Wednesday, October 11, 2017

First Impressions of NieR: Automata


An awful lot of video game conventions just make sense when your character is a robot.

I picked up NieR: Automata a couple of weeks ago, and have been steadily working my way through it. So far, it has been a delightful game, with some very interesting design decisions.

The setting is a post-apocalyptic setting where alien robots invaded Earth and drove the surviving humans to the moon. You play a female android, named 2B, who is working for the humans. It's mostly a straightforward console action game. The story line is very Japanese, which is somewhat hard to explain. If you watch anime, you'll recognize a lot of tropes. However, at the same time, it is also very weird.

Speaking of console games, the mouse and keyboard keybinds are next to impossible to play with. It's clearly a game designed for a console controller. After trying the game with mouse and keyboard, I promptly went out and bought an Xbox 360 controller. Given that the last console I owned was the NES (regular, not Super), this has been an interesting learning experience.[1]

Though the trailer above is in English, I'm playing with the Japanese voices and English subtitles. The English voices aren't as good, in my opinion. The only downside is that sometimes there will be a conversation while fighting, and it can be hard to catch the subtitles in that situation.

I started the game on Normal difficulty, but couldn't beat the first level, so I dropped down to Easy. Easy is interesting because your character has "auto-chips" which automatically control your character. However, you can enable and disable specific chips to customize your game. For example, I use automatic ranged fire from your pod and automatic evading, but manual melee attacks and manual weapon switching.

This whole theme of your character being an android and mechanics reflecting that is quite well done. For example, saving is literally your character uploading her current memory at a terminal. If you die, your memory is loaded into a new body at the terminal. You can find your old body and pick up all your gear.

Similarly, your characters "skills" are slots in memory. It's really nice system, and I'd like to talk more about it in a future post.

I really like the camera work as well. The game often seamlessly switches into a side-scroller or overhead view for specific sequences. It's quite well done. Character control is also very well done, and the game just feels smooth and easy to handle.

All in all, I'm really enjoying NieR: Automata, and I recommend it. It doesn't do anything too revolutionary, but it is a highly polished and fun experience.

1. As an aside, how do you console gamers handle the Left/Right Button and Trigger? Do you use your forefinger for both, or do you use your forefinger for the Button and middle finger for the Trigger? Neither feels quite right to me.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Ahead of the Curve: Kil'jaeden

My guild defeated Heroic Kil'jaeden last night. Our first attempt of the night was a 9% wipe, and then we were all over the map for a bit. But we did have another 4% wipe a few attempts before we got the kill.

We did end up wiping more on Fallen Avatar, but I think that fight just hits all our weaknesses more.

For Kil'jaeden, the fight overall is pretty good. It has a lot of mechanics, though, and you have to wonder if all those mechanics were really necessary. Perhaps it would have been a better fight if the dark phase had been skipped, but the last phase lasted longer. We never really had trouble with the dark phase. We either died in the phase before or after.

Not much more to say about the fight. Healing it is pretty normal. Deaths come from doing mechanics improperly, and failing mechanics usually ends in a total wipe. We did have several attempts with tank deaths to Felclaws. But I think those were more due to the tanks letting active mitigation drop at the wrong time.

Oh well, our goal of beating the raid before the next one comes out has been met. I'm looking forward to a couple of weeks of regular farming. (Well, let's hope the second kill goes smoothly!)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fallen Avatar of Sargeras Down!

Last night, my guild killed Fallen Avatar (Heroic), making us 8/9 for Tomb of Sargeras. Now we only have Kil'jaeden left. That's decent timing, and we should get him down before the next raid opens.

We actually had several close wipes on Fallen Avatar. 3% last week, and a 1% and 0% wipe this week. Sometimes my guild makes strategy over-complex. For example, here we were "sacrificing" people in the last phase to the Dark Marks, but that killed our DPS and we didn't have enough to push it over. For the kill attempt, we didn't try to sacrifice anyone, and just healed as much as possible.

The other problem, I think, is that we aren't very predictable in positioning. Like for Fallen Avatar Phase 1, I would imagine that people should try and stand in a given spot, and move in similar ways to the last attempt. But it seems like every attempt the movement of players is different from the last attempt, forcing everyone to adjust on the fly.

But then again, I've always liked assigned positioning and choreographed movement. The problem, of course, is that if you have to deviate a lot from the choreography, than you might as well not bother.

Still, I think that predictable player movement is an underrated element for normal/heroic raid groups. Mythic groups often move predictably naturally, and so rarely call it out as something to work on.

Still, a dead boss is a dead boss. On to Kil'jaeden!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Ready Player One

This post contains spoilers for Ready Player One.

Ready Player One is an interesting novel. It's been described as "Willy Wonka meets The Matrix". For a novel which focuses on our nerd/gaming subculture, I had a surprising number of philosophical issues with it.

It's set in a near future quasi-dystopia, where Earth is ruined. However a genius, Halliday, created a virtual reality system which everyone uses. When Halliday died, he leaves his fortune and control of the virtual world as a treasure hunt. Halliday was fixated on the 1980s, so all the clues revolve around popular United States culture from that time period.

It's essentially a Grail Quest story, as the hero, Wade Watts, faces successive trials in his quest for the treasure. The villain is the standard over-the-top evil corporation.

Part of my antipathy is that I don't have much respect for 1980s popular culture. It's decent enough, I suppose, but the idea of a generation committing it to memory is rather horrifying to me.

Ernest Cline is obviously liberal, and this has an odd habit of bleeding through in unexpected ways. For example, though most of the book is online using avatars, when the good guys meet up, it turns out they meet all the standard diversity checkmarks. Although it did amuse me that you could tell this written before 2015, as there are no transgender characters, the current cause du jour.  Especially as it would be really easy to fit one in, what with the difference between avatar and person.

The attitude towards government and corporations is weird. Corporations are so powerful that slavery or indentured servitude has come back. However, government is powerful enough that medical privacy laws are absolutely inviolate. Perhaps it was just the necessary positions needed for the plot, but I found it jarring.

The tech in the story is also odd. It often feels more like magic than anything else. It features avatar perma-death, which is unusual. Personally, I think Cline over-values cleverness and discounts brute force, which makes the tech feel a bit off to me. Simple brute force is very powerful when the computer is fast enough.

All this is pretty minor, and more amusing than anything else. The real problem, though, is that Cline misses the point of Grail Quest stories, and it ends up making Wade's quest feel arbitrary and hollow.

In a traditional Grail Quest, the hero's virtues are tested by the trials. Virtues like kindness, resolve, and courage. The quest in this book does not test any of those. Certainly Wade displays some of those characteristics during his adventure. Especially in the middle section, when he finally does something worthy of being a hero. But this feels kind of coincidental to the trials, and not required. If you look at Willy Wonka, for example, Charlie wins because he is a good kid, and resists the temptations of the trials.

Instead, the trials pretty much test Wade's knowledge of 1980s trivia and ability to play videogames. I was really hoping that the final trial would require Wade breaking with Halliday's obsessions, demonstrating independence of thought, the student surpassing the master. Instead it was yet another videogame.

