Why Level Caps in Games Sucks

I’ve never been a fan of level caps in RPGs. AD&D had them in many games. If you bought something like the original Pools of Radiance Gold Box edition, you were limited to 8 or so on average. Only by getting the expansions you would be able to receive more levels. The problem I found was that you were perpetually limited by levels in terms of abilities. Of course, if you played any significant amount of AD&D, you’d realize that you can have far more abilities than what these games offered.

The Ultima series also imposed level caps. Once you hit those levels, then you pretty much focused on finishing the game. Similarly though, you would end up picking items and certain characters to optimize your game play. So again you could not avoid the cookie cutter game play.

Looking at World of Warcraft, I’ve come to realize that level caps hurt games because of how you limit abilities. WoW wants to avoid the cookie cutter talent tree feeling by once again re-inventing the talent tree (it’s not even a tree anymore). But you really can’t move away from the cookie cutter aspect simply because there’s an artificial limit imposed that essentially dictates the maximum number of skills/points or whatever one can achieve. After that point, you have no where to go. In the case of WoW, gear upgrades provided through each patch become the only way for measurement of progress in the game (and downing bosses; but that seems more personal than anything since there’s a PVP aspect; also, we’re talking about a reward system that shows character improvement)

One major difference between WoW and these other games I mentioned is that once you purchased an Ultima 4 or a Pool of Darkness, you could play it endlessly, revisit the game, etc. without having to pay additional monthly fees. In other words, you would come to a stopping point. WoW though isn’t something you just “stop.” You can stop paying but if all you want is just to play the game for one week, could you justify reopening an account for that period?

That said, the mentality involved here is that you don’t really want to just “quit” a game like WoW. However, you do want to feel like you’re making head way into the game from a character point of view. In this sense, I really hate the idea of level caps because you feel as though you can’t make progress on the character itself and depend on other means of measurement for feeling the character improves.

Games that avoid this are like Bard’s Tale, Wizardry, Diablo and Might and Magic to name a few. There might be a limit cap, but actually reaching that cap is pretty tough. More importantly though, each level isn’t so significant that it completely unbalances the game. Yet when you receive a level, you’re rewarded with some choice in distributing your points (well, in BT, those points are automatically distributed)

You might argue that some players might just grind all day and night to max out there characters, thereby destroying balance once again. First, there are ways to offset this situation. One is to make leveling really hard by increasing the required amount of XP per level to grow at a steady, but scaled pace. Two, make it so that each level only imparts some enhancements like hit points, spell points, attributes, etc. For PVP, limit it to brackets of levels. For monsters, limit encounters to a range of levels.

The thing about a game like WoW is that only the last level in the game (for that particular expansion) is the only meaningful one. I mean, why even bother having levels when the rest are meaningless? Or why bother having higher levels when the next expansion re-invents them completely?

The arguments the developers make in terms of cookie cutter specs and choices are quite fallacious. IMO, the thing is that they’ve never attempted to differentiate between PVP and PVE clearly to offset the balances imposed by the two. But they will never get around the cookie cutter aspect unless each ability in the talent tree are made equal to some degree. But again, what’s the point if all you’re doing is adding color, time/penalties and other things just to offset each other?

Mist of Panderia Announced at BlizzCon 2011

As anticipated the latest expansion to the World of Warcraft series was announced at BlizzCon 2011 on Friday. My first reaction after seeing the introduction of the Panda (or rather Panderan) race was:

WTF??????

Quite honestly, I thought it was a joke. But alas it’s not April Fools. Even reading the reactions from others, a similar sentiment was shared by the online WoW community. However, even without the details of the expansion, the level of depth in the graphics for the announcement alone should dispel any doubts of the seriousness in Blizzard’s devotion for developing this expansion.

Even if you might think that playing a panda might be a complete joke, if you examined the hints of the new world, you could not help but be impressed by the new art and possibilities for this expansion. I’ve always wanted an Asian themed part for WoW and finally we’re getting it.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Panderan race is that players will be able to choose between factions after hitting a certain level. I think I might’ve blogged about the idea in the past because it’s a good one. In my own game, I had a similar idea (I called it “traitors”) but the division gives the game a new dynamic in terms of role playing. Of course, for whatever reason once someone chooses their faction, they no longer will be able to communicate with other Panderans of the opposite faction (which, imo, is horribly stupid from an RPG point of view).

With regards to the Panderan racial traits, the only one that looks promising is the increased length of rest experience. I’m guessing this has been added so that people who want to level a new toon can do so expediently.

Of course, the other big announcement for the expansion is the introduction of the monk class. It’ll play like a druid in that the class will be able to use leather/cloth armor and do multiple roles (tank, DPS and healing). Of course, this deviates from most monk types in other FRPGs where they either use cloth or no armor and gain boosts naturally. I’m assuming that monks will use unarmed combat to some degree as well, but I don’t know how that will play out in terms of gear (this is why it’s stupid to make gear as the thing that scales once a level cap is reached).

My interpretation of the introduction of the Panderan race is that by allowing them to choose between factions, Blizzard could introduce the monk class in a single expansion as well. The good thing is that if you don’t want to play a big fat bear, you still have the option of choosing another race (although goblins and worgen won’t count here) for the monk class.

That does imply that the 10 character per realm limit will need to be addressed. I think in one of the forums or Q/A sessions, the representatives from Blizzard mentioned that what they might do is an account limit on characters. I would love to see this happen because I would some day like to create my alliance toons on my current server. In that manner, I won’t have to transfer one of my toons off to another server just to hand out useless BoAs and gold to fresh level ones.

