RIFT: Is choice good, and can we improve quests?

It’s not just WoW which is being dissected today. With the shine starting to come off RIFT a bit, we’re seeing more commentary about RIFT’s choices too – good and bad – and the ways in which it could improve.

Top of the list are its plethora of talent choices. Initially hailed as a huge advance over WoW, people are starting to ask if the uber-customisable talent system is actually as good a thing as it appears – some are afraid of making the wrong choice, others simply bewildered.

There’s a larger issue here, and developer Brian “Psychochild” Green is taking it on today with a post on choice, and whether having more or less in a game is a better option

“Going back to Wilhelm’s post, we see that sometimes choice leads to heartache; he writes about how in RIFT he anticipates “that a few months down the road somebody will say, ‘LOL noob! You went with beastmaster/champion/warlord for warrior DPS?’” In other words, he worries that his choices might be poor, particularly in the eyes of other players.

In this light, the problem with choice is that there’s the potential to make the wrong choice. Usually there’s someone out there who has figured everything out, run the math, chosen the ideal variables, and can explain which option is considered “the best”. Anyone not conforming to these choices is an idiot or worse. Depending on the attitude of the community, this can lead to anything from verbal abuse to being specifically excluded from groups. Add in the pressures to “fit in” that most people feel and choice can seem a problem for some people. Choice tends to get limited own to a few “right” answers for many people.”

It’s interesting that Psychochild focusses on external influence and peer pressure as the main reason to dislike choice. There’s also a well-known problem in everything from interface design to being a chef at a restaurant – past a certain, comparatively small, point of choice, users or consumers start to find too many choices offputting. A restaurant with a hundred dishes often won’t do as well as one with two. There’s an element of decision fatigue at work here, and I wonder if many RIFT players are just finding their talents… tiring.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the blogosphere, Gazimoff of Mana Obscura has returned to RIFT, and whilst he’s enjoying a lot of it, one aspect is chafing him badly – quest design

“Almost anyone who’s played through an MMO knows what boomerang quests are, but I’ll explain with an example. You approach a small group of friendly NPCs on the coastline. One of them tells you that there’s a cave up ahead filled with smugglers, and would like your help to remove them. You agree to go off and kill ten Smuggler Pirates and ten Smuggler Pistoliers.

After wading through the cave you return to the NPC, who then asks you to head back out again. Only this time she wants you to kill Smuggler Corsairs and Smuggler Captains. You fight your way back into the cave, killing more Pirates and Pistoliers just to get to your Corsairs. Annoying, right?

On your return, the NPC sees you coated in the blood and bodily fluids of the best part of fifty pirates. Not satisfied she asks you for one last thing. Kill Smuggler Chief Spalding, who resides right at the back of the cave. At this point you swear at the screen and weigh up just telling her to get lost.”

I don’t generally feel that the WoW Cataclysm redesign was, on balance, a success, but as Gazimoff says, the fact that it has mostly eliminated “boomerang questing” is a definite bonus. Personally, I’d like to just see the world react a bit more like a world – as it stands, unless you kill Smuggler Chief Spalding whilst you have the quest so to do, it’s not relevant to the NPC who wants him dead. Why?

If I could just hack through an area, spot that there’s a guy clearly in charge, take him out to be on the safe side, and subsequently have the NPC say “And I also need you to kill – “ -looks at head #15 of 45 – “oh, wait, never mind. You got him.” – that would be a major quality of life and immersion improvement for me.

What do you think? Do you want MORE choice, not less? Do you have a better solution for boomerang quests (or do you actually like the darn things?)? Let us know below.

Quotes taken directly from their respective sources.

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Dailies, Dungeons and Choices

Hey, everyone! I’m back from my week off, refreshed and renewed – thanks to Johnnie for holding down the fort in my absence.

As I’ve been reading back over the last couple of days in the blogosphere, the common thread that’s struck me is a lot of very interesting, intelligent discussion of some fairly high-level game concepts. It seems that change is still in the air, and people are looking at old concepts with “the future’s coming” eyes…

  • Nils has a really interesting piece on daily quests, focusing on the idea that dailies are driven by a fear of lossBy introducing an artificial limit of how often an activity can be conducted per day (/week), Blizzard also introduces a potential permanent loss. If you don’t do a daily today, it will be lost forever. Thus, you feel like you really should do the daily.
  • Straw Fellow has been considering randomised dungeons, and asking whether they’d help preserve a game’s longevityRandom dungeons would require a bit more attention than normal ones, as you couldn’t reliably predict the next encounter or puzzle. Randomized loot means there is potential to find an upgrade for everyone, unless you outgear the content of course. The track record of success with randomized dungeons is fairly high already, and the random nature ensures a good level of re-playability at least.
  • And Tobold’s been considering the issue of choice, and just what a game needs to offer to make a choice meaningfulIf the option to make the “wrong” choice disappears, then that is not really a choice any more. It is like the “choice” in a MMORPG whether you want to accept the quest to kill 10 foozles, or whether you want to those foozles without a quest and miss out on the quest reward.