Even the deus ex machina aren't quite right. There are two points in the story where Wade is saved or successful because of arbitrary objects in his possession. The first he just mentions that he bought it a few months ago when it comes time to use it, and the second he got because he decided to get the max score in a random video game he finds while searching for a clue. Now, Grail quests have deus ex machina objects, but they're sort of earned. For example, the hero will save a fox from a trap early in the story, but later when the hero is captured by bandits, the fox will reappear and chew through the ropes binding him. The hero's virtue leads to an unexpected payoff. But Wade demonstrates no virtue in getting these objects which save him.

Since the trials evolve entirely around trivia and videogame skill, it is very arbitrary as to how fast each side solves clues. There's no reason that the evil company takes so long to solve the last clue, while the heroes remember it from an old song almost instantly, other than the plot demands it.

Ultimately though, Ready Player One says that Wade Watts was worthy of being the Philosopher God-King of the virtual universe because he could recite Monty Python and the Holy Grail by heart, and play a perfect game of Pac-Man. You'll forgive me if I don't think that is enough.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Play Diary #8

World of Warcraft

Heroic Desolate Host and Heroic Mistress fell to us this week. It was kind of funny, because the raid leads were so sure that Heroic Mistress would be a pushover, but we kept wiping on her. It's just one of those fights that you can screw up in many small ways. But once you learn it and get used to it, it should be fairly straightforward.

I also finished my Demon Hunter's class mount. It was a pretty good quest line.

It's somewhat interesting that WoW made the same mistake that SWTOR did. By splitting up the content by class, there's lots to do for an alt, but for a single character the content looks sparse. If you compare 7.1 to 7.2, the 7.1 content (Suramar City insurrection) feels so much meatier, even though there's probably the same amount of content in Broken Isles, just spread among the different classes.

Final Fantasy XIV

I hit max level with my Red Mage. I've started doing roulettes and gearing up. So far the wait isn't too bad. All the groups have been wall-to-wall pulls. Red Mage AoE is a little boring, but whatever. Boss fights are still fun. It's kind of interesting to see all the mechanics I ignored when tanking.

I'm debating if I should start leveling another class, or just gear this one up fully. I doubt I'll do EX primals or Omega Savage, but I could go through Omega Normal. I've never actually finished the older 8-man raids, either.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

High Skill Gameplay Versus Low Skill Gameplay

Another day, another forum/reddit post about the state of max level gameplay in FFXIV, this time focusing on healers. My current theory on why FFXIV is experiencing unhappiness is because the "high skill gameplay" does not match "low skill gameplay".

To see what I mean, let's look at WoW. In WoW a mythic healer plays much like a normal healer, only better. They both cast the same spells, but the mythic healer gets in more casts and triages better. The mythic healer probably makes better use of cooldowns. The normal healer's goal is to slowly refine her gameplay to match the mythic healer.

In contrast, in FFXIV, high skill gameplay and low skill gameplay is very different. If you're in a low skill group, you want to have the tank in tank stance and focus on threat moves. The healer heals more than she damages.

In contrast, high skill gameplay often has the tank in DPS stance, and using DPS stats. The healers are often dealing damage as well, with one estimate of a healer casting 3 damage spells for every healing spell.

I think a game has trouble when you're in the middle, when you're not sure if you should be using the low skill or high skill tactics.  You go low skill when the rest of the group is high skill, and they get upset for you wasting their time. You go high skill when the rest of the group is low skill, and you end up wiping.

In contrast, in WoW, how you should play is fairly straightforward. You tank, heal or dps to the best of your abilities. You don't need to significantly adjust how you play.

Another game which has issues with the low skill/high skill dichotomy is Overwatch. Certain heroes are much stronger and weaker at different levels of the game. Widowmaker and other snipers become a lot better when people can aim. Meanwhile, Torb and Bastion are much more potent against low skill players who have trouble dealing with them. But the "meta" is defined by the high skill players, and that can cause issues in low skill gameplay.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

WoW Analyzer

I came across an excellent site for analyzing your performance: WoW Analyzer.

It's super easy to use and really slick.  You just link a Warcraft Logs parse, and it gives you a genuine breakdown of things you can improve upon.

For example, apparently I double Holy Shock a lot when Divine Purpose procs, causing me to waste Infusion of Light procs. I really should go Holy Shock - Flash of Light - Holy Shock. That was genuinely useful information, provided in an excellent format.

Suggestions for one of my Desolate Host wipes

Seriously, this site is an amazing example of web app design!

The only problem is that not all specs are supported. It's mainly healer specs right now. Hopefully it will be able to attract more contributors and support more specs.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Play Diary #7

Final Fantasy XIV

The latest seasonal event, Moonfire Faire, has started. It was short and sweet, and really just an excuse for everyone to congregate on a beach in swimwear.


I figured out how to hide my weapons so I could make a cosmetic gear set. I've been playing for years, and never realized the button next to Hide Hat hid your weapons! For some reason, I thought it was just sheath/unsheath weapons.

Otherwise, my Red Mage is up to level 67. The end is almost in sight. One interesting aspect of playing DPS is that commendations are treasured because they're rare. Especially if you manage to get multiple commendations in a single instance.

World of Warcraft

We got our second kill on H-Mistress, and then got our first kill on H-Sisters. Then we wiped a fair bit on H-Desolate Host. We don't have the transition to the last phase quite right yet.

Hopefully we will get it this week. However, I think the summer vacation bug will hit in August, and we'll be treading water until September. That's normal though, and hopefully we won't regress.

Pyre

Still chugging along. The difficulty is beginning to ramp up. I've won all my matches up to this point, but I think my first loss will come soon. Apparently the game continues on even if you lose a match, just like a regular sports game. It will be interesting to see how that is handled.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

An Accidental Game of Competitive Lucioball


 Overwatch's latest event, the Summer Games, started today. I don't play Overwatch a lot, but I logged in today while eating dinner to open the free lootbox. (Sadly, I didn't get anything interesting.) After that, I started clicking around to see the new skins and other elements.

I accidentally clicked on Competitive Lucioball in the Arcade, and Overwatch managed to sign me for a match within seconds! Normally matchmaking takes up to a minute, so I'm not sure if Blizz has made major improvements with the matchmaker or if I was just lucky (unlucky?).

I hurriedly tried to figure out how to play Lucio, praying that I at least would not score any own goals. Luckily my teammates were able to carry me, and we actually won!

I'm kind of surprised Blizzard made a competitive version of Lucioball. It is kind of fun, and it is a level playing field. At the very least, no one can complain about your choice of character. Still, it's pretty unusual to get a competitive ladder for an event side-game which won't be around for very long.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Pyre: First Impressions


I've started Supergiant's latest game, Pyre. So far, it's really good.

It's sort of a text-based RPG combined with ritual battle system called the Rites. As you go through the story, you recruit different teammates and make simple choices that determines how you progress.

One interesting thing is that it's not fully voice-acted, but each character makes some sounds in a made-up language whenever they speak. It's a really neat way of adding a voice and tone, without having to actually record every line.

 The Rites system is a mix of sport and combat. It's a little bit like a fantasy variant of basketball. There are 3 players on a team, but only one player can be active at a time, though you can quickly switch from player to player. There is a an orb on the playfield, and the objective is to take the orb to the enemies pyre. Each player has an aura around them which they use for defense, or to cast at an enemy player. The player with the orb has no aura.

Characters have different characteristics. Some are slow, some are fast. Some have large auras, some score more points when they capture the orb.

The battlefield is also on the mental plane, so character's have stats like Hope. All in all, it's quite a neat system.

