Monday, December 21, 2015

Empires or Nomads

One problem with PvP MMOs is that they can fall into stagnant states. Each major entity has their own empire. The empire generates enough resources to maintain that power. The empires are unwilling to fully engage other empires in war, because there's a chance they might lose. Instead they'll skirmish on the borders to relieve boredom.

In theory, new entities could challenge the existing empires. In practice though, long-standing empires are usually structured better than the challengers. The empires have been around longer, and have seen what works and what doesn't work. If a challenger does arise, they are usually beaten into submission quite quickly.

When you get into the stagnant state, the real threat to an Empire's survival is not other players, but internal drama. It's arguable that Eve Online has fallen into this state now.

Perhaps the problem is the very concept of empire itself. Once an empire is in a steady state, it usually stands until something major changes. Things like the emperor dying or succession struggles. But these sorts of events are unlikely in PvP games.

A better structure for PvP MMOs might be "nomadic tribes" rather than empires. Under the nomadic model, resources in a given area are consumed faster than they are generated. Thus when the resources run out, the nomads must move on to new regions.

That movement brings them into contact and competition with other tribes, making conflict and war more likely and more necessary.

Imagine that all the CFC's territory in Eve Online suddenly stopped producing resources. The CFC would have to move, and that would generate a huge amount of PvP.

But there is an attraction to holding territory, to claiming "your" space. I'm not sure that a nomadic game would have the same attraction that the empire games do.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I will try to avoid major spoilers, but this is a discussion of the new movie. There may be spoilers, especially in the comments.

The Force Awakens is a competent but unimaginative movie. It's like Disney asked "What are the elements of a Star Wars movie?" and then went down the list and added in equivalents of each item.

The prequels were bad movies, significantly worse than The Force Awakens. But even they had a sense of vision that TFA lacks. Lucas was trying to tell a story, to tell something new. To add something to his universe. While watching TFA, I got the sense that this movie was so insistent on reminding you that it is a Star Wars movie, that it forgot to be its own thing.

As a result, TFA comes off as a pale copy, a second-rate Star Wars. That's true of many elements in the movie as well. The First Order is a second-rate Empire, Kylo Ren is a second-rate Darth Vader, Jakku is a second-rate Tatooine, BB-8 is a second-rate R2-D2. There are a lot more parallels, but that gets into spoiler territory.

But a second-rate Star Wars is still a pretty good movie.

There are many good things about TFA. The two new leads, Rey and Finn, are solid, engaging characters. Harrison Ford is Harrison Ford, and pretty much steals every scene he's in.

I think Finn is a bit of a missed opportunity. He's an ex-Stormtrooper, but the film went to great lengths to make sure you know he's a good guy and never did anything bad. He might have been far more interesting as a redeemed bad guy.

As for Rey, she's a decent heroine. The problem with Rey is that she is ... excessively competent.  (Though this is probably mandatory for a female lead in an action movie these days.) Compare her character to Luke Skywalker from the first movie. The problem is that she has no path to growth. I rather think the only way she'll become interesting is if she falls to the Dark Side.

I should note that complaints about Finn and Rey are minor at best. In many ways they were the best part of the movie.

But I keep returning to the part about "adding something". The really good works in an extended universe make that universe richer and more interesting. As an example, take Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy. Those books may not have been the greatest literature but they gave us Grand Admiral Thrawn and the Chiss, among many other elements. The Force Awakened really does not expand Star Wars in any direction.

As well, I think that I am not a fan of J.J. Abrams, at least his movies. So far, he tends to string together frentic action scenes instead of making an actual movie. It's like "action sequence, glue scene, action sequence, glue scene, repeat". It's not as bad as the atrocity which was Star Trek: Into Darkness. However, I think TFA would actually have been better with fewer action sequences.

To be fair, I think a lot of modern action and sci-fi movies have the same problem. I blame the extensive budgets of modern films. The the older films couldn't afford to make the entire film a special effects extravaganza, so they saved up for a few really key sequences. But now budgets are such that directors can and do go crazy, and I think the films suffer for it.

In any case, that's what I thought of The Force Awakens. It's decent enough, but unimaginative. If you were asked what a Star Wars movie "designed by committee" would look like, you'd probably come up with The Force Awakens.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Rotations as a Proof of Competence

Continuing on from the previous discussion of Proof of Competence, asking for spec is not the best question. It's a decent question. It's easy to answer and verify. And it does tend to give the information you're looking for. But there are better questions.

In particular, asking for rotation is a much better question. Someone who can rattle off the correct rotation is very likely to be a decent player.  (Rotation here also means ability priority list, not just strict rotation.) The problem is that asking for the rotation is a harder question to answer and verify. You can't just inspect the player and see their rotation.

But what if you could?

In WoW, there are a number of mods which will display the next ability you should use. Some also show the next few abilities of the optimum sequence. You still have to hit the right buttons, but these mods basically show you the best theorycrafted rotation as it happens.

What if this type of UI element, this "Rotation Helper", was part of the base game?

The idea here is that the game doesn't fill out the rotation on its own. Instead, you would have a screen where you could drag abilities into a priority list. Essentially construct your own rotation. The rotation you constructed would then be displayed, and you could hit your buttons to match.

Another player could then inspect you, and just like they see your gear today, they could see the rotation loaded in your Rotation Helper. And perhaps you could send and receive rotations from other players or third parties. If Sally is another Retribution paladin in your raid and is doing better than you, perhaps you can ask her for her rotation and compare it to yours, or replace yours with hers.

The hard part, though, is to construct a Rotation Helper which is simple enough to use, but also powerful enough to construct a decent priority list. A lot of abilities require things like "use when this buff reaches 4 stacks" or "use when this debuff is about to drop off". This kind of stuff is easy to do in code, in a programming language, but is harder to create in a GUI. A Rotation Helper is a non-trivial design problem.

This Rotation Helper wouldn't really help with reactive abilities like healing, or tank cooldowns, or interrupts. But it would significantly help with DPS.

Of course, there are concerns that this type of UI element is "playing the game for you". But such helper mods already exist, and a decent amount of high end players use them already. These type of mods help those players perform better, and would probably significantly help weaker players who don't know about them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Few Good Raiders

Son, we play the game that has tiers, and those tiers have to be guarded by men with an attitude. Who's gonna do it? You? Or intern Musco? Toxic players have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for loot, and you curse the Elitism. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what they know. That kicking the noobs, while tragic, probably saved lives. And their existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want hardcore players to explore the game, you need elite players. We use words like masterloot, knowfights, gear check. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent achieving something. You use them as a punchline. So I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of Cartel Market. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, gear and rise your skill. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.
Colonel, did you order the vote kick?
You're goddamn right I did!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Devilian First Impressions

Devilian is the latest game published by Trion. It's developed by a division of Bluehole, who made TERA. Devilian is a ARPG MMO, sort of like Diablo, only with more MMO aspects. It's the classic isometric perspective like Diablo, rather than the 3rd-person over-the-shoulder perspective of most modern MMOs. The design "asthetic" is very much like TERA.

The first thing that will turn off a lot of people is that classes are locked to a specific body type. The Evoker is a tall female, Cannoneer is a short female, Berserker is a brawny male, and Shadowhunter is a more slim male. You can change hair color, skin color, facial features, etc, but you are locked to the base body.

The game plays very well. Bluehole always gets this aspect right. The controls are crisp and well-done, and combat is very nice. The pace is slower than Diablo 3, but not excessively slow. Gearing is more like an MMO as well.

The leveling is very quest driven and linear. In fact, every quest literally has an auto-run which will automatically take you to the right location. This sounds excessive, but it works nicely for this style of game. Every few levels you come across a dungeon which you do with two others. There's no threat, so it's a bit of a zerg, but it plays well with just three. Group matching is automatic.

The game is polished, and feels high-quality. The story isn't anything amazing, it's on par with TERA and other imports. But there are a lot of nice touches all over. I'm only level 27 or so, and the cap is 55, so I have no idea what endgame is like.

There are some interesting aspects as well. For example, you have the standard gear (gloves, boots, hat, etc.) but you also have "talismans". Talismans are collectible cards featuring a person. Each card has attributes. You can equip up to five talismans. Some talismans belong to sets, and get bonuses if each card from the set is equipped. You can also merge duplicate cards together, making that talisman more powerful. You get talismans from boxes as rewards or that you can craft using materials from disenchanted magic items. It's actually a really neat alternate gearing system, with just the right amount of randomness, but even having "bad draws" be useful.

They're also trying some interesting things in the social realm. Every day you can send 10 gift boxes to people on your friends list. The game actually gives you a quest to invite 10 people as friends, and shows you a list of people at your level. So there's a lot of spamming strangers for invites around then. But I once defined social bonds as "repeated interactions among a set of people", so maybe sending gifts to each other will build bonds. Or maybe not. In any case, it's a neat idea.

The only thing I should note is that Devilian is a F2P game. There is a cash shop. Honestly, I'm not sure if it's cosmetic-only, or if you pay for power. I imagine that it will be like TERA's cash shop.

