Anthem 2.0

I think a lot of people have seen the Anthem dev blog post late last week, what with Christian looking like quite a few WFH folks.  The last time I heard a peep about Anthem dev work was in the fall, when they were re-tooling.  Which was cool to see that EA wasn’t giving up on what they had poured sweat into.  I do think that Anthem has a lot going for it, but lack of cohesive development (and suspected lack of experience) threw bad game out the door.

The post doesn’t go into too many details, but there are some larger items that poke out.  The team is only 30 large, and they are in the prototyping phase.  I am somewhat surprised by that, as it often means that this is an idea-generation phase of a project.  They throw ideas against the wall and see what sticks.  If you were looking at a 4 year dev cycle, this would be the first 6 months.  But that’s if they were building from scratch.

Anthem has a ton of stuff already pre-built.  The art, music and lore assets are already there.  The combat mechanics (aim/move/shoot) stuff works pretty good too.  The moment-to-moment portions have always worked well.  Sure, there’s some number tweaking required to get the TTK stuff in line, but overall, that part works.

What’s missing is the systems, the parts you can’t see but impact everything else you do.  The vertical aspects of the game are simply broken.  The game locks skills behind weapons, and then puts stats on those weapons.   It also adds skill boosting effects on rare weapon types.  It then balances the game against you having great stats, and access to those unique skills.

I’m going to time travel now, back to when Diablo 3 launched, with a game-built auction house.  Reaper of Souls (RoS) took all the garbage out and delivered a friggin’ amazing game, so it may be hard to recall what D3 looked like.  To it’s advantage, skills were not weapon based.  Player damage was (and to a significant degree, still is).  Game difficulty was based on having god-tier stats, which had insanely low drop rates.  RNG was not loaded, meaning you could find a Barbarian weapon with caster stats as much any anything else.  These stat pools made it so that the AH was the efficient way of powering up (other than grinding dozens of hours).  Sets/uniques didn’t matter because they simply couldn’t roll high enough stats, so there was no real variety in gameplay.  You’d be playing with the same skills at max, grinding the same spots, forever.  If ever there was a poster child for bad game direction, it would be D3 with Jay Wilson (this is a generic topic for later).

D3 launched in November 2012 . Jay Wilson “resigned” in Jan 2013.  RoS launched in March 2014.   1.0.4 gave paragon levels and 1.0.5 gave monster power (which evolved into Torment).  RoS was announced ~6 months before launch.  Dev timelime estimates plug this at RoS starting work before D3 actually launched, and taking a different stride when Jay left.  ~9 months of system design, and 6 months of polish.  RoS didn’t launch with many new systems, it just fixed the broken ones.

Anthem 2.0

Setting expectations here is important.  I don’t think it’s possible for Anthem to launch in a state ready to compete with anything on the market.  The Division and Destiny are stable and successful.  Their systems generally work, but there’s always some number tweaking required.  They add new systems to streamline and add variety to the vertical progression path.

System-wise, Anthem needs a rebuild.  The grouping/instance stuff is ok, though there are some bugs.  The art style works, though adding extra indicators to spot enemies from the background would be neat.  Things that really need to be looked at:

  • Open World.  Frostbite 3 is used to host large PvP battles.  There’s no technical reason this can’t support better options for Anthem except for development experience/time.  The actual mechanics are found in almost every online game out there.
  • Player skills.  A separate “rune-based” system to access skill loadouts, with achievements/quests/unique slots to unlock the rare variants.  There should be no stats assigned to player skill slots.
  • RNGsus.  There are already massive improvements in this space, where there are weight based drops.  Quality drops are better now than at launch. The gap that remains is the range of random.  A unique drop must always be viable, just not optimal.
  • Slot weight attributes.  There are basic stats (hp/power) and then there are slot stats.  Gloves should have stats that only show up on gloves.
  • Stat balancing.  There are god stats, power stats, and flavor stats.  God stats are things you will sacrifice anything to obtain. Magic Find / Rarity increase is a good example.  They should never be in a game.  Power stats are linked to the damage you deal and take.  More combos, more damage, more health.  These stats are found on all piece, with ranges that reflect their rarity.  In no case should a rare glove be better than a unique glove.  Flavor stats are things that add options to a playstyle.  More flight time, more ammo, clip size and so on.  These are optional stats, that are limited to the slot.
  • Difficulty balance.  A choice for when the player power curve starts to tick inwards determines how difficulty is balanced.   Today the game is balanced around “fresh” players, “maxed” players and then a no-man’s land in the middle.  The gap here is that the power range is so large, that it’s massive jumps between.
  • Crafting.  Adding an RNG element to crafting like Kunai’s Cube would be good.  Balancing the odds on this vs. crafting materials is important.
  • Player structure.  Open world is designed for single player, missions are designed for 4 players.  The group model combat structure works in terms of group synergies, but not in terms of power curves.  This ties into difficulty balancing more than much else.

