Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

More out of tradition than because I feel it is important, I'm reporting annual blog visitor numbers at this time of the year. From the first of January to the 31st of December 2010 this blog got 943,673 visitors, down 12% from last year where I still had over 1 million. As recently mentioned, this is intentional, and due to me having reduced posting frequency. In addition to the readers coming directly to my site, I also have 4,100 daily feed subscribers, up from 3,500 last year.

Since early April I ran an experiment to see how much money I could make from blogging, via PayPal donations. I made a total of $576.50 in 2010, from 42 donations. That is actually more than I expected, but mainly driven by a big surge when I started. In the second half of the year I made about $20 a month. Fortunately I didn't quit my day job. :) The money was "reinvested" for the benefit of the blog, mainly for buying games and subscriptions.

I would like to thank all readers, commenters, and especially people who donated, for their contribution to this blog last year. I wish you all a happy new year, and the best of success for all of your plans and resolutions for 2011.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rift soul system impressions

I spent several hours in the third Rift beta event, playing two characters of the two different factions. While the guys from Trion are most proud of the "rift" system they named the game after, most MMORPG veterans remarked that rifts work pretty much exactly like public quests in WAR. Thus I'm going to talk about another innovation of Rift, the soul system.

Rift has 4 basic classes, warrior, rogue, priest, and mage. But each of this classes has 8 sub-classes, called souls, and players can freely choose 3 of them. Each soul has a talent tree, and in addition to the talents you get spells and abilities based on how many points you put into each soul. The overall effect is similar to being able to choose 3 talent trees out of 8 for your class, instead of your class choice determining which 3 talent trees you get. Furthermore you can buy souls and respecs, so while your basic class will remain the same, you can switch between the 8 possible souls and redistribute your points.

This gives you a lot of interesting strategic choices. You can choose souls where the talents of one contribute to the performance of the other, or you can choose souls that do very different things, like adding a necromancer's skeleton pet to your pyromancer fireball-hurling mage.

Rift has 50 levels, and you get 1 soul point per level, plus another point every third level, for an overall 66 points. You can only put as many points into a soul as you have level, so there are always some points to put into your second or third soul. Nevertheless, like every talent tree in every game, the best talents are at the very top, and I expect to see many 50/16/0 builds or variations thereof among minmaxing players. So while the different souls contribute a lot to the early game, where just choosing a soul gives you additional spells, in the long run the best tactical choice is to make your main soul dominant. Maybe Trion should give out slightly more soul points, e.g. 75 at level 50, to combat this.

The harder task for Trion is how to balance that all. The nearly forgotten term "tank mage" from the UO days springs to mind, describing people finding a template that is able to do everything, without having any weaknesses. Of course the beta was too early to say how balanced the classes and builds are. But fundamentally any system that allows meaningful choice also allows players to gimp themselves, or find the "flavor of the month" "best" template, until some nerf in the next patch changes everything.

Mengatur fungsi smart cut dan paste di Microsoft word 2007

Nirwana Sitoeking : Ketika anda melakukan CUT-And-PASTE pada document Microsoft word 2007, aplikasinya secara otomatis menambahkan spasi sehingga posisi teks menjadi kurang baik. Apakah tidak ada cara untuk mengatasinya ? jawabannya kita cari tau aja… Kejadian seperti itu merupakan tanggung jawab fungsi “smart cut & Paste “pada aplikasi Microsoft word 2007.

Fungsi ini biasanya memastikan bahwa tidak ada spasi yang hilang atau spasi ganda pada teks yang di salin. Hasil salinan table dari dokumen Excel juga sering tidak sesuai dengan keinginan kita.

Terkadang memang merasa lebih baik hasilnya jika fungsi smart  cut dan paste ini di matikan saja. Untuk itu klik icon  Office Button  pada Microsoft word 2007 lalu klik tombol “Word Options” (pada Microsoft word versi lama anda bisa membuka menu “Tool → Options” dan buka Tab “Edit”). Contoh seperti gambar di bawah ini :

Microsoft word 2007

 Pada windows “Word Options” pilihlah baris “Avanced” di kotak sebelah kanan carilah baris entri “Use smart cut and paste” dan hilangkan tanda cek dari kotaknya. Contoh Liat gambar di bawah ini

Microsoft word 2007

Jika anda tetap ingin menggunakan fungsi ini, coba klik tombol “setting” dan Aktifkan pilihan “Adjust Paragraph Spacing automatically” dan “Adjust formatting when pasting from Microsoft Office Excel.

Untuk Panduan Microsoft  Office 2003 silahkan klik disini  Dan untuk microsoft Office 2007 silahkan klik disini

- ( Baca Juga : Kumpulan Alamat Game Gratis ) 

Rift discovers the secret of MMO success

I received an invitation to the third Rift beta event, currently running, and I like the game. And instead of compiling a list like everybody else what Rift copied from what other game (UI from WoW, public quests from WAR, etc.), I'd like to say that it seems that Trion copied the secret sauce recipe from Blizzard: Don't worry too much about originality and features, but rather spend your time making sure that everything that is in the game works perfectly. Rift in beta is more polished than most MMORPGs that came out in the last 3 years on release.

And I do believe that this is the way to go for a MMORPG to have any kind of success in today's market. The buggy crap people put up with a decade ago simply doesn't cut it any more. A new game easily survives snide remarks in reviews that its user interface looks exactly like WoW's, but it doesn't survive its user interface being cumbersome, laggy, and non-intuitive, however innovative and original it might be. Just look what happened to Final Fantasy XIV!

