Wednesday, June 24, 2009

WoW Shaman Class Q&A

Yeah the changes are good, sensible ones but one thing is really annoying me and it's to do with the overall design of the class. Ghostcrawler states that Shamans are the offensive hybrid counterpart to the defensive hybrid, the Paladin. Here's the thing though, Paladins are almost perfectly realised as a defensive class, with their ability to tank, wear heaviest armour, the saving 'hands' on their allies, "Divine Shield" on themselves, being able to redirect some of the damage taken by a single target or the whole raid to themselves, it's a very nice repertoire indeed. Then you've got Shamans in the supposed offensive role and they are sorely lacking in that respect, one key component of offence is mobility something Shaman players have been complaining that's lacking for ages.

For instance, in that same post GC mentions how static he thinks casting Shamans are like 'turrets' - "You sit and spin and shoot (or heal)". Sounds a lot like a defensive role being adopted to me. It really is galling because of how I imagined the Shaman to be a great warrior that buffs his allies in the heat of battle (having an interesting experience in Lotro trying out the Captain class, ahem). So then it's a question of mobility as one possible solution to this dilemma, but creating a caster/healer that can go toe to toe in close range would be very intriguing but barring a total wipe of what is currently in game it's a very unlikely prospect, though "Maelstrom Weapon" could be a potential catalyst for change.

"Heroic Leap" a dropped Wrath beta ability for Warriors (Fury?) has Shaman written all over it. "Thunder" could be redesigned as a quick way to move for Elemental Shamans, like a lightning bolt they get into the middle of a group of mobs, drop "Fire Nova" and "Chain Lightning" to their hearts contents. A warrior priest archetype would be very welcome for restoration, a revival of Shaman fortunes would be much prefered than a new hero class. Umm, yeah, guess that's strike two for not returning to WoW for now at least.


Been playing some Lotro the last week and for the most part been enjoying it, the grandiosity of the landscapes is breath-taking in places, even things like the sweep of a river away into the distance is sublime (reminds me of a river close to where I grew up that had what appeared to be a grotto from a distance but close up not so great, took a good bit of climbing over ditches to get there). Yeah I like exploring, but wish I'd a better computer to do really do justice to the landscapes, also looking out from a lofty vantage point without the game grinding to a halt would be nice.

Unfortunately something occurred that really has put a dampener on things, due to a recent revamp of the Ered Luin starting area some of the NPCs and objectives have been moved about a bit, except the quest text hasn’t been updated at least on EU servers. So to say it was confusing is a bit of an understatement, surprisingly the newly introduced quest helper is showing where the objective is correctly and also the lorebook on the website has the right text too. It's almost comical in some of the situations I found myself in, one NPC saying to fend off an attack from mountain lions when none were anywhere to be seen, yeah that should be the next NPC I talk too, thanks for the heads-up; go to ruins taken over by goblins, no I mean the vale with wolves prowling about. And I was really looking for an epic adventure to get stuck into and reading a coherent story would have been a key role in that, but now dreading what other clunkers I'm going to run into along the way.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Making MMORPG Combat Better

Tobold has this post on his blog about making MMORPG combat better. It's a good summation, but missing one element, which could prove both tactical and interactive: coordination between players. Beginning in a simple manner, taking the D&D example of blunt weapons being good against undead as origin (that's new to me, never having played the game, but sure every game I seem to play has at least some influence from it), and letting some classes abilities interact with other abilities from other classes in a positive or negative fashion. Sure there is buffs in many MMORPGs that benefit more than the casting player but it's definitely worth considering how it could be taken further.

Here's an example: a highly armoured mob that cant be damaged by melee whose damage depend on applying bleeds/poisons, in order for them to be able to damage the mob the armour must be shattered/sundered by a 2-handed blunt weapon wielding tank. The tank is aided by a caster casting frost spells to make the armour more brittle and freezing the mob for higher chances of the armour being smashed, the bindings snapping etc. Once the armours gone melee have 2-3 secs to apply whatever bleeds/poisons they have, however the caster puts a 'hypothermia' debuff on the mob which prevents them being damaged with bleeds/poisons and this debuff is more likely to be applied when the mob is exposed for those 2-3 secs. It's the Zelda guide to boss design, the boss can't be ordinarily damaged only when a sweet spot is exposed and you can go hell for leather with your sword.

