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The Great Item Squish
Blizzard has pulled back the veil slightly today to address a potential issue going forward: item level inflation. How will they deal with it? What's the best path? Let's see what they say about it:

Quote from: Blizzard (Source)
The lead designers were originally going to talk about this topic at BlizzCon, but it didn’t really match the content of the rest of our “Intro to Pandaria” presentation, and seeing as how we finished our 90-minute slot with 93 seconds remaining, there wouldn’t have been room for it anyway. But several of us did bring up the issue with players and media we talked to, and it even ended up in at least one FAQ, so we figured we’d go ahead and get the information out there. Note that unlike much of what we presented for the upcoming Mists of Pandaria expansion, this is not an announcement. It’s more of a problem we’d like to address, and a couple of ways we potentially might do so. Feedback is certainly appreciated.

Big Number Syndrome
Hey, our stats are growing exponentially. If you look at everything from the Strength on a weapon to the damage being done by a Fireball crit or the amount of health the Morchok boss has, they look downright absurd compared to the numbers for level 60 characters in the original shipping version of World of Warcraft. It’s not exactly a surprise that we were going to end up here, and we knew where we were going every step of the way, yet regardless, here we are.


Fig. 1. Item level vs. character level. Brown = vanilla. Green = BC. Blue = LK. Red = Cat.


The numbers grew so much primarily because we wanted rewards to be compelling. Upgrading from a chestpiece that has 50 Strength into one that has 51 Strength is undeniably a DPS increase for the appropriate user, but it’s not a very exciting reward. Such negligible increases can drive players to do some weird things, such as skipping over tiers of gear or entire levels of content. This is particularly relevant when we’re talking about a new expansion. We don’t want level-85 players to have a reasonable shot at level-90 dungeons and raids (or PvP opponents) just because that content is balanced for gear that isn’t much better than what the level-85 players have.

So we arrived at this point in a logical fashion, and we don’t really think we should have handled things any differently. However, it’s still a weird place to be, and it’s about to get weirder. These aren’t real items, in that we don’t know for sure what the item levels will be in patch 5.3 and patch 6.3 (if only we planned that far ahead!) but they are reasonable guesses, and you can see just how ridiculous the items look.


Fig. 2. A theoretical item from patch 5.3.



Fig. 3. A theoretical item from patch 6.3.


So what do we do about it? There are two general categories of solutions. The first is to make the numbers appear more manageable and the second is to actually change the numbers.

Mega Damage
The first solution could include changes like adding commas and the like to large numbers. We could also compress all of those 1000s to Ks and all of those 1,000,000s to Ms, much like we do with boss health today. Internally, we have been calling this the “Mega Damage solution” because instead of your Fireball hitting for 6,000,000 damage, it would hit for 6 MEGA DAMAGE (queue the Arcanite Ripper guitar solo).


Fig. 4. Mega Damage. Name/screenshot not to be taken seriously.


If we can make numbers such as floating combat text and boss health and item stats a little easier to read at a glance, then maybe we can endure numbers increasing exponentially for many digits to come. Now there are some very real computational limitations. PCs just can’t quickly perform math on very large numbers, so we’d have to solve all of those problems as well. Even today, tanks can hit the ten digit threat cap on some encounters.

Item Level Squish
The second solution actually involves compressing item levels, which is why we call it the “item level squish solution.” If we can lower stats on items, then we can lower every other number in the game as well, such as how much damage a Fireball does or how much health a gronn has. If you look at the item level curves, you can see that most of the growth occurs at the maximum character levels for the various expansions. This is because we keep rewarding more and more powerful gear to make the new raid tier and PvP season in an expansion reward significantly better gear than the previous one. However, those huge item level jumps don’t accomplish a lot once the character level has increased again. Very few players notice or care how much of an upgrade the Black Temple loot is over the Serpentshrine Cavern loot when their characters are level 80.

With that in mind, we could go back and compress the big item level increases that occur at level 60, 70, 80 and 85. The Mists of Pandaria gear would still grow exponentially from patch to patch, but the baselines would be a lot lower. Health could go from 150,000 back down to something like 20,000. The big risk of this approach is that players will log into the new expansion and feel nerfed… even if all the other numbers are compressed as well.

