Sunday, April 26, 2015

Steam's Mod Marketplace

Valve has come up with a plan to allow mod-makers to sell mods on Steam. By and large the community reaction has been unfavorable. Many gamers are unhappy that something which was free, is now going to cost them money. On the other hand, a lot of industry players feel that it's only right that mod creators are paid for their efforts.

My thoughts are mixed. In addition to theoretical changes, there are also practical issues with Valve's plan.

Practical Issue - Revenue Split

The first issue is the revenue split that Valve is using. Valve takes 75% and the mod creator gets 25%. Now, Valve is probably giving a portion of their take to the original game creators, which is reasonably fair. I've seen estimates that ultimately Valve gets 25%, the game creator gets 50% and the mod maker gets 25%.

I don't think this is a sound plan in the long run. I remember reading an article on startups (by Joel Spolsky, I believe) and he gave the advice that if you make a startup with partners, you should split the ownership 50-50 (or 50%+1, 50%-1 for control issues). At 50-50, both of you are truly partners, truly financial equals. Trying to apportion responsibility and unequal ownership makes individuals resentful. In the long run that creates more problems than being a little over-generous in ownership.

In the same way, I think that Valve should strongly consider a system where the game creator and mod maker are treated as equals, as partners. A split like Valve 20%, game creator 40%, and mod maker 40% would be better. You give up a small amount of revenue, but the mod maker is an equal, a full partner instead of a junior partner.

Practical Issue - Copyright

Most mods are not compiled. That means that it is really easy for other people to copy the mods. Piracy in itself will be a problem for mod makers, but people reselling other people's mods, or creating derivative works, on Steam will be a problem for Valve.

Hopefully Valve puts up a reasonable barrier of entry for mod makers. Something along the lines of Apples $100 dev licence would be a good start.

Theoretical Issue - Open Source

Right now, mods operate much like the Open Source software community does. It isn't explicit, especially with licensing, but it's very similar. The thing is that, by and large, the Open Source movement works. In fact, it's very arguable that in a lot of areas, open source software has swallowed up closed source software.

I think the mod community will split into two. One that is for-profit using Steam's marketplace, and one that is open source, using the current distributions. Mods may even be explicitly licensed with the GPL or similar.

I think the open source mod community will end up crowding out the for-profit community. They will have more users and be able to hit critical mass a lot easier than the for-profit mods will. As well, most mods, unless they rely heavily on artwork, can be duplicated fairly easily. Think of how many different DPS parsers exist. If a for-profit mod becomes popular, I imagine that a free mod with the same functionality will appear quite quickly.

Perhaps ultimately most mods will be free and open-source, but a Premium version with a better user interface or extra options will be sold on Steam. Very similar to how many current open source programs are sold.

Conclusions

There is nothing wrong with selling mods on Steam for money. In fact, it's probably a good thing that mod makers get rewarded for their time and effort.

However, in the long run I don't think it will make much difference. The pressures that push towards open-sourcing software will exist in the mod community. Most mods are written not for profit, but "to scratch an itch" for the modder. That same philosophy will still exist.

This does not really apply to artwork-heavy projects, or massive mods which essentially change the game into something new and require a lot of content creation time. This might very well be a good platform to sell those types of mods. But realistically, there aren't that many of those mods made.

Of course, now that money is involved, anything that requires a team is going cause massive organizational headaches for amateurs. You may still see massive mods being released for free, just because everyone who worked on it getting nothing and doing it for fun is easier than trying to pay individuals for their contributions.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ultimate Fight Final Fantasy XIV

I'm not really sure why SquareEnix decided to make this video for FFXIV. But it's pretty hilarious.



The best part is Thancred being Thancred.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

FFXIV 2.55 Patch

Oh wow! What a way to end the main story and set up for the expansion!

Can't really say much else, because pretty much everything is a massive spoiler.

FFXIV is simply the best MMO on the market at the moment. I am eagerly anticipating Heavensward.

Edit: Also, I can't believe I forgot about this because of all the stuff that happened afterward, but the new 8-man fight is glorious. One of the best dragon fights I've seen in any MMO. It's not very complex, but tells its story perfectly, and has a great enrage mechanic.

(Warning: there may be spoilers in the comments.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pillars of Eternity: Further Thoughts

The Bear

I killed the bear.

I had to gain two levels and get two companions, but the bear died. And it turned out that there was a really interesting story and moral dilemma attached to the bear.

As well, apparently there are two bears on Hard Mode! I'm not trying that any time soon.

Story

The story in Pillars of Eternity strongly reminds me of Robin Hobb's Soldier Son Trilogy. It's obviously not directly related, but seems to hit similar themes. The Soldier Son books were pretty decent. Hopefully Pillars of Eternity is not as "mean" to the main character. Ms. Hobb really put her hero through the wringer.

