Sandboxes are for babies

| Friday, April 29, 2011
Yesterday while watching my niece I noticed the big difference between adults and children: children are smarter. Okay more seriously, children are constantly moving around, carrying stuff here and there, doing seemingly nothing but in a very determined manner. They want to change the world and they do it. In contrast adults sit at desks and do what they are told. Then they go to theme parks and stand in lines.

Children live in a sandbox world. Or at least they see it as such and try to live it as such. They explore and learn and change what they can.

Then they grow up and just go along for the ride.

Early on, children lack the concept of object permanence. It is literally out of sight, out of mind. Then they recognize that perception is not reality, so unseen objects can still exist* and go on to become obnoxious philosophers. Eventually they reach another stage of learning: object superpermanence, in which dead NPCs respawn within minutes or seconds and they have an urgent desire to get something done and are in a big rush to get there, but they aren't quite sure what. This final state is the equivalent of Alzheimer's.

Clear proof of God: we can't see Him.

Why You Must Dance

| Thursday, April 28, 2011
Negative descriptions of raiding in WoW abound: Mario, dancing, Guitar Hero. Note that all three of those are fun in their own context, but some people feel they just don't fit in WoW.

But why must we dance? Let me put it this way: We do what we must because we can.

Let's start with a few assumptions. First off, we're playing WoW. That means aggro, tanks, healers, DPS. So while we can imagine games with dynamic awesome fights where no one has to heal, that's not going to do anything in the WoW raiding game. Second, bosses cannot be too repetitive, both within a fight and between fights. Boss 5 shouldn't be a reskinned repeat of boss 1.

We can begin with the basic boss: it has an aggro table and it hits the person at the top (minus the 10/30% target switch requirement). It has health and that health is reduced by attacking it. This is the tank and spank boss. It is the template, the core of all other bosses. With enough tinkering they won't be obvious, but the core mechanics of WoW (aggro and the holy trinity) make this the starting point. There, we have the first boss done. And maybe we can have another tank and spank later in, the 20th boss of the expansion. But not too many, because let's face it, these bosses are pretty boring.

Let's add some mechanics to change this up a bit. First off, hard and soft enrages (different bosses). For the hard, let's say in five minutes the boss kills everywhere, so now we have a DPS race. For the soft, let's go with a stacking DoT on the raid which will eventually overwhelm the healers, but which can be healed through for a while, so it's a DPS race, but without quite as clear of an end point. The tuning on this can vary: stack healers to buy time as the cost of DPS or stack DPS and try to outrun the inevitable collapse of healer. Those are the extremes, but somewhere in the middle is the illusion of balance.

Is this boss fun yet? Of course not. Nothing changed. Everyone still does exactly what they did before.

We could add some adds. These could be tough enough to need tanks or just something to burn quickly. So now we at least have a target switch and maybe some tanks run around a bit, but melee DPS probably stay on the boss and ranged just turn in place.

Let's get everyone moving. We can add fires. We can add "boss is angry and will kill everyone within X yards" mechanics. Now we're moving.

Carry on stacking on mechanics in various mixes until you have enough to make every boss you need. For this raid. Then there's the next raid and the next and then an expansion or three.

We don't want raiders to get bored, so we cannot simply reskin the previous boss and his mechanics. Certain mechanics are incompatible, such as a raid-wide root and range-limited AoE. Or are they? This is where addons and dances come into play. Imagine a boss that does a random raid-wide root that does some damage. Inconvenient and will mean some extra strain on healers if people get rooted in fires. Now add in an AoE that goes 30 yards out from the boss. If both are random these can mean that with bad luck a raid can lose all the tanks, melee DPS, and probably a lot of ranged as well. But if the AoE is predictable, then we make an addon to tell us to all run out before it and before the root, giving us enough time that even with bad luck on a root we'll still get out before the AoE. This is where boss mods come from: they allow otherwise incompatible mechanics to be used, thereby expanding the potential bosses.

But dancing, why must we dance? Because there are only so many random mechanics we can respond to. At some point random mechanics are incompatible and so we must have predictable mechanics. Predictable means preemptive action: scripted dancing.

We could just have fewer boss types. Maybe we'll end up reusing Adds with Fire and Soft Enrage. For most people that might not be so bad. It means they have a pretty good idea of what they're doing and the previous fight actually taught them something worth remembering. But if you raid for new and exciting challenges, that reskinned Adds with Fire and Soft Enrage is a waste of a boss. So Blizzard throws another mechanic on top and if that mechanic does not fit, they make it predictable so it does fit. And so we dance.

There are also balance reasons for the dances, but that's for another day, specifically whenever I get around to finishing that post.

Other acceptable punchlines would have included "hardcore MMO player"

| Wednesday, April 27, 2011

P.S. I know it's old. Let's just say I was reading TVtropes and got to the page on archive binging and one thing led to another.

Too much community

How much community is too much? I think WoW is past that point. Too much? Too much!? Have I gone insane? The community is dead and dying and rotten and how could I possibly suggest that there is too much community?

It is an amazing website. Just about anything you could ever need is there. A massive database of gear, instances, crafting, everything. And comments to go with. Simply amazing. You can even filter it all sorts of different ways to find exactly what you need. Absolutely amazing. I love the site. In fact, I think real life could use its own wowhead.

And I hate it.


Back in my day...

We didn't know jack and there wasn't much way to find out. The top guilds hoarded their secrets. If we wanted a raid strat we had to either find a former member or figure it out ourselves. Well, eventually it all filtered around so we could get a general idea of stuff. But I never even imagined a website devoted to making youtube videos of boss kills filled with commentary on exactly what they are doing. And not just for the raid in general, but for specific roles. Tanks watch this video, healers that, and DPS the other.

That's what I mean by too much community. Too much information.

Can I blame the devs? I don't think so. They didn't make the videos. The people who made the videos? Technically, yes, but it wasn't their goal to ruin raiding for me. They just wanted to help people out. Maybe the raid groups that insist on players going in with the strat beforehand? Still, no. They want to kill a boss and get goodies and if I'm ignorant, I'm a problem. Is it my fault? I can't see how.

And there's the problem, it's not anyone's fault.

Well maybe, but that's for another day. But I bet some of you could guess who. Or at least what they did.

Hello, person I met in the middle of nowhere

| Tuesday, April 26, 2011
So there I was, in the Silithus desert...

I want to talk about solo-friendly MMO gaming. What is it? Why? How? Marshmallows.

Why would anyone want a solo-friendly MMO?
I see two reasons. First, it keeps scheduling flexibility. If I log on before my friends and guildies (but not so long before that we're in "get a different guild" territory) I won't want to sit around bored. Give me something to do while I wait for my friends.

Second, a person may simply desire to be alone at the moment. Maybe they want to kill some foozles without needing someone around. They're just not feeling social. This may seem like a strange situation to accommodate for a game type based on multi-player play, but everyone has their lonely moods and it is potentially profitable to be able to keep people playing in your (dev/comapny's) world, rather than going somewhere else and learning something awful like "they don't need you."

How do we make a solo-friendly MMO?
I see two general methods. One is the obvious one: make quests and content easy enough to be done alone by most or all classes and specs. Most gathering and crafting fits this model, with relatively few recipes needing materials that don't come from the corresponding gathering profession. Except engineering. Most quests also fit this model. Note that this model fits will with either reason for soloing: unavailability of friends and desire to be alone.

There is the opposite approach as well: make groups easy enough and quick enough to find using in-game tools and social aspects that a player does not need to be with their guild to participate in group content. This can come in two forms: tools and location.

Tools are things like LFG channel (I miss thee), the early LFG tool (LFG three heroics, plus all the other ones that I cannot select because apparently no one actually tested this for anything but bugs), and the current LFD tool (LFG anything, just don't talk to me). Oh and the elite quest grouping tool. Lol. Or was that part of the LFG tool that no one used for anything beside instances? These served the function of putting people with common goals in contact with each other when they might not have otherwise (especially cross-server). They're really great at what they do.

