Monday, December 31, 2012

For the Horde!

For the last 7ish years that I've played WoW, I've always been Alliance. Sure, I experimented with orcs when I was younger (who hasn't?), but it never appealed to me. I always went back to what I knew. I had 6 max alts in Cataclysm, and when Pandaria dropped, I leveled a monk to max. Alliance, of course. The thing that finally got me to actually play a horde toon past mid-teens was that once I got to 90 with any of my toons, I had no one to raid with. Alliance on my server is pretty much dead. There's only 2 Alliance guilds that are really raid active, and they're pretty much set. So, I figured it was as good a time as any to go to the dark side.

Since I had spent all my time on a PvP server, I decided to go with a PvE-RP server. I figure it would be the furthest from what I'm used to, since I'm looking for a change. What I found was not what I expected. It was pretty much the same as normal. Not a bunch of people running around acting out their characters. The biggest difference I noticed was the lack of trolls (not the darkspear kind). Trade chat was missing all the a-holes. That is refreshing.

The biggest difference I noticed was in the capital city layouts. Horde cities, for the most part, are a lot bigger than Alliance cities. There is a lot of walking involved to get from one place to another. The only city that doesn't get on my nerves is Undercity (of course, Lordaeron was the human capital in the past). What did make me crack up though is the street signs in Undercity. They're skulls. What kind of city planner came up with that. Do you really need a reminder that its a city of undead? It looks like one of those crappy Halloween parties you'd go to as a kid where the host would try to make everything spooooky.

Anyway, I'm enjoying my BE pally. Never really got into pally before, so it's a welcome change. And my guild is pretty good. There always seems to be someone on, and it's pretty packed at peak times. This is a huge change from my Alliance guild which is lucky to have 3 or 4 on at peak.

Now, I could always server/faction change. But I'm not really into spending a bunch of money when I could get the same result for free. Leveling isn't that hard. Maybe at some point I'll bring a toon over, but right now, I don't see the point. It's not worth the $55 to me right now.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Blizzard Customer Service Live Chat (12/13/2012)

The Blizz CS live chat through CoveritLive just wrapped up. I figured I'd sit through it and bring you some highlights.

The chat was moderated by Zarhym, one of the community managers. The following panel was available to answer questions:

  • Vrakthris: CS Forum Representative
  • Marcus Maczynski: WoW Game Support Manager
  • Angelo Concepcion: SC2 Game Support Manager
  • Andreas Unger: D3 Game Support Manager
  • Charles Areson: Senior CS Information Specialist
  • Antonio Achucarro: CS Social Media Manager

A few of the questions and responses dealt with the "right-click to report" feature. This feature was brought up on a wide range of topics, including: investigating botting, hackers (they carefully investigate these complaints to make sure that only the guilty are punished), offensive names (you can appeal if someone claims your name is offensive by opening a ticket here), and language/behavior complaints (reporting temporarily "squelches" the player and initial warnings are short, but this may be changed).

One question that related directly to reporting player misbehavior was not honoring in-game agreements. The CS staff doesn't support certain types of agreements, namely cross realm trading or open loans, but some agreements are easily enforceable. They will try to resolve these.

Another question directly relating to player misbehavior involves a pug raid leader who sets masterlooter, doesn't set raid rules, and then does whatever he/she wants at the end. Basically, CS will evaluate the situation and handle it on a case-by-case basis.

The "right-click to report feature" and self-service features, such as item restoration, were touted by the CS staff as things that are working right with serving players. They're looking for more of these opportunities. Unfortunately, no specific upcoming self-service features were discussed. One person did ask about the possibility of a self-service option for deleting an account. CS shot this down, and rightly so, because players often regret this "days/weeks/months/years" later.

CS gave a bit of insight into how tickets are handled. The GMs are not assigned a specific realm or realms. Rather, they all pull tickets from the same pool (putting certain wording in the ticket doesn't bump it ahead) and work to answer them in the order received. Some tickets can be responded with a simple in-game message or email. Often, these are issues experienced by a few players and a mass mailing is sent out with the resolution. When an issue is more complex, however, the GM may contact the player directly and open a dialogue. They try not to do this unless it's actually necessary because of the volume of tickets in a given day. Here's Charles' response regarding how many CS team members answer how many questions:

"Blizzard Customer support consists of hundreds of employees, and we take thousands of calls and tickets every day. Our support volume can fluctuate based on things like recent game launches and major patches, so we adjust our daily schedules and priorities (and our support channels) to account for that."

