Monday, March 25, 2013

Just to Whet Your Appetite

As of late, a lull has hit the Rift community.  There's almost completely solidified concerns that PvP isn't really a focus for Trion.  Rumors abound regarding a supposed desire for Defiance to take over as Trion's flagship MMO thus leaving Rift to dwindle away in its shadow.  My last post detailed out a bleak future for the game we love and patch 2.2 left a bit to be desired as its only sizable contributions to the game were 4 hard mode alternates for their 20m raids and a world event.

So is Rift truly heading for a bleak future as my last post might lead one to believe?  The jury is certainly still out with respect to that and I am personally not convinced one way or another.  However, some very interesting information has come to light over the last few weeks that paints a very different picture for Rift's future than all the aforementioned doomsaying would have us believe.  This information, laced throughout livestreams and developer posts, points to a very promising and exciting future for what, at this time, is Rift's flagship game.

To begin, I'd draw your attention to a livestream from approximately three weeks ago.  During this event, it was pointed out by one of the developers at Trion, who was sitting in for this particular livestream that something large was in the works for Rift's three year anniversary.  He wouldn't divulge any specific information but he hinted at it not just being a patch.  Of course the jump up from a patch takes us to an expansion and speculation has been rampant regarding what this expansion could add to Telara.  Perhaps, however, Telara itself won't receive any additions but rather subtractions in myriad players heading into the planes to take on the blood gods in their true forms!  It's long been hoped for that we'd be able to enter the planes and, by next February or March, we just might get our opportunity.

Speaking of entering the planes, it used to be something of a dream for us Telarans but, as of late, it's been confirmed by Trion that we will be entering the planes themselves in Rift's future.  Not only is this exciting to hear, but if that plane of death looks anything like the plane of death you brave to fight Regulos in Endless Eclipse, I'm going to be one ecstatic gamer.  The encounter area for Regulos is one of the single coolest areas I've visited in any MMO simply for the aesthetics.

As if the above wasn't enough it seems Daglar has, of late, been willing to drop small tidbits of information regarding future developments within Rift.  One of his latest forum posts was most notable where he mentioned that Ailion and Kervik are hard at work on new souls as well as other "class related features".  New souls?  New class features?  Entering the planes?  Something huge coming to Rift for Rift's three year anniversary?  We can't carve it in stone yet but it certainly smells like an expansion to me.

Less notable than the above but still interesting are some other pieces of information recently dropped by the devs.  Firstly, we can expect incentives to be implemented to encourage mentoring.  Additionally, lower-level zone event bosses will be getting a "measure of defense" against high level players.  Lastly, it's worth calling out that, during another livestream, it was confirmed by a Trion dev that patches 2.3, 2.4, and 2.5 are all well under way.  Additionally, patches 2.6 and 2.7 are both already in the planning stages.  What's more is that all of these patches are slated for 2013!  To close all this out, I'll offer an honorable mention from another developer:  without Greenscale's corruption, the Plane of Life isn't very hostile so expect some interesting content dealing with an "alliance of sorts".

And finally, we have some more niceties coming our way.  A Moonshade Highlands dimension near cascading waterfalls has been selected by the Joy of Dimensions contest winner and will drop soon (potentially 2.3).  Additionally, a Three Springs dimension is planned as well as the ability to have multiple active dimensions.

So let's recap for our TLDR users:

  1. Something "huge" is coming for Rift's three year anniversary
  2. We will absolutely be entering the planes
  3. New souls are in the works by Kervik and Ailion
  4. New class-related features are also in the works
  5. Incentives for mentoring are to be implemented
  6. A fix for high-levels "ruining" low-level zone events is coming
  7. Patches 2.3, 2.4, and 2.5 are well under way
  8. Patches 2.6, and 2.7 are in the planning stages
  9. Patches 2.3 - 2.7 are all slated for 2013.
  10. The Plane of Life is relatively friendly with Greenscale gone so expect content centered around this point in the future.
  11. Moonshade Highlands dimension has been selected by the Joy of Dimensions contest winner and may hit in 2.3
  12. Another Moonshade Highlands dimension, Three Springs, is in the works.
  13. The ability to have multiple active dimensions is under development.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Is Rift Heading for a Bleak Future

Rift, to date, has been among the best gaming experiences I've ever taken part in.  Never in my lengthy history of MMO gaming had I been so excited for an expansion as I was for Storm Legion.  Since Storm Legion's release, however, a gradual change has taken shape and cast a looming shadow atop the game I knew and loved.  This isn't to say Rift no longer appeals to me - it certainly does - but rather calls attention to the many inconsistencies and issues myself and countless others have witnessed over the last few months.  Is Rift heading down a bleak and overcast path or should the proverbial tinfoil hat be tossed aside?  I'm actually hoping you can help me with that decision.