Location means putting them in the same place. If I'm struggling to kill elite bugs here and you're struggling to kill elite bugs there, maybe we could work together and not struggle. What a crazy idea. This works well when we're both in Silithus. If I'm in Silithis and you're in Blasted Lands, not so much. The idea here is that players will naturally congregate in certain areas for similar goals and the challenges in those areas will be such that they can play alone, but will notice a significant benefit from working together. You might have noticed that I am using Silithus as an example, probably because it's a good one: hives filled with elite bugs and multiple boss-level mobs that could be summoned, one type even requiring a small raid to beat. Note that this has changed a lot since then: at 85 you can solo all of it and the bugs are no longer elites anyway.

Solo-friendly does not have to mean trivial
Like the bold words say: solo-friendly does not have to mean trivial. The previously mentioned bugs were not easy to solo. They could be, so you don't need friends, or anyone at all, to quest there. For me they're a convincing piece of evidence for the location method of solo-friendly play. You can play alone. You can play on a random schedule and play with whoever you happen to run into, which you are likely to do because a meaningful, useful location is going to be a popular spot.

In other words, a game can be solo-friendly without discouraging grouping or encouraging sociopathic behavior. However rigid quest structures and the anonymous, reward-driven LFD system, each do at least one of those.

Pirates of the Burning what the hell did I just have a social interaction in a MMO?

| Monday, April 25, 2011
I've been playing Pirates of the Burning Sea on and off lately. Today someone asked me if I was looking for a society (guild). I said yes and joined. A little bit later the person who asked was helping me with a group mission.

Tangent time:
I'm not sure why it was considered a group mission. Maybe I was underestimating the power of a few levels and my recently tricked out new ship (it's so much more powerful than my previous one, except it's slow and hard to turn and I hate it). As best as I could tell, all my new friend needed to do was distract the hail of cannon fire as I, in about 30 seconds, nudged the target ship into the wind, swung around parallel, blasted some fire across the deck, and boarded it. After a bit of stabbing I had captured the crew I needed (a navy guy had taken half of mine, but gave me permission to take from other ships) and was off.

Previously scheduled programming:
Then a few other people from the society joined us and we went sailing into the open waters to find more powerful ships to gang up on. We had no missions (quests), no guide, no arrows. Instead we just decided to wander out and see what we could find and fight, the equivalent of a few players in WoW deciding to go level up by finding elites to team up on. We'd sail around and call out nearby fleets to decide if they were worth hunting.

I'm level 21. The highest person in our group was 40-something. There were a couple others in their mid-20s and a 30-something. Can you imagine a level 40 player willingly grouping up with a level 21 and not considering charging gold for running them through SFK? The level 40 gets nothing from level 21 content and the level 21 has nothing to contribute to level 40 content, beside a massive aggro range and tendency to get one-shot.

Now I won't pretend I was especially useful, and I might even venture to say that due to my newbiness and level I was even inefficient to bring (since I got a share of the loot disproportionate to my killing ability). But I wasn't purely dead weight. That was... well that was what made it possible for me to play with my new society within a few minutes of joining. We didn't have the same quests, same level, same ship quality, or any other metric that games have that in WoW would separate us, so we could play together and play together productively. Note that I include the productive part in there. Feel-good "yay we're playing together even if you're twenty levels lower and I'm one-shotting everything while you scamper behind looting" is only fun for a short while.

I doubt WoW will ever be able to do this. The level-based avoidance would have to go. The power gain from leveling would need to be severely toned down. The level-based xp would need changing. To go along with 'flatter' levels, gear would need to be weaker as well. Too much would have to change.

But it would be nice. Play with friends, regardless of level. How strange would that be! No more racing to the level cap to be able to raid with friends, only to find you also need gear, and so on, only to find that after two months invested you're actually really bad at WoW and cannot play with them after all. Not that that has happened to me personally. My friends are all on different servers.

The social implications are staggering.

But wait, there's more. While we were out on our random hunting (fleeting), we advertised in the nation channel to see if anyone wanted to join. Heh. Can you imagine asking in faction channel (if it existed) if anyone wanted to join you in group quests on another continent? Heh. How about zone chat? Still no. And yet we did, and we got people, and no one raged, flamed, or ninjaed. Well, maybe the last one, since the defeated/abandoned (derelict) ships themselves (not the cargo) are something of a free-for-all, so we all want to rush for them. But that's like, 1% of the loot (maybe it's more, I wouldn't know, but it's not like they're ninjaing epics).

I can't remember the last time I grouped up with someone I just ran into. Okay wait, yes, now I remember: during the RIFT "let's call this beta rather than pre-launch trial even though we all know what this is" event when I grouped with a silent person, silently killed a few things, and silently parted ways. Before that? I'm sure there were some, but for anything consistent we'd have to go all the way back to Silithus, summoning Twilight Hammer bosses and grinding bugs.

It's a shame PotBS is clunky and unpolished compared to WoW, because I like the social aspect of it a lot better.

Oh, and flame wars between the factions in zone channels when they're fighting over ports (or just killing each other for giggles): epic.

Important notice regarding Easter Eggs

| Sunday, April 24, 2011
Despite Friday's post being an Easter egg, it is not actually an Easter egg, so you can stop looking for it. Also, there are no Easter eggs here at all so you can stop looking for those too.

Happy Easter.

P.S. No really, there are no eggs. I didn't sign up. Though in retrospect this would have been a good opportunity to draw conspiracy theories about Easter eggs on my chalkboards.

These Pretzels are Making Me Thirsty

| Friday, April 22, 2011
Shut up, Tesh. I am perfectly capable of thinking of ideas for posts without you coming in here with ideas to argue against or explore further.
It's a peculiar problem for "live" games that are expected to mutate over time... and player expectation is that it will mutate to their taste.

People like salt. It's a great substance. Makes food taste more. Tasteless soup? Add salt. Tasteless anything? Add salt.

But flavor is something we get used to. Like most things. People who eat spicy food get used to spice. People who eat salty food get used to salt. It ceases to taste salty. Companies did the only sensible thing when competing with salt-addicted customers: they added more. And more. Before long the level of salt in prepared foods was enough to kill a bear at 300 yards, so the FDA tried to step in. But that's beside the point.

Salt is analogous to something in WoW. Maybe it's mount speed, teleportation, or disambiguation of quest objectives. Something that has been desired, and justifiably, since we need salt to live. Gold? Maybe it's experience gain. Blizzard adds salt since that's what we want. Then we get used to it and need more salt. And more. Eventually some high and mighty know it all Pollyanna* who knows better than you comes along to say that this is bad. I guess in this analogy I'm the FDA, except remarkably with even less funding. Hey Congress, a hand here!

In real life I don't eat a lot of salt. My family is in the habit of cooking and we're not major users of the salt shaker for most foods. As a result, we're not desensitized to salt. And so we don't use as much. And so on. Now sugar, I like sugar. Chocolate and... chocolate. Okay maybe I just like chocolate. I'm sure this fits into the analogy somehow. But give me too much salt and I'll feel sick, with too much being a lower amount than for other people.

Have you ever eaten pure salt? It doesn't taste very good. My brother once missed lunch when he was in grade school and somehow got a bunch of salt packets, which he then ate because he was hungry. He got very sick. Pure salt just isn't very good. Added to food it is great. But by itself, not at all.

I think WoW just doesn't have enough food for all the salt it has been putting in it.

* Did you know there are poor children who have never even gotten to play a MMO? They'd love to have the WoW that we keep whining about. But just next door are an elderly couple who may not even own a computer and what do I do to help them with their horrible deprivation? Nothing.

P.S. If the title makes no sense it's because it's from a show about nothing.

Where's your comment box?

| Thursday, April 21, 2011
Most blogs I read have their comment box on another page. Press "post a comment" and you get taken to another page. Then you leave the comment and have to navigate back to the actual post. This annoys me. So I decided to fix this and asked Keredria how she put her comment box on the same page.

She kindly responded with easy to follow directions. I followed the steps. Except they were already in place. Weird.

I went back to my blog and opened an individual post.

Oh hey, there's my comment box. At the bottom.


Here are the directions
on blogger you go to settings, comments, third section down is comment placement. select embedded below post.

Thanks, Keredria!

P.S. When I am responding to multiple comments which tend to take up more than one screen (pushing the comment box out), I open a notepad and use that for my typing and then copy-paste from that. This also serves to save it in case the comment gets lost in the intertubes.

