Saturday, July 24, 2010

Moar design fails: cloaks

While a big part of the WoW bloggers seem trapped in the healing addons discussion I want to write about cloaks. Yes, this started with Larísa's post about cloaks. And as I commented int hat post, they usually are too anodine or plainly ugly. Few cloaks are really good looking in game, and taking into consideration is the part of our toon we see most of the time (if you have it enabled) it's strange Blizzard hasn't put more effort into making some good designs.
Technically it's the easiest object to apply a texture mapping. Most of the cloaks are rectangular or trapezoidal, with some bending here and there, but the core object remains a low-polygon rectangle type. Since the form is so simple applying a texture is quite easy and doesn't need much preproduction work so when it's applied to the object it looks correct (you need to stretch the texture to adapt it to the form of the object. Rounder objects like heads need more work so when the skin texture is applied it doesn't look kinky).

So we start playing our level one character, cloakless. By killing the first mobs we'll get some grey-quality items to equip and one of them will be a "cloak". Sorry but that barely can be called a cloak. Maybe a neckerchief or napkin tied on your back.
As your character progresses you'll start getting longer cloaks, capes or mantles. First ones, white-quality and still without any stat are still too short to be called cloaks. Again it seems you have a handtowel tied on your back. The first greens you'll get will also be still short and simple in design.
As time passes your character will get longer cloaks but unfortunately not better in design. Vanilla WoW have simple designs, almost patternless. Some cases are really painful, like getting a blue quality cloak named Tigerstrike Mantle... that even doesn't has tiger stripes on it so you can't avoid feeling deceived when you get it.

During TBC things didn't get much better and only in endgame we can see some elaborated patterns like the Shroud of the Highborne, but the design, as the major part of TBC gear is somewhat... too colorful. I wonder sometimes if TBC designers were thinking on the Acid House times. The only cloaks orth mention are the blue rewards from the Death Knight's questline. And even these don't make cloaks look like they're made of cloth.
And then we reach the Wrath of the Lich King expansion were things haven't improved much. First endgame cloaks from Naxxramas are hideous. Aged Winter Cloak? Horrible colour combination. Cloak of Armed Strife? Come on! Not only has again a more than arguably colour choice but that "skull" motiff on it like Superman's cloak it's just a big design fail. And after all the patches few cloaks are worth mentioning, like Aetha's Intensity. That's a cool looking cloak! Maybe too ellaborate, but at least is worth displaying it in your character.

So we have two expansions and several content patches but still the major part of cloaks look poor. Then you see cloaks from other games like LOTRO, just like these ones and then you can't help but start wishing the designers get banged in the head with a mallet. Because seeing what happened with swords and other gear I don't expect things to improve. Even with the overcloaks: it's like adding an old short cloak over the current one, applying the motiff to the upper part of your current cloak. So if you're not really into tabards (aside from the reputation gain) overcloaks won't be your game too.
So here's my calls to Blizzard designers: please improve cloak designs. Forms are ok (you can add more complexity like how it bends and moves), but patterns need more work. And you don't really need to add complex designs like the Drape of the Violet Tower. Check animal hides and create a good tigerskin cloak, not that Tigerstrike Mantle.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New trees preview

After announcing a big change in the talents trees, we finally get to test them. While they're just a beta version I don't find Blizzard has accomplished what he's been announcing.
- Eliminating "boring" talents that just buff existing spells or skills. There're still plenty of them in all classes: Incite for warriors, Improved Shadow Word. Pain for priests... they're still here
- Adding more "flavours". Not true at the moment. After picking a specific tree and putting the mandatory 31 talent points in the core talents you're not left with much choices for a given class. I've tried several classes and if you want to improve let's say Fury, your best choice is to spend points in Arms tree, not Protection. Some classes even need more than 31 points in the main tree (33 or even 35) to get full advantage, so that leaves very few "free" points to place on abilities that will give you some "fun" skill. Placing 31 points in your main tree doesn't mean you have still 10 points to place freely. You'll need to invest between 5 and 10 (that's all of them) in a secondary (or in the third too) tree to get talents you'll need for your spec, like it happens now. I think in the best cases I managed to get 3 talent points I could really plae wherever I want to get one talent or another that wouldn't really cripple my main output (be it dpsing, tanking or healing) so I could choose between getting an extra talent that's not really mandatory for my spec but may help in some situations or enhance other stats like mana return/regen, increase healing effects on me, etc
- Very few new talents added. Since the big pruning there's not many points left so you can spend them on new talents. Some of them look very nice, like Blood and Thunder (protection warrior), but others are just "more of the same boring talents", like Even the Odds (fury warrior), that just increases damage on certain abilities
So as I said in my previous post the idea is good, but we still have too many "boring" talents around that are also still mandatory for your class, leaving little or no option to get other talents that differentiate your from any other player of the same class and spec. Let's wait for more tuning and hope next version has trees that allow more customisation and possibilities.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bye bye real names!

