The Opening Ceremony

There was one thing missing from Blizzcon in 2008: a major announcement. Diablo III was announced at the Worldwide Invitational. Starcraft II and Wrath of the Lich King were announced the prior year. Wrath, in fact, had already been in the midst of an extensive beta test. So the WoW panels were mostly full of information already covered by the likes of World of Raids and MMO Champion.

Blizzcon 2009 was completely different. Just like last year, there was a new Diablo III class announced: the monk. But then Cataclysm was also announced. It was nothing surprising, sure; MMO Champion had leaked a lot of the information about the new expansion. So Mike Morhaime didn’t shy away from obviously referencing the upcoming announcement by calling it “cataclysmic.” After a long lead-in by Chris Metzen, and the Diablo class announcement, the trailer was finally shown.

You can watch it outside the context of the convention at Cataclysm’s official site.

Watching the trailer on a computer or TV screen holds no inkling of similarity to watching it at the con. While most people knew the announcement was coming, the booming woofers, blaring speakers, and the uproarious response to Deathwing at the end of the trailer really made the opening ceremony (and the convention). It’s difficult to tell just how loud it was in my video, because my camera has surprisingly good noise balancing capabilities. But the commentary at the end should give you an idea. (And for those wondering, I’m the one that says at the end, “No it couldn’t have!”)

Following the trailer was a preview panel for Cataclysm. Of course, the goblins and worgen were covered. Both race decisions generated a positive response from the people I know, including myself. I already suspected both would become new races at some point, and that was reinforced with MMOC’s investigations. While I have complained about the hack writing involved in the original presentation of the worgen origin story (the one referenced in quests involving Shadowfang Keep and Arugal), playing a wolf-like race that can transform between human and worgen out of combat is very, very enticing. Also, Gilneas seems to be based on 19th century London, which is just awesome!

And goblins? Well, let’s just say that I originally intended to play a goblin when WoW was released in 2001. But as time went on, the goblins never entered playable territory. So it’s great to see them finally cross that threshold. However, my dreams of playing a goblin sapper will likely never become reality.

I do not want to cover too much of Cataclysm in this post, however. That merits another entry entirely. So, to summarize:

  1. My opinions about the importance of renovating the old worlds seems to have been shared by the likes of Blizzard.
  2. Goblins and worgen are both awesome choices for new races.
  3. Rated battlegrounds will rock, and has long been something I have advocated.
  4. Guild achievements and progression are intriguing.
  5. I’m neutral about the removal of spell power, attack power, mp5, etc.
  6. The separation of talent trees into talents and masteries seems interesting and potentially necessary with the simplification of item stats.
  7. The introduction of “Paths of the Titans” as a new end-game progression system is interesting, but I am wary given my experience with “Master Levels” in DAoC.

These points will be covered in my entry about Cataclysm and the direction of the game in general. But this is a post about Blizzcon, so I’ll talk mainly about that.

The Panels, or: Art Panel FTW

My favorite panel from 2008 was the art panel. This year was no different. Last year, when it seemed every other panel was filled with subject matter already covered by WoR and MMOC, the art panel broke the mold and went over various iterations of Dalaran and showed concept pieces previously unreleased to the general public. They also went over the progress of spell effects, including those that weren’t yet in the game, and those that might not ever be implemented. This made the panel interesting.

While the other panels had new information to feed us this year, none were better presented than in the art panel. Perhaps this is because art encompasses virtually aspect of the game. You need models, textures, animations and effects to create and modify cities, zones, bosses, spells, and new races, afterall. Or perhaps it’s simply because the art team does an awesome job sneaking snippets of virtually everything into their panel, occasionally with some humor.

The art panel explicitly covered various topics: the new races and their animations, a bit about their starting areas, some of the new dungeons, the new water, etc. They even touched on the guild achievement system by showing us a brief preview of how it might work in the context of the current achievement system. There was also a live demo during the Q&A session.

Perhaps the most exciting thing was when they revealed the new water. While most other MMO developers would laugh at how far behind the curve WoW is on water effects, this really elevates WoW’s art beyond any level they have achieved (in my opinion). Simply put, I like WoW’s “concept art” style. Many other games try to create an artificial level of realism that just doesn’t work. The reason it doesn’t work is because PC Games have not yet achieved a graphical quality on par with pre-rendered cinematic CGI. So when I see lighting shimmering off a character, and an extremely dark shadow following the character, it feels like I’m looking at a moving representation of something created in 3D Studio Max circa 1999 by a high school student.

Not to knock on all other MMOs (or psuedo-MMOs), however. I love the art and graphics in Guild Wars, for example. And the water in Lord of the Rings Online and Everquest 2 is fantastic. But WoW’s new water fills a huge artistic gap in a game that already has some great art. The goblin starting area highlights this very well.

