Paralysis by Analysis

This post is going to read a little off for most people.  It is a concept that I have great difficulty communicating verbally and have little experience in trying to get it across in written form.  What I’ll do to start is refer to a particular book (series) – Foundation by Isaac Asimov – that’s core element deals with psycho-history.

Background

Psycho-history is a fictitious (at the time) form of mathematics, where you could predict the actions of a large group of people over time.  It’s akin to telling the future and today’s market of analytics tends is really pushing us towards this reality.  The one most seem to find is election patterns.  There are 2-3 people on the planet who are able to determine the results of an election, through mathematical models, a few months before they actually occur.  The old “opinion survey research” model is being deprecated with these new models. Moneyball also gets into this, where statistics – many of them – replaced older baseball scouting practices. Boston won a World Series with that model.  At the basic level it’s people + averages = outcome.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I love analytics and that as a people watcher, I can make rather quick determinations about strangers in seconds.  I guess it’s a bit like Sherlock and Mycroft.  High functioning sociopaths.  Sounds bad but hear me out.

The Start

What happens is as follows.  Every event I experience I digest and decompose.  Significant events tend to linger in my mind and replay over and over until I get all the parts separated.  So let’s say I meet a friend at the pub for a beer.  I’ll break down the weather, their demeanor, what we ordered, the waiter, the crowd, what was on TV, my state of mind and a hundred other variables.  This is all done subconsciously at the time and consciously later if I had trouble with it.  At 35 years of age, I’ve done hundreds of thousands of times and have built a repository of variables and results.  A weather pattern, a table, 2 people and a beer will give you this.  On a Monday you can talk about this topic.  If they cross their arms, you need to say this. And so on.  It’s like a giant Lego set, where each piece combined gives a different outcome.  The thing is, these outcomes are not guaranteed simply highly probable.  If it doesn’t give the result I wanted, then I spend more time trying to figure out why.  99% of the time it’s emotions, which are notoriously hard to compartmentalize.

The Hypothesis

Given that I have this rather large repertoire of information, I can “predict” the outcome of a given situation with a decent amount of accuracy.  That outcome then triggers another event.  At each trigger, there are multiple possibilities, each with their own odds of occurrence.  As I get further away from the original trigger, my certainty in the final outcome grows dimmer.  As I am looking for an optimal end state, I also look at how some outcomes can be modified to “get back on track”.  The following picture describes the high level process – realize that I mentally process each of these branches.

decision tree

As a final result you get something like the following Sherlock fight scene

Paralysis

There’s an saying that goes something like – people who live in the past are depressed, those who live in the future are anxious and those you live in the present are happy.  I live in the past and present at the same time.

I look back at what I did and what could have gone different, not in terms of regret mind you but in terms of analysis.  Like reviewing a game of chess.  This gives me more tools to work out variable outcomes and refines my existing ones.  I look forward to what’s possible and plan accordingly.  I know I’m going out for supper with the family – a small thing.  I know I’ll need a cup, diapers, a bib, cleaning items, a set of clothes, a booster, a medical kit and a bunch of other things for all the possible outcomes.  Or I know we’ll be hosting guests.  I’ll need coffee, tea, cups, plates, a clean dishwasher, items to be prepped, space for guests, favors, desert, places for people to be, kids to play and so on.  If there’s a possible variable, I’ve likely considered it.  The odds of of it happening determine my next steps.

Where it turns into paralysis is that I do this for everything and that I am never really living today but living tomorrow, or the week after, or 10 years down the road.  I have tremendous difficulty in appreciating the moment, outside of seeing a planned outcome being realized.  Spontaneity is appreciated only in the challenge is presents for future planning, not on the immediacy of the event.  So this makes Christmas and my birthday somewhat difficulty for people, as I’m not tremendously exited at gifts (of which I’ve guessed 95% of them ahead of time).

Side effects

This one you’re likely just not to believe and that’s OK.  Simply put, I have a fair amount of deja vu on a regular basis.  Not the “this feels familiar” feeling but the more surreal out of body aspect.  The easiest comparison is athletes and sports.  Elite athletes work on instinct and the best of them often report that the game simply slows down for them.  They can see everything at the same time, even themselves.  They can see what will happen in the next instant and be prepared for it.  I play hockey and that happens rather often.  What I get above and beyond that is a full fledged memory of an event as it happens.

I remember my first day of grade 8 as I had to swap schools.  I had a vivid dream the night before of the first day and sure enough it rolled out as I had dreamed.  The kicker was that I knew everyone’s name before having met them.  It’s been an odd trip since then.

