Pre-Patch is the Worst Kind of Patch

WoW patched to 8.0 on Tuesday.  It did not go well.

And I mean this from nearly all sides, from developers to consumers.  Pre-patch should be renamed to client testing.  That’s what I call it at work.  We do all the tests we can internally (alpha), stage it in a test environment for clients to poke (beta), then have an initial small release in production (client testing) to a select group of users who know things can still go awry.  Blizzard does the same, they just happen to have a slightly larger scale.

And all developers dread the notorious X.0 patch.  Most people who spend time in IT will wait until at least a full sub release, if not two.  The larger the X gets, the worse the patches get.  Plain and simple, they need to take into consideration years of previous code.  Example – Internet Explorer.  If you ever had the chance to see that source code, you would find stuff from the 90s in there.  They had to dump most of it away, and rewrite Edge from the basics (also why W3 testing seems to finally work).

So, yeah.  Context on the post.  I get what Blizzard was trying to do, I get the challenges.  What I am most curious about is the level of failure this patch brought about, and the optics around that.  From the outside, it seems two things happened.  One, they made some new global variables to put in “big wheels” to adjust numbers across the board to save time.  Second, they don’t have black box testing.  The first one, I can see how it can make things go sideways.  I’ve had that happen.  But the black box testing always found it – especially when it took a larger scale.

What is black box testing?  The general idea is that you apply inputs on one end, and look at the outputs, without knowing how the insides of that box work.  If you look at how the code executes, then you’re too far in to see the larger bugs.  For example.  Enemies that are in the 80-90 range have 2x more hit points than enemies at 110.  Looking at the code won’t show you that, but testing against set use cases and analytics will.  It will not find the specific use case of sub boss X from 3 patches ago, that does the moonwalk instead of normal pathing (at least, it’s not likely).

It also appears that they didn’t stress test their login servers for pre-patch code.  Which again, seems a ridiculous thing after so many years of server meltdowns on every X.0 patch, and every expansion release day.

As for the actual content, I found numerous bugs.  Most in WoD (faction running and Tanaan).  All my characters appear to be 25% weaker at max level, and leveling is like hitting a meat wall.  The numbers need tweaking, and that’s doable in the short term.  Losing artifacts and their bonuses however, that is quite painful.  My monk is so much less fun to play, and has lost nearly all self-sustain ability.  As a tank, he could solo pretty much anything without much trouble – in particular invasion bosses on Argus.  Now, it’s 3-4 deaths per, unless I have someone healing me.

 

As much empathy as I have for the Blizz developers, considering the sheer amount of money they have, as well as a reputation for quality delivery, this entire event makes it seem that WoW has been delegated to the C team.  It certainly doesn’t inspire confidence in the actual release of the expansion.  I’m sure the large scale items will get fixed (squish related), but the fun aspect of classes we had in Legion is seriously diminished.  Not sure how that will work out.

Mage Tower and Gated Content

I will start off by saying that gated content makes sense, as long as there’s a catch up mechanism and that it is not obtuse.  Burning Crusade was neither of these things and had one of the most convoluted key-ing structures, so much so that it required a large guide to get through.

Bcattunement.jpg

Seriously.  Look at this thing!

FF14 isn’t a whole lot better, as you must go through every single group event to get to the recent content.  Not so bad for people that have been away, but for new players it’s a massive slosh through content that people are facerolling through (yay relevant groupfinder!).  It’s not complicated or difficult, just long.

The old-TSW had a gating mechanism where you needed to beat a single boss given, with a given role (tank/heals/dps) in order to enter group content with that role. I thought it worked rather well, as it was a test that you have both the proper gear, skills and situational awareness to do more than just press 1-2-3.

Mists of Pandaria brought the proving grounds.  A tiered challenge system where you fought waves of enemies, using a specific role (tank/heal/dps) and received a rank at the end.  Bronze was to check if you had a pulse, silver that you were paying attention, and gold that you understood all your class abilities.  It’s been in the game since, though more as an afterthought in order to allow people to test more than just combat dummies.

Mage Tower

Since this goes away on Tuesday.

There are good things and bad things about the Mage Tower, and that changes depending on your personal view.  It was very challenging, requiring a high level of skill or a high item level (sometimes both).  It was time gated, so that you only had a limited time to try it out, until the next window appeared.  It rewarded cosmetic weapon upgrades (of varying quality).  It required a significant investment of time to even scratch the surface. It was 100% solo, so you were left to your own devices to improvise.

