Wonders are overpowered in Civilization V

| Monday, December 31, 2012
When I play Civilization IV there are wonders that I want.  Well of course I want all of them, but some are of particular interest to me.  Notre Dame is one of my favorites, since early on I tend to be limited by happiness.  The Hanging Gardens are oddly-placed, being of benefit in the late game when health is critical, but not as useful early on, particularly since the happiness limit means that the extra population is something between wasted and another lost soul for the whip of slavery.  But I've rambled on.  The point remains that as much as I like most of the wonders, never do I feel as if I am ruined by not having one, or hampered because my enemy does.

Contrast these with the wonders in Civilization V.

50% longer golden ages weren't such a bit deal in Civ IV, where golden ages were harder to generate, but are now able to be triggered at-will from the variety of great people, given as bonuses from social policies, and even built gradually from excess happiness.

The Great Wall, which was once a way to save a bit on early military costs and make defensive wars a little easier, is now a game-changer.  Attackers slow to a crawl, making ranged defenders even more powerful, able to dance around and still fire away.  Facing this wonder without longbowmen or artillery is a huge pain in the ass.  Even with them, you're still slowed, but at least can have some influence over the battlefield.

Sistine Chapel is still essential for a cultural victory, or just to keep up, since social policies are a tech tree of their own.

There are two wonders that give a free social policy.

The Porcelain Tower is notable as well, giving a great scientist (even more powerful now that they are a free tech rather than just a large amount of science) and a large boost to research agreements.  It is only the habit of the AI to declare war halfway into research agreements that keeps this wonder in check.

It might not be overpowered, but it does feel silly, the Hagia Sophia: rush it with an engineer and get it right back, and the next one a lot sooner.  It's either a free wonder itself or it's another wonder free.

Machu Picchu isn't overpowered, but it is rather annoying that it is based on the luck of having a city able to build it, in a location that could build it before the game ends.

I am more convinced than ever that the MoP trailer was awful

| Saturday, December 29, 2012
Now that I've actually played the expansion a bit, well the title says it.  Past trailers introduced the enemy, gave us something to aim for.  Illidan, Arthas, Deathwing, and night elf women.  I've said before that I don't think they were all good (Cata was bad), but they at least managed to give some notion of what we were doing or what was going on.

The Mists of Pandaria trailer did not do that.  It gave us some fun combat, which had some relation to the story, but was a step away from actually saying anything.  "There is a new land that the Horde and Alliance are fighting over" was all we could get out of the trailer.  Well, it's also a scenic land, but that's about the extent of it.

The actual game has an enemy: our own aggression, fear, and doubt: the Sha.  The actual interpretation can vary, of whether we are the problem or whether we merely released what was already there.  That could have made for an interesting trailer, to see the beauty of Pandaria, but to get a peek underground and behind the veils to see the negative energy building up.  The mogu, seemingly a central threat, are entirely left out.  I can understand why all the less-significant threats, such as vermin, ninju, and monkeys were left out, since there is only limited screen time.

I'm also curious about the bugs.  Are they another aspect of the silithid?  Is there an old god directing them?  Maybe I'll learn more as I play.  I'm certain that I'd have been more eager to buy the expansion if I'd been giving a hint of an old enemy returning.

Free ten days of WoW

| Thursday, December 27, 2012
If you've not upgraded to Mists of Pandaria yet, don't!  Instead, first get the trial.  That gives ten days of time, which are saved when you upgrade. Ten free days!  Yay!

I didn't know this when I started the trial.  At first I didn't realize it had the level cap, which should have been obvious, since otherwise it could make a character unplayable if the trial expired.  Then I thought the time was lost, so I was going to do side stuff for the ten days: getting other characters right up to 86, professions, Molten Core (afk next do a dead Ragnaros and a Jeees as I write this).  But then I wondered, does the time vanish?  Apparently not.

Off to the lost continent!  No, not Pandaria, silly.  I need more eternal air for my MOLL-E!  Northrend, ho!

MoP: First Impressions

| Wednesday, December 26, 2012
I don't like the login music.  It fills my ears with whining hurt.

The second quest sends me to the airship, which is not marked on the map unless you pick Azshara.

After that things were generally uphill.  I was still mixed up by my new everything and did not remember inquisition.  I'm also unsure of why I am notified of Art of War procs (resets exorcism) when the cooldown isn't up anyway.  That just confused me.  On one hand, it is nice to be able to get inquisition up quickly, but generating holy power from strong sneezes is tricky to deal with.  It was smart of them to have the pool of five; I don't think it would have been much fun with only three slots to store it, too much would get wasted.

Gyrocopter attack!  Let's just try the gyrocopter attack again!  I'm out of ideas.  Gyrocopter attack?
(I'm trying to say that I was amused by the gnomes, then I killed them)

It seemed as if the Alliance was set up as the bad guys.  But the commander we kept hunting, he seemed to have the best of intentions, trying to keep the land free of the taint of the Horde.  And then he turned into scary stuff that means he's a bad guy.  That was followed up with more yelling about not bringing a war, which of course the Horde ignored.  I'm curious to see how this turns out.  I don't have high hopes for the presentation, but we'll see.

All in all, it appears to be more of the same, which is exactly what I expected, and hoped for.

Now to fix those addons...

Of customer service: a bad poem

It's the day after Christmas and I have time to spare.Let's go see some pandas dance through the air
Log in and play
Yet I must complain
Because a simple request
Cannot be processed

Locked and suspicious
On account of location?
I am back home, on Christmas vacation.

No problem at all, just send me the mail
And this is when begins the fail

That's shady too, so as some proof
Answer a question
from back years more than two

Failed and failed, blocked for 12 hours!
This is the help that customer service offers
Not a mention those years
Of a question so dear
That they'd kick me out
If I ever forgot

No worries, I said, Blizzard is here
I'll just explain that my account's secure
Here's a phrase and here's a key
Don't you know that it's me?

Verification!  Aunthentication!
To the email...
But there lies the fail.
My account is not hacked and my computer secure
I just forgot my email password
May I change that bit?
It's not a topic
Maybe a ticket?
but I must log in (fuck it)

Let's try the phone.
I'll wait on hold.

This better not be a daily.

 End of poem.  I called and didn't have a very long wait.  And they play WoW music during it.

The non-existent argument

| Tuesday, December 25, 2012
A bad combination:

My aunt isn't particularly good at abstract thought or accepting the assumptions given in an argument (not to agree with them, but to accept them as the basis of the current discussion).  This leads her to say stupid things or misunderstand things into a non-existent disagreement.  Meanwhile my brother and other aunt and uncle love to discuss things and challenge ideas.  The result is something that isn't heart-shaped butterflies, but is not a screaming match and will not turn into one.

My mom hates arguing.  According to the second aunt (the one who likes discussion and is her sister), when they were younger family arguments were a less cordial affair, tending to involve real political disagreement and hard feelings.  With that in mind, it is understandable that my mom would be wary of arguments.

But it's been quite a long while.  Surely by now it is not unreasonable to expect that she'd have figured out that she's not at her childhood home.  Surely it is not unreasonable to expect someone to have some stage between no indication of a problem and screaming about arguing.  Maybe ask nicely to stop 'arguing', but do so before she's borderline enraged, since the "I asked nicely" idea is complete bullshit when you're one word away from hysteria.

I might have some sympathy if there actually was an argument.  If someone came to our house saying Obama is from Kenya, it would be entirely justified to get angry at them, maybe more.  But this wasn't that and never is.

Merry Christmas...

The Hobbit

| Sunday, December 23, 2012
You might have seen a lot of negative reviews of The Hobbit.  Well, they have a point.  And should shit up, because I think we get the point, and it's a good movie anyway.

I went to see it Saturday night with my brother.  At that particular time they had the 3D version, we we saw that.  The only other movie I've seen in 3D was Avatar, which I thought worked perfectly, given that so much of the movie was scenery porn.  However I can't say I cared for it during The Hobbit.  I don't get disoriented by it, but it was too immersive.  Yep, too immersive is bad in my book.  For movies.  When I watch movies I don't want to feel like I'm there.  For me, that experience becomes too similar to a videogame, and then I want to join in.  I like the sense of disconnection.  I do of course want to feel that I am in the world, but not in a particular scene.

At the start I could see what critics meant when they said it seemed to drag on with filler.  The introduction of the dwarves needed to be done, though the overall thing took a bit long.  I didn't like Bilbo in the slightest early on, as he seemed not to have an actual personality, but was rather just a slightly mobile object that disagreed with anything happening.  It didn't help that they decided to give far too much time to establishing that it was a story being told and written, right before Bilbo's 111th birthday party.

On the subject of dwarves, they didn't work.  Without humans around to give a sense of perspective, they look like slightly-less-than-heroically-tall humans, rather than like dwarves.  Having a hobbit as the main character doesn't help.  Gandalf is of no help either, since he's so tall anyway.  I don't know what would have fixed this problem beside sneaking in some humans to give perspective.  Maybe they should have done that, added the occasional tag-a-long, since it's not as if the events were not altered for the movie already.  I'm looking at you, hungry trolls (which now makes Bilbo sound like an unnecessary liar when he's telling the story to the children in the Fellowship).

Once out of the initial dragging along bit, it got to be rather exciting.  There is adventure.

