Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Patch Tidbits

Patch 3.3 is upon us, or so they claim. I still haven’t finished downloading yet and I would bet that the servers over here aren’t even up. Reports indicate that the launch of Icecrown Citadel was riddled with lag and other server issues – as always when we get a new content patch.
With the patch we also get a new official cinematic, aptly called Fail of the Lich King.

What, that’s not how what it’s called? Fall, fail, what’s the difference?
Anyway, the timing makes for an obvious comparison between this official trailer and the one by Vodka that I linked on Monday. On the one hand we have a paid team of Machinima artists with access to internal data and systems and likely free reign over the game world to animate exactly what they want; on the other hand we have a group of players armed with Fraps and access only to parts of the patch on the test servers. Hardly a fair fight, yet Vodka beats Blizzard hands down.

Where Blizzard’s trailer mainly shows pans and zooms around an empty room with Frostmourne in the middle and Arthas walking or standing around, Vodka’s piece gives us fast paced shots of various locations with actual action happening in them. Even the obligatory scenes in Frostmourne’s room have far more action than the inoffical video. Yes, the camera in the Vodka trailer is a bit choppy at times – but that’s due to the restrictions of recording by hand on the test server and doesn’t really bother me all that much.
What happened to the awesomeness that was the Wrathgate cinematic? This is what we get as the intro to the final patch of the expansion? Fail of the Lich King indeed.

Easy living
Being European, I haven’t seen Icecrown Citadel yet, and with all the server issues going on I suppose many US guilds haven’t really been able to raid yet either. Yet, lists 261 guilds who have already downed all four available bosses in the instance. And that’s not just the world’s top guilds either, it seems like a random sampling of decent guilds who happened to get decent conditions during their raid times. Apparently, normal mode Icecrown Citadel is just as much of a cakewalk as I (and many others) predicted. Whoop-dee-f’ing-doo.
Maybe I can see that for myself – if the servers are stable tonight and I get a raid spot that is. Claiming that something is too easy without having done it yourself is always a bit tricky. I totally expect my guild to sit in front of locked gates as soon as the servers allow us to actually raid, however. Not fun.

Server stability
Whenever a new content patch launches, servers die. We know that already and it is hardly a surprise. I still have to wonder why, however. I get that throwing additional hardware at such a problem isn’t always the solution due to the way the world architecture works. I get that having thousands of players at a world event like opening the gates of AQ will cause trouble no matter what hardware you throw at it. In this case we are talking about instances though, which run on separate hardware anyway and it seems to me (not being privy to Blizzard’s exact internal infrastructure) that launching instances on additional servers once one server is full should be trivial, provided that hardware exists.

I believe that throwing more hardware at the issue would actually work in this case and that the reason that we always have sloppy launches (aside from not ptoperly tested code) is that our friends at Actiblizzard don’t want to buy hardware for the peak times but rather for the times of average load. That’s cheaper of course and will mean that you don’t have extra hardware lying idle during normal times, but I can’t imagine that the investment would put a huge dent in Activision/Blizzard’s pockets. Tobold wonders whether “we will ever have the technology to create really massive events in our massively multiplayer online games” and I can’t answer that question for him. What I can say, though, is that we do have the technology to make a patch launch go much smoother than this. It’s a question of money, not technology anymore.

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