In December, just one month after Storm Legion shipped, Trion did a layoff of quite a few people.  Initially the speculation ran rampant.  In one camp you had those who believed the layoffs were due to a release of QA and temporary help after Storm Legion was out the door and that this should be expected and no reason for worry.  In another camp you had those who were troubled by the news and believed any layoff of this magnitude surely meant that, at the very least, Trion itself wasn't doing all that well and, therefore, Rift may be at least part of the problem.  Speculation continued until some handy internet sleuthing by TehFrank pointed out exactly who was included in the layoffs.  For clarity, the use of the word "Round" in the links below does not imply multiple rounds of layoffs but rather was used by TehFrank to denote his "rounds" of results:

Perusing the names and titles, it immediately becomes clear that while some of the employees let go may very well have been "temporary" help to get Storm Legion out the door in a timely manner, the majority were most likely not.  Systems Engineers, Content Designers, Character Animators and many members that would be considered "core" to MMO game development were among the casualties.  While it's possible that even some of these were "temporary" help, a cursory glance at the tenures for each former employee immediately strikes that argument down.  In other words, this absolutely wasn't a layoff simply to let temporary help go after the product has shipped.  This was a layoff that gutted a significant chunk of Trion's core staff.  So what is left unconfirmed (although not entirely), is just how many of these fine ladies and gentlemen were directly involved with Rift?

Fast forward to January and we see the news break that Scott Hartsman is leaving Trion Worlds, Inc.  Everyone has read the post so I won't share it here.  Scott, who had been an enthusiastic and much-loved driving force behind Rift since before it even launched, was stepping down.  His departure from Trion came at an already tumultuous time given the layoffs just a month prior and the tinfoil hats were adorned in full force:  Trion was not doing well and neither was Rift.  Conversely, arguments were made stating that Scott was simply making a standard industry move of bowing out after a 2-3 year stint.  Others argued that Scott's vision for Rift no longer aligned with its future direction and therefore he decided to part ways.  Regardless of how you look at the situation, it's always troubling to see a game's visionary and central face decide to move on.  What could this departure mean for the game, especially considering the sizable layoff that took place just a month prior?

Shortly after Scott's departure, a "State of the Game" was released.  This is consistent with what most MMOs do and was a follow-up to the very lengthy and rather detailed "State of the Game" entries offered up by Scott Hartsman in 2011 and 2012.  The new face of RIft was revealed and Daglar, whom, like Hartsman, was also a household name in the Rift community, offered up the 2013 "State of the Game".  To be blunt, his offering was very short, extremely vague and offered little to no information that wasn't already public knowledge.  For some, it was a state of the union born of rapid preparation given the departure of Scott Hartsman.  For others, it was an unacceptable dodging of any meaningful communication and a slap in the face to those who had just purchased a year long subscription alongside Storm Legion.  Was Daglar's brevity in the annual address due to a hasty departure of the man who would normally write it or was there truly no worthwhile information to share at that time due to a cloudy and bleak future?

Still not done, we turn, yet again, to TehFrank's internet sleuthing skills to find that more departures from Trion have taken place recently:

And they have now hired:

Having worked in the gaming industry myself as a developer and character modeler, I can attest to the fact that outsourcing is a fairly common thing for large gaming companies.  In fact, the company I worked for was rather often the beneficiary of outsourced work from significantly larger studios.  However, while common, what of the timing for this acquisition?  Is it merely coincidence that an outsourcing manager has been brought on board at this time?  On one hand, the use of outsourcing could be a construed as a good thing.  For example, Trion may be looking at outsourcing certain tasks in order to maintain an aggressive patching schedule.  On the other hand, this could be tell-tale evidence of a more "hands off" approach from Trion with respect to one or all of their own games - something that is often done to cut costs in lieu of dismal bottom lines.  Even still, the acquisition of an outsourcing manager may have absolutely nothing to do with Rift and is, instead, intended for End of Nations, Defiance, or both.

Going further down the rabbit hole, however, yields some troubling images.  The first of this was brought to our attention by, yet again, TehFrank.  Found in the comments responding to a RiftJunkies article, apparently some former Trion employees (or folks who have at least worked with some current or former Trion employees) had choice words in reference to Rift and the Trion Worlds, Inc team working on the game.  Accusations of untrained, fledgling developers consistently missing deadlines and regular use of bullying/political tactics rampaged about.  What's even more intriguing is that, as it appears, Walsingham himself chimed in with a professional response while not refuting a single word of the aforementioned accusations.  Certainly this could be a few disgruntled ex-employees spewing nonsense but could it, in fact, be the truth?  And as if that wasn't enough, Spaceboots discovered some very poor reviews of Trion over at job review site  What's scary is that much of what's covered in the reviews, corroborates what was mentioned in the comments over at RiftJunkies.  Now, of course, this could all be nothing more than overblown garbage being thrown about as every disgruntled former employee (especially one that was laid off) might be inclined to rip on their past employer when given anonymity but can everything mentioned in this post follow suit?

