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Archive for April, 2012

McDamnation, or A Convenient Journey To Hellville

April 22, 2012 2 comments

Like many others, I played a little Diablo 3 Beta this weekend.

By played, I mean I did a lot of clicking and became rewarded with frequent merry chimes and little visuals to trace with my mouse cursor. Farmville, I thought. Pure bloody Farmville. However, as I got more into it, it grew on me. It evoked the warm memory of being a carefree toddler in swaddling clothes, receiving easy stimuli for batting at a colourful toy suspended above my crib, while Mother was in the lavatory regurgitating a corpse.

I played through a couple of times with a monk. Early on, I equipped two rings with +3 health after each kill. I wasn’t even being all that clever – I sought to fill empty equipment slots (the game made sure I didn’t forget to, with insistent pop-ups) and they were simply the more reasonable of two choices on the Fence vendor. Thereafter, my hps scaled with the sizes of the monster groups, and their dps never really caught up. The orbs they dropped were never necessary for healing. Nor were the consumable potions. Nor was my self-healing move.

In the final encounter, Leoric was menacingly alone for about ten seconds and his mace actually made a small dent in my health pool. Ah, interesting, I thought. Will I actually have to play a bit of a hit and run game with the mad king, dodging his slow mace swings and building focus to heal myself with Breath of Heaven? Nah. Leoric made a trollface and summoned some skellies, and my life-on-kill kicked in. They dropped some superfluous health orbs, too.

I am trying not to be too scornful of the difficulty. This is the first 10 or so levels of Normal. Presumably, it will become less monotonous and safe, and combat positioning will actually be important – since the game has few twitch requirements and no strategic depth, it is the only thing that can be. I do expect, given the centrality of spawn-adds-for-health-orbs mechanic, that various forms of health return on kill will continue to punch above their item budget.

In general, the game is quite careful to make sure the click-stimulus loop isn’t unnecessarily impeded by much else. At the end of a dungeon, one is offered a convenient magic stone to return to the entrance. I envision that design meeting: this isn’t 2000, we can’t have the player run back through so many yards of empty space! It was probably the same chap who came up with Concentrated Coolness, one of Blizzard’s design mantras and a driving principle of D3. If I ever meet him, I will steal his library card and mail it to The Mittani.

The rune system, once a flagship of the game’s depth, has long been gutted, and there is little choice as one ascends the levels: each rune appears hands down superior to its antecedent. The skills themselves offer a little more variety. For example, I found the monk’s bell-dropping move (Wave of Light) charming in its Eastern European ecclesiastic evocations but ultimately too costly and inefficient for most monster groups. I reverted back to Lashing Tail Kick for most purposes. Generally, though, nothing like D2’s wild and crazy and often gloriously wrong talent builds will be possible here.

Progress through the environs of New Tristram is very linear. There was gating in the previous games, but it is taken to a new level here, with strategically placed barricades making certain that you follow the story exactly, instead of rudely rushing out into the wild and grinding mobs.

All items take up one or two inventory slots. Gone is the diabolical puzzle game of D2 with its quiet snigger at the player’s greed.

Even the typeface oozes accessibility. A fitting metaphor for the Diablo spirit as a whole, the Diablo font is still around, in those places where it won’t do too much harm to the Hellville experience. Where it counts, however, Helvetica carries the day, lest too much strain be placed on our delicate peepers. Helvetica explodes to gigantic size when it is used to indicate the ‘value that matters’ in item tooltips. This big number is DPS, Aunt Mabel, replace the weapon when it shows something higher, okay?

The Blizzard machine certainly delivered a product to specifications. Let us hope it never turns to the actual production of fruit juice.

Categories: Uncategorized

1.2 PvP or the Loser Reward Conundrum

April 15, 2012 1 comment

My optimism with regard to TOR’s PvP changes in patch 1.2 was a little premature. I don’t mean the absence of rated warzones, which I suspect has something to do with the recent spasm of generosity toward level 50 (later amended) subscribers. I don’t mean how fast-paced and blappy the battles have become. I mean the business about accessibility and streamlined metagame. If anything, it has turned out to exacerbate faction imbalance by another step.

