Friday 27 May 2011

Rift: cleric best in slot dps/healing lesser planar essences

This is the stat weighting I use for evaluating cleric items:

Int = 0.75 (based on sp and sc value, ignoring mana)
Wis = 1.0 (sp with an extra 0.25 added for the mana regen which I'm a fan of)
Spell Power = 1.0
Spell Crit = 0.5

These are the lesser planar essences with a value in my weighting system over 30.

Burning Wisdom 35
Corrupted Growth 32.5
Dark Growth 35.25
Dark Rites 35.25
Deep Knowledge 33.75
Falling Firestone 33.75
Flowing Power 33
Focused Heat 31.5
Grave Knowledge 33.5
Knowing Seeds 33.75
Last Rites 35
Lively Spark 35.5
Living Hunt 34.75
Living River 35.25
Mystic River 34.75
Northern Winds 33.75
Oceanic Force 34.5
Pyro Spark 33.75
Radiant Inferno 34.75
Seeing Stone 33.5
Southern Winds 34.75
Spectral Hunt 34.75
Spirit Noise 34
Static Buildup 34.25
Tidal Wisdom 35.25
Timeless Sands 34.5
Timeless Watcher 34.5
Wisdom Roots 35

Source: ZAM database search on level 50 epic essences with Wisdom > 1

The top 5 are:

Lively Spark 35.5
Dark Rites 35.25
Dark Growth 35.25
Living River 35.25
Tidal Wisdom 35.25

The top item, Lively Spark is not unique and is bought from the Fire planar vendor in Sanctum or Meridian. So to get full best in slot lesser planar essences just run the daily raid rift quest over and over.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Rift: cross server transfers

Just a passing thought. If the server I play on turns out to be one of the destination servers I'll become very very rich.

Any alt can buy cheap mats off the auction house, transfer in, dump it, collect some plat then transfer out on an alternate universe-hopping bargain hunt.

Not that I'm short of a plat or two. Going gatherer to start with gave me all the money I could really want.

Monday 23 May 2011

On the nature of fantasy

I have just read two novels by R Scott Bakker and very much enjoyed them. If you enjoy books by Joe Abercrombie and GRR Martin these should be right up your alley.

I next read an article by Bakker called the Skeptical Fantasist which I felt was relevant to us MMO players. In the article Bakker argues that epic fantasy is the other side of the coin to science fiction - that where sci fi uses science to explore the future, epic fantasy uses science to explore the past.

What's that you say? This guy thinks Hobbits are derived from science? That's nuts.

Or is it?

The sciences they and other epic fantasy tropes derive from are anthropology, sociology and human psychology. Humans have a tendency to explain the universe and we do so according to specific and identifiable rules. The Bible is based on the cultures of the people that wrote it, our affinity with Elves and Rangers is based on a cultural weight that those tropes possess that far outweighs completely original and distinctive creatures.

The best MMOs, like the best epic fantasy novels, select and refine those tropes. We see Elves Goblins and Wizards as anthropomorphic representations of the past; we see Space Marines and X Wings as anthropomorphic representations of the future.

Further it's by adhering to these tropes and refining them that games best appeal to us. Games based on unfamiliar creatures and weaponry will have less appeal because we are wired to accept the familiar even if intellectually we know it's nonsense. That's why we don't see games based on the work of China Mieville and Michael Moorcock - their tropes are too original, unfamiliar, and obscure.

Rift designer Gavin Irby recently said:
Actually, it's been very useful. One of the cool things I get to do as a designer is created new cultures, with their own languages and mythologies.

Having a strong background in anthropology, history, and languages turns out to be really valuable.

Interesting eh? Although we see ourselves as individuals what we like can be extrapolated and delivered to us. Of course we already see advertisers doing this online - all those Like buttons are to collect information to improve product development and advertising.

Now this doesn't mean that competent game designers will never give us anything original. There are plenty of unexplored tropes that would make great games. How about a Sherlock Holmes MMO, requiring players to exercise deduction and intellect? Sure third party sites revealing solutions are a problem for that style of game but that's a technical hurdle. How about a UFO MMO? XCOM had a lot of fans back in the day. How about MMOifying the Romantic Novel genre? Spurn v Seduce pvp ladies and gentlemen, red roses are a weapon in the right hands!

