Indirect Punishment
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 October 2013, 9:45 am
Between the Thieves Guild and the Dark Brotherhood it was obvious that he was on a dark path. Even if he did seem to be trying to save the world from the Mythic Dawn, who could say what sort of world he was saving, or why? Maybe he was only saving it so he could steal it himself, coin by coin.

His killing eventually took its toll. Shopkeepers were dead, their stores ransacked. Homes were plundered and their residents murdered. The streets grew quiet, devoid of souls.

If you asked him why, he'd laugh. "They annoyed me," he might answer. Whether for greed, revenge, or just amusement, he'd kill at will. The bounty wasn't even enough: he was rich and the armor sales offset most, if not all, of the cost. Somewhere was a very busy fence.

Yet, in time, he grew sad. He saw no one but his fence, everyone else was dead, and everything he had was stolen anyway.

It was not karma. There was no karma system. Infamy just made the guards rude. The game never said that he failed a quest. It never said he did anything wrong at all. By its rules he was doing just fine.

With his freedom to change the world, he had changed it for the worse. He had been punished for his crimes, not with a defeat screen, but with his own destroyed world.

His successor learned from his mistakes. He killed only those who were threats, or quests, rather than just annoyances. With one exception, because the Brotherhood isn't for angels. He stole, but did not wipe out entire stores. He kept up appearances. He bought houses and furnished them. To all outside observers he was a paragon of virtue. His world sparkled in a thoroughly non-vampiric manner, for those were dead too. He carried a potion to cure disease. The gods still weren't happy with him, too many murder quests and theft quests, but the gods are little more than an angry whisper at the chapel.

It's like his parents taught him: why slaughter the cow when you can steal the milk for free? The world agreed.

Time passes and yet it does not
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 October 2013, 3:22 pm
Time in games as a strange thing. While Einstein would agree with the notion that there isn't a universal, objective time, he would find that it is utterly impossible to do any clock coordination. Game time is dictated by plot, convenience, and drama.

Due to these tendencies, time flows in two general ways: Slow Flow and Explode.

Slow Flow is a mysterious phenomenon. During it, there is a quantitative passage of time. This can even be mapped to the outside world, passing at a constant, though different rate, so that one can create formulas which describe how many minutes pass in one world relative to another.

However, there is not a qualitative passage of time. Large-scale events simply do not occur. People can move, talk, and fight. These small actions will not add up to a whole, no matter how many. A million drops of water will not form a river.

This Slow Flow is a convenient phenomenon for the player. It gives them time to explore and learn, developing their skills as a player and as a character.

In contrast, Explode takes place at a pace sufficiently similar to the outside world as to be indistinguishable. Furthermore, during this passage of time, events can occur. Small actions can combine. Actions which would have no impact during Slow Flow are able to add up to dramatic changes in the world during Explode.

Surprisingly, these are complementary states. Because the Slow Flow can effectively suspend the passage of time, a player within it can therefore arrive at precisely the right time for Explode. Whether they wander for a few minutes or several years, they will always arrive at precisely the right time for major events to occur.

Another useful aspect of time is that these two states are physically separated. One cannot be in both at once, but the barriers between them are often predictable. This allows a player to choose when to move between states, though they may not always know where the transitions are. The result is that while the rules within Explode may be the same, the starting conditions can be altered from outside. A player in Slow Flow can store up items and gain new abilities, dramatically changing the potential outcomes within Explode.

This raises some interesting possibilities about our own universe. Physicists aren't quite sure about what happened early on, or if early on is even a relevant concept, since it seems that time itself didn't exist before. How can something happen if there is not even time? Perhaps what we need is a new perspective. While most Explode happens in a short span, sometimes lasting mere seconds, rarely more than an hour, our universe seems to have been around for much longer. Despite this difference in span, our universe fits the traits of a Explode: no apparent beginning, synchronized passage of time, meaningful outcomes. Clearly the so-called Big Bang was not a bang or even a rapid inflation. Instead, it was someone zoning into our universe from an indeterminate amount of time in Slow Flow.

If we could find that entrance and send someone outside, they'd be able to gather all needed materials and knowledge, with unlimited time at their disposal. However, there is the risk that upon, from our perspective, instantly returning, he will have lost all sense of perspective and just wander our universe stealing brooms.

After everything else, appearance is everything
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 October 2013, 10:00 am
One of my greatest instance runs ever was back during Burning Crusade. I was headed to Shadow Labyrinth, tanking on my paladin. I don't recall the class of the healer, but I do remember the DPS: three warlocks. It was an extraordinarily pretty run. The warlocks would shoot out some seeds of corruption and my AoE tanking would trigger them, and then they'd trigger the next round, and the end result was that every pull was an explosion of shiny graphics.

I don't know how effective SoC was compared to other attacks. Maybe destruction with rain of fire or a cleaving, whirlwinding warrior would have done the job better. But would they have looked cooler? Would they have sounded cooler? No! When all the game mechanics have been nullified by gear and practice only one thing remains: looking awesome while you do it.

This is why transmog in WoW was so awesome. This is why my greatest dangerous temptation in GW2 is the many amazing-looking guns on the trading post. Better gear is nice to have, but cooler gear is a necessity. In fact, I blame this for my first time quitting GW2. I'd gotten a new back slot that replaced my purely cosmetic starting item. It was better, but it didn't look cool. I was nothing without my backpack filled with comically dangerously unstable jars of potions and explosives. When I tried GW2 again my first priority was to go to my bank and switch the items. Game saved.

So let us ask, why is Prayer of Mending the best spell ever, as Liore asserts? In fact, it is not. Seed of Corruption was, though PoM was pretty great. I wasn't a good healer, so I can't comment much on its effectiveness. But I can comment on it sounding cool. Hearing that ping ping ping and seeing it dart around like a crazed healing Tinkerbell was a delightful thing. It was the music to go with the flashing radiance of a raid's worth of spell effects. It said that things were working, at least to some extent. Someone, somewhere, had more health every time I heard that sound. It also meant they were taking damage, but I was rarely concerned with such things as people getting hurt. I was busy getting hurt even more, so having that reassuring ding sound meant that someone else was concerned and I loved them and their bells for that.

Downed vs. Dead, consider them in context
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 October 2013, 8:17 am
The topic of GW2's universal rezzing came up. Of course someone has to claim that this convenient mechanic is, in fact, the death of challenge and the harbinger of the trivialization of all things. I disagree.

First off, being able to rez people out in the world is a bonus. The defeated player can feel as if someone cared enough to help. And they can refrain from being angry because they were a few steps from the next waypoint and all the ones nearby are contested. The helping player can feel like they helped someone, which is a pretty nice feeling. This mechanic is essentially a kitten-dispenser. Or puppies if you're allergic to cats. Or a Portuguese Water Puppy if you're allergic to dogs and live in the White House.

Second, this mechanic should be considered in the full context. The first bit of context is that I'm not considering the difference with underwater fighting because I hate underwater combat so much that I don't care about the balance. It can go burn in sodium.

A downed player can recover on their own, but the circumstances tend to be rather specific. An enemy must be very near death or they must not take any damage while they bandage themselves. The first is essentially a market-killer for the keyboard manufacturers, who have long relied on the destruction caused by mobs at 1% health. The second is unlikely when soloing and hardly a guarantee in groups.

Other players can help, but at a snail's pace and at the cost of being unable to move, dodge, attack, heal, or buff. Effectively a second player or more are temporarily made useless to bring back the currently useless player. Compare this to in-combat resurrection spells, such as in WoW where players can simply pop back up with something between no effort from other players and a single spell cast. Those do have lengthy cooldowns, but again, they are much quicker and less risky than GW2 recovery.