I think the important thing here is that there’s no re-inventing the wheel required.  The main benefit of coming into the game late means you can refine existing systems.  There are at least 3 AAA games to pull from.  Hundreds of others if you cast a wide net.  There is a “buffet” problem of too much choice, and some systems that just won’t work with each other.  Game direction therefore becomes ultra important.

Time to Wait

This is already a long post, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of dev work left to relaunch Anthem.  30 people in a prototype stage is at least a year from any reasonable launch.  The desire is clearly there.  Now what’s a question is the actual investment.

 

Horizontal vs Vertical

I keep coming back to this topic again and again.  The recent gamer profile stuff kicked this to the front of the brain.

Games can be categorized as vertical or horizontal progressing, to varying degrees.  RPGs are mostly about the vertical (levels + skills), with some horizontal (strategy + tactics).  Fighting games appear vertical (ranks) but are actually horizontal (player skill).  In fact, PvP games need to be horizontal in order to give the perception of fairness (it’s why PvP generally fails in MMOs.  EvE being the sort of exception, but I can’t recall any battle that wasn’t predetermined before the first shot was fired.)

I’ve been playing various puzzle games, and that’s horizontal and quite enjoyable.  Obra Dinn, Edith Finch, Outer Worlds.  You never get new tool sets, just new data to parse through.  It’s your brain that gets better.  I find these games tremendously enjoyable.   Board games as a family are blast in this space as well, and the worst ones deal with vertical aspects (Monopoly!!!).  Building a story and seeing it through is great.  It’s why we watch movies and read books.  Having those be interactive is the next logical step.  The challenge here is that the difficulty curve has to account for the player getting better.  The Witness gradually builds on puzzle complexity.  If you somehow managed to skip to the last puzzles, you’d have no idea what to do.

I still enjoy the vertical aspects.  Getting better tools to address a challenge is fulfilling.  The challenge here from a game developer perspective is not making the content trivial.  Monster Hunter is a decent example, where the scaling of monsters is within a given range and even with the best gear, it doesn’t reach a point where you can totally ignore mechanics.  At least in the context of content that still provides vertical progress.  Other games struggle with this, where the reward loop makes the content increasingly trivial, yet still rewarding (WoW raining purples).  Or in the opposite direction, the challenge is extremely high with no reward (Anthem drop rates).

If the game is entirely based on vertical progression, you’re going to have a bad time.  Thankfully, many folks have realized this and all successful games are based on horizontal progression being a valuable option.  Think of a successful game that focuses on vertical and I’m sure you can find a horizontal progression system that keeps more people active (cosmetics, titles, pets).

Sometimes its good to enjoy games for just being games.  Other times, I have a heck of an itch to scratch and it’s good to find the right game to scratch the right itch.  Sometimes it’s a puzzle, sometimes a world builder, sometimes a world destroyer.

Netflix and Commercials

An interesting report came out on the amount of commercial time saved through Netflix.  9 days is a LONG time.

I cut cable nearly 10 years ago and haven’t looked back.  My kids never really saw a commercial until we went on a vacation.  I can still remember them asking why they were stopping the show and how we could skip it.  I can still recall when VHS was viewed as the devil (speeding through commercials) and then TiVo.  How far that has evolved…

Back to the topic… that 9 days of commercials is a major source of income.  That’s money that isn’t being replaced, and I’m frankly impressed that the streaming services haven’t found a way to monetize that.  I mean, I don’t have any need for cable as there’s too much on Netflix (or other free services) than I have time to watch anyways.