But I think what it does mean is that we'll never see a mainstream game where the ffrggnn of the Planet Xredfg have to use their Nurghyst to Xmorgify the Qeff of the Anterwunni. And if you're a game designer you probably should avoid making such a game.

Thursday 19 May 2011

WoW: Tanks and healers ride free

Much discussion has raged on the blogosphere over Blizzard's announcement of their intention to introduce a premium service allowing players to form cross server dungeon groups with their RealID friends.

Here's how I see it working out:

- it will be very popular, like the Sparkle Pony.

- a small amount of people will use it for the obvious purpose - to connect to genuine friends whether from real life or early times in WoW or other games to play together. These players won't have much effect on anyone except themselves, they're a tiny demographic and will have roughly the same split between tanks healers and dps as the rest of the populace.

- a large number of players will game this. Tanks and healers won't need to as they don't have significant barriers to getting groups nor, despite what some people say, does the quality of dps deposited in their groups under the random dungeon finder matter that much. However dps players will adopt this by the thousands - their own private tank and healer pool allowing for instant dungeon groups.

What this will mean is that a statistically significant number of tanks healers and dps are removed from the LFD system. When you remove tanks (shortage class) healers (secondary shortage class) and dps (a glut class) from the pool you reduce the proportion of tanks and healers relative to the number of dps. This should significantly increase dps queues.

This is a problem for which there is a solution: subscribe to the premium service and collect your own network of RealID tanks and healers after a few LFD pugs.

So this leads me to the following prediction:

LFD Premium - high sales
DPS Premium - no more queue issues
DPS Economy - sucks to be you
Tanks and healers - ride free.

Monday 16 May 2011

Rift: the PvE Purifier

Regular readers will know that I'm a fan of the Purifier soul, the workhorse of the healing soul, the tortoise that wins the race.

It doesn't pump out the numbers that other specs can but it does one thing very very well: it keeps your tank alive.

Let's say that again, louder:

It keeps your tank alive.

In PvE you are quite likely to find yourself healing in the company of other healers. Those guys all pump out lots of AOE (area of effect) healing, Bards don't do anything else but AOE healing. So if someone is helping you all you need to do is keep your tank alive. Which brings us to the Purifier.

I've mentioned before that shielding is the highest form of healing. A tank with a shield on is a harder to kill tank than a tank with a hot on or a tank about to get a heal. On top of that, Purifiers have the best Oh Sugar buttons in the game. Tank on 5% life and getting hit? Press your Spiritual Conflagration button and laugh. If it's on cooldown press Rite of the Ancestors.

Another interesting thing about Purifiers is that shields don't scale with spellpower. That's widely cited as a bad thing. Actually it's a gear-dependent issue and while it's a problem for Purifiers with great gear it's abso-frikkin-lutely wonderful for Purifiers who just hit 50.


if shields scaled then a badly geared Puri might shield 500, a raid-epicced Puri might shield 1500. Instead we all shield 1000. That means when you hit 50 and are in blues your shields that would shield 500 if it was related to your spellpower instead shields 1000. (NB: made up numbers for the sake of the example).

In my opinion Purifier is the best Expert Dungeon running spec until you basically no longer need stuff from epic dungeons. I've got just about everything now so I'm mainly using a different healing role but Puri still has its moments. If you want a number then you should be moving on from deep Purifier at around 950 Spellpower (self-buffed).

Another thing that is worth mentioning is mana efficiency. Purifiers are very economical on the blue juice because most of your talent progression is making your heals a little stronger rather than allowing you to cast more of them. The Sentinel talent Serendipity is very strong, allowing you to cast 2 heals in the time it would normally take to cast one. However 2 heals cost twice as much mana as one heal.

Here's how I heal:

Button 1: Healing Breath. Instant, quite powerful, low mana cost. The heal I use to top people up while moving or if they're only missing a little health.

Button 2: Macro:
#show Ward of the Ancestors
cast Healing Breath
cast Ward of the Ancestors
cast Caregiver's Blessing
cast Searing Transfusion
cast Flashover
cast Sterilize
cast Rite of the Ancestors
cast Healing Flare

This is my go to button for mobile healing. If I have to move, which is quite often, I mash this button while moving.

