A Pleasantly Surprising Turn of Events

One of the frustrating things about gaming is the tendency not to release completed games, but instead to release a buggy, incomplete mess. The bugs gets fixed post launch (sometimes), and DLC is for "all the real content".

But, at least in my tiny corner of the world, I find friends saying "Oh, I'm not going to buy that game until all the DLC is out, so I can play the complete game. It's cheaper to pick it up all at once, too." So all the revenue the companies seem to be counting on to help them finish DLC etc. never comes. Most prominently, I know several friends who put off buying Civilization 6 until it was "really done".

I find it funny how games not being finished at launch has trained so many of my peers not to buy at launch.

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Why did RTS die?

I was watching something recently about how there don't seem to be any new RTS games anymore, and I think there's a few reasons for that problem. The most obvious is how few people still seem to be playing, but why aren't there more people?

The first is complexity creep. The genre as a whole has gotten very deep and complex, such that there's no good entry point anymore. I tried to introduce a couple friends to StarCraft II, but they found the experience overwhelming. It is not a simple game; there are a lot of moving parts to that thing. I think that's good and part of the fun, but the extraordinary depth and complexity is a HUGE hurdle.

I think the second problem is how the genre lost sight of the role of the campaign. The campaign is like an extended tutorial for how to play the game, but it has to be subtle about it. When I make that statement in person, the average person immediately begins frothing at the mouth about how badly they hate tutorials, which is why it is important to be subtle about it. For example, when you're playing StarCraft (the original), each mission introduces a new unit. People's natural tendency is to build the new unit to see what it does; the trick is to stack the map so that people naturally figure out how it works without having to be told. The mission that introduces drop ships puts the enemy base on an island, which forces you to build Wraiths and/or drop ships. Because Wraiths have very poor air-to-ground damage, you are subtly encouraged to build drop ships. The Zerg mission that introduces Ventral Sacs (the Overlord drop ability) has a long, winding, narrow and heavily fortified path leading to the enemy base... and also happens to have a ledge with absolutely no air defense of any kind that lets you drop into the back of the enemy base and kill their workers. The whole map is rigged to make you realize you need to use an Overlord to get around the extreme static defense.

It isn't just the units that you're trained on; it's also the controls. There are missions that give you a fixed number of units, then expect you to finish using those units. If you know what you are doing and micro/control them well, you will easily be able to push your way through the mission. If you do not, you will probably struggle. These missions always have at least one unit that you are required to keep alive - subtly telling you that you must think about how you choose to organize your units. It also happens to be a unit too powerful to leave behind while the little guys do all the dirty work.

I mention StarCraft because it is so well made in this respect, but the less popular Relic RTS Impossible Creatures worked similarly. In that game, you designed your units from freakish animal mash-ups. That is an extremely complex problem to work through if you sit down and look at all the animals at once, but the campaign takes you through and gives you just a few animals on each level. The game suffered a little bit from stat balance problems, but it was ultimately a fun experience and the campaign provided all the education you needed to have fun (without being completely in your face about it).

Modern RTS games seem to eschew the "campaign as tutorial" route, but I think it was what made a significant number of games playable, especially if they had any multiplayer component at all. Even if you just beat up on computers the whole time, the Command and Conquer campaigns also taught you how to play the game well enough to have fun when engaging with what is, at its heart, an extremely complex and challenging game.

Actually making an RTS game is also extremely difficult, which surely plays a role. I'm sure there's more reasons, but I'm tired and it's late.

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Life on the Upswing

I got a job. It has nothing to do with engineering, or anything really and truly satisfying in life, but it's a job and it makes money. Sometimes, that's the kind of job you take, because you need money. I specifically need money to get into engineering.

But I come to gaming for chilling, and there's the rub: gaming seems to think I have the time to invest 40+ hours of work time (possibly 40 hours a week) into their video game that pays me in bits. I've never really been a fan of that, but it's made even more in-your-face-annoying when you only have an hour or two each day to do something fun.

