Monday, April 30, 2012

[Eve Online] A Weekend in Jita

Jita. The largest trading hub in Eve Online.  You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

At least, that's the case if you go by the local chat. Honestly, this was worse than Barrens chat, with multiple people spamming macros of repeated chat, ascii graphics, scams, and all other sorts of foolishness.

Like many others in Eve, I heard about the Goons attack on Jita this weekend and thought that I would go see it for myself. I'm just flying a Catalyst destroyer, so I figured that even if I died, I could replace my ship easily.

There were a lot of people in Jita, about 2000 or so. But nothing much seemed to be happening. Maybe I play at a different time than when all the events go down. There were a lot of ships flying around, and occasionally CONCORD (the NPC police) would blow someone up. I thought I would try and join the action, and targeted someone who was a yellow skull to me. But when I went to fire, I got a warning saying that CONCORD would attack me, so I didn't fire. I guess yellow isn't bad.

All in all, my time in Jita was pretty boring. I did like watching a fleet of about 30 Hurricanes set up some sort of interdiction net around the gate to the Perimeter system. That looked kind of cool.

But ultimately, after a couple hours in wandering around Jita, I got bored and went back to my usual mission-running systems.

After that, I thought I would make a mining alt. But when I started the alt, the game informed me that I could only learn skills on one character at a time. I wonder what the point of having multiple characters on a single account is with that restriction. Is it worth losing a month or so of skill time on your main to skill up an alt? It seems like I could just spend that month (or less because I already know some skills) and learn those mining skills on my main.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

[TERA] Trials of a Knight-Errant: Miniskirt Edition

I was rather bored this weekend, so I decided to have another shot at TERA.  The thing about TERA is that I expect so little from it that the game is actually a great deal of fun. This time I chose to roll a character on the Role-Playing server, under the theory that the innuendo in general chat would at least be in proper English.

(As a complete aside, I rather wish there were Normal servers, but with the Roleplaying restrictions on names, chat, etc. A 'Polite' server ruleset, as it were. I have no interest in roleplaying, but I rather like being on a server with people who can write in full sentences, and no Arthasloldk in sight. But the roleplayers must get pretty annoyed that "their" server is overrun with people who don't roleplay at all.)

In any case, I rolled a female human Lancer, which is a lance-and-shield tank. Yeah, the first rule of TERA is not to question the logic behind anything, but just go with the flow. The lance telescopes somehow, automatically extending to full length when you enter combat. As expected, this leads to interesting commentary in general chat.

For some reason, TERA to me is symbolized by the following story. The female Lancer is very scantily-clad, which includes a miniskirt as part of her (theoretically heavy) metal armor. But as my female readers can probably attest, a miniskirt does not really go well with riding a horse. So what does any logical knight-errant do? That's right, she rides sidesaddle:

Coriel the Lancer, with mount. Note the telescoping lance on her back.
Somehow, this is just so perfectly TERA to me. Perfectly reasonable thinking, but from completely crazy starting points.

I'll talk more about tanking in a later post, because it's quite interesting, and quite possibly the perfect blend of tanking mechanics, of what Ghostcrawler calls "active mitigation".

Honestly, if you can get past the skimpy clothing, and the race that looks like little girls (who now wear shorts instead of tiny dresses), TERA is quite a fun and engrossing game, with some really intriguing mechanics and subsystems.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bonuses for Mixed Gender Groups

Because I'm a fool, I'm going to comment on a gender-relations issue. One would think I would know better by now.

Syp at Biobreak finds an interesting idea from the developers of Prime World:

Prime World has an optional gender bonus: a shield which will automatically deploy if the health of a nearby player of the opposite gender falls below a certain level. This shield is cheap, is in the default talent set for all characters, and is designed to encourage players of opposite genders to fight together. Teams are thus more effective if they are composed of both male and female players. In addition, this bonus helps encourage beginning female players, who feel more helpful when fighting in a mixed group.

All the commenters on the post are pretty appalled at this notion. But is it really that bad of an idea?

Now, maybe the stated rationale for the move--helping beginning female players--is weak. Though maybe it isn't. In the reverse situation, a lot of men would be loath to attempt something that would make them look foolish or incompetent in front of women. Making that situation less likely might indeed make some beginning female gamers more willing to take a chance on a group.

Apart from that, there is a better reason to promote mixed gender groups. One of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the Internet is that it allows like-minded individuals to find each other and form communities which reinforce each other. A lot of the time this is good. After all, most of us gamers get to participate in a far larger gaming community than we could have in real life.

