Is It Time to Renovate Old Outdoor Leveling Content?

I’ve been leveling some fresh characters, in preparation for Wrath. The last character I leveled from scratch before this batch was my shaman, a year and some months ago. I did this through the draenei starting zones of Azuremyst and Bloodmyst. These two zones are dense in quests and provide a fluid and effortless progression through the first twenty levels. They also provide ample background for the draenei’s crash on Azeroth. Regardless of how silly dimensional spacegoats may seem, Azuremyst and Bloodmyst are decent examples of what starting zones should be.

Playing a priest through Dun Morogh and other early Eastern Kingdoms zones, I remembered just how poorly designed the classic leveling content really is. Slogging through the old world is excruciating. So much so that it drove me to delete my priest and sign up for the recruit-a-friend program. Since then, I’ve managed to level a warlock and a priest to 60, and I’m now working on a hunter and a rogue.

The experience begs to question when the old world content should undergo addition or renovation. Considering the absolutely positive leveling experience Wrath has to offer, I believe that time is now. And phasing could be utilized to minimize the work that would be needed to refine the content.

Quest and Objective Density

I have to run all the way up there?The old world lacks a high density of quests and objectives close in proximity to the hubs from which the quests are obtained. There’s a quest with objectives in Westfall that you have to pick up from Stormwind of all places. If you forget to pick this quest up while visiting Stormwind for training, it’s arguably pointless to go back and pick it up. Then there’s a quest you pick up at the lighthouse (a quest most people are unaware of, unless they check Wowhead) that requires you to literally travel the entire length of Westfall’s coast to kill all of the murlocs required to complete it. Perhaps the zone that highlights this problem the most is Alterac. Pretty much every quest you get that has objectives in Alterac is not actually picked up in Alterac. Rather, it they are picked up in Southshore, in Hillsbrad.

Consider Redridge, the third human zone in leveling progress. The Dry Times, Price of Shoes, and messenger quests require you to travel around to Stormwind, Goldshire, Sentinel Hill, that stupid little dwarf camped in the hills of Westfall (who requires you to obtain five hops), and then Darkshire. You get a total of 4885 experience for all three of these quests, or roughly 23 percent of the experience required to get to level 20. That’s 23 percent of a level in about an hour, meaning it would take about four hours to level if somebody did only these types of quests. That’s far too long for level 20. Furthermore, the type of travel required is not fun whatsoever.

What’s even more baffling in regards to Redridge is that the Price of Shoes is required to open up three other quests in Redridge. You must fly to Stormwind, run down to Goldshire, back to Stormwind, and then fly back to Redridge (or hearth back to it) if you want to do A Baying of Gnolls, Underbelly Scales, and Howling in the Hills (all well-designed quests).

In my opinion, the objective for the Price of Shoes should be moved to Stormwind. Grimbooze Thunderbew, the dwarf that gives a keg required for Dry Times should be moved to Sentinel Hill, and the Darkshire and Goldshire portions of the quest should be removed entirely. I also think the Messenger to Stormwind and Messenger to Westfall quests should be removed, while Messenger to Darkshire serves as a quest meant to usher someone to Duskwood as the next zone in progression after Redridge.

It would also help a leveling player if the zones actually had a fluid and logical line of progression to begin with.

The Fluid and Logical Progression of Quests Through Zones

Here to there, over there, back to here, back there, and finally there.Because some of the quest hubs in classic leveling zones aren’t very dense, a person doesn’t always get enough levels to progress from zone to zone in a fluid and logical manner. Some of the zones aren’t even designed with tight level ranges in mind. Stranglethorn Vale, for example, contains quests in a range from 30 all the way up through the mid-40’s. That’s fifteen levels for one zone. This wouldn’t be a problem if a person could actually stay in the zone all the way from 30 to 45, but it is pretty much impossible without being on the recruit-a-friend system.

What bothers me most is that many think you should be able to go from Elwynn Forest, to Westfall, to Redridge and then Duskwood, and so on. But you almost always have to supplement your leveling with quests from other zones miles away, before you can move on to what you would think is the next zone in line. When starting a new human character, I’ve found I always have to go from Elwynn, to Westfall, briefly into Loch Modan (a dwarf zone), back to Westfall, then to Redridge, and Duskwood, but I always have to supplement the middle of Duskwood with quests from the Wetlands (another early dwarf zone) before I return to finish it off.

I don’t mind travel between zones, so long as you’re traveling to a zone such that it serves as the “next place in line.” It would be great if you could simply go from Elwynn, to Westfall, to Redridge, to Duskwood, then Hillsbrad (maybe a boat that takes you there, so you don’t have to ride through several other zones), Arathi, Alterac, etc. I shouldn’t have to go briefly to Loch Modan or the Wetlands if I want to level smoothly through the human zones of Elwynn, Westfall, Redridge and Duskwood.

TBC Didn’t Justify Changes to Old World Questing

Blizzard hasn’t ignored the problems with its classic content. They did lower the experience required to level from 20 to 60, and they did add quests to Dustwallow for those in the upper 30’s. While they did commit some resources to these changes, they chose not to use their resources renovating any other classic zones. And, truthfully, I think they were right not to do so.