The final side effect, and one I share with many introverts, is the need for solitude and general lack of energy for social events.  It is very draining to always be on and it makes it taxing on my family as well.  I tend to live in the future which makes it hard for people to understand my point of view – either they are impressed or intimidated.  Very little middle ground unless you’ve known me for a decent amount of time.

The good

I will finish off with the positive side of this story and there certainly is one.  This rather unique skill pays very well in the market.  I can take extremely complex issues, memorize the variables and lay out options.  I have a near encyclopedic memory.  I have enough social skills to interact with people.  I’ve become comfortable and accepting of the skill set, which makes me relatively happy.  I work diligently for positive outcomes, which is of benefit to those I wish to protect (wife, kids, family, friends).

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Back From Vacation

3 weeks away and I back, is I.

It was an interesting vacation this year for a few reasons. Prime is that I lost my phone the first week (though got it back) and didn’t have any reception for the 3rd week. I was interweb-less! I spend a lot of time reading on-line, way more than most people. Without that outlet, it was a little rough at times. I did get some fishing in but with a 2 and 4 year old, it’s not the easiest thing to plan out. Second interesting factoid was that it either rained or was cold (~15C/60F) for nearly every day but 3. I don’t personally mind the rain so much but after a while, you start to get cabin fever. Third, I got the stomach flu – actually everyone did. Not fun.

I do wish it was more of a vacation to recoup, as was my cruise in the spring. Ehh, still was fun spending time with the family.

Wildstar

I am still subscribed and see myself doing so for quite a while. There are good reasons, and the guild is one of them. But after a month, I think I can put out a decent summary of the game, as I did with ESO. The next post will focus on that. Suffice to say, I’m having fun.

Other

I’ve touched on this in the past, where I have a passion for social analysis and a near fatal attraction to analytics as a whole. Recent conversations have provided me with a more vocabulary to properly explain what that actually means. This goes to an old issue where someone asks another person to “prove” that they love someone – in other words provide evidence on a non-physical item. I think I’ve found adequate wording to assist with that, and as to how my brain works. That’s also a future post.

All told, glad to be back at the writing desk.

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Lessons Learned From Gaming

Working like crazy, Wildstar is the only sanity break I have. Need to write more. Here’s an idea that is top of mind of late, because of work.

While gaming still has yet to pierce the “accepted for adults” social bubble, there are many recorded benefits from gaming that translate to the real world.

One of the more common things heard of late is putting raiding on your resume, in particular if you’re achieving something unique. Now, the item on paper means nothing other than a conversation starter, sort of like past job experiences, unless you can provide a reference. That is really hard to do in the virtual world.

Still, the experience gained from raiding, and I select raiding purely for the logistical and skill difficulty factors, translates extremely well to real life activities. For example. I’ve had my share of complex problems to solve in my career, each with seemingly unique variables. In reality, those complex variables are based on a set of rules (mechanics) that can be seen if you look hard enough. The thing is, if you can raid at a high level, and high is whatever you want it to mean, then you likely have the skill set required to absorb an issue, compare it to other issues you’ve seen, apply basic rules to it, and formulate a response. You also have the ability to execute that response.

I know that seems pretty high level but I can assure you that being able to handle complex issues in a timely fashion is NOT a common skill. It’s also mainly why high level raiding is such a small drop in the bucket but the most prominent. Now, they aren’t directly linked for the main reason of time. If the RL is taking a lot out of you, you likely don’t want games to do the same. The inverse though, crappy job and you want a challenge does apply.

And that’s just raiding. I love playing markets in games, what with a love of spreadsheets. Analytics is a very important skill to have. Housing decoration. This allows creativity, communication skills, branding and a whole pile more. Achievements, the hard ones now, are almost OCD in their dedication to complete. Sticking to a goal and getting there, even through piles of muck, is something we all need to do at some point. 

I could go on about even more systems (RTS, FPS, puzzles, etc…) but it should be evident by now that what we play affects how we live in other aspects of our lives. Gaming today provides so much simulated complexity that it would be crazy to ignore the long term benefits.

Happy gaming all.

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#Wildstar – Zone Transition

In architecture frameworks, we find a few levels of detail.  Conceptual, Logical, Physical are the most common.  Concepts are arts styles and a few words to describe.  In games this is the sketch work you see on most sites and what kickstarter usually has with.  A picture of a house is a solid example too.  These are guided by principles.  This place is red, this place is in the sky, etc…

Logical models are a bit more in-depth.  They show how things interact with each other but don’t go down to the detail level.  So for a game, it would be where the main hubs are, the general sub-zone themes and what-have-you.  This side of the map has tunnels, this side rivers, that sort of thing.  An architecture blueprint for a house has this level of detail.  It has to make sense, so that you don’t build a river system above a volcano and that your windows aren’t all on one side of the house, basic rules for the system to work.

