It Don't Matter If You're Orc Or Dwarf

June 29, 2009

Tired of always being on the losing side in BGs? Has Blizzard got a microtransaction page for you!

We wanted to give everyone a very early heads-up that, in response to player requests, we’re developing a new service for World of Warcraft that will allow players to change their faction from Alliance to Horde or Horde to Alliance. There’s still much work to do and many details to iron out, but the basic idea is that players will be able to use the service to transform an existing character into a roughly equivalent character of the opposing faction on the same realm.

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Hyperbole In Game Theory Part 117

June 29, 2009

In today’s episode of “Hyperbole in Game Theory”, Gevlon the Goblin comes to a horrifying realization!

The success of the completely unfair, M&S [Gevlonese for “morons and idiots”, aka everyone not Gevlon] catering, always-nerfed WoW over Starcraft, EVE, Darkfall is the ultimate proof that most people are just too stupid for a free-market system.

Well, there you have it. But wait, the explanation? It’s better.

Commenters use to write “you must give welfare to the real world poor or they revolt”. I found it silly and used to handle it with “make sure the cops have enough ammo”. I meant it literally. My guess was that the RL M&S who are too skilless to do any jobs, are a little minority, like 10%. Let the cops handle them, they won’t be missed.

Not anymore.

The problem is not that the useless M&S would starve. They wouldn’t be missed.

The problem is that in the current level of education and the cultural value of learning, the useful/useless boundary is simply too high. You cannot discard 20-30% of the population and you cannot let other 40-50% live in low wages. They won’t accept it and they are just too many to handle by cops.

Yes, there’s so many casuals in World of Warcraft that we just can’t shoot them all.

And God knows, I’ve wanted to.

Tune in next week for “Hyperbole in Game Theory”, when Blizzard’s nerfing Death Knight tanking is held responsible for the collapse of Latvia’s currency.


Taking Theorycrafting To An Entirely New Level Of Nerdosity

June 26, 2009

Like Elitist Jerks? Now you can use their web browser!

(Hat tip: Wow.com)


Annyong HaseyWAAAUGH

June 3, 2009

Paul Barnett meets Korea, uses sweeping arm gestures.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71r5HiLa8bA

Note to Paul: “War is everywhere! AND SOON IT WILL BE IN KOREA!” may not be the best tag line this month. (Edit: Which is probably a good thing, then, that this was shot in January.)


Trust In The Light! (Unless It's Perky, Cute And Nerdy)

June 1, 2009
ferarro_belf.jpg

Don't I just REEK of moral clarity?

This just in: people lie on the Internet.

I know, really? We could just stop right there. This story has been told many times before, and the fact that I started this entry with the picture of a midriff-baring female elf paladin tells you all you need to know.

But if you want to know more – well, there is always more.

So the latest controversy roiling the Warcraftblogosphereofdramas is that of Paladin Schmaladin, prior to this week a popular blog-slash-reference for raiding paladins.

Paladin Schmaladin was written by Ferraro, who when not a world-class raiding paladin, is a QA tester for Blizzard. No really! Also… she interned at the CIA. NO, REALLY!

Also, this was her profile pic, on Blogger and WoW Insider:

2059397_64x64.jpg

Hi! I'm Ferraro!

…yeah. I know. I know. Amazingly, I know your world will be rocked to its core to find that all is not as it appears to be here.

First, after WoW Insider’s profile. Jagoex, another WoW blogger who writes about Warlocks, pointed out some similarities between Ferraro’s posted pictures and another perky cute blonde geek. Now, it’s entirely possible that Sarah Townsend, when not hitting up trade shows and microblogging and posting Flickr shots from parties raids in WoW. I mean, I believe in fairy tales. And warlocks are a bunch of filthy lying bloggers anyway. (Note: no laughing at my WoW Armory, plz. I don’t have time to be a hard core raider. Plus I’m not a cute blonde.) To quote Jagoex:

So what does all of this craziness mean, exactly?

Well, for starters, a bunch of love-struck boys are going to experience some heavy frustration when this comes to light, and we are bound to see some nerd rage soon. For bloggers like me, it is a little disheartening. Ferarro has basically been lying about her identity for years, and stealing someone else’s content and posting them as her own. She has taken advantage of another blogger and her reader’s trust, and that makes my job as a fellow blogger just that much harder.

On a WoW-related front, this mess also means that Ferarro isn’t a game tester for Blizzard. The “game-testing” images that were posted on Paladin Schmaladin were relabeled TechDarling images that were taken at a blogging expo.

