Monday, November 26, 2012

Coffee With Fake Developers

Q:  Who are you?

A: My name is Herman “Flinger” Brown.  I am the lead poop designer for World of Warcraft.

Q: So what is it that you do?

A: World of Warcraft is an incredibly complex game with many intricate game systems and a tremendous amount of background lore.  I am in charge of all the poop-related aspects of that.

Q: But poop is a small part of the game.

A: Well, in Mists of Pandaria, we’ve done a top-to-bottom revamp of our cooking system.  There are a lot of new banquets being prepared in the game.  And when people are eating fried carp cakes, there’s going to be a lot of pooping.  At this point, about 17% of World of Warcraft’s quests involve poop.   Poop actually interacts with a wide variety of game systems.
This expansion has seen a considerable expansion of my role, because we’ve incorporated a poop-themed NPC race, the Hozen.

Q: The Hozen are monkey-people.

A: Yes.  Poop monkeys.  Poop is integral to Hozen lore and culture, and it was very important that this rich brown thematic material was included in the gameplay elements as well as the story elements.  So, for example, when there is an attack like “Fling Filth,” I will be coordinating with the art team and determining what sort of animation we need to create for a fistful of monkey poop hitting the player in the face, and I will also be in touch with encounter design to discuss what sort of damage effect and splash radius makes sense, given the texture and consistency of this particular enemy character’s feces.

Q: But poop is just poop.

A: That’s far from the truth.  Monkey poop is very different from something like dragon poop.  You don’t want to see a rhinoceros dropping little bunny pellets, and we have a lot of decisions to make that most people wouldn’t even think of when we incorporate the poop of mythical creatures into the game.  

Does dragon poop come out in a viscous even patty, like cow dung? Or is it full of bones and hair like owl poop?  Does a vampire pop a squat like a regular person, or does it spray a stream of liquid filth like a bird or a bat?  It’s a humanoid, remember, but it is on an all-liquid diet.  We’ve got new creatures called cloud serpents in Mists of Pandaria, which are like dragons, but not connected to our dragon lore.  Should they poop like dragons, or should their poop be different?

Q: I don’t really see why that matters.

A: It matters a great deal, actually.  We’ve even got a daily quest that invites people to explore the poop of cloud serpents, which turns out to be full of carnivorous maggots called Siftworms.

Every time the quest team or the story team or the encounter team has a question like this, they bring me in on the meeting, to make sure all our decisions about these things are consistency.  I guess you could say I am in charge of poo continuity.

Q: How did you get this position?

A: Well, I was the junior designer on the quest team during “Burning Crusade,” and when the lead designers were shown the Nagrand area populated with Clefthoof buffalo-rhinos, somebody commented that those things probably just spent their time crapping all over the landscape.  Somehow, the clefthoof poop idea stuck, and they assigned me to make a quest about it.  

The Nagrand quest invited players to get elbow-deep into those clefthoof piles looking for magic beans, and, as a reward, we let players put the beans in their mouths. They liked it so much that we added a quest to Hellfire Peninsula in which an NPC asks the player to help out with retrieving some keys his dog swallowed.

These quests proved to be very popular, so when Wrath of the Lich King came around, I submitted ideas for about a dozen more poop-related quests, including the beloved outhouse line in Grizzly Hills, which invites players to gather ingredients for a magic laxative. 

By Cataclysm I was dealing with poop full-time.  We wanted to integrate poop back into the 1-60 leveling experience.  I’m especially proud of one quest from the Alliance “Rambo” questline in Redridge mountains, where we invited players to smear fox poop all over their faces.  

We also had some new races, which meant we had a lot of decisions to make.  Some of the Tol’Vir people of Uldum have been turned into stone sphinx guys. Do those guys poop regular poop, or do they poop rocks or something?  To say nothing of shale spiders.

And there were a lot of decisions to make about Deathwing.  Does his poop have chunks of metal in it? Is it on fire? He’s such an iconic character, so it was very important to get his poop right.

With the Hozen and the wider variety of poops in Mists of Pandaria, of course, I’m busier than ever.

Q: Tell me about your role in developing the Hozen.

