Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Beginning Firelands/Patch 4.2

Well, 4.2 is out. I've played a bit -- all on the MacBook -- and it's, well, interesting. It's not so much PvE end game for soloers as much as a minimally interactive movie so far. Sure, I've gotten lazy and dropped two healing pots, but there's really zero strategy and lots of mob clean up stuck between cut scenes. Even though the cut scenes, like the one where Thrall is taken away, are meant to pull you out of the millions of PCs running around HyJal right now and thrust you into what briefly looks like a position of singular fame and power, the facade drops away so quickly once the cutscenes are done that Blizzard'd be better off leaving them out entirely. It'd be better to treat you as what you are -- one of thousands attempting to fight the same thing.

The touch-and-tally quests (instead of "Kill X of Y" we have "Damage X of Y before someone else is done with them") really undercut their difficulty and feeling of accomplishment. I feel like I'm marking time.

Anyhow, the best source I've seen so far in the blogroll for figuring out the big picture for the questline is at Shifting Perspectives in the post "Faction rewards for balance in 4.2". Right now we're all here:

In order to begin your new adventure, simply pick up the starter quest from any of the new adventure boards located in a major city. This will send you out to Sanctuary of Malorne in Hyjal where the druids are under attack. After the initial quest chain, you'll gain access to three daily quests. It takes 20 Marks of the World Tree to open the next stage, which requires three days' worth of questing to get.

After those minimum three days, you've got "at least 10 days" before you can move from the first group of Firelands dailies to "unlock either the Druids of the Talon or the Shadow Warden" who offer you yet more quests that apparently take at least seven days to complete. After that, "you will open up three new quests that will finally net you the rewards that you've been after. Each of these quests require 125 Marks in order to open, which will take you 6 days or so in order to reach."

So, to sum, "From start to finish, it will take you around 36 days, 35 at a minimum, in order to unlock everything." Wow, indeed. If the quests don't get a heck of a lot more enjoyable, and soon, this will redefine the meaning of "grind". If Blizzard loses many more subscribers in a month than they gained from folks coming back, I wouldn't be surprised in the least.

Friday, June 24, 2011

EVE's microtransactions: Developing profit vs. fun? Virtual vs. Real?

Spinks recently had a post on EVE's apparent plans to put pretty involved microtransactions into the game.  Her response was, well, I can't quite say "common", because it's not the most common response, but perhaps it's the most predictable of the interesting, thoughtful responses.  Here's a bit.

One of the main reasons that I think long term players get concerned about some of these microtransaction plans is that there’s a point where you wonder how far game devs are putting profit above making fun games. And if your main concern as a consumer is to buy (and pay for) fun games, you’d probably like THAT to be their main focus. [emphasis mine]

These are interesting distinctions.  Is there really a fun vs. profit measurement duality for video game developers?  Isn't profit always the primary motivator for, say, Blizzard and CCP Games when they're designing a game?  Whose job is motivated and measured only by fun maximization?  I wonder about playtesters, but I'm having a hard time arguing they're really primarily about fun; having done that a bit, it's more of a bug finding expedition.  In fact, the only game designer I can think of that's really gotten away with "fun" (measured perhaps in unconventional ways) rather than profit is id, where johnc seems to be able to release when he's darned well ready, after the game has whatever techs and features he feels are appropriate.  It's the one place where "When it's done" is always the deadline, and if there's no id software release for, well, years, that's also okay.  But they only get to ignore profit because they already have plenty [and apparently manage that profit fairly well!].  I think you also have to argue that they changed the mode of production with video game design, or at least added an alternative mode, that of shareware.  They could make a game on their own schedule and release, give or take, directly to their market.  PopCap has a lot to thank id for pioneering.

Well, I guess there's another prime example of a "game dev" who puts "fun" above profits, and that's Jonathan BlowBraid was a game that was meant to be completely for "fun", though I believe the term of art is (ironically) an "art" game.  Watching what he's doing with The Witness, the currently in-dev Braid follow-up, is also interesting, particularly his undercover demo of the game at the Penny Arcade Expo.

I mean, Blow is a guy who says stuff like, "[My presentation is] about 'best practices' of modern game design that I find unsettling, and the way in which 'social games' and 'gamification' are destructive."  Though Braid has been horribly successful and, I think it's safe to assume, a serious moneymaker, he's likely (?) not primarily motivated by profit.  Rather, he's at the very least actively interested in (vs. id, who was passively hoping to) redefining the mode of production for video game design and consumption. 