My time is most valuable at certain times

Tesh left this comment a few days ago:
The time cost is the whole point. It slows the players down ...sort of like slow travel. Pointless irritation. If I want to explore, I will, and I do, more often than not. If I want to get somewhere *now*, it's pointlessly irritating to make me go through the intervening terrain at a slow clip and/or via a winding path.

Time is what gives a sense of scale. As strange as it sounds, we measure distance by time. To walk a mile is longer than to drive a mile. A mile isn't a mile, a mile is x / v = t. Of course necessary effort, boredom, and incentive matter. We can easily prove this. Run your character from Stormwind to Ironforge by the quickest route that doesn't use the tram or portals. Pretty far, isn't it? Now take the tram. Seems a lot closer. You did actually run a shorter distance, thanks to not going around several mountains, but even if those weren't there, it feels shorter, doesn't it? Now take a portal. Notice how x is unchanged, but v gets faster and faster, reducing t to almost nothing.

Let's move away from that for a moment and think about time the way we normally do, as a blank wall which someone is throwing paint at*. Or as money. Whatever. Something limited.

When is my time most valuable? Trick question, the relevant person isn't me, but those around me. Put me in a group and the time cost is multiplied. I'm not waiting alone, a whole group is waiting. Logically we would want to minimize the time cost when people are in groups compared to when they are alone. In this case we would want to instantly teleport people to groups while using slower mounts and flight paths when they are alone. Finally, since groups often get us killed, make death faster. We already have this with teleports to instances. There are also several group-based forms of rapid transportation: portals, warlock summons, and summoning stones, all of which put people in the same place or bring them together, very quickly.

To take it further, we could identify times when time is particularly valuable, even when not in a group. For example, when doing daily quests we may be sort on time, hence picking short-term tasks which take small amounts of time. Due to the low supply, time is more valuable. Furthermore, any added time from travel is a higher proportion of the total time, further inflated the relative cost of travel time. So we have portals to, or very near, common quest hubs. Finally we may need to log off suddenly or at precise times. In this case, quickly getting to a safe area, preferably one with rested xp, is an urgent matter. And so we have hearthstones.

It appears that WoW has a sensible travel system in regard to minimizing the use of time when it is expensive. This manifests in giving several forms of teleportation when in groups, doing dailies, and logging off. Contrast this with foot or mounted travel when questing, a normally solo and unrushed activity. Logic says that WoW has a good travel system. I don't much like it. So logically, I am illogical.

t = x / v
t = x when v = 1
But what is 1?

* back in college I attempted to use this visual to explain my perception of work, chores, and relaxation. The general idea was that a blank wall is nice (day off). A painted wall is nice (work). But a wall with random splatters of paint is not nice (chores/modern art). Everyone thought I was crazy. Not a good way to start my first psychology course.

Pointless Irritation

| Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Melmoth has a point: Item durability is more or less a meaningless irritation at this point in MMOs.

Does armor and weapon durability make you play or think differently? Would you change tactics because of it? Strategy? Class makeup for an instance or raid? Would item durability make you go somewhere that you normally wouldn't? Well obviously this last one is true, you'll hit repair vendors more often, in the city that you're sitting in anyway. So did anything change? Nope.

Durability is a gold sink. That's the given justification. Makes sense. Or does it? I don't think so. If the purpose is merely to regulate the gold supply, why not work off the supply end of it? People might complain if quest gold went down, but would they notice or care about a few copper shaved off mob drops and trash vendor prices?

Repairs could also be WoW's version of a death penalty, a way to discourage dying. Except for that they are too low. And redundant. We already don't want to die. Proof? Battlegrounds. People avoid dying even when armor takes no durability loss (beside the combat damage, but no death damage). People still raid and wipe for hours, going through full durability cycles over a night. It's not the repair cost that makes them play carefully and cautiously, it's the time cost.

Repair costs simply are not adding anything worthwhile. The gold sink could instead be less gold added. They don't discourage death any more than already existing mechanics. They don't send us somewhere new in the world. Instead they send us to the same vendor across the street from the auction house to hand over some more gold. Sometimes they waste our time in a heroic when gear breaks, then we yell at the thoughtless idiot who didn't repair before joining. Repairs don't add any meaning.

This doesn't mean that they couldn't. Repairing armor could be a part of the player economy, using player crafters or even player materials. Is a cobalt bar any different from a few gold? Yes. Yes it is. A cobalt bar sends someone out into the world to find a node. A few gold sends them to the same daily quest they did before. Even worse, when we're saturated with gold and gold sinks, the devs think we're becoming poor, so they add more gold, and then we're inflated so they add sinks, in a round and round cycle of running the same daily so we can pay the same armor vendor from whom we never buy anything.

I suppose this is subjective. Maybe you think that repairs add nothing but irritation, but you also think that running to the black anvil added nothing either. And maybe someone else thinks that repairs make everything so much more real. But I suspect that last person isn't very common.

Acceptable Irritation

| Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Was the Black Anvil a bad idea?

You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?

*sparkles and glitter*
*wooshing noises*
Back in the day...

Once upon a time, Ragnaros had no legs and lived in a place called the Molten Core. As the name implies, it was at the core of something (a mountain) and was molten. However I'm not sure if it would be lava or magma. I suppose it is technically underground, making it magma. Okay the point is, it was a very hot place with a lot of bosses who looked exactly the same but had different numbers of friends (poor Shaz had none) and many of whom did a lot of fire damage. To deal with this we wore gear with the fire resistance stat and told mean jokes about fire mages, who would then cry, which is how they conjured water back then.

Fire resistance gear could be obtained from drops, often in Blackrock Depths, which back then was farmed endlessly in pursuit of fire resistance gear. But there was also gear with higher levels of fire resistance, which was often wanted by tanks, since getting punched in the face by an elemental lord of fire (or maybe he's one notch down the pole) hurts a lot. So they'd craft higher quality FR gear using all sorts of expensive materials.

This special crafting required a special place, the Black Anvil. It's near the start of Blackrock Depths and was the only place where players could create Dark Iron gear (high end FR gear). Imagine needing to run to an instance in the middle of nowhere (or right next door for Alliance) to do your crafting. Sounds crazy doesn't it?

I liked it.

Sure it was inconvenient. But we didn't have to do it all the time, it's not like we were making, let's just say, flasks, and needed to run all the way into the bottom of Scholomance (another story for another day). So when we did go, it made the gear just a little bit more special. It sounds silly, but that's the human mind for you, very silly.

Gear is both reward and tool, but the reward aspect seems diminished these days. None of it is very special anymore. Generic badges gathered from anywhere from the same vendor as everyone else. It almost, almost, makes me miss the days when OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DROP MY DAMN CHEST YOU STUPID JACKASS DRAGON I HAVE BEEN HERE TEN TIMES THIS WEEK! Note: Running UBRS twice in a day was quite a feat, possibly expensive if you needed to hire someone with the key. Different times...

Misleading use of statistics: an example

| Monday, April 18, 2011
As a general rule of thumb, I've found that conservatives are more likely to be deceptive liars than liberals. Of course rules of thumb don't stand up when the liberals in question are really focused on giving conservatives the finger. Case in point: Super rich see federal taxes drop dramatically: Forty-five percent of American households paid no federal income tax whatsoever

It opens with this masterful attention-grabber followed by two facts which may or may not be related, but which sure sound bad together.
Still scrambling to file your taxes? You'll probably take little consolation in hearing that the super rich pay a lot less taxes than they did a couple of decades ago. And nearly half of U.S. households pay no income taxes at all.
Paying taxes isn't fun for anyone. Taxes on the rich have gone down. 45% pay no taxes? My god, this must mean that 45% of rich people pay no taxes!

Er wait, let's see again... No that doesn't quite add up. Let's see, there are a whole lot of people/households on the low low end who pay no taxes because they're poor enough. Yet by not dividing up that 45%, the lowest end is used to support the highest end when crafting a misleading message. Ironic, given that Salon isn't known for its love of trickle-down theory, which is itself a "high is low" misleading message.

Republicans oppose raising taxes, but they argue that a more efficient tax code would increase economic activity, generating additional tax revenue.
I agree wholeheartedly with that second part. In fact it's one of my goals when I go for my master's degree, to look at how to make the tax code less ridiculous.