My wife being a teacher, and me having some younger folks working for me…it doesn’t look like anyone under 30 actually has a cable plan anymore.  They just stream it, either with a plan or not.  (side note, this is certainly good for personal sanity by not having access to 24/7 news channels).

I’m a bit of the mindset that this is a FOMO issue.  Today’s society isn’t based on having a TV dinner on the couch.  You can watch almost anything at any time.  Live sporting events are the only wrinkle left in this… and the money there is draining faster than expected (*cough*ESPN*cough*).  When you don’t watch something like Game of Thrones, sure you miss out on the water cooler chats.  But then again, you miss out on the water cooler chats.  Fair trade.

 

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2

Call me nostalgic here but the THPS series was a defining moment of gaming.  The soundtrack alone is a super smash.  Remaster coming this fall, announced on Tony’s bday no less!

I remember sitting in a basement playing the first few games in this series with friends.  Everyone took a turn trying to figure out the most insane combo possible, or the way to get up to an area to get a collectible.  Being able to carry a manual for more than 30sec was a point of pride.

I took THPS1 for a ride on an emulator a few years  back.  The gameplay still holds up decent, as does the music.  But the graphics absolutely do not.  It’s impressive what our imagination did to fill in the blanks back in the day.

This looks like a remaster rather than a remake.  They’ll add bits that were added over time (including the Skate franchise), as well as multiplayer.  If they can keep the same tight controls, wacky moveset, skater building, soundtrack blasting, just-one-more-run cycle of the originals, I’m in like gin!

This being Activision, I am sceptical that this will be a “clean” game.  Micro-transactions will certainly be in here, which will as a highly cosmetic game, is expected.  Money making outside of that… maybe DLC for other skate parks.  If it ends up injecting more passion into the THPS/Skate franchise, maybe we can see a new take on it in a few years.

Stoked.

 

 

When Both Options are Bad

Fair warning, this relates to a political item in the US.  My perspective is from a non-American, and the appearance of insanity that surrounds it.

To the point then, a report that the Department of Justice (DoJ) has dropped all charges against advisor Flynn.

The background here is that Flynn was investigated in relation to the Russian involvement in the US elections.  Two parts, one that he did took efforts to impact the elections, then that he lied about it.  The transcripts for this have been released.  There’s a rather clear statement within from Flynn that this did occur.

He was charged, plead guilty and was in the process of being sentenced.   This week, the DoJ decided to drop all charges due to lack of evidence to support the charges.

In all legal scenarios, there’s a law and then the ethical application of said law.  You’re not allowed to steal, but if you’re starving and take an apple, you’re unlikely to go to jail.  That’s why there’s a court system.

Option A

In this option, the facts demonstrate that the law was broken, there’s a guilty plea, and sentencing.  The advocates for this model purport that the sanctity of the US electoral system should be isolated from outside influence, in particular when it comes to the candidates themselves.  (The US has a complicated PAC system that I won’t go into.)

Option B

In this option, the facts demonstrate that the law was broken, but that the crime was ethical.  No charges, no sentencing.  The advocates for this model is that the ends justify the means.  There’s no disagreement on the facts, simply that breaking the law was in the best interests of the country.

The Gap

This is where things get complicated.  The traditional middle ground between A and B is the duration of sentencing.  You’re guilty but get a weekend in jail sort of thing.  Great lawyers make for interesting sentencing.  And the US has more lawyers than you would think (1.3m, or 1 lawyer per 250 citizens).

In the US, there’s supposed to be a split between the 3 branches – executive (president), legislative (houses), and judicial (courts).  Influence is there, but not direct impacts.  In that scenario, a specific branch would come to a conclusion and another branch would take action on that decision.  State/Presidential pardons fit into this. It’s common for the last act of any executive member to issue a laundry list of pardons.

Back to this case.  The judicial system picked Option A.  Then, without changing any of the facts, they picked Option B.  What that devolves into is the perception that both Options A and B were more than influenced, they were directed by political means.  And cue both sides slinging arrows at the other over “unfair”.

