hooker makes a better friend than your wife. They both pretty much function the same way, except that the hooker is honest.

War isn't just Military. Its Social. Industrial. Psychological. Economic.

It doesn't just happen in video games. It happens in message boards, chatrooms, in courtrooms, on the streets, in corporate boardrooms.

PVP is a way of life.

The strange thing is, what he's saying isn't entirely un-true, the world is a competitive place, and you have to be mindful of that. I think what I'm totally at odds with is the idea that everything in life is 'PvP', in that it's competitive, and there is very little that can be forged beyond that in the real world or a virtual one. His attitude is everything he does is based on winning, beating and 'owning' the next man. That strikes me as the words of a man who has been rendered bitter and twisted by life and has nothing left to live for but to strike out.

I'll say one thing, sometimes these PvP die hards can be quite eloquent in expressing their needs to be the Noble Savage among the civilized folk.

You can thank mmorpg.com for this classic quote, the place the MMO PvP die hards go to moan about the new controlled approach to PvP that the majority of MMO games are implementing.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 05/09/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
The Dungeoneers Assemble

It's been in the planning for a while, but a core of The Dungeoneers got together this weekend and actually met physically, in the real world. This represents another barrier broken for me, as there was a time I could never see myself playing a MMORPG, then I found myself beginning to understand how bonds are formed in these environments.

It was an interesting experience, and it's always best to put names to faces. The use of voice communication brings the guild closer together and having met the individuals in question makes it even smaller. The guild truly is made up from a diverse bunch of individuals, this was true of the people present at the gathering, and it's even more true of the guild as a whole as that encompasses people as young as 14 and a number of people spread out across Europe. Obviously, the people under 18 had trouble trying to explain to their parents they wanted to travel to meet a load of men they'd met on the internet, and those not in the UK obviously faced significant costs.

What was interesting, is it became immediately clear why The Dungeoneers and The Hex Spammers clashed when they merged even though, by and large, they did want the same thing: to progress to endgame raiding. If I'm reading it right, a core of The Hex Spammers had played games together as a group, guild or clan for quite a while and the games they played were First Person Shooters, which is a different journey into World of Warcraft than the core of The Dungeoneers. It was certainly interesting to discuss and get individual views on the various issues The Dungeoneers are facing with people face-to-face, and that was very productive I thought.

It was a good weekend, enlightening as usual when you meet people you've only spoken to before over the internet, and it will only make the guild stronger as the core of the guild, the people who will carry it forward however the game changes, have now met personally and understand each other better. I am hopeful The Dungeoneers can continue to go from strength to strength despite the challenges inherent in taking on Black Wing Lair, and the changes coming in The Burning Crusade.

The whole thing reminded me of the science fiction conventions I used to go to over a decade ago, as that involved meeting up with a diverse range of interesting people as well with only one thing binding them. Very similar, indeed, just with the added wrinkle of having to put voices to World of Warcraft character names.

Oh, and somewhere in all that, we managed to complete Zul'Gurub, taking down the Panther boss and Hakkar himself the last two challenges that faced us in that instance.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/09/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
PvP Ain't All That
Keywords: Video Games.

Battlefield 2: Modern Combat had some appeal for a while, but now it just sends me completely to sleep. Totally. It's just so boring. What I find amazing about it is everyone raves about on-line, competitive, player v player games being the future because they offer limitless variation not limited by AI opponents. Is that really true? Have to say, each bloody Battlefield 2: Modern Combat games seems surprisingly similar to me.

You put in the disk, boot up the game and connect and one thing you can be sure of is every game will be running the Backstab or A Bridge Too Far map. Not because of the attitude of the person hosting the game, but because that's all the community ever wants to play. You vote for the next map between games, and invariably people vote for those two maps. If you are really lucky you might get to play Deadly Pass. If you search for a game on Xbox Live using the Quick Match option you will invariably be given one of these two maps. If you search for games with specific maps you will invariably not find one unless it is one of those two maps. Even worse, you might find a game running, but it consists of about four people spending all their time trying to find someone to kill.

Why is this? Well, it's quite simple: people want points and they'll play the map they think they can get the most points on. It would seem, either through familiarity or via design, Backstab and A Bridge Too Far generate those points. Personally, I don't think it has anything to do with design, as Deadly Pass is probably more points efficient, it's more to do with the fact people are familiar with them, and as such don't want to move to a map that they haven't got memorised, and also because they happen to be the first two in the list when the voting comes up. While I've praised the points system in Battlefield 2: Modern Combat before, this is one the main disadvantages of it.

Even when the map changes, the game still feels the same. You run from flag to flag, sometimes you get killed, so you re-spawn only to do the exact same thing again, other times you take the flag so you can go on to another one and take that. Don't worry though, the flag you just took will change hands again so you can run back in a couple of minutes. Since it's a run and gun game it involves people just running and jumping around like mad things, quite often dancing around in open areas like two scorpions shooting machine guns at each other. That's if you can do that, for those of us that have to not move around in order to stand any chance of hitting the side of a barn you just die a lot.

The main problem is, even when winning and performing well which, even for me, does happen occasionally, I get zero sense of achievement from it. None. I take the same flags, if I'm lucky, in the same ways, and killed the same people. We won, but in the forty seconds it takes for the map vote and the load I can do it all over again. Running and trying to capture the same flags like lemmings.

This feeling isn't limited to Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, as I also don't find the player v player experience particularly rich across most genres. I've played multi-player battles in a number of Real-Time Strategy games as well and I find they mostly come down to set tactics as well. The same seems to be true of the World of Warcraft PvP I've experienced, though I'll admit it's not much, it isn't that varied or ingenious either. It's very repetitive, and the added element of the human opponent seems to add a lot less than people seem to think. The main reason for this is the people good at the games quickly learn the most efficient strategies and just apply them every time.

While I have problems with the lack of the much vaunted infinite variety of the human opponent, the biggest problem I have is the balls to the wall, competitive, player v player approach. I can tolerate that type of game for a short while, but I invariably get bored and more than likely incredibly frustrated. I admit it, in MMO terms I am assuredly a Carebear, and I'm proud of it. I'm someone who plays games for there potential for co-operation and team tactics to achieve an objective. I'm not in it for the PvP. This is probably why I play World of Warcraft, as large elements of the PvE game are done in groups, co-operating to tackle the dungeons. It's probably also true to say any FPS game I play multi-player is heavily slanted toward cooperative team tactics. I'm also still heavily invested in single-player games, bucking the trend that says everyone is losing interest in games that don't have an on-line component as that's why people buy them.

As an example, at the minute I've drifted back to the single-player campaign of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and it's brilliant. I'd got stuck on a particular mission which saw me in charge of my Ghost team as well as a armoured vehicle and an Apache helicopter, but coming back with a fresh mind allowed me to take a different tactic and move on. It's been great, it feels like I'm in intense combat situations, and fighting your way through in a stop and pop manner is exciting. It's all just so atmospheric, and it's a great game, and more importantly devoid of people with fatal thumbs running rings round me or shooting me from halfway across the map.

I've also purchased Tomb Raider: Legend, since it had entered the 20 GBP mark for a pre-owned copy, there was no way I was going to pay 50 GBP for it. It's proving to be really good as well, imparting a sense of adventure, an excellent story, interesting characters and all seen through the lens of an epic action movie. It's this I want, something to experience, a sense of wonder and sweeping story, not some mindless exercise in just killing people for repeated objectives.

In the coming five months I can look forward to: Splinter Cell: Double Agent (Q3 2006), Rainbow Six: Vegas (Q3 2006), Dead Rising (Q3 2006), Just Cause (Q3 2006), Gears of War (Q4 2006), Marvel Ultimate Alliance (Q4 2006), Mass Effect (Q1 2007) all offering what will hopefully be a great single-player experience, while some will hopefully offer a great on-line experience as well, of the cooperative variety, such as doing missions and hunting terrorists in Rainbow Six: Vegas. When I buy these games is another matter, but at least once they are on the shelves I have the option.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 30/08/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
Breaking The Set Monthly Fee
Keywords: Video Games; MMORPG.

A while back I discussed how Dungeons and Dragons Online, quality of the game itself aside, was really broken because of the decision to charge a monthly fee for the game. Due to the fact DDO has no persistent world, and is largely a vehicle for playing through modules that are provided over time the monthly fee was at odds with how the game needed to deliver its content both in terms of frequency and types. This demonstrates a problem for games focused on delivering steady content to one degree or another with respect to how they charge.

While some games decide to go the completely 'free' route, such as Guild Wars, which you don't pay to play (though they will release a new boxed game periodically), other games, such as Dungeon Runners, are focusing on paying smaller amounts for extra dungeons and the like. I suspect these models will succeed, indeed, Guild Wars has already succeeded. One model that I can't see succeeding is the intrinsic linking of advantages in game with the amount you pay. Now, there is a fine line between what is a small payment for extra content, such as paying 5 GBP to have access to the Dread Dungeon of the Beholder, which will contain better equipment and stuff within, and paying extra just to have an advantage directly. One example were this fine line has been crossed would seem to be Archlord, as if I'm reading this right, the subscribers have a choice of three subscription levels and the more you are paying the bigger advantages you get over the guy paying less. This isn't for new content and lands which gives you access to advantageous items and the like when you challenge the content, it is quite blatantly an exercise in paying more makes you better. This seems to me to be a bit like having a pay to play chess game in which the person who pays more gets to have an additional Queen instead of a pawn.

The PLAYplus system is detailed here, and it can be quite clearly seen that you pay under the standard MMO fee for the Squire level (7 GBP), over the standard MMO fee for the Knight level (17 GBP) and a bloody ridiculous fee for the Lord level (31 GBP). At Lord level you're paying 31 GPB per month, that's like the price of a completely new game every month. Let's face it, if I was paying 31 GBP per month and someone else was paying half as much or less than a third of what I was paying I'd want to have immediate access to better stuff so I could lord it over them due to the size of my wallet. This seems to be what is happening, as three advantageous items are listed as examples of what might be given to people paying more, and one of them is a Talisman of Awakening which provides an increased rate of XP acquisition.

I'm sure some people are defending this by saying that the items the 31 GBP brigade get can probably be found in the game by lesser paying people, and I'm sure they can, but I'm sure no one is under any illusion that anyone paying 31 GBP per month, a grand total of 24 GBP a month more than some other players, won't be expecting to have a significant advantage all the time, not just until the cheap players get some gear.

I can't see how this payment model can succeed, I really can't. I have no idea how the people behind the game have come to a decision based on the fact this payment model will work. It will doom the game. True, some people may come to the game, pay the highest fee to gain the advantage because they have that sort of mentality, but they'll soon discover no idiot has signed up under the Squire rates anyway, in fact everyone is using the Lord rate, and they'll soon get sick of paying that much a month with no one to kick around on the lower fee. It's just a not a model that will sustain any sense of long-term play, if any play at all.