Then there is the big question: is it easier to be downed in GW2 or dead in another game? GW2 doesn't have a lot of get out of jail free cards such as invincibility bubbles or preventative damage absorbs. If you don't dodge, you take the damage. Dodging has a very short cooldown, but usually, so do the horribly damaging things you need to avoid. Dodging isn't a bonus; it's a requirement, so to consider it as such would be as absurd and claiming that healing in another game makes players invincible and immortal. In my experience it is a lot easier to get knocked into a downed state in GW2 than it is to die in WoW.

Taking into account the wider context, the downed state should be considered, not as equivalent to death in other games, but rather as an intermediate state with no clear parallels. Furthermore, because of the potential recovery, even the fallen state cannot be considered equivalent to death.

Instead of comparing individual mechanics and pretending that such comparisons are meaningful, the logical thing to do is to compare the chance of the group being defeated. At this point, all things are equal. There is no recovery and the instant-rez mechanics are nullified by the enemy resetting. Do groups fail more often or at a higher percentage of groups or attempts in GW2 than in other games?

Using this context does not mean that recovery mechanics are to be ignored. They could still be too easy or tough, but directly comparing individual pieces of group success or failure will only yield nonsense.

NBI: Where do you come up with all of those wonderful, creative, brilliant, amazing ideas?
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 October 2013, 12:17 pm
Alright, Syp, I'll play along. Future bloggers, here you go. Here's where you can get all the ideas you could ever need, and the cost.

Try to fall asleep.

There is a horrible time during which your brain is freed of all distractions, but being addicted to them, generates distractions for itself, in the form of an endless stream of new ideas, which it will not allow you to not think about. As you fall closer to sleep it frees up more and more creative and brilliant ideas, so that the closer you are to sleep, the harder it tries to keep you awake.

In the middle of the night, after a few hours of failing to fall asleep, you write the post(s). Schedule it for the next morning so as to not appear crazy. Do not attempt to edit these posts, as they are already perfect and your sleep-deprived brain could not understand them anyway.

Essentially, it is this Dilbert strip from eleven years ago.

I don't care what the code says, I want to kill him
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 September 2013, 9:54 am
Every day, millions of people walk through virtual cities and commit no acts of violence. None at all. Outside the gates of the cities they engage in the wholesale slaughter of everything in sight. They may kill hundreds, even thousands of people and creatures in a single day. Yet inside the cities they're as gentle as a highly medicated lamb who is in no distress.

Is this plausible? Let us pause for a moment to remember the distinction between realism and plausibility. It is not realistic that these people can summon demons or effectively teleport by running really fast. However it is entirely plausible. Yet it is neither realistic nor plausible that these people are so peaceful.

These are not soldiers, trained and disciplined. Even if they were, it's not as if soldiers become peaceful lambs when they're on leave. Either way, these are all heavily-armed and powerful individuals with a habit of extreme violence. They've killed thousands for a 20% discount. Or we to believe that out of the millions of people there was not one who felt a twinge of violence?

One person was angry that a limited supply item was not in stock. One other was angry that the items were too expensive. How many have been annoyed when the auction house or trading post takes a large cut of the sale? Yet none of them were inclined to even try violence, their otherwise universal solution to all problems.

It is, of course, entirely plausible that they'd try and fail. We'd see them charging up a spell or taking a few shots, fail to kill their foe, and be subdued by a dozen guards and a hundred players. We'd see them shouting at a vendor, threatening force, and end up in jail for a little while. We never see this.

This brings me to Fallout 3. Violence is my primary means of fixing problems. It is not the only means, but I rather enjoy killing bad people. Thankfully, it is almost always available. While the game does use karma to measure my killing, it only passes judgement, rarely does it restrict.

A lady dressed up as an ant and attacked a town. I talked to her briefly to see if it was just a reality show or maybe a temporary fit of insanity brought on by a bad batch of Jet. Then I blew her head off. I hate ants. I hate people who cease being human even more.

I once tried a peaceful solution. Mostly. With some convincingly intimidating speech I drove out some bigots and thereby allowed some ghouls to move into a nice place. All seemed good. Maybe peace works after all. Later I returned to buy ammo, since it turned out to be a good source of sniper ammo, which is hard to find. All the humans were dead, even the nice ones, such as the badass adventurer who had a ghoul friend. It turns out there was an argument, so the ghoul leader killed them all. He claimed that he didn't need to answer to anyone, especially a "smoothskin", their derogatory term of non-ghoul humans. I blew his head off and ignored the supposed karma loss. As penance I slaughtered a town of slavers. And robbed the weapon store, not because I needed the money, but because it seemed like the right thing to do.

That town had quests in it, the slavers even gave me one. You might expect that that would make them considered essentially and unable to be killed. Thankfully, Fallout has a radical idea: you don't have to actually be able to do all the quests. If you want to fail a quest because the quest giver was a horrible person, feel free to shoot him.

Only the central story line is essential, probably because it is needed to unlock a few areas. Characters for that can't be killed. Well, most can't. Some can because the game thoughtfully gave them computers in which they can store the information I need.

I don't normally kill everyone in sight. I like having good karma. And I made that mistake in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, killing off rude shopkeepers. Then I had no one to sell my legitimately-acquired loot to. I did, of course, have a fence for my less-legitimately-acquired loot.

Yet even if I don't feel the inclination to kill Moira, even as she attempts to be doing the same to me with her mirelurk research, having the ability to do so makes the world feel much less like a game. Being able to make bad decisions, even if we recognize and avoid them, makes a world feel more realistic and more plausible. It is not plausible that characters created to commit violence are unable to do so.

Free money doesn't work so well
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 September 2013, 10:28 am
Why is karma the most useless currency ever? Syp has several reasons, some personal to him, such as the fact that he isn't doing much crafting or legendaries. Yet the real problem isn't that the currency isn't used for buying a lot of stuff, but rather, because it is free money.

Most games don't give the AI an adaptive economy. Prices aren't based on supply or demand, but are instead based on what the devs thought would be balanced, so they end up either fixed or rising with the player's level. The usual result is that players become richer and richer, yet they will have fewer and fewer items to purchase. Maybe that first Greatstaff of Greatness drains their account, but after a few more money spiders they're ready to go again, with nothing left to buy.

In part this is due to the lack of costs. You don't need to buy many potions or boxes of ammunition to shoot spiders. In fact, if you did, you wouldn't go. Players aren't going to spend more on an adventure than they'd get from it unless there is some non-monetary reward. However even that case is similar to buying the Greatstaff of Greatness, a one-time cost that doesn't affect the overall trajectory. Y=X-10 has the exact same trend as Y=X. If costs were higher, but not quite higher than rewards, then it would slow the trend, not stop it.

I generally like having more money, whether virtual or real. It's a habit of sorts, to scavenge and not let perfectly good assault rifles go to waste just laying around on the trail of corpses. Or in real life I try not to throw away food.

Games reinforce this by making money rather tight early on, and often necessary. Your armor needs upgrading, your weapons are weak, and you're homeless. So you scrape and scrounge, learning to save every last bottle cap and credit. You develop the habit of calculating the value/weight ratio of everything, shuffling items in and out of inventory to maximize your haul, regretting every extra pound you carried into the dungeon.

Next thing you know you're rich, yet still in the habit of gaining wealth, despite it being of no use any more.

Adding in other players can help or even fix the problem. They want things too and are willing to pay for them. Developers can stick a tax on the transactions to gradually destroy excess currency. This does require that players have a reason to trade currency, meaning the addition of commodities (trade materials) or services (help with content). Having players also makes it easier to add sinks, because with one player a sink either works or doesn't, whereas with many players it only needs to work for some players, who will then attempt to draw currency to themselves.

Arguably karma fits into this, since it can be used to purchase items that can eventually be traded with players. However karma only goes one way, into gold or materials; players cannot trade to increase their karma. The karma sinks then need to be effective for every player, since there won't be any ability to use other individuals as sinks/magnets.

There's my quick fix: make karma tradeable on the trading post.

Buying a Bullshit-Ender in the Store
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 September 2013, 7:00 am
This post is inspired by Rohan's post, Money is Not Time.

