Friday, December 28, 2007

Monster AI and Points of Interest

One thing that was always a standard in fantasy settings has been the fact that abandoned points of interest such as the old wizard's tower or the ancient dwarven city is that they always attract new inhabitants, usually the unsavory kind. Given that my concept of mob placement and spawning involves dynamic, mobile spawn points as well as mobs that can be permanently defeated, this feature ties in well.

So with that we have the concept of Points of Interest. Rather than just being static places with some flavor, Points of Interest are their own living entities. They desire to be occupied by powerful forces, and in order to make that happen, they exert a magnetic Attraction that draws mobs to them. The Master Spawn Objects that control the mobs actions would be the ones checking for Points of Interest that fit their needs, are nearby and are exerting enough Attraction to draw the attention of the Mater Spawn Objects.

The Points of Interest would be flagged as to how strong their Attraction is and what types of creatures would be most attracted to that spot. So an abandoned wizard tower might exert attraction on all mob types, but it would have a especially strong Attraction for magic-using creatures.

Some Points of Interest might always exert Attraction and some might only attract when empty. So maybe a band of orcs has taken over an ancient city, but the city still exerts Attraction, resulting in a large dragon coming along and displacing the orcs who then look for a new home or maybe just rampage through the countryside in anger!

It would probably also be a good idea to have the Attraction factor of a PoI be malleable based upon strength and personality of any inhabitants as well as resources and treasure nearby. So, using our above example, the presence of the dragon might end up causing a negative attraction to its occupied PoI, keeping other mob groups away.

More Dwarf Fortress Graphic Goodness

More people are jumping into the fray of trying to make Dwarf Fortress look pretty. The latest is a Map Visualizer created by Sinoth. You can find the beta download as well as some screenshots in this thread.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Alterac Valley: The More It Changes, the More It Stays the Same

So it's been several weeks since the much lauded patch to fix Alterac Valley, and once again, we're back to the same old, zerg-the-enemy-base-ignore-opposing-players strategy. I blame both the developers for creating a crappy setup that promotes that sort of strategy, and the players who are too scared to actually engage the enemy in what is supposed to be a PvP instance!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Simulating AI in Online Virtual Worlds: Preliminary Notes - Master Objects

Dynamic AI and spawn systems are something that has always intrigued me. UO tried it back when they were in beta testing, but the calculations required brought the servers to their knees and the concept was abandoned.

And no, increasing the spawn rate based on number of players in the vicinity does not count as dynamic in my book.

I've tried on numerous occasions to collate my notes into some sort of actual design-type document, but organization of it has always eluded me. So I decided to instead break things down into smaller components and try and put together some rough outlines.

For this first attempt we have Master Spawn Objects.

Master Spawn Objects are invisible objects that control a group of mobs. These not only tell the server when and where to spawn mobs, but they also help define a sort of group consciousness for the mobs in their group, giving the mobs reason and purpose beyond the basic concept of providing punching bags and loot pinatas for the players. This object is not designed to dictate every movement of the mobs within its area of control, but rather to provide a guiding force and also to maintain historical data that will be used to create a dynamic and flexible spawning system.

Master Objects

  • Provide an over-arching framework with which to control a group of mobs.

  • Serve as a way for mobs within this group to 'talk' to each other

  • Can spawn new mobs

  • Can add additional AI routines to individual mobs within its group

  • Can move the entire group (either as an attack on another settlement or as a means of self-preservation by moving away from areas where they're being 'farmed')

  • Keeps historical data on events that have happened with its group

  • Can alter its behavior based on the historical data

  • Can create and destroy temporary structures that are associated with its group

  • Can keep track of group-owned objects and storage, using that information to alter group actions and desires as well as providing appropriate spawns

There's a starting point off the top of my head. I hope in the future to clean it up and provide further details on what each part means. And, of course, this is only one part in a multi-faceted Dynamic Spawning AI system!

I would love to hear any comments or suggestions!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Azh's WoW Adventures: Karazhan

My guild is pretty casual overall. And relatively small. So while we do a lot of 5-mans and PvP and other various events, we haven't experienced any of the Outlands raid content until we hit Zul'aman a week ago. We went to Zul'aman mainly because it didn't have any prerequisites for entry. We knew that Karazhan was officially the entry-level raid instance, but making sure that everyone did the 12-step quest that involves no less than three 5-man instances to get their key (which for some unknown reason, everyone needs), had been problematic.

However, we were emboldened by the turnout and tenacity displayed in our Zul'aman trip, so we got things together, ran those without keys through the required instances and made plans for a journey into Karazhan.

I've read a little about Karazhan, and I had stepped inside previously just to take a look, but we were basically walking into this adventure blind, which is really a lot more fun. I knew that Attumen was in the stables and that he appeared with his horse, and I also knew that a less-powerful boss-type creature lay in the cellars, but beyond that, it was new for everyone involved.

Unfortunately, there were only eight of us. We had a couple of friends of the guild who expressed interest in joining us, but I really wanted to do an all-guild run for the first time through. So we stuck with what we had. Our group consisted of two arms warriors, one restoration shaman, one holy/discipline priest, one beastmaster hunter, one rogue and two warlocks.

Both of the warriors were functioning as tanks (without a respec). Since pretty much everything we encountered was a ghost or a creature, our crowd control was limited to the priest's Shackle spell and the hunter's Ice Trap.

We decided to head into the stables first. The horses and the stablehands proved to be pretty easy to tackle. Shackle, trap and tank the others. We even had a point where we pulled the patrol along with the static mobs and still emerged victorious. The only tricky part was having the Chargers charge and fear the healers. But that didn't seem to really cause too much trouble.

When we got to Midnight, the plan was for the other warrior to take her and I would grab Attumen when he appeared. We would try and damage them both equally so that when Attumen hopped on Midnight, he would hopefully be almost dead. This didn't work out so well. We just weren't able to damage them quickly enough. Also, I hadn't realized that Attumen had an aura that decreases hit chance, so we were keeping them grouped near each other, which likely decreased our damage output quite a bit.

Lesson One: Keep Attumen away from the rest of the raid.

Wipe, soulstone, ressurect and we're ready to try again. A couple of party members had already run back in the front door and discovered that the spectral horses were respawning. No problem, we simply summoned them over and prepared to engage again. As soon as Midnight entered combat, ALL of the other horses ran over to help. Needless to say, it was a quick death for us all.

Lesson Two: The stables need to be clear before engaging Midnight.

Humbled and more experienced, we ran back and decided to check out the cellars. The creatures here consisted of spiders who would spawn spiderlings and large numbers of bats. These were all defeated easily and we came to what was looking like a dead-end in the back of the cellars. I was wondering where the boss was as I pulled the final group, and almost immediately found myself near death! Luckily, the other warrior was on the ball and grabbed the attention of Rokad the Ravager, who was with this final pull. He looked just like his demon-dog companions so I hadn't even noticed he was there! After recovering from that near fiasco, we easily defeated him and found some bracers for our enchanter to melt.

Having passed a narrow staircase on the way to the back of the cellars, we returned to it and made our way upstairs to the marbles halls filled with ghostly citizens. Took out a couple of the groups in the hallway then turned right into a large open space. The large groups of ghostly citizens weren't too tough, there were just lots of them to control. One of our warlocks seemed to draw a lot of aggro and went down a couple of times.

Then we hit the Skeletal Ushers who wiped us a couple of times. Their immunity to taunt was an unexpected discovery that led to one wipe, and then another as we accidentally pulled a patrol and had three of the Ushers on us at once! But once we figured that out, defeating them was easy enough and we cleared the entire room in front of the opera stage. We then talked to the organ player but nothing seemed to happen. Someone in our group pointed out that there was a passage behind the stage, so in we went right into a large number of ghostly actors. We were approaching the two hour mark at this point and one of our warlocks had to leave. But luckily we had another shaman login so we decided to make another attempt at Attumen.

Since we now knew about that Midnight would call for help if there were any other horses around, we really only had one shot before the respawns would start. We cleared the stables easily and quickly enough and then faced our nemesis. The plan this time was for me to keep Attumen occupied while the other warrior would keep Midnight focused on him and everyone would work on bringing the horse down. This has to be done carefully as both Midnight and Attumen are immune to Taunt. Things went pretty well, though slowly, since we were still short two players. Attumen mounted his horse and the second phase began. The other warrior ended up being the one grabbing aggro and seemed to be doing an excellent job of keeping his attention so I pulled out my two-hander and switched to fury stance. I was still wearing my tanking gear, so my damage was greatly reduced, but it was still a significant improvement. This phase also went slowly, and I was starting to get worried near the end that we would have respawns before we were done. But luckily, that didn't happen, Attumen fell and we searched his corpse to find a piece of paladin plate armor (no paladins with us) and leather gloves that our rogue didn't want! Alas, our enchanter had been the one who had to leave earlier so were left with taking the items to sell for a small pittance of gold. But we did all get two Badges of Justice (one from Attumen and one from Rokad, though somehow our rogue manged to get three total!) and enough Violet Eye reputation to get the first version of the Violet Eye rings.

All in all it was a fun and educational trip. I had no idea how big the place was. For some reason I thought it was a lot smaller but we have obviously only seen the very beginning of this instance. But our success with a short-handed raid was inspiring and gives us hope for further progression.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Orange Box: Initial Impressions

So I picked up the Orange Box before the turkey-based holiday. It was getting nothing but rave reviews and since I hadn't played anything new since the last Civ IV expansion, I needed something different.

