Saturday, January 31, 2015

Crowfall: More Information on Combat and Worlds

(Sorry if this is turning into All Crowfall All The Time. Not much to write about in my other games, and Crowfall is doing some interesting things.)

Crowfall released some more interesting tidbits. Combat will be less tab-target, and more directional attacks. This sounds like Wildstar. I wasn't a big fan of Wildstar combat, but this is a PvP-focused game, so people are running around in circles anyways.

The other interesting thing is that they are not using the Trinity. But the element they are cutting out is healing. This is very intriguing. For one thing, it makes the game more like FPS games, in a way. Here's what Crowfall has to say on the subject:
We have characters that are more offensive. We have characters that are more defensive. We have characters with support powers. But we made the game purposefully light on in-combat healing, to make it more deadly. ... 
Combat healing effectively adds a multiplier to each combatant’s effective hit points. A defender isn’t just managing one health bar, his “effective” health pool is = his personal health bar * powers driven by the mana pool of every healer actively supporting him. This makes a lot of sense for games that focus around PvE combat where the monsters have thousands of hit points – especially raids.  It makes less sense in a game focused on skill-based player-versus-player combat.
Crowfall is also explicitly ruling out instanced PvE content.  On the one hand, this may turn off a lot of players. But on the other hand, it's good to see the game taking aim at exactly what it wants to be.

They also released more information on the "worlds". It looks like worlds will have different rulesets. On one world, PvP is guild vs guild. On a different world, PvP is faction-based. You can travel from world to world, and there are restrictions on what type of gear you can bring into or out of a specific world. This way you can avoid the styles of PvP that you don't like (for example, Free-for-all) while still dipping into different types every so often.

Some pretty nifty ideas. And there is a nice balance between focusing on exactly what type of game they want, while still offering some variety in rulesets. It's more about gradations of PvP. I think that might prove to be more unifying than the eternal tension between PvE and PvP.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Holiday Events and the Cash Shop in FFXIV

As you know, I'm not a big fan of cash shops in MMOs. Even less in subscription games. But FFXIV has an interesting approach. One that I am not sure if I approve of or not.

It starts with holiday events. Unlike other MMOs, FFXIV's holiday events are completely new every year. For example, last New Year was a story about a group trying to introduce horses as a replacement for chocobos, which did not go over well with the citizens of Eorzea. This New Year was a story about weaponizing sheep to use in warfare.

(Yes, FFXIV holiday events are rather weird.)

The Holiday events feature a new quest and story line, as well as new rewards. For example, last year's Valentine's Day event had a special outfit as a reward. This year the reward is some rather snazzy chocobo barding (it has a top hat!).

What Square does is that after a holiday event is over, the rewards are then placed in the cash shop. So if you miss the event, you can buy the rewards for extra money.

Now, it's not like the rewards are hard to get. This isn't WoW where there's a 0.1% drop chance of getting the rare mount or pet from a holiday boss. If you do the Holiday Event story in FFXIV, you'll get all the rewards.

Is this a good and/or fair use of a cash shop in a subscription game? As much as I dislike cash shops with subs, these are time limited items. They're not particularly hard to get when the event is running. The reason you can't get those particular items in future events is because the future event is all new. That seems like a pretty reasonable balance to me.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bans, Warriors, and Pyrolysis

Here's a roundup of what I've been up to.

The Old Republic

I logged in today and there was only one other person online in my guild. Apparently there was a bug with the last boss on Ravagers, that allowed you to exploit and get loot multiple times. Bioware handed out temporary bans today, and apparently it hit a ton of people in my guild.

Silly rabbits. Exploits are for slackers.


I've done all the story quests for the latest patch. They made some big changes in the story, and are clearly setting up for the expansion. The Hildibrand questline also came to a close, with an outstanding ending. When the four Warriors Gentlemen of Light made their appearance, I almost died laughing.

I've been leveling up my Warrior. Amusingly, the only reason I'm doing this is because I made one of my retainers a Warrior, and then realized her max level was 5 levels below my Warrior level. The obvious solution was to level Warrior.

