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Archive for February, 2012

Swtor: Hardmode failures, round two!

Hello again Since my last post on hardmode failures and enrage timers there’s been a lot of discussion on DPS responsibility, gearing, the proper way of doing things, etc…  A lot of people have linked to this blog, some with very clever commentary and others not so much but we’re not going to hold that against them.

So last time I posted here I was pretty pissed. I was angry at discovering a part of endgame that was, and still is, in need of serious work, hardmode flashpoints. But, despite our issues, I was intent on trying again to crack the nut, to see if I was missing anything and I could figure it out and my normal running group is anything but dedicated and all were willing to try again.

So taking our previous experience to heart as well as numerous comments about learning to play, working on gear and the likes, we worked on stepping up our game and trying again. So how did it go?

The setup

Before heading in we did some strategizing. For starters, we all worked hard on improving our gear. My set got a lot purpler and save for an level 50 green implant, green gear is a thing of the past. I know my co-dungeoneers worked in the same manner on their gear. Also, some people told me to review my rotation and spec. I was pretty certain I was using the right one since I had done that homework before but, in the spirit of being thorough, I did so again and so did my guildies. Then there was the choice of flashpoint. From common internet wisdom, HM Esseles is one of the harder flashpoint and it was suggested to me that either HM Taral V or HM False Emperor were the chosen destinations.

Once I knew Taral V was the destination, I went and reviewed the bosses and flashpoint in general. Taral V includes 4 bosses and 2 mini bosses for a total of six. Of those, I learned that the bonus boss was reported as being extra hard due to being very healing intensive and somewhat buggy and the last boss had a way too tight enrage timer. 

The test

So, armed with knowledge, better gear and a review of my rotation, I was ready to head in once again. Since I had a few theories of how Hardmode flashpoints are not working at the moment, I was on the lookout for these two particular elements to see if my ideas held up.

  • More requirement out of the dps than the other roles: What I as looking at in particular is if the Enrage timer would be the main source of our demise. If we wiped but hit the enrage timer every single time, with equivalent levels of gear between the party members, it would prove my theory of more requirement out of the dps.
  • Buggy, unforgiving mechanics would cause wipes: I felt that a lot of our wipes came from a combination of unforgiving type mechanics coupled with bugs. I was curious to see if we would see more of these here.

The run

How did it go? Did we beat Taral V hardmode or not? Well, we did not… after 2 hours and many wipes, it was getting late, repair bills were mounting up and although we were really close, we chose to give RL priority as some people had to get up in the morning.  We finished on the last boss, with our best attempt seeing him at 2k HP left only… heartbreaking but that’s what happened. However it was a very interesting run because it proved a few things as well as new ones.

Out of 6 bosses we one shotted four of them with one being pulled by mistake with the group not even ready. These bosses were beyond easy and for a moment, I was wondering if I had not gotten it all wrong in my last post and had just started with the absolute worst hardmode. We did see the enrage timer on the droid boss but only for a second at the very end so it’s not like that was a big issue.

However the bonus boss and last boss did prove all by themselves my first two points. The healing boss is incredibly healing intensive. Why? Because of a buggy mechanic. At regular intervals during the fight, he pulls you in and start channeling and aoe that you have to get out of. However, it’s impossible to get out of fast enough without taking significant damage that the healer has to heal through. The bug, which is a lot like the one we had on the last boss in Esseles is linked to movement. For some reason, the game has sometime trouble tracking player locations properly which means that someone getting out of an effect might get out a few second later than he intended to because of that bug. It’s a documented bug that Bioware has acknowledged that when you combine with a very unforgiving mechanic, can make an already hard fight close to impossible.

But that was the bonus boss… so I could have lived with a bonus boss being extra hard if the rest of the flashpoint was ok. The last boss was not… we ran into the same damn enrage timer  issue we had on Esseles. Our dps is sufficient to beat easily all the previous bosses but not the last boss??? We did come very close but that was with the tank and healer pulling miracles and even then… it wasn’t sufficient.

