Tag Archives: World of Warcraft

Removing Content from a Live Game is Shitty Design

Actually, I suppose I could remove “from a live game” and the statement would still be true. But devs of “non-live” games don’t really mess with their games after launch other than bug patches, and maybe DLC – but I can’t think of a single time someone removed something.

Live games are games that constantly update. Content patches and expansions. New things all the time. They are games you never finish and are more like hobbies.

There are 12 classes. There are 36 specs. There are 24 appearances per artifact. That means there are 864 artifact appearances. (Holy shit, that’s a FUCK TON of art. That’s YEARS worth of work on art. Like – if they did ONE a week for a year – that would take 16 artists a year. Counting Holiday weeks. At 5-6 yr art veteran pay average (85k) – that’s 1.4 MILLION DOLLARS worth of art. And that’s a severe lowball for just modeling – that doesn’t take into account concept, vfx, sfx, programming, rigging, animating… Holy shit guys, they probably spent 5 million on artifacts easy. And before people say “Oh but 5/6th of the appearances are just texture swaps…” Textures take a shit ton of time. Especially in WoW – since the textures carry a large portion of the artistic weight.)

My mind is still reeling from that staggering amount of time and money spent on making these appearances, which overrides any of my other arguments for why they shouldn’t be removed. Only the Joker would light 5 million dollars on fire just to keep it out of other people’s hands.

Woof. OKAY. Moving back to my original points and statement.

There is never a good reason to remove content. Seriously. Give me one. It’s already been made, paid for, tested, and shipped. People have played it. Some people love it, some people hate, a large majority are meh on it. It’s done. What is the benefit of removing content?

How about the reasons for not removing it?

  1. People who missed it – can get it later. Check out my post about Exclusives – I know it’s about buying stuff at conventions – but the same ideas apply. You can’t be assured everyone has the time to play every aspect of a game in a limited time frame.
  2. Everyone paid for the game. Now only a selection portion is getting the whole game despite paying the same amount. (See this post.) The idea that only certain people who “work for it” is elitist and selfish. Those who work for it first, get it first. Players who come along after should still have to work for it (and they do) but they shouldn’t miss out because they prioritized Family Familiar instead of PVP.
  3. Oh and as always – rarity in WoW is bullshit and not real.

Also – let’s take into account that unlocking all of these appearances is individual. So – for example – the PVP ones require 12 pvp prestiges. From what I have dug up, it looks like this is per character. Not per account. And according to one enterprising WoWhead commenters – takes 45 weeks doing the PVP world quests every 6 hours, every day. So, that’s about 12 years right there. Or literally not having a job, family, sleep, or anything else to do. The expansion will likely last two years. So. You get two. Which two do you want? My immediate reaction to this – what’s the fucking point?

I want to collect things in WoW. I collect pets, mounts, transmog. I get Loremaster and achievements. I like PLAYING the game. I don’t like feeling like it’s a JOB with a deadline. I’ve already missed out on things – the ZA bear which all 9 of my guildies got but I missed out on, the MoP phoenixes, the MoP battle pet, the Naxx mounts, the Tiger Mount, titles, Ateish… Each item is on a list on my heart. Each one is a blue sphere of sadness. And those blue spheres, they are starting to add up. They are outnumbering the yellow sphere’s of joy.

Why bother when I can go play Persona 5? It’s 100s of hours of gameplay with new game plus. Breath of the Wild, I have played over 100 hours and barely scratched the surface. I kinda want to go back and play Skyrim too. And these games don’t punish me for having a job, child, and hobbies other than it.

If I pay for a game, then the content gets repeatedly removed before I have a chance to get it – is Blizzard just taking my money, calling me a shitty casual, and taking away the toy I paid for? That’s a pretty abusive and toxic attitude to take towards someone who has literally spent thousands of dollars on the game, thousands more on merch, recruited over 20 players, brought back over 20 players, and supported websites, fan artists, and all manner of extra-game things.

Further – those people I try to recruit or bring back – I have lost 4 of them to them seeing a thing, thinking it was beautiful/amazing – then finding out they can’t get it, getting bummed out and just giving up.

Why keep playing if I am just going to keep missing out? Fear of Missing Out only works if I care about missing a thing AND HAVE THE ABILITY TO GET THE THING THROUGH NORMAL PLAY. These grinds and achievements, especially when multiplied across alts, are not normal play. It’s unhealthy play, that does not take into a positive work/game/life balance.

The only thing that will kill WoW, is WoW, and right now, it’s doing a pretty damn good job of it. If I walk away, it effectively pulls the plug on 5 accounts. (3 are mine, one for my boyfriend, and a final one from at least one person I know who only plays WoW because of me.) But even worse, it means the next time I get all excited for a patch or expansion and talk about it, those 5-10 people I am friends with who occasionally re-sub because I am talking about it and they get interested, they won’t.

Casuals are the lifeblood of this game. They are the ones who carry the game between content lulls. They pay more than the bleeding edge mythic assholes who demand special treatment. Cater to one, not the other. Removing content because of some arbitrary deadline is catering to people who require feeling Elite and superior and actively punishing the players who are the larger base of support.

Piracy and Legacy Servers

Let me start by saying – I am a game developer. I get paid to MAKE games. I have made games that sold millions of copies. I have made games that barely sold at all. I have been at a studio that got *house buying sized bonuses* and at studios where it was more like “The studio will be closing on Friday.”

When someone pirates a game – I have conflicting feelings about it. You are taking my work, my 70+ hour weeks, spent crunching and killing myself, stealing it, and enjoying it for free. At the same time, my brain is also able to comprehend that pirates are not buyers. 1 pirated copy of the game does not equal a lost sale. Pirates aren’t going to BUY the game regardless. If they can’t pirate it, they just won’t play it. It still fucking bothers me though. It’s still theft.

