Capping Guild Wars 2

300px-Normal_gw2logoI’m a great tryer of MMORPGs. I tend to move between games frequently, often sticking around only for a week or two, only to come back in three months of two years or whatever. It’s easy to do especially in these days when freee to play ios the rule rather than the exception, and I can play for even just a day or two before moving on or becoming tied up with real-life things.

On top of that, I tend to play with alts a lot, usually quickly filling all of the available character slots, and sometimes more if you can buy them separately. In EQ2, for example, I have crafting alts in every tradeskill, plus a couple of extra characters in classes that I just wanted to play. For the last three years or so, EQ2 has been my primary game during summer and winter breaks, and I’ve been making a conscious effort to level my main there.

Even in EQ2, though — a game I have put hundreds of hours into — I don’t have a character at the level cap in either adventuring or crafting. The only game to date that I’ve capped a character is WoW, in which I managed a sustained run of about 8 months in the WotLK era. Even there, I only capped my main, although I came close with a couple of other characters before the cap shifted further out of reach.

Yesterday I hit the level cap in Guild Wars 2, which took (as a guess) maybe 110 hours. There’s still a lot left undone there, of course — offhand, my gear is shit and I still have about 45% of the world left to explore, to say nothing of the running series of events that GW2 has been rolling out pretty regularly since its launch. I have also done little — very little — PvP despite this being one of the game’s strong points. I may have another try at that in the limited time I have left (just one week) before school starts again.

Over on the MMORPG.com forums, the running narrative among the nitwit set seems to be that GW2 is a big faceplant. Personally, I don’t see how that’s the case unless the metric of success is causing the downfall of World of Warcraft — which frankly no game except World of Warcraft is going to do (although it is managing it.) Sales were strong (over 3 million copies sold as of this past January,) and there’s still plenty of people in game; every North American server is at at least High population even at obscene hours.

Granted, it’s not a flawless game and we know sales have started to flatten, but at this point it’s fair to say that it’s aging fairly gracefully. Its trinity-less combat model hasn’t turned out as well as we all hoped; I think it works fine for play in the open world but in dungeons and against bosses it’s both screwy and dull. Too, the “living” world works well enough for the most part, but it’s not as organic as it sounded before launch, and frankly after 80 levels of it everything seems pretty stagy. Although I have been nominally leveling by exploring, and GW2’s open objectives are indeed a novel alternative to strictly linear quests, I haven’t felt like I was really discovering anything new for at least 40 levels.

It is also in some respects a frustrating game… although not nearly as frustrating as its predecessor, in which I tried (I really did) to finish all three campaigns, multiple times, only to eventually get stuck. It’s odd how similar the two games are, and yet how different, with GW being a true departure from the MMORPGs of its day and GW2 bringing the series much closer to the mainstream, but both sharing similar support models and art direction.

GW2 is getting good support but I wonder how wise ArenaNet was in opting for the current scheme of live support and regular updates instead of a dedicated (and marketable) expansion. I can see playing quite a bit more of it myself, but I’ll get shunted away into schoolwork in a matter of days… and I think we can already see some dwindling of interest that would be rekindled by an expansion.

Retro Servers and A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Some folks are talking about how MMORPG blogging is dying. While there are indisputably more platforms these days on which to spread your word, and many of the old blogging folks have migrated at least some of their material to those platforms, the problem isn’t that blogging is dying. Blogs, in fact, are as popular as ever. The issue in our little corner of the internet is that MMORPGs are dying.

Or, at least, MMORPGs as they have in the past been considered. The immersive virtual world, instead of being pushed forward, has been pushed to the sidelines by big companies chasing big money. Such worlds aren’t dead, but they’re now doomed to become a niche within the much broader definition of “MMORPGs,” which these days includes anything that is either multiplayer or vaguely an RPG. When League of Legends falls into the same category as EVE Online, I’m afraid that the category has lost any meaningful utility.

