Wednesday 26 September 2012

WoW Wars

Like half the world, I was in Azeroth at the launch. And I had a blast, despite frozen zone-in screens, login servers that didn't log me in, and being in a gyrocopter where I couldn't see what I was shooting at because of the number of other gyrocopters on top of me! You just had to laugh.

But it drove home to me something that's been bothering me about WoW lately. It seems to be moving a little away from being a mediaeval fantasy world, and edging towards World War two. Parachutes. Gunships. Submarines. Gyrocopters. Bombs. The flying gunships first appeared during Wrath of the Lich King, though behaving like naval warships from the age of discovery.  Their weaponry seemed poor. Cannon. I can fly on  a magic carpet, or a dragon's back. That seems a better platform than a gunship; and wouldn't it be interesting if we could fight from the back of a mount? And I've got better weaponry, too! Arcane Blast!

Parachutes: During the fight with Deathwing, we parachute from the back of drakes into the pit wherein Yorsahj dwells. I don't need a parachute. I'm a slowfalling M.A.G.E. I'd like to play my class. Besides what's with the parachuting anyway? Can't you drakes just fly into the pit? My gryphon can.

Again, boarding a skyship and parachuting onto the back of Deathwing? No thanks, I can fly there on my magic carpet, and land on the target rather than throw myself at it.

And the final chapter in the Cataclysm: the M-bomb is dropped on Theramore.

The introduction to Mists of Pandaria sees Blizzard's developers again back to gunships, bombs, rockets, helicopters and parachutes. Eh, guys? Did you want to work on Call of Duty? These gimmicks are a bit of fun in moderation, but I'd like to adventure as a MAGE now, please. If I'd wanted to be a para or a marine, wouldn't I have rolled those classes? In another universe?

Monday 24 September 2012

Last-minute preparations for Pandaria

Many of you will be racing to get to level 90. Then you already know about collecting 25 dailies to hand in tonight when your XP bar unlocks. Don't forget that you can actually hand in more than 25 quests: here's how I did it for the Cataclysm. I'm sure you can use the same idea for Pandaria.

Friday 21 September 2012

More things I hate about GW2

Who am I kidding? I love it!

All except the Charr. I just can't like these soldier boys, trash-talking to big themselves up, trying to get their voices down into their boots, smiling with the corners of their mouths down when they make a joke (which is always about how great they trashed their enemy). They remind me of the marines in Starcraft.

Oh, and the way the voice actors pronounce 'golem' as 'gollum'.

But apart from that, I love it!

Random Pet and mount Macros

For ages I used a random pet macro in WoW, something like

/run CallCompanion("CRITTER", random(GetNumCompanions("CRITTER")));

I noticed that it stopped working in the latest release. After a bit of digging, I found this replacement:

/run local t,o=C_PetJournal.GetNumPets(false);local p=C_PetJournal.GetPetInfoByIndex(random(o),false);C_PetJournal.SummonPetByID(p);

Kudos go to GnowKnayme of US MAlganis for it.

For completeness, here's a random mount macro, as well:

/run if not IsMounted() then local m,t,f="mount",{{},{}} for i=1,GetNumCompanions(m) do tinsert(t[,select(6,GetCompanionInfo(m,i)))==0 and 1 or 2],i) end f=IsFlyableArea() and 2 or 1 CallCompanion(m,t[f][random(#t[f])]) else Dismount() end;

Kudos for this one go to Bõb of US Aerie Peak.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Black Lion Trading Company

ERROR: Invalid Authorization

That's the message that usually greets me when I open the trading tab. I found that exiting the game and re-entering can sometimes help.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

GW2 economy. Working as intended

I recently learnt that here in Ireland, 90% of chicken is imported. I knew we had a lot of imported chicken, for instance in imported finished goods such as pizzas, pies, soup, and so on. But 90%? The main costs in producing and selling chicken are 1. the cost of feed and 2. the cost of transport. Labour costs are minimal. So how could it be profitable to raise chickens elsewhere and then pay the extra transport cost to bring them to Ireland?