Personally, I think that, if you can get past the locked character classes, Devilian is worth trying. It plays well, and does a few new neat things. The talisman system in particular is worth stealing by other MMOs.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Proof of Competence

Once again we are discussing the issue of cookie-cutter specs created by theorycrafters and the high-end, and those specs being enforced by the playerbase at large.. An article on BlizzardWatch started the current issue, and Talarian offers his viewpoint.

I think that most of the comments are approaching this from the wrong angle. Everyone seems to assume that the players who insist on cookie-cutter specs are being irrational and "mean", denying other players the option to be creative. But what if the players insisting on cookie-cutter specs are entirely rational, and entirely correct in their reasoning?

So let's start there. Why do players insist on cookie-cutter specs?

Well, let's say you're a raid leader and you have two applicants: Chris and Sam. Chris' spec is drastically different from the accepted theorycraft, as are his secondary stats. Sam, on the other hand, is texbook cookie-cutter. Which of the two is more likely to be the better player?

You may not like to hear this, but 99% of the time Sam will be the better player. And it won't even be close. Sam will probably do twice the damage that Chris does. Adherence to the cookie-cutter spec is usually a sign the player has done outside research, who at least has read a guide and knows the best rotation.

Essentially what the raid leader is looking for is a "Proof of Competence". A cookie-cutter spec is one such proof. Yes, this is unfair to good players who want to experiment, but from the raid leader's point of view, she cannot infer that. The information she has is limited, and it's best to follow the Proof of Competence, even if she occasionally turns down a good player.

So how can we encourage a wider variety of specs? The answer to that revolves entirely around the Proof of Competence.

First, you could substitute something else as the Proof of Competence. Examples here are logs showing good performance, or achievements. These are often harder to obtain, though. Requiring a cookie-cutter spec is better than requiring people to have already beaten the fight you are working on.

Second, you can not allow the opportunity to view the Proof of Competence. For example, you could not allow inspection of specs. But that doesn't stop people from just asking questions. Another example is LFR, where the group is automatically put together. It's much easier to take a variant spec into LFR.

Third, you could make the spec matter a lot less. Throughput talents almost always have a "right" answer. If all talents were utility talents, most people would not care so much. For example, SWTOR talents are almost entirely utility talents, and no one cares what talents you take. However, the downside is that they require something different as a Proof of Concept. In SWTOR, pick-up groups usually require that you have already beaten the instance previously (by linking the achievement), which makes life hard for newer players.

Fourth, you could make content easier. Arguably LFR and Normal Mode in WoW are like this. People are less likely to insist on a Proof of Competence when success is likely.

Fifth, you can encourage extended groups such as guilds, and diminish the viability of transient pick-up groups. The thing about a Proof of Competence is that you only have to demonstrate it once, at the start of the relationship. Once the other players are confident in you, you have a lot more freedom. If the great mage in your group wants to experiment with a different spec tonight, the rest of the group is often happy to let her try. People in established raid groups have far more leeway to experiment with spec choices than people who run with pick-up groups.

In conclusion, players are being entirely rational when they insist on cookie-cutter specs. If you want to allow your players the freedom to choose their talents, you have to address the need to prove competence. From my point of view, cookie-cutter specs are actually among the least restrictive Proofs of Competence. Pretty much every other option is worse.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


One thing the Overwatch beta brought home to me is that I need to change my BattleNet tag. When Blizzard came up with the old system, the only Blizzard game I was playing was WoW. I couldn't think of a decent handle to use, and since the tag doesn't appear in WoW, I just entered my real name.

But now, when I play other Blizzard games, my real name appears very out of place. It is traditional to not use real names in gaming, to use a made-up handle instead.

I haven't really used an alias online in years though. My usual Coriel-style names are for characters, not for me. I suppose I could go back to using "GSHamster", but it was always pretty lame. I used it mostly for laughs in FPS games.

So I'm trying to think of a decent handle, and am drawing a blank. Do most of you use a consistent online alias? How did you come up with it in the first place?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Overwatch Stress Test Beta Impressions

I was lucky enough to get an invite to the Overwatch Stress Test Beta this past weekend. I last played an First Person Shooter well over a decade ago, Unreal Tournament 99. So I didn't expect much from this test. I fully expect that I am in the bottom 20% of Overwatch's audience.

I didn't take any screenshots, so have some Blizzard ones.
My first reaction is that despite how terrible I was, Overwatch was really, really fun. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Overwatch has that "just one more game" draw to it. Matches are fast and frantic.

For the most part, I stuck with Mercy, who is a healer. Mercy is an excellently designed healer. She can heal or buff allies, and her ultimate is a resurrection of all dead allies. She's very well designed for new players, as her ability targeting is quite forgiving and has a decent about of computer assist. On the other hand, she's pretty fragile, and you'll die a lot. Blizzard nailed the aesthetic of a basic healer here. It's even great when, at the end of match, you see a Play of the Game, and it's your teammate and you can see that you healing/buffing them throughout their play.

After playing healer for a bit, I tried out some of the other characters. I'm pretty terrible at aiming, so I wasn't having much luck until I tried Reaper. For some reason, I just clicked with Reaper, and managed to actually get as many kills as deaths in a few games. I even got a couple kill streaks and a Play of the Game (which was basically me charging blindly at a group of people and magically killing several of them somehow).

A Blizzard screenshot of Reaper
There are a lot of heroes, and they all feel different, both to play as and fight against.

There are also some interesting design decisions. I don't know if other modern FPS'es do this, but if time expires, but there are still people fighting on the object, the game goes into overtime and continues until either the objective is cleared or the attackers claim it. It makes for some amazingly tense final seconds of a match, and is just so much fun.

There is no also killboard for the entire group. Instead, at the end of the match, Blizzard feature four people (who can come from either team) who have done quite well based on whatever metrics they capture. For example, people can show up for number of kills, healing done, damage absorbed by tanks, etc. Then everyone can vote for one person to be MVP. Blizzard then shows you personal stats for the match, and compares them to your average play. So there is a bit of feedback there, as it's really nice to show up on a card, and to slowly drag your averages up.

By focusing on the positive plays, Blizzard avoids embarrassing or humiliating lower skill players, but still provides them decent feedback. I hope Blizzard stands strong on this decision, as a lot of better FPS players on Reddit and the like seem to be demanding a killboard.

There's also no progression systems built in. It's very much a throwback to old FPS games of the 1990s where your character was the same in every match and didn't really change or level up. I liked this, as it is a lot easier to drop in and play, and outside of player skill, opposing characters behaved predictably.

Overall, I thought Overwatch was a lot of fun. Of course, I have zero idea what its competition is like, or what the hardcore FPS scene is like. But I'll probably pick up Overwatch when it is released.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Holy Paladins in Legion

Blizzard has started releasing Class Previews. Here's the Paladin preview. They say that are aiming going back and strengthening the core fantasy of each of the specializations. Here's what they plan to do for Holy paladins:
We love the unique identity of the Paladin healer and are modifying the gameplay to better support it. Single-target healing from Beacon of Light remains their marquee ability, but other abilities and talents have been adjusted to encourage Holy Paladins to be near the people they want to heal—including melee characters, when necessary. This is incentivized by Lightbringer, a new Mastery, which increases healing on allies near you. This is further reinforced by the addition of a row of Aura talents that provide a variety of localized beneficial effects, and refinements to some spells, such as Light of Dawn returning to being a cone.
It looks like Paladin healing will remain roughly the same, but with a bit more emphasis on positioning. That's pretty good, I've always enjoyed spells like Light of Dawn and the old Holy Radiance. As well, Auras were a core part of the Vanilla paladin, and it's good to see them come back.