Installed on Wednesday night and have played for about 15 hours total.

Portal is neat game. It's definitely nice to see an innovative game that is willing to take a chance on new ideas. And it's basically a very simple concept at heart. You are given the ability to make an entrance portal and an exit portal, and you have to somehow use these portals to solve various puzzles. Portal does an excellent job of easing you into the gameplay by introducing the game concepts as well as suggesting solutions and different ways to use the portals before ramping up into the more difficult situations. Even my girlfriend wants to play it almost every night!

I'm also really enjoying Team Fortress 2! I'm not much of a standard FPS player. Of course I played Quake and such games back in the day, but now I tend to lean towards the slower-paced Day of Defeat instead of the over-the-top, explosion-filled frag fests that most FPS games cater to. But I think they've hooked me this time around.

I was a little dubious at first, and my initial evening of playing didn't completely bowl me over. But I went back to it again the next night and put at least one effort into each of the different classes, testing out their various abilities. And somewhere in there it all clicked! Once I had a basic understanding of each class and what it was capable of, my enjoyment of the game skyrocketed!

Every class has its use. And a team that doesn't have a good selection of all the classes will find itself at a disadvantage.

The cartoon graphics are great, and perfect for this sort of Acme Inc. inspired mayhem. And as I've talked about before, I think these sorts of graphics give the developers more freedom. When you're going for the realistic look, you're very constrained in what you can do.

I haven't played the new Half-life 2 episode at all, but I already feel like I got my money's worth from the two games that I have played!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Azh's WoW Adventures: Zul'aman

With the recent release of patch 2.3 comes the first raid content since Upper Blackrock Spire that doesn't require crazy attunement/key quests.

Since out guild is very casual, we've never been to Karazhan and have only done a handful of heroics. So this was our first chance to try out a raiding instance in the Outlands. I'm speaking of the troll-infested Zul'man of course.

We knew going into it that Zul'aman was supposed to be the next progression after Karazhan, but I wanted to try it anyway, both as a guild bonding experience and simply to see some new content that none of us had seen before. It was an exploratory expedition of sorts.

So we gathered up: eight level 70s and one level 69. Two warriors, one priest, two shamans, one hunter, one rogue and two warlocks. We have a decent amount of epic PvP and arena gear, but given our lack of high-end PvE experience, no tanking epics. Both of our warriors were not protection specced and we both were wearing various blue items as defensive gear.

The first thing that happens inside is that you talk to an NPC who tells you to bang on a gong to open the gate. You need several people to bang on it at the same time and it takes a good 30 seconds or more of doing so before the gate will open. The NPC immediately runs through the gate, gets killed and aggros the first guards onto your party! This first group seemed to consist of two elite trolls and a number of non-elites. Nothing too troublesome, though we weren't expecting it.

And in fact, that is a big theme in this instance... triggered events. It seemed that around almost every turn we were hitting some invisible marker that called down the troll forces on us. Which is probably a lot of fun once you know what you're doing, but for first-timers it was hectic and crazy.

After that initial battle, you come out onto the grand staircase and get a nice panoramic view of the instance as well as plenty of space for resting. A patrol of two trolls is at the bottom of the stairs, one of them a 'Medicine Man' who drops totems. Kill the totems first! Especially the Protective Wards! They make the trolls invulnerable, which makes it a little tougher to kill them.

Turning right at the bottom of the stairs we see the bear boss, Nalorakk, up on a nearby ledge. At this point you have to start being careful about moving up before your party is ready. If you approach he calls out and sends his three guards after you as he moves farther back into the instance. This is a bit tricky as its hard to mark these trolls before they reach your party. And, as an undergeared tank with almost no protection talents, I couldn't take the hits from more than one of them at a time. Both times we fought this encounter I died before I could even get off an Intimidating Shout! Luckily, the second time around, the warlocks and priest managed to keep two of them feared while the second warrior occupied the third and the rest of our party took care of business.

Next up were the Amani Bears. These beasts came in pairs and hit like a two-ton bear (which they were!) After the first encounter with them we worked out a method of keeping one feared constantly while everyone chopped up the second for dinner and easily defeated the second group of bears without any losses.

Up some more stairs to confront Nalorakk again. And again, you have to watch where you step. As you approach the steps he sends more guards after you, this time it's four trolls of various kinds. We managed to defeat them by mind-controlling the Medicine Man, fearing one and tanking the other two. Then things got tough...

Up some more stairs and you have to face two Amani Warbringers. These are the Amani bears with trolls mounted on them. They hit extremely hard and have a roar that both increases their damage dealt and increases the damage taken by those affected. And, to top it off, they can both stack this debuff on you! Needless to say, they need to be tanked away from each other, but that's easier said than done. They both will aggro on the first person they see.

So after several unsuccessful tries we decided to see what lay in the other direction. We took a left at the bottom of the main stairs and saw a 'lookout' waiting up the slope. We figured he would call for some kind of help, so the plan was to charge in, hamstring him and try to take him out quickly. Unfortunately, we discovered that he is invulnerable and away he ran up the ramp. Two guards stood ahead of us. But as we prepared for the encounter, a wave of eagles flew down and assaulted our position. They were all non-elite, but their numbers made them hard to control. And, to top it off, two elite warrior trolls came up from behind us. We got things under control and took all of our foes out, but before we could rest another wave was arriving, and another and another... We must have defeated four or five waves before we were finally exhausted and overwhelmed. Apparently we needed to push forward through the attacks.

Back again we went, though this time we tried sapping the lookout, which actually worked! Sort of. He still ran up the ramp to summon the eagles and warriors, but it did buy us a few seconds with which to engage the first pair of guards. Unfortunately, we just didn't seem to have the firepower to defeat them fast enough and were again overwhelmed by the unrelenting assault from the trolls and their animal companions.

At this point we had been at it a little under 2 hours and decided to call it a night.

All in all, a very interesting instance. It's almost all scripted encounters, so if you're visiting for the first time, be prepared for lots of confusion and a steep learning curve. Though we ultimately met with defeat without even getting a shot at any of the bosses, it was great to have some 10-person content that was immediately accessible without having to jump through a lot of hoops.

I suspect that we will try to get some gear improvements before heading back, but I also think that simply having the experience and knowing what to expect next time would make a big difference as well.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

WoW Patch 2.3: First Impressions

So the new patch has now been out for two days and I wanted to give my initial impressions.

A lot of the class changes I wont have any comments on since 90% of my WoW play time is spent on my level 70 orc warrior. But I have had a chance to investigate the new Daily Quests, the Guild Bank, the changes to Alterac Valley and more! Keep reading for details.

The Daily Battleground quests are great! A couple of guildmates and I picked up the Arathi Basin quest on Tuesday, fought and won, and I had over 1200 honor from that victory alone plus the bonus honor from the quest. And getting paid for it was just icing on the cake! This also helps to promote the various battlegrounds on days other than the bonus weekends, which is nice for those of us who like to PvP.

I also discovered that you can hold on to your daily quest and complete it at a later time. I did this last night with the Shattered Halls daily quest that I picked up on Tuesday. However, once completed, you can't get another until the next day. But it's still something useful to know.

I noticed that the Heroic versions of the daily quests give 2 Badges of Justice on completion, which is a nice bonus, especially for those of us who don't do a lot of dungeon runs. Getting three badges a week makes for a really long trek to acquire the Badges of Justice items! And the reduction of reputation requirements for entering heroic dungeons has dramatically increased the number of groups looking for heroic adventures!

The warrior changes are just all around good for me. I was already a nearly pure Arms warrior (46 points in that tree). Death Wish is pretty sweet, I just need to remember to use it more often. But then change that I really, really like is having access to improved intercept! With the additional cooldown bonus from my gladiator gear, I find that I almost always have intercept available when I need it. I'm eager to try it out in the Arena!

Alterac Valley is pretty sweet at the moment. It's almost all PvP now and Horde has won 3 out of 4 matches that I've played. Bonus honor total at the end can be as much as 500-600 if you keep your opponents from razing any towers. Unfortunately, losing an AV match that way can result in very little honor gain, which would be pretty frustrating. But the changes seem good at the moment. We'll have to see how things play out as different strategies develop. In the meantime it's nice to see towers and graveyards actually being defended!

The experience gains for under-60 quests have increased significantly. I've only played a little of that part, but easily gained most of a level by completing a handful of quests. I was also able to go back to Silithus and solo the Emissary quest that I had been carrying around in my quest log for eons since his difficulty had been significantly reduced (it was now listed as a two-player group quest rather than a raid quest).

The Guild Bank is awesome. This is a great guild tool and a useful community feature that should have been available two years ago!

There are quite a few UI changes. For example, when you mouseover an NPC, the icon will change to reflect what they can do for you. It changes to a question mark for quest givers, an anvil icon for those who can repair, etc. Also, questgivers are now marked on the minimap for you. Another change is that interactive quest objects have little sparkly glows around them. While not very immersive, it does make it a lot easier to find that elusive lost backpack or chest without having to run the mouse over everything. Since so much of the WoW world is non-interactive and simply just there for show, I have to give this change a thumbs-up.

Overall, I have no complaints at all, though several of my addons have been throwing errors due to changes with the User Interface API. Hopefully the mod authors will fix those soon.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Elder Scrolls Online: Harshing the Buzz

So the latest buzz on the MMO scene is about the possible development of Elder Scrolls Online.

