Wildstar & WoW – Odd News

So in Wildstar news, apparently Stephen Frost is moving on to other pastures.  I’m trying to think of anyone of the devs that are left since launch…and I’m drawing blanks.  It’s getting to a point where it just looks like the culture at Carbine isn’t enough to keep the lights on.  Smart decisions need to be taken, or should have been taken many months ago and poof, nothing but people quitting.  I’m sure this has resonated with the community.  It really is quite a shift and I’m having a ton of trouble putting a finger on why.

Lots of conjecture mind you, but wow, I think this is one for the record books.  There’s certainly still some hope that the game can come back if it makes the changes at a decent pace.  SWTOR certainly showed that, and the flaws were very similar (remember a 90% server consolidation?).

In WoW news, the Brawler’s Guild is getting a re-vamp.  Or is it?  Let’s look at it

  • No new bosses
  • Change in the boss order/ranks
  • No new achievements
  • No new rewards
  • No new challenge cards

And this merited a blog post?  I tried the Brawler’s Guild.  It was fun.  Except Hexos, which never made any sense.  Now the only difference is a re-shuffle of the bosses?  I’m going to be honest here, I can’t see anything that WoW is bringing to the plate in WoD that would be considered progress or new.  Sure, there’s a stat squish (2 years late) and a normalization of raid sizes (flex everything!) and the world’s shittiest housing implementation (garrisons).  It’s stuff that could have been included in 2 content patches.  And people have waited over 13 months since SoO (5.4) went out the door for this?

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Gaming and School – A Clash of Cultures

This will be a very meta post.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, my wife is a high school teacher and I have a rather large set of opinions around our education system from front to end.  That we’re still using the same system from WW2 is a problem, though many school boards are trying to implement changes.  The problem with change is people and teachers are notoriously against change.  That’s sad really because the kids are simply not paying attention anymore.  There’s just too much competition for places of edu-tainment and the real world does not relate to school structure in any way.

So the meta part is that my wife goes to seminars and that my eldest daughter started school this year in a new program that focuses on critical thinking rather than memorization (one of my 4 key tenets of growth).  I write a lot about how game design intersects with the social structures we see day to day and my wife recently texted me about Minecraft as a teaching prediction tool.

KTR had a recent post that went into this topic, Progress vs Progression and I think it relates to the discussion a fair amount as school systems are often focused on progression rather than progress.  Do the same thing over and over again and expect different results (Einstein anyone?)  But more specifically, I want to focus on Minecraft’s design.

Minecraft is like virtual Legos.  I have a rather large collection of large Legos.  My kids are 2 and 4, so the regular pieces aren’t yet an option but I do plan on just ordering a few hundred pieces online in the future.  What I do have now though is enough to keep both kids occupied for some time and lets their imagination grow.  Once second it’s a plane, the other it’s a snake, and always with some story attached to it.  I’d hazard to guess that more people have played with Lego than have watched Star Wars, or Harry Potter or whatever other social phenomenon we hear tell.  Legos are a simple tool (~7000 unique pieces) with an infinite amount of possibilities.  (Apparently, four 2×4 Lego pieces have over 3 billion possible combinations.)    AFOL is a massive subculture.

Minecraft takes that little tool we all know and then turns it around a bit.  Different blocks have different properties (harder, liquid, precious, etc…) and combining them in particular formations creates specific tools (picks, shovels, doors, etc…).  I can build a house with multiple stories and windows, or I can build a rudimentary calculator, or I can build a life-size replica of the Starship Enterprise.

Sure, in between all that I can hunt skeletons, clearcut a forest, build a moat and die multiple times but that’s flavor.  The meat of the game is building and building without goals.  The lack of goals spawned many imitators, most notably Terraria.  This lack of an imposed progression tracking system, and in it’s place a self-imposed list of victory conditions is one of the largest departures in gaming in a very long time, at least in terms of popularity.  I mean, sandboxes have always been popular but not 56 million+ popular.  Minecraft is worse than Chrono Trigger, you can find the application on any system, iOS, Android, Console, PC, Raspberry Pi…People know it, people have played it, people dress us as Creep for Halloween.

