Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Level Syncing

Last week The Old Republic revealed some of the game mechanic changes coming in Fallen Empire. The most controversial is that all planets will be level synced. That is, when you out-level a planet, your character and gear will be scaled back to the max level for that planet.

On the one hand, I can see why some people are unhappy. These games are about character progression, and level syncing undoes your progression. It's fun to come back to an old zone that gave you trouble and destroy it. What's the point of gaining levels if the game is going to arbitrarily roll them back?

On the other hand, because it's normal for a max level character to overpower old zones, the game never sends you back to those zones. Or if it does, it sets up a little max level area where the max level players go. It's harder to preserve challenge without level syncs.

Level sync makes it easier to add new content to old zones. For example, all holiday events in FFXIV are level 15 or 30. High level players will get synced down, and the low level requirement makes it easy for new players to join the event.

However, FFXIV only scales group content. Solo-content is pretty much left alone.

Another point is that level syncs also balance world PvP a bit better. Sure, a synced player is more powerful than a leveling character, but the disparity isn't as great any more. If world PvP starts up, the leveling players on the planet can join in.

In the end there is an unavoidable tension between maintaining character progression and preserving challenge. I think that FFXIV strikes a good balance for group content. I thought that Guild Wars 2 did a bad job maintaining character progression, as it was very aggressive about syncing levels, so you'd get scaled back even in the same zone. Games without leveling syncing basically give up on attempting to preserve a challenge in old zones.

We'll see how well TOR manages to balance both goals.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Starting Raiding In Warlords of Draenor

Atherne asks:

I've been thinking about this and have decided to try Raiding. I'll need to gear up an appropriately leveled character. Yours is the first Wow blog I ever read because I was looking for tips for my Paladin. My thought is, I always play Paladin, Shadow Priest and Warlock well in dungeons, so I should pick one of those for a first try. Any advice? Also, what Raid should I try first to see if I do well and like the format? Thanks!

I've decided to respond in a separate post so that I can get input from other people, especially people who are currently raiding in WoW.

I would suggest picking the character and specialization that you like the best and are most comfortable with. The only hard position is tanking, as tanks are generally held to a higher standard than everyone else.

The way I see it, there are three paths you can take:

1. Looking For Raid

Just sign up for LFR with your character. I would follow the Legendary quest, as it takes you through all the current raids in order.  It's pretty much like a dungeon run, only with a lot more people. You can read up on the fights in the Dungeon Journal, and that will give you a decent idea of what's going to happen.

If you sign up as DPS, your queue time will be fairly long. You can sign up for multiple wings to help with this.

This path is the easiest to get into. You can do it on your own time and on your own schedule. It's also the least rewarding path, though. However, you will see all the content and get your feet wet.

2. Pre-made Groups in the Group Finder

Here you would find a Normal Mode group for the raid you are interested in. Start with Highmaul if you can find it. You will probably need to watch some video guides, as it is expected that you will know the fights.

In some ways these might be the hardest groups to join, as these types of groups are often leery or unwilling to take completely new players. As well, most people are focusing on the latest raid, so it might be hard to find groups for the older raids.

The advantage here again is that you can do it on your own schedule. However, there's no guarantee that you'll find a group willing to take you on a specific day.

3. Find a Guild

Here you have to look for a guild which does Normal raids at a regular day and time where you can attend. You'll probably have to apply on their website, or at least talk to an officer in-game. Here you'll have to do whatever the group is currently working on.

From an organizational standpoint this is the most work. As well, you'll have to raid on a specific schedule. However, this is also the path which is most likely to be successful for a new raider. Because you are willing to commit to the guild, the guild is willing to commit to you, to invest in training you in how to raid.

This is also the most rewarding path, in my opinion. Working on mastering fights as a group is what raiding is all about to me, and this is the path which exemplifies that. But there's no doubt this is also the path which requires the most commitment from you.

