Thursday, June 27, 2013

Community Blog Topic: What Is Your Favorite Playable Race?

This week's Community Blog Topic from WoW Insider asks:
"So what is your favorite playable race? Is it also the race of your main character? Do you have several characters of your preferred race, or are you disloyal like me? Why do you prefer your favorite race?"

I've actually been asked these kinds of questions every so often since back when my primary experiences with games that had multiple playable races were StarCraft 1 and WarCraft 2. My answer has always been the same, and oddly enough, so has the response I receive whenever I provide said answer. My favorite playable race is Humans* because of heroes like Jim Raynor, Anduin Lothar, and Uther the Lightbringer. I'm not sure if it was because computer games were still growing into their role as a storytelling medium and thus game makers were unable to overcome the human experience when trying to craft relatable tales, but to me the human race always seemed to have a greater sense of depth and complex morality than other playable races. Part of what made human heroes so amazing to me was the fact that they could have chosen to take a different path - to negotiate away their convictions for the sake of pragmatism when faced with terrible odds - but they instead chose to stand by their ideals and fight for everything the very word "humanity" itself represents.

It was awe-inspiring, and those human characters in those games with non-human playable races did more to shape who I am today than any other playable race I've run into since. As a result, humans will always have a place in my heart as my favorite playable race, and as it turns out, Human just so happens to be my main character's race, both in and out of the game. =P

In regards to alternate characters - though they may as well be nonexistent based on how infrequently I play them - they're all different races. World of Warcraft's story is so rich and detailed that it feels like a wasted opportunity to have multiple characters of the same race while I still haven't leveled all of them. Since the likelihood that I will actually manage to level a character of each race up to the point where I'll begin to feel like can start creating duplicates is pretty much zero, I doubt I'll ever have more than one character of any given race - and that's perfectly alright by me. =)

*: Oh, and if the first reaction that crossed your mind when I answered that was "Humans? Isn't that a bit unoriginal/unimaginitive?", then I'll give you a moment to just let the irony of that thought sink in...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On Deterministic and Non-Deterministic Reward Systems

I was reading through Brian Holinka's Twitter feed a few weeks ago when I noticed his responses to these tweets by DanZiniti:

While the idea of PvE and PvP gear being identical is an intriguing one, I think it's ultimately impossible to balance to a satisfactory degree - too many players will feel like one method is more efficient than another and flock towards that content, even if they find it less fun. What interests me more about this tweet is the underlying idea that there should be a variety of ways to earn identical gear within a single format - that each piece gear should be obtainable both in deterministic and non-deterministic fashions.

PvP gear already has a minor implementation of this concept in that the world bosses Nalak and Sha of Anger have small chances to drop specialization-appropriate Season 13 Tyrannical Gladiator's and Season 12 Malevolent Gladiator's gear, respectively, but by and large most PvP gear is purchased through the deterministic Conquest and Honor Point currencies. Personally, I think this system could be expanded to offer additional non-deterministic methods for earning season-appropriate gear, such as via raids on the opposing faction's capital cities, achieving victory in world PvP zones, and completing certain tough objectives in battlegrounds and arenas (like winning Alterac Valley or Isle of Conquest with more than half of your total reinforcements remaining, or winning 3 arena matches in a row). In order to minimize incentive to "game the system" and keep such rewards as a bonus, loot could be awarded in a manner similar to world bosses - namely you have a small chance to win a random piece of gear and a large chance to win a bag of gold or PvP-specific consumables- keeping things unpredictable.

PvE gear, on the other hand, already has both deterministic (Valor and Justice Points) and non-deterministic (boss drops) systems for obtaining gear, but the fact that each system offers different gear can be problematic. For example, players who participate primarily in Raid Finder might feel pressured to replace tier gear that has fun set bonuses with less exciting Valor Point gear because of the item level difference, cheapening the value of boss drops, while players who engage in heroic raiding may be unable to take advantage of Valor Points' role as a consolation prize because the currency only offers rewards with item levels equivalent to normal mode raids. Thus, it makes sense to me to consolidate the two systems such that Valor Points could be used to purchase the same gear that bosses drop at the same item level as the player's highest-difficulty victory over that boss.