In retrospect it almost seems that Blizzard and its cash cow have been followers here rather than leaders. How many companies produced MMOs that superficially copied WoW, but only the elements that they thought were marketable to the masses, while leaving out the virtual world that made WoW so seductive in the first place? Meanwhile Blizzard was doing the same thing to their own game. Of course, EverQuest came first, laying much groundwork for the genre, which turned out to be part of the problem — by producing a game whose defining feature was “like EverQuest, but easier,” Blizzard sold a generation of game developers on the idea that they key to success and popularity was “easier.” Nobody noticed all those other good things that a Blizzard more or less oblivious to the huge pile of money in its future had done before the game launched. The world that you could spend thousands of hours lost in went away and all that was left was “easier,” “better balanced” and “more accessible.”

Maybe that really is the way to success for an MMORPG, but if so nobody’s managed to do it on Blizzard’s coattails. Instead we have a game strangling itself to death slowly and a company seemingly unable to do anything about it, or even to correctly identify the problem. People being simply burned out on a game they’re explored very thoroughly is certainly a factor, but contributing to it is that each expansion has given players less and less world to explore and get lost in. Maybe the amount of physical volume is just as high, maybe there’s even more quests than ever, but all the little avenues of play other than the one that the devs give us have been slowly but surely stripped away or consigned to uselessness. Surely fatigue is important, but it would be less of an issue if WoW hadn’t lost an important element of what made it so popular to begin with.

We, the MMORPG fans who miss that big virtual world, have a couple of options. One is to wait on the chance that one of the next generation of virtual worlds will be what we want. I’ve mentioned my own hopes surrounding Star Citizen and EverQuest Next, and are some other titles as well, like ArcheAge and The Repopulation, that have potential. They’re all (save EQN) from smaller studios, but that’s okay — the market for this type of game needs to contract and developers need to stop chasing WoW money and spending hundreds of millions of dollars in development anyway.

Or we can hope for a throwback server, one that tries to replicate the experience of a younger game. But there are reasons why only one company even tries this, and why its attempts are halfhearted. The big obstacle is that there aren’t just five different versions of (for example) WoW: vanilla, BC, Wrath, Cataclysm and Pandaria. There are in fact hundreds of different versions, one corresponding to each step in the patch/update cycle. and of course you have two pieces of software to be concerned with, the server and the client. Which of the hundreds of versions do you pick? Assuming you even have archived versions of the software from that date? (SOE always maintains that it doesn’t even have that obsolete code, though you’d think that proper design principles would mandate decent version control.) The client today is vastly different from a version of the client from a random date six years ago, so you’d need to either distribute an old client alongside the current one of undertake a major piece of software engineering to make the current client work with both new and old versions of the server-side software.

This last is a dealbreaker, by the way. But let’s assume you even get that far. In that throwback version of the game there are surely cool things that have been lost today, but just as surely there is crufty, broken stuff that you’d want to fix — and it was fixed, one or ten updates down the line. Do you abandon all the good work that went into development of the live game during that time, in an effort to eradicate the bad? Eliminating changes the developers believed in at the time, defended in internal meetings and fought to achieve? Do you fix those things and effectively consign yourself to having a second development team working on a parallel game?

Now, you could theoretically see something like SOE has done in the past, most recently with the Fippy Darkpaw server, which is a fresh server with most of the newer stuff locked down or hidden, but even so there’s a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes, in the basic mechanics or in the functionality of the UI for example, that can’t be easily changed or rolled back, as indeed SOE does not. This is why you’ve never going to see a real WoW or EQ2 throwback server; because to do it right costs too much money and is too much trouble. The fundamental game mechanics have changed too much; it would be impossible to hide the new game under a visage of the old, as was done with EQ.

That leaves the last option, which is to hop to one of a variety of private servers that try to offer a retro experience. There are selections for vanilla WoW, old-school EQ and pre-CE SWG, offhand, among many other private server options, and if one of those is your thing you may find some happy times there. But these private servers can never really fully replicate the experience that we had “back in the day,” lacking the community and the live dev team that gives an MMORPG part of its dynamism. Private servers are also of, at best, questionable legality; the whole private server scene strikes me as a sleazy underworld awash in shady figures and dubious downloads.

