Skill & Chance Continuum

KTR’s Zubon has a great system of theories that he references often in his posts.  Many revolve around the concepts of chance and randomness.  A recent post relating to games of minor chance and skill that deter people from participating.  Which I think is the definition of sport as we know it.

In sport, there is always some element of chance – that the ball will be take an odd bounce, that a stick will break, that someone will slip rather than jump.  I mean, if it was a purely objective event we wouldn’t have sports betting right?

A Z-theory (I like that term) is that randomness helps the weaker party, which in practical effect is quite true.  I have a great distaste for games of pure chance.  This is compounded by the fact that my wife has an abnormally large swing to the “luckier than not” camp.  I’ve had enough nights of multiple Yahtzee to learn my lesson.  Games of moderate skill with elements of chance are also rigged in her favor.  I can count cards and I can detect patterns.  Heck, I’m an analyst by trade.  But the element of chance is seemingly in her favor (we joke that she has my grandmother’s luck).

Example.  Cribbage is a card game where you count to 121 points.  Points are accrued through discard per round, then through a point scheme in your overall hand.  Pairs, 3+ in a row and counts of 15 give points.  Simple in theory.  Odds would dictate the optimal cards to play at a given time, where statistically you’d be favored.  However, as with all games with chance, there’s some long-odds chance that you get more points, one where you give up the certainty of points for the chance.  To say my wife is an amateur cribbage is not fair.  That said, the better she gets at understanding the game and the systems that support it, the less likely she is to win.  Which I guess makes sense in the short game but certainly not in the long game (the famous change adaptation curve).

My brother is on the other side, where he actively aims to increase skill and optimize his play.  He has a dislike for randomness and chance, to the point of frustration.  Someone who wins through “cheese” as he calls it, pushes all the wrong buttons.  That said, even if he were to lose a game of skill there is always some additional factor to himself that would cause it.  My sister and I can clearly remember the nights of “stop walking so loudly”.  I was accused of cheating in GoldenEye because I remembered where the armor spawns were.  And the reactions are in the heat of the moment.  Once removed from the event, he can break apart what worked and what didn’t.  I guess that deals with focus?

I find myself closer aligned to my brother than my wife.  I prefer to play games of skill to chance and to play against opponents of equal or greater skill.  I do not want to be the best player nor do I want to be the worst, just somewhere in the top 10%.  Never been a fan of topping DPS meters but I am a fan of looking at why other people do.  And most times, assuming same power level, it’s because they replaced all pretense of defence with attack.  That isn’t an exchange I am willing to make.  On the odd time that I find someone who is truly more skilled than I am, I break it all down, compare to what I have and try some of it out.

Hockey is my final example.  I play 3 times a week and I can objectively say that I am a better player at 35 than at any other time.  Not better physical shape, far from it, but a better player.  I’ve moved from teams to better ones, taken up some high level shinny and pay a closer attention to other professional games.  I get to try some stuff out, see what works with my skill set and go from there.  You reach a point of confidence in the action, where you also understand the risk involved.  You then become more instinctual than thought-based, which drastically increases reaction time.  I had to relearn a bunch of fundamentals in the past 2 years due to bad habits. It’s made a world of change.

The point of the post is more about exploring where along the skill/chance continuum I find comfort and realizing that not everyone is there with me.  And that people who are too far apart on that line will have a hard time playing together.


WoW – Moar Pets!!

I play on Stormrage-US PvE, one of the original servers at launch.  My rogue’s birthday is 1 hour after the original WoW launched.  It is a server with a 90%+ Alliance ratio.  It is an old-tech server which, to my knowledge, has been upgraded twice “officially” but I’m sure maintenance has occurred over the years.  It is, through subjective analysis of the GFORUMS, one of the least stable servers currently on offer.  It also runs login queues, in 2014.  It has not merged and has been offered multiple free-transfers and is still full of people.  The problem is that people have 8+ characters and have been on the server so long, they know everyone.  My expectation is that on WoD launch, the server takes a massive crash for a few days and queues exist every day for the first month.  The smart move here should be like FF11, where creating a new character requires you to accept an invite from an existing player first.  Ah well…

Tuesdays are patch days and also raid reset days.  Which means I can take yet another stab at Raiding With Leashes.  I headed into MC to try Magmadar (the fire dog) and was lucky enough to get the drop.  I checked my achievement list to see what I was missing (rather than look at the pet list) and lo and behold, Raiding With Leashes II was there.  Moar Pets says I!