So how does this affect education you ask?  Well it’s a system of personal goals and limitations that can be shared between other players.  Westeros was rebuilt!  Social constructs are built, with long terms goals based on small components.  Remember, each massive item is built from the same small bricks. The only difference between your outhouse and a sprawling city is time and vision.  School does not focus on this, instead if focuses on memorization by rote.  You need to know every component of the outhouse and every component from the city as 2 different entities with little in common.  Minecraft is all about building big dreams with only a small amount of tools and one that rewards tinkering rather than perfection.  Oh, that door really doesn’t work?  Tear it down and start again but you don’t have to tear down the entire building.  Success is iterative and one that requires some critical thinking to see how all the pieces fit together.  I could write entire articles and feats of reverse engineering in Minecraft.

All this to say is that Minecraft forces people to ask solid questions about final design and not blindly accept something as fact.  It allows experimentation and groupthink, encourages creativity.  These skills are essential for the real world (and the basis of critical thinking), that is if you’re not aiming to be a sheep of some sort packing shelves for a living.  (Mind you, there is potential for nobility in that career).  Think big, think different, using the same tools as everyone else.  Minecraft celebrates and expands on this.  School focuses on memorization and conformity.  Some schools are changing but the old guard certainly needs to see the light of day.

 

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Game Reviews – Finding Patterns

Actually, I think this spans more than game reviews and finds itself in the “media review” category.

Shadow of Mordor is releasing next Tuesday, the 30th.  Apparently it’s getting some pretty favorable reviews, well at least from those who’s opinions I find parity.  It’s an interesting thing the review-before-launch.  I mean, less so on those with massive marketing budgets and pre-orders (side note, I don’t have cable.  Saw the first Destiny add last night).

I knew the game was coming, I saw a couple previews but had mostly set the game aside.  Assassin’s Creed meets Batman is how I categorized it and it appears to be close enough to the truth.  But the early reviews being positive is not something I expected.

The way I see it, if you’re not milking a franchise to death, any new game is a gamble.  Sure, a developer wants pre-order to gauge interest.  They are going to spend on marketing a fair bit to get the message out there.  But it’s still a coin toss for a lot of gamers as to how the review determines purchase.  People are like lemmings and reviews, in particular Metacritic, push people one way or the other.  That said, a positive review has a rather noticeable impact on sales, just like a negative one does.

Timing of those reviews is critical.  I’m reminded of the R.I.P.D. film.  Not only were critics not allowed to release any reviews before launch, they weren’t actually provided a release candidate to review.  The movie is quite bad, performed poorly, and is best forgotten.  It would have made even less money if the negative review had come out ahead of time.  Movie reviews often come out a few days before the actual film.  GotG came out 2 weeks before and to glowing praise, which allowed a fair amount of word of mouth and positive spin to build up ticket sales.

Game reviews are usually on release day or a few days after, with a few exceptions.  These are games that run the ~70% mark on reviews.  Great games tend to have early reviews, Last of Us is a good recent example, Ni No Kuni is another than comes to mind.  The Destiny reviews came out after launch (not that it mattered much in sales is appears) and the reviews are certainly mixed.

I’m coming to the conclusion that there’s a direct link between the release of a review in relation to the release date, and the quality of same game.  The farther ahead the review date is, the better the game.  Reviews that are post-launch are often times related to poorer games.  Yes, I realize that the MMO space is harder to judge without other players, but the general vibe is there.  An MMO in final beta is not going to be any different than a Release Candidate build for reviews.  And no MMO is reviewed on raid difficulty, just end game accessibility.

Interesting food for thought.

 

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Gaming Toxicity – What’s Next?

