Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Praise where Praise is Due

I dunno why, but this weekend had me pondering the genius over at Blizzard.

Sure, there's some stuff we like to complain about, and some things we'd like different about WoW. But generally, Blizzard is spot on. We complain, we whine, but we keep going back, not very unlike the relationship between crack head and crack dealer, only without the negative connotation many people associate with crack.

I shall now spew forth a few of the observations from this weekend that impressed me:

1) Balancing Gathering Professions

Spent some time this weekend on a level 60 toon who had not even trained any professions yet. Went for an oldie but a goodie: herbalism/mining. Then went around Azeroth, trying to overlap zones that would offer similar levels of herb and mineral nodes. Azuremyst Isle, Darkshore, The Barrens, Stonetalon Mountains, Arathi Highlands (ah, the memories), The Hinterlands, Tanaris, Felwood.

At each step of the way, when I was reaching the minimum herbing level that would allow me access to the nodes in the next zone up the list, I was simultaneously within 2 mineral nodes of also being able move to the next zone for mining as well.

Not sure if this is coincidence, or what, but at each and every transition from one zone to the next, the two gathering profs were completely in synchronization (note, not numerically equal, but rather synchronized relative to the nodes in the next zone. Herbalism was consistently 30 points ahead of Mining, up to 300 Herbalism which kinda matched 260 Mining, and then smelting Thorium nearly covers the difference to get both profs up to the Master level).

During my travels, I was generally just spamming the Find Minerals, Find Herbs toggle macro every 1.5 seconds, so I don't think it was any subliminal move on my part to only migrate towards the one type of node that was lagging behind the other.

Perhaps I'm giving too much credit, and its as simple an algorithm as "spawn equal numbers of herbs and minerals", but I was impressed with the balance. But then again, due to the random mining skill ups from smelting that have no equivalent in herbalism, it cannot be quite as simple as that.

2) Motivating Customers to Buy an Expansion

Sure, with any expansion pack, you'd hope that the new content would be the only thing you'd need to motivate players to upgrade. But history, and current events, show that there's more to it than that.

With Burning Crusade, Blizz ushered in a massive economic and player stats inflation. Basically saying to the customers "buy the xpac or you'll (A) get totally pwned by some dude in level 60 Outlands quest greenies, and (B) be relatively broke other than by selling Old World junk to fancy Burning Crusaders who are powerleveling some aspect of their game."

I'm not sure how the economic inflation one will play out in WotLK. Sure, the new mini-van gold sink indicates roughly 400% inflation over TBC, but that's largely a response to the massive bank accounts many players have accrued while twiddling our thumbs waiting for the expansion, and not truly a measure of the earning potential they anticipate for players during the Lich King.

We are, however, already seeing the move they made with gear. Gear progression will be much more linear as you move through the low 70's than it was during the low 60's. Beta reports seem to indicate that T4 gear will last to around 73-74, and some T5 / Badge rewards will last perhaps as long as 76-77 (different pieces having a longer life than others, naturally).

So what did Blizzard do to us instead? They totally over powered us for The Burning Crusade. You don't have to buy the expansion pack, all you have to do is allocate the talent points they refunded you. And now you can pwn just about all the BC content you want.

The result is, anybody who does not buy the WotLK upgrade is going to get very bored very fast. The novelty of crushing through the formerly hardcore end-game is fun for now, but is going to wear off soon. If you upgrade to WotLK, you're fine. If you dont, its gonna get old in a hurry.

Kudos on finding a new way to motivate customers without making us feel like all our raiding efforts were invalidated from a gear perspective.

3) Plague

I've got a love/hate thing going on with the Plague. I hate it in that I head to IF to train Artesian Mining. Talk to the Trainer, get infected. Blow myself up. Corpse run, and I'm back in business, having wasted about 5 minutes of my time. I hate it in that I'm standing in Shattrath City, go AFK to make some noodles, come back and see my spirit standing at the Spirit Lady. There is a totally annoying aspect to the Plague thing.

But, I do have to give Blizzard a shout-out here. I think they've actually created an authentic feel, set inside of a virtual fantasy world with no actual life-or-death consequences, of what life is like during the Black Death.

Cities are littered with corpses and skeletons. Bring out'cha dead! Bring out'cha dead!

NPC shops are "shut down" due to Plague (aka, the guy is dead).

Go to turn in a quest, and the quest guy is dead (ok, this one is just pure annoyance and ended up costing me 50 gold on sunday, mutha f'ers).

When you're in a city, you see some infected slob coming towards you, you cover your mouth and run the other way. Watching people scatter after I've become a Zombie is pretty comical.

The normally active hubs of travel (flight masters), commerce (AH), and communication (mailboxes) have become disaster areas, which I'd imagine is very consistent with spread of real life disease.

Anytime you take a portal to Shatt, party members happily remind you to "mount up quick and fly away or you get plague".

Annoying aspect aside, I think Blizzard has given us a very realistic climate of plague, with a twist of fantasy (floating necropoli, zombies, and the like).


Ok, Blizz fanboi, stfu and get back to QQ'ing about something or stroking your ego.

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