Oct 042010

I’ve been spending some time playing LOTRO, now that it’s gone F2P…and it’s really got some interesting things in it. Game-design wise, it feels quite a bit like Classic WOW, which has both its good and bad points. (Much of this is from reading, not necessarily from personal experience.)


  • Skirmishes are AWESOME. Imagine the Dungeon Finder. Now, take away the PUG matching capability, but allow it to scale instances to a selected group size, from Solo to Raid(which is 12 in LOTRO) and difficulty level. Furthermore, have it give you a semi-controllable pet that can be “traited” (talented) to do melee/ranged DPS, tank, or heal.
  • Epic quest line, that follows a consistent story from lvl 1-65, which loosely tracks the books. The first volume (up to lvl 55 or so) is now fully soloable; you get a buff if attempting the group instances by yourself.
  • Much less cookie-cutterism; lots of debate over which traits/trait lines are superior.
  • It’s F2P, and very generous F2P at that.
  • The server community is much better…individually, players are probably less informed then their WoW counterparts, but much nicer.
  • Player housing (not that I have a house yet…been alting)


  • Raiding is very reminiscent of classic WoW. A good bit of grinding is required to maximize your character. (LOTRO has “Deeds” which are analogous to WoW’s achievements…except many Deeds on completion give you a point to a “Virtue,” which is similar to a WoW talent point.) Raid composition requirements are pretty strict. Few challenges for hardcore raiders, from my limited reading.
  • Virtually no addons. A few are in development, now that Turbine has just allowed addon functionality, but again, very Classic WoW-like. I’d forgotten how much I hate icons and the fun of looking for a specific one through several bags.
  • Only one faction (you can play as the monsters and do PvP, but only in a specific zone).
  • No Wowhead. :(

I’ve enjoyed it enough that I’ve purchased the game and its first expansion, and will keep playing until my VIP time from those purchases runs out (which should be sometime in November, conveniently close to Cata’s release date.) :) If anyone’s curious, I’ll be happy to answer any questions or help out in-game as much as I can. (Alarron/Alarric on the Elendilmir server)

Oh, what class? Captain, of course.

 Posted by at 4:30 pm
Sep 252010

Ferals, that is. I’ve been following the new feral talents and builds closely via EJ and MMOC, and things still look pretty broken. (I’ll let nice guys like Kal be the guinea pigs and deal with the issues.) From what little I can see, it looks like cats are going to be okay, once they can get the scaling numbers worked out. Quick thoughts (this is just me speculating, mostly, don’t take it as gospel)

  • The removal of ArPen and Feral AP will make bleeds once again the primary source of our damage for initial content. However, since bleeds will not scale with haste, it remains to be seen whether that will stay that way.
  • Rotations will definitely take some getting used to…crit levels are going to be VERY low to start, so cp generation will be slow; however, timers are looser, and losing SR isn’t as much of a DPS killer as it used to be.
  • The new line between “good feral DPS” and “great feral DPS” is going to revolve around tailoring our rotation to required fight movement, and properly rationing cp’s. Energy management will not be as critical as it used to be.
  • The new Stampede is now a DPS cooldown of sorts, as well.
  • Our biggest challenge will be not the content itself, but managing fellow raider / 5-man expectations to start.

Two months ago, I was working hard on Loremaster…now, I can’t find the motivation to resub and finish it pre-Cata. I guess my Achiever personality does have a limit.

 Posted by at 12:47 am
Sep 162010

I commented on this (a bit) in my last post, but I wanted to toss out some further thoughts from an old post draft I had.

