Your friend asks if they should try WoW

| Wednesday, November 30, 2011
How do you answer?

For all my complaints, I think I'd still say yes.

Having played it recently, even after having played much newer, more graphically-detailed games, I can still say that WoW looks good. It doesn't look realistic, but it looks good. It is getting dated, but I don't think the graphics are going to seriously harm it for another few years. And frankly, Im not sure I want to play with the "I want a pretty game" crowd.

You can still jump in and play, without wondering what all these buttons do. Not that there are a ton of buttons early on.

Ultimately I think the issue is expectations. When I play WoW I expect, or wish for, a different game than what it is now. A new player would not have that burden. Without that burden, I think they could have a great deal of fun.

For reference, I've given a little bit of time to lotro, rift, and eq2 and none of them quite caught me. I just felt disconnected from my character, as if I were controlling a marionette with very loose strings. Also, the fonts: I am very used to WoW's fonts and eq2 and lotro did not work for me. Has anyone else had a problem with the different fonts between games? I know it sounds silly, but I often felt like I was reading over someone's shoulder rather than reading words meant for me.

Rotting castles don't need to burn

| Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Sandboxes are trouble. If we build too easily, the world runs out of space. If we destroy too easily everyone is afraid to build. We're not all online at the same time.

Here's my vague, generalized solution:

You can build anywhere. However destruction by players can only happen in contested areas.

Safe areas are safe to build and travel in, hence the name, but are resource-poor, so you cannot hope for much more than a hut and a rusty sword. Yes, the sword could be newly made and still rusty. The local iron is just that bad.

Contested areas would have more resources and better resources. These would be the places to farm. And the places to build if you want to take control. In these places, you can die to anyone, your buildings can be destroyed by anyone.

However safe areas are not places where you can just build away and never worry. Buildings will rot, decay, and be worn away. This would be a percentage of the cost, so that more expensive buildings require more upkeep. They won't fall down in a day, but after a few days of game time they will fall apart until they are ruined and need to be rebuilt. "Game time" is the time you are logged in and time offline if you are leveling skills (such as in EVE). To prevent permanent structures being built by people who never log in, even offline there would be a very slow decay; not so fast that you feel you must log in every day, but so that if someone is inactive for a couple months, they aren't cluttering up the world.

To maintain structures you will need to go out to the contested areas. You can gather and return home, but not without risk.

The overall goal is to allow players to destroy other's buildings without it being a game of waiting until they are offline and then torching everything in the night. You'll instead need to starve them.

Various mechanics would work behind the scenes to keep things running as intended. Resource gathering would be slightly more efficient when the server has more players, so that players are discouraged, though not blocked, from sneaking out when no one is around, while those who operate at peak times are rewarded for the risk of being out when the bandits are too. There would also be an attempt to keep players in more or less the same real life time zone, partly to keep out the dirty foreigners, partly to keep a sense of time (day-night cycle would be related to RL), and partly so that players are taking similar risks.

There will be a risk-reward relationship in this game. Players who want no risk at all could stay in the safe areas and would consequently have pretty awful homes. Players who venture out can get more resources and have nicer properties and items, but will still be limited. Those who take big risks, building directly in contested areas in order to gain control over them* will be able to get more and better resources, but will need them to survive out there. In general it should be balanced so that players will see benefit to building in risky areas but without being so much that everyone feels forced into FFA PvP.

* Control would be physical, not based on game mechanics drawing borders. For example, you might have walls to enclose properties, preventing others from chopping your trees and keeping your herds in place. There could also be traps and magical protections, but nothing that would stand entirely by itself. The goal is still to have players be able to log out without wondering if in the morning everything is gone, but without logging out being a guarantee of safety. One specific mechanic might be self-repairing walls, which can use existing stockpiles to maintain themselves, so that you can log off and survive, but if you don't get back and replenish your stockpile, the walls will be down within a day or so.

Of course everyone loves a good fire, so I will add this bit: even in a safe zone, a building under 10% integrity can be set on fire and will burn down regardless of repairs. Outside safe zones, buildings, if they can be reached (walls will be pretty important), can be set on fire at any integrity percentage, but may be harder to light or will burn slower and can be doused and repaired. So sorry, you don't win just from one good torch toss.

I've not considered how NPCs would fit into this world. Maybe they too would build and gather. I certainly don't want them to be just passively waiting around to be killed or as just a generic malevolent group of bandits.

In closing, I want to let everyone know that I never had a sandbox as a kid. Instead, I had the far superior "dirt place", which was an approximately 5'x12' area next to our house which had no grass in which they used to store coal. It probably gave us all cancer, but coaldirt is a much better structural material than sand, especially with easy access to the hose.

P.S. Thanks to Adam for the inspiration.

Civilization IV part II: A turn

| Monday, November 28, 2011
I don't enjoy making decisions without proper information, especially when that information is available but is obscured by a bad UI.

Example: At the start of turns in Civ IV you get bombarded by new production order requests. You cannot get rid of these until the cities have their orders. So stumble through and get them out of the way, and maybe you gave sensible build orders. Then go look up tech progress, where your enemies are, what techs you can buy, and then go back and change a few cities. Civ V has a much better system, with new production being something you just need to pick before the end of a turn, similar to new research and giving orders to units.

And yet, Civ V managed to create all sorts of annoying problems when dealing with turns. Automated units act at the start of the turn, rather than at the end. This means that exploring units have a bad habit of blundering into big groups of barbarians. Hitting "end turn" results in a giant pile of truly awful game design. Units with movement points remaining will demand that you use them up or skip action, which in the case of workers means a lot of moving a unit one more tile, intending to have it build something, but nope, you released the mouse and now you are DONE. Sometimes the remaining movement is because a worker got scared, a useful indicator of enemies nearby but not necessarily in your territory, except you cannot move units to defend, because your turn is DONE. All you can do is shuffle the worker off somewhere.

The autosave for a turn is effectively done at the end of a turn in Civ V, so that the turn numbers are all off by one.

Both games force decisions on conquered cities, though both also allow for an inspection of the city first. At least in V you can raze a city later, though doing so will require annexing it, raising the culture cost of social policies. It would be nice if these were also handled the way production is: get it done before the end of the turn. This might be a problem because of how culture borders are drawn and affect movement speed, but that's a non-issue in IV because newly captured cities have very weak borders.

They're Everywhere!

| Friday, November 25, 2011
Chatting at work I found that I am surrounded. At least one supervisor plays Modern Warfare 3. A few employees do as well. More chatting found that of the three people I was working with one night, one plays Fallout 3 and played a ret paladin in BC, another plays EVE and is a new Goon, and yet another plays Skyrim (sadly, pirated) and used to play WoW (started in LK, clearly this means LK players are people who demand reward with no work*).

* This is sarcasm. If we're looking for other correlations based on a sample size of one, he also quit during Cata, for no specific reasons.

Now I know what you're thinking, but no, we're not all that prepared for a zombie apocalypse, because the building is mostly glass and weapons are not allowed in the building. Though we do have a decent bit of food, much of it is on the first floor. While the stairs are a bit too wide, they are not blocked by walls, so as the zombies go up along the predictable path, people all along the balcony can shoot. However once the zombies are up, there are few additional barriers. Even worse, there are outside stairs, which lead to higher floors also with lots of glass. Beside the roof, pretty much any location is an easy way to get surrounded and overrun.

This post is in no way influenced by the sight of hordes of shoppers on Black Friday.

Happy Thanksgiving

| Thursday, November 24, 2011
307.007 million in the US
7 billion in the world
That gives us about 4.39% of the world.

So happy thanksgiving to the best 4.39% of the world. Like my parents always said: choose your grandparents wisely.

And some for you too, Canada. You should be thankful. Without us you'd be the top hat to a completely empty land.

Civilizations IV and V

| Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Apparently my Civ V crash problem was not fixed by my RAM switch. It must have just been coincidence that it seemed to be better. Maybe my world was a little bit smaller that game. In light of this, I decided I'd jump back to Civ IV. Being what I am, I decided to compare them, not in a vague sense of which was better, but actually seeing how each felt moment by moment. Having played Civ V for a few months, what is Civ IV like?