I have consumed a lorry-load of humble pie over the weekend, including a minor philosophical surrender: having taken another hard look at the value of ranged and melee (as opposed to tech/Force) mitigation in PvP, I have concluded that running a pure defence spec is a quixotic enterprise. The new Commanding Awe talent alone, making Focused Defence a formidable blanket defensive cooldown, is equivalent to most of the talents sheared off the top of the Defence tree. I am still higher in Defence than most specs, but I’m finding the Vigilance talents to be very helpful with little survivability trade-off. The rest of the pie had to do with my Republic teams being roundly and consistently spanked the vast majority of the time. While 1.2 allowed more blue-on-blue matchups, Republic is still preferentially pitted against Empire, and, frankly, tends to lose.

I am, by temperament, stoic about defeat. There are limits to my own dexterity (and the overall transition from PvP healer to melee dps/TOR-unique PvP tank took a while) and there are always lessons to be learned and operand conditioning to be hammered in. I do not take it personally, and I am reluctant to blame external circumstances for it unless the evidence really is conclusive. In the end, somewhere along the way, we sucked and need to l2p. Fair enough. I am also aware of, and quite sternly vigilant about, the tendency to overestimate one’s own misfortune and suffering, leading to taking victories for granted and whining about losses. No skewed perceptions in this case.

The pattern I’ve observed this weekend was consistent: slightly undermanned Republic team zones into the warzone, against a slightly better geared Imperial team. The tide turns against the Republic. Sensing the low likelihood of victory, several Republic players leave. The outcome becomes inevitable, and the rest of the team huddles forlornly at our single node. The loss rewards the Empire as victories always have, while (as of 1.2) giving the losing Republic very little. A few matches down the road, the gear disparity grows, as does Imperial unit cohesion (fewer quitters, more familiar team, better practiced patterns) and the loss pattern solidifies. The occasional weaker/new Imperial player is carried successfully and retains interest in PvP, becoming more skilled and geared. His Republic equivalent may ragequit. The pool of recruits for inter-guild premades is larger on the more successful side, leading to… and so on and so forth.

We’d been down this road before, of course. The early-quitters are making an arguably correct (if dishonourable) prisoner’s-dilemma choice, because, inexplicably, Bioware has yet to copy from WoW any penalties for leaving warzones early. I’ve seen the same person run from the sinking ship, requeue, and end up in the same match they’d left, if it took us discourteously long to lose it. The other, less straightforward issue is that of very poor rewards for the losing side.

The amount of Valor, Commendations, and credits awarded at the end of a Warzone is now based on your team’s score, with a bonus for the winning team. Experience rewards are still based on the amount of time spent in the Warzone.

I am typically the sort of fellow who would applaud this. Not quite with a snarling Gevlonesque contempt for the weak, but out of a sense of justice. A loss is a loss (is a loss) and vae victis. It should not be about punching the clock; a real stake enlivens the game. And a victory alongside the weak, against the odds, brings more satisfaction and glory. However (and it’s really not because the lash is on my hide, honest) I do wonder about the sustainability of the faction imbalance in the long run. Was Blizzard on to something when it chose to award, back in the mist-shrouded days of patch 1.8, a third of the spoils to the losing side?

Categories: Mechanics, Mentality, PvP

1.2 or Focused Defence, Humane UI, Legacy Fluff, Combat Log

April 12, 2012 2 comments

1.2 is here, 1.2 is here! Scarper downstairs in your night garments, fix rictus grins like bayonets, and tear apart the packaging on Bioware’s gifts.

It is, to be fair, mostly Good. Many bugs are fixed and quality of life has improved. Like many observers, I am left puzzled, overall, as to why some of these changes required a few months’ worth of consideration, datamining and player feedback. Quite a few of these draw directly from WoW’s experience, after all. Like, couldn’t they have simply stolen filtering by level in the /who command? Sprint at Level 1, being able to drive through orbital stations, direct to-ship shuttles… the game is becoming more convenient.  We’re embarking on a road to LFR and slack-jawed drooling. I can see it already; the way things are going, they’ll be making the Galactic Market actually usable next.  I just hope somewhere at the top of the Legacy pyramid there is a porch, an angry cane and a kid-free lawn for my rant-filled retirement.