Bullshit is subjective.

Once upon a time a Binding of the Windseeker dropped. Being surrounded by friends who clearly harbored a secret hatred for me, they all insisted that I take it. I spent the next year struggling to put together half-competent pugs of MC, since said friends had thoroughly burned themselves out on MC or had quit.

Back in BC we only had ten extra levels, so soloing MC wasn't something you just did. You needed help. Yet the perception was that MC was old and therefore easy. The effect was rather like putting on a seat belt and deciding that it was therefore safe to drive straight into walls while completely sober; being drunk would actually help to relax and reduce the damage. We could still die, to trash, if people were careless enough, and they often were.

This all had the effect of creating one hell of a sense of entitlement. Surely after enduring all this bullshit I had earned my binding. I'd put in my time. I'd had some flow and fiero. Eventually I was a bit sick of it and torn between wanting the binding and the badass-looking sword and wanting to not have to herd cats through a land of lava and laser pointers.

I saw the appeal of a cash shop. Once I'd put in the time to feel the sense of ownership and reward, a bit of money wasn't going to ruin anything. Certainly just buying a second binding the moment the first dropped would have been rather lame. Yet after months of weekly runs, or more than weekly since they didn't always succeed and needed a second attempt, I was ready to trade some money for time. At that point the issue was not time, but frustration. I had already shown great willingness to burn time, and I still don't much mind grinds, regarding them as part of the genre.

Yet this was no mere matter of time. I got the first binding on my first ever run on a character that could use a binding. That was clearly not a time issue. Nor would the second one be a time issue. One year or a dozen, such a low drop rate cannot be dependably countered with time. I could only up the odds, never beat them. Ultimately it was out of my control and that's what made it bullshit.

I'd have gladly bought a bullshit-ender in the store. If anyone asked, I'd say that I got lucky on the first one and spent a year grinding for the next one. Those words. At that point I'd see no distinction between "getting lucky after a year of runs" and "not getting lucky after a year of runs and buying it in the shop" except for whatever the second binding cost. The mental earning would have already happened, but sometimes the RNG needs a few dollars to convince it of that.

But what if the second binding had been in the store from the moment I got the first? Might I have just bought it then, unearned, and consequently of less importance? There's the whole problem. For all my writing about how I'd played and struggled for the year to earn it, there is no way to track or prove that, so any cash shop can dispense ill-gotten gains. Maybe another player would feel that sense of earning in a month and would hate the implementation of a one-year/50 runs counter. Someone else would need two years and would be short-circuiting after the one-year purchase.

Leaving it up to us sounds insane. Surely you'd call someone crazy if they said that they were going to annoy themselves for no less than a year before using the cash shop. We'd tell them to just buy it and save the time. And then they would and not care in any way.

It's not the apocalypse that ruins the world forever
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 September 2013, 3:19 pm
We seem to take it for granted that after the apocalypse everything will be bad. Not just a little bad, or bad-but-recovering, but eternally bad. But is that actually a reasonable assumption? Humanity recovered from being killed down to a few thousand people. Earth has been repeated blown up, burned, and suffocated, the latter happening in multiple ways depending on what life was used to breathing at the time. To get sustained terribleness we don't need a one-off event, but instead a Sustained Terribleness Continuation Plan, or STCP, which is impossible to pronounce and redundant. What is the STCP? Us. People are the thing that keeps everything terrible after our initial effort.

Once upon a time a few technicians were given a task that they weren't trained for, using equipment that was poorly-designed, and as a result, Ukraine has a big ol' Zone of Exclusion around Chernobyl. A meltdown led to a steam explosion, which blasted a whole lot of radioactive mess all over the place. The disaster was of such a large scale that the USSR had to stop pretending that it hadn't happened, evacuating the shiny new city of Pripyat and leaving it all to nature. After some initial "all the trees died" problems, nature rebounded, since a lot of radiation is hardly as dangerous as humans.

Combining the story "Roadside Picnic" and the Zone of Exclusion yielded the strange game series STALKER. In it there are all manner of dangers. Some comes from the radiation scattered by the explosion and cleanup operations. Much more comes from the results of an experiment. I won't give it all away, but the general result was another explosion that twisted the laws of physics and created all manner of dangerous mutants. In fact, the bit of radiation and packs of stray dogs are the least of the worries.

People and their experiments are the big problem. To cover up the experiments, they created a fake religion, luring people in with promises of wealth, eternal life, or at least something better than living in an irradiated wasteland. They deliver on none of these, instead brainwashing them to shoot at anyone who tries to figure out what is happening. And then the hero shoots his way in, killing everyone, and possibly destabilizing the area even more, which makes the apocalyptic explosions a daily occurrence. The local apocalypse ruined the world, but we kept it ruined.

If you combine 50's nostalgia with 50's fear of dying in a nuclear war and thrown in an unhealthy dose of a timeless disregard for basic safety or environmental protection, then you get the world of Fallout. There was a nuclear war with China and now everything has been nuked except for Vegas. There are some mutants, mostly of the "radiation makes things bigger" variety, along with some people who turned into ghouls (zombies) from high doses of radiation. Some have human minds, some are feral. It's a bad world.

After so long much of the radiation would have dispersed. Animals and feral ghouls are susceptible to guns. The real dangers, the real problems, came from people. Some became raiders and drug dealers. Others joined the Enclave, which are effectively technologically advanced American Nazis who cannot merely isolate themselves to sustain their 'pure' form of humanity, but must also kill everyone else. That's right, while humanity is right back to the "few thousand people left" stage, these guys decide they need to weed out the undesirables. This becomes a plot point, surprisingly. New Vegas introduced Ceasar's Legion as a technology-hating slave army dedicated to conquering everything, which was also incapable of actually managing an economy or doing much of anything besides fighting. Raiders seem almost reasonable in comparison, since they sometimes recognize that if they kill everyone there won't be any more people to rob.

Worst of all were the vaults that the people designed. They all worked. Some worked to preserve human life, saving thousands of lives. Many more worked to drive them insane in new and creative ways. One was split down the middle to test paranoia. Another was designed to let in radiation, creating hundreds of ghouls. More than a hundred were built and less than two dozen were intended to just save people without subjecting them to extra torture.

I'd mentioned environmental protection and basic safety, so here goes. The background radiation, while an issue, would have fallen dramatically. Only a few locations are still heavily irradiated due to the bombs themselves. Many more are irradiated because of poor storage of nuclear waste. Leaky steel barrels dot the landscape, fallen out of trucks, dumped all over, contaminating the water and soil. In Fallout: New Vegas there is a little exhibit about these that uses absolutely no subtlety to show the exceptional lack of attention to, or regard, for safety.

The cars appear to run on nuclear power, and take barely more than a nudge to explode, often triggering chain reactions. One might even wonder if the bombs ever needed to fall, if a few car crashes might have done the trick. And of course players might find that these little nuclear bombs are handy improvised weapons, so it's not as if we're the sparkling heroes of humanity.

Certainly both of these worlds suffered from human-caused nuclear disasters, but it was their actions leading up to and in response to the disasters that created the long-term problems. Crises are momentary, but human nature and the resulting messes, are nearly-eternal.

It's not the knowing, but the knowing how to know, and I don't know that
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 September 2013, 4:19 pm
Something spoiled me rotten during my years of WoW. I memorized a lot, but beyond that, I learned how to find information. With such a large and long-running community, WoW has exceptionally good resources for learning about the game. Wowhead would have all the dungeon loot tables, quest chains, you name it. Everything was in there and I got good at finding it. Comments would add tangential, but useful, details. If I wasn't sure of a bit of lore, wowwiki and now wowpedia could help me out. Worst case scenario I could google for some class and crafting guides.

I miss that.

