Love is in the bug report

This week the bundle of joy which is 4.0.6 lands on the servers, weighing in at 12,643 words (and that’s just the patch notes) it’s not a minor update.  There are many changes, every class has something to adjust to, heroics are getting nerfed, buffed and tweaked all over the place and so on.  I won’t go into the details of the patch there are more than enough articles out there already drilling into the numbers and what’s right, what’s wrong and what is a completely (un)acceptable nerf to our favourite / most hated class.

Combine this with not one but two buggy holiday events, it’s a bit of a giggle being told to have a chat to someone in the Park district in Stormwind, or as the locals have re-named it “The Crater”, but that the LFD foul up, the goblin vendor not working and the rest of the list of bugs (such as having to hand in a bracelet to dead or missing faction leaders) the overall picture is pretty sorry.

From a fault perspective Cataclysm is what it says on the tin, a complete worldwide disaster.

The problems

Prior to launch many many bugs were reported on the beta forums and via the in-game tool (when it wasn’t buggy itself).  I know my aim within the beta was to explore and level as much as I could and report the problems I found in as much technical detail as possible.

I found many of the problems in the live version of the game.

The first month of the new expansion was a story of hotfixes, many many hotfixes.

4.0.6, it’s a monster, some of the changes I’m not surprised about, tweaking instance difficulty and raids, but the sheer amount of changes on the classes is disturbing, remember the bulk of these changes have were in beta for 4 four months or so, in alpha for longer.  That they got the modelling so wrong hints at some major problems with their internal design and tooling.

How on earth did this happen?

Partly it’s just nature taking it’s course, with any large system which has so many internal and external variables it’s inevitable that the final beta happens when it’s released to the whole user base and statistical analysis of what’s happening becomes more accurate.  Just because the amount of data being collected gets larger.

They also took on a task which looked seriously sexy on paper, nothing less than completely remaking the game from the point of rolling the character to the final boss.  We know from the blues which have come out since launch that part of the original aspiration with this expansion was to revisit every questline in the game, including TBC and Wrath to reflect the world wrenching changes.  From an immersion point of view the game is broken, we now roll a toon who sees the world shattered by the arrivial of Deathwing, spends the next 58-60 levels fighting his minions and the opposing faction before being told “Get thee through the portal!”, and we don’t hear about the big dragon dude again until riding the ship back from Northrend and seeing the damage again where we are told “there’s been a cataclysm”.

Yes.  We know.  We did help out with the Twilight muppets wrecking the place, or have you been smoking stuff from the gnomes again while hitting the dwarven ale?

Oh and can someone explain why I’m being told to deal with Arthas when there’s a statue celebrating his defeat?

Where was I?

It’s simple enough they ran out of time.

Aspirations (known)

  • Rebuild Vanilla for flying, redo all questlines, work in DW
  • Rebuild TBC to fit with the timeline
  • Rebuild Wrath to fit with the timeline
  • Dance Studio (No I was never going to use it, but it serves to illustrate the point)
  • Improved models for the original races
  • New zones, dungeons etc etc
  • New water engine
  • Completely re-work stats
  • Fix up all gear to match the changes
  • Path of the Titans
  • Archeology

Achieved

  • Rebuild Vanilla for flying, redo all questlines, work in DW
  • New zones, dungeons etc etc
  • New water engine
  • Completely re-work stats
  • Fix up all gear to match the changes
  • Archeology

Let’s be honest, what they managed to do was pretty solid, a massive amount of work.  However they reached too far and fell off the metaphorical ladder.

On launch Cataclysm was known to be buggy, this is not unusual but there are degrees to which this effect is seen in release code, which points at some internal structural issues.

Throw more programmers at it!

Nice idea, where from?  I know from experience that the people I want maintaining or supporting the software which is behind my day job all already work here, or they’ve left for pastures new.

“Hire more!” – Great in theory, however in practice this can only be a long term solution for the problem, typically it takes 2-3 months to get through internal red tape when hiring in any large company, get the advert out, review the CVs which come flying in, discard the obvious junk, interview and finally hire.  Then there is a 1-3 month delay before the new hire starts while they give notice and get out of the current gig.

That’s the quick bit.

The real problem behind “just hire” is that in any programming or support effort there is an absolute minimum 6 month period before the new hire has sufficient experience, training and exposure to the product to be nominally independant and realistially 12-18  months before you have a team member which can be pointed at a problem and told “sort it”.

Assuming there hasn’t been a foul up in the interview process and what you have is someone who really doesn’t fit / can’t do the job etc etc.  In which case go back to “Start” and try again.

So, why are the holidays so broken?

This is down to planning, the changes for the Winter & New year events were done during the Cataclysm development, simply because there would be zero time between launch and the events landing for anything to be done.

