Challenges Not To Scale

Just for fun, I’m going to ramble on about scaling this morning.

Call it scaling, sliding, normalizing, whatever you’d like. What I’m going to talk about is increasing or decreasing the effective power of an opponent or a player to make a fight ‘fair’.

The first time I ran into scaling was in City of Heroes. They had a sidekick system that incorporated scaling. The idea was, you might be a long term customer with a powerful character, and a friend decides the game sounds fun and they want to come in and give it a try. The problem? Your friend wants to get in and start playing with you right away, but they’re level 10 and you’re 50. What to do?

The sidekick system in City of Heroes let you group with your low level friend, and the low level friend would have their effective power levels raised to match yours. They wouldn’t gain any new abilities, so they would have far fewer tools in their toolbox, but what they had would at least be effective, and their health and armor would let them be a viable teammate instead of a boy hostage.

So, that’s an example of a system where the power of the character would scale to match the content you were running.

Now, I’ve been puttering around in the new free-to-play MMO, Neverwinter, which is still in beta but is pretty awesome.

Why is it awesome?

Unlike almost every other free to play game I’ve tried, Neverwinter hasn’t been shoving their cash store in my face every time I turn around. Instead, I’m having fun playing the game, and the store is enticing me to buy neat stuff to enhance my play. Not, you know, stuff to buy just so I can have any kind of playtime at all.

Anyway.

In Neverwinter, there are scenarios, dungeons, instances, whatever you’d like to call them. There are those designed by the game company, and there are also player-created instances in what is called ‘The Foundry’, which are also, yes, free to play. And if you so desire, you can create your own scenarios too.

The interesting bit here is that the instances are not gated by level. The monsters and treasure within the instance will scale based on the level of the player that enters, so loot in chests will be level appropriate, and the opponents will also scale to match you. The difficulties come in the instance design. If someone stacks a bunch of bad guys in a small room with no place to maneuver, well, it’s going to be a hell of a challenge. The design of the instance determines the difficulty, and even how many people are needed to play in it, rather than the level of the characters or villains.

So, an example of a system where the character stays the same, and the content of an instance scales to provide an ‘appropriate’ challenge.

Where I’m going with this is simple.

What would it take to add scaling for the old content in World of Warcraft?

I’ll talk about why I think it would be a good thing later, for now let’s just talk about what would have to be done to implement something.

In my opinion, the highest hurdle would be the scaling technology itself. No sense talking about it if it would cost three years of serious programmer time to get something into beta.

Surprise! In World of Warcraft, most of the technology needed has already been implemented.

Blizzard is using scaling in the game already, and seems to be following the ‘scale the player power to match the content’ concept.

The first piece we can see comes from Heirloom items. The tech is in place to be able to scale the ilevel of gear up OR DOWN based on the level of the player.

You get an Heirloom, whoever you mail it to can equip it, and it will scale up or down, no problems. Right now, it scales based off of a character trigger – what is the level of the character equipping it?

In my opinion, it’s a short step to changing the trigger so iLevel scaling could change based on the recommended level of the dungeon or raid you were zoning into.

That brings us to the second piece which is already in the game, Challenge mode dungeons.

The Challenge mode dungeons are all level 90 dungeons that you cannot access until you’ve completed them on Heroic. They do not incorporate any character level scaling, but they do scale your equipped gear down to effective iLevel 463, except for the trinkets.

They also do other things upon entering them, such as deactivate Sha-touched gems and Tier bonuses. A complete list of what gets changed when you enter a Challenge mode 5 person dungeon can be found at Wowhead New’s awesome guide here.

The important bit here is that the tech is in place so that when you specifically queue for one of these scaled dungeons, and you zone in, your gear gets ‘normalized’ to an appropriate power level for the dungeon or raid you are doing.

So what puzzle pieces are we missing for the tech?

Only one thing, really. When you zone into a dungeon or raid, if there was a mechanism in place to detect your character level, and to scale your base character stats down to the ‘intended’ level of the content… well, that would cap the package, wouldn’t it?

With that one additional piece of tech, you could zone into, say, Ulduar 25 and as you zone in, your character base stats could be adjusted down to level 80, your gear iLevel could be scaled down to 232, your hit/expertise percentages against raid bosses would be maintained at whatever your previous level had been, and lo and behold you would now be able to do old content scaled to the appropriate ‘challenge’.

So, it’s a possibility. The tech is not that impossible to imagine.

Blizzard could, if they chose to, implement a new system where you could do old content through the LFD/LFR system, and when you zone in with the group your effective level and gear would be scaled to match the challenge.

If they chose to.

What is the one big reason why they might like to implement this?

To expand on options in the Looking for Group tool for dungeons and raids when leveling.

For a big bonus, to give us more options for randoms when level capped and seeking fresh possibilities for weekly Valor Points.

If you could queue for ANY dungeon or raid content, where you can queue for it now instead of when you finally ding 90, where you would have to use your class abilities to some extent rather than outgearing and facerolling it,  and IF you received Justice Points, Valor Points and experience points for doing it just like the current leveling dungeons… wouldn’t that expand the leveling freshness a bit?

