Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Mage Tower Challenges

I finally completed the Mage Tower for my Holy Paladin, buoyed mostly by the capped Artifact Power.

Actually, having the Mage Tower be active full-time was probably the biggest benefit. Previously, whenever I thought about doing the Mage Tower, it was never up. And when it was up, I didn't feel like doing it.

In any case, here's the Holy Paladin skin:


The healer challenge was pretty interesting. The hardest part was probably the section where you had to heal the ghosts, and it was challenging mostly because it didn't use the UI. So it felt like a completely new skill you had to learn.

The final section was rather annoying. The Ignite Soul mechanic, where your allies take damage equal to your health when the debuff expires, is supremely nerve-wracking. Especially when I realized--in the middle of the fight--that I was wearing [Highfather's Machination], which heals you when you drop below 50%:

"Alright, I'm standing in the bad, my health is dropping. I'm not healing myself. I'm down to 30%, good. Debuff expires in 3, 2, ... Wait,why did my health just jump back over 50%? OMG, everyone's dying! Heal, heal, heal!"

Ah well, it was a fun experience.

I also did the Retribution Paladin Mage Tower, fighting Sigryn's council. I think this challenge must have been very sensitive to gear level, and got significantly easier with better gear. With the level of gear I had, it was fairly straightforward once you understood the mechanics. Here's the Ret Paladin skin:


I also tried the tank challenge. It looks fairly doable. My problem is that everything is going fine, and then I get punted off the edge. That happened a couple of times, and I gave up for the night.

I think the Mage Tower Challenges were an excellent part of Legion, and I have mad respect for those people who completed them when they first came out. I also like the way Blizzard let increasing iLevel decrease the difficulty while still preserving a lot of the challenge. You still have to do mechanics correctly, even if you have more room for error. The Dev team did an outstanding job here.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

WoW Classic Dev Watercooler

A couple of weeks ago, Blizzard released a Dev Watercooler for WoW Classic, talking about where the project is and some decisions that have been made.

Some thoughts:

  • Blizzard has decided on 1.12 as the baseline version for WoW Classic. As much as we will all regret missing out on the days of 5 minute paladin blessings, 1.12 is a good choice. Far enough in so that a lot of the really wonky stuff got ironed out, but still with the classic feel. I understand that most of the private servers use 1.12 as well, so it is in line with community expectations.
  • The team has the 1.12 code and 1.12 data. Important, because it means that team doesn't have to recreate it from old memories.
  • The team has a 1.12 build running internally. This means that they have a "source of truth" for the project. No matter what path they go, they can always compare their latest version with the 1.12 build and know that they are faithfully recreating the classic feel.
  • Blizzard has decided to go with the modern WoW engine, but use the 1.12 data. This is mostly good, because the modern WoW engine has all the bugfixes and is tuned for today's computers. For example, the 1.12 was 32-bit, if I recall correctly, but modern WoW is 64-bit. The only issue might be if the older data trips the modern anti-cheat measures.
There's also some details on the different formats of data. Old WoW data is apparently "de-normalized" in many ways, probably for peformance. Meanwhile modern WoW uses a more normalized form.

All in all, WoW Classic appears to be pretty far along. I wonder if Blizzard will surprise us with an early 2019 release.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

This post contains significant spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story recently. It was enjoyable enough, but somewhat mediocre. However, it wasn't that far away from being a good movie.

The main actor playing the young Solo was good. He's not Harrison Ford, but it's hard to fault him for not being on that level. Danny Glover's Lando Calrissian was excellent. The other characters were okay. The new droid introduced was terrible, though.

The very beginning, Solo as Oliver Twist, was laughable. It was an interesting decision to portray young Solo as a good guy with heart of gold, who becomes disillusioned and jaded. I am not certain it was the correct decision, though. A more amoral Han, in line with his character at the start of A New Hope, might have been more interesting.

There are lots of good scenes, the sabacc games in particular were great. There were even a few good quiet scenes, which is a great rarity in action movies these days. However, I think there were a touch too many action sequences. A more rigorous edit that cut 15 minutes or so all over the place, would probably have improved the movie greatly.

One problem all the new Star Wars films have is their villains. They just aren't good villains at all. I'm not sure why Disney has such a problem writing villains in these films. SWTOR has a lot of issues, but their villains are leagues ahead of the modern movies.

The villain of this movie, Dryden Vos, is actually a great character, right up until you realize that he never actually did anything villainous. (Well, outside of shanking that governor. But then it's an Imperial governor, so maybe shanking him was a good deed.)

Seriously, Solo and his crew screw up the first job, and he gives them a second chance. He even loans them his best lieutenant to help them out. Then at the end, Solo betrays him first. Vos is really only a bad guy because the marauder chief turns out to be a young girl with a sob story. Solo allies with her despite the fact that she is responsible for the deaths of two of his first crew. It's such a blatant violation of "show, don't tell" that it seriously damages the movie.

I think the movie also suffers a bit from trying to set up a sequel. I think Han's girlfriend, Qi'ra, would have been handled in a better manner if there had been no hope of a second movie. It felt like they were trying too hard to keep her being a good person, even though it is necessary for her to betray Han to complete his character arc.