Complete madness. I'm all for experimenting with the way people pay for MMO games, but someone was smoking something when this idea was proposed.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 28/08/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
The Fall of Ragnoros

A month ago I mentioned how The Dungeoneers had penetrated Molten Core and made steady progress to the ancient fire elemental himself: Ragnoros. Tonight The Dungeoneers made their way to Ragnoros again, stood before him in his lava pit and gave him a good kicking, killed him and took his stuff. In true epic imagery style, all that remained of him was his massive hammer, lying like some gigantic piece of wreckage in the lava.

This is a major progress point in World of Warcraft, as the theory goes that only some ridiculously low statistic of players actually see the inside of Molten Core never mind take down its most difficult boss. This is madness when you consider all the people playing the game pay the same fee yet if the majority of them aren't getting into Molten Core neither are they seeing a whole host of other content. I can't remember the statistic, but to give some sort of idea of how mad it is, it's currently believed only four guilds on the Silvermoon EU server have taken down Ragnoros and are doing post-Molten Core content. Even if you assume a number of guilds may be doing Molten Core but not Ragnoros, that can't be a very large percentage of the server populace.

The aim now is to spend a bit of time seriously reducing the amount of time it takes us to complete Molten Core, in the hope of clearing the whole instance in one evening. This will mean, getting 40 players together aside, Molten Core can be done in one evening allowing us to farm it like locusts for gear. The aim being to gear people as much as possible and then rise to the challenge of Black Wing Lair, the next major dungeon in the game.

What's interesting about taking down Ragnoros is it's easy to see how hardcore raiding guilds become hardcore raiding guilds. It's all too easy to extend the points system for allocating loot into areas outside of the raid to try and reward people for farming. It's all too easy to start jealously giving loot to those who can use it the most efficiently in future raids in order to ensure better progress. It's all too easy to start picking on those the raid believe aren't holding up their own end due to not bringing the relevant potions or having the required gear. In short, as raiding becomes one of the primary things you do in the guild, you have to be constantly vigilant to make sure the guild isn't turned into something you no longer want to be a member of.

Is it true The Dungeoneers could have potentially progressed through the content faster by being much more selfish and hardcore over innumerable decisions? Yes. The trouble is, it wouldn't have been half as much fun because it wouldn't have felt as casual, it would have felt like work, and the members we have probably wouldn't be the members we'd have under that regime. Any theoretical increase in progress isn't worth sacrificing for the overall approach the guild takes, because ultimately your sacrificing a lot for what amounts to getting a few items that don't really exist a bit quicker.

At the end of the day it's supposed to be a game. It's supposed to be a social occassion. It's supposed to be fun.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 26/08/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
What's Xbox Live For? Porn!
Keywords: Xbox Live; Video Games.

One of the more interesting peripherals for the Xbox 360 comes out next month: the Xbox Live Vision camera, which integrates web cam antics into the 360. The PlayStation 2 has had a camera for some time, with integrated motion sensing and the like so you can actually use the camera as a controller for certain types of game. What's interesting about the Xbox 360 camera is it's integration with Xbox Live, as well as the games.

Obviously, those with a camera will be able to start having video as part of their conversations with other people on Xbox Live. You can already have voice communication, now you can choose to see the other guy's ugly mug as well. One of the disappointing aspects to this is the fact Xbox Live communications are now only one-to-one unless part of a game, while on the original Xbox you could pull multiple people into a conversation. This means, on the 360, you're not going to be able to have a group of friends all video conferencing, which is a bit annoying. Unless they've changed something, but I don't think they have.

The camera will also be integrated into games. One of the features I've seen is the ability of the camera to take front and profile shots of your face and then turn that into a model of your head in the game. This is a great idea as it can now be your mug playing poker or running around shooting terrorists in Rainbow Six: Vegas. I'm assuming the camera also has the motion detection abilities, so it won't be long before you can use the camera as an interface to games. One of the best games on the PlayStation 2 allows you to literally shadow box, but your punches control the actions of a character in a fight. It's fun in a group, anyway.

The biggest use will no doubt be for porn. Let's face it, whenever a new medium for video presents itself, it will invariable be used for porn. What amazes me is how Microsoft plans to deal with this as it will happen, it's 100% guaranteed. Funnily enough, they seem to have enabled all the features for it to become really popular. You can use the camera to send digital pictures to other Xbox Live subscribers, so people can now send text, voice and video messages (or a combination) to other people on Xbox Live. I'm sure a number of them will end up being shots of naked people. You can also have your gamer profile have a picture of you instead of the selection of graphics already available. I'm sure it won't be long before those are pictures of body parts other than the cranium. If you have a picture in your game profile it only shows to people on your friends list, so this should reduce the number of profiles visibly sporting penises. Finally, but by no means least, two people in a video conversation can activate the vibration function on each other's controllers. This has no obvious use other than in some sort of video-based phone sex.

I can't help but think Xbox Live is going to become a bit more of a surreal place in the coming year. I doubt I'll see any of it, but I'm also sure it will take place. Then again, maybe it won't, as a lot of people don't even talk on comms, never mind enter into the murky world of video. Still, the camera is also perfectly usable on the PC, so it serves two purposes and is almost certainly a worthy purchase.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 22/08/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
A Lean, Mean, Ice Bolt Throwing Machine

A couple of months ago I discussed how my break away from World of Warcraft had allowed me to adjust to the endgame, and the fact it was all about the bling, and take a different approach to the game. Basically, I came to accept that playing the game from now on, and progressing through it, was a matter of turning Zoltis into the best killing machine he could be with the time I have available to play the game, and that this would mean accumulating gear. Well, something seems to be working, because for the last two Molten Core raids Zoltis has come 3rd on the Damage Meter. Interestingly, at least one of the people above me is probably taking a lot of healing resources to keep his place, while I take hardly any.

What's strange about this is the new position on the damage chart seems to have come from nowhere, as he'd usually languish around the bottom of the top ten, behind the odd Warlock and a host of Hunters and Rogues. I've not changed the way I'm playing at all and I'm still not using any sort of enhancement magic to increase damage. This is the most surprising thing, as I know other people take potions to cause more damage, and yet they are still behind me on the damage meter. This is fascinating, because those people spend time between raids farming the materials to make those potions, yet I spend considerably less time playing between raids and yet my damage output seems to be at least holding its own against them.

It's a bit weird.

It must come down to gear to some extent, but then everyone's gear is getting better so even that's a bit of a mystery. It's good that my gear is now allowing me to have circa +300 damage without significant impact on my available health and mana. There is also room for improvement there as I can still get better equipment here and there that should bring the total to +400 damage and this is without any enchantments that could be put on the equipment (which requires farming again). Of course, I can't help but think the obvious reason for this rise through the damage chart is because other people are not putting as much effort in and have sort of given up their positions.

Anyway, I'm not really that interested in the whole Damage Meter thing, it was just a surprise more than anything else, and I suppose a bit gratifying since the default job of the Mage class is to reign down as much destruction on the enemy as possible. At least it is one indicator that the path of pimping out Zoltis with better and better gear is having a significant effect.

Thankfully, Zoltis won't be becoming a hermit in the Swamp of Sorrows either, as the plan for generating cash seems to have worked, with Herbalism proving to be a great way to be self-sufficient.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 19/08/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
Saints Row, Rap and Respect..Dawg
Keywords: Video Games.

I'm not someone who feels old. I don't feel old because I'm still clued into popular culture, so I can quite happily discuss history with someone one day, the latest news stories with someone the next and then what's happening on Celebrity Love Island on another. Diversity is the key. Still, there is one area in which I feel old, and it's a generational thing.

I have zero understanding of the current younger generation's fascination with gangster culture, rap music and, by and large, the whole African American influence. Now, I hasten to say, I have no problem with the fact it a proportion of this stuff comes from a certain image of African American culture, it's more the complete inability to understand why every kid wants to imitate it. It just doesn't connect with me in any way, so I lack the ability to understand why it connects with them. The feeling is probably exactly the same confusion as what some adults felt when Rock and Roll came along or their kids started wearing pins through their noses.

What triggered this realisation? Well, over the weekend we had visitors, and my nephew basically spent every waking moment he could playing on the Xbox 360. In an attempt to add some diversity to my gaming collection, which consists of two military FPS games, he downloaded what looks like every available game demo on Xbox Live. One of those games was Saints Row. Now, Saints Row isn't unique, it's what's called a GTA-style game, in that you are given a city, or a large proportion of a city, to play around in, but you play around it in as a criminal of some sort. I'm not someone who comes wading in with some moral imperative to remove these games off she shelf, but I do question the appeal, and more importantly the fascination they hold for some people.

In Saints Row you're basically a street thug looking for respect, trying to control and expand your territory. In the demo you can do numerous things, such as rob stores, be sent on missions to recruit prostitutes from other gangs, barge into enemy gang hideouts and shoot up the place and even perform hits on other gang members. You can also pull people from their cars, essentially performing a car-jacking. You can also cause gang wars in the streets, and shoot up cops if they get in the way. You have a character who needs to earn money and get his respect meter as high as possible, as the higher that is the better missions you get. Your character even stands in the gangster fashion, with one shoulder slightly lower than the other and holds his gun sideways as he blows away other gang members. You constantly get told how hard you are, how dangerous you are, how reckless you are and basically that people respect you for being a bad ass, violent mother fucker. It's safe to say you're almost a psychopath, and it's certainly true to say your respect for human life is quite low.

I just don't get it. As I say, I'm not prudish over this stuff, or sitting on the moral high ground, as I'll happily watch a good movie that deals with this exact same subject matter. I watched and really enjoyed 8 Mile, which is sort of in the same territory, and I've watched many crime dramas of one sort of another, obviously. It's not so much not understanding that people exist who live this sort of lifestyle, or that great dramatic stories might be able to be woven from them, but the complete lack of understanding as to why a generation of middle class kids, whether white or black, want to embroil, imitate and immerse themselves in the lifestyle. I like some Rap music, but the majority of I can't fully relate to and, to be honest, sort of wish they'd just stop going on about their hard life, the guns, the violence and making sure they had respect. I mean come on, what the hell are people doing adopting the whole thing of wearing their trousers round their ankles, speaking in mock African American accents and calling people 'bro' all the time?

So, I suppose I've hit the time when a younger generations musical tastes, and associated culture around it, are a complete loss to me. A complete loss. It's a bit sad that it's happening, but I suppose it's inevitable. I just hope I never become like some of the people I know who are part of the generation above me, as they are totally divorced from popular culture completely, it's as if they exist in the same world, but are isolated from it at the same time. Is that inevitable also?

We shall see.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 16/08/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
The Sky is Falling...Again

The sky possibly did fall a while back, but Azeroth is a fantasy world so it surely can fall again. If the fact The Burning Crusade was going to give the Paladin class to the Horde and the Shaman class to the Alliance wasn't enough, now a whole load of people are complaining about the 25-man raid cap in The Burning Crusade as if it's the end of the world.

