Rules on how to play roles
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 May 2014, 2:18 am
A pen & paper role-playing game consists of two major parts: Combat encounters, which are following a set of rules. And interactive story-telling, which is a lot more free-form. That duality causes some problems. As Mike Mearls remarks in his latest D&D developer post, earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons often assumed that people already knew how to role-play, and thus just provided the rules necessary to handle things like combat, spells, or skills. That kind of backfired on them in the reception of the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, where apparently some people who didn't know better just played the game as a series of rules-based combat encounters and then people complained that this wasn't a role-playing game any more.

D&D Next is trying to do better with a character creation system that has tables on which you can roll a die to find a personality trait or an ideal or bond or flaw for you character. So you end up with a character who has marked on his character sheet that he has a "relentlessly optimistic attitude", strongly believes in charity, owes his life to the priest that took him in when his parents died, and is suspicious of strangers and suspects the worse of them. My problem with that is that it solves the problem only for the people who didn't have a problem in the first place. Somebody who knows and understands role-playing will be able to either pick personality traits from those tables or make up similar ones that fit his character and work with that. Somebody who hasn't got a clue and uses dice to create a character will end up with a personality which isn't necessarily workable, and quite likely alien to the player.

In short, rules are a bad approach on teaching people how to role-play. Unfortunately the best approach on learning how to role-play is playing with people who do it well, which isn't something WotC can sell as a product (well, they could, but that would transform them into a gaming service company, which would be quite a daring move). The best solution I could imagine for a company like Wizards of the Coast is to make a big chapter in the Player's Handbook "On Role-playing", with examples and detailed explanations on why role-playing can be a good thing; but without putting role-playing into a corset of rules. Outside the context of company profits, we would basically need one book on how to role-play on the market, and that would be valid for quite a lot of different pen & paper RPG systems.

There are lots of different ideas and systems that help with creating characters with a personality and a background. I do like 13th Age's "one unique thing" for example. What I don't believe in at all is random dice rolls in personality creation, and rules that make a certain amount of role-playing mandatory. Role-playing is something that I would want to encourage, but not force upon my players. Tools like personality traits are starting points to get players thinking about who their character is, what his motivation is, and to induce interactive stories that go beyond simple stereotypes.

I've been playing with the same people for over a decade, first as fellow player, then as DM. Few people are able to play very different characters, often distinctive personality traits will be the same in all the characters they play over the years, because they reflect personality traits of the player. If your player is a pessimist at heart, rolling a "relentlessly optimistic attitude" on a personality trait table will be next to impossible to role-play well for him.

Having said that, for my next 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign I am trying to do better in the role-playing area. The current campaign has cookie cutter characters, with only one player having worked out a background for his character. And with the campaign being "episodic", that is consisting of a string of not well connected adventures, the personal story aspect of role-playing is falling short. So the next campaign will have an over-arching story, and I will spend more time with each player in creating each characters background. Most importantly that will include giving the players a detailed description of the world and the role of the group in this world before they go and create characters. That way we have a better chance of getting a group of characters which fit in the world and the story, and can have interesting role-playing interactions with that world and each other.
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Wildstar open beta tomorrow
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 May 2014, 3:25 am
With rather short notice Carbine announced that the open beta for Wildstar will start tomorrow. And presumably will go on for 3 weeks or less, as the headstart begins May 31st. While I am aware that Wildstar will not be for everybody, I would very much recommend giving the open beta a try. Try to play at least one character to at least level 10 (which shouldn't take more than a few hours) to get an impression of the game, as levels 1 to 6 are rather linear and the game only opens up in the third zone.

As this is a full price game with subscription, the open beta is an ideal, but short, opportunity to test the game out. And unless you are allergic to cartoonish graphics, Wildstar has a lot of positive qualities that are well worth experiencing for yourself to form your own opinion.
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450 hours of content?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 May 2014, 2:53 am
I was reading an article on IGN on veteran's content in The Elder Scrolls Online, in which the author stated: "ESO's take on the continent of Tamriel is split up into three major factions, each with around 150 hours of hand-crafted, fully voice-acted content to quest through. Once you hit the level cap of 50 and finish your faction's quest-line, you can quest through the other two faction's zones, facing off against much tougher, level-adjusted versions of those foes.". To find out what my problem is with that, let's have a look at the math:

We know that a MMORPG player spends on average 22.4 hours per week in a game. Obviously the author of the IGN article played a lot more, reaching the 300 hours mark within a month of release. And some people play less. But with a subscription game there is always a lower limit to how little you can play each month and still justify paying for the subscription. So let's just go with the average. If a game like The Elder Scrolls Online has 450 hours of content, that ends up being 20 weeks of play, 4 to 5 months. So how exactly does Zenimax plan to keep people playing for years?

Of course there are content patches and expansions, but I don't think that anybody can manage to produce another 450 hours of content every 5 months. Even Blizzard with their tons of money completely fail at adding content at a sufficient rate, as with their "expansion every 2 years" rate each expansion would need to provide 2000 hours of content, but barely has 200.

That leaves the eternal excuse of the "elder game" or "end game", in the form of raids and or PvP. But how many hours of content is that? Is that really 1,000 hours of content per year, or is it rather 100 hours of content per year and you are supposed to do it 10 times? Or 50 hours of content 20 times? And that is just looking at the question how much content the elder game really is, without touching the other problems of social and organizational difficulties, or that somebody who likes questing through content is not necessarily interested in this completely different mode of gameplay.

For me the math simply doesn't add up. To provide an average MMORPG player with fresh content all the time, you would need to create 100 hours of content every month. But clearly it took Zenimax far more than four-and-a-half months to produce the 450 hours of content they have in The Elder Scrolls Online. And even financially, creating enough content to keep people playing appears to be a losing proposition. You'd be much better off producing a string of $60 games with 20 hours of content each, which appears to be the single-player industry standard today.

People are still wondering what exactly World of Warcraft did right to become such a success. I don't claim to have all the answers, but look at how much content WoW already had on release, with 6 starting zones and several zones in each level range, compared to the games released now. It seems to me that today companies are trying to sell much less of a game for the same price, and then wonder why the players aren't sticking around.
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MMORPG blogging in 2014
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 May 2014, 9:24 am
There is another Newbie Blogger Initiative ongoing. I wasn't going to participate, but ended up being quoted as old fart wise old man of MMORPG blogging. Occasion to say a word about blogging in 2014: The reason why I wouldn't encourage newbies to start blogging in 2014 is the same reason why I wouldn't encourage them to take up typewriter repair or steam engine design. The world has moved on, and blogging has become outdated. That isn't saying that I'll stop doing it, or that there aren't excellent reasons to blog. But the whole bubble of "I'll blog and become famous on the internet" certainly has popped.

