Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rogue One

This post contains spoilers for Star Wars: Rogue One.

I saw Rogue One yesterday, and I am not quite sure how to word my feelings. It wasn't a bad movie, but it wasn't a very good one either. Decent enough, I guess.

The truth is that Rogue One commits the same sin as most modern action movies: there is too much action.

As a result, you can't really tell much about the characters, as they spent 95% of their time being shot at, shooting people, or running away from stuff. The characters certainly seemed serviceable enough, though I don't really remember their names or much about them.

The action set pieces all seemed fine and well done. I do wonder if the movie would have been better as a pure infiltration/heist piece, rather than the warzone of the last third.

I did like the bureaucratic in-fighting in the Empire, with both Tarkin and Krennic struggling to make sure they got credit for the Death Star. That felt very true to life.

Tarkin was CGI, and I thought that was pretty decent. I hope it doesn't start a trend of making movies with dead actors, though.

Vader's cameos were pretty good, especially at the end of the movie.

I don't really know what else I can say about Rogue One. A bunch of disjointed observations for a movie which really was a bunch of disjointed scenes strung together. Each individual scene was pretty good, but it never really became a whole, complete thing.

Monday, December 12, 2016

SWTOR's Command XP System

In their latest expansion, The Old Republic introduced a unified item reward system for endgame. Basically, all activities give some amount of "command" XP. Once you gain enough CXP, you gain a command level and get a lootbox. The lootbox has a random item in it. The quality of item you get depends on your current command level.

The community reaction to this is very negative. Personally, I don't think it's that bad a system. Its one great advantage is that you can do whatever activity you like, and you'll earn gear. You aren't "forced" to do raids or PvP.

But perhaps people like being able to "optimize" their gear hunt. To go after specific pieces in specific different activities. I complained once about grinding blue bars in WoW, specifically because you could not optimize your gameplay, and thus it was less interesting. In a way, this CXP system is very similar.

Or perhaps it's because the optimization is really obvious. Find the activity with the best ratio of CXP to time spent and spam it. Perhaps if Bioware made the CXP system artificially more complex, like having diminishing returns on activities, players would find it more "fun".

Another group of players complain because the system is entirely random. What if CXP had been a straight currency system, where you spend CXP at a vendor to purchase items? The grind is still there, but at least there is no random factor in obtaining loot. But then the random system gives you more gear because it expects you to end up wasting a large amount of it. A true purchase system would have very high prices to compensate.

Another possibility might be to "seed" the game with set tokens. Certain bosses or activities can reward specific set tokens, maybe with a cap on how many tokens you can earn in a week. So people can target those activities if they need that exact piece. The Command XP system would still exist, but would be more supplemental.

I don't know. I'm rather sympathetic to Bioware here. People always complain about "needing" to do activity X, which they dislike, to get gear. Bioware makes a decent system aimed squarely at letting you play whatever you want. And they end up with a huge community outcry.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Personal Loot and Set Pieces

I was musing about Personal Loot a bit more, and began to wonder if Personal Loot would fall out of favor with guilds when Nighthold is released.

A somewhat unique element of the raids released so far is that there have been no tier sets released. The first Legion tier set is coming in Nighthold.

At that point, though, guilds may feel that guaranteeing X set tokens for the raid each week through Master Loot is better than leaving set bonuses up to random chance. Sure, on an individual level you may have to wait, but eventually it will be your turn.

I'm also watching The Old Republic's new loot system, where all loot, including set pieces, comes in a random lootbox. It does feels like the the largest complaint against the system is the possibility of getting very unlucky and never getting your set bonuses.

Well, the SWTOR community doesn't like the system as a whole, but I think that the set pieces are the single biggest complaint. I wonder if Bioware could mitigate a lot of the complaints simply by having set tokens drop from a few raid bosses, even with leaving set pieces dropping from the lootbox as well.

It will be interesting to see if Nighthold does change the dynamic, and push organized raids back towards Master Loot.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Raiding and Time Management Issues

My guild is moving along steadily. We're currently 7/7 Heroic Emerald Nightmare (Ahead of the Curve!), but now we're running into time management issues.

It's actually kind of interesting how things have turned out. I think the guild leadership expected to be a casual Normal-mode guild for the most part, and maybe work on a few heroic bosses in the time left after the Normal raid ended. So we've ended up with a Normal raid on Friday where everyone in the guild is welcome to come. And then we have a Heroic raid on Saturday which you have to "qualify" for. 

The qualifications are really low, but it's just enough that you actually know the correct rotation for your spec and have minimal gear. But it's kind of indicative of the mindset of the guild, in that they see Heroic as "not for casuals".

The problem, however, is that even though we raid two days a week, it's sort of like we only raid one day a week, but in two different worlds. Friday we do 7/7 N EN, and there's maybe enough time to poke at Odyn. Saturday is 7/7 H EN, and again, barely enough time to poke at Trials of Valor.

If you add to that the casual inclination to farm gear before tackling something hard, and you can see how--even though we are relatively successful--we're kind of stuck at the same time, and not really progressing forward.

To me, the best solution would be to see if we can take the Friday group to Heroic EN. The vast majority of the raid is the same for both nights. (Though a lot of people now play alts on Friday.) If we can kill 3 or 4 Heroic bosses on Friday, I think that would free up enough time on Saturday to make solid attempts on Trials of Valor.

But I don't know if that squares with the way guild leadership views Heroic raiding. Ultimately, in their heart of hearts, I think they still believe we are a Normal mode guild, and the majority of people in the guild aren't really ready for Heroic raiding.

Monday, November 28, 2016

An Interesting Twist on Faction Warfare

The Old Republic is launching its latest expansion, Knights of the Eternal Throne, tomorrow. One of their new elements caught my eye. In the expansion, you declare if you are Light Side or Dark Side. Then doing stuff generates points for your side. Whichever side gets to LS/DS 5 first "wins", and that side gets gear faster. But for the other side:
During the “Victory State”, that side’s influence can be seen and felt throughout the galaxy. Powerful bosses loyal the victor’s side will appear on Tattooine, Alderaan, Hoth, and Dromund Kaas or Coruscant. On each of those worlds, there are 8-10 possible places the bosses may appear, and a 25% chance in each spawn area that the boss will stay and face battle. If the losing side can defeat these bosses they will earn bonus Command Experience as well as a chance to earn Dark or Light Tokens. For example, if the light side wins, light side bosses will randomly appear on some worlds. If dark-aligned players defeat these enemies, they have a chance to earn Dark Tokens. These tokens can be used at the special cosmetic item vendor mentioned above.
The losing side gets extra bosses to fight, as well as a boost in the next war. This is a pretty neat consolation for losing, as extra bosses/content is always fun. It's also very flavorful, as the new bosses represent the winning side oppressing the losing side or flaunting their power. I think this is a pretty decent attempt at making a mechanic which encourages the sides to switch winning and losing, and keep everyone from defecting to the winning side.

The only issue I see is that it would have been ever more flavorful as Republic versus Empire, rather than Light vs Dark. But I guess SWTOR has moved away from that faction division.

Friday, November 25, 2016

RPGs, Stats, and Conversations

I decided to try and finish some of the unfinished games that I have hanging around. I'm currently working on Pillars of Eternity. The first time I played Pillars, I was very enthusiastic at the start, but lost interest somewhere in Defiance Bay. This time through, though, I think I've put a finger on what caused me to stop playing.

I created a paladin, as normal. In Pillars, the paladin's main stat is Resolve. But many of the early Resolve conversation options are, well, not quite paladin-like.

The early Resolve conversation options are very aggressive, almost intimidating the opposition through sheer force of will. As an example, take Rorschach's famous line from Watchmen: "I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me." That's the kind of high-Resolve conversation options the early part of Pillars contains. I suppose it is high-Resolve, but it's not exactly paladin-like.

(Though perhaps Rorschach is a paladin, after a fashion. He certainly was the only one who stayed true to his beliefs, unflinching in the face of overwhelming opposition.)

A Paladin?
In any case, I think last time I was regretting making a character with high Resolve, and wishing I had spent my points in Perception or Intelligence. I think that's what caused me to drop away from the game the first time.

This time, though, I realized the issue, and simply ignored Resolve lines that I disliked. I'm also not really trying for "perfect" results, but just taking the outcomes as they happen. So I'm making more progress, and more fitting Resolve options are coming up later.

I thought it was an interesting conflict between stats and personality in the more old-school RPGs.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Loot System Suite

This would be my ideal suite of built-in loot systems for an MMO. Each system is aimed and optimized for a different audience.

1. Personal Loot
  • Items are handed out on an individual basis, and are independent of other people in the group.
  • Items cannot be traded.
  • Aimed at eliminating loot drama entirely, as you get what the system gives you.
  • Is the fixed loot system for any group activity where you queue for a group.

2. Master Loot
  • The group leader gets full control over who gets which items.
  • Items can be traded with other people in the same group.
  • Aimed at guild groups who want to use their own system, be it Loot Council, DKP, etc, to distribute loot.