As far as I'm concerned, the more I here about The Burning Crusade the better it gets. I like the fact each faction now has the same classes so that the dungeons can be balanced for all without having to take into account that each faction has a class missing. Blizzard are already announcing some of the new abilities each class will get to make them viable classes in raids. The Dungeoneers have been experimenting lately with a few class changes and I believe the conclusion is having a shadow priest and a balance druid in the raid works really well as a damage multiplier for the Mage and Warlock DPS classes. I had a balance Druid and a Shaman in my group on the last Molten Core raid and the combination of the +3% crit chance and efficiently and well timed totems made an amazing difference. We are still undecided what's best on balance, but experimentation is good. I can certainly understand how some of the Paladin blessings give the Alliance significant advantages in challenging the difficult dungeons based on how the Shaman totems helped.

I also like this 25-man raid cap, bringing to an end the 40-man raids, though one was planned for The Burning Crusade, so there might be one more. What it means is there will hopefully be some good 25-man raids along the lines of Zul'Gurub in the new expansion. This doesn't mean the game has got easier, as Zul'Gurub is, by and large, harder than Molten Core. It's easy to get lost in the crowd in a 40-man raid, while everyone has to be more on the ball in a 20-man raid, so hopefully this will also be true in a 25-man. Challenging and more available content, what can be bad about that? Still, making a decision to make the typical raid size 25 is a brave decision, as it goes against any convention any MMORPG has set in the past, and as far as I'm concerned that means Blizzard is willing to make hard decisions to appeal to a broader market, which is always a good sign.

The main people complaining are the hardcore raiding guilds, who have organised themselves around the 40-man dynamic and they see a shift to more raids being 25-man as something that will destroy their guilds. To be honest, I'm not going to loose any sleep over this at all, if these guilds are focused that much on being efficient at doing 40-man raids above all else that they can't adjust to smaller raids it's probably safe to suggest that all that binds them really is loot. If they had bonds and goals beyond soullessly defeating the 40-man content they would be welcoming the variation in content, allowing them to do 5,10,15,25 and 40-man dungeons with their colleagues in the guild. The Dungeoneers do 40-man Molten Core and 20-man Zul'Gurub at the moment, without it being a problem. Indeed, Zul'Gurub has become the place we sort of trash on an ad-hoc basis as 20 people are relatively easy to get, hopefully it will be the same for 25-man raids.

The other fascinating idea is scaling the dungeons to different difficulty levels. I'm not sure how this is going to work exactly, but one example was Hellfire Citadel, a level 60-62 dungeon, and as a result one of the first you will encounter in Outlands. It was suggested this would be usable at level 70 by having a setting for that level with increased difficulty and better loot. This is a great idea as it doesn't mean this content gets left behind as all the characters in the game level beyond it. I can't see how this is a bad idea.

Interestingly, they are also trashing the honour ladder for PvP. At the moment, you earn honour for partaking in PvP, primarily in the various Battlegrounds. The more honour you have the higher rank you get and the higher rank you get the better gear you can get access to. The trouble is the ranked ladder the honour points work on is relative to everyone taking part, so there is always only so many highly ranked people on the server at any one time, and unless you keep up your PvP rate, your rank will decay. This is being changed so that honour points become like a currency, being able to be traded in for items and stuff. This is an interesting one, but also a challenging one to implement right. Honour points will now be like loyalty points you earn at supermarkets and petrol stations, the difficulty being how do you balance the amount of points you need to buy things between people who irregularly shop and those who constantly shop? A difficult question, as you don't want people who PvP infrequently never having enough honour points, or those who do it 247 being able to buy literally anything.

All you hear is people complaining about The Burning Crusade, while everything I hear about it has me thinking it's going to be one of the best things to happen to the game. What's certainly proving to be true, as I've always argued, specifically when the the uproar over Horde Paladins and Alliance Shamans erupted, was all the changes can't be viewed in isolation. The Burning Crusade will change the game on numerous levels and the changes are a mosaic of related elements. It's impossible to view any change in isolation and say you don't like it. All you can do is decide whether you like the game as a whole once the expansion is live.

What is interesting, is how the fact people invest so much time in World of Wacraft, and any other MMORPG for that matter, that they are unable to view it like a game, it's almost as if Blizzard are screwing with their career, future job prospects and prosperity - such is their fear of change. You wouldn't believe it was just a game you play when you have time and when the moment takes you. A number of people describe playing an MMORPG as having a second job, it obviously is for some people, in more ways than just the time investment.

Personally, I think The Burning Crusade is shaping up to be an expansion that is taking risks to open more content to more people for longer, and is actually showing that Blizzard is trying to crack the problem that a lot of games in the MMORPG genre have: they become the domain of a select few who dominate every strata of the game and ultimately bring down the game in the long-term.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 13/08/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
Becoming A Hermit In The Swamp of Sorrows

World of Warcraft has an economy, of sorts, as characters get gold by various means, rewards for quests and selling stuff, and they also have a myriad of ways to spend that cash, buying stuff, changing their talents and repairing their equipment. It's quite a simple system put to other MMO games, but it is an economy.

Obviously, one element of playing the game is making sure your character remains financially viable.

It's not been a big issue up until recently, because Zoltis has had plenty of money, like 700g and higher. The quests he's been doing have meant his gold reserves have been going in the upward direction. The trouble is now, the quests have dried up, he's bought a warhorse for 800g and in line with this his costs are shooting up. The main culprit at the moment is the purple tax, the higher cost you pay for repairing epic items. As The Dungeoneers have progressed through Molten Core Zoltis has got more and more epic items, combined with wiping on the bosses we are learning to beat, and you have rising costs. The primary loss for dying is the fact your gear gets damaged and has to be repaired. It's not unusual, on a raid that includes a boss we can't beat comfortably, if at all, to have repair costs of 2-3g. Not as high as some people, but still an issue. If you then combine that with the need to start investing in potions to aid with the bosses such as Ragnoros (which will be a confrontation every Saturday for the foreseeable future) you have another cost. Also, when we start to challenge Black Wing Lair we'll face tougher bosses and probably generate even more repair costs, and we'll have more epic gear in the process.

So, I'm faced with taking actions in the game to ensure Zoltis doesn't go bankrupt, thus not covering his costs, and basically having to go live in the Swamp of Sorrows as a mad hermit.

So, the first decision I've made is to stop ignoring my professions. In line with the art of avoidance, I totally ignored my professions while levelling. I didn't even learn first aid. So, Zoltis went from 1-60, and then quite a lot of time at level 60 with his sole profession being herbalism at 3 (out of 300). I changed this a while back by levelling first aid, as it was obvious this was essential for raiding Molten Core, and now I'm levelling the herbalism skill. The goal here is to collect them to sell on the auction house, hopefully generating cash, and to also give to guild members to make me potions, hopefully for free. This gets rid of one cost, and hopefully provides another form of income.

I am now also faced with farming. I shudder at the thought. For those not in the know, farming involves killing or collecting things repeatedly over the course of hours in order to generate cash. It's just a boring and mindless slog. It's not challenging and it's all done in areas you've visited before. You do it to collect the stuff that drops so you can sell the stuff. One of the main reasons I liked World of Warcraft was I'd never had to farm. Ever. It seems now the price of challenging the endgame is rising, and the answer is to farm, just a bit. I'm going to have try numerous strategies for this, the options on the cards at the moment are laying waste to the Air Elementals in Silithus, trashing Shadowfang Keep or hoping the herbs collected once have a Herbalism skill to speak of sell well.

So, next week we shall see if Zoltis becomes rich beyond his wildest dreams, covers his cost with a modest profit, or ends up feeling like a sweatshop worker in an attempt to desperately cover the costs of delving into these dungeons.

If all of them fail, then I better get used to the the Swamp of Sorrows.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 04/08/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
Insidious Marketing Genius

I may have mentioned this before, I can't really remember, but a World of Wacraft CCG is being produced. For those not in the know, CCG stands for Collectable Card Game. You have no idea what one is? I'm sure you do, otherwise you wouldn't be hear reading this? A few examples that proved to be major hits were: Magic: The Gathering and more childish stuff like Pokemon. We've also had a CCG for every single property known to man, Star Trek and Star Wars included. In years gone by I've seen kids trading Pokemon cards endlessly, though I don't think they ever actually played the game. I've also seen a hall the size of a football field full of tables with people playing Magic: The Gathering competitively. Hell, I know the person who went to New York to represent the UK in the Raw Deal Championship, which is the CCG of American Wrestling (yes, I know, I despair as well).

Personally, I can't abide the games, but it's suffice to say they are popular, they make a ton money, and producing one for World of Warcraft is a stroke of genius.

It's a stroke of genius because the market is perfect for it. You see World of Warcraft and the typical CCG have a lot of similarities, despite the fact one is a computer game and the other is a card game. First, they both cater to an obsessive collector mentality, and not only that, they both link the need to obsessively collect to having better ways to achieve victory in the game. You may still lack skill, but you have better tools of the trade (gear in World of Warcraft and more and better cards in the CCG). Second, they both cater to the efficient build mentality, the concept of finding the best combination of numbers and applied strategy that will grind your opponent into the dust. In World of Wacraft this manifests in terms of how you spend your talent points (combined with gear) for maximum efficiency, while in a CCG it is how you construct your deck (with your available cards) for maximum efficiency. Hell, the CCG even follows a similar sort of naming conventions, with different deck builds being given names, just like different talent builds in World of Warcraft (and Diablo before it) get names. It's a match made in heaven. It's not surprising that one of the best people in The Dungeoneers for analysing talent builds in World of Warcraft is that exact same person who went to New York.

The added brilliance comes from the fact that certain rare cards will give you rewards in the computer game. This is an absolute master stroke, as people in World of Warcraft will collect anything and do anything to have something the other guy doesn't have even if it's just a pet turtle. So, not only do you have two totally different games that appeal to the same mindset, you also have people who will never play the game collecting the cards for the extra stuff they can unlock in the game should they find one of the bonus cards in a pack. We are lead to believe the extra things you can get are purely cosmetic, as if they did anything else the World of Warcraft community would literally explode, but this won't reduce their appeal.

If you also consider a CCG is quite a good item to sell, they apparently represent a good mark-up, you can bet that each and every Game and Game Station store is going to have these cards prominently displayed complete with large and colourful stands. It's going to sell on an unprecedented scale, it won't matter how good the game actually is.

To be honest, the game actually does look interesting, as it is focused around a hero, his talents, skills and equipment, etc. As a result, two people battling it out with the card game is meant to feel like two heroes having a duel. While I'm not going to say this is the only game that does this, it's one of the few that do, most of them present you with several characters or creatures to use, the focus on it being a battle between two individuals, and the rest of the cards representing what that hero can do and equipment he can use, is quite unique. What is even more unique is you can form parties and have two parties fighting, allowing battles with multiple participants on each side. I think this is even more unique, but I'm not an expert.

I can safely say I'll be keeping well clear of it. It will almost certainly consume a core of The Dungeoneers though, since a lot of them actually know each other from the CCG community, to the extent one was the web master for the Raw Deal CCG website. This means some of them will spend an inordinate amount of time on World of Warcraft, and then one of their other hobbies will potentially be dominated by World of Warcraft as well.