It couldn't end in any other way. After the HUGE shitstorm unleashed over the internet, Blizzard is dropping the use of real names in forum posts. Even all players did a great noise on forums, social media and anywhere you can think of, I'm pretty sure it was the legal implications rather than our complains. Anyway, it worked.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Trimming the trees

No, I'm not talking about pruning session or suggesting that resto druids are too fat and need to get fit. I'm talking about the last Blizzard announce about talent trees. While the fires started by the real name appearing on forums are still raging all over the internet Blizzard has made a new announce that will impact gameplay (and I hope this time it's for good)

The fun stuff
For some time Blizzard has been stating they want to get rid of "boring" talents that just pump up your dps/healing/avoidance/etc and just keep what's "fun" in a spec. The problem I saw was what they consider "fun", because most "fun" talents in fact are dps/healing/etc boosters, the only difference is they have a limited time span and add some animation (like Slow for arcane mages). Then they're on cooldown for some minutes until you can use them again. Knowing when to use these skills/spells is the key here, but I don't see how this makes somethign "fun", specially hen you face a given fight for the second or third time. Once you know a boss fight (I'm leaving out leveling and questing on purpouse) using that special talent just turns into something automatic for most of the times,s o I don't see much "fun" in that.

The big pruning
But Blizzard surprised everyone with the announce: taking a lot of talents from every tree, leaving only the core ones and these that add some extra spice to the class, reducing from typical 51 point talent trees to 31, locking the other two trees until you spend 31 points in the main tree and giving a lvel 10 character that just spent the first point in the talent that will become his spec a signature skill/spell (Mortal Strike for arms warriors, Divine Storm for retribution paladins, Shield Bash for protection warriors, etc). While I was skeptic of the "leaving only the funzors" I really like this change. Getting a good spec has turned harder and harder as new levels, talents and skill/spells have been added. Also minimal changes in a talent could mean having to respec so you could have the optimal talent tree for your class, specially if you're a raider. Spotting the core talents you really need for your class must be easier now with this change.

On with the chainsaw!
But I'm wondering... why stop here? If all prot warriors are going to have the same core talents, why bother us in having to spend points on them? I suggest Blizzard reduces trees even more and take out the core talents, making them into learnable skills/spells you'll be able to train as you level up, leaving the trees with side skills that will affect the way you play but not your role effectivity. Of course tat would mean trees aren't anymore a sign of class specialization but as specific class diversity. This way you could have prot warriors that prefer to invest in shield skills while others may prefer other talents that will help them in the tanking job, like shouts, ways of dodging/parrying a blow, mocking the target... so not all prot warriors play the same way, the same way a prot warrior and a prot paladin have different playstyles. Both do the tanking, but paladins excel at aoe aggro and dealing good damage, while warriors generate better single target aggro and have more survivality tricks. Now imagine a warrior that relies more on using the shield while another prefers different defensive stances (kung-fu style) so he can dodge or parry more, while a third warrior prefers to invest in toughness and resilience so the blows he receives do less damage.