And also constant mentioning of the great dangers looming beyond.  Having read The Hobbit and seen and read the Lord of the Rings I have a different perspective than people who are starting with The Hobbit or who have seen the Lord of the Rings but not read the book.  So I may have a skewed perspective.  And maybe the creators did as well.  Maybe they couldn't decide if The Hobbit was a prequel, meant to say where things that we know already began, or if it was the start of a series, and in that case is meant to get things rolling.

For example, the Necromancer.  In the movie he sounds sinister, but not too sinister, maybe just a sorcerer who got a little too creative and just needs some pushing back into place.  And yet, if you know the Lord of the Rings, then it all seems like the wrong approach.  It did not help that the Necromancer story was wrapped up in a silly blanket of a slightly mad wizard, so that all the darkness is delivered by the comic relief.  Were this to have all been in a single movie, then maybe they could have gotten to the Necromancer, gotten his bits out there, said what we all know is coming, and let us all go on to rewatching the Lord of the Rings, again.

Overall, The Hobbit isn't as good as The Lord of the Rings.  This may be inevitable, since the story itself is not as much to my liking.  But it is still worth seeing.

Clearly I'm a superior being

| Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Hi.  I'm back.  Graduate school failed to kill me, despite putting in one hell of an effort.  It turns out that doing a cost-benefit analysis on fire department consolidation is very difficult.  Our master spreadsheet has a larger file size than some of the games I remember playing  in the 90s.  I've used terms like "flow of data" when describing it and did not mean it ironically, sarcastically, or even to make myself sound more impressive.  Except just now.

I'd like to talk about the rash of world conquests that have been plaguing the world lately.  These used to be rare events.  Hitler, Ghengis Khan, the United Nations, the list of attempted world conquerors is short.  Until recently.  It seems that we cant go a week or two without hearing that a young adult has gathered a tribe around himself and begun capturing territory, investing in technology, and bribing allies.  Just last week Nebraska was overrun.  Oregon the month before.  Did we forget two months ago when Dallas was temporarily turned into a city-state and sought the assistance of Oklahoma and Mexico in the conquest of Texas?

We could blame tribalism, the easy availability of libraries and beakers, or the way eating a lot of wheat makes babies magically appear.  But those are all symptoms.  The true problem is the psychology.  The true problem is that too many young people are playing too many games that glorify world conquest.  They pick up the habit.  They become desensitized to the methodical elimination of rival cultures through careful plotting of alliances and military force.  We're seeing the evidence every day.  As world conquest simulators have become more common and more advanced, so has the rate of attempted world conquest risen.

I seem to be immune to this problem.  While I grew up playing Command and Conquer, later moving on to the various iterations of the Civilization series, I have never planned, let alone attempted, to conquer the world.  Maybe I'm just a superior being that can recognize that games are reality are different and who does not learn how to interact with the world from clearly-fictional games.

Maybe I've just never acted because my parents always modeled good behavior, never using world conquest to solve their problems.  Maybe I just never had easy access to culturally-similar followers who blindly follow my orders.  Or maybe I'm just a superior being who is immune to the horrifying influence of these so-called games based on world conquest.

Nils is back!

| Friday, November 2, 2012
Why are you here?  There's nothing here for a while.  Go here instead:

Not a bang, but a whimpered "Goodbye"

| Sunday, October 28, 2012
I started this blog to talk about WoW.  I branched out slightly to talk about other games, many of which no one played or cared about.  That's how I roll.

My first post was February 12, 2008.  That means that I've been blogging longer than I was in high school or college (but not both).  Those had start and end dates, times when I had to have figured it out and regurgitated it and then I'd get a piece of paper and maybe a handshake.  Blogs don't have that.  I haven't figured it out.  I'm still working on it.  By analogy, I think that means I'm that person working a dead-end job who is going to take night classes to finish up his degree.  But never will.

WoW changed, I did as well, and those changes were not complementary.  The result was that I left WoW.  A couple friends brought me back.  I left to play Guild Wars 2.  Sadly, I left on my own and that died off as well (not saying GW2 is dead).  For weeks I've been meaning to get back into it, to play again, to explore and even try some dungeons.  Sadly, that all turned out to be too difficult.  Mentally I've been too drained.  I'd hoped to log on a few days ago and check out some Halloween content, but there was a patch and when that was done downloading I was tired and went to bed.

I've not stopped gaming, but I've stopped new gaming.  I've gone back to Civ IV and Call of Pripyat.  Neither of those are new, neither of them are MMOs, and neither of them are inspiring me to write grand posts.  Well, I do have one that I keep trying to write about the Civilization series and history education, but it keeps falling into pedantic droning and I close it and forget about it and weeks later make a new draft post.  I could probably keep 'blogging' for a few weeks just by posting my failed Civilization posts (slight exaggeration).

You've probably picked up that I'm limping toward something and that that something is that I'm probably out of ideas and out of content.  In other words, probably stopping with this blog for a while.  Probably I have a problem with qualifying my statements too much.

I'll still be around commenting and reading, but that's about it for the foreseeable future.  So, I'll call this a goodbye.  Thanks to all the great bloggers.  No thanks to the terrible ones.  And biggest thanks of all to Larisa, whose linking and commenting and referencing is probably 90% responsible for this blog being a slightly bigger insignificant blip, with another 5% being split between a bloggers with large audiences, 3% to hilariously bad Google search terms and results (Skyrim porn edition is still top), 2% to various WoWInsider writers who linked me (Thanks, Allison), and finally 1% to me for writing a lot of words.  It's pretty awesome being in the 1% and getting all the credit.


P.S. I have a more politically-oriented blog over at Delusions of Truth.  Sometimes I talk about science as well.  It's not always relevant to the current news cycle and comes with a liberal dose of liberal bias.  I try to post about once a week.
P.P.S. I snuck this edit in after the first comment.

Making a game for ten friends and no one else ever

| Monday, October 22, 2012
The other day I talked about videogames as art (or not).  This led me to ask: what was different about the paths of development for videogames and art?

In the beginning there was charcoal and a cave wall.  It was art made for a few people.  Later we developed more advanced techniques, yet the distribution stayed the same: as a small, physical object, more art could only be seen be those in close proximity.  Given the high cost of trade and travel, few people would ever see a particular piece.  In this way, art originated as something for only a few people.

It grew, of course, with kings and popes commissioning larger pieces and architecture, the latter of which could be seen by many people and was intended to be.  Yet it was ultimately for the small, elite group.  It was not so much for mass consumption as for elite display to the masses.

Only relatively recently has art become something which could be sold on large scales and in large quantities to the masses.  Printing presses allowed books to spread further (though they still remained pretty expensive).  Eventually we worked out how to mass-produce reproductions of images, so that paintings could be spread, though not in painting form.  Lately it is music and movies which can spread everywhere.  Yet music was originated at the smallest scale of all: only in hearing range and only until the echos stopped.  Movies grew out of plays which carried a similar temporary nature.  The overall idea is that all previous forms of art developed at small scales and over a very long period of time.

Videogames have not had such time.  Computers are young.  Getting games onto them is even younger.  This difference in age will make videogames different as an art form.  Maybe they are thousands of years away from being art, just like those cave drawings.  Though I hope we can get there sooner (or are already).

Beside the time difference though, there is a matter of scale.  Videogames are hard to make.  This is true on both the low and high ends of the quality spectrum.  I could easily make terrible music, paintings, or plays.  Music and acting are merely sound and movement while painting requires some small amount of hand-eye coordination and a bit of money.  Making a game is far more difficult, requiring the ability to understand a foreign language written for another type of thought.  This only gets more difficult as you try to increase the quality and range of distribution.

You could make a song for ten friends.  For thousands of years people have and they still do.  Could you make a videogame for ten friends?  It's quite a lot of work for such a small audience.

This is the difficulty, that videogames are growing up in an age of mass distribution.  They are created for different reasons than any previous art.  Other art forms are under these same pressures as costs rise along with distribution, and I'm sure you can find plenty of people to complain about that (I won't in this post), but they grew and were defined long ago.  Videogames are growing and being defined now.

Expansions and burnout

| Friday, October 19, 2012
Do expansions promote or reduce burnout?

On one hand, new content and new abilities can reinvigorate.  On the other hand, new abilities and gameplay may confuse and reduce a sense of comfort in the world.

In general they shake things up and that may be individually good or bad.

Interaction with the code

| Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The games which I played the longest and had the most fun in were also the ones which I could change.  This ranged from elaborate macros in WoW to entire new story lines and ships in Escape Velocity (Mac space combat/trading series from the late 90s).  I don't think this is coincidence.

At first the causality might seem to go from time to code, that more time with a game meant more time to learn it and change it.  Certainly it is true that having more time gives you more time.  I might be going out on a limb with that one.

However, I don't think I'd have spent as much time with these games if I couldn't change them.  Particularly in my days before WoW and Steam, patches weren't very easy to get, let alone know they existed.  If I wanted new content I had to add it myself or look for mods.  In either case, it helped if the game was designed to allow for easy modification.  WoW eagerly accepts add-ons (for better or worse) and has an in-game macro-writing ability.  Escape Velocity was designed early on to readily accept add-ons.  The civilization series didn't have quite the same ease of modification, but with some poking about I could tweak a few things on my own.