The WoW social media community is having a bit of a fuss over Legacy servers and the shut down of a large private server. So here’s my point of view. A game developer’s point of view.

FIRST: Private servers are piracy. They are theft. They are stealing Blizzard’s work.

FULL.STOP. The server got shut down BECAUSE IT’S THEFT. They didn’t make the game. They didn’t make the art. They didn’t design the levels. They took someone else’s work and recreated it, and acted like they had done a ton of work. THEY DIDN’T. If I retype the Lord of the Rings, that doesn’t give me the right to sell it, make movies of it, etc. Hell, if I just print it out on my printer, that doesn’t give me the right to SELL that print.

Second: 150k pirates stealing WoW – Vanilla or otherwise – are NOT equal to 150k subs for WoW.

You can’t make the argument that 150k people playing on a private server is 150k people who would be willing to play a legacy server run by blizzard. Sure, there was probably a small subset of people who are already subscribers and just went to play there because they miss Vanilla. BUT it’s likely more than HALF of those people were just pirates who wanted to play WoW but DON’T WANT TO PAY BLIZZARD FOR IT.

Third: Game development, especially with 16+ year old code-bases, is NOT easy/simple.

People like to argue – “Well a bunch of fans did it, why can’t Blizzard?” For one, Blizzard has to make it work within their code base. They would have to do it right – without major game breaking bugs or exploits. They would have to have it work with Battle.Net and all of the tech they use. It’s also not as easy as just “rolling back” to a specific revision. We know WoW has been in development for at least 16 years (probably more like 20). I have worked on 5 year old code bases that were already a tangled awful mess of “what the fuck were those programmers thinking?” I SHUDDER to even think of Blizzard’s. Do you realize how many devs they have currently working for them? How many they have had who have left? They mentioned at BlizzCon they use FOUR different versions of source control. FOUR. That’s a NIGHTMARE. Hell, with that much time, that many versions of source control, and the sheer volume of changes to the game, I would be astonished if they even thought about trying to build a legacy server, much less TRIED. And don’t kid yourself, it would be for less than 100k players at MOST. That would be the population the first 3-4 months. Then it would drop to 50k or less.

Programmers are the most expensive part of a dev team. That is the majority of what would be needed to get legacy servers running. It is simply not cost effective to get a legacy server running, because it the number of subs would be so low, they wouldn’t make their money back. Remember that whole Pirates Copies Don’t Equal Sales – if a FREE WoW server only attracts 150k players – then a paid one would attract less than half of that. (I actually would peg it more around a 10th of that.) Add to this the fact that the BEST programmers suited to this task would be the ones who have been at the company the longest – as they have the most first hand knowledge. That means that they would be pulling their best people off NEW content to work on OLD content for a fraction of the player base. You think garrisons cost you a raid tier? Legacy servers will cost you an EXPANSION – and would KILL the live game in the process.

Let’s look at the example Cataclysm gave us – they went back and reworked zones to bring them up to Wrath levels of quality. And how did that go? It didn’t. Blizzard even admitted that they ended up spending too much time and resources reworking old content THAT PEOPLE DIDN’T PLAY. They said they should have made more end game and high level content.

Finally: Vanilla wasn’t that great. Nostalgia is a weird thing.

Do you like Paladins? Not in Vanilla you didn’t. Remember being an out of combat rezzer? I do. I sat there and did NOTHING and wasn’t allowed to roll on gear unless no one who was killing the boss wanted it, and rezzed people who died. Remember trying to corral 40 people into a raid that took hours and hours and you could only raid if you were willing to play WoW 40+ hours a week? I do, because I couldn’t raid. I had school, then work. I had things I had to do. I wanted to raid.

Bags were only 14 slots. No dungeon groups, just hours in trade trying to form a group. Soul shards, ammo, materials for spells. Keys for UBRS. Shields with shadow power. Hunter pets had to be leveled and friended. Spell Ranks.  Only one way to level – grinding. Only one way to play – grinding.

So no, I don’t think Blizzard should waste time and money they could be spending on PAYING customers (like me!) and making us NEW content on revamping old content for thieves.

Flying, Riding, and Exploring

It was announced that Warlords of Draenor would not include flight at “the beginning”. Players complained, as always, and discussions were had. Several things came up I wanted to think/write about.

In previous expansions, players had to get to level cap first, then they could purchase the ability to fly. This usually came a high-ish price. This is good design, in my opinion, for many reasons.

1. It forces the player to ride through the world for an extended period. It has been proven that people who fly from one place to another don’t feel the “distance” the way someone who drives does. By forcing players to level until they can get off the ground, they generally feel the vastness of the expansion world.

2. It allows for funneling the players to locations. Level design is all about how to get the player to stay within the game area and how to get where we want them to go. Keeping them grounded allows for this. It makes it so the designer can be reasonably certain the player enters a zone from a specific point, and the gameplay can be tailored to match the leveling player.

3. It’s a gold sink. If it’s something WoW needs, it’s more gold sinks. Anything that takes gold out of the economy is good.

4. They see the monsters, NPCs, hidden things much better from the ground. It goes back to exploring, but it makes it worth it to spend dev time on doing silly things like the hidden treasures of Pandaria.

Now, having said that… I am strongly opposed to the idea of waiting for flight until AFTER the first content patch of WoD. As any long time WoW player will say, the game is very different when leveling versus when at level cap.

So why is it a bad idea to be level cap and not have flying?

1. Playing with Purpose.

It’s pointless-ish for level capped characters to kill monsters. We get no exp, the gold and drops aren’t worth it, since we get more in dungeons, and generally, we are never in danger – so it’s really just a slog that takes up time. Level capped players who are doing dailies just want to get their stuff done and move on to more important things, like dungeon runs. So I timed it. It takes me about 20 minutes to fly over, do the Shado-Pan dailies, and get back to the flight path. If I only play WoW an hour a day, that’s a 1/3rd of my play time burned doing what is effectively a chore. To test, I decided to do it on mount/foot. It took me 48 minutes. MORE THAN TWICE the time. A majority of the extra time was spent riding over and back, and dealing with extra mobs in the way, since the bug island is DENSE with monsters.