So now my problem is the polar opposite of what I had before. I'm left with no time, but plenty of money to enjoy gaming. I find I have absolutely no patience for monthly fees (even less than I did before, when I'd have the time to make good on the invested money), and zero tolerance for busy work. I think I find this most astounding because I always assumed that having more money would make me less stingy with it (trading greater quantities of money for fun), and that did happen. But now I have no tolerance for anything that falls into "not fun". I expected getting money to change me, not exaggerate my existing traits.

It's kinda cool to find out that there is some constancy to me after all.

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Time is short, and yet I'm here

I've been pretty busy working at two part time jobs, but I'm trying to make time to play games again. With so little time it's hard to find time to play, but I still load something up when I can.

Still looking for full time employment, either in my field or another that pays as well. I refuse to go into education until it pays living wages, even though I'm an excellent math tutor.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Last blog, I wrote about how broken WvW was because of how imbalancing the orbs were. They got fixed by getting nixed, which is great because now WvW is fun again. Even when you're losing, you don't feel like there's nothing you could conceivably do. I thought "Finally, these people understand that giving players stat boosts in WvW fundamentally undermines the main selling point of the game."

Then I heard about the recent article on the Guild Wars 2 website, which I'm linking to here: https://www.guildwars2.com/en/news/linsey-murdock-unveils-new-high-end-ascended-gear/

Really? That's your grand solution to "lack of level 80 content"? Adding a new tier of equipment that requires more grinding is not what I had in mind when I said "I want more to do once I hit level 80". I'm not opposed to new equipment, but I want it to do one of two things: look pretty, or be different (not better). Adding better stats on equipment is terrible, and I don't appreciate having all of my previous investment in time being completely invalidated. The Legendaries are the top-tier of equipment, and if that's where you want it to be, I can live with it (although I'd rather the Legendaries be an expression of player devotion to the game, not a requirement to have max stats). Adding better stat equipment is a total failure, and goes against the design principles that made me like the original Guild Wars: minimal grind, just content.

So what do I want to see added in Guild Wars 2? The new dungeon is a step in the right direction, and it sounds fun. And I'm not opposed to new equipment, but I want it to be different equipment, not better equipment. I have an ele. My main-hand options are Staff, Scepter, or Dagger. My off-hand choices are focus or dagger. Adding a new weapon type would go a long way toward cutting down on how repetitive each class is. The original Guild Wars had incredible depth and variety, and while people "settled into roles", new skills always had the potential to shake things up.

I also very much do NOT want to see equipment that is relevant to WvW. I already feel out-classed by all-exotic players, and I had intended to be a crafter because it seemed more solo friendly. I won't be winning a race to the top, but slow and steady still completes the race. If more and better equipment is constantly being added, I'll never be able to keep up. If this were a different MMO, I'd just quit and say "Well, that's how it is," but this is Guild Wars, the game that touts itself as "the MMO that lets you have a life outside the MMO". Adding another tier of equipment is a big no-no with this kind of game design. Broaden and adding new equipment, or a different mix of stats that wasn't available before is fine, as long as they are on par with the existing stuff.

I do not play Guild Wars so I can get kicked around by people who play more often than me. The original designers understood this, and even said "It's like giving the chessmaster an extra queen -- he doesn't need it, and all it does is take the skill out of the game." Keep skill relevant, and don't force everyone to invest the time and energy into farming Legendary equipment just to have numbers that are competitive. The 60K armor stood in the original Guild Wars as a high-end goal that people looked forward to completing because of the cosmetic options, and was something to aspire to as a PvE player. The PvP players didn't care so much -- and they didn't have to.

I don't care how the other MMOs do things as an industry standard. I played Guild Wars because I didn't like the industry standard. You have a large existing player base you can draw from.

So to recap:

New dungeons are awesome. New tier of equipment (with bigger numbers) is terrible. New kinds of equipment, especially with new skill sets, would be awesome (but is not expected in this update). New Legendaries and other purely cosmetic new weapons would be acceptable.