For me, the writing seems to be on the walls.  While I've no idea whether or not Trion could recover from something like this and proceed onward with an exceptional gaming experience, everything ties together a bit too nicely for my tastes.  Rift has been my game since February of 2011 and will remain my game for the foreseeable future but the results of countless, curious internet denizens certainly paints anything but a rosy picture.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Dream Patch Notes

Reading through the forums of late, I've come across a lot of great ideas.  Some of these have conjured up ideas of my own.  With this installment to The Ascended Chronicle, I lay out some fictitious patch notes that, to me, would be beyond amazing.  To be clear, some of the ideas below are not mine and were put forth by many of our great community members over at the official rift forums.  I won't list out all the sources here but if anyone is curious as to who originally presented an idea, I'd be happy to point you in their direction!

Patch 2.n - On the Brink of Infinity
  • General
    • A new account-wide bank is now available to all players.  Any items stored in this bank are available to all characters on that account.  Crafting will first look to individual banks for materials but, if none are found there, will then look at the account bank
    • New zone event:  Varias, Colossus of Air.  Queen Miela, as the embodiment of Crucia, has succeeded in opening the Infinity Gate.  Before long, the plane of air will be loosed upon Telara.  In her first display of aggression, Crucia has unleashed Varias, a colossus of air, upon The Steppes of Infinity.  Do you have what it takes to push Varias back into the plane of air and hold back the devastation?
    • New quest hub:  Infinity's Brink.  Come to the aid of the Eternal City Survivors and many others whom are preparing to make their stand against the planes before the Infinity Gate!  Many daily quests along with a new story arch are there for well-geared Ascended.
  • Dimensions
    • A large amount of dimension items have been added to the game.  As some examples:
      • Strand of rope
      • Strand of chain
      • Various window types
    • Water can now be placed in dimensions! Water comes as rectangular blocks that can be resized.  And, yes, you can swim in it.
    • The following individual dimensions have been made available.  These dimensions have a chance to drop from the final boss of each dungeon.  Drop chance is increased for groups containing at least one mentor:
      • Foul Cascade
      • Kings Breach
      • Runic Descent
      • Iron Tomb
    • After being able to see the impact of dimensions on our infrastructure, we are now increasing the dimension item cap across all dimensions by 50%.
  • PvP
    • General
      • Increased the amount of Freelancer and Warlord Mark's awarded for doing daily Random Warfronts
    • Conquest
      • Conquest - Iron Pine Peak is now available!  The Nightfall, and Dominion return to seek ownership of an alternate Iron Pine Peak as a base of operations against the planes!
        • Vie for control of The Chancel of Labors, Whitefall and Exile's Den.  The owning faction gains influence with Thedeor, the God of swords.  The more influence you earn with Thedeor, the greater assistance you will be afforded.  Craft barricades to set choke points.  Place cannons to wreak havoc upon your foes from afar.  Establish graveyards to hasten the return of Ascended.
    • Skirmishes
      • Group up with fellow Ascended and challenge other groups to group vs group battles.
      • As the party leader, simply right-click on any player portrait and select "Skirmish".  The party leader of that player's party will be notified of the request.  Upon accepting the challenge, a 10 second countdown will begin after which the battle will commence!
    • Rated Warfronts
      • A new, rated mode for all warfronts except The Battle for Port Scion is now available!
      • Queue together with as many as 15 players
      • Statistics are kept based on performance in the Warfront.  The statistics taken into account for one's rating are as follows:
        • Damage done
        • Healing done
        • Killing blows
        • Healing saves
        • Objectives achieved
        • Wins
      • The better one performs, the quicker that player will "ascend" the rankings.  Are you among the greatest Ascended combatants?  Prove it.  Many rewards may be yours for the taking such as:
        • Library of the Runemasters dimension
        • Black Garden dimension
        • Statue of the Victor dimension item
        • "the Victor" suffix title
        • Planar dyes
  • Callings
    • Rogue
      • Assassin
        • Leaping Plunge:  now covers it's distance signficantly faster and roots the target in place upon use.  Damage removed but now automatically applies all poisons.  Cooldown increased from 8 to 12 seconds.
        • Slightly increased the drain amount done by Debilitating Poison.  Now also siphons a small amount of health from the target as well (approximately 30% of what Leeching Poison heals for)
      • Bard
        • Increased the absorb amount granted from Verse of Occlusion by 50%.
      • Marksman
        • Bullseye:  now guarantees a critical hit on the next finisher.  Cooldown reduced to 1 minute 30 seconds.
      • Nightblade
        • Heat Retention now only applies to Nightblade finishers
        • Fiery Spike:  damage increased
        • Ignited Weapons:  now causes the Rogue's Blazing Strike, Flame Blitz, and Flame Thrust to cause the target to burn for 30/60% of weapon damage over 6 seconds.  Stacks up to 2.
      • Ranger
        • Increased the damage of Ace Shot and slightly increased the damage increase it gives to pet damage.
      • Riftstalker
        • Planar Rejuvenation:  Now heals the Rogue for 15% of their maximum health over 15s.
        • Riftstalker crystals (Gilded and T'scain's): 4/2pc bonus respective increased to award 200 health whenever using Planar Strike or Phantom Blow 
      • Tactician
        • The damage of torrents has been slightly reduced
        • The radius of torrents has been slightly increased
  • Bug Fixes
    • The Rift Mobile application should now more rapidly display chat messages on your device.
    • Fixed several terrain issues such as the water abruptly ending in Witch's Thicket, Ardent Domain!
    • Adjusted how foliage and world objects are displayed to prevent cases where they would rapidly blink under certain circumstances.
With all of that posted, I'd like to briefly discuss some of the items I've chosen to include.  