But sometimes this is bad. There is a portion of the male gaming audience which is very misogynistic. The Internet allows them to find each other, and form all-male sub-communities that reinforce that misogyny, sub-communities which provide validation in the face of wider community disapproval.

A mechanic like the the one above pushes against the formation of deviant sub-communities. Mixed gender groups are mechanically optimal, and thus mixed-gender groups are more likely to form. I think it is harder to retain prejudice against someone when you're playing on the same team as they are. When the rest of your smaller sub-community values them as well.

Basically, if you have a poor opinion of women, and if you never play with women, I would think that you are more likely retain that poor opinion. Playing with good female team-mates forces one to readjust that opinion to match reality.

Another aspect to this situation is that women are often invisible in MMOs. Because the majority of players are men, and a lot of men play female characters, it becomes very easy to assume that every player you meet is male in real life. (What does GIRL stand for? Guy In Real Life.) A lot of women like this invisibility. They don't get hit on, or made uncomfortable, or in any way treated differently.

But there is a price for this invisibility. First, if everyone who meets a good female player assumes she is male, their prejudices can go unchallenged. Additionally, female players seem a lot rarer than they are in reality. If in every random 5-man group, one or two players were identifiably female, a female player would cease to be a novelty, and would be more normal.

Second, by choosing to be invisible, good female players cede defining the image of female players to those who are willing to publicly identify as female in-game. This often means the female players who are willing to trade on their feminity to get material concessions from male players, or to excuse poor play. Those women get to define female gamers, to the detriment of the larger female population.

You see much the same phenomenon with young players. There are a lot of teenage players who are competent, solid players. But they are invisible, and glide by on the default assumption of maturity. You only see the teenagers who are immature and cause drama. Thus all teenagers get tarred by the same brush, and many guilds institute age minimums.

A mechanic like the one proposed by Prime Worlds above might actually have positive effects on the game community as a whole. It nudges or pushes the players towards forming mixed-gender sub-communities as that is optimal mechanically. This makes it harder for misogynistic self-reinforcing sub-communities to form. It pushes women out of a comfortable invisibility, and forces male players to acknowledge them as female and as a significant portion of the community. The community definition of female gamers is more likely to match reality, rather than an unfortunate stereotype.

Between these two aspects, such a gender-based mechanic might actually foster a stronger, better community, despite the initial reaction of many people.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

[WoW] Goblin Starting Zone

I don't really like the Goblin starting zone that was introduced in Cataclysm.

To me, the goblin backstory is "over-determined". For all the other races in WoW, your background before the starting zone is left very blank. You could be almost anything or anyone. But the goblin zone gives you a very defined place in goblin society. You have a job, a history, friends, and even a girlfriend or boyfriend.

It seems too pushy for an MMO. It might have been fine for a single-player game, but it seems really out of place in an MMO. I like having my character start out as a blank slate.

I think a better idea for the Goblin starting zone would have been to play out a twist.  When the goblins escape Kezan and their ship gets blown up, have a "dream fade" in to the next section. You know, one of those wiggly fades that indicates what came before was a dream. Then have all the NPCs treat you as more of a no-name goblin, like all the other starting zones.

So the goblin experience of Kezan becomes a dream or fantasy experience, which accounts for the over-the-top nature of that zone. This makes the true reality of events more obscure, and more in line with all the other starting experiences.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Community and Lobby-Like Gaming

In a comment to the previous post, Milady asks:
I was wondering what would you think about switching from an MMO to a game such as Diablo. You have said that D3 plays similarly to D2, yet the latter came out many years ago, when the community had not reached the stage of persistent world population, and the social ties that you could form were not as strong as in MMOs. Many people are migrating from WoW and other MMOs into D3 - would they like this step backwards into lobby-like gaming? 
Could you play without a persistent world, without a community?
There are multiple ways of looking at this question.

First, for me at least, Diablo is closer to a single-player game than a multiplayer game. Multiplayer is fun, but the first time I play any level, it will be as a single-player. You can go at your own pace, listen to all the voice-overs, experiment with different abilities, and ensure that every single barrel on the level has been broken before moving on. I suspect that the initial play-through for the majority of people will be similar, or maybe co-op with a real-life friend.

In this view, community really doesn't mean anything for a single-player game.