My guild mate and I were so bummed out by the news that Guild Wars 2 intended to use a gear treadmill that we updated Vindictus and played some on that, rather than continue to waste our time in GW2 (What's the point? The equipment we get will be out-classed in 4 days). We spent the time comparing Vindicus to Guild Wars 2, and saying how much better it would be if the ideas we saw in GW2 were put into a game with combat like Vindictus. I'm going to keep my eyes open for that kind of game. I hope we're over reacting badly, but our disappointment with Guild Wars 2 is growing quickly. The big shining light is that the last big screw up (the orbs) got fixed even though it was bad, and the bot plague as subsided substantially (at least on the server I'm on). Please, come to your senses and stick with your principles. They were what made you money. If things continue as they are, I will not be buying any more chapters for Guild Wars 2.

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Guild Wars 2 World vs. World is Broken (and how I would fix it)

World vs. World (WvW) was one of the major selling points of Guild Wars 2, and anyone who expressed interest in the game had an interest in WvW. There's been a lot of unpleasantness as the worlds have been settling into a routine of "Play for real briefly for a few hours on Friday, then somebody wins for the week". I think there's a lot of trouble with this.

First, the design of WvW actually favors winning and defending. Giving some advantages to defenders isn't all bad, but giving huge gameplay benefits to the team that's winning is. First, there's the orbs, which grant a 5% boost to your stats as long as you hold them. There's three of them spread across the maps, and once one team holds all of them, that's a 15% stat boost to all their players across all of WvW. Once one team has all three orbs, it becomes very difficult to defeat them in even numbers. Compounding this problem is the fact that winning in WvW accumulates points that also gives you stat boosts, especially to your health and healing. There's nothing particularly wrong with granting a stat boost to gathering, but giving the winning team more health just helps them win more.

Second, the things that were put into place to encourage participation aren't working. The Magic Find boost given to "outnumbered players" is really lame, and only means something if you're able to win. If you aren't winning any fights, it isn't doing you any good.

Finally, there is still a penalty to dying -- the repair fee. This means that, if you are dying repeatedly, you're losing money as you play. If you're spending money buying siege equipment, you lose money even faster. It is possible to get siege equipment without spending money, but it uses badges of honor, which you only collect while you're winning fights. All these things combine to make losing at WvW unpleasant and un-fun. The people who are winning are strongly motivated to stay and keep winning, while the people who are losing are penalized for losing. Throw in the free server transfers that let you change sides on a whim, and big chunks of server population just migrate with the winning team, making it difficult to build stable guilds and participate in WvW while on a non-winning server. I don't think this was the intention.

So how would I fix this enormous problem? I think that, for starters, what a guildmate suggested was the easiest to implement and best idea: swap the Magic Find and Orb bonus. Granting additional magic find while you hold orbs doesn't make the current holder win any harder than they already are, but players are still motivated to take them and hold them. Also, if you are sorely outnumbered, you need a stat boost to help make up some of the difference in numbers. This also has the benefit of causing epic feeling battles (Of the "I was outnumbered 5 to one, but I still killed two of them before they got me" sort). Just be careful that the stat boost isn't so large that you'd rather have it than extra players on your team.

Removing the stat bonuses from the WvW rewards and replacing them with some other reward would cut down on this problem as well. Simple bonuses like "increased gold from monsters" don't prevent comebacks in WvW.

I also think that, even when losing, players should still get some reward (especially in the form of Badges of Honor). Soldiers in the military get purple hearts for being injured in the line of duty, and I think something should be awarded for participation in WvW, even while losing. I don't think we should reward players more for dying than for winning, but even losing required active participation on the part of the player and should be rewarded. I think it is reasonable to add an NPC who rewards badges of honor for dying, and set it to pay out at half the rate of winning. It doesn't make sense to have your badge drop at the location and time of your death (sitting there taunting you while you're not able to pick it up), so an NPC in the main base who keeps track of your earned badges seemed the next simplest solution. That's a much more involved solution, but it still seems like a good idea.

