Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Namespaces

Star Wars is going to be reclaiming numerous character names on Nov 1. Essentially names of character who are under level 30, have not logged in for 3 months or so, and do not belong to current subscribers will be freed up. I think this is great news. Last time I tried to make a character, it was quite hard to come up with a name that had not been taken.

It's interesting to see what approaches new MMOs are taking to naming. Names have to be unique, so that you can uniquely identify the people you mail or interact with. But at the same time, the "good" names get taken early and players have to resort to more and more unusual names.

Cryptic tags character names with @account. So you can use any name for your character, but your account name has to be unique. The downsides here are that there is an explicit link between your characters and your account, which a lot of people don't like. And it does look kind of funny.

Some games like GW2 allow names to include spaces or punctuation (a common one is a period). This allows you to make names which are more complicated, but still easy to remember.

FFXIV makes you chose a first name and a last name. This allows you to vary a common first name with different last names, while still having everyone use your first name in conversation. As well, it seems to make people name their characters better.

Of the current methods, I like having a first and last name the best. It's simple and easy, and feels natural. I think that new MMOs should strongly consider using this model for their naming schemes.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

FFXIV: A Realm Reborn - Review

I've been playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn for the last two months or so. I finally finished the main campaign and got a maximum level character. So it's about time for a review.

FFXIV is a themepark fantasy MMO in the WoW/EQ model. However, it has a very old-school feel to it. In a lot of ways it feels closer to Vanilla WoW than to modern WoW. The global cooldown is 2.5s, leading to a slower, more deliberate style of play. Rotations are simpler, usually being actual rotations where you go A-B-C, repeat, while throwing in some cooldowns.  A lot of people don't like the long GCD, but I rather do. I'm not a fan of the way haste has sped up WoW.

However, there is more emphasis on movement. Many mobs will do area attacks indicated by a red shape on the ground, which you have to move out of. I find that this works will with the slower pace of the game.

The setting and storyline are very Japanese/anime style. Personally I find it interesting because it is askew from Western sensibilities. For example, nations are divided by philosophy, not race. Each nation, even the bad guys, is composed of the same races as the others.  The story line is pretty decent as well, full of the anime tradition of bad guys philosophizing. (The bad guys are pretty awesome. There's one guy who dual-wields shields. With guns on them.)

The only problem with the storyline, in my mind, is that the final climax comes during an endgame dungeon. People farming the dungeon become very impatient as you watch the cutscenes. SWTOR had your main storyline be entirely single-player (though others could tag along) and it worked much better. You could watch the finale in peace without inconveniencing anyone.

The major mechanical attraction is the class system. A single character can level up in multiple classes. Each class has a specific weapon type. Switching to that weapon switches your class. This is a particularly elegant mechanic, especially with the built-in armor system. To qualify for advanced classes, called "jobs", you have to level up multiple classes. For example, my character's main job is Paladin. I had to level Gladiator to 30 and Conjurer (healing priest type) to 15. Paladin is essentially an advanced Gladiator, so leveling as a Paladin also increases my Gladiator level.

Each class can use some abilities from other classes. Some abilities can be used by any class, while others can only be used by closely related classes. For example, my Paladin pulls some abilities from Conjurer and Marauder.

Now, each class must be leveled up separately. You can grind mobs, kill specific mobs listed in a hunting log, do "levequests" (repeatable quests), dungeons, scenario-like "duties", or "FATES". FATES are essentially public quests like rifts in RIFT. They appear on the map, have an object, and then disappear when done. Regular quests can only be done once per character. Somewhat unfortunately, FATES are the best way of getting experience, and that's how most people end up leveling secondary classes.

The class system extends to crafting classes. Each crafting and gathering class is a fully realized class with 50 levels. You get xp by crafting or gathering. Crafting is kind of like combat. You use different abilities attempting to get as high a quality as you can without running out of durability. I actually like this system a lot. It's very interesting if you like crafting.

FFXIV is also rather group-centric. The main storyline requires that you do several dungeons. Dungeons are old-school. Threat matters a lot, as does marking and killing in order. Thankfully it seems like the people who do play can follow the rules. By and large, my grouping experiences have been excellent. Of course, I am playing a tank, so I do get to exert a fair bit of control over the run.

Endgame is also very old-school. Here is the current endgame in FFXIV:


The first raid is the very bottom of the chart. There's lots of grinding and work to even become raid-ready. It reminds me a lot of running dungeons in Vanilla, trying to get my class set.  As well, several fights in the list are supposed to be very difficult. People are already selling carries for HM Titan, among others. But there is a real sense of progression as you work your way through. The path is there, and I am on the path.

