Wednesday, 28 April 2010

There may be trouble ahead

There's new information up on MMO Champion about the home city the trolls will acquire in Cataclysm.

It looks wonderfully trollish, if a little empty in these screenshots. But what interests me is the quote from Wryxian about the lore behind the new starter zone. Wryxian says:
"The impending cataclysm will spark rivalry among the Horde leadership"
"But it won't be long before Vol'jin trusts you with vital -- and potentially dangerous -- information about the political struggles plaguing the Horde and, ultimately, the fellow members of your tribe."
What could this possibly mean? Vol'jin and Cairne are the two wise heads in the current Horde leadership (after Thrall himself). There have been rumours that Cairne will be killed in the new expansion and if Vol'jin is exiled as well, that sounds like bad news. With Thrall missiing, will there be anybody left to hold back Warchief Dumberer from the road to war? I fear Saurfang's days may be numbered.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Some animals are more equal than others

There's been a general trend of class homogenisation in WOW since Wrath, which looks likely to continue into Cataclysm. This started with replenishment being taken from a unique shadow-priest speciality and given to warlocks, frost mages, ret paladins & survival hunters, but has spread to many other things, such as crit buffs. The homogenisation trend has also shown itself in other ways: ret paladin burst DPS was nerfed because it was hard to balance in PvP, as was the warlock's fear.

In some senses, this can be seen as a good thing. Blizzard's intention is that players should "bring the player, not the class", so that there are no class/spec combinations that are so powerful that they simply must be taken on a raid. It also has the benefit of evening things up in PvP - classes that are more similar are easier to balance, which makes skill play a bigger role.

Saturday, 24 April 2010


I've just listened to Totalbiscuit's latest podcast and the core of the show was a long rant about how bored he is with WOW at the moment. Apparently Blizzard aren't producing enough content for him and what's there is too easy. So easy, in fact, that only a handful of guilds in the whole world have finished ICC on 25-man hard mode. That's what? About a hundred people out of the 12 million that play WOW, or 0.001% of the player base.  Clearly far too easy.

For a man who is continuously complaining about people who think they are entitled to get something from the game, he's remarkably vocal about his own entitlement.

Blizzard's job isn't to funnel all their efforts into entertaining a small group of hardcore raiders whilst abandoning the rest of the player base, it's to provide a broad range of content for everyone. Other games have tried the hardcore approach, of course. The massive revenues and total market domination abject failure of Vanguard shows how well that works.

Friday, 23 April 2010

The mysterious vanishing guild

I logged onto my main a couple of days ago to find that my entire guild had vanished. Since I was one of the officers in that guild, that was something of a surprise to me!

At first I suspected that the GM's account had been hacked, so I tried to get in touch with her via the alt she was on at the same time. Nope, no hacking, she'd just decided to close it down. When I asked why, I got a complex story along the lines of "A left because they fell out with B, C went to play on a different a server, the GM had fallen out with D because they'd been nasty to her friend E etc".

Now that's a fairly normal story of guild problems, but what I found baffling was why the GM didn't discuss this with her officers. The guild had been a typical small one, with no internal conflict that I'd ever seen, yet it seems that there was a complex swirl of difficult relationships beneath the surface that had never been discussed. As far as I can tell, this whole feud was being carried out via MSN or private whispers and never emerged into guild chat.

Monday, 19 April 2010

The idiot tax

Billions of innocent pixels have lost their lives this week across the blogosphere as debate raged over the merits of a virtual horse. Some raged against it, as Totalbiscut did in his TRH video, but hundreds of thousands more (as many as 700,000 if internet rumour is to be believed, which it frequently isn't) spent real world money to acquire it. At 25$ each, that's a revenue of $17.5M straight into the already over-stuffed Blizzard bank. If Mike Morhaime wasn't gold-capped before, he surely is now.

So what kind of fool would spend $25 on a cosmetic item that provides no substantial benefits? Well, pretty much the same kind who would spend a fortune on a pair of Jimmy Choos or an Armani suit when the alternatives offer far more functionality at a lower price. The same ones who spend money on wine when tap water is both cheaper and healthier. The same ones who spend $15 a month to play a video game when they could be saving it up for a rainy day. Fools like us, in other words.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The sun will rise

For me, one of the most interesting changes in Cataclysm is the introduction of Tauren paladins, or Sunwalkers. Of course all the existing races are getting additional classes in Cataclysm, so what makes the sunwalkers special? Most of the other new classes are a natural extension of what the race already has or had. For example, Wildhammer Dwarves already have shamanic powers and the Night Elves used to practice magic in the past.

The Tauren have no history of links to the holy light - they are a simple people who worship nature as personified by the Earthmother. however, in Tauren mythos, the Earthmother's eyes are themselves special - they are known as An'she (the sun) and Mu'sha (the moon). Mu'sha is a deity that is familiar to many players under her night elf name of Elune; she is strongly associated with the druidic powers shared by the  Tauren and Night Elves.