While a lot of fans are overly excited about this announcement, Bethseda is either going to have to seriously water down their worldy gameplay or accept the fact that they'll be a relatively niche game. There is no way that they'll 'challenge WoW' as some pundits are proclaiming.

Why? Well lets look at what makes the Elder Scrolls games so interesting and engaging and see how that translates to the MMO world.

1. Open character development based on skills: Very few MMOs have tried this tactic since UO. Eve is the notable exception, but their model is time-based rather than use-based. Not only does a use-based skill system lend itself to macroing or other such similar behavior (such as jumping constantly to increase your jumping skill), but then you also have to worry about keeping players from making the 'wrong' choices when it comes to skill selection and the potential for abusive skill combinations (for example, the tank-mage of old UO days). The latter is a development migraine, and the former a fear for many players.

2. Choices affect your character: One of the defining points of the Elder Scrolls was the ability to choose which factions to join/help. And those choices would have permanent effects on your character's development and future access to quests and other factions! I can just envision the number of GM calls now...

3. NPCs have lives too: MMO players aren't going to be happy that they can't sell and repair just because they happen to online while the shopkeeper NPC is asleep.

4. Open-ended world: The wide open variety of paths a player could take was another defining part of the Elder Scrolls games. But, one of the many complaints that newer MMO players have about UO is the lack of direction. There were no quests or introductions when UO was released. You just chose your starting skills and town and were plopped down in the world and expected to fend for yourself. While this is great for stimulating exploration, creativity and imagination, MMO players expect to be led by the hand these days.

Now I do want to state for the record that I personally would love all of the above features in an MMO. I can handle the fact that choosing to slay someone rather than talk to them permanently affects my faction standings. I can also handle that NPCs are completely unavailable at certain times. But for the millions that flock to WoW, RF and other such games, these features would be unacceptable. WoW didn't become the MMO giant by making things difficult for their players, in fact, its gone in the exact opposite direction!

But that's not to say that a really awesome Elder Scrolls MMO that was true to the source couldn't be made. But it would take a lot of work. More on that in a future post!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Minor MMO Idea #4: Meaningful Quest Text

One of the common occurrences in online, quest-based games, and WoW especially, is the fact that veteran players tend to skip reading the quest text, instead simply focusing on the pertinent parts, ie, who do I kill and what rewards do I get! I find myself even doing this with new quests that I haven't seen before. Just a quick skim to see who needs to be eviscerated and where they live and what my phat loot will be when I return with a bloody head as a trophy.

But why does this happen? Why is some quest designer's hard work ignored? Well, because its mostly just fluff! The details of the quest text have little to no impact on your character and oftentimes, don't even correspond to gameworld events!

A prime example is one of the early Blood Elf quests in WoW which is designed to teach you how to use the special racial abilities. It's called Thirst Unending.

Part of the quest text reads:

"If there is only one lesson you deign to remember from your time on Sunstrider Isle, let it be this - control your thirst for magic. It is a thirst unending, - you must absorb energy to survive via Mana Tap, and you must control how you release it via Arcane Torrent. Failure is to become one of the Wretched... hopelessly addicted and insane."

But is any of this true? Not at all! I can spend my entire WoW lifetime without ever using Mana Tap a single time. And if I do use it, I can release it whenever I want. There is no side-effect. I don't have to ever worry about becoming "one of the Wretched". All of the quest text above, while suitably ominous, is completely irrelevant to any actual in-game occurrence.

So why would should I want to read fluffy quest text that isn't even consistent with the virtual world. If it gave me some new insight into the land, that would be something. But, as it is, I, like most other players, simply scan for location, required objectives and the available rewards. Anything further is just a waste of time.

And this reminds me of Shadowbane. During development Shadowbane hired a writer to create incredibly engaging and detailed lore for the background of the game. But, when it came to actual gameplay, the lore was nowhere to be seen. This was a disappointment to a lot of players and left the game feeling extremely shallow (which it was).

It's kind of like the whole anti-drug propaganda that talks about the evils of marijuana. I bought into it when I was young. But then I met people who smoked casually, and I tried it myself, only to discover that all of those crazy tales my PE teachers related to me (why we were taught about drugs by the PE teachers I have no idea) were completely false! If you want to tell me about the dangers of inhaling super-heated smoke into your lungs, or the propensity for glassy-eyed TV viewing while under the influence, then I can accept that. But marijuana stories about friends trying to crack open car-sized rocks with their heads is just ludicrous. Are we still buying into Reefer Madness? But I digress.

My point is, if you're going to go to the trouble of creating interesting lore or NPC speech, tie it to your gameworld!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dwarf Fortress Update

So the latest version of Dwarf Fortress has finally been release. You can find it here. It has been in development for quite a while and includes a z-axis, alterations to temperature exchange and water flow and more!

Unfortunately, the game's interface is still pretty horrid. But for those who are put off by the ASCII graphics, there is hope! First of all, take a look at this mockup! Pretty sweet! Here's a link to a thread about the development of these isometric graphics. I recommend that any Dwarf Fortress fan lend their support to those efforts!

I haven't had a chance to delve into the new gameplay yet, but I expect to have some commentary on the subject soon!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Alterac Valley Redux: Can I get more 'v' in my PvP?

So my previous post about the Resurrection of Alterac Valley seems to have been a bit premature. Sure, there are more AV matches running now than there were before, but the PvP has quickly vanished in the wake of honor farming.

Alterac Valley has returned to how it was a year ago, both sides rushing the enemy base, with little to no contact between the 'warring' players. In fact, the players work so hard to avoid actual PvP, that finishing at the top of the scoreboard with a mere five killing blows is a common occurrence!

If I try to actually do something useful PvP-wise, such as defending Iceblood or slow down those who are riding past to Frostwolf graveyard, I invariably find myself alone and outnumbered.

Reports from the Test Server say that actual PvP has returned to the Valley with the upcoming 2.3 patch changes, but I'll reserve judgment for the moment. I've learned my lesson (at least until the next time) about making snap judgments on PvP features. Players tend to flow to the path of least resistance, so its probably best to let things settle out before claiming a 'resurrection' or some similarly profound statement!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

WoW's 'Matchmaking' System is a Joke!

So a while back, Blizzard introduced a 'matchmaking' system for determining who you would fight against in the battlegrounds. This system was supposed to weigh your gear and whether or not you were joining in a group to determine the matchups.

I played some Arathi Basin today, joining by myself, and six out of six times, I was placed into a battleground with a bunch of random Horde from various servers against a full Alliance guild team!

More weight needs to be given to organized groups. That is much more valuable than gear! Blizzard really needs to pull their heads out of their asses in regards to understanding PvP.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Re-Visiting an Old Friend: Day of Defeat

Back in the days of Counterstrike, when a good friend and I used to cart our computers up to his office at the university so we could play together over their T3 lines, there came along a little mod that didn't receive as much attention as Counterstrike did, but still had a lot of charm, enough so that it was eventually released as its own box set. That mod was called Day of Defeat. I was hooked immediately and it wasn't long before many of my friends followed suit.

DoD took Counterstrike's realism, warped it to fit WWII weapons, created more open and varied maps and really solidified the teamwork aspect of the game. Unfortunately, it has a steep learning curve. It's easy to die. Very easy. And if you aren't familiar with the current map, you can expect to die at pretty much every turn until you learn it. But, the plus side of this barrier to entry is that the players tend to be a lot more mature and team oriented than you find in most FPS games.

But what shines about DoD is the reliance on teamwork. There will never be a single player that can single-handedly win a match for his team. Every map has specific goals, and players will keep respawning until one team or the other accomplishes those goals. The maps are generally complex and have lots of flavor such as mounds of rubble, broken walls and abandoned cars, that not only provide an engaging setting, but that also have an impact on gameplay as well! Bushes, while just simple 2d sprites, do provide a lot of visual cover. DoD is all infantry based, which may annoy those who like the Battlefield type games. But what they do have is done well!

I hadn't played DoD in several years, but my recent foray into Battleground Europe, an online game with a similar WWII theme, made me remember the good old days. So I reinstalled Steam, updated
the client and logged in. The years have not been kind to my twitch reflexes, but it's still as much fun as it used to be. The only real downside is a lack of players. Many of the servers that are around these days seem to like to fill empty player slots with bots. And while they do decrease the empty fort feeling, it's still a very hollow experience. Luckily, there are other servers that don't use bots at all and also have an active population.

DoD has what Battleground Europe lacks... and mainly, thats the fun factor. I think that BE goes a bit over the edge in realism which cuts into the fun of playing a game. If someone could come up with a decent mashup of the systems in DoD, Battlefield and Battleground Europe (and maybe some Planetside), we could have a really awesome WWII MMO! Take the fun and the infantry/town combat from DoD, add in vehicles from Battlefield and Battleground Europe, then layer it all with an interesting, intuitive, dynamic meta-game that is designed well enough to handle widely varying population numbers and maybe throw in a little bit of character development. Stir gently and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rome Falling: Abortion of an MMO

The big news of the day is the 'indefinite hold' that Perpetual has put on Gods and Heroes.

I've been in the beta for 2 months and to be honest, it didn't really capture my attention. I played for at most 10 hours, and only got to level 7 with a Gladiator character, so any information I have to share will be limited.