I could envision such a consolidated system that works thusly:
  1. Any player would be able to purchase Raid Finder gear for Valor Points one week after that wing has opened for Raid Finder. This would require the total maximum Valor Points cap to be increased so players don't run into it while waiting to be able to purchase items.

  2. Players who defeat a boss on Flex/Normal/Heroic difficulty would be able to purchase Flex/Normal/Heroic gear (respectively) from that boss' loot table for Valor Points.

  3. Valor Point costs for purchasing items would be relatively higher, so that gearing doesn't become too efficient, and farming bosses stays attractive.

  4. Both purchasing and upgrading items from higher difficulties would cost more Valor Points than those same items from lower difficulties.

  5. Higher difficulties would allow proportionally more Valor Points to be earned per kill and per week, such that purchase and upgrade prices stay consistent with weekly progression (i.e. if Raid Finder players cap at 1000 Valor Points per week, spend 2000 points to purchase an item, and upgrade that item for 250 points, Normal raiders might cap at 1200 points per week, spend 2400 points to purchase an item, and upgrade it for 300 points).

  6. Elite and Thunderforged-equivalent items would be acquired solely by drops, so Valor Points remain a consolation prize for bad luck and not a primary gearing method for raiders.

Such deterministic and non-deterministic hybrid systems for PvP and PvE gear aren't without their flaws, certainly, and I doubt Blizzard will go in that direction anytime soon, but it's an interesting thought, nonetheless.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Patch 5.4 PTR's Level 45 Talents for Holy Paladins

The Changes:
Blizzard recently updated the Public Test Realm patch notes for World of Warcraft's 5.4 patch, which includes significant changes to the level 45 talent tier for Paladins. The relevant patch notes are as follows:
  • Sacred Shield (Old) has been renamed to Holy Shield and is no longer a talent. Holy Shield is a Protection Paladin ability learned at level 85. 
  • Sacred Shield (New)
    • Holy: When the Paladin or their Beacon of Light target falls below 30% health, that target gains a Sacred Shield absorbing damage equal to 30% of their maximum health. Sacred Shield can only occur once every 2 minutes. 
    • Protection, Retribution: When the Paladin falls below 30% health, they gain a Sacred Shield absorbing damage equal to 30% of their maximum health. Sacred Shield can only occur once every 2 minutes. 

Don't panic, though! Community Manager Rygarius clarified some of the changes and the intentions behind them in this forum post. I'm not going to go over everything, but here are the salient points:

  • Selfless Healer was intended to be a viable option for Holy Paladins who happen to enjoy a playstyle that involves frequent usage of Judgment. Blizzard recognizes that not everybody enjoys this playstyle, so it's not meant to be an attractive talent for everybody.
  • Eternal Flame was used far too frequently by Holy Paladins, so Blizzard is trying to figure out how to nerf it so Selfless Healer and Sacred Shield become viable choices. The 30% nerf to Eternal Flame's initial heal will probably be reverted, but the change to make it no longer stack Holy's Illuminated Healing mastery is here to stay.
  • Sacred Shield's changes listed above are all pretty much going to be scrapped, because it buffs Protection too much and because the new Sacred Shield is unattractive for Holy and Retribution. Blizzard is looking for a way to make the currently existing talent more attractive to Holy and Retribution, but they haven't decided what exactly to do quite yet.
That means the level 45 talent changes for Holy Paladins at the moment amount to the much more easily manageable:

My Thoughts:
I am actually somewhat intrigued by the Selfless Healer changes. At level 90 and with 26,000 spellpower (roughly normal tier 15-geared), a 3-stack of Selfless Healer grants you the approximate healing power of a Divine Light plus a Holy Light for the mana cost of a Holy Light and 4 nonconsecutive global cooldowns. The big question I have, though, is how does it interact with Infusion of Light procs? If the instant Divine Light consumes the proc, then it loses much of its appeal, but if it leaves the proc untouched (or better yet, allows the instant Divine Light to bypass triggering the global cooldown in exchange for consuming the proc), then it might be worthwhile to give this talent a second look.