While The Burning Crusade did offer some major advances in quest density and zone progression concepts, it did little to innovate the way we quest through content. Yes, TBC did introduce bombing runs, the Ring of Blood, and questlines with small cut scenes like those involving Akama and Illidan in Shadowmoon Valley. But such quests were few and far between and they weren’t innovative enough to really justify a complete renovation of the old world.

However, I’m one to think Wrath of the Lich King does justify more renovation of the classic outdoor leveling content.

Why Wrath Justifies Changes to Old World Questing

I’ve quested my way thoroughly through Northrend. I’ve done every zone, and 90 to 100 percent of the quests in each. Furthermore, I have done the death knight starting area. So I have enough experience to understand the big picture and what the potential quests can offer using the technology introduced in Wrath. In a word, it is fantastic.

You have a quest that puts players on the back of a horse with literally hundreds of worgen chasing them. To manage their escape, they have to throw fire bombs at them from the back of a horse, while an NPC escapee is at the reigns.

There’s a quest puts players on the back of a giant frost wyrm. Players use this wyrm to devastate a swarm of the Scarlet Crusade’s armies.

Another quest provides people with two hot burning irons to torment a member of the Scarlet Crusade into giving them information about what the Crusade calls “The Crimson Dawn.”

One specific questline opens with an epic cut scene: a battle at the gates of Icecrown. To avoid spoilers, I won’t tell you what happens. I will note this quest leads to further developments that explain the diplomatic complexity of the resulting situation, followed by a huge battle inside the Undercity itself, complete with highly notable NPC’s and soldiers at your side. This is not the same Undercity Horde players know and love. Yes, the players participating in this battle are technically in the same zone as those who would simply access their banks, but they cannot see the people who are on this quest, nor can the people on the quest see those who are there normally. This is an example of “phasing,” a new technology included in Wrath.

At this point, it is easy to realize what could be done within classic zones. Phasing technology could be used to add new quests, without changing too many of the existing ones. This would open up the possibility of creating new supplemental leveling content that allows players to stay within a zone for longer, which would also develop smoother transitions from zone to zone. New quests would also progress the story of each zone further or with more depth. And these quests could involve new systems, such as the vehicle system behind siege engines.

Would it be a lot for new players to take in? No doubt. But why wouldn’t you want to introduce some of the more exciting systems to new players early on? Especially when the first quests introducing these systems could help ease them into the mechanics. Overall, it would provide a positive learning experience and hook more players to the game earlier.

Would Renovating Old World Leveling Content Be a Good Business Decision?

It is understandably a large undertaking for the development team to delegate the renovation of classic quests and zone progression. So much so that you do have to ask if the results would be worth the effort. On one hand, if efforts to revamp the old world leveling content cause such a huge delay in new end-game content, old players could end up quitting and Blizzard would lose a large chunk of revenue. On the other hand, Blizzard could be losing thousands of potential customers a year due to the fact that WoW’s leveling content is becoming out-of-date.

Personally, I wouldn’t bother touching old world instances. They are still relevant to leveling and to commit resources to them would be pointless. But the outdoor old world content needs some serious help.

I believe it is more than possible to renovate the old world as sort of a “side project.” Certainly, Blizzard would have to take a few experienced quest designers away from developing new zones and quests, but they don’t have to devote all of them to the renovation project. This would put some focus on both the development of new content, to satiate the veteran appetite, and the improvement of old content, to help retain new players.

Old World Quests Should Better Emphasize Storylines

One of the things that has always bothered me about my first experiences playing a human was that the quests never really did justice to the complexity of the human story arc. Consider the depth of Stormwind’s backstory and its place in the world. To fully explain it would take many pages concerning the history of Stormwind and all of Azeroth.

To briefly explain the the current situation, Stormwind and Theramore are the two strongest human nations remaining after the third war. The rest were either destroyed, exist in isolation, or have largely existed in secrecy.

Stormwind and Theramore are often at odds politically. While Theramore is officially considered the leading nation of the Alliance, and hopes to maintain a truce with Orgrimmar, Stormwind sees itself as the leader of the Alliance’s military in the Eastern Kingdoms and uses the military to impose its own political views (this is especially true in Wrath).

Let’s not forget Stormwind’s internal problems. Its exiled artisans have turned into a band of thieves and assassins called the Defias Brotherhood. With much of Stormwind’s armies away on campaigns in the plaguelands, Northrend and elsewhere, the Defias have managed to take control of much of Westfall, Duskwood and Elwynn. This, along with the general plights of all nations throughout Azeroth, has created a need to hire mercenaries, and this is the primary origin story for all human player characters.

Despite the complexity of Stormwind’s situation in the world, however, much of its history and current politics is not made evident in early the human zones. And for the points that are made clear, they could sometimes be better emphasized. For example, it should be better explained that Stormwind itself exists as a nation recently reborn after the second war against the orcs. It should also be explained why the Defias have come about, and further emphasized why you need to oppose them as a mercenary under the command of the Stormwind Guard.

As an example, human players could start in a more robust area, phased to create a “training grounds” for newly hired human mercenaries. Your trainers could explain the reason you’ve been hired, and that you must earn their trust performing domestic missions before tasked with missions abroad as a mercenary of the Alliance. You could be paid for your service, an effort made to rectify the mistakes made in refusing pay to the artisans that have become agents in the Defias.