In other words, your Fireball will still do the same percentage damage to a player or a creature that it does today, but the number would be smaller. Logically, this seems like it would work, and it does. But it feels weird. When we tried this internally, everyone agreed that it just felt off throwing a spell for hundreds of damage when you are used to it doing thousands of damage.

I came up with an analogy -- even though I know logically that people drive on the left side of the street in the UK (we drive on the right side of the street in the US) and wouldn’t be surprised to see it, it would still feel really disorienting if I was driving in the UK and had to make a right-hand turn.


Fig. 5. Item level vs. character level before and after ‘squish’. Brown = vanilla. Green = BC. Blue = LK. Red = Cat


So Now What?
As I type this today, we haven’t decided on which if either solution we want to try. Maybe we’ll come up with yet another solution. Maybe it’s the kind of thing we can put off for another expansion so that players don’t have to adjust to the new talent system and a drastic item level compression at the same time. Or maybe it’s better just to pull the Band-Aid off fast and fix everything at once. Time will tell. I did, however, want to outline the problem lest any of you believe we don’t think there is a problem. There is. We’re just not sure of the best solution yet. If your answer is that stat budgets don’t have to grow so much in order for players to still want the gear, our experience says otherwise, and thus these proposed solutions exist. Your thoughts on the matter are valuable.

Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street is the lead systems designer for World of Warcraft. The last time he used “Fig. 5” in an article, it related fish predation to estuarine hydrocarbon contamination.
Mists of Pandaria
So, BlizzCon has revealed our next expansion, Mists of Pandaria. Here are the main points of the expansion:
  • Level cap raised to 90
  • New class: Monk
  • New race: Pandaren
  • Pve Scenarios
  • Pet Battle System
  • New Talent System
  • New continent
  • Challenge Mode Dungeons

The player Pandaren are different than the Pandaren on Pandaria. The player Pandaren have the "wonderlust", which caused them to set sail on the back of a giant turtle in search of other things/adventures in the world. They have spent generations on the back of this turtle. These Pandaren will begin as a neutral race and will decide which faction to represent at level 10.

Monks will be a martial arts related class. They can be tanks, melee dps, or healers. This class will have no auto attack, instead relying on cheap or free abilities that can be used as fillers.



WoW Annual Pass
Blizzard also unveiled their new Annual Pass. By committing to 12 months of WoW (payable by any of the current payment plans: 1, 3, or 6 months at a time), you receive Diablo 3 for free, guaranteed access to the Mists of Pandaria beta, and a special in-game mount: Tyrael's Charger.

Yep. That's right. Diablo 3 for free. Oh, you wanted a collector's edition? Well, when you purchase the CE, you'll receive a code that will credit you for 4 months of WoW game time! So, 4 of your 12 month commitment will be free.

Might we see this with Starcraft II's upcoming releases as well?

According to Blizzard, this is a "limited time only" thing, but I doubt it will remain limited. The idea of someone committing to a 12-month subscription is likely appetizing to Blizzard.



Theramore to be Destroyed in Patch 5.0?
A taiwanese website has received some information from Tom Chilton in an interview. Here's the translation:
[quote]The whole war will be ignited during the world event which leading the game into Mist of Pandaria. Theramore will be destroyed and the leaders of Alliance were outrageous at this matter and completely devote themselves into the war, which reach its peak on the continent of Pandaria. The Horde and the Alliance literally fought on the homeland of Pandaria, which pissed the pandarens off.

Most of the pandarens are neutral characters. And some of them thought the Horde and the Alliance only brought doom to their beloved homeland, and have enmity against both factions. The players pandarens are in a different group. They departed Pandaria long ago and choose their own path. They choose their own faction when level 10, so they don't have a faction leader.[/quote]



For More Information...
Want more (or more specific) information on World of Warcraft news coming out of BlizzCon? Check out MMO-Champion, or more specifically MMO-Champion's BlizzCon 2011 Recap.
Legend of the Green Dragon
I'm not sure how many of you may have been in to BBS's back in the day, but anyone who was surely remembers BBS Doors. You probably even remember one in particular: Legend of the Red Dragon (LoRD). Well, there's a browser-based version of the game called Legend of the Green Dragon, and I've set up a game. It's available at lotgd.cilraaz.com. I just started the game today, so it's still fresh.