Think about it. You wouldn’t just be matchmaking with people who are within the same three levels as you when trying to do Sunken Temple. You’d be queuing with anyone your level and above who’d like to get a run in, and everyone in the group regardless of level is going to have their effective power scaled down to put you all on the same playing field for that run… except for how many buttons are on your bar.

Why would you expect to get Justice, Valor or experience for such a run? Well, the whole point would be to make the content a reasonable ‘at level’ challenge, and suitable for LFR/LFD queuing. It would seem reasonable to expect to get some XP from the kills, some JP for the bosses and maybe a 15 or 30 Valor Point random queuing quest reward.

But there is one last big hurdle to it, and the reason why this isn’t an “I think they will do this” and more of an “I wonder how they would do that”.

What to do about loot?

Right now, when you do randoms leveling up you get a loot bag on completion of the run, with some random blue quality gear of the appropriate level for the dungeon you ran. The iLevel of the gear is based on the level of the dungeon, not your level. It doesn’t matter much because once you level past that dungeon, you can’t queue for it anymore.

What if they added loot bags to the random LFR/LFD system for old raids and dungeons? Bags with a piece of loot based on your actual character level instead of the level of the dungeon or your effective character level? The gear is already there, a wide range exists from those dungeon bags. Tie the bag quality into your level when you queued rather than the level of the dungeon, and you would get a level appropriate something for doing older content.

But is that enough incentive to get someone going through an entire raid? Some of those would take megatime.

Probably not.

But there is something else already implemented in a similar context that could be expanded into older content in LFR/LFD.

Achievements, Titles, Pets, Mounts and fancy transmoggable armor sets.

They have already implemented this in the Challenge mode dungeons, so the model is there.

If there were special achievements for doing older scaled content through the Raid/Dungeon finder tool, if loot was handled the way it is in LFR right now so you’re not competing with the other players, if there were pets that could drop on bosses, mounts to earn for completing raids or achievements, gear pieces that were specially colored old Tier or Dungeon sets…

Yeah. I think that just might be a complete package.

You could even implement a class-specific easter-egg hunt.

If you played in Vanilla WoW, do you remember the Sunken Temple quest lines?

Each character class had a quest you could get in Ungoro Crater, that led you to Sunken Temple, and as a reward gave you something really useful for your class.

What if a quest chain were added in the game, that asked you to visit all of these places through the Scaled Content LFD and collect items from them? Gather all the items, turn them in and get something appropriate for your class.

It wouldn’t have to be anything big or crazy, but it would be fun to have that class quest for a tasty item or RP flair. Mages could go collect shards of energy cast off from some of the big battles, charging a special Mana Gem. Warlocks could collect Shards of teh Souls of powerful bosses they defeat along the way. Rogues could pick pocket trinkets from bosses in various locations that had… personal meaning for the person sending you out to get them back. You get the idea.

I’m just musing aloud here, I’m not trying to prophecy or suggest something, and I don’t believe it WILL happen… but it could happen, and it would be fun.

The most interesting thing about this to me, is that by using the LFD/LFR tool as the gateway to run these, it allows Blizzard to leave all of the existing content untouched. You could still zone in and solo the old runs, get the chance at the original loot lists, work on original achievements and Legendary questlines, drops for the Raiding with Leashes pets, all of it.

The only time you would be zoning in to old content that scaled for an appropriate challenge would be when you intentionally sought one out on the LFD/LFR tool.

And finally, and to me the most fascinating part of the whole thing… by scaling the players to the content, you leave in place the option for Blizzard to tweak up or down the effective iLevel of the players. If a particular dungeon or raid became a severe chokepoint, then they could tweak the effective scaling of ilevel up or down as they felt appropriate.

I dunno. Maybe there is some glaring flaw I’m missing, but the whole thing seems technically feasible, it would benefit the majority of players in the game right now by adding more options, you could return to having a challenge in old content without it necessarily being a brutal slog, it would not require the creation of new zones or raids or art assets, except for mounts or Tier recoloring (or new gear sets, if they felt like it), and it would continue to be relevant regardless of what future level caps may climb to become.

Okay.

So, what do you think? Does any of that make sense? Would it be fun? Is it a horrible idea? What do you think, my friends?

Oh, and happy Wednesday.

I Could Use Your Advice

So, this morning I was playing on my son’s main character.

He has been working on the Order of the Cloud Serpent dailies for months, and had finally gotten to within a stone’s throw of being exalted. Just a few more days of quests… or about 6 Onyx Eggs.

He asked me to help him find a few Onyx Eggs, in the hopes he could achieve exalted this weekend, when he’d have some time to look for hatchling pets in the Arboretum. In case you didn’t know, the only way to be able to tame Wild Hatchling battle pets in The Arboretum is to be exalted with the Order of the Cloud Serpent. So it’s not just the beautiful mounts, it’s some of the cutest pets in the game, too.

So, yeah. I decided to be helpful dad, and get him some eggs this morning. I just achieved exalted myself a few days ago, so I know where I had been finding eggs. I thought I should be able to score one or two.

There is a point to this, I promise.

I flew around the isle looking in the usual spots, and I saw an Onyx Egg on a ledge. I swooped down, landed, opened the egg, and mounted up to fly off. Before I took off, someone on a carpet flew up, paused, /spit on my character, and flew off again.