To begin, I offer up Conquest: Iron Pine Peak as an alternate Conquest version that is won through territorial dominance.  There are only two factions: Nightfall and Dominion, but three major points of interest along with a handful of smaller points of interest.  As you gain control of any of the three major points of interest, you earn influence with the God of Swords, Thedeor, whom empowers you with various buffs.  The buffs increase slowly over time based on your influence. Further, an expanding area of dominance grows from the points you control.  Strategically place cannons and barricades within an area of dominance you own to give your faction an advantage.  Capture graveyards spread throughout the zone to reduce the time to battle for teammates.  The cannons and barricades would be craftable and could be placed anywhere.  Barricades provide line of sight opening up great opportunities for positioning while also enabling the creation of choke points or even blocking off paths.  Barricades and cannons can both be destroyed but have large health pools.  Influence fluctuates up and down based on ownership of the three major areas but the buffs you receive from Thedeor persist.  The match ends once one faction reaches a certain amount of influence with Thedeor or when the kill count has been reached.

The new zone event in Steppes of Infinity would be a Volan-scale event featuring a new colossus of air, Varias.  The area surrounding the Infinity Gate, as part of this patch, would be heavily barricaded and fortified in preparation for the inevitable onslaught from the the gate.  Similar to a zone event schedule like Volan's, Varias would emerge from the Infinity Gate and begin to wreak havoc about Infinity's Brink.  This multi-stage encounter will consist of Varias knocking through pillars scattered about Infinity's Brink while also lifting into the air and descending rapidly, smashing into the ground, causing a shockwave that knocks all  NPCs and players in the area back and down, dealing significant damage.  Upon the defeat of Varias, the quest hub would be available for 2-4 hours.  In addition to standard fare such as essences, a host of vanity items such would be available for purchase with a new currency obtained through doing dailies at Infinity's Brink.  There will also be some notoriety restrictions on some of the items with the Eternal City Survivors.

The new dimension item for water may need adjustment depending on how Rift's engine, Gamebryo, renders "water".  Some engines represent water as actual world objects that are textured in various ways.  Other engines handle it differently.  I don't know enough about the engine so if a "block" of placeable, scalable water isn't idea within the engine, another option could be offered such as "painting" water onto/into areas via some means.  Essentially, Trion would need to offer, within the confines of dimensions, a way to place water that is similar to their own way of placing water when they craft the areas of Telara.

The new dimensions made available would be drops from the final bosses of the respective instances with an increased drop chance if there is at least one member of the party who is a mentor.  Foul Cascade would take up the area near the waterfall behind where you fight the final boss.  King's Breach would take up most of the starting area with the two natural towers opposite one another.  Runic Descent would either take up the area where you fight Warden Falidor or down where you fight the treant Wormwood.  Iron Tomb would take up the area where you fight the three kings.

Rated warfronts would given more competitive PvPers a chance to challenge themselves against other players while progressing through the ranks.  You could queue for rated warfronts as a premade of up to 15.  Groups over 10 players would only be able to queue into Library of the Runemasters, The Codex, Whitefall Steppes: Escalation, and Karthan Ridge.  Groups of 10 or less could queue for all those but also for Black Garden.  The idea behind the statistics would be to give everyone an opportunity to contribute and improve their rating regardless of how they choose to play.  For example, a support player such as a Bard would definitely not be near the top in damage done, nor be near the top in healing done, but would benefit from both statistical categories unlike a pure DPS or a pure healer.  Further, players can simply focus on completing objectives or doing whatever is necessary to help their team win to increase their rating as well.  I admit freely that the math behind all of this would prove tricky but I have no doubts it could be done with the right amount of planning and thought put into it.

The planar dyes I mention as a reward for achieving a certain rating in rated warfronts would be Bind on Pickup (so only those who have actually earned them could make use of them).  The dyes themselves would be more complex dyes.  Unlike normal dyes that are a single color, planar dyes would give the dyed item the look of that plane.  So as an example, a Planar Dye: Death, when used on chest armor, would dye that armor some combination of black and purple that or perhaps even retexture that item with deathly scales such as are found on the protruding death tentacles killed at the end of Conquest: Stillmoor.

