Damned If You Do

I will start with a link to Twitch, of a particular section of the Anthem live stream.

For those not understanding what’s going on, the new Stronghold (dungeon) comes with 2 chests and a final boss.  Chests are where most people think good gear should come from.  In this particular case, the loot is 4 epics (100% useless for anyone who’s been level 30 for over an hour), and some materials to craft items.  In particular, 2 Masterwork Embers.  My math is probably wrong on this, but I recall it taking 20 of those embers to craft 1 item.  Long story short, the chest may as well have been empty.  This is the #1 issue players have with Anthem, extremely poor loot (many issues, but this is the big one).

And frankly, you’re allowed some bad luck rolls.  And it sucks when it happens on a livestream where you’re trying to show progress.  It sucks even more when you can read body language… and the 3 of them go into awkward silence (the only silence in the stream), realizing what’s going on.

For the full stream – including the chat that is spammed with the word “loot”- find that here.  In the entire stream, 3 MW dropped.  ‘nough said.

Delays

BioWare also put up a post explaining that they are going to concentrate on fixing the game rather than deploying their roadmap.  Math-wise, that’s 1 of 14 items that is delivered.

Again, this makes sense.  Anthem has some foundational issues that simply will not get addressed through more content additions.  It makes little sense to build on shifting sands.  That they are going to deploy a test server makes tons of sense.  Even this recent patch (1.1.0) is chocked full of bugs that are easily reproducible.  Intermittent bugs… fine.  100% reproduceable, every single patch… I’ve personally demoted people for this.

The general tone here is that the devs over-promised and drastically under-delivered.  It takes no responsibility for the game, or the culture.  It provides no timeframes for the next update, and the biggest feature – Cataclysms – no one knows at all what it means.  It’s one of those “we’re late, we know, but we have no idea when the next stuff will be ready”.  Which is fine when you’re in dev-mode.  It’s the opposite of OK for managing a live service.

Forest for the Trees

I’ve managed a particular service where it was more or less on fire for 6 months.  My team was spending an insane amount of overtime to get things semi-stable, trying to get some of the users in a better state, dealing with vendors and suppliers.  It was coming from all directions.

My job was to take the beating, give updates, and to give as much a space / tools for my team to do their job.  Won’t lie, I made my management team’s lives difficult, but it was a thousand times less difficult than if the clients were able to get to them.  We got out of it, bruises and all.

The good news is that the team was able to focus on the problem instead of the noise around the problem.  The so-so news is that the team grew closer together through some interesting conflicts from the stress.  The bad news is that it nearly broke me to get through that.  The largest lesson learned was that honesty/transparency was the best path forward, along with regular updates.

When I look at Anthem, I see a similar situation.  The fire has been going on for many months, but the job of being “the face” didn’t really exist until 10 weeks ago.  There was a ~2 week honeymoon phase, where there was some good faith.  That’s long gone.  Players rarely care about the large scale view, they care about themselves.  And there’s a serious gap in BioWare as to how to manage that expectation.

There are some clear examples on how and how not to manage a community.  I can only guess as to why BioWare is insistent on repeating the mistakes others have made.

I do hope that the development team can take some pride in what they have accomplished in the short time frame available to them.  I also hope that BioWare has an internal plan on how to address the various issues (or at the least has identified them), so that the dev team can track progress moving forward.  And move forward in a healthy way.

This is an ultra crappy situation to be in.  Entirely self-inflicted, but still crappy.

 

Patch Day

Off Topic First

I spent the long weekend with the family at the cottage.  Still some snow left on the ground, and the lake is frozen over.  Should be all gone by next weekend.  We’ve had an odd winter.  Very long, and very wet.  So much wet that the ground hasn’t thawed and the snow’s nearly almost gone.  That has caused some serious flooding – one of those ‘every 50 years’ types of events, but it also happened 2 years ago.  One particular region an hour or so away has had 5 natural disasters (including a tornado – which is like a 1 in 100 year event) in the past 5 years.

I’m a fairly green person, but there are some things I could do better.  I remember heading to Ft Lauderdale and being amazed that no one there ever recycles.  And here I am putting out 4x more recycling than garbage at home, and large amounts of compost.  It’s really picking at the back of my brain lately…

Patches a Plenty

Both Anthem and Dauntless are receiving patches today.  Big patches.

