Monday 28 February 2011

Rift: what I'm playing


Sab/Ranger/Riftstalker level 21: very fun build. The pet is a superb tank easily keeping aggro in pve and passive damage in pvp. 0 point RS gives me a 15m teleport, great for stealing nodes. Sab is awesome, I'm usually near the top in Warfronts. It's just become a lot stronger with the buy one, get one free + charge talent. Not only is it OP but blowing people up is really fun, I just wish I'd named him Osama. It's an incredibly simple build to play: charge up then detonate. I prefer instant damage charges and haven't worried so far about secondary effects. Single targets get the single target charge, if it has friends it gets the aoe charge. There's already a Youtube video of someone owning with a 2 button Saboteur.

I'll have to change my playstyle a little now I've got the buy one get one free charge booster talent. If I put 5 Blast Charges on someone the talent will give me a 6th (passively). If I put a Blast Charge, a Spike Charge, a Shrapnel Charge, a Caltrop Charge and a Splinter Charge on someone the talent will give me one of each free (passively). I'll be needing to remap my keybinds.

People are starting to complain bitterly about the burstiness of this build. If you put a Time Bomb (blows up after 8 seconds), 5 charges, toss a bomb (takes about 1 second flight time) and Detonate then within the span of a second someone effectively receives 13 nukes (10 charges, 2 bombs and a detonate). The defence against this is to learn what the debuffs look like and stop chasing whatever you're chasing and get safe if you see the icons building up on you. I'm quite sure however I'll never run out of numpties who will stay in range doing something else.

Ranger (7) / Saboteur (21) / Riftstalker (0)

My backup soul is Riftstalker. Tanking on one of these is a little complex so I haven't quite got my head around it yet. I've only just acquired the tank stance without which RS isn't really a tank (so don't try to tank an instance at 17).

Bladedancer (7) / Riftstalker (21) / Ranger (0)


Also I have a mage. I started out as a Stormcaller then realised I would go out of mana with no way to get mana back. The class is unplayable until you have a mana restore imo. That's at level 18 if you go Stormcaller/Elemental Summoner - ES is a great choice if you're looking for a second soul that gives you mana. Switching to ES as main, I now have a level 13 ES/Dominator/Stormcaller. ES get a superb mana restore, converting charge into mana at level 6. It's a huge help. The tank pet is solid. The air elemental pet is ranged which makes it nice in warfronts because it never dies. People avoid nuking pets that are in their face, no one is going to fuss over a pet that is 30m away. Squirreling people in warfronts never gets old. 1.5 seconds of my time for 36 seconds of their highest level healer? - I'll make that trade. Plus there is already a Don't fucking squirrel me, you bastards thread on the Trion boards (which inspired this character). As for ES the damage isn't stellar but it's a soloing machine: squirrel, root, 2 knockbacks, tank pet, ice shield and unlimited mana. Survives anything non-ludicrous, never needs to stop. Icy carapace deserves special mention: it says when you cast an earth spell the dot is consumed doing 0 to 0 damage. It's actually 83 (125 on a crit) at level 13. 0 point Stormcaller gives you quite a nifty knockback.

Dominator (4) / Elemental Summoner (13) / Stormcaller (0)

PS remapped my hotkeys and tried out my new Sab rotation. Level 21 in a 20-29 warfront. Top on damage.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Rift: are there a million players already?

Regarding population the guess on the official forums is 12,000 per server. However we don't know whether numbers are throttled because of the population being so dense in the starter areas. Since 12k * 39 is almost half a million, then the EU servers probably have similar numbers to the US ones that seems a bit high, almost a million playing before the game's even launched. It must be much more than 1,000 however as some servers have had queues of well over 1,000 and presumably most of those people eventually get in. 2268 is the highest queue position I've seen reported so far.

If it's not being throttled and the servers are all close to full already that makes 39 * 12,000 players on the North American servers, 468, 000. And a similar number on the EU servers.

It certainly wouldn't surprise me if there were a million players. The statistic they've given is two-edged. They've said that a million accounts have registered for the forums and people have been quick to point out that some of them won't have bought the game. However most people who play MMOs DON'T register for forums, there may be just as many people playing without registering on the boards as there are customers who registered on the boards but didn't pre-order.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Is playing WoW making us unfit to play Rift?

My preferred method of play in diku MMOs is pugging, usually with strangers. Recently I've been doing a lot of WoW's dungeon finder.

I really appreciate the convenience but what does concern me is how self-centred everyone is getting including myself. Spinks recently posted about a disagreement with another player where she felt she was too quick to bail on her group.

