Complexity and Fear

I am not a rocket scientist, or a brain surgeon.  I work in systems architecture, which is  fancy way of saying that I work in puzzles without pictures, and pieces of different sizes.  My job entails taking an idea, breaking it down into smaller chunks, finding or making things to accommodate those chunks, then bringing it all together.  I make things that are hard from the inside, look easy from the outside.

People, in general, are irrational.  They make knee jerk decisions, and the majority of the time it is based on fear.  Fear is a good emotion, it’s what’s kept us from being eaten by spiders and snakes and alligators.  But we don’t (generally speaking) have that problem anymore.  What we have now are taxes, people who are different than us, massively complex bureaucracies, and dozens of new inventions that connect us to each other without us understanding how.

It is a rather simple matter to explain to someone why a snake would bite you.  It’s also acting in fear and self-defense.  Trying to explain to someone where taxes go and what they do… that’s a challenge.  I had a gentleman ask me why his phone automatically recognized a caller that wasn’t in his contact list.  I had to explain to him that he had shared his LinkedIn and Facebook account, the other had done the same, and the system just linked them.  He immediately went back and set it all to private, then started diving into other applications he had used.  I’ve talked to my wife numerous times about online presence and the mindset of her students that simply cannot disconnect.  Without her experiencing that firsthand, and the insomnia and externalized self-worth that accompanies it, there’s no real empathy.

I read a lot of news, from various sources.  There are some articles that are good, most however are quite poor.  To reduce an argument to a single line, or a single idea… that’s unfair.  Even in this connected age, there is not enough material to fill in 24 hours of fear-mongering news.  Most of it has to be made up, spun up, and screamed about.  Apparently everyone is out to kill me, everyone who doesn’t agree with me should be locked in jail, I should be immune to all arguments, and I should never change my mind.

I do get the flipside.  Issues are complicated.  Like a giant house of cards, you can’t just take one piece on it’s own and remove it.  It’s being supported by, and supporting other pieces.  Ignorance is bliss and people don’t ever want to have a hand in the game.  That’s the worst part about fear.  The thing is, without that knowledge, it’s a slow death.  Everyone has a hand in the game, whether they realize it or not.  By sticking your head in the sand and pretending nothing is going on… there’s only one part of your body left to take advantage of.

I want my kids to grow up understanding that fear is a good thing, it’s a daily challenge. By facing that fear, by diving into it and understanding why it exists, we can make greater changes.  It will be hard going.  There will be failures.  Other people will try to pull them down.  But it won’t matter.  They will ask questions.  They will have sympathy to the plight of others.  They will have empathy to better understand why people act the way they do.  And they will grow smarter and stronger for it.

For that to happen, I have to be better.  We have to be better.

 

 

 

Horizon First Impressions

PS4 is all set up and good to go.  Relatively painless install, which was nice.  I picked up Horizon, Uncharted 4 (in the package deal), and a used FF15.  Horizon was the first kick at the can.  I even got to play a bit with my eldest daughter, who did a pretty good job navigating.

I’ll assume most people know what the game is about.  Futuristic pre-history, open world, robotic dinosaurs, tribes, and bows.  That sums it up somewhat well.

The game is stunning to play through, where I find myself just moving the camera to enjoy the scenery.  It’s also one of those games where if you can see it, you can likely get to it.  It starts off in a relatively small part, then you actually look at the map and the sheer size of it all is amazing.  I’m sure there are other games that are as big, but few that share the same scale on a single unified map.

Running around (or on a mount) is a lot of fun.  There always seems to be something to catch your eye and I find it difficult to stick to the beaten path.  The first large quest has your run something around 2000 distance to the next target.  If I had ran straight, it would have been under 10 minutes.  It took me something like 5 hours instead.  Animals to hunt, gear to craft, bandits to clear, flowers to find, statues to find, cauldrons to explore…there’s always something going on.

Cauldrons in particular feel like tombs from AC2, combined with some stealth combat.  They allow you to unlock converting more and more difficult robots.  Each follows a similar structure – move through a puzzle area, with a few enemies around to make life hard.  Then a final massive battle.  They allow you to explore the lore of the world, which seems very well integrated.  I’m always looking for more.

Voice and sound are all top notch.  The lip sync can be off a bit, but the voice acting itself is superb.  Aloy feels relateable.  Her banter and self-thoughts make sense.  Conversations are about more than the simple stuff.  It’s quite well done.

Combat though, I think that was the real genesis for this game.  The enemy robots all have specific weak spots.  Most of those spots are covered with armor.  Nearly all have a specific elemental weakness that provided an additional effect.  Burn the fuel tank, take off 50% of the HP.  Remove the generator and no more stealth.  Aside from Watchers (the simplest of robots), most can kill you in 3-4 hits.  Some are massive. The first fight against a Corruptor felt like the hardest fight in years.  Then I realized he’s only mid-range difficult.