3. Need/Greed with WinCount
  • 3 buttons on an item popup: Main-spec, Off-spec, Greed.
  • Main-spec beats Off-spec beats Greed.
  • Each button has a WinCount associated with it for each player.
  • WinCount starts at zero for the instance
  • When you win an item, the WinCount for the button you chose is incremented by 1.
  • Lower WinCount beats higher WinCount.
  • If choice and WinCount are tied, random roll for winner.
  • Items can be traded with other people in the same group. This does not affect WinCount.
  • No Disenchant option, so mistakes with loot are always recoverable.
  • Aimed at pre-made groups who want a reasonably fair loot system that distributes loot widely with minimal administrative overhead.
  • Someone who rolls Main-spec all the time is expected to be dealt with by the group leaders. If people insist on gaming the system, then Personal Loot or Master Loot is a better option.
  • Basically requires more trust, in exchange for more speed and less overhead.

4. Auction
  • 2 button on an item popup: Bid, Pass, with a short timer.
  • Bidding starts at 1000 gold.
  • Bid increases the current bid by 10%.
  • If the timer runs out, the item goes to the highest bidder.
  • Gold is taken from winning bidder and divided evenly among other players in the group.
  • Items cannot be traded.
  • If no one bids, the item is given to someone at random.
  • Aimed at pre-made groups which want to sell items to people, rewarding geared players who help carry the group.
  • This type of system is popular in Asia, so may as well build it in for them.
There would be some other restrictions. Like when you make a group in the group finder, you have to choose a loot system, which is clearly displayed. Once you've chosen a loot system and listed your group, you cannot change it.

This is the type of loot system suite I would like. Each system is very different from the others, and has specific places in the game, or specific audiences, where it is better suited. I think that is a better way to go than four systems which only differ from each other slightly.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Personal Loot is a Corrupted System

I'm going to define a "corrupted system" as the following: The developers design a system for a specific purpose. Someone else comes along, and says, "That system is really cool, but if we make this tweak, we can also use the system for a different purpose." So the tweak is made, but the result ends up weakening the system for the original purpose.

To see what I mean, let's take Personal Loot. Blizzard introduced Personal Loot to eliminate loot drama when grouping with strangers. The game gives individuals loot, and that's that.

But then Blizzard allowed Personal Loot to be trade-able to other members of the group. That immediately cuts against the original purpose, to eliminate drama. Now we have mods like Personal Loot Helper which call out in group chat when you get an item that you can trade and someone else needs. Refusing to trade creates drama.

Blizzard should have stuck with the original plan. Completely eliminate loot drama in transient groups. If you want to share loot, use Master Loot.

Part of my annoyance at Personal Loot is that my guild likes to use it during raids. I have no idea why, as it turns loot distribution into a huge hassle of people calling out tradeable items and having to find others to trade. It's pretty much a dumber version of Master Loot.

Personal Loot has its purpose, and it is an important purpose. It should be designed to fulfill that purpose to the best possible degree. Instead Personal Loot was watered down so that it is usable in a greater variety of situations. But those other situations already had reasonable options.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Did Eve Online Go F2P?

Syncaine is adamant that Eve Online did not go F2P with its new alpha accounts. I think he's mostly right, but its interesting to see exactly why. After all, a pretty literal reading of "Free-To-Play" gives you the fact that people can play a hugely significant amount of Eve for free.

The difference lies in the nature of subscriptions. A subscription is a barrier to entry. If you don't want to pay $15/month, you can't play the game.

But a subscription is also a "cap" on revenue. If a dedicated player would be happy to pay $40/month, she can't. (Well, unless we get into multi-boxing, etc.)

What the F2P games currently do is that they remove both facets of the subscription. They remove the barrier to entry, and they also remove the cap on revenue. If a dedicated player wants to drop $40/month, they'll happily sell her lockboxes or whatever.

The F2P marketing emphasizes the first facet, because it sounds very generous and is good marketing. But I think they actually make their money from the second facet, from dedicated players spending above the subscription cap.

Eve Online's program is fairly unique in that it dropped the barrier to entry side of subscriptions, but kept the cap on revenue. Aside from buying a few ship skins, most transactions are a constant amount per month of play-time.

So Eve Online is not F2P as we commonly think of it. But it is half-way there. If CCP unveils a much expanded in-game store, then at that point we can say that Eve Online has truly gone F2P.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Return to Karazhan

In Patch 7.1, Blizzard returned to a fan-favourite instance from The Burning Crusade: Karazhan. The new Karazhan instance is a call-back to the old one, but is designed for a 5-person group, rather than a raid.

Return to Karazhan is also part of an interesting new trend in Legion: a move away from transient content, and towards more extended content. Return to Karazhan are is the third Mythic-only dungeon, and then there are also Mythic+ dungeons. Personally, I think it's a good trend, shifting the balance back. Regular heroic versions of these dungeons are coming in a later patch.

Return to Karazhan is also a much longer dungeon than we've seen in a very long time, maybe not since Blackrock Depths in Vanilla. The first time I went into Kara with a guild group, we only managed to kill 4 bosses in 4 hours. As one guildie put it, "[Kara] isn't a 5-man dungeon, it's a 5-man raid!"

The next week we did better, of course, and managed to down all 8 bosses in 4 hours. But it's still a very long instance, and would be a good candidate for a smaller guild to do over a couple of nights.

The bosses are all very well-done. They're almost all call-backs to the original bosses and share similar themes. Old-school players will recognize most of the fights, but the mechanics are all very well designed to work with a 5-man group instead of a raid.

The first half of the instance is fairly normal, but the second half has this crazy Alice-in-Wonderland feel to it. For example, for one part, you're shrunk down to a tiny size and have to deal with trash like a single normal rat (who hits like a truck, by the way) or a single spider. The boss of this area is a single Mana Devourer, which is a weak trash mob in the rest of the instance which you usually kill multiples at a time. That whole area just makes me smile when remembering it.

About the only negative thing I can say about Return to Karazhan is that the Chess event is not very good. It's kind of boring, takes up a lot of time, and it isn't even a boss with loot. It also comes at the very end of the instance where you just want to get to the final boss. It feels like something that should have been cut, but was left in because everyone would have complained if Return to Karazhan didn't have a Chess event like old Karazhan.

But all in all, Return to Karazhan is an excellent instance.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Legendaries in Legion

I got my first (and only) Legion legendary a couple of weeks ago: [Ilterendi, Crown Jewel of Silvermoon]. So I immediately respecced to Judgement of Light.

It actually works pretty decently. Judgement into Light of Dawn into Holy Shock does a fair amount of healing. Judging more or less on cooldown contributes about 25k dps, and it doesn't seem to really drop my total healing.

It got me thinking about the general design of legendaries in Legion. In many respects, I think my experience is how Blizzard intended legendaries to be used. You get one, and you build your character around it. So each legendary gives you a slightly different playstyle.

But one issue is that you may not like that playstyle. I like Judgement of Light, but it is mechanically different from the other builds, and I can see some healers disliking having to keep an eye on the enemies. Not to mention that it generally works best with some macros to smooth things out.

Another issue is that some playstyles will strictly math out better than others. Ilterendi is consider the second-best Holy Paladin legendary, and pretty close to the best. So it's not an issue for me. But someone who gets one of the "worse" legendaries will be unhappy.

But if everyone gets to choose their legendary, or the drop rate is high enough that you eventually get them all, then everyone will pick the one considered "Best-in-slot". And that seems to negate the whole "build-around" aspect.

The other part is that the legendaries have secondary stats on them, and they might be the "wrong" stats for your class. I do think it would have been better if the legendaries only had primary stats.

Another possibility might have been to have the legendaries be more common, but they have a lower item level base. Then there could be Warforged or Titanforged versions. This way, it would be fairly easy to get access to the "build-around" component, but a player might choose to build around a Titanforged version of a weaker legendary.

Or maybe add an expensive device that allows you to transmute legendaries. A Kanai's Cube. That way if you really did not like the legendary you got, you could spend resources on getting the one you desired.

Also making it completely random was probably not the best of ideas. I think getting a random legendary from a quest to kill the last raid boss (in any difficulty) would have been a better way of handing them out.

All in all, legendaries in Legion remind me of garrisons in Warlords. The system is not quite there, but is pretty close. A few more iterations might have made it much better.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

FFXIV's Haunted House

As part of the All Saint's Wake (Halloween) event this year, FFXIV added an interesting small piece of content: a haunted house.

It's essentially a non-combat dungeon for four people join of any class or level. (Well, I think you need to be level 15 to participate in the event.) SE reused one of the spookier dungeons, Haukke Manor. But instead of the normal mobs, they have patrolling monsters. You have to sneak behind them. The party has a combined sanity meter. If a patrol spots you, they turn you into a pumpkin and reduce the group's sanity by a bit.