Being polished these days is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for any MMORPG wanting to enter the market. Trion's Rift fulfills that condition, and thus I do think the game will do just fine. Not a "WoW Killer", but a game that will sell well and keep up a good number of subscribers.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Out of the limelight

A reader wrote me to tell me that I *didn't* make Massively's top 10 MMO bloggers list, in spite of the fact that there are 31 MMO blogs on that list. Interesting. First I wondered who Shawn Schuster is, and what I did to piss him off. But then I realized that actually that suits me just fine, I've always been bothered by the negative consequences of the popularity of this blog: The trolls, the spammers, the entitlement kids, the people wanting to censor me.

In related news, I confirmed the secret of successful blogging by applying it in reverse: By moving away from a daily publishing schedule I lost a third of my daily visitors, with Google Analytics showing a strong correlation between number of posts and number of visitors. Again, this is working as intended. Contrary to the generally held belief about websites, I am not actually better off with more readers. I would rather have a smaller community of people willing to intelligently discuss MMORPGs, than a larger, noisier, and much less intelligent crowd. As I don't really monetize this blog, apart from the failed donation experiment, being out of the limelight has only advantages for me. It gains me the freedom to express my opinions when and how I want, without attracting mobs with torches and pitchforks bothered about something "blasphemous" I said about their favorite game.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Thought for the day: Fishing skill

I'm slowly leveling various profession skills of my various World of Warcraft characters. But I noticed that I did most of my fishing by looking for the special pools with the more valuable fish, and those pools don't have any skill requirements. Thus my fishing skill appears to be pretty useless, unless I want to fish Deepsea Sagefish, for which no pools exist.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

How to miss a Steam Christmas sale

Christmas, a family holiday, where many people spend time away from home and at some sort of family gathering. So do I. But of course I took my laptop, so I would have full connection to wonderful world of the internet. Or wouldn't I? It turns out that the internet isn't all that "inter" these days, and there are a lot of invisible walls causing you trouble if you dare to move from home.

Every year Steam is doing a Christmas sale. Great offers, many very good games at seriously reduced prices. So I wanted to pick up this or that game, only to be blocked every time by some error message: "There seems to have been an error initializing or updating your transaction. Please wait a minute and try again or contact support for assistance." The message told me nothing, and trying again sure didn't help. So after a few days I contacted support, which replied to me another day later with this gem:
Thank you for contacting Steam Support. Our records indicate that your purchase was declined due to your current IP address differing from what is on file with your billing information. We have removed the lock on your account - you will now be able to purchase additional subscriptions.
Apparently traveling is illegal in Steam land, and leads to your account being locked and unable to purchase additional games. You need to contact customer support and beg them to let you buy games from Steam if you dare to use a laptop from a different location with a different IP. And they can't even tell you that straight in the error message on the site, leaving you only with some nonsense message of "an error initializing or updating your transaction" which tells you absolutely nothing about the real problem.

Well, since all this took several days, many of the games I wanted to buy weren't on sale any more. I'm so not buying them at full price, angry as I am at Steam right now. If they want to make their service unusable to anyone traveling, and confound them with stupid error messages, they are going to lose sales over it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Goldfarmers in jail

A reader alerted me to this piece of news from China, where a couple running a gold farm for a Chinese MMORPG has been sentenced to 6 and 3 years of prison, plus a combined fine of 3 million yuan ($450,000). Besides "running an unlicensed business", the couple was found guilty of breaking various Chinese laws on Internet publishing and digital rights, as well as copyrights of the game company. The 3 million yuan fines exceeds the 2 million yuan income the couple is said to have made with their venture over 10 months.

Now you just have to make a macro that sends a link to the Chinese version of this article to every gold spammer you meet in a game.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Now that the NDA dropped I can reveal the secret: I am *not* in the Rift beta. I suppose that was a secret, because those who were in the beta weren't allowed to say they were, which only works if not being in the beta is also secret. ;)

Best description I've seen from Rift this far: "Warhammer Online done right". Apparently the class system is nice, but otherwise everybody is talking about how well polished the game is, not how innovative it is. I'll say more once I tried it out myself.

Kumpulan Alamat Game Gratis (United States) (United States) (United States) (United States) (United States)
- ( Baca Juga : Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 Unlockables )

Kumpulan Alamat Game Gratis, Game Online Gratis, Download Game PC, PS1, PS2, PS3 gratis

Monday, December 20, 2010

Simply Hospital

Hello, this time I have for you game that will probably like everyone who remember one of the best games from the 90' Theme Hospital. I don't know how old readers I have so if you don't remember that game, here is some info. Your task is to take care of your hospital and of course especially of your patients. Similar to Theme Hospital in Simply Hospital patient are coming to your hospital and your task is to diagnose patients with funny diseases and of course then to treat with even more funny way. So when in your hospital comes snowman your treatment for this disease is steam therapy. I've been really big fan of Theme Hospital so I'm happy that there is such similar game on facebook. Unfortunately it has the same problem as almost all facebook games. You have to for everything such a long time and that is concept that i s getting really boring if you see it for hundred times. Even with this big con it is good game and I'm sure that everyone out there who always wanted to manage their own hospital will love this game.
Rating: 8/10

