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.

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.

 

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.

Travel in Cataclysm

There have been many miles of text written about how the removal of the portals in Dalaran and Shattrath is a terrible idea and it’s a waste of time travelling around, how Blizzard is evil and so on and so forth.  So let’s step back and look at the travel within the newly broken world, ignoring for the moment flight paths and boat / zeppelin paths.

So we have the following routing for the Cataclysm / Vanilla zones.  Stormwind and Ogrimmar are clearly the transport hubs, they have portals to get to all the new content, a clear route to get out to Outland and (if we look at the boat/zeps) a route into Northrend.

Looking at Northrend specifically there are some additional ways to get up into the Wrath content, but these are mostly open only to those who have completed it, or have gold to splash around on shiny rings.

The only weakness I’m seeing is access to TBC / Wrath content, but to be honest if you’re levelling then it’s unlikely that there will be much travel outside of those areas.  With the addition of auction houses, trainers and the like there is no reason to travel back to your favourite “home” city, in fact prior to 4.0.3 it was essential to travel home to use the auction house or get trained.  There simply was no option, training was a break in the levelling flow only made viable by the portals, this change actually makes more sense in that the toon questing through Outland and Northrend remains immersed in the zone fighting the expansion appropriate baddies, even though we know from the splash screen that Arthas has been kicked where it hurts and Bolvar has taken his place.

Nice security on that secret Tirion.

Enjoy the changes, mages get to make a bit of cash from their class perk.  I doubt it’s going to be huge amounts, those offering the service on my realm are doing it for tips only.

Cataclysm

It’s been only a week, in which I have played the game possibly more than is reasonable.  Our mains have reached 85, the tag team paladin wrecking ball didn’t find anything in the questing content yet which was a blocker (the maw out in the highlands was a bit of a challenge on the timing front).

Korenwolf hit his first heroic last night, by the gods it hurt.

I’m writing up a few things at the moment so hopefully there will be more stuff here later this week.

Cataclysm, where should I log out?

This of course depends, but in short

  • Level 80, first to go into the new zones
    Stormwind, use the new Inn in the back of the dwarven district, this is going to be the new hub, there’s a breadcrumb board, close to the “Island of Portals” and once you have old world flying you’ll never need to go near the front of SW again.
  • Level 80 slacking Toons
    Ironforge, close to the action but not the major lag hub Stormwind is going to be.
  • Banking alts
    Two choices, Stormwind at the Dwarven district end, or the Exodar (low populatation, low lag).
  • Sub-80’s
    Wherever makes sense for levelling.  Travel is far far less painful than it was.

Of course the bottom line is “whever you think makes sense for your playing”, but personally I’m going to be moving my tankadin at the weekend to Stormwind (only a short ride back to his favourite inn at Ironforge) ready for the push against Deathwing.