I'm not sure how far in I am, but the story is very good so far. All in all, I recommend Pyre.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Dungeon Meta in WoW versus FFXIV

In the comments to the previous post on FFXIV's dungeon meta, Shintar asks:
Sounds a lot like the way it's been in WoW for years (or at least it was still that way last time I played). Or do you think this is different?
First, I really don't remember exactly what WoW meta was when anymore, so I'm just going to compare FFXIV to the current meta.

In WoW, speed runs usually aim to skip trash, rather than engage. When you're skipping packs, you generally don't drag mobs along, because you don't want to accidentally engage. In FFXIV, trash is unskippable, for the most part.

WoW also has more trash than FFXIV. But the WoW trash generally has less health but hits harder. Also a WoW group has 3 dps instead of 2. Basically instead of a few large pulls, WoW tends toward many smaller pulls.

As well, packs in FFXIV have a lot of space between them, which I think makes the stop-and-start nature of gameplay more obvious. I think this lends itself to a good WoW group going through the dungeon at a steady pace. Not quite pulling multiple packs, but chaining from pack to pack quicker.

Another possibility is that WoW seems to be segregating the player base by ability this expansion. More geared and advanced players are funneled into more difficult content like Mythic+, while people generally only run the lower dungeons when they're undergeared, or just want an easy run.

FFXIV takes opposite tack, and often encourages better players to go back and play with newer players. A lot of the time this is good, but it does mean that "edge" tactics come to dominate, and start being applied in places they shouldn't be.

Now, that I think about it, this last possibility is probably the same as as older WoW expansions, when experienced players ran heroics for badges. That was a "go go go" meta as well. So ultimately, maybe encouraging veterans to play with new players is a bad idea.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Diablo 3 Seasonal Necromancer Complete

I finished Chapter IV of the Seasonal journey with my Necromancer in Diablo 3 today, and got the complete Rathma set for her. This is the point I stop in D3. I don't really care for farming perfect items and Greater Rifts. I really like Seasons because they give a directed path that you can follow, and several points where you can stop and still feel satisfied with what you've completed.


The Necromancer is an interesting class. It has three possible resources: essence, corpses, and health, which you can combine in different ways. For example, I use Devour to gain essence from corpses, and took a passive that generates health globes when corpses are used. I then use a Legendary that gives me Essence from consuming health globes. I got another Legendary which causes my golem to drop a corpse every second, further feeding that loop. Add a Siphon Blood rune which automatically pulls in all health globes when you attack. Finally, all that essence gets channeled into summoning Mage Skeletons.

Some ability runes also change some costs from Essence to a percentage of Health, which you then supplement with abilities to get health back. More than most characters, the Necromancer feels like it's designed for you to set up these Rube Goldberg-esque chains converting one resource into another, feeding your damage.

It was pretty enjoyable, and I think the D3 team did a good job in setting up several possible play styles.

I'm not sure what the future of Diablo 3 is like, but these packs which introduce a new class are an interesting way to go. For example, adding a Druid shape-shifting class would be great.

Friday, August 04, 2017

FFXIV's Unfortunate Dungeon Meta

I've complained a few times that I don't like the way the dungeon "meta" in FFXIV has turned out. Here's a good Reddit thread discussing the issue.

Basically, many players expect the tank to pull "wall-to-wall". Basically run through all the mobs from the start to a gate, where they are all then AoE'd down.  It's the most efficient method of clearing a dungeon, but it also requires the players in the group to be geared and on point. Essentially it's the most fragile method.

As an aside, I've noticed the North American players in almost all games will gravitate towards the most efficient and most fragile method, which require the highest level of personal performance. Even in WoW raids. Apparently, Japanese gamers don't do this, and tend towards more fool-proof strategies even if they take more work.

There's a lot of tanks and healers in that thread who are unhappy about the meta. Perhaps a backlash will develop, and it will become okay to pull single-packs at a time. But I doubt it. Doing that would add 5 to 10 minutes to the clear time, and that is clearly a deal-breaker to impatient players.

Personally, I've just given up on tanking, and am leveling a Red Mage damage dealer. This way it doesn't really matter to me. If the tank pulls "wall-to-wall", I'll use AoE. If she pulls a single pack at a time, then I'll use a regular rotation.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Richest Person in the World Inflection Point

This is a non-gaming post.

There are several libertarian-ish economists on the internet who argue against focusing on inequality. One common argument I've seen is that it is better to be a poor person (in America) in 2017, than to be the richest man a century or two ago. That poor people today have a better life than oil barons like J.D. Rockefeller. Thus rather than focus on relative inequality, we should pursue rising standards for everybody, even if it increases inequality.

As far as arguments go, it's not a bad one, especially if we focus on non-status, or more material elements. But that's not what I want to discuss today. Let's just take that argument as a given, and put ourselves in the same mindset as these economists.

So then we have the following sequence of logic:

  1. The richest person in 1870 had a worse standard of living than a poor person in 2017.
  2. The richest person in 2017 has a better standard of living than a poor person in 2017.
  3. Therefore, in some year between 1870 and 2017, the richest person in the world had a standard of living roughly equal to a poor person in 2017.
What year do you think that was? What's the point in time where you would choose to be the richest man in the world rather than a poor person in 2017? What is the missing invention or innovation which makes all the difference?

I think the best candidate is 1955, when Jonas Salk invents the polio vaccine. I think that removes the last major scourge of childhood illnesses (which strike rich and poor alike). After that point, I think the richest person in the world can approximate most innovations that a poor person in 2017 has access to, or can live without those innovations. As awesome as computer games are, I don't think they make up for millions of dollars.

What's your candidate for this inflection point?

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

FFXIV: Stormblood


Last month, FFXIV released its latest expansion, Stormblood. Early access and the first week or so had several problems, with blocked instance servers and massive queues that kept people from progressing. But eventually everything calmed down.

The main story in Stormblood is about the attempt to liberate Ala Mhigo and Doma from the Garlean Empire. It's quite a good story with lots of interesting turns and new characters. The sidequests are particularly good this time around, particularly in the Azim Steppes, filling out the new cultures introduced.

The main villain, Zenos, is a little boring. He's the bored, overpowered type who's just looking for a challenge. He serves his purpose, but the two sub-villains, Yotsuyu and Fordola, are much more interesting characters.

On the whole, I think the Heavensward story was slightly better, but I'm a fan of high fantasy stories about knights and dragons. Stormblood is a bit more political war fantasy with two human sides fighting each other.

Stormblood also introduced some simple new quest types, including one where you play a merchant at a stall helping customers. It was an interesting and unusual quest.

The dungeons are pretty standard fare, though quite well done. There's even one boss fight which doesn't have any combat at all.

Stormblood also added swimming and underwater areas. Unlike other implementations, underwater areas are entirely non-combat. Personally, I like this implementation, as I find fighting underwater to be a huge hassle in most games, especially as melee.

Finally, Stormblood adds the Red Mage and Samurai classes. They're both interesting. Red Mage wields a rapier. She alternates between Black magic and White magic, then jumps into melee, executes a combo, and flips back out. It's very stylish. Samurai, meanwhile, is pretty much what you'd expect. It's an understated melee swordsman, executing combos and building up to a very powerful strike.