Anthem

At some point today (between 7 and 12 PST) the Anthem 1.1.0 notes will be up.  The only “known” item in this right now is a new stronghold.  There are some gameplay improvements, but no one knows what they are.  It’s unfortunate that last week’s live stream was cancelled due to the internet cut.  And this week’s is coming after the patch lands.  Which really seems like a bold move, since people will have had the chance to play it before the stream.  If it’s in-line with expectations – a 15 minute stronghold and some bug fixes – then it’s going to be a bad time.

It really does feel like watching a trainwreck in slow motion… with another train coming down the tracks.  While I am 100% certain that BioWare is doing everything in their power to get Anthem on track, it’s also 2019 on the calendar year, and complete silence from a dev is viewed as a negative.  Could certainly mine the salt mines of the official Reddit thread.  The simple perception of lack of leadership/accountability means that pretty much any good faith from the community team is torn to shreds.  A true leader would take the hits and protect their team.

Dauntless

The patch notes are up now for OB 0.7.  There are some really significant changes within the notes – Mastery System, Alternate Specials, Weapon Mods, Voice Chat, Guild Changes, End of Hunt, Daily Quests, Hunt Pass Season 4, Re-worked Main Quest.

Fixed a bug where the Stormclaw would build fences like it was 90% Off! Everything Must Go! at the fence factory.

It’s nice to see a dev find some humour in their bug fixing.  In particular if you saw this bug in action; fences everywhere and all the time.

Can I mention how endearing it is to have non-sales people pitching something?  Back to Anthem livestreams for a minute – Chris and Drew do this exceptionally well.

Quite the polar opposites of community management, and quite the opposites of managing expectations.  I do hope BioWare can catch their footing.. and quickly. EA’s push for both Anthem and Apex sure don’t look like it’s panning out.. so it will be curious to see how all this comes to pass.

A Tale of Two Games

Anthem somehow lost internet connectivity a few hours before their first livestream in a few weeks.  May as well go buy lottery tickets with that type of luck.  Not surprisingly, the Reddit forums are a damn salt mine.  Also, a few days ago BioWare put our some job postings for game designers – specifically for loot.  I can only imagine how it must feel within the walls of that company right now – you need to do a 180 and no step you take is going to be seen as enough.  It’s like a Bad Luck Brian meme.

I could compare this to Division 2, who are more than vocal, and are delaying their raid for QA purposes – plus opening a PTR).  It should be fair to compare two large companies in the same genre.  But one clearly has much more experience in this field – and their walls are not on fire.  So let’s handicap this a bit.

Phoenix Labs runs Dauntless – rag tag group for the most part.  Dev-wise, I see a whole lot in common with Digital Extremes (Warframe), where they have a clear roadmap and consistent communication with the player base.  There aren’t a bajillion dollars running the company, they aren’t under the microscope of big-budget hype, they made their own timeframes, and they clearly have a passion and understanding for their genre.

They release a patch every 2 weeks, with some fairly significant changes in each.

Next week sees a large patch, OB 0.7.  The core mechanics of fights will stay the same, but the “game” part around it is undergoing some major changes.  High level

New mastery system.  Complete specific tasks (per weapon type or creature type) to gain some rewards.  Could be cores, HP, stamina, more drops, carry capacity.  This is going to be the long game for a lot of people, since it allows for a significant amount of horizontal progression.

Path of the Slayer.  This rejigs the leveling process in order to provide clearer information to the player base on game mechanics.  I learned about Wound damage from Reddit.  Or how Hammers can break parts but not tails.  Or why Koshai is so much harder than Gnasher.  Players will be exposed to more mechanics while leveling, and be better prepared for the later parts of the game.

Season 4.  Lasts a month, gives cosmetic perks to free players, and about 10x the perk to people who buy a pass for $10.  Tightly related to the daily/weekly quests that provide progress for the season.  Theme is arid desert.  I do like the art style here, and I think I could complete all the activities this season.