I was actually very excited when I got a beta acceptance email for Gods and Heroes. It was the first beta I had been in since starting this blog, and though I couldn't make posts about the game due to the NDA, I had plans to keep detailed notes about my perceptions of the game as I played, so I could post a nice writeup once the NDA was lifted. But alas, the game couldn't hold my attention for long enough! I played maybe 10 hours total over the past two months, and never more than two hours at a stretch.

There just wasn't anything especially engaging or different. Class-based? Check! Talent-tree like system to semi-customize your character abilities? Check! Quest-oriented with floating symbols over quest NPCs? Check! Static combat that mainly involves pushing buttons as they light up? Check! Crafting? Er... no... Guild Support? Er... no idea... PvP? Again.. no idea...

What did G&H have to offer that was new or different? Well, I guess their defining characteristic was the minion system. But really, they were little more than some fancy pets. The minion system was an interesting idea that should definitely be explored in future games (anyone remember being able to hire fighter NPCs in Ultima Online?). The game does do a good job of introducing you to the minions early on. I had a front-line fighter and a healer available. I never tried using the healer. I just took along the fighter, spent points on talents that gave us attack boosts and waded into the melee! I never really did figure out how to more precisely control your minions. She just kind of tagged along, always staying in strict formation out of combat, even if it meant that she ran over the edge of a cliff. Luckily, it seemed that such an event had little effect on her health or personality, and she quickly returned to my side once I moved away. Perhaps there was more to it at later levels...

The UI was just kind of strange in many ways as well. For example, all of the icons to open your spellbook, character screen, etc etc, were hidden to start. You had to click on a tiny sliver of color over your character portrait to show them. Very non-intuitive and it took me a while to figure it out. The option to hide them is great... choosing to hide them from a new user is not.

It also had that sort of drab graphics theme that Vanguard had. Can't we get some color here?! Is this because some people thought WoW graphics were too cartoony? At least they were interesting to look at. In addition, I experienced graphics stutter every few steps while running through a town. And there were no more than a handful of players around.

Here are a couple of other short reviews. Interestingly enough, they don't really have any more info than I do. I have to wonder if any external beta testers got very far in this game.

Link #1

Link #2

Friday, October 05, 2007

Primary Layers of an Online Virtual World

Raph, as usual, has been talking a lot about virtual worlds and what defines a virtual world. So that got me to thinking. I decided to attempt to break down and define what I consider to be the Primary Layers of Online Virtual Worlds. Every Online Virtual World will have at least one foot in each of the Primary Layers listed below.

The Three Primary Layers of an Online Virtual World are: Social, Environment, and Economy.

It can be argued that the Social layer is the most important. After all, that's why its online. But in addition to player-player interactions, this layer also includes such functionality as the chat system, available emotes, guild/player organization management and NPC-NPC interactions! What sort of tools do players have for in-game interactions? How does the game facilitate or hinder this? How does this affect out-of-game interactions? Is your website a social gathering spot for participants?

Environment covers the basic things you would think of. What is the world made of? What does it look like? Does the environment have a direct impact on the player? Can the player impact the environment? What are the visual elements of the environment? Also fitting into this category is the interface. How does the interface affect the players interactions with the Virtual World? Without a defining environment, you don't have much of a world. Environment is not just graphics. It includes ambiance, sound, NPC personalities, text descriptions, interactivity and more!

The Economic layer includes both in-world economics and out-of-world economics. Everything from RMT, to subscription model to in-game loot and trading options. How and what can players exchange in-world? Do these exchanges extend to real world money transactions? How are objects with economic value generated? Are they permanent? Are there ways for the world to keep inflation in check? How are players paying for access to the world? How does this business model effect the types of users you get? How do the types of users affect any in-game economy?

All three of the layers cover both in-game and out-of-game areas, and overlap with each other as well. I'll expand more on this in a future post as well as try to better flesh out the concept.

Note: Looking back on this post, I notice that I use the term 'game' quite a bit. This layer division is meant to cover non-game Virtual Worlds as well, but since a majority of my experience has been with the gaming aspect, it just ends up being an unconscious extension of my though patterns.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Resurrection of Alterac Valley

So Patch 2.2 for World of Warcraft is finally here, and with it the addition of the ability to report AFKers in the Battlegrounds. And I have to say, the immediate impact is pretty amazing!

I played seven matches last night, and there wasn't a single character idling in the cave. There were a couple of AFKers who tried to hide in other parts of the map, but they were quickly identified and marked so that they didn't receive any honor. I had thought they would be booted from the game as well, but that didn't seem to happen.

I've read some complaints on the forums about getting labeled AFK unfairly, though I havent seen that happen myself. But, I also tend to seek out the PvP, either rabidly defending an attack point or pushing the front line troops forward with charges into the midst of our foes.

I played defense mostly last night, focusing on killing wounded players at Galv (and thus sending them back to Stonehearth, or hopefully their cave), and falling back as slowly as possible. If there weren't enough defenders, or we pushed the Alliance completely out of the mid-map, or there were too many defenders (which actually happened in one match), I would switch to offense, taking point in the assault on the graveyards and base, trying to make sure that we kept our offensive momentum going.

The most obvious change is that now the Horde generally has some defenders at Galv/Iceblood. This seems to cause some turmoil with the Alliance attack, and numerous times we were able to fight them back with only a handful of defenders. Horde has been dealing with Alliance defense for the past year, so we have come to expect it, but until Tuesday, the defense for the Horde never amounted to more than one or two people, which just doesn't cut it. Conversely, the Alliance defense seems to wither away once the Horde assaults the Stonehearth graveyard. They used to be pretty tenacious in holding Stormpike and their base, but maybe that's also a side effect of more warm bodies on the Horde offense. Eventually, the Alliance players will develop some new strategies to counter the suddenly active Horde population, but for the moment, revenge is sweet! And both sides are reporting shorter queue times, which is a win-win situation for everyone.

But I have to wonder how we ever got in this situation to begin with. How did this state of affairs come to be so out of whack that Blizzard had to hardcode a AFK-Stick into the game that we can beat other players with it? Obviously, it's a self-perpetuating issue that has been growing over time. The more players that sit in the cave, the worse your team does, which becomes very frustrating and prompts even more to sit in the cave, etc etc. But, as seems obvious with the amount of player participation in the Valleys now, players are interested in actually playing the game rather than spending the whole match doing nothing. So where was the turning point? When did things get so bad that the Do-Nothing strategy became the preferred method of playing in AV matches? And why was it more of a problem for the Horde? What sort of infectious mob mentality resulted in as many as 20 of the 40 players on the Horde side doing nothing whatsoever to help their team!? I don't have the answers to these questions, but I'm sure there's some sort of sociology paper waiting to be written on the subject!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Warhammer vs Warcraft: A Pre-Beta Comparison

So I talked a bit yesterday about things that WoW has done right. And I'm still playing and enjoying the game to this day. However, I fully expect that my WoW days will come to an abrupt ending when Warhammer is released. So I thought I'd talk a bit about why I would be giving up one addiction for a new one. Well obviously, simply the idea of a new experience has some draw, as well as the fact that I'm not at all excited about Blizzard's next WoW Expansion. But let's talk about some specific areas that I hope will have more interesting implementation than their counterparts in WoW.

Note: I'm not in the beta (yet), so these are just my expectations based on the info that Mythic has given us.

Graphics: This is something that I think will be similar between the two games. Though I expect Warhammer to be a bit darker, both in coloration and theme, they also have the same tendency for over-the-top armor with spikes and skulls and Chaos Cuisinarts and such. I expect everything to be big and gaudy and fun to look at to the point that I wish I could play with no distracting interface whatsoever.

User Interface: Speaking of UI, I actually don't expect the Warhammer interface to be as developed and malleable as WoW's is, but they have said that everything will be movable in the basic UI, something that Blizzard still hasn't implemented themselves for WoW (though there are plenty of addons that open up such possibilities). Otherwise, they look to be following what has become the standard setup these days.

Heavy Lore-Oriented Content: Certainly Warcraft has its lore, but you don't really feel it while playing WoW. Perhaps if you're a Warcraft fanatic and are already familiar with the previous lore, but coming into it with no real knowledge, you're mostly left in the dark... unless you happen to memorize everything any NPC ever says to you. Certainly I've picked up some bits and pieces over the past three years, but none of it really affects me besides knowing the name of the next boss I'm going to kill. And a lot of WoW's best lore is just shuffled into the dungeons, making these ultra-powerful, god-type beings who had a fundamental impact on the world into loot pinatas for the playerbase to smack around on a weekly basis.

The whole Tome of Knowledge concept sounds extremely interesting. I've lamented before over the fact that previous quest text is just discarded after you finish a quest in WoW. After all, you're usually doing a half dozen quests at a time, many of which are completely unrelated, and many of which have no real story beyond the immediate one, so keeping track of who did what to who is a non-fun, and unessential, task. Those quest chains that do have continuing, involved plotlines are generally spread out over such a period of time that you forget how the whole thing started anyway! After a while, many people just ignore the quest text for the most part beyond figuring out who you need to kill for your rewards.

So I'm hoping that Warhammer Online will be able to do a better job with bringing the lore to life for the average gamer. They certainly have a lot of amazing background material to work with!

PvP: I expect the PvP will be very similar to WoW. At least I hope it has a similar fluidity to the action, though of course, the big prayer is that combat is not so gear-oriented. It looks like Mythic is trying to get away from the standard archetypes which should make combat more interesting. Also, as someone who typically plays the warrior types, I'm overjoyed that they're planning to have some sort of taunt-type ability that is actually useful in PvP! But where Warhammer will really strut its stuff is in RvR...