Diablo 3

Blizzard has been posting "Play Your Way" posts where they feature interesting builds that don't require a lot of gear. My seasonal wizard had been left at 70, so I tried out this featured Pyrolysis build. It's actually fairly good, and is a great deal of fun.

It's also a very "pretty" build, with the Hydra spewing fire all over the map and Arcane Torrent and lightning bolts flying all over.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

MMO Journalism

Rumour has it that AOL is planning to shut down Joystiq and related sites. This will probably hit two major sites dedicated to MMOs: WoW Insider, and Massively.

I will be sorry to see them go. I haven't always agreed with their perspectives, but they've always been interesting. They had a good handle on the "pulse" of their respective communities, and could be counted on to cover almost anything of interest that happened.

There is talk of some of the veterans of these two sites attempting to launch their own site dedicated to MMO journalism, perhaps funded by Kickstarter or subscriptions. I rather think that such a venture will probably end in failure. I mean, MMO gamers don't want to pay for the games they play. How much less likely are they going to want to pay for writing about those games?

They might be able to do something with advertising, but if AOL can't draw enough advertising to cover costs, I'm not sure that an independent site would be able to.

Still, I'll miss WoW Insider and Massively if they go. Best of luck to the current staff.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Crowfall: Centaurs Confirmed!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you vital news: Crowfall has centaurs!

Not only centaurs, but centaurs based on the Roman Empire!

The tactic Crowfall is taking towards races is interesting. They look to be tying class and race together. All Knights are human, all Legionnaires are centaur. It's interesting because that means that the races don't need to be necessarily balanced as a baseline, so long as the Race+Class combination is balanced.

According to their FAQ, humanoid classes will allow both genders, while monstrous classes will be single-gendered. I imagine this is to cut down on the amount of time needed. It probably means that there will be a monstrous female class as well, maybe Lamias, Medusas, or Harpies.

The other interesting thing that people noticed earlier was that races had a Hunger Resistance stat. This naturally led into all sorts of speculation about role food would play in the game. Would you have to eat every so often to keep your stats up?

However, the Legionnaire write-up seems to imply that the Hunger are some sort of enemy. So that stat is closer to Demon Resistance, rather something related to food. I found that to be an amusing outcome to the speculation.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rationing Loot

Most games ration the top tiers of loot in some fashion. They do this to draw out the process of gearing up, and to give people an excuse to log in and continue to play.

For example, WoW uses raid lockouts combined with a random chance of items dropping. You can only do a boss once per week, and you have X% chance of your item dropping. This method is exciting, but can be streaky.

The percent chance can be for the entire group or for the individual, as in the case of WoW's personal loot system. I think the entire group method is better, as it is more apparent that the reward is for the entire group. As well, in a good group, very little loot is wasted. Unfortunately, as LFR proved, you can't trust a random group of strangers to distribute loot reasonably.

The other common method is an end-game currency where the amount you can earn per week is limited. Thus, you know an item costs exactly Y points, which will take you exactly Z runs. This method is perfectly deterministic, but rather boring.

Of all the rationing methods in the MMOs I've played, I like the system used by FFXIV's 24-man raids the best. A separate item drops for each 8-player group within the raid. If it's for your role, you may roll Need. Otherwise you can only Greed. But you can only win one piece from the instance per week. You can do the instance as often as you want. You can fish for a specific item or just take the first item for your class that drops. You can roll for your alternate specs if you want, but if a main-spec in the raid wants the item, they will win.

This "one item per week" restriction is a very blunt instrument. It's very meta as well. There's no real in-game rational for it at all. But it just works. People only roll on items they want, since there is a significant cost to winning. The tank gets the tank item if she needs it. There's no chance of a damage dealer winning the item over the tank. The item drops for the group as a whole, and people who win stuff get congratulated. It feels like a team working for a common reward, which is something that WoW's LFR has lost.

Of course, FFXIV also has an alternate raid currency. So even if you don't win anything that drops during a run, you accumulate the raid currency and can buy gear that way.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Verified Identities and Archeage

One of the major MMO stories of last year was the launch of Archeage in the West to a reasonably welcoming audience. However, Archeage was overrun by spammers, hackers, and bots to such a degree that many people gave up on the game.

