Moo Tang Clan: February 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

varying regeneration rates?

In WoW mana and health regenerate at a constant rate for a character. That constant rate might be different from other characters, but constant for that character .. unless of course they buff themselves, swap equipment, eat, or otherwise change the exact character context. Thus, if for a given character the only thing changing is the passage of then time their regeneration rates are constant.

The one exception that comes to mind is with hunters and their Aspect of the Viper: with that buff, their mana regenerates faster when they are low in mana, and slower as their mana pool refills. It's thus tactical to switch Aspects depending on your current mana pool and requirements - it's better to run your mana almost right down, pop Aspect of the Viper, hit Rapid Fire, Bestial Determination, and whatever haste trinket you have, and then sit back just auto-shotting while the 5 second rule works to your advantage. Wait until your mana pool has filled up some, and your rapid fire and haste buffs fade, and then and only then quaff a mana potion to top up.

This situational awareness tactical element makes playing a hunter more fun.

Some other classes have their own buffs for increasing their mana regeneration rate, but as far as I know none of those vary according to what your current mana level is.

Apart from passive regeneration, mana can also be regenerated by eating, drinking, and quaffing potions. While most potions have an instant effect, some potions restore mana over time. This presents another opportunity for playing with the mechanics - who says the mana per second from drinking is the same at the beginning of the drink as from the end of the drink? The PTR for patch 2.4 is playing with this mechanic. Players don't like it, although it may not be so bad as the flood of QQ suggests.

So .. what if there were other ways the regeneration rates could vary? What if the base regeneration rate itself varied according to fullness (but opposite to the Aspect of the Viper buff above). As a thought experiment, what are the upsides and downsides of a system where regeneration was much faster for the top 50%, but much slower for the bottom 50%? What if the faster regeneration rate only kicks in if you are sitting or walking (ie. not running)?

Reading that PTR 2.4 thread clearly indicates that varying the regen rate would have an effect on tactical flow: at one extreme players would constantly top themselves up and keep moving, while at the other extreme they would go all out, exhaust themselves, and then camp to recover. I've always thought the latter pattern to be unrealistic and immersion breaking - why they heck doesn't that next set of mobs just over there not notice that we've slaughtered their comrades, and why do they not wander over while we're all sitting down chugging down drinks and food?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

random discoveries vs crafted inventions

I'm both liking and disliking the alchemy discovery system in WoW right now. I'm liking it in that it rewards continuing effort at crafting, but disliking how it seems so random. I do like how the discoveries for the major protection cauldrons are tied to making the relevant potions, but all the other recipes are pure chance, and that I'm not excited about. It smacks of a boring grind for a lucky result.

This got me thinking about more directed efforts towards discovery, a way of experimenting. Blizzard could introduce a new "Experimentation" skill, which you get from each trainer at the end of each skill level (apprentice, journeyman, expert, artisan, master).

With this skill the player would select which herbs and other components to combine and then click the button to see if anything happens. Most combinations would result in some kind of [Vile Concoction of X] which gives a debuff or even damage on consumption. Some combinations however, in combination with luck, would be just the right combination resulting in discovering a new recipe which give slightly better results than similar regular potions, or maybe give a combination effect (eg. healing + swiftness).

If the player is close to getting just the right combination, perhaps they would be rewarded with a [Imperfect Healing Potion] or a [Bitter Healing Potion]. The results would be substandard, but the name suggests they are getting close to discovering something interesting. The nature of the substandard result might be lowered efficacy (eg. less healing than what you could get from a different recipe of the same components), or a debuff of some kind (not unlike the Fel Ache debuff you get with Fel Mana potions). It'd be funny to see an [Imperfect Swiftness Potion] which not only gives a +50% speed buff but also a -50% speed debuff, or a [Spoiled Adepts Elixer] which can only be used by warriors.

It would also be interesting to try combining both high level and low level herbs together, which might result in a secondary market for the low level herbs once again, or at least return visits to the old world. Hmm .. high level toons competing with low level toons for low level herbs .. that may be not such a good idea.

The system could even be rolled out such that the combinations necessary actually vary from realm server to realm server. For example: a [Potent Healing Potion] might be made from 2x Golden Sansam, Mountain Silversage, and Silverleaf on the Dath'Remar server, but be made from 2x Golden Sansam, Mountain Silversage, and Peacebloom on the Frostmourne server. Meanwhile, on some other server, it would require 1x Golden Sansam, Mountain Silversage, and 6x Peacebloom.

