Saturday, February 19, 2011

Attention lame Web site password management

If your browser-based program, Web site, or other Web service requires me to create an account with a password, then I will fire up Password Safe and generate a password for it. If your horrible little toy of a password management tool can't handle a randomly generated ~32-character string of whatever random noise I throw at it, then I won't use it. If it requires that I enter my password in a way that won't let me paste from my password store, then I won't use it. Grow up and get the Net. If you can't then use Google to authenticate your users. They do provide a free API for it, and they actually know how to cope with grownup passwords.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

An open suggestion to Blizzard: WoW needs pullers

There was something about the feel of EverQuest that's different from the feel in World of Warcraft. What was it? I'm beginning to think that it wasn't just playing a bard and having about 20 polygons per character. I think it was the fact that EverQuest actually had three consistent roles: healer, dps (damage-dealer), tank and puller.

Yep, monks and to a lesser extent, necromancers were excellent pullers in EQ. The role of a puller was to scout forward, identify the next mobs to pull to the group and get them to come back just far enough for the tank(s) to pick them up. Pulling was hard, and interestingly enough, it was often seen as a leadership role. It wasn't always strictly necessary, especially since gear and level balance wasn't nearly as razor-strict as it is in WoW, but now it makes me wonder: how could WoW be improved if pulling were a role?

First off, you'd have to identify who would pull. I'm thinking it should be one rogue spec, one hunter spec, enhancement shaman and either frost or unholy death knights. Why? Well, rogues and hunters have traditionally had no other options but to dps and vanish and feign death both seem like obvious hooks for a pulling capability. Shaman and death knights, through this change, would become on-par with paladins in being able to serve 3 out of 4 of the possible party roles, and no class would be able to to it all any longer (though druids would still be the only class to be able to serve as melee and ranged dps, tank and healer).

Now, what does pulling mean in WoW? I think it's probably a combination of an advanced set of marking tools; agro drop; threat transfer and ranged CC. For example, in the next expansion, trash packs in dungeons and raids could be twice as large as the average group could handle. However, using multi-target snares, CCs or saps the puller breaks the group in two, agroing half of the group on himself while the other half stays in place or moves more slowly. The tank picks up the near group and the puller drops agro (vanish, FD, etc.) At this point, the other half of the group resets and the first half gets burned down by the party.

So. why is this a role and not just an extra duty like CC? Well, the easy answer is: gear. Make these new abilities require gearing that's rich in non-dps stats, perhaps even a completely new rating-based stat that only pullers will want. This means your puller will do less dps (not a lot less, hopefully, but enough that you don't expect them to top the meters or even come in second). On the other hand, you need a puller for raids (perhaps 2 or 3 depending on raid size) and you need one for every dungeon group.

For the LFD (Looking For Dungeon) tool, this will mean that there are four ways to queue and the tank is no longer the obvious "leader," as it's the puller that sets the pace and decides what's up next. I think this will set the tank aside as the class that needs to know the bosses while the puller needs to know the dungeon and the trash.

The only remaining problem that I see is this: does the puller have a special role during the fights? Tanks are blowing cooldowns to stay alive. Healers are blowing cooldowns for mana and to save anyone at low health. dps are blowing cooldowns to squeeze out more damage. What do pullers blow cooldowns on? Perhaps the deal with distracting pathers? But that seems to take them too far out of the action. Maybe the puller can back up healers by debuffing mobs with long-cooldown abilities that briefly reduce damage?

These are all just ideas, but the core problem they try to address is this: there are three primary roles in WoW, and the balance of the community with respect to how many people want to fill each role is just not in line with the balance of how many are needed. the solution is simple supply and demand. You can try to create more supply of tanks and healers (so far, no luck) or you can try to reduce their relative demand by making pure dps scarcer. Something clearly has to be done.

Friday, February 11, 2011

On the origins of Harmil

SPAM is a Hormel trademark.
No confusion is intended.
It gets asked sometimes: where do my character names come from? Some are simple like Miskaton or Himalountain which are references to works of fiction (Lovecraft and Lucy: Daughter of the Devil, respectively). Some are just names based on role like Smitina the Paladin or Zot the Mage. However, across a wide variety of games and online services, I've often used the name "Harmil." This one isn't quite so obvious, and I figure it's worth having a blog post I can point people to for the story.

Back in the late 80s, I was gaming (tabletop) at MIT with the Strategic Games Society. Good bunch of folks, and some of my most formative gaming experiences were had, there. In one D&D game I was going to play a cleric, but I wanted to be a bit of a rough-and-tumble sort. Something like Friar Tuck from the Robin Hood stories. He was going to be the party's cook, confidant and healer. I needed a name that fit. For some reason, I imagined him constantly preparing unidentifiable meat for the party while they traveled, and this brought Spam to mind. Going from there, I thought of calling him Hormel, but that was a bit too on-the-nose, so I went for Harmil instead.

And thus was born my most widely over-used character / avatar / user name of all time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Protoss + Human = Titan?

Protoss as they appear in Starcraft II
Many have pointed out that the Zerg of Starcraft and the Old Gods of Warcraft have much in common, though obviously, the Old Gods are far more powerful than the Zerg. However, I've never seen it pointed out that the architecture and technology of the Titans in Warcraft closely resembles a hybrid of Protoss and Human from Starcraft. If we read really far into that, we could make the connection with Blizzard's upcoming MMO, code-named "Titan." Could it be that that MMO is the story of the bridge between the world of Starcraft and that of Warcraft?

For the Protoss and the Humans to have combined forces and perhaps even hybridized their races would require some rather radical changes in the all-out war between them circa Starcraft II, but if the Zerg were to discover a way to infect and destroy entire planets from the inside-out, perhaps such an alliance would be born out of need?

But what of Humans in Warcraft? The lore within the game suggests that they were descended from Vrykul, a human-like race of giants, but that humans were the weak offspring of Vrykul who refused to cull their young as their leaders commanded. What if this was no mutation, but a reversion to type? What if the Vrykul are actually descendants of ancient (very, very ancient) humans from the Starcraft time period? That could explain why these mutated offspring breed true. It might be that Vrykul have to kill off their human progeny in order to maintain their relatively recessive, non-human traits (most of which appear to simply be their size and cold tolerance).

Ah, I hear you say, but what about magic? Well, there are several kinds of magic in both Starcraft and Warcraft. The Protoss have psionics, the basis of which was never clearly explained. There's also a lot of Clarke-esque "advanced technology indistinguishable from magic" going on in Starcraft, especially in the Protoss camp.

Another interesting angle is the Xel'Naga, a race from Starcraft which is reported to have manipulated the development of both the Zerg and the Protoss, and which will play an important role in future developments for the game... If those two races gained access to different aspects of the Xel'Naga race's capabilities, it's possible that they each found a way (of untold thousands or millions of years) to use that advanced technology to create "magic" in the time of Warcraft.

We know that Demons are, in part, the creation of one of the Titans, gathered from various races starting with the Nathrezim from many different worlds. We know that "The Light" appears to be code for manipulating some sort of power source, be it of religious, natural or engineered origin... that much is never made clear. The Naaru are attuned to it, and were able to connect the Draenei to it in a way that Humans appear to have had a natural affinity for. But there's also quite a bit to support the idea that while Humans see The Light as a quasi-religious phenomenon, it's not quite that simple.

So, now that this new MMO is coming and Blizzard is coyly describing it as "new IP," rather than "original," I think it's clear that there's something going on, here. Will the new MMO take place a few thousand or million years after Starcraft and focus on the origin of the Titans? I think so. We'll see...