Deadlines

Interesting word, that.  The line after which things die, which is of course hyperbole.  Of all the times the word deadline is uttered, it rarely ends up being fatal. Might be out of a job, or lose a house, or some other very negative thing, but most of the time it’s just fake pressure.

That’s not to say that the deadline itself isn’t important.  If it wasn’t, or if people we’re serious about it, no one would care.  There absolutely has to be some accountability for it, as there is always a cause.  Poor planning, poor finances, poor resources, unforeseen issues.  Someone, somewhere, has to manage those dates.   Then you need to manage expectations from your bosses about moving dates faster, or damage control if they slip.  Fun times.

All that to say that the project I’m running now has multiple dependencies outside of my control.  Outside of my boss, and his boss’ control.  There’s certainly some pressure, with daily updates to the VP, weekly to the president.  It’s a fun balancing act of keeping the staff shielded from that, allowing them to do the work they do best, and somehow keep the bosses happy with progress.  Or at least explain why there are delays in such a fashion that they a) believe you and b) accept it.

There are days where I feel more like the meat in a sandwich, little to show for the day’s work.  There are other days where there are large breakthrough, acceleration on activities that were planned to take much longer.  Others where the opposite occurs and a key dependency indicates that they haven’t actually done any of the work yet and don’t know when it will be done.  I certainly try to focus on those good days, because people need some sort of hope of the end of a project.  I try to find ways to mitigate those dependencies, maybe have some sort of interim solution in place instead, isolating that group.

End result is that long-term relationships get built, destroyed, and re-built over a project.  I am not one to throw someone under the bus, and sometimes tough calls have to be made.  We each go home at the end of the day, and we’re not exactly curing cancer.  The real end goal here is reputation and trust.  Saying you’ll do something by a certain date and keeping track of that date.  When a date slips and people know about it, people are working to correct it, then that builds some level of trust.  The opposite behavior degrades trust and makes conversations much more difficult in the future.  No one ever goes it alone, and it’s important to know past behavior will influence future.

Still a few months to go before the major delivery is done.  Quite a few good contacts and relationships made over the duration so far.  Some… maybe not so good.

By the end of this project, I expect a few news articles at the start of the new year, a lot of personal and professional growth, a team that has achieved more than they originally thought possible, and a big shift in the way our organization works on a daily basis.  And then a month-long vacation.

All if we can meet our deadlines.

Many a Road

I don’t exactly have rose-colored glasses for old gaming memories.  Early MMOs had some positives certainly, but they also has some horrendous mechanics.  UO was my first kick and regardless of what people the shard split, it was needed.  EQ provided a “safer” space in true 3d, but it came with a massive grind and hard requirement to group.  WoW took all of that, got rid of everything people complained about (and hired EQ guild leaders) and presented an “optimized” gaming experience that pretty much everyone could get into.  Optimization unfortunately brought simplification of some systems.

I personally like the concept of multi-tiered crafting.  This makes all items relevant in the crafting process.  UO started with this, where that ingot at the start of the game is still relevant at the end.  EvE does this too.  There are multiple ways to find these “ingots”.  It isn’t just one location, and one method.  Find them with miners, find them on enemies, trade them, NPCs trades.  There are some rare materials, or rather less common, but they follow the same thought process.

Warframe follows this as well.  Of the dozens (and dozens) of missions, there’s a lot of cross-over of materials.  Some missions are better at some sources, and some areas require a bit more work.  The end result is that no matter what you’re doing, it’s rewarding and (somewhat) relevant.  It also means that as much as you have vertical progress (levels) you have horizontal progress (options) at the same time, rather than closing off content.

This is a flipside compared to the modern “ubisoft sandbox” model.  All the icons are things to do, but once you do, then there’s no real reason to go back.

The system isn’t perfect but it does work.  Keeping all the content relevant for longer periods of time is a smart investment of resources.  Also means that players have a lot more options to play through as the product keeps evolving. Choice is good.

 

 

Warframe – Hand Holding

Warframe’s greatest strength is also a weakness.  There’s a theory on the paralysis of choice.  Like when you need to buy toothpaste and there are 60 different kinds.  Why?  Sandbox/open world games really suffer from this (or excel).  Minecraft has zero goals, so the fun you have is the fun you make.

Warframe has so many things to do and see, and each one seems to impact another, that it’s a fine mess.  Expected in a 4 year old game, but after years of WoW (and clones) that completely isolate one activity from another, it’s jarring.  I’ll give a rather lax example.

There gate on Mars (to reach Phobos) requires 3 things.

