Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Steam Customer Service Sucks

Title pretty much says it all. Avoid any dealings with them if you can! If anyone is interested in hearing the details of my experience, follow the link below...

So I've used Steam for years, though only recently have I ever made a purchase through their system. Over the holidays, I bought several games during their New Years's sale. One of them, Mosby's Confederacy, never would work. It always locked up when I tried to go into a mission. I finally gave up, uninstalled it, and decided to ask Steam for a refund for that game (though I wanted to keep the other 4 games I had purchased at the same time since they worked splendidly).

1) First, I had to create a completely new account just to enter a ticket for customer service. Despite having this built-in cart/game launcher and updater/community service in one hand-dandy application, they couldn't add any customer support to it?!

2) Several days later I got the following response.

Thank you for contacting Steam Customer Support.

Unfortuately, refunds issued are based on the transaction itself and not the individual items within the purchase.

This means if you have requested a refund for a cart purchase, once the refund is issued, it will be for the entire cart purchase.

Note: Emphasis is mine. The spelling error with the word 'unfortunately' is theirs. Oh, the irony!

You have got to be joking me! They can't do line-item refunds? I can go to any store in the country, including McDonald's, and get a refund for a single item that was broken or non-functional or simply unacceptable. I worked for a number of retail shops in the mid-90s, including ones that used a computer system to track transactions and we could give line-item refunds. The company I work for now has a crappy shopping cart from the year 2000 that barely communicates with our other back-end server software, and we can give line-item refunds.

Yet here it is, 2009, and an online tech company that is hoping to position itself as a leader of downloadable games is unable to handle such a simple request?!! Utterly, friggin' ridiculous.

Improving RvR in Warhammer Online Part II: Keeps

My first post about improving RvR in Warhammer Online dealt with Battlefield Objectives and suggestions to make them worth taking and defending beyond the simple desire for free bonus renown and influence. In this post, I'll delve into the keeps and my suggestions for improving keep battles, both for offense and defense. Though some of this applies to fortresses as well, I think that Fortress attacks should be truly spectacular rather than simply a larger, laggier keep, so I'll have a more detailed Fortress post later on.

I originally started writing this several months back, and since then, there have been some changes to keep defense that I would like to touch on before we get to my ideas about improving keep combat.

First off, and the change with the most impact, was the fix/addition of the ability for melee DPS to enter keeps via the postern doors. This has added a welcome facet to keep sieges. No longer are you always safe while pouring the oil or manning the walls. You have to always keep an eye out for that Witch Hunter or Choppa sneaking in through the side door and charging into the defenders. Single-player defenses are much less effective than they were before.

Another new feature is the addition of Ordnance. Ordnance can be found as drops from players, and in random locations around Battlefield Objectives and Keeps. Players can use these items to purchase upgraded, ranged siege equipment that does more damage. Sounds great on paper, but the exorbitant cost makes this addition completely useless. It costs 900 Ordinance to purchase one of these siege engines. After several weeks of play, picking up Ordnance everytime I see it and grabbing a dozen or so from our Guild Vault, I have a grand total of 50. So, at that rate, I can look forward to trying out one of these new siege engines in October of 2010!

And finally, we have the new keep upgrade system. This allows guilds who have claimed keeps to spend more gold to upgrade the keep. Again, this system looks great on paper, but the charges are ridiculous, resulting in players upgrading keeps when they come under attack, and then downgrading them once the attack is repelled. Basic cost is 3.6 gold per hour. Each upgrade after that adds anywhere from 1.2 gold per hour to 6 gold per hour. So with just two upgrades, you're already looking at paying at least 10 gold per hour, which adds up very quickly. (note: and apparently, the upgrade costs are being taken from the guild vault every 3 1/2 minutes instead of every 5, which further compounds the issue). I understand that there needs to be a noticeable cost for owning a keep, but this is a little much. I think that increasing the base cost of keep ownership and lowering the cost on most upgrades would be a step in the right direction.

So there we have the recent changes. And though I like them, and they have altered keep battles a little bit, it's still not enough. Follow the link below to continue reading and see my suggestions for further improving keep combat in WAR.

Currently in WAR, keeps are very simple affairs. Bash down the door, bash down the second door, kill the keep lord. This has been slightly improved recently with the change to allow melee DPS to enter enemy keeps via the postern door, but it's still basically the same assault and defense, modified only by the number of defenders and attackers.

Keep sieges should be epic events. Siege engines firing on both sides. Tanks cursing as they swing the ram against the door and do their best to avoid being boiled alive. Attackers trying to scramble up siege ladders and gain a foothold on the wall while the defenders throw them back. Battles swirling across the entire keep area and surrounding environs. Something to be remembered and where different tactics can come into play on a siege by siege basis.