What are your thoughts? Hate random dungeons? Feel that SWTOR will offer genuine choices? Love dailies? Put ‘em below!

All quotes taken directly from the respective blog post.

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Editorial: Blizzard Burying Raid Content – Quick, Light A Candle

Awwwww, nevermind. *pat pat* here, have a cookie.

That’s what Blizzard’s just said to my raiders and I who are still on Valiona and Theralion and Maloriak. Normal. Maybe you too, or your alts’ raid, or your friends’ raid guild. But they haven’t stopped there.

Have all of the cookies! Well, the old ones anyway. And here, we’ll make them fall from the sky so you don’t have to put any effort in at all – not even stretch a bit to reach the cookie jar on top shelf. All you have to do is stand around in vaguely the right place, slack jawed and glassy eyed, and you’ll snag some nommable drops.

You can handle that right? It’ll be fine. It’ll be just like the raids in 4.2!

I like cookies as much as the next disheartened, previously quite competitive small-guild raider who’s been pushed from pillar to post since Cataclysm arrived. But I don’t want Blizzard fiddling with how I get cookies just because there’s a newer brand on the shelf, and I certainly don’t want them falling from the sky. I want to feel like I’ve earned my cookies. Just like I want to be able to feel like I’ve earned my raid kills.

Last night Blizzard announced in 4.2 they’re planning to nerf tier 11 raid content across the board. Not a stacking debuff as worked so well in ICC, and not a small nerf to just take the edge off, if they must nerf. Not even a “your raid leader can switch it on or off” nerf.

No, they’ve announced a whooping 20% nerf on average to all bosses, with some receiving extra special treatment (less maggots on Magmaw? Really? Make my life as add tank boring why don’t you?)

Let’s have some context here. In Wrath my guild downed the Lich King on 10 man one week into the 15% buff to damage/healing being active: we just missed downing him on 10% by a few perecent. For a small 10 man (and no more) guild of friends who raided once a week, twice if we felt like it, that was bloody good going.

In Cataclysm things changed drastically for us. Some changes to the game such as LFD and guild challenges basically steam rollered the support networks we’d grown in order to survive as a raiding group. We lost people before Cataclysm. We took ages to get into raids because of the heroic ilevel requirment. We started raiding about 6-8 weeks ago. And we’ve downed four bosses.

We recently accepted the fact that we don’t fit into WoW the same way we did in Wrath: we accept that we’re now more social and casual than we were then. The game’s changed, our group’s changed, we can’t be what we were. We are downing bosses slowly. It’s just about the right level of challenge for us now, although by thorison’s beard do I wish there were less “don’t stand in the fi- … oh well” fights.

Heroic modes are so far in the distance they might as well be the restaurant at the end of the universe. Normal modes, right now, this level of difficulty, is our territory.

This 20% nerf is going to bulldoze it. Bear in mind that we’re already going to be having a much easier time in the raids thanks to the justice point gear available post 4.2.

The 20% nerf on top of that will take it from challenging but doable and rewarding a sense of achievement to a cakewalk. It’ll be an express lift to tier 12, which will feel a whole lot less satisfying than had we walked up the 12 flights of stairs and got to the damn banquet by ourselves. To tier 12, where we’ll probably smash into a brick wall and be even more dispirited because of the false sense of ease the remainder of tier 11 will have given us by then.

Do not want. Bypasses do not have to be built.

Ah, you say, but the intention of this nerf is nothing to do with players like you! Remember you’re just a small section of the playerbase, there are lots of others out there!

You’re right. So who’s the lucky intended recipient of these cookies falling from heaven? Is it the shaman I had in my dungeon group just the other day, who insisted on skipping to the end boss because “this dunagen is boring [spelling and everything]”, and that he could tank because the tank left? And did so, gave the healer cause for repeated heart palpitations, causing them to leave? The shaman who then boldly waltzed into a room full of angry dwarves armed to the black eyeballs with rifles, got us all killed, then “gtg”? No, I don’t think it’s aimed at him. I think he’s probably safely tucked up in bed before his guild raids.

