Wildstar beta weekend plans
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 April 2014, 11:58 am
I have a long weekend before me, 4-day Easter weekend. Which happens to coincide with a Wildstar beta weekend. Now I don't want to play the beta too much and then get bored on release. But I do want to use the beta weekends to make some decisions on my release main. The last beta weekend already helped me to decide to go warrior as a class, and this weekend I'm trying to decide on a path.

Now the path decision for me is between settler and explorer, after having tried all four paths in the low levels. The scientist path is for people who like to read all those lore books in games like Skyrim, but I was never that interested in game lore. Call me a snob, but in my experience the writing in games isn't all that great, even if you compare it to "pulp fiction" fantasy novels like Conan the Barbarian. And if you have to find the lore in bits and pieces, you're usually missing half of the picture. I also tried the soldier path, but the "extra" activity of the path was way too similar to what I was doing already all day long when questing.

In the low levels I did like the settler path, because it is a bit like a scavenger hunt with picking up resources everywhere. But at level 10 I realized I would want a resource gathering tradeskill, and so now I wonder if all that gathering isn't again going to be too much of the same. I was more skeptical of the explorer path at first, because I am not a huge fan of jumping puzzles in MMORPGs. But I played an explorer to level 10 and there were some cool parts like being able to run along specially marked explorer flags to get huge speed boosts. At least the flags were marked with an explorer symbol, so I assume other paths can't use those. I assume the trampoline mushrooms are useable by everybody.

So what I am going to do this weekend is mainly to play my level 10 warrior / settler some more, maybe up to where you get housing, and do all the settler path missions I come across. Then I'll see if there is a bit more variety there than just gathering resources for building buff stations. I hope that after a few more levels I will be able to decide whether settler is the path I really want to play in the long term.
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Tyranny of Dragons in the marketing department
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 April 2014, 1:55 pm
So 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons will be out this year, and a bit like a World of Warcraft pre-expansion patch there is a huge D&D marketing campaign in the build-up to the release, called Tyranny of Dragons. If you are playing D&D in any sort of "official" setting, you'll be fighting the Cult of the Dragon. So far, so good.

But if you want to see an example of how heavy-handed it can get if you want to move an existing campaign onto the current marketing train, you don't need to go further than PAX East, where Acquisitions Incorporated played their public D&D game. I found the introduction of the Cult of the Dragon rather badly done. The DM had to bend the rules quite a lot to give the enemies a surprise round, because the narrative didn't even talk of an immediate ambush. The heroes walk out of a tavern, there are guys standing there, so from that point on, if a combat breaks out, why would anybody have a surprise round? And don't tell me that the DM didn't fudge dice there to get to that neat situation where everybody but the group leader was down before anybody could act.

So, yes, I understand the requirements of the marketing department to introduce their new material. But they way they did it really wasn't elegant. It sure served the purpose of establishing the Cult as "the enemy", but as I player I would have felt railroaded there.
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Weekend recommendation
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 April 2014, 3:16 am
Blackguards is on sale on Steam for $19.99. I've been playing for several hours yesterday, and found the game quite interesting. Definitively not for everybody, because the turn-based hex tactical combat is hard, and character creation and development system is even harder. But every single battle in the game is carefully set up, and frequently has special conditions that make each fight quite unique. And the character system allows for any weird combination you can think of, for example my main character is an archer with healing spells and buffs.

Be warned that this is not a casual game. Also, depending on how you skill your characters you can easily end up with having taken too many abilities with too low scores, which will then make combat feel rather random, as you only hit half of the time. Concentrating on a few things fixes that. Overall an excellent game if you love turn-based tactical fantasy combat and don't mind having to think while you play.
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How important is the character creation tool for you?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 April 2014, 3:18 am
In a first-person view game, you don't see your character at all, or at best his arms. In a third-person view game your character is on the screen all the time, but you only see him from the back, and usually you are concentrated on what is in front of him. Only in more passively controlled games, like The Sims, do you really get a good look at your character. So when I was reading about the incredible character creation tool of Black Desert, a Korean MMORPG, I wondered whether that was really so important to MMORPG players. Yes, you can modify individual strands of hair of your avatar in that game, but isn't all that detail ultimately lost when playing the game? Have a look at the final characters in that video: After hours of creation you end up with a bunch of same-ish looking people.

That isn't to say that you can't make good character creation tools in MMORPGs. City of Heroes was exemplary in that you could make very different looking characters with the tools provided. But in that case the costume was part of the creation process, while in many other MMORPGs the look of your armor depends on the gear you found. As clothes make out a major part of your look, the character creation tool in those games is then often full of sliders which don't do much. Do you want your nose to be a centimeter longer, or your cheek bones a bit higher? Or do you simply not care, because once he is in the game, nobody is going to notice those minute details on your character?

Games like World of Warcraft or Wildstar at least have a wide variety of very different looking races on offer. Nobody is going to confuse your pink pigtailed gnome with your troll, or your chua with your mechari. Other games, like Black Desert or The Elder Scrolls Online, stick to humans, and that limits how different two characters can look from each other. As long as your character isn't wearing a helmet, hair style and color is still quite a visible difference. But the length of your eyelashes or diameter of your biceps you took hours to plan in detail risks to be completely unnoticeable to the world.

What do you think about character creation tools in MMORPGs? Should we have a detailed one like Black Desert has in all of our games? Or would you rather have less options, but more visible differences between characters?
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Age of Wonders III
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 April 2014, 2:13 am
I've been playing the new Age of Wonders III for about 20 hours now, but my overall impression is one of disappointment. I feel that all the elements needed are there for a great 4X fantasy game, but the balance between them is so horrible that it spoils the experience.

Let's start with resources. As you would expect, there are a lot of them. There is gold, mana, production, knowledge, and happiness being produced in each city. And it quickly turns out that the only one you ever are short of is gold. Mana you always produce more than you can spend. Production you have enough to make production times not the limiting factor, you simply don't have the gold to pay to start production. Knowledge is for researching spells, of which you will have all long before you won. And happiness you increase to get more gold.

A similar lack of balance exists with the size of the typical map and the number and speed of your armies. While that is annoying enough for the player, the AI frequently can't deal with that. Using a flying army or underground path is far more effective than it should be, because you can frequently find undefended or just very lightly defended cities in the enemies' hinterland. Overall that makes the game lack defined frontiers, everything appears to be open to attacks from all sides.

One the one side Age of Wonders III has a very nice system for leveling your heroes with different abilities. On the other side I have rarely played a 4X fantasy game in which the heroes felt so useless in the campaign game. There are very few points on the map to explore where a hero in the army would be necessary to scoop up the loot. And most of the time you don't want to move most of your heroes in the campaign game, because some moron decided that it was a good idea to make you lose the game if any of your secondary heroes dies. The current primary hero of the map can die and will come back a few turns later, but if you lose a secondary hero, it is game over. So you can only ever send them out to do the safest of actions, for which of course you wouldn't have needed a hero in the first place.

