Balancing Response
Darkblight touched on a great topic in his previous post; the holy grail of an MMO is balance. Everyone knows an MMO needs 'balance' to be good, and the better the 'balance', the greater the MMO. Balance, unfortunately, is one of those terms that no one ever understands in the same way. Most of the time, whatever benefits the player's interests is considered to them to be balance. For a trammelite, balance is being able to go out into the wilderness to make money without dying every minute. For a crafter, balance is the ability to create an item and have a good economy to make a profit in. And lastly, for most of us here, balance is the opportunity to pwn the previous two people and run off with their stuff.

The balance that darkblight wants to talk about, I believe, is the balance of all these types of players, which is what made Ultima Online the epitome of MMOs to date, but instead of discussing that he does what most of us thieves, murderers, griefers do (and I'm sure I may even in this article about my point), and goes on to discuss the balance which benefits only us, the minority of players who cause grief, chaos, and anger. And this is the major problem of balance in today's MMOs.

Now, I must state I've been a thief in any RPG I've played. I absolutely enjoy stealing, backstabbing, deceiving, and generally being a nuisance to everybody. If I can profit off another person's effort with minimal risk, great. But I'm also aware of the my role's position in the grand scheme of things. In order for me to enjoy this there needs to be another person for me to profit from, and in order for me to profit off of them, he needs to be able to make money with relative freedom, and this relative freedom only comes if there are a very limited amount of people like me, and you, who want fuck him over in the lich lord room after he's been there for 2 hours straight. That other player, the trammelites or anyone who loves to roleplay and decorate their virtual homes with sparkles and glitter, are needed in droves in order to run any MMO, and they need to feel as though the entire world isn't out to completely fuck them over. They are the sheep to us wolves, and just like in nature, the balance lies in having less, much less predators than there are prey.

When you cater to only one of these types, the trammelite, thief, crafter, et cetera, the MMO will eventually only consist of that type. That's what makes most MMOs to date stale and boring as shit. No one wants to steal from another thief today who's just going to steal it back from them tomorrow. On the other hand, if you put everyone in a bubble, safe from all the evils of the world, even they will find themselves bored from a constant treadmill of levels and achievements. It's important to give everyone enough protection so they don't feel scammed of all their hard work all the time, but it's also important to provide some chaos, some destructive elements, in order to keep the world changing and to stay interesting. The key to balance then is to maintain the proper proportions of these elements.

Balance doesn't lie in PvP or PvE or crafting, it lies in the mixture of all these combined. MMOs are fantasy worlds where people interact with each other, thus it's more of a social balance that needs to take place in order to truly have an outstanding MMO. Given, individual aspects such as PvP, PvE, and crafting need to be balanced themselves, but the bigger picture is a diverse and dynamic world in which politics, drama, and power struggles take place. Ultima Online was laced with bugs, imbalanced mechanics, and always was down when you wanted to play it, but it was absolutely incomparable to anything else when it came to interaction and conflict with another human. It was a melting pot of roleplayers, murderers, griefers, crafters, you name it, even though it had all its flaws and imperfections. No one cared to max their character before heading out into the dungeons because there was an enormous mix of people to run in to, whether it be a newbie who wanted to just kill some mongbats with you, or a PK who was trying to In Por Ylem you to death. Even the huge changes that made a character go from a powerhouse to a gimp overnight didn't really stop us from starting to train a new skill from scratch the next day. Everyone was kept on the same playing field because we never really knew what tomorrow would bring.

I'd like to say Ultima Online had no 'end-game'; the way I played Ultima the first day, up until the very last, was to just get out of town and see what would happen. Every time I logged in I never had a goal other than to have fun. If I ran into some of my thief buddies, we'd go stealing; if I found myself needing money badly, I'd go kill monsters. There was always something to do, always somebody new to run in to, and it never was the same thing twice, and that only works when there is a diverse balance of every type of player imaginable. MMOs today always seems to have a focus on only one certain aspect of a world, whether it be PvP, PvE, or being a furry. The next MMO that realizes the balance between having free-for-all PvP, fully-lootable corpses, and a safe enough stable for my neon horses, I'm in.

Balance is a word that most MMO players know quite well and talk about quite often. We seek the Holy Grail of balance in all MMO's we play, and often head to a game publishers forums to discuss the issue, troll with it, flame over it or leave it as a reason that we are leaving a MMO. I feel that most players have forgotten the core idea of balance and with it most developers embark on a never ending series of buffs and nerfs trying to obtain it. No class based MMO has ever been balanced. Yes some have come closer than others but ironically the most imbalanced games have become the most balanced.

