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In politics, Brexit means Brexit. But in World of Warcraft, Classic means… patch 1.12, apparently. The last, presumably best, iteration of Vanilla WoW. When we get the ‘classic’ server we’ll get all four 40 person raids (plus the 20-person-plus-an-apostrophe Ahn’Qiraj and Zul’Gurub). We’ll have battlegrounds. We’ll have the original Darkmoon Faire, and linked auction houses. We’ll have Silithus… we’ll always have Silithus.

What we clearly won’t have is a progression server in the style of EverQuest, where they eventually catch up with the other servers. Opening with 1.12 means there’s nowhere to go except into The Burning Crusade, which is no longer ‘classic’ WoW. It would still be recognisably old school (which I personally define as anything with talent trees and pre-Cataclysm) but the presence of dual-wielding shamans, Horde paladins and space goats would be enough to offend the purists.

That means the classic server will either be a limited time event, like RIFT’s recent experiment, or will stay in a perpetual state of patch 1.1.2, like a fly in amber. A massively multiplayer Jurassic Park, minus the dinosaurs. OK, including the dinosaurs if you go to Un’goro Crater. Also like Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs, what we’re actually getting is the fruit of technical wizardry used to fill in the gaps. It turns out that the base 2006 code doesn’t play well with 2018 hardware and back-end systems, so Blizzard are configuring the modern game engineering to deliver the classic experience – in other words, they’re building their own classic WoW emulator. That’s a lot of work when you consider one more similarity to Jurassic Park – that this is a tourist attraction. Without progression, the classic server has a finite set of content and that’s it. Level to 60, raid Molten Core, get the gear to progress to Blackwing Lair and so on until you beat Naxxramas, and then it ends. Most visitors won’t even get that far, of course – they’ll slake their nostalgia or scratch their curiosity itch, depending on whether they actually played back in the day, and then they’ll return to ‘modern WoW’ because that will keep delivering new content, and the classic server won’t.

That doesn’t mean the classic server is entirely pointless. If nothing else, from a purely business point of view, giving customers what they say they want keeps them happy, which keeps them paying. If they then decide they didn’t want it after all, that’s their lookout. Blizzard are bound to get some interesting technical learnings from the whole project – being able to run two very different games on the same engine, by changing the set of configuration files, is a useful trick to have in their repertoire if they ever want to offer more in the way of MMOs. And it gives them a useful check on some of the design decisions of the last  twelve years – if it turns out modern players can tolerate, or even prefer, talent trees or 40 man tank and spank raids, then the expansion AFTER Battle for Azeroth might just feature some new, old ideas.

I’ve just seen the news about the tribute to Ravious that has been added in Guild Wars 2. It’s not the first memorial to be added in an MMO, but it’s one of the best, and the best deserved. I hadn’t been very interested in Guild Wars 2 until I saw the first impressions Ravious posted on Kill Ten Rats. I’m far from the only person he sold on checking GW2 out, and given the time I’ve spent and enjoyed in that game, I’m very glad he did.

I’m also grateful to have a positive reminder about all the good and decent players and developers there are out there, after yesterday’s post

Just a small post prompted by the news that Blizzard are finally allowing players to block toxic jerks in Overwatch so they don’t get grouped with them again – no more than two jerks, and only for a week.

I have to admit, my initial reaction was one of “Holy design goals fail, Batman!” given that there are a lot more than two thoroughly unpleasant cretins whom I would never, ever want to group with again, not just take a seven day vacation from their vileness. Given that Blizzard is one of the founding members of the Fair Play Alliance, an industry crusade against toxicity in games, this seems an awfully weak and timid measure. However, reading the comments on the Massively post revealed the thinking behind the limit – namely, that given a large enough ‘block’ list some players would use it to filter out less skilled teammates and by doing so give themselves a competitive advantage. I mean, putting an AFK leech on ignore I totally get, but blocking everyone below 98% of average performance (or below 110% of average, if you want to guarantee yourself a superteam)?

