Saturday 23 April 2011

Rift: Serenity recruitment, EU Bloodiron (PVP)

Serenity is recruiting all levels. Our philosophy is that if you're enjoying the game and are low level then in due time you'll be 50. We aim to help you enjoy it.

Most of the active players are 50 and we can't promise that people will drop down to boost you in low level dungeons. However people do have alts so if you want a dungeon group just check guild chat as well as the other methods.

We're quite active in T1 and T2 Experts and we sometimes queue for warfronts as a group. Generally our groups do reasonably well in the warfronts although we're not some scary uber pre-made. We also enjoy world pvp.

We are a hybrid guild, both pvp and pve, and we encourage both types of activity.

We have one rule: treat guildies as friends. We like people who talk, who get involved, who find the fun. The minimum is that you remember that the players in the guild are people you should be considerate of.

At the time of posting we are level 8. Guild perks are +15% rewards from Experts, +9% favour, +6% coin from monsters, Planar Protection (awesome +30 resist all buff that costs 1 planar charge), Raid ress (only worth it for Rogues, anyone else should have a role with a ress on it), 3/3 Bloodthirsty (passive healing for pvp killers at 50g per hour), and a Banner that's not worth wasting a plat on until we've got a few more perk points invested.

We have 23 level 50s.

10 man raiding is on the horizon for us and will be starting very soon.

20 man raiding is several weeks off. However we're growing, we're enthusiastic, as long as people are enjoying Rift and enjoying Serenity we'll get there.

It's ok with us if you're a hardcore player wanting to move into T3 and leave. The only thing we ask is that you say bye, seeing XX has left the guild really sucks and will get you put on ignore. No one running a guild wants to feel like it's just a passive stat booster. (Fortunately it's no longer happening much).

We're lucky enough to have some very good players. We don't have the gear to start T3 but we've certainly got the skills. What's more we have the culture to improve - we don't blame (we do figure out what's gone wrong which is different!), we don't bail after a wipe, we are honest about our mistakes and learn from them. Guild groups are really fun, both in pvp and pve.

If you'd like to join contact: Holystabs, Stabsy, Shinata, Miaki or Jaija and ask for an invitation. If you were previously a member of Serenity but left you'll need a chat with Holystabs if you want to ask to join us again.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Players are the legacy

MMOs rise and fall, in what Raph Koster describes as a "classic market acceptance diffusion model". More and more people buy it until it peaks and then numbers tail off in a parabolic curve.

Additionally these curves overlap with and interact with each other: the Rift players came from somewhere after all, mostly other games. As a guild leader with close to 100 members I usually ask what people have played before, there's only a couple for whom Rift is their first MMO.

One thing that happens as a result of this pattern is that the earlier games bequeath players to the newer ones in a pattern that is quite facinating. Because not only do these games bequeath players but they bequeath them having trained their expectations and playstyles first.

Let's have a look at this evolution.

In the beginning there were muds. Muds predate the internet going back to the days when most of the people able to play them had access to them because they were academics or in some branch of the scientific or military professions that demanded high IQ. Therefore early muds were designed by and for ferociously, abnormally, intelligent people. They also weren't commercial.

Richard Bartle describes MUD1's early playerbase thus:

"We didn't playtest or listen to playtesters; we decided what it was we wanted and programmed it. We were doing this because of what we wanted to say, not because of what people wanted to hear. We let people play the latest version, but it was more testing than playtesting (i.e., did it crash/hang?)."


Everquest came about, in the words of Scott Jennings, because some "MUD players who wanted to make a MUD in 3D."

So the inheritance EQ got was these ferociously clever MUD players, hence a lot of the gameplay is punishing so as to challenge them, many of people's favourite stories relate to borderline exploits, or as it's proudly called "creative use of game mechanics". The game rewarded the clever.

It also rewarded the social. Many bosses required huge raids of up to 100 people. This is also a result of inheriting a player base from MUDs and its more social variants such as MUSHes. The game was designed so that it suited the strengths of the player base it inherited.