Still, some private WoW servers are doing interesting things. Many have additional non-canon features aside from stuff like x100 XP rates, like significant rules changes or even entire custom expansions. Note that I’m reporting this based on stuff like the linked video above; I’ve only ever stuck my head into one private server and an generally very uncomfortable with the idea. Legal or not, though, clearly a lot of attentive work has gone into some of these. It would be nice if something could be worked out with the IP holder to allow legitimately creative modded servers to exist above board.

This is more or less the situation we have today with Minecraft, in fact, although that game’s suitability for both modding and multiplayer is in my judgement subject to debate. In the case of high-profile MMORPG titles like WoW or EQ such a situation would seem pretty unlikely. But Star Citizen promises something effectually very similar, with the ability to create mods and run private servers drawn in from the get-go. This will be a boon for those dissatisfied with some particular version of the game — they can just write a mod to roll the game back to some earlier version, perhaps with other modifications, and run the whole thing on their own private server, without the kind of legal worries that illicit private servers currently have to worry about.

So that’s my proposed solution — I’m pinning my hopes on EverQuest Next and (and maybe a little on Shroud of the Avatar,) with an ear to the ground on a few other projects, but Star Citizen, which hopes to make centralized server control by the publisher an option rather than a mandate, may be the Next Best Hope. I just hope I’ll have a PC able to run it.

What Was Lost

My recent playing experience has me convinced that World of Warcraft is a lot less fun today than it was in its vanilla days. This isn’t nostalgia talking — I wasn’t even playing WoW until after Burning Crusade released. But let’s say I’ve confirmed it and leave it at that.

The real question, though, is why. Without talking in vagaries or throwing down meaningless buzzwords like “sandbox,” why does the vanilla WoW experience seem so much richer than the game today? A lot of what we think about this is annoyingly unspecific; how far can we dig into it?

There’s no question that a lot of changes have happened in WoW over its 8-year lifespan. Many of those have been positive additions to the game — few would quibble with most of the new races, for example, or the fact that new lands have been added. The addition of auction houses in every city instead of just Orgrimmar and Ironforge is probably a good thing. Autoloot saves everyone some hassle.

At the same time, the very process of expanding the game also irreprarably broke some things. Crafting has never recovered, for example — crafted gear at any level other than the current cap is still tuned to a gear level before the current expansion, making it worthless as new drops have been added to the loot tables. The progresion speed within each tradeskill is still tuned to the vanilla leveling speed — meaning that now, you will outlevel your zones long before you’re able to finishing doing the crafting for those same levels, which stalls you one way or the other: either you stop level and grind crafting, or you abandon crafting and maybe get back to it later — whereupon you need to grind independently of leveling. Perhaps the vanilla game wasn’t as well-tuned as it sems today in comparison, but the general trend toward the leveling game just being a time-waster until you get to the top level was much less obvious then.

Too, it’s easy to forget just how nonlinear the questing was pre-Cataclysm. There were quests all over the place, and no particular pointers to them in many cases. Even standard zones like Elwynn Forest had breadcrumb quests between the major hubs, but also a ton of quests off the beaten track that you could find, and lots of intersting locations not directly tied to particular quests. You had chains that you’d pick up at one level and then resume ten levels later. It gave exploration value over and above the pittance in XP you got from unlocking the map sections, and you could find and do things in the order you liked, instead of just giving being given a set progression that you can’t deviate from in any significant way.

WoW was a little more challenging then, partly due to mechanical changes and partly due to even low-level gear being totally busted now. WoW was never really about challenge per se, but who doesn’t have a recollection of of dying a dozen times in the Burning Blade cave or the Fargodeep Mine, or to those fucking robots in Deadmines? In a way it was frustrating, but your forward progress never really stopped, so it could still be fun. even if you were pounding your keyboard in rage.

