Category Archives: Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual

Children’s Week 2013 and the School of Hard Knocks

Cynxi - Halfhill - Rainstorm

 

Children’s Week 2013 has begun, and with it is everyone’s favorite holiday PvP achievement – The School of Hard Knocks. And by favorite I mean “slightly above a root canal,” since for the past 4 years there’s been more anguish over this one achievement than … well… okay, there was a lot of anguish over the Battlegrounds in the Legendary quests too.

But I guarantee you that SoHK is hated more.

Anyhow, what the past 4 years has shown me is that you can do this achievement. No matter how much you dread it because you don’t PvP – you can do it.

In 2010 I wrote and recorded my Guide to the School of Hard Knocks. It’s aged a bit, but is still accurate and I hope you find it helpful. It has maps and video walkthroughs for each step of the achievement (hah, early Cyn videos! oh god my UI, I am so sorry).

The key is still practice and perseverance – you can do this!

Good luck out there!

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On Never Saying Never Again

Well, I don’t think I expected Cataclysm to turn out this way.

It’s not really a secret that I have a Forsaken Warlock. I wrote about her in my CFN essay, On The Forsaken, and it was pretty clear that while I didn’t dislike playing a warlock per se, I wasn’t really very enthusiastic about the alt. I didn’t sit there and go, I’m so enraptured by the gameplay that I am not paying attention to the story. In another post, On Revelations, I had talked about how I hadn’t leveled a Warlock past level 10, and how I hadn’t picked up my main since the end of Season 9.

So here I am, questing through Silverpine on a Forsaken Warlock when it hit me.

this is actually a lot of fun.

I don’t know if it’s the zone (it might be), or if I’m doing everything deliberately as wrong as possible on my little baby warlock, experimenting to find out what really works while leveling, or if it’s just because I’ve let go of big Cynwise, I’ve grieved for her and gone through my dark night of the soul. I hoped I would come back to Silverpine and see it someday; I just didn’t know when.

But I honestly didn’t expect to have fun again on a warlock until Mists. I thought I would do the Silverpine/Hillsbarad quests and then delete this toon.

Nope. She’s not my primary character right now, but she’s in my top 3.

It’s hard to reinvent ourselves.

It’s hard to look at ourselves and say, this isn’t working, this isn’t the way I want things to be going, and then to do something about it. It’s hard to selectively let go of the past, to say, I know I said I would only do these things and never do these other things, but … maybe I was wrong.

Or, more likely, maybe I became wrong, over time. It might have been the right thing then, but now it’s time to change, and to let go of the past and embrace new things.

Never say never again, and all that.

You may have noticed that this website looks a little different today. It has a different title. It has a different look. If you’ve been following me on Posterous, you know that I’ve not been writing as much about warlocks and PvP, but I have been writing a lot about Warcraft. And I haven’t been entirely happy with the platform, but I’m happy with the writing, and the rules around the writing.

I think it’s safe to say, actually, that my best writing in the past 6 months has been over on my Field Notes blog – an experiment I started on a lark – than over here. And that that has led to a bit of fracturing, a feeling like I’m picking up blogs like detritus and that I’m losing my focus. That I can’t keep this one going and this one and this one and oh god Go Mog Yourself is picking up massive steam.

So I’m going to change things a bit. Jettison the old, consolidate, focus. Digital stuff is still stuff, and it still weighs on one’s mind.

  • Cynwise’s Field Manual Notes will be moving over here and merging with Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual to form Cynwise’s Warcraft Manual. I’m not stopping writing about PvP, or Warlocks. Those topics will still be here, but will be mixed in with other topics again.
  • I will be closing up Green Tinted Goggles and Cynwulf’s Auction House Manual. Having both a PvP blog and twink PvP blog made some sense when twinking was a more controversial topic, but now the division doesn’t really make any sense.
  • I will be moving the archives of CFN, CAHM, and GTG over to this site over the next few days. (My apologies in advance if this floods your feed readers!) This is to make searching easier on everyone. One site.
  • Go Mog Yourself will continue to be a collaborative fashion site and remain separate and fabulous. Punt This will also remain right where it is – neither of these have ever really been my blogs – I’m more like the Chief Kermit running around trying to stay on top of the wonderful chaos with them. :)

(Nobody reads Cynix’s blog, and I dont blame them, so I’m not worrying about it for now.)

