It’s no secret that I liked RIFT an awful lot. I made a tactical error near the end of my time in the game: I was feeling neglected in the (extremely large) guild that I was in, so I broke off and made my own vanity guild, as I’ve done countless other times in games – except that I found myself missing the community to talk to, and without that, I was having less and less fun logging in. When Star Wars: The Old Republic came out, I dropped RIFT entirely.

I’ve known for a while that people who have purchased the game but haven’t paid a subscription fee can log in and use (but not level up) their characters above level 20, and can create and level characters to level 20, so it’s little surprise to me that today, Trion Worlds announced that on June 12, RIFT is going free-to-play for everybody. Subscribers will receive bonuses to XP and mount speed, among other things, and I hope Trion won’t take the same approach that EA did with SWTOR and lower the baseline so that the “bonuses” are what people considered standard before the F2P announcement.

Unfortunately, this isn’t going to get me back into the game. One of the drawbacks to both RIFT and SWTOR, and the reason I don’t play either despite their F2P portions, is that they hide updates behind a login screen. In a way this makes sense; it helps prevent non-subscribers from getting access to new content for the game, which wouldn’t be a big deal if there weren’t the possibility of private servers that use the base client but reverse-engineered server software. However, it does make a big deal to me – because, frankly, for the last year my internet has been terrible. I’m far enough out in the country that I’m now part of the 10% of the United States without access to broadband internet; Verizon has no intent to run FiOS out to my area, Comcast won’t run cable without a $13,500 investment on my part (since there aren’t enough customers in the half-mile between me and the end of the existing cable service to justify their installing cable out here), and the phone lines date back to 1915, so they’re too unstable for DSL.

Instead, I have satellite internet. Satellite internet, at the level I’m willing to pay for, offers speeds on par with 1996-era ISDN lines – and no matter what level I pay for, I have a daily bandwidth cap of 500MB. I can only download freely between 2 AM and 7 AM. And that means that if I want to update my RIFT and SWTOR clients, I have to get up at 2 AM and log into the client. And frankly, I haven’t been able to justify that, despite the fact that I paid for the software.

(Also, I’ve just discovered that when I got a new computer earlier this year, neither SWTOR nor RIFT was transferred to the new hard drive – and the hard drive they were on has failed in the meantime – so I’d have to re-download the entire client again if I wanted to play. At 5 hours a day and a maximum of 128KB/s… I’ll be lucky if I have the RIFT client downloaded before the F2P goes live.)

It’s sad to say that one of my basic qualifications for buying an online game now is “can I update the game without signing in?” – but I have to confess, that’s the biggest reason that I’m not planning to pre-order the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online – and it’s why, instead of playing RIFT or SWTOR, I’m instead playing Guild Wars 2 (which does allow you to download client updates without logging in) and single-player games.

And hey – if RIFT and SWTOR decide to get their head in the game and let me update without having to physically be at the keyboard in order to log in, I’ll be there with bells on.

(Yes, I know: I can log in when I go to bed and then use a keystroke emulator to update the software. In fact, I have done that in the past. But when many MMOs these days actively look for keystroke emulators so they can identify cheaters, I’d rather not take the risk.)

 

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday
The regular guildies log in
There’s a Field Marshal sitting next to me
Makin’ love to his HKs and wins

He says, “son, can you queue us for Alterac?
I’m not really sure how it goes
It gets changed every week
But I knew it complete
When I wore a Knight-Champion’s clothes”

He sings “Capture the graveyards, then towers
Leave Drek for last, if you ca~
a~
an”

Queue us all up, you’re the BG Lead
Queue us all up tonight
‘Cause we’re all in the mood for some PVP
And holiday weekend’s all right

Now Lufi the moonkin’s a friend of mine
She tosses up Moonfire for free
And she’s quick with a HOT
Or to bear-tank the lot
But it’s DPS she’d rather be
She says “Goddamn, this warlock is killing me”
As he fears her off once, then again
“Well, I’m sure I could balance this battleground
But what’d they complain about then?”