The benefits of this come in two categories.  First, it allows for bug-fixing, including those especially annoying things which are perceived as bugs but really weren't.  There is no "working as intended" conflict when you can change things.  One of my biggest annoyances with Civ V  vs. IV was that V didn't have the WorldBuilder, which is an in-game tool to change the map, diplomacy, units, cities, and so on.  With it I could fix some of the annoyances of the AI or the RNG (SPEARMAN DOES NOT BEAT TANK!).  It's a minor thing, but when I'd rush promoting and accidentally give anti-archer promotion to a tank I loved that I could switch to the WorldBuilder and alter the promotions.  That's better than playing with a gimped unit because of a misclick (particularly annoying in a turn-based game) or having to reload from the start of the turn (biggest world possible and it's the very last unit I moved).

Second, it lets the player customize the experience to properly suit them.  In WoW this meant macros that allowed me to survive with a mere two mouse buttons and a scroll wheel.  In Escape Velocity this meant an outpouring of creativity as I designed progressively stranger devices, such as my own version of Project Orion (using atomic bombs to launch rockets: tons of thrust, tons of fallout).

Third (yes I did say two), this gives the player ownership and a deeper connection to the game.  It isn't just something made by someone else and copied a million times.  It's a game that you changed.  It's customized.  Some of your beliefs about game design, some of what you think is fun and should be in games, is in it now.  That's pretty neat.

I hope I never live a gaymer lifestyle

| Monday, October 15, 2012
This post is long. It might offend you.  It is only tangentially related to gaming.

The other night when I couldn't fall asleep I did what anyone else would do, ruminated about the philosophical points in District 9. You might remember the main character, initially a socially inept and completely unsympathetic man who was more than willing to trick the aliens into moving into worse conditions. Then he turned into one and had a slightly different perspective on the matters of oppression and dissection of living, sentient beings.

I doubt I'm going to turn into an alien. Or a gay person. My guess is that I'm going to be more or less the same person for a while; maybe with a different haircut or slightly changed political views, but essentially a middle class white male. I might not change much, but society might, or almost certainly will.

My hope is to live in a society, not where I am always the winner (though that would be nice, for me), but a society in which losers are not utterly crushed. I don't imagine being a white male is going to be a liability any time soon, whether ten or a thousand years from now, but if it does, I hope it is a very small one. Maybe I'm pessimistic to think that it is human nature that some groups will be better off than others and more acceptable to society than others, but I'm also an optimist, that I think we can have this up and down in society but that down doesn't have to be all the way down.

I never want who or what I am to be a reason to deny to me basic rights, justice, and livelihood. That is, unless who or what I am is somehow innately harmful to other people, such as if I were infected with radioactive bird flu. But, beside that obviously absurdly extreme example, I think major powers shouldn't mess with people's personal lives [too much, because sometimes personal lives overlap and then it's not so personal anymore].

Speaking of gay people, I have a confesion to make: I find it slightly amusing that Rachel Maddow, who for context is an openly lesbian liberal on MSNBC, is really pushing the birth control and abortion battles as new stories. I'm not suggesting that they aren't news stories, but is birth control really such a big deal for a lesbian?

Of course. Well maybe not birth control literally, but symbolically, very. Birth control isn't just for heterosexual whores (or even just bisexual whores). Am I offensively stating the obvious? Probably. Sadly, that is a view that some people don't seem to share. We had multiple presidential candidates who are against birth control. I suspect that two of them see it as politically advantageous. But Rick Santorum, he's the real deal. He's not a smooth-talking, slickly-presented politician who says whatever you want to hear. He's an honest man of consistent values and he's a terrifying person because of it.

Birth control is a health issue. It's also a women's rights issue. It's about the ability of women to regulate what happens to their bodies, even after that oh so shameful act of... you know.

My aunt and godmother is one of those wonderful Irish women who is like a pillar of awesome, acting as an example to all of good behavior: respectful but not timid, hard-working without being taken advantage of, and when she was younger she could beat quite a lot of men at arm-wrestling. Maybe she still can, but we're all afraid to challenge her. My point is that she was the sort of person you want around kids, someone who radiates Good Values. Then one day she went and got pregnant, by her husband, to whom she had been married for well over nine months (I don't know the particular years), and when the school she taught at found out, she was immediately escorted out. This was not paternity leave. This was horrified "what would the children think?" get out RIGHT NOW. Apparently pregnant women are traumatizing or might give fourth-grade children the wrong ideas.  This was the sort of stupidity that is on the downturn, or was.

I obviously don't have the full perspective on this. I cannot exactly comprehend the idea that sex could result in my having to carry a child, birth the child, and raise the child, possibly on my own. And you know what? I think that's great (for me). I'm glad that I cannot fully imagine that, because I will never have to deal with that. And I think it's a pretty important part of equality that slightly over 50% of the world share that as well (the not being enslaved part, not the lack of imagination).

The previously-mentioned lesbian cares about birth control because it is a matter of women's health and rights. She might be once-removed from birth control as a need, but she's directly in the crosshairs of attacks on women's rights. Me, I'm once-removed from women's rights. But I'm directly in the crosshairs of attacks on human rights and I don't want to become the oppressed group.

Maybe I am already.  You might have noticed up in Maine that a candidate for state senate is being attacked for playing WoW.  Somehow this hobby is not merely a hobby, but a lifestyle.  It reminds me of the less-often heard notion of the "gay lifestyle", that gay people were somehow not merely people who had sex with the same sex, but who lived a different life entirely.  It conjures up notions of them being foreign, of living like Frenchmen or Pakistanis, rather than people who live some variant of an American lifestyle with a particular private aspect of it being different.  If this attack succeeds, gaming may go the same way.  Or given the stigma that I thought was on the downturn, merely return to where it was.  Gaming would be a "lifestyle choice" rather than a hobby.  Of course for some people it is a lifestyle, but it is wrong to generalize a population based on a few outliers; it often pushes people toward those extremes.

The 2012 Campaign is playing right into Obama's hands

| Sunday, October 14, 2012
I should have a tag: "who cares if this wasn't done I should have posted this nine months ago."

You might recall that Obama was trying to push stimulus: a mixed package of spending as well as spending along with tax cuts that then ran out and got held hostage to other tax cuts, because Reagan taxed the country too heavily.

The stimulus has petered out, not unlike Peter in the Bible who was notorious for his tendency to spend a lot and then go broke, which was the inspiration for Jesus' inspiring story about the Prodigal Son (I'm not a literalist).

These days the liberal elite media like to talk about things like corporations not spending money, instead hoarding cash, as if that's going to somehow save them when QE2 is going to render anything that is not gold instantly worthless, one of these days now. But I digress. The media are convinced that the trick is to get the corporations spending. They say hiring, but what they really mean is spending


Thanks to free speech being expanded to finally cover all people, corporations are now spending like crazy on political ads. It's the stimulus Obama never got.

It's time to end the bickering. Republicans, unite behind a candidate, it doesn't matter who, and then you can save your money. Don't spend it on political ads pointing out the horribleness which is [other candidate], but instead save it. Hoard it. To do anything else is to play right into Obama's hands.

Personally, I'd go for Paulenty, the perfect hybrid of Tim Pawlenty and Ron Paul who believes in replacing fiat currency with little gold coins stamped with an adorable smile.

The person who made, and broke, WoW for me

| Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Scandal!  My first WoW account was shared and after it was taken away I was lost.  Not merely lost, undone.  My level 60 shaman and warlock, gone!  I wasn't particularly close to my guild, not close enough that I could see much hope of getting help with leveling back up to 60.  Besides, the name Klepsacovic was taken on that server.  I could have bought the account, but the price was high (thanks to me) and that's hardly secure.

That could have been the end of WoW for me.

I opened a new account and was ready to start again.  But how?  I was lost and alone.  On a whim I went off to Wildhammer (or so I remember) and did some whoing.  My hope was to find a few friends I had from the paladin forums.  Despite being a shaman or sometimes warlock, I had ended up on the paladin forums.  Thankfully, they were there.  I talked to them about the problem.  My first attempt was a human warrior.  But that was a joke (literally, it was a joke).  Second was a warlock, which was also a joke, but at level 1 she beat a level 3 mage, so I had a good feeling about it.  Incidentally, I won by using melee rather than spells, which might explain my distress at the removal of firestones (a conjured offhand which boosted spell power and added fire damage to melee attacks).

I stuck with that warlock for a good bit of time.  Later we went to Horde and Klepsacovic was reborn.  Though I think I got his hair color slightly wrong.  With the release of Burning Crusade a protection paladin engineer was created.  In a raid with two of the forum friends (the third had wandered off into the nether by then) Kelpsacovic became my main and remained so for years.  They were good times, with only brief upsets related to guild merging.

Wrath of the Lich King brought more of the same, though with a plethora of things to care about, yet nothing to kill WoW.  Perhaps Cataclysm brought the same as well.

But something else changed.  One of the friends, or maybe both, convinced me to do something stupid and expensive: transfer servers.  The plan was to transfer and start a new guild.  We had been in a guild at that point.  Not a great guild, but I had some friends in it and I didn't think anyone was complete garbage (though some were not so great), so in retrospect, it was probably the best I could have asked for.

For $50 I took my main away from the guild I'd known and the friends in it and went off nearly alone.  One friend wandered off and eventually betrayed the other (but that's another story for me to not tell you) and before long I was more or less alone.

I can't say whether Cataclysm would have kept me entertained the entire time and I still don't think it was as good as BC or LK.  But I do think that if I had been with my guild I'd not have quit after only a couple months.  Not even quit; it wasn't a rage-quit, just I didn't care.  I had no friends, no one to talk to or share with, no one to group with, and I wasn't going to stumble across anyone in a cross-server random system (as I had in the past).  Ultimately it was not any particular change in WoW that killed it for me, but a change in my social interaction with it.