I’ve already tried a few stabs at the Ashes of Al’ar and Attumen Mount in TK and Kara respectively.  I did not realize until last night that I could run even more of those raids for stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the transmog gear and there are certainly some neat items but mounts/pets really get my OCD going.

So I logged on to my fresh 90 boosted Druid and gave ‘er a go.  I hadn’t done Kara in a LONG time so I needed to reorient a bit.  There are 3 mandatory bosses, Moroes, Opera and the chess event.  I need Attumen for the mount, Illhoof, the Wolf, the Curator and the Prince for the pets.  The Druid run was rather long, somewhere around 30 minutes, but with no real challenge outside of the stupid chess event that I’ve never liked and should be removed from the game and never spoken of again in proper social circles. *catches breath*  Was lucky and got the Wolf drop but that’s it.  I got the MC drop from Magmadar and still have no luck with Razorgore in BWL.  Naxx Loatheb is the last pet needed there and AQ40 just won’t drop anything.

RWL2 though, that sent me to the BC raids of Tempest Keep and Serpentshrine Caverns.  I did these back in the day and found them terribly difficult.  TK is easy at 90, with the exception of Sunstrider’s perma-stun goons.  I was lucky to lay down a could bleed-effects though, so they died while I was picking my nose.  Here I needed to kill all 4 bosses, only got 1 pet drop though.  It was quick and the entrance to the raid was stacked with people, so I guess everyone is trying to farm something.

My memories of SSC did not map to the zone.  Where before the map was just littered with enemies and death, now it was just a walk in the park.  4 bosses with pets, including Vashj.  The first 3 were easy.  Vashj is, from my understanding, broken.  She does no appreciable damage outside of her electricity DoT which ticks for about 10% of my HP.  She is the only raid boss who has killed me.  Most boss battles have no real mechanics to worry about at 90, just hit them.  Twin Emperors in AQ have one immune to magic, the other to melee, so each character needs to pick the right one.  Vashj becomes immune unless you find 4 Tainted Cores from unique enemies that spawn every 20s or so.  And there are these strider buggers that stun you.  So what happened was that I hit the 4th core, she hit me with 2 DoTs and I got stunned at the same time and died.  Twice.  My last run had her clear out of town.

Total clear time for all of this was around 2 hours – MC, BWL, Kara, Naxx, TK and SSC.

I figured I had time left before bed to try out the run on my Monk.  He skipped MC as I had the pet but he did all the other ones.  Total run time was under 45 minutes, where a solid 20 was flight travel time.  Faster clear.  Only 1 drop out of 15 possible.

Oh well.  Next run is the Shammy and Rogue.  Maybe I’ll get a bit luckier!


FF14 – There Be Flying About

I’ve professed a fondness for FF14 and that really hasn’t gone away.  I had stopped my subscription just about a year ago due to lack of time to play and things just haven’t aligned since to get back on.  ESO & Wildstar took up the late spring/summer and WoW is up on deck likely ‘til the end of calendar.  RIFT looks interesting, as Syp’s posts certainly have me itching.  We’ll see how the cards are dealt in that one.

But back to FF14 for a second.  I left just before the housing issue (crazy prices) and 2.4 seems pretty neat.  The next expansion is in February (?) and has a few highlight items, in particular a job with no class (Dark Knight).  Classes/Jobs in FF14 are pretty darn well thought out in general and with the 2.5s GCD, it’s more about strategy that is moment to moment button spamming.  The skill cap is lower that WoW or Wildstar but the base difficulty is higher than most other games.  The “ramp up” or training wheels period is super smart and the fact that 1 character can take any role is even smarter.  Account-based progress is done superbly here.  It is the best “pure MMORPG” out there – and subscriptions reflect that.