General mechanics-wise, there was some streamlining, mostly in how cross-class skills are handled. Each role now has a pool of common skills available to all classes in that role. You no longer need to level up a second class to unlock your job.  If you're looking for significant changes to FFXIV's mechanics, you'll be disappointed.

All in all, Stormblood is a great expansion for FFXIV. It doesn't do anything radical, but focuses on FFXIV's main strength, the story. It also adds two interesting new classes and some polish to other areas of the game.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Repeatable Stateful Solo Content

One of the more interesting experiments Blizzard is conducting in Legion are pieces of repeatable stateful solo content. Repeatable stateful content is interesting because previous runs impact future runs. The best examples are boardgames like Risk Legacy.

So far, Blizzard has included two such pieces of content: the Withered Training scenario in Suramar, and the Deaths of Chromie scenario.

In the Withered Training scenario, you start off with some Withered elves and explore a dungeon. You come across chests, and have to "spend" some of your Withered to retrieve them. However, these chests unlock new types of Withered in your next run. Chests can only be retrieved once, and then don't appear in future runs. So fully completing the Withered Training requires several plays. Each run you may go to a different area and collect the chests there.

In Deaths of Chromie, the limiting factor is time. But after you complete areas, you unlock shortcuts that allow you to make your next run faster. There's also reputation, making the scenario as you do more and more of it.

I think these are really interesting pieces of content. Repeatable content is always good, but the stateful part makes it more interesting. The hard part, I think, would be coming up with a reason the content is repeatable and stateful. The Withered scenario is an artificial training scenario, and Chromie involves time travel. Time loops like Groundhog Day are classic repeatable content.

Perhaps a large dungeon with many floors might work. You could do things like unlock shortcuts, or perhaps killing a boss gnoll causes all the gnolls to flee and be replaced by spiders.

I wonder if you could do something with repeatable stateful group content. The problem here is reconciling state. If someone who's done the scenario 100 times groups with someone who's done it 5 times, who's history is used? You could do like raids, I suppose, and simply default to the group leader.

In any case, these scenarios have been a neat part of Legion, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Blizzard expands on them in the next expansion.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Updates

Posting has been almost non-existent over the last couple of months. I'm not 100% sure why. I've been playing several games, I've have several ideas for posts. But I can't seem to bring myself to write anything. Oh well, maybe next month will go better.

I'm currently playing WoW, Diablo, and FFXIV. On deck are Pyre and Foxhole.

World of Warcraft

Just chugging along in Tomb of Sargeras. We're on Heroic Mistress Sassz'ine, and are having lots of trouble with her. We've beaten her once, but the fight just isn't clicking for us. I think we aren't doing Hydra Shot well, so when it's Hydra Shot + other mechanic, we fall to pieces and lose people. I really should look up some videos.

Diablo 3

I made a Necromancer for Season 11, who is currently level 68. For most of levelling I went with a Bone Armor + Death Nova build which waded into melee. For the last few levels, I've been trying a more caster-style build with Skeletal Mages + Blood Siphon.

Final Fantasy XIV

I got the expansion and finished the main story quest. It was quite good, and hopefully I will make a full post about it soon. I've grown disenchanted with tanking in FFXIV, though. I really don't like mass pulls, but if I don't do mass pulls, the DPS pulls for me and the run becomes a mess. So I've decided to level up a Red Mage, which is quite fun. Of course, as DPS, there are queues, so I'm leveling Miner alongside it.

Pyre

Pyre is the latest from Supergiant Games, who made Bastion and Transistor. I pretty much bought it sight unseen, on the strength of the previous two games. I have no real idea of what it is actually about.

Foxhole

Foxhole is an interesting game. It's in Early Access, but is fairly polished. It's kind of like a WWII Real-Time Strategy game, only you control a single soldier.

As well, there's a full economic chain to do anything. For example, scrap has to be mined, taken to refinery and converted into building materials, then taken to a factory to make bullets, and then the bullets have to be taken to the front line. When a soldier dies, they respawn with nothing, so everyone is reliant on logistics to get anywhere. You can build buildings and vehicles including tanks.

Games are quite long (multiple days), but it isn't totally persistent as there is an eventual winner. Then a new game starts.

In some ways it reminds of Eve Online, only there are defined teams. There also is no money involved, so the logistics chain is a bit different.

I haven't played very much, but I strongly recommend trying Foxhole if you're looking for something new and different.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Chromie's Companion Tank Mechanic

In the new Chromie scenario, you have the option to make your companion Chromie a tank or a healer. The tank mechanic is particularly neat, and should be stolen by every game which uses a companion.

As a tank, Chromie loses 2% of her health every second, until she hits 50% health. But when her health is above 50%, she gains a significant scaling damage bonus. At 100% health, she dishes out crazy damage.

As a healer, this mechanic is quite fun.  Normally in games with companions, you spend most of your time acting as a poor man's dps, occasionally throwing a heal on your companion. And it generally has to be this way. If normal mobs hit the companion hard enough to require significant healing, dps characters would not be able to cope.

But with Chromie, a healer can spend most of her time healing, and this is optimal gameplay for her, as the loss of the player's dps is more than made up for by the boosted companion dps.

If you're dps, you get a tank, but one which starts with half health, pushing you to kill things faster. Though I imagine dps players would still prefer to use a healing companion or another dps companion.

I think this mechanic would be an excellent match for a game like The Old Republic in particular, where companions are an essential part of solo gameplay.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda Review

This post contains spoilers for Mass Effect: Andromeda.

A good ending forgives a lot of sins. Mass Effect: Andromeda has a solid ending. It also has a lot of sins.

I finally finished Andromeda last night. I think it might be easiest to review it in bullet-point form:

Good
  • The ending of Andromeda is quite good. It feels like someone listed everything which was wrong with ME3's ending, and systematically went about writing the opposite. As a result, the ending is very fulfilling. All the allies you made appear and help, validating all your choices in the game. Though you still have your 2 squadmates, all your other squad members show up to help in the final fight. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the ending, and Andromeda goes out on a high note.
  • Andromeda has one really good decision to make. On Kadara, there are two rival criminal organisations seeking control of the planet. You have to side with one of them. The two groups are very different, and it's not obvious which is the better choice. I've seen some interesting debates as to which choice is better. Additionally, Andromeda used the "quick-time event" to make the choice, forcing you to make the choice with time pressure. Ordinarily, I'm not a big fan of the quick time events, but here it worked perfectly.
  • The combat is fun and works well. There are lots of different builds and play styles.
  • If you like Krogan, there's lots of interactions with them. Drack, a squadmate, is pretty awesome. The krogan colony is pretty funny, and provides a much needed dose of humour. (Apparently, some krogans LARP, playing Krantt: the Ragening. There's also a new father support group, where they have sing-alongs and demolition explosion demonstrations.)
  • The six companion loyalty missions are very well designed, and actually fairly interesting, with a wide variety of styles. 
Mixed