I have a second data point for this theory: Guild Wars 2.  My two friends from college (different people) started playing, and then wandered back to WoW.  I am alone (though not without offers from Syl, who is unfortunately, foreign).  Consequently, I have wandered away from GW2.  It's a neat place, but it's a bit too big to be in alone.

New games should learn from this, not my story in particular, but the importance of social ties.  Maybe offer group discounts on the box prices, to encourage people to move to the new game, not as individuals trying a new game, but as friends and guilds.

Artistic Merit is Irrelevant

I wandered across another "games are not art" article.  My first reaction was to argue that they are, or some are, or some are and some aren't.  But then I thought of a more fundamental question: "Who cares?"

Who cares if they think it is art?  I'm not a fan of people who act as if they are an authority on what is and is not art.  Sadly, the law does not contain exceptions for "people who think they are authorities on the definition of art", so I am not allowed to punch them, and my punches wouldn't be all that authoritative anyway.  But my point stands: "Who are you that anyone should care what you think?"

Alternatively, who cares if it is art?  Let us assume that art is some objectively defined thing, or something on which we can and do have a universally agreed-upon subjective opinion.  Even then, should we care if games are or are not art?  If they are, does that make them any better?  I see no reason why "art" should be better than "non-art".  They serve different purposes and should do those well.  My laptop, while designed for some sort of visual appeal, isn't something I'd call art, but despite being not-art, it is still extremely useful and far more valuable to me than any art.  On the other hand, if you gave me the Mona Lisa, it would have little value, except that I'm sure it would resell for more than I am likely to earn in quite a few years.

In either context, the declaration that games are not art is as irrelevant, as meaningless, as the declaration that games are not gazlookic.

That sarcastic jerk

| Monday, October 8, 2012
I'm sure you've run into this person.  They're perpetually sarcastic, but rather than being a frowning cynic, they laugh about it.  Insults are hidden as jokes.  Or maybe jokes are misunderstood as insults.

They don't lie about anything around them, but they are perpetually insincere.  A straight answer is impossible to get and even a twisted answer has an unknown number of twists before the truth is found.

I'm reminded of Dr. Horrible, in which Captain Hammer is described as cheesy, prompting a call to "trust your instincts."  Then a deeper layer is brought up which is much better.  But!  "Sometimes there's an even deeper layer which is the same as the outside"  Maybe this person is actually nice with a bad outside.  Or maybe they're a jerk with a good middle layer of jokes but then the outer layer is a jerk again, so that anyone who digs down finds the second layer and thinks they've found the total complexity.

What does one do with a jerk, or maybe not, like that?

Is this really who we want representing [state that I do not live in and have never been to]?

| Saturday, October 6, 2012
We all know that Maine state senate candidate Santiaga is an orc rogue.  A female orc rogue.  But did you know that many female characters are played by males?  This raises the question, who is the real Santiaga?  Is it the woman running for office, the murderous orc, or the secretive man who pretends to be a woman?

Even worse, the pretend rogue has no glyphs.  This means that I am cruelly deprived of the opportunity to make jokes about glyph of pickpocket being evidence of government overreach.  But it gets worse than that.  I can't find her (his?) talents.  We don't know if the plan is to Prey on the Weak or to use Dirty Tricks.  There is Subterfuge that we cannot yet see, but I'm sure there is Anticipation and Preparation.  Or is there?

As we learn more it only gets worse.  The last thing he (she?) did was to fish.  Fishing achievements.  Are we going to see an open door policy at her office, or a closed door and a sign that says "gone fishing... in Azeroth"?  We don't know and she hasn't said.  Why does she refuse to give specifics on her choice of zones to fish, whether she has purchased Mists of Pandaria, and whether she has ever cosplayed as Chen Stormstout?  That last one is a fictional character who makes terrifying, possibly poisonous alcohol.

Who is the real Santiaga?  And why does her name sound vaguely Spanish?

Paid for by Google's free blogging service and in no one coordinated with any candidates.

Cool people play characters named Chryseth

| Friday, October 5, 2012


Be a useful jerk

| Thursday, October 4, 2012
My friends are playing Pandarenland (I clearly have terrible taste in friends).  They recently ran into a ret paladin who didn't seem to be clear on the concept of "ret doesn't use spirit".  They politely explained the general concepts of stats, such as how he shouldn't ever use spirit as ret and should use strength instead.  Some strength/stamina shoulders dropped and he rolled greed.  My friends asked about why he didn't need them and offered to trade the shoulders to him.  This was his response (with some cleaning up for easy of reading):

I used to, but always got [lulz friend uses profanity filter] at by people in the group, so I started to greed.

My guess is that he'd been rolling need on everything in sight, without a clue.  And then got yelled at and kicked.  I can't fault the groups that did so, but for one thing: They weren't useful.

When kicking people, say why you are, not just in the vote kick message, but in chat as well.  Don't just say ninja, but say why it is ninjaing.  Say that spirit is not a ret stat.  Say that needing on items you don't need is bad.  Maybe the person is a jerk, but maybe they're just clueless.

Have you ever yelled at your dog when you got home and found a mess?  It probably looked terrified and ashamed.  Maybe it peed on the floor and you yelled at it for that too.  That was stupid of you.  The dog has no clue what you're yelling at it about.  Now it's just confused, wondering why the person it looks up to and relies on is mad at it, and attempting to display submission.  It isn't going to eat the newspaper any less; there is no link between newspaper chewing and you being angry.

The ret paladin isn't so different.  Vague scolding with no clear information does no one any good.

The One Player Problem

| Monday, October 1, 2012
What is the biggest problem in balancing a multi-player game?  It's the first player.  In a game with classes and limited talent flexibility there will still be many classes against which to balance an encounter.  But fine, let's roll with it and say that the developers can customize each encounter for each class.  It means making ten fights rather than one, but in this hypothetical world we get to handwave a mere order of magnitude.

That leads us to the second-biggest problem in balancing a multi-player game.  That is, of course, the second player.  We had our ten or so fights.  Now there is another player.  That makes it... ten fights with ten modifications to balance the next possible player.  Okay, one hundred fights rather than one.  I'm having difficulty waving my hand.  But fine, let's go along and add the extra work and everything will be fine.

But this isn't a couples game, so let's bring in a third and thus get the third-biggest problem.  Add them on and we're at a thousand fights.  My hand is now broken with the effort of waving away problems.  We might as well bump it up to five or six players and admit that we've been defeated and can no longer count the zeroes (five or six, but I don't know what those numbers mean).

At this point there are few options.  One is to shrug and give up on fine-tuning, stepping in only when the most egregious problems present themselves.  Or classes could be restricted further into some sort of defined generic role, such as the holy trinity of tank, healer, and DPS, or crowd control if that's how you roll.  This essentially cuts it down to four classes and that can be further reduced by having fight mechanics which dictate aspects such as "minimum of one tank and one healer".  At that point it may all be simple enough that classes can be given non-flavor differences.

Still, even with the three or four class/roles, adding additional players is trouble.  Surely we can see that a tank, healer, and DPS are different when soloing and that adding a healer to a tank or DPS has an effect greater than adding another tank or DPS.  And so on.  Each additional player, if players have abilities beyond basic damage, changes the entire structure of a fight.  This means that scaling content to match the number of players is bound to result in problems with difficulty: too easily becoming too easy or too hard, depending on how the marginal player adds to the group relative to what the developer expectation is.

As much as we might wish to be able to bring along one more friend, is the benefit of once in a while bringing along one more person greater than the harm to the difficulty?  I don't think so.  Only at the very edges, with dozens of players, is the additional player not going to have much impact.  Though there were complaints when content allowed, or mandated, dozens of players...

The Importance of a Base (home) in Games

| Friday, September 28, 2012
The other day, in response to Syl, I wrote about the concept of homes in games, places where you can sleep and retain your sanity and perhaps even comfort.  At the time I thought it was merely a pointless concept that is fun to talk about but has no relevance to the actual game or its design.  As so often happens, I was wrong, as proven by the fact that I disagreed.  Homes, or as I will call them, bases, are important in shaping how we play.

I'll use the term bases rather than homes because the concepts are different.  Homes make us feel warm and fuzzy.  Bases are resting points, hopefully safe, where we can refill, restock, and empty our bags.  Stalker has no homes, but it does have bases and those are very important to how I play.

As I depart from Skadovsk, the rusting ice-breaker in a swamp, I save my game.  As I leave I am transitioning between the safe area and the unsafe.  Within there are no stray bullets, anomalies, or mutants.  Outside, there are.  Having a base creates this transition area, perfect for saving the game.  It's also perfect for quitting the game.  As I return or leave there is a clear change in mental state, from the alert outside to the relaxed and more thoughtful inside.  For me, that makes it a good time to quit.  It is a break in the game.

Contrast that with Civilization which doesn't have as clear breaks.  There is the end of turn pause, but that is merely a button press waiting to happen.  And besides, that pause is time for checking on production, making sure nothing was missed.  It is a pause, at most, and definitely not a break.  This is part of what drives the "one more turn" phenomenon, that despite being turn-based and presumably disjointed, it is actually quite smooth, with one action flowing into the next, with no logical point to start.  There is the start of the turn, right after the AI has gone, but that is an even worse time, when you've just seen all the consequences of decisions and have that information fresh in your mind.  To quit then is to discard all you've seen and all you plan to do, in hopes of remembering it later.