So explain this to me? How can dps which is sufficient to complete all the previous bosses is suddenly insufficient? Did we forget how to play during the time it took us to kill the trash? I don’t think so. So it could mean two things really? Either the last boss is intended as a lot more difficult than the rest of the flashpoint… or the rest is way undertuned. Or… a more disturbing thought… could it be that hardmodes are badly balanced?

The verdict and a new theory

To make a long story short I feel my initial ideas are not wrong in and out of themselves but they don’t tell the whole story. The more I do hardmodes and play through them the more I see a pattern emerging. Either the bosses are crazy easy, or crazy hard. There’s no middle ground. More than anything this speaks to me of one big pervasive issue.

The hardmodes are simply not balanced and well tuned at the moment.

If we were undergeared or bad players, we’d be struggling on all the bosses. What we’re experiencing instead is this uneven and ultimately frustrating experience. We go from owning the place to getting owned and it’s not especially fun. I wish Bioware will fix this asap because it’s becoming a real source of frustration.

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Lotro journal: Archet and the Cargûl

It’s funny how different memory and reality sometimes play out. When I created my new Hobbit warden (the third one… I just love the class that much!) I was convinced I would start my journey right in the Shire and go my way to solves the issues of a couple of Hobbits. When I found out that I was headed to Archet to save it from a band of brigands I was pretty surprised! Wasn’t that the human starting quests?! Did they change the starting experience while I was gone?? Turns out that no… it was always like that but for some reason I had simply forgotten.

But before getting into the meat of this post I want to talk rapidly about these Lotro journal posts. As well as being an actual journal of my time in Lotro, I’ll also be using it to talk about general Middle-Earth lore and other Tolkien related topics like I will be today. I hope you will like reading about these and feel free to join in with questions or comments.

Welcome to Archet

Archet is a small village close to Bree mentioned quickly in the Lord of the Rings books. As they were leaving Bree, the Fellowship made it look like they were headed to Archet to confuse pursuers and not much is know about the place except a few notes by Tolkien about it having trouble with brigands. Lotro of course had to exploit the brigand part and they decided to tie the whole thing with Sauron and the Nazguls which is not that big of a stretch since Tolkien pretty much linked anything bad with Sauron in some way or other.

Archet turns out to be your standard fantasy medieval village at first glance. A few houses and vendors, some local color with a few notable npcs, fields, forest and a few ruins around the place. Nothing especially special but its a nice setting. The local brigands are up to Evil Stuff ™ and you know that Sauron and his party buddies, the Nazgûl, are right behind it all. So, it’s up to you to save the village along with your good buddy Aragorn. As far as starter zone quest lines go, it’s a solid introduction and it does a fine job of bringing you up to speed on controls as well as giving a broad introduction to the world of Tolkien.

The Cargûl

Cargûls (Sindarin for red wraith) are a new addition by Turbine to Middle-Earth. They are basically mini Nazgûls clad in red robes instead of black ones and at first glance they look a bit like a dumb color swap and an excuse to allow players to beat on Nazgûls without them being actual Nazgûls. However when you scratch a bit behind the surface they are actually an interesting lore extension in the sense that they answer a question Tolkiens fans had for a long time and are still debating to this day. What would actually have happened to Frodo had Elrond not healed him?

In the books and the movies, Tolkien writes that once wounded by the Morgûl blade, Frodo was destined to become a wraith like the Nazgûls. However, the lore behind the Nazgûls, makes them a bit of an exclusive club and makes it unlikely that there could ever be a true tenth Nazgûl. Tolkien never gave an answer to what would have happened and fans have been debating for a long time about this. Would Frodo have become a Nazgûl, being a ring bearer and all? What would happen if someone else was wounded by a Morgûl blade? Do they turn to wraith too? If so… what kind??

Cargûls are Lotro answer to that particular lore question. They are in essence lesser Nazgûls, still very powerful servants of Mordor but not as strong are the original nine Nazgûls. Lotor also goes on later to explain that creating a Cargûl is not simply a matter of being wounded by a Morgûl blade but you need strong-willed individuals and also rituals are involved. As with most Tolkien lore not everything is explained but still, I think it’s one of the nicer addition Lotro added to the lore and if anything it makes a fun Npc to fight with a bit more backstory than simple being evil ghost number 71.