Now, here is where I made the first mistake. And it’s a big mistake, I grant you.

I whispered him with one word. I said, “Really?”

Yes, I did. And it was a stupid mistake. Someone that will /spit on you because you’re looking for eggs too, and you found one? Not someone that will respond well to any kind of response to their behavior. Just… if you /spit on someone in the open environment, you’re too high strung. This ain’t PvP, this is just flying around doing your thing.

So, I screwed up. I was on my son’s character, and I responded to someone that was rude. If I had been thinking at all clearly, or had any coffee yet, I might have restrained myself.

The person, as I should have expected, whispered back. A lot. Not really swearing so much as dumping on me for being childish enough to cry about being spit on. I called them childish for spitting on me, and put them on ignore. I don’t need someone whispering my son, and I seriously regretted opening my damn mouth.

The person then proceeded to swap to each and every character they have on the server, apparently outraged that I put them on ignore.

They kept this up for a long time. They followed me around, /crying at me, /lolling, and every time I’d put them on ignore they’d swap over to a new one. I was talking to them throughout this, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t swearing, but I was trying to get them to stop, explaining that this wasn’t my character that played on my account, it was a character I let my son play, and I was ignoring him because I didn’t want someone whispering my son with this stuff.

That just set him off more.

Now, here is my dilemma.

I took screenshots of everything. As soon as he started swapping characters to continue to harass my son’s toon, I wanted to keep some kind of record of character names, so I could put them all on ignore for his other characters.

I never expected him to go that far, continuing to change over as soon as he found he was being ignored on one.

After I had all of his characters finally ignored, I saw in /1 General he began announcing back on his first original character, that my son’s character, called out by name was a whiny something or other.

I mention this because I was surprised that even though I had him on ignore, I could still see what he said in the General zone chat tab.

What do I do next?

I’ve honestly never had something happen like this, where someone spends over a half hour stalking my sons character. Even after all of his characters were ignored, he kept flying on top of my character, hovering in place, obscuring my view, doing /cry, etc. He even, and this was funny, I was hovering high up near one of the narrow ledges an egg can spawn on, and he did a /duel… and the flag appeared on the narrow ledge, and it dismounted him, causing him to plummet to his death. Okay, I chuckled, that was funny. Whoops!

But seriously, what do I do?

I mean, it was really annoying. While he was ranting at me for all that time and stalking me for having gotten that one egg, I got seven more Onyx Eggs. Not racing him to them, mind you, just flying around and going, “Oh! Another egg! Wow, that’s sweet”.

After I got the seventh egg, I might have announced in /1 that I had found seven Onyx Eggs after he had started stalking me, and that he was very lucky for me. Yes, I was weak. Someone else said “Bonus!”

So I found enough eggs for my son to hit exalted… heck, I found enough for him to have one extra for a souvenir.

But, I didn’t want to call him down until this was resolved in some way, because my son doesn’t need to be harassed.

It left me worried. The guy shows every indication of having nothing better to do with his time than spend a half hour camping my son’s character, even after I explained the situation. And putting him on ignore didn’t stop it, he just posted in general, and physically followed me around emoting.

But if I post all the screenshots of all the chat logs, showing his character names, that seems inappropriate.

Stuff lasts on the blog forever. Four months from now, someone could be reading the archives and see the screenshots, and it will be new to them so there will be fresh wonder at the childishness, and they might possibly whisper him. Months later, mind you, after what might have been just one bad morning they had.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no big thing in any way, it’s not like there would be an army of outraged gamers swarming him. But those of you who do read my blog, friends one and all, would probably be pretty annoyed and want to call him on the BS. Some of you might whisper him about his behavior, and the question arises… is that fair?

This wasn’t griefing a raid group or some other group thing. This wasn’t something that would be a public service to get out. I feel that if I’m in LFR and I find someone in my battlegroup that is clearly intentionally trying to wipe the raid repeatedly, then giving you his character name and server is a public service. You can then put them on ignore and not worry about seeing that one character in your own groups in the future. There is a reason to share it.

In this case, it was harassment on a personal level, and not to one of my characters but the one my son plays on my account. I don’t want my son to have to deal with that because of my actions.

Do I report it to Blizzard? If I do, how do I show that it was multiple character swapping and stalking? Is there a method where I can link screenshots I took to Blizzard, without making the screenshots public?

I could really use your advice on this one.

I talked about this in Guild chat with Trajar, and his opinion was that with stalking/harassment like that, putting it all up on the blog would be entirely reasonable.

In the long term though, what he did to me was a single morning where he might have just been really cranky. He did say early on that he /spit on me because he’d been farming eggs for hours and the one I got was the first one he’d seen. I don’t think that justifies stalking and character swapping to keep up the insults, but it would explain part of why he was so angry.

I have to think that if I had one bad morning, and regretted it later… what a nightmare it would be to have people still coming at me about it for days afterward. Nothing you can do if you regret it then, and even if you tried to apologize it wouldn’t matter. Someone could search for your character name, and there it would be, long after everything was long done.