2. Designed for Reality not for Flow

Stormwind is a very interesting city. So is Ironforge. Both of them are sprawling and believable cities. They have houses, shops, districts, and dozens of landmarks. But in the terms of playing a game, these are terrible areas. Logically, in a game, there would be none of the wasted space. The Auction House, Inn, Vendors, and Flight Point would all be gathered together right inside the door. Now that’s not to say they should change these cities, but rather that they need to “lessen” the impact on the players. The ability to fly over the buildings and canals in Stormwind helps ease the players passage while allowing the city to look realistic.

3. Travel Time is Wasted Time.

You know that one person, who is always late? They are constantly running behind, to the point you tell them to be somewhere 30 minutes early so they will be even remotely close to on time? Now imagine you are waiting on someone to run dailies… Or a dungeon… or a raid… WoW is a game best played with friends, but always having to wait on someone is just as frustrating as it is in real life. We have things to do! And waiting about, or just riding through the world is not those things.

Why do flight paths not fill this need? Well for one, there are never enough of them. Two, they take some of the most meandering paths. Three, it’s dead time. You can’t DO anything while flying. I am not here to watch a bird fly, I am here to do interesting things. Also, everyone has had the experience of accidentally clicking the wrong destination and having to wait even LONGER to get where you wanted to go. On my own mount, if I see an herb, rare, or battle pet along the way, I can stop and engage.

Not having flight wouldn’t bother me as much if I knew that it was going to be reasonably easy to get where I wanted to go. But spend some time in Pandaria and realize how unlikely that is. The flight path from the Shrine to Half Hill takes twice the amount of time as just flying over the mountains.

At 90 (and 100 in WoD) the player isn’t playing to explore anymore. They don’t need to kill monsters for exp. They are trying to get the things they need to raid or pvp. That does not include spending hours of time traveling about. Players will take the path of least resistance and it’s a designers job to make sure that path isn’t quitting playing. To give an example, I started playing Hearthstone one night while taking a flight path. I didn’t notice I had reached my destination until the game auto logged me out for being afk for 20 MINUTES. Having a long flight path and travel time meant I stepped away from the game, and potentially would not come back.

Time spent in the game is valuable. There is so much to do and so many goals, for players, time is at a premium. The designers need to take this into account when making decisions. Make a game, not a jogging simulator.

It’s all a matter of perspective

I decided to stay.

WoW is so deeply ingrained in my life at this point, I am positive I couldn’t leave without feeling it’s loss more strongly than… well none of the comparisons I could make would sound very good. WoW is more than a game for me, it’s a hobby and a connection to my life. Where was I when I worked at Sega? Raiding in ICC. Where was I when I got hired at TfB? Waiting for the Cataclysm. When my son was born? Prepping for Mists of Pandaria.

More than that, it’s a connection to people. I am an extrovert. I love being around people and feed off talking and interacting with people. WoW lets me do that every single day. I have so many friends that I would not have if not for WoW.

So where does that leave me on the topic of sexism in WoW?

Freaking pissed still that’s where.

I won a trip to BlizzCon this year, again. I know! I KNOW. It’s weird right? The only thing I can ever win is trips to BlizzCon. Eh, I’ll take it. So I went. And of course, they announced a new expansion.

Warlords of Draenor.

And they did it with a big picture of all the Orc Warlords. My very first thought when I saw the picture was, “Oh lovely… a bunch of dudes.” As they did the initial – Things that are happening in WoW panel, that immediate reaction got even worse. I was so excited about Draenor, New Character Models, Garrisons, LEVEL 100!!!! and they were systematically stomping on that excitement by showing they were continuing down the path of not supporting the ladies.

None of the lore characters mentioned were women. There were no women sitting on stage. The character model updates they showed off were all males. The story was dudes, doing manly men things with other dudes. I tweeted each thought more and more furiously. I was excited and yet angry. Why? WHY was it SO ONE SIDED?!?

But I wasn’t the only one tweeting. There were a few. Then a few more. THEN MORE. The flood of tweets loaded with people asking where the women were. After that panel, I went to the lore one. There Metzen did something really stupid.

Someone asked about Aggra and where she would be when Thrall went to Draenor. He said she would be staying in Azeroth, as she had a kid. The “boys club” would be going on the trip to Draenor.

How many people can you offend in ONE statement?

Yes, they also talked about a Joan of Arc character. (Though really, thanks for telling us she’s going to die after being called crazy. Women LOVE that. As far as heroic females, can we not use her? She’s a trope AND well… look at how her life went?) Drakka was mentioned, but only in relation to Durotan.

Here’s the thing… Women are wives. Women are daughters. Women are mothers. Women are also warriors. Women are also stubborn. Women are also capable of violence. I am a mother. But I found someone to watch my kid and went to BlizzCon.

Metzen implied that the reason Aggra would be staying home is because she was a mother. No other explanation or reasoning, just because she was a mom, and that’s what moms do. They stay home and take care of the kiddos.

Oh boy. Queue shit storm. That’s when it hit me. That was the BEST thing he could have said. Absolute best. Why? Why would that be the best? This. And This. And THIS. Especially THIS ONE. (Oh wow, I missed this one – GLORIOUS!) And it just keeps going. Here we are, a week after the con, and people are STILL talking about Aggra. Not Thrall, Durotan, Gul’dan, or any of those other dudes, but Aggra. *silent cheer*

People are being loud and vocal. People are directly messaging Metzen, Ghostcrawler, Kosak, ALL OF THEM. Telling them, that we weren’t happy with the gender imbalance BEFORE, and we sure as hell aren’t going to take them relegating one of our favorite characters to the sidelines. Someone asked about Moira at the Q&A. They had said nothing about her before that point. Turns out, she has some major plot going on in WoD!!!