Of course there is something great about the early dungeon runs when all the rewards are a surprise. Then you start to get the hang of it and you've run the places a dozen times. The surprise isn't there anymore. You've moved onto another stage of the game and another stage of fun. Now it's useful to know where things are so you can pursue them. I've grabbed what I could from the random draw, now I'm after something specific. What dungeon or raid? What faction? Is it BoE and readily, if obnoxiously expensively available of the auction house?

Sometimes I think I had more find finding out how to find items than actually finding them. The former has a better payoff too. I'll ditch the item and have no more use for it. The information, that I can keep forever, and maybe use again for another character, or another player. I like showing off what I know, not so much for gear.

In GW2 I'm back in square one. I don't know much and I don't even know how to know much of it. The community is smaller and much newer, so inevitable the resources aren't going to be as plentiful. As a result I do a lot more stumbling around. I don't mind doing things in a less-efficient manner. What I do mind is that I may not know if I'm even getting anywhere. Can I get to that zone from here, or am I running into a strong current? Is that a jumping puzzle or will I hit an invisible wall?

This is not the quest that turns the tide of the war; it never is
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 September 2013, 10:20 am
When you get down to it, the GW2 hearts are quests. They're a lot more flexible than WoW quests, but they are ultimately quests. At this place, do this or these things. Yet there is a key difference that I think makes GW2 quests superior. It's in the quest text.

It's not the lack of quest text. They have that too, if you hover over the heart. They even send you letters, which is better than needing to trek back to the quest giver through the bandits that you supposedly wiped out but have since respawned. But that's not the big improvement.

Quests in WoW were almost always about advancing. Complete this quest and you'll have changed the world. You assassinated the enemy leader, smashed their army, and saved the day. This then looks ridiculous when everything has respawned. WoW dealt with this with a mix of phasing and ignoring it.

Quests in GW2 are almost always about maintenance. Sometimes they are literally that, including fixing broken equipment (which I suppose are repairs rather than maintenance and the accounting department is going to be on my case). Often times they're more generalized: thin the herd, keep spiders away from our apple trees, help downed patrols. All of these are things that need to be done, but none of them are the single thing that breaks through and wins the war. It's all keeping the world from collapsing, rather than raising it up. While that sounds less fun, it also makes a lot more sense in the context of a game where everything respawns. WoW dailies have this same feel, but they are dailies and therefore get no praise.

In general terms, WoW quests are written for a non-static world, while GW2 quests are. Given that both worlds are essentially static, set pieces placed there to entertain, rather than to be remade by players, it makes a lot more sense to write the quests to fit the static world. In effect, by accepting that it is a theme park they make it look less like a theme park.

Even the dynamic events fit into this. Something shows up to go on a rampage and we stop it or don't. If we don't, then there is an event to clean up or retake lost ground. Alternatively, if we capture something, we then get an event to defend it. The enemies actually fight back and can do so successfully. If events simply reset, then we'd have the illusion of progress. Instead, we can actually make progress, taking and holding ground, but if we heroes wander away for too long it falls apart. It is temporary, but it is not illusionary.

GW2: It's all connected! Events, Hearts, Dailies, and Trains
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 September 2013, 8:43 pm

As the title and highly-detailed and complex diagram indicate, GW2 has a wonderful way of making everything interconnected.

Dynamic events often take place in the same area as the quest hearts, with qualifying enemies often spawning with it or being the expected filler between the boss fight. The result is that you either kill two birds with one stone, or two kill birds with two stones, but the second one doesn't fly away and make it hard to hit it.

The daily achievements tend to include a large dose of killing in a particular zone or mob types, both of which are the inevitable results of hearts and orange circles.

I tend to like the champion trains, though in a sense they're all I know, since I wasn't around for the clearly better thing that happened before them (I've been there before, I know that change is always for the worse). They feed into the dailies, giving some of the trickier things such as veteran kills, and an abundance of junk to salvage.

While we're on the subject, I rather like the daily system. The gathering one is a natural part of any movement outside the cities. At least until I've finished my hearts the zone kills are a freebie. Salvaging flows from killing. That leaves two more, and those can be as easy as reviving player or NPCs or doing a couple events, both of which you're probably going to run across during hearts or gathering. There are WvW ones as well, but I've not yet needed them. Given the sometimes slow pace of WvW I can see how those could be tricky for someone who wants to hop in for a quick completion. Of course I dislike the aquatic slayer one because I get disoriented underwater, but I've never felt like I needed it, so I see no major problem.

Finally, there is a missing link in the diagram. Players eagerly work together on chained dynamic events. Maybe chains aren't trains, but they rhyme, and that's what really matters when you're drawing diagrams on a chalkboard.

Being a dungeon noob is stressful
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 September 2013, 7:00 am
I finally did my first dungeon in Guild Wars 2. Not a year late, for I took about a year off, but surely it shouldn't have taken me this long. The first was available at 20 or so. I didn't even consider doing one until I was near 80. Even once I'd decided that I would do a dungeon it took days to actually do it. It's time to round up the reasons why, and maybe see if there is anything to do about that.

 Guild Wars 2 is not nice to new people. It is particularly unkind to WoW people. In fact, I attribute my ability to have played it again and not wandered away confused to my having not played much WoW in months. Instead I played shooters, and Civilization, but the latter is not relevant. I spent a lot of time aiming while moving, shooting things while not letting them touch me, and generally working out the notion that I should run like a chicken with its head cut off, but like it still has its head and is carefully avoiding the guy with the axe.

WoW has movement, but outside of PvP it doesn't have much quick movement. Get out of the fire, but what's the rush, really? Boss drags you in, you run out. Outside of the choreographed dances the movement is comparatively leisurely. Add to that years of muscle memory of exactly how fast your character is, and probably every single boss fight too, and there's very little pressure. Guild Wars 2 likes to do devastating things very quickly, and you cannot simply move, but must instead dodge, because in this magical world rolling on the floor makes you temporarily invulnerable to most attacks.

Some mobs I could fight a half-dozen at a time and maybe have room for one more. Other mobs will seriously tax my survival with just one. It's something to do with evading attacks. Some hurt more, but more importantly, some are broadcasted more clearly. Maybe the animation is longer, maybe it's bigger and more dramatic. Compare dodging a centaur's knockdown with a bunch of little tiny spiders shooting poison.

Scale this up to a boss level and maybe you'll understand my reluctance. I could die at any moment and I would very likely have no idea why. Was there a constant AoE? How much did that condition hurt? When exactly do I dodge? This was exactly what happened on the first boss. I died and died, not in any of the red circle spam, but dead anyway. Maybe I should get a couple pistols so I can do more than auto-attack when at long range.

Generally people have been pretty nice in Guild Wars 2. Not sunshine and flowers nice, but rarely are they blatantly rude. Yet there are just enough mean people to keep me on edge, wondering if I'm going to find myself back in trade chat, or worse, a random PUG. It's not fun being on the losing end of a boss fight, or a group fight, and with my almost total lack of experience, the odds of the former, and therefore the latter, were daunting.

There is no LFG tool. I don't mean an automatic random cross-server group generator. I mean that it has nothing. There isn't even a way to list yourself as looking for a group, putting Guild Wars 2 instancing at the same level of sophistication as pre-Burning Crusade WoW. On the plus side, the waypoint system means that once you've found the entrance there's little travel time to worry about.

Thankfully, players have made their own lfg website. That's great. It's how I found my group. But it sure would be nice to not need to tab out to check it. I wonder how many people even know it exists. I didn't until very recently. Though given that it's about 50-50 that anyone saying lfg in a channel is told about it, I suppose many people have some notion that it exists.

So far my dungeon experience probably doesn't sound so great. The first fight was admittedly awful. Before and after that I died running past trash (since mobs leash in instances this seems to be the way to go). I was a blantantly noobish noob who was somehow level 80 and didn't even know to switch to group-oriented tools before the boss. Yet no one was mean about it. They gave some basic directions and a few bits of advice. At least one bit could have been appropriately followed with " , dumbass", yet it was not.