RvR: Really a no-brainer here, as WoW's faction conflicts are all sanitized and saran-wrapped to the point that it feels like a friendly match of flag football rather than actual conflict! Mythic has already proven that they have some clue about how to handle factional player conflict with their highly successful Dark Ages of Camelot MMO. But it looks like they're taking it to a new level with WAR and I'm looking forward to being part of a larger conflict that actually has consequences and an effect on the game world. Even if the war progression does get 'reset' after someone 'wins', it should be a lot more fun and engaging than the static, ineffective world PvP in WoW. And I'm hoping that they scale the overarching conflict in such a way that it becomes more and more difficult to make progress the closer you get to an enemy's capital city, making the actual sacking of a capital a major (and rare) event.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Praising of Virtues: World of Warcraft

I've written quite a few rants, complaints and suggestions regarding World of Warcraft, so I decided to take a step back and praise its good points. After all, I have been playing it for all but a few months out of the past three years, so something must be right!

1. Flexible Interface. This is by far my favorite part of WoW. Unfortunately, a lot of the flexibility requires third-party addons, but Blizzard has done an outstanding job of making it easy for these mods to be created and giving support to those programmers via built-in hooks to the client, a forum devoted to interface and customization and continuing development of their API. I'll have a post soon about some nice mods that I've installed recently.

2. PvP. That's right, I said it. And as unbelievable as it may be, I think WoW PvP is actually a lot of fun... as long as you have decent gear. That last part is an important caveat. And I would definitely say that a Medallion of the Horde (and its Alliance equivalent) is pretty much required. Otherwise you'll just be crowd controlled all the time with no way to counter it. Getting ganked by higher levels or by five to one odds isn't much fun, of course. And neither is trying to win a battleground when the rest of your 'team' doesn't understand the concept of holding objectives or taking the flag. But, if you're on relatively equal strength and relatively equal numbers, the PvP can be very engaging and exciting. The wide variety of abilities and tactics make every encounter different and when you have three or four players on each side battling it out, strategy does play a big part. It does suck that 99% of the PvP occurs in the same four instanced battlegrounds and that PvP has no effect at all on the world. But, once you accept that fact, it can be very entertaining, sort of a Counterstrike meets MMO type concept.

I wouldn't say that WoW does PvP right, but what they do have has turned out to be enjoyable after almost three years of tweaking. And one last thing, the changes to the honor system that were implemented last December (so that honor points accumulate over time and never decay) were a godsend!

3. Graphics. A lot of people complain about the cartoonish look, but personally, I think it looks a lot better than all of these games that go for a more 'realistic' look. Character and camera movement is very fluid and simple. The loud colors and larger than life adornments give everything a nice fantasy feel and make the game visually entertaining. There are times were I like to hide my entire interface just so I can immerse myself in the graphics. And I think everyone had a moment of amazement the first time they saw inside of Blackrock Mountain or flew against the sky backdrop of colored streamers in the Outlands. Everything is big and identifiable and only occasionally do I have camera issues due to being in a tight, constricted space.

4. Accessibility. Even my girlfriend, who generally doesn't play anything more complex that Jewel Quest was able to get into the game and play by herself with minimal basic instructions. This is probably one of the main reasons that Wow has become so popular.

Monday, August 27, 2007

WoW Concept: A Different Way to make 'Heroes'

This post is in response to Blizzard's press release about their next expansion which includes the first (and only) hero class, the infamous Death Knight. While many are excited to see Blizzard finally getting around to implementing something that has been hinted at since launch, I find their design idea for heroes pretty, damn, lame.

Note: This is not a full-fledged design idea, nor is it balanced or even fully thought out. It is simply meant to provide a sample of an alternate method for implementing Hero Classes that I think would be a lot more fun and interesting than what Blizzard proposes.

Anytime after level 60, players are given the option to take on the hero class quest. The initial phase will be relatively simple, though before they complete it, players would be given a warning stating that completing the quest will permanently change their character class, after which they can never change their mind or go back.

After accepting their new class, the player would lose certain abilities and talents of their base class, but would get access to the Death Knight specific abilities as well as some from the other allowed base for the Hero class. For example, Paladin-base Death Knights might be able to learn how to cast Shadowbolt while Warlock-base Death Knights might get to use maces, two-handed swords and shields.

The hero classes would have restrictions based on race and class. For the Death Knight example, it would be limited to Horde-only, Paladin or Warlock.

This system would be a bit similar to how Shadowbane handled classes. By having two different options for a base class, you give extra variety and personalization to the Hero classes rather than just making them all similar. Also, in order to cover all the race and class combos while still providing a choice, some lore-bending would be required (but hey, if you're allowing Tauren Death Knights, then a little lore-bending shouldn't be too hard).

Perhaps Paladins would lose all of their shield and blessing spells while having their Holy talent tree removed, and Warlocks would lose their pets and the Demonology tree (just an example off the top of my head. I'm not overly familiar with Paladins or Warlocks).

Though I'm not completely sold on the functionality of this concept, I really like the idea that all the Death Knight specific spells and abilities would be acquired by completing various steps of a super-epic quest line rather than simply going to a trainer. The quest line would have a number of parallel branches that can be completed in any order, allowing players to choose which abilities they are most interested in learning and focusing on those first.

In addition to making the hero class interesting and diverse, this method would also allow those who have neither the time, energy and/or inclination to deal with the hero quests, to still have their own niche. Death Knights will have a lot in common with their base classes, but they won't be replacing their base classes. A level 60+ Paladin will still have lots of abilities and options that a Death Knight wouldn't.

Each race/class combo should have two options for Hero class progression, though obviously, there would be a lot of overlap (ie, options aren't unique to a particular combo). Those who choose not to follow the Hero path can still explore their possibilities of their class while having access to abilities and talents that no other class has.

Hero classes shouldn't just be flat-out more powerful via more hit points or more powerful spells, but rather should provide increased and varied options for those who want to experience something different without starting from scratch. And of course, those who do devote their time to playing the hero classes will likely find certain combinations of powers whose synergy gives them an advantage, but with proper design and tweaking, those scenarios should never be completely overpowering.

So there you have it. That's my basic idea for how to handle hero classes in WoW. Making the heroes just an extra unlockable class that you only have to partly grind seems very blase and unimaginative. Though the downside of my concept is that it would require lots of design and additional tweaking and balancing after release. But hey, they're going to be doing all of that anyway...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

WWII Online: First Impressions

So at the urging of a few guildmates, I downloaded and installed WWII Online for a 14-day free trial. I remember there being some buzz about this game when it first came out, but then bugs and stability issues led it into a fiery, burning death. But apparently, it wasn't actually dead and has been continuing on for the past six years!

I've only played for a few hours, but here are my initial impressions of the game.

First off, the Download and install proceeded smoothly, and I jumped right in without reading a single tip on how to play. A seemingly minor point, but a bad experience with installation can sour a game for anyone.

Choosing a place to appear in the gameworld was a little confusing. You're hit with both too much info and too little at the same time. There was a lot of info that I had no clue about, and not the basic info I expected to see that explained what I was doing in layman's terms. But it was easy enough to plow through and get in-game.

The controls were basically the same as any FPS, but just different enough that I had to look in the keybindings to find out how to crouch and lie down (and the various vehicles all have additional controls, but I haven't tried any of those yet).

The graphics are simplistic, which makes for smooth action. But yet they're done in a way that makes them very effective. You can see the silhouette of tanks on the horizon. Bushes and trees make for excellent visual cover.

The bushes actually provide a lot of cover. I had an enemy soldier crawl up next to me and I wasn't even sure it was a person until I fired my rifle and saw his death animation.

The realism angle of the game can be painful. Usually you'll die having no idea where the fatal shot came from. Getting anywhere is a tedious and long process. And when you spend 10 minutes creeping through the bushes only to suddenly go bellyup without having seen anyone or having any clue as to where the enemy might be... well, lets just say that I've had more fun experiences.

The buildings are very cramped and not defined at all. They definitely need a little more maneuvering room inside. And to have them actually fleshed out so as to make house to house combat interesting would be great, but that's mainly an extra bonus.

My first pick of where to start ended up being a ghost town, and overall, the games seems to really suffer from a lack of warm bodies. I quickly learned how to better pick an active starting spot, but the number of players is still low, especially when they're scattered over a square mile of countryside.

And it also the game seems to be weighted towards vehicles, which may also be a side-effect from the low population. Every time I've logged in, there have been more vehicles than infantry. Certainly, you need infantry to capture objectives, but until vehicle battle has been fought, infantry are few and far between, which is a little odd.

I did have one really great moment that made me think, 'Wow! This is what I was hoping this game would be like!'

I logged into a hotspot one night, and saw that we had a decent sized force advancing on a forward camp of our foes. I ran out across the fields, following everyone else, even spotting a guildmate who was also trying out the free trial. We ducked through the rows of bushes, every advancing on our objective as the sporadic sounds of small gunfire punctuated the air. After a harrowing few minutes of wondering when I was going to get cut down by a hidden machine gun, I suddenly realized that we were on top of the enemy encampment. Two of my fellow countrymen hunkered down near the tents while I covered them. No enemy soldiers appeared, and the base was vanquished. We mill about for a minute until a half-track pulls up towing a two-man mortar. All of the infantry piled inside and we headed off for a nearby town. I looked to my left and right, seeing no less than six fellow infantrymen with me. At the back rode a powerful mortar and the hum of the engine as we bounced across the fields gave me a feeling of serenity. I figured we must be headed for something important and felt a sense of confidence with my fellow soldiers around me.