The group has to complete 3 challenges before time runs out (30 minutes) or they lose all their sanity. The challenges are random, and selected from a pool. They are fairly simple, and mostly an excuse to send the players searching around the manor. One challenge is that four rooms in the manor have magical circles, and each player has to stand in a circle. Another challenge requires you to collect 15 cookies from the different rooms. A third challenge has chests in all the rooms, with most chests trapped. But there are clues which point you to the correct room, and the party has to work together to call out clues and cover the floors.

It's a relatively simple piece of content, but it's fun. It's a nice change of pace from a combat dungeon. It's also an interesting feature to have the group split up to cover different areas of the manor. Reusing Haukke Manor is clever, as it's a nice callback to a "spooky" dungeon, and very thematically appropriate.

The only loot is the event currency, and if you run the haunted house three times, you'll get enough to buy all the new items. The pacing of the dungeon is also very well done. Ten minutes per challenge, and 100 sanity is enough to make the end a bit tense, especially with new people, but isn't excessively challenging. Though one of my runs finished with 6/100 sanity, and that was a little nerve-racking.

All in all, I think the Haunted House in FFXIV is an excellent and innovative piece of content. I think the community reaction has been quite positive as well. It will be interesting to see in what direction the dev team takes these ideas.

Monday, October 17, 2016

SWTOR's New Endgame Loot System

The Old Republic is introducing an interesting new endgame loot system in their next expansion:
First, here are the details on how gearing will work at level 70:
  • Once you hit level 70, the source of end-game gear will be Command Crates from Galactic Command.
  • Most activities in the game will earn Command Experience Points (CXP), which will earn you Command Ranks. Each time your Command Rank increases, you earn a Command Crate.
  • The higher your Command Rank, the better gear that will drop from your Command Crates.
  • The highest difficulty Operations and Uprisings, along with Ranked Warzones are intended to be the fastest ways to earn CXP. This means they are the fastest way to get the best gear.
  • Both PvP and PvE gear will come from Command Crates. Their gear is now shared as Expertise is being removed (head to this thread to discuss PvP/PvE itemization specifically).
  • Gear will no longer drop from bosses as all gear will come from Command Crates. All cosmetic/unique drops will still remain on those bosses (Stronghold Decorations, Wings of the Architect, etc.).
  • Players will be able to craft comparable item level gear without set bonuses.

This system reminds me of the loot system in Overwatch. All activities give CXP, and every level you get a loot box. Gear that comes from the loot box is based on your endgame level.

It essentially converts gear into a straight currency system, albeit one with a some randomness in reward. It heavily simplifies the endgame gear system, and unifies it. Now you can do whatever you like, and you'll still earn experience. It prevents content from becoming entirely obsolete once you've out-geared it.

The downside is that some "easy" activity will become optimum for grinding and gaining levels, and then people will insist on doing that non-stop to earn levels. The advantage of harder content giving better gear is that eventually you have to challenge yourself if you want to improve. This system makes it easy to keep from challenging yourself, and contenting yourself with content that you know you can succeed with.

The normal PvE mindset is that quality of reward is intrinsically tied to difficulty of content. I wrote a bit about this a long time ago, though more in the context of PvP versus PvE. (See Raider Perspective on Rewards, and Why Does the Reward System Matter?) I am not certain that breaking this link will be healthy for the game.

The other problem is that reward is now greatly tied to time spent in game. If you play twice as much as someone, you should have twice as many levels, and thus twice the gear and further into the higher level gear. But maybe making this explicit is more fair than current games. And I suppose you can tweak the XP gained to mitigate this. For example, the first time you do a piece of content each week, you get a big bonus to XP, etc.

Still, it looks like an interesting experiment, and it will be interesting to see what sort of effect it has on the game and the players.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Legion Raiding as a Holy Paladin

I ended up joining a small, somewhat casual guild. We've gone 7/7 Normal Emerald Nightmare, and hopefully will end up completing Heroic mode.

Here are some initial thoughts on raiding as a Holy Paladin.

  • Healing feels very much old-school, with you focusing on the tanks, and having other healers cover the raid, though helping out occasionally.
  • Bestow Faith is the standard Tier 1 talent, but I don't have a good feel for it. It felt like it was always getting sniped, and it seemed to have a much higher overheal than my other spells. I did try Light's Hammer, but it never seemed to work nicely.
  • I used Aura of Mercy for the most part. I think Devotion Aura has a better cooldown, but it requires you to be proactive. Aura of Mercy actually does a fair bit of healing, and it supplements your raid healing which is your weak point. I think I want to try Devotion Aura and see if that works better next time.
  • Judgment of Light actually does a decent amount of healing. Of course, it's all ambient healing, and you do have to remember to judge a lot.
  • I couldn't decide between Beacon of Faith or Beacon of the Lightbringer. The increase to Light of Dawn from BotL is really strong. But double-beaconing is a lot easier in fights where you need to focus both tanks.
So far, my initial impression of Holy Paladin healing is that you have to choose between strengthening your strong points of focused tank healing, or trying to shore up your weakness of raid healing.

I started with the focused build, but we were a little healer-light to start, and it felt like the dps died too easily. So I switched talents around to add more raid healing, and that felt a little better. If we had another healer though, I think the focused build would have been better.

Of course, I'm very rusty with raid healing, and we're only a Normal-mode guild at the moment, so keep that in mind.

Any other holy paladins care to share their experiences and tips?

Sunday, October 02, 2016

FFXIV Patch 3.4 Main Story Quest

FFXIV's latest patch, 3.4, came out this week. I spent the afternoon going through the main story quest.

It was really good. It tied up a lot of loose ends, and set the stage for the next expansion. There were a lot of good moments, especially in the middle. It did get a little complicated near the end. Final Fantasy "theology" has always been a little mind-bending.

One interesting element in the main story was that they sent you back to do an old primal from 2.0. Not a new version of the primal, but literally the old fight. Now, FFXIV does include mechanical reasons to do old fights. They're part of the random duty finder roulettes which give out endgame currency. But this is the first time they've given a story reason to do the old fight.

What was most interesting was that it was the old fight, but if you're on the main story, they changed the dialogue of the primal during the fight to reflect the new situation. It was a really interesting idea, and worked really well. I'm not sure if it's something SE could pull off again, but it worked beautifully in this story.

All in all, the 3.x story was a great one, and I'm looking forward to the next expansion.

Monday, September 26, 2016

World Quest Group Finder

Yeah, I know, I haven't posted for a while. I fell out of the habit, I guess.

I've been playing Legion a fair bit though. I'm a bit behind the curve, only ilvl 825 or so. I haven't stepped into Mythics or raids yet, though I've been looking for a guild on Lightbringer. So far everyone seems full up on Holy paladins, sadly.

In any case, I'm using a new addon, World Quest Group Finder, that's really nice.

It allows you to automatically make or join groups that are doing the same World Quest as you are. It's pretty nice, making grouping for world quests a lot easier. Now, you can do all the world quests solo, and kill credit is usually shared, but having an actual group is pleasant, and useful for sharing credit for other objectives. Especially as I am often questing as Holy, so I get to feel more useful with heals.

It's pretty smooth and pretty automatic. When you enter a World Quest area, the addon will automatically ask if you want to join a group. If you do, it's pretty much automatic from that point, searching the group finder or adding you to it. In fact, if you look at quest group finder right now, you'll probably see a few groups created by WQGF users.

It's a really nice tool for making questing a bit faster and a bit less lonely than pure soloing.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Eve Online F2P or Unlimited Trial

Eve Online announced a F2P or unlimited trial variant. Basically, you can make a character with a restricted number of skillpoints and skills and play for free. To get a full character, you have to be a subscriber.

It's an interesting choice for Eve. The biggest advantage is that it gives the new player a long time to truly come to grips with the game. Eve is infamous for its learning curve, and now there's no time pressure on learning how to play.

The interesting side will be seeing how the current Eve players abuse this mechanic. At certain levels, Eve is often a numbers game, and now each side can field arbitrarily large numbers. For example, instead of scouting multiple systems in a patrol with a single ship, you could instead station one character per system, and log onto each character in turn.

If I remember correctly, Eve did crack down on multi-boxing, so maybe that will mitigate the effect.

Another concern is that Eve often boasts that a new player can become "useful", even to the major powers, within a few days. But if that new player is useful, surely a couple hundred alpha accounts is even more useful. But if you nerf the usefulness of the alpha accounts, are you not also nerfing the usefulness of the new player?

WoW has an unlimited trial, where you're limited to level 20. But no one cares about level 20s. They're pretty much useless in the greater scheme of things. So there's no need to worry about players (other than gold-sellers) making tons of level 20s.

Will low level characters in Eve become more useless, thus diminishing that selling point?

