Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Necessitated optional randomness

Ever since 3.3 dropped, pretty much every WoW-related online presence is filled with LFG stories and reasoning. There is one thing I fail to grasp: people complaining about other people in their group insisting on doing optional bosses. I mean, sure, I get it, there is this knee-jerk path of thinking that makes "heroics = good" into "more heroics = better", but what if we slow down (I know, very unpopular thing to do in the WoW community, especially at this time) for a moment and ask ourselves, why we're actually so keen on running as many heroics as possible, shall we?

Last time I checked, the main reason for running heroics were emblems. More specifically, Emblems of Triumph; if one is after Frost, chain-running is pointless, since Frost is awarded only for the first random - and the complaint stems mostly from people who tend to run upward of 5 heroics per day, regularly. Therefore we hereby consider established: heroics are run for Emblems of Triumph. Now, newsflash: those buggers drop from optional bosses as well. Of course I want to do that optional boss. I'm here, he's here, all I need to do is clear these two rooms of trash, then bash my shield into him for a minute or so, et voilĂ , a highly optional and almost free emblem. Not even included in this consideration is that one might actually be so weird and derive fun from running a dungeon, in which case fighting an additional boss also results in additional fun. But that's really bizarre territory, so let's leave it there.

Instead, let's consider a numeric example, for the sake of which we shall invoke Halls of Stone as our hypothetical dungeon. It's a good choice for two reasons: firstly, it has two optional bosses, and secondly, it seems to be somewhat hated, for reasons I also fail to grasp. Thus it's pretty much the standard case of most "ohmigosh, I was in HoS again [insert whine about how that person hates HoS and how the LFG tool picked HoS for them 5 times in a row on a single day - a problem I am strangely unfamiliar with, because I have yet to happen to run 5 random heroic dungeons on a single day, and, of the 3-4 we usually run, never had the same one twice either] and, can you imagine it, this noob actually insisted on doing the optional bosses" stories.

So, Halls of Stone. You can skip the Maiden of Grief as well as Krystallus and only do Tribunal of Ages and Sjonnir. In other words, you just left out a boss for whom the achievement is "kill her in under a minute", and another one, for whom the tactic boils down to "when he knocks you back, just stay where you are for a couple of seconds". Real roadblocks *sarcasm*. The most difficult thing you bypassed that way is the trash room on the way to the Maiden which has two groups of three dwarves, with casters in both. If that frightens you so much, you are not prepared.

Anyway, you skipped the optional bosses and got 2 emblems from the mandatory ones, as well as 2 more emblems as your random-reward, for a total of 4. In the meantime, the noob who insists on doing everything got 4 emblems from bosses and 2 more as random-reward, for a total of 6. But of course, you saved time! Means you can run more heroics than him! Bad news for you, the RNG only selects HoS today (that's what you write when you complain about it anyway). Let's be generous and say, in the time it takes the noob to run two HoS, you manage three HoS. Application of simple math derives: both of you have earned 12 emblems each. However, you had to do an additional run of your oh-so-beloved dungeon, while he had the luxury of less monotony through more boss-diversity. Of course, you walked away with 26 more gold for an additional completion, plus more reason to write how sick you are of Halls of Stone on whatever online presence it is you're gracing with your contributions. Win-win, I guess.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Rem stands corrected

Huh. There's something I didn't expect, and I'm actually pleasantly surprised to having been wrong. In October, I added a practical example to my September-rant on micro-transactions:
**Edit (20.10.09): There is this infamous practice of guilds who fail to grab server-first kills on their server to transfer to another, slower progressing one, and getting their achievement there. Although it's generally met with disdain by the community, Blizzard is doing nothing to stop it. Neither will they do anything to stop it any time soon. Collecting 25 times $15 for the transfer of a full raid roster, plus maybe some alts that might be required in short term, then getting the same amount a second time when the caravan heads home, is certainly a nice and juicy not-so-micro-transactional bonus they won't turn their back on for the sake of protecting some vague and officially-irrelevant achievement status.
Turns out I was wrong. Recently, Blizzard has done something to stop it. Colour me impressed.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

November games

While we're all celebrating WoW's 5th anniversary by letting "many whelps!" out, especially on the "left side, even side!", I feel reminded of a November evening last year, the 17th, to be precise. It was the evening, when we went to kill Thaurlach, the Balrog, one last time at level 50, and then sought out our favourite spots (and companies) for an early logout. It was the evening, when Shadows of Angmar drifted into the past, taking many wonderful things with it. It seemed to get better from there - before it got much, much worse. So, now we're here. And we certainly need more DoTs!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Your number was selected randomly

By a number generator, which just randomly spills out digits and then this number is called. And we're not even going to pay attention to how bad the odds of getting a valid number this way are. We're just going to be amused, that the very moment I hang up, the other phone, upstairs, connected to a different provider starts ringing. Of course I don't bother running to pick it up, but drink a glass of water instead. And the moment it falls silent, the downstairs-phone wakes up again, however, through the other line connected to it, and the same mechanic voice is attempting to sell me their clearvoyance services. Oh, so that's how they got all my 3 numbers, all differing in far more than a few digits. I'll label this a rant, but I'm not even ranting. I'm observing. And not even being surprised, because I'm coming out of computer science and having a rough idea where we're headed. I think there's a century-old book on it. I believe it has digits in the title, too.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Ding, 80

There it is. Character started on June 14th, dinged 80 in the late hours of October 19th. This road arrived at its destination. Now it's time to pick one of the many paths starting from here and .. find out where they're headed!

*looks around contently*

*proceeds to improve his reputation with the Wyrmrest Accord to purchase a tanking cloak*

Saturday, 19 September 2009


I used to like football (not that it matters, but let's be clear: I'm talking about the game that is called "soccer" in the USA and some local-language version of "football" everywhere else). Very much, in fact. Used to get all excited about my favourite team's games, draw line-ups, rant about coaches and what not. Funnily, however, I never ever went to a live game and even (relatively) rarely watched one live on TV. I was not a fan of the local team, and things like football games would have been by and large considered a waste of money in our family anyway.

But, luckily for me, there was a very good football show on Free-TV. They had the rights of first (post game) broadcast for the German Bundesliga and used it for a great format. Back then, the usual schedule was: two games on Friday, six games on Saturday, one game on Sunday. So, they had three shows a week on those days. Friday was an hour in the late night slot, where they covered the two games and sent you goodnight; Sunday had only one game to cover, which they used to fit in additional commentary, studio guests and such; while Saturday was the main show, two, sometimes two and a half hours.

On average, this meant 30 minutes gross air time per game. Throw in 5 minutes ad block, 5 minutes studio talk, and you'd still arrive at a solid 20 minutes raw game coverage. That's a lot. They used to show you a lot of sequences exemplary of the game flow in the different stages of the game, so you'd really get a feeling of how the teams stood off, and a goal would be replayed, re-replayed, opposite-angle'd, computer-animated, distance-measured, discussed, while, all the time the announcer would play-act as if he'd be broadcasting live, with emotions of surprise, awe, disappointment, anticipation and so on. They did as good a job as possible of just compressing the best of a full game into 20 minutes.

At some point in the late 90s, Germany's first Pay-TV broadcaster came into being. One of their selling points was, that they purchased the rights for live transmissions of Bundesliga games, and were showing them all in a conference transmission, so one was able to freely switch between games at any time. Fancy and costly. That Pay-TV broadcaster belonged to the same corporation as the Free-TV channel with the football show. And at first, it all didn't seem to .. well .. matter. If you felt like shaking the money, you'd get the Pay-TV live experience, otherwise you'd just stick to your time shifted fix. Market segmentation. Kind of. Because that second part of the consumers wasn't actually paying. Not directly, at least, but instead via advertising revenue.

Slowly but surely, the quality of the Free-TV show found itself in a steady decline. The total time was waning, while the ad blocks were growing. They started weaving advertising into everything, from the opening jingle, to line-up screens, to permanent holographic on-field projections (outside the actual field at first, on it later). The actual coverage deteriorated to the point where only the plays leading to goals were shown. You'd often get only one slow-mo, sometimes they'd skip it entirely. The interview part was kept up somewhat, mostly because it naturally contains lots of advertising (background board, jersey, overlay, everything). At some point, you could say that what once was two hours of football finally turned into one hour of ad blocks. It became commonly accepted, that whoever has a real interest in football, was subscribing to the Pay-TV channel. Luckily, at that time (let's say roughly 2002-2003), I did not have a real interest in football any more.

What does this have to do with the title of this entry? A lot. I dislike the idea of microtransactions, or Free2Play as it's now seductively called. And I do not dislike it because I am pissy about developers wanting to be paid for their work, but, exactly opposite, because I fully realize, that developers need to be paid for their work.

I dislike it, because I dislike unclear business deals. Or, to do away with the euphemism, I dislike lies. Free to Play is a lie. The game is not free to play. It cannot be. No game produced/distributed by a professional company can be. Because "professional" means, that they are earning their living with it. Someone at some point needs to pay for the game, be it buyers, subscribers, donors, advertisement contractors or micro purchasers. Otherwise the devs will starve and die. And their children, too. Even if you don't care about the developers and their children, you're still left with the costs of running the servers. Unless you want to kill off the hosting company and their children as well. You monster. Have I been graphic enough now? Okay. Time to span the bridge to the football ramblings.

