Sunday, December 14, 2014

Should Team Games Prevent Trash Talk?

These days, most competitive team games don't allow you to talk to the opposing team. Instead, you can really only communicate with your own team. The idea here is to prevent trash talk and make the game more civil.

But has this strategy really worked?

Sure, it has cut down on cross-team incivility, but sometimes it feels like that was replaced by incivility from fellow team members.

I think it feels a lot worse when people on your own team are berating you. There's a sense of betrayal when that happens. If the trash talk was coming from the other team, well, they're the enemy.

In fact, it might even be more helpful for team cohesiveness to be verbally attacked by the opposing team. It would strengthen the sense of "us versus them", instead of the enemy being faceless, robot-like opponents.

Obviously, the best case scenario would be for there to be no uncivil behavior at all. But from our common experience of random groups in online competitive play, that seems like an unrealistic fantasy. Given a choice between being taunted by the opposing team or being berated by a fellow teammate, I'd rather take the taunting.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Shadow of Revan

This post may contain spoilers for Shadow of Revan. I will try to avoid major ones though.

The Old Republic launched it's latest expansion, Shadow of Revan, last week. I've gone through the main story on my Imperial Agent. The servers were a little rocky and buggy, but overall the mechanical experience was decent. I did like the single player flashpoints that were part of the leveling experience.

However, the story was terrible.

First, the basic plot felt like something from the low level planets. Infiltrate a pirate gang, make nice with some natives. Really? The player is a Dark Council member, the Emperor's Wrath, the ghost of Intelligence, the Warden of the Jedi Order. And we're doing random pirate shenanigans? Then the standard "track down the big bad and kill him before he unleashes his superweapon" story to finish things.

It felt like a Chapter One story, not a Chapter Five.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that all the consequences are off-screen. In theory, Revan's plot has bad effects. In practice, they're happening somewhere out in space, while you are wandering around a paradise.

Compare to Makeb where the Imps are stealing valuable material from the Hutts, who are worthy villains. Then stabilizing and saving an entire planet. Meanwhile the consequences of not saving the planet are being visually demonstrated as the planet starts shaking apart with the ground quakes.

As well, every conversation in Shadow of Revan felt off to me. It was like they were each missing one or two lines, and overly abbreviated. The lines themselves were terribly cliche, especially anything Theron Shan said. To be honest, Darth Marr was the only character to redeem himself. I just don't think the dialogue was up to Bioware's previous standards.

The ending, while in theory should be exciting, didn't make much sense. The main villain was hoping for Event X to occur, and he has a plan to deal with it. Event X occurs anyways. The main villain does not execute his plan for Event X for no real reason that I could see.

Overall, I would hope that Shadow of Revan is an aberration for the TOR team, and that their future efforts return to their previous standards.

But then again, maybe the fate of F2P games is a spiral downwards as quality and effort slowly bleeds from real content to the fluff that people spend Cartel Coins on.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

10th Anniversary Molten Core

I ran the new version of Molten Core the other day. It was a lot of fun and rather nostalgic.

It was pretty funny how similar it was to MC back in the day. Herding 40 people, with about 20 being competent and carrying the rest. Wiping on trash. Pulling trash and bosses at the same time. Begging the mages to remove curses.

Our first wipe happened because we pulled 2 corehound packs together, and the got caught in an eternal resurrection cycle. Otherwise it wasn't too bad, I don't think there was any more outright wipes, though there were a lot of deaths.

The bosses were fairly easy, probably easier than the trash. It was good to see Ragnaros again. Plus you get a helm and a mount.

All in all, the new Molten Core was a fun experience. It's worth gettting to i615 and trying it out before Blizzard removes it.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Nagrand, Initial Dungeons


So the triumphant conclusion to the Alliance storyline was a cutscene featuring two orcs duking it out. Outstanding, Blizzard.

Aside from that Nagrand was a pretty good zone. Lots of varied quests. I'm not so sure that having several final bosses run away with "See you in Highmaul" was the best of ideas. But it does tie the first raid to the zone.

Initial Dungeons

I did Silver Proving Grounds and my first heroic dungeon. It was the Grim Depot with the railway. A clever dungeon design, really.

However, something just feels wrong with WoW's small group content. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but it hasn't felt right for a couple of expansions now.

I think it has to do with how the exact makeup of the trash doesn't matter anymore. It feels like every trash pack is the same--even if they are made up of different mobs--and is dealt with the same tactics.

Also, as a healer, it feels like I am lacking in control. Which is an odd thing to say, because healers never really controlled anything. But I can't really describe it any better than that.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Level 100, Spires of Arak

Level 100

I finally reached level 100 with Coriel. I also upgraded my garrison to level 3, though it took all my gold. I haven't touched the max level dungeons yet. My plan is to finish questing in Nagrand and then see what I want to do.

I did do the Bronze Proving Ground for healing to get a decent healing weapon. It was fairly easy. I haven't tried Silver yet.  I did also craft my first i640 epic: a healing ring. The secondary stats are terrible, but whatever. I'll fix it after I craft the i640 necklace.

Spires of Arak

I liked this zone a fair bit. It did seem like a little bit of a side-trip, focusing on the Arrakoa instead of the Iron Horde. But I liked the mythology behind the Arrakoa gods, and also the legend of Terrok. As well, the followers of the Raven Mother were hilarious.

I disliked the goblin quests, but that's because I dislike WoW's whole take on goblins that appeared in Cataclysm. It's too anachronistic for my tastes. Gnomes are kind of similar, but they lean more to the steampunk vibe instead of modern corporatism.

I'm also not super-thrilled at what they did with Admiral Taylor. It feels like Blizzard saw the various complaints that Nazgrim was killed while Taylor was left alive, so they decided to balance it in the most ham-handed manner possible. At least Nazgrim got a good death, and sparked a fair bit of discussion and debate. Meanwhile Taylor gets killed off-screen by some random warlock. (And then becomes a ghost follower? Really?)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Cutscenes and Characters

I'm currently playing three story-based MMOs: WoW, SWTOR, and FFXIV. I've noticed one major difference between WoW and the two other games. In WoW, a lot of the time the NPCs dominate or overshadow the player in the story.  Take the intro to Warlords of Draenor, or as I like to call it, the Khadgar Show.

There is no real equivalent to anything like that in TOR or FFXIV. WoW wasn't always be like this, too. The NPCs really only came into prominence in Wrath and later expansions.

My theory is that it has to do with how each game handles cutscenes. In TOR and FFXIV, cutscenes are done within the game engine, and the player character is always in the scene. That allows TOR and FFXIV to make the player character the focus of the cutscene. Even in FFXIV, when two NPCs are talking to each other, the camera often cuts to the player character to get a reaction shot.

Doing this ensures that the player character is the center of storyline [1], and is not overshadowed by NPCs.

In WoW, though, the player character is not in the cutscenes. I'm not sure if this a deliberate choice, a limitation of the engine, or because the cutscenes are pre-rendered. But because the player character is not in the cutscene, an NPC must become the focal point. Thus all the final, pivotal moments in WoW are rapidly becoming the province of NPCs. Tirion and Arthas. Thrall and the Dragon Aspects at the end of Dragon Soul. Vol'jin and Varian at Ogrimmar. Compare that to endings of the class stories in TOR.

To be honest, I find WoW's practice here dissatisfying.

In some ways, I think Blizzard learned the wrong lesson from the Wrathgate. That was the first major use of an in-game cutscene. Despite the player not being in the cutscene, it was a huge success. But I think the Wrathgate was an exception to the general rule. The Wrathgate was a tragedy, and as such the player's role was witness, not participant. That is what made that cutscene work.

But in every other event after that, the player is a central participant, and should have equal billing with the NPCs. Instead the cutscenes, and then the game lore, diminishes the player's role.

This didn't happen in Vanilla and TBC, mostly because there were no cutscenes and everything was done in game. Take The Great Masquerade, for instance. If that event had been implemented in modern WoW, I think it would have been a cutscene focusing on Bolvar and Windsor. The player would be "offscreen". Because that option wasn't available, it was implemented in game, and the player was just as much a part of the event as the NPCs.

1. Well, maybe not in FFXIV's Hildibrand questlines. There the player's role is not so much main character as it is horrified spectator.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Talador, Leveling Dungeons, Tarren Mill vs Southshore


A welcome return to form after Gorgorond. This was a solid zone with some interesting quests and lore. It was very nice to see the contrast between WoD and TBC here. I'm up to level 98 now.

Heh, about a year ago I asked what happened to the Alliance paladins? It seemed to me that the Alliance story had lost a lot of its identity when the major paladins dropped out of sight during Wrath. This expansion we got a new Alliance paladin in Yrel, and the story picks back up. Coincidence? I think not.

Leveling Dungeons

I've done the first three leveling dungeons as Holy. They're okay. Short, quick dungeons with reasonably interesting bosses.

However, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that--as a healer--I strongly dislike active mitigation. My job is to keep the tank up, and active mitigation makes healing a weaker (lower-skill) tank a much harder job than it really should be. All three tanks seemed very squishy to me, and I had to chain cooldowns constantly to keep them up.