Of course, for this plan to work, holy paladins can't be targeted by range effects. We'll see if their encounter design team actually remembers this.
Talents will also provide players with options to incorporate offensive capabilities while healing. When allies are in need, Light of the Martyr allows the Holy Paladin to rapidly heal them by sacrificing personal health. Finally, we’re addressing gameplay restrictions caused by Holy Power—in which players often feel forced to use abilities in specific orders or ratios—by removing it in favor of making Mana the primary resource.
That's good. Healing works best when it is fairly simple resource-wise. Holy Power didn't really add much to the healing experience.
To give you an idea of the Holy Paladin in action, here’s a basic look at their core combat abilities: 
Holy Light
2.0% Mana, 40 yd range, 2.5 sec cast
A slow but efficient spell, healing a friendly target for a moderate amount. 
Flash of Light
4.0% Mana, 40 yd range, 1.5 sec cast
A quick but expensive spell, healing a friendly target for a moderate amount. 
Light of the Martyr
2.5% Mana, 40 yd range, Instant
Sacrifices a moderate amount of your own health to instantly heal an ally for a moderate amount.
Cannot be cast on yourself.
Light of the Martyr is an interesting spell. Divine Intervention is always cited as a defining paladin ability, but it has proven too difficult to bring back. Light of the Martyr aims to get some of that same flavor back. It's should be especially interesting in PvP, as it is instant but with an important PvP cost. I'm not sure it will be much use in PvE, even though PvE damage is more predictable, making the spell safer to use.
Light of Dawn
4.0% Mana, 1.5 sec cast, 12 sec cooldown
Unleash a wave of healing energy before you, healing up to 5 injured allies within a 15 yd frontal cone for a moderate amount. 
Holy Shock
1.5% Mana, 40 yd range, Instant, 10 sec cooldown
Instantly trigger a burst of Light on the target, dealing moderate Holy damage to an enemy, or moderate healing to an ally.
Holy Shock has double the normal critical strike chance. 
Infusion of Light
Your Holy Shock criticals reduce the cast time of your next Holy Light by 1.5 sec or increase the healing of your next Flash of Light by 50%. 
Beacon of Light
0.5% Mana, 60 yd range, Instant, 3 sec cooldown
Place a Beacon of Light on a friendly target.
Your heals on other party or raid members will also heal the Beacon of Light target for up to 50% of the amount healed. Your Flash of Light and Holy Light on the Beacon of Light target will also refund 40% of their Mana cost. 
Mastery: Lightbringer
Proximity to your target causes your spells to heal for up to 30% (with Mastery from typical gear) more.
The mastery is pretty interesting. One suggestion I would make is to rename it to Devotion Aura and make sure there is a buff on affected parties. This makes it more like the Auras of old, and I think is a small cosmetic change that would make it a lot more appealing.

I'm not entirely sure if Blizzard intends the bonus to scale depending on the distance between you and the target. For example, 30% if you're right on top of each other, 15% at 5 yards, 0% at 10 yards. I hope they don't do this, and have a flat bonus for everyone within a certain range, especially as you will never be right on top of the tank.
Additionally, to provide a glimpse at how some talents may build upon this, here’s one example of a Holy-specific talent: 
Beacon of the Lightbringer
The maximum bonus from Mastery: Lightbringer is increased by 24%, and it now increases your healing based on the target's proximity to either you or your Beacon of Light, whichever is closer.
An interesting talent, allowing you to add a second Mastery circle to the raid, and compensate for positioning. Since Beacon will be on the tank, this Mastery circle should cover both the tank and the melee groups, if the Holy paladin does not want to stand in melee.

All in all, the changes to Holy Paladins look good. The changes for the other classes and specs are also looking very good, with some classes (Shadow Priests, for example) seeing significant overhauls.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Legion Cinematic

The Legion Cinematic was released at Blizzcon this past weekend. As is traditional, we note that it is quite good, but not as good as the Wrath cinematic. The explicit call out to the Wrath cinematic at the very start is nice.

Again, technically the cinematic is very well done. In particular, the Blizzard cinematic team did an excellent job with Varian. He may very well be the best CG human I have seen. They nailed the look and feel of an aging warrior king, one who has been fighting all his life.

The trailer has no orcs! It's kind of sad that is now a good thing, and shows how much Blizzard overused the orcs in the last two expansions. Instead the Horde side is represented by Sylvannas, who is always good to see. She also looks very good, like a proper undead banshee queen.

This cinematic has one really superb scene, where the skycarrier is crashing and Varian closes his eyes. It's the one moment where Blizzard is willing to do less, and it pays off. Otherwise the scenes are a touch too busy.

Still though, it's a great cinematic, and starts off Legion on a high note.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Has Final Fantasy XIV caught World of Warcraft?

The latest news is that World of Warcraft lost another 100,000 subscribers, and is now at 5.5 million subscribers. This is a pretty small loss compared to the previous quarters, and is somewhat unusual given the content drought WoW is going through.

That 5 million number has come up recently in another context, though. FFXIV announced it had over 5 million "registered accounts".

No one is quite sure what SE means by registered accounts, though. Last year, SE said FFXIV had 2 million registered accounts and 500,000 daily logins. With 500,000 daily logins, that 2 million number is almost certainly subscriptions. So if "registered accounts" were what we would call subscriptions last year, then I think it's reasonable to believe that they are subscriptions this year as well.

As well, consider the latest trailer FFXIV has put out for the 3.1 patch. The last frame explicitly says, "Join Over 5 Million Adventurers Worldwide". This again cuts strongly in favor of FFXIV having 5 million current subscribers or equivalents.

Of course, the distribution of subscribers is probably different. WoW probably has more NA/EU players, while FFXIV has more Japanese players.

But in my view, FFXIV is now roughly the same size as WoW. With a new FFXIV content patch coming next week, and no new content in sight for WoW, it's possible that FFXIV will actually surpass WoW and claim the crown of "largest subscription MMO" in the near future.

It certainly puts a different light on Blizzard's decision to stop reporting subscription numbers. It's one thing to report losses when you're still at the top. It's another to confirm that you've slipped to second place.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Quantum Link Remembered

David Wilding sent me a link to his article about Quantum Link, a online service from 1985 (30 years ago!). It's a very nice and thorough look at one of the forerunners of our current internet environment.

Quantum Link is about a decade before my time, but I remember connecting to BBSes in the 1990s, and playing Doom over modems. Good times.

Heh, here's a tidbit about PvP in Habitat, an early MMO that ran on Quantum Link:
At first, during early testing, we found out that people were taking stuff out of others hands and shooting people in their own homes. We changed the system to allow thievery and gunplay only in non-city regions.
PvP game designers encountering PvP players, something we've been able to count on for the last 30 years.

Edit: Pallais found a really nice paper on Habitat, written in 1990. It's an interesting read.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Blade And Soul Beta, Headset Issues

I tried the Blade and Soul Closed Beta test this weekend. I didn't get very far, mostly because of an odd headset issue. I'll give quick impressions below.

Headset Issues

I had an odd issue with my headphones this weekend. For some reason, I could not hear voices at all, but all background music and other sounds came through fine. At first I thought it was caused by the Blade and Soul beta, so I uninstalled that relatively quickly. But that didn't help.

After a lot of fiddling, I found that if I adjusted the Left/Right balance of my headphones, I could hear voices. Of course, now everything sounded odd. It looks like I'll just have to find a replacement headset.

Blade And Soul Impressions

Because of the above issue, I didn't really get that much time with Blade and Soul. I tried the first 3 levels or so with three or so classes. However, since the beta was a weekend-only thing, I didn't bother re-downloading it after uninstalling it the first time.

Blade and Soul is an action-y MMO from Korea, being brought over here by NCSoft. The character creator is very extensive with crazy amounts of sliders. Sadly, for me this just means that it is very hard to make a decent-looking character, and very easy to make something grotesque. I ended up doing my standard "drag every slider to the middle" technique.

The game plays a little like TERA, with somewhat similar controls. There are some interesting design touches, like several classes having a block-style ability. Successfully executing a block restores resources and empowers one of your attacks.

However, I am not a big fan of the interface. Most western games like to have the default interface on the edges of the screen, leaving the center area dedicated to your character and the world. Blade and Soul moves a lot of the important UI elements into that center area, impinging on your view of your character.

Of course, the flip-side is that this is very common practice among experienced players. Moving the most relevant information closer to the center is very useful for performance. I just did not like it here, though. It seemed like there was too much "UI" and not enough "game".

However, I really did not get any time to give more than the barest of impressions. Maybe next beta weekend I'll be able to give a better overview.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fallen Empire: Alliances

I've finished the nine chapters of Fallen Empires that were released. Shintar makes a good point, when she describes the experience as "the borders between your personal story and the rest of the game are marked more starkly." The main story is very much a true single-player experience, the KotoR 3 that people have been asking for.

But after that come the more traditional MMO elements. Here, Bioware has done some interesting things. The main story of Fallen Empire is not complete yet. What's been released is more like Part 1. Where it stops, your character is setting up an Alliance to oppose the Zakuul Empire.

In some respects, it's like Garrisons from WoW. Only the focus is on recruiting new companions, and sending you out into the galaxy to accomplish things, rather than encouraging you to hang around your base.

One amusing element is that SWTOR now has a second conversation style. Bioware is touting it as a callback to KotoR, but it's real advantage is that your character is unvoiced. This allows Bioware to add these small pieces of content without calling in all 16 class voice actors.

In any case, there are 4 or 5 companions you can recruit through small missions or other tactics. For example, one companion requires you to participate in 20 PvP matches (wins count as 2 matches). Another companion requires you to hunt dangerous beasts, which you can do by killing World Bosses. Level sync makes that a lot more interesting. I like this because the only reward is a companion, of which you have plenty. So these missions are totally optional.

There are also Star Fortresses. Six worlds have Star Fortresses in orbit, and you have to do a mission on the ground to take out the shield protecting them. The Star Fortresses themselves are miniature instances, which can either be done solo or in a group of 2-4. It's pretty great content for just grabbing a friend and running through them.

Finally, all the planetary Heroic missions have been rebalanced and are available from your base, offering transport directly to the mission. This is essentially solo or duo content, and rewards lockboxes which you turn in to improve your base, and also gives you legacy cosmetic gear.