This is actually the worst possible outcome because one of the branches is now seen as an extension of the other branches.  There are many examples of courts being used by political parties.  Not a single one of those examples ended well.

Forest for the Trees

Newton’s law that for every action there’s an equal reaction does not apply to people.  People’s reactions can vary from simple acceptance (no reaction) to vengeance (a disproportionate reaction).  There are very few examples in history that show a society reach wild swings in reactions and manage to bring that back down to moderation.  In today’s age, social media allows for a simple message that stokes people’s baser instincts.  If you want to reach maximum impact, then you need a generic approach.

I have no particular penchant for either party in the US.  They both have extremes that do not appeal to me.  Their moderate aspects do.  The decision of best approach to a problem depends on the problem.  I’m much too pragmatic.

What I do have is concern at the whole of direction on my southern friends.  There’s a perception that there’s no plan, that everything is a reaction to the last reaction.  That stated core principles are being ignored simply for spite.  And that its influence on the international stage is making the behaviour somehow seem acceptable. And with an election coming up, I don’t see how this situation gets any better.  Hopefully it doesn’t escalate past a boiling point anytime soon.

Until then, it’s a heck of an effort to avoid the news cycle.

Jurassic World : Evolution

It’s been on my wishlist for a while now, I must have missed the sales.  It’s in the May Humble Bundle, making it an easy purchase.  Doesn’t include scenario DLC, but it does include some extra dinosaurs.

It is a “tycoon” type game.  You build a park, fill it with murdering monsters, and hope you get people to come buy t-shirts.  Replace the dinosaurs with caged clowns and there really isn’t a whole lot that changes.  ‘Cept maybe I wouldn’t feel as bad when one passes away.

Anyhoot, the main campaign has you build 5 main parks, all with the same goals, though there are slightly different factors for each.  Either you start in the hole, or it’s an island that gets a lot of storms (damage), or it’s some weird shape. Before I go into the game mechanics, I will say that the transition to one park to another is dumb.  Say you have $40m in park 1, you start park 2 with $500k.  All your research transfers.  All your dinosaur research transfers.  You can even transfer fossils (which you can sell for quick cash) but it’s still dumb.  I know how to run a park.  I just did it.  All it does is forces you to swap back to park 1, do some digs, then sell the fossils in park 2.

The game mechanics are simple enough.  Run digs to get fossils.  Research fossils to get % increases to dinosaur genomes.  Use those genomes to breed dinosaurs.  House/feed dinosaurs.  Breed different ones and raise the cool factor of the park, which brings more visitors.  Visitors want to poop, eat, and play.  Build stuff for them to spend money.  Repeat.  Become millionaire.

Of course it’s Jurassic Park, so stuff goes sideways.  Herbivores are simple enough, they get along.  Nearly every carnivore hates other dinosaurs, so you need to spread them out.  They will break their cages, so you need double walls.  You need people to feed them, repair cages, cure diseases.  You need people to tranquilize dinosaurs who get out and see people as a buffet.  Manage power, prices, roads, and a bunch of other stuff and things work (more or less).  This is sort of like disaster management, and some dinosaurs are much more annoying than others (raptors especially).

It may seem complex, but after park 1, it’s all pretty simple.  Where the game comes into play is in the faction management.  There are 3 factions (science, entertainment, security) that offer contracts (mini quests, 3 total at any time), and missions (more complex lists of tasks, 1 per faction, per park).  Raise the faction standing, and there are some minor monetary benefits.  The larger benefit is that the faction stops sabotaging you (like, wth).  Security doesn’t like you?  They turn off the power and dinosaurs eat people.  Faction going up for one, drops the other 2, and doesn’t transfer between parks.  Fine.

Contracts are simple steps.  Sell a dinosaur that’s like X, build Y, make Z dollars.  There are weird ones, like staging dinosaur fights.  There are some monetary rewards, but frankly you just want to raise the bar to unlock some research options.