But reporting it to Blizzard… Cassie thinks that Blizzard takes this seriously, but we both talked about it, and we can’t think of how Blizzard would have any way of knowing if we were telling the truth about what happened, short of being able to provide screenshots, and I’ve never heard of Blizzard having a mechanism in place to have you submit one.

So… post on the blog, report it to Blizzard, let it all drop, what do you think I should do?

 

EDIT: Updated with information from Blizzard CM Daxxarri:

Harassment is a serious issue, and we’ve dedicated significant resources toward dealing with it. In fact, we have a large support team, and we’ve (comparatively) recently implemented faster tools to deal with harassment.
If you’re experiencing harassment in-game, there are a few steps to take.

  • Don’t respond, or get involved in an argument. Stooping to using language that violates our policies simply opens yourself up to suspension, and doesn’t accomplish anything. Seriously, don’t do it.
  • Use right-click Report on their name next to any lines of text that contain offensive language–the appropriate category should be Language.
  • Use /ignore to close the lines of communication.
  • If your harasser by-passes the /ignore feature and contacts you on an alternate character, immediately place that character on ignore, then open a support ticket to report Ongoing Harassment, and include that phrase, as well as the offending player’s name, realm, the exact phrase that they used to harass you and that they by-passed the /ignore feature to do so. Please be detailed, our Support team works hard, but they aren’t wizards. Mostly.

On the forums, just mouse-over the offending post, then click the ‘downvote’ hand, then select the ‘Report’ option.
You won’t receive notification when another player receives any kind of disciplinary action due to our privacy policies, but rest assured that we like to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding what constitutes acceptable conduct in-game.

Random is Random

Last night I ran the second part of Throne of Thunder LFR on my Hunter. I also did Galleon and Sha of Anger.

Ended up with a 496 ring and two iLevel 502 drops. No, not the bow, but really when enjoying an embarassment of riches, who cares?

Contrast that with last week, where I didn’t so much as sniff a drop. Or Cassie, who ran the first section last night, used a coin every kill, and also didn’t win new loots.

Random is random.

It’s funny, I remember one of the core tenets of video games when I was growing up in the ’80s, which was that digital logic programming couldn’t produce truly random results. At some point, there had to be a seed, and from that seed all pseudo-random gobbledygook must follow.

Duplicate the seed, and you repeat the sequence related to that seed. The secret to beating video game ‘random’ sequences was discovering that hidden, secret seed or how the system was programmed to respond to your actions.

I wonder sometimes if that is where some of our legends on influencing loot drops comes from. That old faith in an underlying structure, a belief that nothing in a video game is truly random, and that things are programmed to respond to our input, to react to our actions in some way, and if we could just nail down what the repeatable response would be, we’d know what to do to influence events to fall our way.

I sometimes wish that our wild theories on how to influence loot drops or ‘random’ events really, well, WORKED.

I loved the mystery in Vanilla WoW of wondering if we the players, by our actions, could somehow influence, say, when Onyxia would deep breath. People in raid would come up with strats for what the players had to do, and they were serious. Stand over there, DOT early, don’t DOT until 15 seconds in, all Mages stand in the center, etc. Some of it was that Onyxia wasn’t tauntable, so tanks had to be allowed to really build up threat before people started doing damage, but other things were just… attempts at seeing if player actions in weird ways would affect when Onyxia would do something.

There is a part of me that wishes there really was some chance that filling my bellybutton with blue mud, dancing naked in the rain widdershins to the wind and rubbing my tummy with one hand while patting the top of my head with the other, I could increase the chances my Gun would drop from Lei Shei by 10%.

It would give me the illusion that I could somehow influence my fate.

I’d even welcome the inevitable “blue mud is unbalanced, nerf blue mud” forum posts.

I’d like to think that there were secret, behind the scenes things that players did in their ordinary gameplay that would have unforeseen and unknowable effects later in the game, on loot or bosses, when you least expected it.

You could call it karma if you like, but I am not suggesting that there be any way to track it. It would ruin things if there was a clear link between cause and effect. Part of the fun would be in thinking you’ve discovered a secret trick that always works for you, you don’t know why nobody else has discovered it. It didn’t work for someone else? They didn’t do it right!

“Hey, I don’t know what’s wrong with your group, when me and my four Druid friends formed a raid and made a stack of Reindeer, Ashes of Alar dropped from Kael’thas right after. I’m telling you, you need to try it. Did you have five? Maybe you didn’t have enough Druids in your stack.” 

It would be so much fun if there was a gentle suggestion from the devs that, should you do things of a positive or friendly nature in the game, your kindness would be returned to you in ways you could not foresee. And that it was coded right into the game to track random acts of kindness, just like tracking achievements. But without any way for the player to see what is or is not tracked, or what they have or haven’t noticed to create some ‘perfect guide’ to gaming the karma system.

I know people in the game already who enjoy taking items, wrapping them in gift paper and sending them to friends, just to cheer them up. Or who offer tips instead of criticism, support and encouragement instead of unloading with venom.

People that do the little things that go into being a positive person in public rather than a depressing pain in the ass.

Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we were told that keywords, phrases, even trends of typed chat in the game contributed to some kind of karma system?