All in all, the Alliances seem like a strong and extensible system for solo and duo endgame content.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Knights of the Fallen Empire: Early Access

Yesterday SWTOR launched early access for its latest expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire. The launch was smooth, with no real server issues.

There was an amusing bug where all companions were not wearing pants when you logged in. The companion gearing system has changed, with gear being cosmetic only. Therefore companions no longer have non-visible gear slots. All extra gear was sent to your inventory or mail. Amusingly enough, companion pants were also sent to inventory unnecessarily.

The story is quite good. I'm in the middle right now, so we'll see how it ends. It's very much in the vein of Mass Effect 2, with a time skip and rebuilding your companion roster.

The graphics also seem to have bumped up a notch in the expansion, especially the major NPC models.

The big question I have is if this is really enough content. Each chapter is about one hour in length, and nine of them were released yesterday. So pretty much every one is going to blitz through them fairly quickly. Starting in the new year, Bioware is planning on releasing one chapter every month. Is one hour of story content each month enough to keep people playing?

On the other hand, it's more content than we got previously, and people kept playing. So who knows.

The other interesting element was that there is a minimal gear increase. Playing through the existing story up to Ziost gives you item level 190 gear, and HM raiding gave 198 gear. So far, KotFE has only been handing out 190 gear (mostly for people who choose the instant 60), and it looks like group content will start with 200 to 204 level gear. That's a very compressed gear curve, which is fairly unusual for an MMO.

So far so good. We'll see how the story finishes, and what endgame content looks like.

Monday, October 19, 2015

SWTOR and Class Armor

One overlooked aspect of the new SWTOR expansion is that SWTOR seems to be moving away from class-based armor entirely. This is unusual for an MMO based on classes.

The primary stats (Strength, Willpower, Aim, Cunning) are being replaced with a single stat called Mastery. So all gear becomes interchangeable class-wise. There are still multiple secondary stats, including some role-specific ones like Defense or Accuracy. But no longer will an item drop and you can say that it is Warrior gear or Agent gear.

The other element is that most newer armor is "Adaptive". This means that if you're a class that uses Light Armor, the armor is Light Armor for you. If you use Heavy Armor, it's Heavy, and so on.

The link between armor and class in a class-based MMO is usually very strong. But with these changes, the link becomes very weak. I'm sure that there will still be gear with class-specific set bonuses. But outside of that, we're setting up for a situation where any class can wear any gear.

I'm not so sure that I like this change. I like having different armor for the different classes. I suppose that it can be annoying to wait for your one piece to drop, though. Still, it does feel like the game has lost something.

Maybe this is an inevitable result of selling cosmetic gear in a F2P game. You don't want to restrict costumes to different characters, so you sell costumes that all characters can wear. And then there's not much point in forcing the player to find a Strength mod compared to an Aim mod.

I am a bit surprised that SWTOR hasn't taken the next step and started dropping armor shells separately from the mods in instances. That would separate the cosmetic part of the armor even farther from the mechanics aspect. People who wanted the mods would roll specifically on them. People who wanted the costume could roll specifically on the armor shell.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Crowfall and the Metagame

It's been a while since I've written anything about Crowfall. Artcraft looks to be steadily making progress. Unfortunately most of their updates in the last few months have been in video format, so I've pretty much ignored them. Videos just take so long to get through compared to text, and text is so much easier to reread and pull out bits to chew on.

In any case, Artcraft seems to be toying with the idea of promoting a "metagame" as in Eve Online. Where people can be spies and scammers in other guilds, and betray them, etc. It's always a newsworthy part of Eve, so it's not surprising that it would be attractive to someone making another PvP MMO.

However, I think it's a bad idea. To be fair, I think it's a bad idea in Eve Online as well. The culture of spying, betraying, "awoxing", and generally being hard to trust is bad for the game. I think games where trust is easier are a lot more fun. But Eve has its own culture, and the people who play Eve are happy with it.

However, I think the "metagame" is an especially bad fit for Crowfall. Crowfall's signature element is that the game board resets. After a while, the campaign world ends, and players start fresh on a new campaign world.

A strong metagame cuts across that. When the board resets, the alliances and enemies made should also reset. I'm sure we've all played board games with people who hold a grudge from one game to the next. Or two people who will always attack each other. Or people in a relationship, where you can expect one of them to throw away her chance at victory to support her partner. These games are less fun than new games where everyone is attempting to win.

Crowfall will never get rid of all relationships between campaigns. For one thing, guilds will want to play together and support each other. But it's better if the game encourages relationships between guilds to reset, to treat each world as truly new. But that will require discouraging the Eve-style metagame of guild politics.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

DPS Meters and Player Behavior

Whether DPS meters are good or bad is a hotly debated topic. I saw an interesting Reddit post by WitcherMog that approaches the question from a different angle.

In FFXIV, there are no in-game damage meters. However, you can run an external parser that reads your combat log and gives information for your group. FFXIV runs on a  "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it comes to meters, though. If you reference them in chat, it's considered harassment, and you get punished by SE. So meters are pretty much the province of individuals and high-end static groups.

WitcherMog ran 100 instances with his parser active and compared player behavior with parser results. He found that harassment of other group members for being slow or wiping uniformly came from low-dps players.

The negative behavior indulged in by high-powered players (as measured by gear level) was to slack off during fights. Of course, negative behavior in either case only occurred in a minority of runs.

This is not quite the same negative behavior exhibited in games with public meters. In WoW, any harassment is more likely to come from good dps towards the low dps.

The results do make sense. In a game without meters, a good dps makes the run faster and less likely to wipe. So really, she has nothing to complain about, as all visible outcomes are positive. Meanwhile the low dps player believes he is doing fine, believes that he is really a good player, so obviously any problems must come from the other players.

In a game with meters, on the other hand, the poor player cannot blame others for visibly bad outcomes, because each individual performance is quantified. However, even if the outcome is visibly good, a negative high-dps player can feel aggrieved that she is "carrying" the group, and incite harassment of the others that she feels are not playing up to par.

So it's really a choice of picking your poison. Without meters, runs that have negative outcomes like excessive slowness or wipes incur harassment from the very people who most likely cause the problem in the first place. With meters, a run that is successful might very well still see harassment, just because one player thinks another player is not living up to an arbitrary standard.

There's no obvious best choice here. Would you rather have poor players never realize that they're bad, or have good players hold others to an unnecessary standard?

Of course, we must reiterate that, especially in FFXIV, we are talking about a minority of outcomes. Most runs are successful and go just fine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Lull in the Storm

It feels like we're in a lull in the MMO sphere. There's stuff on the horizon, but nothing really interesting is happening right now. Well, I guess there was the Wildstar F2P launch, but I ignored that.

The Old Republic's Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion comes in a week. In a month, FFXIV will drop its 3.1 patch. Who knows when the next Warcraft expansion will come out. I honestly thought Blizzard would aim for a release around the end of the year. But with no beta in sight, that's looking extremely unlikely.

In the meantime I'm just casually cleaning up side-activities in TOR and FFXIV.

In TOR, I've levelled my Sith Warrior to 60, and am also looking to go through all the companion stories from the original game. I have 5 done, so only 3 classes to go.

In FFXIV, I've levelled White Mage to 59. I also have worked on pretty much all the other classes, gaining a level here and a level there. I really should pick one activity to focus on. But there's so many options I'm just bouncing around.

What are you doing in this lull?

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Level Syncing

Last week The Old Republic revealed some of the game mechanic changes coming in Fallen Empire. The most controversial is that all planets will be level synced. That is, when you out-level a planet, your character and gear will be scaled back to the max level for that planet.

On the one hand, I can see why some people are unhappy. These games are about character progression, and level syncing undoes your progression. It's fun to come back to an old zone that gave you trouble and destroy it. What's the point of gaining levels if the game is going to arbitrarily roll them back?

On the other hand, because it's normal for a max level character to overpower old zones, the game never sends you back to those zones. Or if it does, it sets up a little max level area where the max level players go. It's harder to preserve challenge without level syncs.

Level sync makes it easier to add new content to old zones. For example, all holiday events in FFXIV are level 15 or 30. High level players will get synced down, and the low level requirement makes it easy for new players to join the event.

However, FFXIV only scales group content. Solo-content is pretty much left alone.

Another point is that level syncs also balance world PvP a bit better. Sure, a synced player is more powerful than a leveling character, but the disparity isn't as great any more. If world PvP starts up, the leveling players on the planet can join in.

In the end there is an unavoidable tension between maintaining character progression and preserving challenge. I think that FFXIV strikes a good balance for group content. I thought that Guild Wars 2 did a bad job maintaining character progression, as it was very aggressive about syncing levels, so you'd get scaled back even in the same zone. Games without leveling syncing basically give up on attempting to preserve a challenge in old zones.

We'll see how well TOR manages to balance both goals.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Starting Raiding In Warlords of Draenor

Atherne asks:

I've been thinking about this and have decided to try Raiding. I'll need to gear up an appropriately leveled character. Yours is the first Wow blog I ever read because I was looking for tips for my Paladin. My thought is, I always play Paladin, Shadow Priest and Warlock well in dungeons, so I should pick one of those for a first try. Any advice? Also, what Raid should I try first to see if I do well and like the format? Thanks!