  • The story and writing is decent. It's not particularly good, but it's not particularly bad either. In fact, in some ways it's unfortunate this is a Mass Effect game. If it had been an entirely new franchise, I would have said it was a promising start, and hopefully would get better in the sequel.
  • The open world and driving around in the Nomad is reasonably fun.
Bad
  • Your crew, aside from Drack, are not very interesting. Honestly, they're kind of annoying. After thinking about it for a bit, I've come to the conclusion that this is because they're teenagers. Oh, they're theoretically adults, with adult histories. But they act like teenagers in a television show. Everything is overly dramatic and histrionic. I wanted to space half of them by the end.
  • The game has a set of quest objectives called Tasks, which are an utter waste of time, and really just serve as filler. Collect 10 rocks, etc. Some tasks have objectives which randomly appear in enemy camps. I strongly recommend that you simply ignore all the tasks you get, and just focus on the main quests.
  • The software quality is not quite there. The animations and cutscenes have mostly been patched up to reasonable quality by now, but quests can still be fragile and buggy.
  • The game lacks the "grace notes" of the original trilogy. Elements like the elcor, hanar, and volus, which weren't really part of the story, but enhanced the world.
  • The new races introduced, the Angara and Kett, are uninteresting.
  • The entire scanner mechanic is overused, and really slows the game down.
Conclusions

Looking at these notes, I don't think I've touched my main issue with the game. It feels like the new studio was given the Mass Effect franchise, and they felt like they had to do "more" to live up to the name. Add more open-world content and bring back driving a vehicle. Add a scanner. Add all these tasks. Add NPC strike teams. But in the end, they spread themselves too thin. Pretty much every element of the game, save maybe combat, is a step below the original trilogy.

In a lot of respects, I think they would have done better to cut all these extra features and focus on polishing the main story and animations. If the player does everything, tries to 100% the game, it's too long. It would be better as a shorter and more focused game.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is not a bad game. It's just not a great one. And Andromeda has the misfortune to be a sequel to a set of truly great games.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

An Alternate Legendary Scheme

I'm generally happy with Legendaries this expansion. I only have 3, but they're good enough. I also don't play at a level where they really matter, so having or not having the Best-in-Slot ones isn't super important to me.

However, I think for a lot of people who are more hardcore, the Legendary system didn't really work. In particular, I don't think the concept of tailoring your build to match your Legendaries really took off.

Perhaps the problem was that the Legendaries weren't strong enough. For example, if you look at Diablo 3, set bonuses are pretty insane. If you're wearing a set which buffs an ability, that buff is on the order of a 1000% or more. I don't think such a system--where getting a Legendary forced you to build your character around it--would really fly in WoW.

I think a system that fits WoW better would be something with a little bit of randomness, but also add in control and effort.

I would suggest a scheme where the Legendary drop rate was about one per week, but the item level started at 800 or so. The player could use Obliterum to upgrade the Legendary to the item level cap.

This scheme would get the dedicated player all Legendaries reasonably quickly, but they would have to devote time or money into upgrading the Legendaries they want to use. Using Obliterum as the upgrade material would also help out crafters, giving them incentive and a market for their wares.

Friday, April 28, 2017

WoW Videos: Holding Out for a Healer



I've always liked Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out for a Hero. This variant is quite well done. The video is by Kruithne. The main vocalist is Sharm, and the chorus is Letomi.

And the subject matter is certainly very appropriate. ;)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Success is the Hardest Thing to Argue Against

Lately, my guild has taken up a tactic which I find distasteful, but is leading to success. So far it's been used sparingly, but because it is successful, the leadership's aversion to the tactic is eroding. I fear we'll start resorting to it earlier and earlier in the next tier.

Basically, on a difficult boss, when we're fairly close to a first kill but are having trouble closing out that last 10%, the raid lead will start asking the lowest DPS people to step out. Because normal and heroic raids scale now, the average DPS of the raid increases while the mobs get weaker.  We got our first kills of Heroic Botanist and Heroic Gul'dan this way.

I don't approve of this tactic. To me, a raid team is a team, and you win or lose with that team as a whole. I'm perfectly fine with having minimum requirements to join the team, but once you're in, you're in.

If we didn't use this tactic, we would progress a little slower, true. Maybe we would have killed Botanist and Gul'dan a week later. But we have plenty of time.

I also think we're using this tactic as a shortcut instead of tightening up our strategy and positioning. We aren't a Mythic guild, and thus our basic handling of mechanics is not as good as it could be.

But it's really hard to argue with success. The raid leadership will point out that they only do this when it's "necessary", after we've already wiped for a couple days and no one objects in raid. But no one really want to be the person holding back the group, either. And it's hard to say that yes, we should spend one or two extra weeks wiping when we could be progressing and working on new bosses.

But because it's successful, we're reaching for it earlier and earlier. I think we wiped on Botanist twice as much as we wiped on Gul'dan. How much will our tolerance erode in Tomb of Sargeras? One night of wiping? As soon as we have a 20% wipe?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Your Name Review

There are minor spoilers for Your Name in the post, and there may be larger spoilers in the comments.



I saw Your Name (Kimi No Nawa) on the weekend. It's about a boy in Tokyo, Taki, and a girl in the countryside, Mitsuha, who start dreaming that they are the other person, even though they are complete strangers.

It was a popular movie in Japan, and is in a two-week run in some North American cinemas. There was a full theatre when I went to see it. Though I do live in Vancouver, which has a large East Asian population. Amusingly, I was the only non-white, non-East Asian person there.

The movie was quite good, with interesting and engaging characters. In particular, I thought it was "well-balanced". Some comedy, some drama, some romance, some moderate action, a touch of scifi/fantasy, a bit of Japanese religious mythology, and even an explosion.

One of the problems I have with modern western movies is that they seem to have lost that sense of balance, and often tend to extremes. An action move is 90% action with very little characterization. Romantic movies are intensely romantic. Indie movies tend to be very quirky and not very normal.

Your Name is also relatively short, clocking in at 1h 45m. Again, this is quite good, as it packs a lot in that short time frame.

Your Name is not a perfect movie, though the anime community hypes it up a lot. In particular, if plot holes bother you, there is one major plot hole, though it's not strictly a plot hole. On reflection, it's extremely unlikely the characters did not do or realize X. Kind of like characters not calling the police when they have a cellphone and in a situation which warrants it. But if you just let that go, or attribute it to the "magic dream" blinding them to it, it's more than good enough.

I recommend Your Name, especially if you can catch it in theatres. You may only have a week to do so, however.

Friday, March 24, 2017

First Impressions of Mass Effect: Andromeda


Despite my feelings about the ME3 ending, I picked up Mass Effect: Andromeda last night. Here are my initial impressions from about an hour of play.

Facial Animations

I usually don't pay attention to internet complaints about graphics. To my non-artistic eyes, pretty much every modern game looks good.

However, the facial animations in ME:A are horrifically bad. Lips move, but the entire rest of the face has been botox-ed into immobility. My current head-canon is that it's a side-effect of the cryogenic sleep process, and everyone's face has simply not thawed yet. It looks really terrible, and is extraordinarily distracting.

I'm playing with the default Sara Ryder, and her eyes have pupils which are not centred correctly. It looks like she constantly has her eyes half-rolled up.

The biggest problem, though, is that's there's a clear mismatch between the quality of the head model, and the quality of the animations. This actually makes the problem worse. Maybe if the models hadn't been aiming for "realistic" so hard, the animations wouldn't stand out so much.

ME:A graphics spiked in quality the moment the characters put on their helmets.

Now, that being said, perhaps you get used to it. It wasn't nearly as distracting at the end of my play session.

Story

The story is just starting up. It's interesting how they leave everything from the original series somewhat ambiguous. In some ways, it's like the story is set in Mass Effect universe, but ignores the plot of the Mass Effect games.

