Heroes of the Storm | Valeera Sanguinar

This post originally appeared on Meta Gamer. Since the website has been closed, I’ve transferred the post here. The publication date is the original publication date on Meta Gamer.

A new hero has arrived in the Nexus – Valeera Sanguinar. A World of Warcraft character, she is a key part of the Rogue Class Hall story and the story of Varian Wrynn.

Early Life

Valeera is a Blood Elf. After being orphaned by bandits and surviving the Scourge plague, she ended up in jail before being brought by Rehgar Earthfury to fight as a Gladiator, alongside Broll Bearmantle and an amnesiac human called Varian.

In Dire Maul the three fought and won. Varian earned the name Lo’Gosh and Valeera? Valeera was sold to Helka Grimtotem for her troubles. She escaped her new mistress, and went looking for her friends. It turns out they had escaped too, but were now being hunted by an assassin. Valeera defeated the assassin, barely, before being rescued by Aegwynn, the former Guardian of Tirisfal.

Journey to Stormwind

Aegwynn reunited her with her friends. Lo’Gosh’s true identity isrevealed – he is the King of Stormwind. Heading home to reclaim his throne, the trio are attacked by Naga. During the fight she absorbs the magical energies of a Naga Trident. Like all Blood Elves, she was born addicted to magic and this act brought that back to the fore.

Landing in Menethil Harbor, the three headed towards the nearest Alliance capital, Ironforge. Another assassin took aim at them – this time a warlock who exploited Valeera’s addiction with the Mark of Kathra’Natir. This mark allowed the demon to possess her and she struggled to maintain control. In Ironforge, she attempted to overcome the addiction and the possession. Aegwynn intervened to help her.

In Stormwind, the trio faced off against Onyxia, who had orchestrated the disappearance of the King. He was reinstated, and Valeera became a bodyguard and advisor to the King. Broll and Varian had become the family she never had.

 

Meryl and Med’an

During the fight against the Scourge, Valeera undertook a mission to save Med’an. He was the son of Medivh and Garona and his mother offered key intelligence in return for his life. She worked with Meryl Winterstorm, an undead mage and the foster father of Med’an. They rescued him, but then found themselves facing Cho’gall. Cho’gall killed Meryl, and Valeera knew it would take an exceptional act to save them.

Valeera absorbed magic from Meryl and Med’an in order to activate the demon within her. Unleashed, he could fend off Cho’gall. Med’an healed Meryl, who teleported them to safety. Med’an, as the son of a Guardian of Tirisfal, had an enormous amount of power. Seeing an opportunity to gain it, the demon Kathra’Natir attempted to gain control of Med’an, but could not. To free Valeera, Meryl took the demon, which he managed to repress (mostly).

Character

Despite all of her connections to both the Horde, through her people, and the Alliance, through her friendship with Varian, Valeera considers herself independent. She becomes part of the Rogue order in Legion.

Valeera’s Future?

There is at least one major unfinished storyline for Valeera – her connection to Aegwynn, the now-maybe-this-time-deceased Guardian of Tirisfal. Aegwynn saw greatness in Valeera and she has yet to do anything that would truly fulfil that.

The death of Varian may also impact Valeera. The shadow of her addiction to magic remains over her and grief makes people do crazy things.

In the Emerald Nightmare raid, Il’gynoth the Heart of Corruption whispers cryptic hints to the player.

Her heart is a crater, we have filled it.

Valeera has been possessed before. She is a potential candidate for this, though others (Jaina or Azeroth herself) are more likely. Could Valeera be possessed by the Old Gods?

The boy-king serves at the master’s table. Three lies he will offer you.

If this turns out to be Anduin, Valeera will could well be a key player in dealing with it by rescuing or defeating Anduin.

In the hour of her third death, she will usher in our coming.

You know who has died twice? Aegwynn. You know who might not really be dead? Aegwynn. Valeera and Aegwynn’s connection could be developed by Aegwynn herself being alive and Valeera being involved with this storyline.

MMO patch promotion: two approaches

Both Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft will be launching patches late August by the looks of things (WoW’s might end up a bit later).  For GW2 this is the one year anniversary patch entitled ‘The Queen’s Speech’. For WoW this is 5.4 The Siege of Orgrimmar.  Both have taken different approaches.  Please be aware, this particular GW2 patch is not representative of all their patches – a lot more mystery is involved.