Sneaking

One interesting mechanic is that the game pushes you to explore dungeons in stealth mode. If you are in stealth, you detect traps, find extra treasure and secrets, and get advanced notice of enemies before they see you. You can put the entire party in stealth and move as a group, so at least you don't need to micromanage a scout. But stealth still slows you down significantly.

It's an interesting design choice. On one hand, it is very atmospheric to sneak through the dungeon, carefully watching for traps or enemies. On the other hand, it is a bit tedious.

Conversation Meta-information

I turned on the conversation meta-information option. This tells you if a conversation choice has an associated trait like Honest, Cruel, Passionate, etc. I was having a really hard time matching choices to what the developers thought were the traits. For example, I got a point in Stoic, and I was completely surprised by that.

I'm really not sure about this decision, though. It might be better to just choose the response that I think best fits the situation, and take the traits as they come.

The other part of the issue is that it's sometimes hard to tell when it's an important choice where traits come into play, and when you're just going through all the options in the conversation tree to extract as much information as possible.

Melee Damage Dealers

A while ago, I posted about the Trinity, and how threat was important to keep the melee dps viable. I think Pillars of Eternity is proving me correct. PoE does not have threat, but characters do have "Engagement". Basically if you are in melee combat with someone, you can't really break away to attack a different character. You can attack another character who comes into melee range though.

So I have two sword-and-shield tanks (my paladin and fighter). My standard plan is to have those two engage the enemy and have the other characters fire from range. So far it's working pretty well.

However, I got an NPC who seemed to have short-range spells. He also had a two-handed sword and heavy armor. So I sent him into melee combat with the two tanks. The monsters all turned to him and wrecked him. I ended up switching him back to range and trying to station him just behind the tanks.

I'm not sure I really understand how a melee damage dealer is supposed to work in this game.

Conclusions

All in all, Pillars of Eternity is going strong. I've done most of the first area, and have just made it to the large city. Time for some good old-fashioned city adventuring a la Sigil from Planescape.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pillars of Eternity: First Impressions

I was killed by a bear.

In fact, I'm pretty sure this was how my first death in Baldur's Gate happened. So by that standard, Pillars of Eternity is already off to an excellent start.

Pillars of Eternity is a new RPG by Obsidian, who are Black Isle veterans responsible for games like Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment. PoE was kickstarted a couple of years ago, to make an RPG like the great D&D RPGs of the late 1990s.

I'm only an hour in, and so far the game looks excellent. It's very much in the style of Baldur's Gate, with the same isometric view, and similar controls. However, the setting is completely new. I haven't seen very much of the game though.

The game is very text-heavy. It's looking like the level of Planescape: Torment. I consider this an excellent sign, but your mileage may vary.

I created a human paladin. One interesting thing about paladins in this game is that there are five Orders. Each order values different traits. The game measures what decisions you make that are in accordance with your traits, and your paladin abilities scale with that. So if your Order values diplomacy, the more diplomatic actions you take, the stronger a paladin you are.

The Orders are pretty neat, especially the Bleakwalkers, who are cruel and merciless. They feel that the best way to end war is to make fighting so deadly that the enemy sues for peace rather than engaging in combat. To that end, they give no quarter in battle. I chose a more traditional paladin order, though.

All the classes seem to have different elements like this, and there are something like 11 classes.

For videogames, PoE represents a triumph of Kickstarter. An excellent, meaty game made in a genre and style which the major publishers have ignored. It looks like Obsidian has delivered exactly what the backers desired.

If you were a fan of the old Bioware and Black Isle RPGs, I strongly recommend you check this game out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Arathi Basin in Space

Eve Online unveiled some proposed changes to their sovereignty mechanics, the mechanisms by which corporations take and hold star systems in the game.

To my surprise, the proposed mechanisms remind me of nothing so much as WoW's Arathi Basin.

In the current version of Eve sov you have to bring fleets to damage the station enough to put it into a different state. In the proposed version, you need a ship with an "Entosis Link". Channeling that link on the station for X minutes puts the station into the different state.

The major change is that one Entosis Link is all you need. Adding extra Links does not speed up the process.

You can see that this is just like capturing flags in Arathi Basin. All you need is one attacker to successfully complete a channel and the state of that node changes. Multiple attackers don't improve the speed of capture, but provide redundancy.

Now, there are differences. In the Eve version, the channelling ship must be destroyed to stop the channel, not simply attacked. The defender also has the option to start her own Entosis Link channel, which essentially "pauses" the attacker's channel.