I won’t spoil everything but in the end you do manage to do some good in Archet and my hobbit was sent back to the Shire to handle the evils of spoiled pies and missing mail. So much excitment!

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I hate to do this… I really do but I feel I would be a hypocrite if I did not comment honestly on hardmode Flashpoints in Swtor. I often said about WoW that broken designs needs to be called for what they are and the same will apply to Swtor. So let’s get right to it. Hardmodes Flashpoints are one of the worst designs I have ever seen in any MMO. It’s so bad that I could see them become a game killer for many people. Think I’m harsh? I am but it’s truly that bad. Why? Not only because of bugs but because of obvious poorly thought out design combined with said bugs. Is the game doomed? Not necessarily because the fix is very easy to do. Fair warning, wall of text incoming.

The heart of the issue: Enrage timers

In essence, all the problems in hardmodes boils down to enrage timers. In essence, hardmodes are pretty much the exact same flashpoints as the normal modes with level 50 mobs. Bosses are nearly identical in mechanics with very little differences. They hit harder, rarely one of them gain one new ability but for the most part… same thing. Except for one important detail wich are the enrage timers.

I won’t guess at the reason why Bioware chose to do it they way they did but the end result is that every boss in hardmode gains a very very tight enrage timer. Most people attempting hardmodes report seeing the enrage timers on nearly every boss. The most frequent reported numbers seem to over at around 40 to 50%. For the record, my group seems to hit them at around 20%. If you’re wondering, these attemps were made in post 50 pre-raid gair. Meaning people who have completed the normal modes flashpoints, have worked on their gear and are mostly fitted in level 50 blues and purples. Gear I would expect to be sufficient for hardmodes since it’s sufficient to start raiding with.

The end result is that a lazy design decision, enrage timers, is not working out and it leads to a lot of other issues which make hardmode flashpoints horrible at this moment. I’ll go into details with the following points to really illustrate the effects of lazy design.

Different requirements for different roles

I stumbled into an unexpected experiment that ended up showing me one of the most insidious effects of bad enrage timers. The night we first attempted hardmodes I was playing on an offspec for the fun of it. I’m normaly playing as a dps but I wanted to try out healing for one night to see how I would fare. It turned out that night was the one we decided to try out hardmodes and I figured a hardmode would be the best way to test me as a healer.

So, just to set the scene. It was my first time healing a group since Karazhan in Burning Crusade. I had not researched my spec or even changed my gear. I was going in with a spec I made myself, and with my dps gear equipped. I did a quick Heroic 2+ quest to get some rust off but that was it. I was going to heal a hardmode within a grand total of 2 hours of being a healer.

And you know what? I pulled it off. What killed us was the enrage timers, not my lack of healing. So the next time we head in, I am back on my dps spec. The one I’ve been practicing and researching. Same gear, same skill but a different spec. What happened?? We hit the enrage timers! We did manage to finish the flashpoint eventually but our bosses kills were made during the boss enrage, sometimes with only one person barely alive.

So what did that tells me? It tells me that the gear requirements for different roles are insanely different. My gear and skill is sufficient for healing but not for dps. If this was well designed, my gear and skill would be insufficient for both roles.  What this tells me instead is that the enrage timers are badly designed. They set it way too short and demand out of dps that they gear up way better than their tank or healer friends.

When timers and bugs collide

Another other insidious effect of the bad enrage timers are when you combine them with bugs. The easiest way to illustrate it is with the last boss of the Esseles flashpoint. That boss has a mechanic where he puts a mark on the ground and you have to get out within 3 seconds or get hit for huge damage. Right now, this mechanic is bugged. It’s been often reported that the timer is often shorter than 3 seconds and sometimes it even hits instantly. Also, the severs don’t always seem to register the player moving away resulting in players being far away still getting hit.  I have a few theories on what exactly causes this bug but that’s not the point here.

The point is that under normal circumstance that bug is manageable. If players don’t get hit too often, a skilled healer can compensate and prevent a wipe. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. However when you combine with a crazy short enrage timer you get into certain death scenario anytime you encounter the bug. Simply put, once he enrage if you get hit by lightning, whether on your own or because of the bug, you’re dead. The end result is that once he hits enrage, it become near impossible to survive even with the most skilled players around. It’s also incredibly frustrating to be hit by the double whammy of bad design (enrage) and bugs.

