Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gaming Updates

I thought I'd make a quick post about what I'm doing in various games.

The Old Republic

I took a fourth character, my Trooper, to 60. As well, in preparation for Fallen Empire, I've been trying to cap out my companions' affection and stories.

In operations, my group managed to kill Underlurker, making us 5/10 HM. We've killed him three times so far, but it's still pretty sketchy, and we haven't been able to get time on the next boss. The big issue is that we are continually missing one or two people each week and have to get a PuG.

As for the rest, it looks like the rest of the guild outside our 8-man group has disappeared. I'm not sure what we'll do about that.

Final Fantasy XIV

The issue I'm having in FFXIV is that I don't really have a new goal to concentrate on. My main class, paladin, is pretty much done unless I want to venture into the harder content, Extremes or Alexander. But at that level it does require some work in finding decent groups or a static team.

So I'm desultorily levelling Miner, White Mage, Monk, and Mechanist. I'm just bouncing between them with no real enthusiasm.


I'm not really playing anything else. I did reinstall WoW, intending to at least get flying in Draenor, and see the new raid. But I haven't touched it for a couple of weeks. I think I'm just going to quit until the expansion.

I also reinstalled Diablo 3 to see the new patch. I got Kanai's Cube, but I don't really have any use for it. It seems to be aimed at the people who are more advanced in the D3 endgame than I am. I am only at Paragon 100 or so.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Player Bankers in SWTOR

I came across a neat emergent phenomenon in SWTOR: player bankers.

A non-subscriber in SWTOR has a credit cap of 350k credits. Once at the cap, any credits she gets above that amount go into an escrow account. She has to purchase escrow unlocks, either through the cartel market or on the auction house, to access any credits in the escrow account.

One method players have come up with to evade this restriction is player bankers. The banker is a subscriber, who can hold unlimited amounts of currency. When the non-subscriber approaches the cap, she deposits a significant sum with the banker, dropping her back below the cap. The banker keeps track of her account out of game, perhaps in a spreadsheet.

When the non-subscriber wants to purchase something expensive from the auction house, the banker acts as her agent. The banker purchases the item for her, and deducts the amount from her account. Usually the banker takes a fee at this point. Since the fee is less than the escrow unlock, the non-subscriber comes out ahead.

One thing about SWTOR F2P mechanics is that almost all unlocks are tradeable items, which can be bought and sold on the auction house. This is the feature which makes the banker a viable agent.

The transaction is also smoother. The non-subscriber doesn't need to juggle escrow unlocks, which come in specific sizes. She can make very large transactions just as easily as small transactions. I imagine that the banker can act as an agent for selling expensive items as well.

Of course, the downside is that the non-subscriber has to trust the banker. She has to trust him not to make off with the credits, but also to keep subscribing and keep showing up online. So most banker relationships occur through friend or guild channels.

I think it's an interesting phenomena throughout, and matches the historical emergence of banks to a degree. I also think that the more sandbox-style games can learn a lesson from this, and see that it might be possible to offload currency and monetary systems onto the players' shoulders, rather than insisting that it is handled by game systems.

Monday, August 17, 2015

PvP Changes in Legion

There are some very interesting changes coming for PvP in Legion:
  • No PvP-specific gear - Heh, I actually talked about this last year, and I'm amused to see that Blizzard is actually trying for it. PvP will reward gear, but it will be just like PvE gear.
  • Stats based on specialization - When you enter a PvP area, the stats from your gear are ignored. Instead you seem to get a set of stats based on your class specialization and item level. That template is common to everyone in your specialization. So if you have two Retribution paladins, one in Mastery gear and the other in Critical Strike gear, they will both have the same stats in PvP.  This allows you to just keep one set of gear on you at all times. This also gives Blizzard another knob they can tune which only affects PvP. For example, if Fire Mages are fine in PvE, but too weak in PvP, they can buff the Fire Mage PvP stat template.
  • Item level scaling is lower than PvE - In PvE, 15 ilevels correspond to about a 10% increase in power. In PvP, 15 ilevels will correspond to a much lower number, maybe 3% or so. So while improving your gear does make you better in PvP, it's a much smaller increase. The gap between high and low end will be much smaller.
  • Trinkets, set bonuses, and enchants do not work - Again, this eliminates much of the need to seek out specific pieces of gear.
  • PvP talent track - PvP has a separate talent track. As you earn "PvP XP", you advance along the talent track. You get what looks like passives and improved variants of abilities.
  • The talent track resets - Once you reach the end of the talent track, you can reset it, earning a cosmetic reward. I guess you can do this multiple times. Ideally, this means that people who PvP a lot don't have fixed advantage over other people. A full-time PvPer might actually be in the early part of track, working towards another cosmetic reward.
Overall, these changes look very interesting. A huge amount of experimentation, including a significantly reduced role of gear, something that PvPer's have been claiming they want for a long time.