Such a terrible dilemma. To troll people and rant in trade chat, swear and yell at noobs, post ‘anal’ links and risk reduced loot chances or increased damage done to YOU by bosses (or enemy players in PvP!) or, as the alternative, pretend to be nice to court unspecified but presumed real karma rewards, even when you’re a nasty little shit in real life.

It’s fun to contemplate. It really is.

Thinking about these things, and how it would be fun to experiment with the results in a live setting, it all  just points out how glad everyone should be that I am not a game developer.

Because I’m telling you, straight up, i’d implement the system and not tell any players until the game had been out at least 6 months, and then track social behavior changes.

Lab rats or players… well, as the saying goes, eventually developers would grow a fondness for the rats.

Also, there are some things you can’t get the lab rats to do. One word? Achievements.

Better all around to just use players. :)

Putting the Pieces Together

Today patch 5.2 goes live for World of Warcraft, and the feeds are a-buzzing about what the future brings.

When I look over the game since 5.0 came out though, what I have spent the most time doing and enjoying has been older content.

The new stuff is great, don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed raiding, questing, dailies (yes, damnit I do!) and other fresh content.

The changes done to older content and the new things added to it, though, have made far more of an impact on me.

Pet Battles have had a profound impact on my gameplay.

WTF I hear you say? “But Bear, you haven’t even DONE a pet battle since finishing leveling a good team and doing the world collections. How could that mean crap compared to the coming of Da Burger King?”

It’s simple, all the new pets to tame through the world got my ass OUT in the world. Then all the pets added to old raids got my ass in the old raids sniffing around.

And that reminded me… hey, I love those old raids.

Remembering I love the old raids is part of why I fell for the Warlock experiment, because Dark Apotheosis.

It all goes back to Pet Battles.

Well, that and the addition of Transmogrification. And didn’t that open up our interest in the old content even more?

The old content functionally remains the same as it was in Cataclysm, what has changed for me is the addition of a new feature that casts old, ‘tired’ content in a new light.

Do you really think I’d have gone back into AQ40 as many times as I have without the allure of pets or transmog gear? Back in the day, I ran it to get a Red bug mount, and I was done. I could have done it more, but it takes more than a nice view to commit to a couple hours running old content. There needs to be something to seek, some prize to obtain, some treasure. Even the faint hope of rare treasure can breathe life in the hunt.

It’s all about giving us new objectives to send us into old places… at a higher level where the old places feel fresh because what we can DO in them has changed.

I’ve run Molten Core I don’t know how many times now across multiple characters and playstyles, and every character has been able to overcome the packs of smoldering hounds, but HOW they do it is frequently different… and I love it. I approach a familiar fight knowing what to expect from the enemy, and get to try new things.

Or remember how difficult it was to get past the Salamander boss with all those damn healers chain casting Dark Mending. Yeah, good luck with out-healing my DPS NOW assholes!

It’s not that they added new content as much as that they added the new features that interact with the content, and send us back in there to have fun doing it.

Also, when I’m raiding current content, I’m not looking around much. Raid leaders typically are on the clock, and want to push ahead to the next fight.

I go back into some of these old raids, and I’m so overpowered with delight that I can stop to sniff the slime, admire the skulls and chains, and wander through the hallowed halls of Ulduar thinking “Wow what a gorgeous, magnificent structure! What incredible artistry in the design!”

When soloing Karazhan or Blackwing Lair, there is time now to admire our surroundings without holding 9 or 39 other people back. I love that.

And there are still items to be found out there that were very rare, and tie into the lore. Special things.

One such thing is The Battered Hilt. It’s something I was lucky enough to buy on the Auction House for my old, abandoned Horde Paladin while Wrath of the Lich King was still current. Special quests to play through, unique adventures, and the result being a weapon design that is amazing and can be worn as a transmog even though the usefulness of the item is long past.

For years I’ve wanted that experience for Alex on his Death Knight, he loves Icecrown Citadel and the lore of Arthas and the ice dragons and stuff so much. With Wrath being such old content, and the Battered Hilt such a low drop rate, I never had it drop for me when farming, and I never saw one on the AH again.

Last night, thanks to another new feature, the Black Market Auction House, I was able to win one for my son. It sits in his mailbox right now, waiting for him to take the quest and begin that journey into the Wrath lore.

It makes me wonder, it really does.

What other new features could be added someday that would again revitalize the older, existing content?

I’ll tell you what the first answer that springs to my mind is.

Player housing, or to put it a bit differently, Player Strongholds.

Hold on, don’t jump down my throat just yet. Let’s think about this.

It’s become a very real possibility now. Instead of just releasing a feature, they’ve been adding the technology necessary to support it in bits and pieces, integrating it into the game.

We’ve been working on the farm… and now we’ll be able to ‘buy the farm’. Our own area, persistent, but phased so only we enter and leave it, or even see it unless we are in group with someone else and bring them into our phase.

There is a primitive shack there, and stairs, and there are persistent items that you can interact with and pick up.

Consider for a moment the backend programming that has gone into the farm tools. If you pick up the shovel and have it in your bags, there is no shovel on the farm. If you throw the shovel away somewhere, when you return to your farm, there it is, ready to be picked back up.