Redridge Mountains and the Blackrock Menace as an Example of What Can Be Done

Consider the situation in Redridge. With Stormwind’s forces taxed by the world’s troubles, Lakeshire has lost a lot of support. Furthermore, its trade caravans have been ravaged by murlocs and the Blackrock Clan. To complicate matters, the Blackrock orcs encroach upon Lakeshire itself, and have even taken Stonewatch Keep for their own.

While the killing of Gath’Ilzogg and Tharil’zun, the leaders of the Blackrock Clan in Redridge, serve as a fitting end to the Blackrock storyline in Redridge, it would be possible to add even further developments before arriving to this conclusion. For example, Lakeshire could perhaps catch wind of a potential Blackrock offensive against Lakeshire. In preparation for the attack, a player could be given a quest to collect wood and logs for the construction of makeshift barricades, pallisades and ballistae. That player could then be given a quest that teaches them how to use ballistae. Following this, the orcish army could approach and the player would use a ballista to take out orcish catapults, while other mercenaries battle the orcs on the field. Phasing could be used for this quest so only those defending Lakeshire would see the makeshift defenses and the attacking orcs. Anyone passing through or doing the earlier quests would not be interrupted.

This small questline would then lead to a retaliation by the humans of Lakeshire, which ultimately results in the killing of Gath’Ilzogg and Tharil’zun in Stonewatch Keep. This would better emphasize Lakeshire’s struggle and success in the face of having been forsaken by Stormwind, as well as the Blackrock Clan’s role in Redridge.

It would also provide some supplemental quests needed to help streamline people’s progression through specific zones.

The Argument for Renovation and How to Approach It

I’ve alluded and briefly mentioned the dangers behind renovation. I wouldn’t want the revamping of old world leveling content to halt the development of new and fresh zones and instances. Blizzard must maintain a healthy pace of new content production for it to retain its older players. But I also believe reworking and adding to some the older content would benefit the game and its players in the long-term.

Given how quickly quests and the general gameplay mechanics of WoW are advancing, the renovated content would be much more exciting than what the classic outdoor world currently has to offer. This could lead to the retainment of more new players, meaning guilds would have a larger pool of players from which to recruit.

Unfortunately, however, it’s a fine line to draw. So I believe it should be designated as a “side project” to develop alongside entirely new content. Also, to include both new and old players, perhaps some of the renovated content could be rewarding for both capped and new players.

Everything considered, I think it’s time Blizzard does something to improve one of WoW’s biggest remaining problems.

The “Zombie” Portion of the pre-Wrath Event Is Flawed

I’ve been spewing profanities the past couple days. The source of my foul-mouthed escapades: the zombie portion of the pre-Wrath event. Or, rather, the extent to which people can use it to grief players and the lack of safeguards against it.

To give the situation some context, I should explain how the event works:

  1. People become infected with the plague. This is done when a player kills an infected roach, opens some infected crates, or is the subject of infection by either player or NPC zombies.
  2. The infection is applied as a disease. When the disease runs its course, or when a player dies or tries to remove the disease with an immunity effect like divine shield, the player turns into a zombie.
  3. As a zombie, a player retains his or her level and can attack other players of either faction, flagged or not.
  4. NPC’s can be infected and become zombies, as well.
  5. There are “argent healers” that can cleanse people of the infection and attack these zombies. High level players with any sort of disease cleansing capabilities can also remove it, though it has a high resistance rate.
  6. Guards can attack zombies.

This seems an okay situation on the surface. Argent healers were meant to serve as the NPC-driven defense against this menial version of the plague. However, looking deeper into the matter, it is important to note the various conditions that morph the event into one of the most poorly designed experiences WoW has ever offered. These conditions are as follows:

  1. The argent healers are only stationed in major cities at important hubs: banks, auction houses, flight points, and entrances to various areas. They are not stationed in most towns outside of the capital cities.
  2. Guards in most lowbie towns are too low in level to even put a dent in the high level player zombies. At best, they can daze the zombie and prevent them from reaching a lowbie that has managed to mount up and run away.
  3. Lowbie players cannot themselves put a dent in the player zombies that are much higher in level than them, due to the level difference.

Compound these conditions with the risk of putting so much power into the players’ hands and you have an absolutely, positively frustrating experience for many. If not for the fact that I could swap over to my level 70 retadin, turn on sense undead, and completely own the shit out of anyone with poor intentions, I’d be more annoyed than I already am. Especially because I rolled on a PvE server to avoid the type of asshattery I’ve been seeing.

I’ll put this into perspective. The other day I was trying to level up a couple alts in Bloodmyst. This is when two people from my own guild decided to kill me and decimate Blood Watch and all the lowbies there. Having none of it, I lectured them about when to say when, switched to my paladin, owned them, camped them, cleansed them when they tried to continue spreading the plague, and kicked one of them from the guild (who wasn’t a good member of the guild in the first place). As funny as it is to grief people, it takes a ball-less git to repeatedly grief lowbie players of their own faction. And a jerk to do it to people in their own guild, especially when those people are clearly upset or annoyed. Having leveled on a PvP server before, I did what was only natural.

