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.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Cosmetic Gear and Player Gender

This thought was inspired by a post by Njessi of Hawtpants of the Old Republic.

With the increasing amount of cosmetic gear and options like transmogrification in MMOs, has it become easier to guess at the gender of the player behind a character?

It's a total stereotype, but maybe women are more likely to put effort into making aesthetically pleasing costumes for their characters. Especially some of the more subtle outfits.

Certainly, the vast majority of female characters wearing bikinis and outfits that show a lot of skin are probably being played by men. So merely not wearing a bikini shifts the odds of a female character being played by a woman. And maybe men are more likely to wear "achievement" gear or martial gear, like items with a lot of spikes, or Sith armor. Or maybe not.

I just found this idea interesting because it doesn't appear before cosmetic gear. Before cosmetic gear, a character wears her most powerful gear. Gear at that point tells you more about what the character has achieved than anything about the player.

Cosmetic gear, on the other hand, is a window into the tastes of the player. Thus it says a lot about the player, and maybe more than some would want.