I've decided to respond in a separate post so that I can get input from other people, especially people who are currently raiding in WoW.

I would suggest picking the character and specialization that you like the best and are most comfortable with. The only hard position is tanking, as tanks are generally held to a higher standard than everyone else.

The way I see it, there are three paths you can take:

1. Looking For Raid

Just sign up for LFR with your character. I would follow the Legendary quest, as it takes you through all the current raids in order.  It's pretty much like a dungeon run, only with a lot more people. You can read up on the fights in the Dungeon Journal, and that will give you a decent idea of what's going to happen.

If you sign up as DPS, your queue time will be fairly long. You can sign up for multiple wings to help with this.

This path is the easiest to get into. You can do it on your own time and on your own schedule. It's also the least rewarding path, though. However, you will see all the content and get your feet wet.

2. Pre-made Groups in the Group Finder

Here you would find a Normal Mode group for the raid you are interested in. Start with Highmaul if you can find it. You will probably need to watch some video guides, as it is expected that you will know the fights.

In some ways these might be the hardest groups to join, as these types of groups are often leery or unwilling to take completely new players. As well, most people are focusing on the latest raid, so it might be hard to find groups for the older raids.

The advantage here again is that you can do it on your own schedule. However, there's no guarantee that you'll find a group willing to take you on a specific day.

3. Find a Guild

Here you have to look for a guild which does Normal raids at a regular day and time where you can attend. You'll probably have to apply on their website, or at least talk to an officer in-game. Here you'll have to do whatever the group is currently working on.

From an organizational standpoint this is the most work. As well, you'll have to raid on a specific schedule. However, this is also the path which is most likely to be successful for a new raider. Because you are willing to commit to the guild, the guild is willing to commit to you, to invest in training you in how to raid.

This is also the most rewarding path, in my opinion. Working on mastering fights as a group is what raiding is all about to me, and this is the path which exemplifies that. But there's no doubt this is also the path which requires the most commitment from you.

The most important part here is to make sure you are compatible with the guild you choose. That your schedules match, and that you like the atmosphere in the guild.


Those are the options as I see it. LFR and Group Finder are easier schedule-wise, but does put a little more burden on you to learn fights and improve on your own. It's much easier to learn how to raid from an existing raid guild, and is also more rewarding, but the price is that your time is no longer fully your own.

Note that if you choose to look for a guild, you can still do LFR until you find one.

Thoughts and tips from other readers? What would you do if you were completely new to raiding?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Transistor Review

Transistor is the second game by Supergiant Games. Transistor is an isometric RPG-style game that's 4 to 6 hours long. Supergiant's first game was Bastion, which I loved. Transistor, though, I think I would have liked a lot better if I knew what the hell was going on.


The best way to describe Transistor's story is that it is a technological noir crossed with an alien invasion. And then it gets weird.

You play Red, a singer who has her voice stolen for mysterious reasons. The game starts in media res, with Red standing over the body of a man who has just been stabbed by a giant talking sword, the eponymous Transistor. Red takes the Transistor and sets out to unravel the conspiracy that took her voice.

I'll leave it there to avoid spoilers, but the setting is very unique and weird. The story was decent enough, but it always felt like I didn't quite understand the setting, or what was really going on. It just felt like the author moved too far, too fast, and ended up leaving behind the people coming to this setting for the first time.

In part, this ended up leaving me cold, and I never really cared about any of the characters in the story.


Transistor is a gorgeous game for all the senses. The artwork is stunning, the music and sound is outstanding. Along these dimensions, Transistor is truly a work of art.


The gameplay of Transistor is really neat. Basically, you "freeze time" and plan out your sequence of moves. Then when you start time up again, you execute your plan in a short burst. Next you wait for your ability to freeze time to recover, and your enemies attack you. You can generally move around during this period, but can't do much else. Once you get the hang of things, this is a really interesting system.

I adored the ability system. Each "ability" has an active, passive, and modifier effect. You have four active slots, four passive slots, and each active slot has two modifier slots. The passive and modifier slots start locked and you can unlock them as you level up.

The key here is you can only assign one ability to a slot. If you use the ability as a passive, you can't use it as a modifier or an active ability. It's a beautiful system that encourages you to use many abilities, and combine them in an interesting manner. For example, I used a summon ability with an AoE passive to give me a pet who did AoE attacks. I used the pet to clean up small attackers, while I focused the main attacks on bigger threats.

Transistor also includes a similar difficulty system as Bastion. You get Limiters as you level up. Limiters boost the enemies in specific ways, but also increase your rate of experience gain. You can choose exactly how you want to make the game more difficult. I didn't enable any Limiters, though.


Transistor is an ambitious game. It also falls short of those ambitions. Does that make it a failure? Maybe.

But these ambitious failures are often far more interesting than more pedestrian successes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Eve Online Adds a DPS Cap Mechanic

Several years ago, I proposed a DPS Cap mechanic, in order to reduce the amount of optimization in DPS gameplay.

Surprisingly, Eve Online is going to implement a similar idea in their new Citadels expansion. The cap is on the target citadel, as there is a maximum amount of DPS that can be applied by attackers during a battle. Extra damage past the cap is just absorbed and disappears.

The intention here is to avoid requiring larger and larger fleets, and to stop an arms race between fleet size and citadel hitpoints. Instead, any fleet above a specific size will be "good enough" to take a citadel. Additionally, the DPS cap guarantees a minimum time that the citadel will be alive in a fight.

There are some other interesting wrinkles. For example, the citadel cannot be repaired or "healed" by friendly ships. I think it will start repairing itself after some time passes, though.

The DPS Cap mechanic is different than the one I proposed. It's on the defender, as a defensive mechanism. So from the attacker's perspective, it's a limit on the fleet, not on individual ships.

Still, I think this is an untouched area, and we will see more experimentation. I think this is especially true for world PvP games where there can be a large disparity between the two sides.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Earning Commendations as a Healer in FFXIV

There is a minor debate in the FFXIV community as to the proper way to play healers in random groups. FFXIV healing is not super-spammy. If you heal efficiently, you often have several free GCDs. So many good healers add damage during those free GCDs, as damage spells cost very little mana. Indeed, edge healers learn to go into the damage stance (Cleric stance - reduces healing, increases damage) at appropriate times in order to maximize the amount of damage they can do.

This has led to a discussion of the role of healers in random groups. Should you expect the healer in a random group to add damage? Or is a healer who solely heals--as is normal in many other MMOs--acceptable?

This in turn encouraged some good healers conduct experiments on random groups. They did several runs maximizing damage, while still keeping everyone alive. Then they did several runs where they did no damage, and just focused on keeping people topped off. Universally, it's been found that the pure healing runs yield more commendations from the other party members. This implies that the FFXIV community prefers the pure healing style.

This has caused some consternation among the edge healers. Why does the FFXIV community not recognize the optimum play-style?

I think that the answer is more psychological than anything else. In a random group, you don't know how much you can trust the unknown healer. So a healer who doesn't deal damage, but does keep everyone topped off creates a feeling of safety. That gives the other group members confidence and makes life easier for them.

Aggressively dealing damage as a healer generally means letting people drop in health a bit, and not topping them off right away. With an unknown healer, this can be a bit nerve-wracking for the other party members. Is the healer actually bad, and going to let someone die? Do I need to play more defensively to compensate?

So the best way to get commendations as a healer in random groups is to make your group feel utterly safe, and allow them to enjoy a smooth run without concern. In a group where everyone knows and trusts each other, this is not the best way to play. But in a random group, generating trust is often more important than strict performance.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Return to WoW Ends Ignomiously

Yesterday, I posted that I had decided to play WoW a bit more. By the end of the evening, though, I had cancelled my account.

The reason: I joined an LFR run, and it was absolutely atrocious. Tanks letting the mobs cleave into the group. People (non-tanks) running off and pulling extra packs in an attempt to clear things faster. Rushing ahead and starting the boss fight so that people get locked out.

It was such a bad experience that I asked myself if getting the Legendary ring was worth a couple more months of this. I decided it was not. Then I asked myself if getting flying was worth a couple months of grinding blue bars, and decided that was not worth it either.

The end result is that I cancelled my WoW account.

Now, I don't know if it will stick, or if I'll get bored and start playing again. I'll probably check Legion out, I guess.

Somewhere along the line, WoW lost its basic group gameplay "skeleton". Even though WoW is technically a trinity game, it no longer feels like a trinity game. It feels closer to a zerg than to anything else. And the zerg is simply not fun.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Grinding Blue Bars

I've been playing WoW a bit more lately. I decided that I'd like to at least get flying and the Legendary ring on my paladin.

I've come to the conclusion that the single worst mechanic in Warlords is the one where you fly to an area and then grind things until a blue bar is full. It's a terrible, terrible mechanic, and it is all over Warlords.