Oh hey, we finally get to it, nice deep down when writers/journalists know people have stopped reading.
The vast majority of those who escape federal income taxes have low and medium incomes, and most of them pay other taxes, including Social Security and Medicare taxes, property taxes and retail sales taxes.

So not only do they take this long to get to the fact that most of that 45% aren't rich, but also that the 45% aren't living in some tax-free bubble.

Throw in statistics like "More than half of the nation's tax revenue came from the top 10 percent of earners in 2007. More than 44 percent came from the top 5 percent," and it's looking like an argument in favor of raising taxes on the poor. Which maybe that isn't such a bad idea. If we subscribe to social darwist theories or the idea that the rich are rich because they're better with money (more economically efficient) and job creators, then it would seem that the most economically sensible system is one that taxes the poor and gives to the rich, thereby transferring money from the stupid to the smart. Of course those born poor might object, but as long as we avoid socialist public education, we can ensure that they are stupid, thereby preserving the theoretical foundation for the system.

I wonder if the article is an example of padding gone wrong. If they just stuck to the points: rich people pay lower taxes than they ever have, they have a ton of exemptions, and it's hard to get rid of these exemptions for political reasons, the article would be better. And shorter. But instead they wanted to jam in the 45%, quite obviously to create a false connection between the 45% and the wealthy, and possibly to add length, and as a result they ended up seeming to say the opposite of what they intended.

Still, misuse of 45% is literally half as bad as misuse of 90%. #notintendedtobeafactualstatement

When the Hidden Game Mechanic is Clearly Trying to Be a Huge Jerkass

Imagine if WoW had a stat that made you incapable of killing a boss until you had enough of this stat. Not in the usual sense of needing better gear because the healers go OOM, the tank gets two-shot, and the boss is enraging from low DPS. This stat isn't that obvious. It is sort of related to the primary stats. Or maybe the secondary stats. We're not sure. But I can tell you this: without this stat you cannot even zone in. You just don't get to have the boss fight.

Fortunately you can see how much of this stat you have. You need 50% to fight the boss. Some pieces of gear have this stat. But you don't know which pieces. It doesn't say. It might be the gear you're wearing or all gear you currently have. You're not sure. But you can at least see that you don't have the required 50% and it's pretty damn annoying.

This stat, thankfully, does not exist. And no, I am not expressing some sort of out-of-game concept like intelligence, time management, or social skills as a stat. This stat is entirely and purely fictional.

Fictional in the sense that it exists in Civilization: Colonization. It is called Rebel Sentiment. Get 50% and you can rebel and the king sends his giant army of doom. The army isn't as bad as it sounds, but the 50%, that can be a problem.

Recently I had a game in which I could not seem to break 45%. I even went down to 44%. This was with elder statesmen all over the place; they're good at convincing people to get unruly for possibly no good reason: aside from random tax increases on trade with Europe, the king doesn't really do much oppressing. Also newspapers and printing presses (technically the former replaces the latter) and even the bonus that rebel sentiment increases the rate of production of liberty bells, which generate rebel sentiment. It should be exponential, not asymptotic.

I found the culprit: babies. Yes, it turns out babies are all freedom-hating monarchists, so my population was growing as fast as I could convince it of the virtues of starting a war with a distant and powerful enemy for no apparent gain. So I banned babies. Surprisingly, this did not fix the problem.

I did the math and concluded that if every single city had significantly more than 50% sentiment, then the population overall should have more. Somehow even math was assisting in the conspiracy against freedom against non-apparent oppression. And finally it dawned on me: my grand army HATED FREEDOM. That's right, the army I had built up to defend freedom was in fact the single greatest force holding it back, a great irony which I'm sure has some relevance to using the surveillance state to protect us from terrorists who hate freedom.

It turns out rebel sentiment isn't a city stat. It's an individual citizen stat. As new citizens were born, I'd send them into the schools to train to fight, soon after they'd be trained, get their guns, and go camp out a stretch of coast which I'd decided to use as Normandy, except in this instance I'd be the Nazis. New citizens have no rebel sentiment, a clear problem of poor parenting (parents, teach your children to reject very specific authority figures!), and since they are in school for such a short time, this means they get very little indoctrination (I mean freedomination) before they are shipped off to the coast to defend freedom from the king who will never attack because I cannot start the revolution.

Rebel sentiment is tracked individually, but is not displayed individually. The effect can be theorycrafted by moving them in and out of labor in cities, by seeing how the overall percentage changes, but that's a bit ridiculous as a method. Speaking of ridiculous: this entire topic.

Eventually I fixed the problem by using the built-in editor to delete all of my trained soldiers, which pushed the average from 45% up to 55%, allowing me to declare revolution, at which point I gave myself new units, tanking the average, but it didn't matter anyway.

Cheating to get around the problem created by a hidden mechanic that isn't fully explained seems like the kind of problem that I should somehow be able to apply to WoW. A general game concept: Don't create messes for players by giving them stats to track which they cannot track.

What can we learn from this? Don't use child soldiers.

OMG nerf pyros

| Saturday, April 16, 2011
I'll just say it: pyros are OP. Thankfully, I like playing a pyro and unlike WoW, switching classes takes a few seconds, not days.

Here's the strange thing though: not everyone plays a pyro. Why not? There's still a rock-paper-scissors thing going on, and so eventually the rock to their scissors will be swimming in targets, making people want to play the rock, but then that makes paper pretty fun too, and so on, until despite being OP, pyros won't be totally ruining the game.

This of course requires a certain range of overpowered. They can't be so OP that other classes cease to counter them. For example, they still have awful range, so a class that can catch or keep them at range will have a much easier time than a class that has to fight them close in.

Which raises the question of what is so OP in the first place. Well despite being rock-paper-scissors, not every class is matched up exactly against another as a win or lose. For one, skill is supposed to matter, meaning that a class can beat its counter, it's just harder. So when a countered-class fight becomes a total pwnfest, something is wrong. Similarly, if the counter-class to the pyro has too much trouble killing it (for similar skill), then again, something may be wrong.

Of course map choice matters. Open maps are not friendly to them. They like sharp corners and enclosed spaces. Water is just awful.

Playing against them, pyros feel as if they have just a little bit too much health. Or they run slightly too fast, based on their ability to somehow always catch my scout, despite it being the fastest in the game. On the other hand, playing as one, they have massive damage output, but still feel slightly too durable, except against soldiers armed with the Black Box, which is OP (it heals slightly on each hit).

But maybe Valve ran their numbers and found that spies weren't getting slaughtered quite as fast as intended. So I'll play their game, literally, and figuratively, and go right on lighting people on fire. Because honestly, I just miss playing a demo warlock.

Tobold is a dick

| Friday, April 15, 2011
"Just to annoy Klepsacovic, my third post for the day. :)" - Tobold

Can't get me now, sucka, I follow your blog. I'm invincible! In this one particular aspect. Though I do now have a ton of tabs open and that's a bit annoying. If you could, try to have only one decent topic a day so that I can skim and close the others, and try to avoid anything that would have interesting conversation beyond a day or two.

Klepsacovic List of Top Lists Tops List of Top Lists

| List of Top Lists Tops Self

Last April, began compiling a List of its Top Ten Lists, with the expectation that it would find some really great lists and eventually whittle that list of lists down to the top ten lists, with explanations for what makes those lists the top ten lists. During the search process, market research was finding a critical fact: the greatest strength of the site is its lists. It was obvious: a list of lists wouldn't be a mere list, it would be a list, the list, the meta-list to top all lists. In fact, after numerous tests (full results are listed in the link), it was determined that the list of top ten lists was more than qualified to be in the top five lists in the list of the top ten lists. Then began an iterative process in which they found that moving the list of top ten lists further ahead on the list of top ten lists caused the list of top ten lists to itself become better, so that when the list of top ten lists became officially ranked fourth in the list of top lists, judges found that the list of top ten lists was qualified to be at least the number three list for top lists, which when corrected, caused the list of top ten lists to be judged as at least the second best list on the list of top ten lists. This process continued for days until finally the list of top ten lists had finally topped the list of top ten lists at last.