If you think about it, this was really Proving Grounds 2.0.  Can you play your class and role at top tier levels?  The rewards couldn’t be power, since you needed power to actually beat the challenges – cosmetics are a great alternative.

And it was a pretty solid success, all told.

Forward

BfA does not have class-specific raid gear.  All plate wearers are going to look the same.  Which is a bit of an odd one, since top-tier raiders often pride themselves on the look of gear others cannot acquire, and the class that they picked.

Still, it’s an option for a new Proving Grounds mechanic to offer cosmetic rewards.  It’s a further opportunity for these proving grounds to be used as a gating mechanism for group content (LFG/LFR), and allow the difficulty of group content to be pushed up a tad.

The downside to this is that it doesn’t allow for coordination between real people.   But at least it brings up the skill floor to something past “just breathing”, and can help people better understand their class and overall game mechanics.

Vacation’s Over

Two weeks passed by in a flash.  One of the hottest flashes in a long while I may add.  Nearly every day was in the mid 30s (mid 90s for the imperials), with a few bit more in humidity.  The water was a full 5 degrees (10) warmer than it should be… to the point where it stopped being refreshing and you just felt more wet.  So bring out the parasol, put a chair in the sand, and take out a beer.

We have a cottage on the lake/river, so there’s always a breeze, a good spot to swim, and some decent fishing.  If I recall, we were 25 for the Canada Day festivities, over 4 days.  Lots of fun, but very busy.  Wife did a bang up job organizing a lot of that.  From that point on, it was relax mode with a few visitors here and there.  It’s just nice to get away from the city, the worries of work, and spent a huge chunk of time with the family.  Can never get more time, right?

Side note, I was linked to from the MOP’s Global Chat for my post on a Legion retrospective. Summer months are usually pretty slow, so that spike was interesting to see.

Related the BfA pre-patch it due on Tuesday, giving a month until the next expansion.  I am of the ever growing opinion that Legion will be looked back upon as WoW 2.0, mainly due to the lack of system changes found in BfA.  Instead, the expansion is adding to existing systems (races, PvP, modified artifacts, modified legendaries).  Legion was like a “best of” run, with all the major characters present, and the closure of a story arc that started in 2002.  Now we’ll move into the Void Lords domain…

Time to get back to it!

 

 

Betas, Early Access, & Persistence

Isey has been “beta testing” the online MTG game.  It sounds fun, if complex.  My issue here is persistence.

Back in the day, betas were actually betas.  They were for testing bugs, and some final polish.  There were regular resets, and there were testing templates.  Sure, you put in time, but only a portion of that was ever lost.  The resets were frequent enough that you never acquired a mountain of investment, and resets often provided you with a quick path to return to the previous point.

I remind folks of the EQTest debacle from many years ago as a core point to this. EQTest was an Everquest server that was essentially client testing – people were there to test patches.  It had permanence.  If you ever played EQ, then getting to the end game was a month’s long investment of time.  EQTest, rather than provide testing templates, simply never wiped anything.  A few times they did, but provided a migration mechanism to restore progress. Until they stopped doing that, and EQTest players went bonkers.  SWTOR had a similar issue with their test server if I recall…

Still, I think it’s fairly self-evident that if the goal of testing is to test X, then you want to get X in front of as many people as possible.

Today

I have a level of despise for beta and early access that borders on old man syndrome. In 50% of cases today, it’s just presales.  In the other 50% it’s an actual launch, but with a promise that they will deliver functionality at a later date.  Fine.  Some people can’t help themselves and they’ll fork over money on a promise.  That’s how kickstarter work after all.  I mean, how many EQNext/Landmarks do you need before you get a “success” like PUBG (which still is not optimized)?

The kink here is that some games claim persistence, and that the step between beta and live is a wipe.  That part actually makes sense.  It’s the overall concept of persistence & investment versus the length between wipes.

Let’s say a game is ranked based.  Ranks are acquired through a lot of play.  Beta is designed to test that ranks work.  People gain experience in game, and out of the game – they become more proficient.  If the lack of wipes is long, then people get invested in that rank.  The concept works on live, under the name “seasons”.  It works because it doesn’t erase the previous season, it doesn’t repeat it, it adds something new.  The difference between beta and live doesn’t exist.  What you did in beta, you have to repeat in nearly the exact same way, for the same rewards you already had.