The world was bigger. This is an illusion, of course, but it’s a powerful one. With no mounts until level 40, no flying mounts at all, and the flight paths few and far between, for a lot of the game you had to hoof it. Which could slow the pace of play dramatically, but it also had an interesting side effect when players left the straight path and tried to find shortcuts. Sometimes they discovered something interesting up there in the hills, tied to somebody else’s questline that they would otherwise never see, or perhaps a relic of some abandoned thread of development from before release. Sometimes it was just something that ate extra time, but even then it was showing the wandering player the texture of a world that didn’t have every iota of content already lined up in order. The expectation was that things would take time, so you felt less inclination to rush and spent more effort on the journey and enriching it.

I’m hoping that EverQuest Next can capture some of this magic that even Blizzard seems to have lost their grip on. It’s probably the Last Best Hope for virtual worlds on the visible horizon; “sandbox” isn’t really the right term for this, but it’s what we’ve got.

Exploring Levels Again: The Numbers

Getting back to the leveling discussion and the idea for an RPG without a level cap, I’m putting some numbers together just to see how they feel and to get an idea for the scope of a level range using WoW-style advancement. Let us make the following stipulations:

  • We have a leveling system with no true cap.
  • Characters and mobs both have levels.
  • The XP needed to advance to a new level is calculated as a number of mob kills of a level equal to that of the character. This is how WoW does it, by the way, although of course in practice you have other factors such as rest XP, XP from quests and so on that will need to eventually be figured in.
  • Mobs not at the character’s level will of course yield a different amount of XP, but that’s not important for the purposes of this particular calculation.
  • The power curve, i. e. just how much a level means in mechanical effect, is not considered here. In a non-levelcapped system I suggest that the power curve be pretty gradual.

Okay, so given those things, we have a basic leveling calculation:

x=16c^2e^r

Where x is the number of XP needed to get to the next level, c is the character’s current level, e is the mathematical constant e (equal to approximately 2.718) and r is a scaling factor equal to the character’s level divided by 10 and rounded to one decimal place. Using this forumla some scaling could be done either by moving the constant up or down or adding some number (probably less than 1) to r.

Truncating the actual XP numbers and plugging in some sample figures, wee see that a level 1 character needs 70 XP to reach level 2, while a level 11 character needs 21,890 XP to reach level 12, or 73,790 accumulated total XP. This works out to over a thousand mobs killed. I’ve calculated this up to level 100 (not a cap, just as high as I have taken the numbers) and it seems likely that very, very few players would surpass level 40, which requires you to have gained the equivalent of over 100K worth of at-level mob kills.

Now, as I said before, you would almost certainly have quests as a means to get XP, and those would yield as much XP as a batch of mobs. Plus there might be XP gain rate boosts of some kind, or XP from crafting, exploration, gathering and so forth. So it might not be as slow in practice as these numbers suggest, but hitting level 20 would be something. If the power curve is indeed gradual and as steep as I suggest, you could tailor quests to target a range of, say, seven levels, and have a lot of overlap within the level ranges in which players will tend to cluster, therefore reducing the need for the same kinds of content in multiple level ranges.

On the other hand, many players under such a scheme might feel, say, in the 20s or even the teens that it takes forever to level. So maybe there is some kind of sub-level advancement a la DDO or Vanguard, where you get your benefits for the next level during that level as opposed to only when you hit it. If the net power gain per level in +5%, for example (it’s probably impossible to quantify this so precisely, but there ought to be some kind of target to shoot at,) you might get +1% at 20% of the next level, another +1% at 40% and so on. You might also want level-independent intangibles (reputation might be one example) that players could go for as measures of accomplishment.

Would crafting be dependent on this overall character level? I’m not sure, but my inclination is to say that it would… but there’s also my other notion that level is supposed to be the result of power advancement rather than the cause. In an arrangement like that, a more complicated progression formula would be in order, probably one based on skill ratings. But I’m not sure you’d need to implement both ideas, actually.

The Vanilla Dream

In a sense, playing MMOs impairs our judgement. We can’t stand back and be impartial anymore, judging from on high. We can look back to the Elder Days but our vision is clouded by the fog of years and the memories of many, many man-hours in the trenches. Sometimes it takes an outsider to come in, look around and say something that makes everybody blink.