Edit: Here's another way of putting the issue. I think there are two options:

1. Infinite low level characters
2. Useful low level characters.

I think that these need to be mutually exclusive to be balanced. If you have infinite amounts of useful low level characters, the game is going to break. That means I expect Eve Online to eventually choose Option #1 over Option #2.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

WotC's Solution to Intentional Draws and Concessions

Back in March we discussed the problem of intentional draws and concessions in Magic: the Gathering. Today, Wizards of the Coast unveiled their solution for professional Magic tournaments. It's pretty hardcore.

Click to enlarge

The Top 8 is turned into a single-elimination gauntlet, where higher seeds get to skip matches and start closer to the end.  T5-T8 need to win 4 matches, T3-T4 need to win 3 matches, and T1-T2 only need to win 2 matches.

Now, you want to get as high a seed as possible in the Swiss portion of the event as it greatly impacts your chance of winning.  It certainly aims directly at intentional draws and concessions.

In retrospect, I'm kind of amused at how timid my suggestion was. I suggested giving the higher seeds a single game in-hand, and thought that might be excessive. WotC blew right past my limits.

There are some other interesting administrative factors in this setup. The same number of matches are played [1], but there are four rounds instead of three. However a maximum of two games per round are played. Thus if you broadcasting the event, you only need to cover two games, rather than four in the first round of the traditional style. Similarly, it also means that you only need 2 judge teams to cover the finals, making it more likely that nothing will be missed rules-wise.

All in all, I'm impressed that Wizards is trying something this radical. We'll have to see how well it works in practice.

1. Technically, this mathematically obvious. 8 players, single-elimination, thus 7 players have to lose a match, no matter how you arrange the rounds. It's a old elementary school math puzzle. Given X players, how many matches do you have play to determine a winner? The answer is always X - 1.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Stat Templates for Leveling Dungeons

In Patch 7.0 Blizzard introduced stat templates for PvP. In B\battlegrounds now, you don't get stats from your gear. Instead your gear stats are overridden by a stat template. All characters of a given specialization share the same template. Your gear level does increase the amount of stats given by the template, but by a much lower amount than in PvE.

These stat templates apply to low-level PvP. I've been leveling a rogue without heirlooms and dabbling in some PvP. In my mind, these stat templates are amazing. Low level PvP is actually fun again. You don't get one-shot by characters decked out in heirloom gear. In my mind, whatever the impact at max level, the stat templates have rejuvenated low level PvP.

Then I did a low level dungeon. It was pretty terrible. The other characters were decked in heirlooms, so they just zerged the entire thing. Bosses died in less than 30 seconds. There was no skill or strategy, or any sense of group play.

The problem is that leveling dungeons need to be balanced such that a group of new players in quest gear can complete them. But if one or more heirloom characters are present, that balance goes out the window.

I think stat templates for leveling dungeons would be a great idea. Everyone would be reduced down to an even playing field. Dungeons would be a proper group experience once more. I rather doubt anyone will sheep anything, but maybe it could happen.

Heirlooms are fine for solo-play. They can be overpowered in the world. But when playing with others, I think it's more important to provide a fun, balanced, and reasonably challenging experience. Heirlooms will still give the character more XP and a high ilevel, but at least with stat templates the disparity and zerg would be greatly diminished.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Adding a Time Component to Ranking Systems

Overwatch has added competitive play and a ranking system. The ranking system is a 0 to 100 scale, centered on 50. If you win matches you gain in rank, if you lose matches, you lose rank. As is pretty standard, the magnitude of the gain or loss depends on the rank of your opponents.

For the most part this system is pretty serviceable, but it has its quirks. For one thing, it's zero-sum: the ranking gained matches the ranking lost. Then Blizzard decided that if someone left a game in-progress, hitting the remaining members with the full loss would be too punishing, so the loss is greatly reduced. But since its zero-sum, the winning team gets a very small gain. Which is arguably fair, as there's nothing great about winning when you're up a person. However, this has led to people quitting when they are losing, to "punish" the winning team.

There are other issues. In general, your rank settles down after a while and does not really change, leading to a feeling of stagnation.

I think it would be interesting to add a time component to these ranking systems. The current system for Magic: the Gathering does something similar.  Here's my idea:

Let's start with the existing rank, R.

Then let's add the concept of a Time-Adjusted rank, T = nkR + nm, where n is the number of days since the start of the season, and k and m are constants.

What this does is cause the ranking curve to go higher and wider as time goes on. Let's say that on Day 1, the ranking system goes from 0 to 100. On Day 10, the Time-Adjusted ranks would range from 10 to 1010. (The constants adjust how the curve changes.)

However, the rank the player sees does not automatically increase each day.

The final piece we need is a Display rank, D. This is the number that players see, and are ranked by. The Display rank only changes when the player plays a game.  The Display rank increases, targeting the Time-Adjusted rank. The Display rank doesn't need to jump directly to the Time-Adjusted rank, it might do so in stages. Cap the amount gained per match, only jump halfway to the target, etc.

The big advantage of the Display rank is that it is decoupled from the real rank. It does not have to be zero-sum. Indeed, it does not have to decrease at all. You can set up so it always increases (or stays flat).

To go back to our earlier example, on Day 1 Jane plays a bit and has a real, time-adjusted, and display rank of 50. She then doesn't play for a week or so. On Day 10, her real rank is still 50, her time-adjusted rank is now 510, but her display rank is 50.  She plays a game and loses. Her real rank drops to 49, her time-adjusted rank is now 500. But her display rank increases from 50 to 150 (increase in display rank is capped at 100 points for a loss). As she continues playing, her display rank continues to increase, win or lose.

Such a system keeps the forward momentum going. You are always moving forward. The better players move forward faster and higher, but even the worse players see movement. The system also encourages players to keep playing steadily. You can't achieve a high rank early and then stop playing.

Since display rank is not zero-sum, you can do things like penalize leavers 10 points, without modifying the other players' increases.

There are a few negatives, of course. It's harder to compare players' skill, as a lower display rank might just mean that you haven't played in a while. And you do have to play steadily, especially near the end of a season. Playing the first two months and skipping the last month is worse than skipping the first month and playing the last two months.

Overall, though, I think a time-adjusted ranking system is better as a whole, and focuses people on playing the game rather than gaming the ranking system.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Clunky New Retribution Rotation

The new Retribution paladin is getting lambasted on the forums, and rightfully so. The new rotation is extraordinarily clunky. It just feels bad and frustrating to play. I imagine that it most players will just end up using an add-on to tell them which button to press.

Here's my analysis of the new rotation, and why it just doesn't work. There are four main pieces to the rotation:
  • Blade of Justice - 10.5s cooldown, +2 holy power
  • Crusader Strike - 4.5s cooldown, +1 holy power, 2 charges
  • Judgment - 12s cooldown, +20% damage to holy power spenders for 8s
  • Templar's Verdict - costs 3 holy power
To the previous paradigm of generating and spending holy power, Legion adds this concept of a Judgment "window". You want to Judge and then squeeze as many Templar's Verdicts in those eight seconds as you can. The Ret paladin mastery emphasizes this as well, increasing the damage done by spenders in that window.

The first problem is that there are simply too many levels to Ret now. You have to track your cooldowns, your total holy power, and the Judgment window.

The second problem is that the cooldowns for Blade of Justice and Judgment are slightly off. Judgment is 8 GCDs, and Blade of Justice is 7 GCDs. So they never quite line up, and are always changing position in the rotation relative to each other. This makes it impossible to really get into a rhythm.

The third problem is that Judgment changes its traditional position in the rotation. Ever since Vanilla, paladins open the fight with Judgment. It's the only ranged ability as well. But now you want to delay judgment until 5 holy power has been generated. It's not really an issue on long fights, but it's very annoying to have to hold off on the ranged ability when going to attack something new.

Even Holy's combat rotation is better, simple as it is. There the Judgment window improves Holy Shock and Crusader Strike. So you Judge as you run towards the mob, Shock, and CS as you get into melee range. It works intuitively and smoothly. (Also, you get to use Consecrate as a regular part of the rotation, which is always fun.)

I gather Blizzard is enamored of the Judgment window, seeing as it's also the new Mastery. My suggestion would be to smooth out the cooldowns by increasing the Blade of Justice cooldown to 12s (increasing the damage done to compensate). The heart of the Retribution rotation would become Judgement - Spender - Blade of Justice. That common piece would anchor the rotation, giving it a regular rhythm that you always return to.

This simplifies the cooldown level, and allows the Ret paladin to focus on Holy Power and using spenders in the Judgment window.