Finally the word list acquired a strange appearance, no longer seeming to fit into the English language, nor any other, a phenomenon for which there must surely be some list of words most likely to exhibit this behavior.


Looting the Blogroll

| Thursday, April 14, 2011
On Twitter I commented that yesterday Pink Pigtail Inn was my highest traffic source. Then it was pointed out that people are probably using her blog as a feedreader. Aha! That makes sense. I did that for a while. Only after I got frustrated with Tobold did I switch to using Blogger's follow feature. Yes, Tobold's fault. He kept posting nothing and then three posts in a day, so I'd have to keep searching back to see if I'd missed any.

I ended up in that habit again with The Noisy Rogue. At some point I got sick of Adam (he's kind of a jackass) and stopped following his blog. But I forgot to take it off my blogroll. Now I'm too lazy to refollow (I know, those clicks are VERY HARD WORK), so sometimes I use my own blogroll to see what he's written lately (less jackassy).

I still will sometimes go to a blog and dig through the blogroll for anything interesting. I call it looting. I figure that's a better practice than another idea I'd considered, which was to make a post demanding links to good blogs to read: "Pointless blogs! But not too pointless! No theorycrafting. But maybe some if it's a good day. And no matter what, not like mine! I'd hate to have to read this all day."

You might have noticed the lack of a post today. That wasn't intentional. I'd scheduled the post for today, but then didn't remember to fix the time, so it was scheduled for 8:41PM tonight. That seemed silly, so I just pushed it back. You all seemed happy enough being saddened by Gordon's post reposted anyway.

Hey, let's go argue with Tobold!

And a little more of the world diesAnd a little bit of my love for MMOs dies just a little bit more

| Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The Silent Affair

I clicked a button and we formed a group, becoming one without ever saying a word, a single, cohesive fighting force of man/woman death.


So this is for you, Renneque, my silent partner, to remember our beautiful moment together. If we ever meet again, please don’t say hello.

When other players could be easily replaced with bots, when bots might even be preferable, then there's something pretty rotten in the heart of MMOs.

Community: Anti-gravity

Normally gravity draws you in, and we usually hear about how friends and guilds are what keep us playing or bring us back in. And I have to say, I do miss playing with a few of my friends. I liked the feeling of teamwork. Also I sort of miss BC, but that's a tangent and wouldn't be much use anyway.

But then I'm reminded of one of the things that made me stop playing: everyone else. The gravity of community draws us in, but sometimes it is anti-gravity.

Way back on Thursday I made an ever so slightly angry post about DPS. Specifically about how DPS have gotten so damn spoiled that when tanks aren't carrying them, then the DPS think they're carrying the tank. Do I want to go back to that? I don't.

That's anti-gravity.

Bias LFD in favor of same-server

| Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Cross realm dungeons are a very good thing. If you've ever logged in at times when no one is on, such as as I'm writing this (10:40 CST), you might have noticed that things are quiet. Too quiet. That's the sound caused by 90% of the player population being at work, school, or unemployed and already too drunk to remember what a computer is. The remaining 10% are 90% bots and 10% sick people, 'sick' people, and unemployed who can no longer afford alcohol.

This makes it very hard to form a group based on only the population of a single realm. To make it worse, a low population or highly imbalanced realm can be like this all the time. So clearly forming groups across servers will help get things rolling.

But there is a problem: It's on all the time. When it's 8PM and approximately the population of Greece is online at the same time, it is not hard to form groups from a single realm. At that time he cross-realm ability is unnecessary and serves only one function: to group up people who will never meet again and therefore have zero interest in each other or their reputation. Cue ninjas, assholes, ninja-justifiers, and more assholes.

Add a few seconds to queues. Use this time to delay group formation to see if players from the same realm will appear. As players come on, shuffle the order slightly to group up players of the same realm. On average queues would be unchanged, pushed up sometimes, pushed down sometimes. On average groups would have more players from the same realm.

This system should have three goals. First, use the cross-server element when needed for rapid group formation. Second, keep the group formation tool for convenience and speed. Third, bring together players of the same server more frequently without removing or ignoring the previous two goals. In other words, telling people to use trade chat isn't the solution.

P.S. If you read my blog obsessively like I do you might have noticed that most of this is copied from an older post. I did that because starting a post with a Godwin's Law attack on subatomic particles often distracts from the actual point of the post.

Tanks Fly Free

Here's a fool-proof solution, since tanks are like dungeon GMs anyway: a free half hour of game time for each hour spent tanking in PUGs.

I say take it a step further and invert that ratio. Tank for an hour and get two hours free (excluding the time in the instance). Depending on how much they want to play (or tank), this could make it free to play a tank. Or free to play WoW in general with a bit of tanking.

Cue unintended consequences.

This would reward tanks slowing down. Marking targets, explaining fights, doing ready checks, and going afk for as long as they can get away with it. This could be prevented by making the time reward based on a standard expected instance time, let's say one hour (I have no clue). But that will just reverse it, making the tank want to hurry through and reluctant to accept slow groups. After all, if they can get one hour of credit in less than an hour, great, but more than an hour, not so much.

It still doesn't get past the problem of bribing tanks and expecting positive results. This isn't likely to bring in tanks who are merely hiding, since the time gained won't be all that spectacular, shifting back the sub renewal by a bit over a day per month (assuming one run a day), saving about half a month in a year. Would you tank for what is essentially $8 a year, without holidays or dental? For players who have left, this may bring them back in, unless tanking is why they left, in which case, why wouldn't they just pay the $15 a month and never have to tank?

I liked this idea at first. Tank a run then play for free. Maybe save up for a raid night. Except then the accounting brain kicks in. Even setting aside the dismal money savings, can you imagine if you started calculating the time cost of a raid by the number of randoms you'd need to tank? That much-desired 10 minute break now adds up to 5 minutes of noobs. That raid night of a few hours? Two hours of noobs. This causes an exponential increase in noob-induced stress, as guild members being noobs (causing you to spend more time wiping than you should), then causes you to spend more time with non-guild noobs.

Rather than actually concluding with anything, I'll instead hand you over to Adam.

5 man instance runs used to be, (a long time ago I might add), one of the most enjoyable things to do in the game. The second reason this is astonishing is the simple fact that Blizzard has designed the Cataclysm expansion around Heroic 5 mans. So we have a problem here. Blizzard has even admitted in the patch notes that doing these things might not be very fun. It’s all a giant head-fuck really because, I thought so anyway …

… that a game is supposed to be fun.

I had it easy when learning to tank

| Monday, April 11, 2011
I ran across this comment the other day:
I recently went into Ragefire Chasm with my boomkin and people were raging about the tank not keeping aggro (never mind the mage attacking everything and anything) - but the guy politely said that he was still learning to tank and would welcome help. The narky healer says that the tank should learn to tank elsewhere and not waste people's time by queueing as tank if he doesn't know how to do the job. o.O

I was lucky. I never had to deal with that. I had it easy, learning to tank long before we'd developed an obsession with optimization. Or playing correctly.

I learned to tank on a shaman. Yes you did read that correctly. Tanking on a shaman. Things were different back then. For one, we let shamans tank. Or a warlock, I did that once too. That didn't work quite as well. But at least one raid boss specifically required a warlock tank. Actually two. These days you can do it with a couple DKs. Or bring an arms warrior and a lot of DPS.

Back then rockbiter weapon was a flat DPS increase, which made it better than nothing, but always and completely worse than windfury, excluding purely theoretical situations where your auto-attack DPS was so slow that adding a small number was bigger than multiplying by a big number. It also had an aggro increase on it. Sort of like heroic strike or icy touch. Also, frost shock didn't have the aggro boost (does it still?), instead earth shock had it. Also earth shock was an interrupt.

So there I was running around places like scarlet monastery, shock this one, hit that one, shock that one, hit that other one, and so on. No one complained much. However the groups eventually got sick of my attempt to use the fury warrior in berserker stance as a tank, probably because it was stupid. But awesome!

Actually, I had a lot of leeway back then. No one complained at all the time in UBRS when I got myself killed so fast, and so quickly, over and over, until the res timer hit two minutes. These days that would be a flame festival and a group kick, rather than a bunch of people laughing at my repair bill. Ironically, I was using The Unstoppable Force. I didn't blame the tank, he didn't blame me, and the healer didn't complain. After that I learned to watch my aggro. This is why I adopted the "let them die if they pull aggro" strategy, because dammit, it worked!

