Thursday, May 31, 2012

DnD Next

DnD Next is running an open playtest for anyone who wants to test it out.  I downloaded all of the files and took a look at them though I didn't actually play through the adventure supplied; it looked like a very large time investment just to learn all the ins and outs of the adventure prior to even starting to run fights.  Rather than a more modern adventure that is segmented into discrete fights that are all reasonable challenges the module they supplied is more of a 'realistic' module in that there are plenty of utterly trivial fights and plenty of fights that will wipe the party out for certain.  It is meant to be a complex world that the players can interact with by ambushing people, making groups work against one another, and other such tricks rather than simply by fighting.  I like that a lot actually, though it works far better for a group interested in roleplaying than playing a board game.

It appears as though this is the direction Wizards is going with the entire design of Next.  They have gotten away from a grid system, zones of control, and attacks of opportunity and instead simply let people move anywhere they want on their turn.  Rather than move actions, swift actions and standard actions each character may move and take an action on their turn.  Shifting and 5 foot steps are things of the past and it seems like it would be possible to run a fight in Next quite easily on a model with no measurements on it at all - eyeballing the ranges and movement should be quite possible since precise positioning is no longer key.  This is going to make the game a lot more fun for roleplaying oriented gamers I suspect since calculating out the best possible turn is going to be very easy and combats should be much less mathy.  There will be no more searching through stacks of ability cards and trying to calculate the best use of each of the three action types like in 4th edition.

There are some things I really question in Next though.  Chiefly among those is the return to rolling for hit points.  The way Constitution affects this is that you roll a die for hp which ranges from a d4 at the lowest to a d12 at the highest and if you roll below your Con modifier you get to take your Con modifier instead.  So in this way Con is useful for people with crappy Hit Dice and pretty much garbage for people with good Hit Dice.  I don't much like this whole concept at all and I would definitely scrap it in exchange for fixed HP / level.  Con already gives you a little bit of HP in that you get HP equal to your Con mod baseline and it helps you heal faster - it actually doesn't need to give you more than that to be good.

One other questionable decision is setting up the game to be a single stat game just like 4th edition.  Every class bases their attack roll and damage roll on a single stat, which is good in that stats seem to help each class comparably, but classes that use Dex to attack also get their main stat adding to the armour class.  When a single stat determines all of your offense and most of your defence it is not going to leave much room for innovation in character design.  Other than that though I really like that the stats are all useful defensively, if only in minor ways, and that casters' damage actually scales with their stat in the same way that thugs' damage does with theirs.

Something that many people are complaining about is that there is a serious return to casters having options and thugs having only 'I attack'.  I think for some players 4th edition gave people too many choices but only having 'I move here and attack' in combat is very dull.  We haven't seen a list of feats yet though nor do we have any real sense of what other options thugs might have.  In the sample character sheet there is virtually nothing for thugs to do aside from attack but that really might change once we know more.  I will reserve judgement until we see how it plays out but I do hope they find some kind of middle ground where thugs have a few different options to use without going as far as 4th did.  Not that I minded 4th myself but I know lots of people who want a mechanics lite game and Next seems likely to deliver that.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Resources and scaling in D3

Scaling has got to be one of the one misunderstood and abused topics in game design.  Scales badly is a, if not the, most common way of saying that something is bad.  Despite the whining though scaling is actually a really critical factor in keeping classes and skills balanced long term.  I have been doing some looking into how classes can ramp up their damage in D3 and found some disturbing issues.  The major problem is the discrepancy between class resource mechanics work with increased attack speed.

Some classes  like Monk, Barbarian, Demon hunter (thugs) generate resources from some attacks and spend them with others.  Increased attack speed (IAS) means that they generate more resources and spend more resources - 50% IAS certainly doesn't increase resource generation by 50% because there are static sources but it helps a lot.  Wizards and Witch Doctors (casters) have resource pools that regenerate on their own and they don't get resources back by using attacks in any significant way.  This means that IAS is somewhere between nearly useless and not so great because it doesn't let them attack more often since they are resource limited already.  I can't attack extra times if I am already out of mana!