For calling changes, I chose to include only Rogue changes since the Rogue calling is the only calling I'm intimately familiar with.  My reasoning behind some of the changes are as follows:
  • Leaping Plunge is currently a fairly terrible gap closer given its travel time, lack of a snare/root - which both contribute to the fact that a moving player will have long since moved out of melee range when you actually finish the ability.  The intention of Leaping Plunge was to give deep Assassin a reasonable gap closer so let's do that by reducing the travel time, adding a snare/root that is applied the moment you use the ability and causing the Rogue's poisons to proc upon arrival - all at the expense of an increased cooldown.
  • Debilitating Poison is borderline useless right now.  It had one application within the Laethys encounter pre-SL but I never see this poison getting used out in the world, in warfronts or in raids.  So, for now, until a new PvE gimmick is introduced wherein this particular poison has a purpose, it'll remain relatively unused.  My previous idea of applying a passive snare to debilitating poison to assist with uptime for Assassins (even if it meant we needed to lower Assassin damage across the board to compensate in PvP mind you) got shot down as overpowered so let's offer a small health siphon and a slightly increased mana/energy/power drain.
  • Verse of Occlusion, to me, is a pretty lackluster ability given its depth into Bard.  The shield is applies is hardly noticeable so let's buff this deep-Bard ability.
  • Bullseye is skipped in the majority of Marksman builds outside of pure MM of course and there is good reason for this:  it's a waste of a talent point.  Let's give Bullseye some love both for deep MM builds as well as hybrid builds that would be interested in grabbing it from Marksman (i.e. PvP burst builds that want to set up a huge finisher).
  • This proposed Heat Retention fix is one way of nerfing the ridiculously overpowered Tac/NB hybrid that is capable of 10-20K Empyrean Ray crits.
  • Baking a bit more damage into the DoT portions of NB damage will improve NB PvE capabilities, bringing it on par with Bladedancer and Assassin, while affecting PvP very little.
  • As for Ace Shot, I've not seen a deep Ranger build in use anywhere since Storm Legion launched.  The deepest I've seen any Rogue go into Ranger be it in a PvP or PvE setting is the tried and true 40MM/36RNG hybrid that is currently our top ranged DPS.  From what testing I've done, along with what I've read on the forums, Ace Shot is lackluster so let's make deep ranger a viable ranged option again while opening up some interesting Ranger PvP possibilities.
  • For the Riftstalker changes, I'm not sure that I need to explain this much.  These changes are buffing some extremely lackluster effects.
  • The radius adjustments to Tactician are quality of life changes that I'd enjoy but I would understand completely if they were to be omitted.

Let me know what you think!  You can do so on the official Rift forums in response to any of the posts linking to this article or you can do so in the comments below.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's In Trion's Hands Now

Rift PvP has been on a downward slide for quite some time now.  You don't have to take my word for it.  Take a look at the evidence yourself.  Every PvP shard has been shut down except the obligatory one that must remain open for Rift to have even the slightest appearance of a game with any PvP at all.  And that obligatory PvP shard has the smallest population among all shards.  It's a proverbial ghost town.  As if that wasn't evidence enough that Rift PvP is a game for the Telaran minority, a cursory glance over at the official PvP forums will show that a general distaste for this facet of Rift rules each and every day.  Rift's PvP community is extremely small by comparison to any other modern MMO (and no, I'm not just referring to WoW but rather similarly-populated MMOs in general) and what's left of it is highly fragmented into competing ideologies who each simultaneously pull down the blindfold and stick fingers in their ears.  Rift PvP is in a troubling state and I intend to explain why.

At the most basic level, it boils down to a lack of rewards.  Undoubtedly when you make such a claim, you are met with seemingly unending jeers and poorly-phrased rebuttals.  The most common of these is that, to paraphrase, "the reward for PvP should be killing your opponent and trying to win".  This all too common statement misses the point entirely and betrays its originator's understanding of why we play MMOs in the first place.

Ask yourself the following question:  why does the MMO market exist?  The answer can be found in basic psychology:  as human beings, we subconsciously find the effort<==>reward cycle engaging and addictive.  You see a monster off by some rocks and you rush to kill it.  For your efforts, you are rewarded with experience, money, notoriety, loot, credit towards a zone event, or any number of other rewards.  This, however, is just the beginning.  These temporary rewards beget larger and more substantial rewards.  Your increased notoriety with that faction now opens up a small collection of very nice item enchantments.  Your participation in the zone event sends a sampling of currency your way with which you can purchase all varieties of powerful trinkets.  And the mob you killed happened to drop a modest upgrade to that piece of gear you've been looking to part ways with for some time.  All of these are transactions wherein effort is the currency and rewards are the product.  MMOs leverage this very cycle with hope of obtaining you as an ongoing customer well into the future - a future, I might add, that is designed to far exceed the futures to be found in most other games.  The moral of the story here is that, for MMOs, the joy of simply "playing the game" is simply not enough to maintain a thriving customer base for any longer than would be possible in non-MMOs.  Why else do you think a franchise like Call of Duty reinvents itself seemingly every year?  Activision knows that the franchise must appear relatively "fresh" at all times or their player base will bleed away.