I found this in WoW as well.  When I return to a town there are the mailbox and vendor, inviting me to empty my bags and free myself of the worry of those.  There is the inn, inviting me to log out for a while.  The town is safe and there are usually no quests within the town itself.  Maybe there is a quest giver, but the exclamation point will be there tomorrow.  Unlike Civilization there is not a memory loss from logging out for a while.  However, bag space, despite seemingly to be a stopping point "bags are full, gotta go now", is instead a starting point to another task: empty the bags, knowing where to mail items, what to sell, perhaps what to go to the AH for, or if a bank alt handles the AH, then the bank alt has mail to open and bags to empty and auction to post.  Eventually there is a stopping point, when mail and bags are settled and auctions are up.  It may add another half hour or more, but it is eventually there and will nudge you off to dreams of epics.

Guild Wars 2 is different in its break points.  The anywhere AH sale and ability to deposit crafting materials means that I've not gotten into the habit of using bank alts, so I don't have that pull to jump around to clean up everything.  But this also means that cities do not stop me.  A city is just a waypoint away from more questing, so it's more of an inconvenient loss of silver than a note to stop.  Similarly, the heart system means that I won't return to a town to turn in a dozen quests and have that sense of completion and therefore of stopping.  However, since I am unaware of the existence of rested xp, wouldn't want it anyway, and there is no logout timer in the wild, I have little problem logging out wherever I am.  In that regard it is easier to log out, but there is no nudge toward doing so.  There is even a nudge to stay on: since the marketplace is global, there are always buyers and sellers, so odds are, someone is just about to buy your auction if you wait just a few more seconds and maybe you'll get some of your orders filled so you can craft with that and post it which will sell and in a little bit you'll post more buys and pick up those and why does my clock lie to me and claim that hours have passes when all I was doing was picking up my auctions?

I like having break points.  Call it paternalism if you like, but I think gaming would benefit from design bits such as break points which encourage more moderate play.  They don't at all force it, but they help.

Stalker: Clear Sky

| Thursday, September 27, 2012
I finally got around to buying and playing this game.  It helped me see what I love about Stalker, by not having them.  It's recognizable as being Stalker, mostly because about half the maps are the same as Shadow of Chernobyl.  The other half are new, but not as good as what they replace.

Lessons learned

1 - I actually like being scared
In SoC and Call of Pripyat (the newest of the three) there are a few underground laboratories that the player runs through.  They aren't friendly places, filled with dangerous mutants and deadly anomalies, closed spaces that make me feel claustrophobic.  One was inhabited by a giant brain in a jar, which was fine, except going too close to it resulted in my psy protection helmet warning me about the critical emissions, which always startled me.  Another featured poltergeists (they levitate stuff and throw it at you and look like balls of electricity and are hard to hit), followed by a giant monster that could shoot earthquakes, followed by a poltergeist that shoots flames.  And then the military attacks.

One of these places scared me so much that the next time I played I was stuck for days: I needed to find a time that I could play that was long long away from when I'd need to sleep.  Horrible, right?  But the lack of these places in CS wasn't much fun.  They were a neat change of pace, from the open-world to the cramped, sending me into a place where I needed to be cautious, but not scared, and where I needed to be fully prepared.  Running out of bullets halfway in with the enemies stubbornly refusing to die was not good.

2 - Have a good story
In SoC you have amnesia and have a serious mystery to figure out, not only of your identity, but of old conspiracies.  In the end you learn something close to everything, or die in various ways, thanks to the multiple possible endings.  In CoP the story isn't as cool, but you do at least get to feel like a bit of a hero, saving people along the way and doing a great service to your country.  In CS you're instead being strung along, possibly being lied to (fans aren't sure), to hunt the hero of the first game, and in the end all you manage to do is fix absolutely nothing and are either dead or brainwashed.  It doesn't have any of the sense of figuring out a mystery and it doesn't have as much of a feel of being the loner against the great conspiracy, since you're basically the tool of a larger group being used to kill some guy based on a nonsensical pseudo-scientific dung pile of a theory (the 'scientist' claims that the guy you're hunting is triggering blasts which are slowly killing you, based on next to no actual evidence).

3 - Work
CS is buggy.  Very buggy.  Fortunately the players who were so enthralled by the awesome game which was SoC put a lot of effort into fixing the many problems in CS and with mods they could fx many problems, but not all.  In particular, the ambitious and neat "faction wars" system, which was meant to allow for allied factions to gain territory, is poorly-scripted and so the NPCs who are supposed to reinforce and therefore capture points often do not show up, leaving the conflicts perpetually unfinished.  This didn't affect my ability to complete the game, but it did harm the feel of it and was an annoyance, to capture an area and then have it fall the moment I step away, when it should not.

4 - Open Worlds and Consistency
All three games use open worlds for the most part, mostly.  SoC and CoP are 90% open-world, where you're free to wander and come and go.  CS is at the start, but after a particular point and with no warning you're thrust into a mostly-linear path for several zones, and unable to turn back.  I hope you wandered into that part of the story with the armor and weapons you wanted.  Hallway-oriented FPS combat has its place, in other games, not in an open world near-sandbox.  I'd complained about the ending to SoC, which was linear, but that was a single zone, not half the game.

This is, however, mostly a matter of consistency.  Hallways shooters exist and that's fine.  I've played them and they were fun.  But that's what I expected from them, not an open world.  Meeting expectations in terms of gameplay is important.  This isn't just about marketing, but about what the game builds up as you play it.  If the first five zones are of one style of gameplay, the sixth should be as well.    The way around this is to build-in variety from the start, so zones 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are different and therefore 6 can be as well, though that runs the risk of just making an incoherent pack of mini-games.

But you might want to buy it anyway
I know I just spent the post pointing out flaws and I think they are all there, but despite those flaws, I do think it is worth a few bucks.  If a Steam sale pops up, get it and it will be worth it.  Full price, maybe not so much, though it's only $10 anyway (keep in mind I'm really cheap).

I found it interesting for seeing what happens if you give the same areas to a developer team and tell them to write a different story.  Same place, new plot.  It's intellectually interesting and maybe you'd find yourself thinking about what you'd do with the areas.  If it were not almost my bed time I might conjure up some comparisons to the Cataclysm of WoW.

P.S. If you do play, I suggest finding an addon that disables or in some way fixes grenades, because for some reason they are homing weapons.

Looking forward to GW2 authenticators more than ever

| Tuesday, September 25, 2012
I woke up to an email about a login attempt from the city of Hefei in China.  Good job, ArenaNet, for blocking that.  Of course now I'm annoyed though.  I don't actually trust security emails.  I don't like to click links, especially links for things that are going to ask for my password.  So rather than click the account/guildwars2/account/login-attempt?[unintelligible garbage] link, I instead went to my account using the ArenaNet site.  Except I can't seem to find the link for managing unauthorized login attempts.  That's bad.

To add to the worry I wondered if that meant they also had my email, or more accurately, my email and password.  So then I changed my email password too.  Now it's a very strong password, though not hard to remember.  It is, however, annoying to type.  Maybe that will stop the hackers.  While I was there I figured I'd check out the two-step authorization feature, but that appears to rely on phone calls or texts, neither of which are free for me, so I'd bankrupt myself as fast as if I gave you all my ATM PIN.

And to think, I'd started off the day so well.  Well-rested, cold almost gone, with some shiny clean dishes waiting to be put away.  And then the internets betrayed me.  Though ultimately, as with all things, it is the fault of China.  I will have to yell at some classmates about this today.  They'll only be feigning complete confusion.

[edit] I also have an email from Blizzard about suspicious account activity.  Thankfully that has an authenticator.  But now I'm very worried.  GW2 could have been random, but two accounts makes me think I need to run a t-test.

No RPG for Old Men

| Monday, September 24, 2012
I watched No Country for Old Men on the way back to school.  It felt like an RPG.  Of course the scenery is that of New Vegas, or rather, both take place in the southeast (though I suppose Texas is its own region, but the land looked similar enough).  The character felt a bit like an RPG character.  He wandered the desert, hunting, and scavenging.  Find a corpse?  Check for a decent weapon.  Of course there is a weight limit to carry.  But that feeling of the lone wanderer, out in the wilderness, with nothing but bandits and insufficient police to keep him company, that felt familiar.

A small bit that really increased the feeling that I was watching Fallout: New Vegas was when he fired, and picks up the casing.  Apparently brass casings in real life are expensive enough to justify that.  Within the game that happens automatically and you might not even notice, though I did because I was in the habit of making my own ammo.  Those casings were as good as loot off a corpse.

I have no doubt that they were not aiming for an RPG feel.  Yet I think the movie and the game genre aim in the same direction, of the lone almost-hero, out there staying alive and maybe slowly, slightly, getting somewhere.  The risks are great, not just from the other people around, but from the land itself.  While I'm sure the man in the truck wanted water mostly because of the bleeding, being in the middle of a hot, dry land didn't help the matter.

Later on the theme developed of the recurring enemy and that nagging question: How does the heartless AI keep finding me?  That's followed up with a healthy dose of greater forces attempting to manipulate the player to their own ends.  Going along with them may be the easiest path, but of course has no guarantee of safety.