Most combat games you can stick with a single weapon.  You might upgrade range and damage, but you stay with the same.  Maybe God of War is one where you’d swap between 2 or three weapons.  Here though, you have to swap.  Either you do 10 damage a shot on a 10,000 hp enemy, or: you swap weapons, detach the armor, swap weapons, shoot a fire arrow, swap weapons, stun the enemy, swap weapons and deal a killing blow.  It’s sounds like a lot, and at first it is.  Eventually you get the hang of all the various bits and combat flow.  You turn into some kind of super human archer, pulling off moves that would seem ridiculous an hour before.

Gear itself is upgraded, though only marginally.  My 15 dmg bow is now an 18 dmg bow and “very rare”.  Skill is the differentiator here, and that’s a lot of fun.  Input controls are solid, and you don’t have any lag between what you want and what happens.  It feels like there’s move cancellation, which is more important than if it’s there or not.  My only gripe is that the camera can be a challenge, especially on larger enemies.  In particular in the very hectic battles.

So far, I’m feeling like this game alone was worth the console purchase price.  It hits all the right notes.  Combat, exploration, story, growth.  Extremely impressed.

Console Considerations

The last console I bought was a PS3.  Way back when.  It’s served me rather well, though I will be the first to admit that my game catalogue was rather small compared to when I was younger.  Such is life I guess.

I have been, and continue to be, an avid PC gamer.  These past few years, the portability of a laptop has been the largest boon.  It certainly helps that there are thousands of more games, and that each game is arguably cheaper than on console.

That said, there are particular games on consoles that attract attention.  I am not a FPS fan, so that rules out nearly every XBONE exclusive there is.  I prefer the strategic/rpg type game, and that’s where Playstation lives.  I don’t have, nor do I plan on purchasing a 4K TV anytime soon, so that certainly helps with some decisions.  No need for a PS4 Pro.  And the PS4 slim is $50 off for a few more days.  FF15, Horizon, Uncharted, Last of Us, Last Guardian… all of interest to me.  All at crazy price points.

Anyhoot, let’s compare for a minute.

PC

Pros

  • Mobile (with a laptop)
  • More games available
  • No monthly costs
  • Used for more than games, like banking, picture editing, browsing, etc…
  • Individual games are cheap ($10-$50)

Cons

  • Expensive initial setup for gaming ($1500-$2000)
  • Local multiplayer is complicated
  • Requires a lot of configuration/tweaks to make it work

 

PS4

Pros

  • Exclusive game titles
  • Lower initial cost (~$300)
  • Limited configuration requirements
  • Can be used as a media hub/center
  • Playing with kids is easier
  • VR?

Cons

  • Multiplayer has a monthly cost
  • Smaller game selection
  • Not mobile
  • Individual games are more expensive ($70-$80)

 

When you get down to it, the comparison boils down to “do I want to pay $300 for the chance to play specific games?” I’ll be honest, given the amount of money saved on other hobbies, that’s not so much a barrier to entry right now…

WoW’s Legendary Gambling

I’ve played my fair share of Diablo 3.  That game is based on two main concepts – stats and specific gear bonuses.  The RoS expansion went full bore on this theme, with good success. Some specs cannot be played without a specific number of specific items.  There is very, very little strategic gameplay past that point – for most players anyway.

Getting those pieces of gear is the main challenge, and there are 3 main ways to achieve it.  Random drops from farming runs.  Cubing some items to have a chance at something better.  And Kadala shard-trading.  Kadala shard trading is the best way to get armor, while cubing is the way to go with weapons, from a cost perspective.  You get shards, trade 25 or so to Kadala, get a random piece of a specific slot – say a chest piece.  The optimum gearing path with a new character is to farm shards for gear.  A couple hours is often enough to get all the pieces needed, then it’s a grind to upgrade those pieces and get the complementary ones.

WoW’s Version

This is where things go sideways, since WoW is not an action RPG.  For a very long time, strategy won out over stats.  Set bonuses took a while to acquire, and stats bonuses were not massive increases in chance of success.  Except for legendary items.  These have always been coveted, as anyone with a legendary (a current one) was significantly more powerful than others.  The ring in WoD is the last example, but it required a significant amount of hoops to acquire.  The path was known.

Legion kept the same “game altering” legendary item system as before, but took out all controlled mechanisms to acquire them.  Not only was getting one a rare and random event, the actual item you received was random as well.  You could easily get a crappy legendary.  But the power benefit of a good one was massive.   All you needed to do was grind endless dungeons.