See, I'm not criticising Free2Play for its exploitation of impulse control, for circumventing your purchase decision making by splitting the payment in such small amounts, that every time it seems like a negligible cost - even every time out of thousand times. I could, but that base was covered before, and, besides, everyone's so clever (especially us bloggers) and so much in control of their own impulses, that it's always some anonymous "they" who are affected by it, and "they" probably deserve it, being lowly M&S or something. I digress.

The point is, again, that someone needs to pay. This means, that the game in question has to offer an incentive, a strong incentive, to pay for it. That incentive can only be in the difference between the paid and the free content. The larger, deeper, higher quality and more professionally ran the game is, the bigger that difference needs to be. Believe anything else, and you're being fooled. Ixobelle (you followed the link above, right?) explains, that he "could park myself at a tin vein, let my subscription run out, and just fire up FR anytime I wanted to play the mining game; that would never cost me another dime" - and it's true, but misses the point. He purchased the "mining game in pirate hat" for .. whatever couple of dollars he paid for it, and, yes, if he never wants to move past that, he, indeed, doesn't need to pay more. He bought one toy, and as long as he's happy playing with just this one toy, he never needs to pay for another.

But what if he does? The sword that costs real money needs to be significantly better than the one you get from slaying the dragon, otherwise too many people will just settle for slaying the dragon. The "premium only" class needs to be more powerful or more fun to play, or no one will bother to pay for it. That is pretty much what Free Realms (FR in the above quote), according to Tobold, does. It's a free world to roam in, but you're gimped in everything you do, unless you send a dollar or two to Sony Online - and get an "I win" button in return.

Admittedly, it does not have to be as blatantly extreme as the officially highly-casual oriented Free Realms. But it shows, that the incentive needs to be there, and what incentive generally looks like. In-game currency on sale? Means your character's regular expenses need to be too high to satisfy them with in-game means. Only cosmetic items in offer? Means the "normal" outfits need to be butt-ugly to drive you into buying pretties. Whatever it is, that you can acquire for real coin, the game needs to constantly prod you with small sticks into purchasing it, by making its free equivalent's quality something between undesirable and insufficient. The media company delivering football coverage forces you into taking its Pay-TV offer by reducing the quality of its Free-TV service to the point where it can be still said, that, yes, free information is being offered, but the incentive to take the paid deal is overwhelming for anyone who actually cares about playing the game following football.

This also moots the "but we already have microtransactions, they are just called premium services" argument. No, we don't. Changing your character's name, gender, server, race or faction is not actively encouraged, because the game doesn't reward you for doing so. It's just your personal preference, to which game mechanics are neutral. Granted, you might want to change servers to join a particular guild or battlegroup, but that is a situation created by the players, not the developers. Blizzard doesn't hold events where every week all characters whose name starts with a particular letter receive 5000 gold. They do not make raid instances accessible only from a limited number of servers per time frame**. That would equal those services to microtransactions, because it would create incentive. (As a matter of fact, Turbine could be credited for motivating LotRO players to stay away from the server transfer by screwing it up royally a couple of times)

It's about development focus. The company developing the subscription game balances it around you spending as much time as possible in it. That's fine with me, since games are, in the end, just a means of spending time. The company developing a Free2Play(lie) game balances it first and foremost around motivating you to make micro-purchases. The external solution will always be more desirable than the in-game path. I don't want to play such a game.

**Edit (20.10.09): There is this infamous practice of guilds who fail to grab server-first kills on their server to transfer to another, slower progressing one, and getting their achievement there. Although it's generally met with disdain by the community, Blizzard is doing nothing to stop it. Neither will they do anything to stop it any time soon. Collecting 25 times $15 for the transfer of a full raid roster, plus maybe some alts that might be required in short term, then getting the same amount a second time when the caravan heads home, is certainly a nice and juicy not-so-micro-transactional bonus they won't turn their back on for the sake of protecting some vague and officially-irrelevant achievement status. But that's how it works. There's incentive, there's revenue, there's motivation, and you don't need a tinfoil hat to see it. Want such mechanics to infiltrate the core of the game? No? Then don't be too quick to sing praises to Free2Play(still a lie).

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The ArP Soft Drink

Armour Penetration on gear was not desirable enough. Thought Blizzard. So, they went ahead and increased the amount of actual ArP per ArP-rating by 25%. It became more accessible, and players were able to try out extremes. And all of a sudden discovered, that it's a superior stat for some (most?) physical-DPS specs. So, for those specs, stacking ArP up to (conditional) 100% became the widely accepted winning strategy. As Ghostcrawler puts it, people started "tossing aside" gear pieces without ArP no matter what else they provided, as ArP became a stat that "trumps all other stats". A situation GC/Blizz do not like to see.

Thus, the announced change for 3.2.2 is that ArP-from-ArP-rating is going to be reduced back by 15% - slightly lower than the middle between the old and the current value. How did the player base of the affected specs react? Are they intending to take a more balanced approach now? Nope. Word of mouth is "you still need to reach the same ArP numbers, you'll just need more rating to accomplish that". So, non-ArP gear will be tossed aside even more, because people will thirst for even more ArP-rating to reach the soft cap.

What went wrong? Well, ArP still "trumps all other stats". Apparently it always did, players were just not easily able to test it out under real-raid conditions. Now that they were, and found its upside, they're not ready to back off from it again, since it's not actually being changed. That's the point. ArP itself was not changed. It was neither made "more desirable" before, nor is is about to be made "less desirable" now. The product is the same, all Blizzard is tinkering with is the price.

Instead of the intended balancing, what was in fact pulled off is marketing. The ArP Soft Drink wasn't selling well enough, so they gave away a truckload of free cans, and once people got hooked to it, yanked the price up. It's not at all what they wanted to do, but it's what they accomplished. Oops! Next thing to expect: harsh DR and hard caps on ArP. And forum QQ.

The WoW we are supposed to play

Old Azeroth: Here's XP. Here's more XP. You still here? Here, a few free levels, get to the Dark Portal already!

Outlands: Welcome, here's your flying mount. Have some fun, but hurry up, the ship leaves tomorrow at 9am from Stormwind Harbour.

Northrend: Greetings. No, you can't fly here (unless you have a 78+ character already). Now, to the ground, and get working, baby. And none of that "one level per day" crap for you any more!

Nothing surprising here, but still a bit of a shame, that it takes a new player about 3 months to reach the content which is "the game we are supposed to play". A Cataclysm is overdue indeed.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Temporary semi-hiatus

The gentle reader might have noticed, that just as this blog was about to launch into full swing, it kind of .. stopped. This is no coincidence, and I'd like to explain the reason. Now, I am not a friend of "sorry I've not been updating lately" posts, since they are usually the surest symptom of a nearing exodus. Go ahead, search the blogosphere (*uses the word once again*) for abandoned (as opposed to properly closed) blogs. Usually the last few entries will be along the lines of "oh, I'm sorry I've not been writing anything for weeks, so here's some topic I just artificially squeezed out of myself". The "sorry" part is the key. If you're sorry about not having been writing, then why haven't you been writing? And if you had a good reason not to write, then why are you sorry? "Sorry for not updating" in fact really reads "I honestly can't be bothered any more, but also can't bring myself to put things to an official end".

So, the good news is, I am not sorry, because I do have a reason. And it's pretty simple. Writing a good blog post of the philosophical kind I like to write is, basically, source research and verification as well as thought distillation and phrasing. It just so happens, that this is pretty much the same activity which is involved in writing a diploma thesis. So, whenever I sit down, take time, and produce a wall of well researched and written text (be it here or in the comments on other blogs), I feel like an idiot, because I could have put that same effort into producing that same volume for my thesis. Finishing my thesis, on the other hand, is not a joke. Failure to do so soon (and I mean very soon) could realistically result in me being unable to pay for an internet connection (or anything else, for that matter). That would suck.

Thus this blog, being close to the bottom of my priority list, is going on a temporary semi-hiatus. What the hell does that mean? It means, that I intend to bring it back to full blooming life once my activity patterns shift and my life settles down a little (i.e. I finish my thesis and start working properly). It also means I'll be occassionally posting short thoughts and snippets, like the one just below this entry. As a matter of fact, the raw update frequency might even pick up, since dropping thoughts diary-style is a less demanding task than piling bricks of text - don't nail me down to it though.

Please keep coming back and commenting, if you've been doing it so far .. and please start coming here and commenting, if not! Although .. if you're not .. how are you reading this? Aaaaaah, get out of my head! They're coming! They're coming!


Yeah. That's all. For now.

The difference

I loved LotRO. I truly did. But it never made me wish I'd have switched to MMORPGs earlier. WoW does. Call me names, if you wish, but that's the difference.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Why do we raid?

Turmoil has engulfed the Blogosphere. Well, not really. But it's a cool thing to write. Tobold recently finished his epic Why do we play? series, which I still need to find time to fully read, resubscribed to WoW for reasons you might find familiar from my previous musings, but feels like going back to raiding would be problematic, even if he intended to. Gevlon is fighting the myth of the gear as well as other lame excuses, and would get lots of approval from me (not that he's after my approval!), if he wasn't so eager to insult everything he dislikes. Ixo battles stupid customs and bemoans the state of mind on his server.

And if this entry sounds like a blogroll so far, that's because, so far, it is. I am putting you into the right context and the right state of mind. Because now, I am going to deliver the answer. That is, the question. Because we all know, that the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Loot, the Raiding, and Everything is, in fact 42, so there would be little insight if I told you that. No, today I'll tell you the question, which is loosely related to all of the linked above, and which you won't even have to wait ten million years for. In fact, you can read it right now. Here it comes:

Do you raid for the gear?
Or do you gear for the raids?