One particular bright spot is the res mechanic. With all the defeated NPCs that give experience and sometimes quest credit, it's a habit to res things. Run over and click on them. In combat, out of combat, doesn't matter, though it is a lot faster out of combat. In group events you'll see a few people helping up the dead person. I'm not even sure it's an altruistic gesture as much as it is a habit. The result is that I didn't have to deal with an angry rezzer who refused to do so. People just pick you up and go back to shooting nightmare vines.

In the end I got some shinies and the idea that maybe I could run some more in the future.

Why we do want to read your MMO stories
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 September 2013, 7:00 am
I stand by my previous post: I don't care what you're doing in your MMO.

The key is in the word your. The stories in the game, we have those covered. Those aren't your stories; they are the game's. Listing them as what you will do or just did doesn't make them your story, unless you're using the old "put the entire chapter in quotations and pretend I wrote the paper" trick from high school. Note that I never did that because I never learned to type and therefore, given my laziness, was unwilling to copy someone's book chapter.

Let's stick with the word your and get rid of your guild's stories too. We're not in your guild, applying for your guild, or friends with anyone in your guild besides you (we like you, though).

But your stories? Those are, for lack of a better word, good. Your stories work. Properly written, of course. The story that you create and experience matters. It is everything.

That story is feedback for the developers. It says that you hate something, even if you feel stuck running it every day (that's why you quit the next month). It says that you love something, even if you don't get to run it as often as you'd like (but it's worth the entire sub by itself). It says something that the player statistics cannot: it says intention, motivation, and feeling.

That story is a review for other players. It tells them what other players have experienced. They can learn from it, knowing what to expect. Guides sterilize the experience. Posts can bring it to life. That life may be good or bad and to write about either is to help players know what is coming. It helps players pursue that which they enjoy and avoid that which they do not. If I say that World vs. World reminds me of old Alterac Valley, despite being void of facts or analysis, that will clearly tell some people to rush toward it, and others to avoid it at all costs.

The feelings that come with a relaying of an experience can help other players with their perspective. It's easy to fall into one's own perspective and fail to see any other. It's not a lack of empathy, but of imagination. A post can nudge us out, show us a different way to see it. Dull may be relaxing; frantic, exciting; rushed, efficient. Maybe we'll see both at once. For example, during a round of champion farming I found myself feeling two feelings. I was in awe of the efficiency of it all as the zerg went from spot to spot, with pinatas popping with showers of whatever that yellowish shade is that is better than green. I was also annoyed at the pace of it, as a bit of loading lag meant a missed kill. What an awfully stupid place! Yet, how wonderful to see players working together for mutual benefit, calling out where to go if someone was lost or new (I was both). Worst case scenario I skipped ahead to the next spot and waited a few minutes.

Sadly, that last bit was not from a post that someone wrote. Rather, I thought of it myself but couldn't post it. How could I? I'd said that no one cares about those stupid sorts of posts. Thankfully, my terrible writing left me a wonderful loophole, or perhaps merely refinement of meaning, to explain that we play more than what is scripted, and that's the whole fun of it all.

Violence is not the answer; it is the only answer
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 September 2013, 10:01 pm
Guild Wars 2 quests, lets call them what they are, are a fun break from the usual system. Being geographically-based, rather than log-based there's less to track and no need to worry that you've wandered off out of the appropriate area, because it is clearly indicated, always (even when WoW started labeling the mobs I still ran into a few problems). The variety is great. No more ignoring everything else to only focus on one particular problem. Bear attack? Too bad, wolves are the ones that give credit.

There's often even a non-violent path. Maybe it's fixing up a place rather than killing bandits. Maybe it's harvesting plants and scaring birds rather than killing bandits.

And yet, is violence ever truly not the answer?

Consider these scenarios:

You have a town in a series of caves. There have been some minor cave-ins, but the overall structure seems solid. But having debris around isn't attractive or safe. So you hire someone to clear it. Rather than using shovels, they pull out a rifle and napalm and blow up the debris.

You have a nice apple orchard. You need someone to harvest apples. Rather than hiring someone to climb the trees, you instead opt for the nearest adventurers who need a bit of karma. Why you'd hire someone who is primarily focused on treating karma like a bank account, I do not know. But you get what you pay for, which is a crazed, wandering killer. They pick the apples, not by climbing the tree, but by shooting it until apples fall out.

These take place in the Nightguard Beach (Harathi Hinterlands) and Shaemoor Fields (Queensdale), respectively.

Solo raiding: Jumping puzzles
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 August 2013, 11:26 pm
I hate phase one.

It was fine at first. There was some learning and some challenge. I learned from the challenge. It was even fun.

But I hate phase one.

I suppose I could blame phase two. It was phase two that made me do phase one over again. Phase one never asked for anything but itself. Phase two asked for phase one as well, every time, even if I didn't get phase two complete.

I hate phase two.

And yet really, can I blame phase two? It needed phase one and it couldn't help that. It only ever asked for itself and phase one, and phase one already asked for itself, so what's so bad about phase two?

But I hate phase two.

Phase three really made me angry. It asked for itself and phases one and two. Sure, they already asked, but phase one only asked on its own. Phase two was the greedy one. And phase three? Well phase three topped them all.

I learned phase one. As I learned phase two, I learned to hate phase one. I learned phase two. As I learned phase three, I learned to hate phase two. Learning phase three won't fix phases one or two. It will demand them, but it will give nothing in return.

They are, altogether, a punishment mechanic. They do not merely demand time, for that I could bear. They demand repetition, and all for its own sake. We write that we will not fail phase one a hundred times on the blackboard, not because we failed phase one, but because we failed phase two.

I was having a fun time in Guild Wars 2. Deciding that I could not live on Civilization alone, nor a small set of FPS maps, I set off into Tyria again. I was having a blast. I died more than I should have, and at times I was frustrated with things, but I had fun. And then I did something stupid: I looked at a vista and thought, "yea, I can get that one this time."

Phase one and phase two and phase three, demanding all that came before, again and again. I stopped, recognizing that it was not fun. I went off to do my story quest (by which I mean, our story quest, for there are so many the same). I saved the queen, or started to, but overflow kept me away from what I needed.

I found myself near a jumping puzzle again. I went through some of it. Then some more. The launching gears were interesting. I laughed at people who didn't see the value of tangents. I wandered off course, for the puzzles aren't quite laid out, and when there are hostile mobs in the way, it is easy to feel nudged in another direction. I found the path. I found more. I jumped and jumped, mastering my jumping, at least on that phase. And then I fell. I got up again and jumped and jumped. And then I fell. A few more rounds of this and I felt a familiar feeling, the feeling that I was repeating what I already knew how to do because of something that I did not. It was a strange sort of anti-learning, repeating that which did not need repeating.

Maybe tomorrow I will return to it. Or maybe I will go do the quests and events, leaving the absurd mechanics behind, longing for the day when we can fly, and then all will be ruined, except one small stupid thing that will instead be abolished.

Is class identity a thing anymore?
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 August 2013, 2:00 pm
In the beginning, I was a troll shaman. This blog is named for their exceptionally terrible racial ability of Regeneration, which at that time allowed them to continue a whopping 10% of their out-of-combat healing, which was based on spirit. Thankfully, back in those days everything, including warrior gear, had spirit on it. So we could regenerate our awe-inspiring 5 hp per second. Though really it would have been 25 hp every 5 seconds, because that's how things were: mana/5 and hp/5. I don't recall the numbers anymore, but I suspect that 5 hp is a generous amount, despite being terrible, even back then. I'll be honest, the results of this Google search were a mix of nostalgia and not finding myself for three pages. But at least thing the I was searching for is archived: "Troll Regeneration must be nerfed."

