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Monthly Archives: January 2018

I think it’s safe now to make mild reference to The Last Jedi without any protest about spoilers, right? There’s something about Blizzard’s post of their design philosophy for the next expansion that puts me in mind of the grumpy, aged Luke Skywalker sitting in exile, announcing that it’s time for the Jedi to end and that this won’t turn out the way you expect.

The vision this time around, it appears, is ‘class uniqueness’. A return to the day when different specs that had the same broad role could be better or worse at different aspects of that role – so there might be a clear best “AoE melee DPS”, but they would then be surpassed at “single target burst melee DPS” by another class, who in turn would bow to a different master of “sustained melee DPS”. It’s a return to classes having unique buffs and abilities, to the glory days when there was a welcome spot for the shaman bringing Bloodlust, you wanted a druid to put a pink paw on everyone and mages were respected and loved for dishing out free food and portals home at the end of the raid. In short, it’s tearing up the whole “bring the player, not the class” idea that resulted Blizzard homogenising the classes into nearly forty different specs that really come down to just four roles (tank, healer, melee DPS, ranged DPS) with little more than cosmetic differences.

I like this idea. It’s actually the first thing I’ve heard about Battle For Azeroth that makes me look forward to playing in the next WoW expansion.

But… it’s going to be a hard trick to pull off meaningfully. If the difference between classes isn’t significant, then it’s just going to come across as bullshit. If it is significant, then there will be clearly optimal classes or specs to bring to certain situations, and we know how players react to anything less than optimal, or anything they’re told is less than optimal by their favourite theorycrafting Word of God website. Heaven forbid I should bring a sustained DPS assassination rogue to a fight where Icy Veins says a burst DPS subtlety build is called for.

There are ways around this. There’s a margin between ‘viable’ and ‘optimal’ that personal preference can live in, at least if we put the sort of guys who demand ‘optimal or GTFO’ on ignore. The cutting edge, hardest content may well demand optimal choices to be successful but the relative handful of players who do that are the ones most likely to be willing to swap specs (or characters) as needed. Alternatively, Blizzard could go back to designing encounters that can be beaten in a variety of ways depending on exactly what tools the raid leader has to hand. In my Molten Core/Onyxia/Blackwing Lair raiding days each guild had its own tactics for the raid bosses, driven at least in part by what classes their regular raiders played. It might come as a shock to have to think “how do WE beat this fight?” instead of watching someone else’s YouTube video and copying the moves, but that shift might actually make for a better game. It can work. I just see the danger that when freedom to choose between meaningfully different options meets ‘there is one true way to do this’ design, the conclusion is that some of those choices don’t work – which means they are ‘gotchas’ and not a meaningful choice at all.

I’d like to hope that Blizzard can thread the eye of the needle here, and give us both meaningful choice of characters and a game where all of those choices work out effectively. I want to be Luke Skywalker at the end of the Last Jedi, with a renewed understanding of the old ways and a new generation to take them forward . At the moment all we have is a vision statement – over 2018 we’ll see how that translates into the actual game.

Here’s hoping.

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Crikey, has it really been 11 months since my last blog post? I’m still here, still playing games and reading about them… so why haven’t I been posting anything? I’m genuinely not sure myself, although I can propose a few possible answers…

One – for the last couple of years, I’ve been playing WoW as my main game, and quite possibly I’ve felt less need to blog about that game than others. It’s not that there isn’t anything to say about WoW, but a lot of people play that game, and a lot blog about it, and it has dedicated third party news websites devoted to it. I guess I feel there’s less point in me writing a blog post if someone else has already gone and made the same point. However, for the last few months I’ve been on break from WoW as I played with GW2’s expansion, revisited SWTOR and am currently sticking my nose in a few old MMOs that I played at launch to see how the years have treated them (last stop was EQ2, current port of call Pirates of the Burning Sea). So there may just be more blog material in those explorations, even though the siren call of unlocking the new races is tempting me back into WoW…

Two – also for the last couple of years, I’ve been working as an IT manager rather than my old role as a technical designer. Quite why that should impact blogging I don’t know. It’s not really required more working hours than the designing, but maybe the fact that it’s required more time spent in meetings and human(ish) interaction has either fulfilled some deep-seated need that blogging filled, or just drained my communication batteries. Either way, thanks to restructuring shenanigans I’m now back to being a designer so if that does make a difference, we should be seeing more blogging around here.

Three – seriously, have you had a look at the state of the planet? I’ve been torn between sitting back with the popcorn or posting a lot more on politics than on games, and while I’ve touched on politics occasionally here, that’s not what I wanted this blog to be about. I’m also aware that my own political views don’t slot in with either the progressive liberal camp or the alt-right legions. Given just how polarised internet political discourse is these days, putting my head above the parapet as a laissez-faire moderate  would just get me flamed from both directions, so it’s better if I just keep on munching the popcorn.

Four – it may just be that I’m getting old. However, it has to be said that hasn’t slowed down some bloggers who are older than I am, some of them even being positively ancient.

Anyway – happy new year one and all, and while I don’t want to make promises I may not keep, I may actually make more posts this year than I did in the previous twelve months.