By pure coincidence it turns out that today is the release day of Warlock 2. Not bad for a genre that was presumed to be dead, two major releases in a month. I might just have picked the wrong game.
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Pen & paper campaign outlook
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 April 2014, 3:22 am
For the last two years I have been running a Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition campaign as a DM. As we only play every two weeks, we only made it to level 8 in that time, but as a DM I get additional "play time" out of the campaign by writing and preparing the adventures and encounters. Now one important thing to keep in mind (because very few other people will tell you), is that there is no one way to "do it right" when playing a role-playing game. There is a huge panoply of different opinions over what a role-playing game is about. And once you played different campaigns with different people in different circumstances you realize that what works best for your campaign depends on the people around the table. And it isn't as easy as asking them what they want to do, because they usually aren't very clear about it themselves. You just need to experiment a bit, try out different things, and see how your players react. If everybody had a good time at the end of the evening, you are on the right path.

What I have learned about my particular group is that 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons is a very good system for them. They all played World of Warcraft, and the 4E powers system and class balance is very much suited for them. I try to get a balance between role-playing and combat in my adventures, but I do notice that if I do a session without combat my players get itchy, while they are perfectly happy to do a session with only combat. I still think that a certain balance between the two types of content is best, but I know not to overdo the role-playing requirements.

Now I have also been experimenting with different kinds of adventures, or adventure sources. Currently we are in Madness at Gardmore Abbey, which is a pre-made 4E mega-adventure which I am playing close to as it was written. The Reavers of Harkenwold was another adventure I ran like that. Other adventures I took and modified, for example the Keep on the Shadowfell, which I shortened to a "best of" version and rewrote the story. And then there were adventures which weren't originally 4E adventures, like the Standing Stones of Sundown or Ravenloft: In those cases I used the basic story of the adventure, and created a 4E-style encounter-based adventure myself based on original material. Finally my next adventure will be completely original, written with the help of a fellow blogger (/wave Stubborn).

Now all of these adventure sources worked. But the experimenting and stitching together of different adventures did have one negative side-effect: My campaign isn't much of a campaign. It is a series of adventures with links between them, but no over-arching story. And as we didn't know where we were going from the start, we also did fairly little in the area of character backgrounds and personal stories, which to some extent explains the lack of interest in role-playing. I feel we could do better than that. But probably not in the current campaign with the current characters.

So my idea is to still play two more adventures after Gardmore Abbey in this campaign, to get players to the paragon tier of the game. And then we will do a complete reset and start a new campaign, still 4E D&D, from level 1 up. But this time I will use adventure material which is designed for a full campaign, not a mix of adventures from different sources. So I will be able to explain the campaign world to the players first, including the general role of the group in that world, before they choose which characters to play. And I will borrow some rules from other systems, like 13th Age "One Unique Thing" to create with each player a background story which fits into that campaign world. So hopefully the overall result will be somewhat more coherent than my current campaign, and lead to better identification of the players with their characters.
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Choosing a class in Wildstar
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 April 2014, 9:52 am
I pre-ordered Wildstar, and as a result I have beta access during special beta weekends before release in June, or rather headstart end of May. So what does one do in beta, when one knows that the characters are going to be wiped, and the purchase decision is already done? Well, choosing a class for example. I first tried out all the classes through the first two zones, to level 6. That eliminated engineers from the choice, as I still don't like pet classes. And the two classes I liked the most were medic and warrior.

Now at first I thought I would go medic. The medic's combat mechanic is front-loaded, that is you start with full resources and get to cast your most powerful spells right away. Only once you depleted your resources do you need to fill them up again with a different spell, which can be either a small damage spell, or a small healing spell. As a result easy fights go very fast. But playing the medic a bit longer, to level 10, revealed that this wasn't actually all that good. The resource recovery actions are quite weak and slow, so whenever a fight is harder you spend a lot of time just recharging.

The warrior works the other way around: Starts with no resources and needs to charge resources first before he can use his more powerful spells. But in practice to level 10 that actually worked better than the medic: The resource charging action is fast and not so weak as the medic's one, so a few hits with that and than a finisher works fast enough on easier mobs, and much better than the medic on harder mobs. The warrior also deals with multiple enemies much better, as his attack have a wider arc.

What finally made me decide to go for the warrior on release was crafting. The warrior wears heavy armor, so a good crafting combination for him would be armorer and miner. Weaponsmith and miner would also work. I like that, because I like node-based resource gathering. The medic wears medium armor, which would require survivalist, skinning leather from creatures. I like that less well. So I tried something else with the medic, relic hunter plus technologist, but I found the potions he made not half as useful as crafting armor.

Are you going to play Wildstar on release? What class will you play?
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Fifty Shades of Grey Online
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 April 2014, 3:48 am
I hope you didn't get too excited about the title, because there is no such thing as a massively multiplayer online game called Fifty Shades of Grey Online. I am just using that example to discuss the curious fact that Fifty Shades of Grey, the novel, sold 100 million copies and most people considered that to be okay, but you can't make a video game with the same sort of content. As Ben Kuchera recently remarked in Polygon, if you would offer a person the opportunity to go anywhere in time and space and have any sort of encounter, they would be more likely to choose something sexual than an encounter where they kill other people. But video games, which *do* give us the opportunity to go anywhere in time and space, in many cases only allow us to kill stuff.

One frequently cited reason for the absence of sex in video games is that games are for children. As an European I always had trouble understanding why extreme violence would be okay for children, while even mildly erotic stuff wouldn't. But there are even stronger arguments that tell me that games aren't really for children any more: Polygon reports that over 90% of mobile games have in-app purchases, and those require an adult understanding of the value of money. Children accidentally spending money in games because they can't understand the limits between game and reality, or the value of money, is not okay. And companies like Apple or Google need to do more to prevent those "accidents" from happening, e.g. with better parental restriction options in the iOS and Android operating systems specifically aimed at in-app purchases.

But the average video gamer is not a child. And just like it is okay to have books for adults, it should be okay to have games for adults. And I don't just mean sex. I would consider it far more important for games to grow up and cover a wider range of human interaction than just shooting each other. If we can manage to protect children from content in books and videos that they are too young for, we should be able to protect them from content in games that they are too young for. And then we can make games that have a greater appeal to adults, or have business models that are more suited to adults.
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The Favorites of Selune - Gardmore Abbey - Session 12
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 April 2014, 6:02 am
In the previous session the Favorites of Selune had entered the tower of the wizard Vandomar, looking for information on how the fall of Gardmore Abbey might be connected to the chaotic Far Realm. They know that Vandomar was in love with a paladin, Elaida, who was killed during the siege. They had found and fought a flesh golem with Elaida's head. Now, after a rest, they headed up the stairs of the wizard tower. There they found a door which was frozen shut, but the dwarven warrior opened that door with his shoulder without problem.