Wow. I honestly hadn’t even thought that using an ignore/block function in this way was even a thing. Which I probably ought to, given the widespread human tendency to take anything new and wonderful (fire, whisky, instantaneous world-wide communication) and use it to foul ends (witch burnings, Jack Daniels and coke, Reddit). On the other hand, I’d be just as glad not to get grouped with the sort of person who does this to normal players, either because they’re an elitist jerk or they’re an underperformer themselves who just wants to guarantee their team can carry them. So remove the limit please Blizzard. We’ll all be better for it.

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.

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.


Or is that WoW Economic Shock?

As of this week, WoW tokens are not just a way of paying your WoW subscription, but instead can be converted into credit on your balance. This means they can be used to buy stuff for Overwatch, or Hearthstone, WoW account services or presumably you can save up for the next expansion after Legion if you really want to plan ahead. Whereas before there was no reason for a goblin to trade his gold for more than one WoW token a month (to pay his sub), now those individuals sitting on vast piles of gold (I’m looking at YOU, the inscription profiteer from Moonglade, you know who you are 🙂 ) can buy up a bunch of tokens and splurge on Blizzard’s other games if they so desire.

This is having a few interesting effects in the short term. Demand for WoW tokens has spiked as the aforementioned goblins turn gold they were never going to use into Overwatch crates. However, because the gold/token exchange is a controlled market with a hard cap of 3% price rise per hour, the price didn’t instantly zoom to its new equilibrium level. Instead, it inched its way there slowly (in electronic trading terms) and while that happened, if anything the supply of tokens went DOWN because anyone who wanted to buy some gold figured they’d hold on while the exchange rate kept moving in their favour. I think you can ask any citizen of Venezuela what happens when the powers that be decree that prices are kept artificially low. For a while, there simply weren’t any tokens to be had at the state Blizzard mandated price, and due to the way the tokens are implemented, no hope for a black market either. At least WoW tokens aren’t as essential to civilised living as some other commodities.

Incidentally, the shortage does raise one interesting point. A number of commenters back when the WoW token was launched suggested that they were fiat items, i.e. there wasn’t actually a one-to-one match between token buyers and sellers but rather Blizzard just took money from everyone who wanted to buy a token for dollars and gave them gold, and took gold from everyone who wanted to trade the other way. Either that’s not actually the case or they have been especially Machiavellian this week.

In the long run, prices will stabilise at a higher level than they were before – there’ll be an ongoing increased demand for the tokens, as they have more use now, and possibly a slightly reduced supply because whale players need to buy fewer tokens from Blizzard to receive a given amount of gold. It’s a net win for players who have stacks of gold to trade in. It’s possibly actually a net loss for Blizzard if it does drive the number of tokens traded down (because they make a $5 profit every time player A buys a $20 WoW token so player B can have a $15 credit). For me personally, it sucks because for the past few months I’ve been making enough gold to pay my sub via token, but not a whole lot more than that. I may actually have to pay for some months this year with real world cash.

The biggest losers, however, are probably the illegal gold sellers, who still exist and do business by undercutting the official WoW token exchange rate. More gold per buck on the official market means that going the illicit route (with concomitant risks of account hack or ban) looks less attractive, which may cut into their business. My heart bleeds for them.



Get your credits for nothing and your ships for free!

Sorry, for some reason I came over all Dire Straits for a moment there. I’ve been playing a lot of World of Warships recently, suckered in by the Royal Navy line of cruisers and the event in progress that has a guaranteed reward of a free Graf Spee for completion.

Both the ship and the event itself are interesting from a design perspective. The Graf Spee is a German tier VI cruiser, and I’ve already got a fine collection of mid-tier cruisers in my collection- the US Cleveland, Pensacola and Atlanta, the Japanese Myoko and the Royal Navy Belfast. However, the Graf Spee was a pocket battleship and mounts battleship calibre 11 inch guns (albeit not that many of them) rather than the 6 or 8 guns of the other cruisers ( or the Atlanta’s massive array of 5 inch popguns) That should make for a decidedly different experience in play, with a wicked alpha strike and a chance to cause citadel hits on other cruisers or even battleships at medium to long range.