Now, I do want to address WHY this is such a big issue. The ratio of males to female in the lore characters is about 7 to 1, so about 86% male to 14% female. If that were the real world there would be a CRISIS on our hands. In China, it’s split about 52% to 48% male to female and it’s ALREADY CAUSING PROBLEMS.

The WoW player base is speculated to be between 30-40% female. (My anecdotal data backs that up.) That means there are a ton of people out there, like me, who are playing this game. They raid, they quest, they level. They are heroes, and yet, in game, they have very very few female leads to look up to. And every time there is one, they are overshadowed by the males in the game. Where is our Thrall to look up to?

Even more worrisome is the systematic destruction of the females we DID have. We have so few to begin with, so losing some to plot lines is problematic unless there are new ones to replace them. We need lots of new ones. That is why the loss of Aggra to something so stupid is so frustrating. They took away one of our good female characters for an incredibly sexist reason.

Okay, before the response – is being a stay at home mom not heroic? I would NEVER say that. I stayed home with my kid for 3 months, and at the end of it, I was a basket case. BASKET CASE. Being a stay at home mom is quite possibly the most insane thankless job ever. But having said that, this isn’t an issue of staying home and raising your child instead of going to work. This is a matter of SAVING THE WORLD. If you don’t, it doesn’t MATTER if you raised your kid, THERE WON’T BE A WORLD FOR HIM TO GROW UP IN. Not to mention, Aggra has never backed down from a fight before, why would she start now? Draenor was her HOME after all. She had to live/grow up on the shattered remains of it.

I was happy at the Art panel they showed off the female models a bit. Their work on the female dwarves is nothing short of astonishing (they are so beautiful now!). I also noted that was the first panel with a woman on it (hurray!). As the weekend went on, I heard and saw all the many responses and so many of them are people talking about these issues. I think I made the right decision. Stay, speak, fight.

And I think, they might be listening.

I can’t believe that just happened

Your most memorable experience in World of Warcraft… GO.

When I first read the title, an event popped into my mind. I often tell that story as the coolest thing that ever happened to me in WoW. The more I thought about it, the more events that popped into my mind. How could I chose just one?

I have been playing WoW since the fall of 2005. That’s alot of time to cover. That’s alot of playing. Every expansion, raiding, pvp, soloing, nearly every class… I have built a large number of WoW experiences, many of them quite memorable.

I’ve talked about the Corrupted Blood Plague before. I also talked about the Zombie Invasion. Both of those were amazing events. I will never forget going to Ironforge to see this “plague” that was killing everyone, then dying to it myself. (I was level 30-ish.) The sea of bones, the spam of messages in trade. What a day. I will never forget forming the raid of zombies and going into Stormwind and turning it into a scene from 28 Days Later.

I’ve been to the Crypts of Kara three times, and I am seriously considering yet another venture.

I invaded the Outlands. I tanked Illidan. I defeated Vashji, Kael’thas, Arthas, Kel’thuzad, and even Deathwing. I have seen the natural beauty of Kalimdor, the burning wastes of Silithus, and the lush tropics of Stranglethorn. I have flown with Val’kyir, I raised dragons, I saved orphans.

The first story that always pops to mind though… it’s nothing a designer sat down and planned though. In game design there is always the argument of systems versus scripting. Do you script and plan every event, or do you create systems that then interact? Player Stories vs. Designer Stories and all that.

I was playing on a PVP server, with friends, during Vanilla WoW. I was a priest, level 32. Of course, I was specced holy, since I was generally running dungeons to level. World PVP is the worst, and so I generally avoided it.

One afternoon, I was killing trolls in Stranglethorn for their ears. There are three camps of trolls, but I was at the largest one. You have to collect 25 ears, and not every troll has them apparently, so it usually takes 50-60 troll kills to get them. I was merrily smiting trolls to death, when a warrior ran up and attacked me. He was Horde, I was Alliance, this is how these things go. I successfully defended myself and defeated him. I hugged his still warm corpse, and continued killing trolls. A few minutes later, he showed back up, then sat and drank while watching me sit and drink. Of course, as soon as I pulled another troll, he attacked once more. It’s a good tactic. Now I have to fight him and the troll. But sadly for him, I am an amazing priest. I defeated them both.

Despite the fact I was on a pvp server, I had no desire for battle. I am not terribly aggressive when out leveling. But after a few months on a pvp server, I knew exactly what would happen. This warrior was determined to beat me. As he couldn’t on his warrior, he would be back. With friends. Or maybe with another one of his own characters. The troll camp didn’t mean that much to me, there were two others after all. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and headed west, towards the coast, for one of the other camps. As I was passing by tigers, another player rode up from the south.

This player was level 60. Raid geared. And epic. You can tell, as the raid gear matches, and looks quite impressive. His skeletal horse had armor, mean he had epic riding. The gear immediately tipped me off that he was a mage. I was dead. Oh, he hadn’t killed me… yet… but I knew I was a dead priest walking. The chances of me even fighting him off were nil. I only had one chance. The chance that he would decide I wasn’t worth the effort to kill.

No luck. He dismounted right next to me, and used his Frost Nova ability. (It freezes enemies in place.) I pressed my Psychic Scream ability. (It causes enemies to be feared – they run in random directions for 4-10 seconds.) In WoW, players have the ability to resist spells cast at them. Miraculously, I resisted his Frost Nova. Even more miraculously, he did NOT resist my scream. This had to have been a one in a million shot. At his level, his resist should have been so high, my spells should never land. At my level, there should have been nothing more than a sliver of hope that I wouldn’t be frozen in place.

