All Aboard the Failboat!

08/17/2012

There’s been a whole lot of discussion on the WoW forums over the last couple of months concerning the consistent nerfing of content that has become Blizzard’s design model. The response from Blizzard has been the usual cocktail of logical fallacies, pandering, and outright lies. I understand that not everyone at Blizzard actually believes their own propaganda, but are simply forced to espouse it by their boss. RIFT has adopted a similar model, and it’s likely many other MMOs will join the parade. Businesses follow the money, not good gameplay, and at this time the MMO market believes spoon-feeding content to people will net them the greatest profit. I wanted to take the time to remove money making from the equation and discuss what the perpetual bar-lowering does for that quality of a game; namely, that it hurts it.

I’m actually going to pull a metaphor that Fake-GC used in an attempt to debunk the ‘constant nerfs destroy the quality of content’ argument, because it was such a perfect example of the exact opposite of the point he was trying to make. He said that un-nerfed content is like climbing Everest without survival gear (which makes a poor starting point since that’s just impossible to being with, but I digress). Nerfed content is like climbing Everest with tons of training and survival gear (ie, how everyone who has ever climbed Everest and lived has done it). The point that followed was the you can’t complain that someone that climbed Everest doesn’t deserve recognition just because they were less hardcore about it. This is, of course, a complete strawman. Defeating a hard mode raid at content level, unnerfed, is like climbing Everest. It’s hard, you put a ton of time into preparing for it. You climb many lesser mountains in training. You use every tool available to you, and even then you may not succeed. It is a static goal against which you pitch all of your accumulated skill and training. 

Now imagine if Everest got nerfed. 5% height deducted every two weeks, like clockwork. At the end of a few months, Everest is 30% shorter than it used to be. 30% less climbing required, 30% less deadly-thin atmosphere at the top, 30% less frozen rock and ice. Everyone claiming “Hey, I climbed Everest!” would piss the hell out of those that had climbed Everest pre-nerf, as it should. If you climbed 30% nerf Everest and it was super hard, congratulations. Sincerely. That was undoubtedly a huge accomplishment into which you poured all of your efforts. You still didn’t fucking climb Everest. You climbed a lesser mountain. A smaller, less challenging pile of rocks. However great a personal victory it was, it still is not the victory actual scalers of Everest achieved. To equate the two, much less value and reward you the same is an insult to the more accomplished party.

The mistake being made here is that relative accomplishment infinitely trumps absolute accomplishment. Reality is somewhere in the middle. Imagine a highschool basketball team being national champions, along side a NBA team winning the national title. Both have put blood, sweat, and tears into reach the pinnacle of their game, but the latters’ accomplishment was objectively harder. You cheer and congratulate the high-schoolers for their very impressive accomplishment, because they deserve it. You don’t, however, tell them they just won the NBA finals. You let them have their victory, and then you tell them to practice more. So they can move on to college ball, and maybe eventually win the NBA for real. 

The reason this kind of thinking degrades the quality of a game is twofold: first, as I hope the above has made abundantly clear, is that it diminishes the accomplishment of those that put the considerable time and effort in to mastering the game and the encounters. (Again, consider how you would feel if you won the gold medal in the 50m dash, and I then won the same gold medal for running 35m.) This is not to say there is no value in simply knowing you accomplished the greater task, but it is certainly cheapened by being commonplace.

The second, and far worse reason, is that it removes the impetus for improvement. If a challenge is going to reduced in difficulty to the point of being trivial, then there is not reason to improve in order to overcome it; just wait a few weeks and you will be rewarded. “Ah-ha!” says ever PR rep ever “But you can turn the buff off! The challenge is still there if you want it, so stop being so butthurt over other people getting it easily. It’s not about them, it’s about you!” WRONG. Again, let me put this to you: at your job, would you rather get a promotion for working 100+ hour weeks, much of it unpaid, kissing tons of ass, studying in your free time, and taking all the worst tasks for yourself, or would you rather wait 6 months and get the same promotion for showing up to work on time? If you chose option A, you are either a liar, completely insane, or both. It is fantastically irrational to choose the harder option when the reward is exactly the same.

This is coming from someone who loves a challenge, who always plays on the hardest mode, who operates best when things are right at the edge of my abilities. Many, many people enjoy needless, arbitrarily challenges. But they enjoy them because they push you to do things that others can or will not. And you expect to be distinguished from those that did not. The drive behind improvement is the reward, tangible or intangible that comes with it. It would be insane to do something for no reason at all. If I could get girls by dropping my pants and belching loudly, I sure as fuck would. No reward for being better = no drive to get better. It’s as simple as that.

TL;DR blanket nerfs are awful because they both invalidate accomplishments and remove any reason to improve.


You Are The Worst.