That man alone with no allies is a recurring theme in a lot of media, particularly American set in the West, of the lone man roughing it, taking on all odds.  They might be breaking the law or just barely following it, but we set that aside and we root for them.  In America we like to talk about self-made men, a mythical creature.  Yet out there, with no one around, perhaps they can exist, and did.  Just like in real life we yearn for heroes and yet know there are no true, perfect heroes, so we make them in fiction.  We yearn for that self-creation and so we look to the place where maybe it can happen and if it doesn't, we make a fiction where it can happen in the place where it can happen.  And then we make games where that fiction in that place can happen.

I greatly enjoyed the movie.  Though I was sad that he never got that antelope.

Why the patrol shot at Han

| Friday, September 21, 2012
You might have noticed an utterly nonsensical tweet the other day.
Note to self: Star Wars corrupt government official totally justified could have saved Luke. Pew pew.
It makes more sense, and by more I mean less, if you know that I wanted to ensure I remembered that idea for a class.  On corruption.  Sadly, because it is taught in Wisconsin rather than Illinois, it is not a "how to" course.

During the class one of the concepts we're looking at is what I'll call "positive corruption", carrying out illegal abuses of power as a public official, but for good causes.  Going full-on Godwin mode, the class has been using a guard at a concentration camp who lets Jews sneak out.  He's breaking the law, he's going against orders, and he's undermining the system he is hired to uphold.  Yet we'd probably say that it is a good thing that he does.

 My friend suggested to me this other incident of "positive corruption", in Star Wars.  You might recall that Han was trying to get to Cloud City and was fired on.  Why?  Maybe the seemingly overly-aggressive patrol was actually trying to help him, to discourage him.  Cloud City was under Imperial occupation.  Communication would be monitored, so the patrol couldn't just tell him.  But shooting at him might not be noticed and could get the job done.  It was the unauthorized use of his power, and yet, might have saved a lot of grief.  If they hadn't landed and been captured, then Luke wouldn't have needed to run off.

In the end it might have worked out, since it was the father connection that saved the day.  However that save was possibly only needed because Luke made it so.  If he just thought Vader was a huge bully, Luke wouldn't have let himself get captured and the Rebel attack screwed up.  Keep in mind that while the Emperor claimed that it was a trap, I've not seen any evidence of that; it may have just been a lie to corrupt Luke.  The presence of the fleet of Star Destroyers proves little: we'd expect a large fleet to protect the Emperor.  The positioning, hidden, may have only been possible thanks to Luke getting captured and giving early warning.  Though while we're on that subject, if Vader had ordered the shuttle boarded and searched rather than dealing with them himself (never do that, archvillains), then the entire operation could have been stopped right then.  On the other hand, even if Luke didn't know yet about the link, Vader did, so he might still have wanted to meet Luke to try to convert him, leaving open the possibility of the majority of the plot, with a few minutes extra for the "That's impossible!  NOOOOOO!" falls down well with Leia filling in for Lassie* scene.

* No I'm not saying what you think I'm saying.  Unless you're thinking of the other...  My point is that she had the job of informing everyone that Luke fell in the well, not that she's a bitch.

A world to live in, a world to sleep in

| Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Syl asked an intresting question: Where would you build your house?

Where indeed?  We can set aside scenery and ask something more important: sleep.  Homes aren't where we live, but also where we sleep.

This is where I think my MMO and single-player experiences diverge.  In single player games I tend to be in worlds I could live in.  Stalker, Fallout, Half Life; these are all worlds where I could live.  I could scavenge and scrape by and have some fun doing it.

I could never sleep in those places.  Like in I Am Legend, I imagine myself trying to huddle in the bathtub while scary things shriek around me.  Normally I'd go shoot them, but it's been a long day and I just want to sleep.

For me, sleeping means huddled under blankets from the cold.  I don't like summer much because of that: too hot.  But winter, winter is wonderful.  I can open a window and be nice and cold, or I would be if not for my pile of blankets and quilts.  So if I need a world to sleep it, it better be cold.  World of Waarcraft had some cold at first: Winterspring and Dun Morogh.  Then came Nothrend and snow, snow everywhere.  Glorious.  Welcome to the endless winter!

Unfortunately, Northrend was also filled with Scourge and was therefore not much a sleeping spot.  Thankfully, Guild Wars 2 has a nice collection of zones with a lot of snow and nary an animated corpse in sight.  Wolves and owls don't worry me.

Beside the necessity of snow, there must be peacefulness at night.  Indeed, there is peacefulness there.  Not like those awful post-apocalyptic zones filled with bloodsuckers and zombies making noise all the time.

What worlds can you sleep in?

I heart hearts

| Monday, September 17, 2012
Are hearts just quests?  Yes.  On the other hand, no.

Quests and hearts tend to do similar things: tell you want to kill, fiddle with, or retrieve from a designated area.  In this regard, quests and hearts are the same.  However hearts have advantages in terms of presentation.

First off, hearts are active the moment you're able to participate.  If I am shooting wasps it means that I'm shooting wasps for the heart.  Contrast that with a quest where you might kill a dozen bears on your way in, only to be told to go kill a dozen bears.  I'd not mind that if they actually wanted two dozen, which is really just a matter of presentation: count number of bears killed before quest, add that number to the total required, thereby creating the illusion that the player got credit for them.  However they don't do that.  The overall effect of the hearts in this regard is to reduce the sense that I am killing mobs pointlessly.  Neither system deals with post-quest/heart slaughter.

Second, hearts are simultaneous and comprehensive.  I'm helping Farmer John with his farm, which includes everything from killing wasps to digging up large and aggressive grubs.  Maybe all I did was kill wasps, but if I killed a ton of wasps, that's helpful, even if I ignored the grubs and leaky pipes.  This even helps with the problem that a dozen other people are already there killing wasps.  Since we're rendering a sort of general help, rather than heroically saving a very tiny part of the world, it makes sense that more than one person would be involved.  Furthermore, having many people helps average things out, so I can imagine that despite my obsession with shooting wasps, someone did eventually get around to fixing the pipes.  Quests can use the trick of stacking, having a few quests that relate to the same area, but this doesn't give the flexibility of wasp-killing vs. pipe-patching.  When the quests come from multiple NPCs, particularly NPCs who aren't standing right next to each other and presumably overhearing what the other ones told me to do, then it can feel artificial, excessively planned that everyone just so happens to want me to kill a dozen bears, harvest a dozen bear asses, and kill a dozen angry stalks of grass which feed on bear corpses.

Hearts don't fill my bags with terrible vendor trash 'rewards'.  Instead, the heart-giver is a karma vendor who might sell me something neat.  Or at worst, helps me empty my bags of whatever trash I got off the wasps.

A deflationary economy with a price floor

| Thursday, September 13, 2012
I find game economies interesting because they can be little experiments.  Imperfect experiments, but experiments nonetheless.  In the case of Guild Wars 2, we can look at how people act in an economy experiencing deflation, but with a price floor.

To start off, I tend to use deflation in the sense of price deflation, which is not necessarily linked to the money supply.  We can see this in the current economy where the money supply has grown more quickly than prices.  In the long term the two will tend to match up, but we tend to die and stop caring over the long term.  However in this post I am going to use deflation to describe both the money supply and the price level, as the two are more easily linked in a game.  Why is that?  Because in a game there are not contracts, so prices can vary much more readily with the money supply.

Rather than calling it a deflating economy, you might try to call it a heavily-taxed economy.  This seems logical: any trading post activity results in me the seller getting 15% less than what the buyer paid, much like taxes.  However taxes actually go somewhere, to someone, rather than vanishing into thin air.  This isn't to suggest that taxes do not change the economy, but merely to show that taxes are not the same as burning a pile of currency.  We could still look at how the taxes change behavior, possibly reducing activity or fueling a 'black market' of avoiding taxes by using chat and mail.

The reason I call it deflationary is that the money supply is being reduced, as well as the price level.  Normally in times of deflation we expect to see a recession.  Consumers, anticipating lower prices, will hold off on spending and instead save.  That savings can become investment and loans, and loans become very desirable since deflation essentially causes the currency to have a built-in interest rate on top of the nominal interest rate.  If I give you $10 today and you give me $10 tomorrow, even if you paid no interest, for me the $10 is worth more and if you had to work to get the $10 to repay me, you had to work more to get it.  In that way, deflation discourages borrowing even as it encourages lending.

Prices cannot drop forever because there is a price floor.  In real life we'd see this in the form of government subsidies.  For example, in the US there are price guarantees on farm products such as milk.  If market prices fall below the guarantee, then the government will refund the difference.  The reasons for this are varied, but in part it can act as an insurance policy, ensuring that farmers do not react to price drops by excessively reducing production, triggering a price spike, and so on.  It soothes the markets, though at the cost of overproduction at times and the subsidy cost.

The price floor in GW2 takes the form of vendors who will always buy items.  This means that copper ore is never worth less than 3c.  Nothing can ever become completely worthless.  Obviously if the market price is higher then the items will go there rather than to vendors.

This creates a ping-pong effect.  Market activity destroys a large amount of currency, driving down prices.  But if prices get too low, vendors will stop the decline.  For a while we will see items being vendored until the money supply is large enough to drive up prices.  And then gold is destroyed until vendors become a factor again.  Note that personal activity will deviate from the overall market, so I'm not suggesting that the market overall is going to go into constant, repeated recessions (at least not for this reason; I'm not ruling them out), but rather that individuals will tend to go through cycles.