I’ve talked about this one at length already but it bears repeating after recent events.  There are a lot of asshats in the gaming sphere and the level of anonymity that the internet provides is a cloak they abuse.  The concept of privacy on the internet is something we’re eventually going to have to give up (or have already if you pay attention).  The advent of social tools without the social skills to use them makes for a mess of a time.  This is still the Wild West and the sheriff is more or less whoever wants to wear the badge.  There are many countries that are making changes to their laws to make people accountable for their actions on-line – the UK is the most advanced in this (but also has amazing trolls).  Canada is getting better but the US is like a ballpit of dumb when it comes to this – in particular around their understanding of what Free Speech actually means in a legal sense.

And let’s be clear about this.  Reasonable people saying reasonable things don’t get attention.  It passes the logic test, and we say “they’re ok”.  It’s the people on the extremes that get attention because what they say makes little sense.  So you end up hearing the 1 idiot spouting stupid (and we getting dumber for hearing it) and the moderate voice that counters it is barely heard because everyone is arguing against dumb.

Never argue with an idiot; they’ll bring you down to their level and beat you with experience. -

Back to the gaming world now.  League of Legends (LoL) is making a few changes to their system.  You might remember them from the concept of tribunals a few years ago.  A group of (volunteer) players who act as a council to vote on players who have been reported for bad behavior.  They assign bans or time outs or what-have-you, based on in-game logs.  The recidivism rate is actually surprising, with something like 90% of them never coming back to the tribunal.  But let’s make no mistake here, with the millions who are playing, there are still many who cause issues and the penalties are currently very black/white.

There’s an old story about UO and the Trammel split, where Origin at the time didn’t understand the problem with griefers and the open PvP plaguing the game.  If you recall, it was not a terribly complex thing to lose your house to a greifer, people would stack bag and bags of crap to hide their keys so that the PvP looters would take forever to find the right one.  The concept was as this “a griefer is one who costs you more money than they pay”.  So you might make $15 on that griefer but if they cause 2 people to quit, you’ve lost money.  And UO was losing money.  I am not saying the split was the right choice (in fact I would easily argue other things could have been done – I was a noto-hunter in the day, which could have been a much more elegant solution) but it was a hard solution to a very large problem.

XBONE has a reputation system of 3 tiers.  Regular, borderline and scumbag.  Ok, I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea.  Regular and borderline play in one bucket, scumbags play in another.  Your rating decays over time so you can come back to the clean area.  I haven’t seen any reports on this program since launch mind you…

LoL once again.  They are implementing a new type of penalty where poorly rated players can no longer play ranked games.  Ranked games have rewards, they are seasons, they allow you to join the professional circuit.  It’s pretty similar to the XBONE solution except that non-ranked games are where the casual players are found.  This is really putting the wolf in with the sheep, when you look at it from the outside.  I’m sure there’s some thought as to how this can impact the bottom line but it’s rather clear that the bad players need more types of punishment.  I’m guessing the matchmaking process aligns no only your skill level but your player reputation, which should make it fun to watch from the outside.

I know Hearthstone’s approach to this is to not allow chat at all.  Just some basic pre-canned messages.  People will quit before losing, which is another topic.  When Heroes of the Storm does launch, and as with all Blizzard items attracts DragonSoul to complain/grief, I am extremely curious as to their plans for managing that issue.  (And yes, I realize I’m avoiding the SC2 scene, which is arguably pretty tame).  Once we get passed LoL into Blizzard casual-land, I’m of the opinion we’ll have reached a gaming crest of toxicity management

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#Diablo3 – Where Should I Farm (Numbers!)

This is going to be an analytics discussion, so some math is to be found.

Diablo 3 is a slot machine.  You pull the lever (kill the baddie) and stuff pops out.  Sometimes it’s good stuff but most times it’s crap.  You need to pull that lever a whole bunch of times to get something decent.  And the prize itself, while it might have a nice look, when you get to the meat of it, there are things wrong with it.  Such are the RNG (random number generator) gods!  For the purposes of this article, I’ll only focus on Legendary (or set) items.

In order to sway the odds, Diablo 3 has a whole bunch of number crunching below water. Enemy difficulty (regular, rare, unique, etc…) have different odds of dropping items.  Game difficulty (normal, torment, etc…) have different odds of dropping items.  Rifts and Greater Rifts have different odds of dropping items.  Actually, Greater Rifts are still under debate, so I’ll scratch that for now – in particular because it takes 11:30 minutes to clear one.  Some of these odds are additive, some are multiplicative.  Let’s start with that concept first.

