My stance on “that Warlock thing” and Arenas

Directly from Lum’s post and following comments:

This just can’t surprise anyone. EVERYONE who commented when Arenas were announced wondered how Blizzard expected them to be balanced, as the classes were NEVER designed for that kind of gameplay.

We aren’t talking about specialized blog comments, I actually remember interviews on mainstream gaming news asking that.

Everyone (including Blizzard) expected Arenas to bring up severe class balance problems. In fact we thought Arenas weren’t the best way to deliver the best rewards as the resulting gameplay wouldn’t be all that fair and balanced.

What people couldn’t expect is Blizzard making Arenas authoritative and compromise the rest of the game.

I also think Lum is wrong comparing this particular issue to what happened in DAoC.

I don’t remember well the details in that case, but I think it was a change made after a long-standing balance issue. DAoC’s problem was that the original class design wasn’t all that good and laid out, so issues appeared down the road and sometimes they had to redesign a class on the fly in order to actually give it a specific role that it didn’t have. It was a problem of the class and its identity in the game, due to the fact that the game had too many classes and so some “identity disorders”. So they tried to “rethink” the class and consequently pissed off the players.

In WoW the original class design was (arguably) solid and objectively better outlined compared to all other MMOs released. The bigger balance problems arose (and here D-One is right) when the game escalated toward high-end raiding and now Arenas. It was a balance issue induced by mudflation and its pressure on game design. Like the itemization.

It’s as if in DAoC they added a particular keep down the road and then discovered that one class could exploit that keep. And then decided to redesign the class instead of fixing the keep.

WoW’s class design didn’t broke because the original class design was poor, but because they added new gameplay systems (Arenas) that aren’t appropriate and coherent with the original class design. And now, in order to make Arenas balanced, they are producing a chain-effect that has an impact on the class as a whole.

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Why Tabula Rasa didn’t exactly succeed

In my opinion for reasons not dissimilar to Auto Assault’s failure.

There was a general disinterest and lack of hype toward Tabula Rasa, mostly because the few infos and media coming out of it were forgettable and mediocre.

Exhibit: this last video.

I don’t know the effect it has on current subscribers, but to someone who never saw the game (me) it looks “meh”. And that video is supposed to hype some awesome features coming with the patch, I suppose. At some point you even see players sliding around without moving their feet.

Tabula Rasa’s kiss of death was a too long development cycle without a clear aim (so no focus and no time to get it right). Despite some interesting ideas here and there, the problem is that the underlying game isn’t good enough. Not the overall systems and more complex features, just the basic feel, visuals, controls.

The basic message the game sends at first glance is poor. Looks like a childish shooter with silly aliens and cartoonish mechs, with big blobs of colors as weapon effects. Honestly, it looks like a poor man Halo clone that has nothing of what made Halo popular (which is a modern “Space Invaders”, with waves of enemies to fight in various stages).

I say this overall effect is like Auto Assault reason of failure because what misses here is the basic visceral feel of a sci-fi shooter combat game. In the same way Auto Assault totally betrayed the expectations and dynamics of a car combat game. Both look and feel inconsistent, quirky, approximate. A bit of patchwork of classic MMO combat mechanics with slightly different skins.

It looks generic and awkward and this is made worse by the fact that the setting moves expectations toward a different kind of gameplay. Here we continue to theorize that sci-fi can’t be successful when the truth is that sci-fi isn’t successful when it is a skin on top of a classic fantasy game with minor changes.

We have sci-fi, we have fantasy, but it seems that when it comes to gameplay we just have one model that is applied to both uniformly.

Now again the exercise is to imagine a Tabula Rasa that is instead close to the expectations. So close your eyes, think of some epic battle scenes from Starship Troopers, or Terminator, or Aliens. And I’m sure you’ll figure out quickly what is in their “feel” that Tabula Rasa misses completely.

Sadly while marginal game design progress can usually lead to better games, it isn’t enough to deliver a good sci-fi game. To do something really different you need to reinvent the wheel and move as far as possible from marginal tweaks to current MMO combat.

Or at least use the Quake Wars or Gears of War or Call of Duty 4 as your basic model of gameplay, instead of WoW (or Star Wars Galaxies).

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Anomander Rake

After all the complaints for the first time Steven Erikson gets good art for a cover of his book:

Sadly it is only for the super collector edition of Gardens of the Moon for “just” $125. One wonders why good artists can’t be used for those editions that are supposed to sell a lot more and face larger competition.