  1. Kill 150 enemies in 1 mission on Mars
  2. Open 3 Lith Void relics
  3. Scan 3 Cephalon fragments

The tasks seem fairly clear, SMART even (dammit).  All non-endless missions have about 100 enemies.  Endless missions have continuous waves of enemies attack you, increasing in level over time.  Mars has 1 of these missions (defense).  If you play in a group, then you won’t get 100% of the kills, so you have to solo it.  I was able to get it just by the 10th wave (you can leave every 5 waves).  Ok, not too bad.

Opening Lith Void relics requires you to a) have Lith Void relics and b) have Fissure missions. I have not found a practical way to “farm” for a), it just seems to happen randomly.  For b) there are one or two available most of the time.  I should have mentioned c), understanding that this system even exists and how it works.

Finally, the Cephalon fragments.  You need to a) know what the hell these things are and b) find them.  I could not find any reference in game to what these were.  I could not see them on any map.  I went wiki-hunting.  Sure enough, here they are.

Ok, now I know what they look like.  It also seems that for b) one randomly spawns in every regular map.  I have played 4 planets, dozens of missions, maxed out a few things.  Never saw a single one.  I’m not saying they are hidden, but they are not on the “main path” of a level.  I tried actively finding them, running some short/easy missions.  No luck.  Most people who have issues, recommend getting a Thief’s Wit mod, so that you can see them on the radar.  That’s another post.  Anyhow, I’m currently at this phase.

Objectives

Each mission has a goal (or goals).  There’s a yellow (do something), red (kill something) or green icon (exit the map) on the screen (radar and actually play screen) that shows where to go.  Without this, it would be impossible to navigate the maps, as there are many branching paths.  Heck, I get lost even with those icons.  But they do a great job of telling you “go here”.  Simple, effective.

The meta objectives though, ouch.  Where to find items to craft.  What an item actually does.  What is on what planet.  What the terms mean.  What the next goal is.  How to actually attack a boss!

This may sound like a complaint, but in reality it is just a comment.  5-6 years ago, when we didn’t have Wikia, this would mean hours pouring over game forums.  Nowdays, people have ideas and they post it out of the game.  The developer can focus on developing rather than training the user base, letting them discover as you go.  For the most part, that discovery works.  It isn’t being thrown in the deep end, you learn gradually.  The irksome part is when you reach a hard wall, where there are no hints.  Where you’re given puzzle pieces without the large image to reference.  What’s the next step after this one?

After years of hand holding in some many other games, it’s both frustrating and refreshing to have to actually learn again.

 

Warframe – Part Deux

A bit more time, a bit more information!  I will go over some high level points first.

  • Aside from a few trading hubs, and the clan hall (dojo) everything is instanced.  Think D3, or Neverwinter dungeons.
  • Chat in combat is not really viable.  Voice is the way to go.  Expected in any FPS really.  General chat is a mess (as in every game).
  • From what I can tell, nearly everything is free in this game, minus customization (icons, colors, skins).  There is a LOT of free customization, but the bigger ones have a cost.
  • Acquiring new items is time gated.  Hours up to 3 days.  Can spend money to speed it up.
  • There are two ways to progress.  Item levels, and character levels (mastery).
  • There are many items.  Warframes (classes), ranged, melee, small fire weapons.  It’s actually hard to keep track of it all.  Each can level up to 30.
  • Each item can be modified with Mods.  The level of the item determines how many and how strong the mods are.  Mods impact pretty much everything you can think of – speed, damage, crit, health, elemental attacks…it is very complex.  Adding and removing mods is free.
  • Mastery has a cap of 29.  It is raised by getting more level 30 items (and some small mini-quests along the way).  It opens up more of the game, and capacity.  It also gates progress as some items have minimum mastery levels.
  • Mods are life.  You can upgrade them.  You can mix them.  You can make a speedy crit master, or a super tank.  Some enemies are resistant to X, others are not.  You need to make conscious decisions before heading to missions.
  • There is no progress under regular MMO terms.  Assuming you have access to all the level 30 Warframes, each Warframe has a specific use for a specific mission type.  Each weapon is the same.
  • I have played FPS before.  This is not a ranged FPS.  The rooms are generally tight, enemies run up and there is a lot of opportunity for melee.  The parkour movement makes defense more about not getting hit/always be moving, rather than soaking damage.
  • The actual controls are ok.  It takes a few hours to get used to the rather insane speed and to get your eyes used to what is around you.
  • The art-style works for me.  Mileage will vary.
  • There is actual lore, though mostly gated through quests.  You can scan everything and their mom to build an information log though (and there’s a faction for this too).
  • Factions (syndicates) are present, with reputation gains.  Aligning with one may impact another.  Poor rep causes hit squads to come after you.  It’s like Vanilla WoW factions more than factions as we see them today.  There’s a choice to be made. Yay!
  • There are bosses to farm.  Bosses are quite different.
  • Each planet has 10-12 missions to complete.  Leaving a planet requires achievement based goals.  e.g. kill 150 enemies in 1 mission, kill a boss, scan 3 statues.  You can’t just skip to the last planet.  There are good and bad aspects to this.  It does prohibit catch up work, but item and Mastery levels are the true gates.
  • The Archwing is not good.  It’s a 3d space sim shooter.  It is bad for 2 reasons.  First, it’s in 3rd person, which means you can’t see half the screen.  3rd person is designed for forward, one axis movement.  Second, the radar/map is not built for 3d combat, so it doesn’t show anything.  You end up getting attacked from all sides, with no notice, and no ability to see them.  Thankfully, this thing is not critical for game progression.
  • There are a dozen mission types, then variants of those mission types.  Assassination, decryption, tower control, rescue, wave defense… all but tower control can be soloed.  Variants adds different enemy types, objective modifications and higher rewards.
  • Default LFG for every mission, for up to 4 people.  You get a bonus to everything in a group.  It is a great way to experience the game.  Solo if required for some specific objectives.
  • Tutorials are not good and do not do justice to what’s in the game.  You learn by playing and asking questions.
  • The combat, art, and mechanics are polished.  Way more than I had ever expected.  This thing runs super smooth and responsive.