Additive odds are simple enough; you just put the numbers together.  So 25% + 15% + 7% = 47%.  Multiplicative odds are harder to get around.  25% * 15% * 7% = 30.7% and much less obvious.  Sometimes you even add the odds and then multiply.  You get crazy formulas.

Enemy difficulty is also part of this calculation, where non-regular (so Rare, Elite and Unique) seem to have a sliver of a chance to drop even a rare item whereas a pack will drop 3+ items.  The quality of an item is dependent on if that enemy even drops something.  So you can’t say a normal enemy doesn’t drop legendaries, it barely drops anything in the first place.  You’re looking at a solid 100 enemies before seeing something.

Game difficulty and rift difficulty is as follows.  Normal until Master gives a 0% boost outside rifts and 25% in rifts.  Torment 1-6 gives 15% to 131% boost outside rifts and a 44% to 189% boost to drops inside rifts.  So at any difficulty level, it’s clear that you should be in a rift, the increase is noticeable.  Torment 1+ is required for level 70 legendaries.  Torment 2+ has  50%+ odds of dropping a legendary in a bounty.

Game difficulty also increases enemy hit points, where Torment 1-6 go from 819% to 8590%.   That’s a massive increase.  They also hit harder but that’s less important for this point.  You want to kill them fast.

Each build has a “clear on normal” build which is built on efficiency and speed.  Or, 1-hit-kill specs.  The clear builds mean you mow down everything on the screen quickly and get to focus on the elite packs instead.  The bonus from this is the extra experience from the kills, increasing paragon levels which increases your power and makes you kill faster.  So… yeah, killing regular enemies quickly is good.  This brings up the concept of “clear speed” where you can complete an objective in X amount of time – typically this applies to Bounties (5 quests with a chance at a reward) and Rifts.

So that’s a pile of information.  And you’re wondering, what the heck does this actually mean?  Me too!

Depending on your leveling path, you either did the content in order or simply re-ran bounties a bunch of times.  You hit 70, and finally started to use your Blood Shards with Kadala, gambling on gear.  You focus on armor, getting some decent stuff.   Unless you have a really crappy weapon, don’t bother gambling on one.  Find a good clearing build and run a few normal bounties in Act 1 until you have a better weapon.  Find a 1 hit kill build next and increase the difficulty from normal until you find one that is no longer 1 hit kill.  There are great odds that this stays on normal and that’s ok.  You’re going to reach a point where you’re 80% optimal on rare items.  This means you have imperial gems slotted, you have 80% of the maximum roll on your primary stat (plus Critical Hit Damage, Critical Chance), some critical hit and damage as well as a decent (~8K) life on hit.  Your weapon should have a gem slot and it should be an emerald.  You’re now ready for Torment 1.

Actually, maybe you’re not.  This is where the magic really happens is the Time to Clear (TTC, which is really similar to a TTK acronym).  Greater Rifts (GR) have a 11:30 TTC, if you want to increment your rift level by 1 (for more loot).  A TTC that’s lower means you need to leave the GR, so something else, then come back to kill the guardian.  The “something else” should be Act 1 bounties, trying to get a Ring of Royal Grandeur – a legendary ring from the bounty cache.  You should be able to clear all 5 quests in 2 GRs, depending on dungeon layout.  Once you’ve completed the Act 1 bounty and closed the GR, leave the game and restart.  GRs get harder over time, so your TTC will eventually reach and exceed the 11:30 and you’ll be unable to continue but have to restart.  The benefit of GRs is legendary gems (should have them all in ~15 rifts) and a decent chance at a legendary on the boss kill.  But you’re only killing the boss every 11:30 minutes plus. Due to this, greater rifts aren’t usually worth a whole lot until you can clear T6 rifts reliably – you’re not there for the gear but for the challenge and the gems.