The most important part here is to make sure you are compatible with the guild you choose. That your schedules match, and that you like the atmosphere in the guild.


Those are the options as I see it. LFR and Group Finder are easier schedule-wise, but does put a little more burden on you to learn fights and improve on your own. It's much easier to learn how to raid from an existing raid guild, and is also more rewarding, but the price is that your time is no longer fully your own.

Note that if you choose to look for a guild, you can still do LFR until you find one.

Thoughts and tips from other readers? What would you do if you were completely new to raiding?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Transistor Review

Transistor is the second game by Supergiant Games. Transistor is an isometric RPG-style game that's 4 to 6 hours long. Supergiant's first game was Bastion, which I loved. Transistor, though, I think I would have liked a lot better if I knew what the hell was going on.


The best way to describe Transistor's story is that it is a technological noir crossed with an alien invasion. And then it gets weird.

You play Red, a singer who has her voice stolen for mysterious reasons. The game starts in media res, with Red standing over the body of a man who has just been stabbed by a giant talking sword, the eponymous Transistor. Red takes the Transistor and sets out to unravel the conspiracy that took her voice.

I'll leave it there to avoid spoilers, but the setting is very unique and weird. The story was decent enough, but it always felt like I didn't quite understand the setting, or what was really going on. It just felt like the author moved too far, too fast, and ended up leaving behind the people coming to this setting for the first time.

In part, this ended up leaving me cold, and I never really cared about any of the characters in the story.


Transistor is a gorgeous game for all the senses. The artwork is stunning, the music and sound is outstanding. Along these dimensions, Transistor is truly a work of art.


The gameplay of Transistor is really neat. Basically, you "freeze time" and plan out your sequence of moves. Then when you start time up again, you execute your plan in a short burst. Next you wait for your ability to freeze time to recover, and your enemies attack you. You can generally move around during this period, but can't do much else. Once you get the hang of things, this is a really interesting system.

I adored the ability system. Each "ability" has an active, passive, and modifier effect. You have four active slots, four passive slots, and each active slot has two modifier slots. The passive and modifier slots start locked and you can unlock them as you level up.

The key here is you can only assign one ability to a slot. If you use the ability as a passive, you can't use it as a modifier or an active ability. It's a beautiful system that encourages you to use many abilities, and combine them in an interesting manner. For example, I used a summon ability with an AoE passive to give me a pet who did AoE attacks. I used the pet to clean up small attackers, while I focused the main attacks on bigger threats.

Transistor also includes a similar difficulty system as Bastion. You get Limiters as you level up. Limiters boost the enemies in specific ways, but also increase your rate of experience gain. You can choose exactly how you want to make the game more difficult. I didn't enable any Limiters, though.


Transistor is an ambitious game. It also falls short of those ambitions. Does that make it a failure? Maybe.

But these ambitious failures are often far more interesting than more pedestrian successes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Eve Online Adds a DPS Cap Mechanic

Several years ago, I proposed a DPS Cap mechanic, in order to reduce the amount of optimization in DPS gameplay.

Surprisingly, Eve Online is going to implement a similar idea in their new Citadels expansion. The cap is on the target citadel, as there is a maximum amount of DPS that can be applied by attackers during a battle. Extra damage past the cap is just absorbed and disappears.

The intention here is to avoid requiring larger and larger fleets, and to stop an arms race between fleet size and citadel hitpoints. Instead, any fleet above a specific size will be "good enough" to take a citadel. Additionally, the DPS cap guarantees a minimum time that the citadel will be alive in a fight.

There are some other interesting wrinkles. For example, the citadel cannot be repaired or "healed" by friendly ships. I think it will start repairing itself after some time passes, though.

The DPS Cap mechanic is different than the one I proposed. It's on the defender, as a defensive mechanism. So from the attacker's perspective, it's a limit on the fleet, not on individual ships.