For some reason I hung out a lot on the paladin forums. The shaman forums in vanilla were an awful place, full of people whining that shamans were OP (20% of the time, sometimes). The paladins were, of course, our rivals. So I made silly posts there and ending up finding a few friends. I eventually played with them for years until an epic betrayal and some epic fail, the latter being my own fault. When BC rolled around I found myself making a blood elf paladin, because why not? My shaman slowly faded out, finally dying to a pair of tanking bracers in Karazhan. Since then I've played a paladin, with other classes being little more than distractions.

I loved class-based quests. I chased them down. I didn't care about the usefulness of the reward, or eventually, the necessity of the quest for getting the reward, as in the case of druid flight form. Until I'd done those quests I felt that I was an illegitimate member of the class, like when you're the bastard child of the king and cannot claim the throne until you complete the quest chain to murder all your siblings.

As Erinys says in "Proving your Worth: Why Class quests had value",
What I loved about all three of these quests was the fact that they made you think about what it meant to play that specific class. Not only in terms of playstyle although all three required you to explore your spell book, perhaps the Druid and Hunter more so than the Priest, although plenty of people I knew did take Holy Nova especially for the quest but also from an RP perspective if you wished to indulge it.
These quests weren't just quests. They were a matter of class identity, of exploration of the world and character, of learning how to play.

Class quests interact in an odd manner with the concept of class identity. If we identify strongly with a particular class, then we're likely to play it more, to the exclusion of other classes. This means that under a scenario of strong class identity class quests are going to have a small audience, with a small proportion of the population getting the relevant class to the needed level to take advantage of it. Yet the quests themselves may help to cement the identity.

However, if class identity isn't a thing for much of the player population, with few people imagining themselves as primarily playing a particular class, then the class quests may become widely experienced. If play time is spread out more, then it is more likely that players will get their rogues to Ravenholt and their priests to the Plaguelands. Weaker class identity makes class quests more generally used, and therefore more justifiable from an eyeballs per developer dollar perspective. I'm assuming you're all using the latest eye-tracking technology for your gaming; the precision of movement is jaw-dropping, just like mage DPS (and just like my ability to make obscure jokes out of side comments by developers years ago).

The general theme is that if we don't particularly identify as a class, or maybe more importantly, identify as not the other classes, then it doesn't matter as much which class gets the cool toys. If we're as much a priest as a rogue, then are we going to mind much if the rogue update comes before the priest update?

But of course all this semi-sociological identity stuff means nothing if your raid leader wants you to pick, gear, and learn how to play a particular class. (do people still do organized raids?) One class will get leveled a little faster, have a little more luck with gear, be a little bit stronger, and you'll gravitate toward it. Once that happens, then it snowballs, with one always being ahead and therefore better able to get more ahead. While the rest can gear up by other means, that means more time, and sadly, everyone is forced to stop being a college student with next to unlimited time to play games. In the end you're playing a priest, not because your raid leader said so, but because your boss said you can't play at work and your kids refuse to use the can opener in a safe manner.

Something I didn't consider in my first run is that while strong identity will reduce the number of people who do a class quest, I expect that it would also tend to increase enjoyment. The class identity is part of what makes it more interesting than any other quest. Many quests send you around the world, but how many do it specifically because you're a shaman making drugs to find magical sticks? If we're willing to give some weight to actual enjoyment rather than mere play, then it can even turn out positive: few people see, but those who do enjoy it a lot more. As long as everyone gets a nifty quest there won't even be an issue of fairness.

I won; you know it, I know it, vegatable lasagna here knows it
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 August 2013, 5:25 pm
Here's something that tends to bug me in 4X games: when I've already won, but the game won't admit it. Maybe I'm more powerful than the rest of the universe combined, with a major tech lead, and a stable government/happy population/secure culture and religion. There is nothing to make me lose and therefore I will inevitably win. The question is when and how, not if. At that point I'm just micro-managing my way toward a slightly higher score, rather than victory itself.

In other words, the opposite of this:
I feel like everything is spinning out of my control.  I know it’s boring to say this, but the most fun I have with 4X games is when I’m roflstomping over the enemy with ease, not when I’m scrabbling just to stay afloat against an enemy that I have a 2-1 planetary advantage over.  It’s taking a lot of my will to play through this game and not start over.
- Syp
 This isn't to say that I enjoy the perpetual uphill struggle. After all, if I never reach the top, I will never win. I want to struggle up and then fight on the mountaintop with the guy on the next one over. Roflstomping is fun at times, having that last rush to the capitol, running up to the top of the Reichstag and waving a Soviet flag while shooting Nazis. But what is a victory without a struggle? That was a fun mission, but what would it have been without the first one consisting of dodging bullets and hoping to score a gun off the dead guy in line ahead of me?

Designing reward structures is hard
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 August 2013, 5:46 pm
Did you know that President Obama has personally stopped 57 terrorist attacks? I made that number up. Maybe it's zero. Or ten thousand. And that's precisely the problem: it's really hard to reward prevention, or to reward people for preventing what would have happened otherwise (for the example, let's set aside the secrecy issues involved in security). Which of course leads me to Civilization.

I gain standing with city states for clearing camps, if they are targeted. I also gain standing every time I kill a barbarian. I gain standing for liberating workers. So of course I try my hardest to never do the first one. Why would I clear the camp for a short boost when I can farm the stream of barbarians for more rep over time? In fact, why kill them so soon? I'm better off letting them wander into the city state and kidnap workers, then killing them to liberate the worker. In fact, I'm no even rewarded for clearing camps, and I won't do so if my cities are safe, unless they are targeted by the city state. The problem is that I'm not rewarded for an outcome such as "no barbarian attacks for 20 turns" or "no workers captured for 10 turns". Instead I'm rewarded for removing problem, but only when those problems get to be bad, even when the terrible problem was readily preventable.

Similarly, other civilizations are glad if you join them in a war. However, if you win the war too much, they get suspicious. That's right: no destroying the warmongers. Apparently Montezuma is supposed to be defeated, but never permanently, as if he were the Joker. On the other hand, if you just leave them to die, that's cool. Roll in later and liberate their cities and they'll be eternally grateful. In fact, they'll be so happy that they'll vote for you for world leader, which I think is the only way to make that happen. Once again, you're better off letting terrible people do terrible thing and cleaning up afterward.

Often we try to reward the actions that typically lead to outcomes. Killing barbarians is a key step toward making a city state safe from them, and of course they're going to care only if you're killing their barbarians rather than the ones wandering into their rival's land. Similarly, clearing the camp is a way to permanently fix the problem. Yet the permanent solution is less rewarding than killing individual barbarians, despite the fact that clearing the camp is as effective as killing infinite barbarians and liberating every worker, or more so, since no worker turns are wasted.

The city state could reward outcomes, such as no barbarian attacks for 20 turns. Who do they reward? Usually the civ that clears that camp contributed something. But what if the one who cleared it just jumped in at the last moment and someone else had killed every barbarian leading up to it? The second civ certainly contributed more, what with bringing in three archers while the other guy had a scout wander through. How do you track that, damage inflicted on barbarians within two tiles of the city and camp? That seems rather complex, and in fact encourages farming. Players who are behind could try to block other civs to have a chance to get in damage themselves.

Designing reward structures is hard.

I don't care what you're doing in your MMO
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 August 2013, 7:48 pm
What you are doing is the same as what everyone else has done. You are going to do the same content, in possibly slightly different order, as every single other person. You will run the same places, play the same races, roll the same classes, as everyone else has. This isn't your fault; it's the game.

The twist will, of course, be social. That won't help much. Most likely you're going to interact with random people, strangers. Odds are you'll have neutral or negative reactions. Those range from "don't care" to "heard it a million times; we don't like people either". Maybe you'll really mix things up and play with friends and have drama! Ooh! We still don't care. We simply lack the context for any of it to mean anything. The other day I saw HJ for about the third time that week. You don't care, do you? If you knew who he was, you might, but you don't.

In short, you have no story to tell.

If, however, you're playing a game that is prone to unexpected and significant events, events which are unlikely to be repeated by anyone else, then I might have some interest. Of course a round of Calvinball would feature many expected events which will never be repeated, so clearly there is something more to look for. Perhaps a common set of rules from which events may grow would do the trick.