The reason this is such an issue is that IAS is by far the most powerful and easiest way to increase damage output at high gear levels.  Once an item has your prime stat on it you can't just stack more prime stat - you need to go to other stats and IAS is the best.  You can, if you stack huge amounts of +crit chance and +crit damage increase, get decent damage returns from crit but IAS is cheap and doesn't require other stats to be effective.  It is pretty easy to get 60% IAS on gear without much investment and that is a really big problem when some classes get 50% more damage out of it and some get 0.

This pretty much revolves around the different resource systems not being similarly designed.  Witch Doctors actually have to spend mana even for their very cheap spells so it isn't sensible to have more than 1 attack spell.  If your attack spell is cheap you can't add an expensive spell because you can't afford to cast it and if your attack spell is expensive you can only cast it if you don't have another attack spells in your build!  In my Splinter build for my Witch Doctor I cast just the cheapest spell available and even if I wanted to I couldn't put an expensive spell into the build - I can't cast it.  Wizards aren't quite as badly off because they can actually have a cheap spell and an expensive spell in their build and use both so they can make *some* use of IAS but it is still much weaker than thug classes get.

There are other scaling issues that D3 handled really well however.  In D2 spell damage scaling and weapon scaling was nutty and made no sense but those are handled very smoothly in D3.  Crit scaling seems quite reasonable as there is some strategy in terms of when to go for stacking crit effects and when not to.  Prime stat damage scaling work well and weapon scaling works well - IAS is the standout problem and really it just points to a major flaw in resource system design for Witch Doctors.  Witch Doctors need their mana regen baseline massively buffed, Vision Quest nerfed or changed and probably need their cheap spells to be actually free.  Until that happens they are going to be stuck in really one dimensional builds with almost no options.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

D3 no economics

I was hoping to write about D3 economics this week.  Unfortunately the Auction House is not fully functional and commodities cannot be sold.  This means that people who generate massive stacks of crafting materials like me cannot sell their stuff to those who want said crafting materials and so massive surpluses build up.  I can't say much of use about the current AH aside from "Good gear costs a lot" but I think I can make a solid prediction:  When the AH is fixed and commodities can be sold the price of gear is going to plummet.  This will happen for a few reasons:

First, there is going be a tremendous amount of trade that has been backlogged and that trade will deplete gold stocks by stealing 15% of every transaction.  Second, the people who want to craft will be plowing enormous sums of gold into crafting with materials they buy from the AH which destroys gold.  All that crafting with the newly sellable recipes and materials will fill the AH up with new gear.  Destroy gold, create gear, and provide alternate sources of spending other than buying items directly and you can be sure that prices on gear will drop.

The endgame seems to me to have a tremendous amount of scaling in difficulty that cannot be made up with easily acquired gear.  I am questing in act 2 and it is extremely dangerous but it is possible to push forward and kill champs/uniques with some deaths.  However, in act 4 there are mobs that literally hit me for double my maximum health with a single ranged attack - the gear requirements to play there comfortably are insanely steep.  Blizzard has obviously designed the endgame around gearing up in a variety of ways to survive the later difficulties so I wanted to do some math to figure out what I need to survive.

My current stats:

Resist all - 450 - 60% reduction
Armour - 3720 - 55% reduction
Vitality - 1022 - 43976 health

For example, if I stack on enough resist to take 40% less damage, enough armour to take 40% less damage (which are multiplicative, not additive) and increase my health and healing by 60% I will be 4.5 times as tough - this is enough to make it such that I can survive two ranged attacks, just barely.  This would certainly be enough for me to completely maul act 2 in a very casual fashion.  How much *more* of each stat would I need to achieve this?

Resist all - +500
Armour - +4478
Vitality - 618

These numbers are pretty ludicrous.  I need to more than double my resist all and armour totals which seems absolutely bonkers in terms of farming time but certainly possible in terms of raw itemization - I just need 73 resist all per piece!  Armour is a more challenging problem but again if I upgrade to higher base armour types where possible and get +300 armour on every piece of gear I have I can certainly make that benchmark.  Vitality is by far the easiest here since even though I do have a lot of vitality on my gear I can easily imagine getting 50 more per piece.  To keep up with the healing I would need to stack a bunch of life gaining effects too, of course.