The image shows Anomander Rake, in the background there are his Great Ravens and that flying mountain is Moon’s Spawn. Anomander Rake is actually supposed to sit on top of it.

The sword he shows there is supposed to be even bigger, and misses particle effects:

A two-handed sword was strapped to Rake’s broad back, its silver dragonskull pommel and archaic crosshilt jutting from a wooden scabbard fully six and a half feet long. From the weapon bled power, staining the air like black ink in a pool of water.

Fantastic Four #554

I’ll just say this, the story is already seen, but three pages and the sense of wonder that the series had lost for years is back.

Mark Millar is one of the best writers comics ever had, along with Morrison, Moore and Gaiman. Bendis is good as well, but these other writers have the talent of being able to write about EVERYTHING.

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Blizzard: our game design is one year and half behind bloggers

Cosmik on WoW’s Honor Points, about one year ago:

The first curious thing is that you don’t get your honor points immediately. Instead you get an “estimate”, which tends to be far too low, and then get your real honor points the next day. Imagine experience points worked that way! “We estimate you have gained experience for two more levels today, but come back tomorrow for the exact value and the actual reward.” I wondered, if honor points are given out on an absolute scale now, why would it take one day to calculate the honor points? It’s better than the previous once-a-week calculation, but still not very logical.

My reply, one year ago:

Yeah. That question is gold. That’s exactly what I was wondering a week ago on Q23, we are on the same line. No one could really understand this and the best guess is that it’s all STILL because of those FUCKING diminished returns. My god, sometimes Blizzard is so absolutely stupid that isn’t believable.

This can really make sense only in Kalgan’s mind, because for the rest of the world this is blatantly flawed. And at this point isn’t anymore just flawed, but also completely unexcused.


THAT “best guess” was the friggin cause of all the fucking mess the Honor System was.

Proof coming from TODAY‘s patch notes (currently 2.4).

* Diminishing returns on honor for kills is being eliminated.


* Honor will now be instantly calculated, and available for player use.

My point still stands:

I’ll tell you what you should do: you should demote that designer who is responsible for all this and replace him with someone who has at least half a clue. I do not want Kalgan fired. But I DO want him REPLACED. At least. Take his own responsibility for all this shit.

But, even more important, why the fuck PvP has to always receive this treatment? I mean in general, why the fuck PvP has always to be the afterthought? Why it always has to have the worst, careless design?

If your average bloggers figure out game design better than a team of senior designers who are paid to do that job professionally and have better insight about how the game works, then something is wrong.

Admit your failure on this system, and face your responsibilities.

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Mark Jacobs says: mentoring systems punish new players

He replied to a point I also suggested for Warhammer. I can’t stay silent when he says such absurdities.

The proposal is about something like a mentoring system where players can access lower tiers (levels) of the game. So “delevelling” their characters to play along with friends who aren’t in the exact same tier. My proposal was more complex but that’s the main point.

His reply:

That’s one I’ve always had mixed feelings about as a designer. The pros for doing that are obvious but the cons are what concern me. If players can easily move down in levels to help other players, I worry that new players will have a harder time getting in groups. After all, if you could choose an experienced player playing at a lower level or a new player playing at the same level, you’ll go with the experienced player. His/her knowledge of the game will always be an advantage to you and to h/h. So when the new player is LFGing or wants to get into the fun in a situation where the number of participants is limited, h/h might have a more difficult time of it in this system. Like I said, I have mixed feelings on it.

One wonders. Because the main reason for that system to exist is to reduce the gap between veteran players and noobs, while Jacobs thinks it has the exact opposite effect. This can’t be “opinion”, either one or the other state must be wrong.

His thesis is that noobs should to play with noobs, because if there was a veteran player then all noobs will want him in the group. So the noobs will be sitting out of groups? Wait, it doesn’t work.

His thesis is that in a world where there’s a majority of veteran players and a few noobs, the few noobs wouldn’t get in groups because they are, well, noobs. And in competitive, limited PvP (which is a flaw in itself and much discussed in forums) no one will group a noob.

Okay. So to solve this we remove veterans from this scenarios and what we get? A few noobs exactly as before, with the exact same grouping possibilities as before. So he fears that veterans group with veterans and noobs with noobs. Hello? In every game already happens. And the mentoring system (whatever the implementation) has absolutely nothing to do with that.

