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World of Warcraft

So the first public test of 8.1 is live.

Looking at the initial offering of the patch notes. The “big thing” with this update is the introduction of the British tanks. To some extent everything else is window-dressing, but nevertheless it can be quite important window dressing even so. Looking through the initial patch notes here is what I find interesting.

Firstly we are getting the Dragon Ridge map back, something I am looking forward to. Presumably they will have made some amendments to it to resolve the perceived problems. Also, the Assault map-mode has been removed from the Prokhorovka map. In all honesty this was probably needed. Even though it was very possible win as the attackers, all too often folks seemed to give up, skewing the map even more. Additionally more maps are getting the improved render graphics, generally making the game look prettier. There are also some more premium tanks be added.

The most important change though is to gold ammo – so important it even has its own item in the general news. Gold ammo, or premium ammo to give it its proper name, is ammunition bought not with credits, but with gold, which is World of Tanks’ real-money currency.  Gold ammo, as a general rule of thumb, does no extra damage than regular ammo. Instead it has a higher penetration value making the chance of doing damage is greater. Well, they are going to try allowing premium ammo to also be acquired with credits and not just gold. The way this will work will be quite simple, a 400-1 conversation rate. Therefore, if the gold ammo costs 3 gold per shell it will also be available for 1200 credits per shell.

Gold ammo is one of those somewhat divisive things. More than anything else it is World of Tanks “pay-to-win” option. I can only think by opening premium ammo out to credits as well as gold Wargaming as seeking to give the impression of “levelling the playing the field” – especially in Clan Wars.

There are also, of course, a list of fixes and some other potential changes, but the ones above seem the most important to me. The premium ammo change itself is very significant, and it will take time to work out what it means in practice. Thankfully Wargaming seem to realise this – they make it quite plain the period from 8.1 to 8.2 is basically going to be one big test of the idea, so I would not be surprised to see this tweaked over the next few updates.

 

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In World of Warcraft Mists of Panderia has been launched. In less than a fortnight Riders of Rohan will be released for LOTRO. My main character in Warcraft is still merrily mucking about in Outland, starting to approach the level cap of The Burning Crusade. In LOTRO my secondary character is approaching the level cap of the original Shadows of Angmar release. This has all got me thinking – not for the first time – of one of those “features” of the level-based game: the previous level caps.

Most of my level-based MMO experience comes from LOTRO, so I will mostly talk about that. Take a look at the below list of all the content that used to be aimed at the original level cap (which was level 50) by the time Mines or Moria was released.

1) Four regions of the game (Angmar, Forochel, Misty Mountains, and Eregion) that went into level cap, and a large area of another (Annuminas in Evendim)

2) Over half the epic storyline (14 Books – and you used to hit cap around the end of book 7).

3) Two raids (The Rift and Helgorod) and a series of smaller instances and dungeons (Carn Dum, Urugarth, Annuminas). This ignores all the in-world group content available in the above regions.

These days, it is basically possible to blast through the old level cap on the strength of just a smattering of the above before one can begin journeying into Moria. Of course, one encounters something of the same situation at each of LOTRO’s level caps, though nothing so extreme as existed at the original cap. LOTRO has an embarrassment of content, from a levelling perspective, that means if one dislikes a particular area is generally easy enough to go adventure somewhere else.

The same thing clearly exists in World of Warcarft – for me most easily demonstrated by looking at my reputation with various factions knowing full well I am unlikely ever to grind out “Lower City” reputation, for example, yet once it would have been one of the objectives at an old level cap.

Both LOTRO and Warfact have, of course, tried to address the “feature” of the old level cap somewhat. Again I’ll mostly speak of LOTRO since that is where my experience is – but there Turbine refined their skirmish technology and made some of the old level-capped instances scaleable to level by reworking them. Annuminas was reworked as part of the Evendim revamp – the in-world portion was changed to reflect the level of the rest of the region and the instances became scaleable. The Helgorod raid was reworked into a series of 6-man fellowship dungeons, also scaleable. So were two three-man instances in Eregion. Even with this updating however there remains a vast amount of content still aimed currently for those about level 50.

