Gadgeteers and purists

Last night as I launched a new sim on my Balance druid, it occurred to me that I rely a lot on third party sites and addons to play this game. I mean, really, a lot. Here is a sample, off the top of my head:

  • Over 20 addons — DBM, GTFO, ArkInventory, Weakauras, Bartender4, Healbot for my healers, Shadowed Unit Frames, Pawn, Tradeskill Master, Skada, World Quest Tracker, TomTom, Paste — to name a few.
  • Wowhead — my go-to site for guidance on where to find patterns and recipes, mats needed for crafting, various Legion guides, gear info, transmog ideas, and quest info. The latter is especially important to me. If I run into a problem with a quest, I immediately turn to Wowhead for solutions to whatever is stopping me. I am not worried about “spoilers”, I am just interested in finishing the quest and moving on, and I derive no satisfaction from figuring it out on my own after beating my head on a rock for hours or days. Thank goodness for the Wowhead users who unselfishly post their insights into quests as soon as they get them figured out.
  • Icy-Veins — I use this for class/spec info as well as for quick and dirty raid guidance. When I am coming back to an alt I have not played in a while, it is always my first stop to brush up on rotations, talent builds, and the order of stat importance. In Legion, I use this site to make my way through artifact traits and to get their list of BiS legendaries. The class/spec guides are always up to date and are written by world class players. I can’t imagine trying to figure out a rotation on my own for every alt by evaluating the various spell and talent and artifact interactions.
  • Sims. I use SimC on my own computer, and I also use web sites like Beotorch and recently Raidbots to run quick sims for importing into my Pawn addon. I know sims are only partially useful, but honestly I do not know of a better way to evaluate the complex factors in gear these days. (It would be interesting, I think, to compare the results for a player using all these complicated methods to select gear and talents versus selecting solely on the basis of ilevel increases and gut feeling for talents. I wonder if there would actually be much difference?)
  • Quest guides. I confess I use a quest guide to speed my way through leveling and also through dailies, profession quest lines, class hall quests, artifact quests, and even long achievement chains. (I am not going to say the one I use because it is a paid service and I do not want to plug a commercial product.)

There are probably a few more outside resources I use, but those are the ones that come to mind immediately. As I said, it’s a lot.

I know there are purists out there who are horrified by a list like this. I respect that point of view. Intellectually, I am even drawn to it, but realistically I am far too impatient to actually try to deal with a Blizz-only interface.

The native game UI itself, to me, is clunky, un-intuitive, and not responsive to player preferences. This opinion is reinforced every time I log in to the PTR and have to set up the Blizz-only interface. It just does not work for me, from the lack of raid frame options to the multiple-bar action bar setup and separate keybind interface, to the horrible bag space viewer, to the inability to set up reasonably-located spell cues and proc notices.

Additionally, the game flow — especially in Legion — seems confusing to me, possibly even deliberately vague. Blizz sometimes thinks they are running a puzzle game, not an adventure MMO, and they love to obfuscate in the name of “challenge”. Sometimes, for example, quests follow logically from one to the next, but equally as often you have to search for the next series without knowing whether or not it is a line you are interested in or where it might lead. And the “secret” quests — they are not my cup of tea. If I wanted to figure out puzzles, I would be playing a different game than WoW. I honestly cannot imagine a new player figuring all this out for themselves with zero outside help.

So I tend to go a bit overboard in third party assistance. I know this. I wish it were not necessary for my enjoyment of the game, but it is. In an ideal world, Blizz would provide a wide range of player options, permitting an approach like mine as well as the purist one. But even I know that is not really possible — they seem to have all they can do to keep the game from imploding without adding in a lot of complicating player-option code.

To be fair, periodically they co-opt some third party ideas and try to bring them into the native interface, but to my eye they usually do it badly. For example, there is the in-game Dungeon Journal now, a Blizz version of third party raid and instance explanations. It’s okay, but it falls short of most outside ones, in my opinion. The bag-sorting algorithm introduced in WoD is a slight improvement over what we had before, but it does not come close to the categorizing and display options in an addon like ArkInventory. I could give a lot more examples, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I do not think I would continue to play this game if I could not use third party resources to the extent I do. I like gadgets and gizmos and convenience and efficiency too much to give them up. Those of you who are purists, I salute you — try not to judge me, I am weak!

Housecleaning before vacation

I am going to take a short break from posting in this blog — maybe a week or so. Several reasons, actually. There are some real world work things I need to get to in my studio. I need to spend much of my game time between now and next Tuesday preparing my main for our guild raiding season. And — although things are settling down in the game for me — honestly, Legion still seems too chaotic for me to focus on something long enough to write about it.

Thus, before I take off, a bit of housecleaning so I can return to a nice tidy blog and drafts folder.