This is all to say nothing of doing more damage.  I expect to eventually be using a weapon that has 1100 dps instead of my current 700 and to get a lot more intelligence on my gear - it should easily be possible to upgrade my damage by 2.5 times eventually.  What all this tells me is that if I could custom build my gear I would be tough enough and do enough damage to completely demolish act 2 for sure, and certainly to be able to play reasonably in act 3 and act 4.  It is going to take an obscene amount of farming to get there but get there I will.  Inferno difficulty in D3 is quite nuts but this is only the early stages of gear acquisition and there is no question that people will have sufficient gear to do everything quite comfortably and without awful kiting tricks eventually.  I guess Barbarians and Monks will just farm act 1 inferno over and over until they get there.  :P

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Where I was right and wrong

I made some predictions for Diablo 3.  Looking at high end spells I figured that people would end up with health pools in the 50k range and I think by the time I get to act 4 of Inferno difficulty that will be true - I am at 40k now and I desperately need more HP.  In theory I was going to play my Witch Doctor by hiding behind minions and raining down death on the enemies but in practice the Zombie Dogs are useless because they die instantly and even my single big Gargantuan Zombie isn't very tough.  I need huge amounts of health, just as much or moreso than a melee character.  My Int is about 1.1k, vastly off from my guess of 5k, though again I will likely end up a fair bit higher before I beat the game.

The thing I got really, really wrong was Magic Find.  I am very glad to be wrong.  MF in D2 on any decently geared character was in the 300+ range and Blizzard implemented a harsh diminishing returns formula to curb it.  Given that MF was present at level 1 in amounts of 5% and so were other stats I assumed people would have thousands of MF.  Instead MF scaled from 5% at level 1 to 10% at level 60.  Top end gear that has MF only has 8-16% and the monsters are savagely powerful so you can't possibly stack MF and ignore other stats if you want any hope at winning.  This setup works very well I think; MF is a fine thing to have on a piece of gear but the numbers are small enough that it needs no diminishing returns.  Some people value MF heavily of course, and some don't, but I am sure you will see top end characters with 0% MF on gear and other ones with 80% and both will be reasonable.

The build I ended up settling into is extremely close to the one I built just based on beta knowledge.  The fundamentals are the same:  Abuse Vision Quest to generate massive amounts of mana and Soul Harvest to generate massive amounts of damage.  Here is the thing about Witch Doctors that is utterly bizarre:

Level 1:
Cheap Spell:  4 mana.
Expensive Spell:  30 mana.
Mana Pool:  100
Mana Regen:  20/sec

Level 60:
Cheap Spell:  10 mana.
Expensive Spell:  140 mana.
Mana Pool:  700

Mana Regen:  20/sec

As you progress from level 1 to 60 you go from casting an expensive spell every 2 seconds to casting one every 15 seconds.  There are things you can do to up your mana regeneration but none of them mitigate the pain of levelling up enough.  Other classes do not work this way as they all have fixed resource pool sizes.  Vision Quest increases all mana regeneration by 300% as long as you have 4 abilities on cooldown so you have two build choices:  First, to use a normal build with a cheap spell and cast expensive spells rarely.  The other option is to use 5 cooldowns and 1 spammable expensive attack and leverage Vision Quest.  Since you need every defensive cooldown you can get in Inferno difficulty it isn't hard at all to find 5 cooldowns you want to use.

It turns out there is a fantastic spell to be your only attack spell:  Zombie bears.  In addition to the awesomeness of hurling rotting bear carcasses as your attack the actual in game mechanics are fantastic.  Each cast creates 3 bears that appear behind you to your left, right and centre and they rush a decent distance forward.  They do utterly stupendous damage and hit enemies on all sides of you as well as ahead and behind.  Nothing demolishes a crowd like a WD casting Zombie Bears because they hit incredibly hard even for a expensive spell and nobody else gets to spam expensive spells all day long.

The critical issue is that against large enemies all 3 bears can hit.  When there is a stationary boss I can easily clock in 100k dps when other classes with my gear would be struggling to go above 25k.  It makes the game fairly unbalanced when 1 class can do 4 times as much damage as another even if there is a cost associated.  The cost is fairly high since my Zombie Bear build has no long range attack so against a boss like Izual I simply cannot win since I cannot fight at range and I cannot live when nearby.  I don't think it is an especially good balancing factor to have WD be utterly ridiculous at many situations and useless at others particularly since I can respec if I have to.