In a level-based game where a new expansion means a new level cap, there is no way to get away from the way previous level-caps start to litter the landscape. This is in utter contrast to EVE, where there obviously is no level cap. However, it is not quite true to say that phenomenon does not exist at all in EVE. In EVE it is not past level-caps that clog up one’s hangers, it is past fitting doctrines which have either become been discarded due to some evolution of theory or due to some game mechanic change. It is not the same thing precisely, but probably about as close as it gets.

Do I have a larger point? Certainly nothing original, only perhaps to say that these things are useful reminders that the games we play are constantly evolving. Unlike most single-player games they are not fixed in one incarnation.

 

Quite by accident last night I was online in World of Warcraft when Mists of Panderia officially launched. It was a rather subtle thing – a small entry in the chat box in a pinkish colour that said simple “Mists of Panderia has launched”. I didn’t actually stay online all that much longer – just long enough to see someone get a Realm First for Herbalism. It was a curious experience. I heard from a work colleague of the massive crush of people diving into the new content and new Pandareen, but I just toodled along in my own little journey almost oblivious. Officially though I suppose I can now say that I was present at an expansion launch. Go me, or something.

Given this event MMO Roundup has a post collating some farewell thoughts on Cataclysm, and I have to say that Tzufit’s write-up “Did Deathwing Win?” hits the nail spot on the head with the following: “We returned to our homes to find that they weren’t the same anymore, that beloved friends had died, and favorite places were forever ruined.” All in all there is a great deal there that correctly describes all the reasons I stopped playing Warcraft before Cataclysm even launched.

In my own playing for the last few days I have been reminded of both good and bad points regarding Warcraft, and regarding Blizzard. In particular I dislike the way achievements have now become shared over accounts. It seems to me to be a “Blizzard way or the high-way” scenario when I cannot honestly imaging separating out account-level and character-specific achievements would have been all that difficult. Very much the same attitude as the whole Real ID fiasco, even if not of the same severity. On the whole so far I am enjoying being back so far.

 

My first MMO was EVE Online. The first MMO often (though not always) shapes expectations of what MMOs are all about. I tend to compare just about every MMO to EVE Online. Most people do this in one way or another – SynCaine keeps comparing everything to Ultima. My second MMO was World of Warcraft, and one has to look pretty hard for two MMOs that are further apart on the themepark/sandbox spectrum than those two. Sometimes opposites attract, but in this case it has caused more than a little aggression between the two.

There is a David vs Goliath quality to this – plucky little EVE players with their slings defending their gamespace against the gigantic philistine. No doubt EVE players, consciously or unconsciously, have felt threatened by the WoW giant which seemed to so totally dominated the MMO gaming space. Four years ago when folks not part of MMO gaming heard of an MMO, they heard of WoW. Trying to explain EVE to colleagues or friends was often a frustrating and thankless task.

A common response to being a part of a minority is to create an idea that there is something that minority somehow “better” than the majority. Something that sets them apart in a positive manner. EVE has created a very effective mythology in its playerbase in this fashion – one I am happy to subscribe to even as I see the dynamic at work. There really is something quite different about EVE to everything else. On the other hand in my life I have seen precisely the same dynamic in player amongst fans of heavy metal music (in the face of the larger pop scene) and fans of “artistic” films in the face of big-budget blockbusters. In the book world fans of fantasy fiction used to be able to feel this way compared to literary fiction – though I am less certain of this now. Rugby enjoys a similar self-image when comparing itself to football.

Where I will claim to depart from EVE’s self-image is, though I believe EVE to be in some respects a “better” game than WoW (though that defines on the criteria one uses to determine a game’s quality), I fortunately never fell into the trap of just dismissing WoW out of hand. Perhaps this was because my brother turned to WoW after trying EVE and finding it not to his taste.