I started playing World of Warcraft around July of 2007. This was well into the Burning Crusade era, but other than starting Draenei or Blood Elf characters, I wouldn’t touch any of the expansion’s real meat for a long while yet. Changes were afoot then; the game was shifting under players’ feet even if they weren’t noticing. The Gates of Ahn’Qiraj had been opened long ago. XP rates had been accelerated and content gaps had been methodically filled in. Mechanical burdens on certain classes were being eased. Autoloot became available and quest trackers were starting to help lead players through the content. Even at low levels better gear became available in the starter zones, and thus in the auction house, and crafting was never retuned… and still hasn’t been to this day, making most crafting done below the tradeskill cap useless.

Even aside from the total revamp of level 1-60 content that Catacylsm brought, WoW has changed very substantially since it launched. Thousands of little things have changed, some called nerfs and others buffs, and some good and some bad, but the aggregate effect has been to make most gameplay easier and the world feel more programmed and structured. “Over-Managed” is, I think, the best way to put it. The game’s story is now Blizzard’s story rather than the story filled in by your imagination between pieces of Blizzard content.

It used to be that if you played on a PvP server you could only make characters of one faction or the other; you couldn’t have both Horde and Alliance on that server. By the time Blizzard lifted this restriction, almost nobody complained — because open-world PvP aside from the occasional random gank had almost completely ceased already. Blizzard had begun to gently herd PvP-oriented players into instanced battlegrounds and arenas where the gameplay could be more carefully controlled.

This process was already underway when I started in mid-2007. If I say that I think WoW was a more compelling game then than it is now, it would be tempting to call it nostalgia, and to be honest it would be hard to convince even myself that nostalgia wasn’t a factor; I’d just be nostalgic for mid-2007 or thereabouts instead of late 2005 or whatever.

Without any of this explicitly in mind I re-installed the WoW client a couple of weeks ago and fired up a trial (the so-called “starter edition”) account that I’ve had for some time now. I started playing a number of different characters including the new Pandaren, the slightly less new Goblin and the old-but-revamped Tauren. I didn’t break level 7 in any of these examples, and the whole process felt not just uncompelling but actually distasteful. A lot of good things have been brought to WoW over the years but it seems that a lot has been lost, and the direction, at least, of that chain of events is very clear. But is that just nostalgia talking? Do I just remember the Azeroth of 2007 fondly because those were the early days of my MMO hobby?

Maybe it’s possible to get an answer to this question; there’s been some talk of late in the MMO blogosphere about a project called Emerald Dream, a WoW ‘private server’ that replicates the state of the game in late 2006, before Burning Crusade patches started to hit, a time when the launch problems were straightened out but before the first of the major direction shifts away from the open world had taken place.

Now, I think there are reasons to be leery of the private server business. For one, it’s a murky gray legal area at best; basically at any point the Blizzard boot might come down and the server could be shut down. In this particular case the people responsible aren’t making any money from it (and don’t even appear to be taking donations as far as I can tell,) but they aren’t going to quite the same lengths as, say, some of the pre-NGE SWG “emulators” to insulate themselves against potential legal action by requiring you to obtain your own properly dated version of the client. Blizzard has come down hard in the past on people who were trying to make money off of private servers, but (apparently) not-for-profit private servers appear to be very abundant and not at all hard to find. It seems unlikely to me that Blizzard doesn’t know about them, and yet some appear to have been running for years.

Too, there are (admittedly interesting) technical challenges faced by a team running a private server without access to the actual server code; from my understanding the server-side part of the game is basically recreated from scratch by deciphering the packets sent out by the client. I’m not sure where the Emerald Dream folks are with this, but in the presumably similar cases of pre-NGE SWG projects, there’s a whole lot of stuff that’s not working yet.