Still, no matter what I think about the whole CCG thing, I have to tip my hat to whoever had the idea, because it is guaranteed to make a complete bucket load of cash.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 02/08/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
And Before Ragnoros We Stand

Deep under the volcano Blackrock Spire sits the Molten Core. The Molten Core was created three centuries ago when some mad old Dwarf leader decided to summon an ancient fire elemental to defeat his bearded enemies. He did better than he could ever have imagined and released Ragnoros, one of the four elemental cronies of the Old Gods, from his ancient prison. Ragnoros subsequently trashed a Dwarf city and decided to create the volcano of Blackrock Spire. He then set up home in the Molten Core deep below the mountain, a rather hot place full of all sorts of monsters, and a lot of his evil chums. Needless to say he's waiting for a small army of heroes to come, trash his crib, kill his scheming mates, kill him and take his stuff.

Well, The Dungeoneers like to do what their names suggests, and we don't like to disappoint.

This weekend and last weekend has represented everything that raiding is about, both the highs and lows. Each weekend for the last three months we have been trashing Molten Core and getting better at it, to the extent we can now move through the first six bosses in the place with relative ease in our Friday slot, and we can do the last two and Major Domo on Saturday leaving some time for Ragnoros himself. All the bosses are on farm status, with the exception of Major Domo, as we only beat him for the first time a weak ago. Last weak we set ourselves the challenge of beating Major Domo, and we wiped, wiped some more, and then wiped even more, we didn't get frustrated and annoyed and just tweaked tactics, but we didn't give up, and ultimately we beat him. At that point it became a game, a very good game, in some ways it also became a bit like a sport, as it was a team win, a team of 40 people coming together to beat a challenge. It was an experience.

This weekend the aim was to do the same again, but stand before Ragnoros himself and try and take him down. We had an efficient run on Friday, and we had an efficient run yesterday, the only problem was we stalled on Major Domo, as it took us four attempts to take him down as we sorted out the most efficient healing. This left little time for Ragnoros himself, but we decided we'd have one attempt, just to get a feel for the big guy. It was well worth the look, as everyone gasped on comms when he came rising out of his lava pit, the guy is massive. I was expecting him to look like any other fire elemental, but just a bit bigger, but no, he does look like one of the four ancient elemental cronies of the Old Gods. He's massive. It was all suitably epic, a confrontation of Gandalf versus the Balrog proportions, potentially one of the most impressive moments in the game so far. We tried, we got him down to 59% health and then died. This is good, as we'd never faced him before and our various enhancement spells had ran out, most of us had run out of potions and we still blasted through 40% of his health. It's going to be a suitably rewarding experience taking the big guy down.

What makes this all impressive is The Dungeoneers are on the rise. When the original members of the guild started playing World of Warcraft there was an impression it was a great game but that certain content would always be beyond us, namely the 40-man raid content. In short, we'd be casual players always looking for the sorry excuse for content Blizzard might throw our way. This has proven not to be true. At one point I reached a conclusion that the first year anniversary of the guild might have been its high point, but I'm glad to say I was wrong on that score. The Dungeoneers is proving to be a way of challenging a whole wealth of excellent content with a bunch of sane people with the right attitude. It's not just about the loot, it's about beating the content, the loot is just the reward, and a vehicle to go on and beat more of it. We are viewed as one of the prime guilds to be a member of due to this attitude and also because we are making our own way through the content, which is better than joining a guild that has already mastered it all. The guild may have gone through a troublesome patch, but we've come out of it stronger than ever.

Ragnoros, we're coming to get you!

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 30/07/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
ZOMG STFU PLIX!

The title makes no sense? The amazing thing is it does to some people, I believe ZOMG STFU PLIX in on-line speak essentially means 'Oh my god, shut the fuck up, please'. I think the please on the end sort of adds something. Over the last year, though it seems to have got more intense in the last two months, I've been introduced to a whole other language, spoke by people who have spent way too long using mobile phones, the Internet and playing on-line games. If you want to see the English language get totally massacred, and live in a world in which any concept of sentences and paragraphs has been cast aside for 'texting English' than you need to play World of Warcraft.

It's been 'enlightening'. You get to see such classic English as 'u' being used for 'you', 'm8' being used for 'mate' and 'l33t' being used for 'leet' which is short for 'elite', as in 'very good'. Then you have 'nub' and 'noob' being short, or even longer variations on 'new', meaning the individual knows crap about the game and is therefore worthless. The best one I've encountered is 'e-peen', which seems to be an Internet slang reference relating to ego, primarily a reference to comparing penis sizes. A conversion might go as follows:

[BadAssCow]: Dude, I pwn'd a bubbledin five levels higher than me, my e-peen feels huge. [Translation: I killed a Paladin five levels higher than me and I feel so clever and big].

[SexyElfChick]: You're so l33t. [Translation: Your very good at this game]

[Gromar]: STFU and stop spamming the channel nub. [Translation: Shut the fuck up and stop spamming the LFG channel you new and therefore worthless person].

[AngryGnome]: You're all fucktards. [Translation: You're all fucking retards].

The reason this comes up now after playing World of Warcraft for over a year is, in the past, you never really encountered this subculture that much. You did if you visited the World of Warcraft Internet forums, but then only the truly insane, or people who wanted to see the depths of human stupidity visited that on-line enclave. As I levelled Zoltis through the game I grouped with people in the guild, who know how to put a sentence together, and I'm 99% sure the people I grouped with randomly throughout the game all spoke sensibly. Lately, the whole degeneration of the English language has just been painfully visible. Is it linked to the fact that the game now has a global LookingForGroup channel, which should really be named the global GeeksDebatingAnalMinutia channel? It possibly has something to do with it, as most of it has been encountered there, but it's probably not the only influencing factor.

Why do I play this game I here you ask? Well, you do have a good point, after reading this post you're probably wondering why anyone plays it? The simple reason is it's a good, enjoyable, on-line game which involves cooperative grouping to meet challenges. It also teaches you a lot about speaking to people on-line, making an argument on-line and effectively leading groups over an on-line medium. The community at large obviously has a proportion of teenagers who seem to have very low social skills and lack an ability to communicate, but you just turn certain communication channels off and you don't really encounter them as you play the game. I may exist in that virtual world, just like I exist in the real one, but just like the real one all that matters to me are the social groups I engage with, not every single person in existence.

It's not just World of Warcraft, as you encounter it on MSN as well. Do any of you have young, teenage girls as relatives who talk to you over MSN? Do you understand anything they are saying? I have to say, 80% of the time I have no bloody idea. The irony is here, the chances are I do know the sorts of bands they like and what they might enjoy doing, but it doesn't help me any. It's like I'm receiving an alien transmission from the depths of space and my universal translator ain't working. They speak in short statements of three to six 'words' each of them only having three to four characters in them, including the obligatory numbers. I can literally have fifteen minute conversations and have no idea what we were talking about. As an example, out of the blue comes the message: 'Ya, like ma space?' Errr, she's a relative and she's under age, I have no idea what the answer to that is. A while later, I managed to decode the fact she had a MySpace page and she was asking if I liked it. An excellent example, as I know what MySpace is and I know teenagers are flocking to such services in their droves, but the language did not comprehend. I decided it was less stress all round to use the block function.

It does make you despair when you think that the youth of today are growing up in a world in which the capacity to communicate is huge, and yet it seems to be causing language to degenerate. Oh, the irony.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 29/07/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
The Sky is Falling

Not in this world, but in the world of Azeroth in World of Warcraft. You know the sky is falling because the whining, complaining and all around asinine commentary on the forums about the various changes coming with The Burning Crusade have spilled over into the global chat channels of the game itself. Yesterday, the news hit the World of Warcraft website that the two new races in the expansion, Drenai for the Alliance and Blood Elves for the Horde, could be Shaman (once only Horde) and Paladins (once only Alliance) respectively. This means that the unique class to each faction is no longer unique. The forums lit up with intense vitriol, and every 5 minutes someone who had recently logged on would voice their dislike for the decision in the game.

The reaction was on such a scale you'd expect they'd have reacted less if the sky actually was falling.

This has obviously been done for a number of reasons, while it is cool to have classes only available to specific factions, as the Horde hate Paladins with a passion and the Alliance have a similar view of Shamans, it does make life difficult as in PvE the sides share the same raid dungeons. As a result, you could never design an endgame raid dungeon to need skilled application of specific Paladin abilities because you can't count on the raid team having that class. If every class is available to both factions this removes the problem. This also removes the Paladin advantage that the Alliance supposedly have in PvE raiding. The reverse is also true for the Horde, as they apparently have a PvP advantage due to the Shaman class. The decision may also have an eye cast towards the faction imbalance, to the extent some say the Horde faction is dying due to lack of numbers, which in turn has an effect on the economy. The thought of being a Paladin, and a Blood Elf female, might just well appeal to a certain Alliance demographic. Hell, they may still be able to be Hunters, which if implemented, will turn the Horde into the Blood Elves and some others. The addition also adds diversity just as much as it removes it, as while there is less diversity per faction, people more enamoured with a faction can now experience a new class.

People are complaining about everything, the lamest complaint being it is the greatest sin against the sacrosanct lore of World of Warcraft and The Burning Crusade is the end of the game. Some people just lack any sort of context over this stuff. The truth is, the World of Warcraft lore only exists to make a game cool, it's never been an entity worthy of 100% consistency in and off itself. It's never been that. Just like a good drama will twist established continuity to tell a good tale, a game will twist established continuity to create a great game. Anyway, these people love to whine, they whined when the Tauren could become Druids, they whined when Razorfen Downs was in the South Barrens rather than near Ashenvale somewhere and now they whine because of the various things in The Burning Crusade. For example, they really can't get their heads around the Drenai and the dimensional construct that brought them to Azeroth, calling them Space Paladins with a ridiculous spaceship. They sort of miss the fact it's not a spaceship, but a magical construct for travelling between dimensions, and also miss the fact the orcs in World of Warcraft are from another bloody planet in another dimension, the only difference is they came through a magical portal rather than having a magical construct move them through. A distinct lack of imagination is being shown, put it that way.

Despite the stupidity, the change does present some unique wrinkles that Blizzard will have to solve before The Burning Crusade goes live. The first major one is the position of the Paladin and the Shaman classes themselves, as they never had to compete before for spaces in groups and raids. Every other class has their raid role sort of defined, they might not like it, but it is defined, as a result the arrival of the Paladin on Horde side is probably going to put pressure on the Shaman. But is it? You see, I'm not sure people are thinking big enough. Is the Paladin better than a Shaman for PvE raiding? Yes. Does this mean the Shaman will find it hard to compete for a place? Not necessarily, as surely the presence of the Paladin on the Horde side will cause some re-thought on all the roles in the raid, such as the role the Druid currently has now a third secondary healing class has been added? Hell, why won't this just result in more Shaman and Druids taking a more varied role? It may result in more open roles for all. You also have to consider each class will get new talents from level 61-70 anyway and as a result the role they have now may significantly change in the post-The Burning Crusade environment.