Missions are multi-step items that explain game concepts.  How to breed special genes.  How power works.  How storms work.  How comfort works.  In general, these are straightforward.  The missions that force you into a negative state often cause cascading failures.  And if things go really wrong, you fail the mission and need to do it again.  It’s cool to teach concepts, but it seems like it was designed by someone who understands everything about the game.  It assumes you know how to complete the tasks without saying how.

The Real Stuff

Frankly, that’s gripes over smaller bits.  You know what matters?  I’m breeding DINOSAURS.  And they look AWESOME.

And really, taking a step back, the gaming cycle feels good. It doesn’t get old to have a T-Rex come out of the shop.  It’s amazing to see a diplodocus eating from the trees.  The monorail is neat.  Building pens feels fun.  Terraforming just works.

And it feels good to go back to a previous park with all the knowledge and upgrades you unlocked down the road.  There’s some optimization options, and getting 5 stars seems much more doable.

Some minor gripes aside, the game is fun and well worth $20.  More than that.

Ability to Recharge

I am an introvert with taught extrovert habits.  In the simplest of terms, being outgoing takes energy (as compared to my wife, you gets energy), and in order to function, I need to recharge.

I have a bunch of learned methods to recharge.  Hockey is one, even if it does include some social aspects.  Fishing is another, and I do like going out with the family.  Working out is a solo affair, as I have a routine and dislike waiting.  I don’t watch TV.  I used to read a lot more, but since my days are 50% reading reports, that isn’t so attractive.  I like to bake, as it’s a precise art, and my kids can help out. Gaming is obviously a very large recharging outlet.  I was much more socially active when I had the time to be.  I have much more time for that now, since the out-of-house things are not available.

Normal State

2 months ago, if I had a rough day at work, I’d be able to decompress a bit on the drive home, pick up the kids, and start supper.  Maybe 45 minutes from packing my stuff until the house door was closed.  If I needed more, I could do an evening workout, or some hockey.  If it was the weekend I could get some baking in, or head to the cottage.  The odd bit, I’d need the larger part of day to just get into mental shape for the next week.

New Normal

Today if I have a rough day, that means when it’s done I close my laptop and go upstairs.  Takes 30 seconds.  I can’t go to the cottage.  Can’t play hockey.  I’ve baked more than I ever have.  I’m burning through games pretty quick, which is both cool, but also not sufficient to recharge.

I’m also working on getting people back to work in the office, but there is no path where we go back to what was normal 2 months ago.  The entire concept of shared spaces and open environments doesn’t work in a pandemic.  My specific field of work is meant to break that model – and allow people to work from wherever, whenever.  It’s a weird mode of success I guess.

I am fully aware that I am in one of the best possible scenarios.  There are millions (billions) of people worse off than me.  The perception of a gilded cage remains.   Which may simply be me going through the stages of loss.

My brain just hasn’t accepted that things have really changed, cause they seem to be going to change again, and again.  Like if I pretend that things will go back to ‘normal’, everything else is just temporary.  But holding my breath for that change is not helping.  The good news in this is that I’ve been pushing change for 30 years, I know what I need to do.  Better news is that I’m aware there’s a problem.  Just weird to be on the other end of it.

Frostpunk: Refugees

This is the last scenario in the base game, and I’ve taken a solid swipe at it now.  What’s left is the Endless mode, where there are no win conditions, only failures.  Given that the scenarios are always against a clock, and primed full of crises, you’re never really in a balanced mode.  Sure, you may have all your coal needs covered, but odds are you’re low on food, or steel.  Given enough time though, getting balance across everything is absolutely achievable.  Maybe I’ll give it a shot later on.

Refugees

The idea of this scenario is that you’re given a tight build space, few resource to start, and LOTS of people showing up to the door every 2 days.  These people often show up sick too, and with poor housing, you’re going to be rolling in sick people.  And the children, good golly the children that show up.

Combined, for practical purposes you need to pass the Child Worker (kids can work safe jobs) and Overcrowding (double medical capacity) laws.   That raises some interesting design choices in this game I’ll get to later.

This particular scenario best exemplifies the needs of the people, how long you can ignore them, and what you can do manage discontent.  You can go a couple days without food.  You can’t go a night without housing someone or they will get ill.  Ill people can stay at home.  Places with people should never be lower than chilly.  Even though the game says you’re in a bad state, it’s often just a warning rather than a failure.