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Legacy of a Thousand Suns

This time I can start with one thing. If you like sci-fi, then just stop reading now and go play Legacy of a Thousand Suns. No, I will be happy if you will read this article to the end. It is about two weeks since I've started to play Legacy of a Thousand Suns and I instantly knew, that it is one of the best facebook games ever. I really wanted to write review instantly and give the game 10/10, but that would not be wise. It is really better to give the game some time and see.
So what this game is about? Well I would say that this game is very similar to Mafia Wars, except it is sci-fi and also is on much higher level. When you start the game the first thing what is really apparent is that the game has beautiful graphics. Whole interface looks really cool and sci-fi, pictures are beautiful, everything rally looking fantastic.
There are 10 important menus in the game, but the first you probably open is profile. Unlike Mafia wars and few other similar games, in this game you can really see how do you look like, what clothes you wear, what weapons you use etc.. everything looks really great and after few days of playing you will start to look like real badass space guy or girl with lot of deadly gear.
Another menu is ship, in this menu you can see what ship(s) you have and what is the crew of the ship. Ships you use on raids, we will talk about them later.
The next window is lab, this is similar to collection vault in Mafia Wars. When you play the game you collect some stuff and here you can turn it into some cool weapons and so or you can get some points for you character, like +2 to health, stamina and so.
Another window is facilities, the is the same as properties in Mafia Wars, except in this game you don't get money from properties but stuff or crew members.
Window right after facilites is shop, here you can of course byu or sell various stuff, from weapons, ships, battle gear... to almost anything.
Next window of the game is missions. This is very similar to jobs in Mafia Wars, or quests in in epic Fighters. But there is something different in this game. This game has real story. Every mission you do is part of one big space story. This makes this game really different from the others. The other games also has some elements of story, but no game has such story that is really very important part of the game.
The window next to missions is alliance. Before you join any alliance you will see here list of alliances, after you join alliance you will se here really good looking window in style of the bridge of space ship with many control panels and screens. Here you can join alliance raids and check out alliance stats.
Yes, the next window is raids. In raids you are fighting agains bosses. You can go to the raid alone and then you use stamina. You can also join raid of your alliance and then you use honor. you can of course be on raid alone and also be part of alliance raid in the same time.
The last window is called pvp and here you can fight 1 on 1 with other players and win their money and of course experience.
This game is really something and right now it belongs among my best facebook games and probably will some time. I'm not going to give this game 10/10, because even it is great game, it is still the same as others. Go on mission, go on raids, wait for points to load, buy facilities, wait until production is complete. It is still the same scheme as many other facebook games, except this time it is sci-fi, has some new cool features and it looks simply amazing, but that is all. This is not revolution of facebook games, it is evolution.
Rating 9/10

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blizzard's next MMO codenamed "Strawberry"

Actually it is not "Strawberry", but "Titan". But if you look at it objectively, Blizzard confirming that the code-name for their new MMO project is "Titan" is pretty much a non-event. "Strawberry" would have given exactly the same information, which is none. It is not even the name of the final game, just the name of the project. The game will most probably have a less generic name, as the term Titan is already overused.

Much of the excitement over the official Titan confirmation comes from the fact that the name was leaked as part of a Blizzard production schedule, and that some people now believe that if the leak got the name right, the rest of the information must be true as well. That would mean the next WoW expansion in 18 months, and the new Titan MMO in 2013.

I would be very careful with that sort of jump to conclusions. Even if the leaked schedule is real, Blizzard is not exactly known for sticking to schedules. Basically in the best case I'd consider that as a penciled schedule, which in all likelyhood will be much delayed in reality. Note that Blizzard already after the first expansion said they would work towards releasing expansions once a year, but still got their third expansion out only after 6 years. So my money is on the next WoW expansion end of 2012, and "Strawberry" being released in 2014 or 2015.

Time heals everything

I am a big fan of crafting and tradeskills in general. So my various characters in World of Warcraft cover nearly every possible profession. Nevertheless I not only did barely any crafting in Cataclysm up to now, I even sold the materials I gathered instead of using them for crafting. The reason I did that was that I realized that some players are very much in a hurry to skill up their professions, so much that they are paying rather silly amounts of gold for simple materials. The most basic ore of Cataclysm which I collected to skill up my mining skill I was able to sell for up to 15 gold per ore, 300 gold per stack. Now the prices are slowly coming down, and I'm pretty confident that at some point I can take those 300 gold I got for one stack of ore and buy several stacks of the same ore with it in a few weeks time. The same thing holds true for cloth, herbs, and the "volatile" elements. Sell now, buy back at a fraction of the price later.

While I was pondering this, I was also reading various comments on WoW blogs about the level of difficulty of 5-man heroic dungeons and raiding. And I made the connection, and realized that for those dungeons basically the same thing is true as for crafting materials: If you try to do them right now, a week after release, it will be hard. But with time they will get a lot easier.

This is not because I believe Blizzard will nerf dungeons or anything, but just a natural consequence of the system as it is now. If, for example, you group with 4 random characters for a pickup group today, chances are that some of them will enter the dungeon you are going to for the very first time, and that their gear is barely over the new "minimum average iLevel" requirement of the dungeon. Group with 4 random characters via the Dungeon Finder in a month, and chances are that people know the encounters better, and are better equipped. Group with 4 random characters in 20 month and that same heroic will be a facerolling AoE fest, because everybody is in iLevel 500 epics and did all those heroics a hundred times.