As might be expected, my first reactions were negative. It's an uglier game. Whether the UI was better or worse in any approximately objective sense, it was confusing for a player used to a newer game. Way to not have backwardforward compatibility! Beyond that, I was just generally confused. What was good anymore? I remembered rivers were good to build on, but my cities wouldn't have a watermill building. Is there a best first tech? In V I go for pottery so my second construction is a granary. I went with pottery because I had some wheat nearby and it made about as much sense as anything else.

There are a lot of inconvenient aspects. Just about everything is a special tradeable resource that you want connected to your cities, so I was building more roads. Thankfully they were free. Also thankfully, the bear was just a little bit too slow and my settler did not get eaten. But that reminded me that cities are helpless and need units sitting in them or else barbarians wander in and take over everything. Now I absolutely must have a spare warrior built. I don't have a Liberty social policy tree, so I need to make my own workers, which stops city growth. Now I'm at needing a worker for any improvements, a warrior for my next city, and the settler for that next city, which is going to be pretty slow.

I can't find the happiness count. Oh, it's all city-based.

I'll have more later as I play more, but for now, I'll end with this idea: Civilization V is about civilizations, while Civilization IV is about cities.

Future Research Outside the Continuum of Established In-Game Reality

| Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Let's all pretend this is about Skyrim and not Oblivion so I can feel hip and with it. 'K? Good.

Yesterday I wrote that when we get information later in game can matter earlier, turning what would normally be "additional research" into "outside research". This specific subset might be classified well as "future research". It's not that our characters cannot do it, they just need time travel.

Enter Klepsacovic, the destruction, restoration, alteration mage who wears heavy armor and specializes in punching people. He had a great idea: Use the sign of the Atronach (no normal regen, but absorbs spells). This would give him some great ways to solve problems. For example, if his problem involved casters, he could absorb their spells and have tons of magicka, which could then be used to burn, freeze, and/or zap their faces in/off/inside-out. Against melee he would fall back on his heavy armor and skills at punching people in the face.

Unfortunately, Klepsacovic failed to know a few key future facts. The first was that he would not be an invincible punching wall of death against melee. Instead, he would get hurt sometimes, and need to heal. Heal with magicka which he could not regenerate. The second was that there are a lot more physical attackers than magical. Third, the casters he does fight tend to summon... more melee.

He was essentially dead on arrival at the first real fight. He did, just barely, manage to fight off the enemies near the closest Ayleid ruins and headed inside. At which point he found himself struggling mob by mob, grateful for the places he could sleep as he crawled through a maze of melee.

Then God swooped in and changed his birthsign from one that crippled him to one that helped him regenerate mana faster. Sadly, God could not easily change his specialized skills, and so he remained cursed by a predilection for hand-to-hand combat in the false belief that the use of weapons would hinder his spell-casting, a myth learned from an old story about an age of dragons, but in which only a few dragons get slain, rather than a more recent story in which dragons have replaced rats for the job of being killed in sets of ten.

Thankfully, Klepsacovic was blessed with the Prophecy of Levels which foretold a Great Doom in which too many levels were had and marginal attributes were increased, to the Great Doom of All, and with this knowledge of the future to come, he did avoid the Temptation of the Bed, by which I mean the other Temptation of the Bed, not the one you're thinking of, since there is none of that going on, but in his single-minded zeal he did find himself with great skills of Destruction and Restoration but without sufficient magicka to use his greatest abilities, and thus did he succumb to the Sleep and when he awoke found that he had murdered a man and would find himself on a Dark Path, his soul at risk of too heavy a burden of infamy and only by the timely intervention of a Guild of Fighters did he save his soul and avoid the cruel words of angry city guards.

In other words, because I didn't know what enemies I'd be fighting later on, I picked a birth sign which made my character very weak, and resorted to the use of the game console to pick a new birth sign. Then I killed a guy for what I'm sure was a totally legitimate reason not at all related to a vampire hiding his identity and found myself in a secret society of murderers who were all really nice and helpful. Later on I think I will rob some monks.

National Bad RAM Day

| Monday, November 21, 2011
I just made it up. Deal with it.

My computer had developed a habit of suddenly restarting while playing Civilization. I thought it might be overheating because I hadn't put back on the side panel of the computer, with a fan in it, which might be the main source of incoming air. That didn't fix it and I didn't really think it was overheating anyway, based on the "touch stuff and see if I get burned or zapped" test yielding negative results (in the diagnostic community, negative means positive, which is the least confusing thing we say).

My next suspicion was a bad stick of RAM. So I did the logical thing, switched them into the other pair of slots. That didn't fix it, which confirmed my suspicion.

Finally I resorted to pulling out one of the two 2gb sticks and replacing it with a pair of 512mb sticks from my old computer. This wasn't as big of a loss as it sounds, since Windows only seemed to recognize 3.5gb of the supposed 4gb total, so I only lost 512mb. Maybe there is some performance impact from having the unpaired stick, but I've not noticed. It is certainly offset by the reliability gain.

Coming tomorrow, plus or minus a month, Skyrim!

Outside Additional Research

Andenthal's comment on Friday suggested a distinction between "outside research" and "additional research". I agree that there is a difference, but it is a blurry line.

Given enough time and perseverance, I would never need outside research for any game. Why not? Because given enough time, I can figure out any mechanic.

That's where I draw the line, on the vague continuum of "too much time."

I think we can agree that it is asking a bit much for every player to take out a few months to learn new mathematical techniques and gather data to understand a game. At that point, "additional research" has clearly crossed into "outside research".

Beside the time cost, there is that future use consideration. Is a +5% damage to elementals good? Yes? I'm sure it is useful, but how useful relative to the talent/perk/slot it is replacing? We can play play ahead and see how often we run into elementals and how challenging these are, thereby having the data we need to evaluate the usefulness of the +5% damage to elementals talent.

At first glance we might call that "additional research". It fits better into the "outside research" category. This is information which is unavailable on the first play, so right there, start the game, you need outside research in order to properly evaluate the talent, barring dramatic game actions such as NPCs using all their conversations to talk about how hard it is to kill elementals.

Developers could negate this issue by making talents easy to change, so if later on you encounter many elementals, then you can switch for 5% more damage against them. Or they could make it easy enough that whether or not you have 5% more damage against elementals, you will still beat the game with minimal profanity. These are both side-stepping the issue of whether the game is self-contained, by which I mean, if you play the game with some thought and consideration, you will, without opening Excel, know enough to make good decisions. Not necessarily the best possible decisions, but good decisions.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm running 50,000 pirated copies of Skyrim on a botnet to determine the disposition change formula based on either number of units traded or value of items and I need to get this done before the FBI or Russian Mafia get suspicious.

Game difficulty

| Friday, November 18, 2011
This post was supposed to come before yesterday's. I apologize for self-contradicting in the wrong order.

My game would not have trivial mode. Or story mode, whatever you want to name it. It would, however, have easy, normal, and hard.

- Low twitch requirements
- No need for outside research on optimized builds, but talents or the equivalent are not random. Sorry, necromancy archer thief.
- Pulling cannot be reckless. If there are a dozen enemies, you still need to wait for some to wander away or use some sort of crowd-control to deal with them.
- This is for people to just jump in and play, without spending time planning out every last step, but while they are playing they will still be thinking.

- You have to be somewhat quick, but not like a Korean Starcraft player.
- Some outside research will be necessary to avoid mistakes* but you won't need to perfectly optimize everything.
- Those dozen enemies will need to be dealt with even more carefully, possibly requiring clever use of the game environment for concealment or as an opening attack, such as making heavy things fall on them.

* By mistakes I mean running into unexpected mechanics, such as the leveling system in Oblivion that had me leveling up from marginally useful skills while enemies got stronger much faster.

- I personally do not expect to beat this. Nor would I want to, because for me personally, this is the point at which a game ceases to be fun.
- You will need to be fast and constantly aware.
- Failure may have significant costs.
- Outside research is absolutely necessary.
- You may need to play through areas at lower difficulty to get a feel for the environment before you play again on hard.
- You don't get any additional shinies or lore. You just get the satisfaction of knowing your capabilities. And getting to brag to others. If they care.

Normalizing Enemy Difficulty

| Thursday, November 17, 2011
Why do RPGs so readily allow us to create stupid builds? For example, that person has a stupid build.