Anyone who comments on the state of games should watch Blow's MIGS lecture slides with audio here to see a sort of game developer countculture/alternative.

(There are others who might call themselves academic game developers, but honestly, I'm not sure I've seen anyone more motivated as a group by money, with some exceptionally notable exceptions (he said twice), than academics.  Academics [in the humanities and in "hybrid" or interdiscplinary fields that include or originate largely in the humanities; engineering professors, eg, are much more honest about their profit-centric research] money fetish is revealed largely by their obsession with repressing their pursuit of cash, you know, like when they frame funding as "a necessarily evil", but love to wield the power from grants like children on their birthday.  I can't consider most of these academic game developers in the same boat with Blow though, again, many are doing good stuff.  For example, based on their work that I've seen, I'd like to think Michael Mateas or Nick Montfort is trying, but I don't know either well.)

Let me also mention, just for Google, "singular rhythms" here.

Anyhow, here's the discussion from Spink's blog, copied here in case Spinksville ever goes away (not that it should, it's just that I hate when blogs disappear).

we like virtual worlds because they’re separate from the rat race of the real world. It’s because the real world doesn’t have much effect on the game world that the game world can be relaxed and fun

You’re first going to have to show me which games don’t overlap with the “real world”. Some are softballs, like “time”, which is obviously shared. But you also have to think about links between hardware requirements, internet access, and economic status. Think Bot Fighters (a mobile phone game) vs. World of Warcraft. Also think of cultural overlaps — ever seen someone speaking French in game? Fun, isn’t it?

As brief as I can put it: There’s no way I play Sojourn MUD literally for days if I’m not a student in college, you know? I’m not exposed to it, I don’t have the always-on network connection to play, nor the “free” time at 2am to play.

There’s a willful suspension of belief [sic] when someone goes virtual, but virtual is always about potential (sorry to trend Deleuzian here) rather than an alternative to the real.

  • “You’re first going to have to show me which games don’t overlap with the “real world”

    If you really don’t want to assume people have time and hardware enough to play computer games then I guess board games or storytelling games is where you start, and assume the majority of people could make 20 mins for a social gaming session.

    But we’re talking about computer games, so let’s assume a baseline of hardware and some available time. It is pretty easy to suspend disbelief in a virtual setting, even with minimal graphics, so it won’t need to be especially good hardware. I’m quite good at suspending disbelief, but not if game mechanics are constantly throwing RL in my face.

    But ultimately it’s easier to think of it as a continuum. Some games or types of games it’ll be easier for a player to immerse and shut the real world aspects out while they play, others it’ll be more in your face the whole time. You can still play Sojourn MUD without playing it for days on end, right? Presumably a game where power is related to time available is more immersive than one where it’s related to both time available AND RL money available. I did say minimal overlap, not none at all. I just meant a game where it’s easy to pretend it really is another world.

    • First, just to be clear, I never played Sojourn MUD for days on end. It was just that my /played there was the first I’d seen measured in days, which scared me. Little did I know how low that number would be relative to what I’d be playing in a few years… ;^)

      In my post, I was just trying to focus you away from virtual vs. real. It’s so much more interesting to talk about how the two interact, as they’re always interacting. The real world always has a direct effect on the game, since there’s really no distinction. Even a board game is highly situated culturally and commercially. What game? Where was it made? How was it made? What supply chains are required for it to be made and distributed? How was it marketed? What are the origins of its rules? Does it require literacy to play? Math? Logic? What types of logic does it favor? How is gender represented in-game? etc etc etc Those are interesting questions, but for me, MMOs raise some more very interesting and specific ones.

      So here, I wonder what’s lost by having cosmetic items in game? How does the ability to directly translate conventional cash into goods break your suspension of disbelief — and why? Why is a shirt purchased with traditional 1st world currency any more off-putting than one purchased with in-game only currency? Both require time to amass. Both represent work traded for consumables. Both sorts of goods accumulation represent very similar rat races. Why is it that a highly structured and controlled rat race in-game is more liberating to you than the rat race of a gameless life? What’s the benefit of keeping a mental distinction between the two? Is there a point at which the online rat race could become the drudgery and you’re excited about your job? Do[es] anyone work at Starbucks to escape their boutique in Second Life? ;^) These are interesting questions with potentially enlightening answers, I think.