Blizzard’s Cinematic Trailer
Blizzard do a good cinematic trailer.  Even the non-WoW players around have been noticing.  This one is particularly good, in my opinion.  Even the raid clips are firmly routed in a piece of dialogue and the new raid is set up beautifully.  Accompanying this is a suite of interviews with fan sites that seems to increase with each patch and a series of blog posts setting up new content.  All in all, its making me look forward to the patch.

Guild Wars 2’s mysterious villain
The Guild Wars 2 approach is normally to release details of the patch around a week before (given they have a two week patch cycle, this is fairly equivalent notice really) with a post.  Then, the day before release, there will be a live stream by the developers.  There may also be some interviews, although the engagement of ArenaNet with fan sites is less tied to patches.

Not this time!

The post arrived announcing … that Queen Jennah would give a speech.  Now we all know thats not the extent of the content, but no one knows what the content is.  That was the first teaser and it was fairly effective.  Then …

vandalism

Vandalism!  This was followed by several of the fan sites receiving a package.  Nothing new there.  For Dragon Bash ArenaNet sent out dragon pinatas.  For the election, they sent out campaign materials.  However, this time they sent a pocket watch along with a mysterious poem:

Tick tock goes the clock
It’s almost time for time to stop
Something you all must understand
Your world is built on fog and sand

You’re out of time, your jig is done
It’s time for Scarlet to have her fun
She has some hard lessons to teach
To the people of Divinity’s Reach

So mark the date in permanent ink
The hour is later than you think
On the twentieth day she’ll start her games
And warm her hands over Kryta’s flames!

Make of that what you will!  Reddit are picking it apart as we speak.  I’m hoping to see the return of Marjory Delaqua for this patch in some way, personally.

Both different approaches, but both are making me want to play their respective games.  It just goes to show that there isn’t a ‘right’ way to make an MMO.

World of Warcraft | What if … Corgis Unleashed

Again, this is clearly rampant speculation with no basis in reality.  Thats not going to stop me!

Setting
BuckinghamPalaceThis will be the first raid.  To free Corgis from their life of luxury.

Big Bad

corgi-dragonThe Corgi Dragon

New Class

corgi-engineerTinker

New Race

suddenly-corgisWell, duh!

New lore character

corgipirateCaptain Corgiwash

Apart from these changes I stand by everything in the previous post apart from the name, which may well be a hoax.  Ultimately, though, the rest of it is fairly likely with or without demons who may or may not be from the Burning Legion.  And if there are no Corgis in the next expansion then beware the wrath of the community. Just saying.

Group size, challenge and reward, or why do raiders need more powerful gear anyway?

Earlier this week, I was watching Unicorn Duck Shadow Puppet (the Wildstar show) on Gamebreaker.  In the episode, and in chat, there was discussion about how an MMO should cater for different play styles.  A few points from the discussion included:

  • If you aren’t raiding, you don’t need raiding gear.
  • Should an MMO cater for solo players since it is inherently multiplayer.
  • Raiders deserve more due to the increased effort they put in.
  • A game should be consistent in catering for different play styles throughout the game and not change at end game.

Underlying assumptions
I’m going to assume only the following here:

  • MMOs are built by companies who need to make money in order to keep producing your game.
  • MMO companies are not inherently evil for wanting to make money.

Some of you might disagree with these, but they underpin everything I am saying here.  Lets boil this down to the primary goal of developers being player gain and retention.

Solo play in a multiplayer world
This is an interesting dilemma.  Should an MMO cater for solo play when it is a multiplayer game by definition?  I would argue yes, but that solo play should be combined with at least random play, and preferably group play for a richer experience.

  • Solo content is filler content.  Its what you do when your group isn’t around.
  • Solo content is important for players with irregular schedules.
  • Solo content is an important confidence building and training ground for group play.

Solo content should be about player retention.  The aim of solo content is to fill gaps, to engage players when they might otherwise lose interest and to prepare players for group play.  Solo content needs to have progression in order to maintain engagement.

A good example of solo content might be the Brawler’s Guild in WoW.  It is progressively more challenging and it is in the open world so that a community can be developed around the arena.  It best meets the requirements above.

Random play
Random play is aimed at the same people as solo play, but involves grouping.  It serves the same needs as solo content, but forces interaction with others.  PuG raiding, looking for raid functionality, etc. are all parts of random play.  Random play is really important in MMOs because most players start off solo or in small groups when they come to a game.  Random play helps set the stage for interactions that lead to group play.