I think the WD mana model is a bad one.  There shouldn't be one passive ability that completely defines the class and causes huge balance issues with every expensive spell.  The best way to fix this would be to ramp up baseline WD mana regeneration at higher levels so that expensive spells are reasonably castable and nerf or change Vision Quest.  Zombie bears are very powerful but would be plenty balanced if their cost was a real mitigating factor.  When you can ignore their cost things get completely out of hand.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

D3 is live

Diablo 3 is up.  A lot of people have commented that the servers had all kinds of issues on the first day like being delayed for an hour, requiring emergency maintenance for an hour and not letting people log in a lot of the time.  This is pretty embarrassing for Blizzard since they had approximately a bazillion years to get it all right and set up properly; launch was sloppy but at least we are all playing fine now.

The game is awesome.  I am eager to see how my predictions for endgame stats work out; I was basing my predictions off of the level 60 versions of skills and figured that people would probably have 50k health and 5k Int/Str/Dex and I think I overestimated.  I currently have 5500 health in the middle of Nightmare and 900 Int so I doubt I will hit 50k/5k even with endgame gear.  I will get into that ballpark for sure though as the amount of stats on gear goes up exponentially and the amount of health you get per point of Vitality goes up too.

My guesses for the amount of Int we will have are probably too high because I figured that Soul Harvest should not give more than a 20% damage increase and that is certainly not reasonable given how the game has played out.  Right now Soul Harvest is a moderate sized AOE centered on me that gives a bunch of Int (Int gives bonus damage % equal to total Int.  100 Int = 100% more damage).  At level 60 it will be giving 150 Int for each target it hits up to 5 - 750 Int best case.  After playing a fair bit in Nightmare though I think that it isn't reasonable to math it out at a 5 stack since maintaining that isn't trivial at all both because hitting 5 targets is often hard or impossible and sometimes it can get you killed.  Keeping that in mind I think endgame Int/Dex/Str scores in the 1k-2k range is quite reasonable; Soul Harvest will still be a very big damage boost but it won't be ridiculous.

I have not yet had an opportunity to test out the truly broken Witch Doctor build with Vision Quest and Soul Harvest that is set up to use 5 abilities with cooldowns and one spammable attack spell.  Normally you absolutely have to have an ability with a practically zero mana cost to spam but if you can keep Vision Quest up you don't have to - you can spam your power spell constantly.  I don't know yet if this is going to be the best build because I have to see just how all the spells and runes play out but Soul Harvest is definitely super powerful right now.  Both abilities require a lot of setup and both have the potential to be totally nuts; the only way to know if the setup is feasible is to play a lot more.

One thing I found is that one of the basic mechanics of the Witch Doctor is totally unusable.  Zombie Dogs started out being very tough and ended up being pretty near useless - they weren't good tanks and they just died constantly.  This is pretty unfortunate because a large number of WD special abilities work with or rely on Zombie Dogs and if the Dogs continue to be as junk as they are then a large piece of the class simply doesn't function beyond the first half of normal - sort of like skeletons were in D2 at launch.  Maybe there is some scaling with difficulty level that I don't know about, but if there isn't then the 'summoner' build is pretty much dead.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Me on BNet

Btw, if you want to find me playing D3 on (which I will be doing feverishly for some time) I am Redcape#1348.  Hopefully I can make posts on D3 this week instead of just playing more... we will see how my willpower holds up.

Early post... guess why!