This is kinda weird for me to talk about – I don’t do a lot of administrative posts – but sometimes we have to talk about reinventing ourselves, about how we are changing, so that people can follow along and know that while we might be ending some things, we’re continuing with new ones in their place.

I never thought CBM would become what it did. I never thought GTG would find an audience. I never thought CFN would become a place with my best writing. (I think a lot of my early commentary about it was, “I have no idea what I’m doing here.”)

But they did.

So here’s to jettisoning the nevers, and getting on with reinventing ourself.

Let’s go.

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The Sixth, and Ten to the Sixth

This is Gnomey’s fault. And Nymphy’s and Orv’s. And Jaedia. And Magritte. They tagged me in the sixth meme while I am on vacation, so here is the sixth screenshot in my Dropbox folder, because that’s all I’ve got access to out here.

Behold, the northern end of Arathi Basin. Trollbane Hall, home to the League of Arathor, stands nestled in the embrace of the ridges which define the fertile basin. (Well, fertile for Arathi, come on, it’s no Sholazar.) The Stables sits, undefended, waiting for someone to come fight at the flag.

This is now my desktop wallpaper on this little netbook.

And, as the rules of this little game state, I now have to tag six more people. So I’m going to tag Psynister, Anexxia, and the 4 talented authors of Flavor Text Lore. (Yes, I went there with FTL. Yes, I’m going to spread this meme over to SW:TOR blogs.)

However, this post is really your fault. You. Yes, you.

You see, this happened this weekend.

… and it wouldn’t have been possible without you.

I can tell myself that a million hits (10^6, naturally) is just a number, that this is odometer worship, it’s just the same as any other day. I debated even talking about it – much like discussing one’s salary, talking about one’s web traffic can be gauche in many circles.

But a million hits is a humbling number. It’s one that makes you sit back and go, I am really lucky. I am really grateful for everyone who stops by and finds something I’ve written worth reading. It is astonishing to me, even now, that this has happened.

So, thank you for visiting, for reading, for commenting. Thank you.

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WANTED: Cataclysm PvP Forum Feedback

Eldacar over at Battlemasters.org writes:

If you are an avid PVP’er and want to help improve the PVP side of the game for Mists of Pandaria now is the time to make your voice heard. Hit up this feedback thread on the official forums and put in some good constructive feedback about what you did and didn’t like about Cataclysm’s PVP. The better our feedback the better our chances of creating some positive change in the coming expansion.

http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/3967948445

Please consider Kaivax’s advice when posting feedback on this forum: specific single points are nice, but breadth of content is nice, too.

Thanks to Eldacar for starting this thread going on the forums!

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Play With Your Friends: WoW as the Social Game Network

My druid, Cynli (born on Durotan), visits Visper, the GM of Waypoint on Medivh.

Play with your friends. That’s the promise that online games have held out to us for many years, the ability to play computer games with friends regardless of physical location. MMOs take this to an extreme – play with thousands of people, some of whom may be your friends – but that’s the general idea with any networked video game. It’s the reason that Blizzard implemented RealID messaging across their game platforms. It’s the reason why they are working towards removing your server as an impediment to playing with friends with cross-realm dungeons, raiding, battlegrounds. I fully expect to see cross-realm arenas, questing, and progression raiding in the future.

Blizzard has even started working on addressing one of the biggest problems with RealID – the lack of anonymity – by implementing a BattleTag system, one that will hopefully address the very real privacy concerns of RealID, while allowing people to still play with online friends. This is great! Over the past few years we, as a culture, have developed a lot of social network tools that allow us to control the amount of information we share online. This should be as true for a video game social network tool as it is for any other social tool; users care about how much information they present about themselves, and will migrate to tools which allow them the right amount of control.

Consider how different the internet landscape is today, in 2012, as opposed to 2004, when World of Warcraft launched. Facebook had launched a few months earlier, but in that year it expanded to over 800 colleges and grew to 1 million active users. Warcraft reached 10 million users in January 2008, while Facebook had reached 60-70 million. Social networks were in their infancy in 2004, centered around weblogs and photo sharing sites. The rise of Facebook is illustrative of a larger trend of making social internet tools more accessible, to a broader swath of the population.