>I gotta admit, just thinking about this gets me a little angry, and my mind is going crazy with a series of difficult questions: what drives a person to do this kind of thing? Why would anyone lead people on like that? And for what means? And do you know what the worst part about this whole thing is? Paladin Schmaladin was a great resource and excellent WoW blog that a lot of people enjoyed and depended on. Why it needed to be masked by someone else’s pretty face is beyond me, really. If you don’t like the way you look or want some privacy, don’t post a picture. End of story.

The word you’re looking for here: busted.

td.jpg

Hi! I'm NOT Ferraro.

But of course, it’s entirely possible that Sarah Townsend, when not hitting up trade shows and microblogging and posting Flickr shots from parties raids in WoW. Or… OK, maybe not.

UGH-some creep on WoW named Ferraro has been using my photos?

Well, that’s that, then! Ferraro’s first response was to hide her entire blog, with a note on her soon-to-be-deleted Twitter feed that “stalkers are cool”. Her Paladin character disappeared as well, most likely due to a server transfer.

Then, a short time later, Paladin Schmaladin was updated with a mea culpa of sorts. You see, there were many Ferraros. Many, many Ferraros.

Ever wonder why her voice in the podcast “interview,” her Ninja Rap, and her Mods and Addons Tutorial post sounded nothing alike? Different Ferraros.

Ever wondered how she suddenly started working for Blizzard out of the blue? That’s ’cause I actually do, and when I took over this this blog, it was the perfect avenue for me to share insider information while remaining safe behind a 5-year-old moniker.

For those of you who spoke with a Ferraro in Vent, did her voice change one time? It was a different girl.

Have you sat back and saw this blog’s writing style differ over the years? Now you know why (the 4th Ferraro was particularly ah, emotional).

How did she have an internship at the CIA, as well? Also a different Ferraro.

Think about it: Could anyone really level all those different Paladins of different races and factions and raid in different guilds on different servers and get them all to end-game status? Obviously not.

And if Ferraro didn’t get on Vent during your raid, it was likely when one of the guy “Ferraros” were in charge. Or it was during an author switch.

Each were world-class Paladins and experts at the game – just completely different people at one time or another.

Well, that clears it all up, doesn’t it? I mean it’s just an innocent case of, um, account sharing and appealing to multiple nerdy desires of most of WoW’s userbase simultaneously (OMG I AM TOTALLY RAIDING WITH A HOT JACK BAUER). Yeah. From Ferraro’s latest post:

I’m not even sure the original Ferraro keeps track of this blog anymore, and no one’s reached her yet (although she’ll probably hear about this by week’s end). Maybe she knew Sarah Townsend? I dunno. Probably not. The original Ferraro is actually very attractive though, so maybe she just chose it to… hide behind… while still… being… pretty? I don’t know. I’m just assuming. But the first Ferraro had a problem with stalkers. *shrug*

And from Ferraro’s interview a week ago:

Ah, the pictures: the double-edged sword. It’s funny: if I post my picture next to articles — you know, the way millions of other authors do in magazines, newspapers and blogs around the world — some people yell and scream that I’m an attention whore. But then if I take down anything that has to do with me as a person, like pictures or personal posts, then I’m hiding from the trolls and not being myself and get mocked for being weak. There’s really no way to make everyone okay with it unless I magically morphed into a guy — in which case no one would mind if I posted pictures, humorously enough.

I think it’s unfortunate all the hurdles female players so often have to jump through just to be accepted in this game by its male counterparts, let alone be accepted as one who excels at it. So I stopped playing by the hypocritical rules and adopted the saying, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter won’t mind,” and haven’t looked back. I’m just going to be myself and post and say what I want, and if you don’t like what I write, then just close the window or scroll up. I’m gonna be me no matter what.

I’m sure the actual women who play WoW and post entries to the Internet and occasionally are fairly attractive really, really wish Ferraro was “gonna be me no matter what” right about now. Because this is a classic, almost pristine example of attention-whoring, down to the breathless “inside the velvet rope” references whispered from almost every paragraph of Ferraro’s interview…

To put it simply, I do internal testing with Blizz (not “for” — there’s a big difference). I think I’m treading on thin ice saying this, but I essentially raid with a team in one room. We pull up numbers, discuss things and make hefty reports and send them to … ah, “important” people. I think that’s all I can say without heat coming down on me.

(I would be very, very surprised if Blizzard actually did this, considering that it would be far easier to simply collect metrics and observe actual raids in progress on live servers. Without the overhead of paying people who then promptly give interviews to WoW Insider.)