What if they're not stupid, but creative? Why shouldn't the heavily armored mage who uses magic to stealth be unable to beat the game? This build would probably fail in a typical RPG. But it doesn't have to.

Add a system to measure the effectiveness of a build and adjust the game accordingly.

Think up your excuse plot as you like, but the general idea is to have the player fight a series of enemies which are representative of what they will encounter in the game. So they'll fight some armored melee, some flimsy casters, some archers who refuse to stay in place, and mixes of them, with varying strength. From these fights the game can determine approximately how well your build handles each of those enemies and adjusts their strength relative to each other. Now your build which is great against casters thanks to a quick attack from stealth does not need to be utterly useless against other melee. This will adjust both up and down, so that you'll still be stronger against certain types and weaker against others, but you won't ever fight an enemy which is trivial or impossible because of your build choices.

After the initial tests it would continue to adjust enemies for a bit longer, to ensure that if you got crushed by a certain archetype it was due to the build and not just ignorance of how to handle them. If you start rolling over a certain type of enemy, it will adjust accordingly.
For arbitrary numbers, let's imagine that against your build (and skill at playing it) a melee has difficulty 10, a mage difficulty 2, and an archer difficulty 6. Melee would be reduced in power, mages increased, and archers left about the same, so that when you venture out, melee might be at 7, mages at 4, and archers still at 6. You'll still see melee as harder than mages, but not so dramatically. This might be the difficulties at the "normal" setting, so dialing up to "hard" would make them 10, 7, and 9, while "easy" would be 4, 1, and 3. These examples aren't on any particular scale, just that bigger numbers are a harder fight.

Note that all this does is adjust the relative power of enemies. There is still an overall difficulty setting which can shift all of them up or down.

Coming tomorrow, an uninspiring, uncreative opinion piece on game difficulty.

If you want to see content, go to YouTube

| Wednesday, November 16, 2011
If you want to experience content, then asking for it to be gutted is counter-productive.

Raiding isn't about 25 random people wandering around in a big room. It's about people playing together, over multiple sessions, to overcome some sort of challenge. It's not for everyone. I don't mean that as "not everyone is allowed to do it", but "not everyone wants to do it".

Make raids for raiders. Make youtube videos for people who want to see content. Make other content for people who want other content.

PSA: Oblivion 75% off Tuesday-Thursday

| Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Normally Elder Scrolls: Oblivion is $20 on Steam, which I think is worth it. Currently it is $5. That's four times worth it. That puts it at 1/12 the price of Skyrim.

Math says you should buy it and math is never wrong. Unless I forget my calculator and do it in my head. Then there are problems.

5 too many and 15 too few, it's the amazing 10-man!

The week before today, also known as (aka) "last week" to you kids these days (yktd) I made some claims regarding raiding, such as suggesting that easymode raids would be nothing more than oversized dungeons and that oversized dungeons are stupid.

Well long story short, Upper Blackrock Spire, Karazhan, and Alterac Valley (before they ruined it).

This was a good start to a flame war back in the day. Someone would say something about raiding and not being able to raid and then someone would say that UBRS was a raid and someone else would say that is stupid. It was a raid and it was not. It was true that to create a full UBRS group of 15 people, or 10 after they did some changes to a few of the high-level instances, you would need to use the "convert to raid" button and would then have raid bars and all that stuff. It was raid-sized-ish, in the sense that anything more than 5 players required a raid. It was still smaller than the smallest raid of 20 people for ZG (or AQ20 later on).

It was essentially an oversized dungeon with the occasional raid-like element, such as one person being able to ruin everything. The loot was mostly blues, with some extremely rare epics (if you saw one drop ever you were lucky). This was the standard for the high-level instances at the time. Fights weren't quite faceroll, but most of them weren't especially tough. Mistakes could get you killed, but patient clearing minimized the risks. Randomly placed quest chains would lead through the instances. They'd take an hour or two to complete, though depending on the level of PvP activity at the time, just as long to get inside.

I loved that place, despite it not properly fitting with my "no oversized dungeons" philosophy of the previous post.

In fact, maybe that's what made it so great. It was a 5-man that you could bring a crowd to. Bring your friends! Bring your enemies! Bring someone with the key otherwise we're going to have to hire someone and that's a bit of a pain! This was quite handy because it was like meeting three groups at once, a useful thing back when meeting people in groups was how you formed guilds.

UBRS was a strange sort of place. You'd go in and do some raid-like stuff such as struggle to find a competent hunter and a druid (not competent, just a druid) and people would find new and creative ways to wipe the group. Bosses could have some interesting mechanics, but nothing too major. It was somewhere between raiding and 5-mans, but clearly on the side of 5-mans.

This was the best raid ever. Hands down (unless we're doing OWS finger waving things in which case it is hands up, but seriously, stop doing that). Nothing comes close. Why? Why indeed.

You know what? I could go on all day, night, tomorrow, and probably keep going about everything that was great. But I'm not going to. That's right, I'm just going to say that Karazhan was awesome and was a 10-man raid, and then walk away.

Alterac Valley
This is one case where I think having more people was critical. It was the sheer number of people that made AV what it was. Well that and an unusually important PvE element in a BG which was gradually nerfed into oblivion, somehow taking the PvP with it, until it was reduced to a boss race and I went home to cry.

Alterac Valley was the oversized place. There were a lot of people and there were a lot of flags and graveyards. It was like Texas if Texas were colder and the immigrants shot back more often. I think in this analogy the Orcs are Texans and the Dwarves are immigrants, which reverses just about everything we'd usually expect, given the dwarvish love of guns and the orcs being illegal aliens.

In a sense, AV was an oversized AB. You'd run around and try to capture flags and then the other side would try to take them back. Then people would yell at you to fight at the flag and someone else would run around behind everyone else and capture it. So then we'd all fight on some other road. Then at the end the winner would fight a boss while a bunch of idiots tried to wipe them, much like raiding. Mechanically, AV was like a giant AB, but by making it so big, it made it different.

It's not the size that matters, it's what you're trying to do with it.
UBRS isn't an easymode raid, it is an oversized dungeon and does not pretend to be anything else. Similarly, back when several of the dungeons were 10-mans, they were oversized dungeons, not easymode raids. Part of this is that they were not easymode, at least not at the gear level of people who ran them.

In contrast, an easymode raid will not be an oversized dungeon. It will pretend to offer challenges, and then not. It will pretend to require coordination, and then not. It will put on all the appearances of a real raid, and then not be that.

Karazhan, while a small raid, was not easymode. It would kill you and kill you again and then make you play chess. Then kill you for losing at chess. It was small so you could round up people without too much difficulty, though certainly nothing compared to an automated tool that can bring in anyone and then just as easily get rid of them so you don't accidentally form any human connections. With the attunement changed, Karazhan was accessible without being trivial. If someone still won't run it, then the raid is not the problem.

Government Accountability or Lack Thereof

| Monday, November 14, 2011
Hey Britain, WAKE UP. Especially you, lazy government employees. And you, BBC, you dropped the ball on this one. Or walloped the loo or whatever ridiculous phrase you have.

Downing Street is overrun with vermin because the ...

Okay on second thought, it appears that NPR had the BBC as its source for this story. So good job, BBC, I'm glad to see you're so proud to be taking over American media. Anyway, government incompetence.

No. 10 Downing Street's semi-official mouser is being defended despite mouse sightings at the glorified shack. Even worse, since being brought on in the winter, "Larry" has caught only 3 mice as of June. Either that place has so few mice that an official mouser is a waste of taxpayer dollars, or as you ridiculously call them, pounds, or the mouser us utterly incompetent. Or lazy.

Just look at that lazy, lazy cat.

Purple Pixel People

On Friday masterlooter suggested
There are players that like to raid (read: defeat difficult encounters with many other players), and there are players that want purple pixels.
I'm sure he didn't mean it as a dichotomy for the overall population, but for the population that raids. In other words, some people raid to raid and some people raid for loot. Even then, it's a bit of a stark divide. I raided because I enjoyed it, but I definitely liked the loot as well. I know that my preferences are not universal, but I think that the particular trait, being able to enjoy both an activity and the reward from it, is universal, or fairly close. People can enjoy raiding and enjoy getting loot and may raid partially for loot and partially for the experience.