I mean, the numbers are mind-boggling.

  • One in nine people on the planet is on Facebook. (I’m not one of them.)
  • Twitter handles a billion tweets every week.
  • Google+ gained its first 10 million users in 16 days.

The amount of traffic generated by these kinds of sites is simply staggering. The impact of them upon MMOs like World of Warcraft cannot be understated. MMORPGs distinguish themselves from other video games by their social component, and since 2009 they are competing not just against other MMOs, but against all types of social computer activities – games, photo sharing sites, networking sites -

– even Farmville.

Furthermore, social networks have capitalized on something that MMOs have failed to – new mobile computing platforms. Only now, 5 years later, are we really able to see the impact that the iPhone’s introduction in 2007 had to the mobile computing market. It wasn’t just that it revolutionized the smartphone market – it did, making other manufacturers and platform developers realize they needed better interfaces and support for widespread application development. It also laid the groundwork for entirely new device markets like tablets, devices with great entertainment capability due to their flexibility, power, and ease of use. The iPad and Android tablet market has crushed other device types – remember when netbooks were going to be the new big thing? – and as technology moved away from the desktop, social media came right along with it.

Online social groups just aren’t what they were in 2004-05. We’ve rapidly moved past the idea of localized communities, instead going for fully global networks, with integration across websites and media. Your phone is, in all likelihood, a powerful computing device which can keep you connected to nearly all of these networks. It’s more likely that you keep in touch with your friends and family through some kind of social network than not.

And because it’s not just a social network, it’s also a video game, Warcraft is trying to keep up with these changes. Xbox Live is also doing this on the console space, but only WoW has both the subscriber base and the vision to pull off this necessary transformation.

I said in my post On Snow Crash, Virtual Avatars, and Warcraft’s Social Network Appeal that Warcraft is a video game bolted on top of a social network. I really think that gets to the heart of the matter, and is something that any criticism of Cataclysm needs to take into consideration. Not only does the video game have to be compelling, but it has to allow us to do things with our friends – friends who we are tied to through those other social networks. The sheer number of online connections people have now means that any networked video game needs to be able to be flexible enough to accommodate them, to allow them to play video games with those friends. Cloud-based gaming is the way of the future.

Battle.net is in a great position to become the default social network for computer RPGs. By providing a framework of interaction between players on different servers and even in different games, Blizzard can use Battle.net to allow other game companies to adopt their network instead of developing one themselves. By publishing APIs to be usable by third parties, this puts Blizzard in the position to:

  1. Capture the customer relationship (by requiring a free bnet account, or creating one for the player)
  2. Introduce players of other games to Blizzard products (free marketing)
  3. Create new revenue streams from other game companies for “enhanced” bnet services.

Is there a cost to this? Yes, absolutely, and as a product developer I’d be very concerned with how to recoup the operational and development costs here. Perhaps the API is free to use for most games, but special features (guild circles, intergame profile management, etc.) are charged to the hosting game company. Perhaps the Google+/Facebook model of monetizing member data is used. Maybe it’s a hybrid.

This kind of technology addresses a need that multi-player games will need in this new social reality, but game developers don’t want to spend time developing. It also has reach far beyond a single game – if it can get into the market with the right services, for the right price, with one of the largest embeddded userbases in the space, the potential for Blizzard to form an ubiquitous social gaming platform is very, very high.

However, there’s one problem within Warcraft that stands in the way: Guilds.

Do you have to belong to a guild in WoW, or not? Is it an optional social circle or a requirement for full participation in the game?

The guild system that has evolved in Cataclysm is very different from that which existed before, and is actively countering not only the general movement in social networks to be more inclusive, but also Blizzard’s own attempts to make players more able to play with their friends.

World of Warcraft’s infrastructure requires players to create accounts on specific, mutually exclusive servers. If I roll on Durotan, I cannot interact with players on Drenden or Moonrunner, and vice versa. Each server is effectively its own independent social network, limited in scope, much like old-school BBSes were. This made sense in 2004, but in 2012 social networks are broader, which is the whole point behind Real ID/BattleTags grouping. Warcraft is moving players towards a cloud-based existence, where your server matters less than your friends list. I personally think this is a good thing, because no matter how nostalgic I am for the old days of BBSes, I enjoy the present day reality of a global social network.