But soon after, the driver of the truck told us to bail out, which we did. Then one by one, very quickly, all of my comrades vanished. Presumably to fight other battles, though noone said anything to me. I guess the fact that I was under the mistaken impression that we were heading off to conflict via the half-track made it especially disappointing.

The playerbase does seem helpful, and vehicles are almost always willing to slow down and let an infantry hop on board for a ride, but the heavy use of acronyms in chat left me clueless most of the time. And I haven't managed to sort out which chat channels are important to me at the moment. I'm sure familiarity will come with time and experience, but as a newbie who is also an experienced gamer, it was confusing to the point where I just wanted to be able to login and shoot at something, which is not what this game is about.

In summary, it is definitely an interesting game that has a lot of potential. With a few thousand more active players, it could really be an amazing experience. As it is, I don't think it's something that will keep my attention beyond the trial period. I do hope to play some more over the next week and make an updated impressions post.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Azh's Quick Tips: Heroic Slave Pens

As a followup to my post with a few tips on Heroic Mechanar, here are some tips for Heroic Slave Pens.

Coilfang Defenders - These guys are immune to all forms of crowd control. However, they can be snared. They hit extremely hard, so it's best to kite one around (mages and hunters are the best choices) while killing the other.

Mennu - Pretty easy fight. Just make sure to kill all of his totems, except for the Corrupted Nova totem! It explodes when destroyed, so it's best to simply move the whole group away from it.

Rokmar - Very difficult in heroic mode. He's hard enough in regular mode! If you have just one healer, they should be doing nothing besides healing the main tank (unless they have some quick cast area or group heals). Running out of mana during this combat is definitely a possibility. Really just need to unload on him and the tank needs to work hard on maintaining aggro. He will very quickly tear through your party if he gets loose or the tank dies.

Quagmirran - Nature resistance certainly helps. And you want to get the buff from the imprisoned druid if you can, but the real kicker of this encounter is his acid breath attack. This is a frontal area attack, so you need to keep him facing away from the rest of the party. The only problem is that it also causes him to lose aggro on his target, which generally results in him turning around and spraying all the soft targets (or even worse, directly targeting one). So the tank will need to taunt, and the other players will need to use aggro-reducing abilities or just stop attacking for the duration of the breath attack. Improved taunt would probably help here as well.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Azh's Quick Tips: Heroic Mechanar

I've noticed a lot of increased traffic here recently from people doing searches for Heroic Mechanar. I assume they're looking for advice, and while my adventure reports have some useful info, they're not really much of a guide.

So here are a few, quick tips about some of the troublesome mobs:

Netherbinder - I always make these guys the #1 target. Things get ugly if they get a chance to summon their elementals. But with focused fire and a couple of timely stuns, you can easily take them out before they even get a chance to cast.

Tempest-Forge Patroller - They will call for help, so be sure to give yourself some space to fight them in, away from other mobs

Tempest-Forge Destroyer - Interrupt the charged fist! That's by far the most important thing. The cast time on it is extremely quick, so if you have the global cooldown going when they start charging, you will likely miss your chance to interrupt. Generally, I'll open up with a few sunders and debuffs, then I'll just use heroic strike and shield block (since they don't trigger the global cooldown), keeping a close eye out for the charged fist so I can shield bash it. After that, you can throw in a few other attacks before you need to start watching again. Try to keep some sort of snare on him so that if he does get charged, the tank can kite him around until it wears off. It's not really worth the effort to try and heal through his damage while it's charged.

Astromancer - Spell reflection does wonders against these guys. Pretty much all fire damage, so a fire resistance totem would be helpful. Mostly troublesome when they're in the larger groups.

Mechanar Tinkerer - Two general ways to handle these guys. Either have a warlock enslave one and use him to fight the others (very effective) or load up on arcane resistance. With a full suit of Enchanted Adamantine Plate plus a couple of miscellaneous arcane resistance items, I can tank the group of four with little trouble.

Mechanar Crusher - The main thing to worry about with these guys is the disorient effect they will hit your tank with often.

Gatewatcher Gyro-Kill - Keep him turned away from your healers. I *think* his Shadow Power buff can be interrupted. But either way, be prepared to receive some burst damage when he casts it.

Gatewatcher Iron-Hand - Just watch for the 'Raises hammer' message and back off. Any melee shouldn't get hit more than once by the hammer unless they really aren't paying attention. Once he stops, run back in. Pretty easy fight.

Capacitus - Only twist is the polarity effect. Everyone should give the other players in their party some space at the start. After he does the polarity charge, find someone with the same charge as you and stand near them; your damage will be doubled! When he starts to cast it again, move away from everyone else until you can see what type of charge everyone has. Most players seem to like to fight him on the stairs, but I don't see that as a necessary step. His melee radius is huge, so there is plenty of room for everyone.

Sepethrea - Haven't defeated her in heroic mode so I don't have much advice. I would say that fire resistance is required, and if you have equipment that gives you a run speed bonus, this would probably be a good place to put it on! She gets three fire elementals rather than the normal two, and they move at running speed, making it much more difficult to avoid them.

Pre-Pathaleon Event - Very tough. Mainly because you don't have time to designate targets before they're on you. Pulling them back into Sepethrea's room would probably be the best option. That way you have some space, and succeeding waves have to run farther to engage you. Most pickup groups I've been in like to run down the elevator between waves (the mobs wont follow), but that's a pretty cheesy tactic IMO.

Pathaleon - Pretty much the same, though he does seem to be quicker to use his mind control, and the arcane elementals do more damage. Those who are likely targets for mind control should probably use any really nasty abilities they have at the start. This fight is really about dishing out heavy damage as quickly as possible. Once he gets down to ~20% health, his pets vanish and he generally falls soon afterwards. However, unless you have a lot of ways to keep the elementals feared, I recommend killing the first wave of them. It's unlikely you'll get him down fast enough to avoid a second wave, and if you have 8 of them running around spamming arcane bolts at your healer, the fight won't go well.

Basically, aside from a couple of changes to the bosses, everything is pretty much the same as regular Mechanar, only more so. So the tactics aren't that different from a regular run.

For the quickest route, go to the left at the start. You can pull Iron-Hand from Capacitus' area and avoid all the mobs on the right side entirely. Warlocks are not required, but they are helpful. Any Warlock should have little trouble finding a group for Heroic Mechanar. Arcane resistance is useful for the Tinkerers, Capacitus and Pathaleon. Fire resistance is useful for Sepethrea. If you have a single healer, they need to focus their attention on the tank for the boss encounters. Other players should be ready and willing to back off and bandage when needed.

That's about it! This is one of the more popular heroic dungeons and I can understand why. It's compact and fairly straight forward. Pretty easy to acquire four badges (getting the fifth from Sepethrea is tough) and a chance at a Primal Nether, plus whatever other goodies might drop.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

WoW Rant: Alterac Valley

And no, this post is not about imbalances in the map layout.

Ever since the advent of accumulated honor points (a concept that I fully support), Battlegrounds PvP in WoW has really gone downhill... especially in Alterac Valley.

Just yesterday I joined a match and heard someone say "Only seven AFK in the cave. That's pretty good!" Yes, that's right, having "only" 17% of your team sitting on their asses doing absolutely nothing is considered a good turnout! And even better, those 17% still get just as much bonus honor as the players who are out there actually trying to complete objectives and gather that honor. And I've seen as many as 20 of the 40 players choosing to simply absorb bonus honor rather than contribute in any way to their team!

There are a couple of very easy ways to ameliorate the problem (I don't think it can ever be stamped out completely).

1) Simply not give honor to any characters in or near the cave. This would force the AFKers to at least go outside, where they might actually be engaged in some of the action, whether they want to or not.

2) As an alternative or addition to #1, remove the guards from in and around the starting caves.

3) Dump the caves altogether and make everyone start in their respective fortresses.

But as it is now, Blizzard is simply encouraging and supporting this self-first attitude in what is supposed to be team-oriented PvP combat. And its not as if they aren't aware of the issue.

It will be interesting to see how Warhammer handles their instanced PvP. I hope that their more PvP-orient

Note: Interestingly enough, I actually wrote this up before I ever read any notes from Blizzcon. I think that the whole 'other players can flag you for being AFK' idea wont work at all. For one, enough players have to take time out of their battle to figure out who's AFK and then flag them. Secondly, the flagged person just has to enter combat. Whats to stop them from sitting outside one of the mob caves and killing one every few minutes, or even just attacking one of the wolves/rams deep in their own territory? Most of the AFKers aren't actually AFK, they're just actively choosing not to participate, occasionally dancing or throwing out a smart-ass comment over BG chat. It's easy enough for them to reach out to their keyboard and 'enter combat' for a few seconds before alt-tabbing back to their porn/book/other game while still accumulating bonus honor from the sweat and blood of others!

The caves will still be a safe haven for honor suction.

So I applaud Blizzard for recognizing the problem. But I boo them for taking nearly a year to implement any solution, and curse them for coming up with a half-assed fix that really won't solve the problem.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Azh's WoW Adventures: Four Orcs Battle the Blue Robots

So Thursday evening we had a guild trip to Mechanar. Normally this isn't anything special enough to write about, especially since I've been through the same dungeon on Heroic mode a few times recently. However, this trip was different in that we cleared the whole dungeon with only four of us!