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How could Guild Wars 2 suck so much?

I got the opportunity to play in the most recent beta weekend, and I had some mixed experiences.

What was good about it was the successful implementation of a game where you are always happy when someone else pops up. The dynamic events are great fun when you want to participate, and are usually not too much in the way if you don't want to. And world-vs-world, at least conceptually, is fun, although it was having some technical issues at the time I played (which we'll get to later, in the "what was bad" part). The central gameplay from the first game is there, with the running around and casting spells, but it's more mobile in this game because you don't always stop to cast spells. I actually overall liked the story elements, at least for the Charr I played to level 10.

What was bad (and as of this writing the game was still in beta -- which is why this is a blog and not a review) was a lot of things that I found super-annoying. Like, you have to unlock your skills on your weapons slowly by killing things. This isn't much of an issue for the first weapon you choose to use in the starting area, but it feels very much like grinding which I hate and was one of the reasons I played the original Guild Wars to begin with. It's not fun to have to spend forever "unlocking the potential of your dagger" for every element of every weapon on my ele, for example. It will be done in "no time", but the point is that it is an annoyance that doesn't have to be there.

World vs. World was having issues at the time too, so take anything I say with a grain of salt (remember it was both beta and a bad weekend). It took me hours to get into WvW, and I eventually transfered servers (which is free during beta, but will cost money in the final release). I transfered to a lower population server, so I finally got in, but then was getting dominated by servers that simply fielded larger armies. To top it all off, while trying to defend a tower (a kind of castle-like building with walls), I discovered I did not have "line of sight" to the horde below. I was an ele packing AoE spells, but in order to be able to cast them, I had to hop up onto a precarious ledge that only came up to my knees to get "line of sight". They had no problems blasting me from below; for some reason, the targeting will let you target your AoE spells at the wall itself, so you can hit anyone standing above even when they can't hit you. Throw in a couple skirmishes where getting aggro from neutral monsters killed me (some of them hidden, not by their own skills, but by annoyingly placed vegetation), and I was thoroughly displeased.

I'm not complaining because I lost, but about the reasons why I lost. I was a class that casts area-of-effect damage spells. We had a castle I could hide in and throw spells down from on high. It's a situation that should be a dream, but was a nightmare. Instead of raining down firey death on all those below, I was relegated to providing a few lame heals for my sorely outnumbered team. It's not that the other team broke down the gate and killed us that bothers me, it's the fact that I had to stand idly by unable to really do my thing while it happened. I'd be completely content if I had thrown down some epic Meteor Showers before I died.

I had other issues to, but they're more technical limitations. I'll confess my computer isn't a powerhouse, but I ran the original GW with practically no problems. In Guild Wars 2, I got hung up on snow and large armies (which did not assist with the "carefully jump onto the narrow rail around the castle wall" problem). I could do the PvE portion of the game acceptably well (from a technical standpoint), but the PvP ran into problems whenever I got into combat with a huge group.

I don't think I can say often enough "this was still in beta", but with the game's release about a month away, I worry about what the final product will be like. The problems are fixable, but until they are fixed I'm going to remain a skeptic. I have high hopes for GW2 because I was such a big fan of GW, but I hope the last month smooths out a lot of wrinkles.

Also, I might need a new computer if I want to play the PvP in this.

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Making Sound Work in Princess Maker 2

I recently had a run in with a technical problem that I felt warranted a blog post due to the epic nature of the problem (the definition of "epic" being "cannot be told in a single sitting", so an epic technical problem is one that cannot be solved in a single sitting).

I have an old copy of Princess Maker 2 that I got from somewhere, and I decided to load it up in the DosBox emulator, which is the only way to run my super old games (I also have an ancient CD of Ascendancy around here somewhere that I play about once a year). Anyway, I found that my sound suddenly wasn't working. Normally, I make modified .conf files for loading my games via DosBox quickly, but this time it wasn't loading my sound. I found a guide online for fixing it, but was frustrated because the file wouldn't run in Vista.

