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.