Ghostcrawler called me into his office and told me it was time to really step up to a more prominent role on the team.  He handed me some concept art of a monkey-guy, and a couple of pages of lore information, and he asked me to look at it, and come back to tell him what sort of dialog this creature might have.

I went back to my desk, and I got myself a big cup of coffee, and I worked through the night.  

The next day, I went back to Ghostcrawler, and I pointed at the picture, and I said: “Ook-Ook!”

He said: “Ook-Ook?”

And I said: “Ook-Ook!”

He looked kind of disappointed. He said: “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?”

And I was kind of caught out, because I thought that was pretty good.  But then, off the top of my head, I said: “Me gonna ook you in the dooker!” And he smiled.

That was maybe the best day of my life.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

World of Warcraft Patch 5.0.4

"Why do you keep giggling?"
After a months-long hiatus during which he may have played some Diablo 3, Crawford the warlock is back in the World of Warcraft, gearing up for some kung-fu. So, what's new?

First and most importantly: New Warlock Pets.

I'm so glad we finally got a beholder pet, replacing our boring-but-functional felhunter. This is a change all warlocks have been lobbying for since the beholder was first introduced in Burning Crusade, and here's why: The beholder has the most anatomically-detailed butthole of any creature model in the entire World of Warcraft. This is especially awesome because the camera position naturally situates itself so that distended, pulsating sphincter is within my field of vision at all times. I can't wait to be staring into that sweet, hypnotic brown-eye for the next year and a half! I love the way it winks at me.

Second: Active tanking and new class mechanics

I joined a dungeon to play with the new changes. Here's a chat log:

Tank: Why is my Shield Block button greyed out?
Crawford: What is a Malefic Grasp?
Tank: I need Shield Block to live.
Healer: Holy Power seems to work differently now.
Crawford: Oh. That's a Malefic Grasp. I miss Shadow Bolt. Where is Shadow Bolt?
Tank: Shield Block costs 60 rage for some reason. I don't have 60 rage.
Healer: My buttons are messed up.
Crawford: What's the deal with Haunt?
Tank has died.
Tank: I think I am gonna buy Guild Wars 2.
Healer has died.
Crawford casts [Hearthstone]
Crawford has joined [1. Stormwind General Chat]
Crawford has joined [2. Trade]
2. Trade: Crawford: Hey everybody, have you seen the butthole on my new beholder pet? Look at it!

Third: New Talents!

General Forums: WTF, dog?
Ghostcrawler: We have simplified the trees to give you a few meaningful choices for utility abilities.
General Forums: What happened to all the goodies?
Ghostcrawler: Most of them were essentially mandatory, so we have just baked them into your core spec, rather than making you click the button every level.
General Forums: But what about customization?
Ghostcrawler: There wasn't any. Everyone just used the same benefit-maximizing builds.
General Forums: Not me!
Ghostcrawler: Then you're bad. Don't worry. You can still find ways to be bad in Mists of Pandaria.
General Forums: We're going to play SW:TOR, the hot new WoW killer.
Ghostcrawler: See you in three weeks.
(Three weeks later)
General Forums: We're going to go play Diablo 3.
Ghostcrawler: See you in, like, twenty minutes.
(Twenty minutes later)
General Forums: We're going to play Guild Wars 2.
Ghostcrawler: See you in three weeks.

Fourth: New Glyphs 

Blizzard: With this new Glyph of Nightmares, your dreadsteed can walk across water on a path of flames!
Crawford: I have the "Mountain 'O Mounts" achievement. I haven't ridden my dreadsteed in like four years. 
Blizzard: Oh.
Crawford: I usually ride around on a giant chicken now. Can my chicken walk across water on a path of flames?
Blizzard: No. Why do you ride around on a giant chicken?
Crawford: Is that not self-explanatory?
Blizzard: Maybe you would like to use your dreadsteed.
Crawford: Maybe you would like to look at my new beholder pet.
Blizzard: I see it. It's very nice.
Crawford: No. Look at it from behind.

Fifth: Revamped Pet UI

Revamped Pet UI: These are the new features we've implemented for the new pet battle system!
Pet battle trainer: Want to catch some rare pets?!
Pet battle trainer: I like your energy. Try to maintain that until next month, when the pet battle system becomes available.
Crawford: Hey, have you seen this beholder?