So what does Rift's PvP system offer?  A sizable, gated grind for negligible gear upgrades, that you scarcely even need given the normalization in place, and little else.  There are no actual "rewards".  The effort<==>reward cycle in Rift PvP doesn't apply and the bleeding out of Rift's PvP community is evidence enough of this fact.  Stated another way, there simply isn't any reason at all to log into Rift each and every day if PvP is what drives you.  The same, tired zerg on zerg combat awaits you and when you log off after your session, you'll truly have nothing to show for it.  This may get some of us by for a couple weeks or perhaps a month, but if you want the sweeping majority to stick around, you need to give us a reason to log in each day.  And, no, attacking those with red names is not going to cut it when there's nothing on the line and no goals to shoot for.  You can paint it any way you'd like but facts are facts.

Rift desperately needs some form of high-end, competitive PvP that can act as a defibrillator to a comatose PvP scene.  Rift PvP needs to progress beyond the mindless clash of red names with nothing on the line and offer real competition with real rewards.  This high-end PvP can come via an arena system, rated warfronts, or some other clever invention, but it needs to happen in one way or another if PvP in Rift is ever to be taken seriously by the MMO community.  Denial of the issue will only make an already disheartening situation dire.  And, unfortunately given their stagnation around the topic, it's almost entire in Trion's hands now.  Efforts have been made by the community to inject some life into the dying PvP population but they've done little to curb the distaste for this aspect of Rift and simply cannot address the core issues.  The question then becomes:

Where do we go from here?

Were I in charge of PvP at Trion, I would propose the following and have it released as early as 2.3:

1) Introduce Arena in Rift via dimensions.  Put in place a small collection of Trion-created dimensions specifically for small team vs small team combat but allow for player-created dimensions to be available for non-rated matches (skirmishes).  Those player-created dimensions that the community enjoys most can be promoted to official arena maps for rated games.  Since we will be leveraging dimensions for this purpose, ensure that anyone can enter the dimension at any time if they wish to observe.

2)  Implement a simple rating system for Arena and host it within the existing leaderboard interface.  You can use ELO or even make it as simple as W-L at the start to simply get it off the ground.

3)  Organize Arena into "seasons" wherein, at the conclusion of each season, the top teams are rewarded with a unique title, a mount and a dimension statue to commemorate their achievement.

4) Continue balancing PvP and PvE separately to avoid the seesaw effect that plagued WoW for a few years and has since lead uninformed players to claim that "Arena was the death of WoW".  It wasn't but that's a topic for another post, another time.

5) Ensure that the Rift Arena system is not "required" for those that enjoy PvP but rather "an option" for those that prefer smaller-scale, coordinated combat.

From this point and forward, the sky's the limit but if we're to fly, we first need to leave the ground.  To me, Rift has always been the greatest MMO on the market today in terms of PvE.  Let's usher in a Telaran era where Rift PvP is no longer a laughing stock among the MMO community and is, instead, a highly-regarded asset to an otherwise fantastic game.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Latest on Storm Legion

***Before you begin reading, know that this post contains massive spoilers for the expansion.***

Oh expansion time!  How I love thee!  Expansions can breathe new life into a decaying setting.  They can even clean the slate and provide a fresh start.  However, in the case of Storm Legion, Trion is doing neither.  Instead, they're taking a product happily situated at 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 and notching it up to 13 on that same scale.  And with any expansion, there's always the build-up.  Ah ,yes, the build-up: the steady line of information that paces our jubilation that if done without would result in a collective explosion of heads.

Today, Gamespot has loosed a video packed full of intriguing insights and amazing announcements regarding Storm Legion.  And if the alliteration wasn't enough to make it obvious, let it be clear that this is not just another video about known, stale information.  Rather, Gamespot has provided quite a bit of completely new information to whet our appetites.  You can find the video here.

So what did we learn today?  Quite a lot, actually!  Here's a laundry list of every revelation provided.  Do note I am purposely omitting what I consider to be stale information we were already aware of.
  • Geography
    • 11 New zones
    • A new zone called Morban which is very "dark" and "deathly".  The trees and monster models were particularly impressive.
    • A new zone called Seratos which is a life-based land that has been recently taken over by the plane of death.  In particular, they visited a very gloomy area called "The Pus Swamp".
  • Raiding and Dungeons
    • A new sliver (10m raid instance)
    • A world boss where you are standing on floating platforms the boss will try to knock you off of.  A jump puzzle is present to get you back up to the platforms should you fall.
    • New Dungeon: Unhallowed Boneforge featuring amazing monster models and a "disgusting, frightening" theme of flesh-born constructs and bone.
    • The Regulos raid features pulsating, corridors and walls of flesh.  You will also fight Kain (the zone event boss from Stillmoor) in his reanimated and "ultimate" (huge and grotesque) form.
  • PvP
    • New Conquest maps (note the 's' for plurality)
    • A brand new Warfront and new modes for many existing Warfronts
  • Dimensions
    • Multi-selection of world object available
    • Items will come from almost anywhere in game but crafting will play a huge role
    • Full addon support with XML hooks to do a wide array of interesting things.  One specific example the speaker noted was that he had already seen addons in play that make mathematical models of dimensional objects and allow you to recreate those exact objects in any dimension so long as you have the necessary items in your inventory.
    • Guild quest master in your dimensions
    • Bartenders and other NPCs
    • Minigames are in the works
    • Combat in dimensions is disabled at the moment while Trion tests the load dimensions put on the servers but the plan is to eventually remove this restriction
    • Golem Foundry dungeon slated to be a guild dimension
  • Guilds 
    • Now cap at level 25
  • Miscellaneous
    • All new music across the entire expansion and just the few songs I heard during the video were AMAZING
    • The infinity gate unlocks access to the planes and Trion is already planning their next expansion.  This next expansion will (he hinted at this) focus on taking the fight into the planes themselves.
Quite honestly, the first thing that comes to mind upon reading through the list and considering what we already know about Storm Legion is a blatantly cliche "holy shit...".  I spent 7 years of my life in Azeroth hanging by every thread of information revealed for World of Warcraft's many expansions yet Storm Legion already makes each of them look trivial by comparison.  I've already taken the 12th, 13th and 14th off of work for vacation but it would seem I may consider dropping from 15th from my work calendar as well.

