Monday, July 21, 2014

Sandbox PvP: What to do with the Losers?

Last week, I posted a story from the Mittani detailing how Goonswarm  beat Test, not specifically on the battlefield, but by breaking them as an institution.

While it's a clever and effective tactic, one has to wonder if it is a good tactic for the game at large. One thing I've noticed is that when a guild or group breaks from drama, a significant percentage of players just quit the game outright. I would imagine that something similar happens in Eve when a guild breaks because of meta-game tactics.

Even generally, though, what should a PvP sandbox do with the losers of a PvP war? For the sandbox to be meaningful, they must lose. But for the long term health of the game, they should not be pushed to quit.

Perhaps the winning side should have an incentive to absorb the losers. There's a lot to be said for this approach. For one thing, it pushes the winning side to be more "gentle" in their tactics. If you pursue warfare by any means necessary, the losers won't join you after the fight is done, and that weakens your long term position.

For example, maybe in Eve there could be something where every planet has a governor. Only one planet per account, and the governor has to continue to keep the planet in health. So if an alliance conquers more planets than it has members, it needs people to maintain those planets. Simply absorbing the current governors into the winning alliance structure gives you people.

For the losing side, well, you lost the war. But now you are on the winning side, so maybe you keep playing with new people.

Of course, the issue with this is that it's a case of the "rich getting richer". An alliance which wins a war due to superior numbers has even more numbers after the conflict finishes. That could set up a positive feedback loop which pushes the alliance to dominate the game.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Spycraft in Eve Online

I came across this story from the Mittani (leader of Goons in Eve):

THE WOES OF TEST RECON IN FOUNTAIN 
Two interesting comments popped up on my Update Dance piece:  
One of the greatest troubles TEST faced during the war was information overload. There was so much to organize and so many channels of communication were dead as people went afk. 
Night after night it was a hairpull trying to find structures to bash. Just from alliance chat, we'd get 40-ish people in bombers with blops easy; getting someone in recon to provide the location of an SBU was the hard part. 
Also:  
I was in White Van during that war. The number of early mistakes the CFC made in not IHUBing captured systems, or letting me follow folks SBUing... After week three I gave up, my reports and scouting went nowhere... asked for jobs, got none. 
This was because the GIA had compromised the spreadsheet that TEST Recon used to record all their scout information on. We wouldn't alter the spreadsheet in a flagrant way, just adding slight errors throughout it which were always written off as user error or incompetence. POS locations would remain on the right planet, but slip a moon or two to the left; key tower reinforcement timers would be adjusted by an hour too soon or too late. Because we were subtle, this 'incompetence' resulted in a ton of redundant and replicated work as the same targets had to be scanned and rescanned. Eventually the whole org collapsed under the strain, and without functional recon you cannot win - or even stay afloat - in a bloc war. 

That's the kind of thing that happens in the first few weeks of a war with the CFC, when our enemies are usually yowling to anyone who will listen about how we're 'not winning fast enough' or otherwise completely stalemated: we assault the people and the institutions of a hostile org first, and the actual sov is an afterthought. Watching your foes tear each other apart as they blame one another for errors your agents seeded is an added bonus. 

I don't know if this really happened, or if the Mittani is just sowing dissension and playing head games with his current enemies. The comments on the post seem to indicate that it really happened.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

DPS Feedback Idea - Historical Meter

As you know, I am of the opinion that the reason of lot of DPS players play badly is not because they don't care, or are innately bad. Instead it is because they lack the required feedback necessary to improve.

Currently, the best tool for feedback is DPS meters. But while DPS meters work, they are a very blunt instrument. They don't account for differences in gear, or fights, or even tell what number you should be aiming for.

I think a better DPS meter could be made, but it would probably require the game developers to implement.


Currently, DPS meters compare you to the other players in the current fight. It would be better if the DPS meter compared you to the overall historical performance of people with your item level.

Let's start by recording everyone's performance on individual boss fights. Note the boss, DPS done, and the item level of the player. Once you aggregate all the records, you can tell for a given boss and item level, what the top DPS was, or what the median DPS was.

That gives you a target number. If the top DPS on Boss A at i500 is 10k, you can tell the player after Boss A: "You did 6k damage. The top DPS was 10k." That is concrete feedback. The player can't blame her gear or the fight mechanics.