As well, merely changing the station state is the start of the capture process in Eve. Then a countdown starts to the next stage, in which multiple command units are spawned in nearby star systems. These command units are captured using the same Entosis Link mechanism. Whichever side captures the most command units wins that stage. If the attacker wins, another countdown starts, after which the stations goes into a "freeport" mode and can be captured by anyone via Entosis Link.

In any case, much of the tactical gameplay becomes very similar to Arathi Basin. Stations need to have a defender hanging around. This defender will probably be bored most of the time, but if she leaves, the station is vulnerable to a lone attacker sneaking in and getting a quick capture.

So essentially, the amount of space a corp can hold becomes equal to the amount of space that corp can patrol. Of course, this being Eve, I expect the "patrol" to be a character on a second account stationed nearby, while the player's main account does something interesting.

The other interesting element of this new plan is that it is a very gamist system. The Entosis Links are pretty "magical". And I don't see any logical reason that station command units should spawn in nearby systems. It's clearly not very simulationist at all.

But maybe that's necessary. In my understanding, the current Eve sovereignty system is reasonably simulationist, being built around large fleets and blockading the gates in a system. However it doesn't seem to make very many people happy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Liebster Chain

Been a while since the last post. I honestly did not mean to go so long without posting.

Talarian tagged me with this Liebster chain, so I may as well answer it. I'll post questions and tag people in a later post.

1. What is your favourite game mechanic?

Hit points.

HP are probably so ingrained that we don't really think of them as a mechanic. But they just work. They're very intuitive, they scale well for progression games, and they allow partial successes, and the ability to go back and forth. They allow for interesting risk/reward calculations. For example, a big weapon that does lots of damage but few chances to hit versus a small weapons that hit often but do little damage.

Often in the tabletop games, people decry hit points as not simulating reality, and they try to come up with other mechanics. But nothing seems to work as well as hit points.

2. Is there a character did you think would be cool when announced or first encountered, but in practice turned out terrible? Who? Why?

Not really. It might just be memory speaking, though. A good first impression might be enough to color the rest of the experience with the character. Or possibly if the character ends up really disappointing, all you remember is the disappointment.

3. If your entire life turned out to be a simulation or part of a video game, would it change your outlook on life? How?

What sort of simulation? Are we talking something like the Matrix, where there is an outside reality that I can exist in or can affect? Or a pure simulation, where I exist solely in the simulation?

If it's the Matrix, I'd probably prefer to try and escape, and see what's real. In the pure simulation scenario though, I don't think it would change anything for me. If all I can affect is the simulation, than for all intents and purposes the simulation is real for me.

4. What is your favourite colour?

Blue. I usually pick the blue team.

5. If you were an astronaut and going to space for 6 months, what personal item would you bring with you?

A good paper journal and a few of those pens that work in space. It might be redundant, given that I could easily record thoughts on a digital journal and have them transmitted and archived safely. But paper has a certain permanence to it, a feeling of weight that would be appropriate for something as monumental as going into space. You can't backspace on paper, after all.

6. Which of the Seven Deadly Sins is your favourite?

If you think about it, isn't this an odd question? It's like asking who you like better: murders or child molesters?

Plus, does anyone really ever give an answer other than Pride? I blame John Milton.

7. Is there a moment in your life where you felt you were finally "in the future"? What precipitated it?

No. Frankly, for all of my life technology has advanced in an evolutionary fashion, rather than revolutionary. I was born after the computer displaced manual calculations. What is the internet but an extension of the telephone network? There's nothing wrong with this, of course. Thousands of small incremental improvements can add up to a major improvement over all. But it's hard to feel like you are in the future when you see each of those incremental improvements pass by.

8. Cliffhangers, good technique, or annoying technique? Why?

It's a good technique when the resolution is on the horizon. For example, to end a chapter in a book, or end an episode of television.

But I don't like cliffhangers when the wait is much longer, like for the next book, or the next season. Stories need endings, and the artists who get addicted to cliffhangers often fail to end anything in a reasonable manner.

9. Has there been a game mechanic that enraged you or felt supremely unfair? What was it and why?

I don't like mechanics that break the established rules of the world without warning. There was one puzzle very early in Braid that I felt broke the rules that the game established. I don't actually remember what the puzzle was, but I had to google for the solution. As soon as I saw the answer, I uninstalled the game.

I still harbor an irrational antipathy towards Jonathan Blow because of that experience.

10. Tortoise, or the Hare?

Tortoise. Steady, incremental progress is a lot more powerful than we give it credit for. Plus, the Tortoise wins in the end.

That being said, it's interesting that Western stories always present this dichotomy. Slacker with talent, or conscientious average person. It's a real shock to the system the first time you encounter and recognize disciplined Hares in real life.

An interesting take on this issue is Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo. Although theoretically a romantic comedy, it has a very interesting perspective on genius, hard work, and envy.