09 July 2010

Im in ur beta, testing ur Cataclysm

Our merciful Blizzard overlords have granted me access to the divine realm known as the Cataclysm Beta. I've not had much time to look around yet, but so far it looks good.

After installing the beta, I had to go through a very lengthy patching process. There was over 3 GB of patches to download and install, but I guess that's the consequence of dramatically altering the world. As an added bonus, the EU patching server was down for the last 2 patches, so it took me some time to find manual downloads of the patch-download-executable.

But after an evening full of patching, I managed to start up the beta and log in. At that point my wife said what any sane wife would say: "Ooh, Cataclysm beta. Can I try the Worgen starting zone?" Since resistance is futile, I relinquished control of my computer and pulled up another chair for my new spectator position.

Worgen Starting Zone (Spoiler alert!)
The Worgen start out as ordinary humans, inhabitants of Gilneas. There is no narrative yet for the introduction sequence. I assume that will be added at a later stage, possibly even after the beta. You start in Gilneas City, which is under attack by Worgen. Your first quest-giver is Prince Greymane (the son of the King). As you slowly retreat through various parts of the city, you'll notice very heavy use of phasing. Three main quest-givers (Greymane Jr and Sr as well as a local mayor) move with you through the use of phasing.

Eventually, you're cornered in a cathedral and an NPC yells something about a cutscene about your transformation to a Worgen that's supposed to show, but is not yet implemented. After this non-existent cutscene, you find yourself, as a Worgen, on the brink of being executed when there's a debate between NPCs whether or not your humanity can be saved. Obviously, you're given the benefit of the doubt and you continue to quest on, with familiar quest-givers recognizing you and saying things like "Oh, it really is you, $name". At this point the Forsaken are attacking Gilneas from the sea to the south and you're tasked with stopping them.

One thing I noticed is that Blizzard really polished up the new-player-tips. They now include graphics such as a part of the UI that is being explained or a mouse with the correct button highlighted for some new action. It takes you through the basic concepts of the game, such as combat, trainers, looting, vendors, etc... in a nice way. For veterans it's useless of course, but I can see new players gaining much more from this than from the old tip-system.

Back to the L80 Druid
This morning I had a chance to actually log my Druid. I've seen very little yet, so there's not much to say. The newly announced talent system has not yet been implemented, so saying anything about talents is somewhat pointless. There was a new skill on the trainer though, Skull Bash. It's available both in Cat (25 energy) and in Bear (1 rage, probably not final) forms. It has an 18 yd range and when used causes you to charge the target and interrupt any spell being cast with a 5 second school-lockout. The base cooldown is 1 minute, but it can be talented (Brutal Impact, though that may change with the upcoming overhaul) down to 10 seconds, making it equal in power to Kick from Rogues, but with the charge effect added. What will happen with Feral Charge is not known yet. It seems to be a bit too much to have this charge effect as well as Feral Charge, both on short cooldowns. Not that I would mind though...

More spoilers follow
In other news, Orgrimmar looks great. Much more city-like. But there are no mailboxes yet, so I had to fly (yup, flying in Azeroth is long overdue) down to Razor Hill (which is pretty much unchanged) to fetch my mail (nothing interesting in there). Then I went to Vashj'ir to check out some of the new areas. One thing I noticed is that there isn't really anything that directs you to the new areas. I would've expected an ingame mail and/or plenty of pointer-quests in popular places, but other than one quest to travel to Vashj'ir, there wasn't really anything. Maybe that's still on the todo list.

Going to Vashj'ir is a little event on its own: You board a boat together with some Orc Warriors that are chatting about a new island having emerged close to Stormwind, which is going to be claimed by the Horde so they have a staging area for an assault on Stormwind. Originally, this is the goal of your journey. Once in the area, you see a capsized boat with some survivors standing on it, asking for help, but large tentacles come from below and pull them down. The tentacles then attack your boat and you're pulled away and thrown into the sea. As you sink, a naga approaches you and tries to pull you away, when a Draenei Shaman from the Earthen Ring rescues you. You wake up in a sunken boat, where a bubble of air remains, the Shaman is there to give you your first quest. The reward for this is a spell that allows you to breathe under water and move 60% faster while in the Vashj'ir area. You're then tasked with rescuing the others from your ship and then gathering supplies for the Orc troops.