I moved from Virginia to Southern California a few years ago, so I’ve made friends from coast to coast with people who have played this game (no, nothing romantic). I’ve gone to the beach with a guild I was in, went to a server BBQ, and met a bunch of fans at last year’s Blizzcon. You do have to be careful when you meet up with people, though (there’s no bubble-hearthing in the real world), so I almost always bring a couple friends with me.

“Hi, I’m totally available from afar, but also very, very cool. You better step up your game, scrub!”

So where does this all end? Probably with the player formerly known as Ferraro starting a new blog shortly. WoW Insider, no doubt embarrassed as hell for not spotting the Twelve Danger Signs Of The Drama Queen, posted a handy recap which also disclosed via the magic of IP tracking that Ferraro’s mea culpa isn’t all that culpa.

We’ve investigated, and have determined based on IP address records of comments left by Ferarro on WoW.com between July of 2008 and May of 2009 that the comments all came from the same small subnet of IPs, and are all geographically very local to one another. This means that unless “Ferarro #1” through “Ferarro #7” live within a few miles of each other, they’re the same person.

So, someone who made an Internet reputation based largely on lying… lied. Imagine that. From Ferraro:

How do we know all of this isn’t a lie? That would be akin to coming clean and admitting to stealing a car, then robbing a bank, murdering policemen and civilians, and taking off with millions of dollars… and then in court swearing you had your seat belt on. Lying is kinda moot at this point.

Honestly, if anything it probably would be easier to say, “Yup, that was all me. My bad. Anyway, moving on…” But I figure since we’re coming clean, it might as well be in total.

You’d think. Then again, habits can be hard to break, and plenty of posters really want to believe that there is, out there, their dream of an attractive blood elf being paid to raid.

Really, a good dose of misanthropy is the best palette cleanser for this whole sad sordid tale. Gevlon the Greedy Goblin is here to save the day! (But surely, not out of altruism, that would be an ape subroutine or something.)

Don’t trust in people. Trust in facts, systems, maybe even ideas. And just because you meet someone often (or read him often) don’t think you know him! You don’t. When something comes up that does not fit into your picture, it’s not his fault to disappoint you. It’s your fault to have expectations from him.

In that vein, I have a confession to make: I actually am a sultry draenei woman who works for the FSB. Sorry, but it seemed best to come clean. I know, everyone was comfortable with the thought of my being an overweight forty-something game designer, but I’m gonna be me no matter what now.

secretidentity

Hi, boys!


The Unbearable Lightness Of Stranglethorn Vale

May 18, 2009

Richard Bartle explains in great detail exactly what goes through an MMO designer’s mind when playing one of the more painful zones in WoW. Except he rather likes it, see.

So, my view is a bit different. As I noted, I actually see Stranglethorn Vale (STV) as one of Blizzard’s less well designed zones. To wit:

  • It’s too large, and until very recently there was no easy way to move from one end of the zone to the other. While ideally, as Bartle noticed, there is a slow progression from one end of the zone to the other, realistically players will not play through the entire zone in one sitting. This is especially annoying for Alliance players – they have a small NPC hub, without a “innkeeper” resting area, in the northern end of the zone, while Horde players have a more central location, with an innkeeper, to work from. This is really the largest problem with the zone – it’s just too large. And because it’s too large, it keeps you there far too long. What may have given you a sense of place and wonder at level 30, to put it mildly, no longer does by level 45. (Another zone, Dustwallow Marsh, was recently revamped specifically to give players a place to escape to during that level range.)
  • The quest design relies far too much on “kill 10 of these. OK, kill 10 of these! OK, hey, kill 15 of these.” Yes, that’s inherently what WoW (or any Dikumud PVE) game play is. But those sorts of concentrated kill quests, while gravy to powergamers looking for the easiest way to leverage the mindless button pressing that destroys them of everything that makes them human, really highlight the artificiality of the enterprise. And that’s what most WoW quest design manages to hide very well. You’re not just killing 10 wolves, you’re saving a troll village from starvation or whatnot. Sure, it’s just a storytelling veneer, but it’s important veneer. It also helps break up the inherent tedium involved in “kill 10 of this, fetch 5 of that” questing. And because WoW is usually so good at this smoke-and-mirror hand waving style of quest-driven storytelling, when it breaks down, it’s notable. And STV is an excellent example of where this breaks down.
  • Hitting more on the specifics of faulty quest design as opposed to the content, STV is where players begin to be punished in earnest by poorly thought out world design. When you have too many players hunting the same thing in the same area, you either encourage cooperation or competition. However, WoW by its very nature as a solo-friendly MMO rabidly discourages cooperation (at least until it’s hit forcibly over your head when you switch to end-game raiding), so very few people actually think “Hmm – we’re all hunting for 10 panthers, we should group up and kill them together!”. Instead, they think “Hmm, we’re all hunting for 10 panthers, I BETTER TAG THEM FIRST!”. Other poorly thought out mechanics include the “Green Hills of Stranglethorn” mega-collection quest (which the author himself is on record as regretting as “the worst quest in WoW”) which usually serves as a focus of inventory-related frustration for the intended new player audience and as powergaming grist for those already familiar with the zone, and some quests with an insanely low drop rate for quest-related drops that, again, encourage frustration over fun.