In fact, I think these are linked, and that's the root of the problem with easymode raids. Despite my absurd claim that loot has intrinsic value based on the number attached to it, it doesn't. Loot is relative. Relatively relative.

Gear rewards have two parts: the gear (tool) and reward (reward). Higher stats make me better able to play and are a useful tool when attempting to kill internet dragons. But the loot itself, regardless of the stats, has a reward aspect to it, which is derived from the experience. The loot is a symbol of the experience. For example, getting Thunderfury was effectively useless as a tool because by the time I got it it was a couple expansions behind and was more useful to a different class anyway. But as a symbolic reward, it was tied to many experiences. It drew from my early days in MC and the status of such a weapon back then. It symbolized the time I had spent farming MC in BC and LK. It symbolized a social effort to get the raid members I needed and to find the materials as well. Also it just looks awesome.

From that we can see that the gear reward is not a matter of the stats or power of the item, but of the meaning it carries for the player. Certain tier pieces in BC symbolized having struggling and succeeded to kill a tricky boss. These days the stats would be laughable, but the symbolic meaning is still there.

Over time this meaning has become ingrained in the item system. Higher level gear came from higher level raids which required more perseverance, more struggle, more skill (please don't argue this last one, it never gets anywhere). With this pattern firmly established, it would be easy to see how the connection could get reversed. Gear, carrying the symbolic meaning of some achievement, could substitute for the achievement. To a limited degree this can work, with badges giving that tier piece that never dropped or in my case, going back later to get the badass sword that shamans could not use. If an experience gave loot, then it is not unreasonable to think that the loot implies the experience. Loot can become fun.

That connection relies on the loot, the reward, being linked most strongly to the specific experience. There can be side links, such as the badge system, but the reward should primarily invoke the main experience, such as killing a particular boss.

That connection can be distorted or broken if the reward changes sources. If a chest piece started off coming from a very hard raid, we'd link it to that raid. If much easier content began to give that reward, then the link changes. This is not necessarily a bad thing. That easier content could be a lot of fun, in which case the reward switches the link from challenge to fun. For some that is better, for some it is worse, but objectively we can't say that the item is degraded. However, if the easier content is not fun, then the reward switches the link from challenge to drudgery. In that case, the item is degraded.

So to get back to the Purple Pixel People, there may be people who are attracted to purple or big numbers, but they are a minority. Most people are instead attracted to the symbolism of the items and how they evoke an experience, maybe fun, maybe challenging, maybe social. The reward is a means to an end, the end being the experience. This can happen directly, with the reward-as-tool allowing them to confront and overcome the challenge. It can happen indirectly, with the reward giving them the image of one who has overcome the challenge, like putting on a uniform to appear authoritative, or lacy underwear to appear pretty. Not that I am suggesting that I or any other raiders, former or present, do or have done that.

There is also status. Good gear confers, or is hoped by the player to confer, status. "Look at this gear and know that I am a badass." This works as long as the gear is primarily linked to something badass, such as killing something badass. If the gear is instead linked to spending ten hours a day watching My Little Pony (before the remake of it), then even if it could also be gotten from a world-first Sargeras kill, it wouldn't confer much status.

Maybe I haven't quite convinced you, so I'm going to make you an offer. I'm running an MMO and if you want, I can give you a full suit of Awesomeslayer Armor which has +tenbajillion^7 attack damage power. Do you want it? Let me assure you, this armor is way better than anything else out there. Do you want it? Better question: Do you even care? Probably not. The armor has no link to anything, no symbolic meaning and no clear usefulness, given that for all you know my MMO was made up on the spot to prove a point. What if I said that it has a particularly purple shade of purple text? No? Okay.

In conclusion, Purple Pixel People are an irrelevant minority that are not protected under anti-discrimination laws so I can safely say that. If people appear to want epics, it is because they want epic experiences. It is because they want content. That does not mean it is content that showers them with loot. In fact, a loot shower may be counter-productive, as well as dangerous if we were to imagine the literal scenario.

No Easymode Raids!

| Friday, November 11, 2011
Raiding isn't a nice activity. It demands time, lots in the game, lots outside. It demands difficult-to-form groups, whether by size or by rigid class makeup, or both. It is an exclusive activity. It excludes people. It can, of course, be tweaked to excluded fewer people. Consumable timesinks can be reduced. Gear timesinks can be reduced. Saving IDs week to week can reduce the per-week time needed to advance.

But raiding is not an inclusive activity. Raiding is not something that should reach out and embrace you and invite you in. Nor should it demand that you do it. It should just be there, silently waiting, possibly giving you a hostile glare until you meet its standards.

All this "PUG-friendly" or "easymode" raid stuff is nonsense. It's just redefining raiding. I know there aren't distinct lines, but if raids get smaller, easier, and shorter, why are we calling them raids? Why would we make something like that? It's redundant! There is already a 5-man content type: regular dungeons and heroics. These fit the model of "PUG-friendly" raiding Tobold pushes
  • do *not* have studied the "dance" on YouTube,
  • do *not* have spend hundreds of hours gearing up before even trying the first boss in the first raid,
  • do *not* have an uninterrupted block of 4+ hours available,
  • do *not* consider wiping 400 times before the first boss kill reasonable,
  • and finally do *not* have above average skills in moving fast or playing their character extremely well.

Except perhaps the last one, 5-mans and heroics are all of those. So why make easymode raids too? What are they adding? Is it the size of the random crowd? I'm just trying to imagine the conversation here.

"Hey boss, we have some new dungeons for you to look over." "Great, let's see them." "Check it out, anyone can get in, it's not too hard, not too many out-of-game requirements." "Yea, it's great, but could you figure out a way to have a lot more people?" "Why?" "I don't know. It's a great dungeon and all, but maybe it just needs five or twenty more people."

There's the problem, right there. Somehow this absurd idea got out that everyone wants to raid because somehow being in a huge group makes everything better. It doesn't. When I think back to the typical random, the last thought on my mind was "You know what this group needs? Even more of these people." It wasn't that they were bad, since for the most part they did well enough. It was that they were not people. It's an asocial experience to run with randoms. Adding even more random people does not make that any better. If anything it would make it much worse. Have you ever been in a big group but felt left out or generally just not part of it? That is random raiding.

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a player never seeing anyone a second time, ever.

Facerolling through heroics wasn't much fun. Making that bigger isn't going to fix it.

5-man content has been long-neglected, with Blizzard papering over the flaws of it with game mechanics rather than content fixes. Random heroics were their attempt at filling heroics that no one wanted to run and to get people who didn't want to run heroics to keep running them. LFD was their way to fill up heroics that people were done with. These did not fix heroics. Nor will random raiding fix raiding, if it is even broken. I don't believe it is. Instead I believe that LK pushed a bad philosophy that everyone should raid and everyone should raid one tier of content.

Raiding isn't for everyone. So don't make it for everyone. To do so would be as ridiculous as trying to design a Hummer to appeal to Prius owners. They are different markets and no amount of hybrid fuel-cell solar-powered hemp-tailored-seating will change the basic fact that a Hummer is a really big vehicle for people who need or want a really big vehicle and a Prius is a small car with fancy stuff to make it fuel-efficient for people who like to be fuel-efficient. Different markets.

If we imagine and accept that only a fraction of players want to raid, then what about the remaining fraction? Note that this remaining fraction might be a bigger fraction. Also note that non-raid content can still be fun for raiders without being raid content and without being a gateway to raid content. There you go: don't waste time turning raiding into not-raiding, which raiders won't want to do because it's a crappy version of raiding and non-raiders won't want to do because it's a crappy version of raiding. Instead, make non-raid content! That isn't a daily!

-Add more outdoor content, that isn't in the form of dailies.
-Add more 5-man content, some of which is not done in half an hour.
-Add sets to non-raid content.

Coming next week: I find the exceptions that make the ideas in the post sound stupid.

Better is Different

Are 3 and 4 different numbers? Yes. But they are still numbers, so we can line them up and say that 4 is bigger than 3 and if we're talking about money 4 is better and if we're talking about debt 3 is better. If your bank account goes from 3 digits to 4, that's better. But what if you're measuring something and it goes from 3 to D? Well sure, D is the 4th letter, so maybe we can say it is higher and depending on the perspective, better, but it is also different.