So that's what I thought of Solo. It's decent enough, with several good moments. But you can see the places where it could have been improved, and thus it's somewhat disappointing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Redemption in Knights of the Eternal Throne

This post contains significant spoilers for Star Wars: The Old Republic: Knights of the Eternal Throne.

In Knights of the Eternal Throne, I found the way Bioware handled redemption to be very intriguing.

There are two main villains in the Zakuul saga: Arcann and Vaylin. Both are children of Valkorion and your enemies for most of the game. Arcann is Emperor of Zakuul first, until the player defeats him at the end of Knights of the Fallen Empire, at which point Vaylin becomes Empress.

In KotET, Arcann can be redeemed, brought back to the Light and becomes a companion for the player if the player desires. Vaylin cannot. However, Vaylin arguably is more worthy of being redeemed.

Here is Arcann's trailer:


And here is Vaylin's trailer:


Arcann chooses to become a villain. He makes his choice in anger and rage, but it's still his choice. Vaylin, on the other hand, is conditioned into villainy as a child. She doesn't really have a choice. Even though she probably commits greater evils.

KotET goes to significant length to lay this out for the player, including an excellent chapter on Nathema where it goes into detail about Vaylin's imprisonment on Nathema, and the experiments conducted on her there.

Yet in the end, Vaylin cannot be redeemed. This lends a small sense of unfairness to Arcann's redemption. He is perhaps less deserving than Vaylin, but gets a better end.

I'm not saying this is a negative for KotET. Quite the opposite. It was an excellent move on Bioware's part. It adds a touch of bittersweet-ness to the ending, makes it not quite so perfect and shiny. In fact, I even found myself slightly regretting redeeming Arcann because of that unfairness.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Leveling Dungeons are Fun Again!

The last time I dipped into leveling dungeons in WoW, it was a terrible experience. People in heirloom gear completely overpowered the instance, making it the zergiest of zergs. You didn't even have enough time to hand in quests.

In the leveling revamp of the last patch, heirlooms were reined in. They're still quite good, especially with the experience bonus, but they're comparable to dungeon blues.

Low level dungeons are actually a great deal of fun now. I've even rolled a newbie tank just to do instances. It's not excessively difficult, but the game rewards steady killing of group by group. Sometimes you can handle two groups, but it can be a bit stressful.

I healed a Stratholme run and we wiped a couple times due to accidentally pulling extra packs. The group even spontaneously started using crowd control to make life easier!

If you haven't tried a low-level instance in a while, I strongly recommend giving them a shot. Create an Allied Race character, and you'll start at level 20, making you eligible for instances right away. Queue times are pretty good, too. I'm seeing around 8 minutes for a DPS, 1-2 minutes for a healer, and instantaneous for a tank, of course.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Reconciling Vitiate and Valkorion

The main flaw of SWTOR's Knights of the Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne storyline is that Valkorion, the Emperor of Zakuul, turns out to be same entity as Vitiate, the Sith Emperor. This despite the fact that they have quite different personalities and contradictory goals.

The thing though, is that it almost works. It's almost convincing. I think that Bioware had taken a slightly different tack, the story would have worked much better.

First, have an expansion where Vitiate is defeated once and for all. Or if a full expansion is too much, a patch where Vitiate is banished or locked away, after the Ziost patch. As part of the story, have the player be aided by a mysterious Knight of Zakuul, maybe even Senya.

Then have KotFE happen much like it did. Only Valkorion is not Vitiate, but a Force spirit like Vitiate. Have it turn out that Vitiate possessed Tenebrae on Nathema. Having Valkorion be different than Vitiate, but knowing about him, gives Valkorion an excuse for hiding Zakuul. He was hiding Zakuul from Vitiate, but as soon as Vitiate is out of the picture, Valkorion makes his move.

In all other aspects, the story can remain much the same. I think that one change, simply having Valkorion be like Vitiate, but a different entity who was observing Vitiate, makes KotFE and KotET much stronger and more logical.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void


I finally finished StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void. I bought it a long time ago, but got distracted and never actually started the game until a month or so ago.

I pretty much just played though the campaign on Casual difficulty, just to see the story. So the missions were pretty easy for the most part. Though the final mission of the Epilogue gave me a bit of trouble, because I completely forgot how the Zerg worked.

I really like how the basic building mechanics vary between the three races, and reinforce the style of that race as well as the gameplay. From the very first second of gameplay, that makes playing each race a different experience. An outstanding example of top-down game mechanic design.

The story was quite good. I didn't realize how much I just wanted something triumphant and heroic, and Legacy of the Void delivered in spades. Artanis was a paragon, but Blizzard did a really good job keeping him admirable. I think a lot of it had to do with how they portrayed him as an inspiring leader, making his subordinates greater, rather than having him do things himself.

I think Warcraft could stand to take a look at what Starcraft II did here. Though part of it may be that the player is playing as Artanis, rather than a separate character.

I was also reminded of the Mass Effect series. Like Mass Effect 3, Legacy of the Void is the capstone for a seminal series of games. But where ME3 stumbled (to put it politely) at the finish line, Legacy of the Void stuck the landing. Mostly, I think, by avoiding the temptation to be clever. Instead Blizzard delivered a solid, satisfying ending for one of the greatest game series of all time.