So, that’s generally what I think of when I remember that zone – long, tedious, lots of panthers, and an abiding hatred for Hemet Nesingwary. A hatred, by the way, which Blizzard gave a knowing wink to in Northrend – after Nagarand, aka STV 2.0, reuses the kill-20-panthers quest design yet again to even more wretched excess – when you can actually start killing off Hemet’s buddies. Generally, if a well-regarded part of your content involves killing off a quest giver, that may be a sign people didn’t like those quests.

A lot of what Bartle writes on STV is interesting, especially as it relates to its quest design. He definitely comes at looking at STV from a different angle than I do. Specifically:

    Well no, because these quests are stepped: the levels appropriate for the tiger mastery steps are 31, 33, 35, 37; for the panther mastery steps they’re 31, 33, 38, 40; for the raptor mastery steps they’re 34, 36, 41, 43. The final boss is also 43, but elite (so "bring friends"). This interleaving allows for variety, and it despatches the players off to various different parts of STV where the target creatures lie, thereby causing happy interactions with other quests relating to areas they pass through. However, even though this is very well done, it’s basically just well-accomplished craftsmanship. No, what we also have here is some actual art.

    The stepped nature of these hunting quests mean that whatever level you first encounter the Nesingwary camp in STV, there’s going to be a quest of an appropriate level for you. It’s like a net, spread wide to catch players.

     

    Well, no. Thanks to how WoW quest chain dependencies work, you actually have to start at the beginning no matter what your level, and work your way through the chain. It would be awfully nice if the quest givers did actually recognize that, yes, thanks to being Level Awesome you can dispense with the Somewhat Mighty Junglecat slaying and move straight on to the Fiercely Mighty Junglecat part of the quest. (Which Warhammer Online also tried to implement, by the way.) At least, it would be if you were playing the game as designed. Players, who are playing the game to win much of the time, would then resent the loss of experience and faction and gold and everything else, and hammer away at the lower level quests despite their being level-inappropriate, because they don’t want to lose any rewards due them at all. (The fact that they will then kvetch about that content being tedious is entirely beside the point.)

Bartle’s primary point, to move away from nitpicking semantics, however, is that the entire Hemet Nesingwary saga is an artful storytelling device which funnels you through the wonder of the jungle, forcing you to ask if you were predator or prey, as you travel down a road which mirrors your character’s growth and confidence. And as designed, the core of STV – which can easily be a metaphor for WoW’s character development model itself – does indeed work that way. Proper game design (at least as one cynical wag put it) doesn’t present you with a complex challenge, but tricks you into believing you’ve conquered a complex challenge. And in WoW, that “complex challenge” is the investment of time. Invest enough time in STV – or WoW itself – and you will eventually win. That’s its inherent promise, and to a large degree the polish in which that promise has been delivered is why WoW is so incredibly popular, even years after its release.

And yet, even with that well-executed promise, there are problems along the way. Server queues. Lack of meaningful social gameplay. Class imbalance. Lack of meaningful PvP. Same old diku, different day. And STV mirrors that as well – even with all of WoW’s promise, and even with STV’s world design and immersive environment, there are times when it falls flat on its face.

And so we have Dustwallow Marsh. Which is everything STV isn’t – a hub-spoke model of world design, less immersive world crafting, more attention to detail and interesting quest mechanics. And with a game and community the size of WoW’s, this is really the solution to STV’s problems – simply create so many options that everyone can be happily grinding their way to virtu
al nirvana.


I Hate WoW Achievements

May 2, 2009

As the title says, I hate WoW achievements.

Why?

Because I enjoy PvP in WoW. Specifically, in battlegrounds. Yes, I’m sure that’s not hardcore enough for you leet gank groups that cut your teeth on the blood of the damned in Darkfall or blow up Titans in Eve with your tackler or whatever. I enjoy killing things, and WoW lets me do that and rewards me with points so I can buy new pants. It’s a win-win, usually.