All other holidays could be put off.

In the lead up to Cata going gold the entire team would have been working on it, and in the ideal world planners work in as the product goes gold the team is split into those working on the outstanding issue, those working through the bug backlog and then the balance taken off the project completely to work on the other issues which need development (the next tier of raiding, new dungeons, planned features and.. the changes needed to the forthcoming holidays).

What I suspect happened is that the outstanding list of issues which needed fixing was just far far too large, too critical and the re-deployment of resource did not happen as planned and the holidays slipped massively and possibly slipped through the net and were forgotten.

The future

Regardless of the reason, whether my speculation is spot on or completely off, the problem is very real.  Blizzard are losing their reputation for releasing solid software, I do believe this is being driven by commercial pressures from Activision.  Whether this is due to Activision trying to milk Blizzard for maximum profit or bringing some much needed business control internally.  That’s open for debate.

However what they must do from now on is release a game which is not littered with bugs, it breaks the enjoyment and gives the impression that we’re just there to play the game, hand over our hard earned pennies but please shut the hell up about the bugs.

On gold

After a month and a bit of Cataclysm I have two level 85’s, a couple at 81’ish and some maxed out professions (Engineering, Mining, Herbalism) with others well on their way (tailoring, enchanting, alchemy, inscription).

The cash position is promising being 5k up on where I started which can only be a good thing, though at some point there’s a bill looming for the Vial of the Sands.  We’re hoping that SWMBO will be farming that up soonish at which point we’ll be pushing for two of them rather sharpish.  Part of the boost has come from a rather nice BoE purple which dropped on a run which I won on a green roll, the rest has been from selling materials, some craftables and levelling alts.

Raiding: It’s kicking off, though signups are still a worry, more people signing, I need my boss kill fix.

Team Pirate: More people online, more often 🙂

I didn’t see that one coming (4.0.6 patch notes)

“Level-85 normal dungeon bosses dropping Justice Points — 30 justice points are awarded for normal level-85 dungeon boss kills to help with gearing up for heroics.”

So what does this mean?

Well it’s clear that people simply aren’t running heroics, they’re hard work (a good thing) but the PUG experience is not a good one.  Heroics need communication, thought and planning.  Something PUG groups are not good at, even on the best of servers and battlegroups, also the makeup of groups can be variable.  Combine this with either weak cc classes, bad combination of mobs and cc capabilities or simply players who couldn’t cc if it was their only way to level.

Adding JP to normals gives an incentive for players to enter normals more, with the leap in difficulty between normals and heroics there has been too little reason to enter normals (not enough reward) while heroics give a reasonable reward but the pain of the pug process puts most players off.

Hopefully they’ve got the reward balance right this time and it’s not another “Tol Barad” moment on their part.

 

Fixing LFD

“Fixing” LFD, once again the discussion arises over how to fix LFD and more specifically the behaviour of players using the feature.

What are the problems?

  • “Bad” players
    Refusal to cc, tanks charging in, healers bouncing around spamming their insta-casts and not focusing on keeping players up, damage classes pushing 500 dps at level 85
  • “Bad” players
    Elitist morons demanding that anyone in LFD is in full 359 epics as a minimum and kicking all players not meeting this standard
  • “Bad” players
    Morons gaming the iLevel limit to hit heroics wearing 318 gear by stacking their bags with gear obtained from the AH.
  • “Bad” players
    People who cannot move from the fire, dodge adds, nuke adds, generally refuse to react to the encounter

Or put more simply the problem with LFD is players.

So, the requirement is for the LFD system to have mechanics and systems bolted on top which can regulate in a technical manner meatspace behaviour.  This is going to fail, it’s going to fail in spectactular fashion.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across attempts to resolve meatspace issues with technical solutions, the most widely known is email spam filtering.  All the technical attacks are based around trying to identify sources and block based on content, those who’ve known me for a while will be more than familiar with my “consent not content” ranting about the filtering attempts.  One person’s spam is anothers requested communication.  Filtering on the content alone at a central level is simply broken and prone to false positives.

Anyway coming back to our problems in LFD, which are simply put down to the dynamics of the group of five living and breathing human beings, scattered potentially across the region their realm services, they might all speak different native languages.  Though certainly in the EU if a player is on a language specific realm I believe they’ll be matched with other players from the same language group and potentially with different expectations of the run.

Some of the expectations we typically find are :-

  • I’m just here for my valour points, all optional bosses skipped, all trash skipped even if it causes a wipe.
  • I’m here for the lols / drunk / stoned, AoE 4 teh LoLz!
  • Rep grind, let’s kill everything in sight
  • I’m here for a single item, if it doesn’t drop or I loose I’m outta this place lusers!
  • First time in here, let’s get all the bosses
  • Carry me!
  • A bit clueless but willing to keep trying.

and so on, we’ve all encountered at least one, if not all of those stereotypes and if we’re honest we’ve almost certainly been at least one of them at some point.