Many commentators pinned the blame for this on Trion, the western publishers. Trion in turn, said that they required help from the developers, XLGames, to combat these problems. Most commentators seemed to feel that this was just Trion trying to cover up for their mistakes.

But what if Trion was right? Most MMOs these days need to build in anti-spam, anti-hacker, and anti-bot defenses. What if Archeage didn't have these defenses that we in the West take as normal?

From my quick research, Archeage Korea requires three extra items to create an account:
  1. A Korean IP Address
  2. A Korean mobile phone
  3. A Korean Social Security Number (some sort of number assigned by the South Korean government)
These three external requirements tie the Acheage account to a very specific person. What if Archeage in Korea doesn't need built-in software defenses? What if these external requirements are enough to reduce spam, hacking, and botting to acceptable levels, or eliminate it entirely?

Perhaps companies in the west need to come up with a way to create a verified identification before allowing account creation. Of course, the problem is that there are multiple countries, all with different identification documents and numbers, and legal restrictions on how those identifiers can be used. You might be able to do something with a dedicated third-party company, which the game companies support.

Rather than a software arms race between spammers, hackers, botters and the game devs, verified identities might be a more successful strategy to pursue.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


I saw some teasers for an upcoming MMO, Crowfall.

It's just the barest of teasers so far, but they look to be creating something in the vein of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. Trying to get back to "world" aspect of MMOs.

For example, in an interview at, they say:
There are a ton of lessons to be learned looking at games like Star Wars Galaxies and EVE Online which had and still have success with their crafting and economic loops. From a very high altitude, crafters need to be able to: craft unique items, explore new recipes and profit from the results of this exploration, and create customized items for all styles of play. Crafters must have an audience to buy their goods. The loop between crafter and combatant has to exist! And, ideally, crafters need to be able to “mark” their product so that they can build a social reputation and a following. 
The very concept that players can and will lose their items at some point is required, otherwise the game loop breaks. It is a very controversial topic for those who don’t like the potential of losing their items, and we understand that.  But sometimes you have to embrace ideas that may not be popular at first glance, because they open up amazing areas of gameplay that are otherwise not accessible.
That's a pretty bold statement, but it might very well be correct. Inconvenience drives sandboxes.

The dev pedigree is also somewhat impressive: J. Todd Coleman, Gordon Walton, Raph Koster. We'll see what they come up. There are many ways an MMO can screw up, and these devs aren't exactly known for prioritizing performance and responsiveness.

Still, I'm kind of interested in Crowfall, and it's mostly because of a single picture:

That Templar just looks good to me. It's clean, attractive, in solid, functional armor that still has a surprising amount of detail. It's stylized, avoiding uncanny valley effects, while still retaining proper human proportions.

I just really like the design intent as exemplified by this Templar. If the rest of the game matches this aesthetic (and performance/responsiveness is strong!), Crowfall just feels like it will be a blast to play.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Elder Scrolls Online Goes Buy-2-Play

The other recent news was that Elder Scrolls Online announced that they were switching to a buy-2-play model (with an optional subscription).

I've seen some people saying cynically saying that this was the plan all along. That ESO was just trying to milk as much as money out of subscribers as possible before switching. As Azuriel points out, F2P has the unfortunate side-effect of engendering cynicism among the players.

This imputation is probably unfair to the devs behind ESO. If anything, B2P would have been the backup plan. If ESO had stabilized at a high number of subscribers (0.5 million, 1 million, whatever), they would have been more than happy to stick with being a subscriber-only game.

Oh well. It will make life easier on the console, though.

I'm not sure if I will take another look at ESO. My problem was with the combat, and I don't know if that has improved or not. If any readers are still playing ESO, feel free to chime in on the state of the game.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Melee Builds and Treasure Goblins in Diablo 3

My current Crusader build in Diablo 3 is a Holy build. It's a build that has a relatively large amount of ranged damage. However, the Crusader archetype is a sword-and-shield melee fighter. So for a few Paragon levels, I tried out a build focused around melee skills and blocking, with lots of things like thorns (reflective damage).

This melee build was actually a lot of fun, and effective against enemies. It was especially fun with large packs of enemies, as you just wade into the packs, get surrounded, and then everything around you blows up as you block all the damage.

