Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Redemption in Knights of the Eternal Throne

This post contains significant spoilers for Star Wars: The Old Republic: Knights of the Eternal Throne.

In Knights of the Eternal Throne, I found the way Bioware handled redemption to be very intriguing.

There are two main villains in the Zakuul saga: Arcann and Vaylin. Both are children of Valkorion and your enemies for most of the game. Arcann is Emperor of Zakuul first, until the player defeats him at the end of Knights of the Fallen Empire, at which point Vaylin becomes Empress.

In KotET, Arcann can be redeemed, brought back to the Light and becomes a companion for the player if the player desires. Vaylin cannot. However, Vaylin arguably is more worthy of being redeemed.

Here is Arcann's trailer:

And here is Vaylin's trailer:

Arcann chooses to become a villain. He makes his choice in anger and rage, but it's still his choice. Vaylin, on the other hand, is conditioned into villainy as a child. She doesn't really have a choice. Even though she probably commits greater evils.

KotET goes to significant length to lay this out for the player, including an excellent chapter on Nathema where it goes into detail about Vaylin's imprisonment on Nathema, and the experiments conducted on her there.

Yet in the end, Vaylin cannot be redeemed. This lends a small sense of unfairness to Arcann's redemption. He is perhaps less deserving than Vaylin, but gets a better end.

I'm not saying this is a negative for KotET. Quite the opposite. It was an excellent move on Bioware's part. It adds a touch of bittersweet-ness to the ending, makes it not quite so perfect and shiny. In fact, I even found myself slightly regretting redeeming Arcann because of that unfairness.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Leveling Dungeons are Fun Again!

The last time I dipped into leveling dungeons in WoW, it was a terrible experience. People in heirloom gear completely overpowered the instance, making it the zergiest of zergs. You didn't even have enough time to hand in quests.

In the leveling revamp of the last patch, heirlooms were reined in. They're still quite good, especially with the experience bonus, but they're comparable to dungeon blues.

Low level dungeons are actually a great deal of fun now. I've even rolled a newbie tank just to do instances. It's not excessively difficult, but the game rewards steady killing of group by group. Sometimes you can handle two groups, but it can be a bit stressful.

I healed a Stratholme run and we wiped a couple times due to accidentally pulling extra packs. The group even spontaneously started using crowd control to make life easier!

If you haven't tried a low-level instance in a while, I strongly recommend giving them a shot. Create an Allied Race character, and you'll start at level 20, making you eligible for instances right away. Queue times are pretty good, too. I'm seeing around 8 minutes for a DPS, 1-2 minutes for a healer, and instantaneous for a tank, of course.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Reconciling Vitiate and Valkorion

The main flaw of SWTOR's Knights of the Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne storyline is that Valkorion, the Emperor of Zakuul, turns out to be same entity as Vitiate, the Sith Emperor. This despite the fact that they have quite different personalities and contradictory goals.

The thing though, is that it almost works. It's almost convincing. I think that Bioware had taken a slightly different tack, the story would have worked much better.

First, have an expansion where Vitiate is defeated once and for all. Or if a full expansion is too much, a patch where Vitiate is banished or locked away, after the Ziost patch. As part of the story, have the player be aided by a mysterious Knight of Zakuul, maybe even Senya.

Then have KotFE happen much like it did. Only Valkorion is not Vitiate, but a Force spirit like Vitiate. Have it turn out that Vitiate possessed Tenebrae on Nathema. Having Valkorion be different than Vitiate, but knowing about him, gives Valkorion an excuse for hiding Zakuul. He was hiding Zakuul from Vitiate, but as soon as Vitiate is out of the picture, Valkorion makes his move.

In all other aspects, the story can remain much the same. I think that one change, simply having Valkorion be like Vitiate, but a different entity who was observing Vitiate, makes KotFE and KotET much stronger and more logical.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void

I finally finished StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void. I bought it a long time ago, but got distracted and never actually started the game until a month or so ago.

I pretty much just played though the campaign on Casual difficulty, just to see the story. So the missions were pretty easy for the most part. Though the final mission of the Epilogue gave me a bit of trouble, because I completely forgot how the Zerg worked.

I really like how the basic building mechanics vary between the three races, and reinforce the style of that race as well as the gameplay. From the very first second of gameplay, that makes playing each race a different experience. An outstanding example of top-down game mechanic design.

The story was quite good. I didn't realize how much I just wanted something triumphant and heroic, and Legacy of the Void delivered in spades. Artanis was a paragon, but Blizzard did a really good job keeping him admirable. I think a lot of it had to do with how they portrayed him as an inspiring leader, making his subordinates greater, rather than having him do things himself.

I think Warcraft could stand to take a look at what Starcraft II did here. Though part of it may be that the player is playing as Artanis, rather than a separate character.

I was also reminded of the Mass Effect series. Like Mass Effect 3, Legacy of the Void is the capstone for a seminal series of games. But where ME3 stumbled (to put it politely) at the finish line, Legacy of the Void stuck the landing. Mostly, I think, by avoiding the temptation to be clever. Instead Blizzard delivered a solid, satisfying ending for one of the greatest game series of all time.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Mark Rosewater Defines A Game

Mark Rosewater is the head designer for Magic: the Gathering. He's been writing a weekly column on M:tG and game design for the last decade or so. In his latest column, What Is a Game?, he sets out his definition of a "game":
A game is a thing with a goal (or goals), restrictions, agency, and a lack of real-world relevance. 
Let me walk through each part of this definition. 
A goal (or goals) 
There needs to be a point to a game. What exactly are the players trying to do? If there's a way to win the game, how do you win? If there's a way it ends, how does it end? Players in a game need motivation, they need something to direct their actions. That comes from having a goal or goals. Now the goals can be active (defeat the enemy) or passive (don't die), but they must give the players some idea of what they're supposed to be doing. 
Games are about obstacles. The players have a goal, but something keeps them from simply accomplishing it. A game needs to have some challenge to it because the fun of a game comes from figuring out how to overcome those challenges. 
A game needs to have decisions, and those decisions must matter. Having a choice where the proper way to play is always making the same choice is not really a decision, and as such is not giving the player agency. Player involvement in the game and its outcome is core to the experience of a game. 
Lacks real-world relevance 
A game is something that you opt into doing because you want the experience of playing it. Labeling every obstacle you run into in life, a game quickly robs the term of any meaning. We use the expression "play a game" because it's an activity we opt into for some gain (usually entertainment and/or education, but there are many reasons one can chose to play).
In the rest of the article, Rosewater goes through what happens if you have three of the elements, but not the fourth.  It's a creative way of examining the issue, and is very revealing.

Perhaps the most interesting section is agency. Rosewater asserts that what is important is that you believe you have agency, not if you actually have it in reality. For example, he says that Tic-Tac-Toe is a game if you believe you can win. Once you realize that you can't win, it ceases being a game for you!

In any case, it's one of Rosewater's best articles, and I strongly encourage everyone to read it.