But he did fail to resist, and I succeeded, so while he was running about like a chicken with it’s head cut off, I ran the opposite direction. I rounded one of the huge trees and hit Shadowmeld. Shadowmeld is a racial ability that let’s a Night Elf “fade” into the shadows. It’s a stealth. The mage appeared mere moments later, spamming is aoe attack. He knew I had likely shadowmelded. The only way to find me was to break the meld by doing damage. The thing was, he was too far forward. I was too close to the tree.

After several minutes, he finally gave up, and moved on. Leaving me hiding. I immediately crowed about my accomplishment in general chat. Ninja priest for the win!

This encounter could not have been scripted. But because of the systems in place, well designed, I was able to do something extraordinary, that I tell people about all the time.

When /G goes silent

Last night, I did my usual evening routine. I put my kid to bed, I grabbed a beer, and I logged into WoW. I spawned in and typed my normal greeting: /guild Hey guys! How goes?

<You are not in a guild.>

Wait. What?

Sure enough, I was unguilded. No more Villainous tag under my name. What happened? I opened my friends list and pinged my RealId friend who had also been in our guild.

“What happened?”

“Oh hey, yeah, Spart logged on and just booted everyone today. We are trying to figure out what to do.”

I felt like the rug had been yanked out from under me. The floor disappeared as the floor on Lich King could vanish. I didn’t even have my friends on my friends list. Why would I? They were in my guild. Finding yourself un-guilded, unexpectedly, was bad enough. But the night it happened… that was worse.

In December, 2012, I got a whisper from a RealId friend asking if I was still working on the legendary staff from Firelands. I told him I was, and I was halfway through Stage 2. He asked if I wanted to go? “Does the pope wear a funny hat?” Of COURSE I do. So I jumped in. Turns out, this close knit group of friends ran old content most every night. Just for fun, achievements, and titles. After 3 weeks, I decided I should transfer servers. After all, these 9 people were helping me get a legendary staff, I should share the rewards, specifically, the mini-pet that the guild gets from the guild achievement for having someone with the staff.

$25 later, I was on a new server, leaving my 21 alts behind. (I have 9 level 85s, and 19 toons over level 70.) We rolled through all the old content. Everything from Ulduar drakes, to Sinestra, to ICC LK Heroic. It was great fun. Most of the guild were people who were friends in real life. Over the course of the two months, I progressed into Stage 3 of the quest and got a few dozen other achievements from other raids. Then, I realized, I was ONE clear from the Staff.

I pointed it out and everyone got excited. We actually PLANNED the night we would run Firelands, instead of just winging it like normal. That way, everyone who wanted the pet, and wanted to see the event could be present.

The night we planned to run Firelands – that was the night our GM logged on and booted everyone.

Heartbreak. I am sure everyone felt much the same way I did. We logged on, ready to have fun, ready to celebrate our guild doing something Legendary, and instead, we were met with abandonment and betrayal.

It’s just a game, but it felt shockingly similar to being laid off at work. The worst part was asking in TRADE CHAT if we had missed anyone in our guild.

I pinged my friend, and discussion was had about what we were going to do, but to be honest, most of us were just hurt. So we formed up a raid, and we only had 5 of our normal guildies. The others had disbursed. I almost cried. So close to the staff, and now so far. My triumphant night had been disbanded just like the guild. Our raid leader, contacted another guild, and asked if anyone would be willing to run Heroic Firelands. Five players stepped up. I cannot express the heroism of these 5 players. They all had Firelord. They had zero reason to help. They did anyway. They gave up 2 hours to help someone they had never met, never raided with. HEROES OF AZEROTH.

Silver linings and heroes aside, the night was still marred by the loss we had all suffered. A few people drifted to an alt guild. A few others ended up in alt bank guilds. Worst of all, the mini-pet I had transferred to allow people to get was no unavailable, to all of us. So now I am left trying to figure out how to guild hop between guilds to get all my new friends a pet.

Here I am, 24 hours later, and the one thing I can’t let go of… This should not happen. There IS a design solution to prevent someone booting everyone else in the guild and making off with a level 25 guild, with bank filled with mats, gold, and gear. Even if the guild had been okay with a dictatorship, most of us now aren’t. We don’t want someone else to be in charge. We want to be able to TRUST the person in charge. Our guild leader, he wasn’t just some guy. For most of the people in the guild, he was a REAL LIFE friend. He was a real life friend who got rejected by one of his other friends and decided he didn’t want to deal with it. He destroyed the guild because another guildie had flirted and then broke his heart. In return, he broke our hearts.

Why can’t we decided to have a guild that has a co-gm or council? Why can’t we chose our own leadership?

There has to be another way. Before the days of guild levels, it would be a simple matter of pestering a GM to restore our stuff and gold. But now, we have to start over or join another group. It’s like, hitting level 90, having your friend leave the game and suddenly you are level 1 again.

Once bitten, twice shy.

Battling the Spirits of Pandaria

The first few trainers are fairly easy, simply matching up the proper elements leads to victory. However, once out to Northrend, that strategy doesn’t work anymore. So here are a few teams to help beat the high level trainers, broken down by trainer.

Aki – The Master Pet trainer in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms.

She uses a Cricket (critter), a Dragon, and a Golden Civet (aquatic).

So let’s break down each pet. The cricket is a critter, and uses mostly swarm. Anything that does well against a critter is good. (Especially anything with beast powers.) Most efficient is a Humanoid with Beast powers, because they can take out the cricket and be ready to deal with the dragon.

Stormlash is a pain in the butt. And he is sure to call lightening which will kill your team quickly. You want a humanoid with a nuke. Panderan Monk is a good option, I use Murkimus, because I can use his Heroic Leap to avoid damage.