WoW was a natural progression to the growing popularity of the genre. What WoW did is it took the MMO gameplay but said you don't have to be clever or social to succeed (but it helps). WoW achieved a perfect storm in 2004-5, attracting the ambitious and talented old school players who wanted to export their superb playing and organisational skills to a new challenge while also drawing in people who, frankly, would not have been welcome in regular static EQ groups where a noob who keeps making mistakes would cost everyone exp.

For a while WoW was perceived as the best game for a number of different playstyles:

- if you were a hardcore raider WoW was the big challenge, the Great White Whale of MMOs. And the game did and still does put together very entertaining raid challenges.

- if you were a killer WoW had lots of opportunities to murder the innocent with its huge population of newbies and its pvp servers.

- if you were a socialiser you followed your friends to WoW where you met lots of newbies you could help.

- if you were new there were veteran players offering a lot to enhance your game experience. They would form instance groups and raid guilds for you to jump into. They would explain the game mechanics in chat channels or give you items to help you find your feet. There were awesome fight 4 at once pvp gods to aspire to.

Now a lot of these behaviours stemmed directly from MUD playstyles via EQ and other early MMOs. Games that had taught players to be social, to be organised and how to prey upon others in interesting ways.

Since 2004-5 WoW has evolved considerably. In order to get bums on seats WoW has designed in features that make the game more appealing to freeloaders and people who don't pull their weight. For example people who were too lazy to bother finding 4 people to do an instance with no longer have to spam chat channels with "LFG Maraudon". I wrote about consumer players like this in 2009. Since then the game has been designed to benefit them to the detriment of people who enjoyed arranging content for others.

They've actually gone a little too far with this and it's turned round to bite them in interesting ways.

One thing that is happening is that few players want to tank pugs. It's actually miles easier and more relaxed to turn up as dps so the game is full of people who are playing the tanking classes but who are only willing to dps.

Another thing that's happening is that 25 man raid guilds are not being formed. The ones that already exist keep going until they run out of recruits but no one in his right mind would make a new one. This is because, for similar reward, you can pick the ten best players you know or you can pick the ten best players you know plus 15 half-arsed slackers. And the reason there's so many half-arsed slackers? Because the game encourages people who don't want to particularly try. And people who simply aren't very bright.

What this means for new MMOs over the next few years is that the majority of their players will be bequeathed to them by WoW having been trained to put in the minimum. This is why in Rift we're seeing so many "dps only" players in a game where every class is a hybrid and limiting yourself to just being dps really hurts your chance to group.

There are 6 tank souls, 4 healers (5 if we count Bard), 2 support souls (not including Bard) and 20 dps souls. A 5 man Expert group usually consists of a tank, a healer, an off-healer and 2 dps/support. So if everyone were to pick one soul and say I'm only doing that an even distribution would support 2.5 Expert groups per 32 players. That's 12 players in groups out of 32 players waiting for groups.

In practice that doesn't happen since any smart Rogue has a Bard offspec and any smart Mage has a Chloro offspec. Because if you don't you will keep getting frustrated in your attempts to run content. And they use the same gear anyway so gear is a non-issue.

If you are a Rogue without a Bard or tanking spec not only will you not be able to join most groups ("full on dps, sorry") but if someone leaves during the run your group is more likely to collapse halfway through.

It also sends something of a signal to old school players. If you can only dps and haven't twigged that for virtually no effort you could make yourself much more effective you're probably not that bright. And you're probably not that worth grouping with. There are exceptions of course, perfectly intelligent people who take long waits for groups as the price of playing their preference but even that indicates you're not of the "achiever" Bartle type. And achievers make the best team-mates.

This ties in with another aspect which I think will be very interesting - the LFD tool which Trion is developing. The player base is expecting, based on developer comments, a single server automated LFD tool broadly similar to the WoW one. Having inherited players used to this convenience it's not really practical to try to wean them back to social methods of group-building.