So far, the writing is okay. It's not good, but it's not bad either. It kind of reminds me of a author with potential writing her first novel. It could get a lot better, but it might not either.

One interesting thing Bioware has done in conversation this time around is to categorise responses as either emotional, logical, casual, or professional. It's a very explicit way for you to define your character, especially as not all choices have all options. Sometimes you have to decide between emotional or logical. But other times, you might have logical versus professional. My tentative feelings on this system are positive, as it provides a nice framework for choices.

As a side-effect, options which are purely informative are also labelled, so you can go through all those without accidentally making a true choice.

Combat

Now we get to the outstanding part of the game so far. The combat is excellent so far. Powers work well. The shooter mechanics are crisp and nice.

I'm probably going Tech/Arms, and the tech powers are interesting, and combo nicely with each other. There's a lot of powers and skill trees for RPG enthusiasts to enjoy.

Combat feels good in this game, and that's a major positive for the game.

Conclusions

When you think about it, the facial animations are probably disproportionately distracting. But I can guarantee you that it's the first thing you notice when you start playing the game. The story is very generic at the moment, but hopefully the writers hit their stride and pick it up as the game goes on. But the combat mechanics are quite fun and well done.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Issues with the Current World First Race

If you've been following the top guilds and the World First races in WoW, you'll notice that a lot of the top guilds have been calling it quits. I think the higher-than-normal burnout has two intertwined causes, and it's hard to propose solutions without understanding those causes.

First, I don't think the long hours during the race itself is an issue. The world-first guilds have always raided intensely during the first couple of weeks. Ciderhelm talked about it in his guide to Time Management way back in Vanilla/TBC. You raid intensely for two week, and then have a very relaxed schedule for the next four or five months.

The current issue facing edge guilds is that to be competitive, each raider needs multiple "finished" characters.

First, the multiple part. Edge raiders need multiple characters for split runs as well as to swap characters around to have an optimal setup. There's always been a degree of this in WoW, but the number of characters needed has steadily increased. I believe that edge raiders are now expected to have four or five characters they can switch to for progression.

Second, the "finished" part. A finished character is one which is fully geared and maximized from the previous tier. This is the major change in Legion. Before Legion, it was fairly easy to finish a character, especially if you were in a guild which regularly cleared Mythics.

But Legion increased the amount of work to finish a character significantly. Now you need Best-in-Slot legendaries, maximized Artifact Power, and Warforged/Titanforged gear to be truly finished.

Now, this is actually great for those of us who play one main character and aren't at the cutting edge. There's always the chance of upgrading. Maybe you'll get a titanforged piece, or a new Legendary. I've only got 40-something points in my Artifact Weapon, so more AP is always useful.

However, for the edge raider, this is murderous. Where Ciderhelm once touted a intense two weeks, then a relaxed schedule for 4 months, the modern edge raider spends all her time trying to finish her character, chain-running content for AP and the chance of titanforged gear.  And due to the first requirement of needing multiple characters, she has to do this on four or five characters. No wonder they are burning out.

The big problem, of course, is that the longer path to finishing a character is excellent and enjoyable for the vast majority of the population, even if it is burning out the edge raiders.

In the next post, we will look at potential solutions.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Virtual Core Set for Magic: the Gathering's Standard Format

Background

Magic: the Gathering has several constructed formats. The flagship format is called Standard, and basically consists of all sets released in the last couple of years. As new sets are released, older sets rotate out, so the pool of cards from which to build decks changes regularly.

Lately, the Standard environment has had a lot of issues. Earlier this year, WotC banned 3 cards, the first time cards have been banned in around five years. And even after that, the resulting environment is not perceived as healthy, and there are calls to ban more cards.

Proposal

Right now, WotC really has only one way to affect the Standard environment: banning cards. New sets in the pipeline have already been finalized. Changes made to sets in production won't show up for over a year.

I propose that WotC add a new Virtual Core Set for Standard. This would be a list of already printed cards from older sets which are now legal in the current Standard.  I envision a starting list of about 50 cards, 10 from each color, which are "staples" of traditional Magic. The Core Set would not be cards that you build a deck around, but be mostly utility and sideboard cards to help weaker decks challenge the stronger ones.  Not the stars of your deck, but role-players. "Engine" cards, finishers, and "flashy" cards would come from the current sets in print.

A candidate staple for the Virtual Core Set

Advantages:

  • This would provide a second, less-drastic mechanism for tuning Standard. Instead of the only option being to ban or not ban cards, WotC could first try adding or removing cards from the Virtual Core Set. If Standard needs a little more graveyard hate, rotate in some more graveyard hate.
  • This would allow WotC to add cards to Standard without affecting Limited formats. This allows WotC not to have to worry damaging a good Limited environment by reprinting a strong card meant for Standard.
  • Allows WotC more breathing room when it comes to reprints. Sometimes reprints are necessary, but don't fit in the set thematically, or have to replace a new card. This avoids that issue.
  • Cheap. There used to be a Core Set made up mostly of reprints. But since most players already had the cards, and the Core Set was at a lower power level, it didn't sell well. A simple list of allowed cards has a minimal cost, in contrast. There should be a healthy supply of most cards that would be in the Virtual Core Set from previous sets.
  • I think a Core Set would provide a stronger "baseline" for Magic in Standard. There would always be a little counter-magic, a little burn, etc. that adds additional support for the main themes from the released sets.
Disadvantages:
  • Standard legality becomes more complex. Right now, it's just cards in the legal sets minus a handful of banned cards. Standard would become cards in the legal sets plus cards in the Virtual Core Set minus the banned cards. Depending on how often the Virtual Core Set changes, keeping track of whether a deck is legal or not would become harder for more casual players.
  • Virtual Core Set cards might oppress or crowd out new cards. For example, let's say Counterspell was added to the Virtual Core Set. Obviously it would displace any counters from the new set, and may end up killing whole potential strategies.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Updates

Well, last month was pretty much a bust as far as blogging goes. Hopefully, I will do better this month.

World of Warcraft

My guild slowly moving through Heroic Nighthold. I think we're 5/10 now. Our biggest enemy, really, is time. We're a 2-nights-a-week guild, but we spend the first night on Normal Nighthold. So we don't really get a lot of time in on the current boss. But so far it's been steady progress, killing a new boss each week.

I have my 4-piece set bonus, so I'm pretty set.

Otherwise, not a lot is going on in WoW. I leveled a Demon Hunter to max and finished that story line. It was perfectly fine, but there's just something about the demon hunter mechanics that I can't warm to. I'm not really sure what it is, but I just don't enjoy demon hunter combat. It may very well be that demon hunters are too mobile for me.

FFXIV

I haven't been playing FFXIV a lot. I've done the latest 24-mans, and they're fun. I still have one 8-man trial to go.

Otherwise, I've been kind of down on FFXIV. I play a tank in that game, but I don't like large pulls or speed runs. However, the community seems to expect speed runs in all content lately, and the dps have taken to pulling for me.

It's an interesting contrast to WoW. In WoW, the "go-go-go" crowd is segregated into Mythic+ dungeons. I haven't done a single Mythic+, and any regular mythics or heroics I do are nice and relaxing.

But in FFXIV, you're expected to do a wide variety of roulettes each day. On the one hand this is good because it keeps queues hopping, and sends veteran players back to help newbies. On the other hand, that means the veteran playstyles dominate all facets of the game. Tanks are expected to speed run and pull big. Healers are expected to switch to cleric stance and do damage.

