Monthly Archives: September 2010

Soundtrack for Life

Soundtrack for Life was the name I gave to the 20 cd collection of songs I burned for listening when driving about in my car. Every song I had downloaded from Napster that was ranked 4-5 stars. There were “theme” discs. “Just Been Dumped” heavily laden with Alanis. “Cheer Me Up” with a large number of up beat pop-y songs. “Road Songs” for the long road trip. I still have most of those cds, sitting in a spindle, a tower of archaic media that memorializes a rather definitive point of my life and personality.

I since moved on to iTunes, iPods, and even to buying cds. (Napster and piracy discussions aside, I would rather purchase an album as physical media, but at that stage I was paying 40k a year to study, it wasn’t like I had an excess of cash to spend on cds. Now in my adulthood, I purchase them without complaint, even going as far as to seek out albums I retain from my Napster days to purchase them. It is the way I support the artist.)

Level Design, as a profession, seems like it would be wildly exciting and interesting all the time. Most of the time you would be right. Each new day brings new challenges. However, when deep in the mines of production, you hit a point where everything has been decided. All the challenges overcome. It is now time to build it. When creating the 40th version of an entity and moving it to it’s proper position, the task begins to weary, and you have 100 more to go. When creating a nav mesh, while it is wildly accurate and a great way to solve that issue, it takes time of brainless work from a designer.

This is where music comes in. Headphones keeps others from bothering you. And the music helps the time pass quickly and keeps your focus. I have used music as a way of focusing since speed mapping at the Guildhall. Unfortunately for me, the OS we are using at work is not supported by iTunes. So I was left without music. This lead me to finding alternate means for listening to my music at work.

I have always liked the radio. I don’t like idiot DJs, playing the same song every hour on the hour, and commercials, but I love the mix of music and the fact that every so often I hear something new. So I decided to try out this Pandora Internet Radio everyone kept talking about.

I was skeptical. The immediate barrage of ads didn’t convince me any. So I started with AFI, and hoped to build my channel. It immediately pulled one of my favorite AFI songs and started playing. Then I added a second band, Rise Against. It then played one of their songs I really liked. Then it played another and another… before I knew it, I had added 10 to 15 bands and created what was very eerily a radio station very very similar to my five star list on iTunes.

By the time I reached song 17, I was completely convinced. Only a single song had come up I didn’t like, and to be fair, it was the ONLY song on that particular album I didn’t like. But I hated the ads. So I checked to see how much this subscription thing cost. At $36 for a year of unlimited commercial free music… sold.

Now, several hours later, I am even more convinced. Pandora is an exceptional service. Can I get it in my car, cause that would just be awesome.

A Love Letter to a System Design

Dear Dungeon Finder-

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways….

Before you came into my life, the world was boring and depressing. Hours were wasted begging, pleading, and bribing tanks and heals to come and play in the wondrous dungeons of Azeroth. An entire day I would waste, just to see a single set of bosses, perchance to dream of seeing a single piece of loot. The grind was truly heinous. Gearing a single character was a nightmare of Sisyphus, and nigh impossible without the kindness of others.

Then, like a white knight on a armored steed, you rode from the aether of Patch 3.3 and into the World of Warcraft. You changed all the rules, DF. What was once an ordeal, took but mere heartbeats. Suddenly a world of peril, adventure, and epic loot was opened to those who had long since lost hope. Mountains of loot could be won for those who took but the time to open your frame and click Join Queue.

Listen not to those who complain of 15-25 minute queue times. Such time is insignificant when compared to the hours wasted beating the guild bushes for an unsuspecting tank. Listen not to those who complain of the faults of Need Before Greed. You award badges like beads from Mardi Gras. And even if loot is lost unfairly, you console the needy and offer them endless chances to earn more. Listen not to those who speak of bad experiences, for the good you bring to the world, far out weighs the bad.