Oh, capture the graveyards, then towers
Leave Drek for last, if you ca~
a~
an

And the frost mage is practicing Firelands
As the Pandaren slowly get stoned
Yes, they’re sharing a queue just to get HKs
But it’s better than queueing alone

Queue us all up, you’re the BG Lead
Queue us all up tonight
‘Cause we’re all in the mood for some PVP
And holiday weekend’s all right

Now Cyn is a character novelist
Whose alt slots are already filled
And he’s chatting with Baen, who’s off on her main
Finding newbies to hunt down and kill

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
My groupmates all give me a smile
‘Cause they know that it’s me
Who will queue PVP
And let them pwn n00bs for a while

And the ready noise sounds like a carnival
And the starting cave smells like fish feasts
And they run at the gate (‘cept the ones starting late)
And say “man, could you buff us, at least?”

Oh, capture the graveyards, then towers
Leave Drek for last, if you ca~
a~
an

Queue us all up, you’re the BG Lead
Queue us all up tonight
‘Cause we’re all in the mood for some PVP
And holiday weekend’s all right

 

Trion Worlds just announced the first expansion for their MMO RIFT, RIFT: Storm Legion. From the Gamespot article:

Storm Legion comes with not just one, but two entire continents; all told, Rift will more than triple in size. […]

Storm Legion also brings with it a new city to call home: Tempest Bay, a bastion for both Guardians and The Defiant. The expansion also brings with it a brand new soul for each calling, though Hartsman was frustratingly (and charmingly) mum on just what these souls may be. […]

Rift: Storm Legion is about more, more, and even more. There’s a new level cap (60, up 10 levels), new dungeons, new raids (2, to be exact), and a new Chronicle (that is, a challenging, story-driven instance). There are individual stories to be told in each of these content types, though they culminate in Storm Legion’s primary narrative arc, which involves Crucia, the Queen of Storms, and the legions she hopes to bring to Telara through the mysterious Infinity Gate.

More information at Gamespot and the official RIFT: Storm Legion website.

 

I have to say, one of the things SWTOR does well that I don’t think I’ve seen another MMO handle is recontextualizing the environment based on class. I recently came back to the game after a few months’ absence – I’d tried the free week they offered and they’ve fixed many of the issues I had – and I’ve been focusing on my level-44 Sith Inquisitor, to whom the large ground clutter in SWTOR plays like large ground clutter in pretty much every other game – just random crap everywhere to jump over or go around (or get stuck behind, in certain cases, not that I’ve ever done that).

But on a whim, today I logged into my Republic Smuggler, and all of a sudden, all of that ground clutter wasn’t just an obstacle – it was cover. On my Jedi Consular – at least thematically; it’s rarely physically true – the ground clutter wasn’t an obstacle or cover, it was ammunition. And so on.

I know it draws from the mechanics in Mass Effect, but SWTOR’s use of cover (and, thematically, Telekinetic Throw) really does a lot not only to justify but to enhance the idea of the environment being an interactable element. It’s not quite Red Faction – although it would be awesome if I could uproot a boulder with my Consular so my Smuggler friend could use it as cover – but it’s getting there.

(It occurs to me that part of the reason the environment isn’t more interactable is because it’s a persistent, multiplayer world, and it would be very easy to render the environment unusable if people had the ability to alter it at will. But we can dream!)

(Excellent comments on the last few posts, by the way – I haven’t replied simply because I don’t have good answers. :)

 

First things first:

Are raids broken?

I think they probably are.

Not specific raids, but the architecture of raiding in general, as specifically implemented by World of Warcraft and Rift – the two MMOs I’ve raided in most recently. Raiding is designed to have certain difficulty levels; in Rift, some raids are 10-player raids and some are 20-player raids, while in World of Warcraft (at least in its most recent incarnation; it started out like Rift), each raid has a 10-player and 25-player version, plus difficulty levels within the player-count “flavors”.