There's really no room to play in a more relaxing fashion if you prefer.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Return to Karazhan: Nightbane

Last week, my guild group that has been running Karazhan semi-regularly unlocked and beat the "secret" boss, Nightbane.

The unlocking mechanism is basically a speed run. There are 6 or so crystals scattered around Karazhan, and you have about 6 minutes to reach each crystal in turn. It's mostly trash, as you only have to kill 3 bosses (Opera, Moroes, and Curator). We even use invisibility potions at one point to skip a couple packs of particularly nasty trash.

It was pretty fun, though I am not super-thrilled with Blizzard making speed runs the only challenge in lower content. I haven't done a single Mythic+ yet, for example. But I don't know. So far, speed runs have proven to be the only enduring challenge in low level content. And perhaps having speed runs filters the "go-go-go" crowd out of regular dungeons.

Nightbane itself is a pretty straightforward fight. It's very similar to the old Nightbane with a dragon, skeletons, and charred earth zones on the ground.

The one really interesting mechanic is Ignite Soul. Ignite Soul is a debuff which targets one player and lasts for 9 seconds. On expiry, damage equal to the target's current health is dealt to the other players in the group. So the player with Ignite Soul has to stand in the charred earth and get her health down to 25% or so when the buff expires. So the healer has to watch them, avoid healing them (but don't let them die), and heal everyone else up high enough to take the coming hit.

It's a neat mechanic. The fight overall is quite decent. It even has Nightbane fearing everyone, just like the old fight. Though this time, I don't think anyone can break it early consistently. Heh, that brings up memories. I think the fear was what I complained about in the original fight.

Nightbane also drops a mount. The loot mechanism is interesting. If no one in the group has already killed Nightbane this week, it's a 100% drop for one of the players who don't have the mount. Otherwise the chance of the mount dropping decreases by 20% for each person who has already done Kara. So it's really aimed at people who run Kara once a week in a steady group, but allows a group of 4 who already have the mount to guarantee the mount for the 5th person.

All in all, Nightbane was an good fight. It's a bit unfortunate that it's locked behind a speed run, but the run is pretty doable with a decent group. It's actually a decent challenge for a stable 5-man group that doesn't raid.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Critique of the Story of Pillars of Eternity

This post contains major spoilers for Pillars of Eternity. Seriously, I will be discussing the ending and everything.

I bought Pillars of Eternity in March, 2015, almost two years ago. Yesterday, I finally finished the game. This post is an examination of what I see as the flaws of the story.

I should note that Pillars is a very good game, especially if you like old school Baldur's Gate-style isometric party RPGs. In particular, you may find the elements which kept me from finishing the game attractive to you.

A World With No Triumphs

My first mistake with Pillars is that I like to play paladins. And Pillars is not a paladin-friendly game. The world is somewhat dark, and the game delights in giving you quests and situations where there are no good choices, and you're usually picking the least-bad choice.

For example, in Act II you have to ally with a faction. One faction is city knights, who are arbitrarily discriminatory (basically, your soul has to come from someone who fought for the right side in the country's war of independence), and who are creating an army of clockwork knights which they are going to imbue with human souls. The other factions are a bunch of thugs and vigilantes who you generally encounter beating up people you need to rescue, and the local crime syndicate.

I didn't want to ally with any of them, but the game forced me to choose one.

But the thing is that every quest in the game is like this. There are no unambiguous wins to be found, and no one who is likable, worth saving, or even worth caring about. Or if there are such people, you won't be able to help them in any way.

Event the one good thing you do in Act I, getting rid of the cruel local lord, is arbitrarily overwritten in Act III. The lord comes back from the dead and slaughters the people you left in charge. I was like, "Really?"

I found my reaction to this to be very similar to my reaction to books like Game of Thrones. After a point, I stopped caring, and ended up dropping the game for months at a time. This position, though, is a personal one. Lots of people like grim works, and if you like this kind of work, you'll enjoy Pillars. I don't care for overly hopeless works, and as a result I didn't like much of Pillars.

Ultimate Truths That Clash

The basic structure of Pillars goes something like this:
  1. In Act I, you learn that children in Dyrwood are being born without souls, called Waidwen's Legacy. It may be natural, it may be the result of the death of a god's avatar fifteen years earlier, or it may be the work of soul mages called animancers.
  2. In Act II, you learn that Waidwen's Legacy is being caused by a conspiracy called the Leaden Key, using ancient Engwithan technology. They are acting partially to discredit and end the study of animancy.
  3. In Act III, you learn that this is really a power-play among the gods, with one of them trying to usurp the other's powers. The different factions of the gods have different philosophies on how the problem is to be solved, and you have to ally with one of them.
  4. In Act IV, you learn that the gods were created long ago by the Engwithans, because they learned that there were no gods, and they feared what people unbound by faith would do.
The major problem of the last two Acts is that the two "layers" of knowledge don't really work with each other. For example, the final choice you make at the end of the game is based on the truths of Layer III, on the gods and their philosophies, and not on Layer IV.

The main villain, Thaos, is working to empower one of the gods with the stolen souls. This works with Layer III. But in Layer IV, Thaos is revealed to be the one originally created all the gods back in ancient times. It's never really explained why he now works to shatter his original vision. The Layer IV truth of Thaos is opposed to the Layer III truth of Thaos.

As well, if you have a game with a pantheon, there are two ways you can go. The gods can be an active, literal presence in the game. Or they can be mysterious beings that may or may not exist. Act III chooses one path, and Act IV chooses a different path. The whole question of whether the gods are real or not is somewhat pointless when your character has communicated with them, obtained their blessing, and has observed that they have dominion over their portfolios.

I think Pillars of Eternity would have been far better off if they had chosen one of the two final truths and discarded the other. Either the divine power-play, or the truth about the creation of the gods, could have worked. But both together simply don't. They conflict and create holes in each other.

A final point is that the last layer of truth in particular is very heavy on the "tell instead of showing". You find out about it mainly through conversations of a past life where the conflict between telling the truth about the gods or spreading their worship was more central. This adds to a basic feeling of unimportance around the last truth.

Conclusions

Pillars of Eternity has an interesting story. However, it was a little too dark, hopeless and "unlikeable" for me. As well, it has one "reveal" too many. The last reveal, rather than enhancing the story as whole, undermines and weakens the previous reveal, as well as the motivations and actions of the main villain.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Exchange of Material

I've been thinking about Magic: the Gathering lately. One thing I've been musing about is the complexity of "fat" creatures, that is creatures with toughness greater than power.

For reference, creatures in Magic have power and toughness. When one creature blocks a second creature, they deal damage equal to their power. If that damage is higher than the toughness, the creature dies. Two important differences between Magic and Hearthstone. First, in Magic the defender chooses which creatures block (or not block) which attacker. Second, damage done to a creature is wiped away at end of turn. It isn't permanent like in Hearthstone.

In any case, consider a very simple board. Jane has a 2/2, and Sally has a 2/2. Jane attacks with her 2/2. Now Sally has a choice: she can either take 2 damage, or block with her 2/2. If she blocks, both creatures will die. It will be an even exchange of material.

A similar situation happens if Sally has two 2/2 creatures. She can block, but will still exchange material.

