Wednesday, January 27, 2016

More Blade and Soul Thoughts

I've been playing Blade and Soul over the last week. I purchased a weeks worth of Premium to avoid the queues. B&S has a few more interesting aspects.

Context-Sensitive Abilities

Abilities are very "context-sensitive". On my Force Master, using a Fire spell (left mouse button) puts you in Fire mode, and a lot of your abilities change to a Fire version. Using a Frost spell (right mouse button) puts you in Frost mode, and several abilities change to a Frost version. It's fairly easy to change contexts, to alternate between Fire and Frost.

There are other contexts as well. The FM has a "grip" ability that pulls and holds the enemy. While the enemy is gripped, several new variants of abilities are unlocked.

Talent Trees

This is then backed up by the talent tree system. Each ability (or more accurately each button), has it's own talent tree. The tree usually has 2-4 mutually exclusive branches that changes or enhances the ability in a specific fashion.

For example, that grip ability I mentioned can be changed into a snare which prevents people from moving. Another short-range ability can be changed into a variant that does less damage but has a longer range.

All in all, the ability structure of B&S is very interesting, and it's worth looking at to see how a large number of abilities and variations can be mapped onto a small number of keys.

1v1 PvP

The PvP devs of most MMOs have said that they do not balance around 1v1 PvP. B&S embraces 1v1, and has it being the central format of PvP. I've only tried one duel, and lost fairly quickly. But it was a pretty interesting experience.

Dueling has a long history in WoW. You can often find people dueling outside the gates of capital cities. After playing B&S, I am no longer certain that simply writing off 1v1 as unbalance-able was correct. Perhaps if 1v1 was balanced, that would simplify the balancing of larger groups, or classes in general.

Of course, B&S doesn't really have dedicated healers, which changes things significantly.

Health

In most modern western MMOs, health is a per-encounter resource. You start the encounter at full-health, and it's fairly easy to get back up to full-health afterwards.

In B&S, health regenerates far slower, but you generally take less damage during a fight. Resources to recover health are moderately scarce as well. So you generally deal with multiple pulls on one health bar, and only rest when your health gets low.

Conclusions

Those are some of the mechanical aspects of Blade and Soul which I found interesting. The queues have died down, so it's a decent time to check it out. Really the only issue is that the spammers are out in full force, and have overrun all chat.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

PvE Endgame Difficulty Tiers

Judging by the main three PvE MMOs (WoW, SWTOR, FFXIV) that I'm following, the PvE endgame is gradually converging onto the same model.

Essentially, there are 3 difficulty tracks. We can call them softcore, midcore, and hardcore. Here's how each MMO handles the difficulty tracks:



Softcore Midcore Hardcore
World of Warcraft LFR, Normal Heroic Mythic
The Old Republic Story Hard Nightmare
FFXIV: ARR Crystal Tower (24), Hard Primals Binding Coil (8), Extreme Primals Savage Binding Coil
FFXIV: Heavensward Void Ark (24), Alexander (8) Extreme Primals Savage Alexander


The softcore layer is also the layer that allows for random transient groups.

Each of these games have issues with the layers, though different issues.

WoW's major issue is that LFR is a complete joke. As well, it's essentially the same content repeated multiple times. Finally, because Mythic is a fixed size, and Heroic is not, the transition between Heroic and Mythic can be hard to navigate.

TOR's major issue revolves around Nightmare modes. In theory they were supposed to give better gear than Hard modes. However, there's been a "bug" which means they drop the same gear. Bioware has also announced that the fix is to give Nightmare a "chance" to drop better gear. This is primarily to people from getting the best gear too fast. But there is one highlighted Hard mode each week which drops guaranteed best gear. So TOR is in the awkward position of having a Hard mode instance guarantee better gear than the Nightmare version, which has the hardcore players unhappy.

Additionally, it's been over a year since a new TOR operation was released, so most players in the midcore and hardcore streams have done the current content a lot.

For FFXIV, in ARR, Binding Coil was out of reach for the softcore tier, which is composed of the largest number of players. In Heavensward, SE tried to fix that, moving the 8-man raid into the softcore tier. Unfortunately, that hollowed out the midcore content. The midcore are left with throwing themselves futilely at Savage, or just settling for the easier softcore content.

As well, the way loot was handled damaged this structure further. The current Extreme Primals had their rewards obsoleted really quickly.

Anyways, that's a look at the current state of endgame difficulty in PvE MMOs. I confess that I liked the FFXIV:ARR system the best. It struck a good balance between repeating content and making content exclusive. I've never actually done Binding Coil, but I think there was enough other content that it never felt necessary.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Blade And Soul Release Impressions

I talked a bit about Blade and Soul when it was in beta, but it has been released today. I'd consider waiting a few weeks if you aren't willing to subscribe, as the queues are insane at the moment. It's also overrun with gold spammers.

It's a very "Korean" MMO. If you don't like other Korean games like TERA, I doubt you will like Blade and Soul. The character creation is pretty amazing with a ton of sliders. The game tends to "skimpy female clothing" side of things.

The combat is pretty interesting. Lots of combos and abilities that change in response to other abilities. It does seem somewhat dependent on your internet connect, though.

The story and dialogue is pretty atrocious. I rather wish they had left in the Korean voice-acting, and just translated it with English sub-titles. However, I'm not very far in, so it may get better.

There are some interesting design decisions. For example, the default loot mechanism in random dungeons is Gold DKP. When an item drops, people bid gold. The highest bid wins and the gold is distributed to the other party members.