A Word About Rogues and Energy Starvation

The argument itself seems ancient yet here we are in 2012 beating the proverbial dead horse with a piece of its own skeletal remains.  As the peaks of an oncoming storm materialize on the horizon, Rogues around Telara are gleefully slashing away at the remnants of Infernal Dawn.  Some Rogues are timing plane shifts to maintain 100% uptime of Ruthless Stalker and, even with Anthem of Fervor are seeing dead air from time to time as they halt the rotation to allow their energy to catch up.  Other Rogues are perched at a distance Strafing away with barely a care in the world despite the absence of even Living Energy.  Side how you'd like on the issue at hand but at least admit that one thing is perfectly clear:  energy starvation is not fun.  It is not "fun" when forced to stop what you are doing before being allowed to take more actions.  It is not "fun" having your rhythym disrupted by error messages.  You can argue it's reasonable.  You can argue it's necessary.  But, quite simply, nobody argues that it's fun.

It's therefore my intention with this post to disregard any arguments about "fun" and instead focus on the other aspects of energy starvation.  For example, is it reasonable?  To begin to answer this question, we need to first understand why we have energy in the first place.  First and foremost, energy is a resource which Rogue's spend to perform actions.  Every ability has an energy cost and these costs vary widely.  As an example, however, assume with me for a moment that all Rogue abilities cost 1 energy from a rapidly regenerating pool of 100.  Further, assume that the regeneration rate is 2 energy every 0.75 seconds.  Under this extreme premise, it's obvious that energy starvation is not mathematically possible as it would be required that you work two off-GCD cooldowns into your "rotation" between every two abilities you use for 99 consecutive GCDs.  Given the small subset of off-GCD cooldowns available to any Rogue spec, this is not possible.  So the question follows:  under this example, what use would energy be at all?  Why even have energy?  It's at this point energy would have become nothing more than a pink bar taking up UI space.  I think we can all agree that a scenario such as this is neither realistic nor does it make any sense in a game where all four callings do indeed have a "resource".  Based on this, I would argue that unless we are planning on throwing out the entire concept of "resources" in Rift, some form of resource "management" must exist for each calling.  Yet in the first paragraph we agreed that energy starvation or, stated universally, resource deprivation, is not fun.  So where is the middle ground in this debate?

My argument I plan to support is as follows:

Energy starvation should only come into play when the Rogue deviates from his role's intention or when encountering extraneous circumstances.

In using the word "intention", I'm referring to the most basic design philosophy behind each soul the Rogue is using.  In Storm Legion, this philosophy is referred to as a "gift".  Each soul has a "gift" the describes the intention of that soul.  For example, a soul designed for DPS will have the gift of "1% damage increase per point spent in the soul".  So take for example the current Ranger build of 51RNG/15MM/0SIN.  All three of these souls have the intention of damage dealing.  More specifically, all three of these souls specialize in single-target damage.  My reasoning, then, is that any single-target, damaging abilities performed from any of these three souls should never result in energy starvation.  As another example, consider the AoE DPS soul of Saboteur.  By the aforementioned logic, any AoE damaging abilities performed from the Saboteur soul should never result in energy starvation.  As one last example, consider the tanking soul of Riftstalker and... hopefully you get the picture.

In actuality, the above examples and reasoning are merely stepping stones en route to my larger point:  so long as the abilities you are using are consistent with the intentions of the souls they come from, energy starvation should be off the table.

We did say, however, that the initial scenario where energy starvation was mathematically removed from possibility was nonsensical and unrealistic.  So when should energy starvation be a valid concern?  My belief is that energy starvation should come into play when the Rogue uses abilities that deviate from intentions of the souls they come from.  As an example, Static Shot can be found in the Marksman soul - a soul designed for single-target DPS - yet it's effect is not one of single-target damage.  Rather it is a utility available to Marksmen allowing them to root their target in place.  Likewise, Fanout is a Marksman ability enabling the Rogue to pump out some AoE damage when needed.  However, like Static Shot, Fanout is not central to the design philosophy of single-target damage for the Marksman soul.  It is my belief that using such abilities should bring energy starvation to the table for Marksman Rogues.