So would I recommend FFXIV?  I think it's worth taking a look at, if just to see the way the class system is handled, and to take a look at the crafting classes. If you're craving a more Vanilla-style WoW experience, but in a modern game, with several modern innovations, I would strongly recommend checking out FFXIV.

Will I continue to play FFXIV? I'm not sure. Truthfully, I'm not really a fan of grinding for experience or currency. I've seen the story, which was my main motivation. I suspect that I will play for a bit longer, maybe take a look at a couple of the harder fights, but will ultimately drop it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Counter-Intuitive Idea For Tanks in LFR

One of the major problems with LFR is the lack of tanks. Queue times for non-tanks can be very long. Losing a tank can cause your group to wait for a long time to get another tank, which often leads to a cascade of other people leaving.

First, let's acknowledge all the things which have been done in an effort to attract more tanks to the game. Threat has been nullified as a meaningful mechanic. Multiple new tank specs have been introduced. Extra rewards have been given out to tanks. The number of required tanks per raid has been reduced. And yet, all of these have not really solved the problem. At best we can say that maybe the problem would have been a lot worse without these actions.

So here's my idea for improving tanking in LFR:

Increase the number of tanks in LFR from 2 to 4.

This seems counter-intuitive. How can increasing the number of required tanks improve our experience?

Here's my theory. Whenever you ask about why people don't tank, they talk about the pressure, about the visibility of the role. There is a lot of truth to this. When you look at LFR, tanks are the only role where there is no "slack", no room for error. Raids are designed around 2 tanks, and usually both tanks have to perform at a high level to be successful.

If you look at healers in LFR, you can usually get by if four of the six are decent. For DPS, 10-12 decent dps are usually enough. Both these roles have slack, room for players who are less skilled. In contrast, the tanking role has no room for slack. On most LFR fights, both tanks have duties that they need perform successfully.

If we moved to four tanks, but left fights designed around two, there would be slack in the tanking role. Maybe instead of having a tank swap and having the current off-tank pick up adds, you could have two tanks dedicated to the tank swap, and two tanks on adds full-time. If one tank dies, the others can compensate. Instead of two tanks having to be perfect on a tank swap, you could have three tanks swapping. This would mean that it's okay if a tank misses a taunt.

For an inexperienced tank, it's far better to be the fourth on the roster, and maybe have one dedicated duty, rather than have to pull the full weight of a co-equal tank.

This plan wouldn't work in normal raiding, because the group controls the number of tanks, and always reduces the tanks to the minimum in order to add more DPS. But in LFR, the game controls the number of tanks. The game can throw in four tanks each time. As well, this ratio is closer to the ratio required for 5-man dungeons.

An LFR with 4 tanks, 6 healers, and 14 dps would have a larger margin for error in each role. One weaker tank will not doom the raid, any more than a weaker healer or a weaker DPS will. This will make it easier for people to start tanking and may lead to more tanks overall. Spreading out the load among more tanks should reduce the pressure on each individual tank.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Galactic Starfighter and Payment Models

The Old Republic unveiled its latest expansion: Galactic Starfighter. I'm looking forward to this. I absolutely loved X-Wing and TIE Fighter back in the day. TIE Fighter in particular is in my Top 10 Best Games Ever, maybe even Top 5. If Bioware can capture a fraction of the magic of those games, I think they'll be very successful.

The most interesting thing about this expansion is how Bioware is releasing it.  It's completely free for everyone. However, subscribers get access significantly earlier, about 6 weeks, than Preferred Players. Subs are also the only people who get access over the Christmas break. Then it's another month or so until F2P players get it. That's a lot longer than most early access programs.

It's also a good strategy to reduce server load. Only a portion of the playerbase will be able to try out the new content when it is first released. Then, perhaps when interest among the subscriber set is waning, there will be a rush of new blood.

It's interesting to see The Old Republic pivot back to emphasizing subscriptions. The Hutt Cartel expac is now free to subscribers. Now this new perk of time and exclusivity.

It's interesting that Bioware doesn't seem to be worried about people picking up a sub for 2 months and then dropping back to Preferred. Or maybe they feel that $30 is roughly the price of an expansion, and is $30 they might not have gotten otherwise. Plus they might get away with reporting that subscriptions jumped by a significant number for the last quarter, and then neglect to say anything when they fall back down.

In any case, as a subscriber I'm pretty happy with this method of release. It's a solid perk that makes subscribing worthwhile, but Preferred and F2P players will still get the content eventually. A perk that does not need to be maintained forever.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

An Alternate Explanation for Gender Bias in Healing and Tanking

Milady at Hypercritism has an interesting post on The Politics of Tanking and Healing. Milady notes that women are more likely to be healers than tanks and feels that this is due to traditional gender roles:

In our social setting, many women see the role of healer as natural, appropriate, expected. And men are equally conditioned as wanting to fill the role of the protector as well as the leading actor.
This is quite possibly true. In fact, among Asian WoW players, the gender differences are even starker, perhaps reflecting a society where the traditional gender roles are stronger.