In the upper floor room of the wizard tower they found several blocks of ice with creatures inside, one of which contained a card of the Deck of Many Things. There were also four tables with frozen mummies on them, and finally Vandomar himself, who was moving around but also looked quite frozen. Vandomar invited them in, talking about his desire to preserve everything in time. He also wanted to preserve this encounter in time, and with a wave of his snow-globe staff shut and refroze the door (with the ranger still outside, forcing her to spend a round to break the door open again).

Having rolled good initiatives, the heroes attacked Vandomar before he could cast any spells. But then of course the four frozen mummies animated and joined combat. Now Vandomar and the mummies had lots of powers to slow or immobilize people. But with the Favorites of Selune being strong on ranged damage, that tactic wasn't all that effective. The warrior used a power to pull two mummies and Vandomar next to him, and most heroes concentrated their fire on the wizard, who thus died quickly. The mummies took a bit more time, but overall it was a quite successful combat for the group.

So they got another card for their Deck of Many Things, got the snow-globe magic staff from Vandomar, and found a book of Vandomar's notes which appeared to contain the information they had come for here. They also got enough experience to make it to level 8. So we decided to make this a short session and do the leveling-up between sessions.
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Not warming up towards Landmark
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 March 2014, 8:14 am
If you work for a company in Europe, you'll most likely have a lot of holidays, anything from 4 to 8 weeks per year. Americans tend to have a lot less. For me that is the explanation for a curious design feature of EQN Landmark, now in closed beta and not actually having Everquest Next as part of the name any more: You lose your claim and everything you built if for some reason you don't log in for 5 days. So a week of holidays without a laptop, and you're wiped out.

While I was considering the Landmark closed beta, because it has more features and is much cheaper than the alpha, I am not going to play a game which doesn't allow me to leave for a week. If that stays in for the release version, I can't see me playing this for long, or paying money for it. Maybe SOE is planning to sell claim protection for real money, but otherwise I have a hard time to understand this short claim period. 
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Playing evil
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 March 2014, 5:54 am
I was reading an article in the New Statesman about how horribly players behave to each other in the sandbox game DayZ. And that got me wondering whether bad behavior is inherent to all sandbox games, or whether certain game design elements push it.

History shows that the default human behavior in face of a threat (like a zombie apocalypse) is to cooperate and work together against that threat. And that can happen in a MMORPG too, for example players regularly worked together against the harsh game environment of the original Everquest. But many sandbox games are famous for their especially sadistic and cruel player base. Which isn't exactly helping in making sandbox games more popular.

What do these people think when they do such evil things in a game. Is it them just playing at evil, or do they have evil streaks in their character for which they have no other outlet? Or are they just bored and try out every single one of the options the game gives them, without thinking that their victim is another human being, a player behind that avatar they are torturing? Because if it was just that, then maybe such games should simply be programmed with more options for positive, collaborative behavior, and less options for cruelty.

What do you think?
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A tale of two user interfaces
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 March 2014, 8:18 am
I received an invitation to participate in the beta of World of Tanks: Blitz, the iOS version of a game I played a lot on the PC. But I decided to look at a gameplay video on YouTube first, because I was worried about the UI and controls. And it turned out that Blitz is using the same controls as other iOS tank games: Virtual thumbsticks. You hold your iPad in both hands and use your thumbs in the lower left and right corners for control. Of course you can also put the iPad down and use other fingers. But the virtual stick control remains the same. And I can't play anything with those controls. Unlike real thumbsticks you don't get any tactile feedback, so the experience is very different to that of a gamepad. I ended up not playing Blitz at all because I hated the controls.

What I was playing instead was The Collectables from Crytek, although I'm not exactly a valued Crytek customer. I played none of their Crysis games on PC. And there is a lot about The Collectables that you might dislike: It is Free2Play with cards that come from random boosters, plus it uses an annoying energy mechanic, where after 7 games you run out of energy and need to wait hours (or pay) to play again. But the controls are brilliant! The Collectables is a tactical third-person shooter and it is astounding how well that works with just a few taps. Your squad moves where you tap on the screen. Only if you want to be in cover you need to drag and drop individual soldiers, and honestly, to me it seemed the cover wasn't doing much. In addition you can easily drag and drop action cards onto the battlefield, for example to heal your soldiers or to throw a grenade.

I much prefer the Free2Play business model of World of Tanks to that of The Collectables, but in the end it was the controls of those games that decided which one I ended playing.
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Multi-cultural gamers for a multi-cultural community
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 March 2014, 8:01 am
There is a discussion ongoing in the blogosphere, of which I'll just link to one post, Better Gamers for a Better Community. Quote: "We all like to think that bigots and trolls are a loud minority, but what can we say about that silent majority? Are they not facilitators and complicit in the abuse due to their silence?". The idea basically is that gamers and especially gamers who write, should strive to create a better community in strict adherence with better cultural values.

Wait a minute.

The cultural values of whom? If you scratch the surface off these wonderful words (who wouldn't want to be a better gamer for a better community?), you'll find out that the underlying conflict in which one side is accused of being bigots, trolls, and abusers, is the discussion of political correctness, with the people pushing us towards "better" cultural values are very much on the ultra-liberal side.

The problem with that is that not everybody is ultra-liberal. For many of us more moderate human beings, some of the extreme political correctness appears hard to understand, if not borderline fascist. For example the politically correct Apple app store has a policy that a game should not depict "people from a specific race, culture, government, corporation, or other real entity as the enemies in the context of the game". And thus proceeded to reject the game "Tank Battle 1942", because it showed Germans and Russians as enemies. They then backpedaled after people pointed out to them how ridiculous that was.

If you know your history, and then watch modern films or TV shows, you will frequently find that history has been "corrected" by ultra-liberal people to rather show events in a way that fits the ultra-liberal world view better, rather than how it really was, for example on gender roles or with respect to slavery. To me that is very George Orwell 1984, "He who controls the past controls the future."

The "silent majority" that often fails to speak out when these ultra-liberals complain about something silly, like a video game character with high heels, are NOT "facilitators and complicit in the abuse". They simply do not share the cultural values of the person complaining. That does not make them "indecent people". There simply isn't just one "decent" set of cultural values. Certainly not over the whole length of history, but not even if you just look at today, not even in one country among people who are nominally of the same religion. And sometimes there are simply no easy answers to a problem, for example if you have to decide between the value of granting religious freedom, and the value of gender equality. Is it okay to forbid a muslim woman to wear a veil? I don't think that there is an easy answer to that question based on a "better" cultural value shared by everybody.