The other problem, of course, is the magic number have changed. Each faction had eight classes available to them, which just happened to neatly fit into a raid of forty. The presence of the ninth class on each side changes this totally. Who cares though? You rarely take exactly five of each class on each 40-man raid anyway due to specific class needs for specific bosses or just running with who you have available. Then you have the fact a lot of extra 5-15 man content is coming in The Burning Crusade and you have a different landscape again. To be honest this 'fighting for raid spots' problem isn't really a problem associated with the new class for each faction, it's purely down to people having set ideas on raid composition, instead of being relatively flexible and thinking of the individuals behind characters. As I say, within reason, obviously some things do make it too difficult, you work with the dedicated players who come. It's not done The Dungeoneers any harm.

One of the biggest problems is probably the loot tables, though I'm not really sure what all the factors that go into this are. Obviously, Horde people will now start seeing Paladin drops in MC, etc. The main issue is people now see nine classes wanting loot drops not eight. What's really ironic about the whole issue is people moan that The Burning Crusade doesn't introduce any new classes for each faction, which would cause similar looting issues. I'm pretty sure the whole looting thing will be managed by the token system used in the latest raid dungeon, which basically means that groups of classes compete for their class-specific loot by collecting tokens. This means the new class on each side can be added and you can have 3 sets of tokens for which 3 classes compete for. In fact, it's almost like they've thought of this already and implemented it in the latest raid dungeon to get people used to it. Who'd have thought?

The point of all this is, stupid lore freaks aside, people are ranting about how it is a bad idea as if it is being implemented now, with no other changes to the game. But this is not going to be the case, the game will change in many ways in The Burning Crusade, and while it may not turn out great, there isn't really a reason to assume it won't and that the Paladin and Shaman class changes won't be used to their best advantage to improve the game for everyone.

The other universal truth is, of course, the people complaining so vocally probably represent a ridiculously small proportion of the World of Warcraft player-base, which numbers in millions. The majority of people just get on with playing the damned game.

Of course, the current theory is the whole thing is a hoax? Yeah, right, talk about desperation.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 22/07/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
The Twink Wars Begin

One of the fascinating things about MMO games, specifically level-based games like World of Warcraft, is the game matures as the average level of the population increases. As an example, from a PvE perspective, the whole experience of levelling up and randomly grouping with people trying to do the same thing as a grand adventure of exploration only happens once, when the server is new and the game is new. Over time people either quit or the population matures to be one of an overwhelming majority of maximum level characters. You then find the majority of characters under 60, quite often not enough of them at each level bracket to efficiently form groups, are the second, third or even fifth character of an existing level 60.

This has a number of interesting effects, as discussed in The Guild Wars Begin, the game becomes all about being a member of a guild that can progress through the endgame instances, as this is largely the only PvE content you have to experience. As a result, people constantly search to be a member of a progressing guild, guilds compete for members and some people even constantly change guild in an attempt to progress faster. The effect is the economy changes as the majority of low level characters in the game have a level 60 with much more money to support them. Anyway, these things have been discussed before.

Another interesting anomaly of a 'mature' World of Warcraft server is the concept of the twink. Basically, this issue is related to the level 60 sugar daddy concept, as you're effectively ensuring that a lower level character has all the best gear they can get as the level 60 can either afford to buy it, trash the low level dungeon with the equipment in or call on his level 60 friends to get the low level character easily through the dungeon (if the equipment is bind on equip). Basically, the level 60 support network ensures the low lever character has the best of everything. Now, compared to a player of a low level character who doesn't have a level 60 waiting in the wings, the twink has a significant advantage. To be honest, the gear isn't the main problem, as the un-supported low level character can still get the gear, though it's difficult due to the lack of characters at a similar level as a percentage of the population. The main problem is the high level enchants that can only be performed by level 60 characters, at significant cost, which the twinks have on all their gear. These enchants are usable by all levels you see, but they can only be created by a level 60 and only afforded by a character plugged into the level 60 economy.

All this wouldn't be that much of an issue if the game was just a PvE game, but it isn't, the PvP Battlegrounds have level range brackets (10-19,20-29 and so on until 50-59 and 60). Ironically, people had begun a transition to lower level Battlegrounds with lower level alt characters because of the gear problem in the level 60 Battlegrounds. The people undertaking PvP with the advantage of being in a guild that can challenge the high end content have a significant advantage in gear terms. Now though, the gear gap is making itself known in the lower level Battlegrounds as people twink their characters. The arms race continues. This means that the person joining the World of Warcraft party late suffers again, not only does he find the economy is massively inflated, not only does he find the population at his level isn't big enough for efficient grouping, he now finds, if he likes PvP, that he must face a horde of geared up, enchanted up, level 60 supported foot soldiers in the Battlegrounds. If he wants to compete he has to spend ages in instances getting gear, which he can't get groups for, or resort to buying gear he can't afford.

The really insidious thing is, this whole twinking concept relates back to being a member of a powerful endgame guild again, as this issue now permeates through the whole level range. As having a level 60 to support you is only half the battle, as now the lower level Battlegrounds become the domain of guild domination as well as the guilds organise themselves to twink their level 19, 29, 39 and so on characters just like they systematically did the same to their level 60 characters. I wouldn't be surprised if some PvP guilds had 'twinked' teams at the lower levels, the only barrier stopping this is the need to PvP with their level 60 to get a higher PvP rank, but once they achieved a rank they are happy with or got as far as they realistically can, the lower level Battlegrounds must be a promising target for that sweet taste of domination they obviously crave.

So, this basically means, any player who has less time to play, or cannot get into a guild, or who just doesn't like the PvE raiding style of play has literally nowhere to hide. The players with more time, with a guild to challenge the endgame content efficiently hold all the cards at every level throughout the game.

Interestingly, a number of topics are being discussed on this issue, one is to make the Battlegrounds deliver enough experience that people can't just sit at the level break of particular Battlegrounds forever. This would seem to only solve half the problem. The other solution being proposed is to apply level restrictions to enchants, as these seem to be the main issue, after all, the enchants can only be obtained with a level 60 support network, the gear can, in theory, be obtained by people without such a network. Will this ever happen? It's hard to say, because while the discussions on this issue are quite vocal, I'm finding it hard to understand how many people are really playing the game now without a level 60 character? The figure might be surprising one way or another.

The more interesting aspect of all this is how the maturing environment seems to hold within it the keys to its own destruction. At this current moment in time I find it hard to envisage how any of the mature World of Warcraft servers are a welcoming environment to new players. They'd join the server and just face problems getting groups, problems buying stuff, problems getting a fair match in any Battleground and while facing all this they'd face the relatively hostile environment of being a new player among level 60 giants who believe everyone should know everything about the game. This must influence the amount of new players that join the party late who actually stay? True, Blizzard opens new servers every so often, and you'd think being on one of these would be better? It is, but it still wouldn't be the experience that everyone enjoyed when the game was first released, as a core of the population on that server would be experienced players running to new, fertile ground to level as fast as possible in an attempt to form a guild that owns the server space. In short, the game becomes relatively hostile to new people.

Does an MMO naturally mature and slowly, and inevitably, die due to a lack of new blood?

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 19/07/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
Nintendo Does An Apple
Keywords: Video Games.

For years Apple marketed its product in a different way to almost every other computer company. It didn't market its machines based on raw speed and power, it made them a lifestyle choice, in an attempt to appeal to people who wanted nothing to do with technology. This wasn't really that successful, though it did create a niche market for them. This all changed with the iPod, of course, which essentially used a similar strategy but was much more successful. The iPod is so successful it owns a ridiculous percentage of the MP3 player marketplace, and to be honest, I suspect a lot of people with iPods don't even know it's an MP3 player they own. They just have an iPod.

So, why not try and do an Apple with other technologies, by making them a lifestyle choice, something that says something about you, looks sexy and is cool? Well, it would seem that Nintendo are trying to pull off an Apple-style marketing campaign with their products.

The new Nintendo DS Lite just cries out as having been designed to appeal to the same sort of market segment as Apple products, one of the units is even 'Apple white'. The units are slim, and they look cool, and would slip nicely into a handbag. They look so nice you're tempted to buy one before even thinking about it. If you throw in the various imagery Nintendo are using, of sexy people in their twenties and thirties playing with the Nintendo DS Lite, they are certainly trying to make it a must have item for the iPod generation. This marketing works, I have to admit it works on me. On seeing the Nintendo DS Lite on the release weekend part of me wanted to buy one so I could carry it around with me and play games whenever a spare moment arose. The fact I've never really played on my Gameboy Advanced since I bought it was momentarily forgotten. It becomes an item to covet.

The fact they are adopting this strategy for the Nintendo DS Lite is interesting, but what's more interesting is it's also the strategy they are seeking to adopt with the Nintendo Wii console, and the re-imaging of the Nintendo DS is a build up to that really, as it helps cement the new image in the minds of the populace before the console is launched. The Nintendo Wii isn't a games console in the sense that the iPod isn't an MP3 player, or that's the goal. Just like the iPod is a product people listen to music on, and the technicalities of it may well be lost on them due to the nature of iTunes, the idea is to turn the Wii into a unit that allows for social gaming and does away with all the technical crap and penis size comparisons that tend to dog other consoles. It's less about the number of polygons and more about social occasions. It's about getting your friends around for a dinner party or a movie, and also playing a few games.

This tactic could have a number of interesting effects, which I'm sure is what Nintendo are hoping. First, they are hoping it is going to broaden the market for their console, a combination of a cheap price and it being a sexy item, along with a unique advertising campaign, may well turn it into an item that gets purchased well outside the typical console demographic. The more interesting effect is it may actually reduced to what degree they are in competition with Microsoft and Sony. It's all too easy to see the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 as the two units in competition, the two consoles you have to make a choice between as you are probably unlikely to own one of each, though I'm sure some people will. The Wii sort of comes from left field and doesn't necessarily appear to be in competition because it has positioned its proposition different enough, and priced itself well enough, it can quite easily be purchased under slightly different criteria by people already owning an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. It's like you buy one of the big two for your serious, gamer gaming and then Wii for a more social approach to it all, and a bit of fun.

I had my doubts about the Nintendo strategy in the past, but I'm coming around to their way of thinking. Will they be the top dog in this console generation? Probably not. Will they sell a lot more consoles with this strategy than they would positioning themselves as direction competitors to Sony and Microsoft? For sure.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 15/07/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
When Is Grind Not Grind?

When you hit level 60 in World of Warcraft you tend to get two types of people, those who suddenly feel the game has turned into a wall of grind because all they've got left to do is grind 5-man instances for obscure gear, grind PvP for honour ranks or grind endgame raid instances for gear. Then you get the other view, these people don't understand what anyone is moaning about as every MMO is about grinding, World of Warcraft has always been about grinding, so it's no different at 60.

Who is wrong? Well, truth be told, they're both correct, and it basically comes down to perception.

Let's take the view that the game is ALL grind first, as that tends to be the simpler one. This view comes down to the opinion that all you do in an MMO is grind and if you don't like that you shouldn't being playing one. This view isn't necessarily incorrect, as all you do while levelling is kill X number of creature X or collect X number of item X until you reach the point of killing Elite X who may be in an instanced dungeon. You may also be mindless levelling a profession which might also involve endlessly looking for specific herbs, endlessly killing things to skin them or grinding dungeons to get magical items to disenchant. The view of these types of player is so focused on the grinding they'll even stop doing Quests and dungeons because they are less efficient and just mindlessly grind turtles for 10 levels. In short, they sort of stop actually playing the game and experiencing the content and just literally kill turtles to 60. Not sure what the point is, but they do it. In truth, when the game is looked at purely from a mathematical perspective, purely on what it takes to get to the next level, it is all grind.