And that's all. For now. I reserve the right to further elaborate on it at a later point in time. At this point in time, just allow me to claim, that figuring out what 42 means for someone in relation to the above question, should be enough to figure out just how much they should bother with raiding in the first place.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The critical view

After the excited fanboy shout, let's take a critical look at some of the other things announced for the near and far future of World of Warcraft. Source for the quotes is MMO Champion.

Cross Server LFG
  • This will let you PUG 5-man instances and search for groups through multiple servers.
  • It will come with its own reward systems. If you're the leader of a PUG and complete the dungeon succesfully you will be rewarded.
  • It should be out for patch 3.3.0.

The biggest problem with PuGs, put in very short terms, is that people you don't know are, statistically, prone to jackass behaviour. Let's not pretend you don't know what this is supposed to mean and save us paragraphs of redundant explanations. Teaming up with people you know even less, because they are, eh, on a different server, won't really go a long way to dampen that factor.

The biggest upside with PuGs is the recruitment potential, which is rendered irrelevant in a cross-server group. Except, of course, if we talk cross-server recruitment, i.e. sucking all existing talent to the "elite" servers. Oh, well...

Rated Battlegrounds
  • Rated Battlegrounds will be an alternative way to get arena points.
  • Each week, one of the BG will be the Rated Battleground of the week. Winning in this battleground will improve your rating and give you points. Losing will not lower your rating.
  • [...]

Remember the first of these quotes? Yeah. I actually should be amused, because this will wreak utter chaos in the entire PvP-/Arena-community and their inherent sense of superiority. I might be wrong, but from what I understand, the very reason for the introduction of Arenas was to discourage people from AFK-ing their way to PvP-rewards (Ettenmoors-style!). Now it's back, with the added bonus, that the entire "we're in it for the competition" PvP community will be screaming and queueing up for that one BG for the week.

Guild Leveling
  • Guild experience is earned through multiple ways, players leveling, killing bosses, leveling professions, PvP victories, reputations.
  • Each guild level rewards you with one talent point, these talents affect the whole guild. The top 20 earners of the guild will contribute to the guild experience for the day.
  • Some of the guild talents will allow you to remove reagent costs from spell, get increased gold drops, summon your entire raid, rez your entire raid after a wipe, automatically transfer a % of gold dropped by bosses to the guild bank. Guild talents can be reset.
  • Once your guild reached level 20, the guild experience becomes a currency and let you buy things like mounts, professions plans, banners, potions, rare reagents and guild talent respecs.
  • Anyone can learn a guild profession recipe, if you leave the guild after learning it you will loose the recipe and it will be transferred back to the guild bank. Guild heirlooms also work the same way and are bound to the guild.

See, in principle, I very much applaud the idea of (active - not just age based) guild levelling. The problem is, and this particular implementation seems as prone to it as anything, that the encouraged course of action becomes "recruit everything with a pulse". Don't even bother trying to bring up a small, tight knit guild. Just join the biggest one you can find, and get awesome abilities!

I wonder how long it will take for people to figure out, that the optimal strategy under these rules is to set up one huge server-wide guild, and then make private sub-channels for what should be the actual guilds. The guild channel becomes global chat, and everyone runs around with the same tag. Math (and computer science) teaches you to always consider the extreme cases. And online gaming teaches you, that people will, sooner or later, go for the most efficient way of playing your game.

That could, of course, be easily solved if "guild progression" would be instead a quotient of total progression and number of members. Which would instantly result in the other extreme of everyone being prodded with sticks all the time and /gkicked as soon as they're offline for two days. So, this is all kind of meh.

There are, of course, many more things announced, and most of them sound pretty exciting. These were just a few of those that seemed rather odd or questionable to me. Enjoy the Sunday!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Grief Online?

Why is it, that nearly every time someone gets all excited about EVE Online, I can't help but feel the game in long term pretty much boils down to "Bullies in Space"? I may be a little harsh here, and I understand there might be much more to EVE, but stuff like this (and it seems to be regarded as the ultimate apex of EVE gameplay) appears to me as the gaming equivalent of getting your buddies together to beat up the unpopular kid, steal his lunch money, screenshot it film it on your cell phone and send it to a gaming site upload it on YouTube. So, your top achievement in the game was to gank some guys, who were trying to establish a foothold of their own without joining your zerg, together with your 500 homies? Uh, grats, I guess.

PS: Yeah, I totally miss the point of the game and just don't understand it. So, sue me.

Cataclystic genius

It's on MMO Champion, on, on Blizzard's official Cataclysm site and all over the blogs and news sites. The Cataclysm is coming. What's my take on it?

At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, this is simply a genius move. Why? Because it directly aims at core problems of the expansion mechanics and shoots them down with sniper precision.


We all know that one. As soon as a new expansion is announced, no matter how far in the future, everyone gradually begins to fall into that sense of "oh, why do anything, it will all be useless in just a little more than a year". Never mind that a year is an age in gaming terms, or that nothing you can do has any actual "use" beyond entertaining you in the first place anyway.

Instead, by announcing the end of the Old World, Blizzard turns lethargy into urgency. Suddenly, all those things you wanted to do "some time", but somehow always forfeited in favour of riding circles through Dalaran become things you need to do now, because in "only one year" you won't have a chance to do them any more. People won't tell their non-WoW friends they should "try the game, but better wait until the next xpac, it'll be better then", but instead to "come, come quick, you'll barely be able to see all the stuff in the time that's left!" whether this is actually true nor not.

Rather than suspending their subscriptions until the game version changes to 4.0, people will renew, just to run through all those places they will never be able to see again, ever. "Never again" are very strong words. They are better than anything when it comes to creating urgency and rattling the cage of a community, that, by and large, became stagnant in many of its ways.

Old content quality

To quote myself from yesterday: The moment you step through The Dark Portal, something happens to the quests. They suddenly become awesome.

See, the vast majority of the Old Azeroth quests is just plain boring. Yes, I know, that you might be nostalgic about this or that couple of gems, and that at least in the Plaguelands the storytelling reached a temporary high, and not having played in all the zones (yet), I leave room for the possibility that a nice chain or two might have escaped my attention. Also, the zones I have been in were nicely and diversely designed, the locations and positions made sense, unique atmospheres transpired. But when it comes to the very quests themselves, I spent the first 58 levels mostly with unimaginative tasks solved by unimaginative mechanics presented with unimaginative descriptions. Again, yes, there were exceptions and outstanding gems. But for the most part, everything these quests were concerned with was to make me cover as much ground and occupy as much of my bag space as possible.

The thing is, that in the Outlands, the proportions turn around. Instead of "10% awesome, 90% trash", I get 90% awesome, and the little trash that's left is easily and without much trouble handled on the way to the next original and in itself entertaining task. The difference in quality is immense, and could be already suspected when comparing the Draenei and Blood-elf starting zones with .. the rest of the low level game. It's not surprising either, there's two more years of experience and ideas working there. From what everyone is saying, there's another quantum leap in the WotLK content.

Blizzard knows this. They know, that most of their old content, to put it blunt, sucks. But there's nothing they can do about it, because if they spend an entire content update adding candy to some low level quests 90% of their player base already did a hundred times, everyone will laugh in their face, and most of it will be perceived as "dumbing down" anyway. Except, of course, if they redo the entire Old World and then add actually new and exciting quests.

Old content balance

I can't see into the past, but I do believe, that at some point (a.k.a. Vanilla-WoW), all the content, quests, dungeons, rewards, money, XP and difficulty were balanced with each other and resulted in an intensive game experience. The XP-curve was more flat, crafting worked slightly different, dungeons were harder, the quests fewer. But as of now, all Old Azeroth content is balanced for is getting you through it as fast as possible while still entertaining a notion of "the journey being worth it for the sake of the journey itself". You're being showered with XP and rushed through the levels at a pace that makes you wonder, why they don't just let you start at 55 and send you to the Outlands right as you leave your starter zone. Oh, wait, they do.

This is closely tied to the quality issue above. They know it's not the best they have in offer, so they just let you whiz through it. Redoing it from the ground and filling it with high quality content will enable them to restore a balance between content and progression, to really make the first 58-60 levels a worthy experience in itself, rather than just "the road to The Dark Portal", with shortcuts wherever possible.


The announcement of flying in the old zones was one of the points that created the most doubt about the validity of the leaked information. It was pointed out by many, that many of the buildings and structures in the Old World are not true 3D-objects, but just facades, consisting only of the parts that can be seen from the ground. It is the very reason, why flying mounts are only permitted in Outlands and Northrend - flying over Azeroth would let you see untextured and unmodelled back- and upsides, while turning the entire world into true 3D would just have been too huge an effort (more to that later). Of course, it kind of mashed well with the general notion of redoing Azeroth completely, but seemed to only underline how technologically non-feasible such an enterprise would be.

Here's the perk: the WoW-engine was created with this sort of "facade"-landscapes in mind. It doesn't work well when it has to render too many too large 3D-objects. This is why your frame-rate collapses upon entering the Outlands or Northrend. There, everything is in full 3D, which they just square-into-round style shoved into the old engine. They can't really update the engine either, however, because something like 80% of the existing content interacts with it in a very specific way. You'd have to redo that entire content completely ... see where we're going here?

Expect a major, and I mean major engine update for Cataclysm. And, to dispel fears, this doesn't mean the game will suddenly have much higher hardware requirements. The graphics style won't change, it's the staple of WoW and its eternal youth. But in the past 5-6 years, technological advances in rendering efficiency have been made (as always). Making use of those while still sticking to simplistic roots will result in a game that will look better and run faster. You can say you heard it here first (unless you heard it somewhere else before).