Diablo 3 comes out tonight at 3 AM my time.  Lately I have been often late with posts but this week I am going to be early to maximize my D3 time tomorrow.  I won't be going whole hog for D3 though; no getting up at 3 AM to start playing at first possible opportunity for me.  I did that sort of thing for every WOW expansion, standing at the store for an hour with friends and then rushing home to play all night so I could get raiding asap. Unfortunately this time I have a sick child in my house and I might actually have to be functional tomorrow to take care of her so having no sleep isn't a sound plan.  I also remember having a tremendous amount of fun with midnight WOW releases the first two times but it really fell flat with Cataclysm.  That was pretty much due to me failing to win the race to level 85 on my paladin since after much preparation and rushing it was a big disappointment to fail.  I rushed through all the content and did it while feeling gross and exhausted and ended up with nothing for my efforts.  This time I am just going to take my time and do whatever seems fun rather than go for broke; this is probably a good idea because I had a real chance at winning the server first race to 85 in WOW but I have zero chance of winning D3 first to level 60.  The servers are huge, the number of people trying is massive and I have obligations... I can't just play for 5 days straight with no sleep and I know at least a few accounts are going to do exactly that.

I revised my build for my first Witch Doctor.  Obviously this is tentative on the abilities actually doing what they say they do on the calculator and also seeing how they work in the game.  The Zombie Charger in particular looks absolutely insane if it does what I think it does but it might have a very tiny range or something that isn't noted there.  The main things I looked for in a build was as much passive defence as possible in terms of minions and walls, a way to abuse both Soul Harvest (insane damage) and Vision Quest (infinite mana) which seem like they *have* to be broken, and a powerful spammable AOE attack spell.  It is a build arranged for Inferno, of course, because I am quite confident on any lower difficulty it will be a matter of clicking quickly and having a build that isn't idiotic and I feel confident I can meet that standard.

I am pinning a lot of hope on D3.  After being bitterly disappointed by the end to Mass Effect 3 I am looking for a story that won't turn out to be a sad mess and I can't help but think that Blizzard will do a better job here than Bioware did.  First off the Diablo series doesn't have crazy physics / metaphysics to deal with and isn't angling for a Deux Ex Machina to allow the player to beat an unbeatable foe; the Diablo universe has well and thoroughly established that the way to deal with a gigantic demonic enemy is to find some hero to go kick its ass in single combat.  A lot of people are going to die along the way and a lot of bad things will happen but my Witch Doctor is eventually going to blow up every badass demon until there aren't any left.  End of Story.

Or not, as the real End of Story is likely going to revolve around killing that super powerful demon over and over again to get MOAR SHINIES to increase my ever growing mound of treasure.  Which, thankfully, is likely to be a hell of a lot of fun.

9 hours, 45 minutes, 30 seconds to release.  Hell, it's about time.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The campaign trail

My current DnD campaign is winding up and it looks like I will end up being the GM for the next one.  I haven't actually run a game in years but I really look forward to it; in particular I enjoy coming up with crazy fights for my players to tackle.  It bothers me that in Pathfinder the monsters are so badly designed and I hope that I can provide a lot of entertainment and improve the general feel of combats a lot over the baseline creatures that are available in the monster manual.  There are some real issues with Pathfinder monsters that I intend to fix:

1.  High level monsters have damage reduction, spell resistance and crit/sneak attack immunity.  These issues cause all kinds of balance problems between the various classes.  In our current campaign we fought a water elemental at one point and discovered that the rogue not only couldn't sneak attack it but failed to have sufficiently magical weapons to the point that she simply couldn't affect it due to it having flat damage redution and her using one handed weapons.  This seems like really poor design - it might make some kind of 'sense' that water elementals aren't affected by normal weapons or precision strikes (I debate even that) but when it renders some classes utterly ineffectual it isn't *fun*.  Spell resistance is another strange ability that pretty much means that against any hard single monster the caster can pretty much be relegated to sandwich duty which again isn't any fun.  It is certainly possible to spec out a caster to just buff the fighters for boss fights but I don't like the necessity to be a buffbot nor the endless +1s that everyone has to keep track of when multiple buffs come into play.

2.  Healing is stupid.  My current character is a healer and my healing options are as follows:  Heal one adjacent person for 14 HP or heal the entire party for 14 HP.  I have absolutely nothing effectual I can do against high single target damage.  Both take my entire standard action so if people are getting beat up I pretty much stand there spamming my group heal the whole fight until I run out of points.  This means that any monster that does AOE damage is a complete joke (or utterly lethal if it is hitting for 30 damage a cast, and the fight ends in 2 rounds) and any monster that does high single target damage simply blows people up.  The problem with a monster that just blows people up sequentially is that players are going to die constantly when the monster rolls high or they get unlucky.  This means that monsters are hugely constrained in how they can attack if the fight is supposed to be both challenging and not lethal and I want nearly all the fights to be like that!  I also don't like that in any hard fight the healer will simply stand there and take the same action over and over until they run out of points.  It sucks and is boring as hell to play.