Still, I think this is an untouched area, and we will see more experimentation. I think this is especially true for world PvP games where there can be a large disparity between the two sides.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Earning Commendations as a Healer in FFXIV

There is a minor debate in the FFXIV community as to the proper way to play healers in random groups. FFXIV healing is not super-spammy. If you heal efficiently, you often have several free GCDs. So many good healers add damage during those free GCDs, as damage spells cost very little mana. Indeed, edge healers learn to go into the damage stance (Cleric stance - reduces healing, increases damage) at appropriate times in order to maximize the amount of damage they can do.

This has led to a discussion of the role of healers in random groups. Should you expect the healer in a random group to add damage? Or is a healer who solely heals--as is normal in many other MMOs--acceptable?

This in turn encouraged some good healers conduct experiments on random groups. They did several runs maximizing damage, while still keeping everyone alive. Then they did several runs where they did no damage, and just focused on keeping people topped off. Universally, it's been found that the pure healing runs yield more commendations from the other party members. This implies that the FFXIV community prefers the pure healing style.

This has caused some consternation among the edge healers. Why does the FFXIV community not recognize the optimum play-style?

I think that the answer is more psychological than anything else. In a random group, you don't know how much you can trust the unknown healer. So a healer who doesn't deal damage, but does keep everyone topped off creates a feeling of safety. That gives the other group members confidence and makes life easier for them.

Aggressively dealing damage as a healer generally means letting people drop in health a bit, and not topping them off right away. With an unknown healer, this can be a bit nerve-wracking for the other party members. Is the healer actually bad, and going to let someone die? Do I need to play more defensively to compensate?

So the best way to get commendations as a healer in random groups is to make your group feel utterly safe, and allow them to enjoy a smooth run without concern. In a group where everyone knows and trusts each other, this is not the best way to play. But in a random group, generating trust is often more important than strict performance.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Return to WoW Ends Ignomiously

Yesterday, I posted that I had decided to play WoW a bit more. By the end of the evening, though, I had cancelled my account.

The reason: I joined an LFR run, and it was absolutely atrocious. Tanks letting the mobs cleave into the group. People (non-tanks) running off and pulling extra packs in an attempt to clear things faster. Rushing ahead and starting the boss fight so that people get locked out.

It was such a bad experience that I asked myself if getting the Legendary ring was worth a couple more months of this. I decided it was not. Then I asked myself if getting flying was worth a couple months of grinding blue bars, and decided that was not worth it either.

The end result is that I cancelled my WoW account.

Now, I don't know if it will stick, or if I'll get bored and start playing again. I'll probably check Legion out, I guess.

Somewhere along the line, WoW lost its basic group gameplay "skeleton". Even though WoW is technically a trinity game, it no longer feels like a trinity game. It feels closer to a zerg than to anything else. And the zerg is simply not fun.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Grinding Blue Bars

I've been playing WoW a bit more lately. I decided that I'd like to at least get flying and the Legendary ring on my paladin.

I've come to the conclusion that the single worst mechanic in Warlords is the one where you fly to an area and then grind things until a blue bar is full. It's a terrible, terrible mechanic, and it is all over Warlords.

I hated this mechanic when it appeared in Guild Wars 2, and I hate it in WoW.

It's kind of interesting, because it's not that different from getting three daily quests to do in a specific area, at least in overall execution. But I think what makes it different is that the blue bar is just indiscriminate. You do everything you can as fast as you can.

Whereas the daily quests at least have specific targets. Part of doing dailies is a mini-optimization game where you learn how to complete the specific requirements in a minimum amount of time. As well, the daily quests can have a bit of story added in, and require specific targets like a boss.

Basically, for me, a structure like:

  • Do 3 of Item A and 3 of Item B and 3 of Item C

just feels better and is more interesting in actual play than:

  • Do 9 of [Item A or Item B or Item C]

Filling several smaller bars is better than filling one big bar. I strongly hope that Legion drops these blue bar areas and goes back to having different daily quests.