Tuesday, October 25, 2016

FFXIV's Haunted House

As part of the All Saint's Wake (Halloween) event this year, FFXIV added an interesting small piece of content: a haunted house.

It's essentially a non-combat dungeon for four people join of any class or level. (Well, I think you need to be level 15 to participate in the event.) SE reused one of the spookier dungeons, Haukke Manor. But instead of the normal mobs, they have patrolling monsters. You have to sneak behind them. The party has a combined sanity meter. If a patrol spots you, they turn you into a pumpkin and reduce the group's sanity by a bit.

The group has to complete 3 challenges before time runs out (30 minutes) or they lose all their sanity. The challenges are random, and selected from a pool. They are fairly simple, and mostly an excuse to send the players searching around the manor. One challenge is that four rooms in the manor have magical circles, and each player has to stand in a circle. Another challenge requires you to collect 15 cookies from the different rooms. A third challenge has chests in all the rooms, with most chests trapped. But there are clues which point you to the correct room, and the party has to work together to call out clues and cover the floors.

It's a relatively simple piece of content, but it's fun. It's a nice change of pace from a combat dungeon. It's also an interesting feature to have the group split up to cover different areas of the manor. Reusing Haukke Manor is clever, as it's a nice callback to a "spooky" dungeon, and very thematically appropriate.

The only loot is the event currency, and if you run the haunted house three times, you'll get enough to buy all the new items. The pacing of the dungeon is also very well done. Ten minutes per challenge, and 100 sanity is enough to make the end a bit tense, especially with new people, but isn't excessively challenging. Though one of my runs finished with 6/100 sanity, and that was a little nerve-racking.

All in all, I think the Haunted House in FFXIV is an excellent and innovative piece of content. I think the community reaction has been quite positive as well. It will be interesting to see in what direction the dev team takes these ideas.

Monday, October 17, 2016

SWTOR's New Endgame Loot System

The Old Republic is introducing an interesting new endgame loot system in their next expansion:
First, here are the details on how gearing will work at level 70:
  • Once you hit level 70, the source of end-game gear will be Command Crates from Galactic Command.
  • Most activities in the game will earn Command Experience Points (CXP), which will earn you Command Ranks. Each time your Command Rank increases, you earn a Command Crate.
  • The higher your Command Rank, the better gear that will drop from your Command Crates.
  • The highest difficulty Operations and Uprisings, along with Ranked Warzones are intended to be the fastest ways to earn CXP. This means they are the fastest way to get the best gear.
  • Both PvP and PvE gear will come from Command Crates. Their gear is now shared as Expertise is being removed (head to this thread to discuss PvP/PvE itemization specifically).
  • Gear will no longer drop from bosses as all gear will come from Command Crates. All cosmetic/unique drops will still remain on those bosses (Stronghold Decorations, Wings of the Architect, etc.).
  • Players will be able to craft comparable item level gear without set bonuses.

This system reminds me of the loot system in Overwatch. All activities give CXP, and every level you get a loot box. Gear that comes from the loot box is based on your endgame level.

It essentially converts gear into a straight currency system, albeit one with a some randomness in reward. It heavily simplifies the endgame gear system, and unifies it. Now you can do whatever you like, and you'll still earn experience. It prevents content from becoming entirely obsolete once you've out-geared it.

The downside is that some "easy" activity will become optimum for grinding and gaining levels, and then people will insist on doing that non-stop to earn levels. The advantage of harder content giving better gear is that eventually you have to challenge yourself if you want to improve. This system makes it easy to keep from challenging yourself, and contenting yourself with content that you know you can succeed with.

The normal PvE mindset is that quality of reward is intrinsically tied to difficulty of content. I wrote a bit about this a long time ago, though more in the context of PvP versus PvE. (See Raider Perspective on Rewards, and Why Does the Reward System Matter?) I am not certain that breaking this link will be healthy for the game.

The other problem is that reward is now greatly tied to time spent in game. If you play twice as much as someone, you should have twice as many levels, and thus twice the gear and further into the higher level gear. But maybe making this explicit is more fair than current games. And I suppose you can tweak the XP gained to mitigate this. For example, the first time you do a piece of content each week, you get a big bonus to XP, etc.

Still, it looks like an interesting experiment, and it will be interesting to see what sort of effect it has on the game and the players.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Legion Raiding as a Holy Paladin

I ended up joining a small, somewhat casual guild. We've gone 7/7 Normal Emerald Nightmare, and hopefully will end up completing Heroic mode.

Here are some initial thoughts on raiding as a Holy Paladin.

  • Healing feels very much old-school, with you focusing on the tanks, and having other healers cover the raid, though helping out occasionally.
  • Bestow Faith is the standard Tier 1 talent, but I don't have a good feel for it. It felt like it was always getting sniped, and it seemed to have a much higher overheal than my other spells. I did try Light's Hammer, but it never seemed to work nicely.
  • I used Aura of Mercy for the most part. I think Devotion Aura has a better cooldown, but it requires you to be proactive. Aura of Mercy actually does a fair bit of healing, and it supplements your raid healing which is your weak point. I think I want to try Devotion Aura and see if that works better next time.
  • Judgment of Light actually does a decent amount of healing. Of course, it's all ambient healing, and you do have to remember to judge a lot.
  • I couldn't decide between Beacon of Faith or Beacon of the Lightbringer. The increase to Light of Dawn from BotL is really strong. But double-beaconing is a lot easier in fights where you need to focus both tanks.
So far, my initial impression of Holy Paladin healing is that you have to choose between strengthening your strong points of focused tank healing, or trying to shore up your weakness of raid healing.