The problem with this model is that there is always going to be some distance (and animosity) between players at different difficulty levels – “casual” players are derided by “hardcore” players for not being willing to put the time and effort into “real raiding” (and in some cases told that they shouldn’t even be allowed in the instances), while “hardcore” players are mocked as “no-lifers” by “casual” players. Moreover, it’s a system that fundamentally disadvantages players who don’t get an early start in raiding or skilled players who only have the opportunity to play with 10 other people, because by and large, when raiders are putting together a group for a given raid, they seem to want to trivialize it as much as possible.

(That is, incidentally, completely understandable – because raids require items beyond player skill, like food buffs and potions, each player death or group wipe is a set of consumables wasted, and so the fewer player deaths and group wipes a raid can manage, the better for everyone – or at least everyone who’s on farming duty.)

How to fix it

The most frustrating thing about WOW raids is that they almost have it – but not quite. The tiered-difficulty system still has the problems mentioned above. The solution is not to remove the difficulty – but to remove the tiers.

To fix raids, difficulty should be progressive, taking cues from more casual games like “Wii Sports” – or even from the games’ own leveling process. In the competitive games in Wii Sports, each player starts out at skill level 0, and – when playing against the computer – is matched with an opponent just a little above 0. If the player defeats that opponent, their skill goes up depending on how well they played, and the next opponent is just a little higher than their new skill. This goes on until a player plateaus at their actual current skill level – but over time, as the player improves, that number keeps climbing up, until they ultimately reach the peak of their physical and mental ability to play the game.

Raids in MMOs can take a similar tack. Assign each character – or even each spec – a “raid skill”*, which indicates how good they are at defeating bosses of the current level; average the raid skill levels of each member of the raid; and use that number to determine the initial difficulty of the raid. As the raid’s skill level goes up, the raids’ difficulties go up, and the value of the items dropped by the raid goes up as well. (This is nothing new in World of Warcraft, at least; we’ve seen that Blizzard can scale gear, thanks to WOW’s heirloom items – and we’ve seen that they’re okay with giving out multiple versions of the same item with different stats, thanks to Cataclysm’s three-tier approach.) At the top levels, allow raids to acquire unique mounts, legendary and artifact items, special achievements, etc.

As a further improvement, allow the leader of raid groups below a certain skill level to reset the raid as many times as she wants, but limit loot to the first boss kill per week. (In fact, given that loot is per-player in Mists of Pandaria, this should be extended in World of Warcraft to per player per week, so that players who join on the third or fourth run aren’t cheated of loot.) This lets low-level raid groups get practice and improve their play without giving them an excessive loot advantage.

The end result of this is that raiding will, interestingly, both become far more accessible and remain challenging far longer; entry-level players will be able to see the entirety of the content at a very low skill level (and receive very low-level loot for their efforts), and high-level players will constantly be challenged, because their next run will always be just a little bit harder than their last.

Thoughts?

This idea came to me today, and I’m sure I haven’t thought it through completely; I’d like your feedback, because I’m positive there’s something I’ve missed.

* Yes, I’m aware of how much this sounds like GearScore; the difference is that this number reflects the player’s actual ability, and not just her ability to acquire gear.

 

I got up bright and early this morning, hoping that 8 AM EDT on a Sunday would be enough of a dead time for me to get some quests done and actually experience the beta. Before I could log in, though, there was a minor update to the beta client that adds some really interesting new abilities to the game.

(Click the images for full-sized screenshots!)

Paying homage to last year’s smash hit Minecraft, a new tradeskill, Construction, has been added to World of Warcraft. (It’s a secondary skill, so everyone can pick it up.) Construction allows you to enter special phased areas of the world and begin building your own structures. You start with a mining pick, so at the beginning all you can do is dig down into the world (see the screenshot above; the guy to the right is the Construction trainer).