I reject the fascism of ultra-liberal correctness. I would consider myself a liberal (in the European sense, not the US American one), but I abhor zealots of any flavor. The world is full of many cultures, and there is no such thing as one set of cultural values that is inherently superior to all others. We need multi-cultural gamers for a multi-cultural community, not 1984-style groupthink aligning everybody to a single set of cultural values and dismissing every other culture as "indecent".
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Understanding 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 March 2014, 6:23 am
On this blog I discuss all sorts of games that I play, from pen & paper role-playing games to computer games on various platforms. And sometimes the comparison of very different games, or making links between the discussions about those very different games, can be enlightening. That caused me to rethink my position on 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons.

The thing is that for me "4th edition" is not just a label, but really a 4th version of something I know. I played through all the previous editions. Mostly 1st edition AD&D and 2nd edition, a bit less 3rd edition, and now 4th edition since two years as a DM. I also played a bunch of other pen & paper roleplaying games from other companies. Thus my way to play 4th edition D&D is not based solely on what is written in the 4E rule books, but is based on over 30 years of experience with pen & paper role-playing games.

Pen & paper role-playing systems all have holes in their rules. Different systems cover different aspects of the game better or less well. Early systems, and that means especially early editions of Dungeons & Dragons, did not talk a lot about the actual playing of a role, in the sense of interactive story-telling. Yes, there is some sort of story in an adventure module like the Tomb of Horrors or Keep on the Borderlands (Caves of Chaos). But the bulk of such an adventure was always a huge dungeon full of traps and monsters. It was some years later that modules like the UK series or Ravenloft started to put more of an emphasis on the story and the played interaction between player characters and NPCs.

Some people preferred that sort of interactive story-telling to the hack'n'slay ways of old. Other companies developed RPG rules systems which put a lot more emphasis on the story (and were often much less detailed on tactical combat rules). Personally I came to the conclusion that it would be best to mix the two, somewhere around the 50:50 mark. And I found that the "best practices" of role-playing are easily transferable from one system to another. For example in the 13th Age rules system there are very nice rules on character creation which encourage a player to come up with "One Unique Thing" about their character, like "I am the lost heir to the fallen dwarven kingdom". That rule works for pretty much every pen & paper system, and I'll certainly use it for my next 4E campaign.

The consequence of all that is that the 4E campaign that I am playing is not "4E as written", but is the 4E rules augmented with 30+ years of experience and rules from other systems to plug the holes that 4th edition has. Thus if somebody tells me "you can't role-play in 4E", I disagree, my campaign certainly isn't like that.

But when we recently discussed MMORPG design, I said that players tend to follow the incentives that the game gives them. So I find it important for a MMORPG that it doesn't make one path (like questing) far more rewarded than everything else, because that leads to everybody following that one path like a herd of lemmings. While you *can* do other things in MMORPGs than following that path, the game often lets you know quite clearly that "you shouldn't do that", by giving you no or inadequate rewards and thereby discouraging you from doing anything else than the lemming path. And then I realized that while maybe not expressed that way, the problem that people have with 4th edition is pretty much the same: If you don't have the experience and "best practices" of role-playing, you would probably end up playing 4E as written in the rules and adventure modules, and then it becomes just a series of encounters with not enough role-playing in between. The 4E rule books and adventure modules give no incentives or encouragement to role-play, so if you don't resist the general "pull" of the system, you end up doing something too linear and boring.

Now even for 4E enough years have passed that there are adventures with very different qualities here. The first 4E adventure Keep on the Shadowfell is horrible regarding NPCs, and does a very bad job of introducing them and making their motivations clear to the players. The "story" of Keep on the Shadowfell ends up being "we fight through a dungeon and kill the boss mob at the end". A more recent adventure like the Madness at Gardmore Abbey we are currently playing is already a lot better in that respect. But still I found myself modifying stuff in the Gardmore Abbey adventure, to improve the role-playing part of it. And the presentation of 4E adventures always has one part of the adventure being page after page of encounters, while any information about story and NPCs is written elsewhere, and it isn't always evident on how to mix that story part with the tactical encounters.

I remain convinced that of the many pen & paper role-playing systems I have played, 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons has the best tactical combat rules and the best class balance. Which for me and my group makes it the perfect rules system, because we can fill the holes on the story-telling side with rules from other systems. It would be much harder to play a story-centric system and try to add the tactical combat rules of 4E to it than the other way around. Having said that, I think that 4E Dungeons & Dragons is probably not a good system to learn pen & paper role-playing games with: The tactical rules are complex, and there isn't enough information in the rule books to assure good role-playing. Having said that, this isn't edition-specific. Previous editions were just as bad to teach people how to role-play, and 5th edition appears to be only a bit better, with rules like the "background" instead of free choices of skills and talents.
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Pre-ordered Wildstar
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 March 2014, 12:33 pm
Kudos to NCSoft: The pre-ordering process for Wildstar was one of the smoothest that I have seen for a long time. When you buy the game and already have an account, they helpfully ask if you want to apply the game code to that account, and then lead you through the subscription options. They even accept PayPal for both the purchase and the subscription.

I recommend the standard edition. The deluxe edition appears to have only a few virtual items thrown in, of which probably the hoverboard is the only remotely interesting one. Devs promised more in detail discussion of the deluxe items for next week, if you want to wait. But mostly the deluxe edition appears to be an option to give them more money just out of appreciation.
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Monetizing Minecraft
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 March 2014, 2:30 am
Congratulations to Teut Weidemann on winning the Evil Game Design Challenge 2 at Casual Connect Europe last month. Although I am not sure whether he is proudly sitting in a corner, stroking his white cat, or whether he is somewhat embarrassed and got into trouble about the "wrong" kind of publicity with his bosses at Ubisoft about this. Because this is a challenge which does not have a very easy, straightforward message. Some people will watch the video and just find all of their prejudices about evil game designers confirmed. Others will like the "evil" version more than the original.

The challenge was to make an "evil", Free2Play version of Minecraft with maximum monetization. Three designers present their various ideas and the audience votes for the best one. And while of course there are ideas on "how can we make people pay", many of the ideas are also about "how can we make players not lose interest in the game". And those ideas are similar to the ideas that you would have gotten if the design challenge had been "how can you make Minecraft more fun". People are willing to pay for a game they have fun with.

What was interesting about the exercise was that monetizing linear themepark games is obviously easier than monetizing sandbox games. But the video shows that the latter is far from impossible. So if you want to know how Everquest Next and Landmark are going to make money once they are released, watch this video!
Tobold's Blog



Wildstar paths and Bartle types
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 March 2014, 4:12 am
In 1996 Dr. Richard Bartle published "Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who suit MUDs", describing what came to be known as the "Bartle types" of killer, achiever, explorer, and socializer.  Erwin Andreasen and Brandon Downey later turned that idea into the "Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology", an online test where by answering some questions you could find out which type you tended towards,which made these player types very well known in the MMORPG community. So it wasn't surprising that many people who wrote about Wildstar tried to explain the "paths" concept in that game as representing the four Bartle types, even on Wikipedia (until somebody edits that out). Which is utter nonsense.

