Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Wintergrasp becomes a battleground
The changes announced for World of Warcraft with patch 3.2 continue to dominate MMO news. I'm not covering the various "Waaaaaah! Blizzard nerfed my class by making some spell 3.275% less effective" subjects, but I do report on what could be major changes to gameplay. And one of those is certainly that Blizzard caved in and gave up on their only successful venture into open world PvP content, and will now turn Wintergrasp into a 100 vs. 100 battleground. For the simple reason that Wintergrasp is too popular. Ironic, isn't it?
I like Wintergrasp, and for somebody not generally into PvP that is saying a lot. In particular I remember the first time I played it how much more fun Wintergrasp is than the WAR keep battles. In WAR only the gates of the keep can be broken, and siege engines are stationary and can only be set up at predefined locations. In Wintergrasp the keep walls are destructible, and siege engines move. Add daily quests, decent rewards, and opening a small raid dungeon for the winning side, and you have a recipe for massive success. Unfortunately it turns out that a massively multiplayer online game can't handle massive.
If 2 players meet, each of them needs to receive a data packet about the other player, for a total of 2 data packets. When 3 players meet, each of them needs a data packet of the 2 others, for a total of 6. When 200 players meet, each of them needs to see the 199 other, for a total of 39,800 data packets. In short, the amount of data rises proportionally to the square of the number of players on the same spot. Anything that makes several hundred players turn up at the same spot, be it a huge open world PvP battle or a PvE world event, causes at least massive lag, if not the server to crash. I'd say that things could be improved by making the data packets much smaller, for example by not sending all the details of everyone's equipment, but it appears that there are hard limits in any case with current technology.
So with patch 3.2, people can either be in Wintergrasp or queue up with a battlemaster, but at the start of the battle a maximum of 100 players for each side will be randomly determined, and the rest will be ejected from Wintergrasp. That won't change much for the battles at odd times, which weren't that full. But people who only play during prime time, and on the more populated side (usually Alliance), might not be able to get into Wintergrasp every evening any more. Effectively Wintergrasp becomes a battleground, only that it isn't instanced, there is only one copy of it. Makes you wonder if Blizzard will make multiple copies when they get lots of complaints from people being locked out.
I recently mentioned the Battle of Agincourt in a parody on PvP battles. That wasn't even a particularly large battle, but it would already be far too big to recreate online. Fact is that for the foreseeable future we will not see massively multiplayer online battles with thousands of participants. If a game promises you that war is everywhere, be aware that this is only in the form of small skirmishes. Massive clashes of big fantasy armies are currently technically impossible.