What the current fashionable internet platform is changes all the time. Facebook is past its prime, and last week The Atlantic posted an Eulogy for Twitter. Blogs have been out for years now. In the case of MMORPG blogs the effect is compounded by the fact that MMORPGs are out of fashion as well.

Now of course there are many different view of what exactly a blog is, and what it is good for. These days I mostly blog for myself, as a kind of public diary of the games I am playing and my thoughts about them. And that is perfectly okay, still works great, and will continue to work great until Wordpress and Blogger shut down. What works a lot less well these days is using a MMORPG blog as a platform for discussion, either between blogs linking to each other, or between a blogger and his commenters. Traffic is way down on all blogs, which due to a negative network effect has a profound effect on the liveliness of the discussion. It doesn't help that the MMORPG isn't exactly a hotbed of great gaming innovation, but rather evolves slowly, feature by feature. If you keep reading MMORPG blogs and discussing on them, like I do, you meet a lot of grumpy veterans, like me.

Thus for somebody who wishes to have lively discussions on the internet and meet lots of new people, I cannot really recommend MMORPG blogging. There are newer, more modern, and more fashionable platforms around. Not that I would be in the know enough to recommend you one.
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The Favorites of Selune - Gardmore Abbey - Session 14
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 May 2014, 3:07 am
In the previous session we had made a rules error, thinking that if the two parties in a fight couldn't see each other, they wouldn't know where the others were. It turned out that in 4th edition D&D you not only need to be out of sight, but also do a stealth check if you want others to be unaware of your location. So in this session we started with all the tokens on the battlemap, with only the enemy rogue's location being unknown. But the rival group had retreated into the room, so the heroes first needed to drop their cloud of darkness and enter the room. [That also meant they were actually fighting ON the battlemap, and not on the squares outside the door. Woot!]

The room had a lot of interior walls and features, which was good for a session which we had started by discussing rules of line of sight, line of effect, and visibility. So the fight started with some ranged combat, with the targets frequently having some sort of cover bonus. The heroes knew that the enemy rogue was somewhere invisible in the room, stealthed (hidden), but in the first round nearly all of them forgot to use a minor action for a perception check to look for him. Only the sorceress tried, but as she didn't have perception trained, she couldn't locate him.

Now, as frequently the case, the rogue of the Favorites of Selune was ahead of the others. And as the rivals used the same tactics as any adventuring group, concentrating their fire, he was quickly surrounded by enemies. And then the invisible drow rogue stabbed him in the back, bringing him to negative hit points. Fortunately he was in view of the cleric, who had an immediate heal power from a holy symbol for situations like this, but the rogue decided it was wiser to keep playing dead.

Although the players discussed tactics heatedly, they managed to stick to a concentrated fire strategy as well, and quickly downed the enemy half-orc fighter. The evil dwarven cleric of the rival group went next, and one by one the enemies died. Every time an enemy died, one of the survivors benefited from a new card effect, while the heroes still hadn't learned how to control their cards. The drow rogue enemy tried to sneak invisibly into the group's back, but had a low stealth roll and was seen by the ranger. He managed to do some serious damage to the sorceress, but was then pushed into a well and died from the fall. Not wanting to offer the remaining enemy wizard a chance to surrender, the group killed that last enemy. They recovered the four cards the rivals had, as well as the gold that the rivals had taken from the temple.

Now finally the Favorites of Selune started trying whether they could in some way control what cards would appear in combat. That turned out to be a simple matter of wishing a card effect of a card you hold to appear and doing an arcana check as a minor action. Not ideal for characters without that skill, but a lot more useful than having no control at all. So the players decided to make a list of all the cards and distribute them to those characters who could use them best for their regular combat tactics.

Having sorted that out, the group descended into the vaults. The first room they entered was empty, except for one big bronze door and another door. Empty rooms are suspicious in Dungeons & Dragons, so they started looking for secret doors, traps, and the like. As they could see frescoes of minotaurs, the sorceress wanted to know whether there was some sort of "cow smell" in the room, but could only pick up a different smell. The cleric identified that smell as being sulfur (sulfur dioxide to be exact, several of the players have a background in chemistry). The rogue, investigating the big bronze door felt that it was warmer than expected, and heard some snoring behind it. That was enough hints to let them conclude that there was a dragon behind that door, even if there was no "there be dragons here" inscription, as the sorceress jokingly asked.

Well, a dragon is one of those monsters I don't like to spring on my group as a total surprise, there should be some warning. But as usual in the face of danger, the Favorites of Selune decided to walk away and try something else first. They knew that the vaults had a second entrance, so they left the dungeon and headed over to that other entrance. At that point we ended the session.
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A quiet Wildstar beta weekend
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 May 2014, 9:38 am
There was another Wildstar beta weekend, and I played a bit. Having already used the beta to answer all my open questions on what I want to play in release, I just played a different class some more: The spellslinger. I very much liked the style of that character, especially with the mustachioed Chua I had taken. With the dual pistols and the mustache he made for a perfect Wild West hero.

Gameplay-wise I was less enchanted by the class. The special resource and the innate ability of the spellslinger to me have a less good flow than some other classes. Basically the innate ability is a toggle which makes you do more damage until your resource is emptied, but then there are no abilities to recharge it, you just have to wait. Furthermore beyond level 10 the spellslinger becomes kind of a glass cannon, and you need a lot of movement to keep him alive. For me, as somebody who isn't great with things like mouse-turns, a stun ability which leaves me with my back towards the enemy isn't ideal. I guess I have to leave the spellslinger to younger and more mobile players.

The most annoying thing this weekend was the way that Carbine had changed the costume screen. Now you need to travel all the way to the capital city and seek out the dye vendor to change your costume. Which means that I probably simply won't bother with costumes at all, if I can't modify them easily. Otherwise the current version (after a Friday evening hotfix) was quite stable and low on bugs, with many bugs from the previous beta weekend already fixed. A release in a month is not too soon.
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Seeing your enemies in Dungeons & Dragons
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 May 2014, 11:51 am
The latest session of my 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign ended somewhat chaotically, after the sorceress had cast a cloud of darkness between the group and the enemies, cutting all line of sight. In fact we had made an old school mistake: Not fully knowing the rules, we had made rules up, based on real-world logic. Decades of experience should have told us that this is fraught with danger, as real-world logic is hard to apply to magical situations like clouds of darkness or invisibility. In fact, one of the big advantages of 4E is that it saves groups from arbitrary decisions by running combat like a game with fixed rules. Sometimes those fixed rules contradict logic, for example you can be freezing and on fire at the same time; but at least you don't get players arguing for an advantage based on some pseudo-logic applied to a fantasy world.

Now I have read up, especially the Rules of the Hidden Club, and the blog posts of the Online Dungeon Master on Line of Sight and Effect and on the Hidden Condition. It turns out that the 4E sight rules are comparatively easy, if not perfectly logical: You always know where everybody on the battlefield is, except for a hard to get "hidden" condition you can only achieve through the stealth skill. You could say that this works by sound or other senses (Many years ago a player in a campaign was a druid who could transform into an otter. Discussing on whether she could follow an enemy by sense of smell, she said "I smell like an otter". Hilarity ensued.).