Another major aspect of the expansion is that the level cap will be raised to 90. Beyond the new talent system (which I will address), I don’t know how this will impact game play. Does the new level cap mean we’ll finally hit one million hit points? Or will we simply double our current hit points? I imagine that our damage will scale up in a similar manner, but this question is important for determining how some of us can handle old content. I know someone already managed to solo the Lich King using a Blood Death Knight. But given five more levels, perhaps that fight could’ve been even easier (reportedly he wiped around 11 times and had a large number of buffs)

Then we come to the Pokemon aspect of the game – that’s right, non-combat pets PVP style! I’m not sure how to interpret this aspect of the game, but it does sound amusing at the very least. Non-combat pets will have levels and limited abilities. I think most pets can be used for this. Awesome. Now, my wind rider cub can shred everyone else up.

Another interesting mechanic in the game will be PVE scenarios. From the sound of it, it kinda feels like Rift where people can join a raid/event. Right now, in the Molten Front dailies, you have a participatory raiding type of situation where people (alliance and horde alike) can help each other defeat foes (mini bosses) for credit towards a quest. I’m guessing that the new PVE scenarios aspect will turn out similar. Another description of this was that it’ll be like a dungeon finder thing minus strict roles. Or maybe another way to describe it is a mini-instance. Larger scenarios will have an epic feel to it and provide greater rewards. I think like the Molten Front, the game will provide dailies that people can choose from leading towards rewards. In this manner, beyond raiding and instance grinding, people can gear up by other means.

Then there’s the dungeon challenge modes. This is actually a GREAT idea because it really is geared towards the hard core types. You’re stripped down to basic gear so there’s no real advantage and must defeat bosses within a certain time limit. The rewards from these challenges are more bling that go hand-in-hand with the transmogrification feature coming in patch 4.3.

I really like this idea because it truly addresses a major complaint that hard core types would rant and rave about in forums. The problem has been that certain content was not accessible by common players but then made too easy later on in WOTLK, thus disappointing the hard core types. With dungeons scaling back their difficulty to WOTLK (supposedly) in Mist of Panderia, you open up a can of worms from the hard core types again. However, the challenge modes offset this and provide the thing that hard core types wanted: some sort of material bragging right in the form of bling. Now, people who want to gear up can gear up and have access to content while the hard core types can sit around in Orgrimmar and feel proud (for whatever ego boosting reason that does).

Now, there’s one issue that I think the vast majority of people will end up despising and that’s the continual revision of the talent system. The new proposed talent system is supposed to eliminate cookie cutter specs by offering only three types of talents per 15 levels.

Hold on a second.

Eliminate cookie cutter types?

Only three choices per three levels?

For a total of 6 choices?

This is supposed to eliminate boring specs!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Naturally, the person seemingly in charge of this section is none other than AssCrawler, I mean Ghost Crawler Greg Street. Someone who is notorious known for making many bad decisions in terms of specs (except for Frost Mages because he plays one) as a result of his experience in real time strategy games.

I’ve been extremely vocal about the talent problems on various forums, but I will once again here on my blog spell out the core issue with why the talent system in World of Warcraft is messed up. The chief problem with the talent system in the so-called cookie cutter dilemma is that the game imposes a level cap, which in turn imposes a talent point cap. As a result, players are forced to put points into the trees in a very obvious manner.

The way World of Warcraft handles talents is that they’re treated as a reward system for leveling. Diablo 2 got it right when it came to what a true talent tree is because players could place points into areas they saw fit. The reason why that was allowed was because Diablo 2 had no level restrictions, thus allowing characters to level indefinitely and permit players to put talent points as they saw fit indefinitely.

The new proposed system is basically a dangling carrot system that allows players 6 choices in the span of the characters’ leveling experiences. However, I feel that in order to achieve some form of balance, the three choices at each of these 15 levels will probably have little differentiation between each  other outside of perhaps effects. If that isn’t the case, then these talents will exist on a situational basis, leading once again to the cookie cutter dilemma.

The thing is that you cannot get rid of the cookie cutter dilemma in a game like World of Warcraft where you have so many different variables defining how talent trees and abilities are structured. I personally think that Greg Street is just really lazy and has little to no true experience in RPGs when it comes to this kind of stuff. For him, the developers and QA, it’s just less combination of variables to test.

For the gamer, it’s basically a reduction of  thought and buttons.

The good  thing is that the game is not out yet and that patch 4.3 isn’t even ready. They managed to scrap the Titans-something-or-rather for Cataclysm, so there’s always the hope that this system would be scrapped (or something like a rock falling on Greg Street’s head, an automotive accident, etc.)

What’s my proposal in this? Bring back the old talent tree. The game designers themselves admitted that the revised talent tree in Cataclysm was a failure. Originally, it was supposed to simplify the way players were to make choices in the game so that people would make the so-called “right” choice in defining their tree (which is what lead to the cookie cutter problem in the first place). So narrowing the tree and forcing players to stick with only a single spec until that spec hit a certain number of points would allow new players to learn the game. Second, the choices in the talent specs were to be more “meaningful” and useful as opposed to giving some extra damage, crits, etc. (which it didn’t) Still, this didn’t appease everyone.

Here’s the thing. Bad players are going to be bad players period because they will never do the research to figure out how to play their class. There is very little Blizzard can do to offset this problem, except to create realms based on the ability of the players. You simply have to siphon off the two types in the game to really resolve this conflict of interest.

At the same time, I think the game designers need to re-think what a talent tree really is in conjunction with understanding what an RPG is. What we’re seeing in Greg Street’s world is the de-evolution of an RPG game to something overly simplistic. I mean, why even bother having levels? The content itself isn’t designed to be scaling.

My suggestion is this: go back to the old talent tree. Either increase the depth of the tree or give more points. I like the idea of increasing the amount of points we can spend on multiple trees. I think Cataclysm had great potential in allowing players to expand their own specs. For instance, why not have a combat healer? Or more PVP related talents for a raider?

This is the real problem with the current system. It’s not that the talent trees create cookie cutter specs. It’s that people are forced into cookie cutter roles. And those roles are really just for instances and raids.

However, the way I see it, the idea of the game being socially oriented, while ideal in nature, really isn’t practical. Let’s be honest here; the World of Warcraft community isn’t exactly something you’d tell your friends to aspire towards. Worse yet, supposedly the game has devolved from a community stance since the dungeon finder was introduced.