Lastly, take out the Golden Civet with a flyer, especially one with Lift Off, so you can dodge his dive. I like the Cenarian/Hippogryph Hatchling for this. Most efficient is a Magical Pet with Flying abilities (jade owl? I don’t have one, so I can’t be sure).

My team:

Murkimus, Hippogryph Hatchling, Fluxfire Feline. FFF vs Chirrup, Hippogryph vs Civet, and Murkumus vs the Dragon.

Flowing Pandaren Spirit – Dread Wastes

Water Spirit (Elemental), Marley (Aquatic), and Tiptoe (Critter).

Marley is a standard aquatic with pump and dive. Pull out your Cenarian Hatchling and use his liftoff to avoid the big nuke of Whirlpool and Dive on the third turn. Again a magic type with flying abilities is most efficient here.

The Critter is easily taken out with a magic pet with beast abilities. I use Spectral Tiger Cub, but alternatives are Twilight Fiendling and the Baneling from the SC2 HoS CE.

The water spirit will generally show up last. Try a Rapana Whelk or a magic type with aquatic abilities (like Legs).

IF you have a Disgusting Oozling, Jade Oozeling, Oily Slimeling, or Toxic Wasteling, try them first, and use Absorb/Corrosion/Acidic Goo. Place the two dots on and then absorb. I find I can EASILY solo all three pets with a single ooze. So I end up being able to level a lower level pet on this trainer.

My Team:

Disgusting Oozling, Spectral Tiger Cub (or leveler), Hippogryph Hatchling.

Burning Pandaren Spirit – Townlong Steppes

Fire Spirit (Elemental), Crimson (Dragonkin), and Glowy (flying)

First off pull out the Rapana Whelk against the Fire Spirit. His critter family, plus his aquatic abilities make him very powerful.

A standard humanoid will do nicely versus his dragon, but really, the best choice is a dragonkin with humanoid abilities. He will cast a cyclone ability that will heavily damage any aquatic pets you have on your back line, so don’t have any. Most efficient pets here, Soul of the Aspects or Death Talon Whelpguard.

Glowy is fairly easy to beat with anything with a nuke, but most efficient are Dragons with Magic abilities. Bust out a Nether Faerie Hatchling or an Emerald Whelpling and tear him up.

My Team:

Rapana Whelk, Murkimus, and Emerald Whelpling.

Thundering Pandaren Spirit – Vale of Eternal Blossoms

Earth Spirit (Elemental), Sludgy (Critter), and Darnak (Beast)

I hate this guy.

First off, his Earth Spirit will stun the crap out of your first pet. Pull out the Rapana Whelk and make him pay.

Sludgy is the perfect foil to a Fluxfire Feline, so bust that one out when your Whelk dies, and watch Sludgy die quickly. Now your FFF isn’t going to last very long against the third guy, BUT if you haven’t rezzed yet, and still have enough time to get off 3 moves, you have this fight with just these two pets. Just be sure to PASS on your turn if he is burrowed and your attack is all queued up.

Obviously, mechanical is very strong against Darnak, but he is very strong against Mechanical. So if your FFF has taken too much damage, try the Cenarian Hatchling with his liftoff timed to avoid the burrow.

My team:

Rapana Whelk, Fluxfire Feline, and Hippogryph Hatchling.

Whispering Pandaren Spirit – Jade Forest

Dusty (Critter), Whispertail (Dragonkin), and Air Spirit (Elemental)

Dusty hits weak against dragons and is weak to beast abilities. So best here is a dragon with beast abilities like the Dragonhawk Hatchlings. Alternaitely use a strong beast pet, but watch out, he likes to cocoon and you don’t want to waste your best shots.

Whispertail is again a dragon, so here is another use for your humanoid. If you are lucky enough to have a Death Talon Whelpguard he shines here since he is strong against Whispertail’s attacks, and uses humanoid attacks.

The air spirit is a pita, just because of his self healing. A Rapana Whelk does well here, with its own healing, but the fight can drag on for a while. Alternatively use a FFF or a dragon with a huge nuke.

My team:

Rapana Whelk, Emerald Whelpling, Spectral Tiger Cub.

 

As you will notice, I use several pets over and over again, thus it’s worth your time to go and get a rare and level them up:

Rapana Whelk

Death Talon Guard

Fluxfire Feline

 

Store bought pets:

Pandaren Monk

Cenarian Hatchling (a copy of the Hippogryph Hatchling TCG pet)

 

These 5 form a very nice base that will allow you to take out all the Pandaren trainers. See my post about leveling pets to get them leveled up quickly.

Is this going to improve the game? – A Design Question

“If someone says, ‘It would be cool if…’ tie them up and throw them in a closet until the game is done.”

That might be a bit of a harsh reaction, but if there is one thing I have learned in video game design it is this: ALWAYS CRITIQUE YOUR WORK.

Is this thing you are doing, this choice you are making, is it *vitally* important to the game. Will it make the game better as well as not break or make the game worse?

Let’s look at a few examples:

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, I worked on the Darklight Crypt expansion. One of the things I chose to do early was have a “boss” fight at the end. Most of the other levels, if they had bosses, they were against Kaos, and all done by another designer. But Darklight Crypt was an adventure pack level, meaning the user would have to spend extra money to get the toy for it to unlock the level. The theme was dark and very haunted crypt castle kind of place. So the boss I created ended up being a huge eyeball.

Queue the jokes. “I see you!” The boss would shout and kids would burst into fits of giggles. Was the boss fight the best? Nope. It was a super simple push the button to make the boss vulnerable and then hit him with the big guns, repeat three times, and win. The fight wasn’t the reason to include it. The ability to cleanly mark the end of the level with a climatic moment was. The addition of a bad guy the player could see and interact with was pretty important too. The humor that tagged along turned out to be vital to the level as well, but at the time we didn’t know that would happen.