But I don't think they will copy WoW's fixed tank + healer + 3 dps setup. It just won't work in Rift as almost all gear-appropriate Expert groups run with 2 healers.

If they design a LFD tool where you can specify the roles you want I'm thinking I'll make groups with 2 tanks and 3 healers. Naturally once they join we'll ask a couple to dps, that shouldn't be a problem as nearly everyone who can tank or heal at endgame can also dps. My thinking is that by eliminating the "dps only" players you will get much better groups. The players that can do both are simply better players than the players who can only do one.

The way I think it will pan out is the achievement oriented players will use LFD to filter out ALL dps only players so they can use the automated tool to build groups of like-minded players.

So that could make Rift a really interesting MMO social experiment as achiever players test ways to eliminate opportunities for underachievers to group with them in ways that WoW doesn't allow. Assuming Trion's LFD tool allows us to contruct the groups we queue for.

So what will the legacy of Rift be to future MMOs? I'm hoping, and it depends very much on design decisions, that Rift will leave a more skilful legacy than it inherited. I think they are very aware of these issues and are trying to gently steer the players they've inherited towards a different playstyle than the one WotLK taught them.

Monday 11 April 2011

WoW: When we said THAT, what we totally meant to say was THIS

Bashiok said: We’ve been following discussions and reading feedback on the Dungeon Finder Call to Arms feature, and appreciate everyone’s opinions on the topic. 

We've also been crapping our pants.

We wanted to share a few items though that supplement the recent announcement:

We want to limit the damage.

The additional reward for completing the Dungeon Finder Call to Arms (called the Satchel of Exotic Mysteries) will be Bind on Account; able to be freely sent to other characters on your account once you receive it.

Gosh! Did we forget this crucial little detail?

An error existed in the announcement regarding flasks and potions being picked based on your spec. This is not the case. If someone earns a Satchel of Exotic Mysteries, and if it rolls the random chance to provide a potion or flask, it will be a randomly selected. This helps ensure a broad array of available flasks and potions for all characters.

Yup because they would only be based on your spec if we meant them for the character who tanked the dungeon. Which we didn't mean. Totally didn't mean. Totally. It was an error, that's it!, an error!

We also wanted to clarify, mounts that have a possibility to be found in a Satchel of Exotic Mysteries are found with the same rarity as if you had slain the dungeon boss that normally drops them.

Oops, people object to other people being given rare stuff that took months to grind. Who knew? Btw, looking forward to getting your Bear Mounts 2.0 from Zul Aman 2.0? Clever of us not to compromise the uniqueness of the Bear Mount version 1.0 by using a slightly darker shade of brown for the fetlocks, eh?

(Italicised quotes from Bashiok, Blizzard poster)

Conclusion: Nyuk nyuk nyuk

Saturday 9 April 2011

The Great Game of Capture the Healers

The makers of MMO games have been competing with each other for over a decade in a bid to get players of healing characters to base ourselves in their games.

Early internet graphical games generally did not have healers. In Doom and Quake it was assumed that the fun was killing people, you got a medpack if you were lucky. In Diablo 2 there was an embryonic healing build in the Paladin class but it was very underpowered.

However MMOs adopted the principle of allowing some characters to heal in return for doing less damage. This is based on two types of player:

1) Some players just want to win. They would wash virtual windows if it got raid bosses killed. They will adopt whatever will provide the most powerful boost to the team.

2) Some players just want to frag. This is traditional in games, in single player RPGs you wouldn't get very far if you couldn't kill monsters.

When you combine 1) and 2) you enhance both of their gaming experiences. The guys who just want to frag die less and get more frags per death. This makes them feel more powerful which they like. The power-gamers cause a team to be more effective which they like.

Once you have this then you can add the (optional) third pillar of the trinity: the tank. This is the guy controlling the fight and getting all the love from the healers, it's a popular job.

There's a fourth optional job: crowd control.

The shift from Everyone is dps to the Holy Trinity created an economy in which the currency is types of player.