Physical models are where the objects are built and placed.  Mob placement and pathing.  Aggro chains.  Key NPCs.  Where harvesting materials spawn.  Zone elevation.  That sort of thing.  In a house design this usually goes down to the exact measurements of the door, or the electrical wiring in the house.  These models are highly restricted, either by law or by design. I mean, you can’t have an ocean in the sky (well maybe?) and you can’t put an outlet in the bathtub.  Breaking these rules means bugs/breakdowns/fire.

And that’s just what the zone LOOKS like, how is actually PLAYS is another layer on top of it.  Quality games design the story (the playing part) before the actual visual (the looking part).  Zones that are designed on looks before the story give you a fractured and disjointed feeling. Sort of like Wilhelm’s recent post.  I found that ESO suffered from this too, and J3w3l has some explanation of that too.  By and large, the zone quests in Wildstar are strongly linked and make a lot of sense.  The tasks are mostly one-offs.  They fit into the story but don’t bog it down with at ton of exposition.  You can read the lore as an option (and you should) but it doesn’t interfere with the game – it augments it.

One of the odd little wrinkles in Wildstar is Farside.  This is the belly button of the game, for levels 25-35, ish.  Rather than a single zone, it’s actually a bunch of smaller distinct zones.  A jungle, a desert mesa, a moon and a support base.  They have their own story that makes sense but given the concentrated design elements, it seems to resonate better with people.  I mean, I loved that moon level, with 1/3 of the gravity.  Robot suits, laser beams hitting big ships, aliens all over the place.  Awesome.  Farside, I will posit, is going to be the favorite zone for the majority of players.

And then you hit Wilderrun, a proto-typical jungle zone.  Very reminiscent of STV back in the old WoW days.  The story isn’t too bad, wild amazonians protecting the water of eternal youth.  It’s just that the zone is massive, uses a lot of vertical space and it the type of zone people are used to seeing.  It’s a bit like having a bite of the absolute best piece of homemade designer cake one day and the next, you get a grocery store frozen cake.  I mean, the other cake is OK, but compared to the one before it takes like dirt.

As I play and enjoy Wildstar, I do see my designer hat come on from time to time and look at the meta of it all. By and large, the core design decisions taken here are ones that I questioned originally but end up working extremely well in practice.  It’s a themepark, fine.  But rather than have a single ride from start to finish, it’s a bunch of rides, interconnected, thematically linked.  It’s like the difference between 6 Flags (just a bunch of stuff) and Disney World (same stuff but all under the same theme).  It’s pretty neat.

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Combat and Art Styles

Pegging off Tobold’s post on appropriate art style, I think it bears mention more than just a couple games.  And I won’t really go into what looks better because that’s a very subjective argument.  This is really about the practicalities.

We have WoW art style, with distinct character outlines since the start. However it’s moved away from tab target to smart target, and red/blue markers on the ground. WoD will finally have target outlines as well. It’s evolved.

Neverwinter, a LAS/action game, uses outlines and AE effects given the mouselook aiming features. It’s a more realistic art style, making it damn near impossible to find someone in the thick of things. BUT, since it’s soft lock and AE for nearly everything (including healing), it works.

SWTOR uses cartoon style graphics for a seemingly endless supply of humanoids. I found it a mess in regular PvE but the group instances aren’t too bad as the character types are often different. Plus tab targeting helps drastically.

FF14 uses tab targets and a full skill bar, though in reality few skills. The art style is VERY unique and it’s fairly easy to spot individual players, let alone NPCs in combat. In fact, you rarely have more than 2-3 enemies at once. Of course, with a requirement for focused combat and targeted attacks, this is vital for success

FF14 - Ifrit

ESO is LAS + mouselook. Many attacks are AE or smart target. Every frigging enemy is the same though. PvP turned into meat walls of AE spam because you can’t focus target effectively. It also means many skills lose all value if they aren’t multi-target. Plus everyone blends in together and the background. So it’s less about aiming and responsiveness as it is about mashing AE attacks and hoping the numbers are in your favor.

Big Boy

Big Boy

Wildstar is LAS but tab/free target combat. Everything has an AE target as well, making aiming very important. Plus the character diversity helps you quickly ID the players in the field. The more quickly you can make an assessment, the better your odds.

That's a big gun

That’s a big gun

I guess it boils down to offense vs defense. A more realistic game favors defensive style of play and 2 types of skills. Either you spam and get lucky or you cross that skill gap to “elite” and run amok. FPS shooters I think show that well.

A more cartoon, or rather distinct character set, provides more offensive options as you can’t really hide. Everyone knows who you are and you have more information to make the right decision. It removes the skill gap and includes progression.