We initially started out with just three of us, myself, Zrugpug and Krunk. We had little problem with the first few pulls, successfully defeating the big robots and the groups of three Blood Elves. We had just cleared up to one of the mini-bosses when Nubblud, our guild leader and warlock extraordinaire logged in. We quickly summoned him via the meeting stone and dove back in.

We had a few difficulties as I was the only one familiar with the instance. But everyone picked up on what to do pretty quickly and we didn't have a wipe until our first encounter with Capacitus. As we headed back, I told Zrugpug to only heal me, and I also let Krunk know that this boss has a huge melee radius, and he could stand farther away, making it a lot easier to see and avoid the bombs. Second attempt saw us victorious. We defeated the other mini-boss, collected our loot and headed up the elevator.

Sepethrea ended up being a pretty crazy encounter. It's incredibly easier than fighting her in heroic mode, as she only has two fire elementals and they move slower than a run, making escape from them an actual possibility. Nonetheless, everyone else's unfamiliarity with her led to them all dying. But Zrugpug saw that I was still alive and quickly used his ankh to jump back into the fray. Somehow we managed to end up on the opposite end of the area in front of her spot from the elementals. So avoiding them was not really a problem. But since there were only two of us, me in defensive stance and Zrug using most of his mana to heal me, the remainder of the fight lasted for quite a while. I actually used two healthstones thanks to the soulwell that Nubblud had summoned! After a drawn-out finish, she finally fell and we moved onto the pre-Pathaleon encounter.

I was very impressed with how well we handled this. We took on all six waves without using any cheesy elevator tactics! However, Pathaleon did take us down afterwards, but this was mainly due to three of the party not knowing what to expect from the encounter. After regrouping and giving a basic plan (I would fear the initial group of elementals, Nubblud would be in charge of them after that and everyone would beat on Pantheon), we made a second attempt and it worked like a charm.

Don't think we found anything useful loot-wise, but it was a nice sense of accomplishment to defeat the instance with only four of us, and to do it as an all-orc group as well!


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Azh's WoW Adventures: Heroic Slave Pens

Note: If you're looking for help with Heroic Slave Pens, check out my Quick Tips post.

Monday night saw our regularly scheduled guild trip head into the Heroic Slave Pens.

Our resto shaman decided to leave WoW for the game of Real Life, and our priest is out of the country for a month, so it looked like we would be without a level 70 healer for a while. But luckily, another shaman decided to play WoW again and he also respecced to Restoration to help out with instances.

So, the all-guild group consisted of myself (arms warrior), Zrugpug (newly respecced resto shaman), Snargok (ice mage), Drakgor (arms warrior) and Krunk (combat rogue). A melee heavy group. The kind of setup that Blizzard likes to punish with AoE attacks and auras. And to top it off, our sole healer was wearing several green cloth items since he had never worked on gathering healing gear before. But we were determined to give it a go, and I had every confidence that our victory was assured.

Our initial assault was swift, focused and deadly. Sap, sheep and two fears made the four crab pulls trivial. And the double Coilfang Defender clomps went like clockwork. As I pulled, the mage would grab one with frostbolt and lead him around while the rogue worked him over. The rest of us took care of the other Defender, and we generally ended up killing both at the same time. Maybe not the most efficient method, but it worked.

Mennu was a breeze. Fought him underneath the ramp. My group kept trying to kill the nova totems, resulting in a lot of extra damage (they seem to explode when you hit them, so just moving away is a much better solution). But hopefully they'll get the hang of it next time. He was nice enough to drop a totem and epic gem that our shaman could make use of.

Proceeding onward, we had our first death when the rogue went a little overboard on a Defender, drawing aggro and earning a quick trip to the ground.

Then came Rokmar. This oversized lobster is just a giant pain. He hits incredibly hard, and the bleed that ticks for 1000+ damage just makes things worse. After a couple of failed attempts, I directed the shaman to just heal me, and not worry about the others. This almost worked, except that he ran out of mana just as we were hitting the 20% mark (he has less than 8000 mana currently. Something we need to work on I guess), which led to my swift demise, and the rest of the party afterwards.

Deciding to move on, we cleared up to Quagmirran and freed the caged night elf for our buff. But the plant gave us fits of a different kind. Everything would go fine until he did his Acid Spray attack. As he started, he would switch targets to our other warrior. I would taunt him back, but as soon as the taunt wore off, he would aggro the DPS warrior again, resulting in too much damage spread out over the whole party. We tried several times with pretty much the same result.

After doing a little research, I found out that his acid attack also has a de-aggro component. So, I think what was happening was this: Drakgor (the other warrior), would be near the top of the aggro list, so as soon as Quag did his breath, my aggro drops and Quagmirran switches targets. I taunt him back, but meanwhile Drakgor has a full rage bar and is dishing out heavy damage while I'm trying to regain my previous aggro level. As soon as the taunt fades, Drakgor finds himself the target again and I have to wait several seconds to taunt again (here's somewhere that a protection spec would have a huge advantage). I think what we should have done was have Drakgor just stop fighting completely if he gets aggro during the spray attack. That way I can regain and hopefully keep the plant focused on me for the duration.

Though we had little to show for our efforts besides a single Badge of Justice and large repair bills, it was a good learning experience and practice for future runs. The regular mobs, which are often more trouble than the bosses in heroic mode, gave us very little trouble. Our healer was definitely a bit undergeared for the boss encounters, which we can hopefully remedy before our next attempt.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Single Class Games: A Creative Springboard for New Class-oriented Gameplay

I ran across a blog post the other day (which I cant seem to find now despite hours of searching), that discussed the concept of making a game with only one class! What an excellent idea! This has already been done to some degree, mostly centered around the rogue-type with games such as Thief.

Not only would it be interesting to delve into such a focused area to try and make it engaging, interesting, varied and fun, but I could see doing a small focused game along these lines as a prelude to producing a bigger game that combines the concepts gameplay from the smaller games and incorporates them into a whole.

Click the link below for some random thoughts about what could be done with this idea.

Rangers - Game would be mostly outdoors. Rugged wilderness with lots of nooks and crannies. Mostly small villages who would be somewhat distrustful of the wornout stranger walking into their town. Villages would just be for some light trading before the players would set back out into the wilderness. Gameplay would be centered round tracking, outdoor survival, learning the lay of the land, etc. Opportunities for combat, puzzle solving and exploration abound!

Soldier - This game would start you off as a guard in a town. You do patrols, break up bar fights, gamble and drink on your time off and eventually work your way up to joining the army where you are sent off to fight battles in which you find yourself just one of dozens or hundreds of combatants, and your main focus is to defeat the guy in front of you and keep an eye on whats happening in your general vicinity while trying to maintain your formation and respond to any new orders from the leaders. Maybe even moving from this closeup individual combat to commanding your own squads and armies!

Mage - Entire game based inside an impossibly huge tower that likely crosses and exists in several dimensions at once. The basic concept is that the player is a new apprentice who must learn to use magic, pass tests of their magical abilities, and explore the mysterious tower without getting caught trespassing into forbidden areas while also avoiding being eaten or imprisoned by various entities who live in the recesses of the mammoth structure. There would also be various factions within the school that the player can choose to join which would further alter their playing experience as they advance through the ranks. This would also be an excellent place to try out a complex spellcrafting system!

Priest - Player starts as a novice priest dedicated to a certain god. The goal is to increase their gods in-game presence through converting heathens, making appropriate sacrifices and establishing new temples.. As they gain favor, the player can gain new powers. They'll even have opportunities to change the deity they are aligned with... for a cost. Avatars for other deities would be also trying to promote their gods and as such would cross paths with other players, sometimes in battle, sometimes in uneasy alliance.

Just a few examples off the top of my head. In some ways, having such a narrow focus provides even greater opportunities for creativity than a more open game would.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Azh's WoW Adventures: Heroic Mechanar Redux

Note: If you're looking for help with Heroic Mechanar, check out my Quick Tips post.

Made two more runs through Heroic Mechanar the past two days.

First group consisted of myself, a protection warrior, warlock, druid and rogue. The druid dropped out early and was replaced with a priest. Learned some tricks for skipping past a number of pulls at the front, and also learned that Capacitus' polarity charges can be used to your party's advantage. If two players of the same polarity stand together, they get %100 damage bonus!! Knowing that makes the encounter much easier.

I also was witness to the ways in which a good warlock can tear up the demon groups. The guy we were with could almost solo them by taking control of a bomber, banishing another and then healing the bomber as he took care of the other demons.

We didn't even try Sepethrea. And for the waves of attackers after her, we would run down the elevator between most combats. Pretty cheesy tactic, IMO, but you have to be really coordinated to keep crowd control on the Blood Elves as they're rushing you, which is not easy with a pickup group. We muddled through and downed Pathaleon on the first try (I think. Maybe it was the second. Either way, we didn't spend too long on it). Came out of the adventure with 4 badges, but rolled a lowly 1 for the Primal Nether.