And now we’ll be able to bind our hearth there, if we choose. We can’t rest there yet, but we can hearth to our farm, our ‘home’.

I think, I hope we’re seeing the test bed for Player Strongholds, and someday in the future some out of the way area near to capital cities or as part of a new land will become available for us to stake our claim and hold as our ‘own’… phased and overlapping with everyone else.

Perhaps even something we earn as a reward for our part in the Horde/Alliance offensive? It used to be common to bind a particularly powerful ally to you by granting them land and a title so long as they swore fealty to you as their overlord. Can anyone deny that our characters, individually, have been groomed and presented as powerful heroes and trusted allies?

King Varian Wrynn seemed to trust me with the life of his son once, and I was asked by the prince to intercede for him with Jaina Proudmoore. These leaders trust and value my opinion… would it be such a surprise if I was bound by oaths of fealty to the King, through the grant of land and a title… said land being an old, ruined tower in the middle of a highly contested, dangerous zone that could use taming?

What could we expect from a Player Stronghold, based on what we’ve seen on the farm?

It could start small, a stone tower or other minimal fortification. Then, over time and completing quests it could be ‘upgraded’ into a larger, reinforced stone structure. And ever again larger in stages as we progress.

And it could have a hearth set there, or be made into a place to rest. And it can be as remote as Blizzard wishes, because now we have the capability to grow/create our own portals!

It can have NPCs that stay there, making their home in our Stronghold as vendors, reforgers, daily quest givers, etc. They could be our friends, our servants, or our honored guests. As we quest in the outer world and rescue NPCs or befriend them, we could invite them to come to serve us in our Stronghold, or even offer them sanctuary from the war there.

In the privacy of our own Stronghold, we could even host refugees from the other faction as part of a quest series… and play host to ambassadors, and even in time perhaps a cross-faction peace treaty?

And our large, empty Stronghold would need furnishings. We could go out into the old content, raids, instances or in the world itself to find items to interact with that binds to account, that we can then place in our own home. Furniture. Rare treasure mechanics, anyone?

Perhaps even stuffed monster trophies through the new profession of Taxidermy (minor spoiler for those that haven’t done the new Nesingwary quests in the valley yet).

The fascinating thing is, the technology is all there right now.

All the bits and pieces we’ve played and enjoyed in Pandaria, if it were taken and placed in a new way, would be a massive game changer pulling in all of the old content again, just like Pet Battles did.

I know that some players would be pissed, “Oh my god, now I’m supposed to raid Firelands for a couch to match my loveseat, wtf Blizz”, but you know… some players are pissed every time the wind changes direction. I could give a shit less what pisses some players off. The whole concept excites the hell out of me, especially because it’s so possible now.

What I think of is the test of any new content… will it be accessible to everyone? Will the time spent programming it equate to more hours played, more fun had, more investment in the game, more feeling of belonging and identity within the game world, encouraging me to renew my subscription? Will it all fit in to the existing story?

Hell yes. Take what has been created and tested, roll it into a new Stronghold I can unlock through a quest chain, give me people I can befriend on an individual basis like the Tillers that will come to my Stronghold to chill, and let me go out in the world and old content looking for rare drops and loot to decorate with.

Do I think a new class of loot, furniture drops, would ever be added? No. I would expect them to be ‘found’ items in the environment like the Treasures are. Go through Karazhan and find a nice couch you can click on to loot in the Concubine quarters, for example. Or a painting on the wall.

I for one would welcome the opportunity to loot and pillage Shadowfang Keep. :)

Will we see this someday?

No idea, I’m just passing the time on a snowy Tuesday Patch day morning.

But tell me, when you look at all that they’ve done, doesn’t it make you feel, maybe just a little, like it’s a possibility?

Oh, and to everyone of you that read this far… I hope you enjoy the new content. As great as it is, it’s still the next step on this incredible journey we take, not the last step.

I swear this game gets better every patch.

Oh PLEASE Let Me Kill My Guild Leader!

I was just reading the latest post by Rohan, which is about new the PvP quests and zone in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

He grabbed my attention with these words;

“The PvP area is interesting. It’s a free-for-all zone, so you can attack your own faction. Only 4-person groups are permitted in the area. Larger raids get disbanded automagically.”

Oh my God.

Rohan’s post title asks the question, Genius or Madness?

He also goes on to make it clear that, yes, a four player group CAN and in fact WILL attack other groups of their own faction, and kill them. Happily.

I’ve long had the opinion that Blizzard looks to other games for inspiration at times. They let some other game company be the test bed for new or wacky concepts in MMOs, wait to see what gets attention or works out successfully, then adopts parts for World of Warcraft.

Just my own opinion, and I don’t see anything wrong in it. Why not try and learn from success to grow your own offering?

Here is a perfect concept to steal… I mean, be inspired by.

If a Battleground were added that wasn’t faction based but group based set up as a free-for-all, and you could attack and kill teams of your own faction as well as the opposite, I promise you I would start playing it.

It wouldn’t even be difficult to justify in the lore. Both factions are already familiar with Adarrah and her mercenary band, and journeyed with them on a hunt for treasure into Uldum.