Here’s another interesting case study. Some high level druid decided it’d be funny to grief all the lowbies in Darkshire. I just happened to stop by on my low level alts and notice, so I swapped over to my paladin to take care of the problem. The result is alarming.

y u kill me fagg

Do we really want to give so much power to people like this? Especially on a PvE ruleset? I sure hope not. Notice how he tries to berate me for killing him by justifying that the event is for killing people. “y u kill me fagg” definitely reeks of maturity and social validity. I’m only doing what a lot of people would do on a PvP server when someone griefs and camps lowbies. There are repercussions for being a dick!

But don’t get me wrong. I’m all for having fun with people near the cap, considering they can immediately defend themselves. But thinking about the lowbies who have yet to build up connections on a server, I can’t help but wonder how frustrating this event must be for them. How many of them have quit over this fiasco? I’m willing to bet a rather sizable amount. The fact that safeguards weren’t put in place for low level areas is greatly disappointing.

What’s more, there doesn’t seem to be any purpose to becoming a zombie other than to kill and infect other players and NPC’s. If there was actually a quest to perform as a zombie, and if lowbies could actually defend themselves, I’d be a whole lot more forgiving and inclined to view the event in a positive light. I definitely think it has its place as a fundamental concept. But the specifics are broken.

10/27 Update: It’s Over

For those of you who are unaware, the zombie portion of the event ended at noon today. It was fun and frustrating while it lasted. I’m appreciative that Blizzard is trying to create more dynamic and robust world events that aren’t concentrated in one zone. However, I’m also glad it didn’t last until the launch of Wrath.

10/29 Update: Response to Some Comments

I don’t want to spam people’s feed readers, so I am simply adding this to my entry as an addendum. And since there are 100 comments, a lot of people don’t actually see the points of the event that have merit, so I am adding my general response here.

A lot of people in their comments have made the assumption that I was 100% against the zombie event. This is not the case. Might I highlight an important quote from the entry.

I definitely think [the zombie event] has its place as a fundamental concept. But the specifics are broken.

As a positive point, the event tied very well into the lore. It gave our characters and the factions ample reason and motivation to retaliate against Arthas directly. It proved to be “disruptive” to daily life, just as the first undead plague was. And it turned us against each other. That was probably Arthas’ intention. Or was it Putress’ intention? Who knows. In either case, I understand what the event was supposed to do. That’s exactly the “fundamental concept” I’m talking about.

World occurrences like the zombie event do have their place in WoW and should be done again. However, I still think it had its flaws, and these issues can be fixed without deadening the event’s intentions to the point where its purposes are rendered ineffectual.

Just because the event did its job doesn’t make it perfect. Just because some people enjoyed it, doesn’t make it perfect. Just because these two facts exist, doesn’t mean I should not address any issues I might have had with the event, in hopes of improving similar events for the future.

There is no doubt this event had great potential that it met to some degree. But it’s one thing to be disruptive, and another to completely obliterate people’s abilities to perform certain tasks for hours upon hours upon hours. It is, in my opinion, disruptive and engrossing enough that people can attack others while performing the tasks they deem “routine.” You can make various NPC’s immune, without obliterating the event’s intentions. That’s exactly why Blizzard made the flight master in Shatt immune. And it’s still disruptive and engrossing for lowbies that they can merely be attacked, even if they have the ability to defend themselves.

There is no reason events like these can’t happen in the future. There is no reason such dynamic occurrences can’t happen. For all its specific flaws, the fundamental concepts were sound. Blizzard just needs to take a little more care in designing events like this in the future. That’s all.

No QQ about it.

Post-3.0.2 Analysis

This past week was rather interesting, to say the least. Last Tuesday, 3.0.2 was introduced. It is the precursor patch to Wrath that introduces most of the expansion’s talents and mechanics in preparation for its release.

My guild and I spent Tuesday downloading the patch and fixing our mods. We also endured lag, server crashes and restarts.

On Wednesday, a small group of us cleared Karazhan before our Sunwell raid. It took us a total of 50 minutes.

  • Attumen seemed like a trash mob.
  • Moroes died before his first vanish.
  • Maiden died before her first repentance.
  • Our tank was the target of little red riding hood and just tanked Big Bad Wolf through it.
  • Curator died well before his first evocate.
  • Illhoof died during the first weakness.
  • Aran lasted something like a minute.
  • Netherspite died during the first beam phase.
  • Prince died so fast he didn’t even enfeeble the raid once.

Out of all the encounters in Karazhan, chess took the longest. Following this, we had our typical Wednesday Sunwell. Well, typical in that we usually start it on Wednesday. Not so typical in that we cleared it in three hours total.

  • We defeated Kalecgos during the first portal rotation.
  • Brutallus died in less than three minutes.
  • Felmyst died right after her first flight phase.
  • We wiped to the Twins twice. Once because someone fell off the balcony, and once because a hunter botched the MD because they weren’t used to having a shorter range. Then we aced it.
  • I think we had two waves of humanoids on M’uru. The tanks were never in danger of dying during phase one. And we killed Entropius before heroism dropped.
  • We also one-shot Kil’jaeden with ease, though we almost botched it when our melee brought Kil’jaeden down close to the next phase before the warlock adds from the 85% phase were dead.

We followed our Sunwell clear with the first three bosses of Black Temple. We then called the raid an hour early, so people could get an early night.