I keep rambling.  I want to get to the concept of flying mounts in FF14 as a prospect.  After having recently done Blasted Lands with only a ground mount, after ~4 years of flying around for the majority of my play, it was quite a shocker.  FF14 monster placement is such that there are spots you don’t want to walk through for fear of a chain stun/knockdown.  It provides a sense of scale to the game.  Not that travel is complex as each place is fairly easy to access once you know the paths.  We’re not talking about MMOs from 10 years ago where you spent more time walking than actual doing something.  The game today just isn’t designed for 3D movement.

Flying worked in BC because the zones were poorly designed and the concept of travel flawed.  It really was something for the devs to split content from the leveling folk and max level (like the Netherwing faction).  Flying mounts will never work in SWTOR due to the significant amount of zoning involved.  It would work in RIFT but there really isn’t a need due to the Portal system.  I personally see flight as a band-aid solution to poor design decisions.  It provides a massive convenience for the player that removes a ton of value from the actual content and thought process.

WoW-Cataclysm is my go-to argument for not including flight.  There are whole swaths of that expansion that I’ve never seen because I flew over it.  Heck, I was leveling my Hunter recently and found spots in Hyjal that were new.  And I’ve done that zone 6 times already.  The entire concept of exploration just goes out the door.  MoP took out flying while leveling but kept it at cap.  Horrible flight path logic made flying at 280% much more effective at getting around.  WoD is not putting in flight at all, which I think is a great decision.  They’ve already increased flight path speed and from beta impressions, the flight logic makes more sense.

So when I look at FF14 and they say they are putting in flight in the next expansion, I am quite pessimistic at the prospect.  From initial impressions, it would seem that I am not alone in that sentiment.  Though in the same breath, I find that the devs for FF14 tend to put a fair amount of thought into each step of design since the relaunch of the game.  Sure, the housing prices were bonkers but the system worked.  Duty Roulette worked.  Class balance works.  FATES work, bosses work.  Crafting works.  Solid, if not necessarily spectacular, from end to end.  Just seems like an odd pitch for a feature that is not met with much acclaim in any other game.

WoW – What a Boost Gets You

So I bit the bullet yesterday and bought WoD, which includes the boost to 90.  Funny story, I did this while I was stuck on a loading screen in Stratholme trying to get the Baron’s Mount.  My Rogue can clear the entire zone in under 4 minutes, which is decent enough speed.  Proper talent selection gives me a permanent 70% boost to movement speed, which is miraculous.  I used to run it a lot and never got lucky.  I ran maybe 30 runs last night, no drops.

Anyways, back to the boost.  Simple enough, log in, character select has to pick a player to apply it to and pick a spec, to ensure the gear you get makes sense.  I put it on my level 30 worgen druid.  I’ve been using him as a fun alt but to be honest, I find the druid slower than all the other classes.  Rogues are turbo stabbing machines and my mage and shammy seem to just light things up with chains.  Druid … not so much.  But they are versatile as all heck.  I selected a Monk for the 3 roles they can fill and a Druid can do 4 (melee and ranged DPS).  The only 2 classes that can do an “all one class” raid.  I’m a practical guy.  Plus travel form is OP (*instant cast flight grumble grumble*).

It took about 30 seconds for the changes to apply.  I logged in and my druid was sitting in the Blasted Lands, ready to start the intro quest to WoD.  Stacked in full ilvl 483 gear (which is a single notch down from Timeless Isle gear).  He was better off than my Rogue, Hunter and Shaman.  There are about 20 quests to go through in this zone and every 4th or so, you unlock something for the class.  Oh, and my bags were empty but I was given a bunch of 20 slotters and kept the gold I had.  Oh, and I gryphon mount with no training other than ground.  Blasted Lands on a ground mount is a much different experience than with.  Training for WoD no doubt.

I started with Prowl and 2 attacks.  Let me tell you that those 2 attacks didn’t do much.  No talents, no other skills, no glyphs…thank goodness for the gear I had.  Each fight cost me about 20% of my hp.  A few quests in and I unlocked a self-heal.  Then I unlocked some more damage abilities.  The final unlock gave me my talents/glyphs and all attacks.

And the penultimate flying skill, with all “zones” unlocked – including MoP flight.  I was running the math but that’s ~10,000g or so that was saved.  I have a few characters that don’t even have MoP flying since it’s not of any use in 3 weeks.  So, pleasantly surprised let’s say.