Another example is for stunning/knocking over a mob, (having just started LOTRO it'll be influencing this one, and the way burglars have the most ways to set off fellowship manoeuvres), say if you have 3 players able to charge they must time it to hit the mob one after the other and put the mob off balance and leaves them vulnerable to being tripped up and stumbling on some marbles some carelessly left lying around the dungeon (still cant get over that a Burglar's heal is called "Mischievous Glee" :). You could imagine other abilities that could throw a mob off-balance (I like the phrase 'the tipping point') to be tripped up, the smack about the head with a shield ability, the hurl abuse from the far side of the room ability and so on.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chain Heal Channeled

Just a little exercise in how I'd make Shaman healing fun, something that was promised for all healers but not yet delivered. Of course it's totally subjective, making healing more fun as Blizzard has said is difficult to design for 11 million+ players. Key consideration I believe is get to a point where all abilities interconnect and set each other up to be more effective, such as the way Riptide/Chain Heal currently haste the next 2 LHW/HW "Tidal Waves", another consideration is to create something iconic (a word that should always be attached to a buffing class such as Shaman). This is also a proposed remedy to the discussion about chain-heal not matching up to the other aoe heals.

1) Earthliving procs refresh Riptide, this could easily be achieved by changing Glyph of Earthliving, it would allow Riptide to stay on players that are been healed frequently for longer durations, the burst of life at the target's feet is a nice visual clue for this.

2) When I first read the description for the talent "Ancestral Awakening", was really excited because this is the sort of iconic thing that a shaman healer needs, calling forth spirits to help heal allies and perfectly tying into the shaman's ability to commune with the spirit world. To say I was disappointed at it's actual implementation is an understatement, what the hell was that shadow that just popped up! What I had envisioned was non-targetable ghosts walking about for a short period of time, and had the clerics that wandered around the black temple in mind (draenai shaman healer here, but orcs could have the maghari ancestors that roam nagrand, tauren the taunka spirits in borean tundra, not sure about trolls though). They would last 9s like "Divine Aegis", and heal anyone that needed it, rather than be useless when nobody actually needs a heal, DA has the edge there.

3) Chain Heal is channeled, and working a lot like Penance. First pulse is instant then a jump occurs every sec afterwards for 2 secs. Glyph can give one extra jump for same mana, but it then isnt such a top choice for every raid boss, but good to save mana for times spamming Chain Heal. Chain Heal becomes a lot more flexible, for example healing one player instantly or healing two players in 1 second.

4) Decrease the reduction in healing after each jump of Chain Heal say 10-20%, and first heal about PoH or slightly less, danger here is that the first two pulses are going to be very strong for 1 second spent channeling.

5) Healing Stream Totem has a low chance to proc Earthliving on raid members, say 10% or even the standard 20% depending on balance.

6) Riptide get's an additional function in addition to increasing the first heal by 25%; each time Chain Heal jumps to a target with Riptide, the jump time is decreased by 50%, 0.5 second instead of 1 second, this represents the strong current of Riptide pulling on the Chain Heal.

7) Chain Heal can now hit the same target more than once, it can also jump to and from an ancestor who happens to be wandering around and part of the heal stored and added to the heal the ancestor currently has to put to use.

So putting all this together leads to a much more flexible kind of Shaman healing. Shaman healing a single target can proc ancestors to help heal that target with both Chain Heal for Tidal Wave procs to haste subsequent LHW/HW for the continued ancestor procs . Healing a group of melee with chain heal, by keeping riptide on each of them for some fast chain heals, and Earthliving procs from either HST or other heals helps to do that. Chain Heal can then works on 2 targets, hitting first, jumping to second, and then if the first target is still lowest the 2nd jump hits them for another heal.

Anyways, because Shaman healing is nothing like this at present, and it was my main for one expansion, it's getting shelved as well as quitting WoW for the time being. More on Blizzard's design brief for the Shaman class soon.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Persistence Leading to Dynamic Worlds

Raph Koster has two articles on the origin and meaning of persistence in MMOs, and are both a very good read. Below, my contribution to the discussion quoted for posterity:

"Still confused about this use of the word persistence; coming here with the dictionary meaning and trying to understand a seeming contradictory concept. But will give it my best shot with an example: building a house in a mmo world, that’s persistent in the sense that it should stay there with it’s content intact (like the use of persistence mentioned in the article regarding saving data like stats, items etc), determined by the rules set by the developer that nobody could break and enter. But that’s not realistic, especially in a pvp game, to not be able to ransack a house or even to have ‘bandit’ mobs programmed to loot a house that is unattended and in the wilderness. On the one hand the developer is creating a more dynamic situation, but with the other imposing some strictures on players i.e. who would be foolish enough to build a house in the middle of nowhere, away from civilisation, so you see it is wrong to say that developers programming more dynamic play lose control over the activities of players, they do it in more considered ways. Going back to persistent again, the so called legacy of a player who chooses to build a house in the wilderness in a war-torn land is a set of ruins and passing players saying noob under their breath."

In a nutshell, persistence is needed for dynamic worlds, where players have an impact on the playing environment, over what has been previously set by the developer. That's where potential confusion arises over that term, especially by people with no game development knowledge like me, and thinking to myself whenever I hear it publicised, persistence, but isnt that a bad thing if the game world is static, unchanging. It's a piece of jargon, but one to pay attention to what any particular developer means by it, especially cause it's going to have a huge impact in how it's implemented in the worlds of the future MMOs.