On Thursday, we finished up Black Temple. We also killed Al’ar, Kael’thas and Vashj and again called it an early night. Some interesting notes:

  • We killed Shahraz without shadow resistance.
  • Illidan never once reached his demon phase. We brought him down to 30% with five seconds to go on the first timer. This reset the timer, and we brought him down to zero before the second.

In any case, we cleared all of Sunwell, Black Temple, the two most difficult T5 bosses, and Al’ar in a total of about seven hours. We could have done it faster if we hadn’t approached the raids in a relaxed manner.

Were the Nerfs Too Much?

I’m not going to view 3.0.2 in a negative light. At some point, guilds stuck indefinitely on content need the be thrown bones shaped like dead bosses and epics. And to have micromanaged the changes on each encounter of TBC would have taken too many resources away from development of upcoming content.

I am quite positive there are guilds disappointed about how easy M’uru or Kil’jaeden are now post-patch. Especially if they were close to killing either of them pre-nerf. On my own server, Risen was in line to become the third guild to defeat Kil’jaeden. Parn, Risen’s leader, posted this in the progression thread after this post-nerf kill:

Risen downs Kil’jaeden.

Patch came 1 week too early. Sorry about the cheapened victory, guys. But we would have gotten him regardless.

Thanks everyone for every effort they have made.

My own guild had the same thing happen to us with Gruul. We had him down to 5% pre-nerf and we were certain of his death the very next week. This would have made us the only guild on our server to kill him legitimately pre-nerf (Ruined killed a bugged version). But then they nerfed him and we came back and one-shot him during what was supposed to be our warm-up attempt. It was an anti-climactic end to the hard work, consumables and gold we had thrown at the encounter.

However, for all the disappointment, it would not have been worth it to micromanage the changes to raiding. With only a month left in TBC’s lifecycle, it would have been a mistake to push 3.0.2 back a couple weeks for the sake of making the encounters easier, but still challenging. Especially considering those encounters will become obsolete at Wrath‘s release.

It’s Too Difficult to Predict What’s to Come Using 3.0.2

I originally stated that I thought Blizzard would do well to prolong the introduction of 3.0 for the sake of benchmarking class performance in raids and PvP. However, I ended up changing my mind just before Blizzcon for these reasons:

  1. Encounter difficulty was going to change with new concepts and mechanics in place.
  2. The encounters weren’t designed with the new talents in mind.
  3. We are missing ten talent points and new abilities that we will have at level 80.

Tack on the additional nerfs to raiding that Blizzard introduced, and there’s very little point in using 3.0.2 as an environment in which to test a class’s viability. And the same could be said for arena. Without an official ladder going on, a lot of people are using this opportunity to simply test new abilities and specs. But optimal team composition and specs for level 80 will not become evident until Wrath‘s first season.

I Hope 3.0.2 is Not a Precursor to 25-Man Raid Difficulty in Wrath

One of my colleagues, Matticus, had this to say about the current ease of 25-man raiding on live:

Don’t assume that things will be this easy at level 80, because it’s not going to be. You get yourselves new bosses, new mechanics, and new challenges to toy with.

To some degree, he is correct. Malygos is not nearly as easy as raiding in 3.0.2 is currently. However, conventional wisdom and statements made by the developers leave me to disagree on a level more subtle. Afterall, the developers did say they thought Sunwell was too hard during Blizzcon’s raids and dungeons panel. So I’m not about to assume that the 25-man version of Icecrown Citadel will be as difficult as the Sunwell.

Having worked my way through Sunwell well before 3.0.2, and killing M’uru before his first nerf, I have a keen understanding of just how difficult raiding can be. And while, yes, slogging through that content was at times frustrating, I am retrospectively appreciative of just how difficult both M’uru and Kil’jaeden were to defeat. As I said some time ago, downing them provided two of the most satisfying gaming experiences I’ve ever had since picking up an Atari controller when I was three.

So I personally worry I will never have that experience again in WoW. In fact, I would be upset if the 25-man version of Icecrown only stood at the difficulty level of Black Temple. Afterall, one of the very reasons I thought 10-man versions of every raid dungeon were being introduced was to provide an alternative, more accessible form of the content people might find too difficult in a 25-man setting. Getting stuck at the 25-man level will result in a lower impact on morale when people can simply form up a solid 10-man raid and experience that same content in an easier and more accessible environment.

My Advice for Guilds Clearing or Deep into Sunwell Pre-3.0.2: Tighten Your Recruitment Standards

If you were clearing Sunwell level pre-3.0.2, I would say you shouldn’t use the time to recruit new people unless they come from an extremely solid and verifiable raid background.

As it stands, it is currently too difficult to trial someone in the difficult aspects of raiding you will see re-introduced come Wrath.

  • For Sunwell-clearing guilds, Felmyst won’t last more than one ground phase on a perfect attempt, meaning you will have limited opportunities to use the encapsulate as a situational awareness check.
  • Sacrolash dies so quickly, there will be a low chance for your new DPS recruits to be the target of conflag on the Eredar Twins.
  • Since bosses have had their melee damage reduced so dramatically, you won’t have ample opportunities to challenge your healer recruits.
  • Furthermore, because bosses hit so weakly, you can’t challenge your tanks to accurately time their cooldowns to mitigate awkward damage bursts.
  • Also, for tanks, positioning plays less of an important role when you don’t have to worry too much about avoiding gravity balls on M’uru, or creating an optimal pattern of flame patches on phase two of Illidan.