07/08/2012

I play a lot of video games. Some might even say too many (haters). A lot of these games are MMOs. I’ve been surprised lately with how many titles have come out lacking one or more of what I would consider mandatory features, so I’ve decided to provide a list; a cheat-sheet, if you will, for prospective MMO developers. I’m not going to tell you what I want in a game, because there are many, many different views on that topic and I’m not quite foolish enough to think my opinion is the “right” one. However, excluding obvious things like “not buggy as all hell”, “at least trying to be balanced”,  and “a map”, what follows is a list of things that you should probably have in your game before it launches:

  • A jump key. Seriously, we got that shit down decades ago. I don’t even understand why I have to include this. Maybe I should list “a map”.
  • The ability to swim. This is a bit more complex, but honestly, at this point there’s no excuse for not giving players the ability to cross bodies of water in some fashion. Even if they have to just swim on the surface.
  • AoE looting. Do you enjoy wasting your players’ time? No? Do your programmers have five minutes? Yes? Excellent, we’re all done here.
  • Multispeccing. Obviously excluding games without specs, but for those that have them, this is a must.
  • LFG and Battleground queues. The bread and butter of PvE and PvP respectively, launching a game without these at this point is just dickish.
  • Quest tracking. Because nothing says “fun” like searching for hours to find one guy.
  • A fully customizable UI with at least partial addon support. Because hitting the “average” for a UI just means  everyone is going to be slightly dissatisfied. Also data collection is a thing good players like to be able to do.
  • Endgame. For PvE, this means a large, fully functional raid. PvP means some sort of reward/ranking system for battlegrounds. This is the one that most developers fail to do, and is the most heinously irresponsible to lack at this point. Most of us don’t enjoy leveling endless alts, guys.
  • Modifier keys. Another one I didn’t think I would need to include, but ArenaNet sure showed me. If I can’t Shift+2 an ability I either need fewer abilities, or giant 20-fingered hands.
  • Shared/importable UI settings. Because making a player recreate their UI every time they roll a new character is just asinine.
  • Appearance customization. Both at character creation (hint: sliders are no longer optional, as hardware has improved since 1998), and in game. FiOS and quad core processors aren’t going anywhere, and your game should visually reflect that fact.

So there you have it. Things that I, as a hypothetical MMO publisher would be embarrassed to launch my game without. Yet someone’s done each and every one of these in a modern MMO. How about you, dear reader? What do you demand of your games?


Save or Die.

06/19/2012

Before I even begin, I’d like to clarify a few things: first, all of the vitriol in the following paragraphs is based in the world of mechanics. If your edition choice is based on finances, a long running campaign, or other ‘real-world’ factors, then I respect your decision and we can still be friends. Second, I am not at all claiming 4e is without faults. It has them. Large ones. That’s what I am so concerned that the next edition be better than the current. Third, 5e (no, I am not calling it “Nexus”) already has plenty of great ideas. I just want to remove the bad ones and ensure no more sneak their way in.

I never really got into the edition wars of D&D; not because I didn’t think there was a clear winner, but because the other side wasn’t really hurting me. If they wanted to play an older edition it didn’t affect me in any way. Now it is, though. 5e is looking backwards for inspiration, not only to 3/3.5, but to even 2 and 1e, and while there’s nothing wrong with examining your past products, a lot of people seem to think this means they should be rolling back the rules to these editions.  Here the devs discuss the reasons behind this in a more or less neutral environment;  it looks like they are attempting to distill the essence of D&D from previous editions which is just fine.

But then there’s articles like this, and I start to really worry. There are players that think this way, and if the devs hear too much of this, they might design a game to appease the view.  Let me put this bluntly: if you disliked 4e because you thought it was too much like a video game (hint: what you actually mean is “has actual rules”), if you thought the rules got in the way you are doing it wrong. The only purpose of a rules set is provide an (hopefully) balanced set of mechanics to determine the outcome of challenges. It is not to get involved in your story, roleplay, or imagination in any way, either positive or negative. Time and again I see people complain about square fireballs, minis, and Stealth. If you don’t want rules to dictate what you can do, then go play a freeform RPG. You picked D&D, which means you must want rules. Yes, D&D rules have become lengthier and more cumbersome with each edition, in the same way that cars have become more intricate and heavier: because we’re better at making them, and have to include airbags and ABS.

