Thursday, February 26, 2015

Currently Playing Updates

Here's what I'm currently up to:

World of Warcraft

I'm pretty much only doing the weekly garrison quest with Coriel. I've also stopped messing around with the garrison buildings. I debating doing the legendary questline, but haven't come to a decision about that yet.

For some reason, I rolled a random Blood Elf mage and got to level 5. I'm not sure if I will keep going with it, or even why I started it in the first place.

The Old Republic

My raid team has gotten to 2/10 in Hard Mode operations (1/5 Ravagers, 1/5 Temple of Sacrifice). I'm not sure what fight we'll be working on next. Gearing for Accuracy is a huge pain in this expansion, and it really isn't helping that Sniper set gear seems to not have any.

Otherwise, one major change Bioware made was to add Companion gear to the Weeklies. So I've been slowly working on kitting my companions out, especially the droid companions. Previously, droid gear was fairly annoying to get. One interesting side-effect of this change is that I roll on very little gear in ops. It's not worth the time and effort to get gear for companions from operations anymore.

I'm also leveling a Bounty Hunter, about 2/3 Dark Side and 1/3 Light Side. Professional but a bit ruthless. I'm currently on Taris.

Final Fantasy XIV

I've decided to try and get my Relic Weapon for the Paladin class. I'm currently working on the Atma book stage, and have a grand total of one book complete. ... I don't think I'll get this done.

I took a look at the new Golden Saucer stuff. It seems pretty fun, but I'm not really into mini-games.

Diablo 3

For Season 2, I started a Monk and got to about level 25 so far. This time around, I'm trying to play in public games with other people. However, I think the matchmaking buckets are now too small, since you now have to match on difficulty, character level, and story progression. So it's pretty hard to find people.

What are you up to?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Are PvE Players Overly Entitled?

I was reading the Crowfall comments on Massively OP, and I was struck by the attitude of the more strident PvE players. There was a lot of complaining that the game was PvP, and it wasn't PvE. At this point, are PvE players becoming overly entitled?

Let's look at the major MMOs currently running:

Primarily PvE - WoW, SWTOR, FFXIV, Rift, GW2, Wildstar, ESO, TSW, EQ2, Neverwinter, LotRO

Primarily PvP - Eve Online

It's not even close. There's one major MMO which is focused on PvP. Pretty much everything else is focused on PvE.  It seems really uncharitable of PvE players to feel aggrieved that a new game is focused on a different audience.

Of course new game devs are going to try and make PvP games. That's the under-served market. It's the market where you don't have to compete with the behemoths.

I'm a primarily PvE player. I have to admit that there's a ton of options for me. My biggest problem is choosing the MMOs I don't want to play.

I kind of feel for the PvP players. If you want an MMO where PvP is more than a sideshow, you're basically limited to Eve. And if spreadsheets in space isn't your thing, you're out of luck.

For PvE players to complain about the current situation is just being churlish.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Crowfall: Kickstarter, More Thoughts

Crowfall announced its Kickstarter today. It is already more than half-way to the goal, which means there's a very strong chance it will be successful. I backed it, as I am always in favor of games that try new things. And Crowfall is especially good in that it is set up to try many new things as new campaigns with new rulesets start up.

The other interesting thing I saw was Crowfall's rules for Faction campaigns. There are three factions: Order, Chaos, and Balance. Very archetypical factions. But the win conditions are amusing. Order and Chaos win if they have the most points at the end. But Balance wins if Order and Chaos have roughly the same amount of points.

It's a very neat way of keeping the factions level, while also adhering to the lore. The only issue I can see is that the equilibrium selects for Balance. If Order or Chaos is dominant, Balance allies with the other. But if Balance is dominant, Order and Chaos cannot ally to defeat Balance. Allying only plays into Balance's goals.

Still, though, we'll have to see how it plays out.

I think Crowfall's Achilles' Heel is going to be performance and responsiveness. I know I harp on this a lot, but in some ways, performance is more important than all the creativity in the rules and game design. Games are a tactile experience, and a successful game must "feel" right when you're playing. You get that wrong, and your game dies.

Also, I think the developers should stop referencing Game of Thrones so much. It's kind of weird, in the "they're going to get sued" sort of vein. I'm not a fan of GoT [1], so it's a turn-off for me.

1. The problem with killing off all the characters the reader cares about, is that the reader is left with a book filled with characters she doesn't care about.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Account Sharing in the Mythic Race

Congratulations to Method for getting the World First Blackhand kill!

However, World First races would not be themselves without random drama. The drama this time around revolves around account sharing. More accurately, it's around the practice of transferring characters between unrelated accounts. Essentially, in order to stack classes at the very edge fights, edge guilds sometimes transfer geared alts from one player to another.

This is a clear violation of the Terms of Service. As well, Blizzard recently made an example of a couple prominent streamers for doing something similar, handing out permanent bans. So naturally there is a call for Blizzard to do the same thing to high-end raiders who transfer characters.

