Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fake Gamers

Ophelie over at Bossy Pally has a post on the somewhat recent phenomenon of labeling people (mostly female) as "fake gamers". Penny Arcade did a comic on this a couple weeks ago as well. I wrote a comment on Ophelie's post, and thought I'd repost it here.

Heh, this topic reminds me of Ferraro, the fake female paladin from a couple years ago. She was a popular blogger and forum poster who was later revealed to be using pics of someone completely different. Kind of a pity, actually, as whoever was writing as Ferraro had some interesting points and insights. In any case, I’m pretty sure that Ferraro was a fake gamer.

Back on topic, I think a lot of the animus comes from certain male producers of secondary content like blogs and podcasts. They see female content producers zoom past them in terms of audience. These men feel that the work the women are producing is of lower quality. Thus the feel that the audience is entirely a result of being female. These men then label the women as "fake" gamers, implying that their audience is disproportionate to their skill or insight as gamers, and instead inflated by their gender.

And to bend over backwards to be fair, there is a point. A number of female bloggers/podcasters make the fact that they are female a central point in their blog/podcast identity. Think of how many female blogs use “grrl” or similar in their title. A lot of men see this as the women trading on the fact that they are female in order to attract an audience.

Personally, I think it is just that being female seems to be central to some women's identity in a way that being male just isn't for men. Male identity seems to be less about what you are, and more about what you do. This is better in some ways, and worse in others. Something like losing your job ends up cutting at the core identity for a lot of men.

In any case, I think that a lot of this issue isn't really about game players. It is really about the relationship between secondary content providers and their audience.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Pandaren Starting Zone

I recently created a pandaren monk and went through the new starting zone. Here are some thoughts and observations. There will be spoilers if you haven't done the zone.

By and large the zone is very good. It's fun, gets across a lot of the themes, and gives a small taste of what Pandaria will be like. The ballon ride is a particular high point.

However, in my mind, there is one major problem with the zone: Aysa Cloudsinger. With Aysa, Blizzard falls into the trap of "telling, not showing". Everyone comments about how amazing Aysa is, but she never actually acts amazing. I think she meditates while you kill stuff, and that's the high point of your interactions.

Whereas Ji Firepaw actually solves problems. Admittedly his solutions are a little crazy, but he is shown doing stuff. As well, Ji is never outright wrong. He's supposed to represent taking action rather than thinking about things. But the downside of taking action rapidly is that sometimes things go wrong. But this is never fully shown.

What's really weird is that Blizzard did not take the obvious route at the very end. Ji uses explosives to get rid of the ship in the turtle's side, which causes the turtle to start bleeding rapidly. This almost gets across the idea of making a bad situation worse, which is the drawback of Ji's philosophy. However, Ji is the one who thinks of using all the healers to staunch the wound.  So Ji solves one problem, creates another problem, and then solves that problem too.

I don't really understand why Aysa is not the one who comes up with the idea of using the healers. It's the logical, obvious solution to balancing out the two factions, making them equal.

Also, the way Aysa is written at the end of zone, she is very reminiscent of an unfortunate female archetype: that of the nagging wife. Honestly, for the entire last part of the zone all she does is verbally criticize Ji. She does not come up with any ideas or solutions of her own.

In some ways this male vs female dichotomy is further reinforced by the Horde/Alliance NPCs. The Horde representative is male, like Ji. The Alliance representative is female, like Aysa. So the final choice has a very strong male vs female vibe to it. And in my view, the female Alliance side comes off very badly in the comparison, being the side which didn't actually do anything useful, just complained. I think is an unintentional error on Blizzard's part.

By and large the pandaren starting zone was very good. Aysa should have just done something in the final sequence, justifying the idea that she is a competent person. Again, "show, don't tell". If you want players to think of Aysa as competent, you have to show Aysa being competent. As well, Ji should have been shown at least once as being obviously wrong. And finally, I think the genders of the Horde/Alliance NPCs should have been switched to weaken the link between gender and the dueling philosophies.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Frontiers and Force Projection

There is a debate in Eve Online circles about the role of small, independent corporations in null-sec. To wit, there really isn't one. Null-sec has come to be dominated by large empires. To move into null-sec, a small corporation must sacrifice their independence, and generally bow down to one of the major powers.

I think this issue is not specific to Eve Online. Almost every sandbox game ends up with a similar problem. People want to be out on the frontier, to stake a claim, and watch that claim grow. It's very much the myth of the American West. But inevitably, these games run out of frontier.

But Eve has hundreds of star systems. At first glance, it seems that surely a frontier can still exist. The problem in Eve is that it is too easy for an empire to project force anywhere in its claimed space. If at any given time, the empire can bring its entire force to bear without repercussions, then warfare essentially becomes about who is larger. And the empire will always win that battle against a small corporation.

Let's say you have a large null-sec empire. A small corporation takes one star on the border. What happens? The empire drops its entire fleet on that star. There is generally no real downside to doing that.

But imagine there was a downside. Let's say it takes two weeks of real-time travel to get from the heart of an empire to its border.  Now, the empire cannot send the entire fleet, because if another empire invades, it would take the fleet over a month to get back. Instead the empire has to send just enough ships to deal with the small corp. And the resulting battle might actually be won by the smaller corp, if the empire miscalculates.