Differing recipes on a per server basis would have the effect of nullifying the game spoiling effect of online databases, retaining the game element of experimentation and invention, the game mechanic of economic demand for lots of different herbs (with many efforts resulting in a [Vile Concoction]), and the prestige of being one of the few who know how to craft certain rare potions (because no one else has yet figured out how to).

All this could probably be applied to other crafting professions too.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Long vision quests

The term "quest" has been badly overused and watered down, to the point where your "quest" can be "go talk to that guy standing right next to me". Sheesh, c'mon!

That's not a quest, that's an errand. Most quests in WoW are better, but are still nonetheless still small potatoes. There are however many very excellent series of quests, called quest lines, which are more deserving of the term "quest". A pity then they only exist at that meta level.

But what if the so-called quest mechanism were instead designed such that there where multiple levels of activities or requests -- "errands", "tasks", and "missions" -- all bundled together into a "quest" package. The eventual objective would be known right from the beginning, and everything along the way builds to that end.

At the very earliest levels you'd only have errands or tasks available, and they wouldn't be bundled into quests as such. They serve to blood the new player, to teach them game mechanics, and provide a beginners introduction to the lore. Towards the end of the beginner levels the various tasks and missions would also serve to provide some exposition for the long vision quests they'll be offered soon.

Once you've gained a few levels and gained greater capability, only then would the NPCs look to you as an adventurer worthy of entrusting a quest to and not just some scrub passing through. In WoW, you might get your first long vision quest at level 15 or 20, and that quest will keep you busy for the next 30 or 40 levels. An epic journey, and a character defining one.

This is in contrast to WoW, where you can pretty much do any lower level quests at any time, and there's no real impact of choice. Once you hit level 70, there's nothing stopping you from going back to Un'goro Crater and breezing through the epic Linken quest chain, or even earlier quest chains.

A rich game world would have multiple long vision quests to choose from. So, instead of re-uniting the lost tribes, your long vision quest is to return the boy king to his rightful throne. Along the way there might be tasks or missions shared by multiple long vision quests, and other times not. I can foresee guilds being established for particular quests, just so you know who you can cooperate with. Come together my comrades, for we shall embark on a mighty quest to the distant lands, gather round, gather round, for we are the Brotherhood of the Grail.

What I would also find very interesting is if not only were there multiple long vision quests available to choose from, but that some are set up as rival quests - you could choose to go down one path, towards one particular objective and set of rewards, and in doing so you don't go down some other path.

This would especially work if in pursuit of your long vision quest your various activities were to have some kind of world impact, and that at any time in your long journey you were presented with many possible errands, tasks, and missions of which some would undo all your hard work. If your long vision quest is to re-unite the lost tribes, it wouldn't be very smart to go off killing and upsetting some outcast tribe. You'd have to instead undertake a mission to re-open diplomatic channels, however that might be done.

The important point being to offer choices, and for those choices to have consequences.

battleground rewards in proportion to challenge

In WoW at the moment there is a particular strategy being heavily used in the battle grounds. Quite simply, sixteen players join as a group and consequently roll most PUGs. These premades have quite tangible advantages over the more random PUGs .. first, they form up outside the battleground and so have more than the 2 minutes (or less) to decide on strategy and allocate roles like defending farm/stables, and not only decide on a strategy appropriate to their class makeup but also adjust their class makeup. Further, they've got plenty of time to get everyone logged into a voice chat server, which provides a huge advantage in battlefield coordination.

I said sixteen players join as a group .. they do that such that when the battleground pops one of them can enter the battleground and scout to see if it's a PUG or a premade. If it's a premade, the group leader, who is still outside, queues the group up for a different battleground.

When the premade scout sees a PUG, the rest of the available players enter the battleground. What happens next is that usually the premade, by being better prepared, roll the PUG completely, 5-capping AB or 4-capping EotS, and winning the game in very little time.

They walk off with a lot of honor, and done in little time. Very efficient for grinding honor. And very boring, regardless of whether you are in the PUG or the premade.