The simple fact is though, that way of looking at the game lacks a bit of imagination and soul, and this is the key to why some people suddenly hit the grinding wall at 60. Two reasons exist as to why the journey from 1-60 isn't seen as a grind and it comes down to the art of distraction and the art of avoidance.

The other view is that levelling to 60, at least for the first time, possibly for 50% for the second time, depending on your second character, is not just levelling but it's a grand adventure that involves seeing new landscapes, going to new places, killing new creatures and getting cool new abilities. Even better, the method by which you do this is batched up into definable objectives called Quests, which often have cool narratives to go with them. You're not killing X of creature X you're depleting the forces of the Scarlet Brotherhood, you're not killing X to collect their teeth you're getting ingredients for a potion to poison the lot of them, and you're not just going into the Scarlet Monastery to farm for items your going in to kill the local leaders of the damned Brotherhood. It has an Epic quality to it, a bit of mystery and adventure. Not only that, some of these Quest chains have a story that extends for quite some time, the Scarlet Brotherhood featured heavily as I levelled Zoltis, for example. This is the art of distraction, as you are being distracted from the grind either unwittingly or via cooperating consciously or subconsciously with the designers.

The art of distraction is something the original developers of the game seemed to understand, while the current lot seem to be missing the point totally. Look at the recent attempts to get those who don't want to raid better gear? All they've been given is repeatable quests to kill the same creatures to earn reputation and badges or insignias which can then be turned in to get various rewards. Grind, pure and simple and not even an attempt to distract the audience from it. Bad design. Compare this with the quest chain to access Onyxia's lair, which feels epic, and involves multiple dungeon runs to kill enemies and do things, it involves travelling the world to kill multiple dragons and even disguising yourself as the enemy in an act of subterfuge. All of it obviously ends with you finally killing Onyxia. That is what quest lines should be about.

The other influencing factor is the art of avoidance, and this quite simply involves avoiding anything that does appear to be a grind. You find professions a boring bit of grind? Don't have any. You find repeating dungeons endlessly for specific items of equipment? Then do them till you are bored of them and then just use the equipment you find as you level. You can quite literally play the game, going from Quest line to Quest line, enjoying the story and the new places. The key here is, some classes help with the art of avoidance more than others. As an example, the Mage and Hunter are two classes that from 1-60 are amazingly gear independent. Sure, gears helps, but it's not necessarily essential. This isn't necessarily true of the Warrior class, for instance. Retrospectively, while I have some issues with the Mage, it was a great class to pick, and it's probably no surprise the class I believe I should have picked is a Hunter. The art of avoidance, it worked for me.

You know what I find strange about the post-60 environment? I'm still not grinding! True, I'm grinding the instances like Molten Core and Zul'Gurub, but the art of distraction kicks in based on the fact that doing these digital dungeons, killing things and taking their stuff is primarily why I play the game. Other people grind for potions, grind for gold to cover their ridiculous repair bills. In truth my repair bills are going up but they ain't that bad, easily recoverable by the Quests I'm doing. As for potions, I don't see the need. Other people want healing potions, mana pots, damned fire protection potions! I'm a Mage, I don't need any of them. I never run out of mana, my health goes down so fast I'm usually doomed anyway and if not a bandage puts me back to full health. As for fire protection potions? Screw that, just make sure Fire Ward is always up. Again, the Mage proves to be amazingly 'grind lite'.

Anyway, the up shot is it's possible to see the pre-60 game and the post-60 game as a totally different experience or just a continuation of what you've always done: grind. I'm lucky, I seem to have the best of both worlds, as my post-60 environment seems to be a similar experience of seeing new stuff, beating new enemies and doing it with a relatively sane bunch of people. I still don't see it as grinding. The closest thing I came to grinding was my First Aid ability at 60, and I'm now tempted to get my Herbs skill up. Possibly.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 13/07/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
The Credibility Gap

A while back, I employed a guy at work. He was a nice guy, had the base skills we wanted, and was perfectly capable of learning some of the other skills we needed down the line. Historically, he worked for a much bigger corporation than the SME I was working at, but I didn't see this as a problem either. The trouble was, in his first month of employment he made a couple of mistakes that he shouldn't really have made, and then compounded this by having a complete lack of ability to engender any sense of confidence in the staff that he knew what he was doing. In all honestly, occasionally he didn't, he was new and that's to be expected, the problem was, even when this happens, you can work in a way that imparts confidence to those you are trying to help and work with, he just couldn't do this. The problem was, in the big corporation he worked for he was used to being in a certain box and never being challenged to step out of it, while the SME environment constantly challenges you with new things. The inevitable happened, and it ultimately got to the point people would openly ask not to deal with him and deal with someone else. We had to let him go.

Why am I telling this story? Simply because this exact same thing has happened in World of Warcarft and created another minor drama in The Dungeoneers.

Basically, the raid took on another member a while back, and this new member made a number of classic mistakes. First, he tried to pass himself off as being the player behind a particularly renowned character on the server, someone in a position of responsibility in one of the most successful guilds on the server, and hence in possession of a lot of experience. The inevitable happened, and both the character who joined our guild, and the other character he professed to be, were playing at the same time. He was rumbled. This lead to his second mistake, he blamed his brother who was using his account without permission and it was never him, the real player of the character we'd let into the guild, who had made these bold claims. Not only that, over the course of his time with the guild we could never be sure it was the real player of the character playing the character during the big 40 man raids.

This is a very stupid mistake to make when dealing with a faceless medium as the Internet. When working with a group of people to achieve an objective, each and every person has certain wants, needs and aspirations attached to that and doesn't want to fail, as a result, those perceived not to be up to the task, for whatever reason, will be singled out. This happens in the work environment, as in the case above, the poor guy engendered a feeling of not being able to help them work better, and it will certainly happen on an Internet-based game as you don't even have to speak to the guy face-to-face and as such any barriers to being ruthless are pretty much gone.

In all honesty, as far as I was concerned, his situation had become untenable the moment he made the two mistakes, and more importantly, continued to allow someone else to use his account. He should have been removed from the guild and the situation openly explained in a post on the guild forums. We didn't do that, as some people believed he should get a second chance. The trouble was, while that's a noble aim, his second (and arguably third and fourth) chance would be mired continually by the lack of confidence in him due to the original lie, whether it was him or not, and the fact no one could ever have confidence the person playing the character was the player we wanted as a member. He had lost all credibility, when that happens a person has to be removed, and in truth, a person should realise that and remove themselves.

The inevitable happened, he left the guild last night after another eruption of 'that's not him' resulting in him being kicked from the raid and then no doubt a hail of whispers by people telling him they are completely sick of him. The second inevitability happened afterwards, with some people cheering his going and other people arguing back that we'd just lost the best main tank (a role the Warrior class performs) in the guild. The fact he'd never actually proven this, and even if it wasn't part of the grand lie he wove, half the time it wasn't that player playing the damned character anyway. The difficulty the guild got itself into by not removing him due to the untenable situation he created himself, was him leaving looks worse and potentially looks like he was being picked on and abused (true, to a degree, but because of the position he'd put himself in). It's also true to say that the various dramas around his credibility make the officers look indecisive.

Anyway, the interesting part of it all is, it proves once again that group dynamics are in play. He mad a classic mistake, which doomed any second chance he was given. Other players have got off to a bad start due to being young and inexperienced in these social groups and have gone on to greater things, because they never pretended to be something greater than they are, or engineered their own downfall by putting the social group in a situation were they never knew who they were playing with. A few even continue to have faults and annoyances, but the issue is you deal with them on that basis and understand them. The last thing you can do is make bold claims you can't live up to, and in the case of the Internet make people wary of whether you are actually you or not. You then become the weaker or erratic member of the team, a core of the team start feeling you're not helping them attain their objectives, instead getting in the way, and the result is inevitable.

Of course, it's just a game.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 08/07/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
Everyone Likes A Drama...Not

I've got to the point now that I actually laugh when people call World of Warcraft just a game. I don't laugh out loud, but I shake my head a bit or smile slightly. I know what they mean, it should be just a game, it's something you do for fun, and anything you achieve in it isn't real. The trouble is, they are also very wrong. World of Warcraft can never be just a game because the endgame involves setting up or being a member of a guild, and a guild is a social construct to allow people to form a social group to challenge, in teams of 20 and 40, the endgame content. This social group will always be the source of one drama or another due to the politics, perceptions and wants and needs of the social group's members.

As a result, whether you like it or not, World of Warcraft isn't just a game, it's an exercise in group dynamics, and to one degree or another, managing the desires of a large group of people, the majority of which you've never met. It demands a lot of skills I recognise in myself from the IT Management and Project Management perspective, for example.

The Dungeoneers aren't a democracy, it's not an iron-booted dictatorship either, but the team of officers and the guild master who run the guild are generally responsible for making the decisions on how the guild operates and why. The membership can have an amazing amount of say, but they don't vote in any way to get their say actioned, they can only hope those running the guild agree or can be persuaded of their argument. This works quite well, because a core of the officers know each other in the real world and have been friends for some time, and the officers who aren't part of this group are all adults who can argue maturely, by and large. The dilemma in this situation is when should the apparent wishes of the membership, assuming it's even correct that the wish is representative, be adopted even though it turns the guild into something the people running it don't favour? Some might say those running should follow the will of the membership, but then the other argument is the wishes of the membership might be intent on creating something that self-destructs, rather than looking at problems from a wider perspective. The Dungeoneers have always been set on being a guild that raids, rather than an all consuming raiding guild, but the membership puts in the odd issue or concern here and there, each of which seems to be a small step to becoming a raiding guild.

The other problems that arise are related to problem members, some of these prove to be problems that can be ironed out, while others aren't and they result in the ultimate sanction: getting kicked from the guild. In all honestly, we've had to do this surprisingly few times, under five I think, as the majority of times we have a culture clash the member chooses to spend his time with another guild and we wish him luck. After all, that's how it's supposed to work, if the guild doesn't serve your needs, and your needs can't become part of the guild, it's time to move on.

You get a mixture of problem people. You often get young people who are just immature and need to grow up a bit and learn to deal with a diverse group of individuals a lot of whom are much older and some are even from different cultures. These are often the more interesting problems, as while some guilds adopt a strategy of only allowing over eighteens, The Dungeoneers has always proven to be a good environment for younger teenagers if they can learn the skills to interact correctly. We even have an officer who joined the guild at 14 and is now 15. This is why I suggest that these games can be educational for younger people, depending on the social environment they become embroiled in. We have another member who has recently been discussed repeatedly as to whether he should be kicked or not, but he has matured in terms of how he interacts and how he plays his character to the extent he may well be a valuable member in the future. We like to be all embracing, and a productive and fun social gathering.