I hated this mechanic when it appeared in Guild Wars 2, and I hate it in WoW.

It's kind of interesting, because it's not that different from getting three daily quests to do in a specific area, at least in overall execution. But I think what makes it different is that the blue bar is just indiscriminate. You do everything you can as fast as you can.

Whereas the daily quests at least have specific targets. Part of doing dailies is a mini-optimization game where you learn how to complete the specific requirements in a minimum amount of time. As well, the daily quests can have a bit of story added in, and require specific targets like a boss.

Basically, for me, a structure like:

  • Do 3 of Item A and 3 of Item B and 3 of Item C

just feels better and is more interesting in actual play than:

  • Do 9 of [Item A or Item B or Item C]

Filling several smaller bars is better than filling one big bar. I strongly hope that Legion drops these blue bar areas and goes back to having different daily quests.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

FFXIV Anniversary Event

FFXIV had it's second anniversary recently, and celebrated it with a pretty interesting in-game event.

The first part of the event was the standard low level FATE. Only the FATE involved defeating rapidly multiplying "bugs" and "regressions", in a nice nod to the challenges faced by the technical team.

In the second part of the event SE broke the fourth wall. A dream sequence sends you to the "Eighteenth Floor", which is a reference to the floor the FFXIV team occupies at SE. There several of the devs are present via in-game avatars but using their real identities. You can talk to each one, and they'll say something about their role and the game.

There's also some potential spoilers about future content.

At the end, the devs all gather around you. Yoshi-P apologizes yet again for 1.0 and promises to keep doing better and listening to the playerbase. And they wish you well.

It's a really sweet event. It's odd, but it's the sort of event that on paper doesn't sound that good, since it explicitly breaks the fourth wall. But it worked quite well even if it was a little hokey. Or maybe it worked because it was a little hokey. It's very nice to see such enthusiasm from the devs.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gaming Updates

I thought I'd make a quick post about what I'm doing in various games.

The Old Republic

I took a fourth character, my Trooper, to 60. As well, in preparation for Fallen Empire, I've been trying to cap out my companions' affection and stories.

In operations, my group managed to kill Underlurker, making us 5/10 HM. We've killed him three times so far, but it's still pretty sketchy, and we haven't been able to get time on the next boss. The big issue is that we are continually missing one or two people each week and have to get a PuG.

As for the rest, it looks like the rest of the guild outside our 8-man group has disappeared. I'm not sure what we'll do about that.

Final Fantasy XIV

The issue I'm having in FFXIV is that I don't really have a new goal to concentrate on. My main class, paladin, is pretty much done unless I want to venture into the harder content, Extremes or Alexander. But at that level it does require some work in finding decent groups or a static team.

So I'm desultorily levelling Miner, White Mage, Monk, and Mechanist. I'm just bouncing between them with no real enthusiasm.


I'm not really playing anything else. I did reinstall WoW, intending to at least get flying in Draenor, and see the new raid. But I haven't touched it for a couple of weeks. I think I'm just going to quit until the expansion.

I also reinstalled Diablo 3 to see the new patch. I got Kanai's Cube, but I don't really have any use for it. It seems to be aimed at the people who are more advanced in the D3 endgame than I am. I am only at Paragon 100 or so.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Player Bankers in SWTOR

I came across a neat emergent phenomenon in SWTOR: player bankers.

A non-subscriber in SWTOR has a credit cap of 350k credits. Once at the cap, any credits she gets above that amount go into an escrow account. She has to purchase escrow unlocks, either through the cartel market or on the auction house, to access any credits in the escrow account.

One method players have come up with to evade this restriction is player bankers. The banker is a subscriber, who can hold unlimited amounts of currency. When the non-subscriber approaches the cap, she deposits a significant sum with the banker, dropping her back below the cap. The banker keeps track of her account out of game, perhaps in a spreadsheet.

When the non-subscriber wants to purchase something expensive from the auction house, the banker acts as her agent. The banker purchases the item for her, and deducts the amount from her account. Usually the banker takes a fee at this point. Since the fee is less than the escrow unlock, the non-subscriber comes out ahead.

One thing about SWTOR F2P mechanics is that almost all unlocks are tradeable items, which can be bought and sold on the auction house. This is the feature which makes the banker a viable agent.

The transaction is also smoother. The non-subscriber doesn't need to juggle escrow unlocks, which come in specific sizes. She can make very large transactions just as easily as small transactions. I imagine that the banker can act as an agent for selling expensive items as well.

Of course, the downside is that the non-subscriber has to trust the banker. She has to trust him not to make off with the credits, but also to keep subscribing and keep showing up online. So most banker relationships occur through friend or guild channels.

I think it's an interesting phenomena throughout, and matches the historical emergence of banks to a degree. I also think that the more sandbox-style games can learn a lesson from this, and see that it might be possible to offload currency and monetary systems onto the players' shoulders, rather than insisting that it is handled by game systems.

Monday, August 17, 2015

PvP Changes in Legion

There are some very interesting changes coming for PvP in Legion:
  • No PvP-specific gear - Heh, I actually talked about this last year, and I'm amused to see that Blizzard is actually trying for it. PvP will reward gear, but it will be just like PvE gear.
  • Stats based on specialization - When you enter a PvP area, the stats from your gear are ignored. Instead you seem to get a set of stats based on your class specialization and item level. That template is common to everyone in your specialization. So if you have two Retribution paladins, one in Mastery gear and the other in Critical Strike gear, they will both have the same stats in PvP.  This allows you to just keep one set of gear on you at all times. This also gives Blizzard another knob they can tune which only affects PvP. For example, if Fire Mages are fine in PvE, but too weak in PvP, they can buff the Fire Mage PvP stat template.
  • Item level scaling is lower than PvE - In PvE, 15 ilevels correspond to about a 10% increase in power. In PvP, 15 ilevels will correspond to a much lower number, maybe 3% or so. So while improving your gear does make you better in PvP, it's a much smaller increase. The gap between high and low end will be much smaller.
  • Trinkets, set bonuses, and enchants do not work - Again, this eliminates much of the need to seek out specific pieces of gear.
  • PvP talent track - PvP has a separate talent track. As you earn "PvP XP", you advance along the talent track. You get what looks like passives and improved variants of abilities.
  • The talent track resets - Once you reach the end of the talent track, you can reset it, earning a cosmetic reward. I guess you can do this multiple times. Ideally, this means that people who PvP a lot don't have fixed advantage over other people. A full-time PvPer might actually be in the early part of track, working towards another cosmetic reward.
Overall, these changes look very interesting. A huge amount of experimentation, including a significantly reduced role of gear, something that PvPer's have been claiming they want for a long time.

There are some concerns of course. How will the talent track reset play with the serious PvPer crowd? If a maxxed talent track gives a significant advantage, wouldn't high-end PvPers be encouraged to avoid resetting it? That would probably make them unhappy, as they couldn't get any of the cosmetic rewards. Unless, of course, there are no rewards for getting a high rank or rating. But that seems just as weird.

How will Artifact Weapons interact with the PvP gear templates? Will your weapon become just a stat stick, or will it retain its power? How will that interact with your choices that you've made while leveling it?

Still, exciting times for PvP, and these changes should also make it a lot easier for PvE players to casually dip into PvP.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

External Drive Enclosure, FFXIV Summer Faire

External Drive Enclosure

Thanks to the recommendations of gamingsf and Pallais in a previous post, I purchased an external hard drive enclosure from Amazon. It only cost about $30 CAD. It's a pretty simple device, shaped kind of like a toaster. You plug a hard drive into the slot, and you can use it like an external drive through USB.

It worked reasonably well, though it was a little finicky. I had to try multiple USB slots before it finally registered. But once Windows detected the device, it worked well, and I was able to pull data off both hard drives from old machine.

I managed to get my FFXIV settings, so now all my gear sets and macros are back in place. That's a big relief, as I was avoiding logging in and rebuilding everything.

FFXIV Summer Faire

The latest holiday event in FFXIV is the Summer Faire. It's a pretty simple event, with a couple quest lines and a bunch of Fates in Costa del Sol. One interesting change is that there are repeatable quests for Fishermen and Culinarians, which are an alternate way of getting the holiday currency for this event.

As normal, the rewards are mostly cosmetic. Swimsuits, for the most part. One change is that this event does also have some of the rewards from the previous holiday event (yukatas). Perhaps this will be another way to get old rewards, as FFXIV revamps holiday events every year. Before this, old rewards went into the cash shop. I thought that was a pretty fair way of handling old rewards, but this is a good method as well.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ravenholdt or Riot

It always amuses me to compare the WoW player culture with Blizzard's WoW dev culture. A lot of the time they're the same. But sometimes there's a clearly inexplicable gap between the two.

Take the rogue class order hall, for example. If you asked the rogue community, they would all pick Ravenholdt Manor as the iconic rogue location. And with good reason. It has been the "rogue place" ever since Vanilla. Multiple class quests, as well as the legendary rogue dagger questline, have centered around Ravenholdt.