However, Selfless Healer still has one fundamental flaw: Judgment just isn't really a Holy spell. Protection and Retribution both have effects that make it something worth casting relatively frequently, but Holy has no real reason to cast it except for this talent. Without some additional base effect for Holy, spending global cooldowns on Judgment will always be seen as a detriment, and I think Selfless Healer will remain unpopular.

As for Eternal Flame and Sacred Shield, the former's HoT ticks refreshing the Illuminated Healing mastery is a blatantly overpowered mechanic, and so many Holy Paladins choose this talent that I can see why Blizzard wants to tone it down, however the biggest reason why I chose Eternal Flame over Sacred Shield (even though I had tried Sacred Shield first and prefer it conceptually over Eternal Flame) is that Eternal Flame benefits from haste, critical strike, mastery, and transfers over Beacon of Light, whereas Sacred Shield only benefits from haste. Unless Blizzard allows Sacred Shield to benefit from Holy's strengths as well as Eternal Flame does, I'm not sure it will ever be as attractive.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

An Update on Objective-Specific PvP Inventory Items

Good news, everyone: I'm either a genius or a prophet. =P

For those of you who don't know Brian Holinka (@holinka on Twitter) is the public face for the PvP side of World of Warcraft's design team. Also, this paragraph is brought to you by the wacky desire to ensure the post is actually longer than the title. <.<

Monday, June 17, 2013

Are Objective-Specific PvP Inventory Items Still Necessary?

While PvP in World of Warcrft has always involved the use of consumables, such as potions, bandages, and drinks, the Wrath of the Lich King expansion added a brand new type of inventory item for PvPers: objective-specific explosives. Explosives were actually fairly frequently used items in classic WoW PvP, and items such as Ez-Thro Dynamite and Ez-Thro Dynamite II were common sights on the faction auction houses because they were effectively cheap bonus damage, but those were more general use items than what I'm referring to. I'm speaking of items such as The RP-GG in Lake Wintergrasp, Massive Seaforium Charge in the Strand of the Ancients battleground, and both Seaforium Bombs and Huge Seaforium Bombs in the Isle of Conquest battleground, all of which were designed to help players demolish specific obstacles.

However, one question comes to mind again and again when I encounter these items in their respective PvP zones: why do these items still exist?

By that question, I don't mean to imply that these items have outlived their usefulness and should be removed from the game - quite the opposite, in fact - but I ask because the fundamental mechanics of such explosives seems downright antiquated in the Mists of Pandaria age. These days, when Blizzard wants to give players access to a zone or encounter-specific ability, it often does so through a User Interface element named "ExtraActionButton1", commonly just called the Extra Action Button because there has yet to be an "ExtraActionButton2". The Extra Action Button debuted in Cataclysm's Dragon Soul raid instance during the Ultraxion encounter, where it served as a way for players to activate the encounter-specific Heroic Will ability to negate powerful attacks, and is now a frequently-used element in many of Pandaria's dungeons and scenarios.

So here we have this user interface element that has dedicated screen real estate, can be activated by picking up specific objects (as evidenced by the Smash! ability granted by picking up Big Ol' Hammers dropped by slain Virmen Boppers during and prior to the Hoptallus encounter in Stormstout Brewery), and is entirely unused in PvP - why not use it for RP-GGs and the various Seaforum explosives? Unlike raids, which tend to become less frequented over time, battlegrounds stay in use for years, and thus I think it makes sense to expend some resources to ensure that they stay up to date and modern.

Also, we need a tabard wardrobe and a toy chest, because I no longer have spare inventory space for PvP bombs. <.<

Friday, June 14, 2013

Metzen for a 5.3 Day

Recently, a fellow Feathermooninite asked what we would do if we had the mythical lore-changing powers of Chris Metzen - Blizzard's Senior Vice President of Story and Franchise Development - for a day and could retroactively rebuild the lore of WarCraft as we saw fit. Since one day is quite a short period of time, it makes sense to me to focus on something that is not only relatively recent and seemingly easy to adjust, but also somewhat controversial: the Alliance storyline in regards to the Darkspear Rebellion in World of Warcraft's Patch 5.3: Escalation. I posted the general gist of this as a comment to Rohan's Alliance vs Horde Storyline Favoritism blog post over on Blessing of Kings, but I figured I would expand on the details here.

