Thursday, February 28, 2019

Solution to A Makes B Worse

There's one interesting mistake pattern that Bioware has made a couple of times so far in Anthem.

Basically, Bioware predicted that Situation A would be problematic and devised a solution for A. However, in practice, it turns out that Situation B is more common, and that solution actually makes B worse.

For example, take tethering in missions. If you get too far away from the group, a warning pops up and then the game will automatically port you to the group (unfortunately, this requires a loading screen). It's clearly intended for people who go the wrong way, or get turned around, or just get lost. Porting that player to the group is a great solution for this situation.

However, it turns out that the more common scenario is for one player to be a little bit slower than the group, and she falls behind a little bit. Maybe she's not as good at flight, or took a few seconds to look around before taking off. She's still going in the right direction, and will catch up eventually. However, the tethering mechanic triggers and can port her, which is very annoying.

Bioware made the mechanic more forgiving in the Day One patch. However, the basic issue remains. There are too many false positives with the tethering mechanic.

A similar thing is happening in quick-play. If someone leaves a mission, then the spot is back-filled from the quick-play queue. This is a great solution to handle people who just leave missions for arbitrary reasons. But it turns out that the reason most people don't leave missions arbitrarily. Most of the time they leave missions is because the mission is bugged, which is a really good reason to leave. Then quick-play people get back-filled into the instance and can't do anything, end up leaving as well, and the cycle continues. Even if only a tiny percentage of missions bug out, those are the ones that people will always see in quick-play.

One has to wonder if it would have been better if Anthem just did not back-fill at all. If someone leaves, well, you carry on with three people. Quick-play always starts you with a fresh mission.

The main thing here is that the "effectiveness" of the solution depends on the frequency of the problem. If getting lost was more common than falling behind, there would be minimal complaints about tethering. If people leaving was more common than bugged missions, quick-play back-filling would be a great solution.

Of course, these issues will get fixed by narrowing the solution. Maybe tethering will consider if you are moving in the right direction before triggering. Or back-filling might put a cap on the number of people that fill. Like the queue will fill 2 empty spots, but after that it will mark the mission as unsalvageable, so no more people cycle in.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Community Reaction to Anthem

The gaming community's reaction to Anthem is really harsh. It's getting savaged in press and reviews, and on the internet.

I think the reaction is excessively harsh. Anthem's moment-to-moment game play is superb. It has some issues, that's true. But it's about what you would expect from a game like this. It isn't a "You must play this!!!" game. I wouldn't recommend it to someone who had no interest in looter-shooters. But if the general idea of the game attracts you, you'll probably enjoy it a lot.

The best explanation I've seen for the scale of the reaction is that Anthem is the "last straw" for a lot of gamers. There's been a whole host of AAA games which have disappointed recently, especially with regards to polish, and Anthem is just the point where the crowd decided to make a stand. It's a particularly attractive target as EA is so hated, and thus the community can indulge in the narrative that EA ruined the once-great Bioware.

One thing that concerns me, though, is that there is one game cited as "Anthem should have been more like this": Monster Hunter World.  Now, it might be true that MHW was much more polished on release. But MHW was released on consoles in January 2018, and the PC release was months later, in August 2018.

An awful lot of the "polish" problems are PC problems which only occur on some setups. Differing loading times, that sound cutting out bug people keep complaining about, occasional crashes, etc. Absolutely none of which have happened to me. From my perspective, the game is rock-solid performance-wise. Even the lack of text chat is really a PC problem, and doesn't really apply to consoles.

I'm concerned that the lesson EA and the games industry will take from the contrast between MHW and Anthem is that the simultaneous launch on PC and console was a mistake. That Bioware should have just released a polished console-only game, and launched the PC version months later.  If that console version had played how Anthem plays on my computer, then I think the reviews would be 10 to 20 points higher. But as a PC player, I'd rather not see that future.

In any case, I don't think Anthem is as bad as much of the online reaction is making it appear to be. Even if much of the complaints are rooted in reality, it feels like they are not weighing the sheer fun of the game. If you're interested in the game, I strongly recommend the Origin Access subscription route to try it out.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

FreePlay in Anthem

I'm currently level 16, and am "blocked" on the story. You have to do four trials which are basically collections of achievements. Kill 50 enemies with melee, etc. You can complete these achievements in the earlier story missions, but it's likely you'll be missing a few of them, so you have to head into FreePlay for a bit.

