Friday, September 27, 2013

Biddy-Biddy-Biddy... What's up, Buck?

Whatever gives someone the idea that botting is a good thing?

That question began turning over in my head the other day when I was in an Isle of Conquest battle.  As usual, I darted over and grabbed the Quarry, hanging around until the Alliance captured it and made serious inroads on blasting into the Horde keep.*  I then noticed that the Alliance grabbed the Docks, Hangar, and Workshop in short order.

"WTH is the Horde doing?" I asked in BG chat.  "Are they turtling?"

"No," replied a druid.  "They're all bots fighting in mid outside their gate."

"We've got a ton of them on our side too," a pally added.

I crept up to the Hangar and perched on a ledge to watch.  Sure enough, toons were emerging from the Horde Keep in a steady stream into a huge melee about halfway between the front gate and the Workshop. Nobody was even close to the Workshop or even bothering to go around to the Workshop or Hangar.

Okay, I'd been known to fixate on a fight in a BG before, but when the gates were breached into the Horde Keep, I ran in and found.....  Horde players rezzing and making a beeline for the front gate's portal.

Nobody bothered to try and defend the keep.

It was quite surreal, seeing a Lock and a Priest --both with over 440k health (I checked)-- run right by me and straight for the brawl outside.  Typically everybody on the other side gangs up on the Rogue if he's visible, so I was shocked when I wasn't stunned and feared all over the courtyard.

But why set yourself up as a bot?  Why run the risk of having your account suspended** for a few Honor Points?

Near as I can figure, there's three reasons why.  Feel free to add your own or dispute as you see fit:

  • Keeping up with the Joneses.  There are players that, due to time crunch or whatnot, feel that they can't spend enough time grinding for gear as they should, so they decide to run a bot program to get the points needed to buy the gear.  The problem with that is the more bots there are on a team, the lesser chance you have of actually winning the BG.  If you've got a full Honor set already --and it's only a week or so's worth of running AV to get the points for a full set-- why bother botting when you need to actually win the BG (or Arena or Rated) to get the Conquest points?
  • Beating the System.  Similar to the first reason, but instead of attempting to gear up due to lack of time, botting is done not only for gear but to give the MMO's devs the middle finger.  The "I'm so clever that I found a way to beat your shitty grinding game and get the points I deserve!" attitude isn't too far off the big ego driven attitude found in BGs, so I can easily believe this motivation.
  • Boosting a Hacked Account.  Someone comes along and hacks into an MMO account, but the toons aren't completely up to spec to be useful for the hacker.  Therefore, they set up a bot to get them the necessary points/gear/mats/whatever.  This is the one that bothers me the most, because when I see such blatant examples of botting, all I can think of is that's some poor person's hacked account.

There are days when it sure seems tempting to login, set up a bot, and then go take care of errands for the day.  Or maybe set up a bot to run overnight along with any backups/AV scans that have to be done on the computer.  The "no effort and big return" carrot and stick is very powerful, and with botting software steadily becoming more sophisticated there's plenty of pressure on MMO admins to flush out bots and keep the peace.

Plus it'd be nice to not have about half of your team run straight to the mid in EoS and park there for the entire game.


In case you've not tried it or haven't purchased it yet, another Free Weekend in Guild Wars 2 started today.

And to answer your question, yes, I've already logged in.  My Thief is still there, and still getting killed off when he attacks enemies two levels higher than himself.  I've gotten too many bad habits on easier MMOs these days....

*So few people even think of capturing the Quarry --or the Mines in AV-- that I've kind of taken that on as part of my job.  It's a small thing, really, but can be vitally important in a fight that devolves into a war of attrition.  I find that the team that does the small things well will typically end up winning in the end.

**It used to be that way, anyway.  I'm not so sure now if you can be suspended for botting, because it seems so prevalent.

Friday, September 20, 2013

They Keep Dragging Me Back In, Part Whatever

In between running BGs on WoW, poking around Makeb (finally!) on SWTOR, and some occasional forays into other MMOs, I felt a strange tug.

Perhaps it was me passing by a bunch of In Nomine RPG books when I was at one of our local game stores.  Perhaps it was watching the Doctor Who episode The Angels Take Manhattan with the kids. Perhaps it was me watching Illidan's "You are not prepared!" sequence on the BC trailer.  But whatever the reason why, I had a sudden hankering to see this again:

Nothing like a pair of wings to attract attention

Yeah, I know.  You'd think that after I said Aion wasn't for me that would have been the end of it, but like White Castle hamburgers, I got a sudden craving to login to the game again.

Instead of using my Elyos "light side" character, I created a "dark side" Asmodian just to see what that looked like.  To say that they appeared akin to darker reflections of Elyos is pretty accurate, plus they have a furry, almost tail-like growth on their backs.  "Oh great, they're "Furry Angels", I muttered and left it at that.

The Asian MMO nature of Aion means that you get creatures with names like "Sparkie" out there, but that isn't different than the Elyos side out there.  The major difference between factions is illustrated from the beginning questlines:  on the Elyos side you're defending communities from raiders, while on the Asmodian side you are the raiders.