My plan to deal with these issues is pretty easy in the monster case and more complicated in the healing case.  I am simply going to remove crit/sneak attack immunity, damage reduction and spell resistance from all monsters.  Making the rogue useless is already easy - just add highly mobile enemies that prevent flanking and the rogue is junk; no need to leave whole classes of enemies that reduce the rogue to joke status.  (Oh, it is an undead... sorry rogue.  Oh, it is an elemental... sorry rogue. :P) Spell resistance is likely there either as a holdover from previous editions or perhaps as a way to prevent low level spellcasters from killing dragons with save or die spells too easily; this is a bad system because if a great wyrm is immune to a level five wizard (the wizard needs a 21 on a d20) the level twelve wizard is still horribly ineffectual (the wizard needs a 14 on a d20).  Obviously I will have to be concerned about players casting Polymorph and killing the final bad guy of the campaign with a single favourable roll; I figure bosses are going to need to have high saving throws!

Healing is another beast entirely.  There are two problems:  One, that the healer never gets to do anything else and two that AOE healing is too powerful.  My plan is to make all healing powers move actions instead of standard actions and halve the effect of AOE heals but allow healers to heal one person at full strength.  This will mean that healers will really have to think about whether to heal the entire group or a single person and also will be doing lots of other things.  Casting a heal will have a distinct mobility cost but a healer will be able to make some attacks, cast some spells or do other fun things in combat.  I also figure that druids really need to have healing like a cleric as an option - right now druids are 'healers' but they are so wretched at it that their contribution is nigh irrelevant.  I think I will let druids select healing as an option instead of their animal companion or bonus domains - opening up more options for filling the necessary healer role seems good.  These changes do substantially reduce the total amount of healing a healer can output in a day so I might let all classes heal to full after a full night's rest to reduce the downtime required after a really hard fight.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mass Effect 3 (Massive spoilers)

The internet is very much convinced that the ending of Mass Effect 3 sucks.  Go to any forum dedicated to the matter and you will find immense reserves of ire and disappointment usually reserved for new MMOs that have just hit the three month mark.  Fans of the series are incredibly disillusioned and upset at the ending and Bioware has even said that they plan to offer new endings to try to placate the masses.  Hell, people are so desperate to find meaning and closure in the ending they have come up with a crazy new theory to explain the ending... which fails because of Occam's Razor.  I knew all this before I bought the game but because I enjoyed the first two games so much I decided to go ahead anyway - after all, my expectations for the ending were now set suitably low and perhaps the outrage was mostly a bunch of entitled whiners.  After finishing ME3 I can safely say that even with lowered expectations the incredible sucktitude of the ending was like a punch to the gut.

So what went so wrong with a series that I enjoyed so much right up to the very end?  Hell, even 10 minutes before the final credits rolled I was completely in love with how things were going so it wouldn't have taken a masterstroke to make me perfectly happy.  I would have been satisfied (if not exactly blown away by) a simple ending where Shepard gets onto the Citadel, hits a gigantic red button and is blown to smithereens while the Crucible destroys the Citadel and all the Reapers at the same time followed by a few minutes of cutscenes where a small glimpse of the fate of each of the named people in the series is played out.  It wouldn't have to be a happy finish necessarily; given the focus of the series on sacrifice and the price to be paid for freedom I would absolutely expect some tears and sorrow at the end.  Instead what we got was a whole bunch of nonsensical answers, bizarre metaphysical mechanics and a final choice that seemed like it should be of pivotal importance but which matters not at all.

After some consideration though I have come around on the ending.  Not that it wasn't bad... it was bad.  Rather it was bad for entirely different reasons than I thought initially.  After all, the ending made no sense, but the entire *series* made no sense.

Why was Sovereign around in the galaxy?  Why do the Reapers sit around a thousand light years away from the further star in the galaxy?

Why do gigantic invincible spaceships with unstoppable lazors spend all their time sending zombies at their enemies?  You have unstoppable lazors!