No one removes old content. No one removes old content. No one ever removes old content. It's a principle so fundamental, that the leaked information seemed ridiculous for suggesting Blizzard would. Old content is something that a significant monetary investment was made into, and that is there now, paying for itself. You might want to streamline (i.e. accelerate) or polish (i.e. nerf) it, but you never remove it. It's real value, you don't just throw it away!

The complete Azeroth-revamp is a muscle-move by Blizzard that is simply unprecedented and carries so much weight, I am seriously lacking adjectives to describe it. We all know Blizzard is rich, and sitting on a near-guaranteed revenue. Which is why they are probably one of the very few companies who can afford it. Yesterday, Blizzard basically came out and said "we are taking this money we earned with WoW, and we are sticking it right back into WoW, to facilitate a never seen before quality leap within the life cycle of a single game". With people all over the blogosphere already singing nostalgic, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes hostile swan songs to WoW (again), they basically flipped everyone the bird and said "forget it, WoW isn't going anywhere, it's here to stay". You can bet that members of NCSoft (disclaimer: I am very excited about Aion and wish it luck and success!) and other companies with great aspirations cried themselves into sleep last night.

In an age when games take more than half a decade to develop only to ship in a buggy and unpolished state, Blizzard stood up and said they'll make a game nearly with the content scale of original WoW within a year. And for all the joking about Soon (tm), deep down, everyone knows they'll pull it off. It is an incredibly bold move, which makes it clear, that WoW is not the ageing, helpless prey, out there for the challengers to hunt - it is the mighty giant, who smashes all opposition and feasts on their remains. Whether it will indeed play out this way, time will tell. But it is this incredibly strong message that transpired.

Monday, 17 August 2009

A silent nod

Some articles you do not expect to come across on a gaming site. And when you do, it makes them all the more valuable and worth pointing out. Especially since most of us can relate, each in their own way.

There's nothing to discuss or to add here, except that the author's conclusion perfectly captures how I feel about gaming:
WoW is not an escape from life, it is a reflection of it. It is a journey we walk with our friends, and a memory we carry with us when we log out and come back to the real world. Make it something that you can remember with a smile, not because you played a game, but because you played it with fun, beauty, and kindness for everyone who played along with you. Any hobby you have can and should be, part of a life worth living.

*bows head in condolence*

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Spoilers (none contained)

Okay, this isn't going to be some revolutionary insight. More the domain of stating the obvious. But still.

If you know me, you probably know that The Matrix is my favourite movie. Like, ever. I can't imagine ever liking a movie more. I love it for so many different things and on so many different levels, that it would take an entry of its own to point them out. When Alqua & Colt were here and the conversation crossed The Matrix, I surprised them by pointing out a little design detail about the movie which they didn't notice before - and that's the thing, you don't notice it (unless you've seen it as often as I did), but it all adds up to a whole. Oh my. I feel the urge to watch it again just from writing about it.

Oh, and don't ask me which of the three I mean. There was only one. Then there was some Matrix-themed ad-lib fan fiction which was accidentally released as full feature movies. Let's not talk about them. Or, let's, when I finally remember to post that translation (from German original) I made of an excellent recension of the "trilogy", which really put up the three movies (no-no, there was only one!) against each other. I already spent two paragraphs talking about The Matrix when it totally wasn't what I intended to talk about. Happens every time. But now you have an idea of the passion I feel for that film.

You may also know, that roughly from 2000 to 2008 I was a very avid filmgoer (apparently, that's indeed a word). Almost every Saturday night I'd be sitting in a cinema with a friend, watching some new movie. Or, in some very rare cases, watching a movie we'd already seen, again. Yeah, we were that crazy. Now don't mistake me for some French-arts-"the black lamp shade in the background symbolizes concealed feelings" type. I was, and am, always happy to ride the blockbuster-/entertainment-train. Like most people, in fact (that's why they're called blockbusters, doh) - most people just won't admit it. If the movie turned out to be crap, all the better, we'd rip it apart sitting at Burger King until 3AM. If it was great, we'd ... basically do the same, only with a positive connotation. Or rip apart another one, that failed to be as great. You get the picture.

There was one thing I came to hate during that time, and that is movie trailers. You see, we're slowly edging closer to the topic. I was fine with teasers - a few disconnected frames from the upcoming film followed by a release date to, basically, just notify you, that something is coming up. Great. But then the release date would come closer and we'd get into the domain of trailers. And not just the sort that gets shown on TV, but those full fledged 2-3 minutes long (sometimes even longer...) previews, which could technically rather serve as a review. And as a regular filmgoer, you'd have to watch them over and over again, especially in the last few weeks/months before the advertised work would hit the theatres.

It's the nature of the medium trailer, that you have to pick the best stuff from what you're advertising. You want to lure, and you lure with cake, not with bread. So, essentially, by the time you'd pay for the ticket, you'd have seen all the best scenes and heard all the best jokes several times already. All that'd be left for the actual movie, was putting them into the right order and filling the gaps with .. the stuff they thought themselves wasn't really that hot. And then the actual plot. See, pretty much every plot, no matter how intricate, can be summarized in 2-3 minutes. Yes, even Lord of the Rings, if you try really hard. And that's what trailers do. They try really hard. You'd know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, what they're conflicting about, what the problem to solve is. Of course, the resolution would be left out (usually). But that doesn't really make things better. The resolution rarely is the gem of the plot. The interesting part is the problem itself, the setting, the setup, the conflict, the history, the riddles and the hurdles. All things trailers happily give away to wet your mouth. The resolution mostly boils down to "hero wins", and although he might do that in an original, clever and spectacular way, or sometimes not even win at all, this is not what drives the movie. We don't sit down for two hours for the sake of the last five minutes. We want to enjoy the entire ride.

And now the two, so far apparently disconnected topics discussed here join together. The Matrix (1999) was the movie that started off my passion. It is what made me into a filmgoer in the first place. Which means, I wasn't going to cinemas before. Which means I haven't seen any trailers. All I saw was a TV teaser in which Neo famously dodges a bullet followed by "What is the Matrix?". When I first sat down in my cinema chair to watch it, I actually didn't know what the Matrix is! Every line of dialogue, every action scene, every special effect were provoking a "whoa, that was AWESOME!" response in my brain.

Today I visited YouTube and it recommended me to watch The Matrix Trailer. And I did (and instantly desired to see the movie itself again). While being who I am I'll of course point out, that The Matrix contained so much awesomeness, that there is still a metric ton left unshown, I can't but wonder if I'd liked it as much as I did, had I been bombarded with that trailer beforehand.

I told you

This is not directed at those who read this blog, but those who do, know whom it's directed at.

I told you. I didn't, admittedly, do it in the most diplomatic or clever way, but rather in the form of an emotional outburst. But I told you there are issues, there are problems. You told me I'm the problem. You told me to take it or leave it. And I left. Others left with me. Only the problems, the issues, they didn't leave with us, they remained with you. Now you're stuck with the under-performers and the ride-hitchers, whose equality rights you were so eager to protect. Those who sleep through the raid and only wake up when it's /roll time. Who don't want to bring a character as soon as they're geared, but to have their next alt geared instead. Who laugh when you bring the topic up, because they don't understand why you suddenly have an issue with it. Because you failed to make a stand when you could have had. You cannot now, and thus you're stuck with the split mentality, which you failed to acknowledge for too long. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

And yes, I bath in gloating. Because I told you. And you didn't want to listen.

Friday, 14 August 2009

On being Prot

Look, I know I'm doing it all wrong. I respec to Prot and ... start looking for ways how to maximize my damage output. I know the rulebook says that from this day on, I should only concern myself with Dodge Rating and Effective Health, but, honestly, can you see that happen? With me? I doubt you can.

But, oh boy, is Prot a fun spec to play! I effectively have two ranged interrupts (Charge and Intercept) and two melee interrupts (Shield Bash and Concussion Blow) accessible at all times, without any need for macro-stance-dance-GCD-awkwardness. And Shockwave has yet to come..! I can generate enough up-front threat so my favourite Druid doesn't need to wait with her Moonfire until the fight is half over, and can soak up enough to make her worry less about my survival and free her up for some nuking. I can Shield Slam nasties into oblivion, and strike them with the full wrath of Remaglar's Revenge (hey, that's what it says in the combat log..!). All that, while only beginning to put points in Sword and Board.

Long story short, I'm having fun. Just wanted to put that fun into writing.

Don't Cha

I can't say much about the value of the content in this blog, but the top graphic made me laugh. A lot.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

New layout

The narrow layout was very convenient when I first started this blog - obviously I didn't have much content on yet, and making what I had appear like more by padding it in the vertical was a welcome side effect. Now, after some time, I do have some content to show, plus, I tend to be verbose, which means that a single long entry - like the last one - would turn into furious scrolling and thus not be pleasant to read. Thus, it was time to switch to a stretching layout. Enjoy (hopefully) and come back (hopefully).

Monday, 3 August 2009

The quest to end all quests

The upcoming (NA/EU) release of Aion once again sparkles musings about cultural differences in Western and Eastern gaming habits. At the centre of it, as a reoccurring theme, are quests. The Asian MMOs are typically referred to as "grind-fests", while the Western are .. well .. what? Quest-fests?