 

Clearly, I’m rather enjoying my time in Dauntless.  It does a solid job of scratching that looter combat itch, and in combat bites that are reasonable.  Even more fun when you realize that the devs a) know what they are doing, b) have a plan to do it, and c) communicate that plan.

2019 & Queue Times

One of the primary reasons I strongly enjoy single player games is the time management aspect.  I can pick up and play as I want.  I can pause if need be.  I am only dependent on myself.  Online games… not so much.

EQ’s 20th anniversary brings back some nightmares of trying to find people in order to play.  The open-world aspect made leveling rather painful if the spawn points were already taken, of if the groups in the guild were already full.  WoW’s launch addressed a lot of that, since all dungeons were instanced.  Sure, travel time was a pain in the butt, at least you could play.  WoTLK brought in the LFG system, and my enjoyment of the game really exploded.  Easy to get in/out (destroying WoW is another topic.)

Now there’s multiplayer everywhere, or at least the option for it.  Some games do it really well (MMR games are a solid mechanic), and others make it a damn hassle (Monster Hunter World – looking at you bub).  But the core issue remains – the amount of players vs. the amount of content.

In a 50v50 game, you need 100 people to get started.  The 101st person needs to wait for 99 more people to join.  In high population games this is fine.  In low pop games, this causes insane queue times.  Plenty of MOBAs and team shooters have failed on this specific topic.  In games with rigid composition, then you have something similar occur if the player representation is out of whack.  WoW’s notorious lack of tanks/healers has had 45-60m queues for DPS players.

The technology and algorithms used to support queues has always fascinated me.   It needs to match a player’s wants vs the game’s needs.  Let’s say a game has 5 activities, and player A is willing to do 3 of them.  Does the game let the player pick 3, or just 1?  Does the game assign a priority to the activity based on the current queue time, or based on the player’s ability to meet the need (e.g. put a powerful player with other powerful players)?

Playing in Dauntless this is all at a head since you can select either a random event, a less random event, or a specific event.  If I need specific components, then I will queue for a specific target.  Theoretically, queue times should be longer as I am saying I want to do 1 activity of 100.  If I need generic things, then I will likely pick the less random event (which pulls from a pool of 5 activities).  Why not the full random one?

Because in the large random set, there are events I would prefer not to do.  The queue times may be near instant, but I’m willing to trade off 20s of waiting to eliminate the list of things I don’t like.

Dauntless will cap the queue length at a certain point and just give you a solo experience.  For 95% of the content, this is just fine.  And the 5% that’s left… well there are always people queuing for it since it can’t really be soloed.

Goals and Targets

Dauntless has an interesting balance perspective to manage.  MHW players have already spent their money, so it doesn’t really matter how long they stay engaged.  Dauntless is F2P, therefore it’s goal is to extend play times – since you need players to make the coop part work!  It does this through it’s crafting system, which requires you to collect rare and very rare components for the more difficult crafts.

These components require you to break a particular monster part (potentially multiple times, or while enraged) to have a chance at a drop.  Since the battles are capped at 30 minutes (and typically take less than 15), and there are no guarantees, you’re going to be running the same target multiple times.  Frankly, at decent power levels you may spend more time queuing/lobby than on the actual hunt.  Right now, I’m hunting the Bloodfire Embermane for his tail – and there’s only 1 queue of 100 that can give me that.  I can solo it well enough, but certainly much faster with 1 other (and ultra fast with 4 smart players).

This compounds into a scenario where you will find yourself queuing a lot.  Which is the genesis for this post.  Depending on the hour of the day, the queue times could be near instant (there’s always a 10s delay), or it could be 3-4 minutes before you duo a target.  Entirely manageable, and I’d expect that to drop a lot once the official launch hits in the summer and cross-platform is integrated (across consoles).

I think the queue system in place now works in the general sense.  Should be interesting to see how it works long term.

Dauntless – Hop, Skip, Jump

The last post was about the view of progression while going through it.  For most of the process there’s a small gap between your power and the enemy’s.  You’re always slightly behind the curve, and would need to hunt the same beasts for 2-3 upgrades per piece to stay on par.  Or… you simply attack the next beast and there’s a 90% chance they drop the material for a new item.  In this method, you’re simply changing weapons every other beast.  Still a gap, but it certainly forces you to learn the battles rather than just mash your way through.