If you put the Bartle types on a graph, it shows that achievers and explorers want to interact with the world / game, while the socializers and killers want to interact with other players. The other axis is whether the interaction is competitive (achievers, killers) or not (socializers, explorers). Now if you look at the four path of Wildstar: Soldier, Explorer, Settler, and Scientist, they are all about an interaction with the world / game. The Settler path has a tiny social component in it insofar as the buff stations you erect can be used by other players; but to do the Settler missions you do not need other players, you only interact with game elements. All four Wildstar paths would better be described as appealing to explorers and achievers, while they won't appeal much to killers (defined as player killers, not monster killers) or socializers.

In fact as far as Bartle types go, the four paths are pretty much the same: You get a list of things to do in each zone (achievers like to complete that sort of stuff) and you need to go to various points on the map and click on things (explorer stuff). The differences are in details that can't be expressed on the two axes of player/world and competitive/non-competitive interaction.

The Wildstar Explorer path is for people who like jumping puzzles and good views. Plays pretty much like the vistas in Guild Wars 2. Curiously there isn't much exploring to do, except of exploring how to best jump on to a high place. But the locations you need to visit are clearly marked on your map.

The Settler path ends up having more exploration elements than the Explorer path, because you need to gather extra resources to power up those buffing stations. As the resources aren't marked on your map, you actually need to explore to find them. Well, to some degree at least. Of course you run across plenty of them while you just do normal questing.

The Soldier path is all about killing monsters (not players). You go to marked locations on the map where either you have to kill a specific semi-boss type NPC, or hold a position against waves of monsters.

The Scientist path allows you to scan wildlife with your drone, which gives some minor buffs sometimes, but mostly provides you with more text windows to read. If you are interested in lore, and the type of player who read every book in Skyrim, this is the path for you.

I do like the idea of paths. The different paths will appeal to the preferences of different players. You just can't force these different preferences into the corset of the Bartle types.
Tobold's Blog



The Elder Scrolls Online is nauseating
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 March 2014, 2:25 am
For some people, that is. And I mean that literally. And it is an important factor I forgot to mention yesterday in my listing of criteria for choice. If you tend to suffer from video game motion sickness, The Elder Scrolls Online with its stronger camera movements due to the cursor stuck in the middle of the screen is more likely to make you nauseous than other MMORPGs.

I experienced that myself. Actually I didn't play Morrowind and Oblivion because of video game motion sickness, although Skyrim was better in that respect. TESO is somewhere in between, I can play it if I zoom out to max and play in third person view, while I can't play it first person.

And in the spirit of balanced reporting, Wildstar is probably more likely to cause epileptic fits, with all its colorful, flashy animations.
Tobold's Blog



How to choose a MMORPG this year
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 March 2014, 9:11 am
Playing a MMORPG can take up a significant chunk of your time, and it is hard to play more than one of them intensively at the same time. In the case of subscription games you also might not want to be subscribed to several of them at the same time due to financial reasons. That often makes the choice of a MMORPG non-trivial, and somewhat more akin to a lifestyle choice than to just choosing a game. At least that is how some people feel about it. And like with any lifestyle choice, people tend to come up with reasons why theirs is the best choice, and how other choices are simply "wrong". That starts out as a justification to themselves, and in some cases ends up with bad cases of fanboi-ism, attacking others for having chosen differently.

Now 2014 has three major contenders for the triple-A MMORPG crown of the year: The Elder Scrolls Online, Wildstar, and the WoW expansion Warlords of Draenor. How to choose? One option obviously is not making a choice at all, but rather playing a tourist: Play TESO a month or two from its release in April, switch to Wildstar in June, and end the year playing Warlords of Draenor when it comes out in "Fall 2014", "on or before December 20th". But maybe you don't want to play MMORPGs all year, or you would rather stick to one game longer.

Now while I have made a choice for myself, I am in no way a fanboi. In fact I would say that the three games have more similarities than differences. While the fans certainly will argue while this or that feature or detail makes their game far superior to the other choices, I think that if you regard the games with a bit less passion, you will find that they aren't all that different: They are all three quest-driven "themepark" MMORPGs, and they all are rather expensive with a box cost plus $15 monthly subscription cost. They all will offer features like housing, PvP, a solo PvE leveling game, and a collaborative PvE end game.

One factor in deciding for many people will be the novelty factor: TESO and Wildstar are new games, which can make them either more attractive or less attractive for some people than an expansion to a game that is going to celebrate it's 10th anniversary this year. Another factor is graphics style, and beauty is in they eye of the beholder there. But clearly Wildstar and WoW can be grouped together here in the colorful category, while The Elder Scrolls Online has a less colorful, but closer to photo-realistic look. Or you could choose a game based on what your friends play. In the end there are many possible criteria for choosing a game, sometimes down to minor details like only one of those games offering a particular race which just happens to be a big favorite with the person choosing.

Personally, apart from the "what my friends play" and preferred graphics style criteria, my biggest consideration was combat. Let's face it, most players spend a large majority of their time in these games in combat, or moving from one combat to the next. If you dislike the combat of a MMORPG, you won't stay long, which is for example what happened to me with LotRO, where all my love for the setting and my life-time subscription couldn't overcome my dislike for the combat system. Now overall I would say I prefer less twitchy combat, which would point towards World of Warcraft. But having already killed thousands and thousands of monsters in WoW, I grew somewhat bored of WoW combat. The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar both have faster combat system, where you need to "aim" to some degree to hit somebody, instead of just target-locking on him. But to me (and other people) the TESO combat system felt somewhat "floaty", with not sufficient feedback on whether you were actually hitting your target and how hard. I much preferred combat in Wildstar, where both your and your enemies' attack zones are clearly painted on the ground, combat feels very immediate, and you get good feedback.

While I consider the feel of combat an important criterion of choice, it is obviously a problematic one if we consider the box purchase plus subscription pricing model. I had to get into the betas to find out which game I liked more. While that wasn't terribly hard, it is only an option during a limited window of time before release. Only World of Warcraft offers a free trial in which you could see for yourself whether you like the combat of the game or not. After release for the other two games it would cost you $60 just to find out whether you like combat and other features of the game which aren't obvious in screenshots and descriptions.

While they do tend towards a more passionate, less impartial view of games, I'd like to link to No Prisoners, No Mercy here, who write about an article in Forbes arguing that The Elder Scrolls Online should either have a box price or a subscription, but not both. What worked for World of Warcraft in 2004 will not obviously work as well for the new MMORPGs of 2014. Times have changed. People today complain loudly about an iOS/Android game costing $15, or a Free2Play game which expects you to pay $15 once to unlock something. So a $60 game with a $15 monthly subscription looks out of sync with the time and the spending habits of today.