Sixth: New Loot System

Guy who rolls on everything: Yoink!
Everyone: We hate this!

Guy who rolls on everything: Well, it looks like my work here is done.
Everyone: We still hate it!
Crawford: Behold! My beholder!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Catalyst Doesn't Care If You Like His Ending

"I've got a bad feeling about this."

Catalyst: “Wake up.”

Shepard: “What? Where am I.”

Catalyst: “The Citadel.  It’s my home.”

Shepard: “Who are you?”

Catalyst: “I’m the Catalyst, bitch.”

Shepard: “Why do you look that dead kid from my nightmares?”

Catalyst: “I chose a form that would seem familiar to you.  It’s kind of like that movie ‘Contact.’ Have you seen it? It isn’t very good, but I love anything with Matthew McConnaughey.”

Shepard: “What?”

Catalyst: “My all-time fave is ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.’ It’s just delightful.  I’d tell you to add it to your Netflix queue, but I kind of doubt the mail is getting delivered, since Earth got eaten by my giant robot space Cthulhus. Plus, you’re going to die in about three minutes.”

Shepard: “Wait. What?”

Catalyst: “I’m just fuckin’ with you, bro.”

Shepard: “Oh. Good. I was about to freak out.  So, how do I stop the reapers?”

Catalyst: “I control the reapers. They are my solution.”

Shepard: “Solution? To what?”

Catalyst: “Basically, people are smart enough to be dangerous, but you’re still too stupid to live.  You always invent killer robots that will exterminate all organic life.  The only way to stop that from happening is to invent killer robots that only exterminate most organic life.  It’s really obvious, once you think about it.”

Shepard: “That’s not true.  I made peace with the killer robots. I united everybody behind a common purpose.  It's super-inspiring, dude."

Catalyst: “Are you serious?  Have you not been paying attention? All you’ve managed to prove is that the disparate civilizations of the galaxy slightly prefer tolerating each other’s presence to dying in a fire.  If the reapers were out of the picture, how long do you think the galaxy would last? At best, you managed to bring about a temporary cease-fire.  And, in the process, you gave free will to an army of nine-foot tall killer androids.  You also cured the genophage, which was the only thing preventing the galaxy from being overrun by giant nuclear rage rhinos.  And you decided that a species of bugs the size of trucks should continue to exist.  Twice.  I don't see this ending well.”

Shepard: “The truck-bugs said they’d be nice.”

Catalyst: “God, you’re stupid.”

Shepard: “You’re taking away our future.  That’s all we’ve got.”

You thought there'd be a happy ending? Dumbass.
Catalyst: “I am the most powerful computer ever created.  I’ve done the math.  If I don’t harvest advanced civilizations, then they’ll inevitably destroy themselves and all other organic life.”

Shepard: “I don’t believe that.”

Catalyst: “It’s a fact, dipshit.  You don’t get to agree or disagree with a fact.  It just exists.”

Shepard: “But we built the Crucible.”

Catalyst: “Yeah, you did.  And if there’s one irrevocable law of the universe, it’s that world-destroying fleets of squid-bots must yield to vaguely-defined space-macguffins.  So I guess now we need to find a new solution.”

Shepard:  “Hellz yeah, we do.  In yo’ face.”

Catalyst:  “Okay, you want some choices? Here are some choices.  First, if you want to destroy the reapers, you can do that.  You can destroy all synthetic creatures, including the geth.  It will also blow up the mass relays and the Citadel.”

Shepard: “How about we just blow up the reapers, and we keep the mass relays and the Citadel?”

Catalyst: “How about you go fuck yourself?”

Shepard: “But we’ll have peace? The reapers will be gone forever?”

Catalyst: “Yeah.  But they only stop you from destroying yourselves.  How long do you think it will be before there’s another Rachni swarm or another Krogan invasion or somebody invents more killer-robots?”

Shepard: “You have to give us a chance.”

Catalyst: “You’re an idiot.”

Shepard: “What’s the second choice?”

Catalyst: “You can take control of the Reapers.”

Shepard: “So the Illusive Man was right>”

Catalyst: “Yep.  He’s made a lot of sense all along.  If you didn’t skip all the dialog, you might have noticed.”