Having an earthen base to your structure allows you to put the “farm” in farming by planting and harvesting materials that can be used for other tradeskills like Cooking and Alchemy:

These mats – which only you can gather, but which must be replanted and then allowed to regrow – are obviously very useful to pretty much any character, but Pandaren characters get an extra benefit. Their previous racial passive “Gourmand” has been replaced with “Farmer”, which allows them to grow their crops to enormous size. The larger crops can be harvested multiple times (and will grow back if not fully harvested), and will grow together if they’re close enough. Here’s a group of about a dozen carrots planted right next to each other:

I haven’t really had a lot of time so far to play with this new feature, but one player who’s been online since the patch was released has done some really spectacular stuff. Although the construction sites are phased, you can allow other players to view your work by giving them Visitor status – they can look around but can’t modify or harvest anything – and this fellow was kind enough to let me take a couple of screenshots:

 

Well, I’m in the WOW:MOP beta.

My first impression:

  • My god, there are a lot of characters in Pandaria.

On both my new Pandaren monk (which was a lot of fun) and my transferred 85 (Theande, renamed to Theánde because apparently I was late to the game), I was forced to stop playing because I simply couldn’t progress any farther. Mists of Pandaria may be a fine, worthy expansion, but Blizzard has seriously fucked up the beta process in two major ways:

  • Only one realm is provided for each region (US has two, but one is PVP so it doesn’t count because it’s just going to be Who Can Get To 90 First And Then Grief The Hell Out Of Everyone Else).
  • They’ve disabled the Submit Bug function.

The first one just means that it’s nearly impossible to complete quests or, in many cases, even interact with quest objects – the first time I tried one of the quests in the Pandaren starting area, I literally couldn’t see the quest object to click on it because there were so many other characters piled on top of it.

That last one is telling. I see why they’re doing it – to avoid the four billionth person reporting that all dead mobs turn to face you when you loot something – but at the same time, they lose so much data that way (both in terms of character and world state – for instance, what if that only happens while the game is in the “day” phase, or if a character has a certain item in their bags? – and in terms of bugs that simply go unreported because the player is too lazy, or unmotivated, or disorganized, etc. to keep a piece of scrap paper handy*) that it makes the bugs that do get reported almost useless for actual debugging.

Also, along with several other bugs – like the bug that removes your talent choices if you swap talent specs, or the one that randomly swaps out your primary action bar for an apparently-unrelated action bar – it feels like Blizzard’s favorite new game mechanic really is “write stuff down on a piece of paper in case the game refuses to remember it for you”.

All that said, the bits I have been able to play have been quite fun, especially the Pandaren starting area, which has a couple mechanics I haven’t seen before. And monks are a blast, although I can’t quite figure out how they’re supposed to work. Unfortunately, at the moment, the 85-86 area I’ve experienced (Wayward Landing, I think?) feels very much like old Stranglethorn, Nagrand, and Sholazar, and I’m dearly hoping that it gets better from there.

* The inevitable response: “Well, you should have a second computer/second monitor/play in windowed mode”. No. You have missed the point of broad-base beta testing.

 

I first heard about this through Vitae: BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler has been viciously attacked by gamers for, among other things, not being a gamer herself, and for suggesting that a game that skipped combat in favor of dialogue might be interesting.

Oh, the fury they came up with in their intolerant, ultimately impotent haze, blasting away with remarks like “obese cunt” and “the cancer that is killing Bileware”. (To that one, BioWare studio GM Aaron Flynn responded with “whatever, fucking moron”, which naturally only served to rile the fucking morons up even more.)

Unfortunately, this is far from uncommon. A certain segment of gamers feel that they are incontrovertibly correct on every matter and that their opinions are universal truths; that anyone they don’t like, they can simply bully out of existence; that women, specifically, don’t belong in game development or as gamers (which makes it even sadder that this phenomenon includes some women). For the purposes of this post I’ll refer to them as Always Right Girl Hounders, or ARGH, which you may feel free to pronounce as an acronym and not an initialism.