The crux of this issue is, essentially, that the 5.3 storyline vastly downplays the Alliance's war preparations and focuses almost exclusively on the Horde's (both Garrosh's Horde and Vol'jin's uprising within the Horde). On the most basic level, this shows up in Orgrimmar where Garrosh's Kor'kron soldiers are cracking down on suspected resistance and marshaling forces and supplies not too far from the city gates, whereas there's no real indication in the open world that the Alliance is assembling a war fleet, constructing siege machinery, or gathering its troops above the normal activity in Stormwind Harbor. There's a scenario and related quest indicating that the Alliance isn't merely sitting around doing nothing, sure, but it gives no real sense that it's truly an Azerothian superpower rivaling the strength of the Horde. Additionally, while changes were made to Vol'jin's dialogue during the 5.3 Public Test to show that the Darkspear Rebellion really does need the Alliance's help if it wants to survive, it does nothing to dispel the perception that the Alliance is nowhere near on par with the Horde until the Horde splinters and turns against itself - and considering that the Horde's self-inflicted implosion also happens to be the major lore reason why the Alliance won the Second War, it feels unbalanced on some level that the Alliance only ever wins because the Horde decides to throw the game.

Getting back to the topic at hand, what I would change for Patch 5.3's storyline would be to add elements that show that the Alliance is not only up to the challenge of taking the Horde head-on, but also actively preparing to take the fight to Orgrimmar. This comes in two parts, the first of which is to add the aforementioned war fleet, siege vehicles, and troop assemblages to Stormwind Harbor to give off the impression that the Alliance war machine has sprung to life and is steaming ahead full-tilt.

The second - not to mention far more substantial and significant - change I would make would be to adjust the story so that the Alliance is no longer working to assist the Darkspear Revolution, but is instead working in its own interests to subvert Garrosh's hold in the Barrens and prepare for the inevitable attack on Orgrimmar. While this would include intentionally not working against Vol'jin in any way, it would also mean that Alliance players would no longer be subservient to him either, which feels much better than questing for the ungrateful jerk after he completely forgets that Alliance adventurers answered his call to arms when he sent Darkspear emissaries directly to Stormwind during the Cataclysm era (Patch 4.1: Rise of the Zandalari) and acts like we're the ones who somehow owe him for that.

Since the question originally asked by my fellow Feathermooninite asked for specifics instead of just complaints, I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about exactly how I would implement the second change, had I the power to do so. My thoughts are as follows, starting with the quest A Little Field Work.

  • A Little Field Work: Move Amber Kearnen and Sully "The Pickle" McLeary towards the southwest and closer to the path between Razor Hill and Orgrimmar.

  • Gathering Intelligence: Upon completing the quest and returning to Amber and Sully, a patrol of Darkspear batriders captures the player, Amber, and Sully, and takes them to where Zen'tabra is found for The Darkspear Rebellion quest.

  • The Darkspear Rebellion: This quest is effectively removed.

  • Vol'jin of the Darkspear: This quest becomes the new The Darkspear Rebellion, and Amber and Sully both accompany the player and Zen'tabra to Vol'jin. Upon completion, a modified version of the infamous "calling Vol'jin's bluff" dialogue plays out between Vol'jin and Amber, but Chen Stormstout steps in when things appear to be going badly and suggests that if the Darkspear and the Alliance can't work together, they should at least try to avoid working against each other. Amber and Vol'jin begrudgingly agree to a pact of nonaggression/noninterference and Chen Stormstout offers to act as a go-between.

  • Arming in Ashenvale: A new quest to make up for the removed part of the chain. Amber Kearnen tells the player to go find the Night Elf in charge in eastern Ashenvale and report recent events. She, Sully, and Chen then depart from Vol'jin's tower.