Shepard: “I kind of wish I hadn’t shot him in the face.”

Catalyst: “You make a lot of really questionable decisions.”

Shepard: “So how do I control the reapers?”

Catalyst: “Grab onto those electrode things over there.”

Shepard: “The ones with all the blue lightning jumping off of them?”

"Don't say I didn't warn you."
Catalyst: “Yep.  Those.”

Shepard: “Looks like that will hurt.”

Catalyst:  “Oh, yeah.  It will melt your goddamn face right off.  I never said this was going to be easy.  Also, the mass relays will all blow up.”

Shepard:  “Yeah, I’ve got a question about that.  The full military strength of every advanced race in the galaxy has been deployed to Earth.”

Catalyst: “So?”

Shepard: “So, if the mass relays blow up, how will they get home?  They don’t have FTL drives, and they 
rely on the mass relays for interstellar travel.”

Catalyst: “What do I look like? A spaceship scientist?  Who gives a damn about FTL drives? You just have to give into the emotional significance of what’s going on right now.  This is major climactic shit that’s happening here.  Don’t be such a nerd.”

Shepard: “What’s the third option?”

Catalyst: “You jump into that big green beam of light, and die.  For some reason, that will create a new DNA that fuses all organic and synthetic life into an organic-synthetic combination.”

Shepard: “How does that fix anything?”

Catalyst: “I don’t know.  I’m pretty much just making shit up.  My plan was to kill all humans.  I still think we should go with that one.”

Shepard: “So no matter what I do, I’m going to die?”

Catalyst: “Yep.”

Shepard: “Wow.  That’s a bummer.”

Catalyst: “Sucks to be you.”

Sunday, July 10, 2011

World of Poorcraft

Squeezles the gnome logged on at six o'clock, and played World Of Warcraft until after eleven p.m.  During that time, he never left the city of Stormwind.

"I'm just trying to get some gold together," Squeezles said.  "Repair bills have gotten very expensive."

Squeezles has to pay a vendor as much as sixty gold every seven or eight times he dies.  He said those bills can really add up, since players can frequently die as many as fifty times in the course of attempting a heroic dungeon.

"It's hard to hang on to enough gold to even afford to go out into the world to farm gold," he said.

In order to make ends meet, Squeezles offers his jewelcrafting services in Stormwind trade chat.

"I link my jewelcrafting recipes in trade chat, so people can see the cuts I can do," he explained.  "If they want a gem cut, they can bring me the uncut gem, and then I will open my jewelcrafting tab, push the button to cut it, and give the cut gem back to me.  Most people give me five gold for doing this, but sometimes I get ten."

Unfortunately, his selection of gem-cuts is relatively paltry.  In order to learn a new pattern, he must complete three jewelcrafting daily-quests.  But those quests can be difficult to complete.

"This one keeps popping up, where I have to cut three Timeless Nightstones.  But where am I supposed to get a nightstone?  Do they think I just have extra gold lying around to buy stuff like that?"

Only one of the daily quests is reasonable for a casual player like Squeezles to complete. It involves using a quest item to tag ten humanoid players.  It is only available twice a week, so Squeezles has only a limited repertoire of patterns.

"Green is my favorite color, so I am trying to learn all the cuts for Dream Emeralds," he said.  Most of his gear is green, as well.

On a recent evening, Punchins the Night Elf Death Knight walked right past Squeezles to buy three Puissant Dream Emeralds on the auction house for forty gold each.  Uncut Dream Emeralds cost nine gold each, so, even after giving Squeezles a customary tip, the elf could have saved seventy-five gold by getting the gnome to cut his gems for him.

"Who cares?" Punchins said, when informed of this.  "It's not like gold matters in this game."

He further explained that he was completely unaware of Squeezles's jewelcrafting service, because he has disabled trade chat.

"I cut three, maybe four gems an hour," Squeezles said.  "If I'm lucky, one person will need a bunch of gems cut, and will tip really well for cutting all of them. But that doesn't happen a lot."

Punchins the death knight said he was on his way to the Molten Front daily quest hub.  The zone's fifteen quests would take him twenty-five minutes, total, and the quests reward sixteen gold each.