(By the way, if any of you are looking to become one of those hundreds of employees, there are 2 positions open. Check out Blizzard job postings here.)

I had one of my questions answered too! It involved lost/stolen authenticators. So, if you're having a problem with a lost/stolen authenticator, go check out this page. I had better questions, but oh well, they can't answer them all.

There were, of course, some light hearted. off-topic questions/responses. In case you're interested in joining the Blizzard CS team, know the following:

  1. They don't work from home; everyone goes into one of the many offices all around the world;
  2. The office is decorated with BlizzSwag and other nerd stuff, such as Star Wars, Nerf guns, Legos, and My Little Pony... I guess some of the CS team are Bro-nies;
  3. They play Gangnam Style non-stop... This explains a lot;
  4. They have air conditioning and play "violent ping pong".
There were a few polls taken during the chat, also -

Preferred way to contact Blizzard CS:
In-game, 76%
Phone, 10%
Battlenet, 10%
Twitter, 3%
Facebook, 1%

Using an Authenticator:
Mobile Authenticator, 46%
Physical Authenticator, 41%
None, 13%

And one poll conducted by a player, PIRATE VS. NINJA
Pirate, 75%
Ninja, 25%

And finally, Marcus shared that one time he had to "trouble shoot someone's jelly donuts for having too much jam in them." Sounds like a great job. Good work, guys.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hey, Your Feet are on Fire!

I came across a post on WoW Insider  about the stresses of healing. As I read through the comments from disgruntled healers, a universal complaint seems to be that tanks and dps can't stay out of the shit (fire, void zone, breath, etc.)

I know this is one of my biggest peeves as a healer. Knowing what's going on around you is just something that every group or raid member should be doing. And there's not really an excuse not to pay attention and reposition. Tanks should have no problem maintaining aggro anymore, and while repositioning does negatively affect dps, it does so to a lesser degree than DYING.

No matter what your class/role, do everyone a favor and download GTFO.

When you're in the middle of a boss fight and everything is going crazy, it's tough to tell sometimes what is going on. GTFO will give you a loud, obnoxious warning to move when you're in the shit. Not standing where you shouldn't be standing will make the healers' job easier and raid survivability higher (since healers can concentrate on healing the damage that can't be avoided).

Saturday, December 8, 2012

SWTOR fail. Back to WoW.

So, I gave a few months to SWTOR. I came to the following conclusions:
1) the only real way to balance every class is to make every spec (tank, dps, heals) the same. Basically, the mechanics remain the same for each spec, only the graphics change.
2) there has to be a better way to concentrate on storyline without neglecting multiplayer aspects. SWTOR felt like playing a 1 player game (kotor was awesome) but with a few other people running around. I'd expect more from an MMORPG.
3) storyline means nothing if you're forced to pursue the same paths every time you play a class. Also, it can be tedious to have to visit the same world in the same order for every class within a faction. Side quests should add flavor. All the do in SWTOR is add boredom.
4) flashpoints (dungeons) and operations (raids) seem like mini-games if they have no geographical or temporal correlation to the rest of the game. Nearly every one requires you to go to the faction station and try to find a group there. Then, you just hop on a shuttle (portal) directly there. (Don't get me wrong, I long for the days in WoW when you had to actually get to the summoning stone for an instance before you could queue for it. At least you aren't stuck just hanging out in one capital city trying to form a group.)

In any case, I dropped my subscription and went back to WoW. About 2 months before the MoP expansion dropped, I just concentrated on alts, and was really enjoying playing a rogue for the first time since BC. Rogue was my first main toon (hence "Roguewind"), but it got boring after a while. I really had a lot of fun with it at the end of Cata, but expansions change things, so.....

The day MoP dropped, I logged on and immediately rolled a monk. I chose Brewmaster (tank) so I would get insta-queue and pushed my way to 90 in just over a week or so. My previous tanking experience had been with bear, so monk was a much different experience. All mitigation is based on actively juggling cooldowns. Monk tanking is a lot different from bear (face) tanking, which is different from warrior tanking, etc. (Compare this to SWTOR where every tanking class is the same). I had a blast.

