Category Archives: Blizzard

WoWCraft and Layering and other WoW Classic Tidbits

Carbot Animations, which has made a business out of doing cute parodies of various Blizzard games, including having plush versions of their characters in the Blizzard Store and that re-skin of StarCraft from earlier this year, has returned to the WoWCraft series, which launched back in 2014, to celebrate the launch of WoW Classic.

 

I suppose we shall see if the foibles of classic become fodder for the series.

As previously announced, Blizzard launched some more servers and allowed free character transfers in an attempt to alleviate the queuing issues that were still plaguing some servers.  That brings the total server count up to 77, 39 in the EU and 38 in the US and Oceania.

Blizzard had previously also doubled the amount of characters allowed on a given server, letting their layering tech soak up the extra load.  However, this was not only against their plan to get every server down to a single layer as time went on (see the Reddit AMA), but has led to concerns that people are exploiting layering in order to harvest resources from the same node in different layers.  Tales of harvest riches have been making their way around the net, with Icy Veins tweeting a screen shot of a player alleged to have 3,000 arcane crystals, declaring that layering was destroying WoW Classic.

Arcane Crystal Panic!  At least they said “alleged”

They have since deleted that tweet and calmed down a bit, though you can still find the screen shot in their forums as part of a thread discussing this issue. (Discord nicely had a version of the tweet for me.)

They have drawn back a bit because Blizzard says the screen shot, and others like it, are fakes.  In a forum post Blizzard says they are monitoring the issue and have some options should this turn out to be a serious problem.  No realm has layers into double digits and Blizz says that most realms have layers in the low single digits, but they may still put a delay into moving between layers.  To address any lingering aspect of this Blizz has a patch that will increase the amount of time you need between layer swaps, which increases the more you do it.

Over at Polygon there is a piece up about WoW Classic which concludes that no matter how popular this nostalgia ride remains, the focus it has brought back on to WoW as a whole has been a pretty big deal.  Certainly a lot of people were at least watching WoW Classic being streamed.

For those wishing to run dungeons, Belghast has a post up about the realities of dungeon groups that is worth a read.

And, having opened with a video I will close with one as well about the lurking menace that is WoW Classic.

 

WoW Classic gets a DDoS Attack

All I wanted to do was play a little WoW Classic while I ate my lunch on a Saturday afternoon.  But this was what I got.

Should I try again?

A group calling themselves UKDrillas on Twitter decided to go after WoW Classic today.  They had started against against Wikipedia yesterday, but moved on to WoW Classic, seemingly to go after streamers on the US PvP servers.

Asmongold always seems to be on that list

As of my writing this I seem able to get into the game on Bloodsail Buccaneers, however I end up getting dropped fairly frequently, no doubt a side effect of the attack on the PvP servers.  Overwatch, which shares the same data center, is also down.

There hasn’t been much word about this outside of the Classic WoW subreddit.  No doubt Blizzard is working on the issue, while the WoW news sites seems a bit behind the curve. (They have a post but they aren’t saying much.)  But for a bit we were able to see WoW Classic servers showing up with low population counts.

A rare site these days

Not that things were getting better as time went along.

Now the servers are gone!

As for the attackers, they are free to disrupt things for now.  Groups like this have popped up before.  I remember LulzSec hitting EVE Online and other sites back in the day.  I also recall a bunch of them ending up arrested eventually.  It happens.  We’ll see how this plays out.

Follow on reports:

WoW Classic Free Transfers Coming for Specific Realms

In an attempt to alleviate the still problematic server queue issue with some realms, Blizzard announced in the forums that they will be allowing free server transfer from specific WoW Classic realms.

Classic is as classic does

The transfers will not only be FROM specific realms, but will players will also be limited in which realms they will be allowed to transfer TO.  This will include some fresh realms being spun up for just this purpose.  The single destination nature of the transfers (except for that French realm) should also keep guild mates from getting lost on the way somewhere.

For US servers the list is:

  • Arugal → Felstriker
  • Faerlina → Heartseeker (new realm)
  • Stalagg → Heartseeker (new realm)
  • Herod → Earthfury (new realm)
  • Skeram → Earthfury (new realm)
  • Incendius → Netherwind
  • Thalnos → Netherwind
  • Fairbanks → Arcanite Reaper (new realm)
  • Whitemane → Arcanite Reaper (new realm)
  • Bigglesworth → Anathema
  • Pagle → Windseeker
  • Grobbulus → Deviate Delight

For EU servers the list is:

English language realms

  • Shazzrah → Dragonfang (new realm)
  • Golemagg → Dragonfang (new realm)
  • Firemaw → Earthshaker (new realm)
  • Gehennas → Earthshaker (new realm)
  • Mograine → Judgement
  • Razorgore → Bloodfang

French language realms

  • Sulfuron → Amnennar
  • Sulfuron → Finkle

German language realms

  • Lucifron → Transcendence

The exact timing of the transfers has not been announced as yet.  Blizzard has said that the new realms on the list will not be open to new character creation for the first day to help ensure that those who are transferring will be able to retain their character names.  If you’re not transferring to a new realm, then you might be stuck in that regard.