Let’s screw up progression too while we’re at it

The last insidious effect is that the gear requirements and difficulty simply screw up what we have come to expect as normal progression in endgame. In most people mind, you do normal mode flashpoint, the hardmodes and the raids. Turns out that because raids seems to be better tuned, it’s actually recommended now to start raiding before doing hardmodes. Or farm random drops in pvp for a really long time.

Now you could argue that Swtor uses a different progression model but if that’s the case it would mean that endgame is even more badly designed than I thought. I’m putting myself in the shoes of someone who has no interest in raiding or pvp and just enjoy small group content and they are screwed. We are telling them, do 4 man stuff, then 8 man stuff you don’t want to do in order to do harder 4 man stuff… If that’s not broken design I don’t know what is.

Conclusions

Not all hope is gone. In fact the fix to this whole mess is pretty easy. Remove enrage timers or if they really don’t want to, double or triple the timer.  Swtor has shown me moments of true brilliance in its design and I’m hopeful that they will correct this mistake soon. However I won’t mince words either. Endgame so far in Swtor has been a mess. Illum is broken, hardmodes are broken, pvp is not working great, crafting is bugged (reverse engineer bug) and there’s way too much grinding involved. I can’t comment on raids yet but let’s be honest. While I may be a big fanboi of Star Wars, not all the people I play with are. And sooner and later this kind of awful design will drive people away, and when they move away and it gets to the point where I can’t do anything… chances are I’ll be leaving too.

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Lotro journal: Starting anew

Last post I wrote about how I found Lotro to be one of the best mmo I’ve played yet how I never finished exploring it. My most advanced character was in the Moria by the time I stopped and I still had tons of contents to see.  Thinking this over the weekend, I decided to re install Lotro and begin my travels anew.

I’m not quitting Swtor by any means. Swtor is where all my friends are playing and I’m having a blast with it. That said, Lotro scratches that explorer itch like no other game can and me being a Tolkien fanboy, exploring Middle-Earth will always have a special place in my heart. So instead of leveling an alt in Swtor, I’ll be spending some time in Middle Earth when I’m not saving the galaxy.

Freemium play

Up until now, every time I played Lotro is was on a monthly subscription plan. This time around I wanted to go free to play since I don’t know at what frequency I’ll play yet and I don’t want to pressure myself into playing because I’m paying monthly. I figured that since I was a subscriber long ago and since I had bought the Moria and Lothlorien expansion, I’d be all set on content until level 65 at least. Plus I had close to 5k turbine points stacked up, I felt I was good!

Well, turns out I was in for a few surprises. For started, some elements I took for granted like having 5 bags or all my virtues slot unlocked were not present. Things I thought I already had since I had the full game a while back… well I have to pay for them now. Sure, it’s a one time thing and they’re not that expansive but still… It’s a bit disconcerting to find out that content I had previously access to is now blocked.

To make matter worst I spent most of my points on buying one of the newest expansions so… does suck a bit. I did have to spend 8$ to unlock all my bags. Right now my thoughts on freemium are this. I don’t mind paying for new content but paying for basic character features like bags… not so much a fan. Still, so far I haven’t even spent a month worth of subscription in another game so I guess I can’t complain.

First few steps

I’ll do another post for the actual in-game experiences but so far Lotro did not disappoint. It’s still breathtakingly beautiful and it still scratches that explorer itch like nothing else.

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Blog nostalgia

One of the fun exercise you can do when you have a blog is to go back in time to read yourself and see what how your opinions changed, what games you enjoyed and why and all other sort of fun facts. For example, I can find posts dating back to early 2010 about how I just couldn’t wait for Swtor to come out… that was one long wait.

Some ideas seem to change based on what game I was playing at the time and I can find points where I was really just trying to justify my current situation when in fact I my true motives were entirely something else, for example my stance on whether I’m casual, hardcore, a raider or my level of guild involvement has changed a lot. Yet, I can also see trends and ideas that remain the same.

So, I decided to do a quick recap of a few of my findings today.