One of the main problems with keep defense is the sheer speed that a warband can tear apart an undefended keep. A full warband can destroy both doors and the keep lord in under 5 minutes. Simply receiving a message that a keep is under attack, running or recalling to the nearest flight master, flying /loading to the correct zone, and then running to the keep can often take several minutes. And that's just for a single individual. Trying to actually organize a group to defend the keep takes much longer. Generally, significant keep defenses only occur after there has already been some activity from both sides in a zone. This has changed a bit with the ability to upgrade the amount of hitpoints on keep doors, but they are still very flimsy when focus-fired by a significant number of players.

On the other side, taking a heavily defended keep is extremely difficult. So often, the general strategy when hitting a zone is to take both keeps first, as you'll hopefully be able to secure them before any sizable defensive force arrives.

Improving on these issues requires a careful balance. We want to make keeps hard enough to get into that it gives potential defenders a time to respond once they hear that the keep is under attack, but we also don't want to make it overly difficult to assault a keep.

So there are several things I hope to accomplish with this proposal:

* Provide more time and easier methods of responding to keep attacks

* Make it easier for attackers to stop stragglers from entering the keep

* Provide more assault options to reduce the issue of single, monotonous bottlenecks

* Spread the combat out in and around the keeps

* Provide more decision points for both attackers and defenders during a siege

I'll break this down into specific sections, though of course, since this is all about keep battles, there will be overlap between the concepts.

Defense Improvements

Front doors. Currently, keep doors are ridiculously fragile when hit by a full warband. I've seen them destroyed in as little as 60 seconds. Front doors should mitigate 90% of all non-ram damage. This puts the door focus back on the ram crew, which is where it should be. Everyone else should be guarding posterns, manning siege engines or trying to lay down suppressing fire on the walls to help keep the ram crew safe.

Oil. Oil should do more damage, making it nearly impossible for anyone to go beat on the door while the oil is being poured. It does decent support damage currently, but any group with decent healers can easily outheal the oil damage. Oil currently relies on other AoE attacks at the ram in order to kill anyone who isn't overly squishy and/or missing a healer.

Patrolling guard groups should have a champion to lead them. The leashing range on patrols should be heavily increased. It would be nice if they would chase all over the keep, only stopping if they lose line of sight for a few seconds. To avoid someone kiting an entire patrol on their own, ranged guards should have a snare attack.

Ranged guards on walls. Regular guard-types, except they are rooted. Also, the biggest problem with rooted, ranged AI in MMOs is their inability to switch targets. If their current target runs out of LOS, they should look for and acquire a new target. They should also be killable and respawn at the same rate as other guards.

Portcullis. Every keep should have a portcullis (gate) on the inside part of the main entryway through the outer wall. This cannot be destroyed, and must be opened via a lever in the tower above the gate. Bashing down the front gate is just one step of the attack. There should be a lever in the tower above the gate that controls the portcullis, allowing the defenders to drop it down in the middle of a charge, cutting the attacking force into two parts. This creates a strong incentive for the attackers to grab and maintain control of the gate tower.

Keep recall scrolls. At some point, this was listed as a reward for high-level guilds, but either its been removed, or its much too far up the guild progression meter. These should be relatively expensive (lets say 50 silver), and when used, should send you directly to the keep that your guild has claimed. If your guild doesn't have a keep claimed, then the scroll is unusable.

Offense Improvements

Rams. Rams should be more interactive. Hitting it near the sweet spot should have a major effect. Currently, its hardly noticeable. Whats more important is having warm bodies on the ram. As long as the controller is swinging, it really doesn't matter much what the other players on the ram do. I often take the opportunity to grab a drink or go to the bathroom when I have a secondary spot on the ram. If everyone hits the ram meter at 50%, the ram should do 50% of normal damage. Make hitting that 90-100% section more important than it currently is. Rams are already difficult to set up due to AoE, oil and the extremely low health of the ram pad. But getting one into place should be the primary focus of a frontal attack. Rams should also mitigate 75% of the incoming damage to those using the ram. Manning a ram is already a boring and thankless task. At least make it easier to survive while staring at the door and the ram-o-meter.

Postern attacks. Postern doors should be attackable and destroyable. The doors should be tough, and the area just inside the door should be a narrow, cramped, killing zone. Attacking through the postern should not be the best nor the easiest choice, but it should be an option.

Opening the gate from the inside - A lever in the room above the outer door that allows an enemy player to open the door. Casting time should be long (15 seconds maybe?), and should be completely interrupted when receiving any damage. Add a couple of champion guards.