The Other Panels, and What Information They Had to Share

There was new information to be told at all the other panels, so I won’t be ignoring them. However, as the panels themselves were straightforward, I will simply summarize the information:

  • The new level cap will be 85.
    • They said something about the leveling being more meaningful, but I’m not sure specifically what they meant by this. A sense of accomplishment is, afterall, subjective. So who knows.
  • The reemergence of Deathwing has transformed the old world.
    • His entrance back into Azeroth has literally caused an “explosion” and sundered various parts of the world.
      • The Barrens, for example, will become two separate zones.
  • Blizzard is also going back to change the quest density and flow in older zones.
    • Hopefully like the Scarlet Enclave.
  • Some gear stats are being removed. Examples:
    • Spell power will now be lumped into INT.
    • AP will be lumped into AGI and/or STR.
    • mp5 will be lumped into SPI (for all healers).
  • The talent system is being splintered into two different concepts (talents and masteries), and a new end-game progression specific to Cataclysm is being added on top of this (called “paths”).
    • Talents will be more “fun,” “utility” and “use”-oriented. For example, as a resto druid, you’d likely see things like wild growth and swiftmend remaining as talents.
    • Masteries will be passive. For example, 10% additional healing will become a mastery, not five talent points.
    • There is a new type of end-game progression called Paths of the Titans. This system is tied to a new secondary profession: archaeology. It will essentially allow you to customize your masteries and talents further.
      • In its current form, you choose a titan “cult” which determines your “path.” Each path then has “ranks.” Once you earn a rank, you can then trade an artifact (obtained through archaeology) and choose between a few “ancient glyphs” for each rank.
      • An ancient glyph can provide a passive benefit or can be an activated ability.
      • You can “respec” your path.
      • Details still being worked on. Things may change, and I do have a lot to say about it, but I’ll save it for my detailed entry about Cataclysm.
  • Reforging will allow you to adjust stats on some pieces of gear.
    • Reforging will be tied to blacksmithing, leatherworking, tailoring, jewelcrafting and engineering. Essentially, you’ll be able to adjust one stat on a piece of gear and change it into something else, but not if the gear already has that stat (if I’m remembering correctly).
  • Four raids will be open at the beginning of the expansion.
    • I do not know the details of these raids, however. Some could be single-encounter, or they could all be multi-encounter. Each possibility evokes differing opinions.
  • There will be rated battlegrounds.
    • Rated BG’s will be an alternative for arena points and gear (not a replacement or sidegrade).
    • One battleground will be featured each week as the rated BG.
    • When you win, you’ll gain BG rating.
      • But how much depends on your rating and the ratings of people on the other team. You could end up gaining nothing if the people you play are far below your rating.
    • When you win, you’ll gain arena points.
    • If you lose, you won’t lose rating.
    • The old honor titles will return with this system.
  • Arena points will be gained in real-time, but capped.
    • To factor for the way arena points are earned with rated BG’s, they’ll also be earned in real time with arenas.
    • But the amount of points you can earn each week will be capped, most likely based on the rating you had at the beginning of the week.
  • Tol Barad will be the Cataclysm version of Wintergrasp.
    • When active, it’ll be like WG.
    • When not active, it’ll be a Quel’Danas-style daily hub for the victorious faction.
  • There will be guild experience and talents.
    • Guilds will be able to earn experience doing various activities, including:
      • Killing bosses.
      • Winning rated BG’s and arenas.
      • Gaining reputation.
      • Leveling.
      • Ranking up professions.
    • The current plan is to use the top 20 earners in the guild per day as the source of the guild’s experience level. This will allow people with busy lives to rely on people who have more time to devote to activities outside of the guild’s focus.
    • Guild talents will include things like mass resurrection, reduction of durability loss, removal of reagent requirements for raid buffs, etc.
  • There will be guild crafted items.
    • Essentially heirlooms that can be passed between guildmates.
      • People who leave a guild will have their heirlooms taken away and placed in the guild bank.

As you can see, there was a lot of new information about the expansion given in these panels. And I may even be forgetting something. So while the non-art panels may have been straightforward, they were not boring and they were worth attending.

The Arena Tournament

The arena tournament wasn’t as good this year as it was last year. However, I did only catch the last few matches.

One of the reasons I didn’t find them as interesting was due to the disparity in skill between regions. The Taiwanese region was simply outclassed. Another reason I didn’t find them as interesting was because people did a poor job counter-comping. So many RMP (rogue, mage priest) teams continued to play RMP, even though it’s now pretty obvious they don’t perform well against cleave (DK, warrior, paladin) or HPD (hunter, paladin, DK). This trend continued during the tournament this past weekend in Dallas. eMg, the winner of the Dallas tournament, explicitly switched their comp to HPD whenever they came up against RMP. If the RMP teams learned how to play more than RMP, maybe they’d do well.