At least as far as dungeons are concerned, this is good news. Do you love wiping and extra-hard dungeons? Do them now! Would you prefer to have an easier time? Just wait! Do you have several level 80 characters and are worried that those you don't play will fall behind? Don't worry, the ones you don't play now will be able to equip themselves much cheaper than today from the auction house, and through easier dungeons quickly catch up.

The only possible pitfall in this plan is raid dungeons. Yes, raid dungeons will become easier as well with time. But if Blizzard manages them like they did in WotLK, the raid dungeons of today will also become obsolete tomorrow. So if you wait too long before visiting a raid dungeon, you might find that place completely deserted, and nobody willing to go there any more. This is exactly why I'm hoping for a looking-for-raid functionality in a future patch.

The funny thing about the effect of time on Cataclysm dungeons is that many people don't realize it. Thus right now you'll here a lot of comments that Cataclysm dungeons are "hard", some even calling them "too hard". But I bet that if you read blogs in a year or two, you will see people complaining how the Cataclysm dungeons are "easy", or "too easy", with various comments on how Blizzard is catering to an audience of low intelligence. But if you look at it without prejudice, Blizzard probably made the Cataclysm dungeons as hard as they could get away with, and the thing they are catering to is not "low intelligence" but the natural desire of all players to see their characters get stronger over time. By having dungeons always at the same difficulty level for the two years between expansions, and by allowing players to become stronger with time, the result of dungeons becoming easier is inevitable. The good news is that one *some* point in time the dungeons are at the perfect difficulty level for any given individual. The bad news is that this point in time is different for everybody, and we'll be forever stuck in beating the dead horse of the discussion whether WoW dungeons are too hard or too easy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Laying claim to the 4th pillar

In May there was a funny story where Derek Smart from Alganon plagiarized a press release from Bioware's Star Wars: The Old Republic, claiming that "Traditionally, massively multiplier online games have been about three basic gameplay pillars - combat, exploration and character progression. In Alganon, in addition to these we've added the fourth pillar to the equation; a story." Meanwhile, in a different corner of the internet, Blizzard had released Wrath of the Lich King in 2008, and it included one special quest series, about the Wrathgate, which had a great cutscene telling a dramatic story, followed by a scripted event where the player contributed in liberating Undercity. Nobody called that a "4th pillar", but everybody agreed that this was one of the highlights of WotLK questing.

Fast forward to December 2010, and given the success of the Wrathgate quest it comes to no surprise that Blizzard used more cutscenes and scripted events in Cataclysm. If you do the 150+ quests of Vashj'ir, you'll be seeing several cutscenes, take part in several scripted events, and take part in a greater story spanning the whole zone and culminating in the Throne of Tides dungeon. Playing through that often feels like great cinema, and later zones continue in the same vein, even allowing you to participate in an Indiana Jones movie. The goblin starting zone has a funny story, the worgen starting zone a more dramatic, Victorian-flavored one. Whether you call it like that or not, the 4th pillar is well and truly implemented in Cataclysm.

I do not believe that this was a strategic move by Blizzard to preempt SWTOR, but whether it was planned like this or not, it might well have this effect. When SWTOR finally arrives and starts telling stories, people won't experience that as something totally new.

But as many people already noticed, the 4th pillar comes with some disadvantages. At least in the Blizzard version the cutscenes and scripted events only exist in one form. Thus the actions of the player don't matter at all for the development of the story. The Bioware version promises more choice, but it will remain to be seen in how far those choices are cosmetic, or whether they can fundamentally change the story being told.

And I can't help but question whether a MMORPG is really the best place to tell stories like that. I played through the Vashj'ir story line, and witnessed Erunak being sucked into the vortex, and held captive mind-controlled in the Throne of Tides. But when I take the portal from Orgrimmar to Vashj'ir, I still see him standing in the cavern where I arrive. I freed Will'hai, but when I swim past his location he is still being held by the same tentacles. By its very multiplayer nature, a MMORPG can not allow a player to really change the world, because other players need to have the opportunity to play through the same story. Playing through a story will always be more believable in a single-player RPG, where the player really *can* change the world.

So I'm wondering whether all this story-telling stuff isn't just the latest fad in MMORPGs, and might not necessarily last. Why pay a monthly subscription to play through a half-assed story, if I could play through a better and more meaningful story in a single-player game with no additional cost? The advantages of a MMORPG are in the interaction of players, and having the players play through phased and instanced stories alone just distances them from the core strengths of the genre. In the end a 5-man dungeon offers vastly superior replayability and interaction than cutscenes and scripted events. Does anyone really want to play through Vashj'ir a second time?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Numbers and interpretations

Blizzard announced that they sold 3.3 million copies of Cataclysm in the first 24 hours. That is a number. Numbers are easy, because they are either fact or false, so beyond "I don't believe this number is correct", there isn't much room for discussion.

Where it gets complicated is when you try to interpret the number, and put a judgement on it, saying whether this number is "high" or "low". So about the Cataclysm sales you'll read every possible interpretation from this being very high, compared to the 2.4 million copies Burning Crusade sold in its first 24 hours, or this being low compared to the 12 million subscribers they say they have.