The WoW blogs are discussing what can be done to make LFD work better, looking at reputation systems, we’ve seen how easily these are twisted into a perversion of their original intent because the definition of “a good player” is so wide.  It means one, some or all of the following – “overgeared”, “full epics”, “target switching”, “chainpulling”, “no mana breaks”, “effective cc” and so on.  Adding the ability to cross-server friend players, to have a system by which those who run well together will tend to re-group.  Scoring players based on their ability to play, again this is massively subjective and what works with one tank will annoy another .. and thus the whole mess builds up again.

The vote to kick system requires some work, I see no reason why the reason for the kick cannot be reported to the person being kicked.  Where the reason is valid it gives feedback, and where it’s simply abusive then it’s reportable and to be honest it allows the person being kicked to update their ignore filter.

Can LFD be “fixed”?

I don’t believe so, because the mechanics are not broken, the people using it are.  In any group there will always be aggressive morons on both sides of the fence, the Internet Dickwad Theory remains the controlling factor and will remain so.  Adding in something based off cross-realm friending (allowing two players who have mutually friended to increase their chances of running together again) might help but I believe that any attempt to build in a reputation system will rapidly collapse under the weight of players gaming the system.

The only true solution is to have a core group of players within your own realm which allows the bulk of a 5-man group to be formed before looking at LFD to fill a gap or two.

 

It’s not dead it’s just resting

This is pretty much how I’m feeling about LFD at the moment, anything other than certain normals are simply too much pain with a group which I don’t have a connection and more importantly voice comms running.

So if you’re running a dps and wondering where the tanks and healer are, here is your answer, the dungeons are no longer a faceroll, cc is needed, sensible pulling is needed and everyone has to do their thing and notstandinfire/runfromadds/dpsadds/movetothegood/etc.

In LFD there are too many of all roles (tanks included) who have not yet adjusted from the Wrath “we are all gods” mechanic of the last six months of the expansion where it was almost possible to solo heroics.

Tol Barad

Unsurprisingly the 1800 honour for a win has been nerfed, there will be a day, a glorious day when Blizz remember that their customers are not all drooling morons and can spot how to min/max a given mechanic they’ve been provided with.  They’ve given us communication channels between factions alongside all the non-Blizz forums so the message gets around rather quickly.

However neither the “1800 honour” fix or the nerf of it change the underlying problem, the zone is broken.

  • Defenders have a massive advantage
    This is simply bad design, it was pointed out on the beta and nothing was done to resolve the problems inherent in the zone.  I suspect we’re in for another two years of the zone getting the “Wintergrasp treatment” where Blizz keep trying to tweak the design.
  • “Bridge Rush”
    Easily predicted (why wouldn’t players lurk on the bridge for a 50/50 chance of getting free honour) and easily prevented. 

    Five minutes before close the gates on the bridge and port everyone out of the zone
    At start port in those selected
    Fixed

  • Change the starting mechanic from a “defend / attack” to a “gain control” approach, this removes the imbalance in the zone.
  • Get my PvE out of your PvP
    My preference is for raiding, I do some PvP when the mood takes me, and at the moment to get some quick gear ups for the holy set, however smashing my head against the Horde warmachine simply to get to a raid, and a quick raid at that.  Please let the raid be open to all, the battlezone dailies, let those go to the victors but let us all have the damn raid.

Favourite instance

It’s the time of year to look back and do lists of the good, the bad and the puggy.  So here’s a quick thought on my favourite instance as triggered by today’s WoW Insider article.

5-man content

While I didn’t start in Wrath it’s the first expansion where I was there for the start and not level at the back of the curve constantly trying to catch up.  As a guild we never really looked inside much of the TBC, however we go

TBC – The Steamvaults : Which I have a soft spot for in a “damn that hurt, but we got him” way.  It took us ages to get the end boss in there nailed.

Wrath – The Old Kingdom : It’s long, it’s painful, the “Room of Many Wipes” was a hell of a challenge before the “great nerf of 2010” but from a tanking persepective it’s a bloody interesting instance to handle.  Lots of awareness needed, good pulls, hell even CC is a benefit at level.

Cataclysm – Vortex Pinnacle : This currently has my seal of approval, the look of the instance is wonderful.  Blizz have outdone themselves.  The trash hurts and needs planning, the mechanics make for interesting fights and then there’s the windy dragon on heroic.  Possibly my favourite boss at the moment to tank.