The “trick” to this particular scenario is all about getting through the first two nights without a ton of sick people.  Everyone needs a place to live, you need a medical spot, and you need to have gathering huts to build it all.

There are 10 sets of basic refugees (and some at various explored outposts), then some lords show up in the final quarter.  If you’ve got the first 10 groups under control, the lords are easy enough to manage.  Faith/Order keepers are needed to break up any conflicts – and they are generally required for other bits anyhow, so you’ll have them.

The last few decision points should be taken at the management level, rather than the personal one.  You’re presented with moral choices, and the decisions here have some minor ripple effects.

Overall it took me 6 tries to get through the first 2 nights, and the rest fell into place without too many hiccups.  The scenario is a good step up from the Ark in complexity, but there’s a lack of decisions at the start that have long term impacts.

Scenario Comparison

In terms of difficulty, it would go Ark, Main, Refugees, passing a kidney stone, Winterhome.  Since you need to get to day 20 in the main campaign to unlock any of the others, you’ll have a relatively solid foundation.

In terms of complexity, it would go Ark, Refugees, Main, Winterhome.  The last 2 demands a fair chunk more planning to get through, and curious decisions points that have longer term ripple effects.  Winterhome in particular has 3 specific choices that mostly eliminate the ability to get the best outcome.  You don’t know that until the end, which makes victory bittersweet.

Overall Tips

There are a couple starting guides out there, but they all generally sum up to:

  • Gathering huts >>> picking from piles
  • Understand the day/night cycle.  People work during the day, and do not work at night.  They don’t sleep, they just don’t work.  If you plan to upgrade buildings, best to do it at night with plenty of free labour and no impact to production.
  • 1 hunting hut per 50 citizens
  • Coal Thumpers are amazing (and don’t cost cores)
  • Wall drills are better than Sawmills (takes 3 cores to max out one wall drill)
  • For most of the game, people are nearly twice as good as automatons in terms of productivity per hour.  Automatons don’t need heat, and work 24/7.  Having them work nights and people during the day is a very effective strategy.
  • Priority research is the beacon, above everything else.  Heaters are next, then get some resource production going.
  • Get an expedition team going ASAP.  The resource gains at the start make a huge difference, and it’s the only way to get more cores.  Ideally you can run 2 teams, with a speed boost.  You also move faster to known locations, so use them as midpoints for longer runs.
  • Outposts for cores only.  The rest you can make on your own.  One exception to this in a specific scenario.
  • Pass laws at every cooldown.  Of great value are Extended Shifts (for workshops) and Soup (25% more food).  Radical treatment + prosthetics gets people working again.
  • Faith laws help manage Hope/Discontent, while Order best manages productivity.  Productivity is an issue in the early part of the game, when you can’t pass the laws anyhow.
  • Hunting huts, beacons, and storage do not require any heat to operate.  This fact saves an insane amount of building space for houses.
  •  Only research things you need, when you need them.  Bunkhouses shouldn’t be researched until you’ve unlocked the ability for houses.

Frostpunk is a solid game.

WoW Realm Pops

Cause I’m a numbers guy.

This isn’t a comparions, just some analytics triggered by Bel’s recent post.  Data points are taken from WoWProgress, since the previous wowrealmpop was apparently sold.  Only for US servers to simplify things.  These are not distinct data points, only indicative.  It’s based on active characters, not players.  Still, the ratios help.  Alliance is listed before Horde for alphabetical purposes.

A few notes to start though.  When WoW launched, it had a tight focus on the Alliance vs. Horde conflict – made sense as it was a followup to Warcraft 3.  The world was more or less split in the middle, with spots in the mid 30s where both factions started meeting each other.  I won’t go into why PvP didn’t work as planned, as that’s a book’s worth of musings.  I can say that expansions alternated between the factions teaming up, and then breaking up. Feels more like a rom-com in that sense.  BfA isn’t any different – it started as a conflict and it’s now in group-hug mode.