But Blizzard wants to put the Rogue order in the Dalaran sewers.

That is as pure an instance of tone-deafness on the part of the dev team as I can recall. First, no one really wants to end up in the sewers. Second, the Dalaran sewers used to be the PvP area, back in Wrath. That's what most people who were around back then associate with the location. Third, Dalaran is the mage city, and really has nothing to do with rogues.

Maybe if Ravenholdt didn't exist, the sewers would have been an okay choice. But it does exist, and it seems quite pointless to throw away all the history and resonance Ravenholdt has built up.

In any case, the Rogue community is trying to convince Blizzard to change course. Whether they'll succeed or not, I don't know. A lot of it might just come down to art time. If Blizzard has already finished the artwork and modelling for the Dalaran sewers, they may just stick with their decision.

Still, though, I take this instance as a caution against being too clever and dismissing bonds that the players have built up over the history of the game. Wherever possible, Blizzard should take advantage of those bonds, and allow them to do the heavy lifting.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Initial Thoughts on Legion

WoW's next expansion is Legion. I think it looks pretty interesting. A number of bloggers seem to think that it lacks a "game-changer", but I don't think a game-changer is really necessary.

Demon Hunters

The most interesting thing about demon hunters is that it is elf-only. This is pretty radical. For a while now, WoW has trended towards fewer restrictions. Classes have opened up to more races. For example, pretty much every race could be a monk or death knight. Demon Hunters represent a significant departure from that philosophy. Only high elves and blood elves can apply.

It's perfectly justifiable lore-wise. I think it's a better philosophy than the "all races can be all classes" ideal that WoW seemed to be heading to before.

The other interesting thing is that the Demon Hunter only has 2 specializations: one tank, one dps. Blizzard seems to be trying to move towards more distinctive specializations, and it will be interesting to see how the specializations for the other class weapons change.

Artifact Weapons

Taking a page from LOTRO's Legendary weapons and FFXIV's Relic weapons, Legion will introduce an artifact weapon for each specialization. This weapon looks like it will level up and improve over the course of the expansion, including cosmetic options.

Retribution Paladins will get the Ashbringer. It will be interesting to see weapons the other classes get. One neat idea I've seen is that Holy Paladins can use 2H maces, and Uther the Lightbringer's hammer was a 2H mace. That would be an outstanding artifact weapon for Holy Paladins.

Class Orders

After years of shying away from class quests and class-specific content, Blizzard is also reversing that stance and re-emphasising classes with class orders. Basically, each class gets a shared location where they reform an organization from the lore. It looks to be somewhat like the garrison, with followers or champions that you can recruit as well.

I strongly approve of this direction. Class lore is one of the strengths of Warcraft, and embracing it again is a great idea. Having a special location you share with others of your class is also good, and it will be interesting to see what locations are chosen.

Whatever is chosen, I expect the druid area to be a 24/7 dance party.

Story / New Areas

The story seems pretty solid. The Legion is one of the great enemies in Warcraft, and is always fun. There seems to be less emphasis on orcs (other than Gul'dan) which is good. The new areas all look interesting.

Class Changes

Legion seems to be bringing some extensive class changes. Blizzard has hinted that they want to try and differentiate the specializations more, and make them more focused around the class "fantasy". For example, Survival hunters are apparently becoming melee with a pet, which is pretty crazy. Beastmaster will be ranged with a pet, and Marksmanship will be ranged without a pet.

It will be interesting to see what they do with the other specializations.


Overall, I think the expansion looks pretty good. While there are no "game-changers", there looks to be lots of meat to delve into. If Blizzard can get the expansion out in a timely fashion, say November or December, I think they have a winner on their hands.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Client-side Settings

In the end I went with an ASUS Windows laptop. I had hoped that getting a machine which was somewhat aimed at gaming would cut down on the bloatware that came pre-installed. No such luck. I spent the first 30 minutes removing all the unnecessary programs. At least nothing looks malicious.

Then I set about the task of reinstalling software. It's actually kind of interesting what is saved client-side and what is saved on the server.

For FFXIV, pretty much all the settings are client-side. This includes things like gear sets and hot bars, in addition to all the UI and macros. I logged in to FFXIV, saw how much I would need to set up, and promptly logged out again. I'll have to tackle it a bit at a time.

For The Old Republic, at least the hotbars and key bindings are saved on the server. That saves a lot of work. The UI isn't saved, but I don't modify the base UI very much, so it shouldn't be that hard to set up again.

I think these long-term server-based games should strongly consider dividing the settings into machine-specific (graphics, sound) versus account-specific settings. And then saving the account settings on the server. It would cost some more space. But it really only needs to be downloaded at the start of the session, and saved at the end of the session.

Even just saving it as a giant blob of compressed text shouldn't be that bad. You could even take the hash of the settings and only change settings when the hash changes.

But it would make life a lot easier when moving between two machines.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Computer Troubles

It looks like my computer has died on me. There was a pop, the machine shut down, and I could smell the acrid stink of burning electronics. Amusingly, this is probably a common experience for those of us who game on PCs.

I'm trying to write this from my phone. My kingdom for a real keyboard. I don't really write a lot on my phone, so it is an interesting experience. It's actually kind of impressive how much of the load the auto-complete can handle.

In any case, I am trying to decide what I should do next. Should I get another Windows desktop, a Windows laptop, or a Mac laptop. A laptop might be nice, and would certainly take up less space and be more portable. On the other hand, the performance would be worse. As well, most Windows laptops tend to come with a lot of pre-installed junk.

A Mac laptop would be better in that case. However, I am a bit leery of gaming with it. There's Bootcamp, but I am not sure of the point of constantly switching between operating systems.

The default, of course, is another Windows desktop. Best value for money, a proper nVidia graphics card, and it's far easier to customize and get something with just Windows installed.

Suggestions from people who have been computer shopping recently are appreciated. I don't really pay attention to the hardware side of things anymore.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

FFXIV: Heavensward Review

This post contains minor spoilers for the Heavensward storyline.

I've finished the main story in Heavensward, and am in the gearing up for endgame phase. So I thought it's a good point to review the expansion so far.

The main story quest is solid. It's pretty much what you want from a fantasy story. It's ironic, but it's the Japanese MMO known for catgirls which has given us a more classic western fantasy story about knights and dragons than any of the western MMOs. There are twists and turns, and the mythos of FFXIV is expanded on. It's very much a story for the fan of FFXIV, and builds on the story previously introduced.

Overall, I don't think I am a fan of the way the Ul'dah story was wrapped up, though. It's okay, but I think it was a missed opportunity. The main Ishgard story was much better.

The new zones are all good. Flying is well implemented, with a general principle of explore the zone and complete the main quests in the zone before you unlock it. FFXIV also has plenty of areas which are only accessible with flying. As well, once you have flying, quests are happy to make you wander all across the map.

There are three new classes introduced: dark knight (tank), astrologian (healer), and machinist (ranged support dps). Overall they seem interesting. However, it feels like SE erred on the side of caution, and started them off under-powered. Seeing two of the new classes in a dungeon run always makes me wince.

The dungeons and primals so far are fun and well done. I do think there should have been some minor changes in how the dungeons are distributed at endgame. Right now there are only two "expert" dungeons, but there is a third 60 story dungeon which does not have loot. It would be nice if that third dungeon was added to the expert category. On the other hand, this may be deliberate so that people can watch the cutscenes without pressure, in an attempt to avoid some of the mistakes of the original 2.0 release.

All classes got new abilities. I like the new Paladin abilities, which include two new combos for DPS, a heal, and an off-gcd move to force an automatic block

However, the paladin class story was very weak. It started off well, but then got really weird. One of the NPCs says, "This is the stupidest thing ever," and you really have to agree with him.

Heavensward is almost entirely for the max level player. The only thing a new player would get is access to the new Aura race. I would recommend that a new player wait until they hit level 50 before getting the expansion. Once you're level 50, you can get the expansion and it will allow you to earn experience and level while doing the 2.0-2.5 story.

All in all, Heavensward is "more of the same". It doesn't really make any major changes to how one plays FFXIV, just adds more of what the players like. If you liked FFXIV before, you'll like Heavensward. If you don't like FFXIV, well, it's highly unlikely you would have even gotten to the point where you can start the expansion.

I'm enjoying the expansion, and am looking forward to the next patch and continuation of the story.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

SWTOR's Plans for Operations and Flashpoints

SWTOR released a post today, detailing the plans for Operations and Flashpoints in Fallen Empire. I am really not sure what to think.

For background, SWTOR is the only MMO that I am regularly raiding in. I've been raiding twice a week with the same group of people for about the last two years.


A bunch of important story Flashpoints (Black Talon, Revan, Malgus flashpoints) are getting a Solo mode. There will be level-scaling so it's the appropriate difficulty. I'm not sure if there will be a GSI "Jesus" Droid or not, as that would pretty much remove all difficulty.

Many flashpoints are being converted to Tactical mode, where any four roles can group together, without needing a tank or healer. Everyone here will be bolstered to max level, so any levels can group together, starting from level 10. You get personal loot designed for your class and specialization.