Personally, I have an Admin character (Cilraaz) for handling petitions from the server. I also have a Moderator character (able to view petitions and moderate chat, but not use super powers) that will be my main play character. That is Allisu. I will be striving to make sure that the game is as fair as possible.

Please join me in the game, as it's one I've always loved! Also, if you want to see anything added, removed, changed, etc, then please submit a petition.
Yes, these are a bit out-dated and should have been posted sooner, but oh well. Here they are, listed newest to oldest... in abbreviated format:

Upcoming Patch 4.2.2?
Boubouille at MMO-Champion managed to find a copy of patch 4.2.2 on the PTR download server. He also stressed that most of these changes are tooltip changes for things that are already active on live servers.
Quote from: Blizzard
Achievement Changes
PvP - Arena
  • Challenger now also includes Vicious Gladiators.
  • Gladiator now also includes Vicious Gladiators.
  • Duelist now also includes Vicious Gladiators.
  • Rival now also includes Vicious Gladiators.

PvP - Tol Barad
Classes
Death Knight
Blood
  • Improved Death Strike increases damage done by Death Strike by 40/80/120%, up from 30/60/90%. Increases critical strike chance by 10/20/30%, up from 3/6/9%.

Shaman
Elemental
  • Shamanism gives an additional 32% benefit from spell power, up from 20%.

Items
World Events
Weapons
  • Deflecting Star is now bound when picked up.
  • Lava Bolt Crossbow now increases haste by 81 instead of mastery by 75. Increases critical strike rating by 88, down from 91.
  • Lava Bolt Crossbow (H) now increases haste by 92 instead of mastery by 85. Increases critical strike rating by 99, down from 103.

Trinkets
Plate
PvP Gear
Professions
Blacksmithing
Leatherworking
Tailoring
Client Strings
  • LanguageRegions["ptBR"] = 12;
  • GUILD_NAME_ALERT = "Guild Name Change Alert";
  • GUILD_NAME_ALERT_GM_HELP = "You must pick a new name within the guidelines of our naming policy.";
  • GUILD_NAME_ALERT_MEMBER_HELP = "Your guildmaster must pick a new name within then guidelines of our naming policy.";
  • GUILD_NAME_ALERT_WARNING = "Your guild has been flagged for a rename.";
  • OLD_GUILD_NAME = "Old Guild Name:";
  • TRIAL_ACCOUNT_LEVEL_CAP_REACHED = "You have reached the maximum possible level on a trial account. [Click Here] to upgrade your account!";
  • TRIAL_ACCOUNT_MONEY_CAP_REACHED = "You already have the maximum amount of money on a trial account. [Click Here] to upgrade your account!";
  • TRIAL_CAPPED_MONEY = "Trial money cap reached.";

Patch 4.2.0a
Quote from: Blizzard (Source)
Bug Fixes
  • Using an instant cast spell right after a target dies should no longer re-target the dead target’s body.
  • Using an ability immediately after switching targets should no longer affect the previous target.
  • Resolved a movement error when jumping onto an object while experiencing a low frame rate.
  • Mac: Fixed a bug preventing shift and mouse wheel commands from registering properly.
  • Resolved issues that were causing client crashes near Beth’tilac in the Firelands.
  • Disconnecting while riding as a passenger in a vehicle should no longer cause an error upon subsequent login.
  • Entering a password with Japanese Hiragana selected as the keyboard type should no longer cause a crash.
  • Resolved an issue that was causing the client to crash under certain conditions when minimizing the game client.

Items
  • The tooltip color for heirloom items has been returned to gold.

Quests
  • A move enforcement issue has been resolved that was affecting the death knight starting area quest Death Comes From on High.
  • Tarecgosa's platform during the cutscene from Alignment (Elemental Bonds legendary quest) should now be visible before she lands on it.

Patch 4.2 Hotfixes - August 4
Quote from: Blizzard (Source)
General
  • Balloon pets can no longer be sold to vendors.
  • Flight points in Outlands should correctly display for characters created after the release of patch 4.2.