So take this reasoning and pass it around to each of the souls.  What results is a clear philosophy wherein abilities that are consistent with their soul's intention are designed with the preventions of energy starvation in mind while those abilities that are available from the soul but not consistent with the soul's core purpose may cause it.  Stated plainly, if I'm going through my single target Marksman rotation on Warboss Drakk but need to Eradicate three times to remove his buff, I should expect a brief period of energy starvation as a result for that choice of utility over the soul's primary intention (As a side note, I find the 1.11 change of a 5s CD on Eradicate to be the wrong way of going about things.  Rather, I feel Eradicate should simply have its energy cost increased drastically such that spamming it is impossible).  Likewise, if I'm pumping single-target Ranger damage into Laethys but need to spam Trick Shot and use Consussive Blast when the adds are brought in, I should expect a brief energy deficiency.  The obvious should also be stated: there are mechanics available to various soul's in Rift that are intended to starve Rogues of energy.  Their use should absolutely come with the desired effect.

In closing, energy starvation should never be an issue when a Rogue is simply fulfilling their spec's primary objectives.  Energy starvation should only come into play when the Rogue chooses to step outside the prescribed intention for his respective souls or when extraneous circumstances, such as another player using an energy-draining/hindering ability, cause it to occur.  There is nothing "fun" about energy starvation but without energy as a limiting resource in some regard, its existence is entirely unnecessary.  What are your thoughts on Rogue energy?  Do you agree with me or do you take issue with some of my points?  Let me know in the comments below or on the official Rift forums!

Synovia's Pre-Storm Legion Quality of Life Wish List

Greetings, all!  Synovia here and, after a modest hiatus from being able to type effectively due to a broken arm, I'm now back and fired up for Storm Legion!  Rift has come a long way and with Storm Legion, I can say with both confidence and first-hand experience that's it's going even further.  Although I can't talk about specifics of the last beta because, like anyone that participated I'm under NDA, I can tell you that there is much to look forward to.  The zones are huge.  The new city is amazing.  Dimensions are ridiculously cool and the new souls are absolutely fantastic.  Rest assured we're all in for a serious treat come November 13, 2012.

With that said, I'm afraid I can't go into any further detail at this time so I'd like to switch gears.  Instead of talking about what's to come, I'd like to discuss the present and, in particular, offer a wish list for simple, quality of life changes I would absolutely love to see in Rift before Storm Legion hits store shelves.  I'm going to offer these up in a simple list format so feel free to add to the list yourself should you see something missing that you'd really like!
  1. Auto-sort Checkbox.  Please make this checkbox persist between sessions.  I use this feature a lot and I also log in and out of the game a lot.  It's very annoying to have the check it every time.
  2. Auto-sort for Bank.  It's a great feature for the player inventory so let's extend it to the bank as well.  Adding it to the guild bank could also be a plus.
  3. Automatic Deposit of Crafting Items.  Guild Wars 2 allows you to automatically deposit any crafting items in your personal inventory directly to your bank from anywhere in the world.  This is an amazing feature I'd love to see in Rift.
  4. Default to First AH Item. When using the AH, it's very common that I'm buying multiple auctions.  For example, I might be buying Exquisite Whetstones or Heroic Powersurge Vials to stock up for raids.  Currently, when you buyout any auction, your "selection" goes away and you have to click the next auction you want to buyout before being able to do so.  Please automatically select the next auction in the list for us.  In many cases it will save a click.
  5. Loop Music. This one has been asked for countless times in the past so what's one more attempt?  Rift has some great music but, unfortunately, you rarely get to hear it as it is cut up and split about into snippets.  Only a few examples exist where we actually get to  hear a full song so I'd like a loop music interface option that allows the music to play continuously.
  6. Soul Tree Unlock.  This idea was proposed on the Rift forums here.  Essentially, allow trainers to enable us to "unlock" the soul trees to play around with the points without having to untrain all souls and start from scratch.  The desire for this undoubtedly comes from the regularity with which we all adjust our builds only slightly.
  7. Remove Falling Damage in Conquest.  How fun would it be if you could leap from cliffs without the threat of death?  How much quicker would battles appear in Stillmoor if you could ride a relatively straight line to your destination instead of having to trek a mile off the beaten path?  Many complain that Conquest isn't even PvP so let's get the fighting started sooner rather than later.
  8. Reward 2-3 Unseen/Eye Notoriety per Honorable Kill in Warfronts.  This, to me, is a no-brainer.  I've been a long-time advocate of the reduction in tedious grinds in Rift and ever since PvP Rifts went the way of the normal dungeon, the treadmill for this particular notoriety has been particularly painful.
I debated about waiting to publish this post in the interest of adding more to the above list but, given the timing, I feel it's appropriate.  What are your thoughts on these 8 items and what simple enhancements would you want in Rift before Storm Legion?  You can respond in the comments below or in the official thread on the Rift forums.