Also, since my character wasn’t a “veteran”, I didn’t get any profession boosts, they stayed at abysmal levels.  Though again, WoD is apply the same model as MoP cooking/gathering.  Gathering will work regardless of skill level, you just get broken pieces that you need to put together.  Cooking (actually all crafting now) will provide you with a training path using WoD materials to get to ~600 skill.  Boost really isn’t needed in this respect.  I will say that this model, while clearly practical for the players, completely removes any need whatsoever to visit older content outside of pet/achievement hunting.  You could just as easily live in Ogrimmar/Stormwind, travel to Blasted Lands and WoD content and erase the rest of the game with barely anyone noticing.  Wave goodbye to 10 years of work I guess.

To sum, I am incredibly surprised at what you get for a level 90 boost.  All the skills, a bunch of starter glyphs (only needed to buy 1), all flying skills (except the 310%), all flight points and a ton of good gear (including bags!).  In one fell swoop, my druid went to a bottom feeder to 2nd in power in my squad.

All of this can be bought again for $60.  Now, once WoD launches, starter quest gear will evidently be better so that’s not up for debate.  What the value is against is everything else.  How much time does it take to get to 90?  For a veteran, this is likely under 3 days played, for a new player this can be much longer but the experience of doing so is key.  How long does it take to get 10,000g to get the flying stuff and mounts?  Honestly, if you’re leveling manually to 90, you’ll get more than this in the process, so you’re actually coming out with less money.  The rest is all natural.  So it boils down to a question of the time required to level.  You would normally pay $15 for a month’s play.  Would you be able to get someone to 90 in that time?  Would it take you 4 months to get to 90, where the price point is a wash?  Depends on how you value time.   It does make for a very high price point for new players. $30 (base) + $40 (WoD) + $60 (extra boost), assuming that the character you initially boosted isn’t the type that actually is fun to play at end game (*cough*warrior*cough*).  I know I see no value in it but someone else might.

Ottawa – The Day After

As the world was made aware yesterday, Canada had a terror event in the capital.  I work about 4 blocks from the event, and our building was in lockdown until 8pm.  Suffice it to say that it was a rough day.  I tweeted my issues with the media reporting on theories rather than facts and the least offensive was CBC, who oddly enough is a government sponsored news channel. I had to turn off the news/radio later in the day, when things had calmed down a bit, because of the insane political/religious rhetoric.  The focus should be on Cpl Cirillo‘s death and the actions of the Parliament security to disrupt the final event.

Even though I was at work, I can assure you my thoughts were pressing in other matters.  As per security protocol, wireless calls were blocked, so there were quite a few worried folk around here.  Twitter was faster than the news as there were hundreds of people on site.  Heck, even some reporters were posting pictures of emergency services (EMS) on Twitter, which is to my knowledge, a criminal offense.  Aside from the Boston Bombing, which was an instant event (though it did include a manhunt), this is a rather unique use of Twitter and other social media to manage in an emergency.  EMS can’t say too much because the public is posting all sorts of stuff that the bad guys have access to.  When you’re hunting a person down you don’t advertise that you’re hunting in X spot right?

To further complicate things are the multiple jurisdictions at play.  The Ottawa City police are for the core streets.  The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are responsible for the grounds of our Parliament.  Behind Parliament is a river that separates Ontario and Quebec (provinces), which have their own provincial police.  Finally, inside Parliament, the Sargeant-at-Arms is responsible for the security of members of Parliament.  I think the count was around 7 on-site police forces that needed to talk.  This is excluding the military or national security advisors and 3 levels of government officials (national, provincial and municipal – city hall is 2 blocks down from Parliament).  They have admitted they were caught off guard, so I’d expect some change in protocol for any potential future event.

Before the Event

Canada is an interesting country, where we strongly value privacy and freedom.  In fact, it’s something (maybe one of the only things) that the left and right agree on.  We don’t have a TSA.  We don’t have warrantless wiretaps.  We have rather strong privacy commissioners (who actually changed the way Facebook works for everyone).  It’s a free an open society where people can espouse their thoughts, but always tempered with a cordial respect.  The real nutjobs are mostly ignored to their tiny corner – Sun News is a really good example of this.  There’s just a general level of tolerance, though it is challenging at times.