Interpretations are often only half supported by facts, with the other half being made up by some assumption. In some cases the assumption is clearly wrong, for example the comparison between the 3.3 million Cataclysm buyers and the 12 million subscribers isn't valid, because we know that around half of the subscribers could not possibly have bought Cataclysm, because it wasn't released yet in China (and won't be for some time, they only just got WotLK). On the other hand Cataclysm certainly led people who *weren't* subscribers in October, when Blizzard released the 12 million subscribers number, to buy the expansion and resubscribe.

Whether 3.3 million first-day buyers are high or low thus depends on other assumptions, and a lot of missing data: How many people were subscribed to World of Warcraft in the countries where Cataclysm was for sale the day before the expansion? How many people resubscribed? And even if we had numbers here, it would still be hard to interpret: If we assume 6.6 million subscribers in Europe and America, and half of them bought Cataclysm on the first day, what does that tell us? I'd assume a lot of people simply weren't too keen on playing on the overcrowded first day, but bought the expansion in time for the weekend. I'd also guess that some people will find a copy of Cataclysm under the Christmas tree. And while I'm watching my wife playing a level 75 rogue in Northrend (in spite of me having bought the expansion for her), I'll also have to assume that some people simply decided they can play World of Warcraft without the expansion.

So in the end this number, 3.3 million first day buyers, isn't all that meaningful. Accountants might be interested by the over $100 million of gross revenue the number implies for Blizzard. But for an evaluation of the "success" of the expansion we'd better wait for the next press release from Blizzard announcing some new subscriber number record.

Thought for the Day: Starfire Espresso

My priest in World of Warcraft is quickly becoming addicted to Starfire Espresso, which restores 96,000 mana when consuming it between combats, meaning I regain mana faster and have less problems running after the others in the group who of course couldn't wait for the healer to drink up. The only thing that puzzles me is that Starfire Espresso is made from water and cocoa beans. Note to self: Never drink coffee at Blizzard's in Real Life.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gevlon has a point

Sometimes I ask myself why I keep Gevlon's anti-social drivel blog on my newsreader. And then he writes something to remind me why, usually a highly intelligent analysis of something, followed by a completely disgusting interpretation and rant about morons and slackers. So if you manage to just ignore the sociopathic nonsense, you'll find that Gevlon has a point in his analysis that Cataclysm dungeons can be trivialized by simply taking two healers.

Of course if you look at it closely, the same analysis is true for Wrath of the Lich King heroics: Bosses don't have an enrage timer, so if you come with 2 healers and a tank sufficiently competent enough to keep aggro from the healers, a group can't possibly lose a fight, and thus will by definition eventually win. Only that in WotLK of course the group would also most probably win with just one healer, and bringing one more dps makes the dungeon go faster.

In Cataclysm wipes in dungeons are more common. I even wiped several times with guild groups in the new dungeons, because we were all of the mindset that it would be better to just try stuff out instead of getting a ready-made video guide from YouTube. So we fell in all the traps, like killing the fourth puppy at Beauty in Blackrock Caverns. We laughed, it made for a great story in guild chat, and we moved on. In a pickup group a wipe is likely to lead to the break up of the group, and not necessarily to players learning something and doing better next time. Thus with dungeons being a lot harder, a strategy to never make a pickup group wipe is definitely a possibility to consider.

Of course the analysis of the social consequences by Gevlon is completely wrong. The two-healer method is not going to become the standard for pickup groups, because it requires the tank and the first healer to queue together, with the healer "disguised" as dps, in order to get a second healer assigned by the Dungeon Finder. For that to work we need tanks having special relationships with one healer, but not with anyone else. That will happen rarely enough to not make any difference on the queue time for DPS.

What is more likely is that certain classes realize that they can benefit from being hybrids, and heal a bit in tight situations in dungeons. For example Tranquility is a great spell to heal everybody when things are starting to go south, even if the person casting it is currently a Moonkin. It is *because* everybody tends to blame the healer that even pickup groups might feel that some added healing would allow them to overcome their problems, and they might ask hybrids to help out with healing a bit.

Furthermore the discussion on how to make heroics easier is one which will only pose itself for a few month. Of course now, with people just reaching 85, heroics are very hard. But they will most probably stay at exactly this level of challenge for the next two years, while players on the other hand will continue to improve their stats through gear. Cataclysm didn't fundamentally change the emblem system of Wrath of the Lich King. Doing heroics long enough will still end you up with a set of gear that outgears the heroics. And if I understood the new system correctly, there is even a built-in progression, where heroics rewards get better over time, while people reach new raid dungeons. In a year nobody will consider bringing a second healer to a heroic a good idea. Right now it is a neat trick.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The dimensions of Cataclysm

In August 2007 I talked about the dimensions of a MMORPG, defining length, depth, and breadth. And I complained about Wrath of the Lich King offering mainly added length, and completely neglecting breadth, which would be needed for better replayability. In hindsight that looks like a design document for Cataclysm: The Shattering and Cataclysm together add enormous breadth to World of Warcraft, with over 4,000 new quests, two new races, four new starting zones, and so many remodelled zones. But as resources are never infinite, a consequence of this breadth is that Cataclysm might be the shortest expansion ever.

Cataclysm is not yet a week old, and without even trying to level fast I'm already in the middle of level 83, just by finishing Vashj'ir and running a few dungeons. Many in my guild are already at the new level cap. People who don't want to play alts, but only want to play their main character, will see that Cataclysm added less new zones and new dungeons than Wrath of the Lich King did. Of course with dungeons now being much harder it is well possible that raid progress will be slower in Cataclysm. But somehow one week to the level cap followed by two years of slow raid progress doesn't look very balanced to me.