The inclusion of the boss was risky. I was new to the project and studio. The fight was a complex bit of scripting. There were a dozen things that could have gone wrong. There was bad choices made within the fight (locking out players from using two cannons at once). BUT in the end, we can see that it added so much of the heart and character to the level, it wouldn’t be the same without it. When I suggested putting it in, I made these arguments for it: It makes the level feel different from the main game, with a boss fight at the end. It gives the player a firm target and goal, that is clear from the beginning of the level. It wouldn’t detract from the level, because it would give it a climatic moment and would be very simple for the player to understand.

I think, for the most part, it was successful. One thing that we did fail on, and learned our lesson, was using the main mechanic of the level, switching worlds, in the boss fight. Occulus, while awesome on so many levels (did you notice after him, there comes Eyebrawl?) didn’t fit within the switching mechanic of the level well. I shoehorned some switching in, but it felt out of place. In Giants, we did this MUCH better with the boss at the end of Wilikins Isle, the new switching level. I worked with the designer who did the boss fight to make sure that it incorporated switching in an organic way. Of course, it helped that before I ever suggested it, I knew he was an Ikaruga fan. It made it very easy to convince him.

So why is this so important?

Because not every game can patch out their problems. You have to put every design decision under the microscope. Think about the player and how they are going to have to deal with each decision you make.

Another example:

World of Warcraft recently added pet battles. All the minipets crazy people (like myself) had been collecting as pure vanity items suddenly became the source of gameplay. They essentially turned pets into Pokemon, complete with elemental affinities and weaknesses. Pet battles is an amazing feature, that needs a great deal of polish. Deciding what parts need polishing becomes very clear the minute each decision has to be defended.

One of the major things to do as a pet battler is go out and fight Trainers. Much like Pokemon, these are NPCs that have a team of their own, that you, as a player can challenge and beat for rewards. One design decision, that looks good on paper, is that the early trainers have set orders to their team. The order that their pets fight in is always the same. This allows the player to start off on a good foot, by stacking their first pet against the trainer’s pet. As the trainers level though, their pets begin to appear in a semi random order. Meaning that they will choose to use one of two of their pets seemingly randomly at the beginning of battle. I know, I hate random. But in this case, it is clearly worthless.

Let’s say I go up against a trainer that can bring out either a critter or a dragon first. Well clearly, I want to stack my first pet to be against one of these two. So I pull out my humanoid, who is strong versus dragons. I initiate the battle. The trainer brings out their critter. I could, and it is clearly designed that I should, switch pets, forfeiting one turn to the trainer, to have my strong pet out. BUT they allowed us to forfeit the fight entirely, with no punishment for doing so. So instead, I just forfeit, then re-initiate the fight. Repeat until the trainer brings out her dragon first, then battle away. Sound tedious? OH IT IS.

At this point, the designer should defend their decisions. They have made two. 1. That pet trainers should pull out pets randomly. 2. That forfeiting costs the player nothing. First, look at the source design, Pokemon. In Pokemon, the trainers always use their Pokemon in a set order (also generally having a team with nearly all the same elements). Also, if the player wants to quit a fight… they have to lose all their Pokemon. So there is a conflict with the source design on both points.

Which feature makes the game better? If you could only have ONE, which one would you chose: Random pet order or forfeiting? I choose forfeiting. It’s never very fun to realize that your entire team is all wrong and then just have to suffer through being bludgeoned to death so you can try again.

So what about the random pet order? Well, defend it. 1. Does it improve the game? The argument could be made that it makes the fights more challenging. 2. Does it break or make the game worse? The ability to forfeit negates the challenge introduced in point 1, and the constant cycling to try and get the “correct” pet up first makes it tedious, so yes, it makes the game worse.

At this point, CUT IT. Rip it out. Not only are the battles less tedious, but also they make the fights easier on the players. If there is a need for challenge, do that in the numbers with a systems designer, or have the trainers use more “dual affinity” pets (like dragonkin who use all magic abilities, super tricky!). It takes some of the randomness out, and improves the flow of the mini-game. Designed is always better than random.

Unfortunately, according to patch notes, Blizzard has already decided to create a punishment for forfeiting. Now each of the pets on your team will take some small amount of damage when forfeiting. So rather than streamlining the game, they left the tedious part in, but increased the time it takes to get past it. NOW players will forfeit, then wait for the 8 minute timer on the ability to heal their pets to come up, heal the pets and try again. Or they will just stop fighting the trainers completely. (In explanation, they will not just switch out pets, because the high level trainers are so tightly tuned that even one miss or dodged attack can lead to the player losing even WITH the first pet being stacked to win.)

No design decision should be made without first asking, “Does this make the game better, without making anything worse?” Would the game be better without this feature?

Once the game is shipped, the players will see it, and rip it apart. They won’t ever know about the features that were cut or didn’t make it in their original state, but they will see the broken or bad features that are present.

 

Leveling Pets Quickly

Reached a trainer with a vicious setup? Discovered a new pet you want to make a part of your main team? Want to sell leveled pets at a premium price?

These tips are targeted at players who haven’t reached the point in pet battling where they have a team that can just roll the Pandarian Tamers.

First, prepping the leveling process: One thing players seem to keep forgetting is that battle pets are account wide. It doesn’t have to be a level 90 engaging the fight. Now is the time for judicious use of alts! I have an alt sitting beside each of the Tamer Dailies that give bags. (Lydia Accoste, Karazhan; Stone Cold Trixxy, Winterspring; Bloodknight Antari, Shadowmoon Valley; Major Payne, Argent Tournament; etc) But for leveling, I only use the first two Grand Master Tamers.