This incident with Jennifer Hepler is simply the latest salvo in ARGH’s war against things they don’t like in gaming (including women). I know you’re familiar with them; they’re the sort of person whose argument boils down to “I’m right and you’re stupid”, only they’d probably use a term for “stupid” that belies their lack of respect for their target. (“Retarded”, maybe, or “a fucking loser”. Or “a cancer”.)

I have a theory, though, as to why ARGH are the way they are. It comes down to correctness and the unconscious conflation of morality and knowledge. Most of these people have gone through a system where correctness is rewarded and incorrectness isn’t remedied but instead punished: the modern educational system. Because of class sizes, curriculum requirements, and other exigencies of modern classrooms, when tests are graded, students who did well are rewarded with high grades – but students who did poorly are given no chance to correct themselves and try again. They are simply told that there is one right answer, and they didn’t know what it was. Moreover, many teachers attach moral value to higher grades, and shame students who got something wrong.

The students are therefore taught that being correct is morally correct, and being incorrect is shameful.

Additionally, students are taught that there is one correct answer, and that not having the authority’s single correct answer is to be incorrect, which is shameful.

So when these students are removed from that situation and placed in a situation where there are multiple correct answers – for example, opinions about video games – three thoughts flash through their minds:

1. Only one of these opinions can be correct.
2. Holding an incorrect opinion is shameful.
3. I believe that my opinion is correct; therefore anyone who holds a different opinion is shameful.

And they attack. Since the person who disagrees with them already is shameful, it’s an invitation to add further shame to the mix. Since the person who disagrees with them already is shameful, it’s an excuse to be as mean-spirited as possible – after all, if they didn’t want to be called an “obese cunt”, they would have had the correct opinion in the first place.

It’s even worse because ARGH is doing this over the internet – where it’s incredibly easy to find people who believe as they do and where it’s incredibly easy to remain semi-anonymous and insulated from retaliation.

They attack, because there can be only one correct opinion and obviously they have it, and they destroy as much as they can so that when they’re done, all that will remain are opinions that agree with them.

It’s sad, really.

 

Don’t get me wrong – Star Wars: The Old Republic gets a lot of things right. The voice acting, companions system, storylines, and combat are top-notch (although I’m pretty sure the Republic Trooper’s basic intro storyline was lifted from Die Hard 2). But there are a lot of things SWTOR gets wrong too – aspects of the game that very, very nearly break it.

  • No way to disable auto-self-cast. If you use a healing ability or a buff and you don’t have a friendly target selected, the ability gets used on you. Period. This is merely frustrating in solo play – for instance, when you’re trying to heal a tank companion – but it’s nearly game-breaking in groups, since of the many ways MMOs have given us to heal people, “1) manually select heal target. 2) cast healing spell.” is the least efficient and most clumsy.
  • Very limited ways to see your target’s target. This is largely a tank-focused complaint; it’s very difficult to see what your target has selected as its target. (It’s true that there’s a circle on the ground under your target’s target, but that becomes almost impossible to locate when you have more than three participants in a fight.) Not being able to tell what your target is targeting makes it exponentially more difficult to make sure you’re keeping aggro on everything – again, especially in large melees, when you can’t necessarily tell which direction each mob is facing.
  • No way to rearrange the user interface. Largely a matter of preference, yes, but this makes my list because by default, the chat box overlaps the left-hand action bar on a widescreen monitor. Ugh.
  • Poor event-collision detection. Here’s what I mean: during combat, you see that your tank companion is handily dealing with all of the creatures attacking you, so – since the quest calls for you to search the corpse at your feet – you decide to get that done with while your tank is finishing off the rest of the NPCs. You right-click the corpse, wait for the “Gathering…” bar to complete, and then, when it finishes, you get an error message: “Cannot perform this action while fighting.” The game doesn’t check when you start the action; it doesn’t check during the action; it only checks at the end of the action. This means that it’s not only possible but easy to waste quite a bit of time mistakenly gathering during combat because the game won’t tell you you can’t until the gathering “cast” is over. But this leads into…
  • Prohibiting user actions during combat. User actions like gathering from nodes, opening chests, or interacting with quest objects. This comes very close to actively encouraging griefing and node-stealing – because if you’re fighting the mobs around a node and someone else decides to come and gather it, there’s literally nothing you can do about it except ask them to please not. The game will not let you let the tank deal with the mobs so you can pick up the Dielectric Stem or open the Security Chest.
  • An Auction House system that borders on actively hostile to players. Want to buy something from the auction house? I hope you can guess which broad category BioWare’s decided to place it in, and then what narrow category it goes in within the broad category – because you can’t even search by name until you’ve selected a primary and a secondary category. This not only makes buying difficult, it makes selling difficult, because it adds unnecessary extra steps to the process of finding out what the current average price is. (It’s especially difficult for selling because very often the seller’s reaction is “I don’t know what the hell kind of item it is, I just want to see what I can get for it!”.)
  • And finally, no same-sex romance options. Really, BioWare? You thought this would fly?