In all honesty, the biggest problems have always arisen from the older members. We recently had to kick a person from the guild because he was the worse type of player The Dungeoneers could encounter, someone who plays the part of being mature, open and willing to discuss anything on comms, while sowing all sorts of shit via whispering other members. He always sounded so mature on comms, the exact open minded sort of player you wanted, but too many arguments and disagreements started to surround the player and a number of examples came out of what he was whispering to other players. As an example, someone joined a raid halfway through, and since this new character competed for the same gear as him he whispered him to tell him not to use his points for gear as he hadn't been their since the start. He was just someone obsessed with getting gear as quickly as possible and seemed to be willing to cause no end of trouble to achieve his goals.

The irony, of course, is you kick the guy after debating the situation for weeks and always defaulting to the fact he must be a good guy really, and that creates more dramas of people wanting to know why the guy was kicked. People start talking and make-up conspiracy theories and whatever else, probably not considering some people agonised over this for ages. You also potentially create, with every person that leaves the guild under bad circumstances, someone who will bad mouth you at every opportunity.

The majority of issues come up around loot and how it is distributed, which is amazing when you consider that non of it is real. As soon as the game becomes about gaining items in a purple shade it's like those hiest movies when all the thieves start doing each other over for the bounty. The Dungeoneers had a massive and quite heated debate over whether we should adopt a points system to control loot flow, and I happen to think they adopted a sensible system that provides some control while ensuring the items distribute to all. Yet people still moan because it's not just a basic everyone rolls system. We also have people trying to pervert the points system by thinking they can just get items with their points and sell them, which is incorrect, just like with a roll system you only 'roll', by spending points, if you're going to use it. It's madness. Again, people with different views, or views adopted momentarily to achieve specific agendas.

So, ever been in charge of a team of people at work? Been a manager of a department? Maybe a project manager? Any job that tries to lead a diverse group of individuals towards an overall end goal while trying to maintain an environment that is in some way interesting, challenging and relatively conflict free? Well, that's what running a guild is like in World of Wacraft.

Of course, it's just a game.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 04/07/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
And Onyxia Falls

In World of Warcraft, deep within Dustwallow Marsh, in a place known as the Dragonmurk, the Black Dragon Onyxia sits in her fiery lair, protected by the insidious Black Dragonflight. Onyxia is the daughter of the mighy dragon Deathwing, and sister to Nefarian, the Lord of Black Wing Lair, and she uses her charms and powers, often by taking human form, to lay seeds of doubt, sedition and despair among the races of Azeroth.

Or she does until forty members of The Dungeoneers penetrated her lair and gave the bitch a good kicking, thus killing her and taking her stuff. We also put her head on a massive stake in the city of Ogrimmar for good measure.

Killing Onyxia is one of those marker points in the game that exists once you enter the endgame. Basically, to progress in any significant way you have to be a member of a guild and tackle Molten Core, kill Ragnoros at the end, at some point you should also be killing Onyxia and then moving on to Black Wing Lair and killing Neferian. That is the traditional set of markers, other instances exist, such as Zul'Gurub and the two An'Qiraj instances, but following the Molten Core, Onyxia and Black Wing Lair road is the one to glory.

So, killing Onyxia for the first time has a number of benefits which can be best summed up by bringing fortune and glory to The Dungeoneers. Fortune in the sense that it is now another boss we can start working to farm status in order to farm the hell out of it for the loot and distribute that to the members of The Dungeoneers. Glory because the announcement that Onyxia has been killed is made in the city of Ogrimmar and it is one of those markers that makes clear how a guild is progressing in the endgame. Despite being closed to new members, it is inevitable we will see a glut of people petitioning for invites, especially since Onyxia was taken down before we've encountered Ragnoros in Molten Core.

Regrettably, I missed the fight itself as I don't yet have Onyxia access due to my two month absence from the game and the fact doing the Molten Core runs is pretty much all I have time for at the moment. Still, it was good to be part of The Dungeoneers assembly in Ogrimmar for the grand announcement.

Yeah, it's only a game, but as I've said numerous times it's a game that is more like a social club, and just like any social group, you sort of like to celebrate your achievements. I have to admit, if I'd stayed out of the game and missed all this, I'd probably have regretted it.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 29/06/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
A Crit! OMG A 2145 Crit! I've Just Cum!

World of Warcraft is great as a grand game of digital dungeoneering, killing things and taking their stuff. It's great fun, but there are some elements of it that are irritating. The reason they are irritating is they represent a style of play in traditional pen and paper role-playing games that I don't like: the obsession with power building your character to be the ultimate bad ass. I've admitted defeat in some ways, and I've come to terms with the fact acquiring equipment to progress in the game is necessary, but I still take the lazy man's option. As an example, I'm happy to collect the Arcanist Tier 1 gear as it should prepare me for the fun of Black Wing Lair. In other rewards I pimp Zoltis to be a capable bad ass in terms of challenging the next content, and that's it.

This is not the case for all, and the pursuit of ever higher damage is an obsession.

One of the major obsessions is the Damage Meter, which records who did the most damage in a raid so that can be put into the raid channel at the end of the raid to show who is the ultimate bad ass. People are obsessed with them, but the trouble is it influences people to actually play badly. The raid is essentially a team effort with everyone contributing, and at all times you should be thinking of the larger group. This means causing the highest amount of damage at all costs isn't a good idea. As an example, causing too much damage and drawing the current target away from the main tank, who is happily holding it in place so you can pound on it, isn't good. You also get various tasks assigned to you in a raid, for example, in one specific boss in Molten Core Zoltis does very little other than remove dangerous effects from other characters. As a result, he causes very little at all in that fight and neither will any other Mage. It's also true to say certain types of encounter, due to their length and the abilities of the enemy, favour certain classes. In short, too many variables for it to be really a true reflection of who could cause the most damage.

Despite that, people are still obsessed with them. The Dungeoneers have actually banned their use in raids. While we can't stop people running them everything possible is done to stop the results being something people openly track across the raid after and during every single fight. It's all to easy for the raid to turn into a race, with people asking for the meter to displayed after every single trash mob. Since this was influencing the play of people even on a macro level, such as launching attacks at the enemy way too early in order to try and edge up the damage meter, it was decided keeping them under wraps was the best idea.

I dislike the Damage Meters that much I've found a mod that filters out Damage Meter traffic from the chat channels for me. This means, even if one does get posted I can happily move on in total ignorance. I do keep an eye on how Zoltis performs with Theorycraft, which allows me to see improvements through gear, but I'm not getting into the raid league tables.

Don't even get me started on the almost orgasmic exclamations when people score a crit. I remember a time when crit chance wasn't something you put much thought into, but as the post-60 environment has matured it's become a total obsession for many people. When they cirt, how often they crit and how much they crit for. Give me those big yellow numbers! It becomes a way of comparing penis sizes in game, the amount you crit for being the ultimate expression of your digital member. The amount of times in a raid you get sudden exclamations of 'OMG 2145 Crit!' is legion. Only to be followed by someone announcing with great delight they crit for 2157. You can't keep it to yourself of course, you have to call it out in a burst of uncontrolled euphoria just so everyone else knows.

How many times have I been told the Arcanist Gear is complete crap? Each and every time it drops. I've been told it's crap, shit, a waste of points and every other variation I can think of. You know, maybe the people collecting it are happy with it because having that equipment allows them to continue playing the game they want to play. Maybe they are only interested in preparing themselves to see new content not necessarily, and tirelessly, hunting down every last bit of 'Ultimate Power Gear' that exists in the damned game. It's quite possible, they are using the time you spend tirelessly hoarding that equipment, or farming to make equipment, to do something else a bit more fulfilling? To be honest, being told it's crap every time it drops is just someone checking his penis size again, trying to show he's more knowledgeable, and in a way saying the person wanting the Arcanist gear is an idiot. Why say it otherwise? Once maybe, but each and every time?

This whole pursuit of damage and the holy crit has interesting effects on the raid points being used for Molten Core, and it's a positive effect for me. Quite often, even when my points are quite low due to being reset, for the Arcanist shoulders, which are crap, of course, I can get quite close to gear due to a couple of Mages not wanting them due to them hoarding their points for the Ultimate Mage Sword, Robe or Trinket of Doom that drops much more rarely. Despite being way down the list last raid I nearly got the Arcanist Robes 'points cheap' due to the hoarding brigade. The trouble is, the item your saving for may drop eventually, or The Dungeoneers may be sick of farming Molten Core and have moved on to Black Wing Lair before you even see it.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 26/06/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
When New Content Isn't New Content

The infamous patch 1.11, Shadows of the Necropolis, was released on the European servers last Wednesday, which sees a number of additions to the game, most notably the Mage and Shaman talent changes, the Scourge Invasion and, in line with the invasion, the addition of the massive new raid instance Nexxramas. This patch, along with a number of others I suspect, again highlights the difficulty Blizzard faces in pleasing a large, vocal and impatient audience for their product, who are all paying the same monthly fee to continue playing the game.

Content generally has to provide three things: something interesting to do, something challenging to do and something that allows the character to progress and improve. It's worth keeping in mind, that in the post-60 environment this means getting new equipment. Blizzard may be adding new content by definition, but this does not mean it's content for everyone, at least not yet.

Take the 40-man raid dungeon Nexxramas, this is a massive addition to the game. It has a ridiculous number of bosses, includes all sorts of new equipment to find, including a third tier of armour sets for each of the classes. You'd think this is a good thing? Well it is really. I don't see any problem with it and I like the idea that it's been added. The issue is though, it only caters to those who like 40-man raids, or those capable of organising and running 40-man raids, which isn't a large proportion of the Warcraft audience. A number of people have produced statistics to show it's actually less than a third of the audience. The reason for this is quite simple, the social structure capable of fostering the attitude and approach to challenge these instances, in a productive and fun manner, is quite rare. It takes a massive effort by an individual, or small group of individuals, to keep such a structure running and not breaking under its own weight. The Dungeoneers have increased their membership significantly, and its done amazingly well in making this transition, but the stories you hear about other guild regimes and personalities from the new influx is scary. It's not surprising that many people remain outside of a guild, or in a guild that is very small and not really capable of challenging the larger content. This not only removes the option of experiencing the content, it removes the option of using it to progress your character via the equipment held within.

As you would expect, Blizzard is making steps to provide new content for people who don't want to raid or can't raid. The problem is this content doesn't really satisfy the three criteria, as while it will ultimately progress the character to one degree or another through the acquisition of equipment, it's rarely interesting and it's quite often not that challenging. To be honest, it's largely just an investment of time, killing the same creatures repeatedly until you have the correct number of widgets and/or reputation to get your reward for being the good worker bee. In truth, it's like a basic diet, but instead of serving your basic eating needs, it serves to keep you occupied and little else. While this is new content by definition, I can well understand how it is not new content in terms of actually providing something interesting to do. As an example, I'm glad The Dungeoneers has done so well as a social structure within Warcraft, and that I really enjoy the raids, otherwise I'd be ranting and raving at the sorry ass excuse for new content. Yes, it's great that The Scourge are invading Azeroth, but it's great in the sense of getting into Nexxramas and taking down the main man, not in terms of killing the same undead endlessly to collect their bones. One is epic, challenging, interesting and has a sense of grandeur that makes you feel like a hero in Azeroth, the other is just donkey work.