The argument in favor of punishment is straight-forward. Rules are rules. This practice is against the rules, and thus should be punished.

The high-end raider argument is actually rather interesting. They argue that though the actions are against the letter of the rules, they are not against the spirit of the rules.

Account sharing is banned for two reasons. First, it can often cause customer service issues. Anna uses Betty's character and then disenchants all her gear. Betty complains to customer service. The second reason is that account sharing and character transfers are often used for "boosting". Betty gives her character to Anna. Anna then power-levels the character, gets a high PvP rating, or gets a Mythic achievement for Betty. Betty is able to enjoy the rewards of such achievements, without putting in the work to earn them.

The high-end raiders point out that neither of these reasons apply. There won't be any customer service issues. There is also no boosting going on. Before the transfer, there are 20 players. After the transfer, there are the same 20 players in the raid, just one is on a different character.

They also point out that the secondary effects of a "zero tolerance" policy might be negative. Guilds might start requiring that players have and gear up even more extra characters. Or they might start to sport larger rosters, with a much larger bench that is only brought in when class stacking is required. This bench, of course, would drawn from the guilds directly below them, and they in turn would need to poach more people from the groups below. All this just for an extra ten or fifteen people who barely get to raid.

I find myself torn between the two arguments. Rules are rules, and it is essential for the rules to be applied impartially in a game. Yet at the same time, I think the high end argument is essentially right. What they are doing is not the same underlying negative behavior the rules were meant to guard against.

My Solution - Disallow Class-Stacking

My solution, as normal, is extreme. The root of the problem is class-stacking. So let's disallow class-stacking in Mythic. Mythic already has one strict restriction requiring a maximum of 20 players.

Let's add another restriction: a raid can have a maximum of 3 characters of any given class in a Mythic instance. Three druids, three paladins, three monks, three warlocks, etc.

This cuts off class-stacking at the knees. Mythic is already for the most experienced and skilled players, so another restriction is not going to faze them. It reduces the number of alts required by the high end, maybe even making life a little easier.

Then Blizzard can stop turning a blind eye to account sharing or character transfer at the high end. The rules could be applied impartially.

Friday, February 20, 2015

WoW Videos: Welcome to the Deadmines

Here's another classic WoW video by Adrian Drott, Irdeen, and Jessie Cox: Welcome to the Deadmines.

This is from before the revamped Deadmines had been revealed.

It's from the Rise to Power contest back in 2010. That contest produced a lot of good videos, including Greyfoo's Scarlet Toy. I'm not entirely certain why that contest in particular was so productive. Perhaps the topic was just restrictive enough to fuel creativity, without being too constraining.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Crowfall: Guineceans, Physics

Crowfall released some more information today: a couple of new archetypes and some information about physics.


I've mentioned before that I don't like short races in most MMOs. For some reason, the trend over the last few years has been to make then nasty, evil creatures.

Crowfall unveiled their short race, the Guinecean Duelist, based on guinea pigs, it looks like. I really like the background story they gave them. It makes them almost noble, and genuinely good and fun. More like Reepicheep from Narnia, rather than goblins. This race just felt like a breath of fresh air to me. I don't normally play short races, but I might make an exception for these guys.


Crowfall also revealed that they are attempting to add real-world physics to the game model. This includes collision, as well as momentum. If they pull this off, it will be very cool. However, it will be interesting to see if they can actually pull this off in a server-based PvP game.

As well, real-world physics has a lot of potential for griefing. The physics model includes projectiles, so it includes the possibility of friendly fire. One thing I do like is that the devs have outlined a plan where they can "fall back" on different options if it turns out that friendly fire causes too much grief. This plan includes turning friendly fire off entirely as the last resort.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

MMOs to Play Again, Someday

I've been wandering across MMO sites that have been discussing different games. I see some stories for some games, and kind of get an urge to play them again. Though I probably won't because of the lack of time. Then there are some games which I played, and have zero desire to try again.

Would Play Again

TERA - It's still the best and most visceral combat out of all the MMOs I've played. But I don't think the surrounding elements have been improved.

The Secret World - Every time I see people raving about the content in TSW, I get the urge to play again. But then I remember the combat, and how lackluster the performance and responsiveness was.

Defiance - I found Defiance pretty fun. Just not fun enough to keep going.

Elder Scrolls Online - Again, lackluster combat killed this game for me. But I do kind of regret not getting to max level at least and seeing the story.

Not Interested

Rift - I'm not really sure why I don't want to play Rift again. I can't really point to anything the game does poorly. I even had a max level character, before the expansions. Yet I have zero desire to play Rift.

Lord of the Rings - It's just too old for me. It used to be in the "would play again" category, but then I downloaded it and started playing. Fifteen minutes later I couldn't take the graphics and performance anymore.