To get the sad out of the way: white colour crystals and Korrealis mounts are gone, if not forever then for a very long time. My feelings on this tactic of creating collector value by designer fiat are mixed. In WoW, a few achievements like the Amani Warbear and other raid-related titles and mounts have been made no longer accessible once the difficulty of acquiring them was trivialised by gear and character levels. This sort of thing I can live with. There’s still a component of being fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, but it is outweighed by the pride of performance they represented. The 1.2 move, in contrast, is a purely arbitrary decision, unless someone suddenly decided that TOR is an economic attainment game and the items were actually a reward for making several million credits early. In reality, credits will flow ever easier in 1.2 thanks to the new dailies and the overall population of 50s getting larger. The economy needs its money sinks more than ever.

Esthetics:

Armour customisability and colour matching are nice. Combat ability particle effects keyed to the weapon colour crystal are nice. The option for better texturing is nice.

Legacy:

The Sims meets Star Wars. Mark your alts as your main’s family, send them hand-me-downs (even cross-faction!) decorate your ship. More pets, some great song and dance about magenta crystals… Bioware is feeling no compunction about milking fluff. To be fair, it is an intelligent design direction in this particular game where extensive alting to experience more well-written stories has a greater appeal than in others. It makes sense to support it and reward it further.

UI Improvements:

Yes. Oh, yes. If anything, it may have gone a little bit overboard. A full-fledged editor with xml save? Bioware, it’s okay. Really. We weren’t that cross. Just a little scaling and some moveable bars would have been great.

Jedi Guardians:

A few little buffs, an inexplicable nerf to Challenging Call given that AoE threat is our Achilles’ heel, and some major reorganisation.

The tree shifting, in particular the removal of Protector, seems to be a strike against the hybrid 14/27  tanking spec. While it was difficult to argue against the survivability of the rubberbanding Guardian, I have always felt that it was a bit of a hack, not a proper or desireable arrangement.

Baseline Focused Defence, a self-heal at the expense of threat, is an interesting mechanic. Guardian Slash threat boost is welcome and probably complementary to Focused Defence, although we never really had a significant single-target threat problem, even with the threat dumps of Protector use. I do cautiously predict that we will return to the primacy of the Defence tree in 1.2 (even if Commanding Awe/Focused Defence synergy begs to differ) though it will remain to be seen if our overall threat and survivability work out the same. It would help if Blade Barrier absorption were calculated post-mitigation, correcting what I believe is simply an oversight.

Combat Logging:

The choice of a parsable text file outside of the game as opposed to real-time feedback is quite interesting, and ominous. Note the patch-note phrasing, with my emphasis, directed at the enthusiasts who wish to examine ” the detailed mechanics of combat and optimizing their own character.” The Bioware team seems quite adamant to nip in the bud any notion of performance comparisons and the resultant bludgeoning over the head of weak group members. The Tobolds of the world would approve, I imagine. I am partly in that camp myself, but I feel a mite annoyed at being deprived of a useful tool in an effort to limit the impact of potential asshats. It feels like a concession. Still, this is much better than nothing.

PvP changes tend toward accessibility, streamline some of the metagame, and probably deserve a post of their own.

Categories: Mechanics

RL > MMO or Another Spot of Mittens Rubbish

April 5, 2012 Comments off

The Mittens firestorm is slowly dying down, giving way to speculation on the impact of his Jita gankfest, which is presumably a relief and a goal achieved for Mittens and his beleaguered wife. As so often in these cases, what lingers most vividly in memory is not the antagonist’s sordid little transgression but all the equivocating, lawyering, shifting of goalposts, philosophical handwaving, axe-grinding, hole-digging and posturing it engendered.

No amount of casuistry can efface the basic fact of Suicidegate: encouraging attempts to effect a man’s suicide was morally wrong. The medium does not matter. The context does not matter. The likelihood of success does not matter. No, it is not in the same league as merely refusing to yield to emotional blackmail via suicide threat. The intent was to generate enough harrassment for the poor bastard to kill himself irl. Which is wrong. End of story.

As to the burning of Jita, its irreversible link with the Reykjavik Douchebaggery annoys me. I do not believe CCP should lift a finger to stop it and I’m sure it will be tremendous fun. Precisely the sort of ‘griefing’ that EVE players should get up to. I understand The Mittani wishes to market the event as a bit of a fightback after the well-earned consequences of his idiocy, to drive home the point that he is not castrated by the whole thing. Fair enough, of course. The man is gifted at the perceptions game, after all. The annoying part is the creeping insinuation that the mentality that would relish driving a man to irl suicide for entertainment is the essential mentality of EVE, required for the sort of dastardly corporate warfare for which the game is rightly cherished. That unless one is willing to leave one’s sense of proportion, boundaries and human decency at the door, one has no business playing EVE. That without the attempt to destroy the player behind The Wis there could be no burning of Jita. It is, fortunately, a giant non-sequitur, but it tarnishes the game needlessly.