The new Retribution rotation reminds me of one of the Jedi Sentinel rotations in SWTOR. It had the same concept of cooldowns, generating and spending resources, and a damage window. But it simplified the cooldown and resource levels, allowing the player to focus on the damage window.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Legion Beta Impressions

I got into the Legion Beta last Friday. I was debating trying it, because I don't really want to be spoiled. But in the end, I rolled a blood elf priest and gave it a whirl. Some thoughts:

  • The level 100 boost and initial sequence is really nice. You start out in a tutorial that goes through your basic spells one by one, and you use them on enemies. Priests start as Discipline, so the tutorial went through Shadow Word: Pain, Penance, Smite, Psychic Scream, Power Word: Shield, and Plea. It's really well done.
  • I do wonder if they are going to end up making new tutorials for every expansion.
  • Regarding spoilers, they come fast and furious. Legion starts off with a scenario, and crazy stuff happens. It's good to see Blizzard putting the main story back into the game, and having important events happen in-game, rather than in a novel or other tie-in.
  • After the scenario, the next part that happens is the Artifact Weapon questline. It's a pretty fun quest that sends you to different parts of the world and ends in a nice scenario that makes use of class abilities. For example, as a Discipline Priest, I had to kill things, heal things, use Levitate and even take control of an enemy with Dominate Mind.
  • After you get your weapon, you're introduced to the Class Hall. It's really nice to see a space with just other people of your same class. It feels like an exclusive club, and much better than an empty garrison. It's also nice to see all these NPCs of your class.
  • After that starts Legion questing proper. You get a choice of 4 zones to start with. I guess this is their new scaling technology so that it doesn't matter what level you are. I started one, but then decided I didn't want to spoil the experience any more, and so stopped.
  • It feels like Blizzard put in a lot of work to avoid bottle-necks at Legion launch. You start off in an instanced scenario. Then the Artifact Weapon quest scatters specializations to different parts of the world. Finally, four starting zones scatter everyone further. I guess we'll see if it works.
  • I did also try the Demon Hunter initial experience. It's quite good. It puts a different spin on what happens when players did the Black Temple back in TBC. The demon hunter class feels pretty good. With a dash, double jump, and a glide ability, it also feels very mobile.
I think I'm actually going to uninstall the beta and wait for Legion to launch. Initial impressions are very good, though.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

AoE Damage is Hurting Trinity MMOs

I have a sinking feeling that dungeon gameplay in FFXIV is making the same mistakes that WoW did. There is increasing pressure for the tank to just run and grab everything, and the DPS proceeds to AoE everything down in the name of efficiency.

A random picture of AoE from Google Images
WoW has gone super crazy with this, especially with leveling dungeons. There's no strategy, no interesting gameplay. Just spam AoE.  But FFXIV is trending in the same direction, especially in the higher levels.

I've had dps and healers run ahead and pull packs back to me. It's really annoying, but the growing community consensus is that the tank should be getting as many packs as they can.

I think the major problem is that AoE is too good relative to single-target damage. AoE is generally better at 3 or more mobs, and that's the size of an average pack. So simply pulling two packs at a time is a complete win.

AoE also obsoletes tactics like Crowd Control. No point in sheeping something, it's going to get broken in the first few seconds. As well, tank AoE threat has to keep up to match DPS, and that in turn has made tanking very easy, and has removed a lot of the tank gameplay that Vanilla WoW or older MMO structures.

AoE should be significantly reduced in effectiveness, such that it only becomes viable at the 8-10 creature mark. Single-target gameplay should be the norm, except in situations which specifically call for AoE. Single-target trinity gameplay is far more interesting and fun than AoE gameplay, and so AoE damage should be kept under strict control.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

SWTOR's Dark vs Light Event

The Old Republic is running a Dark vs Light event. Naturally, this event has produced a lot of angst in the community.

Companion rewards for the event
The basic event is clearly modeled after Diablo 3's Seasons. You start a new character and level it up over the course of the event. There are different tiers you work through, which roughly correspond to the sections of the game. Tier 1 is up to level 25, Tier 2 is up to 50 and requires the three low-level story-heavy flashpoints, etc.

The D3 Season model is a good one. It encourages you to try a different character and focus on that character for a period of time. Instead of just having "max-level" as a goal, it breaks it up into sub-goals which are achievable, and which guide you through all the content.

If this had been the entirety of the event, I think it would have been received positively by the community. But Bioware had to include a top level "Legendary" tier which requires you to level all 8 classes, and do most of the content in the game.

The Legendary tier is quite clearly aimed at the super-hardcore, a challenge for them. But I think the bulk of the community took it badly. For one thing, most people don't have 8 character slots free, requiring them to buy more. As well, if you only have to level one character, you can choose a story which you haven't done yet, or would like to try a different path through. This choice would be different for each player.

In many ways, this is a case of addition through subtraction. If Bioware had simply cut the top tier entirely, this event would be far more appealing. As well, they could repeat it next year, and people could try a different story. For example, in D3, I do one class a season. This season was Witch Doctor, last season was Barbarian. Next season will probably be Demon Hunter.

The lesson here is that you don't always have to challenge the hardcore. For time-limited events in particular, perhaps it's better to have an event that the majority of players complete, rather than one where only a few players get to the end.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Unintended Consequences of Anti-Toxicity Systems

Jeff Kaplan made an excellent post on the Overwatch forums about matchmaking. It's definitely worth the read. The most interesting part, however, was this section:
For example, we recently realized that “Avoid this player” was wreaking havoc on matchmaking. One of the best Widowmaker players in the world complained to us about long queue times. We looked into it and found that hundreds of other players had avoided him (he’s a nice guy – they avoided him because they did not want to play against him, not because of misbehavior). The end result was that it took him an extremely long time to find a match. The worst part was, by the time he finally got a match, he had been waiting so long that the system had “opened up” to lower skill players. Now one of the best Widowmaker players was facing off against players at a lower skill level. As a result, we’ve disabled the Avoid system (the UI will go away in an upcoming patch). The system was designed with the best intent. But the results were pretty disastrous.
Essentially, players took a system meant to avoid toxic players, and instead chose to avoid players who were simply more skilled.

Another issue with this system is that it didn't have a cost. I think time and again, games have shown that when an action does not have a cost associated with it, people will abuse it. Think vote kicks from MMOs. Then the action gets removed or hedged with excessive restrictions, such that it becomes fairly useless.

Imagine if avoiding a player cost 50 credits (the currency for the cosmetic items). The amount of people who abuse this system would drop drastically. But if there was a cost, everyone would complain that they had to pay "real" money to avoid the people harassing them. Yet the end result is that we lose the avoid ability entirely.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Low Level Notes from the PTR

I took a poke around the public test realm this weekend. Trying to avoid spoilers, I didn't do anything major. I made a few low-level characters and took them through the first few levels. Here are some observations:

  • Classes now start with a specialization. Paladins start as Retribution, Druids start as Feral (and start the game in Cat form, no less), Hunters start as Beastmaster, etc. I think the other specializations unlock at level 10. Overall, I think this is a good idea. There's no forgetting to specialize, and no "generic" abilities which are only used in first 10 levels. You also don't get two abilities that don't synergize, because they are meant for different specializations.
  • Judgment has a new animation. You throw a golden hammer at the enemy, and the hammer returns to you. It also sometimes chains to a nearby enemy, but I can't tell if that's intentional or a bug.
  • I think the Hammer of Justice animation changed. A giant hammer drops from the sky on the enemy's head. I don't really like it. I miss the simplicity of the current spinning rising uppercut animation.
  • The default nameplates have changed. They're cleaner, and enemy health is represented as a thin red line, instead of a fatter bar. There's also small health/mana/resource bars in the center of your screen under your character. These bars only appear in combat, and fade out otherwise. I really like these new nameplates.
  • The quest helper minimap graphic has changed. It's now this transparent outline instead of a shaded area.
  • There's a nice animated flair on the XP bar when you get a large amount of XP. It's snazzy.
  • The initial class quests that send you to your trainer are gone. I guess it makes sense since the abilities have all changed. Still, it makes me a little sad. I liked that little nod to your class right at the start, with the notes expounding the philosophy of the class.
  • Armor starts as the max armor type. Paladins get plate, hunters get mail, etc. The item still looks the same as previous, like mail or leather. This is a bit weird with mail armor that looks like leather (those night elf shorts you always get), but plate that looks like mail looks decent enough.
  • Otherwise quests appear to be all the same as live. For low levels, it looks like only mechanics changes.
I didn't poke around a great deal, but these are some smaller impressions of what you can expect in Legion at low levels.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Which Players Should Be Mentors?

It's nice that FFXIV decided to mark all the jackasses in Duty Finder. They're the ones with a crown beside the name.

For those of you who don't play FFXIV, the crown denotes a "Mentor", a high-level player who is supposed to help new players. However, in my experience, people marked as Mentors are equally likely to be the people who are unpleasant in groups.

There's no denying that the Mentors are qualified players. FFXIV has quite high requirements. You need to have at least three classes at max level, a tank, healer and a damage dealer. You also have to have done a thousand dungeons, which is a crazy amount. As a result, Mentors are the top slice of people in the game.

However, I'm not sure if they are the best players to advise new players. Being edge players, they have a tendency to use and expect edge strategies. Giving too specific and complex advice instead of ensuring mastery of the basics.

Also, and this may be a skewed perspective, they also seem to be most impatient, especially on older content which is trivial for them.