Before the event, I could walk up to Parliament and touch the building.  I could watch caucus leave.  I could even shake the PM’s hand if he was in office.  I could take a tour of the offices, visit the house of commons and actually see the inner workings of my country’s governance.  Security was evident but it wasn’t intrusive. I didn’t have to wait in line to wait in line again.  Our security heads had advised that could prevent most but not all attacks.  Any additional money spent would be exponential compared to the actual security it provided.

After the Event

I am personally not any more fearful.  I am certainly confused and angry that such an event could occur.  I am upset that a Canadian-born citizen because so disenfranchised with our country that they sought refuge in extremist thought.  That isn’t a security failure, it’s a social one.  It’s going to require some internal review about how we can become more unified and accepting, rather than push more people out.

I am happy with the overall response of Canadians to this tragic event.  While there are certainly the fringes that want to close borders and declare war on a sect of a religion, the general masses understand that these actions are so far removed from core values that we should protect those who are different.  Our police and security forces have already tended support branches to our religious and cultural communities in case they feel threatened from retribution.  It’s telling that the country, rather than focus their pain on some large change, we took the time to just get closer and invite more people to the hug.

Let’s be honest though, there will be some changes.  Our Prime Minster’s speech did cause some concern around the wording around more security:

In fact, this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts and those of our national security agencies to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats, and keep Canada safe here at home – LINK

This isn’t 9/11.  This isn’t the Boston Bombing, or the London Tube Bombs.  One military target, some potential political ones.  There were no bystanders here.  Any re-action should be of even keel compared to the action taken, as any swing in direction is always returned with a re-balancing swing later on.  I am not willing to give up my privacy and freedom to prevent a similar attack because I don’t believe today that it would actually have made a difference.  I am anxious to understand further details however, so see what, if anything, could have been done to prevent it.  Now is far from the time of action, it’s the time for investigation, evaluation and a measured response.

To Sum

Ottawa is a good and strong city.  Canada is a great country.  It is great because of it’s values and ethics.  By all reports, Cpl Cirillo was a model citizen and it’s a tragedy to have lost him, and I do mourn for his family.  He paid a price for the freedom we enjoy and we need to pay respect to that act.  I truly believe that this event will make us stronger as a country, working together for a better tomorrow.

WoW – Old Content With New

Continuing on the theme from the previous post, relating to the quality and quantity of content in a themepark, I decided last night to take a stab at some achievements.

As before, Raiding With Leashes is still on the table and I was able to pick up 2 more pets. I think I’m down to 5 left, which isn’t too bad.  At 90, even a fresh 90, my characters are more than strong enough to take on any particular event in those raids.  Well, except the first boss in BWL, which requires some practice to avoid a wipe, given that you need to keep the boss alive while he’s being attacked.   Of interest, given that MC and BWL are next to each other, it’s easy to compare.  I can get both MC/BWL done before I can get Naxx or AQ done – simply because I use a Rogue with stealth.  This is really pushing me to boost my Druid to 90 with the WoD package.

After I ran all 4 raids, which was a bit less than an hour of work, I decided to knock off the Hallowe’en achievements for candy buckets.  First lesson learned is that the individual steps in an achievement are not seen across the account, only the completed achievement.  More specifically, if an achievement requires me to visit 50 inns, those inns are not shared across all characters.  I had 2 left on one character and knew that I had another one logged into those actual inns.  I swapped over and blank achievements.  Once I went back to the first character, completed those 2 inns, it unlocked the achievement for everyone.

Second lesson.  On Stormrage, it is next to impossible to find anyone from the Horde, making some achievements really quite hard to complete outside of PvP.  It’s like a 99:1 ratio.  CRZ sort of helps and it was merged with another one (no idea why, it’s been high pop for 10 years) but it’s still a pain.

Third lesson.   I don’t like PvP achievements.   Children’s Week is the worst offender but they all stink.  They make people play PvP for the sole purpose of achievements and not actually for PvP.  These are often people who would never even set foot in PvP in the first place.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have meta achievement, aimed at a more casual though OCD crowd, mixed up with additional content.  I mean, are we looking to add event-based  achievements to LFR too?