An'she has been barely discussed in lore so far. The only real reference is a vague hint that can be found in the conversation between Tahu Sagewind and Aponi Brightmane that can be heard if you follow the quest An Injured Colleague. Superficially, this is one of the strangest quests in the game. You pick it up just next to the portal to Thunder Bluff in Dalaran, jump straight through and drop it off. There is no challenge, no continuation. The only reason it exists is to take players to a place they might not normally visit so that they overhear the conversation. Tahu and Aponi are talking about the lack of balance in the current Tauren beliefs - they give great reverence to the moon, but ignore the sun. In all likelihood, this is Blizzard's way of introducing the beliefs behind the sunwalkers into the game.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Bring back the A team

No, not them.

There's been a lot of talk in the blogosphere over the last few years about how Blizzard no longer have their best people working on WOW and have moved their most talented people to other projects, such as the new unannounced MMO. I've been largely skeptical about this, as I think Wrath was a superb expansion and generally changed the game for the better.

However, the recent Cataclysm class change announcements are starting to make me doubt that view. Some of the proposed changes seem bizarre and ill-considered to me and look like the work of inexperienced designers who haven't really thought through the consequences of what they're proposing. There are two key principles game designers should follow when making changes to a game with a large established player base.
  1. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  2. What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

War in the Ghostlands

"Tell us! Tell us what ya see, ol' man, Be dis da en' time?"
The old Amani shaman focussed his mind once more and gazed out from the hills, his magic taking him far away.
"I sees a big army o'da Bright Ones. Dey gather in dat village dem dead fellas smashed."
"Dey comin' fa us?" 
"Maybe, maybe. We all gotta die some day, even da loa."
But this army was not for the Amani. A force was coming from the south: humans, dwarves, more elves and those tiny children they send into battle as a strange sacrifice. Even trolls gods aren't that cruel.

These two armies fought for hours, over a stretch of barren wasteland. Nobody was defending their home, nobody was defending their family. Just fighting over flags. The shaman though back to the tales he'd heard of the old Gurubashi Empire, their ancient rivals. Their world fell like that... fighting, brother against brother, until nothing was left but a few ruins.
"Dey fightin' each othas! All dem new-fellas are fightin' 'emselves. Akil'zon be laughin' tonight!"
The troll watched as the Alliance army advanced, confident of victory from the initial skirmishes, then was driven back as they encountered the main Sin'dorei forces. Back down the road, back to the Plagueland. He watched the final insult, as they killed the prisoners and didn't even eat them. Consuming your foes is respect - it shows their strength is worth stealing.

"Dem Bright Ones be crueller dan any troll, dat's fa shu."

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Burn, baby burn!

Are shaman the new AOE grinding class?
Today I'm going to share a little trick that hasn't been discussed much in any of the forums or blogs I've seen. Exploiting the unique combination of heavy armour and AOE DPS that elemental shamans have. Not in a raiding sense, but for levelling. It's something that I discovered by accident when a load of mobs re-spawned on me in what I thought was a safe area. An elemental shaman can burn down vast swathes of enemies in one go - a trick normally reserved for frost mages and prot paladins. Your great advantage is that you have the DPS of a mage, combined with the armour of a plate-wearer.

I'm not just talking about easy-kill low level mobs here, I'm talking ones at or above your level. Only two of the dead beasties you see in the picture above were at my level. The rest were above it. The only reason I was limited to six for this picture was because that's all there were in the room. You can easily handle more than that - at no point in this fight did I fall below 75% health or mana.

Friday, 2 April 2010

This is the hour of the Forsaken!

Chastity's superb recent post on Wrathgate from the perspective of the Forsaken has prompted me to write about something that's been brewing at the back of my mind for several months now. Just what exactly is going on at Wrathgate?

Let's go back to the cinematic. If you want to re-view it, it's available here or hidden away in your main Warcraft folder, under Data->(Folder name depending on your language)->Interface->Cinematics.

It starts off with Bolvar Fordragon calling out Arthas from Icecrown Citadel, surrounded by a group of Alliance troops. The Horde forces are up on the hill and there is no sign of Fordring any of the Argent Crusade. The dragons (who appear later) are still back in Wyrmrest Temple. So this isn't (at first, anyway) a combined assault, it's an Alliance-only operation. This leads us to the first big question: why?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

A very special beta

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. A lot of my time has been taken up with my role as the beta tester in a very special project. No, not that one, something far more important that will change the lives of millions.

Sadly, tourist numbers have declined precipitately in France recently, mostly due to the visitors being unable to the understand the local language (or, as the locals insist on calling it, "frankie" with some silly squiggle under the k or something). This has led to thousands of american tourists being served calf's ears when they wanted buffalo wings, which is great news for the calf's ear industry, but not so good for repeat business.

Fortunately L'Académie française has come up with an inspired solution to this: the new French National Subtitling System. Using recent innovations in voice recognition and wearable LED messaging systems, it is now possible for all frenchmen to be equipped with an automatic translation system that converts their funny foreign jibber-jabber into Proper English Like Wot The Queen Speaks. At first the system will be applied to important public servants, like policemen and waiters, but the intention is to roll it out to all citizens by 2015.