That solves a lot of the problems of the combat we are still in and will restart in the next session: The players were afraid that behind the cloud of darkness there would now be the group of enemies with prepared ranged attacks, triggered on the darkness going away. But as both groups know where each other are, that won't happen. Darkness only gives total concealment, so the two groups could even still exchange ranged attacks, just with a -5 penalty. So in future fights that cloud of darkness won't really separate the combatants and cause a break in the combat.

The rule also has profound effects on how to handle invisibility. One combatant of this fight is a drow rogue, with a power to make himself invisible. But invisible isn't all that much of an advantage if the rule is that everybody always knows where everybody is. However as a rogue that character has stealth, and I thus rolled a stealth check for him. Now he is hidden, and that is actually what people usually imagine when they think "invisible". No enemy knows where the hidden character is, unless he beats that stealth check with a passive or active perception check. And then he only has a rough idea of the location, unless he beats the stealth check by at least 10.

I guess the wizard of my group, who has the invisibility spell, won't like the new rule. But it saves fights from going into a limbo situation where the combatants don't know where their enemies are any more. And for the current fight I can just move the enemies behind solid obstacles, so they are out of line of effect as well as out of line of sight. So I don't have to rewind the clock or replay a turn.
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Separating the players from their money
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 May 2014, 2:47 am
The discussion on whether Free2Play games are good or evil is still going on, and on, and on, and on. But this week yet another MMO went Free2Play, and anybody hoping that this new business model is going away is clearly in denial. What I find a lot more interesting is what exactly people are spending money on, both in terms of which games and what items in games. Because obviously that is going to have a big influence on future game design.

If you look at the top 10 money-making Free2Play games, either in terms of average revenue per player or in terms of millions of dollars of revenue, you will find that the overwhelming majority is games in which players fight each other. In fact if you consider that the MMORPGs on the list all also have a PvP part, *all* of the top money-making games at least have elements of players directly competing against each other. There is a lot of psychology behind explaining why the most successful games are those that allow you to kill somebody else, and not cooperative or single-player games. Basically it allows people to feel superior to others in a video game, which is something they might especially crave if they are lacking success in the real world.

Thus it is not a surprise that people spend millions of dollars on cheats in video games. And if downright cheating is a huge money-maker, you can imagine how much more popular it is to buy things legally in a video game which gives you a slight advantage. Note that in spite of all the talk about whales and wallet warriors, the actual expenses per player are low: The cheat program costs $10.95 per month, the highest average revenue per player in a Free2Play game is $4.51. If you think that paying to win involves millionaires paying suitcases full of money to win a video game, you are wrong. First of all, the millionaire probably doesn't need a video game to feel superior, his Ferrari will do that for him. And then the games that sell you a better shot at success need to be more clever at selling stuff, because selling outright wins just drives the losers away.

People don't pay to win, they pay to do slightly better. Some companies managed to pull the wool over the eyes of their players so well that the players who don't pay to do better even deny that others pay to do better. You can have endless discussions how much exactly of an advantage is buying a champion or buying a gold tank compared to somebody who doesn't. But even if the advantage is tiny, people are motivated to buy for those small advantages. If you don't believe that, you would have to believe that in a world in which people pirate humble bundles, suddenly millions of players decide to give money to a game company for nothing.

The financial success of "paying for superiority" games suggests that we will see more and more of them. The competitive gene is strong in most video game players. You might not be able to make them pull out their wallet to pay for additional content in a non-competitive single-player game. But it appears rather easy to make them pay small sums to do better in a competitive environment.
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Metacritic scores over time
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 May 2014, 6:27 am
In the Chrome store you can get for free an extension called the Metacritic score/time graph. If, obviously with the Chrome browser and that extension installed, you surf to the "See all X critic reviews" on the Metacritic site, the extension adds a graph to that page that shows you all the scores on a graph over a time axis. The interesting thing is that the resulting curve invariably points downwards. For example if you checked on release day the Metacritic score of The Elder Scrolls Online, you would have seen a score of 83, with 3 reviews giving the game a 90. Now, four weeks later, the average critic score is down to 72, with many 60s handed out. Even SimCity got one 100 perfect score review on day one, but now is down to 64 average.

The early, high scores frequently come from sites you didn't know or don't usually read reviews from, like "Cheat Code Central". The scores that come out weeks later are often from the more reputable review sites, like Edge, or Polygon. The TESO review of Polygon (score 60) not only obviously took their time to actually play the game sufficiently long, but also was written by two authors, one of which was an Elder Scrolls fan, while the other is a MMORPG fan. It is stuff like that which makes me think that the later scores are somewhat more believable.

There are games you can play through in one day, so a release day review isn't totally out of the question. But MMORPGs don't go into that category. On the other hand these sites need to publish their reviews in a timely manner. If they took too much time, and for example posted their The Elder Scroll Online review in October after playing for 6 months, nobody would be interested in that review any more. Even if of course you could argue that you need to play a MMORPG for that long to really see how the end game works out.

Some games, for example Bioshock Infinite, don't suffer from review score degradation over time (average is still 94 and the curve over time is quite flat). That leads me to believe that if Metacritic scores tell you anything, it is after about one month. Earlier you just get a distorted view due to hype.
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The Promised Land
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 May 2014, 4:31 am
Besides selling you triple-A games with a good discount during sales, Steam is also increasingly selling tons and tons of cheap indie games. Those are always a bit of hit or miss: There are a lot of derivative games with low production values among them, but also some gems of genres that the big game companies don't do any more. And they are cheap. I bought The Promised Land for $6, and played it through in 14 hours, which I consider a good amount of fun for the money. Especially for a PC game, because games that cost ten times as much frequently don't offer ten times that play time.

The Promised Land is a casual city building game. Unlike the casual city building games you might find on mobile platforms, it is not Free2Play, there are no "in app" purchases. You can't accelerate a building process by spending real money. Unusually for a city builder, The Promised Land has a well-defined end. Once you build everything you'll find the Spring of Eternal Happiness and while you *can* play on, there really isn't a good reason to. Nor would you want to play the game again. But during the once through play, the game is quite fun.

This isn't "Banished". It is not a hardcore game in which you learn how to play by a constant stream of failures. Which does not mean that it is trivial. You still get to make a lot of interesting decisions, like what to train your settlers in, or whether to put everybody on an urgent rush job or to build up everything slowly and in parallel. Especially for people who haven't played a lot of games like Settlers or Anno, The Promised Land is a good introduction to the genre. You get feedback when things are going suboptimally, but not in a frustrating way.