Age of Conan - another one which I kept thinking that I'd like to try again. Then I did, and got reasonably far leveling before I couldn't take the control scheme anymore.

What MMOs would you like to give another chance?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Randomness in Hearthstone

Syncaine commented:
The '90% of outcomes are decided by dice' aspect makes [Hearthstone] a very poor game, which IMO is the bigger problem, and got MUCH worse with the last expansion. Does anyone, winner or loser, feel good about a game being decided by the dice behind Unstable Portal? And you can't build a deck with limited luck factors, as some of the best cards (such as unstable portal) are also the big dice roll cards.
It's true that Hearthstone has a lot of cards with random effects. However, I don't agree that this specific element makes Hearthstone more or less skillful than Magic.

First, randomness is just probability. Probability can be factored into your plans. You can mitigate the randomness with tactics. Yes, sometimes you'll get very unlucky. But over time, skillful play that accounts for probability will win.

You can see this because the same people tend to win, tend to put up consistent records. That is a sure sign of a game that requires skill.

It's like poker. Poker is very random. But it's still a skill-based game. Randomness in and of itself does not exclude skill.

Second, there is a huge source of randomness present in Magic that is missing from Hearthstone: resources. Magic requires land cards in your deck. Drawing the right amount of land is a huge factor in determining victory in Magic. In fact, a good deal of skill goes into constructing the mana base for a given deck. Almost every new player makes decks with 20 land, which is a mistake (unless running extreme aggro). They need to learn that the more correct number is 24 lands. A lot of the time, the endgame in Magic can come down to who draws a threat versus who draws an unneeded land.

That source of randomness is completely missing from Hearthstone. There is no mana-screw or mana-flood in Hearthstone. Resource gain is not random, but completely predictable.

From my perspective, Hearthstone and Magic have similar amounts of randomness. Hearthstone merely moves the randomness from resource generation to gameplay effects. You can still play skillfully with random effects. You just have to take probability into account, and have backup plans for being unlucky.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Hearthstone Interactivity, Part II

Continuing on from the previous post, let's look at an alternate scheme to increase interactivity in a game like Hearthstone. This scheme is used in several CCGs. I first encountered in the Babylon 5 CCG.

Essentially, the rounds become simultaneous. Each person gets a new mana crystal at the same time, and draws a card at the same time. Then one player takes an action to cast a spell or attack. That spell/action is resolved. Then the next player takes an action. You go back and forth until both players pass in a row. At that point the round ends, and a new round starts.

This isn't quite as responsive as Magic. But it makes the game closer to something like chess, where players alternate moves. If Anna does something that requires multiple actions, Betty has a chance to interrupt Anna.

Now, this scheme does have downsides. Needing to wait for the other person to pass can lead to stalling.

As well, this scheme sometimes devalues combinations of cards. For example, let's say Anna has a 4/4 on the board. Betty has a 1/1 and a Blessing of Kings (+4/+4) in her hand. Under the old rules, Betty could play her 1/1 and boost it to 5/5, putting her in a good position. Now if Betty plays the 1/1, Anna's 4/4 will immediately attack and kill it.

Building synergistic combinations of cards is a great part of the fun of CCGs. Schemes that promote more individually powerful cards at the expense of combinations can prove to be less fun.

This scheme also makes the decision tree a lot more complex, where you have to keep in mind your opponent's possible moves. It might very well be a strength of Hearthstone that each turn is self-contained, and allows a newer player to reason out her entire turn without interference from the other side.

Like, in current Hearthstone, if you play an incorrect sequence, it's fairly obvious when you recognize what the better sequence would be. But adding the other player's moves into the mix muddles that clarity.

Still, though, the scheme outlined above is more interactive than the current version of Hearthstone, and is also more suitable for computer play.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Hearthstone Interactivity Compared to Magic

One common criticism of Blizzard's Hearthstone from more experienced gamers is that actual gameplay is rather simple and not very interactive. There is a great deal of truth to this, especially compared to Magic: the Gathering. In Hearthstone, one player takes a turn and does several actions, while the other player watches. In some ways, it's like playing chess, but each side gets to take four moves at a time.

It is possible that this simplicity has helped Hearthstone's popularity. The decision tree is far simpler, and because several actions will occur on the opponent's turn, it's not worth predicting many turns ahead. It's much easier for a new player to play a turn at a time, and still string together a successful series of moves, giving them a decent chance of winning. In a more interactive game, the new player would fail to predict her opponent's responses, and end up making mistakes more often.

But if you've played Magic, Hearthstone does come across as overly simple. The big problem is that Magic's system for interactivity works fine when playing in the real world, but is absolutely horrific when translated to a computer.