Two bits of reading got me thinking. First, there was Eurogamer comparing the (claimed) numbers of quests in Aion and WoW.
But times have moved on, and in this day and age - after the deft pacing and storytelling expertise shown by Lord of the Rings Online and Wrath of the Lich King - simply having quests in the first place isn't enough. And while NCsoft's claimed total of 1500 quests may sound like a lot, we learned from former WOW lead Jeff Kaplan today that World of Warcraft had some 2600 at launch, and now has over 7600. With a strict division in questing between the two playable races, it will have to be a fairly compact world and short levelling curve for these to fill it out.

So far so good. Let's keep that notion in mind for later reuse. Then there was Keen "Comparing Aion vs. WAR" and stating the following:
I don’t LIKE questing. I feel that it is overused, simplistic, mind-numbing, and a shortcut.

Huh. Now that came out unexpected. And the first thought is probably "eh, dude, sure you're playing the right genre?" Because MMOs/RPGs/MMORPGs are all about questing ... or are they? Let's spend a second thought and ask ourselves, what it is that seems to make questing desirable for us. For the sake of an argument, let's split up the players in three categories. And before you come after me with torches and pitchforks, yes, I am fully aware and taking into account, that a single player well might represent any weighted combination of the three, as well as switch between any imaginable weighted combinations within the course of one gaming session. That's not the point. We'll get to the point, bear with me for a moment. So, the players.

The Endgamer. He wants to reach the level-cap, because that's where the game truly begins for him. For him, the levelling curve is just a progressing tutorial. As far as he's concerned, quests yield good and easy XP, getting him that next level and edging him one step closer to the content he's actually aiming for. Don't expect him to soak up the quest background, because he honestly doesn't care. He's certainly pleased by playing in a nicely designed and rendered environment, but why he's doing what he's doing isn't of interest for him.

The Altoholic. He has 3 level-cap characters and 5 others in the making. But he's not doing it for the sake of the content, he's doing it out of curiosity for the class mechanics. Much like the endgamer, the altoholic gratefully accepts every extra XP he can get, because every next level unlocks more class-specific goodies he's being after. Finding out how exactly to infiltrate the troll hideout won't get him excited, because he did it before. Like, 5 times, on his other characters. And another 10 times to help his altoholic friends.

The Explorer. Now things get interesting. Because this guy actually cares about the world as such, wants to soak up its atmosphere and enjoy the trip itself. He's prone to reading quest dialogues and going after unorthodox quests, even though they might take him more time. He'll stop and look when he sees the sun set, the moon rise, the rain drop, the sea .. uh .. swash? He'll sidetrack and go explore a mysterious cave, just because it's mysterious and a cave.

I'd say this roughly covers it. Again, I'm fully aware, that gamers are usually "hybrids" of those, and switch their degree of hybridazation with an arbitrary frequency. That's not the point. The point is, that questing in its current form isn't really a fantastic experience for either of them. But, hey, what about the explorer types? I think, for them it's actually the most disappointing.

And here we get back to the first quote. See, it's the mass. The sheer amount. There's no good having 7600 quests, when 7500 of those are just identical copies of each other, delivering you the Reason Of The Day why to go and kill baddies in this particular area. The true and massive caveat is, that you cannot possibly develop any sense of involvement or dedication to Task #1829. There's no point in reading all the quest text, because your mind won't be able to store - and, more importantly, distinguish between - all the countless quest texts you read. So, you just scan over it, picking up keywords and/or just scroll down straight to the "objectives". Or don't even bother with that and hit "accept", because QuestHelper will figure that out for you.

I fancy myself an endgamer-explorer hybrid. I love endgame, but I also love the world I'm gaming in. I love to love it. So I try to read some of the stuff thrown at me, but, in the long run, I fail. My memory is just incapable of actively keeping track of all the tasks these 8 NPCs just imposed on me. I got a rough sense that Gadgetzan is generally concerned with its water supply, which makes sense with it being in a desert, and serves nicely to, well, point out that it's being in a desert. But beyond that? No idea. I just go out and hit stuff, basically. Luckily, I love doing that, too (very much so).

I am sure there are well written, meaningful, out-of-the-box quests. In know, in fact, there are. But the even bigger crime is, that you have a really, really hard time spotting those under the endless heap of kill-rats. Since you've been conditioned to at best scan over the text, in the rare case when it contains something actually worth reading, you just won't know.

Which brings us back to what a quest should actually be - namely what the word actually means, in its classic meaning. Setting out on a quest (mind you, one quest, singular) used to mean pursuing some extraordinary enterprise. It meant you'd go on an adventure, search for places, people, hints and items, fight villains, solve riddles, make decisions to achieve a goal you might not even be fully aware of when you started. And when it would be over, you'd look back at your quest and say, wow, that was quite something I did there. What we have instead at present, is all of the aforementioned tasks split up in separate and, at best, loosely connected, well .. tasks! Feel the emotional difference between "quest" and "task"? Because what we're doing in the game now, are no quests - it's just tasks.

WoW surely has a lot of quests. And at times, it feels like they're all out to get me. I'm running to the forge in Stormwind, and I see this exclamation mark popping up, and I'm trying not to look at it, because my quest log is full, and it's probably for an area I had no immediate plans to go to, and will be greyed out by the time I do. I'm just trying not to think too much about those probably 70% of the content I'm just passing on, because the other 30% are more than enough to get me through the level progression. Hey, I'm telling myself, it's probably just another meaningless errand. Of course it might also be the most exciting quest chain ever written, and I'll never know, unless someone explicitly points me at it (and I probably will have outlevelled it by the time I could get around to do it).

Yet we cling to our quests. Why? For the same reason we fear those Asian MMOs. The grind. The evil word of terror. We don't want to be sentenced to have to kill millions of rats and boars for our level-up. But what does this effectively mean? It means, that when we chew through quests barely reading them (and, be honest, we do!), all they do for us is XP-amplifying. Instead of just getting 500 XP from killing 10 boars, we get an additional 5000 on top of that! It just speeds things up by giving us additional candy for doing specific things at a specific time.

Caveat to this: quests discourage exploration! I read this somewhere, but forgot where, thus no link, but it makes perfect sense for the way I play. When you enter a new area, what's your first thought? Mine is "let's see what's around here", run around and just see what's where. When you see a cave, or a castle, or something of that sort, what do you think? I think "let's go in there and clear it completely!" But then, I will remind myself, that I'll most probably get a quest to go just there and kill the same mobs ... again. So, instead of looking for adventure, I first look for the quest-hub. Because these are the rules of the game, and if I don't play by them, I don't receive the candy. That doesn't stop the process from being a grind, it just makes me grind quests, rather than mobs.

So, what are the alternatives to this system?

Age of Conan has the Destiny quest-chain, which starts at character creation and runs through to level 80. It is supposed to be your quest, you know, the one with adventure, decisions and dragon slaying. While the idea is not a bad one, it's basically implemented as a single-player campaign. And it's not the solo-aspect (in fact, I have no idea if later stages might even involve grouping) I'm criticizing. But its entire plot focuses around you being such a special snowflake, a unique individual in possession of a unique artefact who should uniquely change the course of history. Hey, newsflash, this is an MMO, and there's lots of other snowflakes running around. It's a freakin' snowstorm! Besides, for such a supposedly personal experience, there's a stunning lack of interactivity, as in decision making. While you have to click your way through intricate dialogues (just as you have to acquire the quest to kill 10 rats...), your choice always boils down to being railroaded to your "destiny", or standing around with nothing to do. Plus, it's only one quest-chain. And while the entire point of this article is advocating "less is more", I didn't mean just one. One you don't even get to choose! Gah.

Aion has two sorts of errands: quests and missions. Quests are supposed to be the regular daily stuff, the boar and rat killing, while missions are designed to be more, well, epic. So, you see, we went from "tasks and quests" to "quests and missions", because the word quest was devalued so much over time. It's an interesting take, maybe reminiscent of LotRO's division in regular and book-quests. I reserve judgement until I get to experience it myself.

What I will do instead, is pick it up from there and go a step further to suggest Rem's Quest System. We start with Aion's quests and missions pattern. First, we take the quests ... and throw them away. Out the window. And don't even look to see where they land. We don't care. Once we've rid ourselves of those, we can rename missions into quests again. Or into Amazing Adventures. Now comes the trick: we tell our content department (we still have one, we didn't throw them out the window with the "quests"!) to sit down, take their time, and really turn those amazing adventures into what the name suggests they should be. From 7600 quests 7500 of which are just copy-and-paste crap, we go to just 100, which are brilliant pieces of gameplay mechanics and storytelling. Hire actual writers. Play with everything your game engine has to offer. Pull all stops. Have them be few, but meaningful and exciting, such that when a player finishes one of those, he feels like sitting down and writing a book himself about his amazing adventure and his (and his friends') way of solving the challenges thrown at him (them). High quality instead of meaningless quantity.

But what about those "quests"? They're gone. And they're not coming back. Never again will any douchebag be asking you to go fetch him 5 Flawed Boar Hides. Does that mean back to endless mob-grind outside of the amazing adventures? No, of course not. I still have a trick up my sleeve, and here it comes.

So, you go out into the wilderness and see this .. uhm .. boar. It's an evil boar, so you kill it. And then you loot it. Familiar so far? Okay, here comes tweak one: no trash loot. Trash loot is called trash loot, because it's just that: trash. Stuff no one in the game needs for anything. And since it's useless, why should you even be picking it up? Obviously, because the NPCs are struck by some curse forcing them to purchase endless amounts of diseased rat livers from the player. Occam's Razor says: out with it! If you can pick it up, it has to have some use - if it doesn't have any use, you wouldn't want to pick it up in the first place. But where do we get our steady money flow from, are we being forced into even more grind? Not at all, be patient and read on.