Besides the core city-building game, there is also an Angry Birds type of mini-game in The Promised Land, but it doesn't take up much of your play time. At the end there is a puzzle mini-game, but if you don't want to do that, there is a friendly "skip" button. The rest of the time you are busy assigning your settlers to various tasks, producing goods that either help you to build your city, or that you sell to buy things for your colony. That trading part is well done: If you repeatedly sell the same goods, prices go down. And sometimes certain goods are in high demand and you can sell them at a bigger profit.

Overall of course The Promised Land can't compete with triple-A games. But if you are looking for a casual city-builder that doesn't demand too much of a committment from you, this might just be the game.
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How useful is crafting in Wildstar?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 April 2014, 7:34 am
I had some comments in previous discussion of Wildstar crafting where people said that it sounded exactly like World of Warcraft. So in this post I would like to highlight some important differences in crafting between Wildstar and WoW, and explain why I think that crafting is more useful in Wildstar.

Items in both games, and in fact in most games today, have a minimum level that your character needs to have in order to wear that item. The times of Everquest, where your main could farm high-level items and then equip your alt with them is over. The items a level 40 character finds are not usable by a level 10 character. In the context of a leveling process, where the level of your character goes up constantly, sometimes several times in one session, this minimum level of gear has important consequences: You constantly "outlevel" your equipment. You might have received at level 10 at the end of a long quest-line a very good "blue" item of minimum level 9 or so, but you'll find that when you hit level 12, even a bog-standard green item with minimum level 12 is better. And you might or might not find one in the process of questing and looting.

In this context the usefulness of crafting comes down to whether it can provide you with a constant stream of items, so that you can always equip yourself with items whose minimum level corresponds to your level. And Wildstar does that a lot better than World of Warcraft. In Wildstar you have recipes with minimum levels that are rather close together, usually not more than 2 levels difference between one tier of item and the next. Furthermore the materials you need are easy enough to gather at the level that you need them. If you spend time at level 10 for example to gather iron, you can make heavy armor or weapons with a minimum level of 10, and even 12 or 14. Do a crafting session and the next time you'll go adventuring you'll already have the gear for the next couple of levels in your inventory.

The other thing which Wildstar does better than World of Warcraft is that there is more variation regarding stats. In World of Warcraft you would craft a bronze dagger (or many of them to gain crafting skill), and every single bronze dagger in the world was totally identical. For different classes these standard items are of different degrees of usefulness, because maybe the paladin wants different stats on his heavy armor than the warrior. And even for different builds of one class some items are more useful than others. In Wildstar the recipe does not fix all the stats. Instead when crafting a specific item, you get a pool of points (and you can increase that pool by using more expensive cores as components). You can then decide at least one, sometimes several, stats that you want to put into that item, and increase those stats based on a color code and point cost. In the end two crafted items with the same name can have very different stats in Wildstar.

Personally I plan to play a warrior with weaponsmithing in Wildstar. Not only is weaponsmithing profitable if you just craft stuff and vendor it. But it also virtually guarantees that I will always wield a weapon with a minimum level equal or not more than 1 level away from my character level, and with the stats I want. I consider that a crafting system which is quite useful.
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Why Wildstar?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 April 2014, 3:31 am
Rethinking the question of why I want to play Wildstar and not one of many other similar theme park MMORPGs, I do believe that in the end it comes down to the combat system. Even if these games have features like crafting or housing, in the end we spend the majority of our time fighting monsters. And if this "basic repeating unit" of the game isn't fun, the whole game fails. I think the combat system in Wildstar is really well done. It is more dynamic than the classic system used in games like World of Warcraft, but without being so twitchy that a middle-aged gamer like myself can't keep up. If I consider other factors, like the world, I would prefer other games: Lord of the Rings Online is the game in which I would be most interested in the world; but as I detest the unresponsive combat system of LotRO, I'd rather play Wildstar where the combat has great flow, even if I couldn't care less about the world of Nexus.

That insight leads me to an important advice regarding Wildstar: If you decide to play (in the beta or after release), take your time to play each character class to at least level 6+. The flow of combat of the different classes, between the abilities that use up your special resource, those that replenish it, and the innate ability, is very different. And it is even more different compared to previous games like World of Warcraft, so it isn't because you liked a certain class in WoW that you will like it Wildstar. Testing out all classes and finding those where you like the flow of combat is time well spent, and can make all the difference between you enjoying or hating Wildstar. My first choice of class, medic, turned out to be far from ideal for me; based on testing of all classes I'll play warrior and esper in the release version. But if you prefer a different flow, your choice might look very different. You need to see for yourself.

I have done my testing, and I'm approaching "beta saturation". I spent this weekend testing money-making with tradeskills, which got me 20 gold in one day, enough to buy a biodome (teleport) for my house, and a mount. And I did all the exploration mission of a second level 6-14 zone with the level 15 (later 16) character that had already explored his first zone completely. That brings me to one potential caveat about Wildstar: There aren't all that many zones. There is only one zone per faction from level 1 to 3, two zones each in the level 3-6 and 6-14 range, and apparently then it goes back to only one zone for level 15+. In the beta I took care to play mostly the faction I'm not playing in release, and I played three of the four possible 6-14 zones through, to leave one for release. But it is well possible that Wildstar won't have a lot of replayability value for me, if there aren't more zones coming later.

There is another beta weekend starting Friday, and then the beta schedule for the month of May isn't very well defined before the headstart on May 31st. Right now I'm not sure I'll play more in the beta. I have tested all my possible decisions, and don't want to overdo it and spoil my fun at release.
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Why not Wildstar?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 April 2014, 1:06 pm
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How to make me play Wildstar for two years
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 April 2014, 6:53 am
Hagu asked "What do you think your response to "For how long do you expect to play it?" says about MMO development?". Or, in other words, why would somebody like me say that he likes Wildstar, but only expect to play it for the often quoted three months or thereabouts?

To answer this, let's go back 15 years to the original Everquest. The average time it took a player to reach the level cap in Everquest was 2,000 hours. I played EQ for 18 months, and because I had a few alts I never reached that level cap. Fast forward 5 years: When World of Warcraft came out, the average time it took players to reach the level cap was 500 hours. A few years later, due to a combination of people being much better informed about how to progress and several patches which sped up leveling, time to the now higher level cap was down to about 200 hours. And those 200 hours are now something of an industry standard. We also know that the average player spends around 20 hours per week in a MMORPG. That results in 10 weeks to level cap. Add a bit of playing with alts or other activities, and you get to three months. After three months the kind of progress you are used to stops. And what comes after is a very different game offering a very different kind of progress. And the majority of players do not want to play this very different game. So they stop playing after their three months and move on to the next game.