Or maybe at the three (count them) druid healers I got one after the other in a ZG PUG shortly after the instance was released. Three of ’em because each one left saying “lol you guys [the ones doing 14k DPS] are crap”, as we didn’t know tactics like the back of our hands yet? No, clearly not aimed at them, their gear showed that they’d already done the raids. Or at least their guilds had, and had fed them shinies for tagging along.

Or maybe it’s aimed at the real social, the next level of laid-backness down from me, the ones who occasionally do a dungeon but don’t raid because it’s “too hard” if you believe the accepted wisdom? Well,I have characters on another server and they’re all in an incredibly laid back guild like this. Said guild doesn’t raid, and yes, the content difficulty is one of the reasons. But there are a whole bunch of other reasons before you get to that one. Reasons like never having enough people on at once, never being able to organise anything because people have small children and real lives who they always prefer to put first, or not having enough tanks/healers to fill the roles. Why do these reasons get in the way of raiding? Because it’s not a raiding guild. These players mightn’t mind seeing the raid content they’re missing out on – the raid content Blizzard is about to nerf allegedly in the name of content tourism – but they’re not particularly fussed either. They’ve got lots of other things to be doing like chatting to each other and bimbling through the end game content that doesn’t involve the words “blackwing” or “Chogal”.

So I can’t see who they’ve aimed this at. Let’s take a look at some motives behind the nerf rather than looking for whom Blizzard wants to put on the “special” bus.

Scenario 1 – raid tourism

Blizzard say they’ve done this because they want everyone to see the content. Awwwwww, isn’t it sweet, little Blizzy wants to show everyone what he drew?Images thanks to Lara604 and goldiekatsu @flickr

The raid tourism defence doesn’t stand up – see above. And yes, I know there are a nitwibble tonne of other guilds out there who are less progressed than my guild. But I think they, like us, would do just fine with either a 5-10% nerf or a stacking debuff a’la ICC. An across-board blast with the nerf BFG isn’t necessary.

Scenario 2 – enabling PUGs

There have been a *lot* less PUGs for tier 11 raids than there were for any Wrath raid. I wonder whether Blizzard wants to help people gear up all the faster for tier 12 content and are nerfing tier 11 so much that people will have no fear of forming PUGs and stepping boldly through the door to kill the bosses by doing /fierece emotes at them.

Scenario 3 – dumbing down

I’m not even a top raider and I’m saying that Blizzard wants, for some obscure and idiotic reason, to dumb the game down even further. A lot of people have been saying for aaaaaaaages that Blizzard keep dumbing the game down but this is a whole new level of dumb. I don’t know, maybe they’re scrabbling to keep subscribers by making sure they can see the content rather than driving them away. Who or what was their control group for making this decision anyway?

My prediction? The opposite will happen. Smaller, more casual guilds like mine will rush through the rest of tier 11 and then hit a brick wall in tier 12. And because there are only 7 bosses and 1 raid instance to house them all, there’s no variety. Everyone, whether they get stuck or complete the content, will get bored. And I’ve no idea when or what the next patch is. Let’s see what the subscriber numbers do then, eh?

That’s it. Apologies for the nerd rage, though I believe I have some fair points here. Our guild has been pushed from pillar to proverbial lava decayed post since Cataclysm, and we’d just about clawed ourselves a way to survive as a raid group. By just about I’m not kidding – we’ve had so many setbacks and problems we’ve been dangling by a single thread for so long and the only reason we’re still here is because we’re a very close knit group of friends. But Blizzard bulldozing that way we’d carved, that territory, is like a slap in the face for not getting through the content fast enough and then a condescending pat on the head and cooing reassurance that they’ll make it all better.

Do. Not. Want.

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Would You Cheat To Kill A Boss?

Sven over at Fail PUG’s come up with an interesting thought experiment – a cheat button. Entirely optional. He’s asking you to put yourselves in the shoes of a future you who’s in a group that’s bashing its  head off a boss and has the option to, with the push of a button, simply make the boss keel over and move on.

Sven’s thought this through: his idea has some defined parameters which mean it’s not a one-person decision. On top of that Sven does a great job writing this up in such a way as to remind you just how guilt inducing or at least un-fulfilling a cheat button would be.

People have been using cheat codes in single player games for ages, to avoid content they dislike. What’s the difference? MMOs aren’t a zero-sum game. By getting the shiny epixx from Mr Bigboss, you aren’t preventing anyone else from getting them.

Either way, it’s an interesting idea. I’m as curious as Sven is to know whether you’d use this, and how often, and whether some types of group content would encourage people to use it more often. And whether this would really be the last straw for LFD groups!

What do you think – a nice option for stuck raiders, or something the WoW community could no longer use responsibly?