You could tell it was playstyle, because after a wipe the tank suddenly becomes much easier to heal. Why they didn't play like that in the first place, or why they are chain-pulling like crazy, I don't know. It's incredibly annoying to see a tank's health falling rapidly and to know it's because the tank is playing improperly rather than anything I'm doing.

Honestly, I think Blizz is cruising for a Cataclysm-style unhappiness effect, at least from the healer perspective. The environment doesn't have the one-shots of Cataclysm, but I think healing will turn out to be unreasonably hard for random groups, and will need to be buffed. How they're going to do that without damaging the balance of pre-made groups will be interesting.

Tarren Mill vs Southshore

This is a temporary battleground for the 10th Anniversary. I've played it twice, and I think it's a lot of fun. It's very simple, just a straightforward zerg between the two towns. No unique mechanics to learn, which is very refreshing. I've won once, and lost once. The loss was very close, about 5 points.

The first time I played as Retribution, because I didn't realize you can't switch specs inside the battleground. Melee is at a bit of a disadvantage in these types of zergs, but I tried to pick off stragglers and run in, do some damage and throw a stun, and run and back out. The second time I healed.

I really like the catch-up mechanic. You start as a Private when you respawn, and every 10 kills you rank up and get a tiny buff to damage and healing. However, killing high ranked players nets you more points. The team in the lead usually has more higher-ranked players. This makes it easier for the team behind to catch up to them. It's an elegant, natural system. It's also a very nice nod to the old PvP ranks from Vanilla.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"This is EVE" Trailer

CCP put out a new trailer for Eve Online, and it is really good. Warning: this trailer has a lot of swearing.

As befits a sandbox game, the focus is squarely on the players. I really like that they included a middle section with non-fleet activities like transporting goods, industry, and mining.

It's interesting that CCP did not shy away from the strong language and Eve vocabulary. The focus is on the emotions behind the voices, and not really what the voices are saying. There is no real effort to make the video "accessible". I think this was a good call, as it adds to the authenticity of the video.

It's notable that the usually fractious Eve community absolutely adores this video. As well, it seems to be working for CCP, as new character creation in Eve is up significantly.

I also think this trailer taps into a truth: that we play MMOs over other games to play with other people. Lately it feels like the genre has forgotten that, that it is more important to "mediate" between players. That the default is that playing with others will be a bad experience, and all the new dev effort goes into systems to mitigate that bad experience. This trailer takes a bold stance against that line of thought, unabashedly declaring that playing with other people is fun.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Gorgrond Questing, Garrisons, Sub Numbers

Gorgrond Questing

I was out of town for most of last week, so I have not advanced much farther. I did finish Gorgrond. I'm not sure what I think about choosing one quest path based on which outpost you build. It felt like you only got half the story.

I chose the Sparring Ring and ended up being sent to the north. Overall, Gorgrond was decent but not really memorable. I did like seeing alternate-Rexxar and his animals.


I really like Garrisons. I like them a lot more than housing in other games. For me, I really like the way different parts of the Garrison work together to produce things. Housing very often feels so static me. You place a chair and then you are done. But with the garrison, the mine produces ore which feeds the jewelcrafter. Lumber gets turned into resources. NPCs are dispatched on various tasks. It's a lot more SimCity that normal housing, and I think that makes it more attractive.

I also really like how Blizzard brought back old NPCs to help populate your garrison. The best was seeing Maybell Maclure-Stonefield and Tommy Joe Stonefield. I've mentioned before that I love that quest from Elywnn Forest, and it was really well done to see the results.

Sub Numbers

So WoW is back up to 10 million subscriptions in time for the 10th anniversary. There's some pleasing symmetry to that. Also, no wonder the servers melted.

I wonder how much of a role Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar played in this. I think there were a fair number of players who were burned by both those games, and they may have retreated back to WoW, the comfortable, dependable game.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Warlords of Draenor Launch

Warlords of Draenor was released on Thursday. As is tradition, the servers promptly melted. Thursday and Friday were pretty bad. The few times I was able to get in, the lag was so bad it was nigh-unplayable. However, the server maintenance Saturday morning seems to fixed most issues. Aside from queues on the high population servers, everything seems to be going well now.

All in all, it just emphasizes that one should never take time off work for the launch of an online game.

My paladin, Coriel, is level 93 now, and I've done the first Alliance zone: Shadowmoon Valley. It was a pretty good zone with a decent story. I like the mix of quest-driven gameplay combined with more open "Timeless Isle"-style activities like rare monsters and treasures. It's the best of both worlds, and it's always exciting to see a skull pop up on your mini-map.

I must admit that I was caught off guard by how central the garrison is to the leveling experience. It's well done, and I think does a very good job of establishing your character's role in the expansion. I rather like how all the NPCs call you "Commander".

I really have no idea what I'm doing with the garrison, but hopefully it's working out. I like recruiting new people and sending them on missions. It's simple but very well done.

I also like the randomness as applied to quest rewards. It's neat that green quest reward can randomly upgrade to blue or purple. It's a very good use of randomness.

A very bad use of randomness, on the other hand, is the Draenor Perks system. My first Draenor Perk for Retribution was Improved Forbearance. As I predicted, this was very disappointing.

All in all, WoD is going reasonably well. Blizzard says that demand was much higher than they anticipated. Which I suppose is good for them. However, I can't help but think that the lesson that will be drawn is that "SAVAGE! Orcs, orcs, orcs!" is what the players want. And maybe that is what we want.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mists of Pandaria, in Review

Overall, I thought Mists was a pretty good expansion. It never quite pushed over the line into "great" though. This was one expansion that I really did not do a lot in. I never raided seriously, and I ended up leaving WoW at the beginning of this year.

The Good:
  • Initial questing - I thought all the initial zones were very well done, and quite interesting.
  • The Pandaren - Everyone expected a joke race, but the pandaren turned out surprising well.
  • Patch 5.1 - I really like the way the story was woven into the dailies in this patch.
  • Thunder Isle - Another good zone.
  • All Raid Instances - All the raids were pretty well done, I thought. There were no tiers that were distinctly disliked.
  • Flexible Raiding - An outstanding innovation.
  • Legendary Questline - I really liked this questline, and how it worked over the course of the expansion.
  • The Farm - I really enjoyed building the farm and those series of quests and dailies.
The Mushy Middle:
  • Dailies - I know that a lot of people would put this in the bad column, but I think that is excessive. The dailies were very optional, in my mind, and were fairly fun to do if you did a faction at a time or so.
  • The Isle of Time - I didn't really like this zone, but it seemed like a lot of other people did. I just prefer zones with stories, rather than random wandering around. Basically, if I wanted self-directed gameplay, I'd play Eve or another sandbox.
The Bad:
  • Pacing - Each of the early patches should have had an extra month, and the last patch should have been a couple of months shorter. The length of time Siege of Ogrimmar was current was way too long.
  • Spoiling the End Boss - I think the biggest mistake Blizzard made was revealing Garrosh as the end boss before the expansion even began. They should have done their best to keep it a secret until 5.3/5.4. I think revealing it so early caused people to overlook Pandaria itself, instead focusing on the ultimate end.
  • Excessive Focus on the Horde- Orcs, trolls, orcs. This expansion was too focused on the Horde side. There is a whole other faction, Blizzard.
There was a lot of stuff I didn't try this expansion. I didn't do any challenge mode dungeons, or any raiding other than LFR. Basically, I was super casual. But the Pandaria core of the expansion was lots of fun. However, the pacing and later focus on the Horde weakened the overall experience.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Jedi Consular Done!

This post contains significant spoilers for the Jedi Consular storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I finished the Jedi Consular story yesterday. I played as a Light Side female Jedi Shadow tank. I used the 12x promotion, so I leveled strictly by class missions.

When you see most rankings of the TOR stories, the Consular story is often near the bottom. I disagree with this. So far, the Consular story is my favorite Republic story. It's not as good as the Agent story, but it's solidly in that second tier with the Jedi Knight and Sith Warrior.

However, I can see why some people don't like the Consular story. It's focused inwards, on the Jedi and the Republic. It's all about healing and diplomacy. I actually liked it a great deal. I really liked the hints of history in Chapter One. And then slowly building your alliance and armies in Chapters Two and Three. Corellia was very well done too, as you got to see the payoff of your recruitment efforts.

As well, I do not think think that going Dark Side works with this story. It really feels that you have to be Light Side, to unironically embrace the Jedi code and philosophy.

There are other minor criticisms. Tharan Cedrax is an excellent character, but his "Did you know I'm a pacifist?" is excessively annoying. I know he's supposed to come off as somewhat annoying, but there is a line, and the overuse of that phrase crossed it.

The main villain was very predictable. But even so it was very well done, with a nice twist.

The story also does suffer slightly from early choices constraining the future. It would have been nice for some of the characters from Chapter One, especially Yuon Parr, to come back in later chapters. But because killing them is a Dark Side option, they don't appear again, even though you saved them if Light Side.

Those are pretty minor criticisms. Overall, I thought it was an excellent story. However, I also think that it is not the best story to do first. It works really well as a later story, because of the perspective it provides on some of the later planets, especially Belsavis and Voss.

Force Persuade

If Obi-wan Kenobi had not been the one to use Force Persuade in the first movie, do you think it would have been considered a Dark Side action?