But guilds remain tied to servers, and they remain mutually exclusive.

This wouldn’t be quite as problematic if guilds were merely social units, like they were before Cataclysm. But not only do we now have to contend with the integrating this social circle in to the cloud-based experience, an entire system has been developed around them to make belonging to a guild valuable and worthwhile to a player.

Let’s take a simple example, a player who wants to play both Horde and Alliance. She joins nice guilds on both sides of the same server and enjoys spending time with each group. But depending on which character she chooses to play, she either has to choose one social group or the other. This doesn’t have anything to do with guild perks or reputation – imagine a social network that forced you to choose between talking to one set of friends or another when logging in, and see how popular that would become. It’s not enough to be able to talk individually. The community of a guild is important.

Now, while you might want controls over who you interact with at any time – think of Google+’s Circles here – you don’t even have that option here within Warcraft. Either you’re able to chat with Guild A, or with Guild B, but not both at the same time.

Yet, you’re able to talk to individuals in those guilds if they’re bnet friends.

Guilds, as they stand today, are both WoW’s greatest social strength and its strongest force working against letting players playing with their friends. Guilds are important, but they tie players to a specific group on a specific server, isolating and separating them.

But with a few changes, guilds can join the new cloud-based paradigm Blizzard is moving towards with Battle.net.

1. Allow player characters to belong to multiple guilds at the same time. How this manifests is open to debate – one guild might be chosen as the only one they can represent at a time, allow access to the bank, has the guild tag on display, generates guild rep towards that guild, etc.. At a minimum, give players access to the social components of guild membership – guild chat. This allows them to stay connected with their circles.

2. Allow guilds to function cross-server. Remove the server as a consideration of guild membership. Guilds need to be able to function as social units across servers. Are there technical restrictions to this? You bet. Perhaps guild banks and perks are limited to the founding server. Perhaps limits are put in place to how many cross-server members are allowed. But allow members to group up with other guild members easily, regardless of location.

3. Extend guild chat to games outside of Warcraft. This gets a little trickier, and may involve changing the guild association from character to player. Any Battle.net-enabled game should be able to carry with it the idea that a player is a member of a specific guild, and feed guild chat to him or her in that game’s chat interface. The game in question may not have guilds, but the player can still interact with those text channels through the game’s interface.

Imagine how different things would be right now if players of other MMOs could still be present in your guild’s chat.

4. Extend guild chat outside of video games. Stop tying the game’s social experience to video games and leverage existing social networks. Go multi-modal with their tools. As a game company, you have to consider the ROI of putting Battle.net on every different platform out there. My recommendation – don’t even try. Use their tools to get off the desktop and onto the phones and tablets of your players.

See, guilds are – or should be – supersets of friends, acquaintances, and even co-workers. They’re folks united with a common purpose, a common goal, even if they might not know each other very well. It doesn’t matter if they are a hard-core raiding team, a PvP world defense squad, or a fledgling leveling guild – they’re a group of people working together. Doing things together. Playing together.

Attaching mechanics to guilds causes pressure on the social cohesion of the group to conform to those rules, to achieve goals that are (in many cases) counter to the goals which brought them together in the first place. This genie is out of the bottle, so to make the best of it Blizzard needs to bring guilds into the cloud.

Like it or not, servers as social units are not Warcraft’s future. Each and every new cross-realm development shows this trend. Unfortunately, the guild structure remains the strongest bond to the server mentality in WoW.

For guilds to survive – and they need to survive – they need to change to meet the new social networking reality WoW finds itself in today.

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The Problems of PvP Reputation Grinds in Cataclysm

Cataclysm Patch 4.2 introduced several undocumented changes to the reputation system in Warcraft. Some were quite welcome: city tabards now worked in Burning Crusade dungeons, allowing alts going from 60-70 to keep gaining home city reputation while running LFR. Others were less welcome: dungeon bosses gave less reputation in general.