My gamming career started with Ultima Online (I did play Subspace before it which I do consider a MMO but not one in the classic sense of MMORPG). Ultima Online's pvp was balanced in that:

1) Every skill was available to every player and you could drop/relearn skills when wanted. 2) Every serious player at the time I played was a 7x Swords mage, which meant you had 7 skills maxed to 100 just like every other pvper, or you had them in the progress of maxing to 100.

Some may remember tamers, thieves, etc but from my perspective the vast majority of fights were people with the same kills fighting each other. This was balance. When I fought another swords mage it would not come down to a random choice they made at the beginning of the game concerning class, it came down to basically everything other than the class. Things like connection speed, order of casts, reactionary responses and eventually Roger Wilco target calling would tip the fight for one side or another. Not things like "I picked a rogue, he picked a warrior therefore he wins unless I greatly out gear or skill him".

This system that on the outside may seem unbalanced was actually one of the first and last games to get it right. Maybe it was not intended this way, but here we do have an example of what balance can be and a lot of reason people like myself wax poetic about this era in MMO history.

Maybe I should say this now, if you do not want to pvp... ever... then balance need not concern you. Balance when fighting monsters/npc's in a MMO is easy enough to balance. Where the majority of complaints and headaches come from concerning this topic are pvp encounters. Maybe I am jaded... but when it comes to PvE encounters I have been there done that mentality. I have played every major US MMO since Ultima's release and killing a dragon or killing ten boars in the forest has become a means to a end for me. The gear, levels I obtain, stats I earn are to be competitive at end game pvp. I think deep down most players feel this way, even the ones who claim to hate pvp. I think even the most avid non pvper when given a glaring advantage of gear etc will capitalize on a situation in which killing another player can give them reward at very little risk.

But back to balancing. The first step to this task is accepting rule #1:

1) CLASS BASED MMO's CAN NEVER BE BALANCED. (one vs one) For a class based MMO to be balanced you would be able to pick any class, and any tree or skill point allocation in that class and be able to beat any other skill or class combination. This may sound absurd, but it is balance at its core. Take chess for example. We all have the same pieces at the start, the same rules.. the same board and the game is balanced. Player skill, knowing your opponent, etc lead to the outcome of victory, not a situation where a person starts with 4 queens and I start with 4 rooks.

Imagine you are a baseball player and there are 50 choices of bat. Some are good for hitting long balls, others are better for bunting, but upon starting your career you must choose one bat and stick with it, or lose all of your stats as a player when switching to another bat. This would seem idiotic to most fans. If a certain bat is better for bunting and your team needs a bunt to win, then by all means I want my player using that bat... not being handicapped by a decision they made at the beginning of their career. This is what we do with class based MMO's. We force a player to pick a class usually knowing very little of what that class will really be like until a major time investment is made in it. After putting the player through the task of doing chores to level up/ gear up we then nerf/buff classes along the way making it impossible for a player to understand what they are getting into at the beginning.

Now a skill based MMO seems to be the answer, and yes one where skills can be min/maxed and left in the dust at any time is a good answer. I have read articles on this very site saying this will lead to massive IMBALANCING because of fotm, or cookie cutter templates. But I would much rather drop and re-level some skills to stay with the nerf/buff cycle than have to start a new character from scratch. Alts are going the way of the dodo with the invention of reputation grinds, vet rewards, and all the grind treadmills. Unfortunately major publishers see the success of WoW and seem to avoid skill based games, sure you run into a sand box skill based MMO being released every so often, but usually the publishers do not get it right or release a buggy platform due to lack of funding etc. Trust me, I love wow's polish and engine. If something comes from Blizzard, I know it is going to shine in terms of its lack of bugs/ polish and as a gamer I crave paying for finished products that will last and have a strong player base, otherwise I would just play single player games.

How a class based system can work: One game that everyone hates with a passion is Star Wars Galaxies. I was there for the NGE and remember how hurt/upset people were with that company, but I unlike many others kept playing. While they did introduce a class system as opposed to a skill based one they ALLOWED PLAYERS TO SWITCH THEIR CLASSES WITHOUT HAVING TO RE-GRIND A NEW CHARACTER. This lead to me playing the game a lot longer than I normally would/should have. When commando was OP i could switch to it for a chapter and when Jedi was tearing it up I could go Jedi. This lead to me collecting gear for every class and eventually switching among them as it suited my playstyle. Why force players to be punished for picking a class that is underpowered at end game or made weak by a nerf bat before they even get there? This allows players to enjoy the part of the game that vet players flock towards.. the end game. Sure your first go around of a game you may love the grind, even your third or fourth time, but honestly how many of you look forward to it and haven't thought, "Yay I'm level 'xx' now I can finally play the game!" Forcing players to re-roll to keep up with dev changes is the quickest way to get me to stop playing your game and move onto another.