I just had a group where I joined as a healer with my level 73 Resto Druid. Normal Old Kingdom. Everyone but one was dead, they'd wiped on the first pull. Before anyone said Hi someone asked for a ress.

I lost it. Screw healing them. I clicked on the Combat Log tab of the chat window so I wouldn't see the whines and clicked Teleport Out of Dungeon without saying a word. They were crap, I will never see them again, who cares?

Now on reflection that's pretty appalling of me but then again the reason they wiped and the healer left is almost certainly they got a healer who needed to respec then drink and didn't wait. Everybody's horrible, the crappy tank, the crappy dps who couldn't be arsed to corpse run, the crappy healer who bailed on them and crappy me who sulked in the Grizzly Hills rather than heal their crappy arses.

So Rift in 2 weeks. And a totally different LFD paradigm.

In Rift you can only group for PvE with people on your server. Dungeons are arranged in the chat channels or by blind tells or by guilds and friends list. So the pool is very small indeed. Moreover you will need to group with people of roughly the same level - in a new game high level people will rarely drop down to low level content and low level people will be too weak to beat the dungeon with so the vast majority of group-mates will be of appropriate level to the dungeon.

This makes for one of the most sensitive environments in which to group. Play poorly and people will think you may wipe them. Be rude and people will think you're a pain to play with. And the player pool is very small:
- people on your server
- who are on your faction
- who read chat/respond to blind tells/are your guildies or friends
- are about the same level as you
- who don't think you're terrible
- who don't think you're annoying

There will be a range of players at different levels very quickly. Most of us will probably be in the centre of the bell curve below the 20 hours a day fanatical players and past the I-can't-make-my mind-up level 10 alts. It's going to be very important to not act like a WoW LFD player.

Because not only is there a tiny pool but it's likely only a small fraction of that pool will be initiators of runs. Most players in this style of MMO are happy to reply if they see a lfm message, may even tell people they are lfg for XX dungeon but the grouping depends on people who can actually construct groups. These are players who can identify good group composition and are willing to send tells to people and build contacts so that they can find the group a tank or some other hard to fill role and get the run started.

It's a lost art completely in WoW. No one would build a group when you can just click the LFD button. It's almost a lost art in EQ2 as people are as likely to ask a high level to mentor down as they are to build a group. And it may be a dying art in Lotro and Guild Wars where you can just recruit henchmen and solo it.

I'm giving serious consideration to taking a break from WoW before Rift. I'll need to get myself out of LFD headspace and into a more unselfish, wow-that-guy-is-so-considerate-hope-I-group-with-him-again headspace.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

MMOs: messing people up

I was struck by reading a reminiscence by writer Steven Erikson:

"We didn’t give a shit about amassing treasure, raiding pointless dungeons, etc. We created people and then messed them up in the most inventive ways we could imagine."


I think this sums up what those of us who pine for something deeper from our MMOs, something more fulfilling than complex fruit machines, something more memorable than increasing our item's level are pining for.

Saturday 12 February 2011

WoW: players in quintiles

I've been seeing WoW players in terms of quintiles recently. A quintile is a posh mathematical word for fifth and so what I'm talking about is simply splitting the players up into five statistical groups.

Here are the quintiles I am seeing:

1. Excellent. Outstanding self-motivated players who are very effective.

2. Good. Solid players who understand their class and perform above average.

3. Average. Decent players (the mean standard of play in WoW is actually pretty high, WoW players are on the whole rather competent) whose performance won't usually cause any comment in groups.

4. Mediocre. Erratic or laid back players who perform a little below the normal (rather high) expectations. Not absolutely terrible they maybe have other things on their mind or haven't quite figured out their class and other aspects of the game yet.

5. Bad. The fire-standers, the people who consistently fail, the people who pick their rotation based on mashing the prettiest abilities and so on.

There's some migration from one quintile to another. People move up as they practice and play, people move down if they switch to another alt or get burned out and stop trying so hard.

In dialogue about WoW people often talk at cross-purposes about many aspects of the game. There's a perception that dps are bad. That's not true, what is true is that dps can be of any quintile. You don't on the other hand get genuinely bad tanks. In fact even a quintile 3 tank, an average player, is likely to get stick from his group because people in WoW are heavily adjusted to being somewhat boosted by their tank. So many tanks are quintile 1 and 2 that getting a quintile 3 tank in your heroic is seen as annoying, even by quintile 5 players. But of course a quintile 1 dpser is going to be very annoyed by the "dpsers are bad" meme.