Group play
Group play should bring together organised groups of players in regular activity that provides a substantial challenge.  This activity should vary in length from a couple of hours to repeated interaction over months.

How many players will it take to make my group play engaging?  How many to make it challenging?  How many to make it epic?  Answer: as many as you like.  Raids do not automatically become better if you add more people, though the number of people is one contributing factor I agree.  Karazhan is still one of the most epic raids in WoW, but was the first to only need 10 people.  Raiding is epic because of the scale.  Raiding takes time.  Many people will raid a single raid for months on end, progressing slowly, week by week.  The problem is that as the epic nature of encounters increases, so does the difficulty of organising them.  40 people are harder to organise than 25 which are harder to organise than 10.

Rewards
This is where I have the biggest problem.  The question was asked: why do non-raiders need raid gear but it’s the wrong question.  The question is: do raiders need more powerful gear than other players? If increasingly powerful gear is to be the reward for challenge, then all challenging play should reward it no matter what the group size.  The gear could be different if there really is a need to denote raid gear separately.  Raid gear could be pink, small group gear could be turquoise and solo gear could be black.

I think the key is that gear is awarded for overcoming a challenge and that challenge should be substantial.  Seeing people get purple gear from daily quests is disheartening.  Seeing people get gear over time in challenging content should be fine no matter the number of people or nature of that content.  Rather than relegating other content to second place, developers should seek to put it on an equal footing with raiders. MMOs should seek to maximise participation whilst still rewarding the overcoming of challenges.  If I was focusing on Challenge Modes in WoW only and they did not award Valor, I would end up being way behind when it came to participating in world content like dailies, world bosses, etc because all the rewards are cosmetic only.  If I decided I had more time and wanted to raid, or my guild asked me to raid one night because they were short, I wouldn’t have the gear for it.  This makes no sense given I may well have been participating in more challenging content than some of my better geared fellow players.  It also doesn’t help the game at all because it segregates players from engaging in group content.

One final note here, notice I say challenge.  I don’t say skill, or time spent though these may both be factors in a challenge.  Completing the holiday meta What a Long Strange Trip Its Been, for example, is a challenge, just one of organisation and perseverance rather than skill.  Challenges should vary so there is something for skilled players, grinders, etc.  Also, challenge needs to come on a smooth scale with opportunities for gradual improvement.  The best rewards should be given for the greatest challenges, but there should be rewards and opportunities to work towards those challenges for people at all levels of skill, time and experience.

Want some carrot with that stick?

When someone behaves badly in a game, players want to see some punishment.  This is true anywhere on line, in fact.  We need to clamp down.  We need to punish.

Let me tell you something interesting.

Behavioural psychology identifies three methods of reinforcement that can be used to modify behaviour.  Positive reinforcement (reward), negative reinforcement (removal of something bad) and punishment.  It also tells us, overwhelmingly, that their level of success is in the order above.  An awful lot of literature points out that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment.  Some more recent work suggests a combination can also be effective in certain circumstances, but that combination still leaves positive reinforcement playing a role.

Detoxifying
League of Legends is hugely successful, but is well known for having one of the most toxic playerbases of any game.  LoL has done the whole punishing thing, but that didn’t really clean up their playerbase.  LoL, however, has its own Player Behaviour Team and those experts know their basic psychology.  The solution? The Honor system.  Honor is a currency you earn by being awesome.  After each match, other players can say if they thought you were ‘Friendly’.  Be friendly or helpful enough, and your Honor will accrue to let you buy things such as skins.

Carrots in SWTOR
LoL is not the only game to try this. In PvP in SWTOR, you can vote for the man of the match.  It’s a simple thing.  It gives you a minute bonus to your currency gain, but it makes players feel good.  It also demonstrates the problem, however, with rewarding good behaviour.  If  you are doing your PvP with a friend, you always vote them as man of the match.

What might carrots look like in WoW?
Both of these systems give you a reward.  Actually, you don’t need the reward – the positive reinforcement alone is probably effective.  MMO players, however, like rewards.  They like to collect stuff, they like to get epic gear and pets.  However, any reward would be subject to the problem in SWTOR.  Only in WoW, it would be exaggerated.  People would offer votes for money and gold.  Its hard to see how any reward system in WoW would not be open to abuse.  That isn’t a reason not to introduce some positive reinforcement into the game, however.

