MoP Beta, adventures in Pandaland

Well the beta is here, though only sort of as far as I’m concerned.  SWMBO has her beta invite so I’m reduced to looking over her shoulder or using the account at other times.

Now let’s cover off a few initial points to make sure we’re all talking the same language.

  1. This is not paid for content
    Now this is going to be an arguable point as access to the beta is part of the Annual Pass, however those willing to actually read the detail of the agreement will almost certainly find some epic grade caveats about the beta shoved in there.
  2. This is not a demo
    Seriously, it’s not.  It isn’t filler content either.  This is a work in progress, it has bugs, it has problems, whole sections of the new content are locked out and may be only open for limited periods of time. 
  3. The dev team are mostly in America
    This means that a lot of the focused testing when they’re watching will occur at times to suit their working hours / schedules not those of people in Europe or elsewhere in the world.  Sorry but deal with it.  It’s their business decision on how best to use their developer time, which devs to keep in the office late etc etc.  See point #1
  4. We are here to test
    Ok, it is fun looking at the new content but this is our moment to find the problems in the game (yes scroll of pandageddon I’m looking at you) .  Whether they’re bugs, spelling mistakes (See point #3 when considering whether something is going to be considered a spelling mistake), holes in the scenery, problems with animation.  Everything.
  5. Report bugs
    and report them well.  At the moment our only option is the forum, report quickly, report fully, report concisely.  Include screenshots / other supporting information, but for the love of the panda gods report the damn things.

Finally I shall leave you with the first bug I encountered, a graphics glitch on the interface between the bridge and land.

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.

The death of alts

It’s official, the Beta is done, complete, finished, and shutdown.

This means that Korvenwolf and Wubbilina have expired, their brief lives cut cruelly short after having explored part of the new content, reported many bugs (some of them more than once).

Despite having seen everything up to halfway through Uldum I’m looking forward to running it again, partly because we’ll be doing our tag-team levelling again (this is a good thing), we have level 1 slots lined up ready for the new combos and races, with the changes to the world this will be like getting a whole new game again.

Then there’s the dungeons and raiding.  Korenwolf is all lined up to tank his way through to 85 and into the raid content, however there shall be a part of him which is forever held in limbo, sat in Uldum waiting for the developers to polish out those progress blocking quests.  Hopefully he was able to slip back to Ironforge while I wasn’t looking and will be spending eternity in the Inn of his choice.

I suspect he’s got enough gold to keep him going for more than a few years.

Cataclysm Beta: Dalaran portals, be prepared

A side effect I hadn’t twigged until it was mentioned on the beta forums, but is blindingly obvious when I think about it.  For those players who have had a friendly mage portal them to Dalaran, make sure you move your alts back to old Azeroth prior to the 7th of December or expect to have some “interesting times” moving them through Northrend as a level (something very low).

I don’t expect Blizzard to “fix” this for us, for those who have moved a level 20 to Dalaran we know it’s a high level zone which we could not get to by ourselves, therefore it is up to us to make sure we can get back out again if the world changes.

Let’s face it the world does change so doing things which are outside the capabilities of your alt are always a risk.

This will not affect me as I am already planning on moving all my alts to Stormwind or Ironforge prior to the patch dropping, the ones with flying are likely to be parked right by the trainer in Stormwind with a few hundred gold in their back pockets.

Beta: Paladin levelling

Only a few quick comments at the moment.  The tag team paladins have teamed up on the Beta and are trying a prot/ret approach to the wrecking ball (we rolled through Wrath as Prot / Holy), it’s working well.  As ever two paladins are a awesome combination, we turn up and things die, what I am having to watch more than in the past is my health, the mobs are hitting hard and to be honest I’m out of practice in keeping a eye on my health having been out of the levelling game on him for 18 months or so.  Doing dungeons and raids does actually require a certain degree of “other than when my health alarm pings I do not worry about my health, my job is keeping my mitigation and threat up to stop the mobs eating the healer, the healer is focused on my health”.  So I’ve died more while levelling than I should due to a “I’m a tank, of course I can… ouch”.

Anyway, Deepholm is nice, pretty and it’s good to see a horde airship smashed into pieces, just as things should be.  The story in the quest lines is working, I’m looking forward to running through it more once the final, non-bugged, version drops in the shops.