In some respects, I think the people below the edge tier would make better mentors for new players. They would still be decent at the game, but would be closer to the new player experience, and better able to give advice from that perspective.

To put it into a WoW perspective, currently you need to be a Mythic raider to be a Mentor. It might be better if the Heroic raiders were Mentors, and Mythic raiders expressly prohibited from being Mentors to new players.

It's kind of like a university, where professors give high level lectures, but graduate students are the teaching assistants and help students with problems. A lot of time a professor is too far away from the student experience to really see the issue.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Heavensward Story Finale

The latest installment of FFXIV's main storyline came out today in Patch 3.3. This was the finale to the main expansion storyline involving Ishgard.

I thought it was an excellent and satisfying ending. The story was concluded well. The final boss fight was intense, and very well done. There were a number of callbacks to earlier parts of the story. FFXIV also spent a fair bit of time on the denouement/epilogue, winding down the story nicely.

This is actually an area where a lot of MMOs and videogames fall down. The climax comes right at the end of the game with a final boss fight, and then the games ends, maybe with an NPC congratulating you. I really like FFXIV's approach of taking its time to wind down, showing consequences and outcomes for the major NPCs.

All in all, Heavensward was an excellent expansion and storyline. I've mentioned this before, but it's ironic that it took a Japanese game to give us a classical story about knights and dragons.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Favorite Overwatch Heroes

Like everyone else, I've been playing a fair amount of Overwatch over the last week. I'm level 15, and I've only gotten one Legendary skin so far. However, it happened to be the one skin I actually wanted: Devil Mercy. So Lady Luck has smiled on me.

Devil Mercy skin
Heroes never die ... for a price!
Inspired by Syl's post at MMO Gypsy, I'm going steal her format and list my favorite heroes so far.

A) Heroes I feel confident playing

1. Mercy - highest playtime so far
2. Lucio - preferred for pushing the payload
3. Reaper - the one hero I can kill people with
4. Torbjorn - turrets have good aim

B) Heroes I’d like to get better at

5. Reinhardt
6. Winston
7. Junkrat
8. McCree
9. Bastion

C) Heroes that feel awkward

10. Symmetra
11. Roadhog
12. D.Va
13. Zarya
14. Soldier 76

D) Heroes I haven’t really touched

15. Mei
16. Widowmaker
17. Genji
18. Zenyatta
19. Hanzo
20. Pharah
21. Tracer

The biggest issue so far is that I don't really have a tank character that I understand and can play decently. I can put up Reinhardt's shield and walk to the objective. And sometimes Winston works well, but sometimes I just continuously die.

Otherwise, since I'm willing to heal, I don't get much of a chance to play offensive characters, especially the snipers.

So far Overwatch has been a lot of fun. The matchmaking seems to be working well. I have a good mix of wins and losses, and there have been many close and exciting games.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

FFXIV's Murder Mystery Event

This post contains  major spoilers for the latest Gold Saucer event in FFXIV.

Apparently feeling that there wasn't enough seasonal holidays, especially in early summer, FFXIV added a new event centering around the Gold Saucer. The Gold Saucer is a casino with a lot of non-combat mini-games. Things like chocobo racing, Triple Triad card games and some arcade-style games.

The new event was a murder mystery. A customer was mysteriously poisoned. You had to search out clues and then create a theory of how the murder took place over several dialogue choices. It was an interesting try at creating a different type of content.

The biggest problem was the solution to the murder mystery. It turns out that the entire thing was staged, like a play that you attend. This does have some advantages. Since it's just a play, there's nothing wrong with getting the solution incorrect. There's just a bit of acting, and you get a chance to try again. You can replay the event and see the other endings if you accuse different people.

But I felt kind of cheated. Because it was staged, the solution was a bit contrived, and didn't feel natural. I think it would have been a far better experience if it had been a real murder you have to solve.

However, I have no idea how the game would handle getting the wrong solution in that case. Would an NPC simply point out the flaws in your theory until you came up with the correct theory? Would there be several possible theories so that whatever you came up worked? Neither of these two choices sound ideal to me.

In some respects, content is easier to create if you can assume that the players will be successful, if not on the first try, than at least eventually. But if there's the chance of permanent failure, it becomes very tricky for an MMO without saves.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Legendary Ring and Draenor Flying

Yesterday, in an unexpected coincidence, I managed to finish both my goals for Warlords of Draenor. I got my legendary ring, [Etheralus, the Eternal Reward]. I also finished [Draenor Pathfinder], unlocking flying mounts in Draenor.

I was a little surprised at the getting the ring. I was 31/33 for the tomes, but only had two bosses left for the week. But somehow Lady Luck decided in my favor, and a tome dropped for both bosses. I fully expected to be left with 32/33 and have to wait for next week.

As for the Pathfinder achievement, it was mostly a matter of finishing rep with the Order of the Awakened and finding enough rare monsters for the quest items. I still don't like the "blue bar" areas in WoD, but they're tolerable if you make or join a group in the LFG section.

There's still a lot of weird behavior in those posted groups that I don't understand. For example, I'd make a group. People would join and leave ten seconds later. For every person who joined and stuck around to work on the area, at least three people would join and leave. I don't know what they were looking for, as I was pretty explicit about what the group was for.

Now I'm not sure what to do with WoW. There are a couple quests to clean up, but I'm pretty much done until the pre-expansion stuff starts happening. I am leveling a mage, who's up to 45, so maybe I'll focus on that.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Two Million Gold Mount

In Legion, Blizzard is introducing a spider mount that costs two million gold. This naturally has the forums up in arms. To give an idea of the scale, the maximum amount of gold I've ever had at one time is about 50k.

Is this mount a good idea?

It's pretty clearly a reward for "goblin" players. Players who like money-making and playing the Auction House. That's a playstyle that a significant number of players enjoy.

But just because a significant number of players enjoy a playstyle, that does not necessarily make it one that should be encouraged or rewarded. After all, a significant number of players enjoy ganking lowbies. If Blizzard introduced a mount that you got for getting 1000 kills of players half your level or lower, that would be a horrific mistake.

So first, do goblins benefit the game? In general, they do. Goblins generally "smooth" out the market. The vast majority of them make money by buying cheap items and relisting them at the market equilibrium price. The presence of goblins means that normal players probably won't be able to find bargains on the AH, but there will always be a supply of items available for purchase. It's fairly unlikely that the AH will be sold out of anything entirely.

As well, it means that normal players can guarantee sales simply by listing the item at a discount from the market price. A goblin will pick it up and relist it. Sometimes it is more important to have liquid cash than wait for the best price.

Second, does the goblin playstyle require skill or dedication, some characteristic worth rewarding? I suppose it does. The factors that give me pause is that the risk is much lower than other playstyles. I mean at least in a game like Eve you can get shot down while transporting something. The other issue is that it is a playstyle which is heavily automated. There are mods which can do amazing things for you. Of course, you have to be fairly savvy to get the most out of those mods.

Third, can the requirements be gamed? The big element here is gold-sellers and gold buying. Legitimately, you can buy 10 WoW tokens a week. If we say it's 50k gold per token, that's 4 weeks and $1200 USD. I'm really not sure that introducing a mount that can be legitimately purchased for $1200 is a good idea.

There's also the illegal gold sellers. But in a way, because the amount needed is so high, the mount can act as bait. There should be relatively few sold, so examining each account that buys the mount for gold-buying can be viable.

Fourth, will the game be hurt by incentivizing this playstyle? Ironically, adding more goblins probably makes it harder on all of them, There are more people hunting the bargains, competition becomes fiercer, and profit margins become thinner. So overall, the AH experience for normal players should be even better.

Finally, is the playstyle already rewarded enough? In general, there isn't really a great advantage to having huge amounts of gold. The one exception is the Black Market Auction House. It is a bit unfair that the other playstyle rewards can be purchased for large amounts of gold, while the spider mount remains exclusive. But then again, I've never liked the BMAH. Honestly, I think Blizzard should take the opportunity of these new rewards to drop the BMAH entirely.

All in all, the two million gold spider will probably work out fine. Though Blizzard should increase the price to eight million, one million for each leg. That's a far more aesthetically pleasing price, and also increases the time required for purchase via WoW tokens and real money to four months.

Monday, May 16, 2016


I gave Ashran a try last week. Ashran is Blizzard's "world PvP" style zone for WoD. It's been through a couple different iterations and fixes. The current version is pretty fun, and does feel a lot more like World PvP used to.

The basic structure of Ashran is that there is one "road" connecting two bases. To get to the enemy commander you have to push your way up the road, capturing each node in sequence. Then there are 5 "off-road" events that take place in the other parts of the map. The main Ashran quest requires to win 4 events and kill the enemy commander once.

So the basic cycle of play is to skirmish at the current border in the road until an event pops, then both sides rush off to the event and contest it. Eventually one faction will win four events. That faction then makes a concerted push to get to and kill the enemy commander.