Imagine you ran LFR.  At the end you get a list of players and you can give positive (and only positive) feedback to them.  The other day I went out of my way to praise the healers in an LFR.  They were doing a great job and I thought they deserved to hear it.  Make that systematic.  If I want to say ‘tank you were awesome’ I should be able to.  There is no record, no reward, no ‘look at me I have more of this than you’.  Just a moment of positive reinforcement that enhances someones experience of playing the game.

When in game stores go bad

In articles recently I’ve defended both ArenaNet and Blizzard against accusations of being money-grabbers out to squeeze you for any penny.  In summary: both companies have to make money in order to make your game. 

In the case of ArenaNet, they have kept the store controlled and they repeatedly update things like storage to give you more without cost.  Ultimately, you can play the whole game without spending a penny of real cash other than the box.  Blizzard are seeking to specifically enhance their standing in the East, while also making up for the loss of subs, the decrease in the real value of their subs due to inflation and the increased cost of an expanded development team (please note: in no way and I defending the cost of those helms).

Further to this, I argue that it is your moral duty to pay for the games you enjoy rather than scrounging off of others.  If you like Guild Wars 2 and play it a lot, you should monetise it. Now I want to talk about when cash shops go wrong.

Star Wars: The Old Republic
Alas, SWTOR.  Don’t get me wrong, when SWTOR is good, its very good, but when its bad its utterly diabolical.  The cash shop, sadly, fits into the latter category.  A list of terrible cash shop features might be:

  • Excessive reliance on random chests to obtain cool items.
  • Far too many types of random chest available at once.
  • Monetizing basic game functionality such as action bars.
  • Requiring monetization to reach the end game.
  • Excessive free to play separation from monetized players.

I could go on, and on, and on.  This is not the only game to have taken this approach to its cash shop.  In fact, I think it is largely following a model that The Lord of the Rings Online and other games have successfully used before.

Guidelines for a cash shop It seems that some limitations to cash shops are emerging out of these examples.  They might be:

  1. No pay to win.  This does not mean no pay to speed things up, but no one wants the best gear to be on a cash shop.
  2. Don’t put too much basic functionality behind a cash wall.  The initial game experience needs to be a positive, rather than frustrating, experience of you want to monetize.  Discovering you don’t have enough action bar space, can’t get a mount or don’t have enough storage too early will turn many players off instead of encouraging them to spend money.
  3. Remember that the minority of players make the majority of cash shop purchases and plan accordingly.
  4. Don’t divide players with a wall of cash.  Social connections are vital to MMOs.
  5. Lots of optional extras … but not in a myriad of chests/random packs.  If you do want a random item, keep it simple and streamlined.
  6. People like to collect stuff.
  7. People like their toons to look good.

MMO Guides: Cheating vs Enabling

When new content appears in Guild Wars 2 or SWTOR, there is always a guide on Dulfy to go with it.  The debate every player faces is this: do I use the guide or do I attempt to do the achievement without it?  And when you raid in WoW, do you read up in advance or do you go in blind?  Do you build your own toon and rotation or use a guide?

There is definitely a feeling that you are achieving more if you do not use the guide, and I understand this point of view.  I also agree that in some games (not Guild Wars 2 as much as others) the guide means you burn through content quickly and end up sitting around with very little to do.

That being said, I use the guides.  There are two main reasons for this.  The first is time: I lack it.  If I had just one MMO I might use guides less.  If I had less to do, I might use guides less.  Especially in Guild Wars 2, with its two week windows for achievements, I could easily never find all the solutions in time.

The second is a responsibility to others in group play.  In the case of raiding guides, for example, if I turn up without the knowledge others have, I am letting them down.  Of course we could decide as a group not to read the guides at all.  However, that is only an option if you are confident that your group will get there without these.  Which brings us back to time, and a lack of it.  You’ll notice that in the guides I write, I focus on trying to get information to people quickly.

If you read some posts, you would be made to feel like you were somehow a lesser player for using guides.  Don’t believe the hype!  Guides enable you to engage with content you would not otherwise get to see.  It isn’t the case that I would get there eventually without some of the guides I use.  Personally, I see using guides as using brains instead of time.

Show me the money

I read this rather interesting blog post from Terra Nova, followed by the Playnomics report on engagement and monetization. Its an interesting read, in particular the information about monetization. First things first – who spent over $7k on a game in one quarter of one year?

Do I monetize?
Yes and No.