Of course, using the top DPS mark is probably bad, because it would be a very lucky parse and probably individuals doing something excessive to hit that mark. A better target number would be something like one standard deviation above the median. Or possibly target the range between the median and one standard deviation.

The advantage of using this mechanism, which looks back at the history of all the people doing the fight is that it nullifies variables and fight mechanics. Because the amount of data collected is large, a few lucky parses or exceptional players do not skew the results. It provides a viable target number that people know for a fact is within the capabilities of the class and gear.

As well, this doesn't necessarily involve the entire raid. You aren't being compared to other people you know, but to the entirety of the WoW community.

If feedback is vague, you can always make excuses as to why you don't need to improve. For the DPS to improve, they first need unequivocal proof that improvement is necessary. This Historical DPS Meter would provide that feedback.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Subsystem Depth

I was thinking over how I currently play MMOs, and how I used to play MMOs. I noticed a small and unusual pattern.

Back in Vanilla, I used to PvP. Not a whole lot, and not with any great degree of skill. But I did battlegrounds and eventually got Knight-Captain rank in the old PvP system [1]. Then in later expansions, Blizzard expanded on PvP, adding ratings, PvP gear, arena teams, etc. PvP used to be pretty shallow, and Blizzard made it deeper. I tried the new system for a little bit, but ultimately my response was to stop playing PvP.

Before Mists, I used to collect minipets. Again, not hardcore, but I liked trying to get minipets and seeing my collection expand. Then Blizzard added Pet Battles, a deep system that greatly expanded gameplay around minipets. I tried Pet Battles for a little bit, but ultimately my response was to stop bothering with minipets.

In WoW, I used to craft a bit. I got my professions to max, and liked collecting recipes. FFXIV has a much deeper and more complex crafting system. I tried the FFXIV crafting system for a little bit, but ultimately my response is not to touch crafting at all.

I'm not sure if there are other examples (perhaps Challenge Mode dungeons, or maybe Galactic Starfighter in SWTOR). But in each case, the developers added depth to the subsystem, made it a more interesting and deeper experience. But my response to that increased depth was to stop bothering with that subsystem, even if I enjoyed it before.

Paradoxically, as more developer effort was put into all these different facets of the game, the "area" of the game that I participated in grew smaller and smaller.

I would say that adding depth also increased the barrier to participation at a decent level for these subsystems. My focus was on raiding and PvE, and I was perfectly happy to play with these other shallow subsytems. To PvP a little bit, to collect a few minipets, to craft a little bit. In the current game, all I do is the raiding and PvE, and that is a lesser experience than it was before.

Of course, the flip side is that for people who want to focus on PvP, or on Pet Battles, or on crafting, the new deep subsystems are a lot more fun for them.

Is it better for an MMO to have several equally deep facets, or is it better to have one or two deep facets and several shallow ones?

1. I maintain that I stopped at Knight-Captain because it was clearly the best named rank for paladins.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Achilles Heel of MMOs

From Reddit:

I'm not exactly sure what just happened 
I'm fairly new to MMORPG's in general. FFXIV is the first time I've ever played one.
I'm level 15, and I was on a quest called 'It's Probably Pirates: Limsa Lominsa' It involves clearing out the dungeon 'Sastasha'.
For some reason I got a message right before we reached the last boss that said "You have been dismissed from both the party and the duty."
So now I'm sitting here upset at having wasted 40 minutes grinding away and wondering what happened. Did I do something wrong? I don't understand.

We eat our young.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Republic Trooper Done!

This post contains significant spoilers for the Republic Trooper storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I finished the Republic Trooper storyline a while back, but realized that I hadn't actually written a post on it. I played a Commando (ranged dps/heals) and went partially Dark Side.

Overall, the Trooper storyline is decent, but flawed. I'll break this into two lists, detailing the good and the bad.

The Good

  • Your squad - Unlike some of the other stories, where your companions seem only matter to the main character, the Trooper squad acts more like a real squad. There are several instances where you assign different roles to different members, or switch companions as you move through the level.

  • Chapter 1 - Chapter 1 is very good and very personal for your character. It's a very satisfying chapter, all in all, with excellent villains.

  • General Garza - Garza is pretty awesome. A tough-as-nails, older woman who is in charge of Republic Special Forces. She's devoted to the cause, but very "ends justify the means". The most memorable NPC in the storyline.