A final note, by the way: I’ve seen people saying “well, you can’t expect SWTOR to have all the features in it at launch that WOW has seven years in.” While I disagree – the state of gaming is the state of gaming regardless of whether the game was released in 2004 or this year, and you don’t judge a car company’s new line against the Model T – I’m not comparing these features with WOW, to be honest.

I’m comparing them with Rift.

And Rift got them right at launch, nearly a year before SWTOR shipped. (Even the last one! Check out Kira Thanos and Uriel Chuluun. ♥) This stuff is ridiculous, BioWare. Fix it.

Anything I’ve missed or forgotten? Leave a comment and remind me!

 

I see you flyin’ away with the herb I want,
And I’m like, Fuck you
I guess me fightin’ on it wasn’t very important
I’m like, Fuck you, and fuck that node too
I said, “If I hadn’t fought it
I woulda got it”
Ha, now ain’t that some shit
And although I didn’t skill up
I still wish you good luck
With a “Fuck you!”

Well, I regret
I’m not a goddamn egret
I guess I picked the wrong damn class
You can take that Stormvine
That should have been mine
And shove it up your – well, you know where

I pity the fool
Who fights for herbs with you
(Oh shit he’s a node stealer)
Well
(Cat, bear, moonkin or healer)
Ooooh, I got some “nodes” for you
Yeah, just flag one time, I’ll be waiting

I see you flyin’ away with the herb I want,
And I’m like, Fuck you
I guess me fightin’ on it wasn’t very important
I’m like, Fuck you, and fuck that node too
I said, “If I hadn’t fought it
I woulda got it”
Ha, now ain’t that some shit
And although I didn’t skill up
I still wish you good luck
With a “Fuck you!”

I guess in the grand scheme
One herb ain’t a big thing
There’s lots of other nodes to farm
But I’m tryin’ to level
My professions
And you stealin’ does me some harm

I pity the fool
Who fights for herbs with you
(Oh shit he’s a node stealer)
Well
(Cat, bear, moonkin or healer)
Ooooh, I’ve got some “nodes” for you
Oh, I really hate your ass right now

I see you flyin’ away with the herb I want,
And I’m like, Fuck you
I guess me fightin’ on it wasn’t very important
I’m like, Fuck you, and fuck that node too
I said, “If I hadn’t fought it
I woulda got it”
Ha, now ain’t that some shit
And although I didn’t skill up
I still wish you good luck
With a “Fuck you!”

Now druid, druid, druid,
Why you wanna get me in such a mess?
I tried to tell a GM
But he said “It ain’t against TOS”
And I’m like
Uh
Why?
Uh
Why?
Uh
Why, druid?
I wanted it
I fought for that heeeerb

Ohhhhh

I see you flyin’ away with the herb I want,
And I’m like, Fuck you
I guess me fightin’ on it wasn’t very important
I’m like, Fuck you, and fuck that node too
I said, “If I hadn’t fought it
I woulda got it”
Ha, now ain’t that some shit
And although I didn’t skill up
I still wish you good luck
With a “Fuck you!”