Dev choices over the years have broken down these faction barriers, so that the world has been “shared” since MoP.  WoD is a slight deviation, given the 2 faction specific zones, but it also kicked off with a faction war…  At the game stands today, the faction split is a mechanical one.  People can’t group together cross-faction, or effect trade (the AH does work).  Aside from that, the factions are cosmetic and story based,

Why does any of that matter?  Because in early WoW factions meant something game-impacting, while today it only impacts the players you can play with.  In open world content (yes, that existed), you’d be fighting against the other faction for the same resources and no way to really communicate about it.   Nowdays, it’s about server population balances.  If you want to actually see other people and want to play Horde, you’re not going to roll on Stormrage.

Curious Data Points

Onto the stats

  • There are ~505,000 characters.  220k are Alliance (44%) and 285k are Horde (56%)
  • There are 120 servers.  The average would be 4,200 characters per servers.  The median is 2,100 due to overloaded servers
  • The highest pop servers are, with an Alliance / Horde % ratio:
    • Stormrage (PvE) – 26,000 (97%/3%)
    • Area52 (PvE) – 24,000 (1%/99%)
    • Illidan (PvP) – 22,000 (2%/98%)
    • Sargeras (PvP) – 18,000 (94%/6%)
    • Thrall (PvE) – 17,000 (3%/97%)
  • The lowest realms are all connected and around 1,000 characters each.  Except Tol Barrad (PvP) with 548 characters (62%/38%), and Garrosh, which has 864 characters (34%/66%).
  • In general, if a server has ~1,000 characters, it is a connected realm.  The connections are meant to balance the faction ratios.
  • The top 10 servers in population account for 16% of Alliance and 22% of Horde
    • 50% of the Alliance is spread in the top 21 servers
    • 50% of the Horde is spread in the top 14 servers
  • The largest imbalances, for non-connected servers
    • Alliance (all above 90%)
      • Stormrage (PvE) – 97%/3%
      • Proudmoore (PvE) – 94%/6%
      • Sargeras (PvP)– 94%/6%
      • Frostmourne (PvP) – 93%/7%
      • Kel’Thuzad (PvP) – 91%/9%
    • Horde (there are 12 above 90%)
      • Mal’Ganis (PvP) – 0%/100%
      • Area 52 (PvE) – 1%/99%
      • Azralon (PvP) – 2%/98%
      • Illidan (PvP) – 2%/98%
      • Barthilas (PvP) – 2%/98%

Analysis

While not in the list above, WoWProgress lists server ranks in terms of raiding progress.  If you value progression raiding, you do not want to be on a connected server, and you want to be on a faction-friendly server (e.g. don’t roll Alliance on Illidan).

PvE servers tend to favor Alliance, while PvP servers tend to favor Horde.  Racial abilities are the main argument for this items being created, and even if they were removed entirely tomorrow, there are few drivers that would make a dent in this balance.  BfA’s daily quests have highlighted this fact (zone zerging).

PvP servers that have large imbalances as effectively PvE servers.  Which is nearly half of all of the PvP servers.

Character volume has a direct impact on the economics of a server, in both the material aspects (gold/auction house) and players to play with.  If you want to play the auction house to trade for WoW tokens, you want to play on a relatively high pop realm and on the appropriate faction.  The highest pop servers are a double-edged sword in that regard, as you will be competing against many more people for the same resources.

High pop realms are more likely to have stability issues due to the server architecture.  These will hit during expansion launched, large patches, and on weekly maintenance cycles.

New players are better off taking a connected realm, as there’s a better balance of factions and players.  I don’t think there are too many people left on the planet who a) have not played WoW, b) don’t know someone who has played WoW, and c) would start playing WoW cold without knowing someone already playing.

Guilds are the lifeblood of any server.  They have players who are active in group content, and in the markets.  There are multiple examples of servers “dying” due to guild migrations.  This bit of info is a main reason for connected servers.

Connected realms are for all purposes but name, merged servers.  The names have not been merged in order to avoid having to rename thousands of existing characters.

Conclusion

Blizzard’s main tool to keep populations stable is to charge people to move.  For individuals, this isn’t too hefty a price (1 character per faction is sufficient, as you really only need to migrate gold, capped at 1 million).