If that’s the case, maybe Blizzard should start designing the game more for the solo player in mind. From what it looks like, there will be more of it with this expansion. I’m very happy for that. But if people are forced to group, let it be in such a way that the barriers to entry are low.

American Pro-Wrestling and Me

I used to blog quite a bit about the pro-wrestling scene. For over a year now, I’ve pretty much stopped watching all current pro-wrestling. The problem is that I simply dislike the products heavily and find nothing compelling anymore. I do have a few people that I like, but I simply do not want to spend more time watching a product that I’ve lost a great deal of passion for.

I still like pro-wrestling but I’ve pretty much limited myself to older shows from the 80’s, 70’s and some early 90’s. Although I can appreciate the athleticism of the current generation of pro-wrestlers, I feel that the art of pro-wrestling really has been lost. Instead, most people are pretty bland with generic interviews, generic moves and generic grievances. The emotional part of pro-wrestling is pretty much lost on me and I feel as though I no longer am watching a competition nor something where unique characters really have a chance to define themselves.

I think the worst part about the current climate of pro-wrestling is the booking. There’s very few people you can latch onto because the development times are too short and you don’t see the gradual growth of anyone. Probably the only last person that seemed mildly interesting was CM Punk, but the matches are not what I would have liked to have seen in his feuds.

In watching the evolution of pro-wrestling, I think back to some great insight Bobby Heenan had described in a few interviews about the major issues with the industry. The most salient point he made was saying how the people on the inside had screwed  up in allowing the general public to know how their tricks had been done. Although various TV shows had exposed pro-wrestling as being scripted and that the general public pretty much knew this as fact, the big thing was that the people on the inside for the most part continued to guard the tricks in pro-wrestling. With movies like The Wrestler, the Montreal Screw Job and even the little DVD interviews with wrestlers, you pretty much have little left to protect.

At this point, the industry pretty much is nothing more than a live stage show with (disposable) stuntmen. The wrestling itself, while more acrobatic, really isn’t “wrestling” any longer. You don’t see how someone locks on a hold and their opponent figures out  how to reverse it. If the reversal does occur, it’s more like a cliche because there’s little thought really put into how these reversals are done, except on the fanciness of a flip. But none of it looks “realistic” and most matches end up boiling down to a series of trading moves. In fact, if anything pro-wrestling looks more like an arcade game than anything “real.”

I remember watching a youtube video with Al Snow and how he partly blamed Randy Savage vs Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania 3 as being part of the slow decline in pro-wrestling in terms of moving from just selling tickets to showmanship. I can partly see where he’s coming from but I don’t really consider that the true precedent. For me it’s just not being able to believe in anything anymore. Even knowing that the pro-wrestling wasn’t real, the draw to me is always the characters, the growth of people and the storylines that make me engage in the wrestlers. The stuff that exist today lack these elements. You don’t have the Roddy Pipers, the Jesse Venturas, Bobby Heenans, Jim Cornettes, Arn Andersons, Tully Blanchards, Ernie Ladds, etc. anymore.

Part of the problem seems to be that the wrestlers aren’t  allowed to control the image they want to present for themselves. I think that element has hurt the industry more than anything and you can definitely blame the WWE on that aspect. When there were more than a single dominant company, one of the fun things to see was when a wrestler jumped ship and seeing how they could survive in the other federation. Like when Ric Flair came to WWE for the first time or Kerry Von Erich challenging Ric Flair for the NWA title or when the Road Warriors entered the NWA.

I write this after reading the recent TNA TV taping results and seeing the most recent PPV. Although by comparison the PPV was one of their better ones, the elements I described above made me glad that I stopped watching. For instance, Hulk Hogan buried Robert Roode and praised James Storm. Next thing you know Robert Roode lost and Storm won the title. I don’t get why Hogan would publicly state these things. It  simply makes TNA look terrible and pretty much spoils the product as well as revealing the obvious bias in booking. But again it goes back to how Heenan mentioned that the people inside the business are the ones destroying it simply because they’re revealing their own tricks. Well, it’s a real shame because this just demonstrates that the posting of results are more important than watching them. So I guess until these elements are fixed, I’ll simply stick to my older pro-wrestling videos.

The Future of Web Technologies

Recently, I’ve been posting to my company’s Yammer feed articles about platforms and software in relation to the web. There’s a lot of validation on what makes some of the top companies big players and I believe the key is in the idea of centering the business as a form of a platform. When you look at some of the most successful web products, they exist because of how pluggable they are into other people’s sites through APIs. Typically, the best ones expose some sort of data centric piece where others can hook into.

However, just having an API doesn’t ensure success. I think one key to these APIs is the amount of data that has been collected through the core application. For instance, reviews from Yelp, the number of coordinates and detail provided through Google Maps, the sheer number of users from Facebook, the massive messaging capacity of Twitter or the various flavors of cloud storage.

Companies possessing a wealth of accumulated data are power brokers in this space since they can charge for the data storage, knowledge possession and network usage. I see this as a mistake in the long term at times, especially if the key to these companies’ business plans are centered around selling data. What’s more important is adoption of these services which should scale from a cost perspective over time. Having a lower barrier to entry allows for quicker adoption, which in turn causes other businesses to become inextricably tied to the company, which, imo is where many of these services are shooting themselves in the foot.

But should the future of web technologies just be in data services? I think that they are just one piece of a larger puzzle. My analogy of the way web technologies should be viewed as is like Lego. In the world of Lego, you have a great number of parts to build your ideal set. The more generic the piece, the greater the utility. Having access to a bucket containing parts from numerous genres ensures the maximum flexibility and creativity for the ideal set.

So what pieces are we missing? I think one major missing structure is the UI/UX components. A lot of what’s available are mostly loose frameworks like a jQuery, Less, or Raphael.js, all of which offer very powerful means to building your technologies. However, these elements are like Lego from the early 80’s, where you had slightly more specific parts that could be interchangeably used between genres.