Other flashpoints are Hard Mode, which require a tank and healer. They will be available at 50, with bolstering to max level, it looks like. Again, it looks like personal loot will be the normal, but the loot here is specifically called out as being the stepping stone to operations.

The flashpoint changes seem pretty reasonable. It's interesting that SWTOR has chosen to ignore the trinity until near max level, but I can't say that's entirely wrong. For someone who's just interested in the story and simple group content, sticking with the individual story, Solo Flashpoints, and Tactical Flashpoints will provide a good amount of content.


For operations, the key phrase is "however with Knights of the Fallen Empire there will not be any new Operations." Now, Bioware doesn't specify if that means no new operations at launch, or no new operations for the entirety of the expansion. If it's the former, that's pretty reasonable, especially with the other changes. If it's the latter, that's a huge change.

All operations will be re-tuned for max level (8-man and 16-man) and will have a Story Mode and a Hard Mode.  There will also be a Nightmare mode for some operations. Each day a different Story Mode operation will be available in Group Finder. It sounds like both Hard Mode and Story Mode operations will drop the same level of loot.

Each week, a different Hard Mode operation will be "highlighted". That operation will drop better loot. As well, Nightmare modes will also drop this better loot.

So loot-wise, the endgame progression as I understand it will look like:
  • T0 - Hard Mode flashpoints
  • T1 - Story Mode operations, non-highlighted Hard Mode operations
  • T2 - Highlighted Hard Mode operation, Nightmare Modes
So I guess Bioware expects extended guilds to focus their raid nights on whatever the highlighted HM operation is. The edge guilds can tackle Nightmare Modes.

However, these are all old operations, just re-tuned. I don't know how well this will be received. Part of the draw of extended group content is demonstrating mastery over content. I'm not sure how well a forced rotation will work. If Bioware does introduce new operations, I'm not sure how they would work. Would they go into the rotation? Would they be a new tier T3?


To be honest, this system is probably great for the new players, solo players, or even group players who came to the game late. It's just not particularly attractive to the loyal group player who's been playing since launch, and has seen and beaten all these operations before.

There are other worries. One view of SWTOR's initial collapse is that story isn't enough to hold people. People did the story once, got to endgame, saw that it was lacking, and unsubscribed. Is this new plan simply repeating the same mistake that launch did?

Or will continuous delivery of new story be enough to keep people, such that this endgame gives them something to do while waiting for the next installment? Is Bioware better off by playing to their strengths, even if they lose many people who were mostly interested in raiding?

To be honest, as a long-time SWTOR raider--albeit one who is still struggling with the current Hard modes--these changes make me want to stop raiding. I might still stick around for the story, as I do enjoy that. But if I'm interested in doing proper extended group content, it might better to cut my losses, and go find a good group in WoW or FFXIV.

In some ways this is a pity. I've always liked SWTOR's operations. They've been interesting and inventive. It's unfortunate that they won't be making any new ones any time soon. I recommend that existing raiding games try to poach some of the ops designers from SWTOR.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Garrisons, Part III: Followers

I like the basic design of garrison followers. I liked recruiting them, leveling them up, and improving their gear. However, as with everything else, I think followers had some issues.

Mission Planning

Mission planning was just too complicated and tedious. There's a reason everyone used Master Plan, and that there was such an outcry when it stopped working with the 6.2 patch. Maximizing rewards by assigning followers to missions was an easy thing to automate, so it was automated.

I think Blizzard would have done better to make this simpler. For example, one thing they could have done is limit the number of available mission slots to match the number of characters you have. Thus you can't get 100% on all missions but must choose the missions you most want to win.

Or alternatively, perhaps at the beginning of the week you organize your followers into parties, with one tank, one healer, and three DPS. Then you are presented with 4 missions and you assign a party to each mission. By reducing the number of possible options, you greatly reduce the solution space, and make it much easier to do follower missions by hand.

Timed Missions

I don't think that timed missions were a good fit for MMOs. Timed missions might be good for mobile games, because your phone is always on you. But I don't think they match the rhythm of an MMO.

I think missions should have been more like dailies. They all complete at the same time each night. Then you can assign new missions sometime during the next day. I think that daily or weekly reset is a more natural fit for an MMO.

Follower Presence

Garrisons had a neat element where your followers would hang around your garrison and interact with you and other NPCs in small ways. Unfortunately, 99% of the time followers were out on a mission, so you rarely saw this element.

I think Blizzard should have just left your followers hanging around, even if they were technically assigned to a mission. Or possibly have the non-active followers hang around. (I don't actually know if this happens or not, I only have one inactive follower.)


I like the follower bodyguard. I run with the draenei paladin tank. If I'm in a quest with Yrel, that's three paladins running around, delivering holy justice to the orcs. Good times.

However, the fact that you can click on the follower to bring up dialogue drives me nuts. It happens when I try to loot, and it happens an awful lot. Regular hunter and warlock pets don't have this issue, and I really wish Blizzard had thought more about this. The barracks should have just given a "Go Home" ability that you could put on your bars.


Overall, followers were a pretty good idea, and an interesting part of WoD. But the four issues above kept them from being great.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Garrisons, Part II: Professions

For the most part, the WoD professions design worked pretty well. Having a separate building for each profession, generating a limiting reagent through work orders, and allowing limited access to a profession you don't have, all worked reasonably well.

The major flaw with professions and the garrison were the mine and herb garden. Granting free access to these resources for everyone led to a lot of busywork. The mine and garden are the leading cause of the "chore" feeling of garrisons. This design also devalued the gathering professions.

By default, it would have been better if the mine and garden only provided extra automatic garrison resource generation, with higher values as you increased the building level. That would make it worthwhile for everyone to improve those plots, but otherwise they could be ignored.

Then add two new small profession buildings. A smelter and a nursery, or similar. Creating these buildings allows you to mine ore from the mine or get herbs from the garden, respectively. Then with the level 3 building, you could get Savage Blood or Felblight from mining and herbing. (You'd probably have to rename Savage Blood, though.)

Essentially, these buildings would make mining and herbalism the same as the other professions. If you were interested in those professions, you could choose the building. If you just wanted extra resources, it would cost you a small building space. But not everyone would be interested, and not everyone would feel pressured to collect their "free" resources.

The current design is deeply unfair to gatherers. They spent one of their two profession slots on the gathering profession, deliberately eschewing another crafting profession. It was really unfair of Blizzard to give that benefit to everyone else at no cost.

This would probably decrease the supply of herbs and ore, and material costs would have to be rebalanced across the professions.

Other than the mine and farm, Savage Blood is the only real issue with professions. Where ore and herbs are too plentiful, Savage Blood is too rare, and pushes crafters towards the Barn. Felblight is a better design, being spread to all the gathering professions.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Garrisons, Part I: Phasing

Garrisons are the signature mechanic of Warlords of Draenor. They are also a failure, and have hurt the game more than they have helped.

However, I don't think garrisons were that far from being a good mechanic. It feels like a few more iterations or tweaks could have brought garrisons to a much better place. As well, a lot of the problems with garrisons are long term problems that really only develop into serious issues after a few weeks of play.

In this series, I hope to take a look at different facets of the garrisons. To try to see where Blizzard went wrong, and what changes could have improved them.


In my mind, the single biggest problem with garrisons is the way that they are phased. Each garrison is a personal phase for each player. this means that the player is always logging into an empty space. There are no other players around.

This very different from every previous expansion. Usually you log into a large city. In Pandaria, most people set their hearthstones to either the Shrine or Halfhill. So whenever you logged in you immediately saw other players running around. Even though Halfhill had a small phased area, it was set off from the main town.

I think this is hugely important for an MMO. Even though you may not explicitly group with other people, it's very important that the other people are present in your world. That's what makes an MMO an MMO.

In WoD, the first 10 minutes of every gaming session is spent alone, with no other players in sight. This makes WoD an intensely lonely experience. There is no "bustle", no energy, as in all the previous expansions. It's sort of the equivalent of once belonging to a large guild, but now you're the only player logging in. It's very dispiriting.

I think this is important enough to make a general rule. Players should always log in (and log out) in populated areas. A strong visual reminder that they are not alone is very important to this genre.


The best solution I can think of is to have a much more complicated phasing system. Something where common areas of the garrison, like the central courtyard are shared. Each plot would be shared with other players who have the same building on the plot as you.

So even though everyone has their own garrison, it looks like everyone is in the same garrison, and it is a bustling center with players running all over the place. Of course, this would probably be much harder to implement cleanly.

Another path would have been a system where there are multiple separate buildings in the garrison are owned by separate players. I.e. no real phasing, but an actual community. For example in a guild of 10 people, each person gets their own plot in a common guild garrison.

Of course, this system is crazy complicated, and there are lots of problems. What happens if someone leaves the guild and wants to move her plot elsewhere? What happens when people stop logging in and the plots become empty?

This system is more fit for sandbox games, I think. The complex phasing would have been a better fit for WoW.