Second, if you play an MMO in a transient fashion, you will find that it is very similar to lobby-like gaming. You have to join the community in order to experience that sense of community. And a lot of people don't join the community. I know that I have never done so in any MMO other than WoW.[1]

So D3 would be just as persistent as my experiences in RIFT, Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online, etc. Of course, that may be the reason I never played for more than a few months.

However, I really think that the MMO literati gravely underestimate how many people actually play in this fashion, how many people are not part of the community.  In my opinion, what we think of the community in many of these games is actually a minority of the total playerbase.

Third, even transient games have an external community consisting of the forums and websites, where people can discuss the game, brag about stuff they done, and commiserate with others who have lost high-level hardcore characters. I suspect that the people who do end up playing Diablo for years tap into this community.

Fourth, the final view I can think of is that maybe Diablo becomes the equivalent of television for a lot of people. Log in, kill some monsters, get some loot, and log out. Maybe zerg a boss with some random people online. Mindless relaxation to unwind after work. In this view, community is really not important, and may even be detrimental as you don't really want to spend brain power and effort on that community.

Personally I don't think I could play Diablo for as long as I played WoW without the persistent world and community. But I also don't expect to play it for that long. It's a single-player game for me, with a little bit of random multiplayer after. I will probably play Diablo until the next interesting game comes along.

[1] Technically, I did join a guild in SWTOR. If I had made to the cap and started doing things with them, I might have become part of that community.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

[Diablo 3] Open Beta Impressions

Diablo 3 is, well, pretty much Diablo.

Gameplay is pretty much the exact same as the previous version. About the only new element is monsters sometimes drop health globes. It's an interesting mechanic because it sort of shifts your relationship with health potions a little bit.

There's also no real mana potions anymore. Resources either regenerate with time, or specific attacks build resources and other attacks spend them.

A lot of stuff got streamlined. Town Portal is now an ability (with a long cast time) instead of scrolls. Items are automatically identified. You pick up gold automatically. All your characters share gold, the stash, and crafting professions.

The major area of change is how abilities are given out. I think Diablo 3 is the final nail in the coffin for talent trees, at least as far as Blizzard is concerned.

Instead you get a series of exclusive choices. I.e. you choose one of 5 primary attacks (left-mouse button), 1 of 5 secondary attacks (right-mouse button), 1 of 5 defensive abilities, etc. You can also modify each attack with different runes that alter the attack. Like the monk has a spinning kick secondary attack. The first rune adds some fire and a knockback, and the animation changes a bit.

All of these choices are unlocked as you level, and changing your spec up is painless. I'm generally a fan of the series of exclusive choices idiom. I think the total possible number of combinations is just as large as with talent trees, and the total number of viable combinations is much larger.

There's also some interesting innovations in multiplayer. For example, loot is generated separately for each player, so there's no ninja'ing.

It's interesting to look at D3 in light of future MMOs, and think about what will get carried forward. I think the individual player loot is one element that will show up in future MMOs. Indeed, Looking For Raid is going to work that way in Pandaria. As well, many elements are shared across your characters, including gold, your bank/stash, and somewhat surprisingly, your crafting progression.

As for classes, they're pretty straightforward. The witch doctor is a bit weird though. I'm not sure what class I will play. Normally I just go with the knight/paladin archetype, but D3 doesn't have one. Mechanically, the armored melee fighter is the barbarian, but it just doesn't feel the same. I was thinking about the Demon Hunter, but like Spinks, I'm not thrilled with the high heels. Boots would have been just as sexy, and far less stupid. But otherwise, the Demon Hunter looks good, so I'll probably end up going with that.

In the end, this is Diablo. It looks, feels, sounds, and plays like Diablo. It has the classic Blizzard polish, attention to detail, and excellent performance on even somewhat older systems.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Guilds for New Players

Syncaine of Hardcore Casual asks, "what excuse do [new] people have for not joining EVE University?"

That echos a lot of advice that Eve Online players have been giving me. In many ways, Syncaine's question is aimed squarely at me, as I'm in the exact position he's asking about. So here is my attempt to give a serious answer to that question.

The thing is that I don't like leaving guilds. I will leave if it becomes necessary. But ideally, it would never become necessary. And so I really don't like joining a guild that I know I will leave. And that's the case for newbie guilds like Eve University.

This even extends into all the themepark/leveling games I've played recently (hence the reason this post is not tagged with Eve Online). My experience in WoW has led me to believe that endgame guilds are structured the way they are for a reason, because that is the structure that is most conducive to success.