And for the first 4 islands, this generally works.  For the primary reason that you’re fighting as a group and that the difference in power levels is objectively small (10% of 100 isn’t much, 10% of 1000 is a lot more).  You get to learn monster types, and whether speed/mobility is more worthwhile than large strikes.  Stormclaw for example, is much easier with a quick weapon, while Charrogg is all about big swings.

Then you hit island 5 (Maelstrom).  By the time you reach this place, you’re probably rocking ~250 power gear.  More than serviceable for island 4.  Island 5 needs 310 for you to have an even chance.  And then the model goes sideways a tad.

This is due primarily to the crafting system requiring rare components to craft items.  Up until this point, you were reasonably assured that a single kill would give you enough to make something, and potentially upgrade it.  Tier 5, not so much.  You can go a dozen or more kills before getting the drop you need.

And the power gap that is ever present means that nearly every behemoth will kill you in 2-3 hits, and you’re pretty much tickling them.  Choices.

  • Stick with it, hopefully getting a lucky drop and dramatically changing your output
  • Grind out Kharabak (who is a super mobile wasp that can turn invisible) and get >320 power
  • Grind out your repeaters (guns) to the 280 level and play a distance game with tier 5 monsters

I took option 3.  I also opted to grind the Ragetail Gnasher (tier 5) since he was weak to fire, and that’s extra damage I could take advantage of.  Still took a dozen fights to get the drop I needed for a weapon, but I was able to craft 2 new pieces of gear.  When I did craft the weapon (war pike), I was able to put 5 levels on it – getting it to 380.

From that point, it was more about figuring out what type of build I wanted to go about.

Planning

Similar to Monster Hunter World, the “end game” is about planning out a gear set and building it out.  Where it’s different is that all the gear at tier 5 is of the same power level – compared to the +/- 25% swings on MHW.  So you’re really only looking for the passive effects, which are related to play styles.

There are however, some general items to take into consideration.

  • Generally, you want to pick a weapon type and stick with it.  Try them all out before tier 5.
  • Blaze(fire) is death.  Pure liquid death.  There is no more important resistance than Blaze. Frost may freeze you in place (but it’s hard as heck to get hit by it), and Shock prevents item use (whoopie).
  • Stagger damage is only truly useful for Hammer builds.
  • Wound damage is great for part breaking – if you can get it to stick.  It increases slash damage on that part by 50%.
  • As a general rule, % increases are better than flat increases.
  • Increasing attack speed and damage is always useful
  • Lanterns (in particular the Drask version) are very useful.  Increasing lantern charges (through Aetheric Attunement) is a significant damage increase.
  • Cunning (crit chance) gives a % chance to deal double damage.  That can cause some seriously insane numbers.
  • You are capped at 350 armor/weapon power until you increase both to that level.  You can’t just go all offense.  Getting to 350 armor means 4 pieces of tier 5 armor upgraded to +4.

I personally opted for a damage build

  • Visage of Thorns (Koshai)
  • Stride of Thorns (Koshai)
  • Bloodfire Gloves (Bloodfire Embermane)
  • Scorched Carapace (Scorchstone Hellion)

As a base, I get

  • Ragehunter (more damage on enraged beasts)
  • Molten (drops orbs that make you fire immune and increase attack speed by 20%)
  • Evasive Fury (increase damage after dodging)
  • Evasion (increase invulnerability time during dodges)
  • Predator (increase damage dealt after avoiding damage taken)

Then with the various cell upgrades (like gems in slots)

  • Aetheric Attunement (increase % latern charge while attacking)
  • Cunning (increase chance to deal double damage)
  • Bladestorm (increase part damage)

 

Getting over that initial hump of tier 5 gear… the game is still a challenge but it’s smack dab in the part that I really enjoy.

 

 

 

Tier Progression

With more Dauntless under my belt, I am getting a better appreciation for tier management.

Monster Hunter World has tiers of monsters (low/high/elder) and they provide different quality of items.  This impacts potential not output.  If you want to get better gear, hunter better targets.  But if you have crappy items, you can still take out better targets… it just takes a bit longer.  Specifically, if your crappy sword does 5 damage to a low level monster, it will do 5 damage to an elder dragon too.  The output is constant, regardless of target.