That brings us to a last method of choosing a 2014 MMORPG: Don't play any of them in 2014. There is a significant probability that all three of these games, and yes, that includes World of Warcraft, will move away from the subscription pricing model in the years to come. I really wouldn't be surprised if by 2016 all three of them would be Free2Play. Which as we all know isn't really "free", but would at least allow you to play the game first and then decide whether you like it.

In the end you need to decide what exactly is important to you in a MMORPG, and make the choice based on your own criteria. I would say that all three games have their strong points and their weaknesses. They might well receive similar review scores. So in the end it might be helpful to keep in mind that you are really just choosing a game, and not a lifestyle. Respect those who made a different choice!
Tobold's Blog



The Favorites of Selune - Gardmore Abbey - Session 11
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 March 2014, 5:31 am
[Note 1: Starting from this session I added a new house rule, coming from 13th Age: The escalation dice. At the end of the first round of combat I put a big d6 with the 1 on top onto the battlefield. That gives all players +1 to attack and damage. After round 2 the bonus grows to +2, and so on, until it reaches +6. Monsters get half the bonus. By making it more likely to hit and increasing the damage as combat goes on, combat goes about a round faster, especially when killing the last remaining mobs of a larger battle.]

[Note 2: Somebody actually made a comment on the previous post of this series, being eager to read this next episode. Woot! This series has one fan!]

In the previous session the Favorites of Selune drove away the orcs from Gardmore Abbey by killing their chieftain. This left the village part of the abbey, previously occupied by the orcs, free for exploration. So in this session the group first stationed some of Lord Padraig's mercenaries at the main gate, closing the portcullis, and then followed the wall to the garrison. They had heard from the nymphs the tale of the four paladins sent there during the siege of the abbey to use the Brazier of Silver Fire as a weapon against the invaders. But one of those paladins had fallen in the battle before reaching the garrison, so his sword that was the key to open the chest of the brazier had been lost. As the group had recovered that sword from spiders in the garden, they were now seeking out the garrison, as the brazier was one of the items needed to purify the temple for Sir Oakley.

At the garrison the group was greeted by an apparition, a wraith telling them that they needed the lost sword to enter. Having already found that sword, they only needed to hold it up, and the wraith opened the door for them. Inside were two more wraiths, all of them non-aggressive and quite polite. When asked for their names, they turned out to be the three other paladins who had perished here, waiting for their lost colleague. There were also four statues in the front of the room, three of them holding swords. So the warrior put the lost sword in the hands of the fourth statue. That freed the souls of the paladins, but their wraith forms staid behind and attacked. Furthermore a demon appeared from the back of the garrison, a muscular barlgura.

Having fought wraiths before, the group knew that hitting them with radiant damage would make them more substantial and easier to damage. So the priest used his turn undead which not only did radiant damage, but also pushed the wraiths against the wall. There the wizard pinned them down with a web spell, preventing them from doing much. The group killed the demon first, and then the wraiths. Overall a quite successful combat for the heroes. They then opened the chest with the Brazier of Silver Fire (which had been unlocked with the fourth sword), causing an explosion of radiant damage to demons and undead around it, but that discovery came too late for this combat. So they took the brazier and some other treasure from that chest and went into the nearby wizard tower.

The nymphs had sung for the group the sad balad of the mage Vandomar and his love, the paladin Elaida. Vandomar couldn't protect Elaida during the siege of Gardmore Abbey, and was last seen carrying her corpse into his wizard tower and sealing himself in there. Berrian Velfarren, the leader of the eladrin, had asked them to search the wizard's tower for clues towards the involvement of chaotic forces from the Far Realm in the fall of Gardmore Abbey.

Arriving at the wizard's tower the Favorites of Selune to their surprise found the rival group of adventurers in combat with a pair of gargoyles in front of the door. That led to some discussion whether, and on which side, the heroes should intervene in this fight. But the majority decided to help the rivals, and together they quickly killed the gargoyles. Then the Favorites of Selune demanded of the rival adventurers to leave the wizard tower to them. Grudgingly the rivals agreed, although the evil dwarf cleric of that group clearly wasn't in favor of this peaceful solution.

When the rivals were gone, the group opened the stone portal into the wizard tower. Although they had checked the door for traps and found none, they got hit by a warped magic trap placed behind the door. The unnaturally cold room they saw had 5 of those traps, each covering some area. Apparently it was those traps which were the reason for the orc corpses in the room. In addition there was a big obelisk laying on the ground, with a large humanoid form on top of it, hidden by a drape. With a lot of high rolls the rogue managed to disable all five traps, taking just some damage. Entering the tower the arcane spellcasters of the group felt a strange cold in their brains. While the priest was healing the rogue, the wizard decided to use his mage hand to lift the drape. That awoke the flesh golem under it, who had the head of a beautiful woman, but was otherwise rather monstrous. It also revealed the inscription of "Elaida" on the obelisk.

The flesh golem turned out to be rather tough. In her first attack she hit the rogue twice, and as he still wasn't fully healed he dropped to below 0 health from that double hit. The priest managed to instantly revive the rogue, who then managed to flank the golem together with the warrior. Then the wizard tried to cast a fire spell, and was struck by a curse: All the fire spells he knew were replaced by ice spells instead, against which the golem was resistant. Apparently the golem had powerful magical protection. But while the golem was strong, she was alone (in other circumstances the group might have had to deal with the golem, the gargoyles, and/or the traps at the same time). So the heroes hit the golem with all they had. That included a variety of slowing or immobilizing effects, which prevented the golem from using his strongest attack, which involved movement. So throughout the fight the golem just stood there and exchanged blows with the rogue and the warrior, until a few rounds later she died. With no treasure to loot in sight, we decided to stop here.
Tobold's Blog



Fake freedom in MMORPGs
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 March 2014, 7:45 am
I did a direct comparison of The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar this weekend, playing the former all day Saturday, and the latter all day Sunday. And what I noticed was that ultimately the two games are very similar. Sure, there are lots of differences in the details and the style, and I prefer the better feedback of the Wildstar combat. But what I couldn't find was any significant difference in the quest and progression system. Particularly I found the claim that TESO gives you more freedom were simply not true.

What is true is that in Wildstar you would have an easier time to follow a chain of level-appropriate quests, while in The Elder Scrolls Online you constantly need to look on your compass while traveling to not miss all those hidden quest-givers. But neither game gives the option of NOT doing all those quests. You can't go out as you wish, kill mobs, earn xp and loot from those kills, and advance your character. Or rather, you can, but you would be horribly punished for doing it. Killing 100 mobs somewhere in either game gives you less xp and loot than doing one quest which requires you to kill 10 of them. So linear questing is your only sensible choice. You might be given some choice of in which order you want to tackle those linear bits, but that is all the freedom you get. It is a fake freedom.