After all, you're literally overriding the mind and will of your target, forcing them to obey you. If you had put a shock collar on them and forced them to obey by threatening shocks, there would be no doubt that is Dark Side. Is Force Persuade so much better?

Maybe Force Persuade is really a Dark Side action. That makes for an interesting perspective on Obi-wan, with him being a little more "gray" than he first appears.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Thoughts on Overwatch

At Blizzcon, Blizzard unveiled their latest game: Overwatch. This also marks the first new world from Blizzard in 15+ years. Thank God.

So here are some quick thoughts on Overwatch:
  • The key element to take away from Blizzard's new world is that in the future, the moon will be populated by intelligent gorillas.

  • This new world is not dark. It's fun, vibrant, maybe even joyful and hopeful. I think that's a very good approach to the FPS scene. Most FPS games are on the darker side. Even "funny" FPS games like Duke Nukem, Serious Sam, and Team Fortress 2 go for more cynical, mordant humor.

  • I really like how Blizzard announces games with hands-on playable machines available. It's a really strong gesture of faith in their product. It's not empty hype or vaporware. Instead the hype is being generated by the regular people who actually got to play the game.

  • As to actual mechanics, things look good. People seem to like the responsiveness and control, which are vital to the genre. The different heroes seem to play differently and synergize well. There also looks to be a hero for most every playstyle.

  • The single most important design decision might be the mechanic Blizzard chose to leave out: an XP bar. Almost every game these days has some form of leveling or progression, or earning money to purchase weapons. Blizzard just goes old-school and eschews progression entirely.

  • Will I play Overwatch? I will try it out. However, the last couple of first-person games I played made me motion-sick, so I've avoided those types of games for the last few years.
All in all, Overwatch looks like an impressive addition to the Blizzard family.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sith Warrior Done!

This post contains significant spoilers for the Sith Warrior storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I finished the Sith Warrior storyline today. I did it without the class XP buff, so the old way with side missions. I played a female Juggernaut (tank) and went pure Light Side (except for two choices).

Overall, the story was excellent. The female voice actor, Natasha Little, was outstanding with a very rich, strong voice that perfectly matched the character. I also thought the story was very even, more than the other stories I've played. Each chapter was solid. It also was a superb story for the Warrior, demonstrating the rise through the ranks of the Sith.

The main villain was also good, and killing him at the very end (one of my two Dark Side choices) was very satisfying.

I also like the way Light Side worked in this story. Not so much a good person exactly, but more like a pure knight of the Empire, not spending time and effort on unnecessary and petty cruelties. I was wondering how the Emperor would react to a Light Side warrior, as you become his Wrath. But it was portrayed perfectly, as the Emperor simply did not care, was beyond the petty LS/DS conflicts of this galaxy.

The companions were mostly good. I especially liked the rivalry and contrast between Quinn, the smooth calculating officer, and Pierce, the rough frontline soldier. I used Jaesa most of the time, though.

So far, I would rank the story second, behind the Imperial Agent. It's close behind in quality, but the Sith Warrior story is just missing that final "something" which would have pushed it over the line into brilliance.

Sex and the Sith

Because Star Wars is a PG world, sexual depravity is not present, or is glossed over. The closest it comes is having omni-present "dancers" in the cantinas and as slaves.

You know that in an adult Star Wars, the Sith would be utterly depraved. Power structures specifically elevating the powerful over the weak. A code decrying peace and elevating passion. An entire aristocracy focusing on cruelty and power. It would be the worst of human aristocracies, without even the slight mitigations of chivalry and codes of manners.

But for the most part, this is not present in game. Relationships are almost entirely consensual.

Except for the female Sith Warrior romance.

Now, I haven't finished the full story line, but the initial relationship with Quinn is textbook sexual harassment. The superior--both in terms of rank and personal power--continually propositions her subordinate. The subordinate does his best to avoid or deflect her attentions, but he cannot afford--the cost might be his life--to outright reject his superior, and his dialogue reflects that.

It's very different from the Sith Inquisitor romance, where there was clear interest from both parties.

I found it really interesting that Bioware would include a "romance" like this. I cannot decide if it was the correct thing to do or not. On the one hand, a Dark Side relationship with undertones of imposed power seems appropriate to the class. On the other hand, it's much more deviant than I expected from the game.

The romance probably becomes more mutual as the companion story line progresses, though. We'll have to see.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Learning Content

Spinks has a interesting post up about learning content in MMOs:
I feel increasingly that random group content in MMOs is an anti-learning environment. If people zone in with someone who is learning the fight, they’re likely to be disappointed because it will take longer. They don’t want to take ‘the hit’ of being part of someone else’s learning experience.
This reminds me of one of the biggest differences between Japanese and North American culture in FFXIV. FFXIV has two forms of organizing group content with strangers:
  1. Duty Finder - This is the random group finder. You sign up, and the game matches you with other people in the queue.
  2. Party Finder - The leader lists her party, desired instance, and requirements. Other people apply to join. The leader can approve or disapprove of applicants.
My understanding is that in Japan, players use the Party Finder to form "learning parties". After they learn the fight, they use the Duty Finder to do the fight quickly with other experienced players.

In North America, it's the other way around. Party Finder is the province of experienced players, who usually require a applicant to have previously completed the instance. If you're new to a fight, you generally have watch videos and then sign up for Duty Finder and try and learn the fight on the fly. Too many new players in a given Duty Finder group generally leads to an unsuccessful run. Difficult fights (Titan HM before the patches) can be very hard to successfully complete in Duty Finder.

The Japanese system seems like a better experience to me. Expectations are clearly laid out in both cases. However, it suffers from two flaws. First, it is vulnerable to "cheaters". Someone who doesn't care about social opprobrium can just sign up as a newbie to Duty Finder and hope to be carried. 

Second, it requires that people be willing to form those "learning parties". I have seen NA players try to form learning parties. Their parties never fill, and just sit half-empty in the finder for hours. My personal theory is that the Japanese approach to schooling, with formal study groups and cram schools at an early age, makes this approach a lot more natural for Japanese players.

There are ways the NA devs could forcibly shift players towards the Japanese model. For example, suppose that you had to previously complete the instance before you could sign up for it in the random group finder. That would mean that you absolutely had to use the Party Finder system for your first kill.

I am not sure if such a requirement would fly with NA players. It might work. For example, running learning parties would be an astonishing recruiting tool for established guilds. If the easy path wasn't there, maybe individuals would step and start learning parties, and thus form stronger and better networks.

But on the other hand, maybe it won't work. Maybe we want to be anonymous and not bear any responsibility towards other people. If we end up with more failed groups, so be it. We can always just try the instance again, and get a new group of people. Maybe if this was a requirement, people would just quit or roll alts when they hit that point.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dreamfall: Chapters?

The latest entry in The Longest Journey saga, Dreamfall: Chapters, was released yesterday.

I have mixed feelings about this. I absolutely loved The Longest Journey. It's on my Top 10 Games list, maybe even Top 5. But my reaction to the sequel Dreamfall was ... shall we say, strong?

So I'm really on the fence about picking this up. Not to mention that I still have a couple of other single player games I really should finish. And a Seasonal Wizard in Diablo 3 to get to 70.

Have any of you picked up Dreamfall: Chapters yet?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Women In Computer Science

This NPR story, When Women Stopped Coding, has been making the rounds in tech circles.  Its main thrust can be summed up with the following graph:

The given explanation by NPR is cultural. As they see it, computers started being marketed towards boys, driving the girls out. This is the pretty standard explanation whenever someone discusses the disparity between the sexes in computer science.

However, the data they use for the graph is essentially "percent of a percent". As you know, I loathe this type of data. So I went to see what the raw data from the National Science Foundation says:

In my view, the raw data tells a different, and perhaps more interesting, story.

Essentially, the story of computer science for both men and women is that there were two bubbles. One around the year 1980, and the other around the year 2000.[1] Which maps to what happened historically. Although women are always less represented, both curves follow somewhat similar shapes. The major difference though, is what happens around the peak of the bubble.

First, in the two or three years right before the peak, a lot more men jump into the program than women. More women enroll, but there are even more men who look to join in. Women seem a little less inclined to flock to the newly "hot" programs.

Second, and more importantly, the bust right after the peak absolutely devastates female participation in computer science. The first time, in the 1980s, female degrees drop to less than half of their high point, while male enrollment only falls by 30%. The second time is even more destructive for women. All the gains from the boom are wiped out, and female participation falls back to the steady state before the boom. Male participation drops, but again, it doesn't drop all the way back down.

My interpretation of the data is that less women participate in computer science not because of cultural reasons, but because of economic ones. My hypothesis would be that more women avoid industries that are perceived to be "unstable", or have significant economic downturns, even if the industry is lucrative during boom times.

To be fair, that's a reasonably sensible position. I was in university when the last tech bubble burst, and it was a terrible time to hunt for work. I can only imagine what a high school student is thinking when they see the obliteration of large tech companies like Nortel on the news.

[1] You choose your program roughly four years before you get your degree.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Proactive vs Reactive Stories

This post contains entirely predictable spoilers for the Sith Warrior and Sith Inquisitor stories in The Old Republic.