However, there was one mechanic in D3 which made this melee build extremely frustrating: Treasure Goblins. Treasure goblins are enemies which have a large amount of loot. But they don't attack you. Instead they run away from you and attempt to open a portal through which they escape. Currently there's an event where the Treasure Goblins can be found in pairs or packs.

Treasure Goblins were supremely disappointing with a melee build. While chasing down one goblin, the others made their escape. I was basically only able to kill half a pack of goblins. In contrast, the ranged Holy build can usually get all of them.

It was very frustrating because Treasure Goblins are somewhat rare, and very rewarding if you kill them. So despite the fact that the melee build was fun and performed well everywhere else in the game, I switched back to ranged. After all, the ranged build dealt just as well with regular enemies, and had the advantage of making it much easier to kill Treasure Goblins.

This illustrates how hard it is to balance melee against ranged in these sorts of games. Melee classes or builds have a fundamental weakness built into them. Ranged classes or builds need a similar weakness. When they don't have that weakness, the balance tilts too heavily towards the ranged classes and builds.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Paying for Access in a F2P Game

Is it okay to charge for access for a Free-2-Play game?

Blizzard is offering a $40 bonus pack for Heroes of the Storm. It has some heroes, some skins, and most importantly, Beta Access. If you didn't get an Alpha invite, this is pretty much the only way to get into Heroes of the Storm.

I got an Alpha invite, and I've played a little bit of Heroes. MOBAs are not really my cup of tea. I've never actually played League of Legends or similar. So I can't really tell you much about the gameplay.

But in my opinion, the label "Beta" is a misnomer. Heroes is pretty much ready for launch. Any company other than Blizzard would have launched already. I'm sure they're going to add more heroes, and do the occasional balance tweak. But that's par for the course for a modern online game.

One could say that Heroes is launching. It's just going to cost $40 for the first couple months and then go free. Essentially, you're paying to play it at "launch". If you're willing to wait, the game will eventually become free.

I don't think this is a bad thing. The Old Republic does this with early access for features for subscribers. Books have traditionally done it with expensive hardcovers coming before cheap paperbacks. Heck, one could say that games do it with sales, especially the eventual Steam sale. The only real difference is that at the end, the company offers the game for free, instead of a nominal $5 or whatever the Steam sale price is.

I also think these types of schemes have other benefits. It rations everyone into the game slowly. Rather than have a massive rush of players at launch, you have several generations. New blood comes in to refresh the community as people start to leave.

In fact, consider a scheme like the following: For the first month after launch, the game costs $60. The second month, the game costs $50. The third month, $40. In the seventh month, the game becomes fully Free-2-Play. I think such a scheme would be straightforward and beneficial, rather than masking the current state by calling Launch "Beta".

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Well, so much for resolutions. Not a whole lot has been happening on the gaming front here.

In SWTOR, my guild lost too many people to attrition in the run up to Shadow of Revan. Sadly, we didn't get a boost from the expac, either. So the five or six of us who were left all moved to a new guild. Hopefully this one works out and we can get back to raiding somewhat regularly.

I've pretty much put World of Warcraft on the back burner. I'm logging in occasionally to do the garrison story, but am not really doing much else in the game.

For some reason, I've started playing Diablo III again. I'm trying to get my Crusader to a decent standard. One problem with D3 is that it's pretty hard to find intermediate builds. All the builds I see say things like "requires 6-piece Akkan's set". I just got a second piece this week. So it's really hard to tell what's a good build or not for my gear level.

Right now I'm running a Holy build built around Fist of the Heavens and Heaven's Fury. I'm only in Torment II, but it seems pretty decent. Luckily I got one of the new Ancient Legendary weapons, which has been a big boost.

Otherwise, not much else to report. I am looking forward to the latest FFXIV patch which came out today.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

WoW Plex

Over the holidays, Blizzard floated the idea of introducing an item which can be used to give a month's subscription, and allow that item to be sold in-game. Essentially taking Eve Online's PLEX and applying it to WoW.

I think this is a bad idea.