Talking about it in the canteen where I work, I learned why. The imported chicken is mainly the breast of the chicken. This is the part of the chicken most eaten here: fillets  for frying, or pre-cooked and sliced or crumbled, to be used cold in sandwiches or salads. Breast is best here in Ireland. All the same, we don't eat a lot of chicken.

In Thailand, chicken is big business. Thai people eat a lot of chicken of course, but Thailand exports chicken on a massive scale. Breast meat? Not top on the list of Thai favourites. Wings, legs, back are preferred. Same for a lot of Thailand's Asian customers.And they eat a lot of chicken. The brown meat for preference. White meat not so much. So that means there's a lot of chicken breast produced in Thailand that nobody wants. What can their producers do with it? Feed it to the cats, they think. No wait! Those folk in Ireland like breast, sell it to them. Any money we get from them is pure profit, because we were going to dump it, anyway.

So while it costs the Thai chicken producer the same as the Irish chicken producer to raise a chicken, the Thai producers already made their profit on the wings and legs and so on, and the breast is just waste, like the carcass. The cost of producing the chicken has already been accounted for in the price of the brown meat.

So Thai producers can sell breast meat in Ireland cheaply, because they don't need to include the cost of rearing the chicken in the cost of producing the breast. For them, that cost was distributed over the wings and legs. The Irish producer, though, is producing breast for Irish consumption, and must account for feed in the cost of producing breast. So Thai producers can afford the greater transport costs of getting the breast meat to Ireland.

Something similar happens in WoW, when milling herbs. You buy herbs in order to mill them into a certain pigment that is used for creating glyphs. Occasionally, another pigment is also produced as a by-product. This other pigment is essentially waste. Sure it can be used to produce inks used in off-hand items, but by and large, you factor the price of the herbs into the cost of the glyphs, not the cost of the off-hand items. If you sell any of these it's pure profit.

What's this got to do with GW2?

A lot of bloggers are concerned that the auction house in Guild Wars is flooded with items at such a low cost that they can't make a profit on them. There are thousands of crafters selling items at vendor price +1c. Less than the cost of production. Ravious thinks that "Players are already rewarded for gathering and crafting so throwing the [finished product]  away at a loss does not feel like one." This is the "I farmed it for free" argument. Ravious says that it doesn't seem like a loss to those sellers because the raw ingredients didn't cost any money to produce (never mind that they could be sold for more than the finished article). Azuriel worries that with such an oversupply of crafted goods on the market, "the entire concept of character progression breaks down".

I think both these bloggers have got the wrong end of the stick. The reason that there's an oversupply of trash finished goods on the market selling at below the cost of production is this: they are simply the leftover worthless waste product. The producers of these goods already got the profit they wanted, or they would never have produced them, in the first place. They got their profit, and then dumped the waste on the auction house. What was their profit? +1 crafting skillup. These goods were never made for sale, they were made to get the skillup. Anything else is pure win. If they had to throw those goods away, they still wouldn't care, because they already got what they wanted.

Did you ever look at the cost of spellthreads in Azeroth? Enchanted Spellthread is at an all time low right now, but it never was very high. It sells on average at around 10-20g, while its raw ingredients cost around 60g. Why does anyone make it? You already know the answer: for the skillups. It's on the levelling path for all prospective tailors. But even though this, and 90% of other tailoring patterns are worthless for generating gold, tailors can still make money. The not-so-secret secret to success is to research your markets. If you see that the market is saturated with below-cost enchanted spellthread, don't make more of it! Find something else that does make money. And that requires patient research. Finding the current market equilibrium price of items takes time, and you need to do that for a bunch of raw materials and a bunch of finished products in the hope of finding one that is profitable. It won't be one you'd expect; it won't be obvious. If it were, everyone would be doing it.When you do find it, tell no-one!

Okay, I'll tell you one, if you promise to tell nobody else. Sapphire Spellthread. You see? You'd never have guessed, there is apparently no logic in it. An item with weaker stats than Enchanted Spellthread, yet sells for ~200g (for a production cost of ~120g). This is why market research is so important. I've started doing mine in GW2, and so should you. You have to find something that most others won't. You will do this because you will spend the time on research while most others won't. You will abstain from wasting your time whining that the economy is broken, while most others won't.