Better is different, but different is not always better.

What is better for you can be worse for someone else. Or for the same person, some parts are better, some parts are worse. This is what has been happening with WoW.

But let's not get into vague ideas like lobby vs. world. Instead, let's talk paladins.

A long while ago there was no such thing as Forbearance. This meant that a paladin could use divine shield right after blessing of protection. Back then there was no mass dispel, so beside a bug involving lag and shamans, divine shield could not be removed. And it lasted 12 seconds. Take note of that time: even with a GCD that is enough to use a hearthstone. It was pretty sweet.

On top of that, Divine Protection used to be a funny sort of spell. It was basically a bad version of divine shield. Priests had a spell like this as well, one of their heals. And of course paladins had a purify spell which was like cleanse but didn't remove magic. Anyway, Divine Protection made the paladins completely invincible just like Divine Shield, but didn't last as long, and made the paladin unable to attack. Of course they could still heal.

Now imagine, as a melee class, trying to fight someone who can heal himself, wears plate, and has three different ways to become entirely immune to physical damage. Not easy!

Over time their toughness has been nerfed. Heavily. Now the bubbles last less time and can be removed, along with triggering forbearance.

It's not all bad though. It may be better overall. Better, but different. Losing all that durability has gone along with some other changes.

Damage has gone up significantly. Paladin damage is no longer a joke. Oh sure, run your numbers and you might find it is too low (I have no clue where it is these days), but wherever it is, it's definitely higher than it was. Mana regeneration is higher. Control of damage is higher. Just plain hitting things hard is higher. If a paladin wants to DPS, they have some chance at it. This was not always the case. People wrote songs about it.

Despite the durability of a paladin, they were not popular tanks either. With almost no regeneration, since back then it mostly came from spirit and seal/judgement of wisdom, which was nowhere near adequate, especially since using seal of wisdom would mean a huge aggro loss. It didn't help that only warriors had tanking sets. Even in BC paladins were in an awkward spot in gear design, using up stats for intellect before mana generation was sorted out in LK (mostly). On top of mana problems, aggro wasn't so easy either. While righteous fury gave a major boost to holy damage aggro, it was a magic ability and could be removed. This was trouble for some bosses. Again, even in BC there was a boss that would spam dispel magic, which made him very tricky to tank, since righteous fury was expensive.

Despite the durability, a quirk of the spell scaling system meant that using a low rank of flash of light with good gear could result in incomparable efficiency. Even with the crap regen, paladin healers could go for a long time, thanks to getting a good bit of healing out of a very cheap spell. So maybe they were good healers. For one target. Spamming one ability for hours on end. While wearing a dress that was clearly not designed for them, so it was not even remotely flattering. Ugh. Terrible times. These days there is gear designed for it, so the priests don't whine so much. The spells are more interesting. Even I, a person who never quite enjoyed healing, can say that paladin healing has improved.

And yet, and yet...

It was fun to see a rogue kill himself punching my shield while feeding me reckoning charges so I could punch back twice as often. I'm not saying that the same punch was giving both, since obviously if you're blocking you aren't getting crit, so no reckoning, at least until they changed it.

A paladin soloed* a level 60 40-man raid boss. At level 60. Thanks to an old old version of reckoning. Balanced? Perhaps not. Awesome? Yes.

* I suppose you could argue it was a two-person operation, since the rogue did help.

This video is why I made a paladin, made her protection, and an engineer. This shit was the shit. For some perspective, those plans were not easy to get, coming from what was not a particularly hard raid, but it did require 40 people and had a low drop rate. My first shields were made by another engineer, who it turned out was about to drop it (my timing is incredible), because it wasn't good enough. Psh. Who needs stupid stats when they can make mind-control helms and cloaking devices? That running around he did in the place with the skeletons, that was Scholomance, back when it was level 60, and really not a place for someone to be soloing. Of course a mage did it(the entire place) because they wish they were as good as warlocks. Of whom I cannot find a video of one soloing it. I'm sure I saw it... Surely a warlock can do anything a mage can do, but better; that's the whole point of them!

Anyway, balance was a hazy concept back then. Things are better now. Better, but different, and different isn't always better.

Down with the Squish!

| Thursday, November 10, 2011
There's this "squish" idea floating around.

Let me make this clear: this is a terrible idea. Sure, it has some fringe benefits regarding inflation, but the main impact of it is negative: punishing success.

The true problem is idiots who make stupid assumptions. The main stupid assumption being that everything is relative, so that item levels must show relative gains rather than absolute gains. Wrong. Economic relativity is a myth used to justify the greediness of lazy people.

Let's try some basic facts.
1) Item level has increased since vanilla
2) Raiding participation has increased since vanilla.


Let's try a basic labor supply model.

As we can see here, the Demand for raiders is at 100%, meaning that Blizzard wants everyone to raid. Since it is vertical, it indicates that Blizzard wants everyone to raid, no matter how many epics or item levels it takes to get them. The horizontal lines are essentially "price ceilings": Blizzard's determination of how many epics players can get. This is the wage rate. Now look at the Supply line, which clearly shows that as the available epics increase, there will be more raiders. This perfectly fits the trend, at least until Cataclysm, when Blizzard screwed up the market for epic raiders by trying to make us wear blues.

Note that when there are enough epics, players will give 110%. This explains the success of heroic raids.

So what does the squish do on this graph? Obviously it sets a new "epic ceiling" somewhere above the vanilla level but below the cataclysm level. This will reduce the number of raiders, harming the epic economy.

In other words, the "squish" will kill raiding, not save it.

Is the government kidnapping Cataclysm players?

| Wednesday, November 9, 2011
People keep throwing around wild theories for why subscriber numbers are down. Some people say that Cataclysm was a failure of an expansion. Other people say that something happened with China so WoW lost people from there. And still others claim it was a massive, near-simultaneous burnout, which merely by coincidence is during this expansion, suggesting that even if Blizzard had released an expansion called, and containg the relevant content: "Journey to Awesomeland: Let's all be Awesome, but not too Awesome, because that would ruin the fun, so let's go to Awesomeland and be moderately Awesome. Woo!" Yea, these wackos think that expansion would have been a 'failure' too.

Let's consider something more reasonable: the government is kidnapping Cataclysm players. I'm not saying it is part a sinister conspiracy to brain wash a large population which has already been trained to ignore morality in favor of following orders and getting rewards, in order to create a thinking but perfectly obedient army of super-soldiers. That just sounds ridiculous.

Instead I'm saying that on December 7th, Blizzard released Cataclysm. Within two weeks a man set himself on fire and the Arab world rose up. Coincidence? To us, probably. But governments are understandably nervous of the potential radicalizing effects of a game based on perpetual violence and killing whoever is most powerful. They may see the mass detention of WoW players as a simple cautionary measure to prevent more uprisings. And maybe the data supports them. One September 17th Wall Street was occupied. A month later Blizzcon was held and people yelled a lot while at the same time, people yelled a lot in New York and other cities. Again, the links are tenuous, but cannot and should not be ignored. The "squish" is proposed which would flatten item levels and essentially reduce the ilevel wealth gap, while a man who proposed a flat tax is accused of sexual harassment, not long after a homophobic rant at the previously mentioned Blizzcon. It all fits together just a little too well to be ignored.

Add to that the widespread and by democratic principles, correct, fear that gamers are violent asocial monsters and it is obvious that it would be negligent for the government to not be locking up WoW players en mass. Of course I saw this coming, which is why I quit, changed my name, and fled to a foreign country. Well, technically it is still part of the US, and my name is the same, and I think of it as more of a passive "lost interest" rather than an active "I quit", but beside being completely inaccurate, my point stands.

And that point is: run while you can, they are coming for you, and they are perfectly justified in doing so.

You monster.

One last data point: the prison population is going up while the WoW population is going down. See?

Cataclysm is not the problem with WoW. Mass arrests of WoW players are the problem.

And what's with all the unmarked white vans driving around?

Medal of Honor: Now with Beards

Do you remember my review of Homefront? Well, this game has a similar "doesn't feel quite right" vibe to it. But it is not a worthless pile of crap either. I would recommend it, just not at full price.