The event design encourages regular play – basically, it consists of 4 phases each of which is completed by earning a set amount of experience with any tier V or higher ships in your collection. The phases have been unlocking at about weekly intervals, but if you start late (as I did) the earlier phases are still available to be completed. In theory, you could hop in on 17th January and complete the entire event before it finishes on the 18th, although you would have to play a LOT of games that day. Completion is easier if you have a premium account (for bonus xp) and a large stable of tier V plus ships (for daily first win bonus xp on each) but neither are really required. I’m currently on track to complete by the 17th. This is at the expense of getting my daily World quests done in WoW for my three max level characters, but that’s all to the good… I want to avoid any game feeling more like a job that I have to do. It’s also delaying me playing through the SWTOR expansion story, but I’ll get to that soon enough. Once the event is done I can relax a bit, play around with the new toy and the RN cruisers and wait for the Royal Navy battleships to arrive…

So, I went to see Rogue One last week. Which is not exactly news – I think just about anyone who has, or reads, a blog on a topic as geeky as MMOs is going to see that film. I thought it was worth putting down a few thoughts about the film. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen it, they will be spoiler free thoughts unless you have an unbearably precious and sensitive definition of spoiler (e.g. I might refer to the presence of characters who were seen in trailers or events that can be logically deduced from prior knowledge)

I’m one of the generation that grew up with ‘real’ Star Wars. I was 8 when I saw the first film, 10 when the Empire struck back, and in my early teens and playing RPGs when the Jedi returned. One of those RPGs I played in my teen years was West End Games’ Star Wars RPG, and together with friends we built a deeper, richer Star Wars universe with its own set of heroes who had more than enough trouble from the likes of Inquisitor Tremayne while Darth Vader was busy with the heroes of Yavin 4. As we got older, and our world view matured, so did our Star Wars. I went off to university, where my gaming tended more towards Shadowrun and Call of Cthulhu, but one of my fellow players and co-GMs took our Star Wars campaign to his university and a new group of players (and from there into publication as Fragments From The Rim)

The 1990s brought us a tidal wave of Expanded Universe novels, of variable quality and at odds with our own expanded Star Wars universe,and then at the end of the decade came the start of the long awaited prequel trilogy, which turned out not to be at all what we’d hoped for. Those of us who saw the first film as little kids were looking for a Star Wars film made for us, now on the cusp of being thirty – a more mature, nuanced Star Wars. What George Lucas made was something closer to the Saturday morning serials that inspired the original films, and aimed at the next generation of eight year olds. We hated Jar Jar Binks, but kids loved him, and they were the ones the new films were made for. To a great extent The Force Awakens was in the same vein (and better executed) – a new spin on the classic Star Wars adventure for a third generation of fans.

Well, now Gareth Edwards has made a Star Wars film for the forgotten first generation of fans. More mature, more nuanced – definitely. It’s not all shades of grey – the Empire is still very clearly evil, but the Rebellion has a grubbier or at least more pragmatic side on show here as well. There are factions and fault lines in the Alliance, extremist splinter groups willing to use any means to fight the Empire and intelligence operatives making ruthless decisions that a true white hat would shy away from. It’s recognisably Star Wars, but Star Wars down in the dirt and struggling for freedom a million light years away from a bunch of emotionally repressed wizards in bathrobes pontificating about Light Sise this and Dark Side that. The shout outs to the Star Wars we’ve seen before are everywhere, from a jug of blue milk to sly cameos and a new riff on “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”, but the new movie shows what that universe is like for folks who aren’t called Skywalker and don’t have their veins pumped full of midichlorians and destiny.

In an odd way, it also reminds me of Disney’s other ridiculously profitable franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU has done very well by doing different genres of film within their superhero setting – conspiracy thriller with Winter Soldier, heist movie with Ant-Man, and yes space opera with Guardians Of The Galaxy. Rogue One shows you can do a classic war movie in the style of The Dirty Dozen or The Guns Of Navarone in the Star Wars universe. If the other ‘Star Wars Stories’ movies riff on some different genres half as well as Rogue One does, while Episodes 8 and 9 deliver the classic hero’s journey of the central saga, I will be well pleased.

But not for the reason you might think.