WoW and EVE are very different games, and I found I was able to enjoy both the sandbox and themepark, though overall I prefer LOTRO’s iteration of the themepark for reasons I may write about at some point in time – though naturally the fact I read The Lord of Rings by the age of ten is certainly a non-trivial factor. However, I have had two time periods in WoW which I far from regret. The first time – during Burning Crusade – I admittedly struggled. Looking back I just didn’t click with the class I was playing. The second time I played though, during Wrath, everything seemed to click. I had a very great deal of fun, until looming around the corner came Cataclysm. Cataclysm sucked the fun out of WoW for me. The idea of breaking old Azeroth entirely, rather than having the Cataclysm through some form of phase technology, made me very unhappy. Also the rumours I had that levelling had been accelerated left (and leaves) me cold – for me the journey has always been more important than the endgame. The Real ID mess was basically the last straw, and I unsubscribed before Cataclysm launched. My primary character was left, iirc, half-way through a quest chain in Zangramarsh.

Mists of Panderia, of course, launches next week. Perhaps it is the increase in news articles about this, perhaps it is the fact my brother is playing again, but I am starting to wonder if I should make a return to Azeroth. I am uncertain. The break in continuity that Cataclysm created in my mind still exists.

Ultimately sitting here right now, I just do not know.

Over at Poetic Discourse there have been a series of good posts about how someone who has played a “themepark” game should approach playing EVE Online. I’d probably place a different emphasis on a few things, but overall I would have no hesitation to directing someone interested in EVE Online to go and read them.

I think one of the biggest differences between EVE and other MMOs I don’t think has been mentioned (as yet) anyway, and that is travelling. It takes time. The EVE universe is big, and there are no swift travel options.

I know someone who gave EVE a try, and what stopped him from playing wasn’t the pvp nature of the game, it was the size of the gameworld. Basically, he got lost. Several times. He didn’t like that it took time to travel from one part of the universe to others. My own MMO experience isn’t all that broad, but the more I thought about it the more I realised that this is one very critical difference between the EVE and non-EVE experience.

Take Lord of the Rings Online. There are swift travel routes between all sorts of primary and mission hubs. In addition to that every character has (at least) one milestone skill – more can be purchased. Also some classes (Hunters and Wardens) have class travel skills. Further travel skills can be unlocked after a reputation grind and each race also has a travel skill that can be equipped if the relevant deed has been completed.

In EVE there is one option for swift travel, and it is not so easy – Jump Clones. You leave your current clone in your current station, and jump into an already prepared clone in a different station – and cannot do so again for 24 hours. Of course, this being EVE your stuff does not travel with you, implants likewise. To actually get anywhere in a ship takes time – especially if you are moving large bulky cargo (memories of 5 freighter trips from Jarizza to Balle a few years ago still haunt me).

This lack of effective swift travel has two wonderful effects. Firstly, it makes the universe seem big. Middle-Earth and Azeroth, by comparison, usually feel small. I think it is no accident that my favourite region in LOTRO is Forochel, a region that is simply huge where it frequently takes time to get from one place to another (though swift travel does creep in).

Secondly, and more importantly, it allows different regions to create their own communities. To be sure, the time travelling from one region to another is not the only cause of this, but it is integral. Most people tend not to move far from their “base” unless they have good reason. Oh, they might make a trip to Jita to pick something up, or go on a roam, or join a fleet action, but most people tend to centre themselves, even in nullsec, around a system or constellation, or other small area.

When one logs in frequently to the same system or systems in hisec, over an extended period of time, you get to have a sense of who the usual residents are. The same is broadly true for most other areas of space. In LOTRO, or WoW when I played that, I never had that same sense.

I suppose what I am saying that, in EVE, the time it takes to travel is one of the things that helps to give a certain system or area the designation of “home”, in a way I have yet to find in any other game I have played.