      The lack of virtual vs. real is largely the point of Edward Castronova’s work, but it’s a line of inquiry that’s worth extending. Sure, there’s a relatively minimal overlap somewhere, but that’s only a relative measurement. Dig a bit under the surface, and that perception of a minimum overlap is actually a heck of a deep interconnection.

I guess I would sum by saying, "Games always throw RL in your face, there are just times we've let ourselves get too habitualized to notice it." And it's there that the real politics begin.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dev Watercooler discusses questing past 85

It's an interesting discussion, and good to see (duh) that Blizzard realizes there are people who enjoy questing more than instancing -- or at least those whose lifestyles support 20 minutes (sometimes 2 minutes!) of questing, not and hour or five of instancing and raiding. There should be multiple endgames.

Here's some of their take:

In the absence of gaining levels, there are still ways to reward players who want to continue questing or playing through quest-like experiences. Here are some things (there may be more) that might encourage players like this to stick around:

Participation in an epic story
A sense of progress
Discovery of something new or unexpected each day
Earning character customization (including cool mounts!)
Earning fun toys
Making your character more powerful

That's a good start. Story and gear are certainly my two. I want something memorable. That's been rare. I also want to be able to run instances without detracting from the party. The Catch-22 of having to run an instance to get instance-ready gear is a real pita. And when you don't get to instance that much, you want to overgear slightly to make up for your gameplay. I can PvE with the best of 'em. Not so much run Shadowfang.

We've grappled with this problem before, and we'll continue to tinker with solutions. The Isle of Quel'Danas provided people with a great sense of progression, at least on a realm-wide level, and it sure felt epic. The Argent Tournament definitely gave players a sense of personal progress, as well as lots of fun toys.

Ewww. The Argent Tournament stunk. STUNK. Not fun. The Isle was at least an easy, visually impressive grind, and I got to put my items to good use waxing demons, so there was a little strat going from quest to quest, but it was still more grindy than epic storyline. They're overselling themselves here.

The Guardians of Hyjal are getting smart in patch 4.2. They're not just assaulting the Firelands with hardcore raiding guilds… they're attacking that place with everything they've got. That includes you, solo players! We've created a whole zone dedicated to daily questing. There are some 60 new quests in total -- that's about half a zone's worth of quest content. While the raiders are concentrating on taking down the likes of Ragnaros, you'll be securing the rest of his fiery domain.

There's also a story here, a chronicle of a vicious, knock-down, drag-out fight that begins in Hyjal and progresses -- over the course of weeks -- across the mountaintop and then into the Firelands themselves...

The progression is personal: you won’t see it happen until you make it happen.

Well, let's hope. I did enjoy the story in HyJal the most, though Therazane was the most visually impressive and the Wildhammer Clan the most memorable. The developers essentially beg you to beta test Firelands in the Watercooler piece, asking you to tell them where the storyline ain't hot. W[hy]tf do I want to see the storyline to tell you how to make the storyline better? The whole point of being a causal quester is that I like to run through the stuff once. If I just loved questing and didn't mind seeing content over again, I'd be an alt-a-holic.

And though Matlocker, prot-boy extraordinaire is now 21, I realized this week that it's been six years since I last quested in Duskwood. SIX YEARS. That's how long I like between doing and repeating my quests. I hope they go PTR to roll-out for Firelands in less than 6 years. And even then I want a cataclysm in between and a good reason -- Recruit-a-Friend and a friend -- before I'll run it.

Much of the motivation here is nostalgia. Just look at my complaints about what they did to Stitches and Acheus. I'm upset about a sword I never used, for heaven's sake. I'm not replaying just for fun. I'm not going to run the PTR and then run Firelands again when it's released. I've no interest in "What If" Jalindrine. I want good story and gear that rewards my serious questing and allows me to enjoy the periodic instance the first time.

/thus ends the lesson ;^)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Alt Ding -- Prot 20 19

Not real exciting, but I did grab the MacBook to log back into my alt account for a few minutes last night and dinged my prot warrior to 20 19. I think this means I'm nearly ready for a mount (apparently supposed to get a letter about it soon when I hit 20). Wow, I know I'm a "walked to and from school in the snow, uphill both ways, pelted with tiny rocks" kind of guy here, but sheesh, nerf. That's quick, and I'm not even using heirlooms. He's already half-way to Revered with Darn, but that still means he's far enough away that he's going to have to get a mount from someone else. It's been so long since I had to check this out... and before I had a guildie have pity on me, as I remember being 40 without a mount because I kept putting money into new weapons.