Magic uses something called the "stack". When a player plays a spell or ability, the opponent gets a chance to respond with another spell or ability. This second ability goes "on top" of the first ability, and can be responded to in the same fashion. Thus a "stack" of spells is built, and when there are no more responses, the spells begin to resolve in Last In, First Out order, starting with the last played spell at the top of the stack.[1]

For example, let's say Anna has a Grizzly Bear with 2 toughness. Betty plays Shock dealing 2 damage targeting the Bear. Anna responds with Giant Growth, giving the Bear an extra 3 toughness. The stack unwinds, and Giant Growth resolves first, making the Bear's toughness 5 in total. Shock then resolves and deals 2 damage to the Bear. That isn't enough to kill it, so the Bear stays alive.

You can see how interactive this simple example is, especially compared to Hearthstone. But when you translate this to the computer, it becomes very annoying, as Magic Online showed us. You have to ask the player if she wants to respond after every spell, and the player has to say no. Whereas in a real world game, only a few spells will actually have responses, and it's fairly easy for the opponent to interrupt and say they have a response.

The computer could skip asking responses if the player can't actually respond. However, that gives away information. Knowing that your opponent does not have a Counterspell or other response is a powerful piece of information.

This is the main reason Hearthstone is not interactive. Interactivity on the level of Magic is supremely annoying when playing a computer game.

Could Hearthstone have split the difference and made a more interactive game? Possibly. In the next post I'll outline another system used by other CCGs that might be a better translation for computer card games.

1. Yes, Magic players. This is a simplification of the stack. You can also respond to your own spells, and stop the stack as it unwinds and then add new spells to the top.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Chores, Feeling "Forced" and "Nothing to do"

I saw this excellent post by Torvald on the WoW forums. It's long, and a little hard to excerpt, but it's well worth your time.

Essentially, Torvald says that a lot of people on the forums are complaining about "having 'nothing to do' and the sense of being forced to spend all your time in garrisons doing garrison chores." But this isn't actually true, as he goes on to list the many, many activities available in current WoW. And he's right. Objectively, there are more activities available in Warlords than in any of the past versions.

So what then accounts for the general feeling of malaise? Torvald theorizes that the first few minutes of gaming session set the tone for the remainder of the session. Spending the first 15 minutes when you log in on garrison maintenance drains the player of energy, and that pushes them to log out instead of continuing on with a more fun activity.

So why then do players insist on doing those chores first? Torvald offers this explanation:
People hate the sense that a reward dangled right in front of them will be lost permanently if they fail to act. The Garrison chores are a perfect example of this. Anytime you fail to act, you give up a reward. The reward is sitting right in front of you, requiring you to do nothing more than interact with it to pick it up (mine nodes, herb garden, work orders). The more accessible a reward is to your initial log-in point, the more you will feel like the "right" way to play is to engage with it. Not doing the task to get the reward makes you feel like you're stupidly giving up a gain, and no one likes to feel as if they're playing the game "wrong." So you feel compelled mentally to engage that content. [Emphasis mine.]
He offers some suggestions about how WoW can go about remedying this. The post is a lot longer that what I've summarized, and contains some other interesting ideas. It's worth reading.

I think that in a lot of ways Torvald is right. I don't play WoW often these days, but whenever I do play, I ignore my garrison completely and jump straight into whatever activity I really want to do.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Crowfall: Pricing, Currency


Crowfall released its planned pricing scheme. They're planning on Buy-2-Play with a cosmetic cash shop and an optional subscription. Seems pretty reasonable to me.

Though the subscription looks really optional. The basic plan allows you train one character, while the subscription allows training for three.

There's also a PLEX-like item that can be traded for a month's subscription. I'm not sure about this. Crowfall's main draw is resetting worlds. Throwing this in the mix seems like it skews the resources on a single world. At least in Eve the universe is permanent.


The other interesting dev comment I saw was:
We are giving the players the tools of an economy but what becomes the defacto unit for trade will be decided by what people start selling their goods for. Could be wood, ore, ore smelted into coins, if so which ore is the one used? Fun times for sure! 
This strongly implies that there is no default currency like gold, credits, or ISK. Instead the entire game will work on barter. This also implies that there is no automated trade mechanism like an auction house.

This is a pretty interesting system. I have no idea how it will work out.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Mythic Alt Runs, Attuning Items

I think we got a little far from what I really wanted to discuss with the last post on Mythic Alt Runs. The way I see it, there are three possibilities:
  1. Mythic alt runs are fine, so we don't need to do anything.
  2. Mythic alt runs are unhealthy, but the cure would be worse than the disease.
  3. Mythic alt runs are unhealthy, and need to be fixed.
Personally, I'm leaning towards option 2. I think the alt runs are unhealthy for the game, and hurt the experience of the top guilds. But on the other hand, that's only a very small portion of the audience. Furthermore, those people are known for doing crazy things in pursuit of World Firsts. If they didn't do alt runs, they'd probably be doing something else just as unhealthy.

Previous excesses in the top guilds, like consumable or class stacking, caused issues because it was required for lower tier guilds to do the same thing to beat those fights. In contrast, alt runs just accelerate the process of getting gear. In a couple months, a regular raid will catch up with enough gear. 