The forest
Anyway, the new changes look good if well executed or if they aren't dropped like the Path of the Titans. We'll end having lots of different spec trees instead of what we have nowadays: either a specific tree 98% of the players use or a cookie-cutter where you have like 5 or 7 points to spend where you want, so there's hardly any difference between players. Maybe it will be harder for us to choose which secondary skills suit best our gameplay or are funnier, but at least we'll have different flavours for a given spec on a given class.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

1984 is coming

The reaction by my fellow bloggers to the Blizzard announce about using the real name and surname in forum posts has been unanimous (see here, here, here and here). And I want to join them because I also think it's a very bad idea to put your real name on the internet without even asking first. Some may say "but you accepted the EULA!". So what? Did we have an alternative? Do you want to play WoW? then you're forced to use RealID. I already said in fellow bloggers' posts that they're messing with privacy issues beyond what's acceptable. It's ok for me that a RealID friend sees my real name. After all it's me who chooses that person to be a friend in But it's very wrong that friends of my friend (who don't need to be my friends too) see my name, status, etc. I haven't chosen them, so who the hell is Blizzard to give MY name to people I don't know? Same with the forum posts. It's fine if my (and only the ones I've chosen) friends see my posts with my real name. But the rest of the whole world? No way, José.
So why is Blizzard acting in this way? What do they expect? It's to stop spamming, trolling or to sue offensive/inappropiate posts? If you use a credit card to pay they already have your real data. If you have a game card and you recharge it (I think you can only do it by credit card payment) they also have your data. Do Blizzard wants us to switch from credit card to game card and buy a shiny new one each month with cash so our real name doesn't appear anywhere and all players appear in as John and Jean Doe? If that's the only way to protect our privacity while still enjoying such a great game, then it will be.
Other social networks already had to roll back on their ambitious plans about letting everyone see everything (Blizzard should take a closer look to Facebook and how they were forced to change the default privacy settings not long ago), so I hope this happens too in Until then, as other fellow bloggers have said, don't expect any posts in the forums from us. Not that I post usually in official forums, but when there's some big technical problem I like to help people there. Now I'll remain silent and post elsewhere, like this blog, even if no one is reading me.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Beta is coming

The closed beta has been finally announced and the NDA ban has been lifted from Friends & Family alpha, so a ton of information is now available on the net. Yet again I won't apply for the beta. In the last expansions I was still busy running current content, but now I'm not doing much: some dailies, some alt leveling, raising my fishing skill on some characters, but my gameplay level has decreased. As commented before I'm burned out. If my guild was still raiding I'd be more active. And yes, I know it's a vicious circle: if I'm not there other people will also consider not showing up, but raiding has been scarcer and scarcer (we don't even place sign ups in calendar since we don't even have enough active members). Still the other day we were asked to help our friend guild with an alt run into ICC and I brought Valaak, my enha/resto shaman there, since they needed an offhealer, and managed to kill Festergut (something I already had done with my pally Turnak) and Rotface (first time for me). We also had a pair of attempts at Vampire Council. I really enjoyed being in the fray again and this time without the responsability of leading the raid. I wish I could do more raid runs without heavy responsabilities, either leading or tanking (even tanking isn't very complicated nowadays to be honest), even on known bosses like ICC's first wing it's great to be there and help others to get some gear (or even better, get some ICC gear for me too :D). Heck, I even would like to go back to Ulduar, possibly the best raid zone thanks to its diversity on boss strategies and go past Hodir.
Going back on track: I won't be applying to the beta to avoid being burned with the new expansion. I'm ok with reading about new areas, changes, skills, etc and seeing videos, but I prefer to reserve the real experience for when the expansion hits the streets, just like I did with TBC and WotLK. Having so much alts (already 11 at amx level) means I'll be visiting the same places and doing the same quests again and again and again... so I already have an "alt burn factor" I must consider. Wether the expansion will have enough power to hook me up like TBC and WotLK, only time will tell, but I fear it will be less than WotLK, but that can be due to several reasons: with each expansion you've been around for longer and it's harder to get any interesting surprises on each expansion or patch. Also I think Blizz did several mistakes in the way of delivering content, specially the Trial of the Crusader, the abuse of LFD for badge farming... intentions were good, and necessary, but execution has been somewhat deceiving.
By the way, I will try the new races, that's for sure. I've already tried or have characters (even if they're low level alts) with the existing ones, so I'm looking forward for worgens (specially) and goblins. I'm still wondering which class will fit better each one. Worgens look savage, so feral druids look appropiate for them. I'm not sure about goblins... typically in fantasy realms they're usually cannon fodder in the hands of bigger greenskins, but in the Warcraft world they've been (until now) a neutral race dedicated to commerce (or should I say to gather tons of gold). Warlock may fit well the goblin race, since shaman is not available (so I could create some kind of Warhammer Night Goblin Shaman), but rogues also look good for such a sneaky race.