The major problem for me is that one achievement (open 15 chests) was bugged, and it only counted if you were the person to open the chest. It has since been fixed so that it counts if anyone opens a chest near you. But I entered FreePlay with zero chests, and have been slowly accumulating more. Most of the other achievements were about 80% complete, except Ultimate Kills. Apparently I wasn't using Ultimates earlier in the game. But since they're Ultimates, you rack up kills with them quite quickly.

FreePlay is a bit lonely. The map is very big, so meeting up with other people already in the map is rather time-consuming. As well, people leave and join often. You meet up with someone, do an event, and then they leave FreePlay and you have to go find someone else. You don't see World Events on the map, so there's no obvious location where people converge.

Once you meet up, wandering with people and doing events is fun. I guess if you played with friends,  or an online community, it would be even better. Note that you don't have to group up. You can do most things solo, even the events. The only thing I was unable to do by myself was kill an Ash Titan. So much fire!

Javelin-wise, I've unlocked the Ranger, Colossus, and Interceptor. I don't care for the Interceptor play-style. It is a fast, fragile, melee type, which is just a bad fit for me personally. However, I really like the Colossus.

The Colossus has a shield, and you can hold up the shield and then charge at people, dealing damage to them. I have a component which increases that shield damage by 300%, so my Colossus just runs around the battlefield stomping mobs. It's pretty hilarious. It doesn't really work with flying enemies though.

In other news, I bought a Logitech g600 mouse for use with Anthem. Somewhat ironic, since it is an MMO mouse. But I found I needed about 4 extra buttons, and they were awkward to use on the keyboard. So far the new mouse is working well.

Anyways, I'm still enjoying Anthem. Hopefully I will get past this stage soon and then back to the story.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Anthem First Impressions

In the end I picked up Origin Access Premium to try out Bioware's Anthem. Origin Access got to play the game starting on Friday, though the full launch is on Feb 22. I'm not very far in, I'm about level 13 and I have unlocked two Javelins: the Ranger and the Colossus. Here are my impressions:

  • Javelin game play - this is just superb. It feels great, and is a ton of fun. In particular, flying in a Javelin is outstanding. The javelin heats up in flight, and you have to land if it gets overheated. But you can do things like fly through waterfalls, skim the surfaces of rivers, or dive straight down to reduce heat. So managing heat and flight time is a mini-game in and of itself.
  • Combat is fun. You have guns and two "powers", which depend on your Javelin type and equipment. You can equip many different powers, and the guns also play differently.
  • Different Javelins play differently. The Ranger is more long-ranged with a shield that regenerates. The Colossus meanwhile charges in with lots of health and armor.
  • Gearing is good so far. There looks like a wide variety of gear and options. One interesting thing is that you only see loot at the end of a mission. I kind of like it, as you don't really need to worry about loot during game play.
  • "Multiplayer-by-default" - Whenever you start a mission, you are matched with 3 others working on the same mission. Anthem in small groups is a lot of fun, especially seeing all four of you flying towards a destination. You can change the setting to Private, and play by yourself if you wish. Though you might want to dial the difficulty down in that case.
  • Performance is pretty good. Some people are reporting lots of trouble, but Anthem has been rock-solid for me. It looks good as well, but I don't have very high standards for graphics.
  • Story and Writing - It's decent, but not as good as I would have expected from Bioware. In some respects it's making me wonder if I'm looking back at Mass Effect and SWTOR with rose-colored glasses. Maybe ME and SWTOR writing wasn't as good as I remember. It feels like Bioware focused on improving game play significantly, as that was the weakness of ME, but in the process they let their writing team and practices degrade a bit. Now, it's not terrible or anything, but so far I'd give the story and writing a B, not an A.
  • Real Money Transactions - the store is entirely cosmetics at this point, and you can earn Coins to buy stuff on it through gameplay. I generally ignore cosmetics though, so I'm not really someone to give advice here. All I can say is that so far, I've been able to ignore the system entirely.
  • Load times. You absolutely must install Anthem on an SSD. Load times are long even on an SSD, and there are fair amount of load screens. This is especially important because you can start missions as soon as you load in, even before the others have loaded. So if you're on a older HDD, it's very likely you'll miss the beginning of every mission.
  • Keep group together mechanic - During missions, if you fall behind too much, you'll get a warning and a countdown timer. If you don't catch up, you'll get ported to the group. Now, this is a good idea in general to help people who get lost, but the mechanic is very aggressive. You look around for five seconds, and the timer pops up. As well, failing the timer triggers a load screen, which hurts given the previous point. More than once I've been two seconds away from catching up to the group, when the timer expired and I got thrown into a 20 second load screen.
  • Menus - there are a lot of nested menus. The control scheme is pretty clearly made for consoles, and it is a bit of a pain to navigate.
  • Mechanics are opaque. For the most part you can muddle through, but if you're the type who needs to know exactly how stats and mechanics work, you're probably going to get frustrated. Even the basic damage mechanic of how Combos work, with Primers and Detonators, is extremely poorly explained. I found the following chart on Reddit, and the game mechanics and gearing make a lot more sense now:

Anthem is pretty good. The core game with Javelins is lots of fun so far. The story and writing is a bit disappointing, but really only because we have such high expectations of Bioware.

I have no idea about the longevity of the game, though. I'm still just leveling up. If you're on the fence, consider getting a month of Origin Access and trying out the game first.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Guild Implosion

The first raid night in Battle for Dazalor we had a whopping 29 people in the raid. Three weeks later, we had 11, and the guild leadership decided to swap factions and transfer servers. I am not really certain what exactly happened.

Or, well, I guess I do know. In Legion, we were a Heroic raiding guild. In Battle for Azeroth, it was decided to push for Mythic raiding. We didn't do too badly in Uldir, going 3/8 Mythic.

But before Dazalor, our long-time guild leaders decided that we were getting too hardcore for their tastes, and stepped down. After the first couple of raids, a large chunk of our best raiders decided that we weren't going to be good enough and split off. Then another, newer, group decided our times were not right for them, and they left too.

So then the leadership and core raid team decided to go Horde, since many of them wanted to play on that faction, and transferred to a larger server, hopefully with better recruiting prospects. This happened super-fast. They announced it Saturday afternoon, and people were transferring in the evening.

I have an invitation to join them, but I'm a little unsure what to do. I've raided with several of these guys for two years now. They're good people, and I enjoy playing with them. 

But I really don't want to faction-swap Coriel. I suppose I could transfer or level a Horde character, even another paladin.

The other thing is that, looking back at my tenure in this guild, I preferred it as it existed in Legion. Focused on Heroic raids, 2 nights a week. I didn't mind Mythic raiding at 3 nights a week, especially since many other people in the guild wanted to try it, and I enjoyed raiding with them. But I did like the Heroic version of the guild better.

Hmm, perhaps writing this post has made things clearer to me. I want to find a decent Alliance Heroic guild, but one with zero intention of going to Mythic. Maybe one willing to "graduate" extremely good players, and help them find a spot in a Mythic guild, but able to resist the pressure from those good players to have the guild go Mythic.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Diablo Season 16

I haven't played Diablo III in a while, but I jumped back into Season 16 when it started a week ago.

Normally, I stop playing Diablo after I finish the first four Season chapters and get the full 6-piece set. Usually Torment 6 or Greater Rift 20 or so. This time I've decided to make an attempt at getting into the Diablo III elder game. Primal legendaries, ancient primals, Torment 13 etc.

I'm basically following an online guide to the Hammerdin build, and it's going pretty well. I'm in Season chapter V. I still need to find a proper weapon and shield for the build, but most of my other pieces are decent. Though I cannot roll a socket on my amulet to save my life.

It's interesting because usually I don't "farm" in Diablo. I play on difficulties close to my gear level, pushing to finish the chapter requirements. Enemies seem to take a while to kill, but also take a while to kill me. This time around I'm farming T6.  Everything dies super-fast, and I can finish a rift in five minutes or so. But everything also does a lot of damage, and death can happen very quickly.  It feels very different from the Diablo III I normally play.

Season 16 is the Season of Royal Grandeur. There's a universal buff which mimics the effects of the Ring of Royal Grandeur, allowing you to get set bonuses with one less set piece (minimum of two pieces). It's an interesting twist. I'm currently running five pieces of the Seeker of the Light set (so I get the 6-piece set bonus) and two pieces of the Blackthorne set for the 2- and 3-piece set bonus.

Playing Diablo III this way is an interesting experience. Probably what most serious Diablo players are used to, though.