As well, any solution to alt runs would end up hitting all the other raiders in the game. This would probably hurt their experience.

I can only see two solutions to alt runs. First, Gevlon suggested that Heroic Mode use Personal Loot. This would stop alt runs for sure. However, many players--including myself--really dislike Personal Loot, especially for guild raids. It's a necessary evil for LFR and pick-up groups, since you can't trust everyone, but not something to be used for true extended content.

Attuning Items

The second solution would be a cap on how many new epics can be equipped in a given time period. For example, imagine that items had three states:
  • Unbound - can be traded to other players
  • Soulbound - cannot be traded to other players
  • Attuned - cannot be traded to other players
Simply getting a Bind-On-Pickup item makes it soulbound. But actually equipping an item "attunes" it. The restriction would be that you can only attune 1 or 2 items a week. Once you've hit your limit, you simply can't equip new items.

There are some advantages to this scheme. You can put in a lot of different ways to get epics, without making a player "need" to do all of them. You could make a rule that the limit only applies to epics, and that gives blue items a slight advantage over epics, which might come in handy when introducing new content such as 5-man dungeons. It generally slows the pace of gear acquisition down, and spreads it out, rather than getting the majority of your items quickly and then waiting for the last few pieces to dribble in.

But it would be a big change. It might be a good change, but it's also not a change that should be done just to stop Mythic alt runs.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Are Mythic Alt Raids a Problem?

WoW just released the latest raid, Blackrock Foundry, and the race for Mythic World First is in full swing. However, all the edge guilds are using a potentially worrisome tactic, perhaps one that could cause issues if it filters into the playerbase at large.

Each guild is running multiple (around 5 or more) Hard Mode raids, and funneling loot to the main raiders in each group. For example, the group takes 26 alts and 4 main raiders and clears Hard Mode. Every single piece of loot goes to those 4 main characters. The raid is 30 people to maximize the amount of loot per main. They then do this multiple times, until all their mains have run through the instance. Almost all edge guilds did this last week, when Mythic wasn't open.

Paragon, the guild who won the Highmaul race (and many other World Firsts from previous expansions), even delayed starting Mythic this reset in order to do the HM clears and funnel loot to mains. As a result, they started late, but have rapidly caught up. If Paragon ends up clearing Blackrock Foundry first, it's certain that all the other Mythic guilds will start imitating them.

This tactic is pretty hard to stop. And it does put a large burden on raiders. Each raider needs to maintain 5 or more raid-worthy characters, and run the lower instance multiple times each week. And that's even before we get into the actual Mythic content.

To be honest, the only mechanic I can think of that would stop this tactic is to cap the number of new epics a character can gain or equip per week. And that would hit everybody. Of course, a normal player generally doesn't get a lot of epics each week in regular play.

So maybe this is a case of just letting edge players kill themselves if they so desire. However, this tactic can work at lower levels too. A guild targeting Hard Modes could funnel loot from Normal Mode raids. I'm not certain that funneling loot would spread to lower tier guilds, but it certainly will become the norm among all the Mythic guilds.

It might be worthwhile to restrict everyone to prevent the high end guilds from demanding that every applicant have 5 raid-worthy characters.

Edit:  it occurs to me that there's another reason that alt runs have become significantly better this expansion: gear consolidation.

In previous expansions, if you were a Holy Paladin, you could expect that 2/3 of the plate dropped were strength plate, and 1/3 were intellect. Now all plate drops are usable. So that's 50-200% more loot for each character, with a corresponding 50-200% more chance for Warforged or socketed gear.

That's the same for every class, even cloth, since spirit is no longer on armor.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Twitter Integration

World of Warcraft is introducing Twitter Integration in Patch 6.1:
We have a new feature coming in Patch 6.1 that’ll allow you to send out Tweets directly to your Twitter feed while playing World of Warcraft. It includes the ability to send out text-only Tweets; easily take, crop, and Tweet out in-game screenshots; and let your friends know about your recent accomplishments.
It's not automated at all, and looks to be entirely under the player's control. If there is Twitter spam, that will be entirely the fault of the player.

Reaction, at least on the forums and in comments, seems to be fairly negative. At best, people feel it is a waste of resources. At worst, some people believe this heralds the decline of Western Civilization.

I take the opposite position. Now, I tried Twitter for a bit, and then dropped it, so this is a feature I will never use. However, there are a couple of positive results from Blizzard undertaking this.

First, consider the "This is EVE" trailer. If there is one lesson that MMOs should take from that trailer, it is that genuine player enthusiasm is the best way to market these games. Players visibly having fun playing these games, and getting excited over random things, are an enormously powerful tool for attracting new players or bringing back lapsed players.

Twitter integration is a easy way to expose genuine player activity to others. Since players are fully in control of their tweets, they will tweet things at an acceptable level. Or at least a level where they avoid everyone unfollowing them.

