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.

Monday, March 02, 2015

The WoW Token

Background

WoW is introducing a PLEX-like item: the WoW token. A player can buy it from the cash shop and sell it for in-game gold on the Auction House. The buyer can then use the item and get a month of game time.

As you know, I don't like these schemes. I simply think it is a bad idea to let strong players have a "free ride" at the expense of weaker players. WoW rests on a broad base of relatively equal subscribers, and I think that narrowing that base will end up weakening the game as a whole. As well, I don't think it's a good idea to incentivize your strong players to start gold farming in earnest. In fact, I would almost prefer WoW to sell gold directly, rather than this indirect method.

But I've lost this battle. (Though I rather doubt any game company even noticed I was fighting it.) It's clear that these sorts of items will be standard in MMOs from now on.

Specifics

Let's take a look at this specific implementation. There are some interesting nuances here.

Unlike previous implementations like PLEX, this item is not liquid. The item can only be sold once. After that it is soulbound and must be used. This means that there are no speculators involved, and the only buyers are people who actually want the game time.

As well, since the item cannot be traded, the potential for scamming is eliminated. As are external RMT-ish resellers and lotteries.

The item can only be sold through a special AH interface. Of particular note is that the player cannot set the price. Instead the game offers the player a value, and when the item sells, the player gets the offered value. In theory, the offer and sale could be different, but overall I imagine the difference will be slight.

This can be modeled as the AH purchasing the token from Player A, and then selling the token to Player B. The price offered to Player A will probably be some sort of rolling average to discourage waiting for specific windows to sell the token. For example, waiting until Saturday to sell the token because that's the day the most people are online.

I'd guess the A-side price would be something like the average price of all tokens sold on the B-side over the last 7 days. Then the B-side price would be some automatic bidding mechanism where the price increases whenever there is a sale, increases if there are no tokens available to sell, and decreases if a period of time passes without a sale.

This process probably also allows Blizzard to set a floor or ceiling on the B-side price if they deem it necessary, most likely to stop side effects from a dupe bug or similar exploit. If the price of the WoW token suddenly triples, that's likely a sign that someone has figured out an exploit.

Blizzard's clear intent is to eliminate all possible customer service issues. The process is entirely automated. There is no point where a player can exercise choice, other than to sell or not sell. So there's no opportunity for a player to make a mistake and hurt themselves.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Making Space for Kindness

Syl at MMO Gypsy has a post on kindness in FFXIV. I'd like to take a look at just what factors inspire people in FFXIV to be kind, using Syl's example of a dead solo player asking for a res.

1. First, the game needs to give players the potential opportunity to be kind. FFXIV's death mechanic could be considered "bad design". In most MMOs, if you die, you resurrect at the nearest spawn point or graveyard. In FFXIV, when you die, your option is to resurrect at your "home point". Your home point might be set to a city on the far side of the continent, because that's usually more convenient, as you get a free teleport to your home point every 10 minutes.

So dying in FFXIV can be more inconvenient than in many other games. That gives other players the opportunity to save the dead player a lot of time.

As well, FFXIV also sends high-level players back to leveling zones, and allows the spell that resurrects people to be taken cross-class. So even if you aren't a healer, you might still have the resurrect spell as one of your cross-class spells.

2. The player receiving the kindness must not be undeserving. If the dead player resurrected at the nearest town, the travel distance for the kind player is the same as the dead player. I bet that in this situation, the dead player would be called out as "lazy" and told to walk back.

In fact, if the norm in FFXIV was to change your home point whenever you switched areas, asking for a res might be considered bad. But the norm in FFXIV is to set your home point to a central convenient city.

3. The game needs to make it easy to be kind. FFXIV has the "<pos>" macro. When you put that in chat, it makes a link with your current co-ordinates. If another player clicks that link, the game puts a small flag on the map at that location. This makes it real easy for a kind player to actually find the dead player. It's relatively minimal effort.

"<pos>" is also useful to call out special targets. Like if you find a Hunt target, people often call it out in chat with the co-ordinates. Very easy to do, and very helpful.

The more effort being kind takes, the less likely people are to be kind. This also applies to costs. The higher the cost of being kind, either in actual cost or lost opportunity, the less likely people are to be kind. This is often the problem with dungeon groups.

4. Kindness works best if only a few people need to be kind. Of all the people seeing the "Needs Res" message, only one or two people need to respond. If the majority of people don't respond, the dead player still perceives the community as kind, so long as at least one person does respond.

Again, this is another problem in formal group play. In groups, usually everyone needs to be kind. Here, one unkind person can hurt the experience, and cause the person to perceive the entire community as being unkind.

Kindness is actually fairly hard to cultivate. There are several factors that need to work to get it right. I think FFXIV does a good job, but I am not sure how much is actual design, and how much is just serendipity. For example, I was just in a rather acrimonious Crystal Tower run that was pretty much as bad as anything you see in WoW (mostly because we wiped on Bone Dragon once because everyone ignored the skeleton mechanic).

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Currently Playing Updates

Here's what I'm currently up to:

World of Warcraft

I'm pretty much only doing the weekly garrison quest with Coriel. I've also stopped messing around with the garrison buildings. I debating doing the legendary questline, but haven't come to a decision about that yet.

For some reason, I rolled a random Blood Elf mage and got to level 5. I'm not sure if I will keep going with it, or even why I started it in the first place.

The Old Republic

My raid team has gotten to 2/10 in Hard Mode operations (1/5 Ravagers, 1/5 Temple of Sacrifice). I'm not sure what fight we'll be working on next. Gearing for Accuracy is a huge pain in this expansion, and it really isn't helping that Sniper set gear seems to not have any.

Otherwise, one major change Bioware made was to add Companion gear to the Weeklies. So I've been slowly working on kitting my companions out, especially the droid companions. Previously, droid gear was fairly annoying to get. One interesting side-effect of this change is that I roll on very little gear in ops. It's not worth the time and effort to get gear for companions from operations anymore.

I'm also leveling a Bounty Hunter, about 2/3 Dark Side and 1/3 Light Side. Professional but a bit ruthless. I'm currently on Taris.

Final Fantasy XIV

I've decided to try and get my Relic Weapon for the Paladin class. I'm currently working on the Atma book stage, and have a grand total of one book complete. ... I don't think I'll get this done.

I took a look at the new Golden Saucer stuff. It seems pretty fun, but I'm not really into mini-games.

Diablo 3

For Season 2, I started a Monk and got to about level 25 so far. This time around, I'm trying to play in public games with other people. However, I think the matchmaking buckets are now too small, since you now have to match on difficulty, character level, and story progression. So it's pretty hard to find people.

What are you up to?