By the way, I've addressed Azuriel's point, but only obliquely, so let me address it plainly. The oversupply of trash crafted goods will shrink when people can make no more skillup profit on them. Most of that trash will end up being vendored. As in all crafting, 90% of the recipes will never make you a monetary profit. Meantime, as is the case with every new MMO, and will soon be the case in Azeroth, spend the early days making a killing on raw ingredients at the expense of crafters, and don't bother crafting yourself until the ingredients drop in price.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

So it Begins

The Fall of Theramore scenario opened up last night. It's not difficult, but it is fun. First, as a scenario for three adventurers, the typical roles of tank, healer and DPS are absent. Once you get aggro on a mob, you better be able to handle it! In this respect it reminds me of the Faction Champions fight in the Trial of the Crusader raid, which was a great fight. But in the case of this scenario, the actual fighting was very straightforward and easy. WoW Insider have a well-written walk-though for Alliance members (death to the Horde), but you probably don't need it, as you get instructions on your screen for every stage of the action which seems to be the fashion now in MMORPGs. Very casual, indeed. Also, when you zone in, there's a movie plays, setting the scene. Don't skip it if you want to understand why you're there in the first place!

One thing to mention is a bug that I encountered which prevented us completing our first run: when we zoned in, one of our team-mates dropped out. The worgen priest and I didn't care. We were able to kill everything we met without the need for a third member. However, in a late stage of the scenario, we are asked to capture three horde standards. Uh-oh. There's only two of us. So I pick up two banners and the worgen priest picks up one. Then we finish off the remaining horde and wait for Jaina to finish defusing the bomb. She never does. We wait. We wander the scenario looking for things to kill. We wait. It becomes apparent that the scenario is bugged out. It seems this often happens if you take more than one banner each.

This scenario is short, easy and straightforward. It sets the tone for future scenarios, which I think Blizzard intend to be shorter and easier than dungeons. I suspect that this particular scenario won't be available in just over a week's time, when MoP is released. Carpe diem.

Saturday 15 September 2012

GW2 first impressions

Loving it, so far! Like Nils often does, I may spend a lot of time covering the niggles that I don't like in Guild Wars 2, but overall, it's a great game!

 Here are two niggles.

1 They're really about lack of information. In the download screen, there's no obvious way to pause a download. On-screen you see the amount downloaded so far, the download speed and the number of files left to download, plus a progress bar at the bottom. Let's say that after a couple of hours of downloading, you get tired of waiting, and you decide you're going to play Rift for a bit. You want to pause the download. You can't see a pause button on the download screen. In frustration, you exit the download screen. Of course, you are curious, and want to check immediately if you've lost all your existing download or not, so you restart the download. Horror of horrors, the progress bar is back at 0%! The amount downloaded is also at 0. It is with relief that you notice that the number of files left to download still shows the same number you saw when you exited the download screen. So the upshot is, you pause by exiting, and you don't lose already-downloaded files.

 2 On registering, I had to supply a "Real Name" and a "Display Name", but it wasn't clear what each of those were going to be used for. I still don't know what "Real Name" is for, but I didn't give my actual real name in this field, I stuck in some junk. Display Name is seen quite a lot. It's kind of an account name. First, it is made unique by having some numbers appended to it. All the characters that you create are linked to that unique name, and if, for instance, you join a guild, guild members can see this account name beside your character name. Also, this display name is used on the forums.

 I chose the realm "Far Shiverpeaks" simply because it was the top English-speaking WvWvW European realm. Although it was labelled "High Population", I've not found too many other players around for comfort. Probably because I'm not with the first wave of players!