I expect that this pong-pong will stabilize as the markets mature, and importantly, as the rush to level crafting wears off.  Eventually some items will be obvious vendor trash and others will go to the market.  Though even this will not be perfectly stable.  Imagine a simple world in which the only drops are Chest of the Trash and Copper Ore.  The chest is useless and does not salvage into anything useful, so it is permanently vendor trash. Copper ore is valuable and will go to the market.  Stable prices require a particular ratio of dropping between the chest and the ore.  If too few chests drop, then the ore trading will destroy too much gold, driving down the price, until eventually copper is vendored, until the currency is restored and prices can rise again.  Note that copper is a stand-in for a variety of trade goods and the chests cover not just vendor trash but also events and quests, since those generate gold and do so at a particular average rate relative to resource gathering.  Of course activity can change to alter these effective drop ratios, such as spending more time at events that give gold and less time farming materials.

One reason for the deflation is obvious: having little spare gold encourages gem-buying which means profits from the gem shop.  This would encourage not just heavy gold sinks, but few gold sources as well.  But not everyone would buy gems and having too little gold would ruin the economy (this is why a real-life gold standard is exceptionally stupid).  To compensate, there are gold sources beside the gem-buying.  Together, these create a deflationary economy with a price floor.  It won't be stable and it certainly won't be the most efficient set of regulations, but it sure is interesting to watch.

A million competitors and a million customers

| Tuesday, September 11, 2012
People are expressing worry over the effects of the globalized market.  With so much competition prices end up extremely low, to the point that most crafting is unprofitable.  I could have taken the last part of that statement, "most crafting is unprofitable" and pointed it at WoW, where indeed, most crafted items are not profitable and you often are better off sending items to the vendor.  In those cases where they are profitable, it often seems to be due to the presence of enchanting, not because the leveling items are particularly useful on their own.  From this perspective it could seem that the global market isn't actually doing the supposed harm to crafters, but is instead just the easy thing to aim at.

Think back to your intro econ class with your supply and demand curves (which back then are straight lines).  Push supply out and there you go, quantity goes up and price goes down.  Now push out demand and suddenly price is back up where it was and quantity is even higher.

Competitors and undercutters are not the problem of the globalized market.  Time is.  With so many people, someone is online crafting when you are, which means that you don't get to be the one single person who is making copper wizzbangs.

On the plus side, this means customers.  Not only are there more customers, presumably in direct proportion to the increased crafters, but they will be more even than on a single-time zone server.  No longer is there the guessing game of posting and hoping that a buyer arrives before another seller.  It might happen, but with so many people from so many time zones in the market, you'll get enough buyers at more times, despite the sellers.

The constant stream of buyers means that a seller can do a constant stream of business.  Flooding the market is a much smaller problem, since the market is that much bigger and able to handle that many more goods over a given time.  Tap into a stream and you can get a lot of gold.  But if you fail to do so, if you cannot find a stream of your own, then you're going to have a hard to getting in.  You'll be competing with people who know their marker, how to efficiently get supplies and create their product with as little effort as possible, and who know exactly how low they can go on their prices while you're fumbling in the dark.  In this way, the global market may have little effect on the average seller, but will concentrate the rewards among fewer sellers.  That could cause problems.

A money-fired power plant

| Monday, September 10, 2012
I found a niche in the Guild Wars 2 economy where I can get a bit of gold.  I'm not rolling in piles of gold coins (that emote hasn't been added yet), but I no longer feel poor and I think I can get fairly steady income from this.

But it involves the trading post.  That creates a strange problem, or at least what is in my mind a strange situation.  These are rough estimates, but depending on the product, I destroy the 15% on my sale, baseline, plus more on top of that for merchant materials, with the result being that I estimate that  20-30% of the gold I touch is destroyed in the process of me getting it.  That doesn't include the fact that whoever I buy from also had 15% of their sale destroyed.

This isn't part of some convoluted scheme of buying and reselling and rebuying to distort markets.  It's little different than how I got gold in WoW: buy gems off market, cut gems, sell gems.  Some gold is lost to failed sales and auction house cuts, but that's just the inevitable result of the system.  Buy-craft-sell.  Nothing fancy, and yet, it burns piles of gold.

What disturbs me about it is the inefficiency and the implications for other players.  If for every gold I get, 20 silver are destroyed, that suggests that for every gold I have someone had to farm 1.2g through events (which in the mid 40s are giving around 2 silver) and vendoring.  I shudder to imagine what happens if I'm not selling to consumers but instead my product is bought and recrafted or simply reposted, destroying even more gold.

I'm not opposed to gold sinks, but GW2 does seem to be rather excessive.  If I were looking for a single crude fix, I'd remove the trading post's cut.  Leave the posting fee, but don't take a further cut at the time of sale.  That takes the baseline burned gold from 15% to only 5%.

A few fixes for GW2

| Friday, September 7, 2012
Save auto-attack states for weapon switches.  It is irritating that when I switch to my flamethrower or elixir gun I lose the auto-attack on the primary spammable and have to turn it back on, every switch.

Longer leashes on mobs, particularly if you are actively attacking them.  I have to kite a lot and it doesn't help when just barely out of shooting range the mob is running back.  Thankfully, resetting mobs are not invulnerable and do not regenerate quite as fast as in WoW.  However this also means that they don't seem to reset their aggro if you shoot on the way back, so a fully-healed mob may return to chase after you again, while you've been in combat the entire time and not healed up similarly.

Restricting map markers to current map as some sort of toggle.  It's frustrating to try to figure out how to get to a skill or vista only to realize, eventually, that it's in the next zone over.

Slightly shorter bounce range on my engineer's electric shot which likes to jump halfway across the map to aggro neutral mobs.

Rather than merely displaying total profits, give a list of sales, including the TP cut.  This can be found in the "My Transactions" tab.

Add "Usable" as a filter option or add armor type as an option.

Bulk vendor chef items come out of bags of 25 while others come out in stacks of 10.  Cut the bags to 20 and reduce the karma cost proportionately.

Add a bank tab for intermediate crafting materials.  This is especially problematic for my chef, which seems to be an order or two of magnitude more complex than leatherworking or huntsman.

Allow crafting to draw materials directly from the collectables tab. As of a couple days ago, crafting can be done using materials in the collectibles.

Please tell the woman near the crafting waypoint in Hoelbrak that we all agree that she has not taken leave of her senses and we have gone off to fight the creatures of metal and stone so please stop yelling every two seconds.  Also, please tell the NPCs that we all know that the spirits of the wild rarely answer their prayers and we're really sorry to hear that, particularly the part where we have to hear that.

[edit for new fixes]
Preserve searches in the trading post when switching tabs.

Buy gear at the trading post, but don't sell

| Thursday, September 6, 2012
I've been having trouble keeping my gear up to date, which is my current excuse for dying a lot.  I did the sensible thing and checked out the trading post.  Well, it went well.

Items are on the trading post for mere copper above the vendor price.  That means that the net cost of the items is only a few copper.  I'm sure this will change, for various reasons, but for now, it is a buyer's market.

I've even found yellow weapons, which seem to be somewhere between WoW blue and purple in quality, for mere copper above the vendor price.  The size of the upgrade is huge, going up a dozen levels and a level of quality.  Hopefully this will help me out in the field.  If it doesn't, it cost me only a few copper overall.

On the other hand, selling seems stupid to me.  The trading post takes a cut of sale (10%)s.  That means that the 1c 'profit' vanishes and turns it into a loss.  Put the deposit price (5% of ask price) on top along with the risk of not selling, and it sounds like a terrible idea to sell anything that you can't put at least a few times higher than that merchant price.

This doesn't apply to non-gear items which are already selling for many times their merchant price.

I think the sell prices will go up as more people notice the values available and as sellers realize that getting one copper above the merchant price isn't doing them any good.  That means upward pressure on demand and downward on supply.  As players spread out in level we may also see fewer low level items available.

Why I love buy orders... as a seller

| Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Can we agree that in WoW, 1 copper is utterly trivial?  Good.  Note that I won't say the same for Guild Wars 2, which so far isn't throwing piles of gold at me, though that's with the condition that the game is young and so is my character.

I don't mind price competition.  I do mind time competition.

If I post first, I lose.  The next person to come along can undercut by one copper, the agreed-on utterly trivial amount, and they get the sale.  I could pre-undercut and post at a copper less than I would have otherwise, but the next person in line can take a copper off of that.  I try two less, and he does three less, and so on.  Over many, many iterations we'll see the price drop by several silver.  Wow, competition sure is... not bringing down the price by any significant amount.

The person undercutting me isn't truly competing on price.  1c is trivial.  It has only one big effect: sorting the AH puts his goods higher up and therefore likely to be seen and therefore purchased first.  The effect isn't price competition, but time competition: he is able to get his goods listed higher because he got to the market after me.

Obviously if he were undercutting by silver per item and we were dealing with large volume stacks, then it's not so trivial.  This isn't about that.

Thankfully, GW2 has a buy order system.  Buyers can put up an offer for items which are filled as items come in.  As a seller I can enter a market knowing what buyers will pay.  Even better, I know that they are and will pay that.  If I post an item at an offered price it is guaranteed to sell.

Of course this only applies in a high-demand market.  If there are many sellers and buyers aren't around then it will look much like a WoW AH market: gradually descending prices as everyone tries to get something.  I avoid those markets.  As a buyer, I've found myself facing a similar situation of gradually descending prices from which I can pick the lowest or post my own offer and hope someone comes along to supply at that price.  Conversely, if it's a high-demand market and I'm buying with few sellers, then I'm stuck putting in an offer and hoping the next buyer doesn't bump it up slightly.