The final match at this Blizzcon was cleave (TSG) versus HPD. I think cleave is slightly favored on maps like Orgimmar and RoL for this matchup. Personally, for “grand finals,” I like mirror matches. It removes comp and map imbalance from the final result. So when I see different comps in the finals, I’m not quite as excited. You can watch all of the matches below:

TSG won 3-1. Hooray, America!

Now that there are five arena maps, I think tournament organizers need to consider allowing teams to alternate picking the maps they want to play on. The fifth can then be random if it’s winner’s vs. winner’s or loser’s vs. loser’s, and chosen by the winner’s bracket champion in the final. This would remove most RNG that can knock a team out simply because they get maps that leave them at a severe disadvantage facing specific comps on certain maps (and especially true if Blizzard adds another couple arenas in Cataclysm).

Another reason I didn’t like this tournament as much was because vhell wasn’t doing play-by-play. I realize most people think the WoW shoutcasters suck, but vhell is the best WoW shoutcaster, in my opinion.

One last thing: despite what any of the shoutcasters may say, I personally liked pre-Wrath 3v3. I would, however, be singing a different tune if we were watching 2v2. Hour-long rounds would be boring.

The Closing Ceremony

I didn’t go to the closing ceremony. My reasoning was because I thought Ozzy would mostly play his solo stuff, of which I’m not a huge fan. But someone told me after-the-fact that he actually played a lot of Sabbath. So I regret not going. I did, however, get in some good time demoing more of the worgen starting area.

Worgen and Goblin Demos

We did not get to test the entirety of the starting zones, only from level 5 onward. So I don’t actually have a very good grasp of what the starting areas are actually like. However, of what was available, I did I enjoy the goblin area much more than the worgen zone. This is mainly because the worgen area was extremely competitive for spawns–particularly with the quest that involved picking up barrels and throwing them on the heads of abominations. The barrels were sparse and took a while to respawn, and you could lose the tap on the abominations if someone’s barrel reached the mob before yours (which consumed your barrel, and gave you no credit). That quest created a bottleneck and took up a large chunk of your fifteen minutes of play time.

The goblin area, meanwhile, highlighted the new water effects, wasn’t nearly as competitive, and had a lot of fun quests.

Alas, for all I know, level one through five as a worgen could be much more awesome than one through five as a goblin. And Blizzard could also ease the competition in the worgen area before release. So I’m not going to conclude my opinion here.

What Else Was Better About 2009 over 2008

Last year, Blizzard rented out halls A, B and C in the Anaheim Convention Center. This year, they also rented out hall D. Hall D is gargantuan, about 42 percent larger than hall C (which was the main hall last year). Overall, the convention had 49% more floor space this year. The rise in attendance didn’t quite match that, so it felt less crowded, even though there was certainly more people.

Enough of Premonition was able to attend this year, so they put on a live raid. I skipped most of it, because I thought it’d just be Ulduar or Crusader’s Coliseum. However, when I was walking by with some guildies, I saw them raiding Patchwerk, Thaddius and Anub’Rekhan at the same time. I was calling out the strategy as soon as I saw it. Felt good being right about it, too. After they killed the trio on their second attempt, Blizzard spawned a beefed up Hogger and wiped them. Good times!

Last year, you pretty much had to hear how other panels went second hand if you missed them. This year, you could see other panels being broadcast on screens throughout the convention center. Also, between breaks and lulls in other halls, they’d broadcast other panels on the screens for that stage. As soon as an arena match was done, on came the raid and lore panels. Overall, it was much better than sitting through the same cinematic trailers between panels and arena matches. However, it did make getting seats more difficult, because people felt less compelled to leave and attend other panels or events.

Minor panels were also held in bigger halls this year. No more cramming into a tiny room upstairs half an hour before a panel starts just to get a back row seat.

What Could Be Better for Next Blizzcon?

There’s not much that could be done better at this point. One could argue Blizzard should look for a larger venue, considering the tickets sold out in 56 seconds. But the Anaheim Center is actually one of the larger centers in the country, now. The closest upgrade (over double in capacity) would be Vegas. But it would cost Blizzard a lot more, and I think there’s a certain threshold of attendees that becomes too large (imagine the view from the back of a 600,000 square-foot hall holding 40,000 people).

I’d suggest additional days, separating the tournaments from the panels and giving them their own closing ceremony. But I imagine the convention would bleed attendees at this point, especially as it drew into Sunday and Monday. Thus, it’s probably not a viable option.

So what could be reasonably done? Probably nothing. The only thing worth considering is holding Blizzcon overseas to give people outside the U.S. a chance to experience it, or at least a cheaper experience (for those that made the trip; /wave Argi).

Overall, A Great Experience This Year

Enough said.

Also, driving back home on 101 was the best decision I ever made. Fuck I-5.

vs.