How hard would it be to have a Battleground where teams were ‘recruited’ by Adarrah to go in, hunt for and ‘secure’ priceless artifacts as sub-contractors for the mercenaries?

You put together your own merry band of cutthroats and head off to some forsaken island in search of ancient Mogu treasure, and once there you find you’re not the only crew that had the same idea. Suddenly, you’re fighting the island fauna and the other teams of BOTH factions to be the first to find and hold the treasure, winner take all.

I would love to have the chance to run across some particularly obnoxious player of my same faction on another team, recognize them, hunt them down and kill them.

Or, better yet, have the guild set up multiple teams and all queue at the same time, hopefully to end up in the same Battleground and hunt each other down for keeps.

Awww yeah.

Oh, and mighty master Rohan?

Genius. Sheer genius.

David Bowie Song Title Goes here

Lots of Ch-ch-ch-changes coming to the game in Patch 5.2, yessiree.

There are a few quirky things changing in the next patch, whenever it comes, that have tickled my funny bone.

Bye bye item upgrades, I’ll miss you!

No more item upgrades for the duration of 5.2 (and maybe ever? Ya never know).

The item upgrade vendor is going bye-bye, but the assumption is, he’ll be back.

Boy, did I get THAT call wrong, huh? I figured they had finally added the perfect system to give us continuous room for gear improvement. You reach a plateau on what you can win in LFR and raids, bad rolls, bad luck, hey at least you could still improve your gear with Valor and Justice points, and not feel cockblocked by Lady Luck.

Sounded reasonable to me.

Seriously, I was way off.

The vendor is being taken out in patch 5.2, to “encourage us to spend our Valor on new items instead of upgrading old ones”.

Umm, can’t I be trusted to decide what is best to do with my own damn Valor points? Lord knows, if I have ’em, I earned ’em.

This my friends is a beautiful opportunity to see the results of government interference in the marketplace.

We have a currency, Valor points.

In an unregulated market, we would have goods and services available for us to choose from that we could spend our currency on however we wished.

The stuff that was in demand would see the most purchases, the stuff that people didn’t want would gather dust.

Since in all cases, all the currency goes to the same seller, regardless of what goods or services were purchased, and everything is digital, nobody is losing money or market share.

So, if we earned the Valor, and we like the system… why do we need to have the vendor forcibly removed to limit our choices? If we didn’t want to upgrade gear, if we didn’t have a desire to do it or see any benefit from it, then we wouldn’t. There are too many other things we could spend Valor on.

So, why not let the market decide what we value enough to spend Valor on?

No clue.

But this isn’t a simple thing, who cares, no worries, etc etc.

If the market remained free, I could, purely as an example, level a new character to 90, and at that time craft or buy a Darkmoon Faire inscription trinket which is extremely good for most classes, and then spend Valor points to upgrade it very near to being a best in slot contender. A great trinket, continued market for Inscription trinkets on the AH, and I can lessen how it might hold me back from iLevel gating in LFR queues.

Sure, I might also want to have a trinket from the new faction that will be an iLevel 520 or whatever. But, as a new 90, I can have a darkmoon Faire trinket waiting for the ding, and only have to earn 750 to make an upgrade.

The new stuff, no matter what you do you can’t have right away, you need to grind heroics and earn reputation before you can buy it, and you need a lot more Valor than a single upgrade would cost.

These are choices I like to be able to make for myself, balancing my time investment against the expected reward. Having the choice taken away from me for my own good doesn’t really thrill me.

Each of us has our own idea what we’re willing to pay for upgrades in terms of time, money and daily questing/reputation grinding.

Buff the player, AND Nerf the raid?

The other change that I think is funny is that the existing content is going to see a 10% nerf.

Where the heck did that come from?

I was certainly wrong about this one, although I’m not sure I said what I thought in a blog post before.

I was sure, and I mean positive, that Blizzard was going with buffing players as their way to get us past raid choke points.

With the announced increased drop rates from existing LFR, increased spawn rate of Galleon to match Sha of Gold, AND the new LFR that would give us big upgrades over existing content, AND new Valor items in the 520+ range, I thought we were going the ‘buff the player’ route.

Of course, that would require players who were stuck and wanted to progress to, you know, run all that other content to get the upgrades, and there would still be some RNG involved. I don’t care how high they increase the drop rates, SOMEONE ain’t getting their Sha-touched weapon for a few weeks. Because, you know, bosses with 4 or more drops you can use to compete for, damnit.

And yet here we are, existing raids to be nerfed by 10%.

Not only that, but did you hear about the progressive LFR nerf?

If you are in LFR, and you wipe on a boss, the entire raid will get a 10% buff for the next attempt on the boss. STACKING.

I know for a fact I am not the only person sitting here thinking how cool it would be to take a team of 25 premade, queue for LFR, and intentionally wipe 9 times JUST to take a 100% power buff for a spin.

You know DAMN WELL you’re thinking it, too.

The goal we’re talking about is how to catch players and raiders up when brand new tasty raids are released.

If the new hotness comes out, and you’ve got two raids yet to clear before you ever get to see it, it’s disheartening. So, how to catch you up?

There are two different attitudes involved when choosing between nerfs and buffs.

It doesn’t matter what your true situation is.