This reminds me a bit of the tuning done for Burning Crusade.  Raids past the first tier were all balanced against fully-gemmed gear, stacking Shamans, and everyone using Battle Drums.  If the raids were balanced against “regular raiders”, then those using the above strategy ran through without challenge.  Legion raids are not nearly as bad as thing, but the perception from raiders is that good legendaries are required.

Plus, let’s be honest.  For every person in your guild that gets a legendary, there are many more that feel disappointed that they can’t get one too.  Especially when the player has ZERO control over getting one.

Patch 7.2

Here things change, as Blizz is introducing the same Kadala mechanic from D3.  Trade in shards, get a random item for a specific item slot.  Any legendary will be for that slot.  This addresses the full randomness of acquiring one, in that you now have another method to try your luck.  It’s still RNG.  We don’t know how many shards, or the chances, therefore how much time expected.  But it’s an improvement.

Blizz also wants to tweak the legendaries to bring them closer together in terms of power.  That’s good.  It doesn’t really address the fact that legendaries completely change a spec’s playstyle… but it’s something.

Closing

I get what legendaries are trying to address.  I don’t personally think this was the way to go about it.  Adding the effect as a top-tier artifact trait would have accomplished the same thing.  Having legendaries be simply big stat boosts with unique art would have been fine to me.  I’ll be quite curious as to see how the shard dealer works in 7.2, and even just the analytical data that Blizz will collect on how people are spending them.  My guess here is that after a month or so, legendaries will be tweaked again, as the majority swings towards specific ones.

 

Gating and Time

First note. My monk tank ended up with his first legendary – Archimonde’s Hatred Reborn.  It’s a decent defensive cooldown.  Funny that.

Back on track though. This post is going to cover the 2nd signature item of Legion – Artifact weapons.   Specifically, it’s about artifact knowledge and power.  Related, Ion’s post about 7.2

First off, the concept of AK and AP makes sense.  AP as a currency that’s valued the entire expansion and that’s used to increase your weapon’s power.  Makes sense.  AK as a gating mechanism, ensuring that folks can’t super farm the currency and get exceptionally powerful.

AK was based on time. You could only gain increases if you waited, and the increases themselves were non-linear.  Not exactly exponential mind you, but enough that the increases in rank were dramatic.  This meant that for most players, they were 1 or 2 AK behind the front runners.  The catch up mechanic, where AK gain was increased if you were away, helped shrink that gap.  My monk is at AK 23 (of 25), and my Pally is at 16.  From my math, the Paladin will require about 5 weeks to catch up with the Monk. So there’s something to be said about how the catch-up actually works.

The core reason that this system worked for so long was that the AP required for new “artifact points” also increased at a near similar rate as the gains in AK.  It was an ever increasing scale.  When AP no longer scaled, this system broke down.  And AP did stop scaling once people had 34 points invested.  This meant that it became relatively “easy” to increase overall power.  People with identical gear would have a near 10% increase in health, armor or damage.  That’s a fair chunk when it comes to any raider.

So the system worked until people maxed out AK.  It also meant that any alts needed to max out AK, otherwise they’d be dramatically behind the curve.  Once AK was maxed, then things got worse.  Points stopped scaling but power didn’t.  The AP system broke down because it was built on a concept of scaling.  Scaling was gone, AP was no longer filling it’s intention.

To recap, Artifacts had multiple goals:

  • continuous character power growth across the expansion
  • a currency to increase that power, that always has value
  • a scale on that power, so that it took more investment to get smaller gains (diminishing returns)
  • a catch-up mechanic for people who might be slower
  • Regardless of the process, the power gap should be within 3-5%

What went wrong

  • scaling stopped working once AK was maxed
  • the time-gating catch-up mechanic wasn’t fast enough
  • alts felt severely punished
  • maxing out a primary artifact had much more value than splitting point between other specs

What could be fixed

  • removing AP gains past the maxed AK
  • adding more AK levels, and continuing to scale AP
  • making AK account-bound
  • capping out artifact weapons

From what I can tell, they are doing the 2nd item in this list.  They should also be tweaking the catch-up mechanism, so that alts aren’t so severely punished.

I’m rather content that Blizz is aware of the issue and willing to fix it.  I think the concept of artifact weapons (or just the horizontal growth) makes sense.  The system worked relatively well for the first few months (alts not so much), and it’s only a few tweaks required to get it back on track.  7.2 is looking to be an interesting patch from a design perspective.

Pally Hits 110

3/4 zones complete, Highmountain about half done.  I’ve got a Monk, DH, Rogue and now a Pally sitting at 110.  Leveling with the Pally was relatively easy, and plays a whole lot like a Monk.  With some exceptions.