The alternative, if you have a decent TTC, are regular rifts.  Once you’re 80% optimal, you need to run Torment 1.  TCC by that point is less gear dependent and more skill based.   The question becomes, “do I move up in difficulty?”  The answer is related to TTC.  Let’s look just at the difference between T1 and T2.

T1 = 819%hp, 44% bonus to legendary

T2 = 1311%hp (60% increase), 65% bonus to legendary (47% increase)

So let’s say your TTC in T1 is 5 minutes.  You get a 47% increase in rewards. The real metric here for choice is that your TCC cannot exceed 47%, or you’re actually falling behind.  That means a new TCC of 7:23 or less.  Other clear times are: T3 (10:13), T4 (13:31), T5 (17:09) and T6 (21:28).  Now the difficulty climbs too, due to the HP increase.  So your damage needs to climb as well.  Let’s say you’re at 200K DPS.  T1 to T2, to clear at the same rate, your damage needs to increase to 320K.  From T1 to T6 you need to reach 2.1 million DPS.  And that’s not even calculating the extra damage enemies will cause.

Given that you only ever get an average of X items in a rift, regardless of quality, you’re better off clearing them faster than raising the difficulty.  I could graph out the optimal place to run rifts, based on your damage output but there are a few other factors at play.  The goal is to clear as fast as possible, unless you can increase the difficulty and still remain below the new clear time.  So!  What you want to do is get a TTC of 5 minutes for a T1 rift first.  Don’t even bother with the other rifts until you can get this one down as it’s very unlikely you’ll get any benefit from harder rifts (exception is playing in groups).  Once you have T1 down to an art, then see if a T2 can fit in your time window (7:23).  If it can’t, then get better at T1 rifts.

That was a really long post that hopefully added some clarity on the “where should I be farming” discussion. The short answer is “T1 rifts until you can clear them in 5 minutes”.  There is very little incentive of moving up in difficulty if you’re aiming for optimal performance.

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Raiding – Who’s It For?

I used to raid back in the day.  You know, when we trash meant something and you stayed logged on to farm mats.  Oh, what glorious days it was to raid 5 hours a day, 5 days a week and then farm the other 2 days!  Kids today have it much to easy.  What with the CoD, Destiny, D3 pop-in and play gamestyle.  Where’s the challenge of getting 20-40 cavedwellers to wake up from their late nap to log in? And then proceed to ignore all instructions for the first 45 minutes?  Oh, too easy I tell you, much too easy!

Some odd Wildstar numbers for you here.  So from the horses’ mouth, 120-150 20 man raids, 7 40 man raids that have cleared 3 of the 9 bosses.  The math comes to around 4000 raiders.

Let’s look at WoW for a second, where Raiding is arguably, no longer the top-tier end game activity (pet battles!).  Here’s the link and it accounts for data ~6 months after the raid released.  7.3 million character, 2.3 million accounts, looking at the final tier of raiding, SoO.  70% completed the first boss on LFR, 40% flex, 20% normal, 10% heroic.  50% completed the last boss on LFR, 18% flex, 13% normal, 0.8% heroic.  Assuming the “accounts number”, WoW’s hard mode attracted ~1% of the playerbase.  I’ve mentioned before that WoW’s heroic is pretty close in difficulty to Wildstar’s default raid level.

Back to Wildstar.  Assuming the same 1% ratio (and that’s a very large assumption) they are sitting at around 400k subs, which I think is a pretty decent number.  Of course, it takes magic math to get there.

But the crux of the argument is that their design vision, hardcore 40 man raids, are being consumed by a tiny, tiny fraction of the playerbase.  You’re leaving 99% of the rest of playerbase with next to nothing to do as end-game currently consists of either daily grinds, or getting into the raiding sphere.  Hate on WoW’s LFR as much as you want, they’ve found a way to get 50-70% of their playerbase to USE the material they’ve built.

Now you’re going to LFR for 1 of 2 reasons.  First, and I’m going to assume this is the minority here, to see the story/content through.  Raids, since BWL at least, have had pretty decent narratives.  If you didn’t raid Icecrown, then you’re probably wondering what ever happened to the Lich King after having seen him every 15 minutes while leveling.  Second, they do it for gear.  Gear for gear’s sake, or to get into the real “raiding” that starts at Flex.