Perhaps a game of chess would suffice. Yet I feel this is not the right game, for while it is widely known, it is not widely understood, so many significant events would be lost on the audience. Beside that, it is a little too abstract. Perhaps if they were animated knights who beat up one of your friends, and you were a wizard, and then of course it is too specific and we've already established that we don't care about your friends getting beat up.

What we need is a game with rules that create events, which can in turn be woven into a narrative. There could be twists and turns. Or perhaps just the brute force of domination, writing the history books as you go. Perhaps... might a 4X game do the trick? I do believe so! One could take a 4X game and write a bit of history with it, removing some dull bits, adding those side boxes that doesn't quite fit into the narrative but somehow still seems fitting, and there you go. Suddenly, I do care what you're doing in your 4X game.

Maybe I can enjoy the narrative itself. Maybe I can learn strategies from it. Maybe I'm playing a drinking game in which I take a shot every time this simple-minded blogger with the vocabulary of a newt uses the word maybe at the start of a sentence, seemingly incapable of setting up the general concept of a series of possibilities and running with that, but instead needing to constantly remind the reader, who is doubtlessly of little greater intellect, and who therefore should, but does not, appreciate the, as they say, "dumbing down", of the writing.

Of course what this all comes down to is this: I'm rather enjoying Syp's Master of Orion series, despite initially thinking that it was an exceptionally stupid and self-centered idea. It's not stupid.

Jedi are assholes
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 August 2013, 5:36 pm
It's a common sentiment among those not sensitive to the Force that Jedi are arrogant and distant.  I tended to regard these sentiments as stupid. Of course they're arrogant relative to the weak and unwise. Who wouldn't come across as a bit arrogant when they can predict the future, read minds, and use a lightsaber?

Yet now I understand. I'm playing through Knights of the Old Republic II again. I'm noticing things that apparently escaped my notice the first time around. Such as how absurdly arrogant and douchy the Jedi are.

I see one in a cage and break him out. He yells at me about how I just rushed into action and didn't think about the consequences. What? Apparently I was supposed to know that they were allied with the Exchange and planning to attack the settlers. And that they were only delaying attacking because they had a Jedi prisoner. Because somehow that makes sense. And somehow leaving him in the cage was going to fix the problem.

I'd played KOTOR before and should have picked up on this, that many Jedi seem to regard any action, ever, as hasty action happening too soon. They'd rather sit around and see what happens. The Mandalorians were destroying the Republic and the Jedi response was to wait. And then exile anyone who went to defend the Republic. I wonder how things might have gone if the leadership had joined the war, had been there to provide some guidance. War might have still been corrupting, but if that corruption had been noticed and dealt with, things might have gone better. Surely it is better to know what is going wrong than to reject all opposition and then be caught off-guard when it turns on you.

Maybe it's the medium. I do not think the Jedi in the movies were quite so stupid. When apprehending Palpatine they correctly determined that the smart thing to do was to kill him on the spot, and moved to do so. Though they were stopped from doing so by a ridiculously impulsive and arrogant little brat. In The Empire Strikes Back Yoda tried to keep Luke from rushing off, which, far from being excessively cautious, was smart. Even if it hadn't been an intentional trap, the travel time involved meant that by the time he got there he'd be too late. Better to plan things out a bit, train some more. Maybe Yoda would have helped if it looked like something more than an impulsive suicide mission.

Maybe it's excessively far sight. The Jedi know that impulsive action will eventually become a really bad, dangerous, awful thing. So starting thousands of years in the past they work to remove impulsiveness. Unfortunately, they end up just being slow-moving idiots. Perhaps they were too quick to not be quick.

All the Adventure with half the Violence
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 August 2013, 3:56 pm
I'm not sure what magical creature to blame for this, but somehow this post, fully-written, sat as a draft, unpublished (redundancy ensures that you have enough).

We've previously established that I like violence in games.  Shooting, smashing, smashing with objects normally reserved for shooting, and of course shooting smashing things (gravity gun) are all great violence.  Sometimes slicing substitutes for smashing.  Explosions!

At times I'd wonder if adventure required violence.  After all, without the fight, what is left?  Travel time and story.  Yet what is the story except the adventure itself, and therefore nothing without the conflict?  It's like circular logic swirling into a black hole.

Yet here I am playing Don't Starve and having a blast.  It's a dangerous world, yet it's not a world of battles.  I avoid fights.  Except with spiders, because spiders are jerks in this game.  But even then, how violent can you be when it hurts?  My meat-drying operation means that I can keep my health up, but it's not a solution if I rush into mindless conflict.  A log suit only gets you so far.  I only have a football helmet because a tree killed a pig.  I suspect that was my fault, for riling up the tree with all my chopping.  It had no appreciation for the classics.

Death is dangerously close to permanent.  I've only found one touch stone.  It's not too far away, and I did take the wise step of leaving an old log suit, some earmuffs, and some small jerky in a chest near it.  That's what I learned after I nearly froze to death trying to recover my items in an earlier game.  Maybe the real lesson is not to get in fights with birds twice your height.  Once summer returns, I'm only about halfway through winter, I can shave my magnificent beard for a meat effigy.

The rewards aren't so great either, at least not where I am. I wanted some spider silk so I could make some beehouses, which require catching some live bees.  Hunting spiders is a pain.  Then just to add insulting irony to it all, right after I made the houses winter hit and they've so far done nothing at all.  A few days later I went to fight more spiders, hoping to get more silk for bird traps.  I found enraged beefalos wrecking the nest and I just walked in to get the silk and spider egg.  A few minutes sooner and maybe I'd have just been trapped between a dozen spiders and a dozen beefalos.

I worry much more about freezing to death.  This means carefully-planned runs for wood and rabbits, without time to spare for random combat.  Of course that's when I hear the growling of the hounds...

The first lesson I take away is that combat is most games is far too rewarding relative to the costs.  Save points and respawning mean that there is little incentive to avoid a fight unless the mission is specifically designed for stealth.  The result is that in a sense the violence isn't even as violent, being reduced to an immortal fighting mortal opponents until the latter are all dead or the former is frustrated, yet still entirely alive and unscathed.  That's slaughter, not violence.  Of course so many games are deigned to be entirely about combat, so it's no surprise that they're designed so that combat is inevitable and always winnable.

The second lesson is that danger does not require violence.  The environment can be the danger.  Basic survival can be the danger.  It's not as glamorous as mowing down rows of Zombie Muslim CommuNazis, but it's fun in its own way.  This has been a gameplay element for a long time.  How much did Mario fight relative to time spend jumping over pits of lava?  The jumping puzzles are a different expression of the same concept.  More recently, there is the world of Stalker, in which anomolies like to wait, nearly invisible, before turning you inside out.  They don't add to the action, but rather invert it, forcing an otherwise-uncharacteristic level of caution.

Maybe the problem is one of challenge.  A violent world can have action without challenge.  A non- or less-violent world can end up seeming as if nothing is happening.  Making survival challenging brings back the adventure, yet the challenge may drive people away.  I can imagine a great deal of frustration in a game like Don't Starve, where you can build up and up, only to leave yourself in the cold a little too long, stray a little too far, eat a little too infrequently.  Suddenly it all comes crashing down.

Cave "Mengele" Johnson
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 August 2013, 1:30 pm
The other day I wrote about how we as players may casually commit what would in real life be genocide, war crimes, or some other varied form of evil. This led me back to an idea that has been floating around in my head for some time, though I only recently understood it fully: GLaDOS is not the villain of Portal. Nor is Weatley. Instead, the true is evil The Old One, a being who was so profoundly evil that it still permeates all aspects of the institutions and structures that he created. GLaDOS is merely a tool, as is Weatley, and the player. They are also all the victims of this evil.