Siege ladders. 5-second casting time, completely interrupted on damage. Once in place, it takes a defender 5 seconds casting time to throw them down, at which point the ladder is destroyed. Climbing up the ladder also takes a 5 second, interruptable cast. On completion, you're transported to the top of the wall where the ladder is anchored. These are only usable on the outer wall (and if it helps, you can even add in 'pads' for them). They should also have a cooldown, maybe 30 seconds or so (and only triggered after successful usage) to prevent insta-invasion via siege ladder.

General Improvements

Doors - Postern doors AND front doors cant be used while you are in combat. ALTERNATIVELY, make them actual doors that open and close so that if you want to open the doors to allow your friends inside you can, but, if there are enemy players nearby, they might be able to dash inside as well. At the moment, it is much to easy to run through the sieging force and jump in the front door, which is completely ridiculous. You should have to fight your way inside. Or, if that's impossible, harass the sieging force from the outside, picking away at their numbers while causing a distraction and forcing them to turn some of their forces to deal with you. Even if you can't get in the door, it's still possible to be ressed to inside the keep as long as you have a friendly healer on the walls. But the dash through the middle of an enemy warband to be insta-ported to safety inside needs to be thrown out entirely. Excursions from inside against attacking forces should almost always come from the posterns. Hopping in and out the front door to harass the ram crew is another annoyance that needs to be removed from the game. If you're coming out the front door in the middle of a siege, it should be because you have an army behind you that is charging out as well.

The main issue with this suggestion, is that once you're in combat, it's hard to get reflagged as being out of combat during a siege. I'm not exactly sure how to resolve that. One option would be to allow exit door usage during combat, while disabling the ability to enter a door during combat. That way, if you want to go out and make a suicide run, you're welcome to do so. But getting back inside safely is not as simple as frantically clicking on the door.

Ranged Siege. Ranged Siege is almost useless in most keep battles. Their damage output is too low, and the speed with which the front door usually falls makes their setup time. Increase siege engine damage. Add a short knockback to ballista attacks and a short-duration snare to catapult attacks. It also doesn't help that a number of siege pads, both inside and outside of keep, have poorly planned placement and/or LOS issues. Someone should take the time and carefully go through each and every siege pad, trying out various siege engines to make sure that every option is viable.

Multiple Points of Interest Inside Keeps

Another big problem I have with the current WAR keep design, is the fact that 90% the space inside of the outer walls goes unused. And some of the keeps have a number of buildings and other such things that would make battles in and around them interesting, but there is no reason to hang out away from the main keep unless you're trying to hide.

So, I propose that there be a number of important capture points within the walls that if owned by the defenders provide from defensive advantage. Unfortunately, a lot of the Tier 4 keeps aren't designed with this feature in mind, so you have places like Bloodfist Rock, which is nothing but barren ground inside the walls, and XX, which has almost no space to place any points of interest, so there would need to be a pretty significant overhaul of the keep layouts in order to make this idea work.

Here are a couple of suggestions for possible Points of Interest that would be worth fighting over within the keep walls.

Barracks - This will be the spawn point for all patrols in and around the keep. There will be a flag here, guarded by the guard captain (hero level NPC). Once the captain is killed, the attackers can take control of the flag (which would be presence-controlled, like many of the flags in scenarios). If the attackers control this point, guard respawns stop completely.

Respawn point - For the defenders. That's right, a respawn point within the keep! This would make it much easier to defend the outer walls (which will be needed with the alternate methods of getting past the walls mentioned earlier in this post), and also give those who can get in via the postern something to focus on besides the oil cauldron.

Teleport-in pad - To go along with my suggestion above about allowing guilds to recall to their owned keeps, there should be a certain, controllable spot within the keep walls that the attackers can take to prevent the Keep Recall scrolls from working for that keep.

Final Thoughts

So there are some ideas. Even though a lot of details are glossed over, I'm going to cut it off at this point to avoid writing a novel on the subject.

In short, I would love for keep sieges to be larger, more varied and more interesting affairs all around. A lot of these concepts won't stand alone, and some may be hindered by current game mechanics, but no armchair design doc should ever be implemented as-is. But I do think that some tweaking and brainstorming around these ideas could lead to some exciting and innovative changes to siege combat in WAR.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Eurogamer vs Darkfall

In case anyone doesn't keep up with these things, Eurogamer gave Darkfall a 2/10 score on their review. Obviously, Adventurine wasn't too happy about this score and after trying to sort it out with Eurogamer, took things public.

Tasos' first post.

To which Eurogamer responded, which prompted a followup post from Tasos yesterday, and then a 'final' post on the issue today.

I think Tasos comes off as too defensive and uppity a lot of the time, but I did like his final post. Also, I never realized just how much weight is given to these professional reviews. Personally, I prefer reading reviews on individual blogs instead. They generally point out good and bad things while approaching it from a true gamer perspective rather than a paid reviewer perspective.