Now I have absolutely no intention to rush through Wildstar. For example last weekend in the beta, I took a level 15/16 character and did all the explorer missions in the second level 6 to 14 zone for his faction with him. Very little traditional "progress", but not only was I having a lot of fun, I also made progress in my explorer level, and in crafting. I fully plan to play Wildstar like that after release. Traditional progress of character level more and more to me feels like approaching the end of the game. Which isn't something I'm keen on. I'm happy about the alternative progress features of Wildstar, but at some point I will have maxed out my crafting and path levels as well as my character level. And I'm afraid that process takes only a few months.

If Carbine wanted me to play Wildstar for 2 years or more, they would have to do like Everquest and give me a game in which I need 2,000 hours to reach the level cap. But of course that while keeping the current rhythm of questing and content. Which basically means a game with 10 times more zones, 10 times more quests, 10 times more leveling content. I wouldn't mind if there was absolutely no "end game" at all at the level cap, if only it took a lot longer to reach that level cap. 2,000 hours at 20 hours a week makes 2 years. The math is as simple as that.

Now of course there are people who prefer the raiding end game over the leveling game. But the current situation is a bad compromise that makes nobody happy: One part of the players would like a much longer leveling game, another part of the players would like a much shorter leveling game. Nobody wants the middle ground. It would be far better to offer one game with immediate raiding without the need for leveling to one population, and a much longer leveling game to the other population than to make a bad compromise.

Many people leave a MMORPG after three months because they simply finished it. Got to the level cap. Game over, even if there is never a screen that says so. Offering them a completely different game at the level cap doesn't work. The lesson for MMO development is that if you want to keep people playing, you need to offer them more of the same content. It is the feeling of progress that keeps people playing, even for 2,000 hours. Offering a quick way to the end just does exactly that, end the game for many players.
Tobold's Blog

A phasing accident
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 April 2014, 2:15 am
Players like to change the virtual world they play in. That poses a certain problem for the static virtual worlds of MMORPGs. And that problem has been more or less solved with a technology called phasing: The player sees the world around him change, while other players see a different phase of the same world. So this weekend in the Wildstar beta I followed a quest line which led to such a phasing event: I changed an area by firing a huge cannon at a gigantic robot, destroying him with a satisfying explosion in a cut scene. But what wasn't obvious before I did it, killing that robot also completely eliminated several types of monsters from the map. And I still had quests for which I would need to kill those monsters, so the quests became impossible to finish. Rather annoying!

From a story point of view, if I have a quest to kill 10 monsters of a certain type, and I completely eliminate all monsters of that type by changing the world, I should get credit for solving the quest. But of course quests don't work like that. They only count manual kills. And if I eliminate all monsters of that type through a phasing event, the only thing that happens is that I get stuck with a quest that is now impossible.

The design lesson here is that a phasing change should never affect quests that are not part of the quest line leading to that change. The player should first be required to finish his kill 10 monsters quest before being allowed to completely eliminate that type of monsters from his view of the virtual world. At the very least any big phase change quests need a warning label, recommending to the player to do all other quests in the area first.
Tobold's Blog

Crafting economics in Wildstar
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 April 2014, 2:24 am
The bonus beta weekend allowed me to test one more thing and come up with a new crafting plan for release. I had previously found out that the technologist had recipes that did not require store-bought components, so one could make money by crafting these recipes and selling them to a vendor. The disadvantage is that the buff potions you can make as technologist aren't of much use to yourself. Even at vendor prices you wouldn't want to drink that potion just for a 15-minute +8 buff on one stat.

I tried other tradeskills, like tailor, but found that for that profession the cost of the store-bought component plus the cost of the power core exceeded the vendor sales price of the items you can make. But one of my readers suggested smithing instead. It turns out that armor-smithing is better than tailoring in that it is more or less cost-neutral: If you make the 5 "Type I Steel" items, it will cost you 83 silver, and you can sell them for 82 silver. If you make only the best seller, the chest piece, you can even make a profit and get 100 silver.

But now I tried weapon-smithing, and the economics are better. All the lowest level weapons you can make are as profitable as the best armor. And if you make higher level weapons the vendor sales price goes up, while the crafting cost remains the same. So if you make all the recipes in your technology tree to skill up, you end up with a tidy sum of profit. And the weapon you can make for yourself (or alts) are useful compared to what you'll find. I'm not sure if there will be much of a player market for crafted gear, but as long as I can at least make money from vendors, I'm happy.

That settles my choice for my main at release to a draken warrior, explorer path, with weapon-smithing and mining as tradeskills. If I make an alt, it will be an esper with technologist, because technologist can craft the power cores the other professions require.
Tobold's Blog

Another Wildstar beta weekend
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 April 2014, 12:43 am
Maybe I was born a cynic. More likely, having played MMORPGs since the last millenium and thus having read thousands of official communications of game companies about their MMORPGs has turned me into a cynic regarding such announcements. In any case, if I read an announcement from a game company, I always assume that there is more to it than just what it says.

Carbine a while ago gave a very detailed explanation about why there is just a limited number of beta weekends. Basically the devs wanted people to beta test, but the sales people wanted to limit beta access so that people don't play too much Wildstar for free and then don't buy it. Great piece of communication, and very much understandable.

But if you keep all those differing interests in mind, you interpret the announcement of a "bonus" beta weekend (starting today) with different eyes. It is unlikely that the sales people changed their mind. If Carbine changed their beta schedule, it is because the devs were able to persuade the other people in the company that they really, really needed more testing. Or, in other words, the last beta weekend with the new user interface went badly. We don't get a "bonus" beta weekend because Carbine loves us, but because last week's version of the game wasn't exactly "launch ready", and now they need more testing in a hurry to make it so.

It's okay, I still have some things to try out regarding the possibility of making money with crafting as long as I stick to the lowest level of recipes. But I clearly see the negative side of this bonus beta weekend as well. I've seen the bugs in the new UI, I know that this bonus weekend isn't a sign of generosity.
Tobold's Blog

Are choppers sexist?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 April 2014, 2:16 am
Blizzard this month started a collaboration with a TV series American Choppers to produce Azeroth Choppers. And the way I heard about it was by reading my MMO blog newsfeed, where several feminist blogs complained about that move as being sexist.

I find that complaint itself very sexist. It suggests that women could not possibly be interested in choppers. That is like saying that World of Warcraft, which is a game about hunting and killing, is a game for men and could not possibly appeal to women. Female gamers have fought long and hard to be recognized as being equally interested and good at games about killing. Why should women not be interested in choppers?

Feminists complaining about choppers are reinforcing exactly the gender stereotypes that true gender equality is trying to overcome. I would find it extremely insulting to women if anybody suggested a marketing campaign linking World of Warcraft to knitting and quilting in order "to appeal to women". Gender equality requires us to forget about those stereotypes, and to recognize that men and women can be equally interested in the same things. Putting male/female labels on items like choppers or cooking pans is unhelpful.
Tobold's Blog

Voting with your wallet
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 April 2014, 12:39 am
Syl recently asked in an image in a post "If I'm supposed to vote with my wallet, then is a wealthier man's vote more valuable than mine?". Obviously a trick question. Just think of the situation where voting with your wallet is the most direct and obvious: An auction. Does the wealthiest man in the room win all items in the auction? No. Because that wealthy man is at the auction to buy antique furniture, so he won't outbid you on your Star Wars collectible action figure. You win the auction for the action figure not because you are the wealthiest person in the room, but because that action figure is worth more to you than it is to anybody else in the room.