Dauntless goes beyond this and affect potential and output.  If you have a crappy sword, it will do 5 damage to a low level monster and even less damage to a high level one.  Not a whole lot, but it’s a -20% / +25% swing of your attack power vs. the monster’s.   The balance here is a bit off, since to get an even amount of power, you actually need to hunt the monster above to get the necessary gear.  Let me show an example.

The Pangar is a mid-tier behemoth.  It has a power ranking of 242.  It is strong against frost, weak to fire.  It drops material to make a frost weapon.  The closest fire weapon is the Hellion, who is the next behemoth (273 power).  Or go down to Embermane (210 power).  That 32 point gap is ~20% less overall damage.  Pick the Zaga items set (from the previous target at power 231) and you get a storm weapon at 232 power.  In effect, as you’re progressing not only are the targets getting more difficult, but you’re getting weaker too.

When you reach the final island – Maelstrom – everyone is at 320 power and all weapons start at 310 power.  All meaning ~20 behemoths.  I’m there now, and I have to say it’s a LOT of fun.  Much more so that the progression through the 3rd island.

This gives the game a false sense of difficulty until you reach the final island.  None of it matters… because once you have your first weapon on that final island, there is no real vertical (power) progression – simply horizontal progress (through skills).  In the current beta state, that really means that you should simply focus on unlocking the final island and ignore repeating behemoth fights.  That is a dramatic difference from MHW.

The good news here is that the devs are aware of the balance issue and are planning to rejig it over the spring.  I am somewhat hopeful that this damage neutering mechanic goes away during the leveling process.

 

Epic Game Store

I’m not on the hype wagon that Epic Game Store (EGS) is a new type of cancer on gaming.  Not surprised at the amount of gatekeeping present in gaming circles, but hey, to each their own.  People fear change, and Steam has been the mainstay of PC gaming for longer than gaming memory.  (Side note, the last “successful” launch of anything Valve related was DOTA 2 in 2013.  Aside from the twice-annual fire sale of  every PC game ever made.)

Does EGS offer everything that Steam does?  Hell no.  Neither does Origin.  Or Arc.  Or Battle.net.  Or the dozens of other storefronts/launchers.  Is EGS coming to take your babies?  Maybe.  Will it activate your webcam and stream you out to Russia?  Certainly.

And exclusives are a problem now?  Remind me how again I can purchase Diablo 3 on Steam?  Or Anthem?  Right.  (There’s an irony on this point that I get to later.)

Does it suck that I have to remember yet another password/id?  Sure.  Just like I have to remember 50 different ones for every website/service.

Gamers are notoriously fickle, and the things on reddit are often so blown out of proportion.  Mainly due to the fact that the largest complainers have the least amount of spine.

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Real effective boycott…

Game companies have learned to navigate through the sewers of gamer miscontent, and find out what motivates players.  And that point is almost entirely based on money.  If EGS has the same games as Steam, but offers them cheaper… then guess where people are going to buy their games?  Doesn’t matter if you have achievements or not.  Or trading cards.  Or wish lists.

I-Win Button

The thing that many people are skipping over is that Epic already has a multi million (~250m at last estimate) player install base.  Across every single platform.  PC, XBONE, PS4, Switch and heaven almighty – mobile.  That simply dwarfs anything else.

And the next logical step?  Cross-play.  Let’s be clear on one single and vital point.  Console companies have been notoriously proprietary – Sony worst of all.  Fortnite broke Sony.  10+ years of people trying.  EA certainly pushed hard.  Yet a single game, in about 2 months effort, broke Sony.  You can play Fortnite on any device – with a single account.

From a developer perspective, this is a major benefit.  Online games win/die by the amount of players available (since they are often the content).  Imagine having a game suddenly have 6x more available players due to a code change.  You haven’t sold more boxes… just allowed them to see each other.

Mark the Calendar

Epic released cross-play SDK tools in December. 2019 is the year that cross-play becomes an expectation in gaming. In an ever connected world, Epic managed to break down walls with barely a whisper.  I am both amazed at the quick transformation, and terrified as to what comes next.