There are some concerns of course. How will the talent track reset play with the serious PvPer crowd? If a maxxed talent track gives a significant advantage, wouldn't high-end PvPers be encouraged to avoid resetting it? That would probably make them unhappy, as they couldn't get any of the cosmetic rewards. Unless, of course, there are no rewards for getting a high rank or rating. But that seems just as weird.

How will Artifact Weapons interact with the PvP gear templates? Will your weapon become just a stat stick, or will it retain its power? How will that interact with your choices that you've made while leveling it?

Still, exciting times for PvP, and these changes should also make it a lot easier for PvE players to casually dip into PvP.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

External Drive Enclosure, FFXIV Summer Faire

External Drive Enclosure

Thanks to the recommendations of gamingsf and Pallais in a previous post, I purchased an external hard drive enclosure from Amazon. It only cost about $30 CAD. It's a pretty simple device, shaped kind of like a toaster. You plug a hard drive into the slot, and you can use it like an external drive through USB.

It worked reasonably well, though it was a little finicky. I had to try multiple USB slots before it finally registered. But once Windows detected the device, it worked well, and I was able to pull data off both hard drives from old machine.

I managed to get my FFXIV settings, so now all my gear sets and macros are back in place. That's a big relief, as I was avoiding logging in and rebuilding everything.

FFXIV Summer Faire

The latest holiday event in FFXIV is the Summer Faire. It's a pretty simple event, with a couple quest lines and a bunch of Fates in Costa del Sol. One interesting change is that there are repeatable quests for Fishermen and Culinarians, which are an alternate way of getting the holiday currency for this event.

As normal, the rewards are mostly cosmetic. Swimsuits, for the most part. One change is that this event does also have some of the rewards from the previous holiday event (yukatas). Perhaps this will be another way to get old rewards, as FFXIV revamps holiday events every year. Before this, old rewards went into the cash shop. I thought that was a pretty fair way of handling old rewards, but this is a good method as well.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ravenholdt or Riot

It always amuses me to compare the WoW player culture with Blizzard's WoW dev culture. A lot of the time they're the same. But sometimes there's a clearly inexplicable gap between the two.

Take the rogue class order hall, for example. If you asked the rogue community, they would all pick Ravenholdt Manor as the iconic rogue location. And with good reason. It has been the "rogue place" ever since Vanilla. Multiple class quests, as well as the legendary rogue dagger questline, have centered around Ravenholdt.

But Blizzard wants to put the Rogue order in the Dalaran sewers.

That is as pure an instance of tone-deafness on the part of the dev team as I can recall. First, no one really wants to end up in the sewers. Second, the Dalaran sewers used to be the PvP area, back in Wrath. That's what most people who were around back then associate with the location. Third, Dalaran is the mage city, and really has nothing to do with rogues.

Maybe if Ravenholdt didn't exist, the sewers would have been an okay choice. But it does exist, and it seems quite pointless to throw away all the history and resonance Ravenholdt has built up.

In any case, the Rogue community is trying to convince Blizzard to change course. Whether they'll succeed or not, I don't know. A lot of it might just come down to art time. If Blizzard has already finished the artwork and modelling for the Dalaran sewers, they may just stick with their decision.