I still think that this was a good idea. The renovation of old Azeroth makes World of Warcraft more likely to continue attracting new player, while at the same time giving old players a lot of content to play through with alts. But it makes me wonder who exactly Blizzard considers to be their core audience. I guess we'll have to wait and see how raiding develops in Cataclysm to find out.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Imagine you suspect that a certain MMORPG is dying, but the producers are loth to announce it. What kind of announcements would they make instead, the kind of stuff which sounds positive, but is a sure sign of a game going down the drain? Well, restructuring the development team and firing the lead designer would certainly be high up on that list. Prolonging the free trial indefinitely also rings that sort of bell. And postponing the console version of the game indefinitely is something that might happen to such a game as well.

Final Fantasy XIV just announced all three of those. Of course you might be an eternal optimist, speaking about how Square Enix is turning the game around, for it to emerge stronger and with a console version some time down the road. But it is extremely hard to believe in a game when these signs are there that even the publisher has just about given up hope. A re-emergence of Final Fantasy XIV at this point would require a miracle. Us old cynics don't believe in miracles any more.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Archeology and other Cataclysm thoughts

Archeology is a complete waste of time. I love it! This is exactly the sort of sub-game a MMORPG like World of Warcraft needs. Not strictly required for progress, but with nice fluff rewards in the long term. A simple mini-game, but well integrated into the world and lore of Azeroth, and playable for weeks and months. I especially appreciate how well Archeology ties in with the make-over of Azeroth and the ability to fly in the old world: Flying from dig site to dig site allows you to rediscover Azeroth in its new shape.

But of course at the moment I'm mostly busy leveling up my "main" to 85. I made level 81 on the first day, and that was just doing quests and a few dungeons in an evening session. Level 82 took two sessions. Unlike Wrath of the Lich King it appears that in Cataclysm each level takes longer than the previous one, which I find sensible.

I'm still somewhere in the middle of Vashj'ir questing, but that zone is already getting on my nerves. While I don't mind smaller quest hubs and being guided from one spot to the next, I think that this guidance should be optional, and include the ability to skip quests or whole quest hubs, like it is in new Azeroth. Vashj'ir is not only extremely linear, it also forces you through that linear tube without any freedom to skip ahead. You get to some cave, do half a dozen quests for the NPC quest givers there, and get sent on to the next cave. I must be on the tenth or so cave of that sort, and it is getting old.

Dungeons are somewhat more fun, although it takes time to getting used to wiping in a dungeon on normal in spite of full epic WotLK gear. Those epics are getting replaced by greens now, even if sometimes the benefit is somewhat doubtful. But to get to the third and fourth dungeon of Cataclysm requires you to have the new built-in WoW "gearscore", now expressed in the game as the average iLevel of your gear. The stat distribution is noticeably different than in WotLK, so my priest in new "level 79" green gear now has more health than my warrior still in his old "level 80" WotLK epics. I haven't been very lucky with finding blue gear in dungeons, I only got one or two pieces yet. Better luck next time.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

World of Warcraft overloaded

Due to their slow production cycle, World of Warcraft expansions very much suffer from a phenomenon of players unsubscribing after running out of things to do, and resubscribing when the next expansion adds content. Cataclysm having come out this week, resubscriptions are coming in fast and heavy, and servers are beginning to feel the load. During prime time their are queues on many servers.

Unfortunately that load isn't even. People who resubscribe usually want to continue playing on the server where their characters are parked. Thus for any given server the number of people coming back is roughly proportional to the number of people that unsubscribed previously, and that is roughly proportional to the age of the server. As the server I'm playing on is one of the original release servers, the volatility of player numbers on my server is higher than on one of the latest servers. Not only is the server full now, but it also tends to drop in activity between expansions more than younger servers do.

Except for games playing in space, it appears that the technology to have all players on the same server in a MMORPG doesn't exist yet. Many problems of server population have been solved by server clusters, which at least allow players from different servers to fight each other in PvP, or together in PvE instance groups. But that still leaves important barriers between servers. Changing servers costs money, takes time, and cuts social links, as you can't chat or guild with people on other servers.

While obviously it won't be possible for Blizzard to completely change their architecture to switch World of Warcraft to a single-server system, I still wonder if there aren't some improvements possible. Why can't server changes be automated to a degree where Blizzard can offer them for free, and happening within minutes? And why can't we have chat and guilds that span at least a server cluster? If changing servers were easier, population would automatically even out between the servers of one cluster, and there would be less problems of queues and population volatility.

Thought for the day: Does PvP make sense while questing?

I did some dungeons and quests in the new zones yesterday, and hit level 81 with my priest. I noticed that the new zones are rather crowded around the quest giver NPCs, and that Horde and Alliance often cross paths. That doesn't affect me, as I am playing on a PvE server. But from what I read in various blogs, and hear from friends, this does cause problems on PvP servers: Everybody is concentrated around the same few quest givers, and then the ganking starts.