Darkshore was actually quite fun this go through, though I'm not quite done. Some lame stuff, sure, but the quests culminating around the vortex in the middle of the zone was a good lore mnemonic. I really don't remember much from the first go with Jal other than Gubber, the Highborne (and the fairly spooky shrieks), some Naga-ish guys, killing crabs, and the corrupted fauna. I guess there was that mechno-something on the beach I had to wax too. But as far as lore or storyline, the new Darkshore does much better. Good elemental invasion/Twilight Hammer tie-in, we see the Highborne again, and the early appearance of Malfurion is nice. Visuals are more impressive (see fire, above), though they would have killed my iBook G4 in 2005.

I feel a little like a tourist playing it as a gnome, but when your buddy's a night elf, well...

Slowly getting Jal's life up at Picasa. Levels 14-28 are up now. Not sure I have anything earlier. Feel like I should be getting Archeology points for doing this.

Guess that's all. Enjoy the Tuesday downtime.

Ah yes, one more update. Got a new monitor for my office to go dual monitor. Bagged a nice dual monitor stand, and have one in portrait now to preview webpages as I code them. It's a good monitor out of the box, fwiw. Very clear. Much better than my previous monitor's LCD. Speakers can barely be heard over my office fan, but I took the externals off of my desk immediately to save space. The price of the monitor is back up to $130, but it was a steal at $110 shipped.

But the upshot for you, of course, is that Jal'll be going to 1920x1080 screenshots when I'm playing on the tower.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Flickr Fail

Well, that experiment didn't work so well. I thought 300 mb/month was a ton of pictures -- and it is. Problem being that only the last 200 of them get to show up to everyone else.

Maybe I'll make 'em smaller and put on PicasaWeb.

The most fun part of this so far are the screenshots that show things I was doing around playing. I'll post one without much info here. The iBook G4 had a hard time keeping up at times, so I'd swap to 800x600 from 1024x768. Problem there is that the screen would look crummy if I used fullscreen -- 800x600 doesn't scale to a 1024x768 pixel screen well. When I hooked up to my external CRT monitor at home, it's no problem, but occasionally I wouldn't, and would go to windowed mode, which was still a serious performance boost over fullscreen at 1024.

So, here, we see I'm reading about college football, have that weird duck-themed AIM client running, seem to be playing on dialup and WiFi (? -- guess those icons have changed meanings), and have Preview open with two images. Other snaps show me looking up stuff on Thott, or doing research for grad school with call numbers visible, etc. Interesting look into the life behind my WoW Life.

Of course the chat from in-game on General is pretty classic too.
1) ugh just got back from there and the traininer [sic] is fresh out of stuff for me
2) GO to IF
1) ironforge?
2) yea
1) how do i get there?

Ah, the good old days, when we weren't sure IF meant Ironforge and didn't have any idea how to get from Auberdine to IF.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A week of rest...

I'm taking a quick week off of WoW to finish some work and get my proverbial ducks into their rows. These ducks include the pre-Heroic level 85 gearing guide and a Flickr account for Jal. I compulsively snap screenshots, and figure I'll put them up, starting with the oldest ones I can find. He's made his way through a number of computers... I'll selfishly take this time to try and remember them.

iBook G4
Rented tower at a gaming bar (2-days)
PowerMac G4 (on campus)
iMac G4
Rented tower at Gamefrog (1 day)
Mac Mini G4
Black self-built Windows tower, incarnation 1
Vostro laptop
Intel Mac Mini
Intel MacBook
Black self-built Windows tower, incarnation 2 (Quad-core)

That's a lot of places for pictures. Can you tell I program for cash and am a little computer crazy? Wonder if I can pick out most of the pictures' sources by resolution. It has been five years, in my defense.

It'll probably only be a week, since my alt account (with just a prot warrior) is only paid up through the 12th, and I'd like to run with my buddy another time or two before that expires. I'd been considering running my alt-account alt through Duskwood during my "time off" as while I wait for my account to come back, as Duskwood was one of my favorite zones for Jal when he was low. I also remembered the Morgan Laidmore/Acheus questline down to being upset I couldn't wield that powerful sword since I was a druid.

Well, turns out my prot warrior can't wield it either. Acheus, and about half of what made Duskwood k3wl, is gone. Goodbye, Real Stitches.

Oh well. It has been fun to run back through the lowbie elf zones, though I miss Gubber.

EDIT: Got the first few/oldest pictures up at