However, I'd like to propose an alternate explanation. Note that Milady does not consider the DPS classes. But there is a gender divide in the DPS classes. Female players are more likely to play ranged dps classes such as warlocks, mages, shadow priests, etc. than melee classes like rogues and warriors.

If you add the ranged/melee split to the tank/healer split, I think there's a stronger factor present than gender roles: range.  Healers and ranged dps operate at a distance from the enemy, while tanks and melee dps have to get up close.

So why choose stay at range? One possible explanation is risk-aversion. As a group, women are normally more risk-averse than men. So it makes sense that female players would gravitate to the classes that can stay away from the enemy the longest. Even healers fit into this scenario better. If you want to avoid dying, what's better than a class which can restore health?

Sadly, we don't really have access to good data that identifies the gender of the player. There are some interesting questions that we could look at. For example, among female DPS shaman, what proportion plays Enhancement (melee) as opposed to Elemental (range)? The same question could be asked for Druids: Feral or Boomkin?

What about Monk healers? Do female Mistweavers "fistweave" or do they heal in the traditional style?  Are women who tank more likely to tank on their second character, once they have a better handle on the game and the risks involved?

If we just looked at the healers, is the proportion of female paladins higher or lower than the norm for the other classes? Perhaps risk-aversion thesis should predict lower paladins, because paladins are traditionally melee. Though I suppose this is countered by the whole hard-to-kill vibe with the bubble and plate armor. I'm not entirely sure if a risk-averse person would be attracted to paladins or not. Plus, we'd have to account for the general awesomeness of paladins.

In any case, either theory might be true. Women and men might be responding the social pressures corresponding to traditional gender roles. Or women may be attracted to classes which appear to be less risky and more likely to survive. Or maybe both theories are in play, with different individuals having different motivations.

However, I prefer the risk-aversion theory over traditional gender roles because it also explains the bias in DPS class choice, and not just the tank/healer split.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Oricon

The Old Republic launched patch 2.4 last week, unveiling the new planet/moon base of the Dread Masters, Oricon.

There's a daily area and two new operations. I really liked the small questline that introduces you to Oricon. It's well written and I like how it tied back into or referenced the class storylines. Oricon makes me want to level my alts to 55 just so I can see the references for each class.

For new character or alts, completing the storyline will give you a full set of entry-level purple gear, positioning you nicely to work on endgame.

The new operations are quite good as well. I've only done them in story mode, and haven't yet killed the very last boss, but they're lots of fun. There's one fight where you send one team into the past and the other into the future. The future team has to relay information from the future back to the past team so that the past team can fix the future. It's quite inventive and very well done, if a bit confusing to explain.

Ever since Thorim, I've loved fights where the raid splits into small subteams to accomplish different goals. I think it's a mechanic that could be used more often. It always seems to result in elegant, inventive fights.

All in all, I think this patch was an excellent one by Bioware.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Updates

Interview

Matticus interviewed me for his site! Go have a look.

Nalak

Thanks for the advice about Nalak. I managed to find a group of people who were pulling Nalak for giggles. I tagged Nalak with the lance and lasted long enough to finish the quest. Now on to the collecting Runestones portion of the quest.

Twitter

I've signed up for Twitter. You can follow me if you really wish at @rverghes.

I haven't actually tweeted anything yet. To be honest, I rather doubt I will. But we'll see how it goes.

Compartmentalizing

Twitter and the New Blogger Initiative have me contemplating how we compartmentalize our lives. A lot of MMO bloggers have given the advice that you should use a pseudonym when blogging, and I would expect that to extend to things like Twitter.

I am undecided about whether this is a good thing or not. If you were writing about a subject like running, would you bother with a pseudonym. I don't think you would, I think you'd just be okay with people finding out that you are a runner. I'm not really sure it is good to hide the fact that you are a gamer.

Of course, on Twitter it is a little weird to see tweets from multiple areas mixed together. Politics mixes with WoW mixes with regular news. And even if you can separate these into separate streams, what do you do with the other people who don't choose to compartmentalize?

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Nalak?

I'm at the point in the Legendary questline where I need to throw a lance at Nalak. (Yes, I've been slacking this expansion.)

However, no one seems to be killing Nalak anymore. There were some suggestions on Wowhead for soloing this stage of the questline. When I tried though, everything kept despawning on me.

I'm at a bit of a loss now. Any suggestions on what to do at this point?