To begin leveling a new pet, start at Karazhan. Load up a low level pet and two level 25 pets. The high level ringer pets must to be able to handle all three of the trainers pets. They have to be 25, as opposed to level 20-24, because if they are capped, they won’t “steal” experience from the low level pet. If two pets eligible to receive experience participate in the battle the amount of experience they would have received is split between the two, so leveling one pet is twice as fast as leveling two. The low level pet should be at least level 5 or so, to prevent being one shot. It only needs to be able to survive one round in the ring. If I am starting with a level 1, I pop up to Duskwood real quick and fight a few battles to get it up to level 3-4.

NOTE: The pet being power leveled has to be present for an entire round. It can’t start on the field and switch out immediately. Use any of its abilities, but debuffs are nicer, since they help the replacement pet.

Taking down Lydia’s trio (critters are very strong against her team) should get your newbie pet up to 7 or so. The next trainer is in Winterspring. The fastest way is to just park an alt there and switch over to them. Fly down and battle Trixxie. It’s possible for the trainer’s pet to one shot your leveler, even at level 7-8. Trixxie’s dragon is the most likely to do it. It’s never good, but it happens. If it does, forfeit the fight, heal, and try again.

The problem with the subsequent trainers that give bags is they all really need a strong team of 20+s to take them down. Generally the team even needs to be stacked specifically to fight that trainer.

The fastest method of leveling pets at this point is to battle all the aquatic pets rolling around the Vale of Eternal Blossoms (Shrine of Seven Stars for the Alliance or Shrine of Two Moons for Horde). Take your main, load up a team with two flying level 25s, and the pet you want to level, and go to town. The aquatic packs respawn fairly quickly and there is a stable master right by the flight master at the Shrine for when your flyers get knocked out. Until level 15 or so the low level pet will get 1 level per fight. At 15 it starts taking 2 fights, then at 20 or so it will take 3 fights per level.

Use this method to level a team specifically stacked and prepped to battle the Pandarian Tamers. With some luck in catching rares, it is possible to build a two pet team that can take out the Pandarian Tamers, at which point it might be worth it to try to level a third pet through them, if you are going to be killing them daily for bags anyway. I tend not to do this though, as re-starting the battle over and over to get the right starter pet, unlucky crits, unlucky misses, and it ends up taking longer than just grinding in the Vale.

Prime Targets for Stones

With Battle-Stones, Blizzard introduced an easier way to get a rare pet. Simply capture a pet of any rarity, then use the Battle-Stone on them to make them rare. They also allow players to improve pets that have set rarities. There are two kinds of Flawless Battle-Stones, one that is boe and generic, and ones that are bop and limited to a family type. (Yes, there are Polished Battle-Stones, however, this article is focused on the ones that get pets to battling shape.)

The question becomes, once receiving a Battle-Stone, which pet is it best to use on? In the end, it should always be whatever pet you most want to use it on. This is simply a list of potential targets that might make a bit more sense than others.

In general this is how I prioritize stones:

  1. Hard to farm pets. (Minifernal, Giraffe Calf, Baby Ape, etc.)
  2. Pets that cannot be farmed as rare. (Like the Children’s Week pets.)
  3. A pet needed to make a team overpowered. (Minifernal, Mana Wyrmling, etc.)

So here’s my top picks for each family:

Humanoid:

Flayer Youngling – These guys have a long spawn time, and tons of campers, so they are a prime target for an early stone.

Peddlefeet – A very good battle pet, and he only comes in uncommon rarity

Dragonkin:

Emerald Proto-drake – Both a good battle pet, and a rare spawn.

Infinite Whelpling – Rare spawn, rumored to be a good battle pet, and heavily camped.

Flying:

Darkmoon Glowfly – Not only is this pet good, but he can only be farmed one week out of the month. It is likely going to be a huge pain to get him.

Gilnean Raven – A vendor pet with some very interesting abilities.

Tirisfal Batling (or Bat) – The Tirisfal Batling can only be learned as uncommon. The Bat can be farmed rare, but has so few spawns, it will likely take a great deal of time. Both have the Reckless Strike ability which is great for killing aquatic battle pets quickly.

Undead:

Ghostly Skull – Vendor pet, and good at pet battles.

Infested Bear Cub – This pet so rarely spawns as it needs a momma bear to do so, and even then, not all momma bears spawn the cub. It is worth it to kill the infested bears to force respawns of the bears themselves to increase the chance of a cub spawn

Critter:

Egbert – Only obtainable during Children’s Week, he is also uncommon when learned. He has a very powerful move set.

Wolpertinger – Only comes in uncommon and limited to Brewfest.

Magic:

Minifernal – Not only insanely difficult to farm, but also one of the best pets to counter the Fluxfire Feline.

Mana Wrymling – Also good against Fluxfire Feline, and only comes in uncommon.

Elemental:

Fel Flame – Rare spawn

Tiny Twister – Rare spawn requiring special circumstances.

Beast:

Baby Blizzard Bear – Only uncommon and only from the Anniversary achievement.

Baby Ape – Rare spawn requiring special circumstances.

Giraffe Calf – Rare spawn, that like the Infected Bear Cub, requires a momma giraffe to spawn.

Silithid Hatchling – Rare spawn requiring special circumstances.

Aquatic:

Wanderer’s Festival Hatchling – Rare spawn requiring special circumstances.

Emperor Crab – Strong battle pet

Fishy/Tiny Goldfish – Strong battle pet, and they only come in uncommon

Mechanical:

Fluxfire Feline – Currently the most broken overpowered pet out there. He might be nerfed to oblivion in 5.2, but will still be strong. Spawns fairly slowly, and is heavily farmed due to his current strength.

Anodized Robo Cub – Rare spawn, heavily camped.

Any of the engineering pets are also good targets for Battle-Stones as they are all uncommon. (Personal World Destroyer and Mechanical Chicken are the ones I would pick first, as both have Supercharge.)

 

There is no wrong answer when choosing a pet to boost, just some that might make life collecting easier.