Difficulty Choice

Is WOW too hard or too easy? Well, it depends on your skill level. Skilled players get frustrated with “easy,” because it’s boring. Less-skilled players get frustrated with “normal” or “hard,” because they aren’t having any success. This is obvious. Of course, difficulty levels in multiplayer co-operative games like WoW get much more complicated, because there are SEVERAL different types of skill for the developers to test, such as:

  • Theorycraft Skill: can a player analyze and determine the best ability usage/gear selection for their class/role?
  • Time Skill: can a player invest enough time to acquire all the resources needed for optimum performance?
  • Arcade Skill: can a player implement their desired theorycraft in an encounter, while still following the encounter’s other rules? Can they manage scarce resources (mana/energy/rage/RP) successfully?
  • Reaction Skill: can a player interpret and react to changing conditions?
  • Recruitment Skill: can a player recruit enough players with similar skill to create a team, can he/she adjust that team as determined by assessment of the fight, and can he/she keep everyone happy?
  • Leadership Skill: can a player assess others (and himself) to determine improvement, and communicate that in a respectful way?

History of WoW Difficulty (skip down to the bottom if you don’t want to read some background)

With all of these factors in play, WoW’s designers were initially very hesitant to provide any type of “user-selectable” difficulty levels. The general idea was that the difficulty of the content would increase with progression, so that players could only complete content up to the limit of their skills. Looking at BC, this meant that your top 90% of guilds could complete Karazhan, top 50% could complete Gruul’s/Mags (going from 10man raids to 25man raids lost a lot), top 30% could complete SSC/TK, top 10% could complete MH/BT (and “finish” the expansion) and maybe 5% would finish Sunwell (the “second” ending.) Obviously, this pissed a lot of people off who liked raiding but weren’t good enough to finish the content. (Of course, it was never them, it was their guild/schedule/something holding them back.)

BC also introduced “heroic modes,” for 5-mans only. While this was billed as a user-selectable difficulty choice, it was something that had to be unlocked (typically by multiple runthroughs of the normal 5-man). This created a progression path: run all the normal 5-mans for experience and rep; run them again on heroic difficulty for the better gear; then start your raiding. Essentially, this made it not a choice at all; normal mode was a prerequisite, that once completed, was generally never returned to.

Patch 3.0: Achievements

WOTLK introduced the “new model” of raiding. Every raid was available in a 10man or 25man flavor. Content became generally easier to complete, but an optional set of tougher conditions was added, that if satisfied, provided the player or group with a reward. In most cases, the reward was not game-affecting (achievement points, tabards, mounts), with the exception of one encounter, Sartharion. “Sarth3D,” as it was typically known, provided the group with extra, higher-level gear (that boosted player performance) for approaching the fight in a more difficult manner; players could engage Sartharion’s three lieutenants individually for an easier fight, or with Sartharion for a harder fight.  As far as I’m aware, this was the first implementation of user-selectable difficulty in a raid. Blizzard had taken a few stabs at the idea before, but those challenges (DM tribute runs, ZA bear runs) were typically based around creating difficulty by decreasing time.

5-man instances also changed; there was still the normal/”heroic” split, but heroics were now free to enter at lvl 80, with no prerequisites. While this made selecting difficulty more of a choice, normal modes were generally ignored for maximum-level players due to the unsuitability of the gear (half of the normal WOTLK instances available at 80 grant rewards less powerful than that available from completing solo quest lines). Normal/Heroic really meant “introduction” and “normal.” (Well, excepting Oculus…which Blizzard changed after everyone complained.)

Patch 3.1: The Heroic Choice

When Ulduar came out, Blizz took its first baby steps towards standardizing selectable difficulty levels, by making most encounters in Ulduar similar to Sarth3D. You could simply kill the boss, receive the regular rewards, and continue, or you could kill the boss a certain, harder way, receive better awards, and get a bit more lore and story. Ulduar was difficulty done right. The very first boss had five difficulty modes; the easiest so easy that you could complete it without knowing any of the mechanics of the encounter; the hardest so hard that it was ranked as one of the toughest fights in the game. Each successive step up the difficulty scale added challenge, but also more/better gear drops. Finally, the choice was available immediately; no “unlocking” required. The best part was the “hidden” questline, that required defeating several bosses on “hard” mode in order to open a secret, final boss. Players interested in content and story got to see 95% of the storyline by completing the instance normally; players interested in full completion (and better gear) sweated through the hard modes.