That said, if people coming from top guilds are applying and their skill level is already verifiable, it might be worth it to take a chance on them now. However, if this is not the case, I would advise taking a pass on them until you can incorporate them into level 80 raiding.

Blizzcon 2008: An Overall Review

Blizzcon 2008 was my first Blizzcon. I was too poor to attend the convention in either 2005 or 2007. The only other gaming convention I have to compare my experience with is the 2001 e3, back when GameCube and Xbox were highlighted. The one thing I hated about e3 was that it had too many publishers and too many people. A lot of studios simply couldn’t draw a lot of people. And for those that did, their demo space was usually too small to accommodate the 60,000 in a stampeding mass. Perhaps this is why e3 has morphed into an exclusive gentlemen’s club for industry insiders and why so many studios jumped ship after the ‘berg had been struck.

The nice thing about Blizzcon, in comparison, is that Blizzard owns all of the floor space for the convention. They can easily allot certain areas for specific events and demos, without worrying about competition for booth space. If they think one demo is going to be hugely popular, they can simply expand its size.

At the start of this year’s Blizzcon, it seemed to me there would be too many people. The line to get into the convention was massive. And, knowing Blizzard had decided to sell more tickets as consolation for the technical problems that overwhelmed their ticket processing system, I feared the entire convention would be overly packed and that I would not enjoy myself as a result. However, the convention’s attendance was very frontloaded. After the opening ceremony, the number of people slowly dwindled over the course of its two days.

The opening ceremony was perhaps a little too generic for my liking. Mike Morhaime as president of the company is perhaps a natural choice for helping to kick off the convention, but he plays the role much as a businessman would. He has a genuine appreciation for Blizzard’s customers, and I can respect him for it, but his delivery is too bland to keynote such a great convention for a company that has influenced PC gaming so profoundly. He definitely should speak during the opening ceremony, but someone with more flair and flavor should set the tone for the event.

I feel it would be unfair of me to speak poorly of the WoW panels. Wrath is, afterall, close to completion and most of its information has already been discussed by developers on the beta forums. However, it would be nice if something eye-opening could be included in each major panel. For example, the art panel included a screen shot of the new Dalaran rooted in the ground at its old location. While I’m not sure this will make it into the game at any point, it’s nice to see examples of things the teams have been working on. In this regard, I wished the class team had covered some ideas that have been too awkward to put into the game in its current state.

Beware the Dark PortalAs far as the WoW tournament goes, I am rather content with it as a spectacle. You have two teams playing on one stage alongside the announcers, underneath large screens showing three different angles of the action. However, a practical tournament it is not. The teams can hear everything the announcers are saying, being right next to them and out in the open. In some ways, this can be played as an advantage, if something is announced that could aid a team. However, if the announcers make an error on something, it could also become a disadvantage. Either way, the setup has a major effect on the tournament’s results. As one idea, you could have each team in a soundproof booth, as is done for Starcraft. However, with the teams concealed in sonic isolation, the amount of spectacle involved would be diminished.

Needless to say, the style of tournament seen at large events and conventions is much different than those of the smaller scale tournaments that have a mind for the proximity of teams to each other and the announcers. That said, the announcers, vhell and TooGood, did a great job. Some people say they were too soft on Hafu, but I guess they weren’t paying attention when the announcers related how they felt she had played poorly. Surely, they were shaky for a few of the matches, but I don’t think anyone could announce each match with utter perfection.

Starcraft 2 proved to be incredible in its first tournament. However, it’s left to be seen how open the final product is to rush strategies. This early in its development of competitive play, it’s difficult to say if it’s immune to such strategies or if people simply haven’t figured them out, yet. This was the first tournament and the game hasn’t even gone into beta, afterall.

Diablo 3 showed itself to still be early in the development stage. However, its showing at the convention was impressive. With environmental interaction, smoother graphics than its predecessor, a much more comprehensive skill tree, and an expanding amount of lore, it holds great promise. However, it’s left to be seen if its replayability is higher than that of Diablo 2. This is something I don’t think anyone will know until after release, far into the future.

The closing ceremony was what I expected. Though having two comedians I think is pushing it. I always thought comedy was best done for television or in front of smaller, more intimate audiences. One thing I think the closing ceremony was lacking was that last big revelation–perhaps a cinematic no one has seen, or a small clip hinting at what is to be fully announced in the future. This would have given the convention the truly dramatic close it deserved. Not to steal from the thunder of Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftan, or Video Games Live, but novelty doesn’t provide the biggest bang.

Perhaps my biggest complaint about the event was the way things were scheduled. Various matches of the WoW tournament coincided with WoW panels. And the same happened for Starcraft’s tournament and panels. This meant you’d be missing panels for a game if you wanted to attend various matches of its tournament. I’d hope next year the panel and tournament schedules could accommodate each other. But it seems almost impossible to manage without adding a third day to the convention.

Overall, however, Blizzcon is one of the best conventions I’ve ever been to. And, living in Silicon Valley, believe me when I say I’ve been to many. For one, Blizzcon’s focus is small enough that a person attending can feel as though they’ve come away with a broad experience encompassing all of the products highlighted at the convention, or at least the product(s) of interest to the person. For another, Blizzard doesn’t use the convention merely as a glorified store to sell its products, but also as a stage on which to celebrate them. For all my criticisms, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had at an industry show and I will definitely attend next year.