DPS are currently ubiquitous, everyone likes fragging, everyone who plays these games played solo games as a kid where they fragged.

Healers, are perceived as the good in short supply and high demand in this economy.

Tanks, until recently were assumed to follow the healers which makes sense as they are dependent on them. However the recent move by Blizzard to specifically reward the least populated role is seen as an incentive for tanks.

This has led to game development companies playing the Great Game of Capture the Healers.

If you have a moderately successful MMO and I release a competitor that draws your healers away, that's really all I need to do. Because everyone else will follow them. No one wants to play a Trinity game as a dps or tank where it's difficult to find a healer.

This started with Everquest. In the predecessor game, Ultima Online anyone could attack anyone else. This meant that healers were usually victims for passing killers, characters built to frag.

Everquest poached most of UO's healers simply by making it less easy for them to get ganked.

Warcraft designed its healers around the principle that each would have a Fragmaster option. So Priests could be Shadow Priests, Druids could turn into lions and bite people, Shamans had two powerful dps options and Paladins had a holy warrior mode. However at max level things didn't quite work out as advertised, generally level 60 hybrids who wanted to dps in raids were laughed at for being noobs.

This opened an opportunity for Vanguard. As it turned out Vanguard was dreadful and got almost everything wrong but it did have extremely attractive healing classes. There was a martial artist who healed by beating people up, vampiric blood mages, and so on. The threat of Vanguard prompted WoW to rethink and so their healing classes became genuine hybrids in The Burning Crusade expansion, with Druids being the popular tanks at the start and Paladins the most popular tank by the end. This upset a lot of warriors but they don't matter too much because they're not healers (although this may have sown the seeds of WoW's current tank crisis).

Two new contenders emerged in 2008. Both tried to steal WoW's healers by making more aggressive versions. Age of Conan had Bear Shamans, who had to beat people up in melee to heal effectively and Warhammer Online had a number of classes who had to use some dps to best heal. For instance, Goblin Shamans have two gods and you make one happy by healing one happy be dpsing, each mode buffing the other mode. They also made healers attractive by making them overpowered. Tempests of Set were flavour of the month when Conan launched, Disciple of Khaine and Warrior Priests were very strong in Warhammer.

WoW again proved equal to the challenge, mainly due to other factors.

In 2011 we have Rift which has designed healing into 3 out of the 4 classes. In fact everyone is a hybrid in Rift and the game is designed to be incredibly flexible for hybrids. For example I can be healing you, then if I see I'm not really needed I can run out of combat, click a button, and come back as a dpser. They still have different gear at end games for different roles, but I think this was an oversight, a feature they inherited from older games and should have questioned but didn't.

Now I'm not saying that capturing the healers means you capture the market. Vanguard showed that a game can have very attractive healing classes but still fail for other reasons.

But it is a part of the Great Game, the only game worth playing for designers, of winning the market.

And because of this we will see more design aimed at making life attractive for hybrids in the future, we will never see pure healbot classes again and we will, in time, see gear homogenised so you don't need two sets to do two roles.

Friday 8 April 2011

WoW: the cracks are beginning to show

The tank doan wanna go, Sarge!

Yesterday Blizzard announced a plan to bribe players into tanking their horrible pugs to placate their hordes of disgruntled dpsers.

Blizzard said: In patch 4.1 we'll be introducing Dungeon Finder: Call to Arms, a new system intended to lower queue times. Call to Arms will automatically detect which class role is currently the least represented in the queue, and offer them additional rewards for entering the Dungeon Finder queue and completing a random level-85 Heroic dungeon.


This system is meant to address the unacceptable queue times currently being experienced by those that queue for the DPS role at max level. The long queue times are, of course, caused by a very simple lack of representation in the Dungeon Finder by tanks, and to some extent healers. We don't feel the tanking and healing roles have any inherent issues that are causing the representation disparity, except that fulfilling them carries more responsibility. Understandably, players prefer to take on that responsibility in more organized situations than what the Dungeon Finder offers, but perhaps we can bribe them a little.