To extend the car metaphor, I am going to pick on 3.5 and 4e as those are the biggest warriors, and also the freshest in most peoples’ mind. 3.5e is a car. It is a pretty good car, much better than the older models because the manufacturer has learned a lot about both what makes a good car and how to deliver said car since the previous model. However, there are still some issues. The tires will usually lose grip if you go over 45 and crash you into a tree. Also the seatbelts will strangle anyone under 5’8″. 4e is the latest model of the car, and the manufacturer has fixed those issues. The tiers can still lose traction, but only if it’s wet and you’re going 80. Seatbelts no longer strangle people during the course of normal use. Then someone comes along and says “Hey, but I liked being able to crash in to trees, how dare you take this away from me?”. Well, A) why? and B) you can still crash in to trees if you want. The steering wheel is right there. The only thing that’s happened is that people that don’t want to crash in to trees and strangle themselves don’t have to.

4e in no way, shape, or form curtails your ability to RP your character or immerse yourself in the world. The rules are not there to tell you what you can do, they are there to tell you what you can’t. If you are now thinking “Ah, you’ve played right into my hand!” allow me to clarify: rules restrict the upper limit of what you can accomplish. They represent your maximum performance. What you choose to do with this, the freeform RP within a rules skeleton, the very essence of Dungeons & Dragons, remains unchanged. If you want to play a soft footed but fat man, don’t complain about Hide in Shadows and Move Silently being rolled into Stealth, use your imagination. RP it out. If you want your character to be bad at concealing himself, just play him that way. Use the “theatre of the mind” that anti-4e warriors constantly reference.

4e is better. Thousands of forums, millions of players all attest that 4e is much more balanced, much more difficult to break, which is the metric by which mechanics should be judged. I’m not providing links for this because I don’t have a week. Go look it up. I will say this: I never, not once, not for a second felt 4e rules got in the way of my play, and to the best of my knowledge, no one I’ve played with did either. If you can’t separate rules from your story, if you can’t unshackle yourself from what the mechanics say you can do and simply do whatever they don’t say you can’t, if your wizard uses square fireballs because that’s what some miniature uses, then it’s not the rules that need work: it’s your imagination.


It Stands for Big Ass Monster.

05/24/2012

I don’t really have a clever intro for this. Play TERA. If you are wondering if you should buy TERA, do it. If you are wondering what TERA is, go buy it. If you like to play MMOs, then this is the MMO for you. It has its share of faults just like any game, but unless you have some very specific MMO needs I can almost guarantee it’s better than whatever you’re currently playing. Seriously, I will list my complaints about TERA after three weeks of play:

1) It’s not free

2) There are no raid instances

3) UI customization is not shared across characters

4) Elin

This game just constantly impresses me with how fun it is to play. You remember fun, right? It was that thing you had in WoW before Valor points. A Korean-made game, levelling in TERA is a giant grindfest, and they’ve adopted none of the modern open/group based quests. On paper this sounds awful, as in my opinion leveling is approximately the worst thing ever. But it’s not. All the quests, even the “Go kill X of Y at Z” quests are enjoyable. Why? Because the combat is engaging. Every quest mob requires your focus, your active attention to beat. There’s no rightclick 1, 1, Shift+2, loot. The feel that your input matters, that even on a quest mob it’s you and not your gear winning the fight is a breath of fresh air. If you’re concerned about an active combat system, fear not. While it will demand more focus from you, the actual challenge curve is still in line with most modern MMO experiences. Plus you can always bring friends. My friends and I spend a great deal of our time dicking around with /commands, pulling BAMs, or RPing. The leveling just sort of happens along the way.

This being an MMO, and me being me, I have to talk about endgame of course. I was pretty worried about the lack of raiding going in, but I find that the more I play the less I care. PvE has 5mans and heroic 5mans, which should be interesting enough. They also have lots of world bosses for bigger, harder challenges with lots of people. Daily quests with their own rewards. Professions are leveled at will, with no training, and no cap on how many you can have. Party members share but do not split nodes, meaning two people get twice as much stuff as one. Crafting yields the best gear currently in the game. The materials for which are only obtainable by beating the hardest encounters in the game. I’d like to see real raids some time, but for now this is more than enough.

For PvPers, there’s world PvP, and no factions to restrict who you can knife. Battlegrounds are coming in the next patch (and we’re not talking 6 months here — EnMasse has already dropped a major patch since launch). Plus fully active attacks and dodges, meaning more player skill and less gear in victory. Guilds can declare war on each other.  Short of Planetside 2, this is going to be the most skill-based MMO you’re going to get your hands on. I guess… there’s no arena? Darn.

And then there’s the social aspect of the game. Yes, we’re still in the engame section; you didn’t miss anything. Every month, each server elects leaders, or Vanarchs, by popular vote. Vanarchs get a sweet title, and rule over a section of the world. Their guildmates get special mounts and vanity items. Oh, and they can levy taxes. It is the single greatest player-controlled feedback system I have seen in a game. I play on both a PvP and an PvE-RP server, and elections are going on right now. On the PvP server, the largest, most badass guilds are  contenders… provided they didn’t spend the first few weeks ganking other people like total assclowns. That tends to hurt their support. On the RP server, major cities are filled with players giving IC speeches to win the support of their fellow gamers (or at least their characters). It’s a very real reward (or punishment) system for your actions that has nothing to do with your ability to murder.