Second, this is a low stakes project for Blizzard devs to work with integrating with another company's service. At least one where the end user triggers the external service during gameplay. In many ways, the computer world is moving towards integration of services from many different companies, or even within the same company.

While not complex, there are always small things that go wrong with these things. You have to account for the other company behaving weirdly, or changing the rules on you. Developing best practices in a simple project like this can help with future projects. For example, integration in future games.

I think that those two reasons--especially the marketing one--are good enough to make this project worthwhile.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Shadow Realms Cancelled In Favor of SWTOR

Interesting news from Bioware Austin. They cancelled Shadow Realms, and explicitly stated that they would be focusing resources on SWTOR:
But the biggest focus for our team in BioWare Austin will be on Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. As every Star Wars™ fan knows, this is a massive year in the Star Wars universe. We have some great plans for expanding this epic game this year, and look forward to sharing the news about those plans with our players in the coming weeks.
I can't wait to see Syncaine's reaction.

It does make sense that Bioware will try to use the new Star Wars movie as an opportunity to attract more people to TOR. If it doesn't suck horribly, a new Star Wars movie will bring in a lot of fans who want to play a Jedi or Sith (or maybe even a non-force user if there is a character as good as Han Solo).

In the Producer's Road Map, also released today, Bioware reiterated that they would be focused on story going forward (as opposed to last year when they released Galactic Starfighter and Housing):
Some of you might remember before launch, we talked a lot about the “four pillars” of RPGs – combat, exploration, progression and story. Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ is an MMO, but it’s also a BioWare game. Three years ago, we set out to deliver a product that contained the best of two worlds – the immersive story experience from a single-player RPG and the vast array of systems and social connection from an online multiplayer game. Since launch, we have mainly focused on the latter, adding Galactic Strongholds, achievements, legacy perks, reputation tracks, and Galactic Starfighter. But with the success of the Shadow of Revan expansion, we think it’s time that we return to our roots and what truly makes our game unique: story. 
Shadow of Revan was just the beginning. In 2015, we are committed to bringing you more character-driven adventures in the Old Republic universe. You’re going to see a unified story, with a focus on themes that unite our eight classes – everyone is a veteran from the Galactic Civil War with a complicated past and an uncertain future. You’ll see a greater emphasis on your character’s personal history, and on the choices you make. I don’t want to say too much more since we are still in the midst of development, but what we have planned really gets back to the Star Wars™ fantasy at the heart of our game.
The part I am not thrilled about is the "unified" story. That strongly implies that the story will be the same for both Empire and Republic. I'm sort of resigned to not having class stories any more, but I really hope that at least the Empire experience is different from the Republic experience.

Edit: I forgot to mention the most important part of the new Star Wars movie. The Cartel Market will probably sell a cross-hilt lightsaber!

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Shadow of Revan from the Republic Side

I finished the Republic story of Shadow of Revan with my Jedi Knight. Shintar was right, the Republic version does make a little more sense than the Imperial version. Things are explained a little bit better in the Republic dialogue.

It's still not a very good story, but at least it's logical now.

I did find it interesting how, even though the missions and cutscenes are the same on both sides, the dialogue is different. For example, on Rishi, the pirate faction you belong to is different. Imperial characters belong to the Howling Tempest, while Republic characters belong to a different gang who everyone thinks are cannibals.

So even though the stories are the same, they must have recorded at least twice as much dialogue as scenes.  You always hear that voice acting is the big cost in SWTOR, but maybe this means that it's really the missions and cutscenes which are expensive, rather than voice actors.

Overall, I don't think I approve of the way this Bioware team handled Revan. Revan was the signature character of Knights of the Old Republic. He deserved a better ending than being a random crazy Force-user boss. In some ways, I feel the current Bioware team was disrespectful of the KotoR Bioware team in their handling of Revan in this expansion.

I think this expansion was a missed opportunity in terms of story. I mean, why not spin a story around the Revanites recruiting the main character? After all, why wouldn't Revan want to ally with Jedi or Dark Council member, or character of similar status? Such an ally would only help his plans. And then, there's a lot of places you can go from there. I think a story like that would be a far more suitable Chapter Five story than what we got.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Massively OP and BlizzardWatch, Part III

More and more interesting things keep happening in the saga of Massively Overpowered (formerly Massively) and BlizzardWatch (formerly WoW Insider). In some ways, it's a microcosm of the issues faced by all media in the Internet Age. It's especially interesting that each site is pursuing different strategies for funding.

BlizzardWatch is relying on Patreon, where individuals pledge a small amount every month. They get less money upfront, but in theory they have a somewhat reliable income every month. They started out aiming for $8000 per month, and currently have about $13,000 per month pledged.

MassivelyOP opted for a Kickstarter to raise $50,000 upfront. This seed capital will go towards the site and give them time to actually generate income.

Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. I think MassivelyOP is betting, that as a more general site, it can generate enough revenue from advertisers, from all the different companies looking to make MMOs.

BlizzardWatch, on the other hand, really only has Blizzard and maybe a few other related companies as potential advertisers. So they are trying to be primarily supported by reader contributions.

In some ways, it is similar to the situation between public broadcasters like PBS versus the major networks like NBC. (Only the government isn't involved at all.) In television, the ad-supported networks basically won, having the largest number of viewers and the most content. The public broadcasters do survive, and often put out unique and different shows.

Of course, that's a very different medium. While MassivelyOP is more general than BlizzardWatch, they're still both very niche. The outcome here might be entirely different.

Friday, February 06, 2015

WoW Videos: Phantom of the Battleground

This video came out in 2013, but it came up when I was surfing YouTube recently. It is still excellent. The lyrics, video, and voices are just amazing. Using The Phantom of the Opera was inspired. The video is by Roghar, the male singer is Kavo and the female singer is SilverLetomi.

This is probably the best "parody" style WoW video I have seen.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Underlurker in Temple of Sacrifice

My raid team finally finished the Story Mode versions of the two raid instances in Shadow of Revan in TOR. We were stuck on the third boss of Temple of Sacrifice, the Underlurker, for several weeks. We finally beat it by having tank switch to a DPS character, as well as having geared up more.

It's interesting, because this fight fails for a very simple reason: target-switching is a lot harder for lower-skill groups than you would predict.

During Underlurker, three adds will spawn and do an AOE attack. After a few seconds, rocks will drop from the ceiling and the raid has to hide behind the rocks. Then there's a mechanic where the boss has a cross telegraph appear under him, and the raid needs to put a certain number of people in each arm of the cross (1 in front, 1 in back, 3 on each side) before it activates. This cycle repeats about 5 times before enrage.

When you first do the fight, you think the cross mechanic is the difficult part. But--save when it was very buggy upon first release--the cross isn't the hard part. The hard part is getting down the three adds while still dealing enough damage to the boss that you can kill it before enrage.

That is entirely about target-switching and bursting the adds down. Which is something that lower-skill groups have a lot of troubles with, resulting in a fight which is unusually difficult for its placement.

The best solution is to reduce the health of the adds and boss in Story Mode, to give more leeway for time lost to switching targets.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

WoWInsider and Massively Updates

WoW Insider

WoW Insider has reincarnated as Blizzard Watch. They set up a Patreon fund, and currently have abou $12,000 pledged monthly. We'll see how much of that is real, and how much evaporates 3 months from now.

But still, it's an impressive job by the Blizzard Watch team and the community. The new site is pretty nice as well. I also under-estimated how much they needed to run the site. I was expecting it to cost more.


The Massively crew has announced plans to return as Massively Overpowered. They don't have a site up yet, but they have a Twitter account. I wonder if they will do as well as Blizzard Watch. It's possible that Blizzard Watch has stolen a march on Massively, and sucked up a lot of the community dollars. I guess it would depend on the audience overlap of the two sites.

I must confess that I don't really like the new name. I know what they're trying to get at, but Massively Overpowered is such a "gamist" name. It kind of brings to mind people arguing about their classes on forums. It feels like gamer bravado to me, more than anything else.

The original, just plain "Massively", always invoked the word "multiplayer" for me. It highlighted that these games were about building worlds and large communities. It evoked a very positive, forward-looking perspective, with a larger sense of scale.

Adding the word "Overpowered" cuts against that sense of scale, and drags the perspective back to that of trolls slinging mud on the forums. It's gamer slang, with negative connotations, and thus evokes negative gamer behavior.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Varied Intensity

I saw a thread on a forum asking if you would play an MMO which only had raiding. My immediate answer was "No".

Now, I like raiding. But for me, raiding has too intense a pace to sustain long hours. It's good to raid a couple nights a week. But I like having a wide variety of activities with different intensities. Sometimes you just want to log on and do something that doesn't require a lot of thought.

Thinking back on it, I believe this is where Wildstar went wrong for me. The base of level of intensity required for normal questing was just too high. Killing a regular mob required a lot of running around and dodging telegraphs.  I don't mind jumping up to that level every so often, like say a dungeon. But having that being the standard gameplay was very tiring.

In fact, I think this is a problem with "action combat" games in general. They dial up the action a bit too much, and that ends up tiring out a lot of the players. In contrast, tab-target games usually start from a lower baseline, and ramp up the intensity for specific moments or specific fights.

Interestingly enough, if you look at Tera, even though it's action combat, the baseline pacing is actually rather slow.

You often see calls for the developers to make activities like fishing more interesting or more active. But perhaps the allure of fishing for a lot of people is precisely the fact that it's not very intense or very active. It's a good activity for times when you just want to do something that doesn't require a lot of effort.