I think the problem is that I thought it would be realistic. This was probably stupid of me, since a realistic portrayal of war would be a lot less fun.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that my impression of war in Afghanistan involves a lot of the following:
- Trying to not shoot civilians
- Having a really hard to identifying civilians

I as a player never had to deal with any of these.

There were a lot of scripted events that included these or similarly unfun problems in war. In one cutscene a trigger-happy general ended up having us fire on Afghan soldiers. There were a couple scripted bits involving rigged objects, such as corpses and huts.

I as a player never had to wonder if something was rigged. I ran where there were no bullets and that was about it. Maybe this is because of gameplay. It would be a bit frustrating if there were random IEDs that could kill me. It would be pointless if they were in fixed locations that I could just remember.

I never wondered if I might shoot a civilian. If there was any uncertainty, it was scripted, and merely waiting would yield the answer. While waiting I was not in danger. The closest to this involved a few areas where I was shooting with friendlies nearby, which can be hard to identify if I am using heat vision. But that's okay, friendly fire seemed to either do no damage or was small enough to not matter.

To top off the strangeness of it all, while I could always perfectly identify enemies, the intel we acted on seemed to be absolute garbage. They expect a few guys and there is an army. This created a lot of dissonance for me.

Speaking of armies, I was not expecting the Taliban and Al'Queda fighters to be so willing to run straight into my shots. Sure, some of them are fanatics who want martyrdom, but it appeared that 99% of enemies were hoping to die while the remaining 1% were in charge of retreating and getting shot in the back. I know that Afghanistan had some of the traditional style of war: "a bunch of guys with guns shoot at each other for a while", but I don't think I ever dealt with a hit-and-run or any ambushes which did not involve at least 30 enemies who of course all died. Not a single suicide bomber.

It was symmetric warfare: what they lacked in technology they made up for with numbers. Lots of numbers. I'd have my fancy guns and awe-inspiring air support and they'd have lots of people. As best as I could tell, the US had around ten thousand soldiers and the Taliban had around ten bajillion. I suspect we were secretly fighting the Chinese.

I ran into a few bugs. Nothing disastrous, but annoying of course. At one point the Taliban units didn't all spawn, so they couldn't all die, so I couldn't advance, despite the area being clear. Going to the previous checkpoint fixed that. At another point, it seems that one of the kills was part of a scripted event: grab guy and bash his head, then drop down. But for some reason it was possible to find a gun before that point, which seemed to disable the bash guy's head script, making it impossible to move forward.

On to the good parts:

The stories are pretty interesting. I won't spoil them, but I felt like they tied together well. Everything felt connected, with a real sense that what one group was doing was not isolated, but was part of a network of support and cooperation. In this aspect it felt a bit more like a real war than the random and disconnected campaigns from the standard "shoot a million Nazis" WWII FPS.

In general, beside the one general, the American forces looked totally badass. Pinned down? Air strike is there in 30 seconds. Still pinned? More air strike. Still pinned? There is an American badass a second away from killing everyone. Maybe this as the true point of the game: to make America look badass. Of course it also looked incredibly expensive (precision munitions aren't cheap!), but definitely cost-effective, especially if we consider that until you bomb a bunker it has unlimited reinforcements. Though there was the one mission where, as best as I could tell, we lost the entire ground army except for eight guys, four of whom were not present at the battle. This might explain the ready availability of air support; there are hundreds of aircraft supporting eight people.

The gameplay itself is pretty good. In general I found myself using the given weapons, usually some sort of American gun. But at a few points I found myself picking up other guns due to being unable to get to anyone to beg for ammo. There is enough variation in the guns to be worth a little thought (though not a ton). When I had a machine gun, I took advantage of the huge capacity, a necessity given the long reload time. I often didn't use the sights, because if my goal is to throw lead in a general direction to keep people scared, accuracy seemed pointless. In contrast the assault rifles had me firing in more controlled bursts. The shotgun got some use near the end, when I found myself short on ammo, unable to get to allies, and unwilling to trade my scoped gun for an enemy gun with just iron sights.

The ammo was a mixed bag for me: given that there are a few infinite respawn parts, it was nice that friendly AI could give me more ammo. But it also seemed a bit strange that they are apparently all carrying a billion rounds. Overall I thought it was a decent compromise: I can only carry so much and have to take some care, but I won't find myself getting saved at a checkpoint with no ammo.

As would be expected, the game is on rails, but they aren't quite as narrow as I expected. There is some side to side room for maneuvering, which could lead to actually choosing different tactics rather than just "shoot better". The health system is the popular "wounds heal very quickly" system, which I like. I also appreciated that checkpoints are not too widely spread. I am easily annoyed by repeating long scripted elements and for the most part, I did not have to.

The friendly AI can actually contribute. At one point an objective was completed by the AI getting the last kill. Of course I still need to "push" the group to keep it moving, but that seems reasonable, since these guys aren't big on leaving anyone behind, particularly when there are only eight guys left.

As for the enemy AI, it isn't omniscient, though it does seem more perceptive than I'd expect. It won't see out the back of its head, but often out of the corner of its eye. That's fine by me, since it means I can move around a bit and flank them without things getting silly. In contrast, compare the extremes where the AI always knows where you are, or in Splinter Cell: Conviction where it will remember a last known location, and then obsess over that location, going straight for it without seeming to consider that the player can move.

The single-player campaign took about 4-6 hours. I know that is broad. I forgot when I had started playing. It was daylight savings and my sleep clock had decided to take advantage of the time change by screwing up my sleep horribly. I was on around 4 hours of sleep, so please pardon the inexact game time.

So overall, I'd recommend this game if you like shooting people and need to lose a few hours. But don't pay $50 or whatever they charge these days.

Realism, Simulation, Immersion, Choice, and Accuracy

| Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Realism! Check out the details on this gun. This game doesn't have to be 20 Gb, but if you want guns that look this good, then it does. You'll want a new video card too. Newer than that one. What do you mean I don't even know what card you have? This is a new, realistic game, of course you can't handle it!

It seems to me that when developers talk about realism they aim for visual realism. They make it look like what it is supposed to be. Presumably looking like it is good enough. But if visuals and sound (I forgot sound) are all it takes, then we'd all have PTSD from all those war movies. And from the similarly visually stunning FPS that they keep churning out.

Visuals do not guarantee immersion.

The problem is simulation. What is being simulated? I'm reminded of the 'simulator' we had for driver's ed back in high school. We'd all sit in our little driver's seats with a decent recreation of a steering wheel, gear shift, turn signal, pedals, and other stuff which I'm sure is important (aren't you glad I don't drive much?). It was realistic. The visuals weren't so great, being projected a bit far away on the big screen at the front of the room.

It was a great simulation in all aspects, except two: immersion and choice. Notice how I said the visuals are projected on the screen? Yea, one screen for all of us. We watched a film from a driver's seat and were meant to react to it, but there was almost no feedback. The car went forward whether I braked or floored it. The car turned left regardless of where the wheel was. It didn't even matter if the car was 'on'.

Sound familiar? How about your average FPS? As much as WoW is 'on rails', it is a gloriously free and open-ended sandbox compared to your average FPS. Assault this objective! Do not try to climb over the fence. Except that one fence that is scripted to be climbable. You must climb that one. Is this like war? Well sure, there are times when taking any other path will get you filled with bullets, shrapnel, poison, or dirt which is moving at a high speed relative to your body despite being, from most perspectives, stationary. But can you imagine a soldier that he cannot flank the enemy by hopping a fence or crawling around the back way, that he will instead attack a dozen enemies head-on? And of course he never, ever has backup or the option to retreat. That last one is realistic if we're talking about Soviet soldiers in WWII, but outside of that one specific example, which admittedly covers a lot of territory and numbers, there are some options.

The problem is that immersion requires not just appearance, but also choice.

This may mean a loss of historical accuracy while also being more historically realistic. Washington could have done things differently. He had the choice. He happened to take the choices that led to me being here in the best greatest country ever put here by God, in contrast with other countries which were obviously put here by Satan. But he could have ended up as a Loyalist. He had the choice and if we were to play the American Revolution FPS, we'd better get the chance to betray all we stand for in return for evil British gold.