High level…. yeah right.

 

The important thing to remember is that there is always something to progress towards, always something to do.  It’s as if you mixed an FPS with an action RPG.  Think Hellgate for those that played it (I did).  The lack of focus or general direction can make it challenging for some people, but if you like settings your own path, this scratches a bit of that itch.

I hit Mastery 3.  I’ve yet to max any item or warframe.  I have a pet that shoots ice beams.  I shoot fire bullets.  I spin through the air like a dancer, and land with a giant axe.

I am having a lot of fun doing it.

 

Sleep is Underrated

Lots of work, crazy deadlines, busy family, and then a chest cold.  Makes for a great weekend of flop sweats and 12+ hours of sleep a day, still feeling exhausted to start the week.  Good news is that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  It feels entirely achievable.  Plus, the VP here sees the work being done and the need for additional resources/structure.  That bodes well long-term.

My eldest had 2 hockey games this weekend.  On her team, 11 other girls are first-time players, so the understanding of the game just isn’t there yet.  They lost Saturday 10-0 on  team that had that understanding, and won 3-1 on Sunday when you could see it start clicking.  I spent some time watching a men’s league game on the other ice pad, folks mostly in their 40s-50s.  They were smart hockey players.

I played about 12 years when I was a kid, but I’ve been back on the ice for another 12 since.  All of that pretty much competitive play.  The skill is less important than the thinking now.  We have a few skaters on one team where even though they are young, they just don’t have that mind-set.  Great skill and effort, but that 6th sense just isn’t there.  Work smarter – not harder.

Full circle a bit then.  Work is in the same bucket.  I’ve had enough crazy deadlines and projects to have a decent sense of what is actually important and what is noise.  I know some members of my team are concerned at my lack of attention on some things, and deadly focus on others.  It’s a practical thing.  Tough calls are needed, and there’s only so much good will to go around.  It’s difficult, but sometimes you need to let those spinning plates fall to the ground.

Warframe

I read Isey’s comment on my last post and want to extract the gibberish.

When I found that I had Liths via the codex (bur no clue what to do with them) eventually I noticed the prompt on the NAV screen, found the mission, jumped in with others, and got my 10 reactants to unlock.

This reminds me of 90% of Wilhelm’s EVE posts.  I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  Then I played a bit more and unlocked Venus (the 2nd planet in the unlock chain).

Ok, that sentence makes more sense now.  Liths are lockboxes that can only be completed by doing a certain mission (Void Fissures). In those missions, enemies sometimes drop “reactant”, and after 10 pickups and a successful mission, you get to open the Lith.  These missions are not terribly common (at least at the start) and the one I did was quite difficult.  Next topic.

I don’t understand what the levels mean on missions.  I have a level 11 Warframe (the class, Excalibur, good with swords).  I have a level 12 Braton (automatic rifle).  There are some mods on each to augment certain things.  The Warframe has + health and + shields.  the rifle has a flat + 40% damage.  Taking on a level 5-8 mission is a challenge.  Not so much that I am very worried about kicking the bucket, but more so that enemies are bullet sponges and I need to pay a lot of attention to ammo levels.  No ammo – little damage.

There are missions on my map.  I complete them to unlock more nodes on the map for more missions.  I am not seeing any power curve (or rather it appears logarithmic) and future goals are not all that clear.  Some missions are 5 minutes, others are 20.  Wave defense is fun.  Spy missions are not.  Overall, the feedback loop is good so far.  But I’m thinking I need some viable measure of progress in the next 4-5 hours to keep me going.  Using the same class, same skills, same gun for 10 hours…there’s a limit.