In both the Sith Inquisitor and Sith Warrior stories in TOR, there comes a point where your master betrays you. You survive the betrayal and ultimately defeat your master. This seems like a very traditional part of being Sith.

Except that's not quite how the Sith tradition goes. The apprentice is the one who betrays her master, not the other way around.

In the class stories, the betrayal is flipped. This is because the game cannot force the player to take action, to betray her master first. If you're playing Light Side, you might choose to be loyal. If the master forces you to take an unpalatable action, you might do it anyways if you are Dark Side.

Well, obviously the game could just not give you a choice. At point X, you betray your master, and that's that. But most players would be greatly unhappy with that.

Can a story-based game push the player into taking proactive actions? Or is the player always reacting?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Republic Makeb Thoughts

It's almost time for a new expansion in The Old Republic, so I've finally finished the Makeb story line on a Republic character. I completed it on my Jedi Knight (Sentinel).

The new GSI buff stations that boost your gear level make Makeb much easier. I once accidentally logged out in the middle of a mission far away from a station, and when I logged back in I did not have the buff. The rest of the mission was much harder. I had to switch from a dps companion to a healing companion to finish it.

It's pretty clear that the Republic story line should be done first. It comes earlier, and a lot of the mysteries are cleared up when you go through the Empire story line. The Republic story is also a lot more straightforward than the Imperial story, being a regular rescue mission. Albeit a rescue mission for an entire planet.

The only hard fight was the final battle, and that was mainly because I kept getting one-shot right at the start of the fight. Once I figured out that I had to start the attack from a different location, it went smoothly. Of course, this probably more due to the GSI buff than any skill on my part.

I would rate the Republic story lower than the Imperial story. The Imperial story was a bit stronger, the NPCs (especially Katha Niar) were more interesting, and the conclusion was stronger. Plus Darth Marr is just awesome.

I think the villains for both stories were a bit weak. For one thing, they didn't really have any personal contact with your character until the very end.

Overall, Makeb was an "okay" story. Nothing really amazing, but nothing really wrong either.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

FFXIV Expansion Announced

FFXIV announced it's new expansion, Heavensward, today.

I really like how FFXIV embraces its killer mechanic, class changing on the same character, in its trailers. Apparently that warrior started as an archer in 1.0, then switched to warrior at the end of 1.0 and start of 2.0, and now is going for dragoon.

Dollar for dollar, I think FFXIV is the best value in the MMO market today (at least for themeparks). Every 3-4 months they drop a substantial content patch.

In fact, there's one patch (2.4) scheduled for the next few weeks, and maybe even another patch (2.5) before the expansion. 2.4 has a new raid instance, multiple new dungeons, and even a new class and job (Thief and Ninja). And most importantly, more Inspector Hildebrand!

Although, this patch did produce a lot of teasing for dragoons (melee dps lancer type class, the elite warriors of Ishgard in the lore, and with a reputation for dying in fights):
Why hasn't Ishgard won the war against the dragons?  
It's because all those dragoons spend 1000 years wiping. Don't worry guys, we'll kill the dragons for you. 
{Raise}{Do you need it?}

Friday, October 17, 2014

Abilities Per GCD in FFXIV

The discussion in the previous post brought to mind how FFXIV handles abilities and GCDs, which is slightly different from the norm.

GCDs in FFXIV are longer than other games, 2.5s instead of the standard 1-1.5 seconds. However, FFXIV expects every class to hit a button each GCD in their main rotation.

For classes with instant attacks, like melee classes, this usually means that the actual attack takes up a slice of that GCD, and gives the player a small amount of time to move their character. This is important, because melee characters need to move between the back and flank of the target during the rotation.

However, classes in FFXIV also have a set of off-GCD abilities. Because of the way animations work, you can effectively use one off-GCD ability per GCD.

So each GCD can have a max of two abilities. You're guaranteed to press at least one, the main rotation ability, but only some GCDs will have the second ability used.

You could model this with two GCDs (though I suppose they technically aren't "global" anymore). Some abilities trigger GCD 1, others trigger GCD 2. There are no empty GCDs in track 1, but there are some in track 2.

I think this method is pretty good. You get into the rhythm of your main rotation, each ability coming 2.5s after the last. But there's lots of empty space to throw in cooldowns and specials. As well, you can't trigger all your cooldowns at once, but have to space them out. The biggest downside is that classes can seem very slow at early levels, where you only have track 1 abilities.

On the whole though, I do like FFXIV's approach to GCDs. I especially like the longer GCDs. It slows the game down a bit, makes it a touch more forgiving. I have never been a fan of the way Haste speeds up the game by messing with the GCD.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Player-sexual" NPCs

At the New York Cantina Event, Bioware announced that the romance arcs in the upcoming Shadows of Revan expansion will be "player-sexual". Bioware defines this as: "if you are a player no matter your gender you can romance [the non-player character]."

I disapprove of this.

Oh, I don't care if the NPC is gay or straight. If Bioware wants to include a gay NPC, that's fine by me. If the romance is heterosexual, that's fine as well.

What I object to is defining the NPC's characteristics in terms of the player. An NPC's characterization should exist independently of the PC. Otherwise, the NPC feels less like an actual character, and more like a reflection of the PC, a mere object to fulfill the player's fantasy.

As a silly example, imagine if at the beginning of the game, you were asked "What is your favorite ice cream?"  Later, you meet the love interest in the game and she goes, "My favorite ice cream is [player's favorite]." That's rather odd and narcissistic. The character should have her own opinions on ice cream.

There's a really good example of this in the Imperial Agent story line. Watcher Two is one of the main supporting characters. She is can be romanced, but only if you are playing a human male. If you're playing an alien, you get shot down. It's part of her character that--as awesome as Watcher Two is--she's an Imperial to the core, and still bound by the prejudices of her culture.

It's okay for an NPC to change in reaction to the actions taken by the player. But the change should be a reaction, driven by the existing independent personality.

Of course, we know why Bioware is choosing this path. It cuts down on the number of characters and permutations required, while still allowing everyone a romance option. But I think it makes for weaker characterization, and leads to a lesser and overly player-centric story.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Abilities Per GCD

How often should a player be hitting a button? Should the player be pressing a button every global cooldown (GCD), or is it better that some GCDs are left empty?

I've been watching forums for a while now, and it seems that the trend is for people to demand that every GCD has to be filled. But that leads to a problem with certain archetypes.

Consider 10 GCDs. Let's say that each class is designed to deal 1000 damage after 10 GCDs. If every GCD is filled, then each button press contributes an average of 100 damage.

But say you want a class that does big hits. With an ability that does 400 damage.  That means the remaining 9 buttons only do 66 damage. So you're spending button presses on many weak abilities just so you can have that one big hitter.

There are ways around this of course. For example, the small ability could boost the large ability, so a portion of that 400 damage is really attributable to the small ability.

But overall, it seems easier to design a class that doesn't use every GCD, or has abilities that cost multiple GCDs (casters, usually). If you only used 5 abilities in that 10 GCD window, your heavy hitter could do 400 damage, and the other four still do 150 damage, which is more than a class that fills each GCD.

Then the problem with empty GCDs is that filling them with anything becomes a viable means of increasing damage. The usual route is to throw in AoE abilities, like Retribution paladins did with Consecration.

SWTOR provides all classes with a very weak filler ability that does not cost resources (or even grants resources), giving the player a button to press when they have nothing better to do. I'm still not sure it's better than just having the player wait for the extra GCD.

Ultimately though, is a class with empty GCDs a viable playstyle anymore?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Patch 6.0 First Impressions

I bit the bullet and resubscribed to WoW. Here are my impressions of the new patch.

Character Models

The new character models look pretty decent. They still look a lot like the old models. The major differences I've noticed on the human female model are the eyes and the running animation. The eyes seem much bigger and brighter, more like "anime" eyes. At least you can change your face in the barbershop now.

The running animation also looks a little different than I remembered. It may just be a case of more moving parts though.

Ability Pruning

The ability pruning is pretty noticeable. I had a lot of blank buttons on my hotbars. But all the important abilities are there.

Inventory Changes

Warning! There's a new button to sort your bags. I accidentally pressed this button in my bank, and it wrecked my carefully laid out system of having specific bags for specific items.

Stat Squish

The stat squish is both noticeable, especial when you look at armor, and forgettable. The numbers seem to work, and general combat in the open world worked pretty much like normal.

Initial Warlords Questline

The new questline is pretty decent. There are some changes to the way the quest tracker works, which was surprising at first. As well, quest goals are pointed out with great detail.

Another new thing came with a quest to plant flags in certain locations. Before, you would go to that location and click a flag item in your inventory or on your quest tracker. But now there were golden outlines of the flag in the location. When you clicked on the outline, your character planted the flag. I cannot decide if this is a better or worse way to handle these types of quests.

Upper Blackrock Spire

I did the new UBRS. It's pretty short, ending at roughly where the Rend Blackhand encounter used to be. There are some nice call outs to the old UBRS. It feels incomplete, but it may just be a teaser for the full dungeon at 100.