In the realm of games, that is most obvious with MMORPGs that have a subscription business model. Voting with your wallet is a $15 a month difference. For a large majority of players their wealth plays no role in the decision of whether to subscribe to that game or not. The question is rather whether that game is worth $15 a month to them, because they have that $15 but might prefer to spend it on something else.

Now Syl asks where developers get the information from what the players want. Easy. By watching the money coming in. Of course that isn't extremely specific, you can't easily identify a single feature that players want or don't want that way. But Blizzard most certainly has mountains of data for each of the expansions of World of Warcraft showing how many people resubscribed and how long they stayed after resubscribing for the expansion. And those data allow them to rank those expansion in terms of which one the players liked the most. Which then can influence design decisions for future expansions. That also works when comparing two different games: World of Warcraft makes a lot more money than Darkfall, so game developers from other companies rather try to emulate WoW than Darkfall. The devs got the information about what players want from the market.

In Free2Play games people spend very different amounts of money, and thus their votes count more or less. Some features are in some games because of some "whales" spending hundreds or thousands of dollars because of those features. But many other features are designed around getting free players engaged enough to value the game highly enough to spend at least a few bucks. If MMORPGs have a strong trend towards Free2Play games, it is because players DID vote with their wallets on that issue. Many companies reported increased earnings and profits after switching from a subscription model to a Free2Play model. And apparently they have enough data to consider the move in the opposite direction as suicidal. If a game earns more money after switching to Free2Play, obviously a sufficient number voted with their wallet that they would like to spend more than $15 per month on that game. Plus you capture all the players who value the game at $5 per month, who were previously excluded. If you count every dollar as one vote, Free2Play simply got more votes than the subscription model.

That doesn't mean that whatever game feature or business model gets the most dollar votes will replace all others. Just like in a political election the minority might be sizable. So if too many game companies decided that theme park MMORPGs are the way to go and nobody makes sandbox MMORPGs, then going against that trend might be a wise decision. Better have a large market share of the minority, than a tiny slice of the majority market. There will always be room in the market for at least one subscription game, although it isn't obvious whether there is room in the market for a subscription game that isn't called World of Warcraft as long as WoW is around.
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What is the state of The Elder Scrolls Online?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2014, 8:14 am
Today I had a mail from IGN in my mailbox, who did a review of The Elder Scrolls Online and gave it a not really great score of 78. That is the day after reading the PC Gamer review which gave TESO a 68. A look at Metacritic reveals a familiar story: A bunch of reviews from release day giving the game high-ish scores around 90. And then reviews with lower scores trickling in over the three weeks since. Average score thus trending downwards, currently at 78, which is less than stellar.

I wonder if the actual players show a similar trend. I have no idea how many copies The Elder Scrolls Online sold, apparently Zenimax only published how many people signed up for the free beta. That is borderline misleading, because obviously not everybody interested in a free beta will then want to pay the price of a full game plus a $15 a month subscription. I would be really interested to know the actual sales up to now. The only data I have is the very imprecise Xfire score compiled by the Nosy Gamer, which shows TESO being played less than SWTOR or FFXIV, and only slightly more than Aion.

Now in the MMORPG blogosphere there is frequently talk of the "three-monther" MMORPG. Many triple-A MMORPGs post-WoW have lost the majority of their initial players in the first three months. But personally I believe that over half of that three-month loss happens at the end of the first month, because that is the first time where a player has to decide whether he actually wants to pay a subscription for the game he is playing. Now I've read some stories about accounting irregularities with TESO, where basically you couldn't play your free month if you didn't have $15 on your credit card. All game companies are trying to force you to sign up for a subscription, so usually you need to subscribe and then actively unsubscribe before the free month ends if you don't want to pay any subscription fee. But the end of the first month still remains a rather important milestone. Too bad that as we don't even know initial sales, it is unlikely that Zenimax will reveal how many players they lost after one or three months.

In the specific case of The Elder Scrolls Online there will be another important milestone after two months: The Wildstar headstart begins May 31st. It is inevitable that *some* players will decide to switch from TESO to Wildstar, but very hard to predict how many that will be. Warlords of Draenor will probably be too late in the year to really make a big dent into TESO player numbers any more.

Up to now I have no data which would suggest that The Elder Scrolls Online has better than mediocre success. But if somebody has data that suggest otherwise, I would be very happy to hear them. From what you know, how is The Elder Scrolls Online doing?
Tobold's Blog

The value of trash mobs
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2014, 3:09 am
My pen & paper role-playing campaign uses Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition rules. 4E rules are excellent for creating epic combat encounters. As I wrote in our campaign journal yesterday, this week we had an encounter which involved an evil cleric, a vampire, a basilisk, and five minor vampire spawns. So the players need to assess the relative danger that those 4 different types of enemy pose to them, and make tactical decisions which enemy to take out first. And the rules system gives them daily powers, powers they can use once per encounter, and powers they can use every round to select from. So as long as players enjoy that sort of tactical games, 4E makes for really great epic fights.

What 4E does much less well is trash mobs. "Classic", that is earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons, had more, but smaller encounters. For example the Keep on the Borderlands (Caves of Chaos) classic D&D module from 1979 has 64 encounters, but most of them are small and with just one type of monsters. So you meet 9 kobolds in one room, and then 3 orcs in the next, while 4E would rather do fewer encounters, but each having several monster types. In earlier editions of D&D all spells are "daily" powers, so if you use your magic missile in one fight, you can't use it in the next. Thus a series of small encounters works as a challenge of resource management. In 4E players would just use at-will and encounter powers if they met 3 orcs, and thus spend at best a healing surge here or there in a series of small encounters.

Thus my 4E campaign looks a bit like a MMORPG raid dungeon without trash mobs: There are only epic boss fights. Or rather, there are boss fights, and non-boss fights which aren't any less epic. No need to grind through trash mobs which pose no real challenge to the players. Or is there?