However, let's consider what happens if all the creatures are 2/3 creatures. In the first scenario, if Jane attacks, Sally simply blocks and both creatures bounce off each other. There's possibility of a simple exchange here.

In the second scenario, it becomes foolish for Jane to attack. Sally would block with both 2/3 creatures, and kill Jane's creature without losing one of her own.

Simply adding that extra point of toughness makes exchanges less likely. But exchanges are good for the game. They simplify the game state. The high toughness creatures lead to a more "stalled" board, which becomes more and more complicated.

High power doesn't display this. If the creatures where 3/2, exchanges would be just as prevalent.

I think it's good for PvP games to be able to exchange resources. Otherwise, the board state builds and builds, until one side gets a sudden advantage and overruns the other side.

I think healing plays a similar role in MMOs, especially PvP. It prevents the exchange of material until a certain threshold is met. For example, Eve PvP might be more interesting without logistics ships. An outnumbered force could attempt to come out slightly ahead in each exchange of material.

But with healers, you either have enough firepower to get past the healing, or you don't. Or you have enough crowd control to disrupt the healing long enough to kill something.

In any case, evenly exchanging material in PvP is good. Anything that makes exchanging material harder, even as small as a single point of toughness, should be considered very carefully.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Buff Spells and Abilities

A couple weeks ago, a Blizzard CM posted the following in response to a forum thread:
Why do you feel blessings and auras are fun? I can understand that it feels "nice" to help other players with buff spells, but, in general, they were just niche spells that actually didn't contribute much to meaningful game play (Seals are a different story, I guess). I never thought to myself on my Pally that turning on Retribution or Devotion Aura was going to result in an exciting change besides some passive armor or thorns-like-damage reflect.
Buff spells are fun, but articulating exactly why is a bit of a challenge. They're not difficult decisions, which leads to the claim of "not meaningful gameplay." But not everything needs to be a difficult decision. The mere presence of a buff spell means that before the group even starts playing, people in the group are better off. Buff spells enhance the idea that the characters are stronger together.

It's also part of the ritual before starting something. Food, flask, buff up and then pull. When all decisions and actions occur in combat, I think something is lost. These actions in preparing for combat are important too.

I think buff spells might be most important to healer players. They're a concrete manifestation of your support. You buff your allies, you buff random people. I liked joining a group with a druid and seeing Mark of the Wild go up. I liked having Blessings and Auras.

Now, buff spells do have a lot of problems. The presence of buff spells mean that you want specific classes, rather than letting people play what they want. If the class was balanced around the buff spell, then the best plan was to only take one person of that class, and not multiples.

(Though, it seems that without buff spells, play what you want basically becomes "take the top parsing specs", so I'm not sure that we've truly gained anything.)

Blizzard tried to get around that in previous expansions by handing buffs out to every class. But that kind of watered down the whole concept. So in Legion, they've pretty much removed buff spells, or made them "interesting". Of course, it turned out that the new Blessing of Might was too interesting for Retribution paladins to handle, and so it had to be removed.

A Design for Class Buffs

Here's what I would do to reintroduce buffs:
  • Three buff types - 5% damage increase, 5% damage reduction, 5% healing taken/output (numbers are subject to tuning)
  • One cast buffs the raid. 
  • Buffs of the same type don't stack.
  • Healing specs get the buffs
  • Holy/Disc Priest - Prayer of Fortitude (healing)
  • Resto Druid - Mark of the Wild (tanking)
  • Mistweaver Monk - White Tiger statue (damage)
  • Holy Paladin - Blessing of Might (damage), Wisdom (healing), Kings (tanking). Only one blessing at a time.
  • Resto Shaman - Totems: Windfury (damage), Strength of Earth (tanking), Mana Tide (healing). Only one totem at a time.
Basically, your healer brings a buff to the group, an iconic spell for most of the classes (I'm not entirely sure what monks had). Paladins and shamans, being the traditional buff classes, have versatility. A full raid heal team with several classes will bring all 3 buffs. The specs and classes who I think most enjoy buffing get them back, without overloading everyone with complexity, or needing a spreadsheet to fill out a raid.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Updates

Since I don't seem to be doing well at actually writing posts, here's a round-up of what I've been doing gaming-wise.

World of Warcraft

My paladin has gotten the 35th point in The Silver Hand, and I'm at 34 in The Ashbringer. I've done all the Suramar quests, and am pretty much ready for 7.2.

I have a Horde warrior at 110, and have finished the class order campaign. However, I haven't done much else with it.  I also levelled a Demon Hunter to 110, but that character hasn't even finished the class order campaign.

FFXIV

This is pretty much dormant, waiting for the next patch. The interesting thing here is that I haven't done the second 24-man raid, or the 2nd and 3rd 8-man raid. I play a tank, and I seem to have concluded that those pieces of content are too complicated for me, for some reason.

Diablo 3

I started a Demon Hunter in Season 9. Really, I did this because my 70 Crusader has the same name as my current 70 Demon Hunter, and I want a Demon Hunter with a different name. I'm not sure if this character will make it to 70, though.

Pillars of Eternity

I made it to Act 3, and I just can't seem to push myself further. Maybe I'll spin this out into a full post.

The basic problem I'm having is that I don't like anyone in this world, so I have no real impulse to keep going. It's kind of like my attitude to Game of Thrones: if you kill all the characters I care about, I'm left with a book full of characters I don't care about, and that rapidly becomes a book I stop reading.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Diablo's 20th Anniversary

It's the 20th anniversary of the release of Diablo, and the various Blizzard games are celebrating. These are the events I've tried.

World of Warcraft

In WoW, there are Treasure Goblins which spawn in the Broken Isles, in the Dalaran Sewers, or at the end of instances. Kill them fast enough, and you can take a portal to the Cow Level, which has a lot of diabolical tauren, cows, and the Cow King. Killing the Cow King gives you a toy.

I recommend going for a Treasure Goblin in the Dalaran Sewers. You can pick up a guard from the guard captain for 5g, and that will keep you out of PvP (for 5 minutes or so). There are usually lots of players in the sewers, making it easier to kill the Goblin.

You can only loot the Cow King once, no matter how many times you kill him. However, you can loot multiple Treasure Goblins. Apparently the Cow King is a mess on PvP servers, but that's what you get for rolling PvP.

All in all, a short, fun event with some Diablo-themed loot.

Diablo 3

Diablo 3 has a small area and dungeon which mimics the original Diablo. There's a filter making all the graphics look old-school and pixelated, though all the mechanics are still Diablo 3. There's 16 levels in total, and four old bosses.

I recommend that you start with a new level 1 character in an Adventure game on Normal. You can portal right near the entrance to the new area and enter it without killing anything. Completing the dungeon on normal with that character gives you an achievement and pet. Plus it gives you the enjoyment of low level gearing and gaining levels and abilities.

One thing I wasn't sure about was if you were allowed to go back to town before finishing and still get the achievement. I ended up just dropping all the blue and yellow items that I didn't equip.

I did it with a new Crusader, and it was pretty easy. If you're thorough, you can get almost all the seasonal achievements in that one run. The only one that takes multiple runs is the achievement to kill all the unique mini-bosses.

This was a lot of fun, and the old-school graphics did a good job at invoking nostalgia. And at the same time subtly pointing out that normal D3 is a pretty good looking game.