Paladins play in the 90% hp zone, what with self-heals and good raw defense.  Their skills are about laying down a ground-based AE, then relying on procs to keep the engine going past 30 seconds (like DKs were for a while).  I find them somewhat cooldown dependent in that regard.  I’ll record a session to give an idea of what it looks like to play one.  Suffice it to say, it’s clear that it’s a vanilla class.  I also dislike consecration, as it stays on the ground and blocks the visuals of other effects – I’m sure there’s a way to turn that off…

Monks play in the 30% hp zone and are more in the active mitigation mode, with brew management a key concept.  There are no bad Monk tanks, there are dead Monks tanks and the rest.  Combat revolves around Blackout kick boosting other skills, and I’m never GCD-locked.  Plus, the animation is a lot better.  Throwing a keg, backflips, spewing fire, spinning kicks… it gives you something to look at rather than the boss’ knees.

Perhaps there’s a skill curve somewhere, but right now the Paladin plays with a “if the button is up, press it” mentality.  Sure, I’m invincible, but where’s the fun in that?  It is miles more fun that a bear though!

Starting off at 110

I forgot about the ilvl curve at 110.  All the way here, I could solo piles of enemies, and now as a fresh 110 with a ilvl of something around 790, things hurt.  A week or so of dailies and I’ll be right as rain.  I’ve unlocked the 3rd trait with the other classes (man, Rogue was tough as a DPS), and I’ll give that a shot here as well.  There’s something appealing about that carrot.

Others

I wonder if there’s a place that tracks the number of emissary quests completed.  Whatever that number is (a few hundred I’m sure), the corresponding number of legendaries is zero.  I think it will remain zero knowing my luck.  I have a post on this topic (RNG in this expansion) coming up soon.

Markets are Dumb

Sidebar to start.  It took less than 48 hours for me to get my new FitBit.  I have rarely been this impressed by customer service.

Back on topic.

I remember reading a paper a while back saying that markets were living things.  They grow, they die, they reproduce, they merge.  All that fun stuff.  In reality, markets are dumb.  And they are dumb because people are dumb.

Not all individuals are dumb, most aren’t.  But put enough in a room and they turn dumb. (Hi Reddit).  Their ability to think for themselves is lost in the mob.  Completely rational people do irrational things with the smallest of pushes.  And markets thrive off that.

WoW’s market is no different.  There was a time where I paid a lot of attention to it, and I made a killing.  In a couple months I made near a million gold.  It wasn’t so much hard work as it was just paying attention and reading the market.  I applied a similar strategy when D3 had the RMAH.  Buy on weekends, sell on weekdays.  Maintenance Tuesday was generally a money-maker.

The WoW token is an offshoot of that market.  It generally trades at a constant clip, with only minor variances.  NA servers started Legion at around 30K then floated around 60k.  That makes sense as most people start an expansion poor, or without the distinct ability to generate profit.  Generally, you start making real money at max level and with investments in professions, dailies, or raid carries.  There are people that make money before that, but those people are actually trying.  I mean the general mass.

The token itself has 2 values.  It allows people to generate in-game wealth with real money, which should be a rather small portion of the game’s population.  (5% of 5,000,000 is still a lot of people mind you).  It also allows people to exchange time in game (gold) for real life money (subscription).  If the cost of a token seems within reach of a month’s casual play and gold making ability, people won’t bat an eye.  People generally will not “stock up” on something that’s deemed affordable.  Regular people don’t buy a year’s worth of bread when it’s on sale, because the regular price isn’t extremely high.

When the value of the token changes, as it did this week, things get thrown out of whack.  People perceive an opportunity, only a few at first.  All of a sudden they look at their gold reserves and say “hmm, I can get more for this now”.  And they start divesting their time (gold) into real life money (Blizzard tokens).  What else are they going to do with 500k of gold sitting in the bank?

You get a gold rush, a giant artificial spike in value while people transfer assets.  Once the stream of steady income dries up, things get back to normal.  It’s happened numerous times in the real market, the only difference is the amount of time it takes to get things back to normal.  It will yo-yo for another week or two, then stabilize again.  People won’t have the gold on hand, nor the time to farm 100k to get a token.  It will just be easier to pay a subscription.

What you’re left with is a market with weakened foundations.  All the time/money that was invested into WoW, is now split across multiple Blizzard games.  Make no mistake, Blizzard wins in every scenario here, as no money is leaving their system.  Tokens are worth more than a month’s sub, and every exchange following that point, Blizz takes another cut.  Time will tell if people’s gold stores will increase enough to keep the general market running, or if we’re a few months away from an overall dip in prices.  Really depends on how much actual gold was just removed from the market.