Still, though, I take this instance as a caution against being too clever and dismissing bonds that the players have built up over the history of the game. Wherever possible, Blizzard should take advantage of those bonds, and allow them to do the heavy lifting.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Initial Thoughts on Legion

WoW's next expansion is Legion. I think it looks pretty interesting. A number of bloggers seem to think that it lacks a "game-changer", but I don't think a game-changer is really necessary.

Demon Hunters

The most interesting thing about demon hunters is that it is elf-only. This is pretty radical. For a while now, WoW has trended towards fewer restrictions. Classes have opened up to more races. For example, pretty much every race could be a monk or death knight. Demon Hunters represent a significant departure from that philosophy. Only high elves and blood elves can apply.

It's perfectly justifiable lore-wise. I think it's a better philosophy than the "all races can be all classes" ideal that WoW seemed to be heading to before.

The other interesting thing is that the Demon Hunter only has 2 specializations: one tank, one dps. Blizzard seems to be trying to move towards more distinctive specializations, and it will be interesting to see how the specializations for the other class weapons change.

Artifact Weapons

Taking a page from LOTRO's Legendary weapons and FFXIV's Relic weapons, Legion will introduce an artifact weapon for each specialization. This weapon looks like it will level up and improve over the course of the expansion, including cosmetic options.

Retribution Paladins will get the Ashbringer. It will be interesting to see weapons the other classes get. One neat idea I've seen is that Holy Paladins can use 2H maces, and Uther the Lightbringer's hammer was a 2H mace. That would be an outstanding artifact weapon for Holy Paladins.

Class Orders

After years of shying away from class quests and class-specific content, Blizzard is also reversing that stance and re-emphasising classes with class orders. Basically, each class gets a shared location where they reform an organization from the lore. It looks to be somewhat like the garrison, with followers or champions that you can recruit as well.

I strongly approve of this direction. Class lore is one of the strengths of Warcraft, and embracing it again is a great idea. Having a special location you share with others of your class is also good, and it will be interesting to see what locations are chosen.

Whatever is chosen, I expect the druid area to be a 24/7 dance party.

Story / New Areas

The story seems pretty solid. The Legion is one of the great enemies in Warcraft, and is always fun. There seems to be less emphasis on orcs (other than Gul'dan) which is good. The new areas all look interesting.

Class Changes

Legion seems to be bringing some extensive class changes. Blizzard has hinted that they want to try and differentiate the specializations more, and make them more focused around the class "fantasy". For example, Survival hunters are apparently becoming melee with a pet, which is pretty crazy. Beastmaster will be ranged with a pet, and Marksmanship will be ranged without a pet.

It will be interesting to see what they do with the other specializations.


Overall, I think the expansion looks pretty good. While there are no "game-changers", there looks to be lots of meat to delve into. If Blizzard can get the expansion out in a timely fashion, say November or December, I think they have a winner on their hands.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Client-side Settings

In the end I went with an ASUS Windows laptop. I had hoped that getting a machine which was somewhat aimed at gaming would cut down on the bloatware that came pre-installed. No such luck. I spent the first 30 minutes removing all the unnecessary programs. At least nothing looks malicious.

Then I set about the task of reinstalling software. It's actually kind of interesting what is saved client-side and what is saved on the server.

For FFXIV, pretty much all the settings are client-side. This includes things like gear sets and hot bars, in addition to all the UI and macros. I logged in to FFXIV, saw how much I would need to set up, and promptly logged out again. I'll have to tackle it a bit at a time.

For The Old Republic, at least the hotbars and key bindings are saved on the server. That saves a lot of work. The UI isn't saved, but I don't modify the base UI very much, so it shouldn't be that hard to set up again.

I think these long-term server-based games should strongly consider dividing the settings into machine-specific (graphics, sound) versus account-specific settings. And then saving the account settings on the server. It would cost some more space. But it really only needs to be downloaded at the start of the session, and saved at the end of the session.

Even just saving it as a giant blob of compressed text shouldn't be that bad. You could even take the hash of the settings and only change settings when the hash changes.

But it would make life a lot easier when moving between two machines.