New Healing Model

Healing-wise, I don't know. I don't think the numbers for healing are quite right at 90. For one thing, it didn't seem to make a lot of difference whether or not I used the expensive, fast heal, or the slower, cheap heal. It would also have helped a lot if the tanks had pulled slowly. The first tank pulled everything in the first room, we wiped, and then the tank left the group. Then for some reason the second tank left in the middle of the last boss fight event. Luckily we got a third tank quickly, and successfully finished the fight.

Healing is a lot weaker than it used to be, but it feels like damage still comes in at a higher rate. Or perhaps tanks have a lot more control over how much damage they take. I'd notice that the tank would take crazy damage, but then take very little when they were at low health, while I was trying to frantically heal them back up. Or with the DK tank, suddenly the tank would gain 30% of her health back, but it wasn't from one of my heals.

Basically, as a healer, it felt like the tank had more control over her health than I did. I am not sure that is a good thing for group mechanics. The bargain is that the tank controls the mobs, I as healer keep the tank up, and the dps kills the mobs. This feels like it breaks the link between healer and tank a little bit.

I guess we'll see how it works out at 100, though. I may also be wrong about why the tank's health dropped fast some of the time and slow at other times. I thought it was the tanks starting to use active mitigation more, but it may just have been random or the tank using her regular defensive cooldowns.

Monday, October 13, 2014

WoW Patch 6.0 Tonight

WoW's 6.0 patch comes out tonight with the new character models, stat squish, and class changes. There's also the pre-expansion content, including a new version of Upper Blackrock Spire.

I'm still undecided on whether to re-subscribe or not. I do kind of want to see the new content and the new changes to healing. But I'm not super-excited about it either.

What changes are you looking forward to?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Transient Group Type

More and more MMOs are attempting to incorporate open-world content into their games. However, participating in open-world content often conflicts with queuing for formal instance-based group content.

For example, in FFXIV, a dragoon signs up for a dungeon queue that will take 20 min. While waiting, the dragoon participates in FATES in the open world. But the dragoon cannot join a local group working on FATES without conflicting with the queue. This is true even though such FATE groups are very transient in nature. People join and leave such groups fairly often.

The major issue here is the nature of a formal group in most games is very rigid. Once you join a group, the entire group signs up for queues, participates in content as a unit. This type of group is a little too rigid for open-world content that is continuous and on-going, with no real defined start and end.

Consider a world PvP battle like Tarren Mill-Southshore in the old days. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to join up with a group to participate in the battle, but still be able to sign up for dungeons and battlegrounds? Your queue pops, and you simply leave the open-world group.

Essentially, we need a new, more transient group type (maybe called a skirmish?) that only exists in the world. The skirmish cannot sign up for queues, but individuals in the skirmish can do so. Maybe everyone can invite people to the skirmish, or other people can automatically join the skirmish without needing an invite. The skirmish becomes the default form of group for open-world content. The more formal "group" and raid are reserved for explicit teams, or instanced content.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Raid Mechanic Comparison: Drumuru vs Brontes

Coincidentally, both the Drumuru fight in WoW (Throne of Thunder raid) and Dread Master Brontes in SWTOR (Dread Fortress operation) share a very similar, yet unusual, mechanic. Let's compare the two implementations of this mechanic, and see which did a better job.

Both bosses have a phase where the boss stands in the center of the room and fires a beam towards the edge. The beam then sweeps around the room and players have to run around the boss, avoiding the beam. If a player is hit by the beam, the player instantly dies.

Drumuru differs by having a poisonous fog appear on the ground at the same time as the beam. There is a "path" through the fog, somewhat like being in a maze, and the players are supposed to follow that path as they move around the boss. The path opens up as the beam progresses, keeping the players in danger from the beam.

Brontes has six robots appear around the room. If the beam hits a robot, there is a massive explosion and everyone dies. So the players have to kill the robots in order, starting from the one closest to the beam and working around the room.

The biggest downside to the Drumuru version of the mechanic is that the colors chosen make seeing the path more difficult. The fog is dark purple in a dark room on a dark floor. It's a mechanic that people consistently failed on, even after several months. However, this was probably done to maintain difficulty. If the path was very easy to see, this would be a trivial phase.

The Drumuru mechanic is fairly artificial. The speed you move through the phase is restricted by the rate at which the path in the fog opens up, not by player skill.

The biggest downside to the Brontes version is that it is very much a mechanic where if one person fails and gets caught by the beam, the entire group wipes. For Drumuru, survival of the phase is independent for each player. (Thank God for that, else the fight would have been impossible in LFR.) One or two players dying doesn't affect the group getting through that phase.

The Brontes phase can be a little harsh on a melee-heavy group, since they have more running time to get from robot to robot. Drumuru had two paths, one for melee, and one for ranged.

All in all, the Brontes version of the mechanic is superior. For one thing, being able to actually see the battlefield is so much better than blindly running around in the dark. The fact that Drumuru never really saw improvement in survival rates over time (in LFR at least) is indicative that many players were simply unable to grasp the mechanic. The test of a good raid mechanic is "mastery", in that players learn the mechanic and continuously improve their skill at handling it.

The fog path is also an artificial "dancing" mechanic. Whereas killing the robots is a test of basic character skills like dps and positioning skills, while still maintaining the "threat" of the sweeping beam. The robots' health gives you a good measurement of how much you have to improve. Finally, you can see your group's improvement from week to week as you kill the robots faster and faster.

Drumuru vs Brontes is a good case study in how a single raid mechanic can be implemented in two different ways: one sucessful, and one unsucessful.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Wildstar and Tiers of Endgame

Here's another thought I had while reading about the various issues Wildstar has at endgame.

What if Wildstar had not launched with raids? And instead of the attunement being an attunement, it was an achievement? Same requirements, but what you got for it was just the achievement?

Then Wildstar could have launched raids a few months later.

To me, looking at the attunement, Wildstar essentially launched with two tiers of endgame. The attunement basically said, "Do all of Tier 1 before starting Tier 2". If Tier 2 had not existed at launch, then everyone would have taken their time playing through Tier 1. I imagine that by the time that the raids launched, many people would have effectively completed their attunements already, and would not have complained about them.

WoW generally has the same problem whenever it launches an expansion. Two tiers of endgame content are released, and everyone blitzes the first tier to get to the second one. The difference is that WoW generally shrugs when people do that, and doesn't try to prevent it.

Unfortunately, no one has really managed it yet, but it would be very nice to figure out a way that single tier of endgame can contain multiple playstyles. For example, releasing a raid and a small dungeon that both give the same level of loot, both in the same tier of endgame. If you did this, very often one of the two routes will be significantly easier, and everyone will flock to that route.

FFXIV comes close to this, having dungeon "roulettes" that can be done once per day that award the highest raid currency. But it isn't quite the same tier. And then they messed it up with the addition of Hunts.

All in all, I think launching multiple Tiers of endgame for an MMO at the same time is a mistake. Wildstar compounded that mistake by trying to explicitly force people to complete the first tier before getting access to the second tier.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

PvE Experiment With Permadeath

Another experiment I would like to see is a game with perma-death but without PvP. A purely PvE game.

I think perma-death would have interesting effects, especially on the economy. Right now, characters are walking vortexes which just continuously accrue more and more stuff. Having those accrued resources released back into the game might have positive effects on economic balance.

Perma-death also makes the risk/reward calculation more realistic, and that might result in more interesting behavior.

The reason I don't want PvP is because if the game had PvP it would be a griefer's paradise. As well, in a PvP game--especially Free-for-all PvP--if you see another player, your first instinct is to treat them as a hostile.

By default, in a PvP game other players are your enemies. In a PvE game though, maybe the default will be to treat other people as allies, not enemies. Especially with perma-death, helping someone out could become imperative.

Such a game would have to have several other design considerations. For example, some form of bounded accuracy and non-exponential power levels would make it a lot easier for people to play together. This is especially important if you have people restarting often.

I envision perma-death to be present, but difficult to actually happen. For example, perhaps the entire party needs to wiped out before perma-death kicks in. If only one person "dies", then the other people in the group can save them after the fight.

There's probably tons of design issues with such a game, but I would like to see what a PvE perma-death MMO would look like. Right now, anyone who proposes perma-death seems to automatically take it for granted that PvP will be included. Then all the sane players just go, "Nope!"

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Currently Playing

I'm blanking on what to write about today, so here's an overview of what I'm currently playing:

Star Wars: The Old Republic

TOR is my main game at the moment. I'm raiding with my Sniper, and am currently working through the Sith Warrior storyline.

I'm still debating whether to get the pre-order or not. I kind of like leveling slowly and upgrading gear piece by piece. Plus, I would like to try leveling with the new Discipline system coming in the expansion. On the other hand, I have a couple characters stuck at 50, because I don't really want to do Makeb again. With the pre-order perk, I could boost them through Makeb to 55.

Diablo 3

I'm very slowly leveling a Seasonal Wizard. She's only about 52. The goal is to get the Wizard to 70 before the season ends.

Final Fantasy XIV

I'm still subscribed to FFXIV, but I haven't been playing it a great deal. I guess I'm focusing on other games, and am waiting for Patch 2.4.