What changed: Guilds and playstyles

If one thing has changed constantly it’s this. Over the years I’ve classified myself in nearly every style and have tried the full range of guilds, each time claiming I had found the “right fit” and justifying my decision however I could at that particular time. However reading all of it I can see a pattern emerging and both Walk the Plank and Eff the Ineffable have taught me a valuable lesson. In the end, it’s not the play style or even the game that matter the most, it’s the people you play with. If I enjoy the people I’m with, I’ll be whatever style needed.

What didn’t change: My low tolerance for buggy games

I’m not talking small glitches here or day 1 launch hiccups. I’m talking big bugs, the ones where you have trouble installing a game or the ones that make normal play impossible or hard. Every single time a game suffered from these kind of bugs I walked away quickly, usually leaving scathing posts about how the company is a fail boat that shouldn’t be allowed to live.

I’ll put it simply. If making your game work requires trained professional IT skills… then you failed miserably. No excuses.

The why did I do this ? Stopping playing Lotro

My most fanboyish posts about a game have all been about Lotro. Most post I made about Lotro have all been about how I love one aspect or another and how I enjoyed my time there. I still keep bringing the game up as an example of what an MMO should be like. Yet… I never reached top-level and there’s still a ton of content I haven’t seen.

Reading back I can see most times I get distracted by some new and shiny thing which cause me to veer away from Lotro but the more I think about it the more I think I should make an effort to get to max level and see the whole of the game.

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So here you are again, all alone in your favorite virtual world and looking for some friends and you have to find a guild. Of course, finding the right guild is never that easy. Just like finding a good prostitute, there’s a lot of potential choice but you never know who has a deadly disease or if the advertised gender is really what you will be getting. In order to save you some embarrassing moments and a trip to the doctor, here’s a little guide of signs that not all is what it seems to be.

Fun fact: All the following quotes are taken from actual guild recruitment threads and/or recruitment pages.

1st sign: The hippie party

Guild 1: This is an adult-oriented guild that seeks to promote and encourage maturity and civility both within the guild and outside the guild…

Guild 2: …a friendly casual guild is looking for a few good men (or women), 18+ to join its roster. A couple of Op nights a week, friendly atmosphere and fun to be had by all

The above was taken from two guilds recruitment pages and I’m sure you have seen quite a few like these around either in forums, in-game or on various websites. They all promise the same thing. A fun group of like-minded to people to play with, where friendship and good behavior are the main attractions. It’s effing hippie party and you need to run away!

Why? Because these hippies are dirty liars. No guild survives based solely on the good will of their members. Sooner or later, someone in the party will get bored with sitting around and singing about love and will propose a group activity… you know… to actually do something in this game we’re playing. This is when you’ll realize that not everyone in the guild has the same idea of what makes a fun activity and soon enough, all those lofty principles about fun, friends and family evaporate and you’re left with a vicious civil war. Sides will be taken, people will be hated and in the end, the casualties will leave MMOs forever and the survivor will be left wounded, but a little bit wiser.

2nd sign: The mysterious order of esoteric rules

Guild 1: In order to become a full member, you will be required to answer a secret question at the end of your first week. If you integrate yourself well in the guild, you should figure out the question and the answer by the end of your first week. This is a test to see if you are a good fit for us.

Guild 2: … uses a tiered rank structure for its member. Member will progress through the ranks based on guild participation and vote of the higher members. These ranks will then be used to determine who is invited to raids and other guild activities. A random …

Guild 3: … guild bank surplus will be shared amongst worthy members at the end of each month. A secret roll will determine who get’s what in case of ties.

Some guild operate like secret societies and sects. They have many ranks, secret rules and a mysterious officer corps who don’t want to share all the information with the group. Just like a lot of sects, the primary goal is to rob you blind of your money, time and work and all these weird rules are only a cover for what is basically theft.

Guild rules should ideally be few and easy to follow and remember. Same goes for guild ranks. While some guilds will use many ranks for comedy purposes or to indicate some special functions, regular members should not have to jump through ten hoops in order to be considered a full member. When ranks and rules get to a point where you cannot tell exactly where you stand and what is expected of you, its high time to leave before the Grand Guru McPants runs off with the guild bank.