_Quote taken directly from Sven’s post

You can find Sven’s Fail PUG homepage here_

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Does Limiting Talent Specs In WoW Make Them ‘Meaningful Choices’?

Blacksen’s brought an old-new topic to the table today. He says that in WoW we should get unlimited talent specs. Or at least, a third talent spec. Sure, we might’ve heard this topic before. But Blacksen’s got a fresh and very convincing approach on it and his argument is very well constructed. So much so I’m scratching my head here looking for holes in it.

He links the MMO Champion forums and the WoW forums, where the discussion kicked off. Then Blacksen launches into his own argument, looking at the developers’ take on this. That is, they want talent specs to be meaningful choices. Blacksen says that having to pay in both gold and time to re-respec isn’t a meaningful choice, and it’s something a lot of WoW players do on a frequent basis.

The 66g and time-input doesn’t “magically create” a meaningful decision. Similarly, the 10g that it costs for swapping glyphs doesn’t make glyphs a “meaningful decision.” The meaning is derived from the fact that you must choose. From ~10 glyphs per prime/major category, you can only bring 3. Out of over 110 talents, you must choose 41, and 31 of those have to be in a single tree.

He points out that the meaningful decision comes in how you choose to spend your talents in a given spec. Indeed, Blacksen goes over examples of meaningful and non-meaningful decisions in the game, and the fact that WoW is an exception to this rule. Every other game he plays, he says, allows for a lot more flexibility in what direction your character excels in at any given time.

Blacksen wants to get this discussion out there and his post is persuasive enough to have a serious think. So tell me – where do you stand on this – would unlimited specs just remove the pointless gold/time respeccing cost, or would it remove a character’s individuality?

_Quote taken directly from Blacksen’s post

You can find Blacksen’s End homepage here_

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Mana Obscura: Which Subscription Model Would You Prefer?

The World of Warcraft is huge. Package all the types of content into one game and it’s suddenly a huge world of possibilities and experiences. The mind boggles. So thumbs up for Gazimoff who’s wondering today – what’s the future of subscription and do we want to be able to choose what content we buy?

Gaz points out we’re already seeing choices in subscription types  in some games, where you can choose what content you purchase. But he says this can become costly if you end up wanting all the available options, and the more traditional flat subscription fee for all content that WoW champions doesn’t have that problem.

But what if we had more choices than that? Say you could choose the Lite Edition with only a handful of character slots and limited bagspace, or the Gargantuan Edition with a shedload of space for alts and an aircraft hangar to store all your inventory, or a range of other types in the middle.

Gaz also touches on the debacle over whether cinematics would cost extra if one was downloading the digital version of Cataclysm. It’s an interesting point to mention, as it suggests a fine line between when it’s acceptable to charge for extra content and what type – is charging extra for another raid zone okay while charging for the cinematics are not?

We’re getting into another debate here but Gaz has certainly opened an interesting can of beans. I’m genuinely interested to see how this one turns out – what do you think? Let him (and us!) know!

_Quote taken directly from Gazimoff’s post

You can find Mana Obscura’s homepage here_

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Looking For More: The Nature Of Adventurers

So lately some of us have been worriting about dodgy quests in Azeroth. While that’s a valid concern to pin down, it’s also good to look at the lighter side. That’s exactly what Analogue over at Looking For More is doing today with a brief post looking at just how our characters really are when they’re off out adventuring.

Analogue’s pointing out that while some quests like the torture one in Borean Tundra might cause a rumpus, our characters don’t exactly stop to question the quest givers who ask us to lay waste to their neighbours. Neighbours who may be any range of species from kobold to dwarf and whom might be doing nothing more heinous than knitting, or dusting their prize candle collection.

Then there’s these errands people have us do. We really just… take their word for it that the kobolds are a threat. Honestly, they’re usually sitting in their camps minding their own business. Farmer Bob says they’re a threat, and he’ll give me some nice shoes if I kill them all, but it’s entirely possible he just wants their land for more turnip fields.

Analogue’s post isn’t meant to be overly serious. While it does have a sincere point at its heart, it’s both brilliant and refreshing for providing a touch of lightheartedness. Now excuse me while I go thin the local ostrich population. Real dangerous, those birds.

Funny that the quest giver was standing next to the campfire looking hungry, now I think of it.

_Quote taken directly from Analogue’s post_

_Looking For More’s homepage is here_

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The Mental Shaman: Big Words And Big Topics

Pewter’s on a roll. No, really – she’s followed up her recent post on female representation in WoW with a new one on heteronormativity. And goblins.