As a result, I really don't like joining all these leveling guilds that dream of one day raiding. I've seen guilds that tread that path, and it never seems to work out. I just don't have faith that a random guild will navigate the transition successfully. So to me there are three choices:

1. Join a leveling guild and try to raid - almost never works out, getting that critical mass of players willing to commit to raiding is hard for an adhoc group.

2. Join a leveling guild and then leave for a raiding guild at max level - I think this is unfair to the leaders of the leveling guild. They're trying to raid, and that's hard enough to learn, without people abandoning them

3. Level unguilded and then join a raiding guild - The least-worst option. But leveling is very lonely.

The other aspect is that I think it's important that I contribute to the guild's goals. Joining a guild should be a two-way street. The guild helps me, and I help the guild.

Guilds which are explicitly aimed at new players are all one-sided relationships. It's all take and no give on the part of the new player. And that feels less like a guild and more like charity. It may not be fashionable anymore, but I do have my pride.

These the two aspects of a newbie guild that give me pause: the fact that I know I will have to leave; and the fact that I think the guild-player relationship is overly one-sided. These are the reasons that I prefer not to join guilds like Eve University or even those random guilds which whisper you in Elwynn Forest.

Friday, April 13, 2012

[SWTOR] Free Time for Level 50s

Lots of buzz about Bioware giving current subscribers with Level 50s a month of free time. The long-time subscribers without level 50s are naturally unhappy, and so we'll see how that plays out. Personally, I thought SWTOR strongly encouraged someone to get to 50 before starting alts, so I'm not sure how common the above scenario really is.

But I'm not really interested in talking about that aspect. What's more interesting to me is the timing of this offer.

Bioware is giving end-game players a month of free time right when a major, heavily-advertised patch hits. Shouldn't the patch itself be a major attraction? Shouldn't people want to stay subscribed to explore the new patch and content?

To me this is like Blizzard giving every raider a month of free time right when Dragon Soul comes out. It's nice, but it's really unnecessary. Everyone would stay subscribed for a little while to poke around in Dragon Soul and LFR.

It seems like it would be much better to give out the free time a month or two after the patch has landed. To keep people from unsubscribing, to keep them playing a bit longer.

I don't know. Maybe Bioware needs to guarantee subscription numbers for a very specific date. Maybe there's something specific in their player habits that makes this idea useful. But I just don't understand the logic behind the timing of this offer.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

[Eve Online] The Path From Here to There

By now, I think I have a reasonable handle on the Eve interface. It's not perfect, there's lots of small details that I just know there is a way to smooth out, but haven't yet figured out how to do it. For example, on the overhead display, I want to create a tab that just shows enemies. I managed to create a tab that shows stuff I can loot, and it's been an enormous help. But I just can't get one to show only enemies.

Ship-wise, I'm flying an Incursus, which seems to be the best Gallente faction frigate-class combat ship. So far, it's been pretty solid, and has allowed me to complete all the Level 1 missions I've been given.

Skill-wise, I've discovered certificates, which are groupings of related skills. Earning certificates is like a guide to what skills you should pick up. I'm going for what appears to be a standard fighter line, with things like Gunnery and Armor Tanking. Not really sure if this is the best route, but at least it's a direction.

The hardest thing in Eve, I find, is figuring out what goal to set for yourself. Or, if your goal is sufficiently advanced, figuring out the path from you to your goal, what sub-goals you need.  The truth is that I don't really know what I want to do in Eve, and as a result I log on, do a couple missions, and then log off.

This is the big advantage of the theme park games. My goal is to get to max level. My sub-goal is to get to the next level. My sub-goal below that is to finish the current quest I am on.

There is a path there that really is not present in Eve. In Eve, even questions like, "should I be moving on to a new solar system" are really hard to answer. How is this solar system really different from the one next to it?

I guess my next goal in Eve is to get and fly a cruiser-class ship. And I can see the skills I need to take to get to that point. What I don't really see is how to afford that cruiser. A level 1 mission pays like 100k ISK. The cruiser costs something like 100M ISK. Am I really to run 1000 missions? Or are there higher paying missions at some point? Or am I expected to take up mining or trading?

I find Eve is extraordinarily opaque when it comes to questions like this. But in some ways that's part of its appeal. Any answer could be the right answer.

I really feel the appeal of a corporation at this point in the game. At least in a corp, someone could give me orders and I could carry out those orders and feel that something is moving forward.

In a lot of respects, I feel the same as when I was a junior programmer. I understood the core concepts, how to program, and how to solve simple problems. What I didn't understand was the jump to large programs, and the larger architecture. That's something I really only learned while working on larger programs, getting a feel for larger systems, and seeing what older and more experienced programmers did.

