Penny Arcade, fail and Dickwolves

Now, I’m coming to this late.  Somehow I completely missed this, though I have to admit to not being a close follower of PA.  Their fault for not having an RSS feed the last time I checked their site (though I see it’s been added since).  Anyway I’m rambling.

Firstly let’s have a bundle of links and then I’ll waffle a bit before wandering off to do something productive.

In short what we have is a comic regarding the way MMO quests work, and the mismatch between how quests work and how the real world works.  Very simply we “go do $something for X number of $mob having $problem”, at the point we reach “x” we no longer care about the souls being killed / mugged / locked up for experimentation etc etc and wander back to collect our gold.

PA dealt with this using rape as a vehicle (dickwolves), probably because they think it makes them “edgy” etc etc, which to my mind is a cop-out for “Let’s see what happens here”.  Dark Legacy dealt with the same issue (DLC 275), but without the need for the rape reference.

To be frank I think the DLC one is funnier, the PA comic lands squarely in the “oh yes, being edgy, that’s so impressive, now can we have a decent comic please”.  There were complaints, and PA apologised, well assuming you can agree that this is an apology.  Personally I count it as an apology in the same way politicians make them “I am sorry for any offence this might have caused”, which is really weaselling and not an apology.  It’s really a way of saying “yes you didn’t like this but I’m not really sorry I said/did it”.

From there we escalate, the PA guys have dug themselves into a hole where they have to defend being offensive and just keep digging determined to prove how they’re not being censored and their rights are being held to and so on.

Then we get the fanbois who see this and push the limits even further.

The underlying problem with this is within the gamer community, where there is a feeling that calling something ‘rape’ isn’t that bad, it’s not really a problem.  “We raped the horde”, “We got raped by that boss”, “Let’s go rape… ” and so on.  It seriously is a problem and it’s one the community has to deal with, by slapping down the morons and by those who are seen as leading the gamer culture (sorry guys, you’re no longer a sub-culture, it’s mainstream these days) such as PA giving a lead and an example rather than being, not to put too fine a point on it, brainless morons.

In summary, a comic which was at best “Meh”, followed up by a stupid passive-aggressive apology and then not realising just what they were starting.

My message, grow up and admit that your handling of the whole situation would shame a telephone salesman and move on.

“Adding new titles is just TOO MUCH WORK”

Continuing some ponderings on the whole Exalted screw up, and adding new titles is not the problem.

Achivements as implemented were fundamanetally flawed from the word go, technically the implementation works, add some additional database fields, track what players are doing, flip flags in the DB from false to true, increment counters, award flashy thing and possibly trigger the delivery in the post of a “something”.

Technically there is no problem.

Achievements peaked too early

“Seriously!  When do you think they peaked?” I hear you cry, it’s simple they peaked at the launch of Wrath.  With the creation of “Exalted”, “Epic”, “Superior” and so on, effectively burning the ‘quality’ end of the namespace they can use at the very start Blizz boxed themselves into a corner with nowhere to go.  What do we see with the new expansion, horrors such as “Cataclysmically Epic”.

Seriously guys, that screams of a development team which knows they have an achivement slot to fill which is “fill all your gear slots at iLevel >= $foo” but don’t have a decent name in the bank ready.  I pity the poor souls who have to work on the achievements for the next expansion.

There are some notable exceptions where some good solutions have been found to the problem, the Loremaster achievement for example has maintained continuity, to a certain extent, of progress for those working it.  If you finished one of the meta’s then that’s kept but all others get reset and anyone who earnt it prior to the change retains their achievement and title.

Or more simply put achievements were designed as a single expansion feature, rather than the game spanning monster it has become.

Fixing the problem and OCD

Getting achievements back into a state where they can grow through the content patches and expansions is going to be a headache for someone, and they’re welcome to it.

Additional titles isn’t necessarily the fix, providing a grandfathered moving target for this sort of achievement seems to be the best.  Where those who get it before the expansion / patch hits keep the acheivement but everyone else has to suck it up and aim for the new level.  This keeps “title bloat” under control without annoying too many people, and it’s easier to justify than “we’re moving the goal posts and taking your title from you, tough, oh and we’ll do it again in two years time”.

Beyond that the team is going to have to look at picking the names for achievements with more of an eye to the future rather than handing out the best ones now.

and finally…

Be honest and communicate with us, too often Blizz has pulled this sort of undocumented stunt and it only pisses the players off, there is no good side to their handling of these issues.  This is the biggest problem Blizz have to fix.


So… why bother?

In 4.0.6 an unannounced change landed which removed “Exalted” from anyone who had the original achievement, requiring that a total of 50 reps are now needed.

So, why bother grinding all those reputations to re-aquire a title which had been awarded before?

To be honest I cannot see a reason, in the history of stupid decisions by Blizzard this one appears to be setting a new standard.

Does age affect your gameplay?

Just in from the Melting Pot, does your age affect your ability to play the game?

My opinion, no.

I’m guessing a little expansion on my response might be called for, firstly a datapoint or three.  I know within the social guild I am not the oldest, I’m pretty sure I know who is but there’s no way I’m saying.  Both of us are definitely on the right hand side of the WoW age demographic, while I can claim my age is 21 that’s only been possible through some cheating by using a different base.  Within the raiding guild I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest, probably by 3-4 years.

My position?  Main tank, ie someone who’s job it is not to stand in the bad, react to things going wrong, grab the nasties going to munch on the clothies and so on.

Peashooter picks up on a very specific case where he things age is the issue, dodging the bad.

I disagree, the largest problem I see with players not getting out of the bad is because they are hyper-focused on something else, be it grid (there was a term within a previous guild for a problem some healers suffered from “gridlock”), keeping an eye on coolddowns / GCD or trying to get that last cast off before moving.  All of which are either issues with playstyle, everyone the meters aren’t everything

The other is situational awareness.

Many players do not seem to have the ability to track multiple things at the same time, or keep an eye out for something new to enter the event.  I’m permanently looking for the “something bad is coming after me” and being ready to pick it up / get out of it / kill it / run away.

Of course this might have something to do with how I am in real life, one of the most regular comments is that I can’t be crept up on.  No secret to it.  Position your chair to ensure that the only route to the desk is within my perphiral vision and don’t hyper focus on the screen.

Age can have an affect, as the human body ages reaction times can slow down, but it doesn’t have to affect game play, there are many other factors which have at least as large, if not a larger effect on playing computer games.


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


  • 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.