By and large, it's pretty fun. The different events give a feel of having several different battles within the larger battle. There's also mechanics like giving each class a new Ashran-only ability. The paladin ability allows you to judge people and send them to a jail in your base, which is greatly amusing. There's also items you can turn in to summon NPCs to aid your side.

There's really only two problems with Ashran. First, it desperately needs a catchup mechanic. If the other team is more organized or stronger, the weaker team simply loses event after event. As well, part of your honor gain comes from artifact fragments that you loot and turn in. But if you die, you lose half the fragments you've collected. And the weaker team dies a lot more.

My fix would be to give the side that loses an event a stacking buff that boosts them by 10% or so. If they win an event, their buff count drops by one. That should be enough to even out the sides.

The second problem with Ashran is that there is no point in defending your leader. If the other side is making a concerted push to kill the leader, the best thing to do is get out of their way and get a jump on the next event.

This problem is probably much harder to solve. I think any attempt at a real solution would just see the two sides explicitly collude and take turns killing the other leader.

It's ironic, but very often the best strategy in long-running PvP games is cooperation between the two enemy sides to maximize resource gain.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Legion Dev Update

Ion "Watcher" Hazzikostas did a Dev Liveblog today on Twitch, where he touched upon several of the topics we've been discussing recently. Wowhead has a nice summary. He also announced that Alpha is ending, and Beta starting shortly.

Every day when you log in, there is an emissary that asks you to do specific sets of world quests to aid a faction (eg all Dreamweaver faction quests in Val'sharah). Do four quests for the emissary and get an awesome chest. These emissary quests kind of work like Hearthstone dailies - they pile up for a few days, so you can catch up on ones you missed.

Legion will still have dailies, though these "world quests" seem more similar to Diablo 3 bounties. But they're adding a bit of a buffer, allowing you to save quests for a few days.

The leveling-up experience in classic zones is pretty broken right now and not well tuned. It's way too easy and it was neglected for a bit. Due to ability changes over the years, you basically feel invincible (even before heirlooms). You're running around more vs actually fighting. The pacing of the game isn't what it should be. They've been looking to fix this (even via hotfixes now).

As I remarked a few weeks ago, leveling is excessively easy with a very fast Time-to-kill. It's good to know that it's on Blizzard's list of things to fix.

As an aside, it's not all classes which are broken. I've been leveling a human Fire Mage, and that specialization feels surprisingly right while leveling. Admittedly, I'm only in quest rewards with no dungeon gear or heirlooms. Perhaps that spec is just under-tuned. It might be a function of not having enough critical strike, as Fire seems to want more critical strike rating to get off instant Pyroblasts. But I actually took First Aid to make bandages to keep my health up. Given my experience leveling a druid, that was completely unexpected.

In any case, there's a decent amount of interesting information on the major system changes coming in Legion. So far, it all sounds pretty good.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Alternatives to Daily Quests

There's a very good discussion in the comments of the last post. Shandren comments:
The problem with dailies is that they are... daily. You have to set time aside to do them every day or you will fall behind (yes i know it is not a lot, and likely doesn't actually matter, but the problem is how it feels to miss them, not what the actual outcome is). If you skip you dailies today,you will not be able to just do them twice tomorrow and catch up. Ergo you are "forced" to do them every day.
This is true to a degree, and I sympathize with this perspective. But the alternative to dailies isn't a game where you log in whenever you feel like it and complete tasks on your own schedule.

The alternative is a game where you grind like crazy the first couple of weeks, and then spend the next few months complaining that there is nothing to do. If you don't do the hardcore grind, you "fall behind", just as much as if you miss a day of dailies. This is especially true if the rewards are half-decent. It's only the grinds with trivial rewards which players feel free to work on at their own pace.

Of these two extremes, I prefer the dailies.

There's certainly room for improvement though. For example, suppose you could do 5 dailies per day. But you could "bank" up to 25 dailies. This would allow you to skip a day here and there, and make it up the next day.

FFXIV does something similar with its levequest allowance, though that is mostly used for leveling classes. In fact, FFXIV offers two types of leves: one type gives you, say, 100 XP per quest and costs 1 leve allowance. The other type gives you 500 XP per quest, but costs 10 leve allowances. So one is better XP per time, and the other is better XP per allowance.[1]

But overall, I think dailies were an improvement over very long grinds, especially those grinds with meaningful rewards.

1. To be honest, this is probably more complexity than is warranted. I think it also ended up confusing most players.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Yet Another Look At Garrisons

With all the various controversies in WoW over the last couple weeks, I decided to play it again for a little bit. My plan is to at least finish the Legendary ring on my character in preparation for Legion.

I mixed up my playing style a bit, and came to an interesting realization: Garrisons are really enjoyable as "winding down" content.

Basically, you log in and do whatever your main goal is. Join a raid, do a heroic dungeon, hit up Tanaan, whatever. You defer the Garrison stuff to the end of the play session. After you're done your main content and are thinking about logging out, you spend the last 5 or 10 minutes taking care of your Garrison.

I find this works really well. Garrisons don't take much effort, and there's a nice sense of tidying up before you log. It's perfect for the end of a play session. You log out while seeing your followers off on their adventures. As well, being at the end, I find myself more willing to ignore the parts of the garrison which are completely unnecessary. Like the herb garden, since I have no need for herbs.

A player named Torvald had an excellent post where he postulated that doing garrison stuff up front drains a player's "stamina" and enthusiasm for other content. I find that simply moving the garrison to the end of the play session eliminates that entirely. Maybe it still drains your stamina, but you were planning to log off anyways.

There are a couple problems with this style of play though. First, it's sub-optimal. Since missions are timed, you lose out on the time during your play session. Second, it requires you to defer some easy gratification, some easy rewards. And as we all know from various experiments involving children and marshmallows, deferred gratification is not an easy thing.

The thing, though, is that incentivizing the player to do the garrison stuff at the end seems very hard. They could remove some of the time pressure by making missions based on days, rather than timed, where they all finish at the same time at night.

But you're still faced with the deferred gratification problem. The marshmallow dangling in front of your face when you first log in. You can't put a timer on it, because the player might be logging in quickly just to do garrison tasks.

The only idea I had was that while your followers are hanging around your garrison, they give you a stacking buff which increases gold, xp, and valor gained by 1-2% per follower, up to 50% when you have a full complement of 25. That way you want to delay sending your followers on missions while you are doing content, but you're perfectly happy to send them off while you are logged off.

In conclusion, I think that garrisons are much more enjoyable when moved to the end of a play session. But I think actually nudging players into that playstyle will be hard sell.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Overwatch Open Beta Tips From a Bad Player

The Overwatch open beta starts this week. Early access is May 2 if you pre-ordered, and it fully opens up a couple of days later.

Overwatch is an amazingly fun game, and I'm a terrible FPS player. I wasn't in Closed Beta, but I was in the stress tests. So here are some tips from someone who is probably worse than you are.

1. Don't be afraid to solo queue.

Obviously, if you have friends, queue with them. But the solo queue is surprisingly balanced. It seems to quickly find your skill level. As well, matches aren't independent of each other. The players from the last match will be the same players in the next match. Only the teams are shuffled. So maybe there was an awesome enemy Pharah last game that kept killing you. This game, you might end up on the same team as her. This goes a long way to keeping the matches even and popping quickly.

2. Don't bother with AI games.

Maybe play one match to get the hang of things, but I would recommend jumping directly into matches with other players. Playing against the AI just isn't the same as playing against humans. If you want to figure out a hero's abilities, use the training room to see how they work, but then fling yourself against other players.

3. Try to focus on one hero from each category.

There are four categories of heroes: Offensive, Defensive, Tanks, and Support. You generally want a mixed squad, so if you're capable of playing at least one hero of each type, you can fill in for any missing element. Also, tanks and support can be a little more newbie-friendly as they are less reliant on aim and are often a little less fragile than the others.

4. Don't switch heroes too much.

You can switch heroes every time you die, but I recommend playing the entire match as the same hero, at least at the start. They do take some time to get used to, so they might feel frustrating at first until they click for you.

5. Stick with your team.

If you're all alone, it's better to retreat for a few seconds and meet up with the rest of your team, rather than throwing yourself at the enemy. Also remember that the game is about objectives, not a death-match, so emphasize pushing the objective.

6. Use ultimates aggressively.

Ultimate abilities charge quite quickly, so don't hesitate on using them. You have to fail with them a few times to figure out how to use them best.

7. The Kill Cam is your best teacher.

Whenever you die (and you will die a lot) a kill cam will come up showing your death from the opponent's point of view. This is the best way to learn. You can see what you did wrong, and see what your opponent did right.