Well, I think I'm going to drop Archeage. It just isn't the game for me. There's nothing excessively wrong with it, but I just haven't gotten into the crafting and trading aspects. As well, chat is very unpleasant. Probably because it is a Eve-like PvP game, only F2P, and is attracting the same bad crowd.

Games To Play

I still have Transistor and Divinity: Orginal Sin to play. I've barely started them though. I'm also thinking about playing through Dragon Age: Orgins again, in case I decide to play Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Topics to Write About

I need to do a better job of actually noting down interesting topics I come up with during the day. Is there any topics you'd like to see me write about?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Questing and Levelling

Talking about story quests and the pre-order perk for TOR reminded me about a thought that's been bouncing around my head in the last little while:

I find that story-based quests are the best form of leveling the first time. But they are not as repeatable as a lot of other content.

To put it another way, I prefer (good) story-based quests over dungeon running on my first character. But on my second character, I prefer dungeon running over repeating story quests.

In a lot of ways, I think FFXIV did this quite well. Quests can only be done once. But once you have a class to 50, you get a 50% xp bonus when leveling other classes. So you do the story line on your first class, and then do a variety of more repeatable content on your subsequent classes.

Where TOR originally went wrong is that they underestimated the drop in enjoyment between the first and second playthroughs. The story "pillar" is both stronger and weaker than the other "pillars" in the game.

In a lot of ways, I would argue that original WoW did this better than current WoW. At launch, there were roughly 4 different paths to max level. You usually had a choice between two zones at any given time for each faction. On your first character you could do zone A. On your second character you could do zone B.

Most of the expansions though, have greatly reduced the number of paths. There's usually only two paths, one for each faction. But even both those paths have significant overlap with neutral quest givers. I wonder if this has hurt the replayability of WoW.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Shadow of Revan

Bioware unveiled the latest (real) expansion for The Old Republic today: Shadow of Revan.


SoR is a normal expansion, with a 5 level cap increase, new storyline and leveling zones, and new flashpoints and operations. As well, buying SoR automatically gets you Rise of the Hutt Cartel. It's a good idea to bundle all the expansions together.

Revan himself is interesting as a focus for the story. There are a lot of complaints of "too much Revan" in TOR, but realistically, he doesn't appear all that much. There's a handful of quests devoted to the Revanite cult at about level 15, and then about 4 flashpoints (2 Republic, 2 Empire) in the mid-30s. It's just indicative of how popular KOTOR was, and much weight Revan exerts on the Old Republic part of the Star Wars franchise.

I think this will be a good story line and am looking forward to it.


The other major news is that TOR is following in the footsteps of WoW and getting rid of the talent trees. I do like their layout showing you the upcoming abilities. As well, their utility pools are interesting. TOR has fewer pools of choices, but you can choose multiple abilities from each tier.

I think TOR is doing a better job of making sure that something happens every level, be it a discipline ability or a utility choice.

I don't know if they are keeping trainers and ability ranks. If they do, that should also contribute to making gaining power at each level obvious.

For reference, I talked about the flaws and benefits of talent trees here and here.

Pre-order Perk

The pre-order perk for subscribers is interesting. It gives you a 12x bonus to experience from class quests until the expac launch. This means that you could level a character to max solely by doing the class story line. A lot of people do not like repeating the world and side quests on each character. This avoids that and makes leveling alts much easier.

I'm not too sure I want this perk personally. I find it fun doing all the quests with a different character, and seeing the different responses tailored for each class. But there's no denying that this perk would make it easier to see the last few story lines.

This perk is an interesting spin on WoW's automatic level 90s. Because the class storyline is so important to TOR, the game can't really just boost a character to max. This is a good compromise.


All in all, the expansion looks pretty good. I am looking forward to it.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Silencing Sentries

I was musing yesterday about sentries and people guarding elements in PvP. In a movie, a PvE scenario or a stealth game, the rogue would sneak up and sap or take out the guard. The rest of the group would run by the guard, without the alarm being raised. It's an important element in making stealth viable.

This behaviour does not really exist in PvP, even world PvP. That's because as soon as the guard is sapped, she's going to raise the alarm loudly on the chat channels.

One solution could be to prevent typing in chat if you are dead or sapped. But that doesn't stop the player from raising the alarm on an out-of-game channel like Vent.

Is there a way that we can emulate the behavior of a rogue preventing a guard from sounding an alarm?

My thought is that player guards are more like video cameras, rather than real guards. Let's say you have a bank of video cameras being monitored by a central guard station. If one camera suddenly goes black, you know you have a problem where that camera is located.

The traditional movie solution here is to "loop the feed". Change what the camera is sending back to something other than reality.

Could we do something similar in an game? Give the rogue an ability to "blind" an opposing player guard. This would remove all enemies from the information given to the guard's client. The guard would literally not be able to see the enemy as long as the blind is in effect. But the guard would still be able to move around and see everything else. To the guard it would look like everything was normal. No alarm would be raised because the player has no reason to raise an alarm.

Of course, one could say that this is the same as stealth abilities, but stealth generally makes you invisible to everyone. This makes you invisible to one person, making it less game-breaking.

Would an ability like this, which deliberately filters the information given to another player, be an interesting ability?

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Pandaria in Reverse

This was an odd and rather weird concept. You have to wonder at the thought process that came up with this.

But the video actually came out fairly well. Good job, Slightly Impressive!

Friday, October 03, 2014

Jump Drives and Flying Mounts

The latest controversy in Eve Online is CCP's proposed changes to jump drives.

In Eve Online, star systems are connected to each other by stargates. Normal ships travel through the stargate network to get from one system to another. For example, to get from system A to system E, a ship might have to go through the gates connecting A to B to C to D to E. Using stargates is slow and can be dangerous, as gates are an obvious choke point where bad guys can intercept you.

Currently, larger capital ships cannot use stargates. Instead they have jump drives, which allows them to jump directly from point-to-point within a certain range. For example, a capital ship might be able to jump directly from A to E.

CCP is proposing to drastically reduce range of the jump drive, and add a "fatigue" mechanic limiting the number of consecutive jumps a ship can make. In exchange, capital ships can now use the stargates. This greatly reduces the effective range of capital ships, and makes it more likely that they can be intercepted if they are travelling long distances by stargate.

It occurs to me that the situation around jump drives is very similar to the situation in World of Warcraft around flying mounts. Both are getting nerfed for very similar reasons.

Flying mounts allow you to go directly from point A to point E. It allows you to skip over the dangers on the ground below.  The ground in WoW is roughly equivalent to the stargates in Eve. Forcing people to the ground slows them down, makes their travel path more predictable, and allows PvP opponents to force battles at specific choke points.

In both games, a form of travel ended up being too fast and too safe, leading the developers to nerf that mechanism.

It's not a completely analogous situation of course. For one thing, Eve still allows limited jumps. So a canny capital fleet might be able to evade some ambushes with good use of scouts.

Still though, it's a reminder of how games often face the same issues and problems, and come to similar solutions, even when they are as wildly divergent as WoW and Eve Online.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Existing Theorycraft or Your Own Work

Massively's Daily Grind asks
Do you do your own class or skill testing in your favorite game, or do you make use of theorycrafters and their research? 
Here's my approach to class builds and rotations:

I take a first pass on my own, making my own build and rotation. Then I go to the theorycraft sites and see how and why their optimum build differs from mine.  Usually I'm close, but I've misunderstood exactly how some abilities work. Or perhaps I miss a combination of abilities or another trick. Finally, there are some results which are just plain counter-intuitive, but fall out from the math, and get proven by parses. Seeing the "optimal" build and reasoning explains what I don't understand correctly.

Sometimes the theorycrafters value something higher than I do. For example, I tend to prefer passive abilities over active ones because I'm not good at hitting abilities perfectly, so an ability that's always on often works better for me. Fewer buttons for the win! But very good edge players often prefer the control given by the active ability, and are good enough to weave the extra button into their rotation seamlessly.

I think this approach is better than: a) not checking and unknowingly using a suboptimal layout;  or b) blindly copying whatever Elitist Jerks or the forums say. Making your own build first, and then checking for differences leads to a stronger understanding of the game as a whole.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Story Choices That Constrain the Future

This post contains spoilers for Imperial Taris in The Old Republic.

I like Thana Vesh. She's a Sith introduced in the Imperial Taris storyline, the apprentice to Darth Gravus. I find her very funny. She's like this angry Sith kitten, fluffing up her fur and pretending to be a great cat. She's terribly proud, terribly arrogant, and has a habit of getting in over her head.

She would have been an outstanding recurring character. Every couple of planets, she could pop up, engage in a battle of insults with your character, and then stride off.

However, that will never happen. At the end of Imperial Taris, the player is given the choice of killing Thana or letting her live. Because she dies in many storylines, she effectively cannot appear in future planets, even if she lives in others. At most she can send an email, or some other easy method which is easy to implement. In a lot of ways, it sort of ruins the choice of keeping Thana alive.

Essentially, it's too much work to add Thana in only some of the stories. It's much easier to introduce a new character that works for everyone.

Because budgets are limited, every time a game offers a choice, the future is constrained by the most restrictive option. This is especially true for life-or-death choices. If one choice leads to character dying, that character is effectively gone from the story, even for the players who choose to let that character live.