Blizzard further reminds people that in order to transfer your character cannot:

  • Be a guild leader
  • Have listings or bids active in the auction house
  • Have any mail

Finally, Blizzard is prepping people for some delay when it comes to the transfers, which may take several hours to complete.  Also, if the destination realm fills up quickly, the transfer option may be turned off without prior notice.

Being too popular is a problem, but it is a better problem to have than not being popular enough.

A Week into WoW Classic and Nascent Group Work

It seems like it has been more than a week since WoW Classic has been live, but here we are just past the seven day mark since opening night.

Classic is as classic does

Crazy queues welcomed people the launch, and even Blizz had to know they were in for a rough time when the name reservation land rush kicked off and servers filled up.  They started with just 25 servers, 13 US/Oceanic and 12 EU, but started slowly adding servers to the list.  And then the launch hit and I saw an estimate that at one point there were more than 200K people queued up to get into the game.

Blizzard added more servers, and then more servers, and then even more, to the point is was getting tough keeping up, until we reached the current count of 71 servers, 34 US/Oceanic and 37 EU.

And even that wasn’t enough.

Blizzard made a change before the weekend that doubled the number of players that could be on a realm, basically punting on their careful plan, detailed in the Reddit AMA, to keep populations down to a point where the layering tech would stop being needed and we would all be in a single layer.  That cleared things up on our server, but still there were queues over the weekend, some close to 10K deep for some servers.

Sorting by population…

Probably for the best.  I am sure some purist will be spitting mad about layering and server populations being beyond a certain size, like they could know 10K people personally, but 20K is just too much, but I imagine that for most people it will mostly go unnoticed… save for the reduced queues.

In the game a gnome named Jokerd made to level 60 in three days and seven hours, the first player to do so.  That was well past my 48 hour estimate.  I assume people will race faster than they actually can I guess.  And along with that Ragnaros and Onxyia have both been slain.  Serious progression raiders are going to raid early and often.

At the other end of the spectrum, the nostalgia tourists like our little guild have been pottering along at a much more leisurely pace.  I have at least kept myself to three characters, not letting my usual bout of alt-ism take control.  Not that I haven’t thought about it.

Right now my three are a dwarf hunter, a human paladin, and a night elf druid, allowing me to run through each of the three alliance new player areas.  Each are in the low teens, all past 12, which is probably a brisk pace compared to the way I went back in the day.

But that is the ongoing theme of these sorts of servers.  Unless you’re completely new to them, unless you have no history, you are going to come into them a lot more informed than you were the first time around.  Even a on a winding path where you dawdle over every point of interest, the pace will likely be quicker than when you were lost and trying to figure out what was going on.

Ula and Skronk have been on quite a bit as well, getting important tasks accomplished.

White kitten acquired!

They have also been doing some of the alt thing.  When we formed the guild we had 16 names in it across the three of us.  Earl, who is about to move half way around the world, got on with us over the weekend and started his character, but Bung and his son were away over the holiday weekend.  So we haven’t quite got things together for an attempt at Deadmines or Ragefire Chasm yet.

Still we found some time to group up and at least get used to working together again.  Wilhelm got through Elwyn Forest, killed Hogger, and had the quest that opens up Westfall, at which point I took the tram to Ironforge and ran out to Loch Modan to join up with Skronk and Ula.

Spider Ichor was on the shopping list…

There we teamed up in some zones that got us working together.  First up was the quests with the troggs that you get from the first tower in Loch Modan.  It is a deceptively simple pair of tasks, kill some specific troggs and collect some of their teeth, because we’re going out in the world now so we’re going all Deer Hunter and taking trophies and the like.

The thing with the troggs, and zone design in early WoW, is that placement and spawning can be… deceptive.  You trot into the valley where the troggs live and a bunch of other people are slaying them so you run further in and maybe find one hanging about and the the wave of respawns start sweeping over the zone and suddenly you find yourself cut off from the zone exit with a few more troggs on you than you might have expected.  If you’re solo, it might be time to run for the exit, but we were there in a trio of priest, mage, and paladin, so we stood our ground and practiced actually working as a group.