Button 3 self-heal on the run

#show Shield of the Ancestors
target Holystabs (my character's name)
cast Healing Breath
cast Shield of the Ancestors
cast Searing Transfusion
cast Flashover
cast Sterilize
cast Healing Flare

Button 4 Break Free (from Templar tree). This is an amazingly useful pve button. There are lots of boss abilities that put you in cocoons or crystals or stun you or fear you.

Button 5 Healing Flame. It's worse than your big heal but sometimes you only need a small heal or have a short time to be stationary.

#show Healing Flame
cast Healing Breath
cast Healing Flame

Button 6
My main heal: macro. Basically I'm just spamming Restorative Flame my big, 3 second cast, heal.
#show Restorative Flame
cast Touch the Light
cast Flashover
cast Restorative Flame
cast Fiery Blessing

Button 7 Surging Flame. A key ability, this allows us to heal the tank virtually all the time with the rest of the group still being looked after.

Button 8. Macro:
#show Latent Blaze
cast Flashover
cast Latent Blaze
Flashover forces a crit and is always worth using with this pre-cast healing spell. Since it's effectively a passive Oh Sugar button, it's always good that it crits.

Button 9:
Spiritual Conflagration. Hands down the best single target healing spell in the game. Tank in trouble? Press this and get tank not in trouble. The cooldown is short enough that you can use it without worrying that there might be a bigger emergency soon. This is why you went 51 Purifier.

Button 10: Decurse macro:
#show Cauterize
cast @mouseover Sterilize
cast @mouseover Cauterize
I'll explain how this works. First it interrupts anything you are currently casting. This is because many times if something needs to be decursed it needs to be got rid of NOW. (For example the pink dot done by Caelia, last boss in CC Expert). Then it will cast a decurse depending on what your mouse is hovering over. If you don't hover your mouse over a party member it will cast it on your target (usually the tank). If you don't have a target then depending on your settings it will autoselfcast. It will always try to use Sterilize first (which nukes all debuffs) then Cauterize (which nukes just one debuff) if Sterilize is on cooldown. It takes a little practice to get used to what this button does but once you are familiar with it you have very fast and effective one button decursing.

Button 11: Healing Communion
An aoe heal, I rarely use it prefering to overheal the tank to push out aoe healing with Surging Flame but it does heal a bit quicker when everyone is low.

Button 12: Swift Gold Armoured War Horse Bridle. The only way to travel. The glistening golden tints of our bold steed match our heroic mission and exquisite flamecast spell animations. Please don't let the side down by trundling to Ragnarok on a two-headed tortoise called Sid - we wouldn't want to see you dismounted by a Death Lord armed with a juicy piece of lettuce!

The playstyle:
Target tank mash 6 unless you have to move, mash 2 if you have to move and heal. If it all goes wrong press 9. On certain bosses you decurse with button 10. That's about all you need to remember to start with.

The spec:

Wednesday 4 May 2011

On end game design

On Sunday we went rifting, doing Expert Rifts and for once I had the rather delightful experience of being able to simply add anyone who logged on to the raid. As a raid leader it was wonderfully liberating.

Recent posts from Nils, Tobold, Green Armadillo about efficiency and leveling have got me thinking about the structure of end game raiding. (Most of the thoughts in this post were originally posted as comments on those blogs).

Raids originally were aimed at the hardest of the hardcore but supported large numbers. If your dragon spawned at midday on a Wednesday it was a matter of grabbing everyone you could to go kill it.

I think this is an area of game design where the cart has led the horse.

No one sat down and designed a two tier leveling then end game system deliberately. Raids were tacked on the end of Everquest to occupy the astonishingly hardcore few who cleared that game but the game wasn't designed for raiding, it was designed for leveling. It was an accident that they underestimated and people finished.

Once raids were in and became established in the culture as the thing the Awesome Players do then more and more people wanted to be an Awesome Player. So raiding got progressively more accessible.

Now this gimmick busywork tacked on the end of the game has become the game. Without anyone at any stage sitting down and deciding this would be a good idea, then implementing that decision.

This incidentally is why a separate raid-only game with no leveling would not work. People who raid believe they are Awesome Players and enjoy feeling accomplished. You need the lowbies in there for them to have someone they feel better than even if the only requirement to be an Awesome Player is that you show up often and press your one button rotation.