Now, while not a fan myself, I completely support PvP that has some sort of objective: Be it some battleground, keep warfare, territorial control, that all makes perfect sense to me. But why would a game first force people to congregate around the same few spots to get and hand in quests, and then enable them to slaughter each other there without any purpose?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Expectations for Cataclysm and SWTOR

Rumor has it that some crazy European player managed to get to level 85 before Cataclysm was even released in the USA 7 hours later. But even for the average player the projected time to level 85 is measured in weeks, and unless they roll a goblin and a worgen alt and play through the 3,500 new quests of the Shattering, many players will have settled in some repetitive end game routine relatively early next year. With even the most optimistic schedules not foreseeing another World of Warcraft expansion before 18 months time, the current period of everybody being busy with Cataclysm won’t last forever, and we will have time for other games as well. And with Star Wars: The Old Republic coming out in 2011 (latest news says not before April), Guild Wars 2 in 2012, and some other games in between, there will be some choice.

But I’m afraid these other games have the cards stacked against them. Our expectations for Cataclysm were quite realistic: More of the same; and Blizzard delivered that, plus some bells and whistles. While the actual expansion isn’t revolutionary, the preceding The Shattering patch is the largest content patch in MMORPG history, and unique. When SOE had a “cataclysm” happening in Everquest that was sold as a separate game, Everquest 2, while the original EQ continued to exist as before. A complete rework of the whole level 1-60 game is quite daring. And nobody was surprised that the “new WoW” was a more streamlined version of the “old WoW”, with much of the same basic game structure of quests and levels. The other games don’t have it that easy, because we expect more of them.

I just read a print magazine in which the author described playing through the first 7 levels of playing a Jedi in a preview-version of Star Wars: The Old Republic. While acknowledging the great voice-overs, the writer was quite disappointed of his first quest being to “kill 10 flesh raiders”, and all the other quests until level 7 being variations of that theme, and having him kill other flesh raiders, with just one Jedi opponent at the end. And that disappointment derives from having expected something much different, and somehow grander and better.

There is a danger here that our expectations will doom SWTOR. If, in a quite realistic scenario, Bioware releases a solid MMORPG which has much of the same structure in terms of quests, levels, and how combat works as World of Warcraft, there will be a howl of disappointment from some quarters. If we expect the same gripping narrative in SWTOR that we are used to from Bioware’s single-player games, this disappointment might even be inevitable. Nobody has ever even penned a theoretical proof that it is possible to transpose the narrative of a single-player game into a MMO environment, much less implemented it. All our hope is based on a few hollow marketing slogans of 4th pillars and the like.

Cataclysm is a product of very high quality, minor problems with login during the first few hours in Europe notwithstanding. As this is the third expansion, and Blizzard has WoW up and running for six years now, and makes a billion dollars of revenue per year, this isn’t really surprising. It will be hard for Bioware, with less financial backing and no experience in launching MMORPGs, to just come up with a product meeting similar standards of quality. And if they manage to do that, people will still be disappointed, because they expect Bioware to deliver the impossible, the “WoW killer”, the “future of MMO gaming”.

My personal advice is to expect Star Wars: The Old Republic to be some sort of “WoW with light sabers”. If we expect the differences between SWTOR and Cataclysm to be more in the details than in the fundamentals, we have a much better chance of not ending up very disappointed. Hoping for the impossible will only destroy the enjoyment of what might still end up being a solid MMORPG.

Box vs. Digital

As I needed two copies of Cataclysm, one for me and one for my wife, I had the opportunity to buy them in different formats, one in a box, the other as digital download. This is a short comparison of the two formats:

Price: I paid €34.99 for the digital copy of Cataclysm, but only €25.90 for the box from the shop. Considering that making the box with the DVD costs more money, and that the shop gets a part of what I paid, the digital download price is too expensive. Depending on your interpretation this is price gouging, or Blizzard trying to keep retail shops in business. Box wins on price.

Installation: The boxed copy of Cataclysm installed quickly enough, but as the digital copy had already downloaded invisibly in the background for a while, the digital version was still a lot faster. The digital version also didn't require me to enter a complicated key. Digital wins on installation.

Timing: Theoretically the digital version was playable from midnight, while the boxed version could be bought midnight, brought home, installed, and then played. Practically the login servers were overloaded at midnight, so this didn't matter. I played the digital copy early in the morning for 10 minutes, but had to go to work. The boxed copy I bought on my way back home after work. Digital wins on timing, but only barely.

Backup: One reason I wanted at least one box for was to have a backup on DVD. But that is probably old school thinking, as the DVD will not have the latest patch version anyway. I'm not sure how much faster or slower installing the game and all three expansions would be from DVD compared with having to download all again. And I don't really want to have to try it. So no winner in this category.

Overall the two ways have different advantages and disadvantages, and it is up to you how important these are to you. For price sensitive people wanting the joy of holding a physical copy in hand, the box is better. But for getting into the game quick and hassle-free the digital version is great.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Been there, done that

I tried to log into Cataclysm repeatedly for 10 minutes, just minutes after release at midnight. It didn't work, the login servers are overloaded. I'm not surprised. I would have been surprised if it had worked, which is why I tried it. Now I'm going back to bed.

[UPDATE: Sleeping helped. The game was up at 6:30 when my alarm clock rang. But alas, now I have to go to work.]

Need help for Cataclysm?

In a world where a book like Farmville for Dummies exists, it would be foolish to assume that everybody will be able to level up his World of Warcraft character to level 85 without some helpful hints. Knowing that, some people will try to *sell* you those helpful hints, a business I'm not in favor off. Therefore I recommend instead, which appart from an affiliate link to a gold selling site is giving out its guides for free. There are leveling guides from level 1 to 85 for Alliance and Horde, plus starting guides for Goblins, Worgen, and Deathknights. As I've seen other sites wanting $30 and more for the same information, this looks like the better deal.