Wait! Don’t let that scare you off of her post. “Heteronormativity” is just a technical term for a life-view saying people fall into distinct genders with natural roles in life and heterosexuality being the norm. Says wikipedia. And goblins can’t help having ears which are both pointy and flopsy at the same time. Says me.

So Pewter’s latest article looks at the way Blizzard’s representing roles and relationships in Cataclysm. She’s taking a close look at the goblin starter quests which give you pre-made character relationships which you deal with, not in the nicest of ways, as the questline progresses. Perhaps the worst thing? You have to complete these quests unless you want to come to a halt questing in the whole zone.

Well, yes. I’ve always seen World of Warcraft a little bit like Doctor Who – you can change or chose to do many things, but there are fixed points in Time and Space where you can’t stop the Big Tragedy. You can’t stop or change Wrathgate, but you can participate in it. … The Goblin Girl/Boyfriend crosses a line from participating in the world and making choices about it, to making choices for you. There isn’t much choice involved in questing or levelling to begin with, so for me this particular storyline was somewhat jarring. The reactions of some lesbian and gay players I know has been ‘gee, heteronormative much?’

Despite Pewter describing it as long and rambling I thoroughly enjoyed reading her post. She links to several thought-provoking sources and also has a lot of good points, talking round similar issues that’ve come up ingame like the torture quest in Borean Tundra, and the general impact of such quests on various communities.

What about you – do you feel these quests are constraining and mindless, or is it all just a game?

_Quote taken directly from Pewter’s post_

_The ‘mental Shaman’s homepage is here_**

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Feminism In WoW: Considerations From Oestrus

It looks like feminism’s really alive and kicking in World of Warcraft with regular prods at it popping up nigh-weekly now. Today I’ve got a couple of links for you on the topic but with such different tones they’re rolling as seperate posts.

Oestrus over at The Stories of O is first up with _It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s Azeroth_. Her post is a response to recent discussions about female representation in WoW, where some of the biggest topics have been the lack of women in the victory statue, inappropriate goblin jokes and women and geek culture on a wider scale.

I choose not to be part of them.  I choose not to run with those people.  I ask those questions when I am about to join a guild.  I do not support people that feel that way about myself or other woman or homosexuals or anything like that.  If they want to succeed in this game, they will do so without me.  That is how I voice my discontent with people who keep those stereotypes or those hurtful activities going.  I fight the good fight in my own way – just as other female gamers chip away at things on their terms.  We’re all right, here.  There is no wrong way to represent.  We’re in this together.

Oestrus is giving a counterpoint to previous discussions and that makes it an interesting read. What makes it a great read is her level-headedness throughout and that the post reads as coming from the heart rather than expecting attack for not agreeing.

The topic isn’t devolving into a scathing hissy fit accusing anyone of eating our grandmothers and then gazing funny at us, as might happen in other arenas. That speaks good things to my mind for the WoW blogosphere and our respect for a potentially touchy subject. Good stuff, folks.

Come back later for another post on feminism with a lighter tone and impish grin.

Meanwhile – what do you think – is voting with your feet enough, or should we be trying to do more to deal with problems? Are they problems?

_Quote taken directly from Oestrus’ post_

The Stories of O’s homepage is here.

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Big Bear Butt: Tanking. Is It For You?

“Tank Talk: Choosing To Tank” is Big Bear Butt’s eminently logical look at what tanks go through when they, y’know, tank. For PUGs. He’s defining what it takes to be a good player in a game which can embody unending potential for your sedate party to be gatecrashed by the rowdy lout down the road.

A good player, to me, is simply someone that cares. Everything else is negotiable.

If I’m grouping up, then it’s a different game entirely. Why? Because whatever I do affects other real people, and I don’t want to be the one that screws up or causes the group to fail, or even annoys people. I’m playing for fun, I am inferring that THEY are playing for fun…

As soon as someone in the group reveals through their words or actions that they don’t care… well, I’ve said it before, you don’t have to be anybody’s bitch. You deserve a certain amount of consideration and respect, too.

The group requirement is a big obstacle for potential tanks.

It’s good to see homely values of being a good player are still alive and kicking, while at the same time being combined with great tanking tips on protecting your group from probable numbskull related death.

I find his logic that everything else falls into place once you’ve sussed out being a good player vaguely comforting, as if I’ve been sat down and given a mug of cocoa while gently encouraged to think about Tanking And Me.

_What do you think – is tanking for anyone, or something for the fool-hardy rather than the faint-hearted (or sensible) these days?

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_Quote taken directly from Big Bear Butt’s post._

_Big Bear Butt’s homepage is here._

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