And it worked.  Wil was swinging a 2h club rather than wearing a shield, and had yet to get a taunt skill, which made things awkward at times, but we persisted through as we watched other people flee past as they found themselves neck deep in troggs.

The trogg valley wasn’t too bad.  It is wide open for the most part, so you can find a spot to sit and have a drink to restore mana before getting stuck in again.  While we had a couple of close calls when we waded in too deep, we got through it and finished off both quests.

We declined the next round of troggs, opting instead for the quest from Thelsamar to collect ears from kobold tunnelers.  We were very much in the heart of darkness then.  It was a busy night out and the kobold camps in the open were all heavily trafficked, so we decided to set up shop in Silver Stream Mine.

In the mine

There we settled down into a side room to pick off spawns as they popped.

As Bhagpuss points out, there isn’t really a tradition of spawn camping in WoW the way there was in EverQuest.  The quest driven nature of WoW never led to the development of a set of social norms and rules of etiquette because people tend to just get their quest ticket punched and move on and because there isn’t the sort of discreet and obvious camp sites the way there were back in West Karana or The Commonlands back in the day.

Still, it did irk me a bit when we setup in a side room as a group only to have people run in and grab a spawn as it popped.  But there was plenty to go around and you just roll with it and throw them a buff because expecting them to know the social niceties from another world is asking way, way too much.  And it wasn’t happening too much.  We were also sitting in a room where some mining gear boxes would spawn, so most of the time people wandering through had a reason beyond spawn competition to be there, and it a kobold is sitting next to the boxes you want, of course you take it down.

When we were left to our own, it did end up being another round of good training as a group.  As with the valley of the trogg, the respawns seemed to come in waves not necessarily related to how quickly or slowly you took down the previous one.  We would get two spawning on top of us, then once we were engaged, two more would spawn and it would become a mad rush to take them down to limit their damage.  Ula got in some crowd control practice, sheeping a kobold when we were falling behind, while Skronk got to work on mana management for heals.

It all worked pretty well and we were just a couple ears shy of being done when we got hit by the big spawn.

It had been quiet for a couple minutes so I was out in the hallway, where I pulled a pair of kobolds.  As I was bringing them back Ula called out that two more had spawned, so we had four to deal with.  But we had done that a few times, no big deal.

Then two more spawned and were on us so it became a race to start knocking them down.  And then two more spawned and the wheels came off the wagon.  We did okay to start with, dispatching the first couple, though one managed to run off and I am pretty sure he brought back another friend.  But mana and potions and hit points were all being worn down.

Ula was the first to fall, then Skronk, both out of mana.  I was down to the last three and, while my hit points were dwindling, I managed to slay two of them.  But they had both been worn down.  The last one though, he had a full health bar while I was getting down to a sliver of health and was out of mana.  I went down swinging, but down I went.  Our first group wipe in WoW Classic.

When we got back and resurrected we had a field of corpses around us to loot with more than enough kobold ears to finish off the quest.

So that was our weekend workout in anticipation of doing dungeons at some point.  We just have to get the rest of the group together so we can try it for real.

Top Five MMORPG Stories I am still Waiting for in 2019

We are here in the final third of 2019, just four months left to go in the year and it has been a blur so far.  Everything has gone by too fast… except for those last two weeks before WoW Classic, which seemed painfully slow.

But there are still some new stories I am waiting for to pop up, things I feel certain we’ll hear about between now and the end of the year.

So I put together a list of five such news stories that I will be watching for between now and New Years Eve, and I’ll be disappointed if I don’t get them all.  These are, of course, steered by my own interests.  Your mileage may vary.

1 – Blizzard – WoW Classic Plans

Less than a week ago Blizzard let WoW Classic out into the wild and suddenly the retro sound track of life started playing Oops!… I Did It Again as the WoW team once again unleashed an uncontrollable juggernaut into the MMO scene.  2004 all over again, and Blizz will be some time getting it under control.

But with that much positive feedback on WoW Classic, including the stock price getting a bump, they cannot possibly leave things as they are.  They have to announce a plan for future retro operations.  They have hinted at various things, but the board of directors will want the ongoing stock boost that will come with an announced path forward.  It can be more fresh WoW Classic servers in a year.  It can be plans for The Burning Crusade.  It can be a tech breakthrough to eliminate queues.  But they have to announce something.  If there isn’t a whole session about this at BlizzCon 2019 I will be disappointed.