I started with the focused build, but we were a little healer-light to start, and it felt like the dps died too easily. So I switched talents around to add more raid healing, and that felt a little better. If we had another healer though, I think the focused build would have been better.

Of course, I'm very rusty with raid healing, and we're only a Normal-mode guild at the moment, so keep that in mind.

Any other holy paladins care to share their experiences and tips?

Sunday, October 02, 2016

FFXIV Patch 3.4 Main Story Quest

FFXIV's latest patch, 3.4, came out this week. I spent the afternoon going through the main story quest.

It was really good. It tied up a lot of loose ends, and set the stage for the next expansion. There were a lot of good moments, especially in the middle. It did get a little complicated near the end. Final Fantasy "theology" has always been a little mind-bending.

One interesting element in the main story was that they sent you back to do an old primal from 2.0. Not a new version of the primal, but literally the old fight. Now, FFXIV does include mechanical reasons to do old fights. They're part of the random duty finder roulettes which give out endgame currency. But this is the first time they've given a story reason to do the old fight.

What was most interesting was that it was the old fight, but if you're on the main story, they changed the dialogue of the primal during the fight to reflect the new situation. It was a really interesting idea, and worked really well. I'm not sure if it's something SE could pull off again, but it worked beautifully in this story.

All in all, the 3.x story was a great one, and I'm looking forward to the next expansion.

Monday, September 26, 2016

World Quest Group Finder

Yeah, I know, I haven't posted for a while. I fell out of the habit, I guess.

I've been playing Legion a fair bit though. I'm a bit behind the curve, only ilvl 825 or so. I haven't stepped into Mythics or raids yet, though I've been looking for a guild on Lightbringer. So far everyone seems full up on Holy paladins, sadly.

In any case, I'm using a new addon, World Quest Group Finder, that's really nice.

It allows you to automatically make or join groups that are doing the same World Quest as you are. It's pretty nice, making grouping for world quests a lot easier. Now, you can do all the world quests solo, and kill credit is usually shared, but having an actual group is pleasant, and useful for sharing credit for other objectives. Especially as I am often questing as Holy, so I get to feel more useful with heals.

It's pretty smooth and pretty automatic. When you enter a World Quest area, the addon will automatically ask if you want to join a group. If you do, it's pretty much automatic from that point, searching the group finder or adding you to it. In fact, if you look at quest group finder right now, you'll probably see a few groups created by WQGF users.

It's a really nice tool for making questing a bit faster and a bit less lonely than pure soloing.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Eve Online F2P or Unlimited Trial

Eve Online announced a F2P or unlimited trial variant. Basically, you can make a character with a restricted number of skillpoints and skills and play for free. To get a full character, you have to be a subscriber.

It's an interesting choice for Eve. The biggest advantage is that it gives the new player a long time to truly come to grips with the game. Eve is infamous for its learning curve, and now there's no time pressure on learning how to play.

The interesting side will be seeing how the current Eve players abuse this mechanic. At certain levels, Eve is often a numbers game, and now each side can field arbitrarily large numbers. For example, instead of scouting multiple systems in a patrol with a single ship, you could instead station one character per system, and log onto each character in turn.

If I remember correctly, Eve did crack down on multi-boxing, so maybe that will mitigate the effect.

Another concern is that Eve often boasts that a new player can become "useful", even to the major powers, within a few days. But if that new player is useful, surely a couple hundred alpha accounts is even more useful. But if you nerf the usefulness of the alpha accounts, are you not also nerfing the usefulness of the new player?

WoW has an unlimited trial, where you're limited to level 20. But no one cares about level 20s. They're pretty much useless in the greater scheme of things. So there's no need to worry about players (other than gold-sellers) making tons of level 20s.

Will low level characters in Eve become more useless, thus diminishing that selling point?

Edit: Here's another way of putting the issue. I think there are two options:

1. Infinite low level characters
2. Useful low level characters.

I think that these need to be mutually exclusive to be balanced. If you have infinite amounts of useful low level characters, the game is going to break. That means I expect Eve Online to eventually choose Option #1 over Option #2.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

WotC's Solution to Intentional Draws and Concessions

Back in March we discussed the problem of intentional draws and concessions in Magic: the Gathering. Today, Wizards of the Coast unveiled their solution for professional Magic tournaments. It's pretty hardcore.

Click to enlarge

The Top 8 is turned into a single-elimination gauntlet, where higher seeds get to skip matches and start closer to the end.  T5-T8 need to win 4 matches, T3-T4 need to win 3 matches, and T1-T2 only need to win 2 matches.

Now, you want to get as high a seed as possible in the Swiss portion of the event as it greatly impacts your chance of winning.  It certainly aims directly at intentional draws and concessions.

In retrospect, I'm kind of amused at how timid my suggestion was. I suggested giving the higher seeds a single game in-hand, and thought that might be excessive. WotC blew right past my limits.

There are some other interesting administrative factors in this setup. The same number of matches are played [1], but there are four rounds instead of three. However a maximum of two games per round are played. Thus if you broadcasting the event, you only need to cover two games, rather than four in the first round of the traditional style. Similarly, it also means that you only need 2 judge teams to cover the finals, making it more likely that nothing will be missed rules-wise.

All in all, I'm impressed that Wizards is trying something this radical. We'll have to see how well it works in practice.

1. Technically, this mathematically obvious. 8 players, single-elimination, thus 7 players have to lose a match, no matter how you arrange the rounds. It's a old elementary school math puzzle. Given X players, how many matches do you have play to determine a winner? The answer is always X - 1.