For me, I would say that FFXIV has my ideal baseline intensity. It's a bit slower than WoW, especially modern WoW which is rather faster than Vanilla was. Admittedly, paladins used to only have 2 actions every 15 seconds or so (Judge/Seal), which was way too relaxed.

What game represents your ideal baseline intensity?

Monday, February 02, 2015

Crowfall: Eternal Heroes, Dying Worlds

Apropos of the last post [1], Crowfall offers their first look at how they propose to make PvP work:
What if characters are persistent/permanent – but the Worlds are not? 
What if your character exists outside of any given Campaign, and can join new matches once a match is over? 
This opens up a whole new world of design possibilities.
  • Characters are permanent, and advance over the course of many Campaigns.  This gives you the feeling of persistence that we’ve come to expect from MMOs. 
  • Campaigns, though, aren’t permanent.  They still be “persistent” between game sessions – but they don’t last forever. 
  • How long should the last?  As long as the game is still fun!  And they don’t all have to be the same duration.  Some Campaigns could last 1 week, or 1 month.  or 6 months.  or 1 year.
  • These Campaigns aren’t just “instances”, though -- they are fully populated, continent-sized, seamless zone MMO servers.  The only thing they have in common with an “instance” is that they are time-limited.
  • Because each Campaign is marching towards an end condition, this means that the World doesn’t have to be static anymore. We can break the Campaign into different “phases”, and adjust the rules of the game change during each phase.  We can allow the players to fundamentally change the world, without fear of the long term problems this might create.
  • Why not make each Campaign unique?  Why can’t each one have a completely unique world map (mountains, forests, lakes, castles, villages, quarries, mines, mills – you name it)?  The “exploration” phase of the game can be different in each Campaign.  The world will never be stale.
  • To that point: since each game is a stand-alone event, we can even change the rules (and win conditions) of each Campaign.  We can experiment with different rules, to see which ones are more popular – and keep the game continually fresh.
This is really interesting. In some ways, it's in-between lobby games, and fully persistent MMOs. It's not transient gameplay, because the "Campaigns" last for a long time, maybe even months or years. But it's not fully permanent, either.

The universe is persistent as a whole, but not individual worlds.

In particular, it also gives the devs a lot of leeway to experiment with rulesets and conditions. This part might prove to be unexpectedly powerful. It's entirely possible that the devs could randomly hit upon a new ruleset that becomes very popular and the format for future MMOs.

However, the problem might still be that people will flock to the winning teams. They'll just do so before each Campaign starts. You might be able to do something where people commit to Campaigns at the guild level. I.e. The guild chooses a world, and that's the campaign that people in the guild are committed to until the end. Since it's on a long timescale, new Campaigns can start while previous ones are still in progress, creating new boards where none of the existing "winning" teams can participate. Which will in turn create new winning teams.

Honestly, I have no idea how successful this will be. But it is really exciting to see someone trying something bold. I strongly hope that the Crowfall devs pay as much attention to responsiveness and technical quality as they are to design quality. It would be a terrible waste if this game ended up failing because combat was sluggish or an abundance of bugs.

1. The comments on the last post were just excellent. Well worth reading if you haven't.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Flaw in Extended PvP

As Gevlon astutely points out in the comments on the last post, there is a basic flaw in Extended PvP (PvP carried out over multiple game sessions). Players will defect to the winning team. PvPers often talk about looking for good fights. But when you look at their behavior, they'd rather join the best side and steamroll the opposition, rather than do their best and lose narrowly. Sometimes it's even a self-fulfilling prophecy. Everyone believes X will win, and thus everyone joins X, leading X to win.

Transient PvP doesn't really have this problem. Since teams are formed anew at the start of each game or play session, matchmaking and randomness can generate teams with a reasonably equal chance to win. Or if a player finds themselves on a bad team, well, next game or session might be different.

So then the question becomes: How do we incentivize players to stay on losing teams, or even join the losing side? Can we also do this without incentivizing people to lose on purpose?

Perhaps we can do something with the reward structure. Maybe the faction with a losing record gets a higher number of guaranteed points win-or-lose, and an even greater number of points when they win. The problem with schemes like this is that you have to be very careful, or there will be an optimum point where below you want to win, and above you want to lose.

The only other idea I had was the winners automatically absorb the losers. Like if Faction A defeats some of Faction B in battle, those Faction B players become part of Faction A. Of course, this might lead to a positive feedback loop, where Faction A becomes quite large and ends up winning everything. So you'd have to build in some incentive for A to "split" apart.

Multiple faction games can make the equilibrium more stable. But there's still a possibility that one faction will end up overwhelming the others if enough people defect. As well, there's also the issue that the factions may opt for stability, rather than trying to defeat the others. Arguably, Eve Online has fallen into this state. The major players all have their own empires, and are fairly stable apart from minor skirmishes along the borders.

What other possibilities are there to keep teams or factions balanced in Extended PvP, while still keeping things from stagnating?