Think of GLaDOS and her compulsive need to test. She couldn't not test. Yet, what was testing? It was about as scientific as shooting the floor while ordering someone to dance.
This first test involves something the lab-boys call repulsion gel. You're not part of the control group by the way - you get the gel. Last poor son of a gun got blue paint, ha ha ha! All joking aside, that did happen. Broke every bone in his legs - tragic. But informative! Or so I'm told.
This isn't reckless pursuit of knowledge. This isn't a man driven to know, regardless of the consequences. He is instead a man driven by the consequences.
Just a heads up, we're gonna have a super conductor turned up full blast and pointed at you for the duration of this next test. I'll be honest, we're throwing science at the walls here to see what sticks. No idea what it'll do.
Science isn't about why, it's about why not. You ask: why is so much of our science dangerous? I say: why not marry safe science if you love it so much. In fact, why not invent a special safety door that won't hit you in the butt on the way out, because you are fired.
There is nothing to learn here. There is nothing to learn from substitution repulsion gel for blue paint. There is nothing to learn from creating AI that are tortured if they are not torturing.

What we see here is a man creating an institution of evil. He fired all who dissented, who even hinted at the concept of human rights. He created the AI. He forced employees to be both torturers and victims thereof.
Ha! I like your style, you make up your own rules just like me.
No one said that the Übermensch would be a moral person by any measure that we can comprehend. Yet he is clearly an immoral person by many measures that we can comprehend.

When I stop and think about it, Portal is a profoundly disturbing game series. It feels so light-hearted in its presentation. It is silly. Yet it is a game set in a world with a horribly twisted history. We can set aside the part where Portal takes place in the same alien-occupied world as Half Life; Aperture is terrible enough. I suppose it's true what they say, that comedy is tragedy plus time.

Casual evil in video games
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 July 2013, 12:42 pm
We all know that we can do bad things in games. I'm not referring to people an asshole on xbox live or something like that, but to the actual gameplay. It's not even the obvious stuff that bugs me. Yes, in Grand Theft Auto games you can rob and murder people and that's bad, but what would the game be without that? Without the horrible things you can do the GTA series is really just a bad third person shooter blended with a bad driving simulator. I'm instead concerned about the incidental evil, the bad things you can do that the developers might have not even thought of. Yet it is there.

Take the Elder Scrolls games, for example. As in all fictional worlds, there are no psychiatrists. If you're traumatized, that's it; your mind is done for. Your best option at that point is to just embrace it, join a demonic murder cult, and do what comes naturally. And of course you cannot kill the children. You can, of course, kill their parents. In front of them. And then when the guards come you can kill them too. That kid is done for.

Or in the Civilization series there are the casually-committed war crimes. In Civ III I used to intentionally starve foreign cities I don't know if that actually helped with the cultural conversion, but there were definitely fewer foreigners after I got done with them. I tended to run a thriving slave trade as well. These weren't written into the game to fit some karma meter. There is no karma meter. The closest thing is being a warmongering menace to the world and odds are, whoever is calling you that is himself a warmongering menace to the world. It's the pot calling the can of black paint black.

There's another thing: you can shoot at anything if you're at war with it. Generals, well of course! Admirals, duh. Those are both obvious. And then there are the workers. Guys are just trying to build roads and you're ordering air strikes on then. Maybe a missionary wanders by and what do you do? Open fire!

The best part, at least as I roleplay it, is the reason why: they're bored. There aren't any enemy military units, so they're just firing at anything in sight. Some guy is trying to save souls and they're just lobbing shells at him. Odds are his civilization is some backward dump and he's got this great opportunity to leave and we're just shelling everything in sight. It makes me miss how in Civ IV you could use air strikes against improvements. I'd be doing that constantly. Just shoot up all the farms; get jet fighters with the depleted uranium rounds.

This is all beside the times when I go full Honor and get gold from killing units. At that point I see no reason to ever end a war. Why wouldn't I just keep slaughtering people? It's not costing me anything. I need my army anyway, since I need to defend myself from all the people who are mad that I keep starting wars.

Interpreting something from nothing is miscommunication
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 July 2013, 3:14 pm
This article from Slate caught my attention:
What the ...
Why everyone and your mother started using ellipses ... everywhere.

First off, I'm not a fan of over-ellipsification. This is mostly because I'm a judgmental jerk. The dots feel lazy, as if the person writing them didn't bother to complete their thought. They feel stupid, as if the writer could not complete their thought. They feel hostile at times. Consider the following exchange:

Pretty dull, isn't it? Let's try this one.

Now that's exciting! Maybe that second person is backing away slowly. That's what I'm picturing. Maybe they're reaching for their mace (I will hit you with said mace if you criticize my use of "they" as an ungendered singular). On the other hand, maybe they're purring it seductively, in which case, use the phrase "purring seductively" rather than ellipses. And then stop writing talking cat porn because that's weird.

In general I'm opposed to the "writing as speech" notion. Speech is allowed to be vague for two reasons. First, there is body language. Second, there is immediate feedback from the reader. Writing has neither of those. Obviously the body language is a lost cause outside of a few smilies, which we should use more often, but don't, as you can see demonstrated here. The quick feedback is also a lost cause, for two reasons. First, written communication is meant to be understood (Captain Obvious is guest writing this sentence), which should mean that the writer writes it well, but in practice often means that the reader feels dumb. Second, the response is going to be delayed. The person writing text-as-speech is probably distracted by something more interesting than you, such as crashing their car.

The dot dot dot also tends to break up the writing. It's not a substitute for the ums and uhs. Those aren't supposed to be in text at all. They're not in verbal speech! Oh, you think they are? When we talk we ignore all of those, recognizing that they are not thoughts, ideas, or feelings. Of course if there are a dozen uhs in a row we'll notice that since it's a sign of something wrong with either the idea or the person's mental state (flustered, not crazy). Injecting all those pauses into written speech means putting them straight into our heads, bypassing the filter that would normally get rid of them.

If you practice for a presentation what is the primary piece of feedback you'll get? Odds are, it's to stop saying um so often. It makes you sound like you're unsure of yourself and your knowledge. It makes you sound disorganized and confused. Why would you intentionally add that in to your writing? You might as well just preface every message with "I have no idea what I'm trying to say, but here are a bunch of letters, some of which might form words, but which should not be interpreted as actual thoughts."

Trying to sound stupid is useful at times, such as during comedy or a Senate hearing (either side), but it shouldn't be a standard of behavior.

Onward to the article. Here's what stood out for me.
So I decided to run a little experiment. One night I sent a bunch of potentially confusing, ellipsis-infused text messages to those I interact with regularly and waited to see what happened.

[writer's note: at this point I would normally use ellipses to indicate that I'm taking nearby, but not quite continuous blocks of text, but I was worried that it would look like I or the writer were using ellipses. See how everything has been ruined?]

Next I sent an even vaguer text to my mom: “All Star Game………….” Who knows what I meant by that one. I didn’t, certainly. Sure, the All-Star game was on TV at the time, but beyond that, what was I getting at? Mom wasn’t fazed in the least: “I’m falling asleep…Really tired. Cutch struck out.” Four or five additional texts to assorted friends and family members resulted in similarly uneventful back-and-forth communications.
At no point did anyone reply with, “What the hell are you talking about?” or “Could you please give me a bit more information here?” And of course none of those folks mentioned anything about the ellipses. It would appear that when we are communicating with friends and others possessing the requisite context to understand our ellipsified ramblings, message recipients tend to make do just fine.

 Did you catch it? He sent a message that was meant to communicate nothing, yet he got a response. It's a Rorschach text dot test. I've just coined that phrase, by the way. Take the ellipses and fill them in with anything. Have back and forth exchanges in which you say nothing, yet somehow think that you did.

 I don't think that ellipses are a bad idea. That dot dot dot can be effective, in certain situations. Someone does or says something dumb. Sure, you could put in all the effort to say how dumb they are. Or you could just send a dot dot dot...

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