So, you loot this boar. You acquire this meaty looking shank and that solid peace of his hide. Or not. Same system as before, only, with the added rule, that if you can loot it, it's somehow useful. You adventure for a while, gather this and that - like that very special flowers you can only pick up when you have the quest to do so, but which are invisible otherwise - and then, at some point, come across a village. Huh!

If you're looking for exclamation marks now, forget it, they're gone, live with it. What you do instead, is walk up to, say, the provisioner and "ask" him what the village needs. Hurray, they need boar shanks (who would have thought), and you just so happen to carry 9 of those in your bags! So, what you do is, basically, just barter. You give him 1 boar shank, and he gives you 250 XP and 20 silver. Bring more, get more. Now off to the tailor and see if he has some demand for those hides. You can go from here and construct an economical model with supply and demand, or you can just leave it at infinite demand. I'd go with the latter option - it's a game, not a simulation.

Next you go to the sheriff (whatever) and he complains about brigands. No intricate stolen-ponies-story, we're not in amazing adventure mode. Just brigands. Occam's Razor. This is the point where you say (because the game kept track of it), that you assaulted their nearby hideout and slew 17 of them, including a semi-chief-brigand-dude. The sheriff breaks out in celebration and rewards you with 17*500 XP and 17*40 silver (uhm, throw in some bonus for the semi-chief-dude in there somewhere). How would he know I'm not making things up? Well, how do the current NPCs know I actually went out and killed those they wanted me to kill, rather than just walk around the corner, come back and say "done"? Same magic applies. Oh, and for those cases when I have to bring back someone's severed head as proof, let's just say, when I vanquished that brigand, I noticed him wearing an intriguing badge and took it with me. Collecting tiger claws because they look special to be used as a latter proof of fighting the .. tiger plague. Again, everything you can pick up, has a purpose. And players are basically willing to suspend any disbelief if they get fun in return. Note how realism discussions only ever appear to confront aspects that are not fun.

So, you just earned your quest XP and your quest reward money (as well as the trash loot money). Feel free to go out and do it again to earn more at the same rate, or to venture into new lands to discover more boars, brigands and villages. Oh, but what with the quest reward items? The awesome Ring of Sparkly Bling, are we taking that away? Of course not. And this part is ridiculously easy, really. Obviously, when you help a village out by providing them materials and fighting their foes, your standing with them will improve. You know, same way it does now. Remember the tales when a hero would save a city and then ride away clad in armour they gave him as thanks? Yeah, like that. You can make reputation a condition or even a currency in itself. Both systems work and have their pros and cons.

So, are we turning the entire game into one huge reputation grind? Well, yes and no. Yes, because .. well, we do. No, because there's nothing inherently bad about it. Or even any different from the questing as it is now - we just remove the "acquire task before being able to accomplish it" restriction and scale the rewards more transparently. Reputation only has a bad .. uhm .. reputation, because it's frequently used to stretch out the existing content beyond the actual .. uhm .. content. You know what I mean. It's a long article and my brain is slowly running out of words. Anyway. If you build it right into the process of adventuring, make it as foundational and natural as XP and money, well, what's bad about it then?

And that's it. We remove the pretension of "quests" where they are just placeholders for trivial and mundane task, and turn them into barter systems, with the additional benefit of being able to do the deed before being tasked to. In return, we keep those really meaningful quests and build them into epic adventures people will want to do for their own sake, and not just the rewards.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Status: cancelled

It is done. Logged into my COG account, looked at the beautiful landscape in the website's background, the Gandalf-impression at the top and some ugly hobbit next to him, sighed and clicked the red button (and then was anti-dramaturgically redirected to the PayPal site where I had to log in to, you know, actually cancel the subscription).

So, this is it. Goodbye LotRO - I loved you, but won't miss you. Thank you for the good times, the many hours of fun and the wonderful people I met (and ventured forth with).

My subscription still runs until the 18.09. - this is what you get when you decide to quit a game basically the next day after entering the subsequent period. But, then again, it made the decision easier, there was more of a safety cushion, more "I can go do that now, but don't have to really leave yet" factor due to it. But by now, all possible doubts are gone. Don't think I'll be ever coming back either, to be honest. WoW is lots of fun right now, and then there's still AoC waiting for its chance (which might never come), Aion looming behind the horizon as well as Mortal Online in the role of "the next, totally different thing". The road goes forward, not back. Yet it was a nice time, and a nice game, be it even just because it had the Misty Mountains *winks*

Monday, 20 July 2009

Legacy issues

When people refuse to think around corners, hilarious things happen. Let's recap a "conversation" of sorts that goes on for a while now between the players of the Warrior class in WoW and Blizzard.

Players: Warrior-tanking is very weak. We need buffs. Like, for real.

Blizzard: Well, matter of fact, it seems you guys are tanking the majority of the content just fine, so...?

Players: Yes, true, we're able to do it, but the style we're forced into just isn't fun. That's a quality of life issue.

Blizzard: Okay, you have a point there. We'll look into it.
*doesn't directly buff Warriors by much, but applies a few changes that should, taken together, enable Warrior tanks to spec and play differently*

Players: When I do things exactly the same way I used to do them before, the improvement is marginal / non-existent / actually an aggravation.

Blizzard: Wait, wasn't the whole point of the matter that you change the way you do things?

Players: I hate u and ur mom!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Caught while surfing

If you're good at PvP, you get gear quickly.
If you're good at PvE, you get gear quickly.
If you're bad at PvP, you get gear slowly.
If you're bad at PvE, you get high repair bills.

Nothing to add, except: my name is Rem, and I am a carebear.

In an online game, anyone who has accomplished more than you has no life, and anyone who has accomplished less is a noob.

Nothing to add.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Internet Drama And You

Came across this article recently, and .. I must say, that I disagree. Well, why link it then? For one, I don't disagree with it entirely. The part about Passive Aggression is spot on, and has been painfully experienced by most of us, more than once. The Commiseration Spiral is, too, something to be careful about (although it's not actually related to the section it's listed in). For another, though, I strongly believe, that the misuse and bending of the Perspective approach is one other large reason for the emergence of internet drama, since it allows people to give themselves a pass on something they know they shouldn't do, but do anyway, because, hey, no one can get hurt, like, for real, right? So, let's have a look.

1. P1 and P3 are very much the same thing - perspective. They're both saying the same: your problem is not a real problem because of the context. For P1 he plays the "pales in comparison" card, for P3 the context itself is declared inherently irrelevant. That's one and the same thing, and doesn't make for anything but padding the numbers. Yeah, I know, I'm trolling semantics here - it'll get better, promised. It's just not nice to be offered three drama-slayers and then find the third being the same as the first!

2. Perspective is not an irrelevance threshold. In fact, Mr. Wilson writes lots of profound and valuable things on perspective, only then to dismiss them saying he's having something different on his mind, namely the good old "kids in Africa" conception. This is, and always has been, the lamest argument ever, for anything. If you have the flu, you treat it - you don't watch pictures of AIDS victims instead, because theirs is much, much worse. When you get your pay check, you don't throw it away, just because you didn't make as much as Bill Gates.

Perspective means, you keep it in context. It means you treat a problem arising in a certain environment with tools appropriate for that environment. It does not mean, that you ignore the problem entirely, just because in the general scope of problems it's a minor one. It does not mean you feel less strong about an issue that is important to you. Perspective means, that you don't go out and kill an actual person, because he ninja'd your loot. Perspective, however, also means that even the fiercest forum flame won't resolve child starvation.

3. Calling it "pretendy fun time games" accomplishes more than just putting the P to the front. It also obscures what's most important. See, it's not about pretending. It's about fun. And it's about time. It's about spending your time in a way that yields you fun. And that is important. It's not as life critical as finding food for a starving person is, but, again, perspective is not an irrelevance threshold. The following is a very simplified view of life, but, in a way, everyone fulfils their less pleasant duties in order to be able to then commit themselves to more pleasant things.

What part of their life a specific person views as the more or less pleasant, is subjective and may strongly vary. If you choose your favourite hobby to be online gaming, however, you expect it to result in fun. More importantly, fun through joint activity with other people. And that's the kink. Online gaming, like every multi-player constellation, is a contract. An agreement with other people to spend time in a way that maximizes common fun had. Thus, if, say 5 people meet and set out to have fun together, but then one or more of them start acting in a way detrimental to the others' enjoyment, those others are taking real damage. They will have ended up losing real time, without having gained the real benefit they were after - fun. Their lives will have become one day shorter. There won't be a second July 16th, 2009, in my life, no matter if I spend it satisfactory or not.

4. The "pretending" people are, in fact, real people themselves. If the character Rocket Tits tells my character that he's raping dogs, it's RP; if the girl pretending to be Rocket Tits tells me I rape dogs, we have an issue (this is referencing the linked article, so, if you have not read it, you might be surprised by the wording). That's an important difference. The game is played by real world persons, not characters. It's the real world persons who invest something into the game (at the very least, time, see above), and it's the real world persons who intend to derive something from it (fun, see above).

If the way real world person A behaves during their common game sessions causes discomfort for real world person B, then there is an issue. I'm not saying person B is automatically right, mind you, I'm just saying it is an issue. A real world issue, because two real world persons are not getting along, yet are supposed to spend time together for the sake of having fun. And it totally doesn't matter if their vehicles of having fun are fictional characters, when their animosity is a real one. Perspective, the other way round: if the measure at hand is fun had, a fun-killer is a real problem, not a pretended one.