On a side note, FPS aren't quite as much fun before semi-automatic weapons. I played one based on the Civil War once. It was a bit annoying. You'd shoot and then take approximately ten minutes to reload and shoot again, making it slightly more interactive than a vanilla paladin, but that's another story.

There are narrative limits. I cannot imagine the size of the budget required to write, script, and test the endless possibilities for Mr. Pre-President. We'd need sci-fi-style cloning just to get enough writers. So fine, let's force him to be a traitor. But does he have to freeze his ass off in Valley Forge? Can he pay Benedict Arnold so he doesn't pull a Benedict Arnold?

This may be why I enjoy Civilization so much. It isn't historically accurate, and come to think of it, it isn't historically realistic either, but it's something historical. It captures the possibilities. It shows how decisions matter. The butterfly effects of choices are often amazing to see. The potential for greatness, and evil, is nearly limitless. Because of this, despite what the mechanics or graphics might lack, it achieves a level of realistic immersion.

This semi-sandbox sort of play is a source of replay value. The 'story' is different each time. Maybe one game I find myself in a peaceful world where science and cultures are the 'wars'. At another time, I may see perpetual war, shifting alliances, and half a continent burned down (I still maintain that I had no territorial ambitions, which is why I destroyed it all).

Even when there is an overall developer-created narrative path, sandbox elements can help. Take Stalker for example. Ultimately you will do the final thing, whether it is killing the C-Consciousness or dying horribly in Shadow of Chernobyl or leaving the Zone in Call of Pripyat. Yea, a bit of a strange ending: you leave. No great discoveries or victories, merely escape. But along the way there are choices. You can side with various factions. Traveling you can try to protect fellow Stalkers or leave them to their deaths. Or assist them in dying. Maybe you skip half the missions and beeline for the ending cutscene, a choice which sounds remarkably stupid to me, but which sounds quite a bit like the leveling-skippers of WoW. I actually played through CoP a few times, finding more that I had missed and seeing what choices I could make differently.

Admittedly these are essentially cosmetic choices. The economy in the game is easy enough that a vendor benefit isn't needed. A few weapons are different, but nothing is unavailable, just a little harder to get. But it is enough. I can play as I would if I were actually there. Or, as I would if I were actually there but not hiding in a corner weeping, because let's face it, there is no way I'd be going into a dark cave, alone except for the scary mutants lurking all around.

And yet, as much as I might praise choice and various approaches to realism, sometimes it's nice to take the straightforward route and shoot Nazis in the face.

WoWing around again: Hillsbrad (Horde-side, just in case Alliance has quests here too)

| Monday, November 7, 2011
"Yes, this horse IS made of STARS."

"Bears are soulless beasts put upon this earth to torment us."

"The mine spiders refuse command and are running rampant."

Yea, we're off to a good start.

Rogues, take note when shackling webbed prisoners: they do not die, they despawn. That means your combo points cannot be used for recuperate. It's a small problem given the general harmlessness of enemies, particularly when overleveled.

Moving on to other entirely unacceptable failures of game development: the murlocs do not flee.

On the plus side, Dumass is the best-designed escort NPC ever. Mostly because he acts like a normal escort NPC but has the dialogue to back it up.

Sludge Fields: Who keeps screaming? And then, like any good quest will do, the question is answered. But while we're talking about good quests, is it really necessary to retcon all the player actions from vanilla? I realize that respawns and that sort of thing were all necessary mechanics in lieu of a dynamic world, but did they have to rewrite the stories as well? It doesn't seem like a good way to bring back old players if every other quest says "you did nothing." The quest in question and the associated book were good reads, but would anything have been lost by renaming the NPCs?

I feel bad for Jenny Awesome. All the quests seem to have been miswritten and used "he", but the Forsaken know she's a she. For some strange reason, the quest to save the humans is not repeatable. Lost opportunity there, Blizzard!

Apparently the Forsaken have begun recycling. Oh look, Helcular is here, brought back by "a group of heroes" WAS THAT SO HARD!? Now if he'd quit whipping out his rod at every opportunity...

Quest objective: "Explain to Orkus that he is standing in shallow water." This all ended in sadness, and not just because of how the quest turned out.

Tarren Mill requires level 21. My time was done. But at least I got to fight angry slimes.

Sometimes it is safer to fight to the death

| Saturday, November 5, 2011
I love how Civilization gives us the tools to create our own history, and just like historical world leaders, commit atrocities on a scale that the human mind cannot comprehend.

I noticed that the Iroquois were a bit big and powerful. This was not a good thing and it could not end well. The last time someone got big and powerful they attacked me and I had to burn down a couple of their cities and capture an allied city state. Serves you right, Ramesses II. All I wanted was to be left alone and by burning down your cities I proved that I was only neutralizing a threat and had no territorial ambitions. Beside Japan.

Anyway, the point I was trying to get at was that I attacked the Iroquois. My plan was to burn down about half their empire and then take a generous peace offer. Then I'd burn down half of Germany, because they were making me nervous too. I went about it in a systematic fashion, capturing a city, burning it, capturing the next, burning it. Just being a reasonable world leader looking out for the interests of his people.

Somehow, he successfully recognized that my army was larger and more advanced (don't mess with the Cho-Ko-Nu). And then he offered a treaty. A very generous treaty. He gave me some gold. And every single city beside his capitol.

I just want to reiterate, this was a defensive war and I have no territorial ambitions.

So I burned down the entire empire that he'd handed over to me.

The populations of the cities you see add up to about 68. I'd already burned down two cities of around 5 each by this point. The demographics screen wasn't of any help. Maybe the census doesn't bother with people who are going to be immolated soon. Or it excludes foreigners. But I'd put the deaths in the millions.

For some context, I have conveniently played on an "earth" map. That put the burned-down area as approximately the entire European portion of the former USSR.

In related news, Australia seems to be completely overrun with barbarians.

Spake English!

| Friday, November 4, 2011
Sometimes I hear people speaking something other than English, such as Mandarin or English English. I do the logical thing and yell at them. Then we argue, usually about the geopolitics of the day. I'm a bit of an ideologue and refuse to budge from my principles, such as denying the existence of the Welsh. It all gets a bit confusing because they keep on speaking their non-English language, so we do a bit of arguing past each other, but I assure you, I argue past them a lot better.

But these arguments are a lot more productive than the average one regarding casuals. At least when I start random arguments with foreigners (I assume they are foreign, since Americans speak English) they recognize that we might see eye to eye (metaphorically, some of the old English English men I yell at are a bit hunched) but are not speaking the same language, so some meaning gets lost in the lack of translation.

The casual-harcore arguments never have this benefit. I say casual and you say casual and the word sounds the same, with maybe one person saying it more like "cash-ual" and another more like "ca-zhual", and maybe a "cassual" to complete the mix. But the minor variation in sound fails to alert us to the not-so-minor variation in meaning.

Is casual a time thing? How much time?

Or maybe it is an interest thing. This one seems strange, since someone playing a game they aren't interested in sounds more like "stupid" than "casual".

Is it the fullness of the care cup? Competitiveness? Research? Social ties?

We could look up the dictionary definition, but that wouldn't be of much use, since we're not going to all suddenly switch to the meaning used by Oxford. Beside, they're sorta elitist about their words.

I wonder if we should even bother to use the word. In *ahem* casual conversation it could still be of some use as a generic pointer toward a direction on a spectrum, but if we want to say something more than that? Useless! Worse than useless, counter-productive!

Imagine if one day WoW removed targeting in favor of aiming, so that spells and attacks had to be manually pointed at targets. An FPS player might like this. An RPG player who is more used to the 'sticky' system might not. Certainly the targeting makes it a bit harder, but is it hardcore? The FPS player might say yes. The RPG player might say no, that it is dumbing down and ruining the genre to suit the stupid FPS players.

It is almost as useless as the terms conservative and liberal. Less so only because at least casual doesn't suddenly flip in meaning when going from America to Europe the way liberal does. Apparently over there "liberal" means "libertarianish" (this is Europe we're talking about) whereas here it means "nannystater who takes your money to force black people to get abortions", in contrast with "progressive" which means either "person who wants to improve things" or "cancer".