Unfortunately, Blizzard didn’t agree. Setting the difficulty level involved a different process for each boss; what many players found “immersive,” Blizzard felt was “confusing to new players.” The trigger-based model of hard modes was scrapped, and vast changes were in store for Patch 3.2.

Patch 3.2: Redefining Badges, Heroic Means Something

The controversial 3.2 patch not only began the gigantic gear inflation currently found in the game today (via the obsoleting of lower-tier badges), it also completely redefined the nature of how Blizzard defined difficulty levels. Up to this point, the game UI referred to 10-man modes as “normal” and 25-man modes as “heroic,” even though they were supposed to be equivalent. Taking their cues from the design (which usually featured harder challenges and better gear in 25-man), most players had the same opinion as they did for 5-mans, seeing 10-man as “introduction” and 25-man as “normal.” 3.2 explicitly redefined Trial of the Crusader (the new raid content) into 4 different modes, 10/25 normal/heroic. Each mode was separate, meaning a raider could (and frequently did) clear TOC 4 times a week. This led to quite a bit of raider burnout, as many felt “raiding less” was not an option. (Can’t let your guildmates down, etc. Bah. If Gevlon’s taught me anything, it’s that raiding is based on skill, not gear). The choice was somewhat academic, though, as the heroic mode could only be unlocked by completing normal once.(Which, like heroics, meant that once the harder mode was available, there was no reason to go back to easy mode, excepting grinding for badges.) Of course, this hard mode wasn’t available until over a month past the release of TOC, since Blizzard decided to tightly restrict player’s initial progression.

Patch 3.3: Scaling ICC, Dungeon Findering

3.3 introduced the expansion’s final raid, Icecrown Citadel, and introduced a new time-scaled difficulty mechanic. On release, players fought in ICC at their normal power. As time progressed and their faction “gained ground” in ICC, they received a stacking buff that essentially made fights easier. This added another scaling factor concurrent with others (better gear, better experience with fights) that made the content much more accessible for all levels. Lesser-skilled players or latecomers can now challenge the Lich King with a 30% increase in character power, which markedly reduces the amount of time they need to spend on the other curves (gearing, gaining experience/skill). Generally, I think this is a good thing for the game. Unfortunately, on the tougher end of the spectrum, things were still tightly controlled. Content was tightly gated (the final bosses were not available for almost two months after ICC was first released) and heroic mode was locked until normal was completed.

The Future?

Well, now that you’ve sat through a tiresome rehash of raiding history, what’s my point? I think Blizzard has done a great job throughout the expansion of opening up raiding (the core WoW activity, though certainly not the only one) and making it more accessible to the masses. Unfortunately, the other end of the spectrum (the skilled players) has suffered. Gated content and a forced progression path bore skilled raiders until they hit content that matches their difficulty level.

(Yes, world’s smallest violin, I know. Hear me out.) Obviously, it makes good business sense for Blizzard to cater to the majority of their playerbase. However, the serious players are the ones who create the value-added services that the regular players use. All the blogs, strategy websites, item databases, addons, etc. are created by players who are deeply involved in the game. Too much simplicity will eventually drive them away. We don’t want to make WoW into FFXI, but we also don’t want Farmville. Here’s a few easy-to-implement suggestions:

  • Make heroic mode an actual CHOICE. Screw this “have to finish on normal first” crap. Make normal mode start out moderate-to-hard, which eventually turns into easy-to-moderate as some combination of better gear + more skill + scaling buff comes into play. (ICC is a good example of this.) Make heroic mode  start out “OMFG WTF hard” and end it moderate-to-hard, as you’re releasing the next tier. The hardcore players can start out on heroic and have “fun” wiping 50 times on the first boss, while everyone else proceeds as a regular pace. Of course, if you do this, you’ll run into the problem that many players will want to do heroic before they should. Here’s how you thin that out: Don’t incentivize heroic mode with gear a tier higher then normal mode. (Put down the torches.) Think of all the benefits from a design perspective. Players will only do heroic mode because they want it to be HARDER, not because they want better stuff. Most players will still with normal; and that’s fine, that’s why it’s NORMAL. Want to incentivize heroic? How bouth this: bosses drop EVERY item in their loot table. And theirs glow, or sparkle, or have spikes, or have something that clearly sets them apart, for a while. (And give an achievement, of course.) This lets players and raidleaders make a tactical choice (remember, that’s what we like doing). Try the heroic mode to gear up the guild FAST and look cool, or stick with normal and what you know will work.
  • Kill the forced gating, and just make it clear that the bosses on heroic will start out incredibly hard (think YS Zero-Light or HLK). Obviously, you want to scale it down eventually (or scale players up, like ICC) but make it at least possible to do.
  • Introduce new challenges as part of the new Guild UI. We’ve had timed achievements…why not build in a timer that starts when “instance door x is opened”  and ends when the instance is clear? Publish the times via Armory, and give progression guilds another things to compete over. It could definitely increase the longevity of older content. (Let’s split our 25-man raid into two teams and clear two Naxx wings simultaneously! Possible? Dunno. Fun? Oh yeah.)

Of course, I’m not a Blizzard designer, so this will never happen…but it’s nice to dream, isn’t it? Post your thoughts in the comments.

Sep 062010

Several people have wondered where I’ve gone, and I now have the opportunity to set the record straight. (Personal details to follow; skip if that’s not your thing.)

In my previous post, I had said that my wife had taken a bad fall. This was true…however, I left out a key element of the story. When she fell, I was raiding with my headset on, and I couldn’t hear her calling for help from the other end of the house. While she did eventually get my attention, it led to a serious, angry discussion about how WoW was dominating my life and the need for some drastic changes. During the discussion, she pointed out how I’d compromised on my sleep repeatedly, I’d lied to her about what I was doing to play WoW, and how (most importantly) I’d tried to rush our son to bed on raid nights so I wouldn’t miss the raid start time and be benched.

She asked me to quit, and after some more discussion, I agreed to quit for a month, and see how my perspective changed. No WoW, no WoW blogs, no WoW forums, nothing. I cancelled my account the next day, and have not played since (though I think I did log in once, before having a crisis of conscience and logging back out). My account expired some time ago, and I have not renewed. (Interestingly, I get 3x more phishing attempts now for my WoW account password than I used to.)

Now, looking back, I am absolutely disgusted at my behavior. Yes, I loved WoW (the minmaxing, analysis and discussion, really, more than the playing part of it), but that doesn’t excuse me one bit. I can’t believe my wife put up with it for as long as she did. Quitting WoW, however, has made my wife and I much closer; I’ve spent much of the time that I used to devote to WoW with her, and our relationship has improved markedly. (Not to mention, my son is still the coolest little guy ever, and I feel terribly guilty about how I put a game before his welfare. He’s two now, and he’ll come in my office/computer room, grab my arm, and say “Daddy…up…play?” Hard to resist that.)

I’ve realized that I am incredibly good at rationalizing my addictive behavior…after all, I didn’t PLAY WoW much, but I had 50+ WoW blogs that I was current on, I wrote guides for this blog, I analyzed WOL reports for my guild, I watched fight videos on Tankspot, I read boss strategies on BossKillers, etc. I also realized that I felt “entitled” to play WoW because I worked all day and made the money for our family…and as any working parent can tell you, when things are rough, there just isn’t enough time at the end of the day to fit in spouse time, kid time, chores, and me time, at least not realistically.