However, I keep reading blog postings and forum comments which pretty clearly say that those rare occasions where the battle is closely fought, where victory hangs in the balance .. those battles are the really interesting and fun ones.

But because they tend to take longer for the same amount of honor they are not preferred by those players grinding for honor. Thus the premade vs PUG situation arises.

So .. what if the honor given out in the battleground was greater for those games which were closely matched. In the EotS and AB there's an easy way to see how evenly matched the battle is, because of the accumulating resource counts. They could even give out more honor whenever bases are captured, and more again when they are re-captured. Also, the amount of honor which is given periodically could be larger if both sides control 2 bases only. More honor should be given out if the number of honorable kills on both sides are about equal, but less if one team is easily trampling the other team in kills, to the point that graveyard camping slaughtering would provide very little honor.

In WSG, more honor per kill could be given according to how many flags the opposing team have captured. No flags for normal honor, 1 flags giving double honor, 2 flags giving triple honor, and an additional 50% if the opposing team is currently holding your flag.

AV would be similar to AB and EotS in that there is a numerical count of reinforcements, except it is a figure which is going down rather than up. If the reinforcements for both sides are within, say, 50 of each other then provide double honor per kill and double periodical honor.

A more powerful team if they want more honor would need to play a risky game of letting their opponent stay close to winning the whole time. Cat and mouse. There might even be some games where a powerful team discovers, to their horror, that who they thought was the mouse is actually the much more powerful team who have been faking their weakness the whole time only to snatch victory at the end.

The design goal would to set up the result of greater honor being rewarded for the more enjoyable longer and closer matched games, and less honor for the fast but boring wipefests.

I play a tauren, so the idea of whooping it up in a battleground and counting coup appeals to me. So much better than playing chief butcher in a sausage factory.

In the end, these are honor points we're talking about, not efficiency points.

Would you play in a battleground with those rules?

class specific daily quests?

I'd like to see a daily quest geared to particular class roles, and healing and tanking are the two that most need such a thing - they have such a hard time soloing so a quest peculiarly suited to their strengths might be helpful.

Both might take the form of the player helping a group of NPCs, escorting a patrol of some sort, except set up such that they don't have to actually kill the enemy .. just keep the patrol alive long enough for them to reach their destination. Obviously, unlike most escort quests, the NPCs should keep moving, and shouldn't be stopping to fight everything in range. Give the enemy mobs a huge amount of health such that actually killing is nigh impossible, so the emphasis is on keeping them off the NPCs, or keeping the NPCs alive.

Other class specific quests would be interesting too .. a kiting quest for hunters perhaps? The quest could be handed out by an NPC on the outskirts of Shattrath, and you have to bring him some mob from further away, like one of the mobs around Auchindoun .. obviously requiring kiting. Just watch out for other players killing your kited mob.

Now, because these class specific quests are not a simple hand out of cash but instead rely on skills and ability, perhaps they shouldn't be entirely straightforward and easy, perhaps they could also be a learning/training opportunity? What do you think?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

PvE battlegrounds?

Alterac Valley has been criticised because of it's PvE content - it's possible to win the battle by completely avoiding the enemy players. Nonetheless, it is still fun - it's a chaotic scramble towards some goal, and where else can you get 39 other players in one place at the same time?

Organising a 40-toon raid into old world instances is a monumentally frustrating task. Queuing up for a a 40-toon raid into Alterac Valley however is rediculously easy by comparison. Rewards from 40-toon raids are a hit and miss affair, depending on your luck, while rewards from PvP battlegrounds simply requires persistence in accumulating honor and badges.

So here's my idea - roll out a PvE instance with the PvP battleground queuing infrastructure. The instance should require 30-40 players, so there isn't such a strong demand for the perfect group makeup like in 5-10 player instances.

Tuning the difficulty would be tricky because the queuing system throws together all manner of classes and skill levels, and most of the players won't be familiar with each other so teamwork would be minimal. Well, tuning the difficulty would be tricky if you have to cater for the possibility of a perfectly well-balanced pre-formed raid hitting the instance ... so disallow that. Maybe allow groups of up to 5 to queue as a group, but no more than that.

Design the instance to reward chaotic interaction, swift action, and momentum. Provide multiple avenues for action to further splinter the zerg - defend, assault, capture, gather, etc. Provide various quests within the instance to ensure at least some players will go off their own ways. Design in some random AI - maybe the mobs will be in a defensive mood today, or maybe they're in an attacking mood .. and maybe they'll switch half way. Who knows.