Ghostcrawler confirms what we have all suspected. In a recent series of tweets quoted and collected on MMO-C, Ghostcrawler finally came clean on one of the factors driving class changes in WoW, at least while he was at Blizz (emphasis in the quote is mine):

You’ve explained before that back in the days in WoW you wanted to nerf frost mages. How come frost mages were pretty much left untouched for such a long long time? What’s the process behind getting something nerfed/buffed like and who has the final word when something gets nerfed/buffed (at Blizzard and Riot Games)?

The less diplomatic answer is that there were a lot of WoW devs who played Frost mages, even though I wasn’t one of them, so there were always a lot of people to point out your potential mistakes when you try to make a change.

But above and beyond that, it was a tricky design space, because Frost mages were supposed to be good at both tankiness (emergency buttons that cover you in ice) and burst (ice lance combos). When you are good at defense and offense (especially burst), you are walking a razor’s edge all the time.

Who among the Blizz devs plays a hunter? Who speaks for hunters in the design process? Who is there to “point out your potential mistakes when you try to make a change” to hunters?

Answer, clearly, is: No one. And I have to wonder, why is that? If nothing else, why does Blizz not designate someone to be the advocate for each and every class and spec? Someone whose job it is to understand the heart and soul of a class and spec, someone who engages with that community regularly, someone who plays that spec regularly in every game venue, who understands at a gut level the synergy and play style of the spec.

No. No one at Blizz speaks for hunters. They don’t understand the class, they don’t play the class, and worse, they don’t care. This explains a lot. This is irresponsible for a game developer.

Secrets and surprises are overrated. This occurred to me as I — finally — finished my hunter class hall campaign last night and unlocked my third relic slot. Yes, I was happy about getting the achievement, and much of the quest line in retrospect seemed relevant and engaging. But not knowing where I was in the process for the last couple of weeks has been beyond annoying. My impression was that it was an endless series of more quests, and all I could do was slog along miserably ignorant of when it might be over.

Some people do not like to know the big picture, they consider any knowledge of where they are in a process to be “spoilers”. Not me. I am goal-driven, and I like to know exactly how many more hoops I need to jump through before I get to a goal. Contrary to spoiling the process for me, it enhances it, makes me more eager to finish, allows me to gauge when I might expect to be rewarded.

It is the same with Legion professions. Blizz deliberately keeps the profession leveling process murky, telling us repeatedly how much fun™ it is to not know when or where you might find a clue to leveling up! No, no, and just hell no! I want to know what the process is, even if it is a long and complicated one. I like knowing what I will have to do to achieve a goal. I do not like the juvenile game of I-know-something-you-don’t-know.

There are some third party sites that are starting to list things like all the quests in class hall campaigns, and how to level your professions in Legion. I use them, and I am grateful for them. But Blizz should do this for players in a centralized game guide location — no need to look at it if you don’t want to, but there for those of us who want to know how or if we are progressing.

RNG versus the Powerball Lottery. I am in a fairly large and active guild, we have had probably 30-40 people active almost every night since Legion launched. And so far, I do not know of a single person to get a legendary drop. It may have happened, I just have not seen it in any of the many hours I have been playing. Additionally, thus far to my knowledge no skinners have managed to get a drop of fel hide except for the world quest that awards it. The drop rates for these items is so low as to be virtually zero.

This practice, in my opinion, is not in any way related to the concept of “random drops”. It is much closer to the concept of a multi-million dollar lottery. Sure, it is mathematically possible, but realistically the chances are about as close to zero as you can get. These kinds of fairy-tale “drop rates” have no place in a game. Either make it so players have a reasonable expectation of getting them — infrequently, sure, but getting them once in a while nonetheless — or remove them from the game. This is bait-and-switch.

In fact, Blizz, why not publish once a week or once a month the actual number of drops — and the rate per active player — of some of these uber-rare items? If you think they are reasonable for drop rates, put your money where your mouth is and tell us how many are actually dropping.

In spite of everything Ion Hazzikostas says, it is not/not/not fun to be told “there is a chance” to get these items and then never get them. No, Ion, just no.

Plusses and minuses to zone scaling. I like the idea of being able to level anywhere and  still be challenged as well as get appropriate level XP and loot. That is the good side of scaling. However, the bad side of it is that every minor mob along your path becomes a significant threat. Of course, as you gear up they become less of a threat, but I am thinking now of my squishier alts, who likely will not get a lot of gearing up, and how much of a real pain in the patoot that is going to be.

Again, it is not fun™ or immersive™ to have to stop, dismount, and fight your way through that same bunch of mobs every time you are on your way to a world quest location. Every. Single. Time. Nope, nope, and nope.

At this point, most of my alt leveling will be done after flying, I am thinking. And it better be in 7.2 at the latest. Speaking of which, I think it is time for Blizz to actually stop being coy and announce when flying will be available. (Another example of me hating Blizz’s stupid ideas of “secret” and how much fun that is! Whee!)

OK, that’s it from me for a few days. I expect to be back here writing again next Wednesday — caught up, rested, and ready to go.