Frustrations aside, I am realizing that I have a slightly different perspective on expansions than most.  Rather than see it as a bunch of new content moving forward, I see it also as opening up a bunch of previous content I never had a chance to see.  It’s been a solid 7 years since I was in Desolace, for the XC attunement quest.  Yet I was there last night and was impressed by the progress.  Burning Steppes, Stonetalon, Bloodmyst, Netherstorm, Sholazar, Twilight Highlands… all zones I had spent a ton of time in previously and simply forgot they existed outside of some words on a map.  Hunter pets, battle pets, achievements and archeology are all great ways to get me to go back.

It’s certainly a different set of eyes looking back on where you came from.

Themepark – Content Design for Engagement

I have a few friends that are massive Disney fans.  They are not 8 years old but in their 30s and 40s.  They take annual trips to Disney World/Land or take a cruise.  Fascinated by it all really.  My question to them some time ago was why?  Why are you taking the same ride again and again?  Haven’t you seen it all?  And the answer is simple.  There’s just so much to consume, and of such high quality, that you can do something completely different every day.

I took my first cruise last year, Celebrity Cruises.  It’s one of those lines where you pay a bit more, there are next to no kids and the service is superb.  There are tons of things to do on the ship and since each is high quality, you can don’t feel you’re wasting time doing it another go during the week.

MMO themeparks need to meet that standard to succeed today.  You need variety, quantity and quality.  The last one is certainly subjective but the first two are pretty darn easy to compare between games.

I realize with WoW that the Raiding game and Dungeon game are not so much my cup of tea.  Sure, LFR is something to do and likely the cap of my possible time investment in a single session’s attention span.  Dungeons are a means to an end, outside of the first couple runs.  Eh.  So I need to set myself alternate goals, and this is something that is complex in many themeparks.

Outside of non-consequential PvP, other themeparks give you a few options.  GW2 has the living story, map completion and some customization.  RIFT has housing, pets, AA, a crazy achievements bucket and some solo instances.  SWTOR has housing, conquests and the legacy system.  WoW has pet battles, collections (mounts/pets/toys), transmog, Farmville (and Farmville 2.0 in WoD), solo instances, achievements, timeless isle (and similar in WoD) and monthly-ish events.

I’ll give a more specific example or examples really.  I have 4 level 90s and 2 that I could easily get to 90 in a week.  Plus the boost I’m looking at for getting WoD (eventually).  So I have them set around old raid instances right now, to get the Raiding with Leashes achievement.  This requires 12 pets that drop from old-world raids – MC, BWL, AQ and Naxx.  My Hunter is trying to capture Spirit Beasts and rare pets.  My Monk is capping out factions outside of dungeons.  I’m also hunting additional mounts and pets in the wild, so I have someone “camped” at Huolon to get a shot at the dropped mount.  I haven’t even bothered with Transmog, at least not a couple weeks before an expansion.

Side note, I was collecting pets and mounts before it was cool.  At the end of LK, I had a crazy amount of them – and when they went across the account rather than player, I was incredibly happy.

I did something very similar in RIFT 1.0.  I went through each zone and closed all the achievements I could outside of rare hunting.  That was a heck of an achievement in itself.  Then macros and runs to find the rares for some neat pets.  Then a lot of costume hunting.  It was a ton of fun.

It was fun because even though I was repeating some content, multiple times, the goal was outside of that content.  I wasn’t doing a dungeon so I could do another dungeon or raid.  I was doing a dungeon so I could run a pet battle, or get a cool mount, or neat suit.  This “crossing of content streams” gets people more deeply invested, or at least gives them a better understanding of all the game’s components.

Now, I am not so much a completionist as I am one who likes smart, small goals that compound.  I won’t spend 100 hours to get 1 item and 1%.  I will spend 100 hours to get 100 things and that same 1%.  Shadow of Mordor is a good example – I just looked at the map and closed off all the events, 90% of which aren’t related to the main game.  Batman is an even better example.  I closed all the events there except the Riddler clues since they required additional effort that I didn’t find fun.

Lots of small, bite-sized events that are fun, I’m in.  I’ll do a ton of them.  Long, drawn out events that lose progress (so you restart), I’ll keep those for my real world job.