Another option you don't really have is whether you want to play solo or in a group. Content is designed for either one or the other, and much of the leveling and questing content is designed to be soloed. Again, you have the theoretical freedom of forming a group, but in practice that freedom also turns out to be fake. Doing a quest in a group might well end up being harder or slower than soloing it, because of issues with phasing and such. And there is no advantage to grouping. Back in the days of Everquest people complained about "forced grouping", but I find "forced soloing" to be not any better.

So what you do in both games before hitting the level cap is very much the same: A long series of one quest after another, solo. You either play on those rails, or your character doesn't advance. "Exploration" has been reduced to finding predefined spots on the map on which you need to click for some achievement or bonus. There is a bit of PvP and a few group content dungeons, but otherwise the quests totally dominate these games. That gives me not much sense of a there being a living "world" in which I can adventure freely. And often the story line which declares me to be some sort of hero and savior clashes horribly with the long list of rather mundane chores I am asked to perform all day long. Not to mention all the other saviors around me, following exactly the same long list of mundane chores.

In the South Park parody Make Love not Warcraft the kids kill 65,340,285 level 1 boars, which is obviously not much fun. Nobody wants a return to the days of Evercamp, grinding mobs at the same place all day until you leveled up and moved to the next place. But quests have evolved from a useful tool of getting you to move around a bit to essentially BEING the game. And I would very much prefer a game where if you are being sent to kill goblins at a stronghold, you would actually have the freedom to stick around for a while and kill more goblins than the quest required, without that being horribly inefficient. And I would very much prefer a game in which entering that goblin stronghold alone or in a group would both make perfect sense.

And technically all that is very easy: One just needs to balance the experience points and loot that quests give against the xp and loot from killing mobs. And likewise the rewards of group play need to be balanced against the rewards of solo play, as not to totally favor one over the other in efficiency. MMORPG players are very much motivated by rewards, so if you create one way of playing the game which is obviously much more efficient than any other, you'll get a herd of lemmings trampling that path. 
Tobold's Blog



What I think of The Elder Scrolls Online
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 March 2014, 4:18 am
So after downloading the huge client twice and following instructions from the forums on how to prevent the launcher to uninstall the game every time you close it, I managed to play The Elder Scrolls Online for about 8 hours. Enough to form a first impression. Enough to see the potential of this game, which is undoubtedly there. And enough to see many of the serious flaws the game has.

In many ways The Elder Scrolls Online reminds me of Everquest 2 when it came out, a month before World of Warcraft. And given how much Wildstar resembles World of Warcraft, that is like sitting in a time machine to go back a decade. It also gives us a good estimate on how this will end, as history tends to repeat itself. Personally I would still make the same decision I made back then, and go for Wildstar.

One good reason for that decision is that Wildstar (which I played too, but the NDA only dropped recently) is technically in a much better state than The Elder Scrolls Online. TESO is a buggy mess, from the broken launcher, via the bugged quests, to the ESC key to quit the game sometimes not working. I once was stuck in a quest and asked in zone chat whether that quest was known to be bugged, and was told that no, it worked perfectly, provided that I logged out and back on repeatedly on the spot until the script started. That is pretty much the TESO definition of "working perfectly", you need to know all the tricks and workarounds.

The need to know stuff to be able to play brings me to my problems with the gameplay. I love exploration. So I should be happy about the various exploration style content the game has. But even I start to think that TESO is overdoing it. Exploration is only exploration if it is voluntary. In The Elder Scrolls Online much of that exploration is mandatory. For example you really, really wouldn't want to miss the skyshards distributed in every zone, as three of them give you one skill point. Between getting all the skyshards and not getting them is a huge power difference for your character, which makes searching for the skyshards mandatory. Or, as most people will do, following a map from a third-party site.

The skyshards I could still live with, but what I absolutely hate is having to search items and containers in every room. If you see a screenshot of a room, you would not be able to tell which of the items on it you can interact with, and which of them are just decoration. So you need to go through the room and move the cursor (which is stuck in the middle of the screen, so you basically need to move the camera) over every bloody item in the room to find out whether you can do something with it. And if you can interact with the item, most of the time you just find a crafting ingredient. If you are lucky, a recipe. So for a craft like cooking you would be forced to really search every item in every room, which gets old very fast.

Many people believe that quests are quests, and that is all there is. That is why you frequently hear it said that World of Warcraft didn't do anything innovative to the MMORPG genre, because quests were there before WoW. But what the actual invention of World of Warcraft was, was how the quests guided you through the game, making sure you were in the right zone at the right level and so on. The Elder Scrolls Online doesn't do that. It has tons of quests, heavily scripted and using lots of phasing, but every series of quests stands on its own and doesn't lead you to the next series. Instead you see the icon for a quest-giver on your compass (and then over his head). As there are not really "quest hubs" like in WoW, it is easy to either miss quests, or to follow a quest line to an area which is too high level for you. For example you end the tutorial at level 3 and get dumped into a city with a suggestion in a text (but no quest) to go to the docks. As you can't get to the docks without encountering other quest givers, you easily end up doing level 5+ quests and missing out on the place with the level 3 quests that the docks would have sent you to. I even managed to do some quests where the quest reward item was too high level for my character, and I had to level up to use it. With your quest tracker only holding a single quest, it also isn't all that easy to keep your quests sorted by location, so you might very well do a quest in one location and then follow that quest series away, only to later find that you had another quest nearby.

Otherwise the quests aren't much different from quests in any other MMORPG. There are less quests that ask you to kill a specific number of monsters, but quite often you do have to go to a specific list of locations, each of which has monsters. Or, due to heavy use of phasing and scripting, the monster appears when you go somewhere. The advantage of that system is that if somebody else killsteals that mob, it doesn't hurt the progress of your quest. Even killing a specific quest end boss can be done in a group. Only the person initiating the attack gets the loot, but there is very little loot in this game. For many levels most mobs you kill will have exactly 1 gold piece. With a level 3 item costing already hundreds of gold pieces, your gold and gear will come nearly exclusively from quest rewards.

So what about the auction house? Well, there isn't one. Instead there are guild stores. So you will need to join a big guild with a big store if you want to buy and sell items or materials from / to other players. TESO is the first game I've seen that has "forced guilding", unless of course you don't want to participate in the player economy and crafting at all. The crafting system appears to be highly complex, with elements like "traits" being found by disassembling items, or special crafting stations allowing research that takes hours. And there isn't much in the way of a tutorial or explanation for it, so other than refining some jute I didn't do much crafting in the beta.