I think this is similar to Diablo 3's Auction House. There the problem was with third-party trading, and Blizzard introduced the AH to combat scams. That worked, but ended up warping the game even farther. WoW PLEX would be similar. It would be introduced to combat Real Money Transfers from sketchy sites. But it does this by turning players into RMTers, by warping their incentives.

You can see this in Eve Online. Eve has a significant problem with scamming, lotteries, multiboxing and similar shenanigans. I believe this is because PLEX helps incentivize these actions, not just among the illegal third parties, but for regular players.

A lot of Eve partisans will say that PLEX has been good for Eve. Truthfully, I am not so sure. I think PLEX has masked a lot of problems with Eve, especially on the resource production side. Problems which would have been exposed and fixed a lot earlier without the bandaid of PLEX.

As well, I don't believe that it is good for the game to have one segment of stronger players play for free at the expense of other weaker players. Right now, the playing field is relatively equal. WoW rests on a broad base of subscribers, and we are all relatively equal. The necessary monetary support is divorced from the in-game universe.

PLEX for WoW is a bad idea. It warps the incentives for a significant fraction of the playerbase, and creates a real divide between those players who free-ride, and those who pay. I urge Blizzard to reject this idea.

Edit: I posted this in the comments. Hopefully it makes the parallel with D3 and WoW more clear.

D2 had a problem with scammers. D3 introduced a mechanic (the Auction House) to combat that problem. That mechanic warped the incentives for the larger playerbase. The cure was worse than the disease.

WoW has a problem with 3rd party RMT. WoW is proposing to introduce a mechanic (WoW PLEX) to combat that problem. That mechanic will warp the incentives for the larger playerbase. The cure will be worse than the disease.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A New Year

Happy New Year to everyone!

As the new year arrives, I find myself in a bit confused as to what direction I should go in. I'm currently playing 3 MMOs, but at a low and rather unsatisfying level. The big problem is that I'm not in any stable groups. I am essentially playing solo at the moment.

World of Warcraft

Most of WoD has been good. But 5-man Heroics are absolutely terrible this time around for me. They just don't feel right. The tanks are playing crazy, and healing feels terrible. It feels like Cataclysm Heroics, only instead of killing the DPS when they do something stupid or mechanics are ignored, they just take extra damage and strain the healer more.

It's just a bad experience entirely. I blame active mitigation.

LFR is pretty boring. So if I want to stick with WoW, I'll have to apply to and join a raid guild. Yet I'm not sure I want to do that again.

The Old Republic

I did not like Shadow of Revan. I thought the story was pretty terrible. I also realized after my last post that I don't really feel in control of my character during conversations anymore. If you play the original stories, every time your turn comes up in the conversation you get a choice. It's pretty rare that your character makes an automatic response. In SoR, it feels like your character makes more and more automatic responses, and you get fewer choices in the conversations.

Essentially, story-wise it feels like TOR has been drifting further and further away from the original design. But I liked that original design, and it was the main reason I was playing TOR. I don't really want to play "WoW with lightsabers and a few more cutscenes."

As well, TOR has had real problems with responsiveness since the expansion. To me, responsiveness is key. A game that responds badly simply makes playing an unpleasant experience. For example, my sniper has a channeled ability called Series of Shots. If Series of Shots finishes its entire channel, a second ability Followthrough is enabled. Lately, at least half the time there will be lag during the Series of Shots channel, and Followthrough will not trigger.

The upside to TOR is that it's the closest thing I have to an existing raid. It would be much easier to get into a steady operations group in TOR than in any other game.

Final Fantasy XIV

There's nothing really wrong with FFXIV. I just don't seem to be excited about it. I log in whenever there's new content, but don't really feel keen to work on my gear or Relic weapon or new classes.


Three resolutions this year:
  1. Write about other subjects - I'd like to start a non-gaming blog, maybe write about programming or other random things.
  2. Write more - I've been pretty erratic about writing this year, and I would like to write more often.
  3. Be willing to write about controversial subjects - I usually shy away from controversial subjects. But I am not sure that is the correct approach. As well, the outlines of a controversial subject post often stay in my head, and keep me from thinking and writing about other topics.
In any case, I hope 2015 is a great year for all my readers.