This isn't always true, of course, but it requires double the work to reuse a character that may have died. Thus it is something that will be used sparingly, if at all. I believe some of the class storylines reuse characters that were spared death.

I think storyline-based games would be better off to avoid such extreme choices, especially for notable characters. Offering players the option of killing important NPCs seems like it is empowering players, but only ends up constraining the future. It's not really much of choice to spare someone if they never appear again. They may as well have died.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Punishing Bad Behavior out of Game

James 315 has an interesting article up on The Mittani. It's about the history of bannings in Eve Online. The upshot of the article is that player bad behavior has started on out-of-game voice comms, and CCP has started handing out bans for such behavior. However, unlike inside the regular game, CCP has no real power to truly determine what happens on out-of-game channels. James 315's argument is:
CCP's decision to police a realm where they have no ability to monitor, log, or control was a mistake. GM decisions for EVE-related matters already grapple with inconsistency and confusion. CCP's preference for secret, undefined rules, coupled with an apparently growing reliance on permabans instead of lesser punishments, can only lead to bad outcomes for everyone.
There is a lot of sense in this argument.

Personally, I find this aspect of the Eve community confounding. To me, voice comms are something to be used with allies and teammates. I would never jump on an enemy's voice server. I don't see any case where that ends well.

Part of the issue here is that there is a concept in Eve called "birthday ransoms". A pirate offers to let a victim go if they go onto the voice server and sing Happy Birthday or another song. These ransoms are generally regarded as innocuous and a "fun" part of the game.

James 315's general argument about the arbitrariness of banning based on out-of-game behavior is sound. However, there's no denying that a lot of negative behavior has migrated to those out-of-game channels. I think CCP is wise to attempt to put a stop to it.

I would suggest a different approach, though. The point of making recordings of voice comms, and publishing them is humiliation. It might be small humiliations, such as the birthday ransoms. Or it could be larger ones, as when a spy publishes voice comms of an enemy alliance.

I think Eve would be better off with a blanket ban on such recordings. Something like: publishing recordings of voice comms, where post-recording permission has not been obtained from all parties, is a bannable offense. This eliminates all such recordings, and makes it much easier for CCP. Instead of having to determine whether a recording is true harassment or is "fun" doesn't matter. All that matters is permission, and that is easier to determine.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Using the Base Currency for Features

As all the comments on the last post pointed out, capping the base currency will destroy the player economy. Or at the very least, force the economy to shift to something more liquid, like cloth or barter.

So then, is it better for MMOs to avoid using the base currency for features?

I think the TOR experience this past year is instructive. When TOR introduced Galactic Starfighter, it also introduced two new currencies: Fleet Requisition and Ship Requisition. You earn Requisition by doing Starfighter activities. To upgrade your ship or get new ships you spend that Requisition (or Cartel Coins, because F2P).

In contrast, when TOR introduced Strongholds, the price of a Guild Capital Ship was set at 50 million credits.

There were no complaints about pricing for Galactic Starfighter. There were tons of complaints about the price of guild ships. Would TOR have been better off introducing a new Housing Currency, and having all the costs of housing use that currency instead of the base currency?

Perhaps it would be best to avoid setting expensive prices, and just leaving the base currency for the player economy and "small" stuff. That makes all items sold by NPCs to have "affordable" prices. All features would use their own unique currency, with separate rules and caps on acquisition.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Cap on the Base Currency

Continuing our discussion on base currency, what would happen if the developers instituted a cap on earnings in the base currency?

All the other currencies generally have caps, and that helps keep the population together in terms of what is affordable. What would be the effect of extending this cap to the base currency of gold/gil/credits?

For the cap to work, it would have to restrict income purely. You would only be able to earn, say 1000 gold per week, no matter how much you spend.

The immediate effect I can see is that the market become a lot less liquid. Buying 500g worth of raw materials, and crafting finished materials worth 600g is only 100g of profit. But it would count as 600g towards the cap. If it doesn't, if spending money increases the amount of cap room, then a player could use an item as a store of value, and effectively evade the cap.

The game devs might have to eliminate a lot of gold sinks. Take repairs. Wiping a few dozen times is okay because the repair cost is negligible. But with a hard cap on gold, wiping and repairs become a large source of friction. The best solution might be to eliminate item damage altogether. Consumables like potions and flasks would be another issue.

But with a cap, the gap between experienced player and new player is much lower. A few thousand instead of potentially millions. Caps work well with all the other currencies. Surely it would be beneficial on the base currency as well.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Latest in Anti-Bot Techniques

Archeage has a pretty cool anti-bot program. There's an ability you can use to report a bot. This ability costs 25 Labor. Trion checks the report and squashes the bot. If it is a bot, you get 50 Labor back, for a net profit of 25 Labor.

Since Labor is scarce for F2P players, this has encouraged a number of them to take up bot hunting as a sport for fun and profit.

This is clever because it utilizes humans for the computationally difficult task of differentiating bots from regular players. This is a task that humans are quite good at, and are especially good at continuing to identify bots as their behavior changes. Botting, as Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, is something that "I know it when I see it".

It's also quite meta, in that it makes a mini-game out of removing bots, which is highly appropriate in a game.

Well done, Trion. Let's just hope that this doesn't go to the next stage:
Shortly before the Patrician came to power there was a terrible plague of rats. The city council countered it by offering twenty pence for every rat tail. This did, for a week or two, reduce the number of rats—and then people were suddenly queuing up with tails, the city treasury was being drained, and no one seemed to be doing much work. And there still seemed to be a lot of rats around. Lord Vetinari had listened carefully while the problem was explained, and had solved the thing with one memorable phrase which said a lot about him, about the folly of bounty offers, and about the natural instinct of Ankh-Morporkians in any situation involving money: “Tax the rat farms.”
- Terry Pratchett, Soul Music

Monday, September 22, 2014

Day One Pricing for the Base Currency

Pretty much all MMOs have a base currency: gold, credits, gil, etc. This is the currency that the most transactions use, as well as the currency used between players. It's also the currency which is the most constant from the beginning to end. Here's something I've been wondering about base currency lately:

If the game offers something purchasable for base currency in an update, must it be affordable on Day One?

Both FFXIV and TOR offered player housing for what seemed to be exorbitant amounts of base currency. There were a lot of complaints that the prices were not affordable. But I did not think they were completely out of reach. It might have taken a few weeks, but I think everyone could earn the necessary amounts.

However, there seems to be an expectation that if something is offered for gold or credits, you should be able to buy it as soon as it comes out. This is in stark contrast to the other currencies. If an item costs 5000 Valor, no one bats an eye that it will take you a few weeks to earn enough Valor to purchase the item. But have the item cost 500,000 gold, and players will howl.

Not to mention that these items with exorbitant prices sell. In FFXIV, many of the servers have sold out of the limited personal housing supply. That strongly implies that the prices were not high enough.

Why do players treat the base currency so differently than the other currencies?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Queue System Design

Archeage Queue Issues

The major news from the Archeage launch are the queues. The queues are very long at the moment, especially for F2P people. I have not been able to play my first character for several days as the queues are always upwards of a thousand players. I made a second character, an archer, on a newer server. Since the server seems to be primarily made up of F2P people, the queue times for me as a patron are negligible.

Still, it's interesting to see how Archeage's game design has interacted with the queues. There is one significant design element which is making the queues much worse than they should be. For all non-combat activities in Archeage, there is one primary resource: Labor. All crafting and gathering activities cost Labor, which regenerates over time. Labor is shared across the entire account, not per character.

However, for F2P accounts, Labor only regenerates when you are online! So that provides extra incentive for people to stay online. Not only do they avoid the queues, but they get the resource needed to play the game. So naturally Archeage is now full of people AFKing and making macros to avoid being kicked off. This, of course, makes the wait time for the people in the queue longer.

In some ways, Archeage would be better off right now if this design had been reversed: if F2P people only regenerated Labor when they were offline. That would give people incentive to log off, and let new people onto the server.

The problem here is that the queues are temporary, for the launch rush. For general play, when the population is at a steady state, it's better that the F2P players have an incentive to stay online to provide content for the paying players.

Finally, because Archeage is an open world where players can obtain property, Trion cannot use the "normal" method of opening up extra servers or extra instances and then merging them together. Merging claimed property would be a nightmare.

My Queue System

Here's my design for a queue system for a game:
  1. A queue to enter the game always exists, and players always go through the queue when first connecting to a server. Of course, if the server is not full, going through the queue is pretty much instantaneous.
  2. When a player reaches the front of the queue, the game assigns the player a "window" of X hours, and lets them log into the game proper. If you reach the front of the queue at 6pm, your window might be from 6pm to 8pm.
  3. If you disconnect and reconnect anytime during your window, you bypass the queue and automatically enter the server.
  4. When your window closes:
    1. If there are people waiting in the queue, you are logged off the server and re-enter the queue at the end.
    2. If there are no people in the queue, you are issued a new window of X hours and can continue playing. You are not logged off in this case.
  5. If the server goes down for Y minutes, all current windows are extended for Y minutes.
I think this is a reasonably fair queue system. It guarantees that you get to play for X hours once you sit through the queue. You can log off for a few minutes, and then log back on. But after you've played for a bit, you have to log off and let someone else play. It's like taking turns on the playground.