Combat in The Elder Scrolls Online is kind of weird. While you do get the choice between 4 character classes, they end up playing not so much different from each other. Your sorcerer will kill his first skeleton with a sword. At level 2 he will learn his first spell, but even then he can run out of mana quickly, and will still use a weapon. If you choose "veteran gear" to show on your character creation screen, you'll see your sorcerer in heavy plate armor with a big weapon. I haven't found a good reason yet why somebody would wear light armor instead of heavy one, but maybe there is some light armor in the game with big bonuses for casters. At the lower levels I played my sorcerer and my templar played basically exactly the same. Weirdly the templar's first healing spell didn't work on himself, only on others, and I read on the forums that xp distribution for healers in groups had issues. Not sure if that is a bug or a feature. Anyway, there was no reason to group in the levels I played. As others have reported, in combat you don't get much feedback whether you hit or missed your opponent. I suffered some lag (because to get the launcher to work I had to play on the American servers), and the system to block and interrupt the enemy attacks didn't work all that well for me. So basically most combat for me was casting spells until run out of mana, and then flailing some heavy weapon wildly and approximately in the direction of the enemy. Sometimes I got blocks or interrupts to work, but that felt somewhat random. So overall I didn't enjoy combat that much.

As I said before, I can see the potential of The Elder Scrolls Online. Some people will enjoy the game holding their hand less, and the complex sub-systems of gameplay. This is a game where reading up on what you should do in many areas is probably needed to do well. If you think that all information about a game should be contained in the game, TESO is probably not for you. On the one side The Elder Scrolls Online is pretty and complex, on the other it is full of bugs and annoying design choices. Personally I am not going to buy it. I assume that TESO will go Free2Play in a year, and that it'll take at least that long to get the most serious bugs out of the game, so I'd rather wait and play this for free in 2015, if at all.
Tobold's Blog



Dear Zenimax Online!
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 March 2014, 4:10 am
Thank you for inviting me to your The Elder Scrolls Beta. You asked me to tell people what I think about the game, and here is my opinion: In the current state the game is completely unplayable for me. Every time I start the launcher, it starts downloading all 22 GB of game client again, even if the previous installation finished without a problem. That would be not so bad if it was just me, but your beta forums are full of people with the same problem.

So you want to release this game in less than a month and not even the launcher works?
Tobold's Blog



The economics of content creation
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 March 2014, 11:08 am
I have been reading a lot of interesting blog posts lately about the economics of content creation. Apple Cider Mage argues On Funding and Revenue "that people should be compensated for their time and efforts" of creating content, including blogs or podcasts. Herding Cats replies that Blogging for Cash is a zero-sum game, where "financial support received by Blog A is financial support not received by Blog B". Meanwhile Chris from ihobo argues that Games are not Shoes, trying to counter the argument of Nicholas Lovell that in shoes it is the marginal cost of making another shoe that determines the price of shoes, so the marginal cost of games being zero would drive the market towards free games.

I think that there are a lot of good ideas here, and a lot of confusion. First of all, not all content is created equal. Some content is made because the author has a need to express himself, while other content is made because a client wants it. Think of it that way: If by law tomorrow it would be illegal to pay for content, what content would survive? Lots of blogs wouldn't be affected at all, while triple A games and blockbuster movies would disappear.

I don't know how many people have read content that I wrote. My blog had 6 million visitors, but the same person reading this blog every day is then counted as a visitor every day, so it is far less than 6 million people. But even if I just say that "thousands" of people read my content, there is less than 1% of them who use the donate button on the upper right of this page to give me money. That makes me think that the market value of my blog posts is very close to zero. If we say that opinions are a dime a dozen that might actually be rather close to the economic truth of blogging in general.

If Apple Cider Mage says "that people should be compensated for their time and efforts", then I need to ask where that "should" is coming from. If I decide to build a cathedral out of matches in my garage, why should anybody compensate me for my time and effort? I could then put the finished cathedral in a public place and ask for donations, but there is absolutely no "should" involved. Just like the donate button on my blog, people *can* donate to show their appreciation, but there is absolutely no moral requirement for them to do so.

Just as I blog basically for free, somebody could make games for free. The kind of games this results in would be akin to Flappy Bird. Most of the games we play are too complicated for that, and require a team, with some people coding the game, others making the artwork, others the music, and so on. A garage band type of game development team is theoretically possible, but not very common. Most games are produced with the intent to make money of them. And that reverses the notion "that people should be compensated for their time and efforts", into the consideration of an entrepreneur: Can I make more money with the game than the compensation I will have to pay to people for the time and effort to make it? That means that sometimes the entrepreneur is wrong and we get a game for cheap because he miscalculated. But overall it means that we as the community of players need to pay the cost of making games, otherwise games won't be made.

"Free" games in this discussion are a red herring. The reason why we get more and more "free" games counter-intuitively is that game companies often make more money with free games than with fixed price games. League of Legends made $624 million last year, so Riot Games makes a big profit on it, and can continue to make games. As LoL has 30 million active players, and we need to assume that at least 90% of those never pay a cent, many of the people who pay of League of Legends actually pay more to play this game than they would pay to play a game that comes in a box with a price tag and has no subscription. If the EU comes through with their proposal to ban the use of the word "free" for games that aren't actually completely free, "free" games would mostly disappear.

Free opinions on the internet on the other hand are here to stay. Attempts to monetize them are mostly doomed to failure. You can ask for donations, but you would get more donation money with a fake charity website or a scam Kickstarter project than with a blog that requires a lot of time and effort.
Tobold's Blog



Role-playing and games
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 March 2014, 8:44 am
I was reading Ravious' declaration of love for the 13th Age pen & paper role-playing game system. And I couldn't help but notice that the first half of the cited strong points of the system, covering character creation and narration, are in fact not system specific at all. That is if you play any other role-playing system, be it Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or even non-fantasy systems, asking your players what the "one unique thing" about their character is on creation would work just as well.

Basically a pen & paper role-playing game has two parts: The role-playing and the game. The role-playing is either not bound by rules at all, or can use rules from many different sources. The 13th Age "rules" book has a long description of the world and the icons, the major players in that world. It has "rules" about how to create a great background story for your character, or how to handle story-telling. And all these things aren't so much "rules" as rather suggestions on how to encourage good role-playing. Most of these suggestions work just as well in any other pen & paper role-playing system.

The good news about this is that you can use the 13th Age book as an accessory for whatever other system you want to play, in the case that you don't want to switch systems. The bad news is that the other half of the book then isn't of much use to you. Game mechanics are far more difficult to transplant from one system to another, although I thought that I might give the "escalation dice" from 13th Age a try in my 4E campaign to make combat shorter. But to give a counter-example, you wouldn't want to copy a spell from one system to another, as they might use very different numbers for health and damage.

Similar considerations apply if you want to invent house rules for a pen & paper role-playing game: As long as those rules cover the role-playing part, it is relatively easy. But you fiddle with the rules of the underlying game part at your own peril, as that might affect the balance of the game. So adding a new race to D&D is relatively easy, as long as you keep the racial bonuses and powers roughly in line with the existing ones. Adding a new class or making major changes to how a class works tends to be far more dangerous.
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