The biggest change for battleground enthusiasts, however, was in Arathi Basin and the reputation awards for the League of Arathor and the Defilers.

  • Before 4.2, you got 100 reputation per win (10 reputation per 160 resources).
  • After 4.2, you get 60 reputation per win (10 reputation per 260 resources).

Yes, that’s a 40% nerf, and is before guild perks or Diplomacy bonuses are factored in.

Exalted with any faction requires 42,000 reputation points. To get Exalted with the Arathi Basin factions before 4.2, this required, in the best case, 420 wins. More realistically, that’s probably around 600 games, as you still gain experience from losing as long as you get some resources on the board.

After the 4.2 changes – and as this has never been confirmed as a bug, we have to assume that it was a deliberate change – Exalted requires 700 wins, or probably around 1,000 games total.

One thousand matches to Exalted. At 20 minutes a game, that’s 13.9 days /played in Arathi Basin.

Warsong Gulch isn’t really any better, but it didn’t change during 4.2. It’s been bad for a while. At 35 rep per flag capture, you’re looking at 1200 flag caps, or a minimum of 400 three cap games. Since you can win with a single flag cap, and can lose without any flag caps, you’re more likely looking at 600-700 matches to Exalted.

Does this seem like good design?

CONTENT THAT GETS PROGRESSIVELY HARDER

The 4.2 Arathi Basin reputation nerf is actually not the first time that PvP reputation has been nerfed – these reputations used to be far, far easier to grind, and the Justicar/Conqueror titles (Exalted in Warsong Gulch, Arathi Basin, and Alterac Valley) were much more in reach.

Back in the old days, Marks of Honor – remember those? – could be turned in to the appropriate quartermaster for reputation (3 Marks for 50 rep), shortening the grind considerably. Before Wrath of the Lich King, you needed far fewer victories to reach Exalted:

  • Warsong Gulch: 273 wins
  • Arathi Basin: 280 wins
  • Alterac Valley: 70 wins

Let that sink in a bit. Getting to Exalted takes 127 more WSG and 420 more AB victories than it did now than it did in Burning Crusade. That’s victories – I figure you’ll have to play 30-40% more games total to do it. If you’re in a guild with the reputation perk when you start and all the way through, you can shave 10% off.

No analysis would be complete without looking at some of the other changes that have taken place to these battlegrounds:

  • Warsong Gulch now has a timer, which limits the amount of time each battle can take, so 40 mins – 1 hour long matches are no longer the norm. Unfortunately, this timer also means that each victory can be earned with a single cap, making the rep gain wildly variable. It’s pretty much a wash.
  • Arathi Basin was reduced from 2000 resources to 1600, which means each victory awards fewer reputation points. The rate of gain, however, has remained unchanged before 4.2.

The resource gain reduction in Arathi Basin is partly responsible for the increase in the number of games required to play to get to Exalted. The rate of reward wasn’t substantially modified until 4.2, though, so while we can say that it’s not quite as bad as the numbers say, it’s still bad.

It’s still about a thousand games to Exalted with the League of Arathor and the Defilers.

I guess they’re really hard to impress.

IMPROVING REPUTATION IN BATTLEGROUNDS

This is what content that gets progressively harder looks like. And it’s honestly not all that much fun. If you started playing in 2005, this was difficult but doable. If you’re starting now, in 2012, this is brutal.

Is this a good game design? Is it good to have a goal like this, one that is so far out there that you really have to focus on a single character for years to get it?

Yes, for years. Let’s say you are a relatively casual player and can play 3-4 AB battles a night (2 hours with queue times). You better keep up that pace for 286 days.

Nothing but Arathi Basin. No Arena. No PvE.

Just AB. BS, LM, ST. No, go GM. LM inc 3. Go Farm. GO FARM. BS going. BS gone.

I’ve played about 300 Arathi Basins across my different characters in the past 3 years. Cynwise has the Veteran achievement there. I know the place pretty darn well at this point, and I haven’t even scratched the reputation post. She’s 9796/12000 Honored. Yikes.

I don’t mean for it to sound like I’m complaining, because at this point I’ve totally given up on this as a reasonable goal for me. I’m not getting it. It’s not worth it to me.