Personally, I think this is a great idea. It stops people from rolling Need on everything. If you don't win anything, at least you get a lot of gold to help you in your next run. It's a better solution than Personal Loot, as far as I'm concerned.

World PvP is enabled by equipping a special faction costume. Once equipped, you can attack people wearing the opposite faction costume. It's a very visual, in-game, approach to a PvP flag. However, there are also multiple pairs of factions, which might make things more interesting.

Truthfully, I don't really have a lot more to say about Blade and Soul. It's kind of fun. But I don't think it will hold me for very long.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Randomness in Hearthstone, Part II

A while back, we were discussing the randomness in Hearthstone, with several commenters saying that Hearthstone is much more random than Magic: the Gathering. I disagreed. I recently came across a post in the Magic sub-reddit making the same points:
The problem with Hearthstone is that it is too consistent. You always have your mana when you need it. As such, that five-drop of yours is coming down on turn five. In Magic, your five-drop may come down on turn five in one game, and then have to wait until turn seven on the next. Mana is too consistent in Hearthstone, so every game feels the same. On top of that, card draws are more consistent because you have 30 cards as opposed to 60 in Magic/Pokémon and 40 in Yugioh. And because you don't have to put lands in your deck (or mana crystals, whatever), you can cram more good spells into your deck, so your odds of getting a "good card" go up. Finally, the mulligan process in Hearthstone of being able to pick-and-choose makes opening hands more consistent, especially since there's no penalty for taking a mulligan (either in full or in part).
 It makes the point that the randomness in Hearthstone is just surface randomness built into a few cards. While the deeper deck construction is far more consistent in Hearthstone than in Magic.

Note too that this player thinks consistency at this level is a flaw in the game, not a positive. I've commented before on how the initial hand in card games (and subsequent draws) is a far more acceptable source of randomness to players than other sources.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Game of Votes

Eve Online is having its yearly elections for the Council of Stellar Managment, an advisory body made up of players. There's lots of controversy this year because the last CSM apparently had a lot of drama. And of course, Eve being Eve, everything is part of the metagame, including the CSM.

Elections are run online, using Single-Transferrable-Vote, I believe. However, this is a pretty boring system for a game like Eve, and has already been gamed out by the various power blocs.

I have an idea for a more "entertaining" CSM voting system:
  • Every account gets one vote.
  • The vote is a virtual object attached to the first character who logs in once election season starts.
  • The vote can be transferred from one character to another. It may not be stored or sold via the automatic trading markets.
  • Characters can accumulate multiple votes.
  • If your ship and pod are destroyed by another player, all the votes you hold are dropped into space and can be looted by another character.
  • There is a special election station in a contested null-sec sector (maybe Providence sector?).
  • A character who gets to the election station may turn in her accumulated votes, which are tallied and recorded.
  • Votes may be turned in once and only once during the election season. If you turn in 40 votes and later accumulate 500 votes, your total is stuck at 40, and you cannot turn in the 500.
  • The qualifying accounts with the top X totals at the end of election season are the winners.

You may need additional rules about not being able to jump directly into the election station system or surrounding constellation.

In any case, this should be a more entertaining system than the current one, ensuring that players elected to the CSM have the requisite amounts of skill and guile. You can have meta-game shenanigans where spies intercept votes and defect to other corporations with those votes. The big corps may spread out their votes via "bundlers" to avoid losing a lot of them at once.

It is an election far more in the style of Eve Online. And the most important thing is that it will be far more entertaining for the rest of us.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Knights of the Fallen Empire versus The Force Awakens

This post contains spoilers for both Knights of the Fallen Empire and The Force Awakens.

I was playing Chapter 4 of KotFE on my Jedi Knight recently. This is my second playthrough of KotFE, and the one after I saw The Force Awakens. It struck me that there were some unintentional parallels between Chapter 4 and TFA.

In Chapter 4, your two main companions are Koth Vortena and Lana Beniko. Koth is a black man, who was a former officer in the enemy Empire's military. He deserted when he was ordered to massacre civilians. That's a fairly strong parallel with Finn. Lana, meanwhile, parallels Rey to a degree, being a powerful white female force user.

Of course, there are differences. The two are balanced better, Koth being the pilot and mechanic. Koth and Finn are both more classic good guys. Lana is a ruthless but pragmatic Sith Lord, the former Minister of Intelligence. To be honest, I think she's a far more interesting character than Rey.

One important difference is that the KotFE characters are both older. They've lived more, and done more, than the characters in TFA. That history makes them more interesting.

I was just struck by the unintentional parallel between the two stories at this point. Yet KotFE managed to do a better job with it's two characters, and manages to balance them better as well.

Of course, the biggest difference is HK-55. I'm pretty sure that an HK unit would have livened up TFA immeasurably.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Belief and Outcomes

This  is not really related to gaming, but is something I've been contemplating lately.

Let's say that there is a statement X. You do not believe that X is true. You think it is wrong, that it does not describe the reality of the world.

There are other people out there who do believe in statement X. Who believe wholeheartedly, who believe that X describes a truth of the world. And because they believe in X, they act in a certain manner.

The issue is that because of the way they act, these people accomplish more than your group. They never prove X, and it is entirely probable that you are right about X. But still, in pursuit of X they do more, even make the world a better place, than your group does.

Should you join this other group, even if you don't believe in the fundamental principle which they do?

Perhaps believing X to be true might lead them down a wrong path someday in the future. But so far, other people believing in X has just resulted in outcomes which you like.