Gold spammers were in full force in the chat areas, which once again rendered them practically useless.  This makes me wonder whether NCSoft actually encourages gold spammers, given how effective ArenaNet, Bioware, and even Blizzard have been at gold spam reduction.

I will freely admit that the best part of the game is the graphics, but still the immersion is ruined by the Nintendo factor:  the goofy enemy names, the tendency of some players to use mushroom heads instead of realistic looking designs, and the obvious JRPG nature of the female toons' graphics.

Part of the Aion v4.0 "Dark Betrayal" promotion pics.
A long time ago, I once had an apartment neighbor who wore leather outfits
like the woman on the right.  She was not one to be trifled with.
In the illustration above, the woman on the left makes me vaguely uncomfortable.  I don't know how such images are perceived in Asia, but over here she leaves the impression of a 12-13 year old dressed up in a sexualized outfit.  This creeped me out, given that I have kids in that age range.  I simply don't see the need to go there.  As much as some people complain about the Dragon Aspects' bikini looks, at least they dress like adults.  (And the Aspects give you the sort of look that says "if you piss us off, you're breakfast."  You don't get that in Aion.)

Aion is popular enough, given the number of toons online, but I wish it would take itself more seriously.

Oh, and I wish it would make the mouse selections the same as on (almost) all other MMOs.  Why decide to do things differently when all you did was kinda-sorta reverse some of the mouse functions?

I suppose I should be happy that Aion hasn't enraptured me, because the last thing I need is another MMO to split my time.  But man, Aion just feels so close to something I'd like, it's a shame that it doesn't.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Miss in the Pattern

I find it interesting that we're on the last raid patch of Mists of Pandaria but we still don't know about the next expac.  Consider the following:

  • Wrath was announced in August 2007, before the Sunwell and Zul'Aman raids dropped.
  • Cataclysm was announced in August 2009, before the Icecrown raid dropped.
  • Mists was announced in October 2011, before the Deathwing raid dropped.
  • And now we have the Siege of Orgrimmar dropping, but no expac announcement as of this date.*

I presume that Blizz is waiting for BlizzCon to make the announcement on the next expac, but given that Blizzard likes to follow patterns, this isn't a good sign.

Unless, of course, the Siege of Orgrimmar isn't the last patch in the Mists saga.

If 5.4 is the last Mists patch, then Blizzard might be setting themselves up for a big problem:  a huge length of time where nothing is going on in-game.  Last time, Blizzard softened the blow to subscriptions by creating the annual pass, which included access to Diablo III.  What will Blizzard do this time?

  1. Move up any release date to Q1 or Q2 of 2014.  This is the most likely solution, given that any expac Blizz is working on has been done in secret.  However, after the long lead in to Mists, including the massive beta, any push to release so early will be seen by some pundits as a sign of desperation on Blizzard's part.
  2. Introduce a bridge raid (or two).  This is IMHO the second most likely solution.  The only thing that keeps this from being the most likely solution is the lukewarm reception the last bridge raid (Ruby Sanctum) received.  Blizzard would need to devote a lot of time to these raids, which would impact any release of the next expac.
  3. Take WoW F2P.  An intriguing possibility, but one that I have to question in its soundness.  Blizzard makes a lot of money on WoW subscriptions, and taking WoW F2P would mean that they'd have to either eat that money or make up for it in other ways.  They'd have to severely restrict access to endgame content if they wanted to keep subs up, because WoW's model is based upon "the game starting at max level".  That would be at best a temporary fix, but an intriguing one nonetheless.
  4. Announce Titan.  This is possible, but given the "back to the drawing board" announcement in August, I suspect this is the least likely of all options.

Anyway, this is pure speculation until the announcement comes at BlizzCon.

*Ha!  "By the powers of Murphy, I summon the expac announcement!"

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Don't Overthink This, Okay?

When you play an MMO, you have to just accept certain things.

Like when you kill an enemy and gear drops, it'll actually fit your toon.

Or that a kite will carry you great distances.*

Or that you can have almost nothing on and still be able to climb that frozen mountain peak.**

Yeah, I know, if you're playing a Fantasy MMO (or SF MMO, in the case of The Old Republic) it can be kind of silly drawing the line at whether armor fits your character when there are dragons in the sky. But still, I think it's a matter of risk/reward more than immersion.  If you were playing a Dwarf, for example, and you had to wait for Dwarf sized armor to drop, that could really suck if the drop rates were based upon the percentage of people playing a Dwarf.  It was bad enough waiting for gear you could use to drop, but having to add the extra problem of having it fit you?

Back in the day, the old Moldvay D&D Basic Set had a rule of thumb that any armor found was human-sized unless it said otherwise.  The reason was because there were level limitations on races other than Humans because those races had additional abilities that Humans didn't have.  (This was back when you could select "Elf" or "Dwarf" as your class, before AD&D introduced multiclassing.) 

Maybe I'm showing my age, but this was my first RPG.
Courtesy of a Christmas present.