But contrast AB reputation to Alterac Valley reputation, which most people get Exalted around 80-100 victories in. I have two characters at Exalted there, another two at Revered, and most of the others are making great progress. Some of this is due to factional imbalance in the old battlegroups, but it’s also due to the amount of reputation awarded.

This kind of reputation grind – one that requires commitment, but is doable on your way to the Veteran (100 victories) achievement, feels more realistic. Let’s face it, after you’ve won 50 battles, you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of it. By 75, the NPCs should know your name when you zone in.

All three of the original battlegrounds have reputation, and they are all tied into specific objectives within those battlegrounds. This has benefits – you gain rep for doing the stuff in the BG – but it also has drawbacks, as we see here. The scale is so out of whack now that changes need to be made to WSG and AB to make their grinds relevant again – otherwise people will simply look at them and go, that’s not worth it, and it fails to have any value.

Just like now.

These tasks are supposed to be hard, not impossible.

(There’s also the issue of  lingering resentment caused by increasing the difficulty on a task over time, but that’s a different post.)

My opinion is that the reputations need to be scaled to a number of games or victories. That’s how we evaluate these grinds, after all, and that the huge disparity between AV and AB points out that one can be done on multiple toons, while the other is an all-or-nothing deal. Personally, I like the 75-125 win mark – it’s an investment, but given the number of battlegrounds out there, it’s not unreachable. It still allows you to play other battlegrounds without feeling guilty. You could make an argument that it should be easier – 50 – or harder – 200 or 250 – and I’d go, okay, at least we’re in a ballpark. Personally, with the number of other things to do in the game, I lean towards a lower number. But settle on some number of victories/matches and base your rewards off of that figure.

Also, standardize reputations and rewards in battlegrounds. It baffles me why the Isle of Conquest has a tabard for the Master of Isle of Conquest achievement, AV/AB/WSG have them for Exalted reputations, and EotS, Strand, BfG and TP completely lack them. I’m not crazy about the IoC model – I don’t really like Battleground Achievements that aren’t “Win” and “Win More” and “Win ALL THE GAMES,” but it’s at least a viable, consistent model that could be used.

The gear rewards from leveling should also be adjusted to reflect the new brackets and early introduction of several battlegrounds (Eye of the Storm, I’m looking at you), but that goes without saying.

Consider extending the BG reputation system to PvE and Arenas. I like this option least of all, but I think it needs to be put out there – the way it works now is really bad. Arathi Basin and Warsong Gulch are arguably the two worst rep grinds in the game. Tabards that could be worn while questing, dungeons, or – best of all – in Arenas and Rated PvP – would allow people to grind while doing other stuff.

If you could Arena in the name of the League of Arathor, would you? (I bet you would. I’m not wild about raiding/dungeons for PvP rep, but it’s something to consider as well.

I actually think a piecemeal approach to fixing reputation systems is harmful, and that the battleground reps need to be considered as part of the entire reputation system. Reputation tabards are an interesting idea, but wouldn’t it be simpler to code the game to award X amount of tabard rep per Y thing done (mob killed, boss killed, BG/Arena won), then check the tabard and award it appropriately? I know I’m falling into the non-programmer fallacy of “it sounds logically simpler, so it should be simpler to code,” but… I have been a professional programmer, and it actually is simpler to code up one system than a bunch of disparate other systems. It’s harder to yank bad code out and make sure things work right after the fact, but … I’ll stop.

One of the things Blizzard mentioned they wanted to work on in Mists was WoW’s reputation systems.

I hope when they do so, they take a long look at the BG reputations and make them a more accessible part of the game.

Because tasks that get progressively harder as the game ages?

Yeah. They’re not fun for anyone.

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Podcast Alert: Twisted Nether Blogcast episode 155

Oh, hey there!

I forgot to mention that I was on the Twisted Nether Blogcast about two weeks ago with the inestimable Rades from Orcish Army Knife to talk about 4.3. Fimlys and Hydra were excellent hosts (as always) and put up with my, uh, ranting about Tol Barad’s legacy. Because as Rades put it: we fought for the right to do dailies.

Like most things I do, this is a really long podcast. Rades and I like to talk, what can I say?

Hope you enjoy it!

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