Source: 41-preview-dungeon-finder-call-to-arms

So why has LFD damaged grouping?

Dedicated tank player Kadomi explains it thus:

Kadomi said: I think we all agree that there’s a dearth of tanks using the LFD tool. I haven’t used it since WotLK, at least not on Kadomi. The reasons for this are manifold. I believe there are generally less tanks available than any other role, because it’s not as popular. The general consensus in most groups seems to be that tanks have to know every single pull, take responsibility for the run, and lead the group. Not everyone enjoys this, so there are less tanks. Add to this that LFD in WotLK created a new breed of player, who want to rush through instances at their own fast pace, and who are quick to point fingers at tank or healer after every wipe. Cataclysm heroics take practice, time and patience, and that’s all not factors you usually find in a PUG. In short, tanking can be extremely stressful.

Source: call-to-fail

I'm not personally opposed to single server LFD but I think cross server grouping has been very damaging to that other game and would be very damaging to Rift.

I've been having tremendous fun grouping in Rift, have made several friends, get regularly asked to come along to someone's groups and almost every pug I join has been noteable for friendliness and tenacity (we put up with about 12 wipes to finally get Expert Konstantin last night). In particular I've played with a number of tanks just breaking their teeth on T1 and T2 and the groups are really friendly, encouraging and supportive to the players who step up to this role. This is golden.

As for WoW, the big deal is moving the game from "I'm playing this because it's fun" to "I'm playing this because I get stuff." And them actually using the word "bribe".

Washing up isn't fun. I might have to bribe you with cookies to get you to help with the washing up.

Football is fun. I don't have to bribe you to have you running around a park chasing a ball.

If the content of your game is in transition from being like football towards being like doing the washing up then your game has issues. I think WoW is in decline and will continue to decline. I know they published very impressive numbers last year. That mainly rested on the rather tardy launch of Wrath of the Lich King in China, their biggest market. Secondarily on Cataclysm which a lot of people including myself resubbed to have a look at. Now that those two boosts have passed they're in trouble. Having to throw free bonus loot at people to do the more horrible elements of their game shows this.

It's really significant that their developers have used the word "bribe". Because it's an implied admission that their game isn't fun - because of cross server LFD

Thursday 7 April 2011

Rift: The Hard to Kill Healer

As if my Purifiers weren't annoying enough I've since progressed on to an even nastier pvp healing build on my Rift Cleric.

Some things are hard to kill.

In pvp the Justicar/Sentinel/Templar rocks. You can turn it into a tank by casting Mien of Leadership. I much prefer to use Mien of Honour and be an AOE healer.

I've gone into the Justicar as far as Forced to Kneel which is possibly the best snare in the game. I've gone into Templar and Sentinel for all the passive AOE healing buffs I could see. This means if I so much as Light Bolt an opponent everyone around me gets a tiny heal through Reparation as well as
Protect the Flock = 5% less damage for 6 seconds
Reinforce = 6% less damage for 10 seconds (those stack -11% total)
Rolling with the punches = +10% damage bonus if under 50% health for 10 seconds
Celestial Bonds = 500 point shield on people who are Stunned, Rooted or Feared.

I can cast my nukes pretty much forever which keeps those buffs up almost all the time, as well as doing some small damage, some small aoe healing and charges up my Convictions.

I then use Healing Momentum and Doctrine of Loyalty to aoe heal my team when they need it. With my build Doctrine of loyalty gets -30% mana cost and +50% healing done because it's a doctrine as well as all sorts of bonuses because it's a heal. This pushes it ahead of the baseline Sentinel AOE heal, Healing Communion. It's simply not worth casting Healing Communion when the Doctrine heals the same average amount for far less mana, without the annoying range limitation and instant rather than a 2 second cast. Healing Momentum is a Templar root heal and it's really strong, especially when paired with the other deep Templar root ability which makes it crit and instant.