Epic Fighters

Oh it has been so long time since I've made last post here, but is really not my fault, there just weren't any games on facebook I would have liked so much to add it here. Well I have found one game I really like and play it every day and it is Epic Fighters. It is game I really missed on facebook. Well, not just this game, but this kind of game. In almost every game on facebook you can cooperate with your friends in some way, but there are only few games where you can also fight with your friends and that is I think much better fun. Epic Fighters is one of these games and I think one of the best. This game is from Digital Chocolate, company that created one very similar game and that is MMA Pro Fighter that is maybe even better, if you don't like fantasy, that you will probably like it more than Epic Fighters.
In Epic Fighters is your task building strong warrior. There are two ways how your warrior can become stronger and generally just better fighter. When you level up by getting experience you receive attribute points you can invest to health, stamina or energy. Health and energy you use in fights and stamina you need to do quests and to fight. To level up you need experience that you can get generally in three ways. You can fight in duels, you can do quests and you can fight against epic monsters. Well, here comes to funny part of this game. When you are fighting or doing quests you also receive money you can invest to learn new techniques. This is probably the most important part of the game, because it is necessary it invest your money wise. You can also buy some new equipment with your money and there are few other features in this game that are not so important. I really like the fights in this game, but the campaign in this game is absolutely linear so you cannot do anything to affect the story of the game and that is really shame.
Rating 8/10

Feeling unloved by Blizzard as a warrior

In the end I spent most of the time between The Shattering and Cataclysm playing two characters: A troll warrior and a tauren paladin. They were using similar degrees of twink gear, both went for their respective tanking talent spec, and after 15 levels of soloing concentrated on tanking with random pickup groups. Assuming that my tanking skills don't magically change when I switch from one character to another, and seeing how their gear was similar, the difference between these two characters is astounding. The warrior barely manages to keep aggro in multi-mob situations, and always comes in 4th place on the damage meter, just above the healer. The paladin plays like ultra-easy mode, tanks any size of mob group without ever losing aggro, and more often than not comes out on top of the damage meter at the same time. It is really ridiculous! And depressing for my warriors, not just the low level one, but also my level 80 by extension.

The differences between paladins and warriors are already quite visible when they choose their tanking spec at level 10. Warriors get Shield Slam, which is a melee range attack, hits only 1 mob, and often can't be used early in combat because the rage is lacking. Paladins at that same point get Avenger's Shield, which deals twice as much damage, then hits up to two more mobs, has a 30 yard range, and is perfect for pulling even casters, as it silences them. When soloing I one-shotted quest mobs with Avenger's Shield crits. Having that much better pull spell enables the paladin to grab a lot of aggro quickly, and keep it. The warrior needs a more complicated and less effective Rend + Thunder Clap for AoE aggro, with a much shorter range.

Besides getting aggro, the paladin also has the much better survivability, having two instant self-heals, versus none for the warrior. Between Word of Glory, which can be used several times in a combat, and Lay on Hands, which heals the paladin to full, I even survived big combats where the healer had lost connection. The only consolation for the warrior was that at least Blizzard nerfed the paladin's taunt to be identical in function with the warrior taunt. Previously the paladin version dealt damage, and the warrior version didn't, now both don't.

Now you could say that the lack of balance between low-level warriors and paladins doesn't matter. Both characters are strong enough to solo quests, and given the tank shortage it is unlikely that a group will votekick a warrior in the hope of getting a paladin the next time. But as far as I can tell, paladins are still far superior tanks to warriors in 5-man groups at level 80, and I'm not sure about which of them would be preferable in a raid now. Right now I'm hard pressed to find *any* role or environment in which I would rather have a warrior than a paladin. It really feels as if Blizzard hates the warrior class, and I can't understand why they would so obviously disadvantage them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dungeon changes in the Shattering

I recently mentioned that my new low-level warrior had done 3 dungeons in a row, gained 4 levels in the process, and outleveled all his quests. Apparently Blizzard noticed that as a problem too, and significantly lowered dungeon xp. I think that is a very good idea. I love dungeons, but people tend to react strongly to incentives, and if one type of content gives too good rewards, other types of content end up getting neglected.

What surprised me more was to see the new list of dungeon levels. For example Scholomance as a level 38 dungeon feels strange to me, I will need some time to get my head wrapped around the new order. But I must say the new list will probably work better with the Dungeon Finder. When I leveled my previous character, the druid, before the Shattering, the Dungeon Finder tended to land me in the same dungeon for many levels. The new list is more evenly spaced, and so offers more variety when you choose a "random" dungeon.

My only concern about the leveling process right now is that between the renovated Azeroth from 1-60 and the already very good Northrend at level 70-80 there is this really sub-standard level 60-70 experience of Outlands of the Burning Crusade. The last time I did it, I refused to quest and leveled exclusively through dungeons; but even that wasn't optimal, because the expansion has a lot of level 70 dungeons which I never saw through the random Dungeon Finder. So I hope that as part of the next expansion Blizzard renovates Outland as well, at least streamlining the dungeons there as they just did for Azeroth. And fix the "Satchel of Helpful Goods" for level 60-70, which is currently just giving junk rewards.