Even in WoW Vanilla the struggle to find 40 people made raid leaders broad-minded. Your best player was probably leagues ahead of your 40th best player, especially if you weren't a server first type guild. The stereotype of the afk autoshotting hunter arose because we knew those guys were in our raids not pulling their weight but it was hard to replace them and we still got the job done.

A 10 man raid is the antithesis of this and, with Cata, is where WoW has gone. 25 mans are dying out because of the phobia of inefficiency. Raid leaders know they can find 5 good dps, but finding 15? That's a big ask.

I'd like to see raiding that isn't number capped. So we can solve the problem of low dps by adding players not improving players.

It's very fun for the raid leader, and might encourage more people to raid lead if they get to enable fun rather than being fun's gatekeepers.

Monday 2 May 2011

Rift: expert rifts

We put together our first guild pve raid yesterday. We don't have enough people to start Rift's nominal entry level raid, Greenscale, so what I did is I took the team out doing expert rifts with the thought in mind to do a raid rift and (with pugs) the two outdoor weekly raid quests.

Expert rifts are a funny sort of content, particularly for those of us on pvp servers. Nominally they're tuned for 5 man groups in T1 gear. That may be true of some of the easier ones (for example Death), but other rifts, expecially Fire, seemed way too hard to do it with such a group.

There's also the factor that other people can interfere with you. Same side interference doesn't matter too much although it's certainly undesireable. Mobs can drop epics so I guess if someone tagged it you could kill it for them to take the epic. The drop rate is low though - we had one random epic drop in 7 expert rifts. Mostly it's people just tagging along sending you tells "inv" and so on.

Much more potentially dangerous is rival faction interference, pvp. There are two ways to handle Defiant players as a Guardian, be meek and hope they don't pick on you or be ultra-aggressive and murder any red name seen anywhere near your spot. We choose the latter, partly because it's more fun, partly because it's probably more effective. This makes for a strange but rather exciting form of pve - where you have tanks and healers and dps and a well organised pve group but at the drop of a hat you rush off and murder a couple of tourists who have stopped to see what you're doing. It's really important to defend the zone aggressively as some threats will approach in a disorganised way. There might be 20 of them but if 5 turn up while some others are still emptying their bags in Meridian you can cope. You don't want to give them time to group up, buff up and pick targets.

Your best defence against interference is to pick some out of the way spot. We started with one right in the south west corner of Stillmoor and apart from a passing Guardian who tagged along with us we weren't bothered.

Expert rifts are summoned from a minor or major tear using a lure (bought from the vendors in the room below the artifact collector in Sanctum Palace). You also pick up daily quests in this room and each of the 5 different expert rift quests stay in your quest log - it's possible to have all 5 dailies saved up. In addition to the lure you need 5 malformed souls which are gained from running T1 dungeons. The lures are soulbound but the malformed souls can be traded. The dailies give you a currencies called Crystal Sourcestone which can be used to purchase lesser planar essences from the vendors in the room where you picked up the daily.

We started with the Expert Death rift. It uses Husk: Redemption of Perdeen and completes daily quest Redeeming Their Names.

It spawns a tiny burnt out village of 4 ruined buildings. Mobs will spawn in each room as part of a Protect quest - for example Protect the Smithy, Protect the Bakery. We had 8 at this stage plus an outside Guardian player "helping". It was reasonably easy with 8 of us, I think we could have done it with 5.

We got a random epic off one of the mobs, a chest halfway through which gave us a blue, a chest at the end which gave us a blue lesser planar essence and a corrupted soul (the ones needed for the next tier of rifts, the raid rifts). That was pretty much standard for all the expert rifts we did.

The epics are t1 standard which most of us outgear now, some found a delighted home. The lesser planar essences are very useful as they don't drop in the standard dungeons, doing these expert rifts and the raid rifts is the best way to upgrade these at our level of progression. (Don't forget completion of the dailies also allows us to buy lesser planar essences).

You also get a lot of faction for doing these rifts, faction is needed to buy certain things from the vendors in Sanctum Palace.