Why are synthetics engaged in a million year long quest to annihilate organic life with the sole purpose of saving organic life from being eradicated by synthetics?

Why is it that every time anything interesting happens there is something critical for some soldier with a rifle to do?  These are battles between high tech space dreadnoughts and yet every time I have a pivotal role to play with my freaking pea shooter.

Who the hell cares if the krogan are coming to fight the reapers?  The krogan are dudes with trucks and shotguns!  We are fighting freaking gigantic alien spaceships with lazors and you have a SHOTGUN and a TRUCK?  Why don't we just recruit some hillbillies and win this war right now?!?

Nothing makes any sense from start to finish so the fact that the ending is a completely nonsensical collection of rubbish is absolutely in line with the rest of Mass Effect. If you wanted logic you should have gotten off the bus a long time ago.  What the ending should have had and what ME did right throughout the series was present difficult choices and get strong, visceral emotional reactions.  During ME3 I was absolutely riveted when Mordin sacrificed himself to destroy the genophage; I was screaming inside at him to stop and get his ass back down from the tower.  I would rather have you alive than all the crap pile Krogan with their shotguns and trucks Mordin!  I was horrified when Tali threw herself to her death when I chose the Geth over the Quarians - it was RIGHT, damn it, but I had to watch a friend commit suicide because of my choice.  In short the first 95% of ME3 was all kinds of awesome and that was what the ending needed to have.  There didn't need to be any more choices necessarily, just watching the results of previous choices and seeing scenes of gutwrenching power.  Bioware can do scenes like that; they have done so successfully throughout the ME series.

The whole thing ends up feeling like the Matrix.  The initial movie made no sense but we had hope that somehow they would take a creative mess and bring it all together in the end.  Instead we found out that they had no idea what they were doing and the whole thing was just a collection of entirely random junk that managed to be awesome by sheer luck.  The ME series is the same - nothing makes any sense but we held out hope that somehow in the end Bioware would find a way to link all the bizarre and insane threads together into a cohesive whole despite the fact that they had displayed no aptitude for doing that at any point.  We loved the heroes, we loved the game, and that gave us false hope for a miracle.  There was no miracle and all they could possibly have offered is closure, an ending.  They failed at even that.

The fighting was great.  The choices were great.  The emotional impact was great.  All you need to know is that when you are making your final run to the beam you should shut off the game right then and make up your own ending.  Whatever you come up with is going to be better than what you will be offered if you actually play it out and that is a shame for a series that did so much right.  It is sad to have the memories of hundreds of hours of awesome soiled by 5 minutes of suck.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Insanity in ME2 and challenge overall

I just finished beating ME2 on Insanity difficulty as an Engineer.  It was pretty tough and I died a lot but I don't feel like it was over the top - pretty much just right all in all.  I end up comparing the challenge of games I play to WOW raiding most times and it is a rare thing to find something as hard as some of the most brutal hardmodes in WOW.  Certainly if I had a team of nine others playing ME2 and we all had to beat a particular encounter simultaneously without dying to advance it might be more comparable.  I didn't have a team to worry about though and once I beat a particular fight it stayed beat; there was no necessity to retry again after playing perfectly to get somebody else up to speed.  I don't feel like anything in ME2 was as challenging as really tough WOW hardmodes like Alone in the Darkness (best fight of all time imo) because mostly once I had the proper build and strategy they only took a small amount of practice, if any at all, to defeat.  More than that though there was room for mistakes.  I failed to cast spells for my squad right on the cooldown a lot and ended up letting my buffs and summons expire; no such foolishness is possible on really hard encounters.

One thing I did find strange was how the style of the fights drastically changed.  The main things that change in the game when you go up to Insanity difficulty are the damage the enemies do and the additional defenses that are stacked on them.  For fights where I was mostly just standing behind cover and shooting at other ranged units who were also behind cover the fights just took a long time.  They rarely did anything interesting and as long as I played reasonably they would eventually fall over to be replaced by new spawns until they were all dead.  The melee enemies were entirely different though because they were exceedingly deadly once they got to close range and doubling their effective HP made killing them before they closed impossible in many circumstances.  It wasn't just a matter of taking longer; often against fairly weak melee creatures I had to use crazy kiting strategies, pull out heavy weapons, or do hilarious mind control tricks to win.  On Grunt's loyalty mission I did all three at once!  It is a mechanic any veteran WOW raider will be familiar with; if your dps is just a tad too low the adds the boss makes end up overwhelming you and even a small increase can change the fight from unwinnable to no problem.