Let’s say a game has an interaction between real money and RNG, in that you spend money for the chance at a power increase.  All card games are like this.  You could spend a lot of money / time getting the right RNG to land to build something you like.  Then it’s gone, and you need to do it again (and get lucky again) on live.  It doesn’t really matter if they credit the expense, you aren’t buying the actual items, just the chance at items.

Then there are games that mix both together.  You pay money to get a hero, and then need to level that hero.  The sense of investment is even higher.  Which is honestly ironic, given that if people calculated how much they get paid per hour, and the hours of investment in a game… that’s the real exchange.

Forward

I see this model getting worse.  As much as it benefits the developers, it is often a detractor to the progress of the actual game.  Players lose time invested, but that’s actually part of the deal of beta testing.  It’s the game that suffers for multiple reasons.

  • The negative feedback from players when the wipe does occur
  • The lack of actual testing of mechanics and feedback
  • The lack of testing the progress systems due to lack of wipes
  • The false positive feedback system that focuses feedback on the last mile, rather than the underlying mechanics.  (e.g. this change provided more money, let’s do it again)
  • The lack of change control as players assume it’s “live” (e.g. the now-now-now mentality)
  • The lack of retention after live, which is a death knell for multiplayer games
  • Public betas for long durations are invitations for copycats, that can do it better as they don’t have a player base to support

I’m thinking the beta / early access moniker needs to have an expiry date.  It can’t last for more than 3 months, then it needs to either shut down access for a week & wipe, or go live.  Long public betas of neat ideas are going to crash and burn, as the industry is built on the concept of copying other games and tweaking some small bits.

I don’t think player behaviors are going to change.  The masses are by definition too dumb to think for themselves.  They will devour on thing, move onto the next, and don’t really care what the overall implications are.  They just want to be part of the bigger group.  That’s fine, games are there as entertainment and few people want to think as part of entertainment.

My gut is that the industry is going to chew up all the little guys in this particular model, and a new funding/player model will take it’s place with some indy developers.  Small MOBAs are gone.  The BR craze is just starting, so we have a year or two of that to see it burn up.  Funding the next big thing…that will be fun to watch.

WoW Legion Retrospective

With Legion coming to a close, let’s take a look back.

Launch

Relatively pain free as launches go.  Zones and dungeons were all working well.  There were a lot of good changes at launch for quality of life.

  • Transmog:Appearances to help people sort out their looks
  • Up to 5 players can tap an open mob, making world quests a lot more pleasant
  • A simplification of stats (spirit, armor, multistrike, spell power were removed)
  • Re-specing out in the wild for free
  • Removal of glyphs
  • Max gold increased to 9,999,999
  • Max characters per realm upped to 12

The scaled content was well balanced in Legion zones, and made each area fairly similar in terms of challenge.  The loss (for some) of flying for leveling was offset with the flightmaster’s whistle.  The emissary quests were a good way to compensate for dailies, and there was always something to do when you logged on.  Small shout to the hookshot ability.  I found that to be a super tool.

The dungeons provided were all quite good, though Maw of Souls, Eye of Azshara, Vault of Wardens, and Halls of Valor were the ones that worked best for me.

7.1

We got Karazhan, Trial of Valor, Suramar Part 2 (Nighthold), more world quests – and Falcosaurs.  For a small patch, it did delivery some nice things.  It was nice to revisit Kara…and the nightmares of TBC.

7.2

This was a big one.  Broken Shores was launched, which brought new dungeons and a raid, demon assaults, class mounts, flying (!!), class hall upgrades (and followers), and pet battle dungeons.  It was a surprising amount of content for a patch.

7.3

Argus.  Which I would argue is a refinement of the Timeless Isle mechanics and lessons learned from the Broken Shore.  Invasion points worked for me.  99% of Argus as a quest / lore location worked for me.  The closure of the Burning Legion saga was really nice to see through.  The downside I have for Argus is that flying was removed for that zone.  The teleporters certainly helped, and trash was well spread out, so not too bad in the end.  Plus, it rained purples.