Categories: Mentality, Other MMOs

Grind

April 4, 2012 Comments off

“A film which followed the code of the Hays Office to the strictest letter might succeed in being a great work of art, but not in a world in which a Hays Office exists.” – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia

Far too many pixels have been darkened in MMO literature on the subject of the hamster wheel, that is to say repetitive tasks in expectation of future fun, for me to have any hope of bringing forward anything original. Still, the grind is where I am and therefore what I must write about.

On the surface of the question, grind is good. It is the primary form of content, especially at level cap. It encourages long-term planning and the deferment of gratification, which, we can all agree, are virtuous. The problem arises when the grind becomes a prerequisite to something fundamental, rather than the result of one’s own goals and drive to improve oneself above the baseline. My immediate example of concern: in SW:TOR, to PvP at 50 without Centurion/Champion gear is very painful indeed. It is a very good idea to acquire Valor Rank 50 the moment one hits level 50. It is not unfair to say that at release, grinding warzones from 40 onward was fairly close to a pre-requisite for rewarding PvP at level 50. To do this diligently in any reasonable amount of time meant missing out on a lot of PvE, hitting the warzone/merc comm cap repeatedly and uselessly, and, quite frankly, being put to the yoke.

I enjoy warzones a great deal. I will queue over and over again all evening if I feel that it is my idea to do so. However, I bristle at being compelled to do them solely in order to keep afloat down the road. To rephrase Adorno, with apologies to the great Frankfurter, a sequence of MMO activities that matched the demands of the grind to the strictest letter might succeed in being fun, but not in a world where the grind exists.

The Ilum balancing errors added insult to injury, allowing a small proportion of Imperial players, over the course of a brief window of opportunity, to attain easily something that required a lot of hard work from the rest of us. But never mind.

Never mind, because the greater insult comes knocking against our band-aids with 1.2 and Recruit gear. Recruit gear, like WoW’s crafted entry-level PvP gear, ought to have been in place from the beginning. To add it now, and make it superior to Champ/Cent, along with the change to the warzone/mercenary commendation conversion ratio, does considerably diminish the value of pre-1.2 effort. The sentiment is expressed more vividly and rather without bloodless Jedi detachment in several threads on the official forums.

Had I known this was coming, I may still have played many matches, but I might have felt more free to vary my fare. Sessions of ‘log on, resolve to quest a little or play with an alt, suddenly remember that I need to travel to Carrick to pick up my PvP daily, play warzones, complete daily, stare forlornly at ever-low Valor Rank and play more warzones, log off’ were becoming a little tiresome even to a stalwart aficionado of the game. I am afraid that Bioware, in this instance, managed to usher in the worst of both worlds, until further tweaks are done, the dust settles and only traces of bitterness remain.

I do wish to make clear that I do not begrudge anyone their Recruit gear. In fact, I view gear progression a little differently from most people. I do not experience the gambler’s, collector’s joy at having my piece drop, even as I observe how real and important that aspect is to most. Gear, in my mind, is solely a tool to do the job. I would be happy with egalitarian systems in both PvE and PvP where everyone is equipped similarly and the rewards come from ladder rankings, win ratios, boss kill dates, and so on, though I understand how quixotic that position is.

However, love of gear, when requited, leads to gear inflation. Which impacts one’s ability to do the job in a particular set of gear negatively. Which leads one back to the treadmill. I’d thought about this recently in connection with my short-lived return adventure in WoW. At Cata’s release, a fresh 85 in quest and reputation blues would have been able to heal or tank what is now regarded as a ‘regular’ heroic, if the rest of the group employed patience, care and crowd control. At Cata’s twilight, that same player is a considerable drag on a group which attempts to storm the place Wrath-style. It’s not that solving the problem is too hard – gold flows like water, crafted and BoE pieces are readily available and discounted, and punching the clock in battlegrounds can assist via honour-to-JP conversion. The principle, however, remains: expectations rise, and again, it is the grind to meet a mere baseline that is irksome.

Categories: Mentality, Other MMOs, PvP