 Next, to character creation. I had a problem actually seeing the character models in the character creation screen. I could only see two of the professions, elementalist and warrior. For the others, I just saw the background, and the character was invisible or missing. I looked around on the internet for help, and I saw suggestions to re-install video drivers. I didn't need to do that, and if you're having the same problem, and can't see your characters, you should first try fiddling with the in-game video settings. To get to those from the character creation screen, press F11 to enter the options screen. Then I went into the graphics options (second tab down on the left) and changed the "Render Sampling" setting from "Native" to "Subsample" That fixed the problem for me. If it doesn't fix it for you, I suggest that you first record what your current settings are, and then change them one at a time until you get an improvement - that kind of trial and error was how I stumbled upon the fix for my particular setup, in the first place!

Anyway the character creation screen is fun and lets you personalize your character in many ways, but I won't bore you with the details, except to remind you that when you get to naming your character, you may use spaces.

I created two characters, a male Sylvari, and a female Norn.

I love the Sylvari race; what a great idea, to have a race of plants rather than animals. As well as a strong sylvan and elven theme, this race has strong Celtic overtones: Brittonic and Gaelic names are used for many placenames (for instance Caer Verdant, Ogham Wilds) and NPCs: the articifer trainer (for smithing magical items) is called Draiocht, the cooking trainer is Bhia). The voice acting is done by English actors.

The Norn are just like tall humans, with a Norse theme. I'd have loved if the Norn had been voiced by Scandinavian actors, but it was not to be - these characters all have American accents. I'm not sure why anyone would choose human as a race.

Adventuring in this world is fun - the starting zones are fun to explore, the storylines are interesting and the artwork is - well, painterly. It isn't trying for the sort of realism you get in Skyrim, if you know what I mean, but it has a style of its own that stays on the right side of cartoony, and never looks grimdark. Adventuring is fun in and of itself. It's more varied than the usual "kill 10 rats" questing, and it seems the developers have really tried to think of ways to engage us as adventurers. Gear and gold don't shower upon us, and I think I'm still (at level 7) wearing the gear I started with (with the addition of a pair of gloves and a wooden focus). I'm not adventuring for the rewards!

The dungeon instances I've been in so far I have soloed. I like the fact that even when I visited an instance that I'd outlevelled, I was automatically down-levelled so that it was a real challenge. Syncaine doesn't like this. But he's just grouching because he's been conditioned by other games to expect a reward for every activity he takes part in, rather than the activity itself being rewarding. Now, like Pavlov's dogs, he salivates in expectation of external reward, and is grumpy because he isn't given it.

The death penalty is unusual. When you are downed, you don't die immediately. Instead, you are left on the ground with a few minimal abilities and a small amount of health. At this point, you are almost dead, but if you manage to kill your opponent before you actually die, you rally, and are brought back from this downed state. However each time you are downed, you get a stacking debuff that leaves you with less health when you are next downed. Each point of debuff only lasts a minute, so it isn't a permanent loss. In addition, one piece of your armour is damaged and needs to be repaired. Together, these two penalties make you less blasé about getting killed than you would be in Azeroth.

Other niggles:
Zoning: In 2012, you would think you needn't sit through a loading screen when walking from one zone into the next.

Portals: Portals are used to teleport the adventurer from one location to another. What's interesting about the portals in Guild Wars 2 is that you don't teleport from one portal to another. You teleport instead from anywhere to a portal.That's a nice idea, but it comes at a cost: you can't interact with a portal directly. You can't touch a portal, you have no magical or technological item that your character uses to reach the portal. Instead, you must temporarily break out of character, and click on the portal on your map. Each time I do this, I'm reminded that I'm just playing a game, clicking buttons, rather than living in a fantasy world.

Instances: there's a lot of instancing while following storylines, and I wonder how much of it is really necessary. For instance, while following one storyline, I am called upon to go to the city and meet a certain character in the city's keep. I talk to her and she tells me to go somewhere else. Normal quest behaviour, you would think, but for some reason, my meeting with her in the keep is inside its own instance! What's that all about?

TL;DR: Loving it!

Friday 14 September 2012

GW2's backlash is in full swing

Downloading Guild Wars 2 as we speak! After reading Syncaine whining and Azuriel moaning about how it's different to other MMOs, I can't wait to try it!