So, I’ve been settling into Legion with the few alts I’ve got anywhere close to a level for the new content. Which includes the class halls, a separate themed space for each class to hang out and all be the one true saviour of Azeroth together. So my mage gets quite a nice space, sort of a cross between a library and the Wetherspoon’s pub in Harrogate, which was converted from the ornate Victorian bath house (and is actually a really nice pub, for a Wetherspoon’s). My monk gets to hang out in a temple of the panda starting island, also not too shabby. I have a Demon Hunter, the only one on the server whose name isn’t some retarded variation on “Illidan” and their class hall is a captured Legion citadel. Not too fond of that one – I think the whole “dark and jagged with green fire” motif is starting to get a bit tired. I have a rogue who isn’t at level 100 yet, but working on it – they get to  hang out in a hive of scum and villainy in the sewers, apparently. Not so much ornate Wetherspoon’s, more like some of the spit and sawdust locals close to where I used to live, such as the one that had to close after the landlord’s ex-girlfriend stopped by with a shotgun. Charming places, full of character.

Then I found out that Warriors get to go to freaking Valhalla.

I play a Nord in ESO. My all time MMORPG happy place is pretty much any Norn zone in Guild Wars 2. My biggest DAOC regret is that Midgard is the faction I didn’t play seriously. I have a DVD shelf in my study for films like the 13th Warrior, box sets of Vikings… you get the picture. Why in the name of the All-Father am I hanging out in a library-stroke-family-friendly-pub when I could be in Valhalla?!

BRB – levelling an alt.

As The Ancient Gaming Noob has it, today, we are Legion – except that actually, he isn’t because, as the linked post explains, he’s still waiting for his copy of the expansion. I, on the other hand, had pre-ordered a while back when I realised I was going to be sticking around in WoW for a while. That allowed me to boost my mage, Cassalle, up to 100 and (courtesy of the far too tolerant Wyld Hunt) demonstrate that I was a liability in raids, 2016-style. It also allowed me to dive into the expansion the moment the clock ticked over 23:00 UK time.

We weren’t expecting that. Everyone was braced for lag, server crashes, probable rollbacks and more bugs than Ahn’Qiraj. Instead, a little before the appointed hour people started noticing that they had an XP bar again, and those who had finished the prequel quest chains got to click on Khadgar (who had been standing there, channeling a spell for the last week, and presumably had a catheter under his robes)  resulting in a quick cinematic and a relocation to the Broken Isles. I had done the done the full chain on my monk (who dinged 100 a couple of weeks ago, having earned her levels honestly) but hadn’t done last week’s ones on the mage, so there was a brief delay while I took care of that before I could be accosted in the street by a random Forsaken and press-ganged into opening up the mage class hall, which segued into choosing which spec’s artifact weapon I wanted and being sent off on the appropriate quest chain for that.

I won’t spoil the two weapon quest sequences I’ve done with too much detail – arcane mage and mistweaver monk – although I will say that I enjoyed both, and while they weren’t crushingly difficult they were not faceroll easy either. The monk one required me to heal a group of NPCs through a boss fight. I had levelled the monk up as a damage dealer and only started playing around with the healing spec a few days ago, so that fight was on a learning curve and a couple of the NPCs might have some repair bills because of the terrible healer.

I do think that (apart from breaking the tradition of release-day downtime) Blizzard have very much been Blizzard again-they’ve taken features from their competitors, polished them and made them a part of their own game. The added dialogue and cutscenes are edging the main story quests closer to SWTOR’s experience, if not as full-on. The artifact weapons bear more than a passing resemblance to LotRO’s legendary weapons, or rather what they were supposed to be. The pre-Legion invasions harkened back to the early days of RIFT (before everyone started ignoring the, y’know, rifts) and the world quest system sounds like it owes something to GW2’s dynamic events. In each case, Blizzard have polished the basic concept, and like any polish it tends to remove some of the fine detail as well as the rough edges. The end result is a smooth experience, without all of the depth of the original – not always a bad thing, when for the legendary weapons example ‘depth’ could mean ‘unnecessary levels of complexity’.

The end result is fun. And it actually stayed up and available, which was a pleasant surprise to all concerned. Nice to see that at least one of the changes Blizzard are wont to bring in will be universally appreciated 🙂