    In eastern Ashenvale, near the Azshara border, the player finds a small Night Elven camp, mostly made up of a pile of crates, a handful of Sentinels and wisps, an Ancient Protector, Su'ura Swiftarrow, and Tyrande Whisperwind herself. Turning in the quest causes Amber, Sully, and Chen to materialize and act as NPCs for the new hub, as well as unlocking several new quests and dialogues.

    To replace the "calling Vol'jin's bluff" dialogue, Tyrande will instead have a dialogue option that explains the Alliance war plan, which is for Varian to attack by sea with the bulk of Alliances forces and lay siege to Orgrimmar's southern gate to Durotar whilst Tyrande leads a contingent of troops east from Ashenvale into Aszhara in order to seal off Orgrimmar's northern gate. (That would make it the Darkspear Rebellion's responsibility to liberate their strong point in the Valley of Spirits and close off the city's western gate into the Northern Barrens.)

  • Battlefield: Barrens (initial): This quest would now be given by Tyrande Whisperwind with the purpose of stockpiling supplies in preparation for the coming ground assault on Orgrimmar. The methods for obtaining the Kor'kron supplies would be identical to present - killing Kor'kron commanders and laborers; stealing them from Kor'kron bases; scavenging overturned Kor'kron caravans; and escorting Alliance caravans.

  • Battlefield: Barrens (weekly): Given by Su'ura Swiftarrow, this quest would be to further stockpile supplies for the Alliance, but would still yield a Radical Mojo. Supplies, as well as the mojo, could then be traded to Sully, who replaces Ravika, the Darkspear Rebellion Quartermaster, for Alliance players.

  • The Old Seer: The only difference here would be Chen Stormstout's location when starting the quest.

Personally, I think this approach would have been preferable for many Alliance players, not least of all because allowing Alliance players to do things for the Alliance while blatantly avoiding conflict with the Horde playerbase's chosen faction feeds into the ideas of faction loyalty and uneasy cooperation without portraying one entire side as equal to a mere fragment of the other. Additionally, it shows Alliance leaders being proactive and thinking strategically about what it really means to take the fight to Garrosh, rather than being on the back-foot all the time as has been the case throughout Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria. Finally, many Alliance players have complained about Blizzard's treatment of Tyrande Whisperwind recently, especially in the scenario A Little Patience where she gives the appearance of being too impatient and bloodthirsty to be an effective leader, and I feel like putting her in charge of a significant part of the faction's efforts in Kalimdor would do much to help repair her image and show she is still a capable and trusted figure of the Alliance.

Oh, and also, I'd make it so /hugging Chen Stormstout would cause the player character to become drunk. That'd be canon. =P

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Blog Azeroth Shared Topic: Favorite Vanity Items

This week, I've decided to participate in the Blog Azeroth Shared Topic. The prompt is from Noahdeer from the blog Be MOP, and states:
World of Warcraft is known to have a lot of vanity items that you can collect from your adventures and in this expansion Blizzard introduced even more of these silly cosmetic items into the game.

This week's Shared Topic is, "What is your favorite vanity item in World of Warcraft?"
While I'm not particularly sure I can choose a single favorite vanity item - there are so many amazing ones to choose from nowadays, such as the Puntable Marmot and The Golden Banana - I do have a particularly beloved, ultra-flashy combination that is /dancing with a Brazier of Dancing Flames while under the effects of a Super Simian Sphere.

Caution: Wear protective eyewear before viewing full size.

Can you imagine the retina-searing effect if it could be combined with Blinding Light? No one would ever dare make fun of Paladins ever again. Well, no one except Demon Hunters, perhaps. =P

However, if I were to choose a single item to spotlight - which I probably should to at least try to follow the prompt - I think I would go with the Essence of the Breeze. This item is occasionally dropped by Ai-Ran the Shifting Cloud in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, and though its visual flair is quite negligible (aren't you relieved?), its on-use effect more than makes up for it. "Unleash a gentle breeze, lightening your steps" might sound somewhat cryptic, but the result is actually pretty simple: it gives you a 10-minute long buff that causes you to be propelled forward a short distance every time you jump. If you choose to be creative (or read the comments on WoWhead), you can find a few practical uses for this item, but quite honestly it's just flat-out fun to jump around Pandaria like an over-caffeinated Virmen.