When I'm out of mana if there's an easy melee target I cast Purpose and whack them for 10 seconds. Otherwise I drink. It is quite a mana heavy build but I don't mind drinking to be an indestructible healing machine. It's only a few silver in exchange for a lot of favour - you really do have that much impact.

I don't have much for single target. Healing Breath is my main one for that or Reprieve on a long cooldown. My other single target heals are barely better to cast than a heal that hits up to 10 people so I don't really bother with them.

Righteous Mandate sends a trickle of healing to someone who matters to you - a friend or a Fang Carrier. It also allows you to give them a big heal with Reprieve.

The build gives me these personal defences (in addition to Protect the Flock, Reinforce and Celestial Bonds):
+40 Endurance buff
+5% spell power
Parry rating is increased by 195% of spell power
Block rating is increased by 30% of spell power
Damage reduced by 15%
+15% block when meleeing
+15% armour
-15% chance to be crit by players
-3% spell damage from players
+5 magic resist (all schools except physical)

I can also detaunt a single opponent so they do half damage to me for 15 seconds.

If I want to sacrifice healing power for defence I can add
+90% Endurance
+128% armour

And that doesn't include the damage reduction from players that I get from my pvp gear.

As I'm usually hiding at the back of the group doing ranged dps it's very rare to die with this build. It's also great support because of the root, if opponents run away from us, Forced to Kneel kills a player every 8 seconds. Sometimes it feels like steadying a rugby ball just before someone runs up and gives it an almighty great kick.

This ball is about to wish it hadn't rolled Defiant.

Apart from Humility, that wonderful snare-root and my favourite pvp skill, the build packs a silence and a lot of ranged nukes

Here's the spec.

Please note that you need level 50 and Prestige Rank 3 to make this build.

Friday 1 April 2011

Rift: the PvP purifier, Screenshots.

This shot shows how a Purifier scores on a typical match with a reasonably strong team. It's sorted by healing done and my score of 71K Healing Done is totally eclipsed by the top players who have around 160K Healing Done. However look at the first number - number of times carrying the Fang. I'm on 3 and no one else got close to that. What's more 2 of mine were where I picked up the Fang while it was surrounded by enemies - the ability to shield myself then pick it up while people are aoeing it is a game winner. Our other Fang Carriers in this game just took it after I dropped it.

Another game - same pattern. It wasn't a fluke :-)

Here I am in Whitefall Steppes. This is a map where strong single target healing and shielding is exceptionally useful. It's key that your stone carrier not die. Also note the chat window. We like each other.

My favourite Fang holding spot. I've spent a lot of time here aoe healing. I'm actually Warden specced in this shot.

I dps-ed this match. Top on damage! Woot! but we lost.... I know! I'll blame everyone else. After all it can't be anything I did (like never taking the Fang or healing anyone) because I was clearly the best player. Everyone else must have been noobs and that must be the reason we lost.

I respecced to Purifier. Seems to be working in this Codex match. (It's great for running in and tagging the Codex while everyone else dukes it out).

Another Fang win. I was carrying the Fang (which is how points get scored) for 2 minutes 44 seconds in this one. The rest of my team managed 24 seconds between the lot of them.

I know! I'll hide behind the tentacle and heal myself - they'll never think to look for me here. Bizarrely this works. Oh and remember when I said before a PvP Purifier should keep moving. I exaggerated, finding a safe spot near the front line and spamming Healing Flame works fine. (But every PvP Purifier should be good at moving healing - it's one of our unique strengths).



This time I sorted the results by Number of Times Carrying the Fang. Guess who's top?

Some matches are just tremendous encouraging everyone to give their best. This one went right to the wire.

Look here at the hotkeys I have - all greyed out except the PvP ability Break Free. It's VERY useful for this role. It's one of the key talents, you aren't a pvp purifier without the Templar soul.

 And here I am at 50. The build still works even at Prestige Rank 0 against well-geared players.