For the power programmer or business, maybe that’s not powerful enough (e.g. Google). Yet, maybe building that cockpit might require quite a bit of parts when all you really want is to build the front of the airplane. So perhaps from the UI/UX perspective, we need to start looking at the specific case as opposed to the generic case. That might involve the creation of standards (or new standards) and conventions for handling things.

Here’s a few concrete ideas. Some generic layouts. I know there’s a few websites out there that provide these along with color options. But what if there’s a precedence set for the “right way” of doing things for a particular genre for a website? For instance, a standard layout, colors, font types, etc. This “right way” would be the result of the accumulation of knowledge for that particular genre of a site (as an example).

I’ve seen some CMS that provide some flexibility, but in my exposure, they commonly prove to be excessively difficult to manage on the basis of their generic presentation. WordPress does a fairly decent job in providing a decent interface, but I do find it lacking at times (maybe I need to become more familiar with it).

Another idea would be some widget builder. Just stuff to fill your site. I’ve seen the web desktops but those felt more novel than useful. If anything, those seem more useful for corporate intranet sites as opposed to be something practical for consumers. Or perhaps this build might be more sophisticated to present different visual styles a non-designer can select through to create a generic stylesheet.

A real test could be figuring out how to build tools to create visual games. After playing with Raphael.js, I got a sense of the potential for how SVG could be used for the web. But the library by itself is inadequate outside of just providing wrappers to create the SVG inside a piece of HTML (for instance). But I can easily see how one could some day create something like a Photoshop or Gimp for the web with that tool without the need for the Flash plugin.

The good thing about my work is that I’ve been forced to move from a purely server side vantage point to a visual one. However, the lessons I’ve learned from the server side with regards to business still provide extremely valuable spots on the visual side, which might not yet be tapped into from a technological point on the web. Think in terms of how something like an ExtJS, Microsoft Foundation Classes or Java’s Swing libraries provided some basic tools. But take those ideas and present them on a far larger scale, again referring back to the Lego analogy with the specific pieces.

W00t! Level 85 Shaman! Level 12 Guild!

My guild was on the verge of hitting level 12 this week, so I decided to really punch it by taking my shaman and leveling him from 81/82 to 85. Tonight, I finally did it after a long grind. That makes it a total of four level 85’s toons on my server with one very close to hitting level 85. I might take a little break to do something else for a bit, although I might peek in to do a few Tol Barad battlegrounds.

Now, that my shaman is at level 85, probably I’ll have to grind him some PVP gear. That ought to let him survive not only in TB but in the Molten Front, at least until he can get a few purples. The thing I’ve found about hunters and enhancement shamans is that there’s not a lot of easily accessible loot from the reputation venders. So in order to get gear, you either have to purchase it or use Justice Points (if you don’t raid nor do heroics).

I’ll probably concentrate on completing the Molten Front for both my shaman and hunter for the gold and limited epics from the venders until the next patch comes out. Since the next patch supposedly will remove various group quests, I figured to just wait and see how things will differ before finishing up on my lower level toons.

Almost Done Gearing My Paladin; Next My Hunter

I’m almost through the various dailies on the Molten Front! Talk about an epic pain in the rear! But I managed to accomplish a pair of great things tonight. First, my Paladin now has revered status with the Dragonmaw Clan, allowing him to pick up the 346 tanking helmet. Previously, he was using the PVP blacksmithing helmet, but it obviously lacks some critical stats that the Dragonmaw Clan one provides. I won’t throw away my PVP helmet since I do Tol Borad whenever I can. But I’m only missing the 346 shoulders that I intend to purchase via justice points at the venders in Orgrimmar. By doing this, I should be able to handle Heroic Cataclysm instances and perhaps the two troll instances.

Once I’m done with the Molten Front, I might still continue working on my Paladin, simply because you can make fairly good gold by completing all 25 daily quests. At the moment, I’m around 10k in gold so I’m getting closer to making my long awaited three person mount that I’ve been wanting forever. Then I can either start saving up for some of the BoE weapons and higher level gear or help my hunter generate some much needed revenue to make a few epic purchases.

In the meantime, once I have some more spare time at night, I’ll be doing more with my hunter. Currently, I’m in the middle of Vashj’ir and hope soon that I can start the Molten Front chain with him. He does suffer a bit from being under geared, but I hope to correct that through making a few key purchases from the Auction House and Justice vender to bring him up to speed in terms of DPS. At the same time, I’m going to make a big push to have him finish his leatherworking profession, which currently is at a painful 518. The last 7 points are dedicated to crafting each PVP piece one by one for himself. Doing the Vashj’ir quest chain gives me an opportunity to collect more leather along the way and building rep with the Earthen Ring (although that will become futile since the only gear worth getting is a cloak; and the first part of the Molten Front quest chain provides a nice 365 epic cloak).

Once I get through with my hunter (to a degree), I hope to be able to start on my shaman once again. Because my shaman has enchantment and tailoring as professions, he essentially is helping to save a little on the cost of finding overpriced enchantments on the Auction House (not to mention the occasional slot 22 bag).

Eventually, I would like to get back to other characters like my warlock and warrior. But I see a fair amount of time passing before I might be able to get to them again.

Vanilla vs TBC vs WOTLK vs Cata

Gotta love the debates that go on regarding how old time World of Warcraft players complain in nostalgic sense about what post-TBC players have missed. As a post-TBC player, it’s very hard to get a sense of what Vanilla and TBC were like. However, having read a bunch of forums, I’m starting to get a sense of where World of Warcraft has been hurting.

Community

If there’s a really huge issue at stake, it’s that the WoW community has slowly been on a decline. I think part of the problem seems to have manifested in WOTLK where the dungeon finder was introduced. As a result, you no longer needed other people to run instances. Since many of the instances in WOTLK were pretty easy, most players could handle them. However, the loot rewards and badges coming from farming Heroics seemed to stab at the hard cores and older community. The challenge no longer was there and bad players would be “carried,” causing a great deal of friction.

