Boathammer : Age of Bloggening

July 19, 2008

My Penultimate WAR Question : Scenario Balance

Filed under: Speculation — boatorious @ 6:40 am

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There’s only one big question I still have about WAR that hasn’t been answered by the E3 news. The title is just to cover my a**.

How is Mythic planning to deal with player imbalance in scenarios? The original plan (and ironically one of the things that interested me about the game) was to use NPCs, “Dogs of War” to even out the sides.

Since then, I guess, Mythic hasn’t been clear about whether they were planning on having “Dogs of War”, cross-server scenarios, or neither. Let’s examine both briefly.

Dogs of War

This would involve introducing NPC’s to even out the sides. Players generally have worried about the ability of NPC’s to compete against players — “players are always smarter”, as they say.

When Blackwing Lair came out I remember some WoW players were feeling their oats, saying that they could beat any dungeon Blizzard gave them. One of the CM’s responded and pointed out that it is ridiculously easy to create a boss that will annihilate players every time. Blizzard doesn’t make unbeatable bosses because it’s bad game design, but it’s not something that’s difficult to do.

So I do think that Mythic could make NPC’s that players could beat, say, 60% of the time.

The hard part of Dogs would probably be AI. There are a lot of different types of scenarios (good job on this Mythic) but it seems like each would need a slightly different AI regime. One way to avoid too much AI coding would be to allow players to order the Dogs around, but that could really change the focus of scenarios from PvP to micromanagement.

Cross-Server Scenarios

Right now it’s 6:15 on a saturday morning, and I’ve been at my computer since about 5:25. This is not unusual for me. So let me tell you I am a huge fan of WoW’s cross-server battlegrounds (battlegrounds in WoW are instanced PvP, equivalent to scenarios in WAR). No WoW server would ever have a battleground going at 5 AM on a saturday, but with cross-server battlegrounds there are usually at least a couple to choose from.

The criticism of cross-server scenarios has been that they make it harder to develop rivalries since your foes are never the same. This is true in a way, but ultimately I’d prefer RvR whenever I want rather than somewhat improved rivalry-making. Additionally, if there were a cross-server system implemented it would not be much harder to create a hybrid system that automatically switched to single-server scenarios when (on a server-by-server basis) there was interest to support them.

The problems and how I think Mythic will solve them

WAR has far, far more scenarios than WoW has battlegrounds. Getting them all filled even during prime time is going to be difficult. So clearly something needs to be done.

Now, the option that I’d like Mythic to choose is : both. Again, I play at weird times, and I just don’t think that all the scenarios I’d like to play could possibly have enough players (even cross-server) to fully populate them. Likewise, Dogs don’t really do it for you on a single server, because I can see starting a scenario and being the only player on either team. I don’t know if WAR would even allow you start such a scenario. Either case would not be much fun.

However, implementing both would give you enough players to populate a side, while still allowing, say, a 4v8 in a 12v12 scenario.

What will Mythic do? We know that both solutions will be a pain to implement, and it does not seem that Mythic broached the subject at E3. So I’m guessing that we’ll actually see neither option at launch. It’s evidently a pretty good thing to leave out, since I’ve seen very little talk among players about whether or not it will be included.

I do have a little hope for cross-server scenarios, however, as Mythic probably had an inkling during design that they would be necessary (as opposed to Blizzard, who seem to have been surprised by the necessity for them).


June 29, 2008

Setting the Odds on the WAR Release Date

Filed under: Speculation — Tags: , — boatorious @ 1:36 am

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The last time WAR was pushed back, it was pushed back from Q4 2007 to Q3 2008. Since Q3 is already upon us and we’re not yet in open beta, some of us are no doubt wondering — will we see the release date push back again? And if it is pushed back, how far?

I’d say we probably will not see the date pushed back, and if we do, it will probably not be pushed back very far.

The two reasons why I don’t expect to see much of a delay now are the original delay and the simple facts of MMOG economics.

Why the Original Delay makes another delay unlikely

At some point Mythic went to their bosses at EA, hat in hand, and said “Please oh please please please can we have another 9 months.” Their bosses at EA said, “Why?”, and Mythic replied “The game is not in good shape and it will make you a ton more money in 9 months.”

EA went along with the replan and I think it’s been a good decision. However this greatly reduces Mythic’s options for further delays. It’s one thing to ask your boss for a short extension (let alone a long one). Asking for a second is another entirely.

Why MMO economics favor release or at most a short delay

Mythic did the right thing in delaying the game the first time because, in terms of phase planning (or whatever gaming companies call it), they were still entrenched in the “development” phase. While in the development phase Mythic is paying, say, 100 artists and developers and also a skeleton support staff (for alpha or beta servers). Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that they are burning through (not a real number) about a million dollars a month in payroll and overhead.

So when Mythic asked for that first delay, they were basically asking for a nine-month delay of return on investment, and also nine million extra dollars.

What about now? Well, we’re now getting closer to release. As Mythic ramps up to release they are going to start burning through money much more quickly. They’ll need to buy or rent a ton of server equipment, the space for the equipment, the bandwidth for the equipment, and support staff for the equipment. They’ll also need to hire a 24*7 customer support (GM) staff. These are not things you can do overnight and are likely well underway.

So how much money is Mythic burning through now? We should be able to at least triple the original monthly cost of the game, so now Mythic is burning through (not a real number) 3 million a month.

So it’s likely that a relatively short three month delay, were it to happen today, would cost EA and Mythic about as much money as the original nine month delay.

If I were a betting man

The game will be no more than one month late.

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