I can’t play this week. Why? Because Blizzard’s version of Children’s Week this week has, as a quest to unlock an achievement, capping flags in several popular battlegrounds.

Note: in a given game of Warsong Gulch or Arathi Basin, not everyone caps a flag. That’s not how the game is designed. It’s designed to be played as a cooperative team endeavor. In fact, everyone can’t cap a flag because only one person can at a time. And don’t even get me started about Eye of the Storm, because (a) the flag is in one spot where you are basically turned to paste anyway and (b) I play Alliance, and Alliance are never allowed to win Eye of the Storm. It’s in the rules. But hey! Someone thought it would be a brilliant idea to make an achievement for taking your little orphan sprog out to the battlegrounds, and spent about 3 minutes writing it up. Awesome.

Which means, currently, battlegrounds in WoW currently consist of nothing but achievement hustlers, frantically trying to unlock the achievement in the one week open to them before next year so they can get their purple pulsating flying manhood compensator (the flying mount, the fastest in the game, that you get for unlocking all the event-based achievements) trying desperately to outclick other players in clicking a flag, regardless of what actually is going on around him. Or, even worse, the achievement for Warsong Gulch where you have to return a dropped flag. Which results in entire teams camped around their flag in the hope that one foolhardy opponent actually tries to play the game as intended.

This is monumentally retarded, and here’s why.

  • You don’t force people into PvP who don’t enjoy it. My god, this is basic MMO Design 101. Blizzard usually plays in the big leagues, and then goes and makes a junior varsity mistake like this that makes me wonder if the adult designers went on holiday this month. PvP is an entirely different playstyle. You incentivize it, you reward it, you don’t make it a requirement, and you especially don’t make it a requirement for achievement playstyles who are collecting achievements instead of, you know, doing PvP.
  • You don’t make single player achievements that screw over other players. I literally wonder if the designer who made this achievement ever set foot in a battleground, so disruptive is it to gameplay. This incentivizes players – who, thanks to the point above, are there even though they have no interest in the actual gameplay – to screw over their teammates and be the first to win the CLICK CLICK CLICKY contest to unlock their precious little dingy achievement unlocked window so they can stop trying to screw over their presumptive allies and go back to doing what they enjoy. This is not good design. This is not even bad design. This is incompetent design. Anything that rewards players for pissing off other players is incompetent design.

I know. It’s only for a week. At least they didn’t include my favorite BG (though it seems awfully hard to queue for lately!) I should stop being a whiny …whatever the insult is for someone who just wants to kill people and right now wants nothing more than to kill his own presumptive allies (and lest we forget – I play Alliance. I *already* have a burning, unslaked desire to kill night elves) because Blizzard decided it’d be funny to direct the locust swarm of achievement whores through the wilds of PvP.

Just in case you think I’m being a whiny baby? Here’s what noted rantsite WoW Insider had to say:

Nightmare.

This…is not going to be a lot of fun.

School of Hard Knocks requires you to enter the four pre-Wrath battlegrounds and capture/return flags or assault nodes with your orphan out. It may sound simple, but think about the length and frustration factor of the average pugged battleground, and then think about the length and frustration factor of a pugged battleground where your own team’s sole concern is beating everyone else to an individual achievement.

This is going to work in one of two ways: either you get these achievements for being close to a captured/returned flag or a captured node, or you have to do it yourself. If it’s the former, then this achievement is suddenly a lot less nightmarish. (Editor’s note: it’s not. You have to be the one to return/cap the flag.) If it’s the latter…I really don’t know what to tell you that might help. Your best bet is to try to organize a premade (if your guild isn’t doing one already), rotate people into flag and node captures, and hope everyone sticks around long enough for everyone to get their achievements done, although this is obviously going to be a tall order by the time you hit the 40-man AV.

I’m looking forward (well, not really) to seeing a series of Warsong Gulches where no one plays offense, Arathi Basins where no one plays defense, Alterac Valleys where no one plays defense, and EOTS where the entire game is a writhing, howling mass of players clustered around the center trying to be the first to click the flag. Oh, and to make things even better, with the huge decline in arena participation and the relative ease of raiding, few players at 80 have serious resilience gear, making it easy for burst DPS on the opposing team to annihilate people in the run for a flag or node.

I return to my previous statement; nightmare.

Hey! Blizzard! Why not for next month’s event? Make an achievement that requires you to get an arena rating of 2000! That’ll be a hoot!

I hate WoW achievements. I want my game back, goddamit.