A reader commented yesterday that my players were frequently rather timid, and not very heroic. And I began to wonder in how far that is my fault: If every single fight they enter is a life or death epic struggle, no wonder that they are rather careful. Maybe I need more trash mob encounters, where my players without much effort dispatch 3 orcs. Maybe there is a psychological value to trash mob encounters in making the players feel strong and heroic, and then less afraid of the epic boss fights. After all, there must be a reason those trash mobs are in every MMORPG raid dungeon.
Tobold's Blog

Designing massively multiplayer games for multiple players
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 April 2014, 12:53 pm
I was browsing the web and came across the PC Gamer review of The Elder Scrolls Online. And what struck me about the review was the following paragraphs:
One of The Elder Scrolls Online's biggest weaknesses as an MMO is that it often becomes a worse game when large numbers of players are involved in the same activity. While questing in the High Rock area of Stormhaven I was directed to a monastery that was under attack by bandits. I was given two quests: put out six fires, and deliver healing to four injured monks. Credit for completing these objectives is only granted to the player that performs them, which means that I was put in indirect competition with every other player in the area—and given the linear nature of the game's zone, that means a lot of other people. The monastery might have been on fire, but there weren't enough fires for everybody: which meant hanging around waiting for fires to respawn so that I could get the credit for putting them out. Badly-designed quests like this one are common, and even when your objective is more deftly constructed you are always aware of the conga-line of players waiting to do the exact same thing that you are doing. This takes the game to some strange places: I'll never forget the time I traveled back in time in the guise of an ancient warrior only to find a room full of doppelgangers jumping about, dancing, and waiting for a boss to spawn. Immersive it isn't.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think this is a particular weakness of The Elder Scrolls Online. I pretty much had the same experience in my Wildstar beta weekends: Wildstar has a feature called challenges. The first time you kill a certain type of mob in a area or click on a certain type of item, you get a loud "Challenge begins!" message, telling you that you should now kill X of those monsters or click on Y of those items within a time limit. Sometimes there are several levels possible, with numbers displayed on how many monsters/items you need for bronze, silver, and gold level. And rewards for those challenges are good, for example bags, gear, or crafting resources. But these challenges are obviously designed so that you can achieve them IF, and only if, you are the only player in the area. If you start the challenge and then realize that another player is also doing it, you'll both fail, or at best get bronze.

I consider that to be extremely bad game design for a massively multiplayer game. What those challenges teach the players is that other players are the enemy, who make you fail your challenges. With the timed challenges of Wildstar the effect is especially harsh, because you get an actual "You failed!" message shouted at you. But of course outside challenges Wildstar has exactly the same problems as mentioned by PC Gamer above: Players compete for mob or resource spawns, and it breaks immersion if you are one of many "Chosen Ones" all doing exactly the same stuff.

All this teaches players that the optimum number of other players in the same zone as you is zero. If you had the choice to play through that zone with other players or alone, you'd chose alone for most of the content and only do group content with others. At some point in the future we might actually see a MMORPG which offers the option to play through single-player instances as a feature. There certainly would be interest in that. But then the whole business model of MMORPGs collapses: Why should you be required to pay more money to play multiplayer TESO than to play single-player Skyrim, if most of the time when playing TESO you wished you were alone in the zone? Same for Wildstar, although it doesn't have that obvious single-player game to compare it to.

Fortunately there are also some bright spots. For example in Wildstar, if you need to kill a boss mob for a quest, you don't need to kill that boss mob alone, or be the first one to touch it. If you come across that boss mob already in a fight with other players, you just need to get a single hit in, and you still get full credit for your quest. And then Wildstar, as many previous games, has public events, which are hard or impossible to solo, and thus make you quite happy if there are other players around when you want to do them. So designing a MMORPG in which other players are actually an advantage is possible. I just think that developers need to carefully design all the features in the game to check how they are influenced by there being multiple players around. Telling somebody that he failed because somebody else tried the same challenge is a bad idea. Creating situations where players are automatically helpful to each other would be a much better plan.
Tobold's Blog

The Favorites of Selune - Gardmore Abbey - Session 13
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 April 2014, 5:40 am
In the previous session the Favorites of Selune vanquished the undead mage Vandomar, and recovered his journal for Berrian Velfarren. Now Berrian was able to give them some important information from that journal: The templars of Gardmore Abbey had brought a chaotic artifact from one of their crusades, and stored it in the Hall of Bahamut in the vaults. Berrian suspects that this artifact has something to do with the fall of the abbey, and asks the heroes to investigate. The vaults are one of two dungeons under Gardmore Abbey, accessible either via the barracks or the Hall of Glory. The vaults pre-date the abbey, having been a minotaur temple before the templars arrived. Since the fall of the abbey, minotaurs have moved back in, but so have gnolls. After constant fighting between the minotaurs and the gnolls, a mysterious leader arrived who was able to unite the two tribes.

When discussing what to do next, the group did not go for that obvious choice, the vaults. Instead they remembered that they had never finished the other dungeon under the abbey, the catacombs. They had cleared that dungeon, but had run away on facing the "end boss", a human who apparently was creating and controlling undead. Feeling more powerful (after a recent level up), the group decided to finish the catacombs first before tackling the vaults.

So the group made a plan of battle on how to enter the large room in which they had previously encountered that "necromancer". But on rushing in the surprise was that the place appeared to be empty. Another surprise was that the ranger who had opened the door got poisoned by a contact poison on the door handle, which hadn't been there on their first visit (which is why they didn't check for traps). So they all went into the room, which was full of sarcophagi. And after they had all moved, the sarcophagi closest to the doors, and thus right next to several of the characters, opened and released five vampire spawn undead. And from the other side of the room, the "necromancer" (who turned out to be an evil cleric), a vampire, and a basilisk rushed forward from hiding to attack the group.

The vampire spawn mobs were just minions, and quickly dispatched. Then the heroes made a probably wise decision to concentrate on the basilisk first. The wizard dazed the basilisk, and the warrior marked him, so the basilisk never got around to launch his area of effect poison attack, and died two rounds later. The vampire did some damage to the sorceress, but was the next to go down. The evil cleric was the toughest opponent, and caused the most problems, stunning several characters with an area attack. Although this wasn't their first "boss fight" in Gardmore Abbey, it was the first time where the group properly realized that the bosses in this place who had cards from the Deck of Many Things had some degree of control over those cards. The cleric had three cards, and used all three of them over the duration of the combat to good effect. But ultimately the Favorites of Selune prevailed, and got the three cards as well as a vampiric dagger from the vampire.

At that point I had expected them to discuss the cards from the Deck of Many Things, and how to control them. But instead they decided to go straight for the vaults. They chose to enter via the Halls of Glory, where they encountered the group of rival adventurers again, which they had already met three times (or rather seen signs of once, and actually met two times). As the previous encounter with the rivals had ended with the Favorites of Selune threatening the rivals to leave the abbey "or else", the group felt justified to now be true to their word and they attacked the rivals without further negotiation.

Now the rivals had obviously just been in a fight, and killed some spiders, so the group thought they would be in a good tactical position. But then they rolled somewhat low on initiative, except for the ranger, who did some serious ranged damage to the rival's wizardess. But the Favorites of Selune were all grouped together in the entryway, and to their surprise got attacked by the rival's drow rogue from behind. The drow had powers to make himself invisible, and thus was able to strike with great efficiency against the ranger and the wizard. Then the rival's "tank" warrior attacked from the front, making entry into the room difficult. And the rival's wizardess hit most of the heroes with a fireball.

