Friday, August 27, 2010

What Blizzard Can Learn From Arc System Works

Like everyone with a passion for the vidja games, I have a few go-to titles and series that I hold up as paragons of X, Y, or Z. Among this prodigious list is Earthbound, Silent Hill 2, Devil May Cry (obvious exception of 2), Civilization, and Blazblue. This is coming back to World of Warcraft, I promise.

Blazblue, for those who haven't tasted it's sweet fruits, is a very Japanese 2-D fighter with over-the-top gameplay and character designs. To writ, one character is a half-vampire half-antichrist cyborg wizard outlaw anarchist armed with a perpetual motion machine. No, for reals.

Anyway, one of their strengths besides having a unique style are the character mechanics. Every character is vastly different in play style and approach, while still being balanced enough for virtually any character to win a match or tourney. That is a tremendous accomplishment of design; balance is easier to do the more parity there is between player options. It's harder, but far more rewarding in terms of game depth and flow, when some characters are easier to use than others, yet neither one dominates.

The point I'm getting at is WoW comes close to having this kind of balance, yet it falls flat in pursuit of broad-spectrum appeal. Classes are moving into greater balance and viability in Cataclysm, but what's sad is the various classes and specs are moving closer not just in balance, but in difficulty curve as well. Paladins are getting a fancy new resource, while dot classes don't need to worry about clipping and DKs are getting more leeway on their runes. Instead of having a spread of classes, some straightforward and easy, others tricky and subtle, Blizz is pushing the margins in. Which in turn makes classes and specs more homogeneous and less unique.

The concept of flow is that a player is maximally engaged and satisfied with gameplay when the level of difficulty is challenging without being overwhelming. It's also called "the zone" or just that sigh of satisfaction at beating a tight segment. Now, the best flow comes about when a video game adjusts difficulty organically, rather than through a menu. In Blazblue, this is done through the character select menu. Some characters are simple rushdown, others require tricks and mind games to win, and still others use zoning to shore up weak defenses. One of the most intricate characters, Carl Clover, controls two characters at once. And yet, he does as well as a simple rushdown character like Ragna, despite the more complex strategies and execution involved.

That works because some players WANT complexity, and others want simplicity. Blazblue has a spectrum of difficulty in its characters, and WoW needs that too, or it will be boring to some while hectic and stressful to others. The three roles are a good start; they cater to different skill sets, and thus, to different types of players. But in homogenizing the difficulty of the classes, Blizzard is losing an opportunity to provide an organic flow, one of the best experiences pure gameplay can provide. They ought to be an "easy" healer and a "hard" healer (maybe "tricky" healer is better), and yes, it is a good thing that one or two DPSers can faceroll their rotation to success. Some people just like that I guess.

I imagine the majority of paladin players, and warlock players, and so on will like the changes; by definition Blizzard is trying to move the flow of each class to the top of that bell curve. But what would be far more ingenious is to make all specs balanced with the greater raiding environment, yet ensure each class has some say, via their spec choice, on how hard the game is to play. That way, each class had something to offer the outliers on the flow curve: affliction for players who need a challenge to be engaged, destruction for people who just want to press buttons and see high crits, and demonology for those in between. That is a better world, for everyone involved. Including Blizzard.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How Reforging Could Have Saved Loot

So, quick, what's the one thing that sucks about loot drops? Loot no one wants, of course! Sometimes this is because something's on farm, or because of eccentric group comp, but mostly, it's because some item was bizarrely itemized to favor a single class, or worse, spec. This could be TOTALLY FIXED in Cataclysm; not by talent trees, but with four reforging options.

1. Healing plate is an abomination to Crom, mighty god of the mountain, keeper of the riddle of steel, and patron of all melee DPS. To him cries of lamentation are offered whenever some bullshit spellpower is seen on a proper man's armor. SOLUTION: make a Str -> Int reforging that turns all the strength into intellegence. BOOM! Now all DPS plate is also healing plate.

2. How will paladins get their spirit on then? And what of the caster/healer plight, who snub hit gear from time to time due to being at the cap/needing none of it? SOLUTION: Hit -> Spirit reforging, that takes all the Hit and turns it into Spirit, though still less than would be otherwise expected at that iLevel. This keeps hit pieces from being BiS for healers, while expanding their appeal. Paladins could (and do) have extra mana regen abilities to make up for lesser spirit, since all of it would come from here.

3. Fair's fair, so what about the healing piece, whose spirit ruins otherwise perfect DPS itemization? SOLUTION: Spirit -> Hit reforging, to also expand the healing piece to be more appealing to the DPS, but again, not BiS. Balance and Elemental could have good Hit boosting talents, thus making all leather and mail casting gear equally appealing to all appropriate specs.

4. Finally, strength one handers. They're only used by two specs, and both of them have the option to use two handers anyway. What a waste! SOLUTION: Agi -> Str reforging for one handed weapons. This means ALL the weapons could be for ALL the people who use one handers, with no waste! You could even go one step further and stop making one handers with tanking stats, further widening the appeal.

This simple addition to the reforging system would ensure every item on the loot tables would be appealing to some extent for a variety of specs; the worst being spell leather/mail being desirable for only two specs each. My solution would be to condense the armor types down to three, and make hunters and shamans wear leather, but that's a touch drastic. Also, rogue poisons and energy gain need to be normalized for weapon speed, so the tyranny of fast DPS one handers may be gone forever.