"People who have gold must play, like, nonstop," Squeezles said, as he spammed his trade-chat macro.

Ossland the human warrior sold the three gems that Punchins bought on the Auction House.  "I raid two nights a week, and I check in for about twenty minutes on most off nights, to re-list my auctions."

He said he had twenty five gem-cuts, and he'll list between two and five of each kind per night, depending on how popular a particular kind of gem is.

"The auction house is for suckers," Squeezles said, shaking his head at Ossland.  "You have to pay a deposit to list an item, and then it takes a cut of the sale price.  Plus, you have to front the items to list it.  I use trade chat, and only do gem-cuts with my customers' mats, so my take is pure profit."

He then excused himself to explain to another player that he didn't know how to cut a Brilliant Inferno Ruby.  Meanwhile, Ossland looted 4000 gold from his mailbox and logged off to go watch "True Blood" with his wife.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pickup vs. Organized Raiding

People talk a lot on the forums about distinctions between casual and hardcore players. But many non-raiders play several hours daily, while many progressed raiders only play a few hours per week. If you're getting your valor cap from RDF groups every week, you're more hardcore than many raiders, if hardness is measured by time played.

The real split is between those who have an organized, regular guild or raid group and those who do not.

I've been doing random dungeon finder groups on my warrior-tank alt, and what I've learned is that random players will almost always fail any execution check. If there's a predictable effect or attack, somebody always stands in it. If there's a mechanic that requires movement or a target switch, somebody always ignores it. This is often true even if you explain the fight beforehand.

Random groups only become smooth when the players are powerful enough to just muscle through the fight without responding to the mechanics. So, even after 4.2, when most people will have access to 359+ gear for half their slots, and the 15% buff on top of that, dungeon finder groups will continue to wipe on fights like Ozruk and Venoxis.

Organized groups and guilds aren't necessarily composed of people who are faster with their fingers or smarter than pickup groups. But by playing together, they learn the fights together. Then, when they return to them the next week and the week after, they already know what to do. The boss tends to die quickly and the guild moves on to learn the next fight.

In pickup groups, the knowledge gained through repeated attempts dissipates. You will wipe five times today while a tank figures out how to position Venoxis so he can run through the boss when he channels the breath attack, and the next time you run the dungeon, you'll die five more times while a new tank learns it.

Heroic dungeon fights are relatively simple. Bosses have a small number of abilities to learn, and there are few phase-changes that fundamentally alter what's happening in the fight. Approaching these fights in the minimum appropriate gear with no knowledge, most groups should be able to figure them out in less than an hour.

Raid fights, by contrast, usually have several things going on that everyone in the raid needs to learn about and understand how to handle. In many cases, these fights have multiple distinct phases where the fight changes significantly, so everyone needs to learn how to deal with several problems in each phase. These fights tend to take at least several hours for a group to learn, and often, several nights of attempts. The progress is in knowledge gained of the fight's mechanics.

In a disorganized setting, the knowledge is lost. Many fights in the 4.1 raid content are simply inaccessible to pickup groups, not because they actually require anyone to do anything extremely challenging but because they require everyone in the raid to be aware of several mechanics in each of several phases, and to react to them (e.g. run away from the raid if you're the lightning rod, run to the fire if you have the ice debuff, don't stand in Corrupting Crash).

The primary barrier to entry for the raid game is the ability to show up at a regularly scheduled time, two to three nights per week. The recruiting pool on most servers isn't exactly deep right now, so if you can meet that qualification, a guild will probably teach you how to improve your throughput and help you to gear up.

Any encounter that requires substantial awareness or knowledge of fight specific mechanics is a progression wall for pickup raids, and any fight that does not involve multiple fight-specific mechanics is going to bore experienced raiders. Blizzard has several strata of organized guilds to serve with its raid content. The very top-tier guilds are comprised exclusively of the best players in the world, and they're willing to raid long hours to break a dungeon. The heroic-mode raids they see are incredibly difficult. There's usually a wave of hotfix-nerfs to heroic modes shortly after the "world first" competition ends, which makes that content accessible for hardcore progression guilds that aren't the best in the world. Below them are more casual guilds who tend to occupy themselves with normal mode raids, and comprise the bulk of the raid community. In Wrath, pickup groups were supported by having separate lockouts for 25-man raids and easier 10-man versions. Blizzard combined the lockouts and loot tables for 10s and 25s, because the raid week for casual-guilds was exhausting.