I’m not being coy in saying that I have never played on a private server and have generally stayed well clear of the whole slightly sordid (at best) business. Yet I have been tempted twice; in both cases not by games that I played years ago but by games I missed in their heyday: Pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies and now Vanilla WoW. I was also tempted by and did indeed play on EQ’s “throwback” Fippy Darkpaw server, but that effort is not a true (or even really close) emulation of the classic game; rather, it is the modern game with some superficial changes made to it to make it look more like EQ as it was back then. Imagine a “vanilla” WoW server that took out flying mounts and expansion content, capped levels at 60 and maybe turned the XP gain rate down a bit, but was otherwise the same as the modern game — that’s basically what Fippy Darkpaw is. Nevertheless, this wasn’t why it didn’t work for me. With no nostalgic connection to the EQ of old or indeed much affection for the current game it has evolved into, I simply couldn’t overcome the sheer datedness of the whole thing, and I abandoned it after a couple of hours.

On the other hand, Fippy is run by SOE and is therefore far less troublesome to me. If Blizzard were to offer even a slapdash vanilla server or two I’m quite sure that they’d be boiling over with population and that lapsed people would resubscribe to play on them; the demand for such might be enough to keep a smaller MMO or two afloat. But it’s likely seen as a play for chump change by Blizzard, and the effort of setting such a server up is not trivial; if you think it is, then I would gently suggest that you have no idea what you are talking about. So I think that any official effort in this direction is very unlikely for the foreseeable future, although I can think of a couple of creative ways in which it might be done with official sanction from Blizzard.

Wilhelm floated the idea of subscribing to WoW but choosing to play on Emerald Dream instead; this would put a player in the ethical clear but perhaps not the legal one. On the other hand, if Blizzard were to offer some kind of classic or vanilla server then I would be strongly tempted to check that out, and I would feel a whole lot more comfortable with that.

Levels Reassembled

Levels have an important function and heritage in RPGs. They are a feature disliked by many and dismissed without understanding the reasons why they are looked on favorably, and without articulating why they are objectionable. The use of level as a measure of character power harkens back to Dungeons & Dragons, of course, from which all RPGs in whatever media ultimately spring. Even early on, however, there were games that did not feature them — 1977’s Traveller and Chaosium’s RuneQuest spring immediately to mind — and their use or disuse has driven many a controversy and feud over the decandes.

Detractors say that a level-based game makes certain assumptions about the nature of starting characters that might be undesirable; if you try to model Elric in D&D at first level, for example, he’s going to not only be very weak, but a key element of his character is neccesarily going to be absent. Thus too with Conan, the Gray Mouser, Gandalf and other classic fantasy characters. Similar characters built in systems without levels might be no more powerful but at least the conceptual barrier of making such a character “at 1st level” is torn down.

Proponents of levels point out that they provide a balancing mechanism which can be handy if implemented well, and that they provide convenient achievement benchmarks to feed players’ sense of accomplishment. And when we start talking about fantasy RPGs in particular, it’s hard to dispute that, no doubt at least in part due to the example and expectations set by D&D, the game just doesn’t feel right without some kind of ordinal advancement ranking. Level-less FRPGs have historically gained very little traction in the tabletop marketplace unless they are very specialized, like White Wolf’s Exalted — and even that has indirect leveling in the form of the Essence characteristic, which has a heavy effect on overall character power and tends to be increased in a fairly predictable way by players.

I’ll stipulate that fantasy games ought to have levels in some form, but not necessarily in the form proferred by D&D, while games in science fiction and other genres can get away without them, and may in fact be better off doing so. But let’s break that down and take apart where levels really come from.

In the D&D model, shared by numerous tabletop games and virtually all fantasy video game RPGs, you get some kind of currency as you play, typically called “experience,” and when you’ve built up enough, you level up. This brings with it some concrete benefits that increase the character’s power; more and better abilities, additional endurance currencies such as hit points or mana and increased success chances are all typical. There are also less quantifiable benefits, in that you can accomplish things at a higher level that you couldn’t at a lower level, and have added a pip to the Brag-O-Meter.