2 – Daybreak – The Breakup

Part of my New Year’s Predictions for 2019, we have been getting hints about Daybreak becoming multiple studios with Darkpaw Games and Twitter accounts for a while now.  Somebody has to be buying some or all of the place.  At some point… probably on a Friday afternoon after 3pm Pacific Time if I know Daybreak… they are going to have to spill some news on this and give us something in a press release.  Waiting for that Friday afternoon.  My vested interest here is to end up with a company that is focused on the EverQuest property that won’t be distracted by, or need to bear the burden of, fruitless attempts to make battle royale a thing again at Daybreak.

My current tinfoil hat theory is that CCP moving EVE Vegas to San Diego for 2020 along with the EverQuest team putting out a questionnaire about a possible player event in 2020 adds up to Pearl Abyss buying some, if not all, of Daybreak.  Maybe they want PlanetSide Arena as well, or maybe the don’t.  We’ll see.  The odd part about this crackpot theory of mine… other people have written more about it than I have.

3 – CCP – New Player Experience

CCP has been fretting about new player retention… again.  Despite the fact that their numbers seem to land pretty solidly within the industry norms, they want to do better.  An admirable goal, for sure, and they have declared that they are pulling resources from other projects to work on this.

The problem is… well… have you played EVE Online?  Nothing short of a complete revamp of the UI is going to make it more comprehensible.  And it is still an 16 year old MMO, a market position where a 2% new user retention rate is considered viable.  So I am waiting patiently for CCP to announce their plan to tackle this issue mostly so I can either be amazed or point and laugh.  I expect to do the latter.

4 – CCP – The Golden Parachute Escape

It was a little less than a year ago that the Pearl Abyss acquisition of CCP closed.  That included a series of performance goal to meet in order for CCP and its investors to get the full $425 million.  I expect that once the first anniversary of the acquisition hits in October we will see a quick exit by some of the vested CCP honchos, with Hilmar leading the pack.  I would buy into his statements about how he loves to interact with EVE Online players a lot more if he didn’t already have a foot out the door on his way to a new venture.

So the news I am waiting for concerns the disingenuous rats deserting the ship.  After that maybe somebody will have a better plan than chaos and pitting various player groups against each other in order to improve EVE Online.

5 – Blizzard – New Games

I had a bunch of possible items for fifth spot, all of them Blizzard related.  For example, what ever became of Diablo Immortal?  NetEase says it is done.

If nothing else, I have the core of a BlizzCon projection post already set.

But on that list, the easy first item was to hear about new games that Blizz has been hinting about.  And not an old new game.  Not Diablo IV.  But a new new game.  Blizz has found success in the past making new versions of the games the main developers have enjoyed.  This has been somewhat diluted by the growth of the company.  It is no longer a bunch of people who enjoyed raiding in EQ so they decided to make WoW, but I still want to see what they have going.

WoW Classic with The Creators and some Lore

Blizzard, in the warm up to WoW Classic… which is launching tomorrow afternoon… put together a of video featuring some of the original WoW team talking about their experiences in creating WoW and what they worked on.  Then they bring them all into a room to start playing WoW Classic together to get their reactions, which gets some moving responses from the them.

That is a fun and encouraging watch.

Blizzard followed this up with a second episode focusing on one of the team, Aaron Keller, one of the original 3D artists, and what he worked on during early development.

That there was an episode 2 implies that there might be more coming.  We shall see.

Meanwhile, Fandom Entertainment, the group that does Honest Game Trailers, did a video to summarize the lore on which the original World of Warcraft was built.

That always gets a little… or more than a little… mixed up in my head.  And all the more so since the lore has moved on and there has been time travel and all of that.

Anyway, that is something to watch while we wait for Monday afternoon to finally arrive.

Auto Chess and Dota Underlords

Somebody tell SynCaine I actually tried a new game.  And not just a “new to me” game, but something actually new on the market as well as being new-ish as a genre.

In one of those “plate of shrimp” passages of time, last week the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2 and the games that have spun off from it started popping up repeatedly for me.  Various news stories, mentions on Twitter, an Honest Game Trailers video, and Valve pushing their game at me on Steam all combined so that when my daughter came over to ask if I had heard about this new game she and her friends had been playing, Dota Underlords, the Valve spin on the concept, I could tell her that I had just run through the tutorial.

I don’t understand what the hell is going on half the time in the game, but I’ve been trying to figure it out.

As I noted above, all of this seemed to have spawned from the DOTA 2 mod DOTA Auto Chess.  I didn’t even know you could make mods for DOTA 2, but I guess you can for most Valve games, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

The name “Auto Chess” breaks down, so far as I can tell, as:

  • Chess – because the game takes place on a 8×8 board, like a chess board
  • Auto – because you have no control over the actual battles

My live experience of the genre is made up of a few hours playing Dota Underlords, so your mileage may vary, but this is what I have seen so far.