Any market system has tradeoffs and offers different benefits at different times, so don't take this post as me suggesting that the GW2 trading house is superior to the WoW AH.  While I think the offer system and cross-server aspects are great (smooths out prices and activity), I think WoW has a better interface, though I'm sure some of that is merely due to learning a new system.

Can we get rid of the First Rule of MMO Crafting?

| Tuesday, September 4, 2012
That rule of course being: "Don't make anything useful until the parts stop giving skill."

You start off making copper gizmos which are used to make copper widgets.  Both are guaranteed to give a skill boost.  So you do the sensible thing and make a few gizmos and turn them into widgets because widgets are pretty handy to have.  But now gizmos don't give any more skill and widgets are the only way to level.  So you're stuck making more gizmos for no skill to make widgets for skill and the overall result is that you used extra materials and made extra widgets (there are only so many you can use) for the same skill gain as if you'd made all the gizmos at the start and then the widgets afterward.  Of course to do that you'd need to have known that gizmos go grey very quickly and you should not make any widgets until then, which seems rather silly, since presumably one reason you're leveling widgetsmithing is because your class uses widgets and it makes quite a bit of sense to make a widget and use it right away to replace your terrible starting gear consisting of a stone widget with no stats.

I suggest this: crafting parts go grey at the same skill level as the devices they create.

Ah, but you're thinking that there is a problem.  Surely now this means that gizmos are the easy way to go, all the way, cheap and easy!  But you're wrong.  Why would I make nothing but gizmos?  They won't sell for much, not if they're supposedly the spam-crafting way to go and therefore in an abundant supply and utterly without demand. In fact, once I have a pile of gizmos, why would I not turn them into widgets?  I get a skill up without using any materials which I have no already spent, and given the tendency for gizmos to sell for very little to merchants and vendors, there is very little lost in the gizmo->widget conversion.

The net effect would be to make crafting guides a thing of the past.  No more "make 10 copper gizmos and then 10 copper doodads and then finally 5 copper widgets"  followed with "make 10 bronze gizmos..." and so on and so forth, the net effect being to convert a relaxing session of widgetlust gratification into another google search for a guide that isn't for the last expansion and therefore out of date.

The new crafting method would be to make what you want as soon as you have the skill for it, without needing to look up the exact moment that you're allowed to make a widget to use, which is, at times, never.

America Online

| Monday, September 3, 2012
WoW is the America of MMOs.  It is big, profitable, and gets a huge amount of attention.  It is culturally dominant.  It is perpetually 'dying' as an upstart appears, and then somehow fails to overcome it, since inertia keeps things moving just as well as it keeps them stationary.

The tourists are the worst.  They blunder about with their maps out, perpetually lost.  They don't know the language and refuse to learn it, or even accept its legitimacy.  "Why is the character screen called a hero screen?  It should be C, not H.  And why are bags I for inventory instead of B for bags?"  They don't like the responses, for any response suggests that another game could have sprung up and done things just as correctly yet not the same way.

The entire time they complain about how much better things run in their game.  "Our auction house works.  And it isn't a trading post."  They forget the launch problems of their own game, cleaning up the little bit of history they know.  It makes for a shinier picture.

Thankfully, they do go back home.  Of course once they get back they think they are worldly and now superior and so they go about the reverse business of criticizing everything and saying how they do this thing so much better over there, seemingly forgetting all their previous complaints, until such time that they feel the need to remind themselves how much better they are for having been born in WoW.  "If your bags are full you can just send back all the ore into the collectible slot in the bank.  And you can access the bank from a crafting station.  And mail is everywhere.  Waypoints are instant!"

Give them a few days and they'll be back to normal, trading their insufferable there worship for insufferable here worship.  They'll be yelling in trade chat about how Guild Wars 2 is the gayest game ever and then someone will call them a fag and finally they'll be on the same page of agreeing that they don't like gay people, though they can't quite give any good reasons.

I've had a nice time so far in Guild Wars 2.  I expect that forTuesday or Wednesday I'll write a post about all the terrible things in it.

Blizzard is a Bad Butcher

| Friday, August 31, 2012
I don't think Blizzard has any clue what to do with existing content.  Adding content, that they can do, and they do a great job of it.  But changing anything seems to go badly in most cases.  Perhaps this is what happens when two different design concepts collide.  Older content tended toward the sprawling and complex while newer content is steamlined.  Doing either is easy, but turning a maze into a line is much harder.

A long while back I complained that Maraudon had been sliced up for the random dungeon finder, but in such a way that two bosses were left out entirely.  They eventually fixed it up slightly, moving one boss so that groups will pass by it on orange side.  One is still left out, but it has been my experience that if suggested before the Bag o' Loot boss is dead, players will stick around to kill it.

Was there actually a point in splitting the instance?  I suppose there is some benefit on the technical side to only need to load half the instance, but beside that, it just makes the theme of it a little odd.  It's not as if one side is purely Scourge and the other purely Scarlet Crusaders, so the split isn't even in a particularly good place.  Perhaps they could have had the Crusaders clear out an entire side or alternatively, had the other faction staging an attack on the cathedral, which we attack from behind, thereby creating a non-Scourge wing and a Scourge wing.  Beside that, there is the mailbox problem.  If you open three mailboxes you get an extra boss.  However there are only enough boxes on the Scarlet side, so the one or two boxes on the other side just result in vendor trash and a few elites with a ridiculously high spell resist rate.  It might have made sense to either remove the box (lame) or add another box or two (awesome), the latter of which would have allowed them to add another boss and maybe make the Postermaster set a little less rare.

Blackrock Depths
Splitting this instance into two parts makes sense, given that a full clear can take a solid hour or more.  But they didn't really split it very well.  The lower city may technically have several bosses and could take a decent bit of time, but unless someone drags the group in the opposite direction, they tend to kill the Bag o' Loot boss in a few minutes and then it's done.  Meanwhile an upper run has the complete opposite problem: to do the Heart of the Mountain quest requires, in a single run because the keys despawn if you leave the zone, 12 coffer keys, which do not have a high drop rate.  That makes the upper instance exceptionally long, not just due to having a huge number of bosses, but because the group will want to kill every single trash pack in the entire instance because the key drop rate is so low.  Thankfully, there are the mole machines, so players can move around and not have to run much to backtrack when needed.  Unfortunately, there are the mole machines, and so you might run into a group that worships Bag o' Loot bosses and insists on skipping 90% of the instance.

What would fix this?  First, increase the drop rate on keys.  Make them a guaranteed drop from dwarf bosses (which makes sense!).  That would remove the need to kill everything.  Second, make the hound, rock, and (maybe) arena bosses part of the lower city.  That could be done by putting a barrier around the prison area which is opened using a console near the arena and hound bosses or from the kills themselves. (Da shield be down!  Rise up, Atal'ai!)  Third, disable the mole diggers until the nearby trash has been killed.  People who want to skip to the last boss can still do so, such as players farming for transmog or achievements, if they aren't adverse to lava.

Battle for Undercity
Thanks to the Cataclysm, this quest is gone.  That's right, an epic quest event that is only one expansion old was removed.  The result is that the Apothecaries attack everyone and the Horde apparently does not care at all.

After the patch I decided to check out the new Scholomance.  The new layout was meant to be "less confusing", which makes little sense given that the original was laid out with only minor branching and in my opinion, little opportunity to get lost for anyone with a basic sense of direction.  Of course this means that the new instance is perfectly linear.  And highly scripted.  With scripts that aren't particularly good.  I don't think I'd want to do it more than once.  Ever.

Since I'm talking about the reworked instances anyway, I'll include the Scarlet Monastery, despite it not fitting the theme of failure.

Scarlet Monastery
Chapel Gardens appears to be the new graveyard/cathedral.  It's not entirely clear to me what is going on, but it seemed a bit as if they were trying to clear out the undead from the graveyard.  The flame tanks were highly effective and make me think that the new rule will be to kill that guy first.  The claustrophobic crypt is gone, with the boss just at the top.  Killing him opens up doors leading to the cathedral, and some drunk scarlets.  Cathedral seemed about the same, though aggroing Duran(d) doesn't bring all the trash (lame!).  Overall, this seemed to actually work out, with a very light touch.  Oh and... Lillian Voss makes a brief appearance which explains what was going on it Scholomance, though I still think the events in Scholomance were lame.

Scarlet Halls combines the library and armory.  I can't say I enjoyed them much, but I suspect that's because the originals were exceptionally long trash-fests and they didn't change that much.  These may confirm my "mazes to lines" theory, since the original instances were already straightforward.

Dire Maul
To end on a positive note, the new Dire Maul instances worked out well.  I suspect that this is because they were not changed much, so nothing could be broken.  Consequently, they're somewhat out of place.  The tribute run was tweaked to not need outside materials, which is perfectly sensible given the nature of groups, though it does require a bit more patience and a bit less killing everything in sight than many groups can handle.  East appears entirely unchanged, though this only leads to very minor backtracking.  West and North were cut, with the elves ending up in West (which fits the theme and lore anyway).  Beside that, West appears unchanged, which is just fine if you like a bit of adventure and a break from the hallways, but which involves quite a bit more backtracking than the typical linear hallway.  To be clear, I think the current Dire Maul instances are quite good, they are just clearly from a different time (which is not a bad thing; it gives variety which might otherwise not be present).
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