Artifacts

Giving players weapons of supreme lore/power was neat.  A bit jumping the shark, as there’s nowhere but down to go from here.  The customization of passive talents was fun for the first bit.  The Artifact Knowledge gating mechanic (to make the weapons stronger) was broken, and dramatically rewarded grinding.  When class power is measured in Maw of Soul runs… there’s a problem. It also made off-spec work a real pain in the butt to manage.  It also made alts a whole lot less fun.

The appearances of each artifact worked for me.  Collecting them was a fun challenge.  For most classes at least.  Some were gated behind weekly bosses, which was pretty dumb.  Still, the concept of power and bonding to a weapon worked, and clearly the Azurite system is a reflection of that.

I will say that it’s going to be funny to be replacing something like Ashbringer with a green sword that drops from a spider.

Crafting

I liked the ranked concept of crafting.  I didn’t mind the quest gating too much, but some of it was annoying when forced to do high level dungeons on an alt. You needed to gear them, then boost their artifact, then quest, then do more quests.  It was too long, and provided minimal value for most.

I’m not surprised that First Aid is gone the way of the dodo.  I am surprised that Inscription has not been merged with Enchanting.

Class Halls

This was generally better than garrisons, as it wasn’t about micro-managing.  It was thematic, and provided a reason for class fantasy.  The follower quests were not fun.  I further dislikes quests/dungeons/raids being behind these gates.  It was a lot of busywork.

But if you ignore the followers, then the rest of the class halls worked.  The people within the halls, the various quests, or even just the hall itself – lore-nuts were ecstatic.

Suramar

This entire zone worked for me, end to end.  Parts were open, the city felt like a city, there were tough areas, the questing was solid… it just worked.  The central quest to restore the tree was fun.  The pet zombie scenario was fun.  The costume worked.

Mythic + Dungeons

I ran a few of the lower level ones.  I had some fun.  The additional constraints changed the thinking of how those were run, though in 90% of cases it was better to run with a pre-made group.  I am in the camp that thinks that this type of content will replace raids as the top tier activity.

Character Alts

It was bad in WoD, as the garrison work was character specific.  Once you put in the time, then it was a crazy amount of busy work to manage it, but provided an insane amount of gold-making opportunity.

Legion seemed to double down on that theory.  As mentioned, artefacts were a serious grind for one spec, let alone one character.  Throw in the legendary (with 4 item cap) that had a dramatic impact on playstyle and it compounded the frustration.  Suramar dungeons were also gated per character.

I get the concept, Blizz wants people to be invested in a single character.  Well, it’s 2018 and that mindset needs to be tweaked.  Put in roadbumps for alts… fine.  Bigger ones for optional branches, but the main power line should be streamlined.  I don’t think we’ll ever see FF14s system here, but there’s a middle ground to be had… something like Rift’s core classes, or SWTOR’s Legacy system.  At least something given that they want people to re-roll their characters for a new skin of the same class.

Overall

Aside from the penalties to alts, I think Legion delivered an amazing package.  The timing of content release was good, the content was relatively bug-free, the lore was solid, the flows inside each zone worked…it was all rather seamless.

And there seemed to always be something to do, a reason to log back on and achieve something.  At least for a good long while.  I’d guess retention here was much better than in previous expansions because of it.

#D3 – Season 14 – Greed

The thing about action RPGs is that the fun has to be in the moment to moment gameplay.  It’s not much different than a 1 armed bandit for the long haul, as you kill things for gear, to kill stronger things for better gear.  Many ARPGs struggle finding the balance of speed/power/fun.

Going to pick on Path of Exile for a second.  I really like the game’s flexibility, seasons, classes, crafting… pretty much every mechanic in the game works for me.  What doesn’t is the slow & muddy feel of combat in some areas.  Some zones really work well (the Ledge is a good example), while others feel too restrictive and repetitive.  I can put in a lot of time if I get a good string of zones/skills, but hitting a rough patch has me log off for a while.

I play D3 once a year it seems, though rarely for more than a couple weeks.  Typically at the start of season, or a large patch.  Season 14 has a neat buff of double goblins in the world.  The way loot drops work, it isn’t exactly a huge buff but there is always going to be that reaction when hearing the goblin laugh.  And who doesn’t want an extra free pull on the slots?