Thus, Cataclysm was born, which took the complaints of the hard core loyalists and attempted to amend the mistakes from WOTLK by making instances harder, requiring people to really learn their classes and use the full range of abilities, as opposed to simply AoE’ing down mobs. Of course, the tougher stance has created a decline in WoW subscriptions (either that or old players just are giving up).

However, the real damage had been done by removing the community/social element. Certainly, the changes to the guild system theoretically would focus or amend part of the community element. Realistically though, this is not the case. It seems that people simply find the highest level guilds to reap instant benefits rather than looking at a guild as something special for a group of people with similar goals. It’s not like the LFG will disappear in a day and the harder instances really are designed for guilds to work together.

In my case, I haven’t seen much of that. I’m not certain if my lack of exposure is a result of being on a PVE realm, but part of me does not think that is the case. It might be that my current guild is a casual/social guild. But thus far, I’ve seen little to no social interaction and very few achievements beyond vanilla instances where the guild has done much together. Again, it might be the fault of my guild master or just the way people are in my guild.

Still, I think there is some missing camaraderie that even WOTLK had. These days, I rarely speak to anyone in my realm, except to occasionally help people. Maybe it’s again because I’m on a low population PVE realm. Most people there I have met are those with jobs. It could be that most players are on the opposite side of the world so that I can’t do much to interact with them. But the community is quite lacking and something that I imagine hasn’t really improved since WOTLK.

New World vs New Content

The best way I can explain this is like this. The first time I went to Japan, it was one of the most exciting times of my life. No matter how screwed up the situation (getting lost, backpack breaking on the plane, overly heavy suitcases, can’t read signs, barely any friends, language problems), everything was new and bold. The second time I went, it still was exciting but I knew how to get around. The third time I arrived, I wasn’t as excited and started feeling bored.

Then I moved to Japan and my first few months was just a blast. The second time I moved to Japan, I was still excited, but more to see my friends again and just be part of that odd little world. However, I knew where everything was and I got used to the stupid questions people would always ask me (“Are you Chinese?” “How come you can’t speak Japanese?” “Why are you fat?”). The only thing I would look for at this point were extremely hot girls or restaurants I’d never been to. But frankly speaking, I got bored pretty fast of the usual spots like Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ebisu, etc. The excitement that I had felt my first time there was completely gone and my enthusiasm slowly was being drained, but I wasn’t as aware.

What I was aware of was that I liked being there for some odd reason, despite all the issues of living out there and stress. Something keeps pulling me back. But once I’m back, the boredom creeps up and I quickly tire of the same spots that people have me go to with them.

I think the same thing goes with WoW. Your first month into WoW is just an incredible experience. Everything is new and it’s really not like anything you’ve ever experienced. You’re just learning the ropes so you feel this excitement as the system is being defined. However, once you get used to that particular system, you find yourself getting angry when it gets changed (and just read about all the nerfs that circulate every patch to see how many people QQ on the forums).

I personally think that the point of entry into WoW is the best. Your first few months are great because it’s the first time you’ll be doing things. But what happens once you hit 85? What can you do? If you’re lucky and get to be part of a raiding group, then there’s plenty of options for you. Or if you enjoy PVP, you can try BGs or Arena. What happens when you create that second toon? Sure, you can go through the process again and there’s plenty of areas to try out. What happens when you’re on your 5 toon? It gets pretty boring even though you pretty much can figure out when and where to use your abilities.

One of the game makers faulted the game’s age as being the chief killer. In other words, there’s only so many things you can still do in WoW. They’ve tried to boost the game by creating mini games (e.g. the wanna-be Joust or Plants vs Zombies), but you’re still in WoW. Expansions add more content, but that’s more or less like seeing a new girl you’d like to fuck or finding a new bar. That doesn’t change the main elements of the world.

Hardcores vs Casuals

This is such a hotly contested area and a landmine field for Blizzard. Whom do you pander for? Obviously, in the end, Blizzard is going to pander to their shareholders and accountants, which is an extreme shame. So every decision will involve them to some degree.

Still though, in order to make money, you have to focus your attention on this divide, which seems to grow all the time. The bet for Cataclysm to appeal to the hardcores was a huge gamble. That gamble didn’t seem to pay off from a subscription point of view as it has been cited that the game has lost a huge number of players. But is the loss really not a loss? Is this a way of Blizzard trying to make a statement? What if Cataclysm ends up being WoW’s last expansion (where I’ve heard that the possibility is very likely)? If that’s the case, then would Blizzard prefer to put their money into their hardcores who they know will stick by?

Even if this part is true, there’s still a major issue at stake. And that issue is whether the casual player will ever trust Blizzard again. That’s a huge stake at risk. A company’s image is everything in a situation like this. I’m a very casual player. However, I feel that WoW has done a pretty bad job of giving my money’s worth. If I pay money as any other subscriber to the game, don’t I deserve to partake in all content? If I can partake in all content, what sacrifices will I have to make in order to experience that content?

In reading these posts, it’s clear that this divide is created as barriers to entry by the hardcores/elitists. Even for people who are capable of raiding, it seems that the way the game is structured in terms of seeing end game content (e.g. raiding), you must practically participate at the moment when everyone else is doing it. That means that only a small percentage of people will get that opportunity. Unfortunately, it also implies that you will have bragging rights. Is this the right thing to do?