–Lume

Blizzcon 2008: Day Two Recap

Disclaimer

Again, I’d like to note I am not a member of the press. I did not feel obligated to cover Blizzcon in an informative manner. I had originally planned to attend every panel and report new and relevant information, but knowing it would be broadcast on DirectTV and WCRadio, I decided not to sacrifice my individual enjoyment of the convention. Furthermore, after day one, I realized there was hardly anything new to be said of WoW given how close Wrath is to being released.

Day Two of Blizzcon

Having realized there was hardly anything new to be said of WoW in the panels, other than small tidbits like Dalaran’s placement in Hillsbrad during the art panel, I decided I would catch the rest of the 3v3 tournament. A guildie, his friend and a I got there early to get front row seats. We also managed to talk to the announcers of the tournament, vhell (Jared Coulston) and TooGood (James Harding). vhell talked a bit about his raiding experience with Nurfed and why he swore it off. Then we talked about some of the matches from day one. While I found TooGood shaky for the selective queuers and Council of Mages match, they were both fairly strong during the rest of the tournament. Also, when talking retrospectively, they showed a better understanding outside the course of casting the matches. It’s gotta be a tough job to accurately depict what’s going on as it happens.

TooGood expressed how he was relieved to have so much time between a couple of the matches. He went to play Diablo 3 and said he was hopefully going to be able to skip the line with an exclamation to the staff of “Don’t you know who I am!?” When he got back to announce the next event, he made a joke in his introduction about how they didn’t let him “jump the queue.”

selective queuers AgainThe first round I attended was the lower bracket final between fnatic Orz and selective queuers (SQ). This was a war/lock/druid (WLD) mirror match. Orz was clearly playing better than they did the day before, but they were still playing poorly. SQ was really aggressive going straight into combat at the start, which is abnormal for WLD mirrors. Normally, the two locks sit back and dance LOSing and DoTing. But Gumbot (SQ’s lock) just went in aggressively, forcing the warriors into the battle.

  • In the first match, Rhaegyn (Orz’s war) dropped early by a charge and bash from Wojo (SQ’s druid) onto Hafu (Orz’s druid) after early pressure. SQ went up 1-0.
  • In the second match, all three from Orz were pressured early, but Hafu managed to escape and top them entirely. From there, they pushed Yog (SQ’s war) hard while Wojo was in a cyclone and took him down for the win, bringing it to 1-1.
  • In the third match, Hafu was pushed hard again at the start, but all players from both teams managed to get away and essentially reset the match. Hafu also managed to find the time to top her mana to full, leaving Wojo (SQ’s druid) with a disadvantage. But the match was pretty even for a few minutes after the reset and eventually SQ caught Hafu off-guard out in the open with nightfall up. SQ went up 2-1.
  • In the fourth match, Orz pushed Wojo with Glickz putting up DoTs and Rhaegyn switching to him with full rage early and burned him down quickly. Once he was down, Hafu charged and bashed for the kill, meaning Orz tied it up 2-2.
  • In the fifth match, Hafu was feared into a corner of the Nagrand map which allowed SQ to switch to her and push her down hard, giving SQ the match and the round at 3-2.

Nihilum during their match against selective queuers.After the Orz and SQ match, I then attended the grand finals of Nihilum Plasma against SQ. I expected SQ to come away with the first round, given the momentum they had coming out of the lower bracket finals. However, SQ lost their focus in the last match. With the pressure of $75,000 sitting on each team’s shoulders, it was really a matter of who could play with more composure, and Nihilum proved that in the last match. The round was again a WLD mirror.

  • In the first match, SQ pushed Carekoala (Nihilum’s druid) down hard for the win. So SQ went up 0-1. This was a testament to the momentum SQ had coming into the final and why I thought they’d win the first round.
  • In the second match, Nihilum pushed Wojo hard for almost a kill. But Wojo managed to LOS a cyclone from Koala. SQ then retaliated with a push that killed Inflame (Nihilum’s lock). So SQ then went up 0-2.
  • But Nihilum shook off the rust in the third match and played evenly with SQ. In the end, Gumbot was pushed hard and taken down after a long match. So the round was now 1-2 in SQ’s favor.
  • In the fourth match, SQ managed to survive a hard push on both Yog (SQ’s war) and Wojo. This forced Wojo to try to top both him and Yog, which gave SQ an opportunity to switch their focus to Gumbot and taken him down while Wojo was focusing his HoTs elsewhere. So Nihilum evened up the round to 2-all.
  • In the final match, SQ pushed Koala early, but Wojo had a resisted or LOS’d cyclone that ruined their push. Following this, Wojo was burned hard and taken down, giving Nihilum the win and crowning them the 2008 Blizzcon champions.

Of interesting note, SQ went into the finals unsponsored. They made a good run at the championship on a difficult stage. With the way Blizzcon is set up, there are a lot of distractions. For one, the announcers sit right next to the players and they can clearly hear the announcers’ vocal perspective of the action. As vhell and TooGood said in conversation with my guildie and I between matches, it would be ideal for the teams to play in soundproof booths, like they do for StarCraft, but this has not been the case for the WoW tournament. So even though SQ went into the tournament unsponsored, they should come out of it with some offers.