We need a new word. Or no, no mere word, but a format. A code. I suggest these parameters for measurement, on scales of 1-9 with 1 being lowest and 10 highest. Roughly-speaking, higher scores are more 'hardcore', but I want to emphasize the "roughly-speaking" part.

Time investment: Ranges from "now and then" to "second job"
Emotional investment: Ranges from "meh" to "It's not stalking if I plan to murder the loot ninja at the end."
Knowledge: Ranges from "Press buttons and pretty!" to "I've found a bug in the boss code showing that he is using 'Hyperspace Doom' a tenth of a second sooner than intended"
Customization: "I changed a couple keys so I stopped pressing quickload instead of quicksave" to "my keyboard cost more than your computer and I have a contract with Apple to redesign my UI"

This would give scores ranging from 4 to 36. It would start at zero, but I'm pretty sure that if someone has a time, knowledge, or emotional investment of zero, they are not playing the game. Even a customization of zero suggests that they may or may not have a keyboard. The reason it goes 1-9 rather than the more common 1-10 is that this way it all fits into a 4-digit code, a convenience which I'm sure will be appreciated when everyone in the world adopts my new standard for game communication.

It still needs some work. For example, emotional investment is going to be linked to all of the rest, with emotion and time forming a feedback loop. Knowledge can be expected to generally increase with time and emotion, and may increase customization. These are not perfectly independent factors. It may not be appropriate to have them all on the same scales. Customization may call for a wider range, in fact, since buying special hardware just to play a specific game strikes me as pretty hardcore. Or it may merely follow from a high emotional investment.

For myself during the height of my WoW days, I'm estimating scores something like this:
Time: 7
Emotion: 6
Knowledge: 8
Customization: 5
I spent a lot of time, cared quite a bit, knew a lot about the game, mostly within lore but a great deal about classes and raids, but my UI was a sort of on and off thing. The off coming with a new patch where I'd have to check the "load out of date addons" box and put up with constant UI errors until one day I got around to downloading an updated version. That might sound like less than 5, but considering I had a bar, gear, UI, and multiple AH and mail addons, I think that makes 5 a minimum. If it wasn't all so haphazard I'd probably put it higher.

That would make me a 7685 or 26 combined, or 72% harcore. That sounds about right to me.

What's your score?

He's So Tough

| Thursday, November 3, 2011
The captain was a tough guy; there was no denying that. At night after we had too much to drink we'd all sit around and play a game where we'd make up ever more outrageous stories of how tough he was. We were supposed to go until someone was obviously lying, but somehow it never happened. He was just that tough.

"The captain is so tough, I heard he plays Russian Roulette every night."

"That's him!"

"I heard he plays with only one empty."


"I saw him. He uses a pistol."


It was my turn.

"I heard he doesn't bow to social pressure and risk his life over a pointless game with no payoff."

"You're lying."

"No really, I can't believe he'd be so dumb as to..."


"To the captain!"

F$#%ing gaffes

| Wednesday, November 2, 2011
I find gaffes funny. And that's about it. At the moment someone said something silly; so what?

It annoys me when I see people try to attach more meaning to it. For example: recent thing with Rick Perry and the American Revolution.

The Texas governor answered a female student’s question on the topic by saying that one of the reasons our founding fathers "fought the revolution in the 16th century was to get away from that type of onerous crown."
Is he saying that the Revolution was in the 1500s (which would be pretty bad)? Actually, no! Here's what I think happened:

What do we call the 1900s? The 20th century. Notice how the year and the century are off by one? I get this wrong a lot. I'll say 19th century to refer to 1900s. It's a conversion that we have to make all the time. Year + 1 = Century From this we can see that Perry's mind just had a little reversal: Century + 1 = Year, so if the year was 1700s then century is 16th.

It's a minor, extremely minor, mental mixup.

Minecraft and why everything is over budget

I thought I'd done a decent survey of the caves near my desert town. They seemed wide, but shallow. I could easily enough dig them out. Layer some dirt, pour in some water, and I could have a neat green valley next to my desert town. It wasn't a two-hour project, but it was something I could get down in a reasonable bit of time.

Then I did some more exploring.

It turns out it is a lot wider than I thought. Which is fine. But it is also deeper. A lot deeper. "I can find lava" deep. I haven't even explored all of it yet, because I keep finding scary things and getting scared by them. Apparently randomly-generated geography doesn't care about planning.

The project is getting to be intimidating. I'm not sure how to take on something of this scale. I really could use a few million unemployed people in Minecraft. That's how we built stuff back in the Depression and it was good. If I'm remembering my history properly, the Hoover Dam, built entirely by hand, was so amazing that the mere existence of it kept Mexico out of World War I, Zimmerman telegram or not. My point is that digging one shovel of sand at a time is very slow and a horde of serfs would be useful. Alas, I have no serfs.

So I did what anyone does when the hoped for goal becomes impractical: I made a slightly helpful but ultimately symbolic anything. In this case it was a bridge that made it slightly easier for me to walk from the desert to the forest. Rather than using the readily available sandstone, I used to more rare cobblestone and gravel (I've not been digging in mountains much, so these aren't as common, but I do have sand). These look better. Then I built a structurally-pointless arch, or possibly suspension, it's hard to tell when everything has zero structural significance. I suppose the stone deck supports the gravel, but that's all.

Maybe someday I will be able to screenshot a forest in a desert valley, but not today. Today is neither the day for screenshots, nor for the courage of men failing.

What's so gay about gay marriage?

| Tuesday, November 1, 2011
I'm not sure who this post is aimed at, maybe social conservatives, but I don't think many read my blog. So let's classify this like most posts of this sort: someone shouting into the void and wondering if it hears.

I'm trying to puzzle through opposition to gay marriage. I suppose the root of it is the belief that gay sex is an abomination. Fine, let's run with that and say that we want to stop gay sex. Does blocking gay marriage stop gay sex?

Well let's see, do single people have sex? Yes. Straight and gay, single people have sex. Marriage is an ineffective abstinence-enforcer.

But maybe if we all just firmly believed in the sanctity of marriage and purity and all accepted a moral framework that says no sex until marriage, then it might work. But if we're going to create an imaginary world where everyone believes in the exact same code of behavior, then why not just imagine a world with no gay people, like they do in Iran (true story, there are no gay people in Iran.)

Unfortunately for you, social conservatives, people have sex outside of marriage, so blocking gay marriage does not stop their abominable activity.

Or is the sex a lost cause and the goal is just to not legitimize gay sex? Legitimize it for whom? The gay people don't seem to have much problem with it either way. You won't accept it either way. So who is going to think "oh hey, they're married now, I guess all that gay sex they've been having is okay; maybe I'll have some too"?

Maybe the goal is to stop the spread of gayness? Marriage is a strong argument for adoption, and if gay people start adopting children, they might convert them. I'm not quite sure how that happens. Maybe gay people have gay bedtime stories. It couldn't be some sort of sexual act, since there is no link between homosexuality and pedophilia, unless they're just really good at hiding it, but given that you've already caught one sexual deviation, they probably aren't.

It seems to come down to this: gay marriage must be stopped because gay people might adopt and read theoretical gay stories to their children, thereby causing there to be more gay people, until one day straight people are a minority and are forced to breed just to make more gay babies, all the while being mocked for their sexual deviance. I'd hate to live in a world where straight people are attacked and oppressed for having the wrong kind of sex.

Running with the gay bedtime stories theory of gayness, I must wonder, where did all the gay people come from in the first place? Some studies put the number around 10%. That's a lot of gay bedtime stories. Surely we'd have noticed 10% of children being forced to read gay bedtime stories, especially since those children were all raised by straight parents. Are gay people sneaking into their rooms after the parents leave and reading them two gay stories to cancel out the presumably straight one read by the straight parents? That is a terrifying thought.

Maybe these sneaky gays are responsible for other events as well. Maybe they steal socks out of the dryer and unzip our flies right before we present at meetings. Maybe they are the reason bottles empty so quickly and checks bounce. Clearly gay people are not mere homosexual humans, but are actually poltergeists.

Let me go on the record and say that I am against poltergeist marriage.

My point is that I find opposition to gay marriage to be absurd.
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