Then again, you could be in a guild that really tries to be a secret society in which case you should probably run away even faster.

3rd sign: The slavepit gentlemen club

Guild 1: We operate on the principle that in order to get rewards, you need to put in effort and follow the rules. If you fail to follow the rules you will be punished and you will lose points. If you lose all your points you will be kicked out. Points will be awarded for each hour of raid, mats given to the guild bank or completing any other task set by the officers.

Guild 2: Members should follow the rules at all times. Failure to do so will result in loss of privileges and can lead to guild removal. (Monkey note: It’s important to point out said rules goes on for 24 points among these are a 95% raid attendance .)

You are playing a game… for fun… at least it’s what it’s advertised to be. As far as I know, no guild in the world pays its members to play with them. In fact it’s the opposite, people pay to play and raid with other players. Yet, some guilds seems to be ran by the mob, the military or some other totalitarian organisation that expect time and performance from their members and offer nothing in return.

Oh wait… they do promise something… they promise loot and killing bosses. Yet weirdly enough, the more rules these guilds have… the less advanced they seem to be. When you take a good look at things, the very best guilds have really only one rule: Be the best player around. So if you want a high end guild, try finding one who actually cares about performance and not about how well you can follow stupid rules.

By the way, if you do find a social guild with a more complicated set of rules… do laugh at them and take a picture. They are a rare sight indeed.

4th sign: Friends looking for more: Suckers!

Guild 1: This guild was founded by a close group of friends a few years ago who are looking to expand to be able to raid… We use a council of officers for all decisions relating to the guild and raids.

Guild 2: The officers are in charge of all decisions including loot and bank managements. We expect members to contribute to the guild by raiding with us and providing mats.

Believe it or not, not everyone on the internet have you best interest at heart. Some people are really only interested in using you. Gasp! I know… shocking right?

I won’t take a lot of time explaining this but any guild where a small group of people take all the decisions without input from the members or clear rules are only interest in having a few extra bodies or robbing you.

So… what guild should I join?

Clear goals, clear rules, no obligations to others.

Repeat it a few times. Mull it over. All succesful guilds I’ve seen from casual to hardcore are based on these principles. They have clear, in game goals of what they want to do. They have clear rules on how they want to achieve that and they won’t force you to do anything for other members.

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Swtor endgame musings

/pokes blog with a stick

Two weeks without any serious posts… not happy with myself there and I do want to apologize for the silence.  So what have I been up to? Well, endgame content in Swtor with a heavy dose of other gaming on the side.

Swtor at level 50

I’ll get right to the point. Is Swtor at level 50 any good? Is it interesting enough to keep me playing? Yes, but there’s a “but” that I’ll get to later. Swtor has a lot of the same activities other MMOs have at endgame. Raiding, heroics, pvp… the classics. For the most part I find also that they do it better than other games. Not radically different mind you, but different enough that it has its own flavor. As for doing things better, they do have years of examples to draw on.

Case in point would be Kaon under siege, the newest flashpoint. It’s not a revolution in instance design but the fights are more involved yet there’s a good flow, the visuals are great and there’s a few events I won’t spoil that make the experience truly unique. While I’m talking about Flashpoint flows, this is something I feel Swtor has really nailed, having interesting fights all throughout the flashpoint while keeping a good sense of pace.

So, Swtor does have all the elements of a succesful endgame, despite what some people would like you to believe.

But there’s always a but…

The “but” in this case comes from me and not from the game. As much as I want to pretend otherwise, I’m an explorer first and foremost when I play games. I love to complete games to see what it has to offer but once I explored said game, my interest dwindles rapidly unless there’s some other activities to engage in. In the case of MMOs, simply playing with others is enough to keep me entertained.

In the case of Swtor, I’m having a blast playing with my guild but I’m finding I won’t play for long on my trooper (my max level toon) if there’s no one around to do stuff with. I’ll play for an hour or so and move on to something. I’m not ready to pass long-term judgement yet because February is always a weird month for me but I was expecting to keep that new game feeling for a longer period and I’m finding I’m not.

So while I still enjoy the game and I see myself raiding and playing for quite some time, I’m wondering how it will play out this time.

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