The empire has to be able to be stretched "too thin" for smaller corporations to be able to exist alongside it. But so long as it is easy to project force, so long as distance does not really matter, the empire cannot be stretched too thin.

To be honest, I don't think this problem can be solved without significant travel time that lasts longer than a single play session. Significant travel time introduces logistics, supply lines and military strategy, as opposed to just military tactics. But significant travel time is highly inconvenient. I really doubt that anyone really wants to take two weeks or more to reach their destination.

But without significant travel time, it becomes a numbers game, and then a game of covert actions to influence that numbers game.

Frontiers cannot exist without meaningful distance. If you want your game to have a frontier, the price is the inconvenience of distance. And I don't think that players will accept that price.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Ilum: Genius or Madness?

I can't decide if the new PvP area in Ilum in The Old Republic is genius or madness. All I know is that it is pretty hilarious.

To recap, the latest patch introduced a new area with dailies on Ilum. All rewards are cosmetic, aside from the fact that you unlock new bosses at some point. I believe the bosses drop gear from existing raids. There are 6 dailies in total, 4 in the PvE area, and 2 in the PvP area. So the PvP dailies are reasonably optional.

(At least as far as I am concerned. But there are a lot of people who disagree with me.)

The PvP area is interesting. It's a free-for-all zone, so you can attack your own faction. Only 4-person groups are permitted in the area. Larger raids get disbanded automatically.

The PvP objects respawn somewhat slowly. So there is significant advantage to killing other groups, because you remove your competition, and get your dailies done faster. As well, it gives the PvP groups points over which to fight.

It's really funny because people in chat are trying to get the factions to work together, and groups are instead randomly slaughtering each other.  Area chat is hilarious.The Imperial side is convinced that the Republic is working together as a team, while the Imperials are attacking each other. Ironically, this seems very true to form, and totally in-character for each faction. I blame the Sith.

(Though the Republic side is probably saying the same thing.)

The design of the new area is quite well thought out, in my opinion. Free-for-all keeps things balanced on servers with unbalanced factions. Small teams only keeps the feel of multiple forces running around, prevents raids from stomping everyone, and gives tanks and healers a place in combat. The quest objects and respawn timers give people something to fight over, rather than simply ganking. Plus, it's only 2 of 6 quests, so it is pretty optional if you absolutely hate PvP.

The final interesting note is that this is a temporary event, though it will be repeated in the future. By making it temporary, it means that when the event appears again, everyone will flock to it again. This keeps the numbers high and many people involved, which is essential for good PvP.

All in all, this looks like a winner for the SWTOR dev team.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Overlapping Offensive Cooldowns

Should offensive cooldowns stack?

Right now, there is a common complaint in Retribution Paladin circles that Ret burst dps is too high, while Ret sustained dps is too low. One of the major reasons this happens is that Ret can combine at least 3 strong offensive cooldowns together (and then trinkets, potions, etc.). There is a short 20-second window when the burst dps is very high indeed.

As a general rule of thumb, you always want to stack offensive cooldowns together. This is because subsequent cooldowns magnify the effect of the previous cooldowns.

As a simple example, say you do a baseline of 100 dps. Cooldown A increases damage by 20% for 10s, and Cooldown B increases damage by 30% for 10s.  If we take a 20s window, we have:

Situation A: Stacking Cooldowns
[10s * 100 d/s * 1.20 * 1.30] + [10s * 100 d/s] = 1560 d + 1000 d = 2560 damage
Situation B: Non-Overlapping Cooldowns

[10s * 100 d/s * 1.30] + [10s * 100 d/s * 1.20] = 1300 d + 1200 d = 2500 damage
Stacking cooldowns gives more damage.[1]  Notice that stacking cooldowns also greatly increases the burst. Situation A has a window where the player is doing 156 dps, while in Situation B, the player maxes out at 130 dps. The "burst" dps is much closer to baseline dps.

Burst damage has always been a problem in WoW, especially in PvP. Blizzard is constantly making adjustments to reduce burst. As well, it generally contributes to an "unfun" feeling of play. 10% of the time, you're a god. 90% of the time, you're weak. An opposing player that runs into that 10% buzzsaw is going to be very unhappy. On the other hand, getting stunned or otherwise prevented from acting during your 10% window is devastating to you.

Perhaps a blanket rule that an offensive cooldown cannot be used while another offensive cooldown is active would go a long way to smoothing out gameplay. This would include things like on-use trinkets and potions, which you can control, but not uncontrollable procs. You'd probably also have to exempt Bloodlust, since trying to coordinate the entire raid would probably be a little excessive. And admittedly, saving one of your cooldowns for Bloodlust is a little bit of good gameplay.

It would also ease designing offensive cooldowns. The designers wouldn't have to worry about the combination of cooldowns, they would only need to consider base rotation/damage plus cooldown. Adding new offensive cooldowns, or shortening existing cooldown timers would become less dangerous, and more predictable, than it is currently.

All in all, I think a blanket rule preventing offensive cooldowns from overlapping would go a long way to smoothing out some of the gameplay and balance problems in WoW.

1. Excepting edge cases that generally involve hitting the haste hard cap with Bloodlust.