WoW has a subscription only, though I have made additional purchases, but I do monetize in both SWTOR and GW2. I pay the subscription for SWTOR and I buy from the gem store in GW2 (where I limit my monthly purchase to the cost of a subscription). I also have other free-to-play games on my PC which I do not monetize. Examples are League of Legends, Neverwinter and Rift. I don’t monetize these because I don’t play them very often. I don’t have the time to get good at League of Legends games, the Neverwinter control system cripples me and I haven’t had a chance to give Rift a real go yet.

What the Playnomics report does not cover is this – is there a link between engagement and monetization? Are the players who monetize also the players who play the most? Do the players who spend nothing come back to the game? I am unlikely to monetize in a game until I have a max level character. I need to have developed a commitment to a game in order to monetize. This is why, for all the criticism, the SWTOR free-to-play model has its positive points. By giving you the chance to level for free, it promotes that engagement at no cost. For those who drop out along the way, they likely never feel the need to monetize. For those who make it to the end, they will likely want to enhance their experience once they get there.

This suggests the answer to the question posted by Edward Castranova is yes, the players who monetize for should be listened to more, as they are the ones playing. However, I don’t feel that it’s a case of the more you spend, the more say you get. Rather, if you engage enough to monetize, it is in the game’s interest to keep you there. After all, there are a lot more of those little players than the whales and if you do base your game on the whales and they leave, you don’t want to have isolated your other sources of income.

I’ve no evidence for this – its based on my personal experience and opinion. So what about other players? Do you monetize? If so, when? Do you feel you should have more of a say?

Morrighan’s Throne of the Four Winds Crib Sheet

Since my historical crib sheets still see some views I’m going to re-post the ones I wrote as pages and link them up.

Conclave of Winds

  • 3 djinn, Anshal, Nezir and Rohash, are on separate platforms and need to die at around the same time.
  • 1 tank, 1 healer and 3 dps (melee here) should go to Anshal’s platform.  You may want to have one dps swap to Rohash.
  • 1 tank, 1 healer should go to Nezir’s platform
  • 1 healer and 2 dps should go to Rohash’s platform
  • All 3 djinn have an energy bar which at 90 triggers an ‘ultimate’ ability.  There must be someone on each platform at that time or the raid will be insta-wiped.
  • You can jump from platform to platform at any time apart from when an ultimate is cast.  Aim carefully or you will miss.
  • The tank/healer pairs should swap platform just before each ultimate (70-75 energy) and remain on their new platform until the next ultimate.
  • Rohash’s healer stays there for the whole fight (some people have the dps stay instead).
  • The dps should all move to dps Nezir during the ultimate and then return to their platforms and bosses.  During Nezir’s ultimate they should stay alive, self healing if needed as the damage is high.
  • On Anshal’s platform – move him out of the green circle fast as it heals Anshal and silences everyone.  Kill the adds.
  • On Nezir’s platform – avoid the cone attack which knocks you back and stay off of ice patches. This ultimate does a lot of damage.
  • On  Rohash’s platform – melee is generally bad here, avoid Wind Blast which circles around the platform and will knock you off it you are hit and stay out of tornadoes.

Al’Akir

Phase 1:

  • Separate into pairs with each pair standing on the repeating large shapes on the platform. The pairs should line up as follows:
    • 2 dps
    • 1 healer, 1 dps
    • 1 healer, tank
    • 1 healer, 1 dps
    • 2 dps
  • Avoid stuff that will kill you in this order of priority (always apply this priority – don’t avoid the ice only to get stuck in the whirlwinds):
  • Make sure you run through the gap in the wall of whirlwinds that comes around the platform (hint: run at an angle if you were a bit slow in starting). Note that you will see a hazy version of the wall just before it appears to help you spot it.
  • Move into melee range to stop yourself being knocked off the platform on Wind Blast.
  • Don’t stand on the ice.

Phase 2:

  • Hug the tank. No more Wind Blast or ice, but the wall of whirlwinds remains.
  • Some small electric spark adds spawn. You need to kill these to increase the damage Al’Akir takes. Controlled nuking is needed to keep the debuff up. Mostly you can just nuke them as they appear in the post-nerf version.

Phase 3:

  • You’re flying. Mark someone and hug them. By hug I mean stay on the same level as them.
  • Move progressively down the area as lightning spawns. You need to plan to give yourself enough room. Either move in small increments or move down twice, then go to the bottom and start moving up.
  • One player periodically gets Lightning Rod and damages people around them. That person should move away by going around the boss. Stay on the same level as the raid and don’t move backwards as if you get too far from the boss you get caught in wind and die.

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