I may be a bit of a masochist but I really long for combat logging and UI modification.  I want to be able to custom build my bars so I can have big lights and buttons for my squad's powers and get enemy and friendly health bars in a more visually accessible location.  I would be happy to test out weapons accuracy levels at various ranges against combat dummies and figure out optimal loadouts for any given situation; it drives me a little bit bonkers to see things like "+50% damage to armor" when I don't know what the base value is!  50% of WHAT?  I would happily spend months tinkering away at a ME2 spreadsheet to sort out exactly how all the mechanics work but without any information to work with there is nothing to build.  Not that it would help very much in any case because you use the Sniper Rifle at long range, Shotgun at close range, and powers on targets who are vulnerable to them so there aren't exactly a lot of decisions a spreadsheet could help with.

Not that the spreadsheet being irrelevant would stop me, of course.  I don't examine the inner workings of games for advancement so much as I do it for love.  Now I just have to figure out if I should start on ME3 and hope to get it done before Diablo 3 eats my life on the 15th.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Real Money needs a cell phone

Blizzard has announced some of the details about their Real Money Auction Hall for Diablo 3.  Most of it is exactly as expected of course but there is one really surprising detail that may well mean I can't get money out of the RMAH at all.  In particular it is this:’s Mobile Alerts SMS authentication service will occasionally send a text message to your mobile phone containing a code you’ll need to enter to verify your identity. You will be required to sign up for the Mobile Alerts service in order to use PayPal to buy or sell items in Diablo III’s real-money auction house.

In order to sell things on the RMAH and collect my cash I will be required to have a mobile phone that can accept texts.  It appears as though I will be able to use the RMAH and have any net balance sit in my Blizzard account to buy new games or whatever but that getting cash out is more restrictive since I don't own a cell phone.  I can't help but wonder why exactly this requirement is in place.  Is it there to assure Blizzard that the person getting the money in fact is located in the region they are supposed to be?  Is it there just to make it more annoying to run bots because of the increased infrastructure demands?  I don't know.

There are multitudes of people complaining of course, partly because of the cell phone requirement and partly because Blizzard is charging a $1 fee on each successful sale and then a 15% fee for all money taken out of the system via PayPal.  There are apparently loads of people out there who are planning on making massive amounts of cash off of the RMAH and who expect to lose substantial amounts of income to the 15% fee.  A quick reality check tells us that with real money vanishing out of the system to buy Blizzard stuff, $1 being taken from each transaction and the requirement for somebody to pony up real cash in the first place to get it going there is not going to be much left for people to cash out.  There are way too many people thinking they can make a bunch of money playing a video game and not enough people thinking that they are going to pay a bunch to avoid playing a video game.

More than that though I suspect that Blizzard really just wants to make it terrible to move money out of the system.  They really want us to pump money in and then trade items back and forth willy nilly so that they can take $1 each time and eventually get *all* the money.  When somebody cashes out Blizzard only gets 15% of the money and when that money stays inside D3 Blizzard gets 100% of the money... guess which is better for them?  They want to make it hard and/or unprofitable for people to get rich off of D3 because every dollar that person gets is a dollar Blizzard loses in the long run.  Adding in the requirement of a cell phone and tacking on a big fee are good ways to keep people from cashing out and making sure they use their currency to buy items from somebody else - after all, the entire point of the RMAH from Blizzard's perspective is to smoothly facilitate the exchange of items and cash without letting anyone else take a piece of the pie.

While I do have a love for game economics and playing virtual markets I don't think that Blizzard loves me and my ilk.  It doesn't help Blizzard at all to have people fleecing the rubes in their games and probably just causes the rubes to leave in many cases.  Since there are a lot of rubes for each playa I figure Blizzard is making the right decision from their perspective by trying to limit how much fleecing I can actually get away with.