After a month of perspective of being away from the game, here’s my thoughts on a few things:

  • “Farming” for gear (random drops from instances/raids) is stupid, and it makes me angry to think how much time I wasted on repetitive content. WOTLK, currently, has 16 5-man instances. According to PUG Checker, I’ve completed 268 heroic 5-man runs. (If you count in normal runs, bugs in counting (DTK) and failed runs, I’m sure the number is over 300.) That’s 15+ runs per instance. Let’s say you can do an instance 3 times before it becomes boring…that’s about 50 hours worth of 5-man content in WOTLK. I’ve spent 200+ hours, easily.) I understand Blizzard needs to design timesinks into the game. I get that. Badges are a better way of doing that then relying solely on random drops, so this is improving, but some of the key items for improving your character (weapons, some trinkets) are only available via random drop.
  • Obsessively gear minmaxing is a huge waste of time. It’s one thing if you’re in a guild with high expectations that everyone lives up to (I hate the term “hardcore,” too many negative connotations), but if you’re in the 95% of guilds that don’t, then you’re compensating for someone else’s inability to play well, and that’s not fun after a while. For that matter, most of the fights in WOTLK were execution-based, not gear-based (excepting heroic modes, which I’ll discuss in a second), which defeats the purpose. What do I mean by obsessive? How about farming Sons of Hodir rep (in 3.0, before all the changes to make it easier) where you needed something like 1000 Emblems that sold for 3-5g apiece, or to do 5-7 SOH daily quests every day for 20+ days, to get an enchant that boosted your DPS/tanking/healing by less than 1%?
  • On that note, the daily quest thing also sucks. I HATE that WOTLK essentially says “if you’re not logging on every day to do your daily quests, you’re going to fall behind.” My understanding is that Cataclysm will go to a weekly model, which will be much better. Also, 10 OR 25 instead of 10 AND 25…awesome.
  • Heroic mode raids. I’m still conflicted in how I feel about these…obviously, perspectives vary based on guild skill and personal tolerance. I burned out badly on ICC near the end, but that was due to both it being the last raid of the expansion (why gear up if everything will be replaced?), and a guild raid atmosphere that I felt did not present constructive criticism (though this may be the ex-raidleader in me talking…it’s hard to give up that control).

So where do I go from here?

I’m not permanently done with WoW, I don’t think. It is still one of the most enjoyable and accessible games I’ve played, even if the public community can be noxious at times. Unfortunately, my orders have been changed; I will now, most likely, be heading to a unit that is deploying next spring. As such, I’m going casual. I’ll pick up Cataclysm when it releases, and I’ll have fun with the new content, but I’ll have much less tolerance for timesinks. If it wasn’t for my deployment, I’d probably be looking for an East Coast variant of Skunkworks.

The blog and forums will stick around…hosting fees are paid up through next March, and I’ll even try to write something from time to time (though probably not much before Cataclysm releases). I’ll also be happy to answer any questions people may have, though my experience will go out of date fairly rapidly. Overall, though, I’m very content. I’ve re-arranged my priorities, and my life couldn’t be better.

 Posted by at 4:33 pm  Tagged with:
Jul 082010

So, I’m a little late to the RealID condemnation party, but I’d like to add my thoughts on the new real name commentary policy.

Why this is a bad thing

  • The death of escapism: I interact with my professional contacts as me. I interact with my gaming contacts as my handle (Alaron). When I’m playing WoW, I don’t want to be Joe Schmoe, I want to be Alaron, the druid. I get heals from my guildy Elassar, not John Smith from Los Angeles. My guildy Valerian tanks bosses, not Sarah Jane from New York.  One of the major draws of the Internet is the ability to create new identities, for good or ill, and this policy eliminates that.
  • The end of privacy: While I believe that this will change eventually, gaming currently suffers from a negative stigma. While I believe that my line of work (the Army) is reasonably tolerant of gaming in general, all it takes is one intolerant boss writing one negative comment on my evaluation reports to damage my career. (For that matter, they’re not too happy about bloggers, either.) This is the primary reason why I’ve taken steps to separate Alaron from my real identity. I applaud those who are in the position to communicate under their real name, but many are not.