Flex for a minute. This to me is the smartest move WoW ever made when it comes to raiding.  There were many months of tweaking, in order to avoid breakpoints but today’s implementation is near perfect.  Solid enough challenge, built for social guilds and allows you to take a night off with the missus.

Back on point, raids are by their very nature exclusive.  They require not only a decent amount of RPG-savvy (stats through gear + good build + good tactics) but also coordination of multiple people over long periods of time (3+ hours).  Sometimes the latter is the hardest part and calling a raid off because you only have 32 people instead of 40 happened often in vanilla.

So while Wildstar has it’s own little problem in that they need something for people to do other than raid, they also need to look at how they can make raiding more accessible so that they aren’t spending millions on content that only 4000 people get to see.

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#Wildstar – What Works and What Doesn’t

Editorial alert!  Editorial Alert!  Bring out the pitchforks!

With Wasteland 2 out the door shortly, followed by Civ:BE a month after, I’ve come to the conclusion that Wildstar time is taking a backseat.  I like the game, certainly.  There’s just nothing left for me to do that I think is worth investing my time in.  Sort of.

What works

Good news to start.  The stuff that works, works really well.  The LAS and action combat is amazing.  I’ve only have this level of fun in Neverwinter but Wildstar takes it to a new level.  Picking and choosing skills between battles, applying strategy to it all, paying attention to what’s on screen.  All that works.  It’s a major skill gap for a lot of people but it’s great once you get the hang of it.

Raids.  Now this is taken from the subset of raiders who are actually raiding and the videos produced.  I’ve raided in most MMOs that have the option.  From EQ’s zerg-fest, to Vanilla’s healer rotation and Rift’s sparkle-fest.  There’s the right level of challenge and skill needed to beat Wildstar raids and the general consensus from raiders is that it’s worth the effort to get there.

Housing.  Outside of EQ2, and maybe some UO, I don’t think I’ve seen a better housing system.  And it’s getting better next patch.  This is really a super tool.

What doesn’t

Class balance and stats.  Bluntly, the system as it stands today needs some re-work.  At max level there are only a few useful skills, per role.  Esper DPS are using a healing skill for some reason, that’s a problem.  Stats are undergoing an overhaul right now, where melee and ranged attackers are getting normalized.  This isn’t as bad as SWTOR’s haste issue (where it was something you actively removed from gear) but the core stats is miles more important than anything else today.  There needs to be more softcaps and cross values from skills.  It sort of reminds me of the Diablo3 v.1, stack primary, issue.

Crafting.  Crafting has a great theory in the system.  There’s some randomness, which can be mitigated with a few things but the crafted gear today is better than raiding gear.  And that’s the level 49 gear, not 50.  There’s a ton of potential and the plans from Carbine on rebalancing drops makes sense.  At the least, it needs a use for low level items, otherwise it’s just a grind to max level with vendored results.

Attunement.  It currently prevents access to the best part of the game and the general cause of people leaving over time.

Stuff to do at 50.  Right now it’s just dailies.  Shiphands don’t scale to 50.  Housing instances don’t scale to 50.  Dungeons have no purpose other than attunement.  Adventures have no purpose other than attunement.  It’s like a giant funnel rather than an open field.  Dailies that take 30 days to max out…

The rewards at 50.  There aren’t any really.  See the crafting point above.  From 50 until you complete a raid and get a drop, there’s no real incentive.  Housing is the same at 40 as it is at 50.  Crafting can be maxed out at 30.

End Statement

There’s a ton of potential here.  The story is solid.  The combat mechanics are super solid.  The housing is solid.  The math needs some rework.  The “what the hell do I do at 50?” issue needs some massive investigation and likely a re-shifting in priorities.  The updates we get from Carbine indicate that’s underway.  Though turning a ship of this size takes time… time I’ll be using playing some other games in the pipe.

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