Here's details of PLANE: zone: lure: daily quest: faction

DEATH: Stillmoor: Husk Redemption of Perdeen: Redeeming their names: The Grim Disciples

LIFE: Stillmoor: Husk Primal Evolution: End of Evolution: Order of Life Serene

WATER: Iron Pine Peaks: Husk Revenge of the Icewatch: Kapora the Frostbane: Order of Purity

AIR: Iron Pine Peaks: Husk Winds of Chaos: Storm Powered: The Storm Inquisition

FIRE: Shimmersand: Husk Explosive Tendencies: Raexanis Defused: Order of the Flame

We were fairly comfortable, largely due to our flexibility. We have a lot of people who can do more than one job which helped us as we varied from 2 healers to 5 healers for the fire rift (selective pulling recommended if you don't have 5 healers - we wiped with 13 of us when we tried to zerg it).

Open world raiding was delightful. Not only did we have our expert rifts to do but we also needed to clear off existing minor and major rifts to force a tear to spawn in a good place, we needed to ruthlessly gank defiants, we had 3 planar invasions happen during our raid too which we completed (and for the first time in Rift I got a purple shard, an Ancient Sourcestone).

It was very nice to have no upper limit on the raid size, I was able to invite everyone who logged on to join in the fun. I even added a level 41 to the group and he picked up a nice epic that no one else wanted that he'll enjoy when he turns 50. I understand why raids are capped but I'd really like to see MMOs explore the idea of non-capped raids again. All the elitist min-maxing is a result of capped raids - if I only have 4 dps spots I need you to be cookiecutter or as effective as a cookiecutter, we can't kill the bosses if you bring some airy-fairy fun spec. However when I can invite as many people as I like I can tell people to play whatever they like, if we need more damage I'll add more people.

As I understand it that's pretty much what raiding was like in EQ, it was certainly to some extent true in 40 man vanilla WoW but pressure on individual performance has increased as raid sizes have shrunk. And that's less fun for many players. If games want a casual raid scene then I'm convinced that the way to do it is remove raid caps.

Our raid lasted 4 hours, cleared 7 expert rifts, 3 zone invasions, ganked a fair number of Defiants and incorporated some rather humorous moments. At one point I ordered a Charge of the Light Brigade into a large group of Defiants. It was actually a lot larger than I realised. One of our warriors said he was being focused, so I told him "you're not being focused, we've got 5 each!."

Another memorable moment was when yours truly misjudged a slope in Shimmersand and plummeted to my death. Ever loyal, most of the guild followed me. We would have wiped had some people not rolled Dwarf. So here's a picture of our new official guild animal:

Loyalty over Sense.

Rift v WoW: thoughts on North American subscriber numbers

People say Rift is losing players. People say WoW has 12 million players. Let's lift this rock and see what's underneath.

Rift's numbers have always been expected to do the following
- sell a lot of boxes/digital downloads at launch/pre-launch
- increase until time came for the first sub payment
- spike down as people taking a casual look decide they don't want to pay a sub
- then either hold or grow or decline depending on how well the game is doing.

So when people say Rift is losing players they're talking about the spike of people who just wanted a quick look, people who try 20 MMOs a year. This is perfectly normal - even WoW has 70% of new players leave before level 10 (and that's comparatively good).

The 4th category, how well Rift is doing if you don't count the spike is what matters. And indications are that Rift is a solid game that will grow and grow like other solid steady MMOs such as Eve and Lotro. What hurt WAR and AOC were to a large degree technical problems (like Crashes to Desktop) and these just don't plague Rift in the same way.

Regarding WoW's numbers it's made up of the following: at peak about 4.5 million in NA and Europe plus a large number from Asia where WoW is basically a f2p and counts people who play once for 2 minutes as "subscribers". EU population is roughly the same as NA. So NA population at peak was about 2.2 million. WoW is nowhere near it's peak now. It's probably under half the numbers as the shiny newness of Cataclysm has worn off and the current content is very lacklustre, recycling dungeons that many people got bored of years ago. If we guess that WoW in NA is doing about half of what it did at peak (and that's generous) it puts WoW's NA numbers at just over a million.

Rift hit a million before it even launched, mainly in NA. It grew very fast in the month, suffered the expected downspike and seems to be growing steadily. I strongly suspect Rift has more North American players than World of Warcraft, or if not, it will do soon.

Clearly it doesn't suit WoW to have people think this which is why they don't release their North American sub numbers publicly.