Warframe – Quick Thoughts

Seems that whenever someone talks about Destiny 2 nowadays, Warframe comes up in the conversation.  I had played it when it was still in early launch, but never really gave it a chance.

An aside first.  I usually go back to WoW a month before an expansion.  I cannot decipher half of the text in chat, most of the content is new, and I feel like a new player.  FF14 feels the same way.  Heck, even some stand-alone games on replay feel new.

Warframe takes a kitchen sink approach to a skinner box.  Everything comes at you, with very little context as to what it all means.  There’s no hand holding.  No “magic number” that tells you that you are stronger (plenty of numbers, just not 1).  Missions feel like crack on speed.  Movement and combat feels really good, so far.

There’s an entire junkpile of information related to crafting, upgrading, optimizing… it feels a whole lot like those action RPG games on mobile.  Plenty of things to do, lots of numbers to improve, plenty of bad guys to swipe, and a lot of time gating.

I don’t truly mind time gating.  In fact, I truly think that everything is time gated, whether online or off.  How many people have hunted the Horseman in WoW to get the mount and never got it?  I spent 2 weeks getting the boots off giants in EQ.  I could raid a week straight and not get an upgrade.  I do not suffer from the “I need it now” mentality, so I guess that is a factor.

After 4 years of content push, I can understand it.  There appears to be content to meet everyone’s needs.  I’ll be putting more time into this and see what pops out after a few weeks.

Shadow of War Complete

Spoilers.  Does that even really matter though? There’s no way that this is legit canon.

 

I fought a forest god who transformed into a cat, a giant, and a dragon.  I took it down with 4 arrows per transform. Then a Balrog was summoned and I shot arrows at its fire back to make it run away. Then I jumped on the forest god (in all 3 forms) to attack the Balrog, who eventually fell through the ice and froze in the water.  I am trying to find an adequate analogy to this…sort of like a squirrel taking down Superman.  It makes no sense.

Did you know that Isildur, the guy who cut of Sauron’s hand to get the ring, was turned into a Nazgul?  I learned that.  Oh, he can summon drakes at will too. (had 4 at once in one battle)

Didja know that Celebrimbor (the forger of most of the rings with Sauron) nearly possessed Sauron to take over the world?   Cause Celebrimbor forged another ring (perfect) without Sauron?

Didja know that Shelob used to sleep with Sauron?  That she can tell the future?  That she’s actually pro-human? Ya know, Ungoliant’s kid, the one that brought darkness to the entire world.

I mentioned in the previous post on this game that lore was out the door.  It was a fun fantasy pitch to start.  By the end, it’s parallel-universe logic being applied. I like the LOTR lore and I consider myself well-versed.  This makes no sense.

Gameplay

Most of it works and works well.  There are skills that are way more powerful than others.  Fire explosions seem to clear entire armies.  Graug summons clear maps.  Dragons are powerful but hit too many people.  Stealth attacks, in particular chain attacks, are amazing.  Freezing captains is the way to go.  Groups of captains with competing strengths make combat different enough.

Items, those work a bit less.  Stats on everything but Legendaries are randomized.  This results in god-rolls.  I have a particular set of items that applies Curse, Poison and Fire on critical hits.  Others that increase that damage (which is much higher than weapon damage).  And a bow that fill focus when I hit something, making it for near infinite focus while I have arrows. Actual damage or health increases are meaningless when you have these kinds of passive stats.  Getting more damage from beasts is useless compared to setting every captain on fire/poison/curse with 2 swords hits (or a headshot).

Gems don’t make a lot of sense.  There are 5 tiers.  It takes 3 gems of one tier to move to the next.  I get the basic tier most often, with maybe 10% on the 2nd.  After all my time playing (level 40, all side missions, all keeps taken, all outposts cleared…) I have 1 max level gem that I don’t even use.

The quests are solid and fit the story.  The flashback missions all work to perfect a given skill, and in 90% of the cases you can 3 star it in a few tries.  There are a few where you need to be extremely lucky/timely, and that final reward is relatively useless (gems).  There just seems to always be something neat to do.

But that doesn’t really matter much, as most of the game is the minute-to-minute movement through the world, the randomness of the orcs, and the feel of control in combat.  All of that, without exception, is amazing.  It’s just plain fun to play.  The sum of the parts is so much more here than the pieces.

After the first game, I thought we’d see more of the nemesis system in other games.  Bits and pieces show up in the rogue-likes, but nothing that took it to the next level.  It’s a stronger system here.  I’ve yet to see any duplicates and no one is impossible.  The next thing to see will be enemy adaptation – machine learning.  Skynet anyone?

All told, highly recommended.