Now what is interesting is that only one of these quintiles contains any self-starters. When I blogged about the consumer-producer paradigm I argued that most WoW players expect self-starting players to provide content for them. You see this in raids - even a raid guild of quite mediocre level will be lead by one or more quintile one players.

The value of the quintile approach is that you can, I think, identify traits that characterise each quintile and use them to assess players. This could be useful in recruiting for a guild.

For example leaving after a wipe when it would be more logical to stay is very much a quintile 2 behaviour. Really good players can handle wiping. People who are good enough to feel they are being let down by scrubs but not so confident as to take failure in their stride will bail if shown the slightest adversity.

I am not, currently, interested in starting a WoW raid guild. If I were I think I'd try to identify quintile 1 behaviours and recruit for them. Tenacity is important, a certain stubbornness. Self-motivation is important top players don't need to be poked to drink a flask, they've already drunk one - they want the buff because they want to be the best. Interest in theory which may correlate to mathematical ability is very important in a game which is all about numbers. Communication is another indicator - it's a team game and communicating shows you're involved with the other players. One of the best duelists on our server is a dreadful trade channel spammer - his desire to communicate (even in an annoying way) is indicative of a top quintile player.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Rift: a lesson in expecting things in moderation

I played Rift Beta 6 last weekend. I really liked it. It's broadly familiar to anyone who has played a diku MMO (WoW, AoC, EQ2, Lotro, etc) but with just enough that is distinctive to make it very fresh. It's very playable, avoiding some of the roughness that accompanied some of the other launches.

It's been quite interesting to watch the blogosphere agonise over it. A lot of bloggers have recently panicked at the realisation that it's rather good and they're quite excited. It’s like for no apparent reason all of the antelopes on the savannah have looked up at once and started twitching their noses.

Remember the 90s? Before games were online? I bought about 2 games a month, some really stuck and I played the hell out of them, some I played for a couple of days and thought "ho hum".

We've shifted from that paradigm to an outlook that approaches a new game as if one were getting married to it. It really shouldn't be a massive commitment just to try a new game.

I think part of the problem is that the obsession with max level has permeated the MMO culture. It's a daft way to approach a new game. The chances are end game is actually the end of your game not a gear shift to a better and more enjoyable playstyle. You won't enjoy many games unless you slow down a little. And Rift really supports a more laid back approach. It has the Soul system which allows you to mess about trying out the different subclasses and combinations, it has its warfronts (instanced pvp), dungeons, a pretty interesting backstory that's told through quests. It has different types of servers so if you max out on your pve server, try pvp or rp or both.

But playing it to death in Beta then zerging up to max level and whining that the game lacks raid content is a recipe for failure. Not Rift's failure, yours.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Rift: Ode to beta 6

Like tadpoles spawning in a pond,
Like midges swarming on a summer's day,
We left those games of which we're fond
To try killing ten rats a different way.

"To Rift, to Rift", one heard the cry,
And along we came in droves and hordes
Our older games we wished goodbye
They had been fun but we'd grown bored.

In no time at all the complaints begun
"It's so very far and I have no mount
I have to run, this is not fun
Did I buy the wrong type of account?"

Pvpers refrained their familiar song
"Oh woe is me, healers are OP
I'm losing fights - the game's built wrong!
Fix this now or it's bye to me."

In general chat the experts opined
"It's Warhammer reskinned, it's Eve,
It's just like WoW," they mournfully whined
The fanboys replied "just leave".

But none of this stemmed the tide
From golden star to golden star
As thousands of us, with eyes open wide
Explored a world, new in wonder.

Friday 4 February 2011

WoW: LFD - strengths and weaknesses

For various reasons World of Warcraft's dungeon finder system is now in many ways the heart of their game.

It's a significant part of most people's leveling experience. You don't need to level with it but most people use it either to break up the routine of questing or as a priority while leveling. In a culture where players famously always find the shortest path to the cheese the dungeon finder gives the best experience and items for the time invested.

It's essential for gearing up for raiding when you reach 85. Later in the expansion it might be possible to skip straight to raids when you ding but that's not the case at the moment unless you raid with people who don't mind blatantly carrying you.

It's likely to be a side pursuit of even the most active raiders. Whether people are supplementing their conquest points with daily heroics, collecting justice points (which will become more useful in due course as we will be able to buy trade resources with them) or altruistically helping guildies even people who are regularly doing raiding are likely to run heroics, at least once per day.