If your DM were running a homebrewed campaign --which, back then, formulated the majority of such campaigns-- they would often generate treasure and whatnot randomly, but still they'd be careful to make sure you'd find gear your player character could actually use.  Even so, the published campaigns had gear and weapons that the enemies themselves would be wielding.  Unlike, say, Bronjahm when he drops Robes of the Cheating Heart in The Forge of Souls; you won't see him wearing those robes.***

But a DM can be picky, while an MMO has to handle a wide range of races and classes.  

Remember the "good old days" of Vanilla WoW, where you'd go on a 40-man raid of Molten Core as the Horde and you'd get Pally gear as the drop? MMOs have gotten better at the sort of gear that drops, tailoring it toward keeping the player going forward rather than wasting weeks at a time.

So, some of the immersion in the game suffers, but it is balanced out by enabling players to improve themselves in a matter of weeks rather than months.  And in an age when I can no longer devote a lot of time to playing video games, I'm grateful for that.

And could you imagine a female Night Elf trying to fit into armor made for a Gnome?

On second thought, forget I said that.

*Just the other day, I was taking a flight point to the Alliance's PvP vendors when my son stopped by to watch what I was up to.  "A kite?" he asked.  "How are you able to fly on a kite?"
"Just accept it," I said.  "Makes no sense, but just accept it.  If it is big enough, it could turn into a glider, but that kite is far too small to be a glider."

**Courtesy of Age of Conan's social clothing.

***Unless Bronjahm does a turn as the Preacher in Blues Brothers Goes WoW.  Yes, the Sex Machine himself was the inspiration for Bronjahm.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Waiting for Godot WoW-Cthulhu

To say that I'm disappointed the Big Bad at the end of another WoW expac is related to the Old Gods is probably an understatement.

Sure, it's Emo Guy Garrosh Hellscream, but come on.  It is yet another Old God-related ending to a game that simply can't move beyond the Old Gods as a plot device.  About the only expac that didn't have a heavy dose of Old God material in some form was Burning Crusade, and I've often suspected that if Kil'Jaeden wasn't around to provide a convenient villain in the Sunwell, we'd have seen yet another Old God pulling Kael's strings.

By my count, Mists' Y'Shaarj-influenced Siege of Orgrimmar will make three of the five releases (including Vanilla) that was overshadowed with an Old God-esque ending:  Vanilla, Cataclysm, and Mists.  You could also make an argument that the Lich King, while tracing a lineage back to the Burning Legion, is also heavily influenced by Yogg-Saron*; after all, what exactly does Arthas use as a metal for his devices and buildings but Saronite, the blood of Yogg-Saron itself.  And don't forget the Old God influenced quest chain in Icecrown where the ghostly child teaches you about Arthas and his heart; there's a reason why we found Arthas' heart in that strange area in the first place.

What makes the Y'Shaarj  tie-in so disappointing to me was that the entire concept of the Sha was so new and interesting that it seems a shame that Blizzard couldn't let it stand on it's own.  Just like how the Mogu had to have the help of the Zandalari Trolls, the underlying cause of the Sha just had to be the Old Gods.

I suppose you could say that Blizzard has an addiction to conspiracies.  The popular uprising in Westfall characterized by the Defias simply couldn't stand on it's own, it had to tie in to the Twilight's Hammer somehow.  The overeager and blind self righteousness of the Scarlet Crusade couldn't stand on its own as Garithos' racism and arrogance did in Warcraft III, it had to be tied back into the Dreadlords and the Legion.

Maybe that works for a while in a fantasy world, but the problem is that in the real world a lot of stuff just happens.  There is no dark conspiracy behind a lot of criminal activity; a lot of it is a crime of opportunity (or passion).  If there is a plot involved, it is very localized (one spouse hiring a hitman to take out the other spouse, for example).  Sure, there's organized crime, but you can't blame everything on the mob.  If there's a drug turf war, it tends to unfold organically, not manipulated by some master puppeteer in the shadows.

Fantasy lends itself well to that evil overlord, the shadows in the dark controlling our lives.  But when you dip into that same well too often, it starts to feel forced and loses its punch.  The most unique thing about Mists was the Sha, but it turned out to be just more Old God trickery, lessening the impact that it could have had. When all questlines lead to the same ending, all that's left for variety is the kill ten rats.


Perhaps that is why I've seen a lot of griping lately that WoW's high point was Wrath.  Wrath had one raid that was the culmination of a long questline that had absolutely nothing to do with the "Let's Get Arthas!" movement:  Ulduar.  Was it Old God related?  Yes.  Was it a big, tough raid?  Yes.  Did it advance the Arthas story?  No.  Not one bit.

Ulduar was part of a giant three pronged fork in the entire Northrend questline --Arthas and Malygos being the other two-- and it demonstrated that a story didn't have to be part of the main part of the expac to be meaningful.  Blizzard has gotten away from that with Cataclysm and Mists, and to add insult to injury they end up reusing the same old same Old (Gods) as a crutch.

I guess that we're going to be treated to yet another dose of Old Gods fairly soon, assuming that The Dark Below turns out to be the name of the next WoW expac.  After all, what tends to inhabit the dark places of the world but Twilight Hammer and their ilk?

*Certainly in hindsight people still talk about Ulduar as the high point of WoW raiding, and I have to admit I liked Storm Peaks much more than Icecrown.