  • Dark Side - There are two different ways to play Dark Side. One is "ends justify the means" where you do things like sacrifice civilians in order to ensure a military victory. The other is just being a jerk and out for personal gain. The Trooper storyline does a very good job differentiating between the two.

  • A-77 - The trooper contains the single best moral choice I have seen in any of the TOR stories so far.  In Chapter 1, you're introduced to Sergeant Jaxo, a very likeable NPC who supports you on one of your missions. You meet up with her again a couple of times later in the game. In Chapter 3, she gets captured and taken to a top-secret Imperial prison on an asteroid where she's held with 300 high-ranking civilians. Jaxo breaks out of her cell and signals Republic Command with the location. Your team goes in to rescue her.

    However, it's a trap, and Imperial Forces start bombarding the asteroid. You can either save the 300 civilians in the cells, or Jaxo in the communications section. The kicker is that Jaxo breaks, and begs you to save her.

    Crazy hard choice. I had to quit out of the game and think about it for a long while before I finally decided to save Jaxo. Beautiful, beautiful choice.

The Bad
  • General Rakton - The villain in Chapter 3 is not very memorable, or even much of a personal connection to you. Unlike the villains in the other stories, or even the villains from Chapter 1, Rakton is just not interesting.

  • Chapter 3 locations - War has broken out, but your squad is sent to out of the way locations. I guess they didn't have much choice given that the planet order is fixed for all stories. However, it really feels like you should have been on the front lines instead. It picks up when you finally get to Corellia, and feels more like the war story it should have been. 
Those are really the only two things wrong with the Trooper storyline, but they combine to make the last part of story dull and relatively uninteresting. Chapter 3 (aside from A-77) just didn't work, and that drags down the story as a whole.

On the whole, the Trooper story was decent. However, it started out very strong with Chapter One, and went downhill after that.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Secondary Stat Attunement

In the latest alpha patch, WoW introduced a new gearing mechanic: Secondary Stat Attunement. Each specialization is "attuned" to a specific secondary stat, gaining 5% more of that stat.

I am doubtful that this will be a good idea.

First off, I'm not entirely certain what advantage this mechanic brings. It might spread out the secondary stats, so that different specs chase different stats and thus chase different gear. It is a bad situation if the same piece of gear is Best-in-Slot for every single class.

It may also help a new player who doesn't know which secondary stat to look for. If they at least make sure that they have their attuned stat, it gives them a small basis on which to compare gear.

The problem, though, will come if the attuned stat does not match the theorycraft. Essentially, the theorycrafters will end up ranking the secondary stats for each spec. Gear with the top two secondary stats will be Best-in-Slot. If the attuned stat is one of those top stats (preferably the top one), then things will work out.

However, if the attuned stat is 3rd or lower on the ranking, Secondary Stat Attunement turns into a massive trap for the new player. The heuristic, "My Attunement is Critical Strike, so I should look for Critical Strike gear", is not just wrong, but it will cause new players to discard better gear in favour of worse gear. The potential for misleading people seems very high. Not to mention that it might cause loot arguments where players insist that specs must take gear with an attuned stat.

As well, it does seem like the possibility of multiple builds will be lessened. Arguably the most interesting time to be a Holy Paladin was back in Cataclysm when we had the Mastery builds and the Spirit/Haste builds. Having an attuned stat seems like it will always push us towards one specific build.

Holy Paladins

A specific problem with Holy Paladins is that the current Attuned Stat is Critical Strike. It's a nod to Vanilla and TBC when we desired Critical Strike above everything else.

However, healers are generally not fond of Critical Strike, no matter what the math says. Critical Strike is unreliable in the short run, and healing is all about the short run. Back in the day we chased Crit because of Illumination and mana regen, and mana regen belongs to the long run, when the Law of Large Numbers kicks in. As a means to recover mana, Critical Strike was great. As an aid to healing, it's suspicious.

Healers far prefer stats which always work. Sometimes healing pushes you to be pessimistic. In the crunch, Critical Strike will let you down.

Now, if heals are much smaller than health pools, then it's not as bad. As well, it does synergize well with Mastery, so if Mastery is our other chase stat, then it will work out decently.

Conclusions

The probability of Secondary Stat Attunement going badly and causing issues is high. High enough that I think it outweighs the potential benefits. The game has been fine when letting the theorycrafters determine the best stats from the basic math. Forcing the different specializations to have different "best stats" through this mechanism is overly heavy-handed, and likely to backfire, in my opinion.