A word of caution before you go hopping about near cliffs and off ledges: the Essence of the Breeze does not include a slow fall effect, so be sure to bring one along or else you might find yourself in need of an Essence of the Spatula to scrape your corpse off the Pandarian landscape before you can resurrect. XD

Monday, June 10, 2013

My Thoughts on Flexible Raids

Last Thursday, Blizzard announced a new difficulty level for raids called Flexible Raiding, which - similar to Raid Finder in Cataclysm - will premiere with the final raid tier for Mists of Pandaria. The Flexible Raiding system, as you probably know if you pay any attention to World of WarCraft-related news sites, will require pre-formed groups of anywhere from 10 to 25 players and will be set between Raid Finder and normal raiding in both difficulty and item reward level. Its primary attractions are its ability to dynamically tune encounters depending on the number of players participating and its immediate availability for cross-realm play (it's currently unclear if the existing restrictions barring cross-realm groups from undertaking the most current raid tier for normal and heroic difficulties will be removed).

Personally, I'm somewhat torn about the feature - not because I feel there's anything fundamentally wrong with it, but because it's yet another amazing-sounding feature which, like Pet Battles, Challenge Mode Dungeons, Brawler's Guild, and Heroic Scenarios, I probably won't be able to participate in to any satisfactory degree for the foreseeable future. It certainly addresses my primary complaint against Raid Finder, though, which is that Raid Finder groups often just feel like extra large Dungeon Finder parties due to the complete lack of camaraderie between most random groups of strangers.

That said, I do not think the Flexible Raid system is without its flaws. In terms of loot, for example, I think the upper level of PvE itemization is saturated to the point where adding an additional strata of gear between Raid Finder and Valor Point/normal raiding item levels is a detriment. At some point, the excitement and thrill of winning an item upgrade gives way to disappointment that you now have to spend so many resources to in order to maximize its utility for increasingly fleeting gains as the useful lifespan of items decreases within a single raid tier. Even if you never step foot into a normal mode raid, it is going to become progressively less fun to win a belt in Raid Finder only to have to reforge it, add a Living Steel Belt Buckle to it, and gem it, then have that belt be replaced by the Flexible Raid version, re-reforge, re-buckle, and re-gem the new belt, and then have to repeat the process a third time when the Flexible Raid belt gets replaced by the Valor Point version.

Honestly, I think Blizzard has a better template for itemization in the Korean version of WoW, in which items can be upgraded up to 4 times (compared to a maximum of twice elsewhere around the world) and certain raids drop partially upgraded gear. While the system is based on raid size in Korea, I think it should be altered to work for Raid Finder and Flexible Raid gear in North America, because it turns the above issue into a contemplative game mechanic. In the belt example, if you were to obtain a Raid Finder belt with 0/4 upgrades and enhance it properly, you would then have an actual decision if a 2/4 upgraded belt were to drop for you in a later Flexible Raid: since the Raid Finder belt and the Flexible Raid belt will become identical when they have equal upgrades, do you opt to save 500 Valor Points by applying appropriate enhancements to the Flexible Raiding belt; or do you choose to save ~1000 gold by keeping the enhancements to the Raid Finder belt and upgrading it with Valor Points? Furthermore, unless Blizzard shrinks the item level gap between Raid Finder and normal mode raiding loot (currently 20 item levels), the 8 additional item levels from 2 more upgrades will still put 4/4 upgraded Raid Finder gear below freshly-dropped normal gear, which means that normal and heroic raid gear could maintain their 2 upgrade maximum with minimal negative effect on game balance.

All in all, though, I'm looking forward to experiencing Flexible Raids for myself (if the opportunity arises), as well as seeing how Blizzard will adapt the new technology going forward. Flexible Scenarios, perhaps?