And that's as far as I've come. There will be more :-)

07 July 2010

Real ID & forum posts - Has Blizzard finally lost it?

My last post was about the new Real ID chat system and its flaws. My main point was that showing your real name instead of a nickname in these chats is a bad idea for 2 reasons: the first being privacy, the second being practicality, as the people I want to chat with ingame know me by my nickname and not my real name. The first point, privacy, did not weigh all that heavily for me, as you can choose yourself who to add to your friendslist (though being able to see your friends friendslist is still a stupid thing).

The Forum Cataclysm
However, yesterday, Blizzard announced that once Cataclysm goes live, all posts in the official forums will show your real name, attached to your Real ID. Your character name can be added to it, optionally. The reason for this: The quality of posts on the forums is too low because people hide behind internet avatars.

I, just like many others, am at a loss for words to describe just how terribly awful this decision is.This change will singlehandedly turn the quite lively (though not always very useful) forums into a ghost town with most quality posters gone. Post something controversial and you can end up with someone ordering a pizza in your name or something equally stupid. As an example, one of the Blizzard forum-moderators posted his name on the forums to show that it wasn't a big deal. In no-time, forumers had found his Facebook page, his age, his address, names of his family members and even some info on a run-in with the law that he had had.

I don't know what went through the heads of the people that came up with this that made them believe it was actually a good idea. I mean, people can be completely twisted in their minds, we see those examples often enough. But for an entire management team to have the same mental breakdown is quite bizarre.

But what should they have done then?
Now you'll tell me: Ranting is all nice and easy, but how then should they combat the crap quality of the official forums? Well, there are a few easy ways to do this. First of all, stricter moderation. Moderators on the Blizzard forums are extremely lenient. If you look at a forum like Elitist Jerks, you will hardly see any bad posts, since mods are very strict. Okay, they're extremely on the other end of the strictness-spectrum, but somewhere in between there's a good spot for Blizzards forum-moderators to sit. Faster (temp-)bans for people that don't contribute.

Secondly, force everyone to post on the highest level character they have on their account. Most trolls hide behind low-level alts, as they value their ingame reputation on their main. Forcing the forum to always select the highest level character removes that element to some extent. People with several characters that are the highest level can choose. Some have proposed this in the past and a common objection was "what if I want to ask/discuss something concerning my low-level alts class?" Well, I don't think you will gain much credibility by posting on your L30 Warrior alt instead of your L80 main of any other class in a discussion on Warriors. And if needed, you can always post an Armory-link to your alt if you have specific questions. Obviously, this method is not going to be 100% foolproof as people can just use L80s they don't care about to post and some even have a second account they can use, but I think it would greatly cull the troll population as the threshold for anonymous trolling goes up considerably.

Finally, let forum offenses and penalties carry over to the actual game. Second time banned on the forums? A couple of days of ingame-ban as well. Right now, the forums and the game are separate entities and people can troll all they want. The worst that can happen is that their posting privileges are revoked. Put some serious ingame penalties on trolling and other forum offenses and people will think twice before posting an easy troll.

Neither of these solutions is perfect. But all, especially combined, are a hell of a lot better than what Blizzard has in mind.

As a conclusion, I would like to post the following that I found on the US WoW forums and that catches the mood of the forums right now. I have never seen them this busy (the main US thread on the subject has 17000 posts at the time I write this, less than 1 day after the news came out) and pretty much everyone agrees with eachother. This happens about as often as the Netherlands reaching the world cup finals (yay!). Anyway:

Good morning.

In less than a day, forum posters from my realm have joined others from around the world. And we will be launching the largest forum battle in the history of the Blizzard community.

"Blizzard Community..."

That phrase should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests.

Perhaps it's fate that today was Maintenance Day, and you will once again be waiting for your game to work correctly... Not for quest item drop rates, buggy NPCs, or missing auction items... but for Anonymity. We are fighting for our right to play. To post.

And should we win the day, Maintennance Day will no longer be known as a day the GMs did their duty, but as the day the world (of Warcraft) declared in one voice:

"We will not be revealed by something so contrite!"
We will not be exposed without a fight!
We're going to post on!
We're going to survive!
Today we celebrate our Maintenance Day!