Then I had the brilliant idea to run the program using DOSBOX (it's a DOS emulator, and isn't restricted to just video games). That let me edit my settings so that I could finally get my music (in midi form). And so, I am happy. Also, in game.

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Quick Update

Hey,

Been busy doing class work recently for my graduate student thing. I'm trying not to fall behind or flunk out, and also being frustrated that the classes I came here intending to take are not being offered. My social life is also normally busy, but my plans ended up completely canceled this weekend because I canceled my normal plans to do stuff with my mother and then she got sick, so I had more time for gaming.

I got a couple games from my brother via Steam recently, and so I've been playing them. Achron was near the top of my list for "Fun and interesting game I want to try playing", and he bought that for me, so I'm pumped up. The bad thing about the game is the very high level of complexity and how quickly that complexity ramps up. Honestly, a time traveling game doesn't even need more than one kind of unit to get complicated fast (right?), and this game has an enormous number of units. I don't know if they're all necessary. The controls are also a little wonky, and I haven't figured out if I can change them (using Ctrl to que commands instead of shift, for example). I was also disappointed that when I wanted to beat up a computer, it didn't seem possible -- you know, those "jump into a game" maps? Maybe I just picked the wrong one (something about mechs). Overall it looks promising, but it's got a lot going on.

Played Civ4 with friends recently in a big multiplayer game. That was pretty fun, but the "bad" thing seemed to be how easily people got frustrated with being attacked. Civ isn't exactly a game that lends itself to multiplayer, I think, mostly because it all happens so slowly. It doesn't help that people get used to winning, and expect not to be overrun by chariots 30 minutes into an otherwise 6 hour long game (and with 6 of us, the game does take a while).

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Demo: Seeing more than just the gameplay

I don't know why more companies don't do demos.  They're useful for more than just previewing the gameplay (although they are quite good for that).  It can be quite difficult to look at a game's stills and decide if it will be fun or not.  There's too much competition for my dollar to just throw money away on the prettiest pictures -- especially since that's become a major gimmick for making a crappy game sell better.  Considering how many free-to-play games there are entering the market, I find it even harder to spend money on something I'm not sure I'm going to like.  In this way the demo is especially important, but not 100% essential.

The other HUGE issues with demos for me, though, is the system specs.  It can be frustrating to pick up a new game from the store, take it home, and find out that the hardware specs don't match up.  This is especially true considering how flexible the definition of "runs" is for a game.  The other major thing that a demo does, especially for PC titles, is let me check my hardware and see if the game actually works for me or not, and it let's me gauge for myself what qualifies as "runs".  It's still not perfect, but it's still a whole lot better than taking a shot in the dark and discovering that you need some obscure hardware you didn't know about.

The last small thing is getting a feel for the game.  If your game sells itself on it's charm and personality, and not on innovative gameplay (simple solid gameplay is fine), then a demo let's you show that off.  The Recettear demo did this well.  I also thought the Dragon Age II demo let me see everything I needed to for making my decision, without giving away too much gameplay.  I bought Recettear immediately, and Dragon Age II found it's way onto my "watch for a sale" list.

And for a Fail demo, I call out the Geist demo.  I played the demo that came with my Cube when I bought it, which was simply the first level.  The problem with that is that Geist is a game with a lot of innovative gameplay, but the innovation wasn't showcased in the demo!  For example...

THAT'S A BIG DEAL!  That's 100% the draw of the game, and by not showing off that gameplay, the game looked like a standard survival horror game (and not a particularly good one).  If that demo had been better done -- possibly by presenting the content immediately after the spoiler event, then I'd have developed a much different impression of the game.

Does anyone else use demos for some other reason?  What are you looking at when you download a demo?  Is there anything in games that you wish you'd seen in a demo that would have changed your mind?  Any demos you'd like to call out as especially good or bad?

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