I don't know for sure what created this environment, but a while back I posted this in The role of accessibility in increasing elitism.
His DPS sucks and he might not quite know what he's doing, but he'll learn eventually, because he has to. Ubermage isn't there to carry him. Ubermage also isn't there to flame him.

It was in this environment that I learned. I didn't get a lot of help. I didn't get a lot of grief either. I was either with other noobs or with alts of higher up players who knew exactly how awesome they were and had no need to put others down. Sure there were the bragging types, but they pulled themselves up rather than pushed those around them down. Their rising tide didn't sink our boats.

One theory I came up with was that the early community was saturated with former EQ players who had much different expectations in terms of player and community interaction.

My experience suggests that tanks will tend to be players who have been around for a while. Certainly BC was still a good time to learn, since even if paladins were making people want fast AoE runs, they weren't standard, so when I wasn't on my paladin, I didn't run into too many people expecting me to tank like one (though I tried to anyway). But even still, that would make the most forgiving time to learn years ago. That means that beside there likely being few new tanks (since it's an awful time to be one, especially a newbish one), the existing ones are old. No wonder they're burnt out, grouchy, and in more than a few cases, have the sort of elitism that can only come from far too much familiarity with a virtual world.

Dear everyone suggesting a rating system of LFD

| Saturday, April 9, 2011

No really. Lol. I laugh at your idea.

It will be abused. Or, it will be so uselessly gimped as to be... useless. Let's all think about what happens when anonymous interacts with anonymous. Yep, the exact LFD system we have right now. Pretty awful, isn't it? What makes you think the god-awful DPS, elitist tank, or whiny healer are going to suddenly start being calm and sensible when presented with a survey about the other players in the group?

One of my last experiences in randoms was to get kicked by a group. Why? I wasn't kissing the tank's ass properly, pointing out that he was in frost presence. Pressed on it, also pointing out that it was my sheeping, kiting, and interrupts that were keeping the healer alive when the tank as busy being garbage. Hey, I never said you can't carry a tank, just that it's not as common as so many DPS seem to think. That is the result of an anonymous system in which you'll never meet people again: good players get kicked and people reactive extremely badly to the slightest negative thing.

WoW used to have a rating system. No really, it did. We called it a "server" or sometimes "realm." Gather round and let me tell you about a time when people played with people from their own server and only their own server. When there are only a few thousand people to keep track of, it's a lot easier to get the word around that someone is a complete jackass, or amazing. Of course a few thousand is still quite a lot, but not everyone is logged in at the same time.

When you're going to be around the same people again, then you're going to care more. Their opinions will matter, not merely "I don't want people to think badly of me" sense, but "if I act like a total jackass people will know not to group with me again." It wasn't an explicit rating system, but it was there, some way to measure and communicate performance. Yep, trade chat used to serve an essential function of giving groups a place to complain about shitheads. It wasn't a perfect system. For instance, it can be hard to sustain a solid flame wall about a bad group member if there are a hundred enchanters desperately looking for customers. Things were bad before vellums were added.

No wait, don't say it. If we go back to single-server grouping queues will go up. You think so? Maybe. But maybe not. Listen to the tanks; how many are complaining that their short queue times cause them to have to tank too much (none) compared to how many are complaining that randoms are too often hellish nightmares of awful and bad? (many) So I suggest this: even if we lose some liquidity by cutting off servers, that could be compensated for by tanking being less stressful, thereby causing more tanks to queue and possible more players to tank.

More players tanking? But won't they all be garbage? Maybe. Or maybe when people are no longer just a bunch of anonymous jackasses they'll be more willing to talk and listen. The awful tank will know that if he doesn't listen and improve he'll be kicked to the curb whereas if he does, then he can get some tiny bit of reputation for listening and improving. Meanwhile if they have a good chance of possibly seeing him again, the group will be willing to talk and help improve, since if they can fix a tank, that's one more good tank for them. When we'll never see them again, we shovel off bad players as a problem for someone else (guess what happens when everyone does this, oh right, we get their garbage), whereas if we have to acknowledge that they are in fact our problem, we fix it.

Oh, you just never want to have to deal with bad players? Fine, go play in your guild and never touch LFD. That's fine. You can go away and have no affect on anything. Good. Everyone wins.

As for the rest of us, who care to fix the world rather than just grab at the last few scraps and whine about how bad everything is, we can do something.

Or we can't. What the fuck am I thinking? We're never going back to servers. We're too attached to the idea of fast queues for groups we don't want to be in, somehow imagining that a lot of not having fun is better than a little of having fun.

But hey, at least there's RIFT, right? Maybe. At least until they get around to their own tools and the inevitable cross-server implementation, and there we go again.

Yesterday I remarked at how I remember when ramen noodles were a dime. I think MMOs cause premature aging. Now get off my lawn.

Nazis spellers had it easy

| Friday, April 8, 2011
Nazis got to write in German. German has a silly system of more or less consistent spelling, except of course some words that they stole from other languages, which isn't a unique problem.

They would be utterly crushed by English. We do, of course, have a consistent system of spelling, excluding the stolen words. There's one problem: the entire language is stolen, shamelessly and horrendously ripped off from any other language in sight. We didn't even stick to German and French. Oh no, we of course had to take Latin, along with half of its spelling and grammar, but not enough to make a consistent system. We went around the world to steal a bit from Japanese and Mandarin. We went halfway and stole from whatever natives we could find in the New World. But back in Europe we went south and grabbed what we could from Africa and the Middle East (didn't have a good boat, so we had to drive around).

There is...
There are...
There are birds outside! Outside, there are birds. Ah yes, our inconsistent sentence structure doesn't help either, putting the verb before the subject, so that we have to conjugate the verb without yet having a sentence. This could easily be fixed by just thinking before we speak, but that's asking a bit much.

'Carrying' a tank: Yes, DPS have gotten that bad.

| Thursday, April 7, 2011
I might as well jump on Tobold's bandwagon of making posts to respond to comments on his blog.

There are a few ways good DPS can "carry" a tank.. lets see.

They can use proper CC both before the pull and during (such as stuns), put up proper damage reducing debuffs, interrupt spell casts (HUGE), move out of bad (to help the healer), make sure to not pull threat, consistently using threat re-directing abilities, not pulling more then the minimum number of creatures, tossing out off healing if needed, tanking or kiting creatures briefly if needed.

Those are not carrying. Those are how you are supposed to play. I know, it's crazy, the thought that DPS would do anything other than mindlessly punch something. But here's the reality:

This gets its own line.

If you're not using all your abilities, you or someone else is overgeared and there is carrying going on.

Or to put it another way:

DPS have gotten so damn spoiled by tanks carrying them that the moment the tank puts them down, the DPS thinks they are carrying the tank.

Or to put it another another way:

This is part of why I got sick of WoW. I like the idea of tanking, but the actual practice of it is a pain in the ass because so many people play like absolute shit and then whine that it's my fault.

Most DPS aren't bad. Most players aren't bad. But the players who are bad are noticeable.

It is possible to carry a tank, in extreme circumstances. If we assume that the healer is properly geared and skilled, but still cannot keep up the tank, then a DPS helping with heals will be carrying the tank. Similarly, if the healer is overgeared, they may be carrying the tank. But...

Using CC and interrupts are not at all carrying the tank. They're your fucking job. Fuck. You've got me swearing about how fucking stupid you are being. You know who you are. Fuckers.

I think I just used more bold text in this post than I have this entire year, and the one before. God dammit.

Oh here, masterlooter had a pretty good comment, slightly trimmed.

I think there might be a confusion on terminology here.

"Carrying" implies that the group/raid could very likely have done the event without the "carried" player being there at all.If you're saying that you're "carrying" a tank. that means you could have done the instance without a tank altogether.

Other players needing to CC, interupt, "heal more", and aggro dump are NOT indicators of "carrying" a tank. It's just using different strategies with the group you have at hand. It's no different than how some guilds 2 tank Omnitron, and others single tank it. Those with 2 tanks are not "carrying" another tank - just using a different strategy.