So, look at it this way. I'm a player in World of Warcraft who enjoys raiding. I'm in one of the most successful guilds on the Silvermoon server in terms of longevity and social benefits, which allows me to raid in a fun and rewarding atmosphere. I am currently enjoying doing 40-man Molten Core, 20-man Zul'Gurub, the Onyxia quests and have Onyxia, Black Wing Lair, the 20-man and 40-man Ahn'Qiraj and Nexxramas to look forward to. In short, World of Warcraft, for me, has a wealth of content just sitting there for the taking and I have the mechanism, The Dungeoneers, to grab it by the balls and wrestle it into submission and have fun doing it. The only limit is time.

Now, look at the player who doesn't have time to raid or doesn't like raiding, and many don't, even some in The Dungeoneers choose not to do it. He's a bit like me and doesn't like PvP either, and we'll leave out the issue of competing in PvP with people wearing gear from the content he can't see or do. Does his future look as rosy? No it doesn't. What content has he got once he reaches 60 in the form of content that is interesting, challenging and provides some character progression? Well, in all honesty, his options are very limited. The only option he really has is to grind reputation which is boring, or go to Silithus and do the various grind quests there or take part in The Scourge invasion and do a similar form of grinding. He might also choose to do some of the fluff quests that pop into the game every so often around real world holidays. Despite getting a worse deal in terms of content, based on our interesting, challenging and character improvement criteria, he gets less character improvement along with it.

It's safe to say, his World of Warcraft game has changed significantly, and this is the crux of the problem, the way the game changes in the post-60 environment. Depending on what you want from the game, you can either weather that transition and have pretty much the same amount of content available as when you levelled, or suddenly find it all drying up. The irony is, for some of the people hitting this brick wall, it's not even about the character progression so much, but just having something new to see, to regain that pioneering spirit and sense of adventure that existed during the levelling process. They enjoyed questing and seeing new things, and then it ended.

Even if we accept that players exist who don't 'see' any of the grandeur and wonder within the setting and the story, and it's all about getting better equipment: why should they always suffer having characters who progress less because they can't or don't want to raid?

The answer, of course, is the expansion: The Burning Crusade. The Burning Crusade will return the game to how it was while levelling to 60, at least for a while. It will provide character improvements purely through gaining experience and levelling, and you'll gain this experience in exciting new environments and fantastic new 5-man and 10-man dungeons (which tend to be the limit for people not in guilds). Blizzard have also learned some lessons in terms of how they design the dungeons, making more of them like the Scarlet Monastery, which can be completed in sections, and including such concepts as 10-man raid bosses. How long this second honeymoon lasts for the people not being served by patch content will depend, as some will consume it all too quickly, but it will be a revival in the game for many people. The expansion will also have another affect, all the 20 and 40-man raid instances introduced in the game since it launched, out of reach of all these non-raiding people, may well fall into the reach of the non-raiding player via the virtue of needing less people to complete when all the players are level 70, or 'overpowering' them with a full level 70 compliment.

The trouble is, while each patch has released new content for the game at a surprising rate, the nature of some of this new content, raid instances aside, and the one additional 5-man dungeon, can be called into question. Essentially, not all new content is new content. It's certainly true that not all new content is new content for everyone, and it's certainly true that some people get a bum deal in terms of the content being interesting, challenging and providing real ways to progress their character.

In truth, some people are quite right to moan about the lack of content in my opinion. Some might say they should stop moaning, view the game as complete once they reached 60 and leave the game. The trouble is though, they want to return to the excitement and sense of adventure they had while levelling, or if more gear focused, the more equal playing field represented by that environment. The game they joined and paid the monthly fee to play. They also have social connections within the game they might want to keep. Them quitting isn't good for Blizzard either. As a result, stopping moaning and just quitting isn't good for anyone.

It's safe to say a lot rests on The Burning Crusade, but as with all things, for some, this will just be a brief, glorious interlude, before the new level 70 endgame begins, at which point Blizzard will have to pull some interesting new approaches out of the hat or face the same problem.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 25/06/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
Battlefield 2 Without Points
Keywords: Video Games.

A while back I was commenting on how the whole points system for Battlefield 2: Modern Combat seemed to work quite well, and fostered, engendered and supported a fast and dynamic style of play for the most part. It's not perfect, but as these systems go, it's pretty good. One of the ways to see if a points system within a game does anything, is to see how the game is played when the points are turned off.

Personally, I always play ranked games, as the perception is you'll have a lot less idiots in the game as non of them want to ruin their PPH (points per hour) score. Over the last couple of weekends we've had visitors though, and as a result of this someone else has been playing on the Xbox 360. I didn't want them lowering my PPH so they played un-ranked games all the time. The difference was immediately obvious.

The first thing I noticed is I lost connection with the server a lot. This never happens in ranked games, so I was left wondering if you get the same message on being kicked off the server as you do if you truly lose connection with the server? If this is so, the person using my Xbox 360 spent a lot of time getting kicked from servers even though he was doing nothing wrong. It's either that, or everyone running un-ranked games has unreliable systems.

You also get killed by your own side a lot. This happens for numerous reasons. The first reason is just people don't care about friendly fire as much. If someone is driving around in a vehicle and you are on the road in the way the chances are they will pursue their own selfish ends and just run you down on their way to wherever they are going. If you move in on a flag to help ensure the capture process goes successfully, even if you move in together as a duo, your team mate may just shoot you down like a dog to ensure he gets the maximum points from the capture (which is weird since he's in an un-ranked game). The more extreme thing you see, is people actually shooting down their own helicopters. This happens a lot at the helicopter spawn point. In the ranked games, people will occasionally send a few shots off in the helicopter's direction if someone takes off without any passengers or leaves someone behind. This usually results in a quick landing so the person can jump in. In an un-ranked game, if a person misses the helicopter and you don't fly away quick enough they'll literally shoot it down out of spite or so they can jump into the helicopter when it re spawns.

This again shows the positive effect the points system has, as it makes you want to play in a ranked game because you get a better gaming experience. It doesn't matter whether you are a great player, average or terrible (as the game matches you against people of a similar rank), you will get a better game when it is ranked. This is not always the case, as games have been ruined by these rewards systems, most notably by tying the points too closely to winning the game, rather than just performing well as an individual, and linking your score to getting things in the actual game.

So, this is just another way of saying Battlefield 2: Modern Combat should get even more kudos for designing an excellent player scoring system.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 24/06/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
Calling Farm Status

The Dungeoneers raid Molten Core on a weekly basis now, at the moment this means starting the raid on Friday, and then continuing through with raids on Saturday and Tuesday before the raid resets. Obviously, as time goes on, you hope to be able to complete Molten Core in one four hour raid. I suspect that tends to demand that the majority of the raid are equipped with Molten Core or better equipment, meaning by the time you can do it that quick the majority of you don't need to visit the place. The two raids at the tale end of this week represented perfectly how exciting and frustrating these raids can be.

In the first raid, on the Friday, we had set the target of downing four bosses so that we could concentrate on later targets on Saturday. This meant taking down Lucifron, Magmadar, Gehennas and Garr. Not only did we achieve that target we brazenly called farm status on all those bosses as each of them went down on the first attempt with minor deaths and with little stress. We even tackled Garr, despite it being only the second or third raid we'd took the challenge on, with only three Warlocks instead of four. He still went down easy. While some have proclaimed this due to the fact The Dungeoneers now have better equipment due to the earlier Molten Core raids, I don't believe the equipment is having such a massive affect yet, and it's more due to experience. As a result of the smooth nature of the raid the loot came freely, and the raid had an air of the casual raids the guild used to have before hitting the endgame raiding wall and Zul'Gurub.

The raid on Saturday was a totally different experience, though I suspect this was influenced by how well the first four bosses had gone. It's safe to say, after the raid on Saturday, that The Dungeoneers will not be calling farm status on Baron Geddon, Shazzrah or Sulfuron at the current time. I must admit though, after laying the smackdown on Sulfuron in the last raid cycle, I fully expected him to be given the farms status call on Saturday, but he seemed to throw us a bit despite the fight being simple in concept. As a result of these difficulties people got stressed, started to get a bit aggressive over the failures, finger pointing starts to sneak in and it all starts to go a bit postal. To be honest, it wasn't that bad, it's more the potential exists for things to get a bit too nasty, rather than it actually getting nasty. It's not so much the wiping that makes the raid less fun, but the reactions of everyone to it. At times, people need to step back, realise it's a game and move on. It is easy for me to say that though, as I'm enjoying the raids because I can turn up, be perfectly productive, without doing any preparation or farming for materials ahead of time, my repair bills are also quite small. I can generally only take one healing potion per fight and rarely need to drink one, and I have those, and I don't run out of mana on the boss fights, so my lack of mana potions or pots has never bothered me. The only thing I need to sort is a bit of levelling on my First Aid. This isn't the case for some, for one reason or another they farm like demons for potions and have much more costly repair bills which generates the need to farm for cash.

What is interesting is the skills that go into organising and running these 40-man raids. I used to often find myself defending my choice to go to science fiction conventions when I was younger, and while I've never been put in a position to defend my time playing World of Warcraft, I'm certainly prepared to. Even if you discount the whole issue of it being like any social club people may choose to take part in, the only difference being the venue is on-line, I'm also now willing to put forward the case that the game does foster the development of interesting skills. As an example, I don't think its totally by coincidence that the main person organising and running raids, at least in that stand up to be shot down sense, is a team leader at work. The whole process of motivating and consistently getting 40-people to work together, have a sense of discipline and attention to detail to pull off the tactics necessary for the boss fights is no small feat. It is a leadership position, and you generally have to earn that status to stop the raids descending into chaos and becoming something people don't enjoy, and ultimately breaks the guild. All the members of the raid develop skills though, relating to working with others, team building and how you have to rely on the efforts of others to succeed. While some of us have these skills in the guild already, it's amazing to see how mature some of the younger members of the guild are in this regard, and I'm talking under the age of 18. It's safe to say, having your son spend his Friday nights doing raids rather than going out to the pub or night clubs may not be the waste of effort some parents think it is. It's teaching them how to work in a team and how to communicate effectively and get their point a across in a mature group. Well, at least it is with The Dungeoneers, I can't vouch for the raiding experience with other guilds.

On a wider note, The Dungeoneers are increasingly becoming the guild to join on the Silvermoon server, a number of guilds have broken up or ejected members over the last three months ensuring The Dungeoneers are one of the largest, and certainly one of the oldest guilds on the Silvermoon server. The whole issue of being a guild that raids has been so successful that the guild is now closed to recruitment, which probably isn't what the many people who whisper guild members hoping to join want to hear.

It's a good time to be playing World of Warcraft, it feels pioneering again, exciting and new, with a sense of breaking a new frontier. A new frontier which can net you Epic items, which isn't all bad.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 18/06/2006 Bookmark and Share
 
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