Classes
  • Melee auto-attacks should properly trigger trinkets.

Druid
  • Primal Fury is correctly triggered when Rake gets a critical hit, and is putting an extra combo point on the target.
  • Starfall should no longer strike targets with which the druid is not in combat.

Hunter
  • Burning Adrenaline is properly removing the focus cost of Arcane Shot.

Rogue
  • Mutilate should now properly trigger trinkets.

Warrior
  • Deep Wounds should no longer incorrectly apply double damage when certain buffs are present on the warrior.

Dungeons & Raids
Blackrock Spire
  • The Scarshield Quartermaster is properly flagged as a quest NPC and not a rare spawn.

Firelands
  • Burning Orb attack range has been increased for the Majordomo Staghelm encounter.
  • The criteria for the achievement Do a Barrel Roll! reset properly after a failed attempt on Alysrazor.
  • Smoldering Essences are now properly applied to Firelands bosses and can be syphoned, even if the only raid member that is on step 13 of the legendary quest line dies during the encounter.
  • Players should never get Rage of Ragnaros on Heroic difficulty. Rage of Ragnaros will only be given on normal difficulty if someone on the legendary quest line has 250 shards. Heart of Flame should always be given on Heroic difficulty, even if a player doesn’t have Rage of Ragnaros, but does have 250 shards.

Icecrown Citadel
  • The Val'kyr will again despawn after the Lich King reaches 10% health. If they are in the process of carrying a player, they will first drop them to the ground before leaving.

Zul’Farrak
  • Player should no longer be unable to open the gates to complete the dungeon due to NPC allies dying during the troll invasion event.
  • The Zul'farrak Zombies and Skeletons of Zum'rah, associated with Witch Doctor Zum'rah, now clean up properly when the encounter is reset or the boss dies.

Items
  • The weapon speed of the Masterwork Elementium Deathblade has been reduced to 3.5, down from 3.8.
  • Ricket's Magnetic Fireball now shares a burst cooldown with other on-use trinkets.
  • Unheeded Warning now grants 1926 attack power, instead of 680 weapon damage.

Item Sets
  • The Burning Treant and Fiery Imp pets summoned by the Balance druid and warlock tier-12 sets now have reduced damage taken from area-of-effect spells, consistent with other combat pets.
  • The Smoldering Rune buff from the death knight tier-12 2-piece set bonus is now properly cleared off of the character if he/she does not have the set bonus the next time it ticks for runic power.
  • The Spirit buff gained from the 4-piece priest tier-11 set will be lost if the priest casts any spell or uses any ability while not wearing the set.
  • The warrior tier-12 4-piece damage-dealing set bonus is now properly activating, even if a Mortal Strike or Raging Blow attack is fully absorbed.

PvP
Strand of the Ancients
  • Stampeding Roar (druid spell) no longer grants a speed boost to Demolishers.

Quests & Creatures
Hyjal Regrowth & Molten Front
  • Molten Lords should no longer stay tapped by the first player who damages them while on the bombing run for the quest Fire in the Skies.

Blizzard Loses Another 300k Subscriptions
In Q1 '11, Blizzard announced a loss of 600,000 subscriptions. Now, in Q2, they have announced another 300,000 subscriptions lost. During the same conference call, Blizzard announced that patch 4.3 would be the largest content patch since Cataclysm. That's not too difficult, considering we've gotten two 5-man instances and a 7-boss raid in two patches since Cataclysm so far. My guess is something similar to patch 3.3... a few 5-man instances and a 12-ish boss raid instance.
Mists of Pandaria
Blizzard filed a trademark application for something titled "Mists of Pandaria". They used class codes that they have typically used with their online games. Is this the next WoW expansion? See more at MMO-Champion.
Diablo 3's Auction House
Blizzard announced that Diablo 3 will have an Auction House similar to WoW's, with one important difference... they will feature a section where items can be bought and sold for real life cash. Play Diablo 3, earn money? More information, as always, at MMO-Champion.
Lich King Solo'd
It's finally happened... the Lich King was solo'd. Mione, a Death Knight, pulled off the stunt just after the launch of patch 4.2. You can see more, including a video, in the post at MMO-Champion.