While the data indicates that people can roll on the “wrong server”, the reality is the number of people impacted by this is minuscule.  That said, WoW could certainly do with a server recommendation based on faction/playstyle.  Or a pop up warning when rolling a new character of the wrong faction on a server.

That’s if factions even matter anymore.  If it doesn’t, then allow cross-faction grouping and a shared auction house.  Keep factions cosmetic and applied to PvP.

Frostpunk : More Scenarios

Once you get through to day 20 (of ~40) in the main scenario, Frostpunk opens up other alternatives.  Instead of starting with nothing, you have a different initial set up, different quests/events, and a different goal.  I’ve closed out two of the 3, and they are wildly different.

The Arks

You start off with a rather simple base, an Automaton, and 4 seed arks that must be kept above cold or it’s game over.  You’re limited in the number of people in the city, and the only way to get more automatons is to to exploring.  In that sense, this entire scenario is more scientific in nature, and the best choices are the most logical.  Get more scouts, increase ability to heat the arks, automate as much as possible.

If you’re able to clear the main scenario, then this one feels like easy mode.

Fall of Winterhome

In the main scenario, around a specific day, you get a visitor from Winterhome that says the city is gone.  It also triggers the Londoners arc in the main quest, which is the intro for the Purpose (Faith/Order) laws.  The Fall scenario explains what happened to Winterhome.  And whooo boy, did it ever happen.

The starting conditions are painful.  There are laws that are passed that you can’t revert, half the city is burnt down (and preventing you from building), the other half is poorly designed (freezing, no food), there 3 dozen amputees (no prosthetics), and a few dozen sick people.  Oh, and the generator is broken.

So you’re dealt an amazingly poor hand to start, barely enough resources to get things going, and at least a half dozen crises to manage every single day.  I tried at least 8 times to get this scenario started properly – and that deals specifically with the best approach to clear the crap and what to research.

I’d like to say that it went well after that.  It did not, and I found myself saving every 2 days in game, as a sort of fall back if things just snowballed downhill.  Which it did, often.

Eventually you come to realize that there’s no way to fix the generator – it will eventually blow up.  You’re tasked with evacuating as many people as possible, but that requires send fuel, food stores, and build quarters to house them.  The last one has 4 levels of success, the final 2 being extremely difficult to achieve.

Expeditions are not as useful here as in other scenarios – you’re given quite a few choices to collect or leave things.  For example, I made a choice to pick up an automaton, and it didn’t cause massive failure, but I do know it prevented me from getting the best possible outcome.

City building itself takes time, since you’re always starved for resources.  There is never a time where everyone has enough heat, or is healthy.  You need a ridiculous amount of space to heal people, which either takes engineers or cores.  The game makes both of those options nearly impossible.  That makes the Faith purpose mandatory so you can get Houses of Healing (fits 10, can be manned by anyone).

There comes a point where you’re just scraping by, things are bad, but not horrible.  Then you reach a point where evacuations start and people start freaking out (naturally).  You are presented with the best-of-a-bad-situation decision points, where they have massive consequences.  You’re pressed to put the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few, and those decisions are just painful.  And everytime you evacuate people, that’s people no longer able to help stabilize the city.

The entire scenario feels like you’re on an out of control train, heading down a mountain, with no brakes, and certain death.  You’re job is to get as many people off that train.

When it was all over, I saved 200 people.  Nearly 100 people died before evacuation, and another 200 could not be saved.  I don’t know if I’d call that winning.

Meta

Frostpunk is a stressful game.  You’re always trying to think 2-3 steps ahead, and needing to keep dozens of plates spinning at any one time.  The game has a knack for continually knocking those plates down.  So you’re always adjusting, never quite sure what’s around the next corner.

I can’t see how anyone could “win” a scenario without first “winning” the first 3 nights.  Those are make/break milestones and have cascading effects on the rest.  That provides a TON of foreknowledge on what the real scenario is within the game.

When looked at comparatively, the Ark and Fall scenarios are just different side of the same coin.  Both deal with crisis management, but one deals with science while the other deals with psychology.  Heck of a difference…