Really, Mark Jacobs sucks at game design. That’s not complex reasoning, it’s logic. The two worse alternatives are:
– Veteran players who can’t go back in tiers, so they group together at higher tiers.
– Veteran players who can go back in tiers, so they only group together among themselves because they don’t want noobs.

How this scenario affects a noob who’s looking for group? In no foreseeable way, because in the first case there are no veteran players to group with, and in the second there are, but they won’t group with him. So how this is detrimental to his group possibilities? Since Jacobs fears that a veteran player won’t group with a noob he FORBIDS him to do it. So he is absolutely sure that there isn’t the RISK that a veteran player may group with noob who can’t find a group. Like if this could help.

Letting players go down in tiers has the only effect of keeping lower tiers more populated than they would if you could only more forward in tiers (everyone with a minimal MMO experience knows that lower zones become deserted over time). This means that the pool of players available for grouping INCREASES, if you let players move down instead of only up. The more people may be picky and not willingly to group with noobs, but this doesn’t decrease the numbers of noobs in the system. And you can be sure that, even if in small numbers, some veteran players *will* be willingly to play with noobs, especially if the system is well designed and rewards this behavior.

So the best and worst case oscillate between “only few more players available”, and “a lot more players available”. In ANY case a mentoring system has a negative effect on the grouping possibilities of brand new players. In fact it is a partial solution.

The problem that Jacobs sees there has NOTHING to do with the mentoring system, and a lot to do with an intrinsic flaw of the close PvP system they decided to use. Moreover this flaw is foreign again to the mentoring system itself and WILL be present in ALL tiers.

Eldaec on F13 discussed this for months. How a “sport” PvP where results are charted and projected on the overall campaign will have a strong negative impact toward new players, because their participation may be detrimental to the result of the faction.

That’s what you get when your “war” is faked. That’s what happens when you OPEN that gap between veteran players and noobs because you designed a system that PUNISHES THE PARTICIPATION OF NOOBS TO PVP. With or without a mentoring system.

And that’s also the MAIN reason why that “game design” will feed the hatred of veteran players toward noobs that want to play and finish to ruin the “performance” of the experienced team.

Mark Jacobs, get a clue. A mentoring system, in all games and in all implementations, is MADE TO HELP NEW PLAYERS. It is made to let people play together without levels being unsurmountable barriers. It is made to reward interaction between veterans and noobs. It is made to build with the time a welcoming community opposed to an hostile one.

It is made to keep the game accessible and playable after the first burst of players at launch is over.

YOUR OWN PvP system, instead, the one you defend. THAT’s the source of hostility between players and the opening the gap between noobs and veterans. That’s the one that promotes SELECTION instead of INTEGRATION. And that’s the reason why the “war” in Warhammer won’t even be close in quality to the war in DAoC. Where realm participation was ENCOURAGED instead of being detrimental to the battle.

Make everyone a favor, let real designers do the game design, and you just think to management.

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Sanderson reviews “heritage”

I mean Brandon Sanderson, the one who’s going to complete Robert Jordan’s last book in the Wheel of Time.

On his blog he’s writing down comments about his reading through the entire series before he starts doing the real writing. Quite interesting.

I’ll probably only do one post for the first book, then, which is a tragedy, since it has long been one of my favorites of the series. I also feel that it will be VERY important to writing Book Twelve. The Wheel turns; ages become new again and ideas return. I feel that the last book of the series should have numerous hearkenings back to this first book; that will give a sense of closure to this section of the Pattern and fit with the motif of the Wheel’s turning.

That’s just my gut instinct, and I’m not promising anything specific or even referencing material from the Twelfth Book. I’m only speaking of my general feelings as a writer, but Mr. Jordan’s notes are far more important than any of my instincts.

On this point I disagree. The WOT is also a growth novel. From the point of view of Rand the main theme is about how things escalate and get out of hand. So while he always thought he would become “adult” in his village, he doesn’t return and is rather forced to grow and start seeing everything under a different light. Along with despair and responsibility.

This to say that, imho, the first book should return in the last as a distant memory of childhood. You look back at things with some curiosity and fondness, but, as it happens, also with a sense of estrangement. It’s a weird mix of feelings, and it’s also shared ground between ALL readers. As all of them started reading this series so long ago, and looking back is both familiar and yet very strange.

So more of the sense of “closure”, I would give it a sense of mismatching. Things that won’t return, along with a sense of loss. I think that a complete “happy end” without tradeoffs doesn’t fit well the series.

On the rest he writes I agree, especially on his view on Nynaeve.