There’s also of plenty of the usual small innovations or artistic touches that come with a new game. Banks are shared across all of your characters on a server… and have almost 300 slots. Auctions go up for a week at a time, and the AH will tell you the average and minimum price for an item as you list it. Server transfers are free and instant (though you cannot go PvE -> PvP or vice versa). You can drop combat while still having a mob engaged. Some characters ride mounts sidesaddle. There is both an appearance tab on your character panel, and dyes. Oh, and despite modern graphics and a character creation system that has, you know, sliders, the game will run on very modest systems.

Really, my only hesitation is recommending this game would be that I want it to fail just enough to go F2P. So go, now. You’ve still got a week to pick up all the starter benefits, and the game itself is worth every penny.


And Some Joke About Erections.

09/14/2011

Right, I still have a blog. Well, how about this: I finished series 4 of Torchwood the other day, and I feel you should too. If you’re like me or my friends, you might have started watching the Doctor Who spinoff when it began, only to give up (probably somewhere in the middle of series 2) because it was somehow more campy and hand-wavy than the Doctor. Apparently the writers and producers were as disappointed with this as the viewers, and in series 3 it suddenly became the more-serious-and-adult-verion-of-Doctor-Who that it was originally conceived as. Series 3 was orders of magnitude better than the previous two series, and series 4 is just flat out good television. So, if you’re like me and quit early on… give it another chance. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Rise, My Minions!

07/14/2011

We’re back ladies and gentlemen. Kicking it off: Feathermeet 2011. Going to be in Seattle all weekend doing awesome stuff, like GMing a D&D game at the AFK Tavern, a nerd-friendly restaurant. What will I be GMing you say? Well, none other than this group:

Yeah, that’s right. I drew something (which might need to be viewed in another window… or not at all)! It’s going to be a crazy few days; I’ll see you all on the other side.


The Whenever WTF.

02/21/2011

Okay, seriously Blizzard, hire someone that passed second grade math. I don’t even. The latest patch brought, among other things, this little gem:

“#In addition to its current effects, the Body and Soul talent now grants 12.5%/25% reduction to the base mana cost of Power Word: Shield.”

For anyone unaware, B&S is a deep holy talent; it’s the one that gives you a sprint whenever the priest casts PW:S on you. What this change did was make PW:S more efficient for Holy than Disc, and simultaneously make it a better heal than GHeal. Seriously. They gave holy priests an efficient, instant absorb mechanic with a built-in speed boost. Surprise, it was the greatest thing ever.

This isn’t “we didn’t consider that scenario”. This isn’t even “whoops we programmed the lander in meters instead of yards”. This is you adding grainy white stuff to your cake batter without bothering to check if it’s salt, sugar, or Edward dandruff. Five minutes with a calculator and a napkin would have told anyone that this was a terribly overpowered and unnecessary idea and that it shouldn’t be included, but apparently no one could be bothered.

I can only imagine the meeting that lead to this change:

“Hey Mike, you know, I feel that Holy priests need more incentive to cast Power Word: Shield. You know, besides that amazing and mandatory talent already in their talent tree.”

“You know Greg, you’re right! I think we should make it cost less mana for them. That way, they can boost peoples’ speed with even less regard for the cost to their mana pool.”

“But Mike, don’t you think that greatly increasing the efficiency, while we simultaneously boost the power of the shield, might lead to a situation wherein this becomes somewhat overpowered? Maybe I should have one of those many, many QA people we have on staff spend the three seconds it would take to divide one number by another number to check that we’re not making any really obvious mistakes.”

“Don’t worry about it Greg. We’re game designers, and we have game intuition. I’ve got a good feeling about this one.”

“Oh, you’re right Mike, my bad buddy. Let’s be sure to push this through last minute. Meeting adjourned, let’s go get some sodas and take another money bath!”

Seriously, this is the only was I can see the entire fucking Blizzard staff missing this. Hire someone to check this shit. It’s not hard, you just have to stop doing lines of coke long enough to actually do some work. I’ll do it. Hire me. I can forgive strange and unexpected interactions leading to results that need fixing, but this was not that. This was a very simple math problem that got through because checking yourself before putting something in a service you provide to millions of paying customers is apparently beneath you.

Thankfully, the change has been reverted, so Disc is no longer an invalid spec, Holy itemization is not totally screwed, fights are not totally trivialized, and I don’t have to buy a gun. This is not the first time something like this has happened though, and I suspect it won’t be the last. Take some pride in your work Blizzard, and check your shit.


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