Four man a heroic 5 man instance without someone in a tank spec, then you can say you're able to "carry" a tank.

On a lighter note, tomorrow I will complain about Nazis.

My friends are telling me that WoW is awesome great fun funny times

Apparently being a goblin is awesome. But here's the problem: how many levels are you a goblin compared to how many levels you're a generic race of class? Once you're out of the starting area, it doesn't really matter what race you are. You're going to be playing the same way, with the same quests, with little more than the occasional NPC with stuck in the dialog.

I ran into this when I made my worgen. The starting area was simply amazing. I was briefly confused because I didn't realize there was a significant bit of time between the two parts, but beside that, the zone just blew me away. I felt like I was in a city under siege. Which of course I was, but that is something that WoW often fails to convey. So all in all a great time. And then I hit whatever level, finished a last quest, and got dumped in the nelf area. Hm.

As I've said before, the nelf area is a lot better now, but I've done it before and even improved it's a major step down from the worgen.

Suddenly my worgen might as well have been a nelf. Not cool.

It's probably asking too much that different races have different play experiences. I mean, even different classes all do their questing pretty much the same way. Maybe it's not impossible, except to balance, and therein lies the problem. Everything takes a back seat to balance, or at least the illusion of balance.

I wonder if vampires could make any sense...

Remember that post where I talked about that quest?

| Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Yea that one, with the thing about the stuff.

Shintar has a vague memory of me talking about this quest.

I've searched back and forth and failed to find the post. I even checked comments in promising posts on both our blogs with no success.

If you could find this post, I would be grateful. Shintar might care too, but I suspect I'm the more obsessive one.

I'm bad at telling stories, give me a better one

I said yesterday that I'd contradict myself and dammit, I intend to do so!

I've been in the starting stages of starting a Star Wars RPG campaign with a couple friends for a few weeks. Originally I was just helping with physics homework but you know how nerds are, with one thing leading to another. Early on in this long starting planning phase I ran into a major problem: I'm really bad at creating backstories. Why am I working with another thief to steal from the Empire? Alas, they did not accept my reasoning that I was a pyro who figured he'd steal before burning. Also thrown out was the idea of stealing for shits and giggles and figuring the Empire had some really cool giggles. We've still not quite resolved why my 16 year old character is hanging out with a 30-something year old woman, but hey, who didn't think about that at that age? Which if you're thinking what I'm thinking, that's been just short of explicitly given the no.

Previously I've complained about content being split into a "fun" and "trivial" (exaggerated word choice) track, especially when said content isn't even all that different. It was in the context of ICC hardmodes and how they are the same boss, 90% the same fight, in the same place, but a lot more fun. It seems that good-evil splits in games often follow this route. You fight more or less the same enemies in the same places, just you say meaner things while you do it. Along the way your alignment may cause unexpected problems, such as recently in Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl where my little tiny shooting someone in the face incident got taken all out of proportion and one of the major faction who show up half of everywhere decide to shoot at me on sight, even if they've never seen me before.

The overall plot is often unchanged, just with the slight twist of "you're the bad guy now, kath hound!"

Does this add any replay value? Maybe. A little bit. I mean, you probably want to play through a second time to see what happens if you backstab everyone you meet, but it's not really a fun or content doubler.

How about rather than pretending to give me a choice, you just give me a good story to play through? Just one. Maybe I'm a good guy, maybe I'm a bad guy, maybe I'm something in the middle. But give me a story to follow, not one to intermittently influence in barely more than cosmetic ways. It feels bad to finish a story a certain way only to later learn from fifteen consecutive hours on tvtropes or wikipedia that my ending wasn't canon and in fact I saved the kitten farm rather than calling in an orbital bombardment. If I can't really be evil, don't give the illusion! It's cruel.

But just to double up the self-contradiction, maybe choice really is ideal and the true problem is that we don't have enough. Maybe the ideal is to give other characters stories to act out while I am the free agent between them all. Maybe I should be able to just fucking stab Kreia with a lightsaber after her first obnoxious lecture about morality when she's planning to ruin everything, which if you're familiar with her plot, wouldn't the destruction hurt everyone, possibly even killing everyone? As much as people say they'd rather die free than live a slave, the particular slavery wasn't all that bad compared to whatever sort of horrible death would result from the 'liberation'.

Yes, but I can't keep it up

| Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Have you ever noticed how Good-Evil/Light-Dark morality systems tend to instead be of the "pet the kitten" - "kill a hundred unarmed civilians" type?

So there I was in Tamriel and I was a thief in the thieves guild who was also in the murderers society but was only in that society out of convenience, due to the opportunity to rob more houses, including the local safehouse. I was so evil I was too evil to play by the rules of evil! Eventually I killed them all, though in subversion of the usual theme, I'd already taken their stuff.

I'd rob houses at night. Or at day. I robbed houses. If people caught me, which they never did, I killed them. They never caught me because I killed them first. Screams alert guards, whereas death gurgles don't.

I was evil.

Until one day I decided to pet the kitten. Readers take note, terrified of touching cats due to their extreme speed and unpredictability. So when I start petting cats, it means I am putting in some major effort to be kind. Though kittens are a lot slower and often don't yet have claws, so maybe it's not quite so great. Now why would I go and pet the kitten? I'm evil!

Well sure, but I'm also practical and let's face the facts, murdering everyone in sight leaves you with no one able to repair your armor. So I stopped murdering.

And now we get to the morality system: I can't be evil in most stories. Instead I can be chaotic, usually with extremely self-destructive consequences, even if there are short-term minor benefits. With the easily exploited alchemy system or just dungeon farming, I didn't need to rob houses for the gold. Evil isn't bad, it's just plain stupid.

We could get around this problem with long-term evil. Let's say I play along so I can be there to murder the emperor at the last minute. Okay so let's go ahead and do that. I can't? You mean the story inevitably drives me toward good? So infamy tracking has no purpose except to make the guards act like asses?

Oblivion (the game I've been talking about, beside KOTOR) is a fairly open-ended world. It's a bit sandy, but ultimately, you are what the story tells you to be. You could avoid completing the story, in which case you'd be a loser who can't get anything done, which doesn't really tell an evil story either, unless you really, really hate bums.

KOTOR (I know it's not all capitalized but it's a lot easier to type, a gain entirely offset by this explanation) at least allows me to go in an evil direction. But it's not MY evil direction. I will acknowledge that in the first one if I was going to be evil then taking over the Sith and the Star Forge would be a good way to go about it. But what if I just liked chaos? Or maybe I liked peace and quite and would go to extreme ends to get it? In that case, I might instead destroy everyone in hopes of causing a (which didn't happen) World War I effect of War to End All Wars which would so deplete the galaxy of military power that war wouldn't be happening again anytime soon.

Good and evil almost seem meaningless when the game itself doesn't offer choice.

Now to ask the question that the title answers: Do you play evil characters in RPGs?

Tomorrow: I contradict myself, because that's what I do.

I want to play your game, just not at all the way you intended

| Monday, April 4, 2011
Alternate titles: I hate paperwork; I hate late-fight wipes; Tanking is absurd.

This is not about Civilization V. I have played it for a total of maybe half an hour and do not yet have much of an opinion on it, except to say that it is different than Civilization IV, which may be good or bad depending on what you want out of the games.

It is however, about Civilization IV. And Colonization. But first things first, with the first being the fourth. I'd suggest skipping this part and just going to part two. Part one is just me whining about Civ IV and its refusal to acknowledge that I'm awesome.

Like the previous ones, Civ IV starts out fairly slow, with one city, one unit, and barely any technology. It's sort of boring. Or in my case, irritating because I have it set to wait after every turn, a practice I implemented after constantly moving my last unit only to remember that I still had to change some production queues or wake up some fortified units, and this is annoying when for 10-15 turns all I do is move a scout or warrior, then hit enter for the next turn. Then finally I have a few cities and a bit of surplus, so I can round up a small army and go attack someone.

This is the mid-game phase, or perhaps late-early-game which I greatly enjoy. There's some war but there's still some building of new cities. Also, trebuchet with a city raider promotion vs. axeman. Glorious. This phase often feels the most dynamic to me, with a lot of options and goals. I'm not far ahead of the AI in technology or economy (I play on something just barely off of equal settings, to compensate for being bad), but if I focus it correctly I can gain some advantages.