The actual specific mechanism of advancement and the benefits of additional levels aren’t important here, and of course there are also achievement metrics like money or reputation that exist strictly outside of the leveling ladder, the value of which varies from game to game. But then you have the offbeat example of the Elder Scrolls series, in which leveling is an elective process that you can in principle skip, as indeed in Oblivion you were indirectly encouraged to do. But for that very reason the series provides an interesting example, in that some metrics directly relevant to character power are tied to level, but not all of them are.

I do not think there is any a priori reason why one could not extend this idea to its logical conclusion by making levels irrelevant to character power at all, as Lethality suggested in a comment on the last post. But that displaces one of the primary reasons for having levels at all, as mentioned in the proponent’s argument above, as useful method for the game or the game master to judge character power for balance purposes.

However, a different approach might be to make levels the result rather than the cause of character power. You don’t level to improve your abilities, you level because you improved your abilities. This is sort of how things work in Skyrim, for example, but in that game there a number of things that still increase or are attained because of level, namely health/mana/stamina and perks, and those have a large tangible impact. In the mechanism I’m talking about you would have some kind of formula based on total skills or average skills or wharever, possibly with some other factors involved as well, and when that calculated figure hits a certai point, you level to a fanfare or back-slaps or something. (I’m especially fond of the White Tree animation you get when hitting certain levels in LotRO.)

One could in principle graft this kind of system onto any level-less game like Burning Wheel or GURPS or whatever, but you would need to mechanize it very carefully to minimize ways in which you could increase your character’s power without also increasing the challenge-increasing metric of level. This is exactly what occurred as the result of a halfhearted implementation in Oblivion, for example. You might also want to hide the details of the calculation from the players, or possibly include some randomizing factors that would vary leveling time by some degree. This all sounds like a big pain in the bookkeeping ass for a tabletop RPG, but a programmed or program-assisted game could do it for you.

This is, I think, part of one potential solution to the problems common to many RPGs, MMOs that suffer from the additional hindrance of finite content in particular. I’m hashing out ideas here rather than writing a manifesto, though, so if you have feedback to offer, I’d love to hear it.

Mists of Pandaria Cinematic Trailer Hits, Deemed Irrelevant

As of today the Mists of Pandaria cinematic trailer is up for perusal on YouTube. As such things go (I like to try to judge these things as short films in their own right,) it’s very nicely done. But I doubt it will change anyone’s mind.

WoW is starting to slide in a big way, losing another million players last quarter alone, and the launch of Guild Wars 2 in under two weeks is going to hurt it some more. But not permanently, I think — many of WoW’s players will dutifully return to check the expansion out. The real issue is Blizzard’s own complacency that has slowly chipped away at player confidence and enthusiasm; the content updates for a game which is starved for new content designed to be digested by players in mere days come less and less frequently, and the expansions have gotten less and less ambitious even while they really didn’t add much to gameplay and while other gameplay elements have gradually been backed out of the game. It’s a leaner, shallower game than the game that put Blizzard on top of this market in the first place. I can’t see any alternative to the notion that this is a game on the verge of life support, with Blizzard trying to squeeze out maximal revenue for minimal investment while the party lasts. That’s a valid strategy from a business standpoint, but it’s clear that Blizzard doesn’t believe in this product any more.

As for me, I have a vague intention of checking the expansion out at some point, but certainly not when it launches at full price — and given how historically sluggish Blizzard has been at lowering the price of aging products, I’m not motivated to do so any time soon… maybe next summer or something. But given how fast the market is evolving, with almost everything no longer requiring a subscription, and with numerous entries even within the same fantasy themepark niche offering more features, greater depth and in some cases comparable polish, I can’t see any reason to do more than step in for a month or so. For different reasons, games like Rift and EVE Online are more attractive for a subscription price, and titles like GW2, LotRO, EverQuest2 and Vanguard offer more for (potentially) less money. Even The Secret World at least offers novelty when compared against a contracting game that we have probably all played more than enough of, and to which nothing really new or appealing is being added with this expansion. Unless you have a thing for Pandas in particular.