I’ve already stated my theory on what should be done, but I need to constantly reiterate the problem at hand. I think in the context of this post, WOTLK was fair to the casual player. I want to say that I enjoyed it for the most part. I had the chance to get close towards the Lich King fight. I thought that was great. Right now, I’ve done no Heroics thus far and only two Cataclysm instances. I remember reading how after Firelands came out on trade chat one night how people were already asking people to describe the Firelands trash mob tactics before letting others group up. Other people retorted that person, but it’s pretty clear the kind of mentality that has come about. To really spell out this mentality, here it goes:

To raid, you pretty much need a certain gear level (item level), which means you need to grind either in randoms (or if you’re lucky) with friends/guild members for points. If you’re doing randoms but don’t know the fights, prepare to get slammed or even kicked because, of course, other people don’t want to carry you. So you have to already have done research on these fights by watching Tankspot videos or other guides online. So let’s say you’ve done all this preparation work, sacrificing an enormous amount of personal time (and probably your self-esteem) to get to a point where you might be able to join up in a raid group. You end up having to master ZA/ZG just to get enough epics to finish up the first few raids, which probably are not happening anymore, or someone is nice enough to let you in to do Firelands raids (not to mention that people complain about how “epics are given away in these instances” because these people couldn’t gear up when the first raids and heroics came about). But again, you have to do all this preparation work to go raiding. That goes the same for the other 9 people in your group. You go after your first boss and spend the entire evening wiping. People get pissed, leave, holler at each other and so on. You keep trying and finally manage to find the group that gets your first boss down. But he doesn’t drop that piece of loot you need, so you have to do it again next week, when another person wins the roll on that loot and you keep doing this for the next few months, say goodbye to your waking hours and personal life.

Now tell me. Is there something wrong with that picture?

I was reading from one poster how end gaming raiding was about the thrill of the kill. Well, if that’s the case, why care so much about the other shit? Why worry about item levels, preparation videos, etc.? Why not just go in and keep doing things for fun? Isn’t that what games are supposed to be?

Then there’s the whole nonsense about what epic loot means. For the hardcores, they believe that epic means only we get it so we can brag to people in Orgrimmar or Stormwind. Isn’t the point of epic loot also to provide extra abilities to make it easier for people to participate in raids? Are we simply seeing another form of elitism going on?

If that’s the case, why not charge the hardcores an extra $15/month? I say if you go raiding and you want all that bragging rights, pay extra money because then you can go complain to the developers that you’re not getting your money’s worth. If I pay $15 a month, I am entitled to participate in all the content, just like everyone else. It’s not like using a service like Facebook and complaining that they changed the feed. And this just isn’t about me vs Blizzard. This is me vs hardcore players, who apparently have quite a bit of voting rights with the developers.

At any rate, what I described above is NOT indicative of a healthy gaming environment. Just saying, “Well STFU and QUIT!” isn’t enough. Game companies need to be responsible to their players as well. Yes, they need to think of both the hardcores and the casuals. Usually, Blizzard does a pretty good job at this, but with WoW, it’s a lot tougher because the game is participation based.

That said, here’s what I think highlights the good/bad points of each expansion (plus the original)

  • Vanilla – Good: New world. Best community. Everything was being defined. Easier to get into large raids. Earning something meant YOU EARNED IT. Bad: Poor questing, too much grinding, glitchy (for better or worse), horrible time sync, 40 man raids were ridiculous, probably the hardest.
  • TBC – Good: Improved questing. Best raids. Gorgeous world. Great lore. Dailies as a way of making money. Bad: Really hard raids (Sunwell). Harder to get into raids. Arena creating massive nerfs and balancing issues. Allowing paladins to be Horde and shamans to be Alliance (meaning lacking uniqueness to each faction). Male Blood Elves.
  • WOTLK – Good: Vastly improved questing. Lots of great new content. Ulduar. LFG (for accessing instances quicker). Very casual friendly. Easy to get gear. Height of subscriptions. Vast continent to explore. Bad: Gearscore. Achievements to enter raids. Community at a low point after Coliseum came out. No longer a challenge to get gear. Lack of raid progression because of some instances and badges.
  • Cata – Good: Return of challenging content. Re-focusing of questing zones to be more cohesive. Attempt to focus on the social aspects via changes to the guild system. Allowing more opportunities for solo players. Bad: Loss of subscribers. Challenging content might be “too challenging” for the casual player. Guild system may not have worked as intended. Way too little content. Too much genericizing of classes and constant nerfs.

There you have it. Now, these enumerations are merely my opinion based on what I’ve read in forums. Since I wasn’t around in BC nor Vanilla, I can only speculate and attempt to grasp at what the nostalgic praise those two versions have received. I have read from people who played in both saying that game has improved, so there’s clearly a disconnect in perception.

Hard to say what the real disconnect is outside of preference. Perhaps, it’s the fairness in world PVP? Maybe it’s the community or the shared experiences that some people received? Could it be the epic events occurring? How about the fact that the game was hotter when it started especially in the consistent online people playing it simultaneously?

At the end of the day, it really boils down to the individual’s experiences. I’m guessing the truth lies some where in between (like everything).

World of Warcraft Patch 4.3 Thoughts

Right now, we’re getting a pretty good preview on the upcoming 4.3 patch for World of Warcraft. Of course, the biggest thing is that this patch will allow players to finally down Deathwing, who is the end boss of Catacylsm, of course.  Leading up to Death Wing will be some uber raid bosses along with three new instances, similar in a way to how WOTLK had three instances that set the stage for the final encounter at the Ice Citadel. Along with this new content, we will see the Transmorgrification aspect making its debut, Void Storage and a new zone dedicated to the Dark Moon Faire.

In looking at this patch, my interpretation is that most of the content here is designed almost exclusively for high end raiders. Obviously, Deathwing is a major challenge and something that has been on everyone’s minds since the release as he is the primary adversary in the game at this moment. The three instances will probably be designed to allow people to gear up quickly just like WOTLK and how the revamped troll raids provided gear to allow people to start raiding. By introducing these three new instances though, more than likely the older raids will probably be nerfed and seldom worked on, if history has demonstrated.

The transmorgrification in all honesty is just about bling. They’re toting it as something that allows players to further customize the look of their toons. Of course, part of the purpose is for people to possible return to old raids and instances to pick up loot, making that content somewhat valuable again. Alternatively, players who have managed to hold on to their gear could use them for enhancing (or going retro) their gear’s appearance.