Then comes the end. The end isn't short or even particularly close to the actual end of the game. Instead the end is when I have a tech lead, economy lead, population lead, and so on, such that I can take on multiple enemies at once, conquering vast swaths of territory. It sounds fun, but in practice it just feels boring and repetitive, like a giant pile of paperwork. At this point I often find myself opening and closing the victory conditions page to see how much more I need to conquer before the world acknowledges that I've won, even though I effectively did win many turns ago, just no one would admit it. 64% needed, I'm at... 45%. Ugh. The worst part was the constant need to manage the cities, building them back up, since apparently gigantic battles in cities causes damage to infrastructure as well as everything else. With dozens of new cities, this is a repetitive and boring task. I could delegate it to the AI, but I don't trust the AI. To get around this I stopped bothering to capture entire civilizations and started accepting them as vassal states, once they admitted that I'd utterly crushed their armies and taken a few cities. This saves time on that front, but in terms of land control, vassals don't give full credit, so I often need to go for elimination of my enemies, meaning that I now need to force every single one into capitulation which can mean my army has to walk so damn far across the map that if time meant anything at all in civilization games, it would take several years by train.

People bash "mindless grinding", but I will gladly take mindless grinding over repetitive but not-quite-mindless other tasks. Grinding leaves the brain free to think about things that are more fun. Such as music, movies, and whining on vent about the grindfest.

Part two: Colonization

The Civ IV economy is very generic, top-level sort of stuff. Hammers, science, and gold, with special resources which magically provide enough for the entire empire (changed in Civ V apparently). Some people get crazy about the micro-management of their cities, but I never found it very engaging, more like another level of annoying tasks that aren't fun but must be done, sort of like gemming in WoW.

Colonization is the opposite. The economy is detailed and is everything. Resources are at individual cities and must be moved by wagon trains. Getting that right is part of not failing. City specialization is an absolute necessity, with some places set up for materials, others for food, and then eve individual manufacturing may be split up, with some cities making guns, others cigars, and so on.

Units don't just cost production, all but cannons also cost population. This causes a shocking thing: war is really bad for the population. If things get bad enough, skilled workers have to fight, making every loss that much more costly. The loss of civilians can be avoided by using trained military units, but these are expensive and are not invincible either. Besides, even in peacetime they are useful as basic laborers, so at the very least you lose some of the labor supply.

I love the gameplay. I love that war is costly. I love that the economy requires careful planning. It's just damn fun.

On the other hand, I don't much like the revolution mechanic. Yes, that's essentially the entire point of the game, building up toward revolution and independence from the king. But it's not much fun for me. At some point I have to say "okay liberty time!" and start cranking out rebel sentiment. The goal is to get to 50% desire for independence as quickly as possible, since once the colonists start looking rebellious the king starts building up his Army of Crushing Freedom, also known as the Royal Expeditionary Force, which doesn't sound quite as bad as the more descriptive name. Finally I hit 50%, declare independence, and a few turns later warships way too powerful to actually fight arrive to drop off one of the few waves of Royal Expeditionary Force of Freedom Crushers. At this point they proceed to bombard my defenses and engage my scrappy militia, with combat odds about 66% against me, meaning that I cannot take them one on one, and even if I could, they outnumber by own trained soldiers. Obviously the solution is a zerg rush of militia so simply overwhelm them. A fine idea, except as previously mentioned soldiers are labor, so this would wreck my economy, and I just might still need that economy to replace all the guns I'll be using to arm that militia. But at least I beat the first of several waves.

It reminds me a bit too much of raiding. I hate phase three wipes. Or phase five. Whatever number of phases bosses have these days. Fight along just fine and it's good, good, good, oh wait, no, you lose in the last fifteen seconds, too bad! Now imagine that the first couple phases take a few hours.

I've been searching for a mod that turns off the revolution mechanic so that I can instead focus on fighting natives and other colonies. I've not yet found one. Too bad for me.

On the plus side, I discovered tanking. Yep, turns out it's a lot easier to fight off the king's army if I convince them to attack a city on an isolated island. Amphibious attacks have a 50% penalty. Stick a decent fortress around that city and suddenly the odds are pretty heavily in my favor. All I have to do is ensure that this island is heavily populated and closest to the European edge of the map, at which point the enemy will slaughter itself upon our Beaches of Freedom. Load the island with troops and let freedom ring. A few back on the shore can clean up any leftovers, caused by any rare victorious enemies or retreating cavalry being dropped off on the mainland for healing up, at which point they can be easily slaughtered. It sounds great and it works really well, but it's also so blatantly stupid, such an obvious exploit of the AI to do something that makes no sense at all. Had the same army instead used the ships to blockade the island (cut off my main forces) and then invaded the mainland, they could have wiped out a whole lot of rebellious colonists. They might still have succumbed to the zerg rush, but it would have gone about ten times better for them.

My point is that tanking is absurd.

Why must Cool Stuff be a Joke?

| Friday, April 1, 2011

Getting Achivements (Rewards) After They're Useful

Let's save the debate on whether achievements should be useful for another day. For now, let's just imagine that some achievements are useful, some are useless, and some would be useful if we had gotten them before we'd done all the stuff needed to get them.

To begin: faction discounts in World of Warcraft. Useful, right? I mean, they save on repairs and buying stuff. Here's the problem: by the time you're getting a major discount, you've probably done so many dailies, randoms, or whatever else that you're so flush with gold that you don't have much use for a small discount from occasionally repairing and less often buying anything, from that faction.

And while we're at it, they aren't quite achievements, but you've gotten exalted with that faction so you can buy the great rep gear from them. Awesome, except by now you've gotten better items from the heroics you've been running, with the badges you've been collecting, or used your generous daily gold to buy some BoEs. Admittedly this wasn't much of an issue in early Cataclysm, but we all still remember LK gear/badge inflation and I've not seen anything to indicate that it won't happen again eventually.

Stalker CoP loves these. Most of the achievements are going to be fairly late in the game, at which point you should be loaded with rubles. The achievements give things like discounts, better prices when selling, and more discounts. To make it even more ridiculous, the one biggest money sink, the guy who sells awesome equipment, never has this discount, but of course by the time you're getting these achievements you've probably either bought all his stuff or have proven that you don't need his stuff. And to top it off the final zone has a guy who repairs all your stuff for free, just in time for you to have gotten the biggest possible discount (beside free) from the other two repair people, making their rewards pointless as well.

Reward seems to be the issue here. Are they meant to reward us or to help us? This is one of the ongoing problems with gear in WoW.

On one side was the badge, rep, and crafting system which set up gear as a tool. We'd get gear to be able to raid. With the new philosophy in LK of always seeing the latest raid (even if none before it), it made sense that gear was steadily inflated, at least on the badge and crafting sides, but heroic and rep rewards just became obsolete. It even made sense that individual bosses would drop gear. This created a sort of difficulty slider, albeit an inconvenient one, whereby players who couldn't down boss X could kill the ones before boss X for gear to make boss X easier. And then even killing the Lich King makes sense for gear, since there is still hardmode, and of course those all make sense, up until hardmode Lich King gives gear, at which point we ask, why?

At that point the gear is clearly not needed by any stretch of the imagination and is purely a reward. It's not even vanilla WoW when the final loot of the final tier had an important role to play in helping to utterly wreck people in blues in BGs. Fun times...

And finally, there was an old fun game called Escape Velocity: Nova, the third in a line of games which are more or less single-player EVE with the combat system of Asteroids. At the very end you've saved the universe, taken on the greatest challenges, possibly conquered the universe while you were at it, and then you're rewarded with some sort of ridiculously awesome ship. Or in one case, you become such a powerful telepath that you can split off portions of your mind, three parts, and single part of which can go toe to toe with all but the biggest enemy ships. You're one step short of being a god. So uh, now what? There isn't a Game Over screen. You do get sent to a special magical planet where you get a nice "you're a hero!" message, but then you're right back in the galaxy. So, want to use your massive living ship with technology a hundred steps beyond anything else to... haul some cargo?

It's like the end of the game is the worst April Fool's joke ever.
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