Maybe your raid team plays two hours a week, you’re having bad loot luck in the Vaults, so you keep clearing MSV over and over each week trying to get those few critical pieces before moving on. You’re not pushing the ID or moving on, because damnit you need better drops.

Maybe you really aren’t good at coordinating as a team on some bosses, or have an imbalance between melee and ranged that make Garalon or Elegon tough to handle. And is it just me, or are those names easy to swap at times?

Hell, maybe the enrage timer on Garalon is just a real bitch, and it’s frustrating knowing you just need to eke out a little more DPS to get past it.

It doesn’t matter.

If you decide to accelerate the pace by nerfing existing content, and especially giving those that completed it before the nerf a Feat of Strength, what you’re doing is saying to all those still on earlier raids, “You needed an easy setting to go on”.

True or not, it’s how you feel.

If, however, you add more powerful items in the game that players can get if they run all of the alternative content, like LFR, Daily Quests and Valor vendors, then you’re not nerfing content or adding an easy mode as much as you’re giving the players a chance to become powerful enough to overcome the obstacles faster on their own.

I know it has the exact same effect of making the content at it’s existing settnig easier, but one is someone is lowering the bar for you, adn the other one is you taking action to improve yourself to overcome the existing obstacle.

To buff yourself feels more positive, proactive.

I was following along so well… buff the player, don’t nerf the content… and then they went and said they’re going to do both, and confused the heck out of me.

Ah well. I’m still having tons of fun, so don’t mind me. I’m just puzzled by the whole thing.

Have a great weekend!

An Open Letter About Hunter Loot

My Hunter is now my main, and as I’ve played him consistently since shortly after Pandaria launched, I’ve found myself at the great position where I’ve got everything I could want from LFR and from Valor vendors… so I don’t have to do a damn thing if I don’t want to and still be good to go in raids.

I even finally maxed my 6000 Valor for Wrathion the idjit punk kid last week, and I’m in no rush to do the PvP battlegrounds. Sooner or later, sometime this week, I’ll do it. I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m sure eventually I’ll get the wins I need. Even a blind bear gets the honey sooner or later.

As you may or may not know, I spent many weeks frustrated at the lack of a weapon drop.

I’m not going to belabor the point. It sucked. I had a Legendary gem and desired a weapon with a Sha-touched gem slot, and didn’t get diddly. Not for lack of trying, but random is random, you rolls the dice and you takes your chances.

Which would be fine, except other players on other classes had no problems at all. “Oh yeah, I’m duel wielding ’em. No worries.”

Many, MANY Hunters feel that pain. Some of them have been trying even longer than I did, and all I can say is, I know, I understand, and I hope and pray you get your Taoren too. I know the Godmother is about ready to take an axe to her monitor, and I don’t blame her one bit.

So, on behalf of Hunters everywhere, I’m going to send out this little note to Blizzard.

Blizzard, I like your new LFR loot system.

I know many people whine about large sacks of gold, but I’m not here to whine about your large sack.

I like the lack of loot drama, and am glad to wave farewell to the bitching about who deserved the drop more that used to break out in Dragon Soul.

Also, thank you for the bonus rolls. It’s a nice extra reward for doing daily quests. I appreciate it.

The problem I have is NOT with the loot system.

My problem is with the loot distribution.

Your loot system offers me loot based on the class and spec I am on. When a boss dies, the only loot I might win is what the boss has that I could actually use.

Great idea. Love it.

The problem comes in when the boss has multiple things that could be used by my class and spec.

In the future, please do not place THREE items that a single class and spec could use on ONE BOSS.

Placing three items on a boss that a single class and spec can use means that even if you only need ONE of those items as an upgrade, using your bonus roll could get you any one of those three, or nothing at all.

This is annoying enough in normal circumstances, but bearable, even kind of fun when there are other options.

Like with trinkets, even if you’d really like that one drop, there are alternatives from Valor gear vendors and from BoE Inscription items. You have multiple options, and sure one item might theorycraft out to being the best, or be a Tier piece, but even so you’ve still got choices.

When you place a classes only possible Sha-touched weapon on a boss that has two other usable drops for you, it’s horrible.

If you’ve already got a low chance at winning ANYTHING, and then finally you get lucky and do get something, now you have to hope like hell it’s the one thing out of three you actually need.

I’ve been there, frustrated as heck.

In my case, after enough weeks of failure I took the step of running Terrace of Endless Spring THREE TIMES each week, saving my bonus roll for each of the three Lei Shi kills to maximize my chance of winning the weapon.

All to get four chances at one piece of loot from a boss every week. And it still took more than three weeks after implementing that plan to see the gun drop. Not from a lack of drops, I won gear. Just, not the one piece I wanted from the three possibilities.

For Hunters, Lei Shi has the Ranger’s Chain of Unending Summer (Mail Agi belt), Terror in the Mists (Agi/Crit trinket) and Taoren the Soul Burner, our Sha-touched weapon.

Three different drops useable by Hunters, and very nice items, too.

Just… don’t do that again. Please, don’t do that again.

One usable drop yes, two maybe, three OH HELL NO.

I know distributing all this stuff for so many slots is a pain in the ass. I understand.

But please, please don’t do that to us again.