At this point the sorceress came up with the idea to cast a dark cloud between the two groups, blocking line of sight. The cloud also damaged the rival's tank. The idea was to be able to concentrate on that tank and the drow, but the plan didn't work out like that. On being attacked the drow made himself invisible and teleported away, while the tank moved back through the cloud and into the room. So the Favorites of Selune found themselves with absolutely no target in sight, and in disagreement about what to do next. The sorceress was afraid that if she stopped maintaining that dark cloud, the group would be hit by a barrage of prepared attacks from their rivals. The wizard proposed to run away. But the cleric and the warrior had already used some of their strong daily powers to buff themselves for combat, and didn't want to completely reset the fight. With the Hall of Glory being partially ruined and missing its roof in parts, it seemed impossible to contain the rivals there while resting. So they needed to work out a plan on how to continue the fight from here. And as it was getting late, we decided to stop at that point.
Tobold's Blog

My Wildstar Easter weekend experience
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 April 2014, 1:05 am
This Easter weekend was a Wildstar beta weekend, which Wildstar does instead of an open beta. Now the first thing to say about this specific weekend is that technically it was a step back: Carbine had done a complete overhaul of the user interface, and the UI 2.0 still has some bugs and issues. Friday I even had some crashes to desktop, but that was fixed by a patch by Saturday. But there are still visible bugs like the "do you want to use this mount/taxi yes or no?" window only showing the yes and no button, but missing the rest of the window. Or messages not disappearing, or old, wrong, message flashing up again. Or the datachron automatically popping back up every time you minimize it. At the start I was even missing my quest tracker. And weirdly enough I was able to fix that by using a /command from World of Warcraft: /reloadui. I don't like to call Wildstar a "WoW clone", but under the hood there are some surprising similarities in the engine of the two games.

So this weekend I played my warrior and medic to level 15, and then started an esper, which I probably will finish at a similar level today. One surprise in that experience was that the esper turned out to be a more suitable healer class for me than the medic. Better flow in combat, with and without the use of self-healing. The warrior remains my choice of main, but at this point esper would be my second choice. I also did a detailed comparison of my preferred two paths: Settler and explorer. And I decided to go explorer, even if some of the jumping puzzles can be annoying. I never found out how to get up that tower in Exo Site N22 in Celestion, even after going a long way around and climbing a different tower with flowing green platforms, which for me were impossible to jump to. The settler path has more useful perks, like buffs and better path powers, but the path missions are all kind of boring. Explorer is less useful, but more fun.

By playing the different classes I learned a lot about the Wildstar combat system. The good news is that you don't need to be a circle-strafing, mouse-turning twitch gamer to play Wildstar. In fact, much of that action combat system is fake. If you think that your superior movement skills will enable you to dodge all mob attacks, you are in for a bad surprise. The monster standard damage will always hit you and can't be moved away from. Movement helps against the "telegraphed" special attacks, but a well-timed interrupt achieves pretty much the same without the need to move. If you are old school and just stand there and do your spell rotation, you will still do fine, provided you have a good spell rotation.

I much improved my spell rotation after realizing something important about the so-called "innate" ability, which is the only ability you can't select or change or modify on your hotkey bar, it is fixed to the "R" key. For some reason, probably as an experience from other games, I had thought of that as a get-out-of-jail ability to be used sparingly. But it turns out that the cooldown is only 30 seconds, so there is really no good reason not to use it in every fight. As that innate ability often replenishes your resource bar, using it at the right time in your spell rotation makes a huge difference to your damage output.

At level 14 in Wildstar you get player housing. That turns out to be a huge money-sink, which probably is a good design decision. To be precise, you don't just get a house, you get a whole floating island in the sky of which the house is the central part. That house can be decorated, and some of the decoration adds to the rate at which you gain rest xp. But for me the house wasn't actually the more interesting part of your floating island. Because there are 4 smaller and 2 larger other plots on your island, and you can do other useful stuff with those. You can decorate them with FAB kits you find, or you can put things like gardens there, where you can plant seeds and harvest them. Or you can have a plot on which mineral nodes spawn. Or a crafting station. All very useful.

For crafting I also changed my mind. I originally wanted to go armorsmith with my warrior. But it turns out that all the tradeskills that make gear are money sinks. Even if you spent hours gathering resources, you still need bought resources to make gear, and the cost of the bought resources is higher than the selling price of the gear. I like the system where you can choose for yourself what stats your crafted items should have, but for a first tradeskill for a first character when money is still tight that is not such a good idea. So I will go relic hunter / technologist. Most of the potions and buffs you can make with that combo are much less useful than crafted gear. But you can craft a lot of stuff without bought components. If at the end of the day you craft all your found resources into potions and sell those, you will make money. As I found money to be tight in Wildstar, at least while the economy is young, that is how I will start out.

Overall the beta weekend left me content that I have pre-ordered the game, and with a much better idea what I want to play and how to play it. Can't wait for release, but that is still 6 weeks ahead.
Tobold's Blog

Wildstar beta weekend plans
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 April 2014, 11:58 am
I have a long weekend before me, 4-day Easter weekend. Which happens to coincide with a Wildstar beta weekend. Now I don't want to play the beta too much and then get bored on release. But I do want to use the beta weekends to make some decisions on my release main. The last beta weekend already helped me to decide to go warrior as a class, and this weekend I'm trying to decide on a path.

Now the path decision for me is between settler and explorer, after having tried all four paths in the low levels. The scientist path is for people who like to read all those lore books in games like Skyrim, but I was never that interested in game lore. Call me a snob, but in my experience the writing in games isn't all that great, even if you compare it to "pulp fiction" fantasy novels like Conan the Barbarian. And if you have to find the lore in bits and pieces, you're usually missing half of the picture. I also tried the soldier path, but the "extra" activity of the path was way too similar to what I was doing already all day long when questing.

In the low levels I did like the settler path, because it is a bit like a scavenger hunt with picking up resources everywhere. But at level 10 I realized I would want a resource gathering tradeskill, and so now I wonder if all that gathering isn't again going to be too much of the same. I was more skeptical of the explorer path at first, because I am not a huge fan of jumping puzzles in MMORPGs. But I played an explorer to level 10 and there were some cool parts like being able to run along specially marked explorer flags to get huge speed boosts. At least the flags were marked with an explorer symbol, so I assume other paths can't use those. I assume the trampoline mushrooms are useable by everybody.

So what I am going to do this weekend is mainly to play my level 10 warrior / settler some more, maybe up to where you get housing, and do all the settler path missions I come across. Then I'll see if there is a bit more variety there than just gathering resources for building buff stations. I hope that after a few more levels I will be able to decide whether settler is the path I really want to play in the long term.
Tobold's Blog

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