It is impossible to fathom improving your already supremely exceptional functionality. You truly changed the world. You changed the way people played. You made the game better, so exceptionally so that even those who did not play could see the marvelous wonder you were. Suddenly nothing was beyond a character’s grasp. The highest teirs of gear, the shiniest of gems, the rarest of materials. You put them all within easy reach.

But then, the unthinkable happened. You evolved. You ascended even further towards the divine gift you were intended to be. Suddenly, Holiday Bosses bowed to your will as well! No longer are we subjected to liars and cheats trying to steal our summons. No longer must we win rolls against others, but rather treasures are handed to us in a neat little bag. Once more you took something painful, difficult, and complex and made it so blindingly easy and fair that it is a wonder the world did not sigh in contentment.

I sighed. I am content with your impartiality and speed. I am stunned by your ingeniousness and practicality. You are truly a design system for the ages to point to and say “Here, here was a perfect example of how to add something truly game changing.”

Ignore the naysayers DF. You are truly a wonderful system. A game changing idea that increased the enjoyment and accessibility of Warcraft in spades. I can only hope to design a system that can compare to your awesomeness one day.

– Joyia, Warlock of Echo Isles.

RNG – Why Random *Isn't* Fun – Redux

To begin, the previous post dealt mostly with the What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been achievement. In all fairness, Blizzard addressed several of the previous issues. The Valentines achievements are wildly easier, added to the fact that the holiday is a full week now instead of 4 days.

So why return to this topic? Well, it all has to do with a pet. In Heroic Magister’s Terrace there is a pet that drops from the last boss, Kael’Thas. It is a little Phoenix. Having a phoenix tattoo on my back and being a huge mini-pet collector, this seemed to be a perfect fit. So I went to farm it. Now HMgT is a level 70 heroic, but for a level 80, in decent gear, it should be doable. In fact, my guild leader, on his druid, was soloing it. So surely I could dual box it right?

Wrong. The trash has all of these wild damage abilities and healers. They hit like a truck and always come in packs of 4 or more. After a great deal of trial and error I managed to figure out how to dual box it on my Priest and Death Knight, then swap out the priest right at the end for my warlock (the toon I wanted the pet on). Of course, this would take upward of an hour to complete, be exceedingly painful, and have multiple deaths along the way.

In a true show of “Joyia” luck, I got 2 Orb of the Sin’dori, that has a 1% drop, and no phoenix, which has an 8% drop. And continued running the instance every day for 3 weeks, to no avail. I would complain in guild chat about how much the instance sucked along with my luck. So a few people decided to try their luck. And wouldn’t you know… 3 people all got the phoenix on their FIRST run.

I was never mad at the people, it’s not their fault. But I was enraged at the game. Here I was, spending an hour every day for 3 weeks, running old stale content, trying to get an item that does not in any way improve my character, and other players could just waltz in and get it handed to them.

Someone responded that I should expect it. It is after an MMO, and designed to take up our time. The issue, from my point of view, is not that it takes time. Clearly I was willing to spend upward of 25 hours attempting to get this pet. The problem is, my sinking time into it does not bring me any closer to the goal. And there are much better ways to solve this problem.

First, I would like to say, it isn’t the same as a piece of loot. If I run HPoS 30 times trying to get a Nevermelting Ice Crystal, that’s fine. It’s current content. Also, there are about 5 other trinkets I can get much easier. I am directing my problem and corrections at rare flavor drops, specifically mounts and pets.

Solution 1: Progressive Random.

This is probably the best solution. It answers all the issues, without losing the original intent, and is currently implemented in the game. Progressive Random is used on quest items. It says if the item has a 10% drop, then the first time you kill the mob, you have a 10% chance. But you didn’t get it. Okay, the next time you kill the mob, you actually have a 15% chance. The longer you go without getting it, the better your chances are of getting it. Once you get one however, it resets your drop chance back to the original percentage.