Void Storage seems to be partly along the lines of transmorgrification in that people who have played for a long time and are running out of bank space can in theory pay for more bank space. The cost is said to be low, but the screenshots may indicate otherwise.

At any rate, the features presented here seem to cater towards long time players and high end raiders. So the only possible interesting aspect for other players is the Dark Moon Faire zone. This zone apparently can provide some goodies and profession improvements. There’s not a lot of details on the goodies, but it sounds like more grinding.

I personally am hoping that there’s still room for Blizzard to consider solo players beyond the Dark Moon Faire. Patch 4.2 introduced a nice alternative to raiding for solo players wishing to gear up through the various dailies in the Firelands. The grind fest for the Firelands for me at least horribly monotonous. That said, it does provide someone like me an alternative from raiding, at least to get some reasonable gear.

On a side note, as I’m developing my own game, I realized that WoW does not have a skill for swimming. Some classes and races (or rather just the Foresaken) have a clear underwater advantage. Yet if you’re a Tauren Paladin, you’ll struggle during any underwater quest. I think if they expand the game any further, they ought to add a new secondary skill for swimming.

Lastly, looking at the way this current patch is being set up and with a lot of people quitting the game (I read something that said around 900k subscriptions had been lost), I have to wonder if there would be any further expansions. A friend of mine mentioned that he heard from the rumormill at Activision that this will be the last expansion. WoWHead had an interview with some Blizzard folk that made it seem that the game’s age is showing.

However, the game still has a fairly large following and with all the work that had been put into our toons, I seriously doubt Blizzard simply can pull the plug at any day (and if they do, I’m certain there will be a nasty lynch mob waiting outside). In talking to a few players, there is an expectation (or hope) that future expansions will come down the line to at least progress people’s levels up to 100. If that were the case, how can a game that is said to be “showing its age” be able to allow for new content? What will it mean to be level 100? What will this allow characters to do?

My interpretation is to keep things fairly simple. Continue allowing people to spend points on their talent trees. Scale hit points and other stats accordingly. Focus on adding new content in the game rather than new ways to play the game. Perhaps, add more races and classes (at least 2 more classes and 2 more races). I wouldn’t mind, for instance, adding more “open raids” like the bosses seen in the Molten Front dailies.  I like that idea rather than lock-in, 10 man or 25 man raids.

What about new abilities? Honestly, outside of the same-old, same-old, I can’t see much in terms of new abilities. More than likely anything new would have to be damage, CC, healing, etc. related. Maybe let people own their own siege vehicles. Or add support for NPCs to permanently join one’s group, thus allowing for more solo experiences.

First Pass Glimpse At My Classes

As a hobby, I’ve been designing the basic rules for an RPG system that I’ve always wanted to build/play. Taking from all my favorite games, I’m trying to concoct a system that is very character focused with an emphasis on variety. I’ve played one game, Elder Scrolls 4, which provided an incredibly flexible system in designing a character. In their system, you could either utilize a pre-defined class, or allocate points and skills to a dream class. While the level of customization does, indeed, make for an interesting game in terms of character generation, I found that the lack of focus did little for the game itself. Of course, the game was designed for a single player, so by using that premise, one would need a character capable of handling numerous situations.

However, one thing I’ve learned about so-called “all-classes” (that is, where you try to give every single ability under the sun to a class), they generally are either overpowered or overwhelmingly confusing. In a single player or character environment, I can understand. In my case, I’ve always felt partial to party systems, whether it was multiplayer or a single player controlling multiple characters. As a result, the so-called uber customizable system just never had a ring for me.

That all said, I wanted to share the various classes that I’ve defined up until this point. Now, there might be one or two that have little to no description. That’s fine. Part of what I have done is enumerate as many character classes and overlaps from the various games I’ve played over the years in an attempt to see how many I could come up with. More than likely at some point, I will remove some classes because they are too specific to a particular game (for instance, Bard’s Tale 3).

Without further ado, here is my current list of classes:

Fighter/Warrior – Tanking, Can use all weapons, armor, weapon specialization. Some inspirational leadership. Abilities geared for damage reduction from armor knowledge, increased number of attacks faster than most classes (per level), unlimited tactics (other partial classes may have limits on tactical combat such as fighting in the open vs sneak attacks)
Berserker – High damaging fighter, no shield, dual weapons, use lighter armor. Fast strikes that can encompass multiple enemies. May lose control and damage comrades. Immune to mind control during enrage. Recklessness makes berserkers vulnerable and more susceptible to damage.
Gladiator – Famous fighter. Sponsored by a patron. Receives periodic gifts depending on success in arenas. Reputation/social status play crucial elements to a gladiator’s elevation. Periodically, the gladiator must confront tougher challenges in order to progress further and receive benefits from their patrons. Besides random gifts bestowed by the patrons, gladiators may request from their patrons specific items that scale as the gladiator improves in levels. Can rally more followers because of his high reputation.
Barbarian – High Hit points, can use all weapons, use lighter armor, some magic resistance, fast movement. Limited rage. Jump assault, high evasion (for tanking) or massive single target damage. Requires more space for fighting. Decent food gatherer. Poor etiquette and may receive hostile treatment in towns/civilized areas. Limited stealth in uncivilized settings.
Paladin – Holy warrior, Wear all armor, melee fighter, minor buffs, limited healer, cannot use ranged weapons. Possesses abilities to thwart undead and demons (evil). Tanking capability involves heavy armor usage, shield blocking, resistances and self healing. Can wield special holy weapons that provide bonuses against evil enemies. Must follow strict ethos (PVP oriented?)
Knight/Cavalier – Noble warrior, wear heavy armor, melee fighter, cannot use ranged weapons. Inspirational fighter. Immune to fear. Shield comrades from fear. Tanking involves heavy armor usage, shield blocking, front line tactics. Higher level knights/cavaliers have best recruiting capabilities.
Ranger – Woodsman, wear heavy armor, dual weapons, ranged weapons. Limited nature spell power. Receives bonuses in natural surroundings. Best food gatherer and tracker. Some stealth ability, only in natural settings while wearing light armor and having no companions.
Hunter – Ranged assassin, focuses on traps, single shot damage. High understanding of anatomy provides best ranged critical hits in the game.
Archer – Ranged fighter, uses moderate armor, short melee weapons. Bonus with ranged weapons but generally specializes in a single ranged weapon.
Beastmaster – Ranged fighter, uses light armor, pets do primary damage. Can utilize more pets simultaneously at higher levels. Pets are trainable and can level. Pets can provide a tanking function.
Mage/Wizard/Magic User – Spell memorization. Requires concentration, verbal and physical components to cast spells. Moderate lore abilities. Increased enchanting capabilities. Very limited weapon and armor selection (cloth only)
Warlock – Demons, damage over time, curses
Conjurer – Summon creatures, create items. Manipulate matter (move walls). Conjured creatures provide tanking and other utility functions depending on the type of creature summoned.
Necromancer – Summon dead creatures, deals with death, convert dead bodies into personal army (percentage of abilities as in real life). More powerful undead types can be created from the dead as the necromancer increases in levels. Raised creatures have limited duration.
Monk – (Wis, Con) Martial arts expert, no armor, no weapons (primarily), some thieving, some priestly abilities. Improved immunities as the monk increases in levels.
Sorcerer – Spell Power. Regenerates over time.
Illusionist – (Dex, Int) Relies on trickery/deception, physical component, mental soft damage. Some thieving. Extremely powerful crowd control type of abilities (blinding, deafness, mesmorization)
Thief/Rogue – Stealth fighter, wears lighter armor, dual weapons, some range, advantage when fighting from the rear. Can construct traps of varying power. Usual thieving capabilities (pick pockets, detect/disarming trap, pick locks, stealth, climb walls, other forms of detection). Has some knowledge of poisons through alchemy.
Assassin – Evil thief, focused on killing, poisons. Bounty hunter. Some alchemy. High critical melee attacks while in stealth mode.
Swashbuckler – (Str, Dex) Combat oriented thief, focused on dual weapons and evasion
Acrobat – (Dex) Thief focused on evading attacks through agility. Very hard to hit in combat. Minor illusionist spells.
Bard/Lark – (Dex, Cha) Limited melee fighter, power from singing, light armor, light weapons, limited illusionist spells. Spells are invoked via singing.
Geomancer – (Str, Int) Earth warrior/mage. Limited melee, earth elemental magic school. Can wear heavier armor.
Chronomancer
Alchemist – (Dex, Int) Relies on potions for effects, cannot be silenced, requires physical components. Requires a lab and beakers. Moderate healing capability but no resurrection abilities. Ranged AoE type of fighter. Can simulate a number of spell realms (except holy/unholy and arcane). Not a true spell caster. Therefore can wear light armor. Use specialized weapons (launchers)
Psionic – (Int, Wis) Mental spell caster, cannot be silenced. Requires that enemies have intelligence for efficacy. Light armor. Typically ranged fighter. Requires high degree of concentration for efficacy. As long as
Cleric/Priest – (Wis) Cannot use sharp weapons, moderate armor. Defensive magic and healing. Limited offensive spells. Holy power.
Druid – Nature priest, shapeshifter, can use sharp weapons, limited armor (non-metallic)
Shaman – Paganism, Elemental powers, melee fighter, totemic powers. Performs rituals with other shamans to boost powers. Offensive buffing and minor healing capability. Light armor
Death Knight – Unholy power, anti-paladin, no shield, disease, frost. Assaulting enemies drain power and transfer to the death knight. Induce fear, coercion (as opposed to inspiration). Limited necromancy. Code of contact is similar to a paladin’s in that their behavior is quite strict. However, this strictness is defined by their willpower, something they gain through increasing in levels.
Demon Lord – Demonic fighter, unholy power. Limited demon summoning (gate). Moderate melee fighter, utilizing hordes of minor demons to wreck havoc on their foes.
Samurai – Eastern knight, immune to fear, penalties to using non-eastern weapons, armor. Does not use a shield. Induces intimidation.
Kensai – Weapons specialist, no armor. Focus on a single weapon. Can dual wield with that weapon without penalty. High initiative. Cannot use ranged weapons. High parry and dodge. Limited multi-person attack. Extremely high single target damage as a result of concentrated attacks.
Bushi – Masterless warriors
Yakuza – Large gangs, information specialist
Ninja – Assassins of the shadows, specialized weapons, some alchemy
Sohei – Priest warriors of monestaries, can use heavy armor and weapons, but do less physical damage as a result of inability to specialize. Can use faith based spells
Shukenja – Eastern priests
Wu-jen – Eastern mages

Seriously Considering Quitting the Gym

My whole purpose on joining the gym was to lose weight. However, I’ve slowly come to hate my gym because the people are pretty obnoxious, it’s too crowded, stinky and the equipment sucks. The other thing is that I’ve slowly lost my motivation to go anymore. I feel that going to the gym is futile for me and that no matter what I do, I can never lose the weight I want. Liposuction would be a better solution if I did not hate doctors.

Either way, I think as long as I live in LA working and/or working as a developer, going to the gym is a complete waste of time and money. Most of the reason to hit the gym was to get into better shape and improve my self esteem. However, I just don’t feel that my self esteem can improve these days. Also, I don’t really care anymore to be in shape. I don’t have any desire to get into a diet.

Further along these lines, my purpose was to lose weight to look good. However, in thinking about my situation, I realize that if a girl does not care about my personality in the first place, then going to the gym is pointless.

I’m getting older and want to have more time just for myself. Without the same level of energy that I had several years ago and the fact that almost everyone I like(d) got hitched in some way, I’m pretty certain that I’m wasting my time. I prefer spending my time on me and trying to make myself happy. Not trying to fulfill an image of happiness defined by others. Not trying to make other people happy. I’ve done little in this regard so I think I’m going to start.