I wouldn’t be able to say which has the higher skill ceiling as that is more game-specific. It’s certainly an interesting topic.

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#Wildstar – Old Community

Murf has a mass-market article on Gameranx.  It deals with the more familiar aspects to the launch of Wildstar and community.  Disclaimer – both Murf and I are on Evidra (in a guild run by overlord Liore), an RP server.  The type of player who knowingly selects an RP server is vastly different than a normal PvE or PvP server.  That said, I think the general rule applies.

My personal experiences echo those of Murf, in that by and large, the community is much more familiar and family-like than other games.  I’ve stated in a few places that Wildstar takes a social-first approach to nearly all aspects of the game.  You can certainly play alone but the experience is exponentially better with other people.  Challenges in particular, are run at a disadvantage if multiple people attempt them without grouping.  Each zone has 5-6 group quests, usually 2-3 people with an additional 5 member quest.  Grouping with random people also awards Renown, used as a currency for many customization features.  Grouping with 2+ guildies also gives you guild credits, which unlocks additional features.

The old community aspect is that the game is familiar enough in concept that people were able to transition somewhat easily from other games and if you have friends, you can actually play with them.  So that’s a direct contrast to say, ESO.  The fact that transition was so simple and intuitive, it allows for a much lower stress environment when it comes to questions and answers.  It also helps that there are few bugs, so frustration is also very low.  It makes for a much more enjoyable community.

I think it bears to mention that Wildstar’s skill level is a fair bit higher than the competition (as always, FF14 aside) and that as more and more people run adventures/dungeons, people looking for an easier ride will have to either reset their expectations or head to another game.  This is EXACTLY what FF14 did and from the numbers we can see that was a rather successful position to take.  I know I have personally died many, many times as a solo player.  Dungeons are challenging, not punishing.  I think my level 90 Monk died once while leveling, and that was from falling.  With a higher skill level, it means that people are a bit more focused on what’s going on.  That makes for a more involved player base, which is certainly positive.

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#Wildstar – 2 Weeks In

By this point, I had a pretty good feeling for ESO but I waited til the end of the month. Will do the same here but wanted to post a quick update.

My Esper is 36. There are 2-3 people higher than me in the guild (Evindra-Exiles-Cats in Space) so I’ll venture to say I’m top of curve. It’s about the same rate as ESO and FF14, half as fast as TOR. I have spent an inordinate amount of time “goofing”. Exploring, crafting, little quests here and there, challenges. A fun dungeon runs, a few housing picnics (and a dungeon inside one!). There’s a ton to do and I am loving it all.

Catching some air.  Massive air.

Catching some air. Massive air.

I was in Farside, subzone 3.1 I guess. It’s the mini zone attached to the large moon (with 1/3 gravity no less) and was just astounded by the little details. Small nooks are full of fun stuff. Hidden ghosts, passed out gambling NPCs, giant snails making out, hidden sets of stairs. And the lore is just jam packed with juicy bits.  Farside is also an odd one as it’s made up of smaller zones.  Compared to Whitevale (just before) you’re only in each zone a couple hours.  Mind you, each has their fun components.  The 2nd zone (the sand biome) has a spider-man like challenge.  You can fall from the highest point while doing it and I spent a solid 45 minutes getting through.  That I tried for 45 and didn’t just move on, speaks a lot I think.

Syp's lot is pretty neat!

Syp’s lot is pretty neat!

Are there bugs? Ya, a few. I’ve only ever had to drop 1 quest though. A rare /reloadui fixes the rest. One bug happened in the world quest line, at ~35.  That took a bit of magic but the quest itself was impressive, so I didn’t mind redoing a fair chunk.  I think I could count the bugs on my hand actually, which is so vastly different from ESO, that they are like night and eclipse.

World Quest - just amazing art

World Quest – just amazing art

Housing.  I will have to make an entire post on housing.  Neighbors are easy to find and some people have been ultra creative.  Ryven found one piece of loot, not even at max size, that takes up 25% of his lot.  I’m adding pieces here and there, though I think I’m going to go for an underwater vibe – given my squirg headgear.  I like farming on other people’s land too, since you share resources.  It is so much more than I expected and extremely seamless.

I spend a lot of time smelling the roses. And doing that with other people too. That alone should speak volumes to what Carbine has been able to do here. I am continually impressed, even as a jaded vet.  I think, at the very foundational level, things just work and work smoothly.  It’s more or less intuitive.  There’s very little bullcrap that you have to put up with in order to have fun, which is a great change from more recent games (as I like to remind everyone, FF14 is the exception to all my MMO complaints!).

Oh, and I love Lopp.

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