Basically, it's a lot easier to be a worker bee for a little bit before striking out on your own. You learn so much more that way.

Maybe the answer is that I should join a corp. But here Eve's reputation works against it. It is a notoriously unfriendly community. That makes the whole corporation thing seem even more daunting, especially if you're just playing casually and know you will be unreliable.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

[Pandaria Beta] Cleanse and Holy Radiance

I want to take a quick look at a couple of Holy spells that are slightly changing in Pandaria: Cleanse and Holy Radiance.

Cleanse is getting an 8 second cooldown, but will dispel all magic (for Holy), poison, and disease debuffs on a target.  So basically cleansing multiple targets becomes a lot harder, and there's a window between cleanses where a debuff can do damage. But at the same time, you only need to spend one GCD to wipe away all debuffs. It's an interesting trade-off and it will be intriguing to see how this plays out.

For example, in PvE, you might have a boss toss out exactly two debuffs at the same time. Then you have to triage and pick one to cleanse and one to heal. It should make debuff management more interesting.

One nice touch is that if you Cleanse someone without any debuffs, it does not invoke the cooldown. So you can quickly recover from a Cleanse error, the error only costs you mana and a GCD. Good work by the Blizz team to put this in.

Holy Radiance has changed too. Instead of putting a short HoT on people, it instead heals the target for a certain amount, and heals people around the target for half that. If the target is healed for 1000, everyone around her is healed for 500 each.

One thing about the old version is that if you cast it twice in a row on the same target, the HoT did not stack, so you lost a lot of the healing. But if you cast it on different targets, the HoT would stack. So the optimum way to use Holy Radiance was to rotate your target. If you did not know exactly how the HoTs stacked, you might have been far less effective with your Holy Radiance.

The new version also encourages you to switch targets, but it's a lot more forgiving if you cast it on the same person.  For example, if Anna and Beth have both lost 1500 health, and you cast HR for 1000 on Anna twice, Anna is healed for 1500 (500 overheal) and Beth is healed for 1000. But if you switch targets, both are healed for 1500.  Switching targets is better, but casting twice is not as bad, you only overhealed a little bit, and not as much as you would have with the old HR. In fact, if both targets had been at lower health, you wouldn't have any wasted healing at all.

I really like the new design of Holy Radiance. It accomplishes the same goal of rotating your target as the previous version, but in a far more obvious and elegant manner. Excellent work by the class design team.

Monday, April 02, 2012

[Pandaria Beta] First Look at Holy and Retribution

This beta build is pretty buggy, so I'm just going to talk about paladin changes in broad strokes.

There's been some cleanup of the UI, our Auras are gone, and the Seals now appear in their place. Hand of Reckoning has finally been stripped of the "Hand of" part, and is just named Reckoning. It only took three years.

I only got to look at Holy and Retribution, because changing specializations is broken.

For Holy, single-target healing is more or less the same as the previous edition. The only significant difference I saw was that Cleanse now has an 8s cooldown, but dispels all relevant debuffs.

AoE-healing seems to have a lot of tweaks, but I don't think it has fundamentally changed. It still follows a Holy Radiance-Holy Shock-Light of Dawn pattern, but there are little changes. Holy Radiance currently heals the target and then does 50% of the heal to surrounding players. A bit of the healing also transfers back to the Beacon of Light target. It also causes Holy Shock to behave much the same way. Light of Dawn may no longer be a directed cone, but that might be a bug.

For Retribution, it feels much the same as previous, i.e. all the same abilities. But the Holy Power cycle has been sped up. Basically all non-finishers now produce Holy Power, so you can use Templar's Verdict essentially once every 4 GCDs. The finishers also cost exactly 3 holy power, simplifying things a little bit. I generally liked the feel of Retribution, though many posters on the forums are saying that it feels too slow. Personally, I don't see their argument, it felt like I almost always had a button to press. But I don't play Retribution a lot and am not an expert.

Retribution also got a full-blown AoE rotation, with where you can use Seal of Righteousness instead of Seal of Truth, Hammer of the Righteous instead of Crusader Strike, and Divine Storm instead of Templar's Verdict.

Hopefully I will be able to take a look at Protection in the next build.

So far, it feels like paladin specs have been cleaned up a fair bit, but no fundamental changes to the way we play.  Which I think is pretty good. I thought paladins played fairly well in Cataclysm and am happy to see that continuing on into Pandaria.