After the final, I walked the floor for a while and then came back for the China versus Nihilum exhibition match. World Elite (WE) was the team sent in from China. However, apparently, there was a visa issue with their normal mage and they had to recruit someone who could come to the U.S. That said, I would have expected them to find a decent mage. But it quickly became evident that they were outclassed by Nihilum. Nihilum went so far as to even play three different comps against them.

  • In the first match, WE played RMP with the mage in PvE gear and the rogue specced mutilate. Nihilum played their usual WLD. Nihilum forced an early ice block from Arthess of WE. Once the block was up, they switched to Yay, the priest, and took him down quickly.
  • In the second match, Nihilum switched to playing war/mage/druid, with Inflame playing the warrior and Paperkat (Nihilum’s normal war) playing the mage. WE pressured Inflame early, who kited around in defensive stance to avoid getting burned by the shatter combo. Once the shatter was avoided they then pressured Suky (WE’s rogue) and brought him down.
  • In the third match, Nihilum switched to playing double war/druid. They first pressured Arthess and then feared him and the elemental to mitigate some of the shatter combo. They then forced him to block by pressuring him slowly. They had their shields out for spell reflects and to mitigate any possible damage while the mage’s cooldowns were still up. Once they had forced the CD’s from the mage and polymorph was on DR, they then switched to Yay and took him down.

Nihilum being interviewed by TooGoodThis was a laugher to say the least. I hope it’s not the best China has to offer. However, I do understand that they are fairly isolated from the style of competition that goes on in the EU and American tournaments and brackets. Either way, it’s not a great first showing from China. Paperkat went so far as to joke about it saying, “I heard Chinese people were really good at video games.”

After the match, I rushed over to the second class discussion, knowing it would be absolutely packed. I only went in hopes that the Q&A would be more intelligent than the previous day, and that I would get a chance to ask a question. The panel itself was pretty much exactly the same. They added a few more details here and there about some of their decisions, however. For example, they explained why they changed rune carving and implemented death runes (which are universal runes triggered as talents). They simply didn’t want people carving only one rune type and using only a couple abilities tied to those runes. So they made the runes static and implemented death runes as an alternative.

They also explained why they made some buffs redundant. To quote Greg Street, he said they didn’t want the rogue to “go home if he has no windfury.” Which is certainly an admirable intention, and there are some buffs and abilities that definitely needed toning down. But I’ll hold my judgment and wait until I see how it all plays out in 3.0 and Wrath itself. I definitely have my doubts, many of which I have explained in previous blog entries.

The Q&A for this panel was much more interesting. However, I was a little miffed. For all the other panels I attended in room 204, the Q&A line was down the center aisle. However, for this panel, it was off to the right side of the audience. So I ran to the middle aisle and then had to double back. The Q&A session ended with me standing third in line. (Argh!) Alas, I will have to make my case for nourish being too similar to regrowth in my blog. That said, the questions were much more intelligent than they were during the first day’s class panel. Perhaps this was because the diehard fans made sure to find their way to this one early.

After the class panel, I made may way down to the store to buy some items for a guildie. From there, I watched Nihilum play the winner of Blizzard’s in-house tournament (their European team). Blizzard actually played resto shaman, warrior and retadin (a strange comp for tournaments). The first two matches went to Nihilum no contest, with them playing rogue/lock/mage for the first match and burning down Blizzard’s warrior in about a second. In the second match, Nihilum played double warrior/mage and took down Blizzard’s shaman quickly. TooGood then convinced Nihilum to play 2v3 (war/druid) against Blizzard, which Blizzard ended up winning after a few minutes (Koala actually managed to live through a bloodlust). After that, the last match went back to 3v3 with Nihilum playing war/mage/druid. Nihilum was dominating, but Koala left the arena when Blizzard’s war went down and Inflame left once Blizzard’s shaman went down, prompted by TooGood to make it interesting. So it was left to a duel between Paperkat’s mage and Blizzard’s retadin. The paladin almost had Paperkat, and would have if he hadn’t used bubble earlier. Of course, however, Nihilum came away with the win. An amusing round, nonetheless.

Level 80 ETCFinally, I went to the closing ceremony. Kyle Kinane was the opening comedian. His humor is very dry and I’m not a fan of it. Patton Oswalt’s material was much more fitting for the crowd at Blizzcon. Even though he doesn’t play any of Blizzard’s games, he was able to make jokes about people in the crowd and about geekdom in general. Beware the great punishment disk in the sky! On top of this, he went with some of his usual material, which works well for any audience. So it turned out well. After the comedy, Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftan (Blizzard’s in-house band) played. Being a metal band, I’m not a big fan. Their music is essentially a cheeky novelty for those who play Blizzard’s games, especially since Mike Morhaime (Blizzard’s president) and Samwise (Blizzard’s art director) themselves are in the band. So it definitely works, but I can’t stand metal, so I headed over to the WoW tournament stage to prepare plans for dinner. I did want to see Video Games Live, but that would mean having a two-hour wait for dinner after the convention and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet again with some of the guildies I had never met in person before the con.

Overall, though, the last day was great fun.