I tried mistweaver as my offspec, but the healing just wasn't for me. Honestly, you have to pay a lot attention to heal as a monk. The biggest issue is juggling both mana (and monk heals are mana intensive) and chi (which can be used to heal or to restore mana). And the best chi generation requires you to be in melee range. This, of course, means you have to pay attention not to just resources (chi/mana) and party/raid member health, but also melee fight mechanics, and melee always have it worse than ranged.

So, I thought about it, and decided to go the easy route. I'm switching my OS to windwalker (melee dps), and I'm leveling my drood again. I really liked healing as a druid, so I'm giving it a go again. So far, I like it. I'm still working out how to cut down on over healing when you live on proactive (HoT) heals, but I'm doing good so far. And for the first time ever, I'm trying boomkin. I leveled halfway through 88 as feral, because kitty is sweet for leveling, but I gotta develop boomskeelz for any chance at raid dps.

So far, I stink at boomie. I haven't effectively exceeded 17k dps. The only thing that makes me feel slightly on is that I'm usually 1st or 2nd on dps in LFD groups. That's not saying much because some of these jokers are only pulling 11k. In any case, I've been at it for 3 days, and I haven't cried yet.

One of the nice changes is not needing different gear for each spec. Monk tank/dps are basically the same gear except trinkets. And the same holds true for heals/booms drood since spirit=hit. It makes my life easier.

Well, I'm gonna keep plugging along on these. I'm sure I'll have other gripes in the future though.

Kisses, all.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Six Early Observations for SWTOR

Let me just say I am so frigging excited for release day. And I mean December 20, not early release. Yeah, I’m not going to be playing early. I’ve just got too much going on in my life. Actually, I might not even get to play until the 21st since I’ll have to load everything. Dammit, I’m bringing myself down… No. No. No. I’m excited! And here’s why.

I’m going to get to play a game from launch (hell, before launch if you count beta testing). And not just any game. Starwars: the Old Friggin’ Republic. It’s just going to be really cool to witness the growth of an MMO from launch. What will it be in a year? Two years? We’ll actually get to find out because we’ll be there. And, hopefully, our discussions on our blogs and Bioware’s boards will help shape what the game becomes. So, without further ado…

Wishful Crystal Ball Gazing (or Things I’d do differently):

1. You are the Chosen One: Remember when you were little and your parents told you that you could be anything you want to be when you grow up? Even President (if you’re from the U.S. If you’re from somewhere else, just insert your equivalent). Yeah, well, that’s not true. It’s a great thing for kids to hear though. But eventually, you realize that not everyone can be President because there’s only one job opening. Well, the same thing goes for being the Chosen One.

In Star Wars mythology, I can really only think of one big Chosen One/Child of Prophecy, and that, of course, is Anakin Skywalker. And there can only be one of him (which is probably good for Jedi everywhere). In SWTOR, however, it seems that every single player is the one we’ve all been waiting for. Yes, I didn’t get the impression at any point that players are supposed to all be on the level of Anakin, but REALLY. The Jedi counsel seems to see this massive potential in EVERYONE. (Either that, or they have really low standards.)

Here’s what I’m getting at: In real life, we’re all important. Each one of us is doing something in our lives that matters one way or another. Some of us do big, history changing things, but not the majority of us. Not even a small percentage of us. Really, it’s an infinitesimal percentage. What Bioware has put out with this “chosen one” storyline works great in single player games. I mean, you’re the only player so really, you’re the only one that can really have an effect on the world. In an MMO, everyone’s got an equal shot. Not everyone can be “the one”. But everyone can be great. It’s an age of war. We can be great warriors, great leaders. But we don’t have to be the guy that our faction has been waiting for in order to do that. It just seems too cheesy. I think you can draw players into a story without making them the center of EVERYONE’S attention.

2. Linear Questing: Each class follows their own storyline. But that’s just it. Everyone from the same class follows that same storyline. I see two problems here.

First, that means that everyone who is the same level from the same class will be attempting to do the same quests at pretty much the same time. This can kind of clog things up in an area if people have to gather the same items or kill the same mobs. Now, I understand that, at first, the game is a lot smaller. I’ll make the reasoned assumption that Bioware intends to add more planets in the future. I can only hope that some of these planets will give alternative places to quest at lower levels.