The basics of the game seem fairly straightforward.  I came out of the tutorial knowing the basics, even if I did stumble a bit.  The game goes in rounds, at the end of each you gain some coins.  You use the coins to buy new units to use in battle or to increase the number of characters you can commit to a battle.

Going into round 1, use your coin to buy one

You start round 1 with a single coin with which to buy a unit.  You get a few warm-up rounds against NPCs during which you earn some coins to expand your group as well as collecting a few special items to improve their performance.

The units have levels, so to speak.  They start at level one.  If you can buy 3 of the same unit, they combine into level two, which makes the stronger.  You can also get to level three by combining three level two unit, but that takes some luck.

In fact, luck seems very much in play, akin to some card games like Gin Rummy.  You decided you’re going to concentrate on a particular unit, only to never see another one while multiples of another unit appear in the buy options with every round.  So you switch, only to have the next round go the way you were originally headed.

After the NPC rounds, the battle begins in earnest.  You are grouped up with seven other players and each round has you battling one of them.  You all start with 100 points, and with each loss you lose some points based on how badly you lost.  There are further NPC rounds at intervals, but the game itself is to be the last one left with points.

Sometimes victory, mostly not

This is where I begin to fall down.  In addition to luck there is also… well… more luck… and some knowledge that I do not yet posses.

Each of the units also has a type, and having more of the same type can improve how they play fare in battle.  Again, you have to invest in the right units.

And then there is unit abilities.  Some counter other types or work well when mixed with certain units.  However the tutorial is pretty vague on that and, while you can get some basic information about units, the rounds run on timers so you’re always pressed to pick and move on or wait for the next round.

My battles over the weekend indicate that I am not alone in lacking unit knowledge.  I am never the first one knocked out and, as time wore on I was able to get into the final three survivors.

On the flip side though, there are clearly people who have figured out which units work better together and what to concentrate on.  In several matches there was that one guy who went undefeated, winning with their 100 points still intact.  They clearly have played enough to have figured out the meta, while I am still struggling just to upgrade a few units and hope for some cross-unit bonuses.

The problem for me is figuring out what went wrong in a given match.  Sometimes if it easy to figure out, like if I just have unlocked more units on the field or if I have clear superiority in level two units or some such.  But sometimes the other person wipes the floor with me despite my having more units on the field or having parity or superiority in units that have been leveled up.

So this week I need to find a wiki or a unit guide of some sort to help me find tune which units I am buying and upgrading and which I am leaving behind.  Also, I am not certain how various formations lend themselves to units.  You can place them however on your half of the board, but whether being in columns, line abreast, spaced out, or bunched together makes much of a difference I cannot yet tell.

Overall the game seems interesting, though the randomness and hands off battle method makes it feel a bit like Hearthstone to me.

Meanwhile, if the genre appeals to you, there are other options.  In addition to the DOTA 2 mod, there are two other major contenders for the Auto Chess (or Auto Battler as the genre may be called) stand-alone rip-off throne.

Riot Games has added a mode called Teamfight Tactics to League of Legends, which is their own take on the Auto Battler idea.  Unlike Dota Underlords, this is not a stand alone game, so you have to log into the League of Legends client. (Expect LoL MAUs to go up I guess.)  My daughter’s boyfriend likes Teamfight Tactics because he used to play a lot of LoL and it uses the same units as LoL so game knowlegde transfers.

The unit thing may also apply to Dota Underlords, but nobody I know played DOTA 2, so really have no idea on that front.

Then there is the upcoming Autochess Origins, a stand alone game from the team that developed the mod for DOTA 2, which is rolled into a fresh IP, so there is most certainly no pre-knowledge of units giving people any advantage.  From what I understand, Autochess Origins will be available from the Epic Store.

Dota Underlords is still in Early Access on Steam, which means whatever it means these days.  It is also available as a mobile, which reinforces the Hearthstone comparison for me as well.  As of now there is no cash shop or monetization scheme in place for it, though there are plans for a battle pass of some sort and I am sure other things to spend your money on are in the works.

And speaking of Hearthstone, how soon before we see a Blizzard version of this, either as a battle mode for Heroes of the Storm or a spin off with a name like Heroes of the Board or OverChess or some such?  It feels like Blizz ought to have all the pieces in place so that they shouldn’t need two years to get something out the door.

Then again, this is Blizzard.  BlizzCon 2019 announcement or no?

Anyway, for those interested, Kotaku has a piece up about the emerging genre, and then there is the Honest Games Trailers take on it as well.

Are wee seeing a new genre emerge here, or just a passing flavor of the month?