5. Just walking away (not explicitly suggested in the article, but always a related implication) is not a satisfactory solution. At least it's not an easy one. People invested time, effort and heart into this (whatever "this" may be), they did it because it was fun, and because it was supposed to yield even more fun in the future. It's not the part about wearing capes they take seriously, it's their joy and entertainment they take seriously (if that makes any sense). They care.

To sum it up, this is why I'm not a friend of the "perspective" argument. Too often is it used to justify inconsiderate acts with the notion, that, taking perspective into account, no one really gets harmed in any meaningful way.

So, if you want to avoid drama, don't call "perspective!" on everything as soon as you find yourself on thin ice. Rather, when making decisions, take into account some of the perspectives of those other people you share your fictive world, your hobby with. It's not just a game. It's a hobby. It's a time sink. It's a source of fun and satisfaction. It's a collective activity you and your peers love, or you wouldn't be spending so much time with it. Everyone who says "it's just a game", is missing the point.

Monday, 13 July 2009

The Curse of Winning

How awesome would that be!?

And it invariably reminds me of something that was on my mind often during the later stages of LotRO already. It seems apparent, that most MMOs are bound to suffer from the Curse of Winning. Allow me to elaborate.

When an MMO sets up the playing field, it will usually use the most simple and effective storytelling tools to get you involved: you'll be made an underdog, and there will be some overwhelming threat to create a sense of urgency. This set-up may be sort-of original (WoW, Warhammer Online) or licensed from different media (AoC, LotRO). In the beginning, it works out quite well - you're a low level character and everything around is new, big and threatening.

Then you level up, get into gear, get a clue, learn your skills, get your talents. And keep beating the crap out of everything in your path (hey, that's the whole idea). And then you reach the famous "endgame" and go raid (depending on your preferred play style, you might, of course, not). There you are met with considerable challenge. Yet, challenge, in compliance with unwritten rules of the genre, has to be surmountable. And so you win. And then you win again. And with every dragon you kill, with every demon you vanquish (and with every time it becomes easier and more of a second nature), it becomes harder and harder to feel that sense of danger the background story is still suggesting for you to have.

What to do? Well, as the linked article is suggesting, it's probably time for the creative heads behind our favourite games to start thinking about how to make us lose from time to time. To make those wins count more again.

Taking it even further than the linked article, I'd like to point out, that a deterministic scripted loss isn't that much different from a regular win anyway. In the suggested scenario, the "loss" is triggered when the boss reaches 1% health. Well, that doesn't change much. Actually, it makes things even easier - you'd usually have to bring it down to 0%, after all! I understand it's mostly meant to just shake up the story, but let's take it to the gameplay as well.

My rough suggestion: let's base it off the Balrog's "last 12k" phase. In other words, a climatic finish to a fight, with significantly increased difficulty factor, that requires everyone, tanks, healers and DPS alike, to make a full-out push to drive it home. As an aside, and stating the obvious, that's why the Balrog fight never got boring, ever - no matter how far in you got, you always knew the biggest challenge will be during the last 10 seconds. However. Let's say, that once you get to and into that phase, the encounter will "finish", no matter what. If you kill the 'Rog and the Elf chick stays alive - great, you get your loot, you get your locks. If the Elf chick dies (or you wipe, which will invariably get the Elf chick killed as well), then she's dead, the Balrog roars in triumph and flies (runs?) away, freed and ready to torture the world - however, you still get your locks and your loot (maybe from a slightly weaker loot table - but not even necessarily). That way you can actually complete an encounter with a loss - still getting your winnings out of it, yet a lack of satisfaction attached. And best of all, the outcome depends on your performance, not a script. When you come back next week, you'll want revenge, and you'll always know, that this guy can actually kick your behind, as opposed to the usual "we play the game until I win" pattern.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Nerdrage - will contain profanity

So, now the media is discussing, whether Michael Jackson's children should or should not have attended his funeral (considering their young age and his always having been highly protective of them), should or should not his daughter have spoken, why they did it, who, what, where and so on. And by "media" I mean mostly people who earn their living as "high society experts", i.e. detractors and gossipers who have never accomplished anything on their own. These people, who never were good at anything but turning other people's dirty underwear, are now in the underwear of Michael Jackson's children. Yes, I am making this sound doubly reprobate on purpose.

Children. Kids. As in, sons and daughter. Sons and daughter of a father. A father who died two weeks ago. Do you even know what that means? Do you retarded media-morons even know how much that hurts? At least when you're still human, rather than a social atrocity making a living and cheap fame off sniffing other people's farts? Children, for crying out loud! A little boy who saw his father die while they were playing and thought he's just acting at first. This is, what, the single most terrifying, terrible, painful, shocking, awful thing that can possibly happen to a human being (again, referring to human beings here) in their entire life? Okay, probably second to having it the other way round and losing a child that way (hey everyone, let's make fun of John Travolta! His son died! Isn't that hilarious? Idiots). But a close second. By a wide margin ahead of the third, which would probably be the loss of a spouse, but that's already debatable.

And now you even dare talking about them? Gossiping about them? Sullying their names with your dirty, worthless mouths? I would appeal to your respect and conscience, but you obviously do not possess either. I would call to dignity and humanity, but you probably don't even know what that means. You - all the countless society reports and reporters, star magazines and gossip channels, as well as what became of most newscasts - have been pushing the borders of the tolerable for years now. I can't tell you exactly when you overstepped it, but right now, you're clearly beyond it, by far and wide. Just shut up. Shut the fuck up and go to hell. And leave the children alone!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Yes, it's back

The "ohmigawd, I want to get home / done with work and log into the game" feeling. Again displacing the "ow, is it 8 already...?" feeling. And that was, basically, the whole point. See you in-game!

Monday, 29 June 2009

The character (ability) development

In an RPG/MMORPG/MMOG your character usually starts at level 1 with only very few abilities, and some time later reaches the level cap, at which point it possesses a whole multitude of those. In some systems abilities are not only tied to character level (or any measure of progression), but are found, earned or acquired from drops, quests or talents/traits; however, the general notion is: you start with few, you end up with lots. Still, there are different ways to get from A to B, and today I'd like to compare two, as I have become aware recently, radically different approaches.

World of Warcraft. Of course. My Warrior is a level 28 now. Let's have a look at the gameplay. At this point, my choice of offensive skills is very limited (and before anyone wonders, yes, the Warrior is a very offensive-minded class). Without being improved by specific talents, most of them are rather weak, highly conditional or simply inefficient. As an example, I know I'll get the Slam ability at level 30 - but without either a talent deep down the Arms tree or another talent even deeper down the Fury tree, to use it not only isn't beneficial, it's actually detrimental to your damage output. Strictly speaking, in a regular single-target fight, I have 2-3 skills for doing damage, and 2-3 skills for tanking. They overlap for a total of 4; mostly just a shift in priorities.
At the same time, though, I already have lots of "tricky" abilities, that are there not just for the sake of purely dealing damage. I can strengthen the attacks of all nearby fellows, weaken the attacks of all nearby foes or fear them into running away, attract several enemies at once with damage or shouts, hamstring, disarm, shield wall, shield block and so on. Not everything is a "regular single-target fight", after all - the most exciting things are not. So, it's far from being dull, although the "daily grind" part isn't at its most exciting either.
So, what's the perspectives? The perspectives are rather friendly, but only mid- to long-term. In either spec, the actual and typical style of play doesn't really enter until you get down the talent tree a good bit. Which is, I think, definitely a good thing, because that really makes the different specs radically different, rather than slightly coloured flavours of one and the same thing. On the flip side, however, it means I'll have to stick to my 3-skill-rotations until about level 50. From what I understand, and have researched so far, it's pretty much the same for most if not all classes and specs. Is this bad? Actually, no. It means there will be significant development and evolution of the things I can do and how I can do them all the way to the golden 80. And then, I'll rightly sit down and say "okay, and now, let's optimize this!" - which is a good thing, because I like it.

LotRO. Here, the opposite approach. Taking the example of the Champion (surprise!), when you reach level 20 and get your Relentless Strike, it's your seventh or eighth attack skill. That's certainly some variety early on. It is, however, also pretty much the last significant attack skill you ever get. For the next 40 levels you will be gifted mostly with "utility" - the stuff you were not bothered with in the beginning. You learn to clobber and hamstring, to self-heal and recover power; you get short-duration self-buffs and a short-duration AoE-stun; a few upgrades on your original skills. Things like that.
Basically, the class is done and deployed at level 20. After that, it's just "rounding out the edges". The way you fight will not significantly change thereafter. Or, well, it might, but it will be due to your having learned or discovered something new, rather than your character having done that. It's maybe a little radical in the case of the Champion, but the trend is strong and omnipresent: lots of class-defining abilities up front, rounding out edges and potentially adding versatility later.
Is this bad? Not really, either. There is something to be said about giving people things to play with early on, letting them feel the class and where it's going, how it's going to be, right away. But it also turns the levelling process a little bit anti-climatic, when you keep expecting some new awesome skill or ability, but all you get are things you won't use more than once a week. I guess it was also a reason, why I'd invariably lose interest in an alt somewhere around the mid-twenties latest - when all is set and learned and all that changes from there on is the colour of the icons.

To sum it up: WoW will withhold crucial rotation skills or the ability to efficiently use them from you until late in the game, while feeding you complementary abilities along the entire path. LotRO will let you have your rotation right away to enjoy and have fun with, at the price of reducing later gains to being mostly supplemental. Both approaches have their pros and cons.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

The MMO Love Affair

Came across this entry today and was left to giggle nervously.

