Thursday 11 June 2015

Fear of Flying

I knew Blizzard was going to give in and let people go flying. I learned that Blizzard always give in, back in 2090, when they fixed a problem in how group disbandment worked. Before patch 3.1.0, people who left a group in the middle of an instance would be teleported to wherever their hearthstone was pointing. This so-called "ghetto hearthing" was identified as a potential problem for Blizzard's not-yet-released Dungeon Finder. People might queue for instances just to ghetto hearth out: hearthstones had a 60 minute cooldown at the time. When Blizzard announced that they were fixing the problem by teleporting instance-abandoners to the nearest graveyard, there was an outcry from the usual entitled sources, who felt it was their right to be able to ghetto-hearth. To use the other 4 people in their instance in order to hearth out.

And incredibly, instead of telling these entitled idiots that we all have to play nice with each other,  Blizzard gave in to them, and announced they would reduce the cooldown on hearthstones to 30 minutes. I knew then that Blizzard would always give in.

Flying has always been problematic, for reasons that I'll not go over here, as they've all been given a good airing recently! And because it's problematic Blizzard has tried to curtail flying in many ways (and I'm sure they're sorry they ever introduced it). I don't want to get into why it's been problematic, or what Blizzard could have done to  make it less problematic. I want to focus on how Blizzard attempts to curtail it.

Flying was introduced for level-capped adventurers in the Burning Crusade, and at that point Blizzard had a proper 3D layout for Outland, but not for Azeroth. So for ages, flying was not possible in Azeroth. No convincing in-game reason was ever given, it was purely an implementation problem.

But once you have level 70 players flying in Outland, there was a hidden problem left for Northrend. Why couldn't level 70 players fly their mounts in Northrend? The real reason was that it would have made quest design a whole lot harder. Blizzard introduced it in Outland only for level-capped players - so after they had already explored the whole of Outland on horseback, and done all their quests on the ground. Blizzard wanted the same freedom for their designers in Northrend. So they introduced the idea of "Cold Weather Flying", which was a neat way of sidestepping the problem. You needed to train a new skill to be able to fly in such cold conditions. That kinda got them over the hump for Northrend. But wait - if I can fly in Northrend, what magical property of Kalimdor prevents me from flying there? Again, no in-game reason, and this was one of the many reasons Blizzard decided that for their next expansion, they'd redesign the old world to allow them to support "Old Weather Flying".

 So the idea of a "Flight Master's License" was introduced for the old world.  Not a skill that was trained. A licence. We're used to the idea of levels as being proxies for our level of ability. So I am more skilled at level 70 than at level 1. But the problem for the Cataclysm was that I am already well-skilled in flying, having learned how to do it in Outland, and having perfected the cold-weather variant in Northrend. Blizzard couldn't keep inventing new skills that were particular to Azeroth but not Northrend, and it wasn't a viable long-term solution to their problem, which was that they wanted to keep us from flying until we'd done all the quests they'd designed to be done on the ground.

So they embraced the problem in the Cataclysm expansion. and designed their new quests with flying in mind right from the start. They allowed flying right from level 60. In fact, the stonecore dungeon entrance couldn't even be reached on foot, and the Vashj'ir zone was based on everyone swimming (i.e. flying) underwater.

That was a great solution, but for some reason Blizzard didn't extend it to Pandaria. I don't know what they saw that made them change tack (perhaps they deplored the "fly-in, kill, loot, fly-out" play pattern that Cataclysm brought), but change tack they did, and in Pandaria, flying was again only available at the level-cap.

This was a retrograde step for two reasons.
1. We already had the expectation that we would be able to fly in Pandaria from the start
2. There was no convincing in-game explanation for why we couldn't fly in Pandaria.

 Sadly no explanation was given as to why my existing flying skills don't work there. "Wisdom of the Four Winds" was the gate to flying in Pandaria.What is it anyway? A skill? I already have flying skills. A licence? Who is the licensing authority? I already have a "Flight Master's License". Something else? What? This was a lazy solution. There was no in-game reason. As a player, I understand the designers' design reasons, but a solution that made sense to Dàchéng would have been nice.

Now we have reached Outland again, and my well-honed flying skills yet again seem to have faltered. I'm sure Blizzard by this stage were ruing the day they ever allowed flying, but their attempts to put the genie back in the bottle were always doomed to failure. However their "compromise" is as ugly a solution as the Wisdom of the Four Winds. None of the preconditions for "unlocking the ability to fly in Draenor on all [your] level 90+ characters" make any in-game sense.

This is just a gamified solution, with not even the pretense of an in-world reason. Not even an inscrutable reason like Wisdom of the Four Winds. Instead we are asked to collect 100 "treasures". Explore all of Draenor on the ground. Complete all the quests that are part of the Draenor Loremaster and Securing Draenor achievements. Achieve three Tanaan Jungle Revered Reputations. These are hoops for the player to jump through that make no sense to their characters. What has any of this got to do with flying? It's another step away from a believable virtual world.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Personal loot changes

These changes to "Personal Loot" in 6.2:

"rather than treating loot chances independently for each player—sometimes yielding only one or even zero items for a group—we’ll use a system similar to Group Loot to determine how many items a boss will award based on eligible group size"


Let's imagine that our 10-man raid is set to "Personal Loot" and will get awarded 5 items of loot. Just how will this be distributed? Does Blizzard look at the first team member and decide "Well that's a 50% chance of them getting personal loot. Let's toss a coin. Heads! You win". Then the next person in the group has a 4/9 chance of being awarded loot? I.e. 4 items left to distribute among 9 players. Is that how the mechanics of this will work? I don't know, but I'd like to. Do you know for definite?

Wednesday 3 June 2015

First they came for the pet-collectors ...

I know it's a while since I posted about the price of WoW Tokens, but that's mainly because I'm dumbfounded by it.

Blizzard engineers continue to play with the algorithms governing the in-game price of  WoW Tokens. By now I'd come to doubt that the relationship between price, supply and demand is anything more than tenuous. I note that we have never seen any data on actual volume of transactions, and also that has ceased to report the "time taken to sell", presumably because it was stuck at a fixed "4 hours" for so long. I think that in their effort to smooth price fluctuations, Blizzard's engineers have erred in reducing current supply and demand to a minor input in their equation.

I continue to buy the game-time tokens from time to time when I see them cheap on the auction house.

However, I have cancelled my subscription, and won't be renewing it when my gold runs out. To me, these tokens are the point of no return. In effect, Blizzard are now selling epics for cash (with the intermediate step that you must first exchange your cash for gold, then exchange the gold for epics). this is something many people (I include myself) have been warning about for many years, and it has inevitably happened. Take a trip down memory lane with my favourite mage blogger, Larísa of the Pink Pigtail Inn. The context of that article is that selling pets in-game for cash is the start of a slippery slope. It has proven to be so, and all the arguments people made that Blizzard might sell fluff for cash but never what matters (epics) have turned out to be wrong. Larísa, knew it, I knew it, you knew it, deep in your heart.

I know there is plenty of fun to be had in Azeroth that doesn't rely on earthly cash or Azerothean gold: I love exploring and finding little nooks and items not shown on the map. I love to stand, as Painter Mikkal does, and just gaze at the beauty of the world. I love finding routes up to "unreachable places", I love chatting to the many amazing people I have met, and I love killing orcs. But the group finder tool dealt a heavy blow to my sense of immersion in a virtual world; and now being able to buy epics like this has been the final straw for me.

I'm sure I'll keep some gold back so I can resubscribe for a while post-Draenor, and I've still plenty of game time tokens on my account, so I'm not going real soon; but my heart is no longer eager.