Why is this the perfect answer? Well, first off, it works the way an uninformed player assumes random works. It also retains an element of luck. It can be scaled based on how many tries you really want the person to have to go through to get it. Finally, to the informed player it gives them a time frame. I know if I run it 100 times, I will get the phoenix on or BEFORE I make my 100th run. I know at the absolute WORST I am 1/4th of the way there. I now have a concrete goal to work towards, as to a nebulous “eventually”. The resetting of the drop chance prevents it from being “gamed” to have someone selling their involvement in a group as a random drop “buff”.

There are other solutions:

Buff the drop with each patch after the addition of the instance, or after the trivialization of the instance.

Allow the pets/mounts to be purchased with in game gold after a certain length of time (gold sink).

Allow them to be purchased with real money.

And so on… but really, the first option seems to be the best. At this point in WoW, there is a sufficient amount of content (achievements alone fill this void) that such “bloated” time sinks like random drops on non-combat pets and rare mounts seems archaic. As an added benefit, the “re-roll” punishment becomes far less. (This refers to the concept that re-rolling a character causes you to lose all the progress on non-leveling/gear acquisitions you have made, like how people hate switching mains when one of their older toons has the Amani War Bear, or the Scarab Lord title. It is considered a “punishment” for trying something new.)

Random isn’t fun, especially when it seems like the dice are stacked against you. Allowing people variant ways of playing and variant ways of winning, also means allowing variant ways of succeeding at personal goals. This means allowing them to “win” at something they want to do, without forcing them to do it in a way that isn’t fun at all to them. Again, I really just feel this applies to things that only have one method of acquisition, or don’t change the inherent game balance, as mini-pets and mounts. Gear, skills, talents, all seem to be, if not well balanced, but at least well enough.

Confessions of an Online Packrat

I collect things. I just can’t help it. I can try to blame my mother and grandmother. I guess I could try to blame adventure games. (How many times in those games did you pick up everything NOT nailed down because you never knew when you would need it?) I could even try to blame Mario and Sonic – Get the coins/rings! I am doomed in games like Suikoden or Pokemon. In real life, I collect toys, art, movies, books, games…

Is it any surprise I would be any different in World of Warcraft? While reading wow.com today I came across this picture.

Oh yes, that looks shockingly familiar. Actually, it even has more useful items in it than my bank does. I have about 10 spaces in my main vault page that can be used for “useful” items. The entirety of the rest of my bank: crap I can’t get rid of, but is completely useless. (Let me pause to say this refers to my main character, Joyia. While some of my alts are getting just as bad, none are nearly as bad as her.)

One stellar example I trotted out the other night while chatting about just this thing in guild chat is Carrot on a Stick and item from Zul’Farrak by way of a quest chain. The thing is, this item no longer works over level 70. I am level 80. meaning it no longer works. Back in the day, it was VITAL to speedy land movement, and a prized possession one always carried in their bags. But then, it was changed in a patch, and most people deleted or sold their carrot. But I persisted. I worked very hard to get that stupid carrot and there was no way I was getting rid of it now. Plus I have a key chain that has a Carrot on a Stick icon! How could I get rid of it?!?

This is even worse with armor sets. I have half of dungeon 1, all of tier 4, most of tier 5 and 6, and all of tier 7-10. Including some pvp pieces picked up here and there. That’s a ton of gear taking up space. So why save it? Because I worked hard for it. I scraped badges, farmed bosses, worked hard to keep my guild rank to ensure my raid spot, the sheer amount of work that goes in to getting a gear set is staggering. Plus some of them just look cool. Tier 5 for Warlocks for example.

Add to this the mountain of soul bound holiday/flavor stuff and I literally have massive space issues. I keep nothing that isn’t soul bound on my main. It all goes to my bank alt. Thankfully they allow instant mail between characters on the same account. 154 slots of stuff that does nothing currently useful.

Someone said, “Why keep it?” And I don’t have a good answer for them. I have a collection of on use pet summoners. I have a collection of old gear. I even have Rivendare’s sword DESPITE the fact I can’t use it. I don’t have a good reason, but I like keeping it around. I am a pack rat in a virtual world. I am a pack rat in the real world too. I guess my avatar isn’t too far off from real life eh?