Blizzcon 2009

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.

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 One Recap

Disclaimer

First and foremost, I’ll 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 for the sake of information that would already be accessible before I could even provide it.

I do, however, want to provide an account and opinion of the overall experience from the perspective of a blogger who probably knows more about WoW than most people.

Day One of Blizzcon

Welcome to the Line to Enter the Line to the Line RideThe convention was only about a twenty-minute drive away from where I was staying at a guildie’s place in Irvine. I decided we should get there around nine, an hour before Blizzcon was scheduled to open. We made the mistake of standing in line, even though pretty much anyone could simply walk in through one of a hundred doors leading into the convention. The line was very impressive to see, however. I called it “the line to get into the line for the Line Ride.”

The first event I attended was the opening ceremony. A guildie of mine saved me a seat. Because the seats were all on the same level of ground, it was incredibly difficult to see the stage unless you were close up. But the huge screens were able to clearly display the mild demeanor of Mike Morhaime, Blizzard’s president.

Morhaime began by recounting the history of Blizzcon. The first Blizzcon, in 2005 had around 8,000 attendees. By comparison, this one had 15,000 from 27 different countries. However, a Blizzard employee told me the number of actual attendees was probably more likely to be around 18,000 people.

Some general information concerning the upcoming events of the convention was also covered. Starcraft 2 was going to have its first official tournament. The game wasn’t ready for beta, but every Blizzcon attendee will have access to the beta once it begins. For Diablo 3, the announcements were more profound. It was noted that we would come up against an old familiar foe from the original Diablo: King Leoric. The Wizard class was also revealed.

There was nothing new about Wrath announced during the opening ceremony. With Wrath and SC2 already having had their times in the limelight, I imagine Blizzard wanted to use its stage to highlight Diablo 3. Understandably so, considering how good the game looks this early in development.

A slide for DK\'s in the class panel.After the opening ceremony, I attended the UI panel. This was probably a mistake on my part, as there was nothing interesting of note other than an explanation of the design process behind various elements of the user interface. However, it was pretty amusing to reminisce about the changes made to the DK character portrait throughout the alpha and beta.

Next, I attended the class discussion. This was presented by Tom Chilton (Kalgan) and Greg Street (Ghostcrawler). There was really nothing new announced during this panel and much of what was addressed had already been explained on the beta forums. However, they did note how they wanted to change talent trees to emphasize “style” instead of “role.” Also, they justified the changes to threat saying they wanted to make healing and coordination more important than threat. This is why threat scales so well now in the beta.

Much more interesting than both the class and the UI panels was the art panel. Their presentation included humorous slides and videos, as well as teasers for potential content. Most notably, they showed a picture of Dalaran planted in the ground. During the Q&A, when someone asked if the picture was indicative of the possibility that we could see Dalaran as part of an instance in the Caverns of Time, someone on the art team replied “maybe.” Whether or not that means there are actual plans for such, I don’t know. Also intriguing was seeing the design process and artistic progress of various zones, mobs, and instances.

Selective Queuers are Inteviewed by vhell

After the art panel, there was nothing left on the WoW schedule for day one. While I do plan to get Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2 when they are released, I decided to skip their respective panels in favor of WoW’s 3v3 tournament. The loser bracket semi-final between selective queuers (SQ) and Council of Mages (CoM) was the first match I attended. Being the champions of the 2008 Worldwide Invitational and the top Korean team, people expected great things from CoM. However, SQ swept them with ease. While others would say the matches were close, I disagree. SQ was put into a couple dangerous situations, but these were nothing a rogue/lock/druid (RLD) comp couldn’t work their way out of with smart play. To put it bluntly, I think CoM got stomped, leaving only Europeans and Americans as the real contenders.

  • All matches were CoM playing rogue/mage/priest (RMP) versus SQ’s RLD. SQ normally plays war/lock/druid (WLD) and decided RLD was a better comp against RMP.
  • In match 1, SQ pressured Snowstorm (CoM’s mage) hard and forced two quick blocks before he was taken down after several minutes. While a long match, it doesn’t necessarily mean CoM was ever in control.
  • In match 2, SQ pressured Snowstorm again. However, they found him a little more difficult to take down as CoM had adapted their strategy. He managed to survive with a bandage and a heal after both blocks had been used, but was still taken down.
  • In match 3, SQ changed their strategy and focused Student (CoM’s rogue). I suppose this was to prevent further adaptation by CoM. In any case, it worked and SQ swept.

OrzAfter SQ v. CoM came the upper bracket final between Orz and Nihilum Plasma. This was a WLD mirror match. I expected it to be a good round, but I was proven wrong. Nihilum easily took out Orz 3-1, though Orz did put up a fight in the last two matches.

  • In the first match, Hafu (Orz’s druid) ran out of mana and Rhaegyn (Orz’s warrior) was dropped by Nihilum in that time. Nihilum almost won early pressuring Hafu, but she managed to escape a few times. Nihilum almost lost when the pressure was put onto Paperkat, but he managed to escape behind a pillar with Carekoala (Nihilum’s druid).
  • In the second match, Rhaegyn got out of position for a while and this caused him to drop relatively early, giving Nihilum the win.
  • In the third match, Inflame (Nihilum’s warlock) was caught out of position and taken down quickly by Orz.
  • The fourth match was rather long. Nihilum pressured Hafu ferociously, but Glickz (Orz’s warlock) and Rhaegyn helped her peel a few times. However, the damage was done and she died after running out of mana, giving Nihilum the win and guaranteeing them a slot in the finals.

This was the end of day one for me, though I did get a chance to play Diablo 3 before it was over. I went out to eat with guildies after the events had finished and then rested up for day two.