I’ve played all the classes, numerous times through.  There really isn’t anything “new” to be learned here.  There have been some tweaks to the numbers, but the skills generally all do the same.  A multi-shot DH from 3 years ago is pretty close to the same thing now.  I really like speed – so traditionally it was monk/WD for quick movement.  I decided to try the opposite and went with the Crusader – who is arguably the slowest bugger in the entire game (minus a specific build).

The leveling portion is pretty much the same as always.  Get Leoric’s Crown at the start, slot with a ruby, run Rifts until 70.  Considering WoW sells max level characters, I’m a bit surprised it doesn’t happen here.  It is a useless process in a season.  Maybe 2 hours the first go at it if you solo.  With a power level, it takes less than 10 minutes.

Haedrig’s Gift gets you 2/4 pieces of set armor very easily.  The last 2 pieces require you to craft/find some decent leveled gear, in particular a weapon.  I am still amazed at how dependent D3 is on the weapon slot.  Theoretically, you could see a weapon drop the second you hit 70, and never find a better one.  The power boost from a well-rolled weapon + ramaladadingdong’s gem slot dwarf any benefit from other pieces of gear (minus legendary bonus affixes).  Ah well.

So I’m a few hours in, trying to clear some stuff on T4, with a Crusader at paragon 50.  Let’s see how long this one lasts, shall we?  Likely not too long with the sun out, and a cold one waiting at the cottage…

WoW Apathy

In the same vein as Tobold on this one.

I think there’s a ying/yang effect with WoW expansions.  I am under the thought that Vanilla/BC are the baseline, then each expansion past is solid, with the next being ugh.  WotLK was good, Cataclysm was meh, Pandaria was good, Warlords was meh, Legion was good, BfA…?

Of important note, the devs have been pretty clear that there are no items left before launch… all that’s left is number tweaking.  If a skill is broken, it will be fixed “later”.

Story

Let’s face it, the story in Legion was impressive.  The whole ant vs. god trope was in full effect and you took down the largest threat to the universe.  BfA is back to the Horde vs. Alliance model.  You know, that conflict that Pandaria showed was useless?  In both Warlords and Legion the factions worked together against a common foe.  I don’t quite get how time passes in WoW, but in the real world we’re around 4 years of being chummy.

It’s hard to argue with the logic in a game with dragons and tentacle demons…I concede that point.  That said, the best stories are the ones where character behaviors are consistent across multiple events.  It would appear no one learned any lessons.

Loss

Legion added a bunch of neat ideas to the game, and most worked out fairly well.   Order halls, artifact weapons (the concept, not the grind), leveling, open world questing…even Argus was a neat approach.  Most of that is out the window.

Normal with expansions, out with the old, in with the new.  But the new has to at least be attractive.  Feral, Shadow and Shamans are basically a bit broken from a fun perspective at launch, with numbers being boosted to make them competitive.  Which is odd.

Stat squish doesn’t bug me.  The GCD changes are a bit odd, which will certainly slow down the game.  A lot of those were rolled back, which is good. Curious as to how that plays out.

Raid sets are also gone, replaced with generic role-based armor.  Paladins and DKs will look the same.

Gain

What’s new aside from levels, zones, and dungeons/raids?  Artifacts/legendaries are being replaced by a new neck piece.  This works a lot like the Netherlight Crucible, were after certain power levels, you get a passive boost.  Lots of PvP options.

There aren’t any new classes or races.  Scratch that, there are new skins on existing races.  Not to the same scale of Goblins/Worgen, or even close to Pandaria itself.

Maybe

Perhaps this just means that WoW has hit its apogee.  Legion did some amazing things to the overall game.  Mythic dungeons were a great way forward.  Leveling was much better than in previous expansions.  Broken Shore / Argus were great improvements on the Timeless Isle mechanics.  The pacing of patches was solid.  The storyline made sense.

What Legion made difficult was alts (heck, even alternate specs).  Sure, leveling them was easy enough.  But tradeskills and power levels were taken behind the barn.  Artifact Knowledge / Power, random drop quests for crafting, horrible RNG for legendaries, Titanforging…all of that seems to be changed in a positive way.

Could simply be that this feels less like an expansion of mechanics compared to previous expansions, and more of a large patch instead.  There’s a lot of tweaking, but no large sweeping changes, or shiny new carrots to keep people going.