Second, who didn’t love choose your own adventure books? Different choices take you to different places. The linear questing model, more or less, forces you to follow a very specific path. You do the same quests, in the same order, going to the same planets, in the same order. While the story is very immersive, you have such limited choices. It doesn’t allow you to feel like you… well… have any choices. Sure, you can choose to be light or dark side, but you path is pretty much set. You have to do the storyline quest chain that leads you from one place to the next. There’s no skipping a portion you don’t like or coming back to it later.

I say the available areas on the planets need to be expanded (both geographically and by level) to include slightly lower level and higher level content with quests. This will let people have more options of where to go. And with the way instanced areas are set up, those portions could be tuned for the player’s level when they do them. So you could do the same portion of the storyline quests at level 20 or at level 30 and the relative difficulty could be the same. It would allow people to do the storyline portions of the quest in different order, if they so choose, which add a bit of diversity to the game.

3. Small Instances: I like the small instances… mostly. What I don’t like is that if you’re not at that point in your questing, the entrance to the area is red and you can’t enter. This just makes no sense, especially if the world is supposed to be immersive. Sometimes, you can’t even enter a one-room instance. You can see it, but you just can’t walk in it. Weird, right? Unfortunately, it seems like Bioware tried to implement what WoW has with phasing, but they failed. And I’m not saying that Blizzard always has the right of it, because they don’t, but phasing was a great upgrade with their last expansion. I’m all for trying new solutions to old problems, but this was kind of a stinker. Sorry, guys. Maybe the simple answer is getting rid of the red. Why block someone from being able to enter an area?

4. Companion Customization: This is just something that is sorely lacking. Sure, there’s the customization slot. OOOOOOOOOOh. I just change my companion’s hair or skin color or whatever. That’s not customization, that’s a cop out. One of the earliest things I remember Bioware saying was how every character was unique… but at the same time, every character got the same companions based upon their class. (Every smuggler gets a wookie? C’mon! What if you’re allergic?) That’s not very unique. Not only that, every companion is named the same and looks the same. Even less unique.

Solution – real customization. I know the voice acting is a little dependent upon companions having a set name. And I love the voice acting. Who doesn’t? But I would rather have a companion that felt like mine rather than hear their name spoken by a voice actor. Random name generation might be a way to go. Also, randomizing a few things like size, face, skin color, species, whatever.

Now, the ship may have sailed on the current companion choices, but adding one or two new companions might work. Make them as random in appearance and customizable as possible. And make it a requirement of a quest chain. If you really want to get bold, make it so that your decisions throughout the chain influence how you companion behaves (heal, dps, tank). Or make a highly customizable droid companion that has a random designation and one of a set number of initial appearances, but you can spend money to modify and each mod changes the appearance. And make the mods cost some serious credits.

5. Ship Customization:  Add some upgrades to ships (and not the ones you get from space combat), that adjust the look inside and out. Make them cost a lot of money too. (or only able to get from a quest chain) Now, many people won’t pay for purely cosmetic upgrades. Well, how about cosmetic upgrades, that when combined together, produce unique results. Let’s say there’s 5 spots on the outside of the ship and 3 spots on the inside. Add 2 upgrades to the outside and 1 to the inside, you get upgrade 1. Another 2 out and 1 in gives upgrade 2. And one more outside, one more inside, upgrade 3. And depending upon what you put in each slot, you get a different upgrade based upon the combination. Speed boost. Extra guns. Stronger shields. Repair droid. Faster targeting computer. And different combinations increase the effectiveness of the upgrades.

6. Four Classes: But there are 8 classes? Right? Eh, not really. It's what is not-so-affectionately called "Mirrored Classes". And yes, they're not EXACTLY the same, but the differences are so minor they're not worth thinking about. This works great when you're trying to balance factions for PvP, but it can get kind of boring when you want to do a cross-faction alt.

So far, there only way anyone has discussed fixing this is by expanding the number of classes. Great! I can't wait. And this probably will happen. But then instead of having 4 mirrored classes, we'll have 5, 6, 7, etc. How about making minor additions to classes? Add a skill here or there that makes that class unique. And not something minor or superficial. A real skill that players will actually use. Of course this will be difficult to balance. Well, that's the name of the game and why game designers make the big bucks, right? No one said this would be easy.