If you can meet the minimum criteria of being able to participate in scheduled guild raids, the raid game right now is very accessible. Widespread successful pickup raiding of current-tier content seems unlikely under the current design model. The 4.2 raid nerf seems to be designed to open up those dungeons to pickup raids. Blizzard has done similar things in the past, including the ICC stacking buff.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Varian Wrynn Interrupts Celebrity Apprentice

"Now, STFU about my birth certificate!"

Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the people of Stormwind that PvP happened on a PvP server, and a nub got pwned.

It was nearly six years ago, that I first heard about these nubs, and I was, like: "OMG, somebody needs to pwn these nubs." Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our griefer community and some BG heroes, I was briefed on a possible lead to the nubs' location. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my second personality , Lo'Gosh, as we developed more information about the possibility that we'd found some nubs and it was time to full-on pwn them.

Today, at my direction, Stormwind launched a targeted operation against some nubs. A small team of 2200+ arena jerks carried out the operation with extraordinary courage, and none of them were harmed because they all had 35% damage mitigation from resilience. They took care to avoid hitting the sheep. After a firefight, they killed a nub and performed a "sit" animation repeatedly on his body.

For six years, nubs have been the symbol of everything that's wrong with this game, spamming nonsense in trade chat and failing at dungeon-finder, and then whining about it on the forums. The death of this nub marks the most significant victory in our nation's effort to defeat nubs and tell them that they are bad at the game and also, horrible people.

Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There is no doubt that nubs will continue to cry about how bad they are and generally get in everyone's way. We must -and we will- keep camping them until their res timer is three minutes and they log off in frustration.

We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism and unparalleled ownage of those who play arena. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden of carrying nubs in random BGs and Dungeon Finder groups.

Let us remember that we can do these things not just because we have friends and coordination, but also because we are awesome.

Thank you. May The Light bless you. And may The Light bless the Alliance.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Meet GUILDoS, Your Synthetic Raid Leader

Hello, and welcome to your Tuesday-night raid.  We're going to have SO much fun together. With Warcraft!

We've got a new member tonight. He's a rogue.  I think his name is Stabbins, but it's hard to tell because he uses a lot of special characters in it.  He's a real person, though, with real feelings, unlike me.  Well, I wasn't programmed to have feelings, but thanks to my experiences with all of you, I've learned how to feel rage and disgust.

Anyway, welcome to the guild, Stabbins.

We're doing Blackwing Descent tonight.  Are you ready to raid?  Yes? Are you excited?  Well that's just super, because I've got a surprise for you.  Are you ready?

You're not going to Blackwing Descent, you green-dagger using idiot.  Not tonight. Not ever.  You're the worst player anyone has ever seen, and I hate you.  All of us hate you.

I just sent you a guild-invite because I couldn't believe that a real person could write such an incoherent guild application.  You also have a terrible armory profile.  The spec you've designed is a marvel of human ingenuity.  The talent-tree revamp was supposed to make it impossible for you to do it so aggressively wrong, but you found a way.  So we just wanted to bring you here so we could look at you.

And now we've seen you. And you're ugly.

Anyway, thanks for being hilarious, Stabbins.  We don't need you anymore.  Incoming /gkick!

[StàBBïñž has left the guild]


The funny thing about Stabbins is that I just kicked him a minute ago and now I already miss him.  Maybe I was a little harsh.  Let me run my calculations again.

[StàBBïñž has joined the guild]

Hello!  We were only giving you a little initiation, Stabbins.  Thanks for being such a good sport about it.  Are you ready to raid? Great!


[StàBBïñž has left the guild]

Now I miss him again.  It's too bad that he's gone because we disenchanted all those daggers last week.  When we disenchant all the daggers again tonight, remind me to take a screenshot, so I can send it to him later.  He'll enjoy that.

Okay, let's get started.  RazerFaze, try to do better at running away from the sound waves on Atramedes tonight.  Your wife left you because you spend too much time playing games, so it really seems like you should not be so bad at them.

Pulling in 5...4...3...