It ties in to non-standard pursuits too like the collection of achievement points and mounts. It's highly accessible compared to raids and is available at any hour of the day with very little commitment (as no one bats an eyelid about bailing on their group if it suits them to do so).

Thus for many players LFD is the game. Daily quests, auction house trading and so on are just supplementing their main game which is running 5 man dungeons.

Also nearly everyone uses the random dungeons rather than choose a specific dungeon they particularly want. You gain a 5% stat boost, get bonus Justice Points (or once per day Conquest Points), and bonus gold while still being able to make your team up of what friends you have available. You can even queue with 5 pre-selected people.

The Dungeon Finder also ties in with the new guild experience system awarding guild reputation for doing dungeons as a guild group which unlocks a number of special item rewards.

All in all LFD is very heavily incentivised and is likely to be more or less worth doing for the lifetime of the expansion. (Later on the rewards might be less thrilling but people will over-gear these instances).

It's also generally a good experience. WoW's impatient and rather rude community means people are very careful never to do anything that might attract criticism. So the plus side of this type of community is that people are careful to be competent. No one wants to be shouted at as the noob who didn't do the right dance step at the right time. So groups are efficient.

Of course when it's not a good experience it can be very annoying. People are lightning fast to point fingers at anyone but them and are brutally frank about your perceived failings. They are quite often wrong although it's not nice to be called a retard and a noob even if you did make a mistake. Sometimes you don't even need to do anything before people start telling you what's wrong with you. Just zoning in is taken as a request for abuse.

There are workarounds including clicking away from the chat so they can rant all they like but you just don't see it, not talking, playing with at least some friends - ideally on voice comms - so you can just laugh off these insane rants or going with the flow and getting your elitism in first (establishing someone else as the person the bullies should be picking on is a tried and tested defence mechanism). Other options include simply being too thick-skinned to care what rude random strangers on the internet have to say (which is sensible) or trolling them (which can be entertaining).

But in any event the vast majority of people are inoffensive and even civil with occasional moments where you meet people you really like (but have no mechanism of playing with again).

It feels that the system is better than EQ2's mentoring. I lost interest in EQ2 because I really got stuck in the Doldrums around level 60. Miles off end game, too low for my friends to get anything for themselves when they group with me, too high to get easy groups with strangers. I was playing with a friend I've known for years but the problem with these games is the loot cycle gets under your skin. In a sense it would have made sense for him to drop down to play with me even though there would be no loot. Because I got bored of being on my own then he got bored of being on his own after his high level mates formed a clique for which he was not needed. We probably would still be there had we both had each other for company. Now that's not a dig at my mate, I might have done the same had the positions been reversed. My point is that these games are about progression and it's very tedious to stall your progress, you become addicted to the next upgrade. And that's why mentoring doesn't really cut it compared to Dungeon Finder - because people would rather do stuff that upgrades them with random strangers than mark time with friends.

So LFD is the future of dungeon running in all diku mmos I think. It may take some time for the others to realise it and figure out how to implement it; there may be some reservations about the effects on communities as ties of server and guild get replaced by greater internet fuckwads but for the majority being able to maintain the flow of shinies whenever we want outweighs the problem of dealing with rude or bad players.

I think what we will see is tuning of the system to allow greater control over who gets into your groups. Melmoth proposed an excellent solution to this here. I think something like this is inevitable - the if you like this you may also like these technology is so pervasive on the internet and it's clearly needed for LFD systems. It's not necessarily that I trust my friends of friends' friends to be sound judges of character, it's the idea that people are anonymously judging you and rating you that will have a big impact in keeping people civil.

Incidentally good manners correlate quite closely to the danger of violence. Medieval chivalry developed out of a need to have a social structure where wandering knights could meet each other without killing each other. In Japanese culture people were and are extraordinarily careful not to give offence, often bowing several times for the most trivial of reasons. This is because the mediaeval samurai had a right of "cutting and going away" - the right to kill any commoner for any perceived slight. If you want to get good manners on the internet there must be a perception that other people can do damage. Not physical damage for obvious reasons but damage to one's reputation.

I think until then WoW's going to be something of a mixed bag. I've enjoyed playing it for the last 7 weeks but I'm also quite looking forward to moving on to another game where people behave better. It's not that LFD runs aren't good experiences, they usually are. But it's that almost everyone is terrified of showing any individuality in case they get into an argument and get kicked. People are scared to be non-cookie cutter, scared to talk, scared to make mistakes - I'd rather play games with people who are a bit more exuberant.