However. My name is Rem, and I'm a Night-Elf Warrior! What's your game!?

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Area of Effect

Reading the Mage Q&A last week I couldn't help but stop at this point and wag a finger in the air in a silent expression of agreement:

Ghostcrawler: We used to call the mage the master of AoE damage, but we’ve since decided that’s not a great niche for anyone. The “AoE class” feels mandatory in situations where you do have large crowds of enemies to contend with, but then the AoE class gets bored when everyone else is maximizing their single-target damage on a boss.

How long have I been preaching this, or at least something very similar, on the subject of the champion class in LotRO? How long have I been pointing out, that the ability to totally destroy X trash-goblins at once can't be regarded even remotely crucial? How long have I been shaking my head at the "kings of AoE" notion, because it's a trait that tends to become less relevant, the more challenging an encounter gets (hint: when "pull together and nuke" is a valid strategy, the encounter can be safely classed as "trivial")? How much effort did I put into streamlining my skill rotation and gear to reach for unexpected levels of single-target DPS-output (all your right-side slugs are belong to me!)? How disappointing was it, when starting with MoM champs were more and more pigeonholed into a niche only justified by the lacklustre content? I'll tell you: so disappointing, that I eventually quit the game (although that was caused by many, many reasons, not only this one).

See, I know Blizzard has their own track of questionable design decisions. But quotes like the above make me hope, that these guys at least understand what this thing is they're working on. That, and when you move to a new garden, you always want the grass to appear greener than in the old one *grins*

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Growing up

... is when you don't turn your alarm clock on in case you need to get up early, but turn it off in case you don't.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Limiting .. what?

Ever wondered, why some MMOGs drastically restrict access to main/global/public/regional channels for trial accounts, not even letting you read them? Well, I realised today while taking a walk through Bree-land. So you are not put off by all the bickering!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The Darkfall Scandal

Having found this immensely funny, I read this and then, ultimately, this.

And you know what's funny about it? That Ed Zitron's review is factually correct. Note how Aventurine (i.e. Tasos) themselves do not challenge the correctness of the content, but only the examination method. Everything he writes, on a factual level, absolutely matches with every video, trailer or other review we've seen. By all means, it doesn't even contradict with the very intentions put forth by the very developers as their "vision". It's just that he hated it - very much in the same way Gianna loved it. For, in fact, the very same things and features.

PS: No, I wasn't "researching on Darkfall Online" - if this was the last game on Earth, I would quit playing before I touched it. I was just reading The Noob Comic and got curious about the background.

Monday, 4 May 2009

The cygnet asked me questions

Visit her and she might ask you 5!

1) What led to your interest in basket ball?
There are several perspectives to it. In either case, it's important to point out, that I have become a rather calm sports follower. I embrace the positive. I acknowledge the negative. But I don't go over the top with either. Used to cry about tennis and football results when I was younger .. much younger .. it's just not worth it.

The historical:
In the mid-90s, I found myself in a school where my classmates were mostly basketball-interested. As usual, to be able to stay in the talk, I read up a little (without internet - ugh!) and picked a favourite team - the Miami Heat. No one else was particularly into them, they had a cool logo (burning ball through a ring), players with cool sounding names (Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway) and a hot city to originate from - what else can you ask for!
I played a little myself, but was never really gifted. Unsuited hands.

The qualitative/comparative:
The great quality of basketball, from my point of view, is how much and how directly success relies on individual and team effort. Both. At the same time. The greatest superstar won't win anything without a team to support him. The greatest team won't win anything without a superstar to build around. Neither will succeed if they are not determined enough.
In basketball, the team that mails it in, loses. Invariably. You can't win on a lucky goal, because you will be 30 behind by the time it happens, if you don't compete from the start. If you don't give effort. All your talent won't win you a thing, if you don't put your heart into it.
The separation in roles isn't as stark as in many team sports. Everyone needs to defend to some significant extent. Everyone needs to be able to make a shot when it matters. And, this is what's wonderful, it matters all the time. You can watch a wonderfully exciting football game with many fantastic actions that lead to nothing, and it will be decided by an awkwardly shot free kick which caroms off three random people and somehow rolls over the line.
A basketball game consists mostly of plays that succeed, rather than of those that lead to nothing. That includes defensive plays, which can actually succeed, too, because gaining possession in basketball is great in itself. In football it means nothing, because opponent possession doesn't mean anything either. Through basketball's high probability of scoring, the act of successfully preventing the opponent from scoring becomes much more significant. Defence isn't just a bulky obstacle in front of a theoretical chance, but an active component.
Plus, and this is highly subjective, I find basketball to be highly aesthetic. We're talking NBA-basketball here, mind you. Which leads us to...

The informative:
I love statistics. And NBA-basketball offers lots of statistics, which, you know, actually say something. And that's important, considering most of the games I never get to actually see due to time zones and network availabilities - a paid service I'd only get to use half a dozen of times would not be a good deal. So, it's really good, that the NBA, ESPN and others (South Florida Sun-Sentinel for example) offer such deep and exhaustive coverage for things that were, things that are and some things, that have not yet come to pass. All the information, commentary and highlight blocks make it that much easier to follow things without actually being able to watch things.
As a side effect, reading all that also helped and helps a lot in improving my English.

2) So the servers are down for a good week.... and you enter a library full of every type of book you can imagine, fiction and non-fiction. What sort of book do you opt for - and in what language?!
"How To Fix The Servers"! Ahem .. no, seriously...
There's so much I feel I missed/miss out on, a week would not be enough. Especially since I'm not a fast reader. Not because I can't read fast, but because I tend to re-read passages I found well written.
I'd like to read all works by Tolkien, just because. All the (popular science) books by Stephen Hawking, because I find it fascinating and extremely interesting. A few writings by Asimov at least, because he's supposed to be awesome, but I have not read anything from him. Orwell, same reason. A thing or two from Robert A. Heinlein, to see if "Starship Troopers" was a one-hit, or if he has other, equally pointed looks to offer, too. Would not turn down a book or 10 on programming languages, programming guidelines and the likes, either. And then re-read everything I liked!
The language is easily chosen. If the original work is in a language I know, that is, German, English or Russian, then, please original language. If it has to be translated anyway, then I'd rather have it in German (a mistake I made with "Simulation and Simulacra", tackling it in English - struggling with dated metaphors and intricate ideas in a still-foreign language the original wasn't even written in was a bit too much in the end).
Oh, and bringing the servers down won't be enough. You'll have to cut my line and every line I could get access to. Otherwise, I'd just program and read about basketball *grins*

3) The red pill or the blue pill? Why?
Huh. That's a hard one. Of course, xkcd offered an answer recently. And of course, you are expected to jump up and yell "red, of course, I want to know the truth!". But if a sentence contains two "of course" already, it's obviously too easy a way out.
All Morpheus is "offering, is the truth, nothing more". Do I want to know the truth? Do I want to know every truth? The whole "no one can explain what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself" deal is only a metaphor for the fact, that once you learn about something, you can't just unlearn, when you find you don't like it after all. So, do I take the risk?
Of course, in Neo's case it's rather trivial. He spent his entire life looking for this, searching for this. He's been a semi-outlaw, he had a run-in with authorities, just yesterday, because of that. He's been living for the sake of coming to this very point. Now, when Morpheus offers him "I'll tell you what it's all about, or I won't - your choice", it would have been rather comical, if he said "oh, never mind, bring on the blue".
So, ultimately, I think it's not the question what I seek, but where I come from. Will the truth give me anything, or will it just take away? Am I happy with what I am, where I am, how I feel, how things develop? If I feel I know enough, do I need to know more? Maybe it's blue then .... but then again, how to know if what I know is enough? How to assume to know enough without descending into the ignorant hypocrisy we're all quick to condemn in others?
What am I doing here in the first place? I wouldn't have come to ask, if I didn't think I need to hear the answer. Back to the above, I can't unlearn. If I know there's something to know, can I stop thinking about it, because I choose to? If Neo takes the blue pill, he will forget the evening, their meeting, but he won't get rid of his continuous discomfort.
When I have that nagging feeling, that "splinter in your mind, driving you mad", then, there is no other way than to run the gauntlet and face the truth of the red pill. Maybe it will make things better, maybe worse. But if I don't, I'll never know. And I'll know, that I don't know.
So, in the end, it's red again. If I'm at the point of being asked, I'm there for a reason. And the reason can't be any other than that I wanted to take the red pill from the very beginning. Just like Neo.

4) What would be your perfect meal and in what setting would you choose to consume it?
Ah, here I'm going to take the cheesy (and the easy) way out and say that it's all about the company. The taste won't make it. The view won't make it. The ambience won't make it. They might ruin it, but they can't make it. What will make it, is the other person, or the other people, who sit at the same table.
That's it. Some answers are short.

5) If you could change just one thing about yourself what would you opt for?
Discipline. That's really the one thing I'd like myself to be better at - significantly better.
Make no mistake, there's lots of areas I could wish myself to be better, or different in. But then I wouldn't be me any more. I wouldn't have had the life I lived so far. Hey, maybe it would be better. But I wouldn't know. It would be another guy sitting here, reasoning about things now. Not me. I am the sum of all my traits, all my experiences, good or bad. And I don't wanna miss a thing.
Except, discipline. Discipline makes everything easier. Everything. No matter what you dedicate yourself to. I know, being more disciplined would, of course, also have shaped me and my life in a different way. But that's such a great gain, that I'd take the risk. Just this one risk. The red pill of self shaping.