Because everyone has a window at all times, even those who logged in when there were no people in the queue, people start getting logged off naturally once a queue forms.

The major issue with this system that I can see is that the number of people who are currently logged into the server is now different from the number of people who could be logged into the server. For example, if you play for an hour, then log off and go to sleep, the system doesn't know that you are not coming back. It has to make the assumption that you could come back. Thus you have to be careful when determining how many active windows you can have, and the length of a window. But those are variables which can be tuned.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Parity of Time

Azuriel has an interesting post on Parity as Entitlement. He's discussing entitlement, F2P, money and time. At one point his discussion touches on the different amounts of time people have available:
Perhaps this disagreement comes from differing definitions of parity. Tobold in later comments suggests no MMORPG features parity because different people have different amounts of time to spend playing the game. This is not a dilemma to me – as I mentioned previously, the both of us have the same 24 hours in a day in which to allocate our time. I have zero issue with you receiving greater rewards (etc) for having spent more time playing the game than I. In fact, it sort of boggles my mind that this is even a point of contention. Is that not how any activity should inherently work? “You spent more time reading a book and got farther into than I did… unfair!”
Many players and MMO developers do not agree with this perspective. If it was feasible to enforce parity of time, many games would do so.

Existing MMOs have many mechanics which push towards parity of time. The most blunt example is raid lockouts. Play a little or play a lot, you can only do the latest raid once per week. WoW even tried limiting attempts per boss. It didn't go so well, but they did try.

Often there are extra rewards for the first instance you run per day, or the first X instances per week. This pushes towards parity of time by front-loading most of the reward onto the first few hours. You still get more reward as you play more hours, but the majority of the reward is concentrated in the first few hours.

The Old Republic does something similar with daily quests. The daily quests can be done each day, but there's also a weekly quest that requires you to do each daily once. The presence of the weekly makes the first set of dailies more rewarding.

Pretty much every currency after the base currency has a cap. Maybe you can only earn 1000 Endgame Currency a week, and can only bank 3000. Again this plays into parity of time. After a threshold, playing more hours simply does not help you.

Finally, there's rest XP. If someone plays fewer hours, the hours they do play become more valuable than the hours played by high-playtime player. The value per hour played effectively scales with the number of hours that are not played.

Far from players and developers accepting the disparity in time played, they actively add mechanics to mitigate that disparity. It is unfeasible to enforce true parity of time, but that doesn't mean that devs and players see the disparity as desirable.

(Admittedly, it would be pretty funny to see a game try to enforce true parity of time. Imagine a game which limited you to 10 hours per week. It would be interesting to see the audience's reactions.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Archeage Impressions

Archeage headstart was this past weekend. Recalling that I had (perhaps foolishly) bought a Founder pack, I decided to join the fun.

The launch hasn't been the smoothest launch, but it also hasn't been the worst launch either. There are pretty long queues at the moment, but I think they will die down after the initial rush.

There's a somewhat similar situation with land. Archeage is a "sandboxy" game, with crafting and farming right in the world. It's a non-instanced world too, which is something I have greatly missed. In any case, the open world means that land is valuable and can be used up. Right now, it's almost impossible to find space for a small farm in first few zones.

On the one hand, that's a bit annoying. But it does make the world feel more like a world. Land also has taxes that need to be paid, so I'm fairly sure some plots will start to be freed up in a few weeks.

Personally, I decided to skip the crafting, farming, and trading. I just focused on the questing. This may have been the wrong decision. The non-combat parts of the game are what make Archeage special.

The questing is decent enough. It's very clearly an Asian import. The main story, at least the Nuian one, is actually kind of interesting so far.

Combat feels good. It's tab-target, not action. But a lot of abilities put debuffs on mobs, and then have combos if a debuff is present. So you can figure out and set up chains of abilities, each combo-ing off the last one. It feels quite impressive when you find a decent chain.

The skill system is similar to Rift's, but without classes. Instead you pick three trees from a set of 10 or more. Then you spend skill points to pick up abilities in each tree. Each combination of three has a special name. I went Battlerage + Defense + Vitalism, giving me a class of Paladin (naturally!). I'm using a charge, a filler, and a whirlwind attack from Battlerage, an HP buff and a shield bash from Defense, and a Heal-over-Time from Vitalism.

You can spend gold to change your trees, so you can try many different builds on one character.

Still, though, there's nothing super amazing about Archeage's questing and combat. If you've played any MMO since WoW, you've probably seen these mechanics.

Other than that the only interesting things so far are your mount, a boat, and a glider. The mount levels as you ride it places, and unlocks abilities so you can fight from horseback. As for boats, you get a small rowboat at level 10 or so. It handles well, and feels like a small rowboat. The glider is pretty interesting too. Gliding is fun, though it's annoying when you're trying to glide to a specific location and you're still too high up when you reach it.

As I noted above, it's the non-combat aspects which are the main hook for Archeage, and unfortunately, it's the part of the game that I haven't really gotten to try out. On the whole, Archeage is worth trying. However, if a player doesn't get hooked by the crafting and farming, or possibly the PvP around those activities, I don't think she will stay. So far at least, the PvE alone isn't enough to satisfy.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Upcoming Schedule for Warlords of Draenor

Warlords of Draenor is being released in a few months. Since I'm not actually playing WoW these days, I've lost track of exactly when things are occurring. So I thought I'd list all the upcoming events that I know about.

Oct ??Patch 6.0 released. No formal release date yet, but it's usually about a month before the expansion proper.
Nov 7-8Blizzcon
Nov 13Warlords of Draenor released.
Nov 21 - Jan 6WoW's 10th Anniversary. Remastered Molten Core (for level 100) and Southshore vs Tarren Mill (for level 90-100).
Dec 2Rated PvP season starts.
Dec 2Normal and Heroic Highmaul raid opens.
Dec 9Raid Finder and Mythic Highmaul opens.

I'm really happy that raids are not being opened right away. At least there will be a few weeks so people can take their time levelling.

It seems like a short time between the start of the expac and the 10th Annversary. However, you only have to do the content once to get all the rewards, so that should make it a lot easier. As well, Blizzard does have data on how fast people normally level.

Still, the holiday season occurs at the same time. I expect that Blizzard to be monitoring what percentage of the playerbase has done the anniversary content. My guess is that they will extend the availability of the content to the end of January.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Old Republic: Forged Alliances and Conquests

Forged Alliances

Patch 2.10 for Star Wars: The Old Republic came out today. It contained the third part of the Forged Alliances story, which turns out be a prelude to the next expansion.

The tactical flashpoint was well done. It seemed a little bit easier than the previous flashpoint, but felt like the correct difficulty for a tactical (no Trinity). The previous Manaan flashpoint was a touch too difficult.

The upcoming expansion storyline looks to be very interesting. It's actually pretty hard to talk about without spoilers, and as this is Day One of the new patch, I'll avoid them.


All in all, TOR is good shape these days. Since the introduction of Conquests and decorations, we've been doing a lot more random stuff as a guild, including flashpoints and old operations. Today we did a random guild run of the Story Mode Karagga's Palace operation, just because it was worth 4000 conquest points.

It's sort of odd though. Conquests are just a list of existing activities with points and a leaderboard attached. Yet that's enough to get us doing things we never did before. Having the list of activities rotate from week to week was an excellent design.

As well, because the guild earns points for the leaderboard, the competition is guild versus guild, and that encourages the formation of guild groups.

Perhaps people want to group up, but just "to have fun" is not a good enough reason. Perhaps all that's really needed from the devs is just an excuse to do stuff.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Wildstar Woes

Apparently Wildstar isn't doing too well. It's losing players at a rapid rate and is switching to a single megaserver.  There's a 700+ comment thread at Massively discussing the issue. Massively blames it on the focus on raids and very difficult endgame content.

It's interesting to watch this from outside. I was in the Wildstar beta, but did not get the game at launch.

However, I'm not so sure that raiding and endgame are to blame, precisely. Sure, it's where a lot Massively readers--who are core MMO gamers--washed out. But my rule of thumb is that there are people who are ten times better than you are, and people who are ten times worse than you are. If the core MMO gamer group washed out at endgame, where do you think the casuals washed out?

I think the basic leveling game was too difficult. I actually wrote a post on the Beta forums when I was just level 15 or so, saying "I don't think I'm good enough for the game you are making." I found that just basic leveling quests in the Wildstar beta required a lot of intensity and avoiding telegraphs. I think having that reaction--for a fairly experienced gamer--at level 15 was a bad sign, because the game would only get harder.

Personally, I think it's instructive that two of MMO success stories of the past decade, WoW and FFXIV, have featured very simple leveling.

I also think Wildstar suffers from the "veto" problem. Let's say that you have a group of friends who want to go out for lunch. You have to find a place which all of you can agree to, or at least a place that no one cares enough to veto. I think Wildstar was different enough--both in tone and mechanics--that many groups had one individual feel strongly enough to veto it. And that means that the entire group falls away from the game.

Of course, though, this is just my view as an outsider and beta tester. Perhaps those of you who played the game at launch or over the last few months have a different perspective.