Similar setup today, but with completely different players. Had a shaman along as healer instead of the priest. Had a little trouble with a patroller add, and then failing to interrupt Gyro-Kill's Shadow Power buff. First attempt at the Mechano-Lord saw the shaman falling first. We then fought on for another 10-15 seconds while urging the shaman to ankh, but he instead waited until everyone was dead. Second attempt went more smoothly. Skipped the Nethermancer, only ran from two of the event waves, and then killed the Calculator after two attempts. It seems like you really need to kill that first wave of elementals. If you try to just fear them, you get screwed when the second wave appears. Eight arcane elementals auto-firing 1.2k damage arcane bolts is just too tough to deal with, especially when any that aren't feared are likely going after your lone healer! Only two of us rolled on the Nether and I won (just two more to go)!

But this group decided to make a single attempt on Sepethrea. We started off well. I didn't have any of the elementals after me, so I was able to unload on her at the beginning, but then it just got out of hand. I have to agree with those who say this encounter is overly difficult. It's enough of a pain to have to run away when the elementals are after you, but then they can daze you, the Nethremancer can disorient and freeze you, and with three of them running around, you often have to run through some of the flames anyway! Definitely not an encounter that supports melee, which seems to be the case for too many dungeons (auras, AoE blasts, AoE fears...)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Azh's WoW Adventures: Heroic Mechanar

Note: If you're looking for help with Heroic Mechanar, check out my Quick Tips post.

In trying to acquire enough Primal Nether to upgrade my blacksmithing axe(s), I've decided to seek out pickup groups for Heroic instances when we don't have enough guildmembers awake.

Yesterday, I joined one for Mechanar. This was my first trip into the heroic version of this instance, and I was a little apprehensive because I'm Arms-specced (though I've successfully played the role of tank for Heroic Slave Pens in the past) and would be fighting with a group of players that I didn't know. Luckily, the first group member turned out to be Draaco, a rogue that I used to see in the battlegrounds all the time back in the day. After a bit of waiting (the LFG tool can actually work sometimes, though it's often slow going), we filled out our group with a shaman and two mages.

I don't have any epic tanking gear, but it is mostly blue, with a couple of pieces of the 'Bold' plate armor. In my full defense kit, I have 483 defense and about 11k health. I also have a variety of resistance pieces that I swap out as needed, including a full set of Enchanted Adamantine armor, which proved to be especially useful for some encounters.

Things started off well. Having the option to sap as well as sheep two humanoid targets made the blood elves easy pickings. One the mages tended to draw aggro at bad times, but that usually just resulted in him getting killed in three hits. (Important Note for non-tanks: If you're getting pounded, run towards the tank! Running away and making me chase the both of you doesn't help anyone.) The rough parts came when we hit the demons. The big guys weren't so bad (except for those annoying ones that have the various confusion abilities), but the little guys who throw bombs faster than Lindsay Lohan chugs drinks were troublesome. I finally hit on a solution that worked well. I would put on my arcane resistance suit and just try to keep aggro on everyone while the rest of the party killed the little demons fast. This worked especially well when there were three of four of them to a group.

The first two mini-bosses were fairly easy, you just have to remember to move away from the guy with the hammer when he 'raises it threateningly'. The Mechano-Lord Capacitus also turned out to be an easy fight. His only extra trick for heroic mode was that he would occassionally 'charge' the party, some negative, some positive. Opposites need to stay away from each other. As tank, I pretty mucg ignored it except for trying to yell out which way I was charged, which resulted in aggro loss twice. So maybe I should have just stayed focus on the job at hand.

Sepethrea proved to be a tougher customer. She has three of those damned invincible fire elementals. Combined with her frostbrand slowing attack, I found myself having trouble avoiding the flames while keeping her occupied. Putting on some fire resistance helped, but after two wipes, we decided to skip her.

The gauntlet event in the hallway afterwards also got us a couple of times, mainly just due to uncoordination. If I had been with a guild group who knows which targets I like to take down first (mage types), it would have been smoother. But we pushed onwards.

Finally, Pathaleon the Calculator. This encounter proved to be our bane. His elementals that he summons hit for a lot more damage than he does, and we only had my one fear to use on them. We tried a few different tactics but were defeated every time. Finally, one of the mages got frustrated, said that we needed a protection warrior and left the group. Undaunted, we quickly found a replacement (enhancement shaman) and tried again. Our tactic this time was to kill the first wave of elementals, fear the second and try to burn him down as quickly as possible in-between. Our first attempt was again inadequate, as I mostly left the elementals to the rest of the group and focused on the boss. But then I realized that they were probably taking too much damage while dealing with the first wave, so I slapped on my arcane resistance suit and used my challenging shout to keep the first wave on me. This seemed to work well, and we emerged victorious! Even better, I rolled a 100 for the Primal Nether, bringing my total to three (four if I turn in my Badges of Justice). Halfway there!

Warhammer vs Warcraft: A Very Brief History

Given the upcoming MMO, Warhammer Online, there has been a lot of discussion over the past year or so about who's ripping off who. As hopefully everyone knows by now, Warhammer (first published in 1983) has been around long before anyone even heard of the Internet. But what many don't know is that before Warcraft, Blizzard had been in negotiations with games Workshop to make a Warhammer game. For whatever reasons, the deal fell through, Blizzard modified a few things and released Warcraft (which is why the games seem similar in many ways). I guess there was enough ambiguity for Blizzard to avoid a lawsuit.

Anyway, in short, Warhammer has been around for a long time, Blizzard was undeniably, heavily influenced by Warhammer when they created Warcraft, and now, Warhammer has a lot of work ahead to claim its rightful section of the MMO pie.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Breaking the Holy Trinity of Character Grouping

Tank, Healer, DPS. The three required classes of any class-based MMO. Which pretty much makes dungeon adventures very standard and boring after the first couple of times through. Wouldn't it be nice if you could take any class-combo you wanted into a dungeon. If there were ways to engage encounters that didn't rely on the tried and true, "You take damage, You heal, and You kill stuff" routine?

I think a lot of this is simply due to the lack of decent AI. The mobs can't think on their feet, so the standard is to simply make them do lots of damage, and give them lots of hit points so that the players have no options except to follow the rails on your amusement park ride.

But how could this be handled without providing numerous opportunities for players to find ways to cheat the system? With instanced dungeons, you could have some variables that changed the composition, layout and abilities of mobs and bosses based on the group makeup, but then you would have to lock the instance to that group, and not allow them to switch or add other players, which in turn presents a whole slew of problems on its own (not to mention the extra coding required).

In reality, I dont think anything can be done along these lines in a class-driven MMO without some major changes to how things are done. Hit points and damage would need to stop scaling exponentially with level. Players would need to be given lots of various utility abilities that would provide them opportunities to do more with less so to speak. Computer AI would need some serious buffs and the Monty Haul equipment hunt would need to be seriously scaled down so that it doesn't have such an effect on a character's power. In short, too many changes for a class-based system to incorporate. After all, one of the primary reasons for creating class-based systems is to compartmentalize players into easily quantifiable boxes that can then be stacked together and compared to the mobs for ease of power balancing.

When you design a game based around character classes, you're putting the train on the tracks, and your combat system will be pretty rote from there on. If you can come up with ways to make things less generic and more interesting while still maintaining the concept of character classes, then more power to you. But, in the meantime, I'm looking at the skill-based systems as the future of online worlds.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

iTrackr Sucks

Plain and simple. I just spent a frustrating hour driving through crappy traffic and dealing with crappy drivers today because they said two stores in my area had the Nintendo Wii in stock. Neither did, and both said that they hadn't had any for many days.

A completely inaccurate and unreliable service. Not even worth the free signup.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Meaningless PvP: Recipe for a Losing Mentality

So I do a lot of PvP in WoW. It's something that has always interested me in gaming, and I rarely step foot into an MMO that doesn't have some sort of PvP.

However, in WoW, PvP is essentially meaningless. You're playing inside an isolated reality, for which there are anywhere from one to two dozen of the exact same scenario playing out at any given point, just with different players. When the match is over, everyone goes their own ways and nothing has changed. The only difference is that the losing team has accumulated slightly less points than the winning team. This has lead to what I dub a Losing Mentality amongst many of my fellow gamers who participate in the Battlegrounds.

I'm a competitor at heart. I enjoy pitting my skills and intelligence against other opponents, especially when we are evenly matched and/or they can throw new tactics and strategies at me, forcing me to think on my feet. And thus, in the battlegrounds, I often find myself yelling at my teammates (randomly assembled from other servers in my battlegroup, as my guild isn't active enough to form teams very often) about not guarding flags, or running around in a big blob of ten characters while the other five of us are getting slaughtered because we have no backup, or any other of the myriad just plain stupid things that players tend to do. And more and more lately, I've been getting flak from the other players telling me to 'relax' and 'its just a game' and other sundry comments, not all of which are so pleasant. After a recent bout of this, it suddenly occurred to me that many of my 'teammates' aren't playing to win, they're just playing to accumulate their points.

In other competitive games, losing is losing. You either go home or have a mark put on your permanent record. In WoW battlegrounds, if you lose, you still get points, and you just join in for the next match. So to many players, it doesn't matter if they never get near an objective or if they just sit around in the base and rack up bonus honor points while everyone else on their team is putting forth an effort.

Now I do have to say that I definitely appreciate the fact that honor points are cumulative these days. The old decaying honor grind was just exceedingly cumbersome. But the Losing Mentality makes many of the matches not fun for me. Is there a solution to this dilemma? Not when the battleground results are virtually meaningless in the larger scope. It will be interesting to see how the instanced PvP in Warhammer Online fares, since it's being designed to have an effect on the overall war effort. Will there still be players leeching off of those who are actually putting forth blood and sweat to try and win for their side? I certainly hope not!