Why this is a good thing

  • The restoration of a community: It’s a generally accepted rule for Internet discussion that as the size of the audience increases, the usefulness of the discussion decreases. Blizzard is taking a bold step towards being the exception to the rule with this change. I expect official forum activity will decline DRAMATICALLY, which will make it possible for the existing moderators to do their jobs. I’m not sure that this will lead to the result Blizzard expects (all the good posters stay, all the bad posters go) because I expect that many of the best posters are also the ones with the most to lose, and will chose not to participate. Either way, though, forums will become legitimately useful again for new players, which is the primary target for Cataclysm.
  • Compliance with Korean law: In 2009, Korea passed a law requiring realname identification for sites with more than 100,000 visitors/day. Starcraft is a huge part of Korean culture. (There are two cable channels devoted to showing matches, frequently showing the same match from the perspective of each player. A pro-league for SC2 players exists, complete with wagering and match-fixing.  Blizzard announced SC2 in Korea. Etc.) While Blizzard could probably have pressed for an exemption to the law, they may have not wanted to risk it.

Why this is irrelevant

  • Forum posters <<< WoW players: I don’t know the actual numbers, but I suspect that the amount of people who actually use the official forums is incredibly low compared to the number of players. As of this writing, the number of posts in the official announcement/comment thread stands at 41k…the amount of players worldwide is over 11 million.
  • Existing forums: Many, many forums already exist outside of the official forum for WoW discussion, and those forums aren’t going away.

The end of the day

If Blizzard wants to gut its forum traffic…go ahead! It’s their choice, after all. At the end of the day, this doesn’t stifle any discussion; it just moves it to another location. I was initially opposed to the decision, but if this means that Blizz can spend less resources on forum moderation and more on game development/responses to player concerns, I’m all for it.

Jul 082010

Some sad news to relate…My wife has MS, which (thankfully) has been largely asymptomatic so far. Unfortunately, yesterday she had a flare-up, which managed to cause a bad fall. She has a herniated disc (among other things) and will be heading into surgery on Monday.

Needless to say, she doesn’t feel confident in her ability to watch our son and pets while I raid; so until she heals, my raiding career is on hold. I’ll still try to comment on what I can, but I’ll be taking a break for a while, it seems. (And so will everyone else, apparently. GL on those 41-point talent trees being ready any time soon.)

 Posted by at 1:23 am
Jul 042010

I’ve released the newest version of the Ovale Feral DPS script, v1.2. Script can be downloaded from my forums here. Thanks to Leafkiller for most of the changes.

I’m pretty happy with where the script is now, so this will likely be the last change pre-Cataclysm. As always, however, I will take any feedback.

 Posted by at 11:54 am
Jun 302010

(not that it ever stopped me, anyway)

Now that the Cataclysm beta has officially started, you don’t have to rely on dirty alpha leaks anymore. Feel free to hit up MMO-Champion’s overview, their druid page, and Wowhead’s Cata database. There aren’t any changes from the alpha as yet, so I’ll let Kalon take this one. :)

 Posted by at 10:01 pm  Tagged with:
Jun 292010

Interesting article on the forbes.com website today about how guild leadership experience translates well to the business world; claims that Starbucks’ CIO succeeded in his career to his WoW experience. (Thanks, Keredria!) It probably shouldn’t surprise me when I see things like this, but WoW seems to be getting more mainstream each day.

Anecdote: Myself and several other young officers were invited to a lunch with an Army four-star general the other day. (No names, but this general is responsible for hundreds of thousands of people and billions of dollars of assets.) During the Q&A period, he was asked about ways to find training time for soldiers. His response? “In the future, unconventional methods will be a large part of our military’s training. Look at World of Warcraft…an online game where many players have to come together as a group to accomplish a common goal, underneath a leader who has to keep that group happy. Group leaders in the game exhibit many of the same skills that our junior officers do today.” He then asked who there played WoW; I raised my hand, as did one other officer next to me. He turned to me and asked if what he had said was accurate. I agreed, and he then replied, “I’m glad you’re learning something. Now stop playing and start doing your homework. :)”