Loot distribution can't be anything like regular PvE environments of course. Provide reputation gains, gold, and badges/tokens .. but be sure to tie them to specific activities which the player must be in proximity to in order to qualify for (to avoid the AFK issue).

Changing the world by community ownership

Elsewhere there has been plenty of discussion of the impact of the game world via player or guild housing. Cool as the basic idea is, there are severe downsides due to players not always being logged in, clutter, and inactive players leaving behind abandoned structures, and so on.

Consider though if the world impact wasn't by a direct mechanism owned by players, but instead via communities which the players align themselves to, in a subtler sense of the word "ownership".

They could swear allegiance to some minor lord, do his bidding, and see that community slowly grow from their efforts and contributions. The central village might grow in size and capability, outposts may be established, which in turn grow, until eventually a mighty empire straddles the land.

As their reputation with that community builds they might even be afforded some input into governance, perhaps some voting rights, or able to petition the ruling council for more of a particular kind of activity vs another (more mining vs farming, or colony expansion, or raiding, or alliances).

In my mind this design has various advantages:

  • the world can grow and change but in a manner not easily exploited by players (no rude words spelled out by the judicious placement of buildings, for example),
  • although players invest a sense of ownership into these communities they don't truly own them, and thus have a small buffer against direct griefing,
  • if the community the player has aligned themselves to is suffering horribly whether due to griefers or simply other larger/more organised communities, then the player can switch allegience and move on,
  • since property isn't directly tied to individual players, when those players go inactive or awol it doesn't really matter .. there will be other players who will come along and pick up the slack,
  • those players that build up influential reputation with that community don't get a lock on controlling that community .. whilst they might have more influence in decisions made, their participation isn't required for decisions to be made (compare this to guilds whose guild leader has gone awol, making it impossible to change various guild settings).
It's been said that "war is merely a continuation of politics by other means" .. so it would be meaningful to have politics in play, and the game be more than simply one toon blindly swinging a weapon at another toon. Heck, in some remote quarters peace might even break out, but I doubt it. Will there be players that don't care for all this non-combat PvP? Sure. However it's not necessary to participate in that in order to go do combat PvP. Some won't care why there is some big battle happening out west, they'll just go to where the fight is.

Tobold also wonders about impact PvP and the resulting discussion is interesting.

Update: found someone else with very similar ideas. I disagree that regular resets of the game are needed though - certainly there is the problem of positive feedback loops resulting in some faction or other dominating. What is needed there though is not some artificial game reset mechanism, but countervailing forces designed into the game. History is full of examples we can draw on - once empires get large, bad things start to happen. They succumb to internal bickering and sub-factions splinter off, they get fat and lazy and whomped by lean and mean barbarians, the oppressed minority factions draw from deep within to find a hero and spark a rebellion. Design in some dynamics that kick in at the extreme ends of the equilibrium which can result in the tables being turned, and things will get interesting.

more rival factions please

In WoW, there are a great number of factions you can build up reputation with. However, with the vast majority of these factions your reputation can only go in one direction: up.

There are three pairs of factions however which act as rivals to each other - as your reputation increases with one, it decreases with the other. These rivals are Aldor vs Scryer, Booty Bay vs Bloodsail Buccaneers, and Gelkis Centaurs vs Magram Centaurs.

Most players will by default build reputation with Booty Bay in preference to the Bloodsail. You'd have to go out of your way to do otherwise, given that Booty Bay is a major civilisation hub, full of vendors, quests, and travel opportunities. If you do choose to grind your Bloodsail rep you can eventually get a fancy pirate hat as a reward, so it's not entirely meaningless.

With Aldor/Scryer, different rewards await you at the higher reputation levels so choose wisely. Other than that there isn't much difference of note.

With Gelkis vs Magram, the rivalry is even more meaningless for players. You do have to build reputation to unlock some quests (not very many), but there are otherwise no other rewards for doing so.

All the other factions are not rivalrous, but generally have some rewards available for improved reputation.