I think Overwatch is an amazing game, and I strongly recommend that you all try it out. There are lots of different heroes with different playstyles, so I'm sure you'll find at least a couple you enjoy.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The MMO That Abandoned Raiding

My SWTOR raid group called it quits tonight. A bit sad, because we had a good run of about three years or so. I think we were all getting a little burned out. But it also has sunk in that SWTOR has given up on raiding. It has been about 16 months since the last operation was released, and looks very unlikely that any future operations will ever be made.

Back in the first few years of WoW, there was a huge debate between raiders and casuals. Casuals pointed out that raiders were a small minority of the player base, and that the devs spent too many resources on them. Raiders felt that they were the dedicated players, who made guilds and a community, made an MMO an MMO as it were.

WoW, and FFXIV to lesser extent, followed the path of trying to make raiding more accessible to the broader player base. It's perhaps not quite as successful as people would like, but that path has preserved group content.

With the release of the Knights of the Fallen Empire, SWTOR has gone in the opposite direction. All new content has been aimed at the solo player. The main story content does not work well with groups, even duos. The new side content is again mostly aimed at solos or duos.

SWTOR did re-tune a lot of the existing group content for KotFE, but did not create any new group content.

I'm not saying this is the wrong decision. Focusing on single-player content might be the right call for SWTOR. Maybe the casuals were right all along, and the raiders are superfluous. Maybe the number of people who want group content is not enough to justify the cost of creating it.

It is a bit of a pity, as Bioware did make good operations and flashpoints back in the day. I especially liked all the puzzle bosses.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Vanilla Servers, Part II

A lot of replies to the last post felt that I do not understand what attracts people to the idea of vanilla WoW servers. I, of course, disagree with that.

People who clamor for vanilla servers generally want two things:
  1. Vanilla content - the quests, zones, and classes that existed at that time.
  2. Vanilla "feel" - a return to an era where server community was important, where guild and reputation mattered, where the difficulty was slightly higher and required groups to interact more.
Of these two, I think getting the first one is extraordinarily unlikely. Blizzard would essentially be launching and maintaining a completely separate game. I think that the risk is too high. So given that this is basically not going to happen, I don't see much point in expending energy over it.

The second item, however, I believe might be possible. It would be a variant on the current game, and would be a lot easier to maintain. Fixes for the current game would hit both server types. It might even be good for the game by segregating the audience a little bit. The people who insist on increased challenge would have a home.

Of course, even maintaining server variants is more effort. There's already two variants in PvP/PvE. Another orthogonal variant makes four possibilities. But I think it's still less risky and less effort than a full vanilla server.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

WoW Legends Server Idea

I think opening an actual Vanilla WoW server, with Vanilla quests, classes, talent trees, and other systems would be way too much work for too little reward.

However, I do think that, for a reasonably small amount of effort, Blizzard could make a version of the current game that reasonably approximated the original experience. I'll call such a server a "Legends" server.

A Legends server would have:
  • A constant Legends debuff which reduced health, damage done, healing done, and XP gained by about 50%.
  • Looking For Group/Raid disabled
  • Heirlooms disabled
  • No server transfers
  • No cross-realm zones
  • Battlegrounds/Arena disabled
  • One character per account per server
  • Pet Battle Queue disabled
  • No Starter Edition accounts
  • No Death Knights / Demon Hunters, classes which start at a higher level
  • Black Market Auction disabled
I think that would be enough to create a Vanilla-like experience. You'd still have the same quests, classes and talents as the regular game. But a lot of the elements which Vanilla champions say hurt communities would be disabled. I also think that the amount of work required to create such a server would be relatively low.

You'll note that the one thing I did not add was a level cap of 60, or disabling access to expansions. I think that will be very buggy, and end up eating a lot of QA and bugfixing resources. It would also require class design to be tuned for a cap of 60. Raids at 60 would have be tuned again. As well, there is gear from the expansions available at 60 that outstrips raid gear, and trying to keep that gear out of the hands of capped 60s might be a lot of work.

I think trying for a lower cap is simply unfeasible. Better to simply have the same game as the regular servers, just with some added restrictions. The Legends debuff could be reduced at the real maximum level too, if that turns out to be an issue.

I think a compromise like this could worthwhile for Blizzard to experiment with. Personally, I think a lot of people would roll on the server, but most would soon go back to the regular game.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Vanilla Servers and Paladins

Vanilla Servers

I gather there was a little tempest over one of the Vanilla WoW pirate servers. So much so that people are calling for Blizzard to officially support Vanilla servers. Personally, I think the demand for Vanilla servers is overrated. I think that if Blizzard opened one, a lot of people would join, and then the vast majority would quit within three months.

Not to mention that it would be a pretty expensive undertaking. Unlike pirate hobby servers, Blizzard has to pay the people working on their Vanilla servers. People are expensive.

Maybe I'm a little cynical about gamers, but if there is this pent-up demand for a Vanilla-like experience, why don't people go and play one of the current MMOs that offer a similar experience? Games like RIFT or EQ2 or FFXIV? I'm sure the potential audience will always  have a reason why the option you have to pay for is not good enough.

The Vanilla Paladin

Azuriel has declared that a lot of the Vanilla and TBC design was garbage. That may be so, but he has singled out the paladin class as an example. Thus I am forced to defend it.

The vanilla Paladin was not badly designed. Rather, it was designed for a game that soon became obsolete. The paladin was designed for 5-man groups, where the make up was [tank, healer,  2x dps, paladin]. The paladin would back up the tank and healer at the same time.

That's why the vanilla Paladin appears to be so passive. Its combat is very passive. But that's so you could run up to a mob, Judge, Seal and then focus on your group. You'd throw out heals, cleanses, and Blessings as appropriate. The UI was designed for this, so that you could throw spells on groupmates without losing your main target, even without mouseovers. You could tank one mob, or small adds, when the warrior took the rest of the group.

Shamans were the opposite. Shaman support was passive, through totems mainly, but their damage was active. Paladins had active support, but passive damage.

The thing is that this system does not scale into raids. [3x tanks, 3x healers] is stronger than [2x tanks, 2x healers, 2x paladins]. And obviously solo play is fairly boring. Though honestly, I kind of liked it. It was very steady and relentless.

But the Vanilla paladin in 5-man groups is still my favorite MMO playstyle, across all the MMOs I've tried.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

FFXIV Beast Tribes

Lately I've been working on the Beast Tribe quests in FFXIV.

The Beast tribes are an interesting part of FFXIV. They're sort-of monstrous, but generally the "civilized" people of Eorzea have been pushing into their territory, in some cases outright violating treaties. In response, the beast tribes summoned their gods as Primals. But exposure to Primals "tempers' a normal being, brainwashing them into slaves of the Primal. The beast tribe quests are handed out by a splintered faction of the tribe, who have avoided being tempered, and need your help to defeat or survive the remainder of their tribe.

It's an interesting dynamic, combined with the very different personalities of each tribe. For example, the Amalj'aa are a warrior tribe revering strength, the slyphs are playful and like to play tricks, the Vath are a breakaway sect of an insect hive mind who are now just discovering individuality.

So far, I've finished the Amalj'aa and Vanu Vanu stories. The Amalj'aa was a typical story of gaining strength to take revenge. The Vanu Vanu was ... kind of weird, really. It ended in an epic dance-off.

Here's a video of the ending from YouTube:


Mechanically, the Beast tribe quests are kind of like faction dailies in WoW. It's aimed at the solo player, and you earn reputation with the tribe. As your reputation increases more of the story is unlocked, as are new quests. Rewards-wise, you earn a little bit of endgame currency, pets, and a mount at max level. The beast tribe quests are also a way to progress on the Relic weapon quest.

The big mechanical difference between WoW's factions and the FFXIV beast tribes is that FFXIV has a very low daily cap on quests. You can do a maximum of 12 dailies each day. The tribes effectively only offer 3 quests per day (the original tribes offer more, but only 3 that give max rewards).

I actually like this low cap a lot. It's pretty easy to finish your dailies in about 30 minutes. If you can play for longer, you can then do a dungeon or whatever. But if you only have half an hour to play, you can still feel like you got everything done. Beast tribes are aimed at the solo, casual player, and they feel like they hit the perfect spot for that audience.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Diablo 3 Builds and Fun

I've been playing a bit more of Diablo 3 lately. I've been playing my regular Crusader and Wizard, rather than a seasonal character.

One thing I've found is that I'm not too happy with my Crusader. I cannot seem to find a build I enjoy. I'm currently running a 6-piece Akarat's Champion set with Blessed Hammer. It's good enough, but it's just not fun enough. It's a little hard to explain, but it doesn't really feel "melee" enough for me.

Meanwhile I'm running this Fire/Lightning Arcane Torrent with Hydras build on my Wizard and I find it hilarious. Stunning, fire, electricity, I really enjoy playing it, even if it's much lower power than my Crusader.

Any D3 players out there have suggestions for an interesting melee-ish Crusader build that's still reasonably effective? I did try a Thorns-build with the Invoker set, but this was before Blizzard revamped Thorns. I remember that it was decent, but annoying because I couldn't kill Treasure Goblins.