I’m not suggesting that SWTOR be a WoW clone. There’s a long list of reasons I don’t play WoW anymore (just look at my old posts). I’m not saying my ideas are the best or Bioware’s are the worst or anything in between. I just think that these are topics worth discussion. And I’m sure there’s plenty more. And Bioware has been responsive to player criticism in the past (see Jedi Wizard). So, if any of you have ideas, be sure to share them. And don’t just complain about things you don’t like, offer suggestions. Anyone can throw rocks. Try building a house.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stress Test? You Got That Right!

Beta test weekend #2 done. Not nearly as enjoyable as the first weekend. When they said stress test, they meant it.

The first weekend wasn’t too bad when it came to the lag. (And I’m calling it lag whether it was server lag or fps issues. My toon was lagging one way or the other.) This weekend was downright unplayable at points. There are quite a few threads with complaints about the same, so I know I’m not the only one. Here’s one that had a solution of sorts. I tried it, and it helped. It did not fix the problem, however. The game went from unplayable to barely tolerable.

Now, I don’t have a top notch gaming rig by any means, but I figure that if I can play WoW, Rift, DCUO, Skyrim, etc with the graphics settings all the way up and have no issues, then I should be able to run SWTOR on the lowest settings with no problems. That’s just simply not the case. (And btw, on the absolute lowest settings, all players and npcs changed to polygons… yeah, fun)

And I get that this was a “stress test” weekend. They were intentionally running high populations on the servers to see if they could handle it. Well, test failed, my friends. When the server instance was only showing around 100 people, I mostly had no issues. Of course, if I entered a cantina, forget about it. Everything slowed down. The same was true if I entered a fight with more than 3 mobs. Too much movement on the screen made everything slow down/skip. I guess it just makes things more challenging, right? Now, when the population reached 300... let's just say UGH! 

Right now, I’m hoping that BioWare takes all of this into consideration before the launch. I’m sure they’re interested in keeping the game playable for as many people as possible. (Unlike the people on general chat and the forums who keep saying things like “LOL, you teh sux! get a better computer n00b!!11!”) Heck, they even make the last questions you answer before logging out about how much lag and fps issues you have. I think this shows that they give a damn.

So, here’s to December 20. You can’t come soon enough.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

An Elegant Weapon for a More Civilized Age

I figure I'll hop in on the whole lightsaber color discussion. I mean it's such an important topic that could totally alter the game and how we... No seriously. Color?

Ok, ok. I get it. For some people (read: Star Wars Nerds) you don't mess with the holy trilogy. I count myself among those people. George Lucas made three movies that were the yardstick by which I measured all other movies throughout my childhood. You don't F with that. But remember this: George Lucas F'd with that.

Does he have the right? Sure. His movies. Do I have to like it? Hell, no! I don't like the new trilogy. I don't like the changes he made to the original trilogy (Greedo shoots first????) but guess what? It happened. I can't change that. And if you go into the EU, there's plenty of inconsistencies and changes. That's why there's retcon. That's why there are "canon" and "non-canon" stories.

Back to lightsabers... You know, the point. Sometimes I forget.

There was a progression for color. First, it was red for Sith and blue for Jedi. Then, when the special effects department for Return of the Jedi said "hey, having trouble seeing Luke's lightsaber in the blue Tunisian sky," someone said "uhm, how's green sound?" Bingo! Two Jedi colors. The EU added yellow, cyan, gold, black, copper, blah blah blah. I'm pretty sure there is even a pink one in there somewhere. All this time, though, only Sith get red and red is the only color Sith get. And then Lucas added purple because Sam Jackson is a bad muther f'er.

Is there really any rhyme or reason to any of it? I mean, if you're a Sith during the age of the Rule of Two, I'm sure the best way to hide your existence is to wave around a red beacon rather than blend in. And yes, I know that SWTOR doesn't take place during the Rule of Two. But with lightsaber crystals being somewhat rare, don't you think that Sith, with their belief in survival, would sorta take what they can get rather than make a fahion statement?

For the people that say a lightsaber defines the user, why put all Sith into the same box (color-wise at least). And the really epic thing about SWTOR is that we, the players, get to define the universe. And yes, it would be alot easier to tell Jedi and Sith apart in PvP, but that distinction doesn't exist for other classes. Be happy with the red nameplates for opponents.

George Lucas made changes and added things that we don't like (JarJar, Jake Lloyd's acting, etc.) Well, let's get him back by changing his whole lightsaber color scheme to something that makes sense: we choose. Us. The players. The fans. The Jedi. The Sith. The one that really matter.