What I'd like to see however is more meaningful consequences of building reputation with a given faction, and more faction rivalry. Instead of just some isolated pockets of territory being safe havens or enemy territory, have sufficient numbers of rival factions such that travelling cross country needs careful route planning. Have many different quests (and not simple mirror versions of the same quests) become unlocked according to faction reputation. Have certain resources more common in one faction territory, and other resources elsewhere - aligning yourself with the Goblin Mining Corporation might pit you against the Druidic Circle, but you will at least be able to travel safely in sub-zones rich in mining nodes (and not so safely in those sub-zones controlled by the Druidic Circle).

Not only will choices then be imbued with meaningful consequences, but you could then make different choices on your next character and thus experience a whole new range of adventures.


crafting some amusement

First, consider a crafting system where the skill for each item is arranged into a multi-branching tree, rather like the tech-tree of Sid Meier's Civilisation games. In such a system there isn't the need to segregate crafting into separate professions, while the more advanced item skills would require learning related item skills and thus there would be "professions" as such. Some item skills are to produce items, and some are simply knowledge skills (to help pad out the tree).

Not all skills lead to dependent skills. Some skills are dependent on more than one skill, some dependencies have alternatives (eg. cannon might require skill in any one of rifle, shotgun, or pistol .. but not necessarily all three or any specific one).

Next, have each item skill be separately improved - apprentice, journeyman, expert, artisan, master. The items you craft could vary in their quality, depending on your skill level. A basic Sword of Striking might net you a +1 bonus at apprentice skill, +2 at journeyman skill, all the way up to +5 as a master. The level requirements to use the item would remain the same however, and thus you're not simply crafting a weapon for higher level toons but instead crafting a higher quality weapon for the same level.

While you are still apprentice skill, there's a strong chance your crafting attempt will fail, consuming the required materials but producing only grey junk. You would however have a strong chance of earning a skill point, learning from both your mistakes and your successes.

Once you have journeyman skill in an item you can reliably craft items without failure. As journeyman, this would also unlock any dependent skills, which you would need to find a trainer for. You could at this point then move on to dependent skills deeper into the skill tree, leaving your skill at this item at the journeyman level.

On the other hand, you could strive to become an expert in crafting that item. Again, the attempts might fail, but at least this time the failures wouldn't be total junk, just slightly degraded efficacy. Sometimes you'd fluke a slightly better quality result too.

As a master craftsman of an item you could also train others in that item skill too. Also, being master skill in an item can also result in discovering one or more of the dependent skills, instead of having to train in it. Interestingly, this means the game wouldn't need to provide trainers other than as necessary to kick-start the crafting ecology/economy. There could even be entire technology branches which remain undiscovered.

Producing the items using those skills can improve your skill rating in that skill item, so long as you are striving to produce the best quality you are capable of. Producing lower quality items won't result in any chance to improve that skill. To improve knowledge skills involves a studying activity instead of producing something and would involve material requirements. You might also gain a skill point in a knowledge skill when producing an item which is dependent on that knowledge skill.

Thus, you don't need to be fully proficient in every item skill to progress up the tree, and you can skill up in any item at a later time as desired. It's quite possible many players will just get to journeyman in many of their item skills, and only excel in the items they particularly care for. This leaves open opportunities to become the only master craftsman of a particular item, carving out a particular niche for yourself. As a master craftsman in some obscure item you might even discover a new branch of technology .. one which you'd keep secret the pre-requisites so as to maintain a monopoly.


The actual act of producing an item or studying a skill would be a mini game, one which affects the quality of the produced item, the chance of earning a skill point, and extent of wastage of materials (less wastage means you don't use up all required materials). There should be some way of automating the workflow administration of a production that involves sub-units (learning from the tedious and fiddly process of the engineering skill in WoW).


Inevitably, players will grind their production skilling in pursuit of earning skill points, producing a massive excess of stock which the market would not support. It would thus be useful to provide faction NPCs which accept turn-ins of various crafted goods in exchange for reputation, the same way there is a Cloth Quartermaster for each faction. After all, the town guards need to be equipped, don't they?


In addition to the skill points/levels per skill, keep track and display the average or recent trend of quality of items someone produces. A bit like maintaining a "high score" for skill in playing the production mini-game. Maintaining a high average might well also accrue bonus reputation with your faction, as a further reward. Remember though that producing high-quality items isn't a one-click grind, you'd have to work at it.

(I also have a followup post on random discovery of new crafting recipes)