Now we come to how a class based game can work: metagame. When I say metagame I am talking about group composistion. You get friends together and they compete against other groups. Now let players switch to your different classes for a small fee and you really got something. Your healer canít play one night? Your tank is offline? Your DPS guy canít come? Allow people to switch to these roles. Allow them to explore all the content of them game by having to aquire gear for these roles and I think youíre going to find players playing games a lot longer than they normally would... and developers isn't that what you want? The longer we sub the more you make. By allowing us to change classes easily the game can achieve balance through the metagame, where a party needs for example single target heals, group heals, aoe dps/single target dps, buffer, tank to succeed and any group with the same classes x6 is not going to win vs a well rounded team. You allow people to have their roles and do not pigeon hole them if the roles needed for the "best" spec group change.

(devs email me at chrisgcomputers1@gmail.com for more thoughts/ideas I have in crafting a great MMO)

Playing a Rogue Sucks
I've been playing World of Warcraft since the new expansion came out in early December. I took my rogue which I love dearly from 80 to 85 and have done a lot of achievements, dungeons, rep grinds and the like with him. It is annoying as fuck after all that to realize that the character needs to be shelved and I need to move onto something else finally.

It's been a long time coming really. I first picked the rogue because it was very strong in PVP back at the level 60 capped days. You had enough burst damage and stuns to work over every class if you knew what you were doing. I did. However, slowly as each expansion comes out, rogues get a little bit more of the shaft crammed firmly up the backside.

At 70 during the Burning Crusade expansion and even at 80 during Wrath of the Lich King, it was a hard life to be a rogue, but you could still be at the top of the DPS meters in PVE, so sucking up some of the PVP shortcomings that were slowly introduced was worth it to some extent.

However, now even with all of the great improvements they've made to the class and it's ability to manage combo points better, it is still badly lacking when compared to other classes. With the exeption of feral druids and enhancement shaman, every other class either wears plate or is ranged. BTW, you almost never see either of those two sub-classes and both have the option to self heal. So basically, no one has to worry about being squishy and having to be close to the target... except rogues. Back in the day, in both PVP and PVE, that was offset by the fact that the damage a rogue can output was so great that it balanced out.

That ship has sailed. Now most classes can either keep up or surpass rogues without having the combo point limitation which makes rapidly switching targets or targets that die quickly much less ideal for rogues. Even on sustained targets, most other classes perform on par or outperform rogues. So why play a class that has to move a lot more to stay near targets that do most of their cleaves, AOE, and other group damaging effects to melee range only? And all of that while wearing leather? Pass.

So, thanks to the Refer a Friend, I'll be rolling up a hunter that should hit level 60 in about 10-11 hours of played time and then comes the grind up to 85 from there. But, since they're leveling machines, that shouldn't take too long.

It was the best of times...
Clearly, there have been no posts in a long time. That's not to say that a lot hasn't been going on, it's just that the site's primary function was at one time to talk about gaming and 99% of what's been going on with me has not been gaming related. Basically, if you don't know me irl, then you probably wouldn't give a damn (and I couldn't blame you).

My ex-wife and I split last October and we divorced in February. It's been more horrible than any other thing I've had to go through and I would hope you guys would understand that losing the love of my life sorta took priority over posting on a website so few people read. For that reason though, I haven't been gaming a whole lot over the past year and was focusing on real life stuff. But, like I said above, I doubt anyone who doesn't know me would really care much.

On the gaming front, I had a short stint in World of Warcraft (again) and quit (again) back in May. I will probably give that yet another shot when the expansion comes out, but it won't be something that will be long lived... just something to experience whatever new hotness they are bringing to a game that I've spent a good bit of time in.

I've also been playing a good bit of Xbox stuff here recently starting a couple of weeks ago. I've been primarily revisiting old games and going for achievements I missed before I move onto new stuff, but I'm definitely looking forward to Rock Band 3 primarily as well as Fallout: Vegas and Dead Rising 2.

Anyhow, that's what all has been going on with me in a nutshell. I don't know if the site is officially dead or not as I may pick back up posting here and I may not. Definitely all the other posters are gone, so it's sorta down to me again... *gulp*

We'll see, I guess.